You can say what you will about Miguel Vazquez’s fighting style, but make sure you remember to include how difficult it is to beat.
Vazquez, the long-armed, 5-foot-10 lightweight titlist from Mexico, employed a typical amount of frustrating tools within his arsenal in Saturday’s title defense against Denis Shafikov.
But in between the running and holding that has long frustrated the majority of fight fans, Vazquez (34-3, 13 KOs) did what he normally does -- land more punches than his opponent thanks to his awkward style while taking away their biggest offensive weapon by controlling the pace.
Vazquez made the sixth defense of his 135-pound title by scoring a unanimous decision (115-113, 116-112, 119-109) over Shafikov (33-1-1, 18 KOs), a southpaw from Russia, at the Venetian Resort’s Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
The victory brought an end to a 14-month layoff for Vazquez, 27, who took all of 2013 off after pulling out of a scheduled title unification bout with Ricky Burns of Scotland. It also, like most of his victories, wasn’t the most pleasing to the eyes -- to both the viewers at home and the fighters, who were each cut thanks to a series of accidental head-butts.
But it’s hard to argue with the success of Vazquez, who has remained on top since winning an interim title from Ji-Hoon Kim in August 2010 and has endured all three losses against top competition. Vazquez, who has never been stopped, lost to Timothy Bradley Jr. in 2007 and twice to Canelo Alvarez, including once at welterweight in 2008 and once in Vazquez’s pro debut by split decision.
Vazquez controlled the early rounds Saturday by landing punches while circling away from Shafikov, turning the bout into a sparring session. But action picked up in Round 4, when a head-butt opened up a gash above Vazquez’s left eye, giving room for Shafikov to land heavy shots on the inside.
His success, however, was short-lived thanks to a key adjustment from Vazquez, who used his long reach to land a series of uppercuts from distance each time Shafikov got low and prepared to rush forward. From there, the bout devolved into a clinchfest initiated by Vazquez, who consistently beat Shafikov to the punch by darting inside, landing combinations and tying him up.
Blood began to flow from the right eye of Shafikov in Round 7, leading to some of Vazquez’s best moments offensively with a series of uppercuts and sidearm punches on the inside.
Vazquez might not be as exciting or as naturally talented as some of the biggest names at or around 135 pounds, but it’s hard to argue against him being in possession of the division’s best résumé. While getting past him will be no easy task for any of his fellow titlists, Vazquez remains a necessary hurdle to clear for any lightweight hoping to declare himself the best in the world.
Zou Shiming scores first knockout of career
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming of China remained unbeaten and scored the first stoppage victory of his career on Saturday.
Zou (4-0, 1 KO), 32, scored three knockdowns en route to a 7th-round, TKO win over Thailand’s Yokthong Kokietgym while headlining another main event in Macau.
While it’s no question Zou’s fame has progressed faster than his in-ring ability, the victory over Kokietgym (15-4, 11 KOs) was another positive step forward. Zou was as flashy and offensive-minded as ever, but he also sat down well on his punches and eventually hurt his determined, yet overmatched, opponent.
Zou caught Kokietgym with a short right hand that floored him in Round 7 before going on to score two more clean, and particularly destructive, knockdowns on hard and flush shots before the fight was stopped.
The questions regarding Zou’s chin and punching power likely won’t go away any time soon, meaning it might be tough to hail him as a future title threat until you see him in that spot with your own eyes. But he’s certainly an attraction, competing in a division with a number of equally exciting and fan-friendly names.