By Jay Mwamba
Wayne McCullough stayed on course for a mandatory shot at the WBC super bantamweight title with a frugally scored 10-round split points decision over tough Colombian Juan Polo Perez in Corpus Christi last Tuesday.
Despite overcoming a sluggish start and bleeding from a gash above his temple from the fourth round, McCullough dominated the bout at the Memorial Coliseum, even though the official scoring did not reflect this.
Two of the three judges had him winning by one point (95-94), while the third scored it for the 33-year-old Perez, a former IBF world junior bantamweight champion, by the same margin. There were no knockdowns in the match, fought in the featherweight division.
Perez, in his 59th fight since turning pro in 1982, had his best moments in the first two rounds and later in the final stanza when he attempted a late rally. In between these rounds, it was the 27-year-old McCullough establishing himself as the governor, setting a ferocious pace and throwing voluminous punches in his trademark “Pocket Rocket” style.
The Las Vegas-based McCullough, who upped his pro ledger to 22-1 (14 KOs), began slowly in his second fight after a 15-month layoff caused by injury and a managerial impasse.
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Perez, who held the world junior bantamweight title in 1989, lived up to his reputation as an aggressive fighter early on, meeting McCullough in the middle of the ring and unleashing combinations.
Gifted with a granite chin, the hardened Belfastman took Perez’s best shots, including several thudding overhand rights that connected flush, while trying to jab his way into the fight.
The effects of his long layoff quite evident, McCullough did not find his rhythm and range until the third round when he began to beat the back-pedaling Perez to the punch.
A clash of heads opened up a nasty gash above McCullough’s left temple in the fourth stanza, but the feel of blood running down his face only gave the former WBC bantamweight additional motivation.
His dominance over the tiring Perez was comprehensive for stretches of the fight. McCullough, although not landing any telling blows, connected frequently to the head and body, and at times Perez’ best defensive move was to tie up his unrelenting opponent.
To salvage some pride, the veteran fighter from Cartagena staged a belated rally in the 10th and final round. He landed a couple of big overhand rights, but McCullough shook them off and fought back.
McCullough won for the second time in six weeks – he outpointed
Mexican Antonio Salas in Connecticut last month – and, more important, stayed on track for a summer showdown with WBC super bantamweight holder Erik Morales.
The Irishman is the No. 1 contender for the 122-pound championship that Morales retained two weeks ago with a first-round KO of Jose Luis Bueno.
McCullough also has the option of meeting Britain’s Prince Naseem Hamed, who holds a second round KO win over Perez, in a blockbuster matchup at 124 pounds.