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February Recap: Nakatani, Vargas, Mason Stand Out

Fighter of the Month – Junto Nakatani

Junto Nakatani became a three-division world champion last Saturday with an emphatic stoppage victory over WBC champion Alexandro Santiago. Santiago was coming off of a career-best victory over future hall of famer Nonito Donaire and full of confidence heading into his first title defense but that confidence didn’t last long after the first bell rang. Nakatani used his length and boxing ability to build an early lead on the cards, landing sharp combinations and targeting both the head and body. As the rounds progressed, Nakatani showed real separation and began to punish the champion. In the sixth round, a straight left hand sent Santiago to the canvas. He would courageously rise to his feet and beat the count, but just seconds after a combination that included a pinpoint right hook dropped Santiago again and forced the corner to intervene and save their fighter from any more punishment. With a virtually perfect performance against a reigning champion in his first fight at the weight, Junto Nakatani earns our Fighter of the Month award for February and inches closer to universal pound-for-pound recognition.

That was not the only significant performance of the month, as we have several honorable mentions that also deserve shine. Keyshawn Davis was supposed to have his toughest fight to date against former two-division champion Jose Pedraza, but he dominated from the opening bell and joined Gervonta Davis as the only two men to beat Pedraza inside the distance with the sixth-round TKO victory. O’Shaquie Foster defended his WBC title in a workmanlike performance picking up a split-decision victory over hard-hitting contender Abraham Nova. Takuma Inoue with his stoppage win over long-time 118lb champ Jerwin Ancajas and Joshua Buatsi with his win over domestic rival Dan Azeez both earned a mention for this month as well with their showings.

– Jack Kelly

Fight of the Month – Antonio Vargas TKO7 Jonathan Rodriguez

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

In what had already been an action packed undercard for Berlanga vs McCrory, Antonio Vargas (18-1, 10 ko) got off the deck in the first round and suffered a 2 point deduction in the second for hitting Jonathan Rodgriguez while he was down to ultimately retire Rodriguez in the corner at the end of the seventh. 

At the end of a feel out first round, Vargas started to let his hands go, only to get dropped and badly hurt by Rodriguez (17-2-1, 7 ko) seconds before the bell.  Vargas came roaring back in the second, landing hard combinations and dropping Rodriguez in return, but then clearly hit Rodriguez while he was down, prompting the referee to deduct two points from Vargas at the beginning of the third. Despite the deduction Vargas looked confident, bullying Rodriguez until a good final minute of boxing from Rodriguez at the end of the third, which seemed to at least level out Vargas’ momentum. 

Rodriguez continued his momentum in the fourth, badly hurting Vargas and once again shifting the momentum of the fight, only to get buzzed himself about thirty seconds later. The back and forth continued, with Vargas coming forward, asserting his physicality and landing hard combinations, and Rodriguez trying to box from the outside. The physicality of the fight seemed to catch up to Rodriguez in the seventh, who took a beating for the back half of the round and got dropped by a vicious left hook by Vargas at the bell, forcing the corner to stop the fight between rounds. With the win, Vargas becomes the mandatory challenger to WBA bantamweight champion Takuma Inoue (19-1, 5 ko), brother of pound for pound great Naoya, who also scored an impressive stoppage win over Jerwin Ancajas on the same night. 

Knockout of the Month – Abdullah Mason KO2 Benjamin Gurment

In what was the hardest decision for any monthly award so far this year, lightweight phenom Abdullah Mason took home the award with a breathtaking one-punch KO over the previously undefeated Benjamin Gurment. A series of left hands in the second round sent Gurment crashing into the ropes for a knockdown. When the fight continued, the 19-year-old needed just one more left hand to end the show and take home our 2024 February Knockout of the Month.

Making it such a hard choice was the number of legit knockout of the year (not just month) contenders that we saw in February. Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington landed a right hook that left Bernard Torrens unable to continue in round four of their ten-round contest. Featured on the same card, heavyweight prospect Guido Vianello got back to his winning ways in the best possible fashion. He scored four official (one unofficial that should have been called) inside the first three minutes against Moses Johnson before the fight was finally stopped. “King” Kevin Walsh of Brockton, MA also had an explosive finish to his February fight, landing a lethal right hand on Darrell Rivera in the first round of their lightweight contest which was supposed to be his stiffest test to date on CES Boxing’s Winter Brawl card. British prospect Jimmy Sains made his case for taking home the award with a sharp right hand that gave referee Allen Huggins no choice but to immediately waive the contest off just before the end of the first round of a four-round super middleweight bout on the undercard of Conor Benn vs Peter Dobson.

– Jack Kelly

Round of the Month – Yankiel Rivera vs Andy Dominguez Round 9 

After three rounds of slugging it out, Yankiel Rivera (5-0, 2 ko) seemed to take control of his fight with Andy Dominguez (10-1, 6 ko), boxing intelligently and landing speedy combinations. He appeared to comfortably ahead in a fun competitive fight going into the 9th. 

But in that round, a battered but determined Dominguez hurt Rivera early, and continued to beat on Rivera, nearly stopping him on multiple occasions and completely shifting the momentum of the fight. Rivera would continue to throw back and hold on to get through the round, and ultimately close strong in the 10th to take a wide decision, but a standout round of the month nonethelesss! 


June 4 – David Benavidez vs Oleksandr Gvozdyk

April 20 – Devin Haney vs Ryan Garcia

May 6 – Naoya Inoue vs Luis Nery

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Dakota McCormick

Dakota McCormick

Gym rat, trainer, and host of "The Slip and Weave Podcast"