Junior welterweight contender Alex Saucedo had all the pressure on him when he faced Lenny Zappavigna on Saturday night.
Saucedo was fighting in his hometown of Oklahoma City for only the third time and doing so in his first fight with significant television exposure, in the co-feature of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card headlined by the Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez-Roamer Alexis Angulo fight for the super middleweight world title at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Saucedo also knew the bout was the last hurdle to a likely world-title shot in the fall, and he got the job done -- but it was a grizzly, brutal, fight-of-the-year contender that featured wild action from start to bloody finish when Zappavigna's corner threw in the towel in the seventh round as he was taking punishment and had blood gushing from his mangled face.
After the fight Zappavigna announced he would retire, bringing to an end a 12-year career in which he was in many grueling fights. For Saucedo, however, it's a different story.
"This is just the beginning of bigger things," a battered Saucedo said as he drank in the cheers from his hometown fans. "It felt like another night at the office coming out here and getting the support from all the people. I am just looking forward to bigger things."
Bigger things means a probable shot at the 140-pound world title against Maurice Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KOs), 28, of Dallas, who claimed a vacant belt by split decision over Terry Flanagan on June 9 in Manchester, England.
"He's fighting Maurice Hooker. He's the mandatory [for] that title and the [fight] will be later this year," said Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who has been working on a deal for the bout with Hooker promoter Dino Duva of Roc Nation Sports. "He'll be healed, and this will be the new champion from Oklahoma City!"
Saucedo, who is trained by Abel Sanchez, got off to a strong start when he opened a cut over Zappavigna's right eye in the second round, which was no surprise given how often Zappavigna has been cut.
Saucedo (28-0, 18 KOs), 24, cracked Zappavigna (37-4, 27 KOs), a 30-year-old brawler from Australia, with a counter right hand in the third round that dropped him to his rear end. He got up, and they went toe to toe for most of the rest of the round.
The wild action continued in the fourth round, but it was Zappavigna who got the better of it. He rocked Saucedo with a right hand and opened a cut over his right eye.
"I've been in trouble before. We've been in that situation, we know how to control it," Saucedo said of the difficult moments. "We stay calm and work on our punches and listen to our corner, and we got the result."
There was more intense action in the fifth round. They were both pouring blood from their cuts when Saucedo hammered Zappavigna with a right hand that rocked his head back seconds before the round ended. As they continued to pummel each other in the sixth round, both were covered in blood -- their faces, their chests, their trunks. After the round, the ringside doctor took a long look at the cuts and swelling around both of Zappavigna's eyes.
Saucedo continued to pound Zappavigna, whose left eye was also virtually closed in addition to the horrific cut over his right eye. Zappavigna's corner threw in the towel in the seventh round, and referee Gerald Ritter waved off the fight at 2 minutes, 31 seconds.
According to CompuBox, Saucedo landed 254 of 542 punches (47 percent) and Zappavigna connected with 143 of 508 (28 percent).
Zappavigna simply could not overcome the cuts.
"I hurt him, but my cuts were really bad," said Zappavigna, a former lightweight world title challenger. "I had blood in my eyes. No excuses. The kid is a warrior. I hope he becomes world champion. I did my best. Now I'll go home. I have to think about things. We'll see what the future holds. The cuts are an issue."
Alvarado stops Martinez
In a grueling, bloody battle, former junior welterweight world titlist Mike Alvarado stopped journeyman Martin Martinez when a severe cut over Martinez's left eye caused referee Mike England to stop the fight in the corner after the ninth round.
Alvarado (39-4, 27 KOs), 37, of Denver, who is way past his prime, was also badly battered. His face was puffy, and he was cut over both eyes as he struggled mightily with Martinez (18-15-1, 11 KOs), 27, of Mexico.
It was yet another extremely physical fight for Alvarado, who won his fifth fight in a row against lesser opposition. But after such a difficult time, his chances for another title opportunity seem slim.
They battled hard from the opening bell, and each inflicted damage on the other. Martinez's cut was deep and long through his left eyebrow. England called timeout during the ninth round to have to ringside doctor examine it with 31 seconds left in the round. After the round ended, England stopped the fight.
Alvarado felt he performed well even if it looked otherwise.
"I felt like I did good. I was strong. It's just that he was real awkward," Alvarado said. "I had been off for a long time, and I know what adjustments I have to make. I know what I got to do when I get back in the gym. I'm fine. I'll be good. I'll redeem myself. Time to get back to business"
Lippe Morrison knocks out Polley
Heavyweight prospect Trey Lippe Morrison, the son of the late heavyweight star Tommy Morrison, scored five knockdowns en route to a third-round knockout of journeyman Byron Polley.
Lippe Morrison (15-0, 15 KOs) 28, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, dropped Polley (30-23-1, 13 KOs), 38, of St. Joseph, Missouri, to a knee with an overhand right in the first round, and then dropped him to a knee with a left hand with a few seconds left in the round. In the second round, Lippe Morrison floored him again with a straight right hand. And in the third round, a right hand behind the ear knocked Polley down for the fourth time, and then it was a clean left hook that knocked him flat on his back as referee England waved off the fight at 1 minute, 39 seconds.
Polley has lost four fights in a row by knockout inside three rounds.
"I was looking for some big shots in the first round that I shouldn't have been," Lippe Morrison said. "I saw that right hand was really hurting him, so I tried to throw that a little more than I probably should have. In the third round, I tried to pace myself and box a little more, rely on my jab. When the jab started hitting him, I started seeing other openings off my jab."
Lippe Morrison was fighting for the second time since a hand injury kept him out of the ring for all of 2017, and he was thrilled to fight in front of his home fans.
"This was the most amazing experience of my life. Not only was it in front of my home crowd, but it was in the [Oklahoma City] Thunder arena," Lippe Morrison said. "I grew up being a big sports fan -- basketball, football. Just to be able to know I stood in the ring where Russell Westbrook and everyone runs down, that's amazing to me."
Junior lightweight prospect Robson Conceicao (8-0, 5 KOs), 29, a Brazilian and 2016 Rio Olympics gold medalist, knocked out Ecuador native Gavino Guaman (5-3, 1 KO), 27, fighting out of River Falls, Wisconsin, in the third round of their scheduled six-round fight.
Conceicao dropped Guaman when he leaned into a right hand with about 20 seconds left in the first round. He dropped him twice more in the second round, first with a right hand that knocked Guaman off balance before he went down on a delayed reaction with about 15 seconds left and then with a five-punch combination that sent him to his rear end as the bell ended the round. In the third round, Conceicao floored Guaman again with an overhand right in the opening minute. When Guaman was unsteady getting to his feet, referee England waved it off at 53 seconds.
"I was very calm during the fight because I had a great training camp with (trainer) Pedro Diaz in Miami," Conceicao said. "I had great sparring there. Step by step, I'm showing that I'm ready for the better fighters in my division. I want to face the champions. I know I'm ready. I want to bring a world title to Brazil."
2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer (6-0, 3 KOs), 27, of Los Angeles, shut out Sheena Kaine (5-1, 1 KO), 33, of Edmonton, Canada, in their women's lightweight bout. All three judges had 60-53 for Mayer, who connected with clean right hand that dropped Kaine with a little over a minute left in the second round. Mayer landed many right hands that wobbled Kaine throughout the fight.
"It was definitely a different fight than I've ever had. She was taller than me and had more strength than most of the girls I've fought," Mayer said. "She's not technically sound, but when she did throw her shots it was a good thing my hands were up because I could definitely feel them. This was a great learning experience."
Los Angeles junior lightweight Christian Zavala (1-0), 18, who recently signed with Top Rank, shined in his pro debut as he easily outpointed Tyler Pacheco (1-2, 0 KOs), 24, of Abilene, Texas. Zavala dropped Pacheco in the third round and won 40-35, 40-35 and 39-36.
"This was my first experience as a pro fighter. The atmosphere is different. I'm ready and hungry to keep improving with each fight that passes," Zavala said. "I'm happy with my performance, but I know that I can do better. It was a good learning experience, and it will help me to continue to grow as a fighter."
Oklahoma City bantamweight Aaron Morales (3-0, 2 KOs), 19, cruised to a shutout decision against David Martino (5-5, 4 KOs), 20, of Mexico. All three judges scored the fight 40-36.
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