(Rustam Nugaev, left, Jose Hernandez, right; credit: Mario Serrano, Gary Shaw Productions)
Continuing their recent run of competitive fights, ESPN2 put on a fun show from Cabazon, Calif. on Friday Night Fights. In the main event, Russian Rustam Nugaev (25-6-1, 15 KO) stopped Jose Hernandez (14-7-1, 6 KO) in the 5th round of a scheduled 10 round lightweight fight. Despite both being quite tall for the 135-lb. class, Nugaev and Hernandez took the fight to close quarters immediately.
Midway through the 1st round, it became clear that Nugaev’s chopping left hooks were going to tell in the fight. His shorter, more compact combinations were not as visually pleasing as Hernandez’ shots, but they landed with greater frequency and accuracy, staggering Hernandez twice. Despite his altered equilibrium, Hernandez fired back with big shots of his own, none of which elicited more than a smile from Nugaev.
The next few rounds played similarly to the 1st: Hernandez countering effectively, but ultimately outworked by Nugaev, who appeared totally unwilling to let an exchange end without having the last word. Every time Hernandez would mount a rally, Nugaev responded with one of his own. Hernandez landed the better punches, but Nugaev out landed him nearly 2-1.
Halfway through the 5th round Hernandez took a knee from a nasty left hook to the body and did not rise. His legs had been shaky for most of the round after taking a flush left hook and several following combinations. Faced with an opponent who would not back away and would not stop throwing punches, Hernandez stayed on his knee and took the 10 count.
As Teddy Roosevelt said: “I like a man who smiles when he fights.”
Nugaev smiled. Hernandez winced.
It was fun while it lasted.
In the co-feature, junior lightweight Puerto Rican prospect Jose Pedraza (14-0, 10 KO) won a unanimous decision — 97-93 by all judges — over the surprisingly game Gabriel Tolmajyan (14-3-1, 3 KO).
Pedraza did not live up to his nickname of “Sniper,” but his cornrow-mullet hybrid (cornrullet?) certainly continued the trend of odd hairstyles for fighters. Not as bad as welterweight contender Paulie Malignaggi’s extensions from years back, but goofy looking nonetheless.
Though starting orthodox, Pedraza switched to southpaw for the second round and stayed that way for the duration of the fight. Initially, this made him slightly easier to hit, but Tolmajyan’s timing looked off and Pedraza’s combinations appeared to give Tolmajyan pause when he attempted to open up.
Tolmajyan staged something of a comeback in rounds 6-8. He was doing much better, but not clearly winning rounds. His counterpunches were clean (particularly the uppercut), but he was ultimately out-worked and out-landed by Pedrazas.
I scored the fight 98-92, but the 97-93 scores turned in by all three judges were accurate. My notes bear the phrase “Tolmajyan has NO power” in f separate rounds. He fought well, but was unable to hurt his opponent, which is unfortunate for a fighter who looks to counter punch nine times out of 10 and lacks the reflexes and foot speed to make his opponent miss.
This is not to suggest that Pedrazas is a world beater. He’s a solid prospect, but is hittable and has average power. Pedrazas also seems to lack an identity in the ring. Though not damning for a fighter in his 14th professional bout, it is a concern. When he was forced to pressure, he looked tentative, and when he needed to counter punch, he seemed uncomfortable.
We often see vitriol when referees get it wrong, but both refs tonight were excellent. They did exactly as they should and stayed the hell out of the way. The TV crew was also good for a change. Teddy Atlas’ rabies appears to be in remission, and whoever has been pissing in Joe Tessitore’s cereal seems to have taken the week off. That combined with Todd Grisham’s ever improving knowledge in the studio, and we had a very enjoyable night of fights on ESPN2Ru.