By Mark G. Butcher, reporting from ringside in Macao: He may not be cut from the same mould as Mexican legends Julio Cesar Chavez and Marco Antonio Barrera, but there is no denying Miguel Vazquez will be a difficult world champion to dislodge. The Mexican retained his IBF lightweight title via unanimous decision at the Cotai Arena on Saturday over bemused Russian challenger Denis Shafikov in a bout that fell way short of pre-fight expectation.
Judges’ scores were Patricia Jarman (115-113), Chris Wilson (116-112) and Sylvian Leblance 119-109 all in favour of the champion. SecondsOut scored the bout 117-113 for Vazquez.
Many of the rounds were messy and difficult to score. But as Paulie Malignaggi so eloquently put, ‘Whoever’s boxing match they are fighting is probably winning the fight’. They fought the Mexican’s fight.
The awkwardly clever Vazquez, 34-3 (13), used his greater mobility as expected in the first, flicking out the jab, staving off the oncoming Russian. Southpaw Shafikov tried to narrow the distance but the fleet-footed champion seemed to have little problem skipping out of range by the second.
Height and reach disadvantages were posing a problem for the unbeaten challenger. He was walking on to crisp left hooks and right hands which, while not concussive shots, were scoring blows.
Shafikov, now 33-1-1 (18), tried to rough the champion up more in the fourth but found himself tied up within range. The fifth saw Vazquez using his movement to frustrate the aggressive challenger who, too often, was left swinging at thin air.
Finally, in the sixth, a right hand got through from the challenger. Slowly but surely hopeful potshots were landing and Shafikov was gaining heart. Tape on Vazquez’s glove came loose in the sixth and seventh (and later in the 10th) in a rare, eventful interlude. The challenger was marked around the right eye, but refused to be discouraged despite the frustrating nature of the fight from his perspective.
In a maul, both fighters fell to the canvas in the eighth. The Russian southpaw refused to a take a backward step but just could not pin Vazquez down. The Mexican must be a maddening opponent yet his style works so well for him.
There was more joy for Shafikov in the ninth as he cut the distance down and landed a few meaty blows that had the champion backpedalling for cover. The stocky challenger bulldozed forward in the 10th but his face was reddening with the attentions of Vazquez’s looping left hooks. Vazquez used his mobility and long, gangly arms to frustrate and tire Shafikov further in the 11th round.
The cheers at the beginning of the final round showed what the crowd had thought of the contest as a spectacle. The 12th duly passed without event! But Vazquez won’t mind. He had retained his title for the sixth occasion and the IBF crown returns to Mexico.
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