Reymart Gaballo pulls off a controversial victory over Emmanuel Rodriguez
Reymart Gaballo got in everyone. He hugged his corner, the referee, his sullen, shocked opponent, Emmanuel Rodriguez, and if there were fans in the stands of the Mohegan Sun Casino, in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Saturday night he probably would have hugged every one of the them.
They might not have hugged back.
In what was a very dubious result, Gaballo was gifted an inexplicably generous 12-round, split-decision victory over Rodriguez for the “interim” WBC bantamweight title on the PBC on Showtime: Special Edition.
Judges Don Trella (116-112) and John McKaie (115-113) had it for Gaballo, while judge David Sutherland gave Rodriguez 10 of 12 rounds for a 118-110 score. Showtime Hall of Fame announcer Steve Farhood had it for Rodriguez 118-110 (giving Gaballo rounds eight and nine), the same as Sutherland. The Ring had it 117-111 for Rodriguez (giving Gaballo rounds 2, 8 and 9). Of the 12 rounds, the judges agreed on only three (5, 8 and 11).
“It was a poor decision,” Farhood said. “Gaballo was the aggressor throughout, but he was a very ineffective aggressor.”
Rodriguez was supposed to originally face former four-division titlist Nonito Donaire, who was replaced by Gaballo when Donaire fell out after testing positive for COVID-19. The twist is that Donaire was supposed to fight WBC bantamweight titlist Nordine Oubaali, who the WBC deemed “champion in recess” after he tested positive for COVID.
“I’m speechless over this, because Rodriguez was controlling the rounds and of the clean, effective punches that were landing, clearly most of them were his,” Showtime Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein said.
As a result of his inability to face Donaire, who is the mandatory challenger, the WBC sanctioned the Gaballo-Rodriguez fight for the vacant belt. The winner will have to face Oubaali.
“I am very happy and blessed to win this belt,” Gaballo said. “I was always moving forward and controlling the pace, so I thought it was a close fight that either of us could have won. I’m waiting for my team to tell me what they have planned for me next. I’m going to keep training hard so I’m always ready for the opportunity when it comes.
“I’m going to go back to the Philippines and spend time with my family. I’ve been in Miami training for eight months, so I’m excited to go home.”
Rodriguez (19-2, 12 knockouts) worked at a comfortable distance from Gaballo (24-0, 20 KOs), appearing to be in command through the first portion of the fight, winning with his jab and using smart footwork. Gaballo emerged in the eighth round by sitting more on his punches and landing some shots to the body.
Gaballo was the more active fighter, while Rodriguez was the more accurate puncher. But Gaballo never closed the gap, allowing Rodriguez to continue to stay outside and work his jab. With 2:34 left in the 10th, Rodriguez rocked Gaballo off balance with a power jab to the face. But Rodriguez did nothing to follow up, and Gaballo was able to regain his equilibrium.
Rodriguez’s safe, effective approach apparently was anything but successful, at least in the eyes of Trella and McKaie.
“There’s no way Gaballo could have won that fight,” Showtime analyst and former world champion Raul Marquez said. “In the worst-case scenario, you could have maybe given him three rounds. I gave him no rounds.”
Rodriguez landed 109/372 (29%) to Gaballo’s 93/520 (18%), but Rodriguez also connected on 45/191 (24%) jabs to Gaballo’s 25/197 (13%).
“It was a good fight, but he only won about two or three rounds,” Rodriguez said. “There were two punches from me for every punch he landed. He knows he lost. Everyone knows we won. My team told me to go out and keep boxing him in the late rounds. We knew he needed a knockout in the 12th round. That was his only chance to win.”
In what was a scheduled 12-round welterweight bout, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (26-0, 24 KOs) was making surprisingly real easy work out of veteran Chris van Heerden in the first round. Boots used a great body attack, and his quickness and his speed were too much for van Heerden (28-2-1, 12 KOs).
But with :21 left in the first round, the two fighters clashed heads, causing a huge, gaping cut over van Heerden’s right eye forced the fight to be stopped by referee Johnny Callas. The fight was ruled a no-decision at 2:39 of the first round.
For the 159 seconds the fight lasted, Ennis, working out of a southpaw stance, looked fantastic. Van Heerden could not keep up with Ennis’ hand speed. Boots landed 22 of 57 punches, 19 were power shots. Unfortunately, the head clash opened up a bone-deep cut on the right side of Van Heerden’s forehead.
“My head is good. I don’t know quite what to say, but I feel good,” Boots said. “Before the headbutt I had already cut him. I felt strong. I knew he was ready to go. I feel like I’m getting better and better. Now I’ll just get back in the gym.
“As you could see from the first round, I was handling him easily. I feel like everyone is still sleeping on me, but I’m ready for anyone. Bring on the big names. At the end of the day, it’s boxing and you have to live with it when stuff like this happens. I’m ready to step up against even better competition than Chris van Heerden.
“I was putting it on him and I was getting ready to dig to the body and he came right at me and we headbutted. I could get back in the ring tomorrow. I’m ready. I’m just disappointed right now. Anybody in the top five, I’m ready for them. I’m hungry and it’s my time in 2021. I will become world champion.”
Ennis was justifiably aggravated by the way the fight ended. This was the best he looked as a pro, and he was doing against a veteran who was fighting back. Van Heerden had only been stopped once in his career (by Errol Spence Jr. in Sept. 2015) and was on a five-fight winning streak.
“Boots is mad, because he wanted to fight and he wanted to make a statement,” said Bozy Ennis, Boots’ father and trainer. “Boots knew he was going stop van Heerden in two. Van Heerden came over to Boots afterwards and said, ‘You hit harder than (Errol) Spence (Jr.).’ That was a hell of a statement.
“I liked the fact that Boots did everything I told him to do. Everything he did, he did well. He looked strong, boxed nice and did what he was supposed to do. He was getting ready to knock him out, and he was mad that he didn’t get that chance.”
Bantamweight Gary Antonio Russell prevailed over Juan Carlos Payano with a seventh-round technical decision in a scheduled 10-rounder. Russell (18-0, 12 KOs) has control of the fight, though Payano (21-5, 9 KOs) tried nullifying Russell’s superior speed and skill by crowding him and grabbing every chance he drew near.
Russell dominated, landing 86/243 total punches, 40 of them body shots, to Payano’s 58/268 (17 body shots).
An accidental headbutt caused in the fifth caused a gushing cut over Payano’s left eye. At the time the fight was stopped, judges Tom Schreck and Tom Carusone both had Russell ahead, 55-59, while judge David Sutherland had it 58-56 for the fighter from the Washington, D.C. area.
“We are definitely our worst critics, so I don’t think this was his best performance,” said Gary Russell Jr., Gary Antonio’s brother. “But with the situation that’s at hand and the passing of our younger brother. We just wanted to take this energy and focus it on something productive. I didn’t know how Antonio would be able to handle it going into the fight but I did know that Payano was going to need to kill him to beat him in that ring tonight.
“We were starting to step on the gas. The main thing when a guy gets dirty like that is to be technical. His punch placement was precise. His punch selection was excellent. We touched the body really well. We hurt him and we knew we had the power to keep hurting him.
“I know for a fact that my younger brother Antonio wants to dedicate this fight to our younger brother who just passed away. There’s a lot of emotions. To be able to harness it all is bigger than boxing. Boxing is something we love to do but this is a very difficult time for our family.”
On the off-TV portion of the undercard, welterweight Brandun Lee (21-0, 19 KOs) extended his knockout streak to 12 by stopping Dakota Linger (12-5-2, 8 KOs) in three, and junior middleweight Benjamin Whitaker (15-4, 3 KOs) scored an upset by handing Zsolt Daranyi (15-1, 14 KOs) an eight-round majority decision defeat.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been working for Ring Magazine/RingTV.com since October 1997 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito.
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