BRAVE but ultimately outgunned, Michael McKinson was the latest in a long line of British underdogs to fall short on American soil. Like almost all of his predecessors, there should be no shame in defeat. In short, McKinson encountered, in Vergil Ortiz Jnr, a better and stronger opponent. The ninth-round stoppage defeat inside Fort Worth, Texas’ Dickie Arena will serve him well if further opportunities at a higher level come his way.
Ortiz’s record spoke for itself beforehand. Eighteen wins, all by KO, provided an ominous soundtrack for McKinson’s mission, particularly considering that the Portsmouth southpaw had only put away two of his previous 22 opponents. But it was McKinson who enjoyed the better start. Midway through the opener he appeared to stun the gung-ho favourite with a sniping left hook and a skirmish at the end of the session resulted in Ortiz nursing a cut above his eye.
Buoyed by the promising opener, McKinson boxed smartly in the second, too. Ortiz, seemingly dunk on confidence, struggled to pin down his slippery foe. The underdog’s deft movement and counter-punching nous was serving him well, but it always felt like a matter of time before Ortiz’s aim improved.
By the third, Ortiz was sporadically finding the target and McKinson, though still in the fight, started to slow down. Victor’s coach and father, Victor Ortiz Snr, implored his son to vary his work and, in the fourth, Junior suddenly appeared to have taken the advice on board.
Throughout the middle rounds, Ortiz’s footwork was sharper and his attacks wiser. The space McKinson previously enjoyed was being closed down and he could no longer box comfortably at range. The pressure of survival was draining his reserves. When forced into a firefight, there would, of course, be only one winner. The Brit pluckily tried to retaliate and though his left hand largely remained on point, the variety coming back was both plentiful and taking a toll. Powerful blows sunk into McKinson’s midsection and pounded his skull. Yet on he pushed, refusing to yield or appear outgunned.
By the eighth, however, Ortiz was in full flow. As the session came to a close, a wicked left hook to the stomach forced McKinson to the mat. He beat the count but the feeling that the end was nigh was impossible to shift. Ortiz had at last realised his best route to victory.
“There were a few instances where I had him hurt to the head,” Ortiz later admitted. “I think the main problem became that I was headhunting. He was elusive; the guy could move.
“He saw that I was going for the head. I picked it up and made the wrong decision. I should have been chopping down the tree.”
With axe sharpened and tree in position, Ortiz took aim in the ninth. McKinson retreated to a corner, seemingly bracing himself for the inevitable. Another left hook hurtled into his body. The visitor felt the punch’s power, gasped, and then tumbled to the floor. His head was clear but he was in desperate pain as his lungs scrambled for oxygen. McKinson got to his feet just before Laurence Cole tolled 10, but when asked by the official to move forward, agony was etched on his face. Michael very briefly, and instinctively, shook his head. The referee had no choice but to stop it after 27 seconds of the round.
The career of Maurice Hooker looks over at the top level after he was widely outscored over 10 rounds by Blair Cobbs. Now 33, “Mighty Mo” was dropped three times in the opening six minutes, though never really looked like being stopped.
Hooker, inactive since losing in seven to bill-topper Ortiz last March, had to forfeit $15,000 of his purse after coming in overweight. Quite what that punishment does to a fighter before they’ve even started to take punches, only they can say. Yet it was clear that Hooker was far from his best in the early going.
A left uppercut was followed by a right hand and Hooker was in trouble. He hit the deck, more stunned than hurt, but Cobbs, who parted company with Freddie Roach following a stoppage loss to Alexis Rocha in March this year, was in the mood to heighten his rival’s misery. Two straight lefts in the second stanza were responsible for two further knockdowns. Hooker had a mountain to climb.
Hooker, trained by Brian McIntyre with some help from Terence Crawford, improved in the third and fourth rounds on the advice of his corner. A clash of heads opened a cut on Cobbs’ eye. It spurred on Hooker who, by round six, looked like he might be about to take control.
The veteran was pinned back in the seventh, however. Cobbs boxed cleverly and maturely down the stretch to take the decision. Scores of 97-90 (twice) and 96-91 were accurate in this Mr Cole-officiated contest.
The classy Marlen Esparza retained her sanctioning body flyweight straps when she outpointed the plucky Eva Guzman over 10 rounds. The favourite exhibited her silky skillset, but Guzman, a huge underdog, came with pluck and lots of it. At the end, the tallies of 99-91 and 98-92 (twice) told the correct story. Ruben Perez was the referee.
The Verdict: Plenty of pluck and no shortage of skill from McKinson, but the power differential is decisive.