NEW YORK -- Blue-chip heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba faced perhaps his toughest and most experienced opponent in former world title challenger Razvan Cojanu, and Ajagba laid a beating on him on Saturday night.
Ajagba scored two knockdowns and stopped Cojanu in the ninth round of the co-feature of the Premier Boxing Champions on Fox card headlined by the Adam Kownacki-Robert Helenius heavyweight title elimination bout at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Ajagba (13-0, 11 KOs), 25, a 2016 Nigerian Olympian fighting out of Houston, where he is trained by Ronnie Shields, took his time and broke down Cojanu, whose face was badly battered by the end of the fight.
"Cojanu has a lot of experience. When I threw my jab, he used his right hand to block my vision, so I couldn't throw as many combinations as I wanted. It was a good challenge," Ajagba said. "Ronnie told me to attack the body behind the jab. It was very effective, and it started to slow him down. When he got close to me, I knew to throw more and punish him.
"It's up to my team who we fight next, but I want hard fights. My team has a plan, and we'll keep following it."
Cojanu, who prepared for the fight by sparring against former world titlist Charles Martin and Frank Sanchez (a winner on the undercard), was game all the way but was outclassed by the 6-foot-6, 242-pound Ajagba.
Ajagba took control early in the fight while using a stiff jab to back up his opponent.
Ajagba's best punch is his right hand, and he looked for openings for it and landed several. He also went to the body. But the 6-foot-7½, 255-pound Cojanu, 32, a Romania native fighting out of Los Angeles, fired back with a few good left hands while the action picked up as the rounds went on. By the fourth round, however, Cojanu's face was marked up from taking so many solid jabs.
After Ajagba nailed Cojanu (17-7, 9 KOs) with a left-right combination to the head in the sixth round, Cojanu landed a low blow. Referee Ron Lipton warned Cojanu and gave Ajagba time to recover.
Ajagba continued to fight at a measured pace but landed many hard shots, and Cojanu's face showed it. It was a mess by the end of the seventh round, especially his right eye.
In the eighth round, Ajagba dropped Cojanu with a right hand with about 40 seconds left and rocked him badly moments later with another right hand that had Lipton looking closely. Ajagba closed the round by hammering Cojanu repeatedly.
Ajagba continued to pound his foe in the ninth round, and when Cojanu took a knee under heavy fire, Lipton waved it off at 2 minutes, 46 seconds.
Cojanu has now lost five of his past six fights, all to quality opponents. During a four-fight skid, he lost to top prospect Daniel Dubois and former two-time world title challenger Luis "King Kong" Ortiz by knockout and by decision to Nathan Gorman and Joseph Parker, in a 2017 world title fight.
Sanchez routs Dawejko
Up-and-coming heavyweight Frank Sanchez, a former Cuban amateur national team standout, took a modest step up in professional competition and routed Joey Dawejko.
Sanchez (15-0, 11 KOs), who shares trainer Eddy Reynoso with superstar Canelo Alvarez, did not get the knockout he had predicted he would score. But he won handily -- 100-90, 100-90 and 98-92 on the scorecards -- as he spent most of the fight bouncing around the ring, firing jabs and connecting with hard right hands in a dominating performance that left Dawejko's face marked up.
"I was well prepared, and I thought I fought very well tonight," Sanchez said. "I dominated the fight. I showed good footwork and movement and did exactly what we worked on. I'm going to continue to advance in my career, and hopefully we get an even bigger fight next. I expected a lot of pressure, but with my boxing ability, there was no way he was going to catch me."
Dawejko (20-8-4, 11 KOs), who has faced several tough contenders and has been a sparring partner for unified world titlist Anthony Joshua, has lost four of his past five fights, all by decision. He looked more like a sparring partner against Sanchez than a threat.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Sanchez, 27, who fights out of Las Vegas, spent the first two rounds feeling out the 5-foot-10, 226-pound Dawejko and probing with his jab before going on the attack a bit more in the third round, when Sanchez landed some solid combinations and right hands.
As the fight wore on, Dawejko, 29, of Philadelphia, could do little more than throw one punch at a time -- and sometimes he missed wildly -- before covering up or tying up to avoid the incoming shots. By the fifth round, Dawejko had redness and swelling on the side of his left eye.
"I didn't want to fight Dawejko's fight, and he realized that, and it frustrated him," Sanchez said. "He might have thought he's faced guys like me, but there's no other heavyweight like me."
"I knew he was going to fight on the outside, and he stayed on the outside. Not much to say. He just did what he had to do," Dawejko said. "He was scared; that's why he was running around. He kept jumping back and staying away, so I guess he made it easy on the judges."
Ochoa outpoints Sarinana
Junior welterweight Zachary Ochoa, a Brooklyn native, won a unanimous decision over scrappy journeyman Angel Sarinana in a hard-fought battle. Ochoa won 77-73, 77-73 and 76-74, but Sarinana turned in a strong effort in defeat.
Ochoa (21-1, 7 KOs), 27, won his fifth fight in a row, but it was his first bout since October 2018, so he had some rust to shake off in a bout with plenty of back-and-forth action.
In the third round, Sarinana suffered a cut near his right eye that caused blood to run down his cheek, but he also landed several hard blows in that round. In the seventh, referee Mike Ortega took one point from Sarinana (10-10-3, 4 KOs), 27, of Mexico, for head-butting Ochoa on the break. In the eighth round, Ortega docked one point from Ochoa for holding, before the fighters finished the match by trading shots toe-to-toe.
Gonzalez stops Labby
Welterweight Arnold Gonzalez (4-0, 1 KOs), 25, of New York, who had a section of fans wildly cheering for him, dominated and knocked out Traye Labby (4-5-3, 3 KOs), 24, of Pittsfield, Illinois, in the fourth round of their scheduled six-rounder.
In the third round, Gonzalez cornered Labby and teed off on him, hurting Labby to the body and then rocking his head back with a big right hand that caused referee Tony Chiarantano to step in and stop the bout at 2 minutes, 7 seconds.
Hogan drills Oren
Southpaw middleweight Francis Hogan (1-0, 1 KOs), 19, of Boston, made an explosive professional debut with a fourth-round knockout victory over Brent Oren (2-4, 0 KOs), 30, of Lynchburg, Virginia.
Hogan controlled most of the fight and then put Oren away with a brutal right hook to the body that crumpled Oren to the mat, where he was counted out at 2 minutes, 11 seconds. Oren, who was holding his side, was motionless on the mat for a couple of minutes before getting to his feet under his own power.