This time, Jose Pedraza left no doubt.
In his first title defense in October, the 130-pound champ from Puerto Rico eked out a close split decision win over Edner Cherry. But on Saturday night, Pedraza defeated British contender Stephen Smith by a more comfortable margin—thanks in part to a sensational ninth-round knockdown.
“There was controversy [with Cherry], but we prepared ourselves with this camp,” said the 26-year-old Jose Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs), who was awarded a unanimous decision via scores of 117-110 and 116-111 twice at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Connecticut. “It was a very tough fight, but training came to our advantage. We trained really hard.”
The bout was deadlocked through the first eight rounds, according to Showtime’s unofficial judge Steve Farhood. While Pedraza pushed the pace with a right hand that he threw from multiple positions, the 30-year-old Smith (23-2, 13 KOs) stayed in the fight with a powerful left hook that he was able to hammer to Pedraza’s body.
But the fight changed course in the ninth. A short, looping right hand by Pedraza put the Liverpool, England, native on the canvas for just the second time in his career.
Smith—who had won 11 straight bouts, including seven by stoppage since his lone defeat to current 126-pound world champion Lee Selby in September 2011—rose to beat the count, but never fully recovered the momentum he had established up to that point.
“I knew that right hand hurt him. But I knew he was a tough fighter, so [I had to stay] aware so that he didn’t counter attack,” Pedraza said.
In fact, while Smith managed to get up off the mat, Pedraza, who represented Puerto Rico in the 2008 Olympics, simply refused to let his opponent back in the fight.
Unlike the majority of his contests where he switches stances throughout, Pedraza stayed orthodox against Smith and increased the pace and power of his punches to win the ninth through 11th round on all three judges’ scorecards.
While Smith—who is one of four brothers to hold British boxing titles—finished off strong in the 12th, it was too little, too late.
“Devastated to have lost my fight; I’d have given anything to win that belt for my kids … but it wasn’t to be tonight,” Smith tweeted after the fight. “I lost to the better man on the night. Pedraza was good. I trained hard and was in good shape, no excuses.”
For full coverage of Pedraza vs Smith, hit up our fight page.