With one vicious right hand to the chin, Khiary Gray erased a summer’s worth of second guesses and “what ifs” and reclaimed his throne atop New England’s crowded junior middleweight division.
“I’m back!” Gray (14-1, 11 KOs) exclaimed Friday following his sensational seventh-round knockout win over Chicago’s Chris Chatman at Twin River Casino to retain his Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) International and Northeast Junior Middleweight Titles.
Who could argue?
Coming off a loss in July in his national television debut on Showtime, Gray silenced the critics and got back into the win column in scintillating fashion, stopping Chatman (14-6-1) dead in his tracks with a looping right hand to the chin, knocking Chatman cold at 1:17 of the seventh round of a scheduled eight-round fight.
It was quite possibly the knockout of the year at Twin River in what was the final event of CES Boxing’s 2016 Twin River Fight Series. It was also Chatman’s eighth appearance at Twin River since 2009, where he amassed a 5-2 record entering Friday.
The two exchanged blows throughout the first six rounds with Gray scoring a quick knockdown toward the end of the fourth to earn the edge on the scorecards, but Chatman, as usual, kept pressing, bullying his way to the inside against the taller Gray to slow the pace of the fight.
Toward the end of the seventh, Chatman pushed the pace, backed Gray against the ropes and unloaded a lightning-fast flurry of rights and lefts. Gray calmly sidestepped and caught Chatman with a right hand that sent the veteran crashing to the canvas. Chatman beat the count, but stumbled and fell back to his knees, prompting Joey Lupino to stop the fight.
Gray has now won 11 of his 14 fights by knockout. Friday was his first fight back in the ring since the aforementioned loss to Ian Green in July in which he got stopped in the second round.
Making his Rhode Island following a heralded amateur career in which he won four Western New England Golden Gloves titles, Providence. R.I., native Anthony Marsella Jr. (2-0, 1 KO) gave his fan base a show with a first-round knockout win in just 45 seconds against Philadelphia’s Bardraiel Smith (0-2), stopping Smith with an overhand right. Marsella debuted in April with a unanimous decision win over Anton Williamson in Connecticut.
In one of the most highly anticipated fights of the night, Worcester featherweight Irvin Gonzalez (4-0, 4 KOs), a competitor in the Olympic Trials in 2015, pieced together arguably his most impressive performance in his toughest test to date against Providence’s Cido Hoff (1-1-1).
Gonzalez came out firing, knocking Hoff to the canvas twice in the opening round, and eventually earned the stoppage at 1:59 of the second round when Lupino waved it off as Hoff faced another onslaught along the ropes.
Gonzalez dropped Hoff with a body shot midway through the opening round and again at the bell, but Hoff walked it off and made it back to his corner before coming back out in the second. Hoff fought valiantly and exchanged with Gonzalez early in the second, but almost hit the deck again courtesy of an overhand right. Hoff tried to fight his way out of the corner in the closing minute, but Gonzalez continued to pepper him with left and rights, prompting Lupino to step in and stop the bout.
Gonzalez has won all four of his first pro fights by knockout – three in the opening round – while Hoff lost for the first time Friday after earning a draw with Timmy Ramos in his pro debut and upsetting the previously unbeaten Julio Perez in May.
Coming off a huge first-round knockout win in September, Worcester’s Kendrick Ball Jr. (4-0-1) returned in another tough test against the durable Rafael Valencia (3-5-1) of Medford, Ore., who had never been stopped in eight pro fights entering Friday.
Ball Jr. was the aggressor from the opening bell, but Valencia’s awkward style made him difficult to catch. Valencia walked into a few right hands from the rangy Ball Jr., but continued to press and landed a few shots of own, even backing Ball Jr. up against the ropes at one point in the third round. Ball capped a dominant performance with one last flurry, clinching a 40-38 unanimous decision win on all three scorecards.
Fighting for the first time since July, New London, Conn., junior welterweight Cristobal Marrero (2-0, 2 KOs) scored his second career victory with a first-round knockout against Bruno Dias (0-2) of Woburn, Mass., dropping Dias twice in the opening round to earn the stoppage at the 2:32 mark.
Making his Twin River debut, Hartford, Conn., super middleweight Jose Rivera (2-0, 2 KOs) made quick work of newcomer Ben Peak (0-1) of Worcester, stopping Peak at 1:44 of the opening round courtesy of a short right hook to the chin.
In the opening bout, Hartford junior welterweight Jonathan Figueroa (2-0) scored the biggest win of his young career, outworking Durham, N.C., vet Isaiah Robinson (3-4) to earn a 40-38 unanimous decision on all three scorecards.
Figueroa pressed the action over the course of four rounds. The taller Robinson pushed back, but couldn’t quite match Figueroa’s output. The 24-year-old Figueroa made his debut in September with a knockout win over Demetris Williams.