In a minor upset American based Russian Evgeny Gradovich (16-0, 8) claimed the IBF Featherweight title decisioning the more experienced Australian Billy Dib (35-2-0-1, 21 ) in a messy yet engaging battle that really saw the "Mexican Russian" showing what he's about.
The opening round saw the champion start well as he moved well and landed a number of solid shots whilst making the challenger look silly, reckless and a bit out of his depth and he continued that in the second round as Gradovich applied rather ineffective pressure on to the champion.
Although the first two rounds were easy to score in favour of Dib the fight started to change in the third round as Gradovich's pressure started to have noticeable effect on the flashier champion. Dib better boxing skills were being negated by the bloody mindedness of Gradovich who just refused to back off and appeared to have started to get his engine going. Although the third was close and could have conceivably gone either way it was the turning point in the fight and Gradovich started to get real traction in the 4th as he repeatedly forced Dib on to the ropes and grew in confidence.
As Gradovich's confidence started to bloom so did his success with more and more of his shots landing cleanly on Dib who was almost dropped early in the 5th round, as the momentum swung completely in favour of Gradovich. Not only was Gradovich now coming into his own but Dib appeared to be both mentally welting and physically breaking down as his ear and nose started to bleed.
Although the challenger was really coming in to the bout the champion did manage to have some success through out the 6th round although Gradovich seemed to do enough at the end to just claim it. The following round again saw Dib having some moments of success but simply not enough of them to claim the round with Gradovich relentlessly marching towards him and trying to unload against a fighter who was spending more time trying to establish a safe distance than actually fighting.
Although the first 7 rounds were messy with copious amounts of clinching things got silly afterwards with both men being deducted a point for holding in round 8 as the fight went from a bit messy to a full on grapplefest that wrestling fans would have been proud of. Dib continually held on to Gradovich when the men were close effectively stopping the Russian from hitting him though doing little work himself as the bout really broke down with several awful rounds. Whilst Gradovich wasn't able to land much of note the fact he was simply trying to force the fight was enough for me to award him the rounds against Dib who was intent on spoiling.
Although the holding and hugging continued on a round by round basis until the final bell both rounds 11 and 12 were eye catching with 11 seeing both men rocked whilst 12 saw Dibs face becoming a claret mask as a cut around his eye worsened and dripped across his face. It was obvious from the facial damage of the two men that Dib had been hit numerous times and whilst Gradovich was marked up himself he didn't have the war scars of Dib at the final bell.
To many onlookers it seemed as if Gradovich, who had forced the bout through out was a clear winner. In fact when the bell went to end the bout Gradovich climbed the corner to celebrate whilst Dib had a very muted and short celebration before looking sorry for himself. It was clear that Dib didn't believe he had won whilst Gradovich had obviously though he'd done enough to claim the belt. Thankfully 2 of the judges agreed as Gradovich took a split decision and the world title.
Dib, sung in by American rap-star 50 Cent was fighting in America for the first time since losing in a WBO Super Bantamweight title bout to Steve Luevano back in 2008. The show was supposed to re-introduce him to America yet what it actually did was introduce the wider boxing world to the potentially exciting to watch Gradovich. Rather wonderfully it relieves the dirty and awful to Dib of the world title and likely any more undeserved limelight.