Carson, Calif., December 8, 2018 – In the final championship fight of 45 continuous years of coverage on HBO Boxing, it fell to one of boxing’s handful of undisputed, unified champions to carry the banner.
In the network’s final main event, unified and undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus of Norway (35-0, 9 KOs) won the last televised fight in HBO Boxing’s run. In doing so, she will forever be the answer to a boxing trivia question. Braekhus easily defeated challenger Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes (18-5-3, 1 KO), 38, of Gliwice, Poland. Braekhus of Norway gave her assignment the attention it deserved. The “First Lady of Boxing” delivered a display of skills worthy of any champion, scoring a near shutout decision, with scores of 100-90 X 2 and 99-91.
“This is my second time on HBO. It was a big deal of course,” said Braekhus after the fight. “I wanted to close out, i wanted to knock out the girl. I maybe pushed it too hard,” she admitted. “I’m just so honored to close off this show. I was a little too eager. I’ll get her next time.”
As Laila Ali and possible future opponent Crys Cyborg watched from ringside, the First Lady of Boxing put on a solid performance. Braekhus was simply too skilled for Lopes. She landed effective, accurate punches, backing up her taller, visibly larger opponent with ease. In the fourth round, Braekhus stunned Lopes with a solid right hook. She did her best to end things right there, but Lopes survived the round. Trainer Johnathon Banks told Braekhus to stay patient, but she took every opening she could to land power shots from both sides.
Coming down the stretch, Braekhus continued to rock Lopes with combinations. “All you need to do is keep moving and boxing. She’s ready to go home,” Banks told Braekhus. Lopes wasn’t going to let it happen. Braekhus deviated from her standard disciplined plan, and spend the last four rounds throwing power shots, but couldn’t quite close things out.
“That’s where I got a little bit eager,” said Braekhus. “Where I am in my career, that normally shouldn’t happen. But this is a historical night.
Braekhus didn’t deny the possibility she would fight undercard co-star Claressa Shields in the future. “Oh yeah, definitely, I know she’s interested in that. But she has some business to handle before that. I’m going to talk to (Cris) Cyborg a little bit, I’m pretty interested in that!” So are the fans. Let’s see it happen in 2019, as Cyborg has long pledged.
Claressa Shields scores eighth win against Femke Hermans; The Hammer awaits
In the opening bout of the broadcast, two-time Olympic gold medalist and current women’s WBC, WBA, and WBO middleweight champion Claressa Shields of Flint, Michigan (8-0, 2 KOs) successfully defended her titles against Femke Hermans (9-2, 3 KOs) of Belgium. Shields was in command in all ten rounds, scoring a shutout on all three scorecards 100-90 to win by unanimous decision.
Shields said before the bout she was working on going to the body more in her fights, and she was good to her word. She also increased her punch rate, bullying Hermans into the corners where she unloaded multiple shots. Hermans can take a punch and credit to her, she didn’t back down from Shields.
At times Shields wobbled Hermans, especially near the end of the final round. But Hermans is sturdy and did not back down from the aggressive Shields. The Flint, Michigan native worked hard to try and score a stoppage, but Hermans didn’t let it happen.
Shields landed119 of 421 total punches (28 percent), including 104 of 272 power punches (38 percent) Hermans landed just 29 of 266 total punches (11 percent) and 25 of 127 (20 percent) total power punches.
Watching Shields with interest from the stands was middleweight champion Christina Hammer. Hammer and Shields were scheduled to fight to unify the middleweight division in November, but Hammer withdrew due to illness, which turned out to be inflammation of the stomach lining. Hammer has 23 wins, no losses, and 10 knockouts. She’s eager to make Shields the 11th. In what would be her 13th title defense. It’s a unification bout everyone is eager to see between two willing champions in 2019.
Speaking with boxing media before the bout, Hammer said she was disappointed when she was stripped of her WBC world middleweight title after falling ill. She still holds the WBO strap, but she says she wants her title back and is eager to unify the division against Shields. “I want to fight, and I want to clear who is number one. My title is not given, it’s earned. I’m the champion. We have to clear it in the ring. It’s the only option.”
Estrada stops Mendez in seven rounds
In the co-main event, Southern California fans enjoyed an all Mexican-style action brawl for as long as it lasted between popular super flyweight Juan Francisco Estrada (38-3-0, 26 KOs) and Victor Mendez, (28-4-2, 20 KOs), both of Sonora, Mexico.
Estrada, who hopes to eventually avenge his majority decision loss at “Superfly 2” to super flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai of Thailand, did the smart thing by taking a “stay busy” fight against Mendez, who expected to fight Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. Gonzalez withdrew due to injury. It was Estrada’s fourth consecutive and final fight in southern California on HBO.
Estrada’s assault simply proved too much for the game Mendez, 25. The 28-year-old Estrada kept up a diversified attack, and though there was no single KO blow, it added up. With Mendez far down on the cards and not doing enough to slow Estrada down, his corner told referee Thomas Taylor his night was over after seven rounds.
On the non-televised undercard, Louisa “Bang Bang Lulu” Hawton (8-2, 3 KOs) of Perth, Australia scored a TKO victory over Lorraine Villalobos (2-2) of Los Angeles to win the WBC Atomweight Interim title. Hawton stole the show once again just as she did earlier in the year on the “Superfly 3” card with an all-action fight. Villalobos did what she could, but her corner decided she had accumulated too much damage after five rounds of their scheduled eight round bout.
Thank you, HBO Boxing
It was an evening for the devoted fan, die-hard fight freaks willing to sit outside in what passes for chilly weather in Southern California to watch a card with prospects and champions from the women’s divisions and smaller men’s divisions who don’t always get the respect they deserve. Those few thousands in attendance (and I’m counting the media and the production crew) can take pride having been on hand to wish HBO farewell – for now.
For those who criticized the card, it’s not so different than seeing the final fight of a once great champion who may have overstayed his time, hoping for one last victory before calling it a career. We can still honor the sum total of the career if not the final moments in the ring.
Change is sometimes hard but always healthy. We heard a final bell tonight – but who’s to say there may not be another fight on the distant horizon?
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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