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Maldonado impresses ESPN boxing announcers

It was, ESPN boxing announcer Joe Tessitore said, “a beautiful job of boxing” by a New Mexico southpaw.

No, he wasn’t talking about Austin Trout, and no, Holly Holm hasn’t returned to the boxing ring.

And, yes, it was Albuquerque’s Fidel Maldonado Jr., in a split-decision victory Saturday night in Frisco, Texas over Mexico’s Pablo César Cano, who had so impressed Tessitore and his ESPN2 sidekick, Teddy Atlas.

Yes, that guy — who in the past has struggled to harness his warrior instinct and engaged in brawls when something more artistic was called for. But there he was, sticking and moving, slipping and sliding, bobbing and weaving, jabbing and countering, throughout 10 rounds.

In defeating Cano (30-6-1, 21 KOs), a former interim world champion who has been in the ring with the likes of Erik Morales, Shane Moseley and Paulie Malignaggi, Maldonado captured the previously vacant WBC Fecarbox junior welterweight title. He also has made a career leap forward.

“It feels great beating a guy like Pablo Cano, who’s fought legends and been in tough competition,” Maldonado (24-3-1, 19 KOs) said in a post-fight interview with ESPN Deportes. “So it means a lot, but we’ve just got to move on to the next thing.”

Asked what that next thing might be, “The Atrisco Kid” said he’d leave that to his promoter, Golden Boy, and his manager and father, Fidel Sr.

“Right now I just want to go home to my three baby girls,” he said, just minutes before Father’s Day in the Central Time Zone.

In May, when the Cano fight was announced, Maldonado Sr. said there was already something big in the works should Fidel Jr. win on Saturday.

“When he beats this guy and he does it impressively, they already have something lined up,” Maldonado Sr. said at the time. “… A career changer.”

How impressive was Maldonado Jr.’s victory? Atlas and Tessitore saw the Albuquerque southpaw as in control throughout, save for a knockdown suffered in the waning seconds of the fourth round.

Atlas scored the bout 97-92 for Maldonado, as did two of the official judges. A third judge scored the bout 96-93 for Cano. Atlas jokingly attributed the latter scorecard to effects of the Texas heat; Saturday’s show was staged outdoors at the Dallas Cowboys’ sprawling Frisco headquarters.

In interviews before the fight, Maldonado Jr. stressed the need to use his boxing skills against the aggressive Cano. He had said that before fights in the past, only to be drawn into slugfests. The results, such as a draw with Art Hovhannisyan and a loss by fifth-round TKO to Amir Imam, were career momentum stoppers.

Before Saturday’s fight, Atlas made clear his belief that Maldonado would gain no career momentum at the expense of the more experienced, more tested Cano.

“I like Cano a lot,” he said, not a reference to the Mexican fighter’s sparkling personality.

Atlas’ opinion, though, changed dramatically as the fight unfolded.

“Maldonado’s being the man right now,” Atlas said in the third round. “Controlling things. The ring director, the ring general.”

Near the end of the fourth, Maldonado stepped in to deliver a body punch. Caught flat-footed, he went down from the force of a Cano left hook followed by a right.

Most of Maldonado Sr.’s comments in the corner after that round were inaudible, yet his message was clear. Keep moving.

“Bam, bam, bam, get out of there,” he said.

In the fifth, Maldonado the boxer was back.

By the end, according to ESPN statistics, Cano threw 572 punches — but landed just 78, or 14 percent. Other than those two punches in the fourth, Maldonado’s head was virtually off limits.

Maldonado, meanwhile, made consistent use of his jab and did enough offensively to earn the decision.

By the 10th and final round, Atlas said he believed Cano was out of steam.

Maldonado, he said, “Looks like a guy who’s being smart.”