(Jayson Velez, left, Evgeny Gradovich, right; via @HBOBoxing on Twitter)
Jayson Velez proved he belonged on the world stage against Evgeny Gradovich, who proved what he always proved, which is that fighting him is one of the most painful outings in boxing. But Gradovich probably deserved a decision win Saturday night on HBO rather than a split draw.
Velez and Gradovich were fighting in one of the finest divisions in the sport, featherweight, with Gradovich playing the role of superb grinder to Vasyl Lomachenko’s all-around excellence and Nicholas Walters’ mega-puncher. Velez came in with no high-level experience. It might’ve been another routine Gradovich beat down, the kind that is injurious to your health because of the strong, flush shots he lands that never really knock anyone out. Fighting him means you get hit an awful, awful lot by solid punches all night long.
Yet Velez, from the jump, outboxed Gradovich. With his jab pumping and his feet turning, Velez interrupted Gradovich’s usual strong sense of timing. He won the first three rounds on my card. But slowly, Gradovich was working his way into things. Some of Velez’s early punches may have hurt him a touch — he backed up at times, especially after body shots. Once he decided to ignore all that, he got into gear. He won the next seven rounds on my scorecard via his traditional method.
In the final two rounds, Velez, after spending a lot of time in those seven rounds looking beat up and like he was struggling to survive, summoned a reserve of energy to put together some of his best punches of the fight. It was enough to win the 11th, I thought, and perhaps the 12th. I scored it 116-112. Most of the Twitter reaction had it for Gradovich, too.
The judges saw it 117-111 for Gradovich, 115-113 for Velez and 114-114. Nobody is really hurt by that draw, even if it might’ve been unjust. It was a good fight, with plenty of action. People still will think Gradovich deserved the decision. Velez exceeded expectations, giving the division a new player to watch, and might grow from this performance. Gradovich vs. a Lomachenko or Walters remains very appealing.