Potential Fight of the Year also featured an amazing show of sportsmanship by Alex Saucedo

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Alex Saucedo didn’t show any outward signs of the sensational battle he engaged in with Lenny Zappavigna on Saturday in Oklahoma City. Oh, there were the sunglasses he wore to hide the cut he suffered during the brutal 140-pound fight.

And there was the swelling on the right side of his jaw. Other than that, though, Saucedo got through his potential Fight of the Year battle with Zappavigna with just some aching muscles.

“I’m sore, man,” he said, forcing a smile.

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The bruises hurt just a little less on Monday, though, less than 48 hours following his seventh-round stoppage of Zappavigna on a Top Rank card on the ESPN+ service that may well have become the front-runner for 2018 Fight of the Year and Round of the Year.

Zappavigna put up a courageous battle and nearly turned things upside down in the fourth when he mounted a ferocious rally and several times had Saucedo pinned on the ropes, absorbing punishment. Saucedo, though, withstood it and with the win figures to be the next challenger for new WBO junior welterweight champion Maurice Hooker.

“I’m feeling good, a little sore, but happy with the outcome of the fight,” Saucedo said.

Saucedo has been a slowly developing prospect, a guy who simply kept winning as he was fed tougher and tougher competition. He improved to 28-0 with 18 knockouts and Top Rank president Todd duBoef said he is hopeful of making a title bout with Hooker next.

DuBoef was thrilled with the fight and said Saucedo answered plenty of questions about himself with his performance in it.

“We thought he was a prospect, but you never know until they go out there and do it when it matters,” duBoef said. “You can get them the opportunities, but they’re the ones who have to walk through the door and take advantage of it, and boy, did he ever do that.”

It was a frenetic, fast-paced bout and the fighters combined for more than 1,000 punches in less than seven full rounds, according to statistics compiled by CompuBox.

It didn’t have as dramatic of an ending as the legendary 2005 lightweight title bout between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo had, nor did it have quite the sustained level of violence. It was very close and calling it a poor man’s Corrales-Castillo is hardly damning it with faint praise.

It wasn’t a bout for the faint of heart, those watching outside or in particular for the two men in the middle of it. It was a brutal bout low on defense and high on hard punches to the side of the face.

File photo: Alex Saucedo (R) stopped Johnny Garcia (L) in the second round of their welterweight bout at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in March 2017. (Getty)
File photo: Alex Saucedo (R) stopped Johnny Garcia (L) in the second round of their welterweight bout at The Theater at Madison Square Garden in March 2017. (Getty)

The mental game is always important in boxing, but particularly so in a bout like this.

“It takes a little bit of everything,” Saucedo said of surviving a gut-check bout like Saturday’s win over Zappavigna. “I believe that’s what makes you a champion, having heart, training hard, your conditioning, your corner. A little bit of everything plays a part in it, you know?

“That fourth round was a very tough round. He caught me with a couple of good punches, but I was able to survive. Lenny Z, he threw everything he had in that fourth round. It was like a, ‘Give it all, live-or-die,’ type of situation. It was a tough, tough fourth round.”

It’s a fight that put Saucedo on the map. It was a festival of violence, but at the end, put on full display the sportsmanship that makes boxing so great.

As they were going at it in an exchange in the seventh, a member of the Oklahoma Athletic Commission climbed the apron at the request of Zappavigna’s corner to have referee Gerald Ritter stop the fight.

Ritter, though, had his back to the person and was peering intently at the action. Saucedo saw what was going on and took a step back to alert Ritter. He could have continued to punish Zappavigna, but had earned enough respect for him by that point that he didn’t want to throw even one punch he didn’t have to throw.

Ritter halted the bout and Saucedo had a potentially career-saving win. He later visited Zappavigna after the bout to share his respect.

“It’s different being outside the ring than it is in the ring,” Saucedo said. “After the fight, I went up to his locker room and we had some words with each other. I shared some words with his son and family who were there. We talked a little bit. He’s a great person. It’s just that once we get in the ring, it’s business in there.”

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