Monessen's Vasquez continues KO streak, claims vacant welterweight crown
In the 15 fights of his professional career, Sammy Vasquez Jr. had never fought beyond six rounds.
That changed Friday night, and he still got the same result as his previous six fights: a knockout.
The Monesson native dropped James Stevenson of Baltimore in the ninth round of the main event of Iron Mike Promotions' The Pride of Pittsburgh, the first boxing card at Consol Energy Center, claiming the vacant IBF-USBA welterweight title in front of a crowd of 3,511.
Vasquez Jr. (16-0-0) took advantage of Stevenson (21-1-0) letting his guard down in the ninth round, landing a critical right hook to Stevenson's head and forcing referee Ernie Sharif to stop the fight just 25 seconds into the round.
“It was a great experience,” Vasquez said. “I hadn't been past six rounds, and I was glad he was able to push it out that far.”
In his six fights leading up to Friday, Vasquez won by TKO in five rounds or fewer, while Stevenson hadn't gone the distance in a fight since a six-round bout against Angel Rios in Oct. 2012.
The pace quickly picked up in the third round. Stevenson staggered Vasquez with a big right hook before Vasquez responded, forcing his opponent back on the defensive in seconds.
Vasquez outpunched Stevenson for the majority of the night, throwing jab-heavy combinations that had Stevenson against the ropes a couple times in the first few rounds. It was capitalizing on that momentum that early proved difficult for Vasquez.
Vasquez's first trouble came in Round 5. He landed back-to-back right hook, straight left combinations but was staggered by a right hook followed by a right cross from Stevenson while loading up with his left hand, stumbling a bit before being saved by the bell.
“It was a great learning experience for Sam,” said trainer Bob Healy. “He gets a little too excited when he gets in trouble, and this guy caught him on the ropes, but I thought he showed a lot of resilience.”
Vasquez said after the fight that he learned his lesson after working away from his fundamentals up against the ropes in the fifth round.
“I got too involved and let my hands down,” Vasquez said. “I've got to stop being so ambitious.”
Said Stevenson: “There were still 30 seconds left, but they rung the bell early. They knew he was hurt.”
The uncharted late rounds provided Vasquez's most dominant moments. A left uppercut started a combination that quickly had Stevenson on the mat in the eighth, signaling the end of Stevenson's night. Stevenson held on for the end of the round but appeared to be exhausted.
“I could tell he was super tired,” Vasquez said. “He hasn't been in as much pressure as I was giving him through nine rounds and he hasn't been in it with anybody who hits as hard as me.”
Speaking after the fight, Stevenson argued that he wasn't knocked down.
“It wasn't even a knockdown, he pushed me,” Stevenson said. “I don't take nothing away from him, it was a good fight.”
And it was a fight in which Vasquez fought his way out of mid-round trouble, earning the admiration of Mike Tyson, the event's promoter.
“(Vasquez) overcame adversity,” Tyson said. “He came back with a vengeance, and I'm very proud of him.”
In what was the fight of the night, lightweight Monty Meza-Clay (36-3-0), 33, of Rankin scored a knockout of Alan Herrera of Mazatlan, Mexico, in the 10th and final round. Meza-Clay staggered Herrera with a left hook and hit him with a flurry of punches to which Herrera failed to respond, forcing referee Rick Steigerwald to intervene.
“This was the best victory of my career,” Meza-Clay said. “I train to go the distance. I'm not the biggest puncher, but I'm Mike Tyson at the end of a fight.”
Meza-Clay knocked down Herrera early in the sixth round but was hurt later in the round and looked vulnerable before the bell. Meza-Clay fought back, keeping the fight close heading into the 10th.
In the night's first co-feature fight, middleweight and London 2012 Ukranian Olympian Ievgen Khytrov (6-0-0) of Brooklyn, N.Y. earned a knockout win over Willie Fortune of Detroit just 30 seconds into the first round.
In the undercard, welterweight Erickson Lubin of Orlando, Fla., earned a quick win by knockout over Francisco Javier Reza of Torreon, Mexico, when referee Chris Riskus halted the fight after the first round.
Featherweight Claudio Marrero (16-1-0) of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, stopped Felix Perez of San Juan, Puerto Rico, just 1:44 into the second round of a six-round bout, while fellow featherweight Vincent Jennings (5-0-1) of Grand Rapids, Mich., defeated Dennis Galarza of Brooklyn, N.Y., by unanimous decision. Lightweight Ryan Martin (8-0-0) of Cleveland earned a knockout win over Engelberto Valenzuela of Sonora, Mexico, when Riskus stopped the fight just 54 seconds into the first round.
Welterweight Amonte Eberhardt (2-0-0), a Wilkinsburg native who trains at the Third Ave. Gym Downtown, scored a unanimous decision victory over Travis McLaren of Virginia. Cruiserweight Steve Geffrard (3-2-0) of Miami defeated Darius Harris of Detroit by unanimous decision.
Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com .