Yoan Pablo Hernandez was perhaps fortunate to retain his belt via 12-round unanimous decision over Troy Ross by scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 116-112 in Bamberg Germany. In a tactical yet thrilling battle, Ross (25-3, 16 KO) gave as good as he got, and the Canadian challenger nearly stopped Hernandez (27-1, 13 KO) in a wild fifth round.
Ross, a two-time Canadian Olympian and former winner of The Contender, was challenging for the IBF cruiserweight title for the second time, his first attempt having come against Steve Cunningham in a bout where Ross floored the then-champion, only to have the fight stopped in the fifth round when a Cunningham thumb opened up a nasty cut on Ross’ eye.
Against Hernandez, however, Ross will surely lament and contemplate what might have been. While the fight was not an outright robbery, Ross seemed to be the narrow winner despite being a massive underdog.
Hernandez, despite a massive height and reach advantage, was unable to keep the relentless Ross at bay for much of the fight, and the bout’s most telling aspect was that Ross consistently landed the more eye-catching and damaging punches.
Hernandez started well with good uppercuts and sweeping right hooks from his southpaw stance. Ross, who found a consistent home for his sledgehammer hooks, was content to counter and double his jab as he figured out a way to solve Hernandez’s reach and boxing skills.
The fight’s momentum ratcheted up as early as the second round, as both men ripped hooks from close range during heated exchanges. Hernandez started to find his range by going to Ross’ body, but the challenger responded well with counter hooks. This carried into the third round with massive exchanges on the ropes, and both men slipped to the canvas as they tried to load up on punches.
After a quiet fourth round, Ross asserted himself in the fifth. A massive overhand left obliterated Hernandez’s equilibrium, and Ross followed up by backing the Cuban champion up against the ropes to score a knockdown. Hernandez appeared on the verge of being stopped, and the referee did everything to help the hometown fighter by awkwardly breaking both fighters and consistently allowing Hernandez to turn his back to the action.
To Hernandez’s credit, he did recover well, and he boxed smoothly in the sixth, though Ross landed the round’s most damaging punch with a massive right hand at the end of the stanza. Ross’ moment for a stoppage, however, had passed, and Hernandez showed classy boxing skills in clearly outfoxing Ross during Rounds 7 and 8.
Round 9 was absolutely wild, as both men were staggered multiple times and seemed on the verge of collapsing due to exhaustion. Ross was able to end the round by hurting Hernandez, but the champion had recorded his most damaging round of the fight. That said, Ross never seemed in as much danger as Hernandez was during the fifth.
The championship rounds were cagey and lacked the brawling excitement of Rounds 5 and 9, but Ross did some solid work and was even able to wobble Hernandez in the 12th. Hernandez appeared lethargic and had tremendous difficulty putting his punches together. Despite this, Ross was not able to thoroughly dominate, even though he should have clearly won the last two frames on all scorecards.
Despite the hype, Hernandez looked vulnerable, though much of that has to do with Ross’ under-appreciated quality. Had Hernandez fought this way against Marco Huck, he would have been stopped, and what makes the most sense now is for Hernandez to give Ross the rematch he deserves.