The two day period of January 13th and 14th in the world of Boxing featured three intriguing bouts ranging from the 108lb. Jr. Flyweight division to the Heavyweight division. Among these bouts, was also the first world championship unification bout of 2023. This observer is speaking of the Women’s Jr. Flyweight unification bout between WBC world champion Kim Clavel and WBA world champion Jessica Plata. An encounter that took place before an enthusiastic crowd at Place Bell Arena in Laval, Quebec, Canada.
Beyond this fight having the distinction of being the first unification bout between world champions of 2023 for either men or women in the sport, this fight also represented the continued progress the sport has made for women over the last several years as the fight was not only the main event of a card that also featured men’s bouts, but did take place in front of what appeared to be a sell out crowd. In previewing this fight, this observer pointed out the similarities between Clavel and Plata both in terms of their respective records as well as in their styles. I also pointed out that because of the similarity in terms of style as well as the fact that women’s bouts are fought with two minute rounds, that this might have ended up being a close fight that would be difficult to score.
Despite the two minute round length, which yours truly has long advocated should be increased to three minutes, the same length that men’s bouts are fought, it did not have an impact on the fight in terms of making it more difficult for judges to score. The actual fight however, was as I expected closely fought that seemed to follow a pattern. Clavel would be the fighter coming forward and seeming to initiate the combat. Plata would try to keep her at distance with her jab and try to turn her by moving laterally from side to side. In the process, when the two fighters would open up in an exchange, it would be Plata that seemed to get the better of the action, due in part to her longer reach.
While Clavel was able to have her share of moments as the fight progressed, it was Plata’s longer reach, combination punching, and timing that resulted in her winning the fight via ten round unanimous decision with two official judges scoring the bout seven rounds to three or 97-93 in points, with the third judge scoring it six rounds to four or 96-94. Although this fight did not appear to be impacted by the two minute round length and was not difficult to score in my eyes, it ultimately came down to subtle differences between the two fighters.
Kim Clavel was able to make a fight of it in spots, particularly when she was able to get on the inside of Jessica Plata’s reach, but she was unable to both do it consistently, and break the pattern that Plata was able to establish. The pattern, which had an emphasis on strategic lateral movement and use of fundamentals in terms of knowing when to use her jab and seemingly quicker hands, proved to be the difference that allowed Plata to earn the victory in this fight.
From Laval, Quebec Canada on January 13th to Verona, NY where two Heavyweight bouts took place on January 14th to close out the weekend in Boxing. These two bouts, which co-headlined a card at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino featured three prospects and one veteran that were each looking to take a step forward towards world title contention in the Heavyweight division. The first of these fights saw undefeated prospect Guido Vianello face veteran Johnnie Rice in a bout scheduled for ten rounds.
This fight represented a step up in caliber of opposition for Vianello against a fighter in Rice, who had been positioned in the role of an opponent for up and coming fighters before, but had also earned a reputation for being able to play spoiler in defeating fighters touted as rising prospects. Vianello largely was able to dictate how the fight was fought in the early rounds simply by being the fighter forcing the action.
Although Rice’s activity was sporadic at best during this period of the fight, the veteran was slowly looking to exploit openings that Vianello would leave and gradually he began to land his right hand. It would be the right hand of Rice that would open a deep gash above Vianello’s left eye in round six that would cause the fight to be stopped in the seventh round. While it was indisputable that the gash, which in some ways reminded yours truly of the gash that Vitali Klitschko had suffered in his bout against Lennox Lewis in June 2003, which was a fight I covered that was also concluded via a stoppage resulting in Lewis winning the fight, retaining his WBC Heavyweight world championship in the final fight of his career, there would be a bit of controversy that would emerge for a few moments following the stoppage of this fight.
Referee Benji Esteves indicated that the gash suffered by Vianello came as a result of an accidental clash of heads and instructed the three official judges to score the incomplete seventh round as he believed that the fight would go to the scorecards per an accidental foul. Although the bout took place in Verona, NY, the Turning Stone Resort and Casino sits on sovereign land Oneida Indian Nation and as such similar to other bouts that are held throughout the country on native American land, the Oneida Indian Nation had their own athletic commission overseeing the bout as opposed to the New York State Athletic Commission. After some confusion, it was determined via video replay courtesy of ESPN that the gash over Vianello’s left eye was indeed caused by the right hand of Johnnie Rice, resulting in the appropriate call of him being declared the winner via technical knockout.
It is important for me to point out to the reader that referees, like all of us, are human beings and as such can make errors/mistakes as the rest of us. Benji Esteves is one of the best referees in the entire sport and has officiated nearly 800 professional fights including many world championship bouts for over thirty years, throughout the state of New York as well as around the world. Even the best referees however, can make a mistake. It should also be pointed out and credit should be given to Esteves that even though he missed the initial call of a punch causing the gash as opposed to a clash of heads, once he saw the replay, he admitted his error and made the correct call.
While this fight did not occur under the oversight and supervision of the New York State Athletic Commission, the Oneida Indian Nation Athletic Commission also deserves credit for recognizing the error, pointing it out to Esteves, and using video replay on site to remedy what could have been a significant controversy that would have incorrectly impacted the outcome of the fight. Although the subject of video replay is something that frankly warrants it’s own column, I am on record in supporting the use of replay at all Boxing and other combat sports events specifically for situations just like this.
It should also not be ignored that most likely under current protocols, had this bout taken place under the sanction of a state athletic commission, the most likely scenario would have been for the decision to be made by the three official judges’ scoring in the ring, but whatever the result might have been would have been changed after a formal review at a commission hearing at a later date. Although this should not be viewed as an indictment of current protocols of state athletic commissions or international regulatory boards that regulate and oversee Boxing, it should point out that not only does the technology exist in 2023 to make decisions on site whenever circumstances like this occur, but with a significant amount of Boxing events being recorded/streamed around the world, there should be no reason why athletic commissions globally should not adapt the use of video replay to ensure the proper calls are made on a consistent basis as well as a way to ensure referees do not make errors in real time. It is something that should seriously be considered and implemented by all involved in combat sports.
The near-controversy of the Vianello-Rice bout led to the second half of the Heavyweight doubleheader where Efe Ajagba met undefeated Stephan Shaw in a bout also scheduled for ten rounds. A bout that can best be described as not the best meshing of styles, for ten rounds Ajagba and Shaw engaged in a tactical fight where both fighters, perhaps out of respect for what the other could do, seemed reluctant to open up and force the action. Although this can occur from time to time when two fighters respective styles do not produce compelling fights, this was a disappointing bout for both men that some may call a brisk sparring session. At the end of the ten round bout it would be Ajagba who would emerge victorious via unanimous decision.
In previewing this doubleheader, I stated that we would see, which of the four, Vianello, Rice, Ajagba, or Shaw would be able to make a strong argument as a potential challenger for a world championship down the line. Of the four, the one who emerged from these two bouts with momentum was Johnnie Rice, who, despite having a record of 16-6-1, with 11 Knockouts, continues to carve a path for himself in the division as a spoiler for rising prospects. Whether or not that path will ultimately lead to a world championship fight for Rice remains to be seen, but for a fighter who has not been able to devote himself full time to his Boxing career, if he is given the proper time as well as the financial resources to do so, it may only be a matter of time before Johnnie Rice is regarded as a contender to watch.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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