By Bruce Paizen
Photos by Julio Irvin Garcia
After “Double Jeopardy” in Edmonton on Friday night the category “Women’s Boxing” can now be changed to just “Boxing” as the display of blood and guts in the main event transcended gender. Melissa Hernandez (123.0, Miami, FL) fell to 18-4-3 as Jelena Mrdjenovich (126.4, Edmonton, AB) showed the heart of a warrior by fighting through a crimson mask of blood to regain the WBC female featherweight title by scores of 57-56, 58-55, and 58-55 on a technical decision.
Mrdjenovich came to the ring to the song “The Final Countdown” as many wondered if her storied career would be sent into an irreversible spiral at the hands of world champ Melissa Hernandez. And after round one, fans at ringside had a look of acceptance in their eyes as Hernandez effectively countered Mrdjenovich’s jab and made her pay for missed shots.
Mrdjenovich couldn’t get set as Hernandez kept turning her. Then the unbelievable would happen in round two – Mrdjenovich was cut on the upper forehead by a head-butt – and this was no ordinary cut. It was spurting blood in sync with the beating of Mrdjenovich’s heart. Referee Len Koivisto called a timeout and had the ringside doctor, Dr. Terry DeFreitas, assess the cut. Mrdjenovich’s leg kicked in pain as DeFreitas applied pressure to laceration. After a minute of assessing the bleeding, Dr. DeFreitas let the bout continue.
According to WBC rules, if the bout cannot continue due to accidental foul, there will not be a point deduction; it will be a technical draw if before the start of the 5th round, and a technical decision, as per the scorecards, if after the start of 5th round. If the bout continues, as it did, a point will be deducted from the uninjured boxer to compensate the advantages acquired by the uninjured boxer. However, the referee has the option to consult with the WBC supervisor (in this case Ed Pearson) to waive the point deduction if the cut is on the hairline upwards. Many fights have been stopped on lesser cuts, so to the benefit of Mrdjenovich, she was allowed to continue.
And continue she did.
A blistering exchange to close round two had the cut opened wider but Hernandez was caught with some shots and seemed to be losing her mojo. Blood continued to flow in the third and before the round drew to a close Referee Koivisto would again stop the action to have Dr. DeFreitas look at Mrdjenovich’s cut. World champion Hernandez was not impressed as she watched Dr. DeFreitas apply pressure to the cut.
The crowd cheered when the fight was allowed to continue and a scorching exchange to end the round had the crowd giving a standing ovation. Round four began as Hernandez was on her back foot and setting traps. The smell of blood filled the air. Mrdjenovich was pressing the action and won the round with effective aggressiveness.
A third timeout was called by Koivisto to have Dr. DeFreitas examine the cut as the crowd boos deafeningly. When action resumed, Mrdjenovich and Hernandez traded blows near Mrdjenovich’s blood drenched corner. Hernandez slipped on the blood as she was punched by Mrdjenovich, and despite her instant implorations, Koivisto rules it a knockdown to close out round five.
A big right hand by Mrdjenovich in round 6 had Hernandez retreating, and Mrdjenovich even landed a clean jab that had Hernandez shaking her head in frustration. However, the last 30 seconds of round 6 was all Hernandez as she landed a hard left hand. Mrdjenovich tried to fight through it but was caught again and the blood loss seemed to diminish her punch resistance. Koivisto called a halt to the contest on advice of the ring doctor before the start of round 7 and the official scorecards ruled in favor of Mrdjenovich by unanimous decision.
Now 29-9-1, Mrdjenovich becomes a sure-fire candidate to join fellow Canadian-born woman Aileen Eaton in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.
The evening was another highly entertaining night of action put on by KO Boxing at the Shaw Conference Centre. John Devison, long-time trainer and a professional bantamweight Canadian titlist himself in 1959, was presented with an award for 40 years of service by Pat Reid of the Edmonton Combative Sports Commission (ECSC). Devison promised he wouldn’t rest on his laurels and stated, “We’ll be back,” as all of Canada can be proud of the champs he produced in the past and the talent he is developing for the future. Pat Reid, ECSC’s Executive Director, added, “We’re excited about the future of professional boxing in Alberta.” Reid expounded on plans to bring pro boxing to the northern markets such as Fort McMurray, “We want to open up the North.” All of Western Canada has a lot to look forward to in the coming years as the conditions are ripe for a boxing renaissance.
Steve Claggett (152.4, Calgary, AB) came to the ring exuding star-power as he faced Paul Bzdel (150.0, Saskatoon, SK), who seemed tense in facing an opponent who had more wins than the sum of all his previous opponent’s. Round one had Bzdel engaging “The Dragon” from the get-go with hard rights to the body and looping right hooks to the head. Nice head movement and a collected disposition by Claggett prevented the fight from deteriorating into a brawl, where “The Dragon” would be coaxed into landing and trading with Bzdel.
Bzdel forced Claggett on his back foot and was throwing heavy bombs, but Claggett fired enough sneaky counters to cause Bzdel to lose his mouthpiece. As Claggett headed back to his corner, there was blood around his left ear from the right hands he absorbed. Round two had Bzdel continuing to empty the tank and he was starting to breathe heavy and show signs of duress due to missing many shots. Claggett thwarted Bzdel’s attack and then began countering with cracking power. Claggett used his shoulders, forearms, elbows, and gloves to block shots as he started to walk down Bzdel – a left uppercut by Claggett had Bzdel’s head snapping upwards to close the round.
Round three started with Claggett landing a nice left hook followed by a sustained attack to the head and body – Bzdel refused to clinch or was unable to. This allowed the Calgary fighter to set up a sweeping left hook to Bzdel’s jaw off a feinted jab that had Bzdel down and almost out.
Up at the count of eight, Bzdel tried to fight back but was outclassed. In a clinical display, Claggett threw a jab to Bzdel’s guard followed by a perfect left hook to the liver. Bzdel was counted out at 2:47 of round 3 as Steve Claggett moves to 16-2-1 while Paul Bzdel falls to 4-3-1. After the fight Bzdel said, “He hit harder than I expected… he was quick but I knew he would be.” Bzdel, who holds down two jobs while training, gave no excuses. “I tried my hardest, trained very hard, and was not intimidated.” For Bzdel, perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that Claggett landed that paralyzing body shot, since he wasn’t going to quit of his own accord.
Paul “P-Mac” MacKenzie (193.2, Edmonton, AB) came to the ring as clear fan-favorite against the game Ty MacDougall (194.0, Kamloops, BC). Each of their bodies being almost carbon-copies of the other, this bout figured to provide a level playing field for skill versus will. P-Mac showed great upper-body movement as he took his time and showed angles, perhaps looking for the perfect punch. Although P-Mac won the round, his opponent MacDougall was not out of his element.
Round two had a seemingly inspired MacDougall starting strong and giving P-Mac a chance to display his defensive portfolio. A sudden change of events had P-Mac hurting MacDougall and going in for this kill when MacDougall would land a low blow. P-Mac was clearly hurt. When action resumed after the time-out, P-Mac was discombobulated as a reinvigorated MacDougall landed some hard shots.
In this a rocky round for MacKenzie, he showed that he was not averse to adversity. By cleverly regaining control to end round two in command, P-Mac appealed to the palate of boxing pundits. Right uppercuts and left hooks to the body by MacKenzie had MacDougall decelerating in round three, and a big right hand by the hometown fighter in round four had fans chanting “P-Mac! P-Mac! P-Mac!” as it looked like there was enough time in the round for him to stop MacDougall.
The last minute was anticlimactic as MacKenzie was fatigued from all the bombs he threw. In an entertaining fight, cruiserweight Paul Mackenzie moves to 4-0-1 while the durable Ty McDougall falls to a modest 2-4-1.
Cam O’Connell (135.6, Red Deer, AB) made quick work of Ryan Brigham (134.6, Red Deer, AB) as he employed a varied arsenal to the head and body of Brigham. The first knockdown came at the one minute mark with O’Connell landing various combinations. The second knockdown was on a well-placed body shot and all respect to Brigham for getting up to continue. A follow-up flurry by O’Connell ended with a hard right-hand to the left ear of Brigham as he was turning away and Referee Len Koivisto wisely stepped in to stop the contest at 1:59 of round 1. At age 24, Cam O’Connell is one of Canada’s top prospects and many were left asking when they can see O’Connell fight next.
“Merciless” Max Gagne’s (174.0, Edmonton, AB) protracted ring-walk included melodramatic Lord-of-the-Rings-esque music. The audience might have expected Gandalf to emerge from the dressing room with staff and glowing raiment. When the bell rang it was down to business as Gary “Hocus” Kopas (175.2, Saskatoon, SK) worked behind a jab to get inside and bang the body. Gagne quickly assumed the boxer role, more by requirement than by design, as Kopas continued to press the action. Kopas showed no signs of intimidation by his flashier, younger and more agile foe – it wasn’t pretty, but Kopas seemed to win round one.
Round two was much of the same as Kopas was not made to pay for real estate and had his way on the inside, at one point even putting Gagne into a headlock. Fellowship of the ring was nowhere to be found – this was not what Gagne signed up for. Round three had Gagne making more room for his preferred style of boxing, as an increased output produced a small cut over Kopas’ left eye. The fourth and final round had both men standing toe-to-toe and a judge-friendly right-uppercut by Kopas at the 2:00 minute mark had the crowd oohing. The last 10 seconds had Gagne landing two very hard right hands to Kopas’ body and left fans wondering what might have happened if Gagne did this earlier.
Saskatchewan's Gary Kopas scored his first Edmonton win in four tries with a 40-36, 39-37, 38-38 majority decision win. Light heavyweight Gagne falls to 2-2-1 but showed a lot of potential, while Kopas moves to 4-5-0.
Lightweight Brandy Badry (134.8, Edmonton, AB) faced undefeated Vanessa Bradford (133.2, Edmonton, AB) with no one expecting her to win except herself. “I trained hard for this fight.” Her conditioning paid off as it allowed her to avoid Bradford’s bombs; but little came back from Badry. The opening round had Bradford stocking her taller opponent and landing lead left hooks and overhand rights.
Good boxing and spacing by Badry in round two forced Bradford to make adjustments and the last 30 seconds of the round had Bradford again landing power shots. Badry tried to slow down the tempo in round three by clinching and using her height and movement, however, a measured and composed Bradford would still find a way to get inside and land blows to the head and body. Bradford (3-0) went for the stoppage in round 4 and a big right hand had Badry holding on. All scorecards had the same 40-36 verdict rendered by the officials at ringside, but Badry (1-5) certainly wasn’t out of her element and is to be commended for showing sound boxing skills. “I knew early that she was pacing herself,” said an articulate Badry after the bout. “I was head-butted in round 2 and that was a little disheartening.” However, she can get consolation in defeat by winning praise from her toughest critic – trainer Milan Lubovac. “He said he thought the fight was close,” said a quasi-satisfied Badry.
Lightweight Ryan Molnar (133.6, Edmonton, AB) kicked off “Double Jeopardy” with his pro debut against Dave McQuaker (133.0, Lethbridge, AB). Molnar, looking the part of a prospect with his custom-made boxing attire, seemed tentative in the first minute as McQuaker threw unwieldy hooks. Once Molnar shook off the jitters, he threw some educated combinations that resulted in the first knockdown at the half-way mark of round 1. Another follow-up barrage punctuated by a sneaky body shot produced the stoppage victory at 2:25 for Molnar as he moves to 1-0-0. McQuaker falls to 1-9-1.