Late Breaking

Jirov makes successful return; Phoenix tries to rise

PHOENIX – It will go on the books as a second-round knockout for the former cruiserweight champion of the world after a 27-month layoff. Best for Vassiliy Jirov if it stays on the books.

Saturday night at Celebrity Theatre, Neworld Promotions and Roland Sarria made their Arizona debut with “Phoenix Rising” – a five-match card that featured Scottsdale’s Jirov (38-3-1, 31 KOs) against Washingtonian Jonathon Williams (7-7-1, 6 KOs) in a fight that Jirov won by stoppage at 2:52 of the second round after dropping Williams thrice. Jirov, too, was on the canvas thrice, though only once from a punch.

After looking extraordinarily rusty in the opening round, Jirov looked much more like his old self in the fight’s second round. He dropped Williams with a counter right and then later with a left uppercut. Jirov, whose heart is unquestionable, proved power is indeed the last thing to go.

“He’s back!” declared Jirov manager Ivaylo Gotzev after the fight.

But Jirov was a bit more measured, attributing his slow start to “rust.”

The evening’s other homecoming was soured considerably when local junior lightweight Rafael Valenzuela (13-2, 6 KOs) was disqualified by veteran referee Bobby Ferrara at 2:27 of the second round for a flagrant foul – his second low blow in as many minutes – against Luis Angel Paneto.

Paneto, who weighed eight and a half pounds less than Valenzuela on Friday evening, appeared intimidated and outclassed in the first round as Valenzuela, lead hand low, cracked him with right-hand counters. But the second round was a more spirited and even affair with Paneto landing right hands of his own – the sort that made Valenzuela supporters glad their guy had a significant weight advantage.

If Valenzuela’s first low blow was a questionable call in the second round, the second was not. An audible thump, glove on plastic not flesh, could be heard at ringside. Paneto went down, and Ferrara unhappily waved the fight off, doing nothing to please the considerable Valenzuela contingent that had turned out to see their guy’s first local fight in four years.

“He was holding, he was holding. What could I do?” Valenzuela said by way of explanation, after the fight. “I don’t fight dirty.”

One thing that made Phoenix fight fans smile Saturday was the professional debut of local amateur standout Alexis Santiago, who made his first prizefight against a tough super bantamweight named Aaron Fernandez. Ringside judges were unanimous as the crowd, giving Santiago every available point, 40-36, 40-36 and 40-36.

Described by Arizona trainer Andy Soto as a “left-hooker from way back” Santiago began the fight in the same semi-chaotic way that every young fighter does. As he tired and sat down on his punches, though, Santiago began to exhibit more and more class, leading with left hooks to both body and head. After engaging in evenhanded exchanges at the fight’s onset, Santiago spent the fight’s second half battering the game Fernandez.

Asked about his first fight without glare-reducing headgear, Santiago said, “The lights were very bright!”

The night’s biggest upset came when New Zealand mixed-martial-artist Brice Ritani-Coe made his professional boxing debut by starching heavyweight Richard Hale at 2:02 of round two. Ritani-Coe, who weighed 320 pounds – an even 100 more than the favorite Hale – proved yet again that boxing is not bodybuilding, out-defending Hale before blasting him with a left hook that began the end of Hale’s night.

The evening’s first bout – a four-round welterweight scrap – ended quickly when Los Angeles’ Terrel “Tiger” Williams went directly through Juan “Oso Peligroso” Zamarripa, causing the Zamarripa corner to stop the fight at 2:31 of the first round, after twice mounting the apron in its fighter’s defense. In a fight between the tiger and the dangerous bear, the “oso” had neither claws nor fangs.

According to officials at the Arizona State Boxing Commission, Shannon Briggs’ scheduled comeback fight was scrapped when his opponent was unable to pass a mandatory prefight eye exam due to a cataract. According to Briggs’ people, there was also an issue with an injured bicep – though not one that would have precluded Briggs from fighting.

Celebrity Theatre was better than half-filled Saturday night. And the evening marked the first in the tenure of new Executive Officer of the Arizona State Boxing Commission Dennis O’Connell, a retired attorney from Detroit who replaces longstanding chief John Montano.

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