Yafai keeps world ti­tle af­ter tight er than ex­pected fourth de­fence

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Kal Yafai is pushed hard and Frank Buglioni has his last fight in Monaco

SOME arm­chair ob­servers felt that

Kal Yafai was lucky to keep hold of his WBA su­per-fly­weight ti­tle af­ter a spir­ited 12-round chal­lenge from Mex­ico’s Is­rael Gon­za­lez in­side the Salle Médecin at the Casino de Monte Carlo. In truth, the un­de­feated Brum­mie did just enough to keep his belt. The scores that favoured Yafai – 116-112 twice (Gus­tavo Padilla and Jean Robert Laine) and 117-111 (Giuseppe Quar­tarone) – were likely too wide but, in a close fight with close rounds, such tal­lies are jus­ti­fi­able.

The cham­pion strug­gled at times in the early go­ing with the tena­cious Gon­za­lez, whose work to the body was par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive. Credit Yafai, who has been champ for nearly two years, for pick­ing up the pace and mea­sur­ing his Los Ca­bos op­po­nent well af­ter a tax­ing start.

Gon­za­lez’s own body came un­der at­tack in the sixth as Yafai’s jab started to cre­ate open­ings. The chal­lenger showed signs of tired­ness in rounds seven and eight, be­fore an eye-catch­ing Yafai left scored in the ninth. The blow only served to en­liven Gon­za­lez, who roared for­ward in the fi­nal quar­ter to keep the con­test – of­fi­ci­ated by Luis Pabon – in the bal­ance. Yafai was dis­ap­pointed with his per­for­mance at the end, but his cleaner shots en­sured his un­beaten record re­mained in­tact. Pro­moter Ed­die Hearn spoke of uni­fi­ca­tion fights for Yafai in 2019, but they should be wary of IBF ti­tlist Jer­win An­ca­jas, who de­feated Gon­za­lez far more con­clu­sively in Fe­bru­ary. En­field’s Frank Buglioni made the de­ci­sion to re­tire from the ring af­ter be­ing halted in five rounds by China’s un­beaten Fan­long Meng. A deep gash on Buglioni’s right eye­lid, seem­ingly opened by a left hook, pre­sented ref­eree Timo Habighorst with lit­tle choice but to call it off at 1-58 (set for 12). The cruel end­ing was tough on Buglioni, who was ral­ly­ing in the early part of the round, but

Meng ap­peared to be craft­ing a win­ning per­for­mance long be­fore the blood poured.

The slick south­paw, quick of hand and foot, mea­sured the for­mer British lightheavy­weight cham­pion’s at­tacks per­fectly in the open­ing two rounds. Buglioni had some suc­cess in the third, rough­ing up Meng on the in­side and dig­ging to head and body, but the man from Chifeng was far from be­ing over­awed. This time last year, Rus­sia’s Alexan­der

Usti­nov was handed a shot at a sec­ondary WBA heavy­weight ti­tle, which tells you all you need to know about that or­gan­i­sa­tion’s sham­bolic cham­pi­onship sys­tem. But surely even the WBA won’t be able to res­cue Usti­nov’s ca­reer fol­low­ing a de­ci­sive ninth-round loss to

Michael Hunter.

The Las Ve­gas-based Cal­i­for­nian, fresh off an upset win over Martin Bakole in Oc­to­ber, dom­i­nated from the start of this sched­uled 12-rounder with his loop­ing right hand again a trou­ble­some weapon. Usti­nov, now fight­ing out of Minsk, was all at sea at the end of the fourth, but showed some pluck to last as long as he did. That right hand decked him in the eighth, be­fore a sus­tained at­tack in the ninth saw ref­eree Padilla ac­cept sur­ren­der from Usti­nov’s cor­ner at 1-52. It was Hunter’s fourth vic­tory in a row since step­ping back up to heavy­weight fol­low­ing an April 2017 loss to cruis­er­weight king Olek­sandr Usyk.

Chekhov’s ex-uni­fied world cruis­er­weight champ De­nis Lebe­dev marked his re­turn to 200lbs with a one-sided beat­ing of Mike Wil­son, of Med­ford in Ore­gon. Wil­son, 35, was 19-0 go­ing in, but the leap in class to Lebe­dev was enor­mous, and so it proved from the third round un­til the last.

The Rus­sian’s left hand couldn’t miss, whether aimed at the ribs, stom­ach or head of Wil­son, and by the fourth, blood drib­bled from his nose. One only has to look at Lebe­dev’s fea­tures for ev­i­dence of his long and pun­ish­ing ca­reer but here, at 39, the south­paw likely se­cured a ti­tle shot when Usyk makes his ex­pected jump to heavy­weight and leaves all four world cruis­er­weight belts be­hind. The scores in Lebe­dev’s favour were 119-109 twice (Aure­lien Pena and Alexan­dre Laine) and 117-111 (Stephane Ni­colo). Jean Robert Laine ref­er­eed. Touted Kaza­khstan star­let Dani­yar

Yeleussi­nov cruised to 5-0 as he im­pres­sively thrashed Nicaragua’s

Mar­cos Mo­jica in three rounds (sched­uled for eight). Brook­lyn-based south­paw Yeleussi­nov found the tar­get with ease, step­ping in­side and crack­ing Mo­jica with his men­ac­ing left hand. The same mitt dumped his prey on the mat in round two.

The fight was all but over, yet the Managua un­der­dog hauled him­self to his feet only to be whacked off them via a punch to the body. An­other knock­down fol­lowed in the third. Again he rose. This time he was greeted with an up­per­cut which at last per­suaded ref­eree Ni­colo to end the slaugh­ter. The time was 1-10.

THE VER­DICT Yafai grinds out re­sult, but is made to work hard.


STRUG­GLE: Gon­za­lez makes it dif cult for Yafai

CUT SHORT: Buglioni’s loss to Meng will be the last bout of his ca­reer


ALL AC­TION: Hunter top­ples Usti­nov while Lebe­dev [above] and Yeleussi­nov [be­low] en­joy wins

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