LOS ANGELES -- David Benavidez said all along he was going to knock Anthony Dirrell out and take back the super middleweight world title he once held.
Benavidez did just that in a dominating performance, as he stopped a bloody Dirrell in the ninth round when Dirrell's corner threw in the towel in the co-feature of the Errol Spence Jr.-Shawn Porter welterweight world title unification fight Saturday night at Staples Center.
"This was one of the hardest fights I've had," Benavidez said. "It was very tactical in the beginning, but I worked my jab the whole time. It wasn't easy. I'm now the youngest two-time (super middleweight) world champion, from Phoenix, Arizona. I've got a lot of respect for Anthony Dirrell, especially the way he fought tonight."
Dirrell, who was hampered by a terrible cut over his right eye from the sixth round on, made no excuses and gave Benavidez credit for beating him.
"I felt it when the punch opened up the cut. Much respect to the champion. He fought his ass off," said Dirrell, who told ESPN he needed 15 stitches to close the cut.
After a slow first round during which almost nothing happened, Benavidez began to find his range in the second. He closed the gap and began firing right hands and jabs that found their mark, and continued to land even more solid punches on Dirrell in the second round, to which Dirrell responded with a smirk.
Benavidez seemed to have the fourth round under control when Dirrell came to life in the final seconds, pinning him in a corner and landing several solid punches. When the bell ended the round, Benavidez smiled and stuck his tongue out, and the fighters briefly embraced before returning to their corners.
Benavidez (22-0, 19 KOs), 22, put together a sustained flurry of accurate punches in the fifth round that backed up Dirrell (33-2-1, 24 KOs), 34, of Flint, Michigan, before the pace slowed again.
Benavidez opened a bad cut over Dirrell's right eye in the sixth round and as soon as it opened, referee Thomas Taylor called timeout to have the ringside doctor look at it, but the fight continued. As the cut seemed to get worse in the seventh round, Taylor again called timeout for the ringside doctor to examine Dirrell. He was allowed to continue once again. Soon after, blood was again streaming down his face.
Taylor had the doctor examine the cut again in the opening moments of the eighth round, and again the fight was allowed to go on. Benavidez hurt Dirrell with a left hook late in the eighth that forced him to step back toward the corner on unsteady legs.
As Benavidez lashed him with shots in the ninth round, Dirrell could only cover up and stick his tongue out at him. As Benavidez battered Dirrell around the ring, Taylor was looking closely but not stopping it. Finally, Dirrell's corner threw in the towel and a commission inspector had to climb up on the ring apron to notify Taylor, who finally stopped it at 1 minute, 39 seconds.
"I could have kept going. I was still ready to fight," Dirrell said. "I didn't go down and I didn't quit. I could have kept going. He's the true champion. In the whole lead-up to the fight and with all the press, he was a champion."
In September 2017, Benavidez won the vacant belt to become, at 20, the youngest fighter ever to win a 168-pound world title. However, after one defense, Benavidez was stripped of the belt following a positive random drug test for cocaine. A suspension followed, and Benavidez returned from a 13-month layoff on the Spence-Mikey Garcia undercard in March to knock out J'Leon Love in the second round.
Before the suspension, Benavidez had been due to make a mandatory defense against Dirrell. During the suspension, Dirrell became a two-time world titlist when he won the vacant belt by 10th-round technical decision against Avni Yildirim on Feb. 23. But with Dirrell having the title and Benavidez's suspension ending, their showdown was ordered as a mandatory fight.
Barrios gets decision against Akhmedov
Junior welterweight Mario Barrios escaped with a dubious unanimous decision over Batyr Akhmedov to win a vacant secondary world title in a fight during which Barrios took enormous punishment.
Even after scoring two knockdowns, including one in the final seconds, Barrios still did not seem to have won, and the crowd heavily booed the decision. The judges gave it to him 116-111, 115-111 and 114-112; ESPN had Akhmedov winning 114-112.
"The judges see better than I can from the ring. I did everything I could. I thought I won the fight," Akhmedov said. "They decided that he won the fight. When I watch the fight I'll be able to tell you what it looked like. My job is to do everything to win. The judges are supposed to judge correctly.
"I knew that I had to win by a wide margin. The plan was to gradually grow the activity, but after the first knockdown I knew that I had to add more than I had planned. So I started being more aggressive. I did everything I could to try to stop him."
The much taller Barrios -- 5-foot-10 to his 5-7½ opponent -- used his longer reach and jab to keep Akhmedov at bay in the early rounds. Akhmedov began to close the distance and get inside in the third round, and the action picked up in the fourth round. That is when Barrios landed a short left hook that forced Akhmedov to touch both of his gloves to the mat for a knockdown.
Akhmedov picked up the pace in the fifth and after, working his way inside and landing many right hooks and straight left hands as Barrios showed a solid chin. He applied tremendous pressure on Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs), 24, of San Antonio, who was backing up consistently.
In the 10th round, Uzbekistan native Akhmedov, who represented Turkey in the 2016 Olympics and was bidding to become the first 2016 Olympian to win a world title, staggered a fading Barrios with a left hand. His face was marked up and Akhmedov continued to take it to him. He landed left hands nearly at will, including one that sent Barrios reeling in the 12th round. But Barrios recovered and made things dramatic by dropping Akhmedov with 10 seconds left. The fight ended before he could land another meaningful punch.
Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KOs), 28, a southpaw, dominated the CompuBox statistics, landing 238 of 924 punches (26%) while Barrios landed 135 of 772 (18%).
"I promised my city of San Antonio that I would bring this title back home and I did it," Barrios said. "I knew this was going to be a war. He was getting dirty in there but the Mexican warrior in me was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I dug deep and got the victory."
Lopez dominates Molina
Welterweight Josesito Lopez dominated John Molina Jr. with a punishing, one-sided, eighth-round TKO in a fight between former world title challengers. Lopez dropped Molina three times overall.
Many expected an action-packed fight between exciting brawlers, but Lopez, 35, of Riverside, California, controlled the fight against a much slower Molina (30-9, 24 KOs), whose best days are obviously in the rearview mirror.
"John Molina is a warrior for sure. It was a pleasure to be in the ring with Molina," Lopez said. "I want to thank [trainer] Robert Garcia and my whole team for turning my career around. I'm the 'Riverside Rocky' and I'm here to challenge all champions. I knew he wasn't going to quit. He's a warrior. I had to keep on the pressure. I was thinking that hopefully the ref and the team made the right call to finish it at the right time."
Lopez (37-8, 20 KOs) had a big first round, dropping Molina, 38, of Covina, California, with a left hand moments into the fight. As the round progressed, they went at it toe to toe, but Lopez eventually landed several hard shots and Molina went down to all fours from another left hand. He barely beat the count, and the round ended before he took any more damage.
In the seventh round, Lopez landed a series of hard jabs and then a right hand that rocked Molina. Another right hand dropped him to a knee with about 15 seconds left in the round. He beat the count and then took another powerful right hand at the bell. There was a long discussion in the corner with the referee and the ringside doctor after the round, but the fight was allowed to continue.
Referee Ray Corona watched closely in the eighth round, and when Lopez landed a short right hand, he stepped in and stopped the fight at 39 seconds.
"You can never take the fight out of a fighter. I have a never-say-die attitude and I have my whole career. It was a tough fight, but the better man won tonight," Molina said. "I wanted to keep going at the end. I thought I was still coherent and could still move well. But you can't go against what the referees say."
Guerrero wins wide decision over Thomas
Former two-division world titleholder Robert Guerrero continued his comeback with a lopsided unanimous decision over Jerry Thomas in a welterweight fight.
Guerrero won 99-91, 99-91 and 98-92 to notch his third victory in a row since coming out of a 17-month retirement in December.
Guerrero (36-6-1, 20 KOs), 36, a southpaw from Gilroy, California, was pushed by the scrappy Thomas (14-2, 8 KOs), 30, of St. Mary's, Kansas, but had little trouble. He carried most of the action against the awkward Thomas, who fought hard and never stopped trying to compete. Thomas seemed to rattle Guerrero multiple times in the ninth round with right hands to the head, but Guerrero shook it off and closed with a strong 10th round, including landing an uppercut that stunned Thomas.
After Guerrero lost three fights in a row, including a third-round knockout to Omar Figueroa Jr. in July 2017, he retired. Now he is hoping eventually to get another shot at a world title.
"I got some rounds in tonight, which was valuable. We got what we needed and boxed our way to victory," Guerrero said. "I want to get back into those bigger fights. I moved around and stayed smart in there tonight. The goal was to stick to the game plan and I did until the end of the fight. You just have to keep working out the kinks and that's what I'm going to keep doing."
Spencer destroys Gambardella
Junior middleweight Joey Spencer, who Premier Boxing Champions officials consider one of their best prospects, pummeled Travis Gambardella, knocking him down three times en route to a third-round TKO victory.
Spencer (9-0, 7 KOs), 19, of Linden, Michigan, did as he pleased during a dominant first round. Late in the round, he hurt Gambardella (5-1-2, 2 KOs), 29, of Revere, Massachusetts, with a right hand, then dropped him with a left to the body. Gambardella barely beat the count and was down again moments later from another hook to the body.
Spencer continued to do damage in the second round, landing a brutal onslaught of punches punctuated by a left hook that dropped Gambardella for the third time. Gambardella took more hard shots through the rest of the round but fired back enough that referee Ray Corona, who was looking closely at stopping the fight, let him continue.
As Spencer continued to have his way in the third round, Corona intervened and waved off the bout at 53 seconds.
"I saw my shots coming in hard and he had already been down three times," Spencer said. "The ref was trying to make sure there wasn't another tragedy in the sport of boxing. I feel like I did what I needed to do. I felt like this was my best opponent yet."
Valenzuela wins again
Unbeaten junior lightweight Jose Valenzuela (5-0, 2 KO), of Mexico, drilled Charles Clark (2-5-1, 1 KO), of Dallas, in a first-round knockout victory. Valenzuela nailed Clark with a heavy right hand that dropped him along the ropes. He was very shaky as he attempted to get up, and referee Gerard White waved off the fight at 1:06.
Rodriguez dominates Maddox
Super middleweight Misael Rodriguez (10-5, 4 KOs), a 2016 Mexican Olympic bronze medalist, laid a beating on Brandon Maddox (7-3-1, 5 KOs), of Dallas, until his corner pulled him out of the fight after the end of the third round.
Maidana wins in Round 1
Junior welterweight Fabian Maidana (17-1, 13 KOs), the younger brother of former welterweight and junior welterweight world titlist Marcos Maidana, blew away journeyman Ramses Agaton (21-11-3, 11 KOs), of Mexico, in the first round. Maidana scored three knockdowns before referee Thomas Taylor stopped the fight at 2:07. Maidana rebounded from suffering his first defeat, a 10-round decision to Jaider Parra in January.
Lopez outpoints Garcia
In an all-Dallas featherweight bout, Juan Antonio Lopez (15-7, 6 KOs) outfought Fernando Garcia (12-2, 7 KOs) to score the upset. He won 79-73, 79-73 and 77-75 in an action fight in which he got the better of most exchanges.
Lawson KO's Zavala
Junior middleweight Leon Lawson III (12-0, 5 KOs), of Flint, Michigan, knocked out Alan Zavala (15-6, 13 KOs), of Mexico, in the second round of their scheduled eight-rounder. Lawson, the cousin of super middleweight titleholder Anthony Dirrell, dropped Zavala in the second round and referee Thomas Taylor counted him out at 2:27.
Olvera uspets Rashidi
Welterweight Alfonso Olvera (11-7-3, 4 KOs), of Mexico, upset Amon Rashidi (7-1, 5 KOs), of Dallas, in a one-sided fight. Olvera outhustled Rashidi and outpunched him throughout the bout to win 79-73, 79-73 and 78-74.
Brooks stops Valdez
Dallas light heavyweight Burley Brooks (4-0, 4 KOs) easily disposed of Fabian Valdez (3-6, 0 KOs), of Mexico, in a fight that had no remote aspect of competition. Brooks dropped Valdez four times with left hooks to the body before the fight was waved off at 2:25 of the first round.