Evgeny Gradovich, a late substitute for Luis Franco, upset featherweight beltholder Billy Dib, lifting the IBF belt from the favored Australian with a hard-fought split decision in a Friday Night Fights main event in Mashantucket, Conn.
Gradovich (16-0, 8 knockouts), a 26-year-old Russian grinder trained by Robert Garcia, took the fight to Dib and outworked the more-experienced pro over 12 rough and sometimes ugly rounds to win by scores of 114-112, 114-112 and 112-114.
Both fighters were game throughout the bout and both were docked points for holding by referee Eddie Claudio in the eighth round. Dib (35-2, 21 KOs), a 27-year-old stick-and-move specialist, however, was unable to impose his strength or style on the forward marching, physically stronger challenger.
In the co-featured bout of the ESPN2 broadcast, junior middleweight prospect Willie Nelson scored a first-round TKO of Michel Medina.
Nelson (20-1-1, 12 KOs), of Cleveland, Ohio, dropped the California-based veteran twice. Medina (26-3-2, 19 KOs) hurt his ankle on the second knockdown and forced referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to wave the bout off at 2:00 of the round.
A full ringisde report from Ryan Songalia will be posted shortly.