The live televised fights on SHOWTIME kicked-off with two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy (26-0, 13 KOs) winning a 12-round unanimous decision over valiant Kiryl Relikh, (25-3, 16 KOs), of Baranovichi, Byelorussia.
Scores in the WBA Super Lightweight eliminator were 116-110, 115-111 and 117-109.
The opening two rounds of the fight featured excellent action with both fighters attempting to impose their will. In the third round Relikh suffered a low blow resulting in a two-minute delay, however, no point deduction was made by referee Kenny Chevalier. Following the low blow, the shorter Relikh became much more aggressive.
With the undefeated, blue-haired Barthelemy switching stances often in the fourth stanza, he was able to score at will against Relikh.
However, Relikh came out charging in the fifth, battering away against Barthelemy who was caught against the ropes and scoring a knockdown when the ropes held the Cuban up from a barrage of hard punches.
Recovering nicely in the sixth and seventh, Barthelemy badly hurt Relikh with a multitude of body shots from both hands.
In the eight round Barthelemy truly turned the tide for good in the ninth, drilling Relikh to the canvas with a blistering left hook to the body. Through the championship rounds it was all Barthelemy who finished strong against the game but outgunned Relikh.
Said the victorious Barthelemy, “It feels great to be going forward. The 11-month layoff really took a toll on my body and I felt it in the ring.
“I knew it was a close fight but knew I should get a unanimous decision.
“Relikh was a hard hitter. He surprised me with a right hook in the 5th round and I hit the canvas, so I knew I had to be careful going forward. I knew I had lost that round and had to come back stronger.
“I took the sixth round to take a breather and then I came back to work the body. Once I knocked him down, I saw that he was hurt and protecting himself upstairs a lot more so I knew I was going to have to be more strategic to come out victorious.”
Replied a very disappointed Relikh, “Of course I thought I won. Even TV thought I won. The referee did his job when he called it a knockdown in the fifth. I thought it was over.”
“The two low blows definitely affected me. It takes the wind out of you. This is boxing not MMA.”