Arnold Barboza Jr. didn’t deliver the type of statement-making win to demand bigger and better fights.
It was still an honest effort by the 31-year-old Californian who turned away a stiff challenge from former two-division titlist Jose Pedraza to remain unbeaten as a pro. Barboza won by scores of 97-93, 96-94 and 96-94 in their ESPN-televised ten-round junior welterweight contest Friday evening from Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.
Barboza effectively fought off the back foot for much of round one. Pedraza constantly came forward but without much of an offensive gameplan. Barboza consistently timed the former two-division titlist with his jab and right hand behind it. A three-punch combination by Barboza landed clean, to which Puerto Rico’s Pedraza was unable to respond.
The trend held true for much of the first half of the contest. Pedraza constantly sought an opening but only offered a lot of upper body movement without letting his hands go. Barboza was content to take the openings provided to him, sitting back and catching an oncoming Pedraza with his right hands.
Pedraza—who previously held the IBF junior lightweight and WBO lightweight titles—managed to put together a combination at the start of round five. Barboza continued to work behind the jab and moved in reverse while Pedraza was able to open up his offense. The 33-year-old Boricua switched to southpaw and managed to land a long left hand. Barboza slipped the same punch moments later but was consistently outworked for the first time in the fight.
Momentum remained with Pedraza through round six, though he was also forced to contend with along his left eyebrow and reddening under both eyes.
Barboza regained control after he landed a right hand at the start of round seven.
“I made this fight easy for me early but my mentality I want to start brawling,” Barboza told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna. “It’s something I have to keep working on.”
Pedraza was briefly on unsteady legs for the first time in the fight but quickly recovered. Barboza later scored with a two-punch combination down the middle. Pedraza came back with a left hand but was warned for pulling down on the back of Barboza’s head.
Pedraza rallied late in round eight when he landed a straight left hand. It came as part of a 30-second drill which allowed Pedraza to outland Barboza over the course of the round, but statistically deceptive as Barboza was in control prior to the point.
It wasn’t lost on Luis Espada, Pedraza’s stepfather and head trainer who told his son that he absolutely had to let his hands go in the final six minutes. Pedraza dug deep to carry out that mission but was warned midway through round nine for a low blow. Barboza maintained his desired range and found a home for his jab and right hand.
Blood trickled from a cut just outside the right eye of Pedraza, who ignored the wound and charged forward in the final minute of the fight. Barboza’s approach was largely to keep the Puerto Rican at bay and land just enough to stay ahead and not give away the round.
Pedraza fell to 29-5-1 (14KOs) and is now winless in his last three starts. His last win came in an eighth-round stoppage of unbeaten Julian Rodriguez in June 2021, having since suffered a twelve-round defeat to former WBC/WBO junior welterweight champ Jose Ramirez and fought to a ten-round, split decision draw with former IBF lightweight titlist Richard Commey last August 27 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Barboza advanced to 28-0 (10KOs) with the win, his fifth straight to go the ten-round distance. He was unequivocal in what he wants next—a shot at a junior welterweight title. Barboza called out WBC ruler Regis Prograis, WBA titlist Alberto Puello and lineal/WBO king Josh Taylor.
He’s also willing to face at least one more former champ to get to that point.
“If I can’t get any of them, you know who I want,” Barboza stated before revealing his target. “I want Teofimo Lopez. If I can’t get him, I want Jose Ramirez. My next fight has to be bigger.”
Headlining the ESPN tripleheader, Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete (36-1, 30KOs) and Australia’s Liam Wilson (11-1, 7KOs) meet for the vacant WBO junior lightweight title.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox