Zuniga Offs Oganov on Boxing’s “Off Night”

ZUNIGA, OGANOV KEEP FANS WATCHING

The Showtime network upgraded its ShoBox card, which usually airs on Fridays, to the prime time Saturday slot. In an action packed contest, Colombia’s Fulgencio Zuniga eventually toppled formerly undefeated Russian knockout artist Victor Oganov in a crowd pleasing affair that filled the void for boxing fans on what would have otherwise been an off night for the sport that recognizes no off season.

Zuniga, whose only losses have come at the hands of undefeated middleweight Kelly Pavlik and the accomplished junior middleweight Daniel Santos, came out throwing bombs to test the chin of the undefeated Russian and was winning round one until getting caught by a left hook that sent him staggering into the ropes. Referee Jeff Macaluso inexplicably ruled a knockdown, believing the ropes had held Zuniga up. Like a professional, Zuniga shook off the bad call and continued to wale away on Oganov, before being knocked into the ropes again, only this time Macaluso didn’t call a knockdown. The super middleweights finished the round trading shots, nothing too clean or effective, but they definitely came to slug it out.

Midway through the second round, they were at it again, Zuniga throwing with vicious intent but Oganov landing the more effective punches. Zuniga settled into a groove in round 3, landing right hands on Oganov almost at will and looked as though he was taking over the fight. A clash of heads in round 4 opened a cut on Oganov’s right eye, to which Oganov responded in typical untested fighter fashion – not fighting. Zuniga took the opportunity to pound his opponent with four unanswered right hands. A frustrated Oganov creamed Zuniga with a big left hook at the bell, but Zuniga showed he could take his opponent’s punches well, another element to destroy Oganov’s confidence. All of these incidents amounted to the usual tell-tale signs of the end of the road for a fighter stepping up in opposition for the first time.

The understandably disillusioned Oganov began throwing elbows at Zuniga in round 5 in an attempt to get back into the fight any way he could. The round ended with both fighters landing their share of bombs to give the crowd, cheering in adulation, exactly what it wanted in the absence of Mayorga and Vargas. Despite landing some strong overhand rights in round 6, Oganov couldn’t deter Zuniga, who kept up his impressive work rate and continued to stay all over the Russian puncher who was failing to live up to his reputation more and more with each passing round. Oganov returned to his corner after round 7, his face a bloody mess and facing the unexplored waters of the eighth round that awaited him. Furthermore, he was clearly down on points as the judges’ scorecards would later confirm. How long he could stay positive was the only question that remained.

To his credit, Oganov never stopped coming forward, though Zuniga rained punches on his exposed face. If he was going out, Oganov decided it was going to be on his shield. He rallied well in the closing moments of round 8, but just when it looked like Zuniga was starting to tire, the Colombian made his move. In the ninth, Zuniga stuffed a spent Oganov with a short, compact left hook that caused the Russian to stagger back and collapse flat on his back, tasting the canvas for the first time in his career. Oganov lay on the mat a moment but got up, a streak of blood running down his face, to assure Macaluso that he was fine. Things would only get worse for him though as he walked into a flurry of punches from Zuniga that forced Oganov to hold on for dear life. Moments later, Oganov lay against the ropes, completely spent, and keeled over sideways, absorbing a non-stop array of punches from Zuniga until Macaluso, not a second too early, saw enough and stopped the massacre.

Oganov sat on the ropes a moment and bowed his head, the reality of his first loss sinking in. Once again, an untested fighter makes the journey to the United States to step up his opposition for a prime time television network only to be exposed as a one-dimensional prospect. Oganov becomes the latest example of exactly what a management team shouldn’t do when bringing its prospect along. A fighter can only feast on nobodies for so long before it becomes routine and he stops learning new tricks of the trade. Oganov was too comfortable in his situation, and, at the age of 31, he has little time to modify his style before his time runs out. Meanwhile, Zuniga, who is appropriately named “The Machine,” upped his stock as an all action fighter, which is what fight fans want to see. After all, Vargas and Mayorga, who were supposed to share the bill on this night, subscribe to the same style at this point in their careers. Like them, Zuniga has abandoned the art of defense and chosen to throw punches. He comes to fight, which will always bring him willing networks and paying customers if not a successful career.

If this filler match serves as any indication of what to expect when Vargas and Mayorga throw down, fans would be wise to fork out the cost of that showdown, which is now taking place in November. All in all, Showtime may not have suffered as damaging a blow as originally expected this weekend.

On the undercard, undefeated junior middleweight James Kirkland destroyed Mohammad Said in two explosive rounds. The southpaw Kirkland nailed Said with some big shots from the opening bell, forcing his opponent to a knee just fifteen seconds into round one. Shortly thereafter, Said was sent down once again, this time in the corner after a similar volley of punches. Said continued to eat punches but survived the round by landing some right hands on the aggressive Kirkland. While pressuring Kirkland against the ropes in round 2, however, Said absorbed a left-right combination, followed by a straight left hand that dropped him onto his backside. Said chose to stay down, only making the effort to continue when the referee had made up his mind to stop the fight.

The win was an impressive one for Kirkland given the fact that the bigger Said has competed as a super middleweight for much of his career. Kirkland still took too many shots from his overmatched opponent and has a great deal to learn before taking his career to the next level against elite fighters who will make him pay for such costly mistakes. Then again, the junior middleweight division is undoubtedly one of the weakest in the sport right now. If Kirkland acts quickly, he could find himself with a title opportunity in the near future.

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