O’Shaquie Foster shades Abraham Nova to retain WBC junior-lightweight title

<span>O'Shaquie Foster, left, held off a game Abraham Nova to retain his WBC title at 130lbs on Friday night in New York.</span><span>Photograph: Mikey Williams/Top Rank</span>
O'Shaquie Foster, left, held off a game Abraham Nova to retain his WBC title at 130lbs on Friday night in New York.Photograph: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

O’Shaquie Foster sure isn’t afraid of leaving things late.

The 30-year-old Texan retained his WBC junior-lightweight title on Friday night with a split-decision win over Abraham Nova, taking control in the later stages and punctuating the closer-than-expected affair with a knockdown in the last 20 seconds of the final round. Two ringside judges scored it for Foster by scores of 115-112 and 116-111, while a third had it 114-113 to Nova. (The Guardian scored it 115-112 for Foster.)

Before a crowd of several thousand at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Foster overcame a game challenger fighting on home ground and what appeared to be a right bicep injury in the fifth round to grind out the result in his second title defense. His first, four months ago in Cancun, also required a finishing kick with the outcome in doubt going into the final session.

“I don’t want to make any excuses, but when I went to throw a right hand [in the fifth], his elbow hit the middle of my bicep, so it kind of tightened my stuff up,” Foster said afterward. “My rhythm was off tonight, but it’s all good. We came home with the win, so I can’t complain.”

The switch-hitting Foster (22-2, 10 KOs) came out in an orthodox stance at the opening bell and struggled to find his footing in the first couple of rounds. The sturdy Nova doubled and tripled up his jab to keep the champion at bay, stepping into the pocket to throw harder shots when the opportunities surfaced.

Nova (23-2, 16 KOs), a Puerto Rico native living in upstate New York who went off as a 7-1 underdog, was off to an inspired start, even as Foster immediately looked more comfortable when he switched to southpaw to open the third. But just when it looked like he was wresting control of the action, Nova landed a series of looping shots midway through the fourth that sent Foster across the ring and brought the crowd to its feet.

At the same time Nova began showing signs of fatigue in the fifth, the champion began to step up his workrate and take command. That’s when Foster came away from an exchange in the center of the wincing and shaking his right hand in pain.

After flagging badly in the sixth, Nova found a reserve at the start of the seventh, battering Foster with a flurry of punches along the ropes. Foster was the fitter man and landing the more accurate shots. But Nova, despite a split bottom lip that left a crimson stain across his blonde beard, stayed afloat with sheer hustle, volume and punch resistance.

Even with the compromised right hand, the fresher Foster was able to stack rounds during the second half of the fight by landing the cleaner, harder shots. He spent the 10th picking apart his stubborn foe with crisp blows to the head and body. The 11th ended with both men trading hellfire along the ropes. Then came the 12th, where Nova’s granite chin absorbed one concussive shot after another until Foster finally dropped him with a short left hook in the final seconds that removed all doubt.

“I’m a 12-round fighter and I know how to make judgements through the right,” said Foster, who landed 139 of 429 shots (32.4%) compared to 122 of 701 for Nova (17.4%), according to Compubox’s punch statistics. “He came on strong in the beginning, but I found my rhythm and his timing, and then I started picking it off.”

Nova insisted the knockdown was a slip and should not have cost him an additional point on the final scorecards, but accepted the outcome. “O’Shaquie is a great fighter,” he said. “He did hit me, but I did slip. I lost my balance. I wasn’t hurt.”

Foster, who grew up in the small east Texas town of Orange and lives in Houston, captured the vacant WBC title at 130lbs a little over a year ago, when he boxed his way to a clean 12-round unanimous decision over Rey Vargas, the previously unbeaten two-division champion bidding for a title in a third weight class. But it wasn’t until his first defense in October that he put his stamp on the division, coming from behind on two scorecards to stop Eduardo Hernández in the 12th round following an action-packed 11th that was named Ring Magazine’s round of the year.

Since then Foster jumped promoters from Matchroom to Top Rank, signing a deal that will reportedly put him on ESPN three times a year. After his debut with the company on Friday night, there is no shortage of opportunities at 130lbs. Mexico’s Emanuel Navarrete, who holds the WBO’s version of the junior-lightweight title, is generally considered the class of the division. Other potential unification fights include Lamont Roach Jr, who holds the WBA title, or Joe Cordina, who owns the IBF strap.

“I’ll be eventually going to 135, but I’m going to try to get a couple more fights at 130,” Foster said. “I’ll take the winner of Óscar Valdez and Liam Wilson [on 29 March], or if we can get Lamont Roach. I know Navarrete is going up to 135 to fight somebody, but if he comes back I’m willing for that, too.”