CABAZON — With his greatest opportunity there for the taking, for the first time in his career, Art "Lionheart" Hovhannisyan came up short.
Faced with a familiar foe in former sparring partner Alejandro Perez, Hovhannisyan came up on the losing end of a close unanimous decision Friday night at the Morongo Casino in ‘Shobox’s’ junior welterweight main event on Showtime, with the judges scoring it 96-93 twice and 95-94. The News-Press scored it 95-94 for Perez.
The bout was contested for the vacant North American Boxing Organization 130-pound title and went to Perez (16-3-1, 11 knockouts), who, after sparring Hovhannisyan in the past to the tune of roughly 80 rounds, upset the local fighter, handing him the first loss of his career. Hovhannisyan, 31, who was looking for a win Friday to boost him into contender status for a legitimate world title, fell to 15-0-2 with eight knockouts.
Just as both fighters promised in the lead-up to the bout, it was an exciting fight, concluding with a thrilling finish.
Hovhannisyan, a Glendale resident who trains at the Glendale Fighting Club under Edmond Tarverdyan, walked to the center of the ring for the 10th round with his vocal fans standing and cheering, just as the supporters for Perez, who hails from Salinas and trains at the Wildcard Boxing Club in Hollywood, made noise for their charge.
A big left hook over the top for Perez was the first big blow to land, but not the last. Hohvannisyan landed a straight right and then a counter left hook, but Perez answered the latter with a counter right that buckled Hovhannisyan. Perez followed with an attack that had worked well for much of the fight as he landed rights and lefts to Hovhannisyan’s body. But the exclamation point came as Hovhannisyan implored Perez to meet him in the middle of the ring and the two went toe to toe wildly until the bell rang with the crowd on its feet and cheering as both combatants raised their hands.
The News-Press had the fight even, thanks in large part due to a low-blow point deduction against Perez in the fifth round.
The fight began tentatively with both fighters slow to engage in the opening round. Eventually, a pair of good left hooks and later a stinging right to the body delivered by Hovhannisyan were enough to take the stanza on the News-Press’ card.
Action heated up a bit in the second round, with Perez, the more active fighter and likely taking a close round, thought a Hovhannisyan straight right with his opponent coming in was the best punch landed in the fight to that point.
The third was also close, with Perez continuing to work the body, Hovhannisyan landing a great left hook to the head and later two to the body, but Perez landed a right later on that was the round’s biggest blow and set off a big winging exchange.
The action really got going in the fourth with three exchanges that drew the crowd’s cheers, including one when a good right by Perez landed, but was answered by a better counter left hook from Hovhannisyan. In the exchange, though, Hovhannisyan was hit low. After a timeout, Hovhannisyan came out strong and landed well to take the round.
The fifth continued the torrid pace. Once again, though, Hovhannisyan was caught low and this time the referee deducted a point, much to the vocal dismay of Perez’ supporters. The two returned to the center of the ring and began trading power attempts with each landing a few here and there. Perez began to pummel Hovhannisyan to the ribs and Hovhannisyan was visibly hurt and was eventually caught with a solid right upstairs. Perez hammered away to the body to end the round and bring the crowd to its feet, earning a 9-9 tally after the point deduction.
A razor-thin sixth round could’ve gone either way, with Perez starting as the aggressor, while Hovhannisyan did better in the latter half of the stanza. The seventh was close as well, though Perez landed the better shots, most of them to the head, this time around.
Hovhannisyan put together his best round in a while in the eighth, landing the cleaner and crisper shots, including a pair of big counter left hooks with his back against the ropes and two straight rights as well that touched Perez’ chin.
A big exchange of hooks won by Perez highlighted the ninth. He later rallied against the ropes, though most of the punches hit Hovhannisyan’s gloves. But a beautiful straight right touched Hovhannisyan’s chin well in the round.