Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Steve Cunningham gave us a great fight and a new RING cruiserweight champion on Saturday night in Frankfurt, Germany.
Hernandez put Cunningham down twice the fourth round, hurting him badly, fended off a furious middle-rounds rally by the American and then finished strongly in the championship rounds to earn a unanimous decision and the vacant RING title.
The judges scored it 116-110, 116-110 and 115-111 but the fight was much closer than that. THE RING scored it a 113-113 draw.
Hernandez (26-1, 13 knockouts) and Cunningham (24-4, 12 KOs) were rated Nos. 1 and 2 going into the fight.
“It was a great fight and I take my hat off to Steve,” said Hernandez, who became the first cruiserweight champion since Tomasz Adamek gave up the belt early in 2009 to campaign at heavyweight.. “He is a great fighter and we put on an exciting fight. I am happy that my game plan worked and I am thrilled to be RING champion.”
How did the result affect the cruiserweight ratings?
Hernandez’s ascension to the championship had an impact on everyone below him and created an opening in the cruiserweight ratings.
The first order of business was to decide where to put Cunningham, the 35-year-old veteran who now has consecutive losses after losing to Hernandez by a controversial technical decision in October and then again on Saturday.
Members of the Ratings Advisory Panel had contrasting opinions on exactly where Cunningham belongs but all agreed that he should remain among the top few cruiserweights after a solid performance and because of his strong resume.
THE RING Editorial Board decided to leave him at No. 2 but have Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (No. 3 last week) leapfrog him into the No. 1 position. Cunningham and Wlodarczyk (46-2-1, 33 KOs) split two close meetings in 2006 and 2007, both in Wlodarczyk’s home country of Poland.
We considered dropping Cunningham below Denis Lebedev (who ascends from No. 4 last week to No. 3) but we didn’t feel Lebedev’s victories over fogies Roy Jones Jr. and James Toney carried much weight.
Next was the issue of filling the cruiserweight vacancy, which sparked a spirited discussion by panel members.
One suggested 2008 Olympic champion Rakhim Chakhkiev (12-0, 9 KOs), a fearsome 29-year-old from Russia who would be in the Top 10 if talent were our main criterion. But the Editorial Board decided that Chakhkiev must accomplish a little more as a pro before entering the ratings.
More than one panel member suggested Alexander Alekseev, who fairly easily outpointed fringe contender Enad Licina on the Hernandez-Cunningham undercard. That was a nice victory. But Alekseev (23-2, 20 KOs) has two knockout losses in his last nine fights.
Someone suggested Pawel Kolodziej (29-0, 17 KOs) of Poland, who has built a solid resume. But he has yet to face a top-level opponent and hasn’t fought outside his home country since 2006.
One panel member mentioned the name of Francisco Palacios of Puerto Rico (21-1, 13 KOs), whose only blemish is a split-decision loss to Wlodarczyk last April.
And, finally, another cruiserweight who merited consideration was Ran Nakash (26-1, 18 KOs) of Israel, who gave a solid performance in a losing effort against former No. 1 Marco Huck in April.
The winner? The Editorial Board decided to go with Alekseev, who has won four consecutive fights since his last setback (against Lebedev) and looked good in an important victory over Licina.
RING RATINGS UPDATE
Middleweight: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had little trouble outpointing Marco Antonio Rubio on Saturday in San Antonio, which sparked another discussion as to where Chavez (No. 5 last week) belongs in the ratings.
On one hand, the fact Junior now has victories over solid opponents John Duddy, Sebastian Zbik, Peter Manfredo Jr. and Rubio is impressive. On the other, a victory over an unrated opponent on Saturday doesn’t merit elevation in the ratings.
Thus, Chavez remains where he is, behind champion Sergio Martinez, No. 1 Daniel Geale, No. 2. Felix Sturm, No. 3 Matthew Macklin and No. 4 Grzegorz Proksa.
Martinez defends his RING belt against Macklin on March 17 in New York City. Macklin probably will lose, meaning Chavez is likely to rise to No. 4 then.
Junior featherweight: Nonito Donaire (unrated last week) had a successful debut at 122 pounds, defeating Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (No. 8 last week) by a split decision in spite of what he said was an injured left hand Saturday on the Chavez-Rubio card.
One rogue judge scored the fight for Vazquez but Donaire won handily.
So where does Donaire fit in? Another good discussion.
Two panel members thought he should enter the 122-pound ratings at No. 8, where Vazquez was rated last week. Others thought he should be rated as high as No. 3, behind only No. 1 Toshiaki Nishioka and Guillermo Rigondeaux.
The Editorial Board leaned toward the latter point of view. Yes, Donaire has only one victory as a full-fledged junior featherweight. However, it was against a rated fighter. And, more important, we can’t ignore his impressive track record at the lower weights: The man is a proven stud. His victories over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Wladimir Sidorenko and Fernando Montiel were spectacular.
Thus, Donaire enters the junior featherweight ratings at No. 3. That pushes everyone from No. 3 to No. 7 last week down one notch each. Vazquez, who has lost his last two major fights, drops to No. 10. That allows Masaaki Serie (No. 9 last week) to remain his position. Victor Terrazas (No. 10 last week) drops out.
Donaire also remains No. 4 on the pound-for-pound list.
Rated fighters in action this coming weekend (with current ratings)
Junior welterweight: Lucas Matthysse (No. 4) vs. Angel Martinez (Friday)
Lightweight: Kevin Mitchell (No. 5) vs. Felix Lora (Friday)
Junior Featherweight: Masaaki Serie (No. 9) vs. Yasutaka Ishimoto (Monday in Japan, Sunday in U.S.)
Junior Bantamweight: Rodrigo Guerrero (No. 10) vs. Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. (Saturday)
Junior Flyweight: Luis Lazarte (No. 4) vs. Johnriel Casimero (Friday)