Welterweight contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas, who was thrust into the main event of the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN card on Saturday night at the last minute, hoped to use a big performance to bolster his chances for a world title shot later this year.
Kavaliauskas, known as "The Mean Machine," won the fight by unanimous decision -- 97-93, 97-93 and 96-94 -- over Juan Carlos Abreu at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California, but he did little to make his case that he deserves a shot at world titleholder Terence Crawford in October. He might get the opportunity anyway.
"We've got to confer with Crawford and Bomac [trainer Brian McIntyre], but Kavaliauskas is definitely in the picture," Top Rank chairman Bob Arum told ESPN after the fight. "Whether it's Crawford next, we'll have to see, but he's in the picture. He was fighting an awkward guy with a terrible referee [Edward Collantes] who didn't stop all the holding, but Kavaliauskas is a very good fighter."
Kavaliauskas-Abreu was the originally scheduled co-feature, but it was elevated to main event status Friday afternoon when the main event was canceled.
Junior welterweight world titlist Jose Ramirez (22-0, 16 KOs), the popular hometown fighter, was supposed to make his first defense against Danny O'Connor (30-3, 11 KOs), but the fight was canceled when a severely dehydrated O'Connor, trying to cut the final two pounds to get to 140, was so incoherent and in such bad shape that he had to be taken to Fresno Community Regional Medical Center, where he was admitted and then released Saturday.
The fight got off to an awkward start -- and it never got much better -- when an accidental head butt in the first round opened a cut over Kavaliauskas' right eye and over Abreu's left eye.
Their styles never meshed and it made for a messy fight without much clean punching and many clinches. They lunged, missed and clinched often, which the restless crowd booed at various times during the slow-paced bout.
"Everything did not go as well as I expected," Kavaliauskas said. "Abreu was very fast and very slick. In the beginning, I needed a couple of rounds to make adjustments."
Kavaliauskas, who went past the eighth round for the first time, suffered a cut over his left eye in the third round from one of the few solid shots Abreu landed. The cut was bothering Kavaliauskas. He dabbed at it and squinted his eye repeatedly over the next few rounds as blood streamed down his cheek.
Kavaliauskas (20-0, 16 KOs), 30, a two-time Lithuanian Olympian fighting out of Oxnard, California, landed a solid right hand that stopped Abreu in his tracks in the final seconds of the sixth round. The action picked up a bit in the seventh round as Kavaliauskas went after him and nailed him with a left hand, but Abreu gave it right back in a fierce exchange.
Abreu (21-4-1, 19 KOs), 31, of the Dominican Republic, generally only threw one punch at a time and showboated in the 10th round by raising his hands as though he was already the winner of the fight, but it was more bravado than accomplishment.
According to CompuBox statistics, Kavaliauskas landed 119 of 373 punches (32 percent) and Abreu connected with 72 of 402 (18 percent).
Despite the uneven performance, Kavaliauskas pronounced himself ready for a crack at a world title, with Arum, before the fight, having put him on the short list to face Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs), 30, of Omaha, Nebraska, on Oct. 13. The former undisputed junior welterweight world champion and former lightweight champion moved up to welterweight and won a world title on June 9.
"I'm ready for all of the big names," Kavaliauskas said. "I give 200 percent in the gym, and I will always give my best in the ring."
Vences cruises past De Alba
The fight between up-and-coming junior lightweight Andy Vences and Frank De Alba was elevated from the ESPN+ coverage of the undercard to the televised co-feature slot when Ramirez-O'Connor was canceled, and Vences took advantage of the exposure.
Vences (21-0-1, 12 KOs), 27, of San Jose, California, landed numerous right hands to the head and body and easily outpointed De Alba (22-4-2, 9 KOs), 30, of Reading, Pennsylvania, to win a lopsided decision. The judges scored it 99-91, 99-91 and 98-92 in favor of Vences, who suffered the lone blemish on his record in his last fight when he battled to a draw with fellow unbeaten up-and-comer Erick De Leon on March 10 on the Oscar Valdez-Scott Quigg undercard.
Vences was busier than De Alba, a southpaw, and regularly landed his jab and right hand to the head and body. He tried to further throw De Alba off balance by switching to a southpaw stance in the third round, but he went back to a right-handed one in the fourth round.
In the fifth round, Vences connected with solid right hands as he cranked up the pace and stalked forward. He rocked De Alba's head back with another right hand in the seventh round. Vences rocked him with two right hands and a body shot in the ninth round. De Alba, whose left cheek was swollen in the second half of the fight, never got going offensively and Vences cruised to the victory.
"I didn't live up to my hype," Vences said. "I was trying to maintain. My coaches wanted a knockout. He got me with a good body shot [in the 10th round]. Good experience with a good fighter. He had never been stopped. I tried. I was keeping composed. I followed the game plan, but I should have put more punches together. I wanted to put more punches together. He was a little sharp, he was countering. Good experience, what can I say. We're moving forward."
According to CompuBox statistics, Vences landed 147 of 577 punches (26 percent) and De Alba, who lost his second fight in a row, landed 89 of 384 blows (23 percent).
Ruiz dominates Johnson
In a fight between former heavyweight world title challengers, the far fresher Andy Ruiz Jr. dominated the long-faded Kevin Johnson en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.
Ruiz (31-1, 20 KOs), 30, a Mexico native fighting out of Las Vegas, easily won by scores of 99-91, 97-93 and 97-93 over Johnson (32-10-1, 16 KOs), 38, of Neptune, New Jersey, who landed a few stiff jabs but did little else.
Ruiz was fighting for only the second time since he dropped a tight majority decision to Joseph Parker for a vacant world title in December 2016. Ruiz did not fight again until March, when he blew out 2004 U.S. Olympian Devin Vargas in the first round, so promoter Top Rank was hoping Ruiz would be extended to get in some rounds, which is Johnson's specialty. He has only been stopped twice in his career, and while Ruiz didn't come close to knocking him out, he did stun him a few times, including when he pinned him in the corner during the fifth round.
"I still need some work, but having these 10 rounds was a good experience," said Ruiz, who was working with trainer Manny Robles for the second fight in a row. "We're just improving and getting better. I'd love to face Jarrell Miller or any of the big guys out there, and they'll probably underestimate me after this performance. The next one will be different."
-- Junior lightweight prospect Gabe Flores Jr. (9-0, 5 KOs), an 18-year-old recent high school graduate, rolled to a six-round shutout decision against James De Herrera (4-4, 3 KOs), 27, of College Station, Texas.
Flores, of Stockton, California, was fighting in his home state for the first time because the California commission would not license him until he turned 18, which he did in May. De Herrera tried to rough Flores up and made it a scrappy fight, but Flores was in control all the way. He dropped De Herrera to his rear end with a clean left hook on the chin in the first round and went on to win 60-53 on all three scorecards but was not happy with his performance.
"I believe I did good on this fight, but I could've done way better," Flores said. "I should've listened to my father [and trainer, Gabriel Flores Sr.]. He was asking me to use my legs, but I saw that I was hurting De Herrera and almost got him out of there. That is why I kept throwing to the head. Next time I promise a way better performance."
-- Power-punching prospect Joseph Adorno (8-0, 8 KOs), 19, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, was extended past the second round for the first time as he knocked out Guadalupe De Leon (9-16-1, 5 KOs), 39, of Mission, Texas, in the third round of their scheduled six-round junior lightweight fight. Adorno, who came into the fight with six first-round knockouts and one in the second round, dropped De Leon in the third round, and then when Adorno pinned him in the corner, referee Gerard White stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 32 seconds.