(Evgeny Gradovich, left, Billy Dib, right; photo credit: Ed Diller, DiBella Entertainment)
Evgeny Gradovich snatched the IBF featherweight belt from Billy Dib Friday in a fight dirtier than a 50 Cent verse.
In its second consecutive week of title competition, ESPN Friday Night Fights aired a rough-and-tumble affair that resulted in a split decision in favor of the challenger. Gradovich, a Russian out of boxing-centric Oxnard, Calif., bullied the notoriously dirty Dib to score the upset in Mashantucket, Conn., on March 1.
Gradovich, 26, had just come off vacation when he signed to fight in early February. The fact that the “Mexican Russian” had only a few weeks to train and had never before been 12 rounds—as opposed to Dib’s 83 championship rounds—factored little into the aggressive underdog’s performance. He was Pat Garrett hot on Billy the Kid’s trail.
Apparently unimpressed that Dib’s promoter, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, walked his fighter to the ring in song, Gradovich (16-0, 8 KOs) was all business. The initial round was close, with Gradovich stalking a fleet-of-foot Dib. Though the Australian landed a few jabs and a solid right uppercut, it was Gradovich who set the tempo. He scored early with a straight right hand and later in the round with a left hook up top.
By the round 2, referee Eddie Claudio realized he was in for a long night. Dib, 27, picked his shots, jabbing his way to an advantage, but extracurricular activity by both fighters led to Gradovich planting his forearm across Dib’s neck as he back him up on the ropes late in the frame. Dib (35-2, 21 KOs) began closing the distance in the 3rd round, where Claudio called time to issue a stern warning to each boxer for dirty tactics.
The shorter punches of Gradovich—as opposed to what Teddy Atlas called the “grab-and-go” style of Dib—were key in his winning the war on the inside, which swung in his favor in round 4. At one point, Gradovich knocked Dib off-balance with a hard left to the jaw. An accidental elbow opened a gash above Dib’s left ear prior to the bell. The next two rounds fared even better for the challenger, who at the midway point of the fight held an advantage in total punches (135-127) and percentage (32-28).
To the surprise of his trainer, Robert Garcia, Gradovich was deducted a point early in the 7th for holding. Later in the round, Claudio took a point away from Dib for the same offense.
Sticking to his fight plan, Gradovich remained the aggressor round after round. Through nine, he had a 172-126 lead in power punches at 39 percent. In the 10th, he nearly sprinted across the ring at the bell to unload a right hook he had been sitting on.
The 11th round was competitive, but a cut above Dib’s right eye opened wider. Gradovich’s punches repeatedly resulted in his opponent’s head jerking in painful positions in the final round, like Dib would be prone to spew split pea soup at any moment.
Strangely, the judges scored the bout closer than Atlas, who had it 116-111 for Gradovich, and the online viewers, who thought the new titlist dominated 11 rounds to 1. Official scores were 114-112 twice for Gradovich and 114-112 for Dib once. TQBR saw it similarly to Atlas and the audience at 117-109.
It was the seventh fight outside of Australia for Sydney’s Dib, who is 5-2 outside of his home country/continent.
Following two fights that finished in the first round, 26-year-old middleweights Jimmy Williams and Raynard Younger allowed fans to settle into their seats in a 4-round bout that went to the scorecards. New Haven’s Williams (2-0) controlled the distance and dictated the pace with a consistent work rate. Younger, of Norcross, Ga., fell to 0-2. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Williams, as did TQBR.
Youngstown, Ohio, has had its share of talented boxers throughout the years. Junior middleweight Willie Nelson (20-1-1, 12) could be the next. The 25-year-old stopped Michael Medina, 26, after a pair of impressive straight-right-hand knockdowns. The first came as a counter off the ropes while Medina attempted to smother Nelson. The second was set up by Nelson’s stiff jab.
Medina (26-4-2, 19 KOs), of Los Angeles, is 3-3 in his last six matches.
Luis Olivares, a junior welterweight out of Glendale, Ari., began his professional career with a bang as he disposed of Houston native Rafael Munoz in 1:38 of the opening round, setting somewhat of a trend for the night. Olivares, 20, dropped Munoz (1-2) with a solid left hook upstairs merely moments into the second minute of the bout. Referee Johnny Callas called a halt to the fight after Olivares again sent Munoz to the canvas with another left hook to the head.