It’s rare for a matchup that’s billed as a Fight of Year contender to actually deliver on that promise, but that’s exactly what transpired when Mexico’s Luis Nery scored a spectacular 11th-round stoppage of Azat Hovhannisyan at the Fox Theater Pomona in California.
Nery, who has previously held world titles at bantamweight and super bantamweight, pitted his hard-hitting, cerebral southpaw finesse against Hovhannisyan’s balls-to-the-wall aggression. The styles gelled perfectly and the fans in attendance were treated to a classic encounter.
Both fighters were hurt on several occasions. Armenia’s Hovhannisyan, known as “Crazy A”, suffered two facial lacerations – both inflicted by punches – while Nery sustained a horrific body beating in the second half of the contest.
However, it was Nery who had that little bit extra. In the final minute of the 10th, the Tijuana native elected to punch with Hovhannisyan and slotted home a bursting left to the chin that caused damage. The punch actually brought a smile to Crazy A’s face, but he was fooling no one – especially Nery.
While Hovhannisyan survived the session, the minute’s recovery time was not enough. Nery, 28, stood his ground in Round 11 and waited patiently for the openings. When two massive left hands landed flush on the jaw, the rampaging Hovhannisyan looked as meek as a lamb, and referee Ray Corona wisely stopped the fight.
This battle of Ring Magazine-rated contenders (Nery entered as No. 6, while Hovhannisyan came in at No. 4) was a WBC super bantamweight elimination bout. The current champion in that weight class is the supremely talented Stephen “Cool Boy” Fulton, who is pencilled in to face three-weight world titleholder Naoya Inoue in Japan, possibly in May.
“I want Inoue, and I want Fulton,” said a confident Nery during his post-fight interview with DAZN. “I feel ready to go for the world championship, whether it’s Fulton or Inoue.
“We expected a knockout [over Hovhannisyan]. We knew it was going to be a knockout. We knew Azat was a tough fighter, but we got the knockout and it was good for the fans.”
Should Inoue defeat Fulton – far from guaranteed – there would be one minor roadblock in terms of making an Inoue-Nery fight.
In 2018, Nery was handed a lifetime ban by the Japanese Boxing Commission due to infringements related to two bantamweight world title victories over Shinsuke Yamanaka. Following the first fight – a fourth-round stoppage in August 2017 – it was revealed that Nery had failed a pre-fight drugs test (banned substance Zilpaterol). Then, six months later, the Mexican weighed in a full three pounds over the bantamweight limit and destroyed Yamanaka in the second round of the rematch.
Inoue-Nery would be a spectacular fight, but the fact that it cannot be staged in Japan would have a serious impact on the financials. Bottom line: it would be a much bigger fight in Japan than it would be in the US or Mexico.
All of this, of course, is hypothetical because Fulton is supremely confident of taming “The Monster”. What a fight that is going to be.
And what of Hovhannisyan? The Los Angeles-based Armenian put up an incredible fight last night, and despite suffering his fourth defeat in 25 starts, his stock has risen dramatically. The only worry is the amount of damage Nery inflicted on the former world title challenger. Crazy A is 34 years old now, and being crazy at this level comes at a price.
“Well, obviously we’re disappointed that the fight didn’t go the way we wanted, but that’s boxing,” said Hovhannisyan through a translator.
“We thought [Nery] was a good fighter before, and today he was a great fighter. He won – that’s it.”
No matter what comes next for both men, fans will be savouring their return.