NEW YORK -- It took a while, but The Quiet Man finally made some noise. In his own way, so did Andrew Golota.
After 10 rounds of wrestling, WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz suddenly slammed a right hand into challenger Fres Oquendo's face late in the 11th round of their bout at Madison Square Garden last night.
Oquendo wobbled and fell backward and suddenly Ruiz was on him, blasting a half-dozen unanswered punches off the blank face of Oquendo, who bounced from side to side.
Oquendo didn't punch back or protect himself as Ruiz bore in on him, turning him to the side with one right hand and slapping him in the face with another until referee Wayne Kelly finally stopped the bout at 2:33 of the round with Oquendo on his feet but offering neither resistance nor protest.
"Oquendo was taking too many punches," Kelly said. "He wasn't defending himself. Yeah, he was fine after the fight but he wasn't defending himself. He was hurt."
That much was obvious. Oquendo had, for a time, taken over the bout with his jab, but at the time the fight was stopped, two judges had Ruiz leading, 96-94, and the third had it even. In the end, those cards meant nothing because Ruiz (40-5-1) carried the day with six punches that came from nowhere and may have sent Oquendo, who has now lost two straight title shots, to that same place.
"He was difficult to fight," Ruiz said. "He was moving around a lot. Soon as I started to slow him down I knew I'd get him with a combination. I knew sooner or later he'd give up and I'd grab him. When I finally landed that right hand, I knew I had him rocked and I just kept throwing. He was out on his feet."
Oquendo, of course, saw it differently.
"Ruiz couldn't hang with me," Oquendo said. "Stop a great fight in the last round. That's unheard of. I wasn't even hurt. I said `I'm fine.' This is unfair. I was fine."
One guy who was fine was Golota, who failed to defeat IBF champion Chris Byrd (instead fighting him to a draw) but won back the self-respect he'd lost after twice fouling his way to defeat against Riddick Bowe and then quitting against both Michael Grant and Mike Tyson.
The draw allowed Byrd to retain the IBF title and Golota to win the respect of many who had long ago thrown him on boxing's scrap heap.
For 12 rounds they battled. The oft-critcized Byrd, who is known by some as the heavyweight Willie Pep, stood and fought it out, often along the ropes. Seldom did he move and most often he sat against the ropes and traded with a man who outweighed him by nearly 30 pounds.
Byrd (37-2-1) emerged with his title barely intact for the second straight time, having barely won a controversial decision from Oquendo in his last outing. Golota insisted he thought he had done enough to win, but when the cards were read, Steve Weisfield had it 115-113 for Golota, judge Tony Paolillo had it the same score but the other way around. That left it up to Melvina Lathan to settle the issue, but she had it a 114-114 draw.
The decision to give Golota a title shot after boxing only twice since quitting against Tyson over three years ago was widely criticized, both for his inactivity and his reputation. But last night he fought in a controlled but aggressive fashion, constantly pushing Byrd back or trapping him along the ropes and refusing to let him out.
Byrd countered by flurrying and, at times, landing the sharper punches. Although he never hurt Golota (but had his own left cheek badly swollen), he came on strong late in the fight. At the end of a long night, however, the heavyweight division remained a cloudy picture but one with at least one new storm on the horizon. A storm named Andrew Golota.. . .
WBC cruiserweight champion Wayne Braithwaite pounded out a unanimous decision over challenger Louis Azille. He won by a margin so wide, one judge scored the bout, 120-107.