Facing the toughest opponent of his short professional career, undefeated featherweight prospect and Cuban Olympian Luis Franco eked out a close split-decision victory over the extremely tough and powerful Leonilo Miranda in Friday’s main event of ShoBox: The New Generation on Showtime from Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez , Calif.
In an equally close and hotly-contested co-feature, Freddie Roach-trained Lateef Kayode’s consecutive knockout streak ended at 14 when he scored a unanimous decision over the game and determined Nicholas Iannuzzi.
Heading into the bout with Miranda, Franco (9-0, 5 KOs ) and his camp thought they were just one step away from a title shot. But, in what has become characteristic for prospects in dangerous matchups on ShoBox, Franco got the toughest test of his career and barely escaped with a victory, scored 97-94 Miranda, 97-93 Franco and 96-94 Franco.
In the first round, Miranda (26-3, 25 KOs ) scored what appeared to be a legitimate knockdown that was ruled a slip by referee Marcos Rosales. Franco came back strong in the next few rounds, establishing his game plan and landing an assortment of solid combinations. In what may become an early Round of the Year candidate for ShoBox, both fighters came out blazing in the fifth and exchanged a series of blows that hurt and dazed both parties.
Franco and Miranda cooled down a little in the sixth and seventh before steeping on the gas to close out the fight in the ninth and tenth rounds. Throughout the bout, Franco employed a more tactical approach and a stronger defense, while Miranda used a more crowd-pleasing, aggressive and wild game plan.
“Miranda hits very hard, but I felt I worked faster than him,” said Franco, who claimed he was not hurt in the first round and that the referee was correct in ruling it a slip. “It was a close, even fight. He has lots of experience. We studied video and wanted to keep the fight tactical.”
ShoBox color commentator and boxing expert Steve Farhood scored it a draw.
“The positive for Franco was that he ended up fighting the other guy’s fight and had the heart to eke out a win,” Farhood said. “The negative is the same criticism as before – that Franco hasn’t shown the ability to punch with power.”
A frustrated and disappointed Miranda pleaded his case for a rematch following the decision.
“It was a close fight,” Miranda said. “I thought it was at least a draw. He ran and I kept looking for him in the middle of the ring. I know I could beat him the next time. I wanted to fight but he kept running.”
Kayode (16-0, 14 KOs) came into the bout as one of the most talked about prospects in boxing and riding a staggering KO streak before he ran into Iannuzzi, who was tough both physically and stylistically for the Nigerian-born Hollywood resident.
Entering the fight, Iannuzzi (16-2, 9 KOs ) knew he couldn’t stand in front of Kayode and trade punches. So the Tampa resident danced and moved to avoid shots, often lunging in to throw quick jabs and combos before either locking up or jumping back out of harms way.
Clearly frustrated, Kayode was unable to fight his game, and, for just the second time in his career, he was pushed to the distance, scored 98-91, 97-92, 95-94.
“The decision is fine,” Kayode said. “It was a good fight. I learned more from going the distance.
“Everyone has a different style and he tried to pull me to his. He was running too much. He would jab and run back, but he wasn’t hurting me with his combos. He was running and grabbing so I couldn’t hit the body.”
Kayode’s legendary trainer was also frustrated with the fight but remained optimistic.
“We had a little trouble with his style,” Roach said. “It’s a learning experience. Lateef blocked a lot of the shots and I think he landed the harder ones.
“It’s a good learning experience fighting a guy like this and it will help him in the long run. We don’t expect the knockouts, when they come it’s a bonus.”
Farhood believes that Iannuzzi may have revealed a chink in the seemingly perfect cruiserweight prospect.
“We found a hole in Kayode’s armor that we hadn’t previously seen on ShoBox which is his inability to hit a mover,” Farhood said. “The fact that Lateef was so ineffective in a small ring punches holes in the idea that he is ready for a world title fight.”
Iannuzzi, who was fighting outside of Florida for the first time as a professional, believed he had the right game plan but could have executed it a little more effectively.
“I fought as hard as I needed to, but I could have done a little better,” Iannuzzi said. “You can’t stand in front of a big puncher. I could take some of his shots. I’m tough; I’m the first to guy to go the distance with him in a long time. I’m a true cruiserweight – that guy is a heavyweight. Not many people thought I could get past five with him.”
While both Franco and Kayode were both somewhat disappointed in their performances and may not be as close to a world title shot as they thought they were entering Friday’s bouts, Farhood believes the tough tests should be learning experiences.
“Both Franco and Kayode needed to take a step back before they take two steps forward,” Farhood said. “They are fortunate to remain unbeaten in fights where lessons were learned.”
Friday’s fights will be available On Demand beginning Monday, Feb. 7 and ending Sunday, Feb. 20.
Bernardo Osuna called the ShoBox action from ringside with Steve Farhood and Antonio Tarver serving as expert analysts. Gordon Hall was the executive producer of ShoBox with Richard Gaughan producing and Rick Phillips directing.