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NEW YORK -- Undefeated heavyweights Magomed Abdusalamov and Mike Perez, given the opportunity for wide American television exposure against their best opponents -- each other -- knew how important it was to make an impression on Saturday night.
And they did, turning in an exciting fight, but one that Perez took over in the second half to win a clear unanimous decision at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on the undercard of middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin's defense against Curtis Stevens.
|Mike Perez, left, hurt Magomed Abdusalamov early and outboxed him down the stretch for a unanimous decision win last November.|
The judges had it 97-92, 97-92 and 95-94. ESPN.com also had it for Perez, 97-92.
"This was the toughest guy I faced," Perez said. "He hurt me a number of times, but I was able to keep on going. The difference was my conditioning. It was my first time training with Abel [Sanchez] in Big Bear [Calif.], and it made all the difference in the world.
"I thought I won the fight. My hands are fine and I am willing to fight anybody, anytime in the heavyweight division."
The crowd cheered the action throughout an intense battle between southpaws possessing quality amateur credentials.
They came out in the first round the way fans hope to see heavyweights fight -- trading fierce shots -- but it was the 6-foot, 235-pound Perez who got the better of the action. At one point, he rocked the 6-3, 231-pound Abdusalamov with a hard left hand, and by the end of the round Abdusalamov's face was already showing redness.
In the second round, Abdusalamov, 32, of Russia, landed a solid left uppercut, but Perez, 28, a Cuban defector based in Ireland, showed a good chin and didn't fold.
By the fourth round, they were in an intense battle, swapping punches and taking as good as they were giving, although Perez (20-0, 12 KOs) had some swelling around his right eye. After another rough round in the fifth, Abdusalamov (18-1, 18 KOs) appeared exhausted when he went back to his corner and plopped onto his stool. It was that kind of wearying fight.
Perez continued to land punches in the late going, leaving Abdusalamov's face a swollen, bruised mess and with a cut over his left eye after the seventh round. In the ninth, referee Benjy Esteves docked a point from Perez for a low blow.
Perez, however, closed the fight strong, nearly dropping Abdusalamov with a clean right hand in the 10th round and hurting him again during his follow-up attack.
Overall, it was an excellent performance from Perez, who didn't fight at all in 2012 but rolled to a 10-round shutout decision of veteran Travis Walker in May on the undercard of heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko's defense against Francesco Pianeta.
Abdusalamov said he hurt his hand in the first round and that it was a problem for him throughout the fight.
"In the first round, I hit his head with my left hand, and after that I couldn't make a fist and I couldn't operate with my left like I wanted to," he said. "But a champ is a champ, and he was a great champion tonight."
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi slipped past Lukasz Janik for a 12-round majority decision victory in his first fight since the end of his title trilogy with Marco Huck.
Afolabi, 33, the Los Angeles-based Englishman, won 117-111 and 115-113 on two scorecards, while the third judge had it 114-114.
In his previous two bouts, Afolabi fought to a majority draw against Huck in May 2012 followed by a majority decision loss in June. Afolabi also lost a decision to Huck in a 2009 world title bout.
He got back in the win column by defeating Janik, 27, of Poland, who was fighting in the United States for the first time.
They swapped a lot of clean punches early on, with Janik (26-2, 14 KOs) landing solid right hands and Afolabi (20-3-4, 9 KOs) clearly hurting Janik with a body shot near the end of the fourth round. By the end of the sixth, Janik was bleeding from a cut over his left eye.
The fight got sloppier as it went on, with holding and only sporadic clean punching. The crowd was booing and restless in the eighth round, although it perked up a bit toward the end. In the 10th round, Afolabi opened a cut over Janik's right eye, which poured blood down the side of his face.
• Washington, D.C., welterweight prospect Dusty Hernandez-Harrison (18-0, 10 KOs), a 19-year-old, found himself in the first real fight of his career against tough Josh Torres (12-3-1, 5 KOs) of Albuquerque, N.M., but came through with a unanimous decision victory in a crowd-pleasing bout.
Fighting in his first scheduled 10-round bout and fulfilling a dream he had had since he was a kid -- to fight at Madison Square Garden -- Hernandez-Harrison appeared to tire in the middle rounds. But he had enough left to keep Torres off of him in the late going and won a unanimous decision, 100-90, 98-92, 98-92, much to the delight of the busloads of his fans who made the trip from Washington and chanted "Dusty, Dusty!" during the fight.
Hernandez-Harrison started fast to open a lead, looking good in putting together quick combinations and showing excellent hand speed. Torres had a strong fourth round, though, landing some clean shots and backing Hernandez-Harrison up.
A tiring Hernandez-Harrison got sloppy in the final round, and Torres nailed him with a left hook to the head that rocked him and nearly knocked him down. Hernandez-Harrison came back later in the round to close strong by nailing Torres with multiple right hands.
• Palmdale, Calif., junior lightweight Joel Diaz Jr. (13-0, 11 KOs) survived a couple of rocky moments in the second round but dominated Bryne Green (7-7-1, 3 KOs) of Vineland, N.J., knocking him down twice and winning a shutout six-round decision, 60-52 on all three scorecards.
The second round was action-packed as Green tagged Diaz with several hard right hands that wobbled him and reddened his face. But Diaz rallied in the later part of the round to rock Green with combinations that backed him into the ropes.
Diaz continued to do damage in the third round, dropping Green to his knees with a left hook to the body. Green was down again in the first minute of the fourth round, hitting the deck after taking a series of blows.
• Cruiserweight Isa Akbarbayev (11-0, 7 KOs) of Kazakhstan and Brian Clookey (4-1-2, 2 KOs) of Chase Mills, N.Y., kicked off the card with a four-round slugfest that had the early-arriving crowd cheering, although Akbarbayev was awarded a unanimous shutout decision. He won 40-36 on all three scorecards and left Clookey with a bloodied face in a hard-fought battle.