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Upset victory shows boxer Sanchez is ready for the next level

In terms that sports fans but non-boxing fans will readily understand, the FCS fighter beat the FBS fighter Wednesday night in Panama.

The Double-A fighter beat the Triple-A fighter.

The Bellator fighter beat the UFC fighter.

And in any terms, with his victory by unanimous decision over Top Rank, Inc. contract fighter Jean Carlos Rivera, Albuquerque boxer Jason Sanchez has made it clear he’s ready to move up.

Top Rank had agreed to the fight for Rivera in the hope, if not the expectation, that Rivera (now 15-1 with 10 knockouts) would win and thus capture his first professional title – the WBO Youth featherweight belt. It was a calculated risk on Top Rank’s part to put Rivera in with Sanchez (now 13-0 with six KOs), but one the powerful promotional firm obviously believed worth taking.

Rivera, after all, had the stronger résumé. His 15-0 record had been fashioned against competition with a cumulative record of 117-79-14. Sanchez’s 12-0 record had been compiled against opposition with a 91-159-13 record.

Rivera also profiled as the bigger puncher, with a 67 percent stoppage rate compared to Sanchez’s 50 percent. Rivera had stopped his previous four opponents, having gone no more than three rounds in any of those four bouts.

It wasn’t as if Sanchez and his Albuquerque promoter, Jordan Perez, weren’t willing to take on tough opponents. Perez had been seeking a fight against Shakur Stevenson, a 2016 U.S. Olympic silver medalist, but the bout fell through. Perez once had Sanchez matched against Texan Ray Ximenez, who was 16-1 at the time. But Ximenez fell out, as did a replacement, and Sanchez wound up fighting and beating professional survivor Stephon McIntyre, who was 3-35-4 at the time.

So, when the Rivera fight was offered, Team Sanchez did not hesitate.

It is beyond the realm of opinion that Sanchez was the better fighter Wednesday night at the Vasco Nuñez de Balboa Convention Center in Panama City. All three judges saw it that way: 96-93, 97-92 and 97-92, all for the Albuquerque boxer. The Journal, scoring it off digital streaming offered by Panama’s Cable Onda Sports, had it 96-93 for Sanchez.

After the first five rounds, during which Rivera might have had a slight advantage, Sanchez gradually took command. The Puerto Rico native couldn’t match Sanchez’s hand speed. And while Rivera continued to land occasional hard shots, they fazed Sanchez not at all.

“I knew he started strong, so I trained very hard preparing for that,” Sanchez said in the ring afterward. “I knew the early rounds were gong to be tough, and after that they’d get easier.”

Rivera appeared to have been hurt in the seventh round. In the eighth, he seemed almost spent as Sanchez continued to attack. To Rivera’s credit, he rallied in the ninth and took the round on the Journal’s unofficial scorecard.

But in the 10th, a Sanchez left hand sent Rivera sprawling into a turnbuckle. Though Rivera never touched the canvas, referee Kenny Chevalier, believing Rivera would have done so had the turnbuckle not held him up, ruled it a knockdown.

The resultant two-point round – 10-8 on all three scorecards – solidified Sanchez’s grasp on the victory. As the final bell sounded, Rivera’s body language made it clear he knew he had lost.

Sanchez, meanwhile, postponed any celebration until the results had officially been announced.

“I hope this opens doors for me,” he said afterward.

Almost assuredly, it will.

GLOVEGATE: It is rare, if not unprecedented, for opposing fighters to be identified in the ring by the color of their gloves and not their trunks. But that was the case Wednesday night, following a glove-related squabble that at one point threatened to scrub the Sanchez-Rivera fight.

The problem arose after Tuesday’s weigh-in. As reported by Southwest Fight News, the WBO furnished the fighters white, ultra-padded gloves that resembled those used in the amateurs. But Rivera, who’d brought his own black Everlast gloves with far less padding – especially on the knuckles – and was insisting on using them.

Pepe Sanchez, Jason’s father and trainer, at one point posted on Facebook that he would pull his son out of the fight if the glove issue could not be resolved fairly.

Fortunately, a boxing promoter from Costa Rica – in Panama to attend the ongoing WBO Convention – had brought a pair of red Hayabusa gloves that proved acceptable to everyone.

The color contrast proved fortunate as well for the announcers of the Cable Onda Sports streaming, since both boxers wore predominantly white trunks.