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Hitchins Beats Zepeda By UD, McCaskill And Ryan Draw Controversially, And Benn Returns With UD Win

Hitchins Beats Zepeda By UD, McCaskill And Ryan Draw Controversially, And Benn Returns With UD Win featured image
Richardson Hitchins (M) celebrates his victory over Jose Zepeda at the Caribe Royale Orlando in Orlando, Florida, on September 23, 2023. (Photo by Matchroom Boxing/Twitter)

Richardson Hitchins and Jose Zepeda took center stage on last Saturday’s Orlando fight card, promoted by Matchroom and televised/streamed by DAZN. The two American fighters fought the full twelve rounds where Hitchins would be crowned the winner by unanimous decision, and the card further featured a showcase roster of fighters including the likes of Jessica McCaskill and Conor Benn. The event was held at the Caribe Royale Orlando, in Orlando, Florida, on September 23rd.

Richardson Hitchins (17-0, 7 KO’s), an American prospect on the cusp of becoming a legitimate contender at 140 lbs, is now a strong candidate for a potential world title opportunity following his unanimous decision (UD) victory over fellow American Jose Zepeda (37-4, 28 KO’s).

Their match, which main-evented at the Caribe Royale Orlando, fully lived up to expectations as a high-stakes and fast-paced encounter. Several mid-tier titles were on the line during the fight, including Hitchins’ IBF North American title, and the WBC Silver and WBO NABO (North American Boxing Organization) super lightweight titles which were vacant.

Though Zepeda was Hitchins’ toughest match thus far, being Zepeda has long been a world title contender at 140 and had actually challenged for a world title before, Hitchins fared much better than initially thought, encapsulated by the scorecards of 120-108 twice and 119-109 which showed him winning his match quite comfortably.

Zepeda was tough and clearly as powerful as he had been, but it was skills that paid the bills this time around for Hitchins as he showed an expert blend between offense and defense to win the majority of the rounds fairly easily. Hitchins proved himself to be one of the more skilled fighters in the division, complemented with a counterpunching style which Zepeda found quite hard to penetrate.

Though primarily known as a pressure fighter, Zepeda’s efforts were left ineffective against Hitchins who seemed perfectly able to fight on the backfoot and evade or defend most of Zepeda’s shots to deliver debiliating punches of his own. Zepeda heavily struggled in this manner, and quickly found himself outgunned and outpunched by the younger American who had the advantage of youth on his side as well as a seemingly-wider range of skills.

Hitchins Beats Zepeda By UD, McCaskill And Ryan Draw Controversially, And Benn Returns With UD Win image 1
Richardson Hitchins (R) after landing a blow on Jose Zepeda (L). (Photo by Matchroom Boxing/Twitter)

After being unable to penetrate Hitchins’ defense, Zepeda eventually lost focus and found himself on the receiving end of Hitchins’ onslaught who grew more comfortable and confident as the fight went on. Though Richardson Hitchins never scored a knockdown, he seemed to virtually win every round aside from the first which seemed to have swung in Zepeda’s favor.

As much as the fight looked to be a masterclass on Hitchins’ part, it was also a rather underwhelming performance from Zepeda who seemed afflicted by bad choices, poor technique and a lack of ring IQ to truly have an impact. Nevertheless, Richardson Hitchins was announced the deserved winner by unanimous decision after twelve rounds, allowing him to retain the IBF North American title he held prior, and win the vacant WBC Silver and WBO NABO super lightweight titles.

Hitchins’ victory now makes him a feared contender for any of the four super lightweight champions that are currently in the division, and though it is not completely certain how ready he is for a world title shot, he has shown plenty reasons to be feared having accrued an easy victory over a long-time world title contender in Jose Zepeda.

The rest of the fight card featured other interesting bouts, particularly the women’s welterweight unification match between Sandy Ryan (6-1-1, 2 KO’s) and Jessica McCaskill (12-3-1, 5 KO’s). The two female champions together possessed three world titles, with Sandy Ryan being the WBO champion while Jessica McCaskill held the WBC and WBO world welterweight titles.

Their match, though competitive, ended controversially as it was ruled a split-decision draw. The American judges’ scorecards of 95-95, 96-94 in favor of Ryan, and 97-93 in favor of McCaskill resulted in the draw. The judges —all American — clearly did not seem to favor Ryan fully judging by their scorecards of 95-95, 96-94 in favor of Ryan and 97-93 in favor of McCaskill, which resulted in a draw.

It was a confusing decision given the 10 rounds that had occurred between the two female champions. Though McCaskill came forward every single round with the clear intent to simply pressure, Ryan had been staving off her attacks well and deterred the American fighter numerous times with well-timed counters which clearly buckled McCaskill.

However, the judges seemed to have seen a different match, one where McCaskill’s work rate vastly overwhelmed the efficiency of her offense and deficiencies in her defense. Sandy Ryan, in comparison, showed a combination of slick boxing and effective counterpunching, defending well against any of McCaskill’s attacks and clearly landed the more and efficient punches throughout her fight with McCaskill.

Ryan’s body work was also a notable gamechanger during the match, allowing her to stop McCaskill’s come-forward approach multiple times. By the latter rounds, Ryan was even walking McCaskill down and clearly took the remaining rounds by a wide margin, however the judges’ scorecards indicated differently.

The result, which should have gone in Sandy Ryan’s favor, is but a mere reflection of the continued problems fighters face when fighting abroad, given all three judges for the Ryan-McCaskill fight were American. As always, a deserved win was snatched as corruption or bias again seems to have made an appearance again on the Orlando fight card.

Conor Benn (22-0, 14 KO’s), who is still dealing with the fallout from his failed drug test, also appeared on the undercard against Mexican fighter Rodolfo Orozco (32-4-3, 24 KO’s) in a non-title super welterweight bout.

The two battled it out for the full ten rounds their match was scheduled for. Benn showed ring rust in his return to the ring, having not fought since April of last year, and the power he had in his last couple of fights seemed to no longer be there as he struggled to put his opponent away.

Orozco, however, was no slouch himself having had a high KO-ratio of 75% prior to the match, but Benn was simply the more active and quicker fighter and he eventually coursed to a UD win after all ten rounds had passed.

Hitchins Beats Zepeda By UD, McCaskill And Ryan Draw Controversially, And Benn Returns With UD Win image 2
Conor Benn (R) and Rodolfo Orozco (L) during an exchange of punches. (Photo by Matchroom Boxing/Twitter)

It was not the statement victory that Benn might have wished for, and any inkling of himself or his promoter to face Chris Eubank Jr. (33-3, 24 KO’s)—at a higher weight than his usual weight class of welterweight—may be premature, but in the sense of merely being active as a fighter, it was a good fight or him to get back into the swing of fighting regularly. It should also be taken into account that Benn fought at 154 lbs instead of 147 lbs, and the jump in weight may have affected his performance.

His clearance to fight by the NADP is still being appealed by the UKAD, but if Benn manages to avoid serious repercussions, he will need to look at challenging opponents at a similar level as him, including fellow contenders such as Vergil Ortiz Jr. (19-0, 19 KO’s), Jaron Ennis (31-0, 28 KO’s) and Alexis Rocha (23-1, 15 KO’s); all American fighters who are near or around his age and deemed to be just as talented as Benn, if not more.

It will be long and hard-fought road for Benn, not just to shake the stigma of being a steroid user even if he is fully exonerated, but the super welterweight division is currently stacked with young talent who he may, or may not, be ready for. Given he just completed a fight in that weight class, Benn will presumably be seeking to make his name there and quickly find out whether he is ready for the elite opponents in that division.

Lastly, American middleweight prospect and contender Austin Williams (15-0, 10 KO’s) extended his unbeaten streak by defeating Canadian contender Steve Rolls (22-3, 12 KO’s). Williams secured the IBF North American middleweight title with a unanimous decision victory over ten rounds, and Williams seems to be making good on his potential of being a future world champion, or at least a future world title contender.