By Robert Aaron Contreras
Super lightweight upstart Keith Hunter (12-0, 7 KO) proved he has Sanjarbek Rakjmanov’s number, defeating him for the second time on Friday night. Hunter, originally slated to face blue-chipper Malik Hawkins, found himself in the ring with Rakjmanov (12-3-1, 6 KO) for the second time within a single calendar year when the Uzbek bruiser stepped into the ShoBox main event on a week’s notice.
Hunter, competing for the fourth time at Sam’s Town Hotel in Las Vegas, never let his rival dictate the tale of the fight, softening up Rakjmanov with a tremendous jab, scoring one knockdown, and laying on heavy abuse in the final round, winning 98-91, 97-92, and 98-91 to remain undefeated in his five-year career.
After the fight, Showtime color commentator Raul Marquez offered the victorious man high praise.
“Hunter left no doubt in the rematch,” Marquez said. “This fight and the rounds he won very decisively. I only gave Rakjmanov one round. Hunter is a really good prospect: tall, rangy, and knows how to use that to his advantage.”
Hunter did benefit from a large reach advantage: seven-and-a-half inches to be exact. Rakjmanov got a taste of that in their first encounter which Hunter got off to an early, poking at the zealous shorter puncher.
Hunter, 27, returned to his bread and butter this weekend. This time hooking off that picturesque jab in the opening round. Rakjmanov was again seen parrying a few jabs from a crouched position. But when Hunter continued layering his offense with different artillery, the match slipped out of his reach.
There were long right hands that opened the second frame for Hunter. They landed flush, she audibly thudding off Rakjmanov’s temple. The same punch floored Rakjmanov in their first fight. This night, just under the two-minute mark of Round 3, it was a follow-up left hook that skid across the Uzbek’s head and the stout puncher fell over, catching himself with gloves to the canvas: an unquestionable knockdown.
Hunter’s output was ample through the middle stages. His one-two volleys were crisp. But sometimes he overextended himself, especially in the fifth round, wherein he was susceptible to arcing left hands form Rakjmanov. Same as their first go, Hunter ate his man’s best punches and soon Rakjmanov would be reduced to singular punching.
Rakjmanov, however, bit down on his mouthpiece for the sixth stanza. It was his cleanest round, scoring by pitching fastballs upstairs, chopping blows to Hunter’s head. The taller man dropped his hands and relied on elaborate upper-body movement but the round was Rakjmanov’s.
It looked as though Rakjmanov could carry the momentum over into the seventh inning when he quickly drove Hunter to the ropes. But Hunter created distance between himself and any incoming windmill punches. Then the focus from the broadcast became centered around an apparent injury to Hunter’s power, right hand (later revealed to have little swelling but still supposedly injured according to Hunter’s corner).
Those sharp, spearing right hands from Hunter diminished in the eighth and ninth rounds but he was still all smiles.
Well ahead, Hunter broke out of his corner for the final round eager to mix it up with Rakjmanov. This level of bloodrival action defined the excellent seventh round they shared last year. And Hunter clearly wanted to do it again.
Bouncing in and out, Hunter was seen hitting at his opponent—his right hand included. Even when Rakjmanov rushed in and wrapped up the bigger combatant, Hunter managed to tag his clinging assailant, curling his long pendulums into Rakjmanov.
In the final minute, Rakjmanov was overwhelmed. That distance he craved to close for so long was now his worst enemy. Hunter in his face, and the center of the ring, nicked Rakjmanov up and down, hooks and uppercuts crashing into the crumbling figurine.
At a glance, the ShoStats were peculiar. For all his dominance, Hunter only landed 17 percent of his total punches, compared to Rakjmanov’s 31 percent clip. But the American landed both more power punches and body shots, in addition to 500 more jabs, and totaling nearly 1,100 punches.
It was unreal output that did not go unnoticed by either the judges or Rakjmanov who was out on his feet in the waning seconds.
The decision marked Hunter’s second win over the 10-round distance. He is unbeaten, doing his fighting bloodline proud, as the younger brother to heavyweight popularizer Michael Hunter II, and son to their father, the original Michael “The Bounty” Hunter, who battled through the notable heavyweight scene of the 1990s.
Now a veteran headliner, Keith Hunter is beginning to make a name for himself.
Tripleheader Highlights: Big Punches and Huge Upsets
To open the broadcast, Mayweather Promotions had high hopes for two of their associates, Kevin Newman (11-2-1, 6 KO) and Richardson Hitchins (11-0, 5 KO).
Hitchins, for one, took care of business, decisioning Nicholas DeLomba by wide margins, not giving up a single round in this 10-round junior welterweight bout. A former Olympian, he used his fast hands to drill into DeLomba with classic combinations and pull out an unanimous decision (100-90 across the board). The ShoStats painted a clear picture as Hitchins landed 192 of 585 total punches (33 percent) while DeLomba only connected on 81 of 447 (18 percent).
Newman was less impressive, losing in a big upset to the unrecognizable Genc Pllana (8-1-1, 4 KO).
Pllana’s unorthodox fighting may not have looked as pretty as to be expected from someone with the self-styled nickname “Sexy Albanian” but it was good enough to overcome 5-1 underdog odds. It was an unremarkable fight, save for typical Jay Nady antics, but the ringside panel was in agreement, turning in three scores 96-94 for the visiting Kosovan brawler.
Pllana, 26, was far busier than his opponent from the beginning. He opened the fight with three consecutive harsh blows to the back of Newman’s head, to which referee Nady quickly threatened a disqualification. The rest of the way, Pllana never quite got on Nady’s good side but continually stamped Newman’s in the face with an array of winging punches from inconceivable angles, walking the house fighter down in an amateurish manner, often standing upright (arching his back, to boot) allowing his lead hand to dangle below his waist.
The 28-year-old Newman may have landed at a more accurate clip, regularly landing a flickering jab to this man’s body, but was showed zero ability to adapt or command the momentum. This despite having the promoter behind him and Roy Jones Jr. in his corner.
According to the broadcast’s ShoStats, Pllana landed 74 of 602 punches (12 percent) and Newman connected on 96 of 315 (30 percent).