LAS VEGAS -- Super middleweight world titlist Caleb Plant and Mike Lee traded plenty of harsh words during the lead-up to their fight, with Plant ultimately promising to teach Lee the kinds of lessons he never learned on his way to a finance degree from Notre Dame.
Did he ever.
Plant dominated every moment of the fight and knocked Lee down three times en route to a third-round knockout victory in his first title defense Saturday night on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Keith Thurman welterweight world title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
"It went exactly how I planned it would go. Absolutely. I've been telling you all week it wasn't going to go 12 rounds and I stuck to my word and I tried to do that," Plant said.
Then Plant let go of any animosity.
"I tip my hat to Mike because it takes a true champion to step between these ropes," Plant said. "But it's 'and still,' just like I predicted. I think I have a high boxing IQ and I do this at a really high level. So it was just about making adjustments. He's a big, strong guy and he just came in here to give it his all."
Plant (19-0, 11 KOs), 26, an Ashland City, Tennessee, native who resides in Las Vegas, dominated from the outset in an obvious mismatch. His speed, skills and poise advantages were quite clear from the outset. He landed a high volume of precise punches and, with about 30 seconds left in the first round, floored Lee with a dynamite left hook to the jaw. Lee (21-1, 11 KOs), 31, of Chicago, never seemed calm in the ring, but he survived that first wave and took another big left hook before the round ended.
Plant kept up the attack in the second round, and all Lee could do was cover up, miss wild shots and smile, despite getting nailed in the face.
Plant, who won his 168-pound world title by unanimous decision against Jose Uzcategui on Jan. 13, put Lee out of his misery in the third round, sending the challenger to the mat with a three-punch combination. Another left hand appeared to drop Lee again, but referee Robert Byrd ruled it a slip. Moments later, Plant landed yet another left hand, and when Lee went down again, Byrd waved off the fight without a count at 1 minute, 29 seconds.
Lee moved down from light heavyweight and was an unlikely title challenger coming into this fight, having never faced a notable opponent. But he was handed the shot because of the high profile he had garnered as a Notre Dame graduate who gave up a potential career on Wall Street to box. Lee also was featured in a series of nationally aired Subway sandwich shop television commercials.
Lee was returning to the ring after a 13-month layoff, caused in part by a battle with an autoimmune disease. While he talked a good game leading into the fight, as did Plant, only Plant could back up his words.
"The speed was the difference. He's fast and very accurate," Lee said. "I had some success with my right hands but wasn't able to be consistent with it. No issue with the stoppage. That's the referee's job and I respect it."
The CompuBox statistics showed just how one-sided the fight was. Plant landed 50 of 109 blows (46%), while Lee connected with just 8 of 66 (12%).
Plant hopes to eventually unify belts with the winner of the Sept. 28 bout between titleholder Anthony Dirrell and former titlist David Benavidez, an easy fight to make because they're all with Premier Boxing Champions.
"Oh, yeah, we can definitely unify," Plant said. "I ain't hard to get ahold of. I ain't hard to make a fight with. Come see me. You know my advisor (Al Haymon)."
Ugas pounds Figueroa in eliminator
Welterweight contender Yordenis Ugas earned the second world title shot of his career Saturday with a one-sided battering of former lightweight titlist Omar Figueroa Jr. Ugas won a unanimous decision in their WBC title eliminator, with all three judges scoring the fight 119-107 in his favor.
Ugas earned a second shot at the 147-pound title held by Shawn Porter, who is scheduled for a unification bout against Errol Spence Jr. on Sept. 28. Ugas' previous mandatory shot against Porter on March 9 ended in a loss for Ugas in a disputed split decision.
"The fight played out how I thought it would. I came out strong and Figueroa was tough as well," Ugas said through a translator. "This is was similar to the fight everyone expected. I came out on top. I knew Figueroa was a tough guy, so I didn't want to waste my energy trying to take him out early. I'm extremely happy to be in this position to fight for the WBC title again. I will be ready for the winner of Errol Spence Jr. versus Shawn Porter."
Ugas landed several clean shots in the first round, including a right hand that sent Figueroa crashing into the ropes, which helped keep him up and prompted referee Russell Mora to rule it a knockdown. Moments later, an overhand right buckled Figueroa again.
Ugas (24-4, 11 KOs), 32, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist from Cuba fighting out of Miami, was warned for holding in the third round but then rocked Figueroa with a series of punches in the closing seconds of the round -- and he continued to pound Figueroa throughout the rest of the fight.
Figueroa suffered a cut on his scalp from an accidental head butt in the fourth round, prompting Mora to call a timeout for the ringside doctor to take a look. Mora docked a point from Ugas for more holding in the fifth round.
As the sixth round was ending, Ugas cornered Figueroa (28-1-1, 19 KOs), 29, of Weslaco, Texas, and nailed him with two heavy right hands that snapped his head back, as he did repeatedly during the fight.
The CompuBox statistics were overwhelming for Ugas, who landed 229 of 805 punches (28%), while Figueroa landed 131 of 610 (22%).
"Ugas fought a smart fight. He was smothering me on the inside and holding. I thought the scores were too wide," Figueroa said. "I was following him and working the whole time. I felt like he only worked the last 30 seconds of the round, but I guess that was all it took. I didn't have any problems with his size. I thought I was able to do my thing, but when he was holding me I couldn't get my offense going."
Lipinets drills late substitute Inson
Welterweight Sergey Lipinets thought he would be facing right-handed brawler John Molina Jr., but when Molina threw his back out on Thursday night and withdrew from the bout, Lipinets found himself matched instead with southpaw Jayar Inson, who was originally scheduled for a non-televised preliminary bout but accepted the fight with Lipinets on one day's notice.
The change made no difference to Lipinets, a former junior welterweight world titleholder. After a feeling-out process in the first round, Lipinets drilled Inson with a left hand to the jaw in the second round, which caused Inson's head to snap sideways -- and then he hit the deck. Although Inson beat the count, he was in no condition to continue and referee Jay Nady stropped the fight at 57 seconds into the second round.
"Joe Goossen is an exceptional trainer and he just told me to work from a different direction facing a southpaw," Lipinets said through a translator. "I just made sure to block his punches with my elbows. That was the only adjustment I had to make and it ended up working just fine.
"When I first heard the news about Molina, I knew that I wanted to still fight on a show of this magnitude. As far as fighting a southpaw, I've had so many amateur fights in my kickboxing career that I had no problem adjusting. It was just a matter of time. I also spar with great southpaws like Victor Ortiz throughout my career, so I was comfortable with the change in fighter."
Lipinets (16-1, 12 KOs), 30, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Los Angeles, won his third fight in a row since losing his junior welterweight belt by decision to Mikey Garcia in March 2018. Most recently, Lipinets was coming off a 10th-round knockout of former world titlist Lamont Peterson on March 24 in a leading candidate for fight of the year.
"You train for one style and then you get another, but I'll certainly take the results," Goossen said. "A great fighter always executes what you ask him to do and he's a great fighter. I expect him to be champion again one day, that's for sure."
Inson (18-3, 12 KOs), 28, of the Philippines, lost his second fight in row, following an eighth-round split decision to Jonathan Steele. That fight, on Jan. 19, was also at the MGM Grand, on the undercard of Pacquiao's victory over Adrien Broner.
Nery KO's Payano with body shot
In a fight between former bantamweight world titleholders, Luis Nery knocked out Juan Carlos Payano with a body shot in the ninth round to keep himself in contention for a future title shot.
Nery (30-0, 24 KOs), 24, of Mexico, who scored his 11th knockout in a row, was stripped of his bantamweight title for failing to make weight for a 2018 title defense and needed an extra hour to make weight for the fight with Payano -- but Nery took care of Payano in fine fashion after a little bit of a slow start.
"He was a very complicated fighter at the beginning -- he's a veteran -- so I had to try to adapt to his style to see how I could get in," Nery said through a translator. "In the fifth or sixth round, I started gaining control of the fight and then that left hook came to the body which was devastating. I saw the openings in the body and then that's when the left hook came and it was over."
Nery stalked forward, looking to land his powerful right hand. He also got inside and let his hands go often with repeated success to Payano's body. He seemed to wobble Payano for the first time during an exchange late in the fourth round.
Payano (21-3, 9 KOs), 35, of the Dominican Republic, landed several solid left hands over the course of the fight, but Nery never looked like he was in trouble.
In the ninth round, Nery caught Payano with a hard left hand to the rib cage and Payano collapsed in agony to the canvas, where referee Vic Drakulich counted him out at 1 minute, 43 seconds. Payano was still doubled over in pain a few minutes later.
"During the exchanges, it was Nery's second shot that was getting in," Payano said through a translator. "We corrected the issue, but then that body shot came in from nowhere and hit me in a rib that I had broken years ago against Rau'shee Warren. We'll see what the doctors say about the rib, but once I'm healthy, we're going to keep working. I got caught with a great shot, but I was definitely in the fight before the knockout."
Nery landed 111 of 402 punches (28%), while Payano connected with 103 of 530 (19%), according to CompuBox.
This was Payano's second knockout loss in his past three fights; the first of those KOs happened when Payano was drilled in the first round by world titlist Naoya Inoue during their World Boxing Super Series quarterfinals fight in October.
Ajagba outpoints Demirezen
Heavyweight Efe Ajagba (11-0, 9 KOs) was pushed past the fifth round for the first time in his career but earned a hard-fought unanimous decision win over Ali Eren Demirezen (11-1, 10 KOs), in a meeting of 2016 Olympians.
Ajagba, 25, who represented Nigeria and is now based in Houston, won the 10-round fight 99-91, 99-91 and 97-93 -- a bout that appeared a bit more competitive than the judges' scorecards might indicate.
Ajagba was steady with his jab, while Demirezen, 29, a Turkish Olympian who was fighting in the United States for the first time and went past eight rounds for the first time in his career, threw punches in spurts and caught Ajagba's attention several times during the fight.
"This was the first fighter to take me the distance. He was strong and could take my punches," Ajagba said. "My trainer (Ronnie Shields) just told me to keep using my jab and stay in the middle of the ring. I hurt my elbow early on, so I couldn't shoot my right hand like I wanted. But I won't use that as an excuse. As a tall man, I had to use the jab, and if it went the distance, that was my best way to win."
The 6-foot-6, 242-pound Ajagba tried to use his longer reach and jab to keep the 6-3, 247.5-pound Demirezen on the outside, while Demirezen tried to power his way to the inside. It made for a fight that had steady action, although Ajagba was the busier fighter, landed more punches and got the better of the action in most rounds. Neither man ever seemed close to going down or in any serious trouble.
"I don't agree with the scores -- 99-91 is not correct. It was much closer," Demirezen said. "I feel at that minimum, it was a draw. I knew I had to knock him out and that a knockout might be easier than winning by points. I thought it was a good performance, but I can do better. I'd like to fight in the U.S. again."
According to CompuBox, Ajagba landed 191 of 877 punches (22%) and Demirezen landed 149 of 564 (26%).
More undercard results
Welterweight Abel Ramos (25-3-2, 19 KOs), 28, of Casa Grande, Arizona, battered Jimmy Williams (16-3-1, 5 KOs), 32, of New Haven, Connecticut, until referee Kenny Bayless waved it off at 2 minutes, 43 seconds of the fourth round.
Flyweight Genisis Libranza (19-1, 11 KOs), 25, of the Philippines, dominated Carlos Maldonado (11-4, 7 KOs), 28, of East Los Angeles, en route to a fourth-round knockout at 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
Featherweight John Leo Dato (12-0-1, 8 KOs), 26, of the Philippines, dropped Juan Antonio Lopez (14-7, 6 KOs), 25, a southpaw from Dallas, in the first round and stopped him at 2 minutes, 5 seconds of the fifth round.