Junior featherweight titlist Carl Frampton, a major star in his native Northern Ireland, came to the United States hoping to make a big impression Saturday, and it did not look like he would deliver after a disastrous first round against Alejandro Gonzalez Jr.
Much to the surprise of nearly everybody, Gonzalez, the massive underdog, scored two knockdowns in the first round and appeared poised to ruin Frampton's plans. But "The Jackal" shook off the knockdowns, came back strong and rolled to a decisive unanimous decision in a highly entertaining fight that headlined a Premier Boxing Champions card on CBS at the Don Haskins Center in El Paso, Texas.
"The statement I made wasn't great. I wanted to win by KO. It didn't happen," Frampton said. "I'm disappointed, but I'll re-evaluate and move on, onwards and upwards."
Despite the anxious early moments, Frampton won 116-108, 116-108 and 115-109 on the scorecards. ESPN.com also had the fight 116-108.
Frampton was making the second defense of his 122-pound world title and spent much of the buildup to the fight talking about his excitement about boxing in America and being on network television, hoping the exposure would launch him into more significant fights.
But Frampton (21-0, 14 KOs) might have been rethinking that when Mexico's Gonzalez (25-2-2, 15 KOs), the crowd favorite, dropped him twice out of the gate.
Barely 30 seconds into the fight, Gonzalez, the 22-year-old son of former featherweight world titleholder Alejandro "Cobrita" Gonzalez Sr., knocked him down with a left jab, although the 28-year-old Frampton did not appear hurt.
But it was a different story in the waning seconds of the opening round when Gonzalez clocked Frampton with a hard overhand right behind the ear. He was clearly rattled, but the round ended and he was able to recuperate during the one-minute rest period.
"I came out slow. Very soft canvas, but I need to give Alejandro Gonzalez credit," Frampton said. "He doesn't look like a big puncher, but man, he can punch. A warrior.
"I didn't feel great in the first round. I got up from two flash knockdowns, though, and recovered well. The kid could punch very well. I got up and showed courage. I came back and won most of the rounds and gave excitement."
Referee Mark Calo-Oy warned Gonzalez for hitting Frampton with a low blow in the second round and then took away a point when he did it again in the third round. From there, Frampton controlled the fight.
He knocked Gonzalez into the ropes in the fourth round and worked behind a stiff jab throughout the bout. He had a big sixth round, landing several clean punches, including a couple of big right hands as well as a right uppercut that rocked Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, however, never stopped trying to win. He came at Frampton the entire fight, especially after his corner told him following the ninth round that he needed a knockout to win.
Another low blow in the 11th round cost Gonzalez a second point, but at that juncture the points were irrelevant. Only a knockout would suffice, but Gonzalez was unable to deliver while taking all kinds of shots from Frampton.
"He hit me low so many times, but you've got to deal with that and carry on and that's what I did," Frampton said.
Added Gonzalez: "The ref overreacted to the low blows. I was just doing my body work. I'm not a dirty fighter. I play by the rules and this was disappointing.
"I definitely won the fight. I was much more effective. I want a rematch and I'm happy to do it in his hometown. He's a good fighter, but I'm the best he's ever faced."
Frampton threw more punches, landed more and landed at a higher percentage, according to CompuBox punch statistics. He connected on 246 of 692 blows (36 percent); Gonzalez landed 145 of 593 (24 percent).
While it was not the kind of lights-out performance Frampton hoped for, there are some bigger fights in his future, including a possible match next year at featherweight with the winner of the PBC on ESPN main event between Abner Mares and Leo Santa Cruz on Aug. 29.
"It was exciting (but) it wasn't the performance I wanted," Frampton said. "I don't want to make excuses. I took a little bit too much weight off the last couple of days. We need to make decisions where we go from here -- whether I stay at this weight or go to featherweight."
Arreola, Kassi fight to draw
Chris Arreola and "Classy" Fred Kassi fought to majority draw in a spirited heavyweight co-feature.
One judge scored the fight 96-94 in favor of Arreola while the two other had it 95-95. ESPN.com had the fight 96-94 for Kassi.
"It was a good decision. He's a good survivor," Arreola said. "I couldn't find him inside. He came here with a good strategy and we got a draw out of that."
Kassi, however, was upset by the result.
"I'm not happy. I thought I won the fight. I won every round pretty much," he said. "I showed I was the better fighter. I don't take anything away from Chris. I've been a fan of him for many years. Chris is a good fighter, but people saw I can fight, too.
"I proved I belong in the heavyweight division. I showed my heart. I've been training hard for many years and I showed it."
Arreola (36-4-1, 31 KOs), 34, of Riverside, California, who was obviously not in top condition at a fleshy 246.8 pounds, however, was the big favorite and struggled mightily with his unheralded opponent.
The 225-pound Kassi (18-3-1, 10 KOs), 35, a native of Cameroon living in New Orleans, got off to an excellent start and was taking it to Arreola, a former two-time world title challenger. He raised swelling around Arreola's left eye in the third round. He landed several clean right hands and was outpunching the less active Arreola.
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Kassi landed 135 of 534 punches (25 percent); Arreola connected on 97 of 317 (31 percent).
"I landed more punches. He couldn't land anything solid on me. I made him miss bad. I had him frustrated. The world saw that I won," said Kassi, who was coming off a massive knockout loss to Amir Mansour in November. "I definitely want a rematch."
Arreola fought better over the second half of the fight as he also landed some heavy shots to the head and body. But Arreola's corner knew he needed to finish strong to pull it out. His trainer, Henry Ramirez, begged him to give it everything he had in the 10th and final round of the close fight.
Although Arreola was nowhere near his best, he may end up with a world title shot against Deontay Wilder on Sept. 26. Wilder is scheduled to make his second title defense on that date on NBC in prime time, and Arreola has been a leading candidate all along to get the fight provided he did not lose to Kassi. But Arreola, honest as always, said he didn't think that he deserves the opportunity.
"I don't think so," he said. "To be honest with you, I don't think so. If I get Deontay Wilder I'd be in much better shape and better prepared, not that I wasn't prepared. I was very prepared for Kassi. He just came with a good fight.
"He was very awkward. The switching (from right-handed to left-handed) didn't bother me, but the holding was too much. He would throw two punches and hold the entire fight. I couldn't work on the inside at all. I felt his power but he never really hurt me. I thought I won 6-4 (in rounds) but I can't argue with a draw. Obviously I'm not ready for a fight with Wilder. I want to earn that shot and I didn't today."