Opening Bell: Thank you, warriors
From all boxing fans, thank you, Alex Saucedo and Lenny Zappavigna.
When Top Rank first made the fight between junior welterweight contender Saucedo and Australian brawler Lenny Z, few who were familiar with these fighters expected anything less than an action-packed fight.
Well, they delivered that and much more in Saucedo's exhilarating seventh-round stoppage win in the co-feature of Saturday night's Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card that all but relegated super middleweight world titleholder Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez's pedestrian -- boring -- unanimous decision win over Roamer Alexis Angulo to walkout bout status.
Saucedo (28-0, 18 KOs), 24, and Zappavigna (37-4, 27 KOs), 30, both nice guys outside the ring, delivered a bona fide fight-of-the-year candidate and a fourth round that is a strong contender for round of the year.
Saucedo, Zappavigna battle in round-of-the-year candidate
In the fourth round, Lenny Zappavigna storms back with a flurry and Alex Saucedo withstands it in an amazing exchange.
Saucedo, who was fighting at home in Oklahoma City for only the third time in his career, cemented himself as a local attraction and as must-see TV with a performance reminiscent of the late, great Arturo Gatti, the former two-division titlist and human highlight machine whose bloody battles and epic comebacks are the stuff of legend. In fact, Saucedo even entered the ring to Gatti's ring walk music: AC/DC's "Thunderstruck."
He then delivered the kind of fight Gatti would have been proud of -- a grueling, seesaw battle that had to have thrilled anyone who was watching. If you're a boxing fan and you are not making an appointment to make sure you are in front of your TV -- or streaming device! - the next time Saucedo fights that's a problem.
This fight wasn't for the faint of heart, as there was more blood spilled in this brawl than I have seen in a long time. Saucedo scored a knockdown in the third round but took damage as well. The fourth round was as wild as it gets, with Saucedo hurting Lenny Z and then nearly getting dropped only to come back strong.
By the time Zappavigna's corner threw in the towel with 29 seconds left in the seventh round, both men were pouring blood. Saucedo was cut badly over his right eye. Lenny Z was badly cut over both eyes and his left eye was a mangled, purple mess that was swollen closed.
When it was finally over, Saucedo had earned a likely world title shot against Maurice Hooker (24-0-3, 16 KOs) and Zappavigna had announced he would retire and end his 12-year career.
Zappavigna never won a world title, though he fought for a lightweight belt in 2011 (losing a decision to Miguel Vazquez), but he never gave anything less than 100 percent in a string of fan-friendly fights.
After he got cut up pretty badly in an eighth-round knockout loss to Sergey Lipinets in a junior welterweight title eliminator in Los Angeles in December 2016, I talked to his manager the next morning at the hotel and he said Zappavigna was going to retire then. But when I saw Lenny Z in Las Vegas last year, he said he and his wife were expecting their second child and he wanted to fight on to better secure their future. He won his next two fights, but then came the Saucedo bout. Hopefully, Zappavigna's retirement will stick this time because he cuts so easily.
If he is indeed done, he deserves nothing but the best in retirement, while we have more to look forward to with Saucedo. A salute to both of these warriors for the fight they turned in against each other.
Prospect watch: Michael Conlan
Conlan wins in Belfast
In his first pro fight in his hometown of Belfast, Michael Conlan defeats Adeilson Dos Santos by unanimous decision.
When featherweight blue-chip prospect and two-time Irish Olympian Michael Conlan, a 2012 bronze medalist, signed with Top Rank following his highly controversial elimination from the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals, part of the deal was the promise was that he would get to fight in Ireland. That promise was fulfilled on Saturday when he returned to home to the SSE Arena in Belfast to an adoring crowd.
He had had six previous fights in the United States, including his electrifying pro debt at the sold-out Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York on St. Patrick's Day in 2017 and one on a Manny Pacquiao undercard in Australia. But Conlan (8-0, 5 KOs), 26, wasn't as explosive as he's been and perhaps there were some nerves because of the hometown aspect, but he easily outpointed former junior featherweight world title challenger Adeilson Dos Santos (19-5, 15 KOs), 26, of Brazil, winning by the singular score of 79-73 from referee Phil Edwards.
The next step: Conlan likely will head back to the United States for his next fight to continue the development process against perhaps another former title challenger or former titleholder.
Fights you might have missed
Saturday at Uncasville, Conn.
Light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr. (24-2, 20 KOs) KO1 Melvin Russell (11-5-2, 7 KOs).
New York contender Smith, 28, the man who scored upset knockouts of Bernard Hopkins and Andrzej Fonfara in 2016, had not boxed since suffering a badly broken jaw and fighting most of the bout with the injury in a decision loss to Sullivan Barrera last July. Smith returned against 39-year-old Kentucky club fighter Melvin Russell and disposed of him easily. He hurt Russell with the first punch he landed and scored two knockdowns for the knockout at 1 minute, 45 seconds. After the fight, Smith said his jaw was fine and that he hopes to eventually challenge world titlist Sergey Kovalev should Kovalev prevail in his Aug. 4 defense against Eleider Alvarez.
Saturday at Mexico City
Junior welterweight Pedro Campa (29-1, 19 KOs) Tech. Dec. 5 Domicio Rondon (18-4, 10 KOs), scores: 50-44 (three times)
In the Zanfer Promotions card on beIN Sports Espanol, Campa, 26, of Mexico, was in full control all the way against Rondon, 35, of Venezuela, but in the fourth round an accidental head butt left Campa with a terrible cut over his left eye. The cut got worse in the fifth round, and after consulting with the ringside doctor, referee Guadalupe Garcia waved off the fight and sent it to the scorecards.