Edgar Berlanga finally needed more than one round to get the job done.
This time, he needed all eight.
The perfect knockout-to-win ratio comes to a close for the unbeaten Puerto Rican knockout artist, who was forced to go the distance in an eight-round unanimous decision over Demond Nicholson. Berlanga scored four knockdowns—including one in the closing seconds of the bout—but he had to settle for lopsided scores of 79-68, 79-69 and 79-69 for his latest victory Saturday evening in front of a sellout crowd of 3,262 socially distanced but rabid fans at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Florida.
“It’s kind of f---ed up that I had to go those rounds with all these people here," Berlanga told ESPN’s Bernardo Osuna after the win. "They wanted me to score another 1st round knockout but I enjoyed getting that experience."
A battle of big punchers opened at a tepid pace. Nicholson fought mostly from the outside, his back often touching the ropes while occasionally shooting his jab. Brooklyn’s Berlanga fought to win rather than extend a streak, remaining poised and consistently landing the more telling blows.
Berlanga picked up the pace as he entered round two for the first time in his career. A right hand from the 23-year-old Nuyorican briefly rocked Nicholson while drawing a rise out of the sellout crowd. The arena erupted after Nicholson hit the deck in the final minute of round two, courtesy of a left hook. Nicholson beat the count but was once again in trouble as Berlanga rocked him with a right hand. Nicholson wisely clinched, leaning on top of Berlanga as he pushed him to the canvas in ultimately surviving the round.
The second knockdown of the fight came midway through round three. Berlanga launched a right hand which appeared to be at least partially blocked by Nicholson, though the force of the blow along with a left hook to the body, causing the Laurel, Maryland native to pitch forward to the canvas. Nicholson spent the rest of the round boxing from the outside, thinking more about surviving than trying to test the rising prospect.
Berlanga opened round four with a double left hook, though Nicholson rode out the sequence. Both boxers worked their jab in the round, as Berlanga looked to follow up with his overhand right. Nicholson was able to play defense for most of the round until getting caught with a left hook which rocked him before the bell.
Nicholson suffered his third knockdown of the fight early in round five, though the sequence was questionable. A right hand landed upstairs, though Berlanga’s forearm pushed down on the back of Nicholson’s head to force him to the canvas. Berlanga didn’t allow the moment to go to his head, patiently stalking Nicholson whom he rocked with consecutive right hands in the final minute. Nicholson stuck out his tongue in his best effort to shake off the blows.
The crowd let out a collective roar of approval as Berlanga connected with a left hook midway through round six. Nicholson was briefly stunned and worse for the wear later in the round. Berlanga had the veteran fringe contender stunned along the ropes after a right hand perfectly split the guard of Nicholson, who barely survived the attack and staggered back to his corner after the bell.
Nicholson quickly found his second win in round seven, fighting on the inside and outworking Berlanga for the first time in the fight. Berlanga all but took the round off, much to the dismay of head trainer Andre Rozier who sensed that he was letting Nicholson off the hook.
Berlanga fought to close the show in round eight but Nicholson had enough left to fight back and make it to the bell. A right hand by Nicholson found its home, though barely fazing Berlanga. The same could not be said of a right hand bomb by Berlanga in the final 15 seconds, crashing hard on Nicholson’s chin to send him to the canvas. It wasn’t enough to put him out, though Berlanga celebrated the end of the fight the same as he has his previous 16—mounting the ropes in celebration and with his arm raised in victory when all was said and done.
Overall, Berlanga landed 110-of-306 total punches (36%) according to Compubox, compared to 82-of-392 (21%) for Nicholson who snaps a five-fight win streak in falling to 23-4-1 (20KOs). Berlanga enjoyed a 91-to-57 edge in power punches, landing at a 44% clip in that department as he improves to 17-0 (16KOs). The win is the deepest of his career though also in his most complete performance to date—even if he thought otherwise.
“I thought it was a C,” Berlanga said in assessing his first distance fight. “I could have done a lot better, there were a lot of things I could’ve did (better). [Head trainer Andre Rozier] was telling me to throw the jab and follow body shots. I didn’t follow instructions and had to do the pushups.”
The bout served as the co-feature of an ESPN doubleheader. Headlining the ESPN telecast, Emanuel Navarrete (33-1, 28KOs) marches into enemy territory, as the streaking Mexican defends his WBO featherweight belt versus Puerto Rico’s Christopher ‘Pitufo’ Diaz (26-2, 16KOs).
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox