INDIO, Calif. – 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder had never gone more than four rounds in his professional career. Veteran Sergei Liakhovich, who previously had never been stopped before the ninth round, seemed the guy to extend the undefeated KO artist.
However, the former WBO titleholder didn’t make it a full minute. The bout headlined a three fight ShoBox card at the Fantasy Springs Resort & Casino.
That Liakhovich was stopped wasn’t the surprise, the way in which Wilder sent him spiraling to the canvas 43 seconds in was.
“Sometimes it scares me when I can tap a guy and hit him and they just fall,” said Wilder after the knockout. “Did you see the reaction when I hit him? It was like he was falling from a roof or something.”
Wilder (29-0, 29 knockouts) has continued to make his knockouts look effortless, which makes him dangerous if he can realize the full potential of his gifts.
“One thing about me that you can’t really determine on the outside of the ring is my speed,” said Wilder. “You can only see it when you face in front of me.”
That it took fellow unbeaten American heavyweight Bryant Jennings nine rounds to stop Liakhovich (25-6, 16 KOs) will only stoke the flames of a fight between the two. Last week, the two traded words on an internet boxing radio show.
Wilder made it clear his goal is to establish himself as the only American heavyweight, not just one of many.
More knockouts like Friday night’s will go a ways in establishing that as fact. A showdown with Jennings would cement that.
In an exciting clash between two young junior lightweights, Francisco Vargas was the prospect who saw his stock rise, winning a ten-round unanimous decision over Brandon Bennett.
Early on, Bennett (15-1, 7 KOs) displayed some of the gifts that made fellow Cincinnatian Adrien Broner a talent. Vargas adjusted during the second round and found success in his relentless pressure and willingness to endure any incoming offense.
Vargas (17-0-1, 12 KOs), fighting out of Los Angeles, would dominate large stretches of rounds, but Bennett would always seem to answer back when it looked as though he might be headed on his way out. Vargas displayed some great punch selection, landing hooks upstairs before following with gut-ripping body shots.
A cut opened up above the right eye of Vargas halfway through the fight, but it only slowed him down a tad. Bennett tried a number of defensive tactics and lots of holding to ensure himself hearing the final bell.
Scores were 99-91, 99-90 and 98-92 in favor of Vargas.
Junior middleweight prospect Jermall Charlo (15-0, 11 KOs), of Houston, Texas, scored his signature win, stopping gatekeeper Antwone Smith in the second round of their opening TV bout.
Smith (23-5-1, 12 KOs) of Miami, came into the fight five pounds over the weight limit and lost 20 percent of his purse. That lack of preparation seemed to translate into the fight, as Smith looked lost.
After a feel-out round dominated by Charlo, the end came when a leaping right hand sent Smith sprawling to the mat. Though Smith returned to his feet, the bout was waved off by the referee, and it was ruled as a knockout at 2:23 of the round by referee Thomas Taylor.
In his first fight since suffering a hand injury in January, Gary Russell Jr. (23-0, 13 KOs) earned a workmanlike ten-round decision over the durable Juan Ruiz (23-13, 7 KOs).
Russell, who was in talks for a fight with Daniel Ponce de Leon this past summer, opted to take a tune-up to test out his hands before taking a step up.
Ruiz had lost nine of his previous ten fights, always coming against quality opposition. Russell became just the latest in a string of fighters unable to stop Ruiz. A stoppage would have registered as a mildly impressive feat for the former U.S. Olympian, whose career has stalled a bit.
Russell utilized his superior physical tools by constantly landing seven or eight punch combinations before Ruiz had a chance to answer. Ruiz, of Panorama City, Calif., tried his hand at making it an ugly fight, leaning on Russell when he had him on the ropes.
Russell wasn’t putting much on his punches, until the final thirty seconds of the fight when he let power go.
Scores were an expected 100-90 across the board.