The reputations of both Paul McCloskey and Breidis Prescott as genuine junior welterweight contenders were on the line Saturday in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
And in a thrilling WBA title eliminator, which lit up a packed, rocking Odyssey Arena as it swung one way and then the other, it was local favorite McCloskey who eventually edged out the man from Colombia.
"Edged" being the operative word. For while McCloskey, from Derry, Northern Ireland, won a unanimous points decision in his first outing since losing to IBF and WBA "super" champ Amir Khan, it was a mighty close call. The judges scorecards of 114-113 114-113 115-113 in his favor very much reflected that fact.
Huge credit goes to both men: McCloskey (23-1, 12 knockouts) for battling back from a desperately slow start and a first round knockdown, Prescott (24-3, 19 KOs) for totally dominating proceedings throughout the first half of the night.
However, the 28-year-old Miami resident, the only man to have beaten Khan, was unable to sustain his excellent early work. Despite rocking McCloskey in the sixth round with a booming straight right, Prescott simply did not have enough in the tank to finish him off.
Even so, few envisioned the storming comeback which then ensued from McCloskey as he went on to snatch victory –and a second world title shot.
“I am so happy with the way I won the fight. I started slowly and could see early on that he could hit me hard,” said the 32-year-old. “I’m a skilful fighter but there are some nights when you just have to dig in. I did that here.”
On the undercard, junior featherweight prospect Carl Frampton, from Belfast, maintained his unbeaten record by stopping Aussie Mark Quon in the fourth round to take the vacant Commonwealth title.
Frampton (11-0, 7 knockouts), trained by Irish legend Barry McGuigan, proved far too classy for Quon (11-4, 2 KOs) – a late replacement for European beltholder Kiko Martinez after he pulled out for personal reasons.
“Fair play to the lad, he stepped up to the plate late and showed guts by taking the fight – but everything went perfectly for me,” said 24-year-old Frampton after his sustained attack in the fourth forced the referee to call a halt. “You’ve just seen what I can do when I’m relaxed.”
Frampton is now in line to face the winner of the British title showdown between Jason Booth and Scott Quigg, who meet in Bolton, October 22.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org