Oklahoma City boxer Alex Saucedo connects with the jaw of Australian Lenny Zappavigna on Saturday, June 30, 2018. (Top Rank Promotions)

As anybody who has ever run the 800-meter hurdles can tell you, the last one is hardest to clear. June 30 at the Chesapeake Arena, Oklahoma City’s Alex “Cholo” Saucedo endured a similar scenario, as he prevailed in a seven-round slugfest over Australian Lenny Zappavigna to secure a title shot later this year.

In what many boxing pundits are calling the best fight of 2018, Saucedo kept his unblemished record intact at 28-0 with 18 knockouts. According to Top Rank Promotions, the win has set up another type of Red River Shootout against Dallas native Maurice Hooker, who holds the WBO title he lifted from England’s Terry Flanagan in June. According to Top Rank, the title shot will happen sometime this fall. Zappavigna dropped to 37-4 with 27 knockouts.

“This is just the beginning of bigger things,” Saucedo said in the ring before a cheering crowd and the national ESPN television audience. “It felt like another night at the office coming out here and getting the support from all the people. I am just looking forward to bigger things.” Saucedo was unavailable for further comment afterward, as he was receiving treatment for the cuts he received during the fight.

Fighting for the first time in Oklahoma since 2014, Capital Hill graduate Saucedo was the co-feature for ESPN’s Title Night OKC boxing event. (The other co-feature was Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, who won a 12-round decision to defeat Columbia’s Roamer Alexis Angulo and retain his WBO super-middleweight belt.)

Fourth round: Candidate for ‘Round of the Year’

Things started out promising enough for Saucedo. He controlled the opening two stanzas of the fight with a punishing jab followed by hard right hands, which give him an early lead. Saucedo pressed his advantage in the third round and dropped the Australian with a counter punch that seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the underdog. Zappavigna beat the count, bloodied and swollen above both eyes, but not finished.

The fourth round opened with Saucedo moving in for the kill, but things went awry at that point:“Cholo” was staggered and bloodied with a counter right hand that sent him reeling across the ring and into a fight for survival (see video below). For the next two minutes, Zappavigna bludgeoned Saucedo from pillar to post, but the OKC native survived the gut check with a mixture of movement, holding and counter punches to make it to the next round.

“He got hit with a good shot. He was trying to give the crowd a good show and give them what they came here to see,” said Abel Sanchez, Saucedo’s trainer. “He just had to use his conditioning and preparation to survive for a bit there. Lenny Zappavigna is a tough fighter.”

Zappavigna’s corner throws in the towel

Saucedo seemed to right the ship in the fifth round, going back to the stiff jab and hard rights to keep Zappavigna at bay, but his opponent still landed enough hard counters to let “Cholo” know that he was not done yet.

With blood pouring down both men’s faces, the violence continued into the sixth round as both men took turns battering each other. Every time Saucedo seemed about to finish his foe, Zappavigna would claw his way back into the bout with a wave of aggression. Things were beginning to turn in Saucedo’s favor as Zappavigna suffered swelling and bad cuts on both his eyes. The ringside doctor took a long look in between rounds to determine if he would be able to continue.

It was more of the same in the seventh as Saucedo pounded away at the gutsy Australian with a variety of combinations. Zappavigna’s corner elected to pull their fighter out of the fight, and the carnage ended at 2:31 of the seventh round.

The punch statistics provided by Compubox by ESPN indicated the intensity of the fight: Saucedo landed 254 of 542 punches (47 percent), and Zappavigna scored on 143 of 508 shots (28 percent).

Alex "Cholo" Saucedo
Alex Saucedo raises his hand in victory June 30, 2018, at Chesapeake Arena in OKC. (Clark Sherman)

Locals win on undercards

Saucedo was not the only Oklahoman to have a successful homecoming, as a couple of other local fighters won on the undercard.

Heavyweight prospect Trey Lippe Morrison scored five knockdowns en route to knocking out Byron Polley in the third round. Morrison, of Tulsa, improved to 15-0 with 15 knockouts. Polley from St. Joseph, Missouri, dropped to 30-23-1 with 13 knockouts.

It was an easier night’s work for Lippe Morrison, the son the late Tommy Morrison, former WBO heavyweight champion from Jay, Oklahoma, although Polley was able to score a few counter shots in the second round.

“I think I was pushing things, looking for the right hand in the second round,” Lippe Morrison said. “I settled in and started boxing better in the third round.”

Lippe Morrison dropped his opponent with a right hand. After Polley was able to recover, he was almost immediately finished with a left hook that flattened him at 1:39 of the third round.

Lippe Morrison is still settling in after missing much of 2017 with injuries.

“I think I am getting better,” he said after the fight. “We will move on from here and see how things go.”

The final Oklahoman on the boxing card was Oklahoma City bantamweight Aaron Morales, who won a shutout decision over David Martino of Mexico. Morales had the easiest night of the Oklahoma fighters, dominating a shutout decision 40-36 on all three scorecards. Morales, who is training with Robert Garcia in Oxnard, California, improved to 3-0 with 2 knockouts, while David Martino dropped to 5-5 with 4 knockouts.