Local hero Jose Ramirez pleased a crowd of 14,034 at the Save Mart Arena in Fresno, California, by rallying the second half of the fight to retain a junior welterweight title with a close, 12-round majority decision over Jose Zepeda on Sunday.
Zepeda (30-2, 25 KOs) out-boxed Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs) for most of the early rounds, using savvy footwork and an accurate southpaw jab to keep the titleholder off-balance and out of range.
Ramirez, 26, of nearby Avenal, kept stalking his elusive challenger and finally closed the distance, digging to the body with left hooks that gradually slowed his rival.
Zepeda, 29, of La Puente, California, rallied back to take the 11th round, but it was Ramirez who finished the stronger of the two and landed the heavier blows in the final round.
It was a majority decision, with judge Ray Danseco scoring it even at 114-114. Judges Chris Tellez and Glen Towbridge scored the fight 116-112 and 115-113 for Ramirez.
"He was very tough, very crafty," said Ramirez, who made his second successful title defense. "It took me a while to close the distance. It was a very close fight."
Beltran stops Okada
Beltran stops Okada in the ninth round
Ray Beltran levels Kiroki Okada with a right hand, then finishes the fight with a flurry to hand Okada his first pro loss.
In the action-packed cofeature, 37-year-old Ray Beltran scored one of the biggest victories of his career when he stopped previously undefeated Hiroki Okada in the ninth round of a scheduled 10-round junior welterweight bout.
Beltran (36-8-1, 22 KOs) started quickly, flooring Okada with a left hook in the second round. Okada (19-1, 13 KOs) beat referee Jack Reiss' count and roared back to buckle Beltran's knees with a right to the jaw. He plastered Beltran for the rest of the round but couldn't knock him off his feet.
The bristling action continued, and Beltran, who is from Mexico and resides in Phoenix, Arizona, scored well on the inside, particularly when he bullied Okada into the ropes and pounded the head and body with short hooks.
Okada, 29, of Tokyo, came on in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, connecting with clusters of sharp punches from long range.
It looked like Beltran was getting tired, but he exploded in the ninth round, flooring Okada with a short right hand to the chin. When the Japanese boxer regained his feet, Beltran battered him into a corner with a furious barrage and put him down again with a powerful right to the head.
Before the referee started to count, Okada's corner told Reiss to stop the fight, which he did at the 2:09 mark of the round.
"I planned to get close and not let him work," Beltran said of his successful strategy.
Asked whom he wants to fight next, he said, "I want the biggest fights at 140 pounds or drop back down to 135 pounds."