By Robert Aaron Contreras
Keith Hunter (11-0, 7 KO) will now rematch Sanjarbek Rakhmanov (12-2-1, 6 KO) in the main event of this weekend’s ShoBox: The New Generation broadcast after an undisclosed injury forced Malik Hawkins off the card. The action takes place on Feb. 28 at Sam’s Town Hotel in Las Vegas.
News of the super lightweight shakeup broke on Monday. A matchup between Hawkins and Hunter would have paired up two of the most talented and tallest undefeated prospects in the division. After going 5-0 in 2019, Hawkins added his name to the growing list of excellent fighters out of Maryland. A group highlighted by beltholders past and present like Gervonta Davis and Jarrett Hurd.
Hunter, 27, also represents a strong cohort of boxers. Big ones too. He is the son of Mike “The Bounty” Hunter Sr., a former heavyweight contender and veteran of 35 fights, who passed along his skills to his sons. That includes Michael Hunter II, the 31-year-old heavyweight who recently battled Alexander Povetkin to a draw. Michael’s only loss remains a decision to the master-boxer Oleksandr Usyk.
Younger brother Keith last year also found himself fighting down to the wire. With none other than Rakhmanov, who he meets again on Friday.
Rakhmanov, 30, of Uzbekistan, lost the first meeting but closed out the year with a stoppage victory over an undistinguished veteran by the name of Andre Byrd, who had enough after four rounds. Rakhmanov has lost just one other time in his career, also on points, dropping a decision to Texan welterweight Marquis Taylor in 2018.
The rematch with Hunter will be Rakhmanov’s first 10-round contest. A former national champion, in addition to a first-place finish at the 2009 Asian Amateurs, he transplanted to Las Vegas upon earning a promotional contract with Floyd Mayweather’s TMT.
Hunter, born and bred in Las Vegas, met Rakhmanov in April 2019 at the exact same venue, Sam’s Town Hotel which has been a showcase for Mayweather’s stable. So it could be said Hunter was operating in enemy territory despite fighting in his hometown. Hunter would nonetheless edge out a split-decision verdict after eight rounds of tense activity.
A second-round knockdown from Hunter put the B-side up early, carrying him triumphantly over Rakhmanov’s late flurry.
Hunter, a six-foot technician, holds a considerable height advantage over the barreling Uzbek. So he was smart to continually prod out a massive orthodox jab through the first three minutes. It paid extreme dividends in the second stanza when Hunter followed it up with a right cross that buckled Rakhmanov’s knee, accounting for the only knockdown of the fight.
In the fourth round, Hunter could be seen working in an uppercut and feinting a number of bolo punches. Rakhmanov remained persistent, never giving up the center of the ring. He found some success in the opening frame with an overhand left. But was unable to score again with the wild shot until the sixth round. From there the flinging punches poured in.
Hunter had to survive big blows over the final three rounds. Rakhmanov transforming into a crouched devil. Ultimately it was not enough. One referee gave Rakhmanov a 76-75 score but was overuled by nods of 77-74 and 76-75 in the American’s favor.
Worth nothing was the terrific punches traded to close Round 7. The two men actually acknowledged their special rivalry and exchanged a friendly headbutt at the bell, as if to say they could do this violent dance again some day.
On Friday, just a year later, they get their chance to.
Hitchins, Newman Complete Tripleheader in separate bouts
Richardson Hitchins 10-0, 5 KO) is a celebrated farmhand of Mayweather Promotions and he fights in the co-main event of the night against Nick DeLomba (16-2, 5 KO) over a scheduled 10 rounds.
The 22-year-old Hitchins, is a two-time golden glove champion out of Brooklyn, who will be making his 2020 ring debut. A representative for Haiti at the 2016 Olympics, he extended his unbeaten ledger with four wins in 2019, including two stoppage victories.
Having already performed on some of the sport’s biggest stages, fighting multiple times at Barclays and once at the MGM Grand, Hitchins graduated to the 10-round distance in his last bout, also at Sam’s Town. There he decisioned another Vegas welterweight in Kevin Johnson.
DeLomba, 29, seems to have a decent record on paper. He is riding a five-fight win streak. But fighting exclusively out of Rhode Island, against limited talent, he is expected to be nothing but lunchmeat for Hitchins.
Kevin Newman II (11-1-1, 6 KO) is also under the TMT banner and he will be the first of the Showtime tripleheader to compete. Just a teenager when he began training under Jeff Mayweather, he was familiar with the Mayweather stable when he officially joined their ranks in 2014.
Newman, 28, experienced a short setback against California native Mark Anthony Hernandez in 2017, losing on points in a sixth-round undercard match. But following three consecutive victories, Newman exacted his revenge over Hernandez, defeating him last year by unanimous decision.
His opponent on Friday is Genc Pllana, a 26-year-old Kosovan super middleweight who is 2-1-1 over his last four, all against unheralded competition.