By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Georgetown, Grand Cayman (Sports Network) -
Chalk it up to steel drums and trade winds.
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward made his second Caribbean business trip another successful one Friday night, outworking reality TV alumnus Jerson Ravelo before stopping him in the eighth round of their NABO super middleweight title bout at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal.
The win was the unbeaten Ward's 16th straight and earned him his first professional championship belt, which he said he's looking forward to taking to his California home to show his wife, two sons and infant daughter -- who was born one day before he boarded a plane.
"I just can't wait to get home to my baby," said Ward, who struck gold at 178 pounds in Athens four years ago and had made one previous Caribbean appearance -- last November in Saint Lucia. "I want to lay it down at her feet and just enjoy the accomplishment."
The stoppage was Ward's fifth straight at 168 pounds after an early career which had seen him fluctuate between the 160- and 168-pound classes. He now has 11 wins by KO and is ranked 14th in the world by the WBA at 168.
Andre Ward won his 16th straight fight, and earned his first professional championship belt.
"I was very anxious. I kept telling myself all training camp that this was going to be the best performance of my career," he said. "I was asking myself as I was running in the hills, 'How bad do you want it?' And as soon as I settled down I saw the left hand blinded him, and then bam, there was the right hand."
Ravelo was driven to the canvas for an 8 count by that initial right hand, then rose and was smothered by a subsequent combination in a neutral corner before referee Steve Smoger stopped he fight at 2:37. Ravelo's corner had thrown in a towel an instant before, but Smoger hadn't seen it by the time he stepped in.
"I never think I feel that good or look that good, until I go home and look at the tape three or four times and I'm like, 'Wow, that was pretty good,'" Ward said.
Ravelo, a 30-year-old who took part in ESPN's "The Contender Challenge: UK vs. USA" in 2007, fell to 18-3 as a pro.
"He was a tough fighter and his style was very awkward," Ward said. "He threw a lot of wild shots, which caused me to lunge in too much early. But I knew I could land the right hand, and that's how I got him."
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Unbeaten championship progeny Ronald Hearns won his 19th straight bout and scored his 15th KO, punishing a game Jose Luis Gonzalez until Gonzalez's corner stopped the action at 2:01 of round seven of a scheduled eight-round junior middleweight contest.
Hearns, who was led into the ring by father, Thomas, a multi-division belt- holder in the 1980s and '90s, quickly rebounded from a sluggish opening round to dominate his outgunned foe and repeatedly strafed the Kansas resident with the family's trademark left jab/straight right combination.
All three judges had the 6-foot-3 Hearns ahead, 60-54, at the time of the stoppage.
"He just kept on coming," Hearns said. "He made me work."
Rated No. 12 in the world by the WBA at 154 pounds, Hearns caused prominent swelling over Gonzalez's right eye with the persistent left hand, then scored well to the body as Gonzalez slowed noticeably in the final two rounds.
The loss was Gonzalez's third in five fights since the beginning of 2008.
He is 12-4-1 in 17 pro bouts.
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Former bantamweight champion Wayne McCullough's comeback after a three-year absence ended in sudden defeat, when the Northern Ireland veteran chose not to come out for the seventh round against Juan Diaz in their scheduled 10-round super bantamweight bout.
"This is probably my last fight," said the 37-year-old Belfast native, who turned pro in 1993 and held the WBC's crown at 118 pounds in 1995-96. "I got the (Olympic) silver medal for Ireland. I got the WBC belt for Ireland, and I think I'll be retired after tonight."
McCullough hadn't fought since losing by 10th-round TKO to Oscar Larios in a fight for the WBC's super bantamweight in July 2005, which had been preceded by a decision loss to Larios five months earlier.
His last win came Sept. 23, 2004, when he stopped journeyman Mike Juarez in two rounds.
He began his career with 20 straight victories through 1996, then went 7-7 over his final 14 fights.
"I want to thank everyone for the great moments," McCullough said.
McCullough had competed evenly with the grinding Ruiz through the first six rounds and actually led on two of three scorecards by margins of 58-57 and 58-56.
Judge Roberto Ramirez had him trailing, 58-56.
"Wayne McCullough is the best," said the 29-year-old Ruiz, who improved to 22-5 in an eight-year pro career. "I remember watching him when I was a little kid, and he's as tough as they come."
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Heavyweight Eddie Chambers re-announced his presence in the division with authority, stopping Raphael Butler in the sixth round of their scheduled 12- rounder for the USBA championship.
The 26-year-old Philadelphia resident had won his first 30 bouts as a professional before dropping a unanimous decision to Alexander Povetkin in January, in the finals of a four-man tournament to determine a challenger for IBF champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Chambers, who'd beaten former Klitschko victim Calvin Brock in the event's semifinals, entered the fight ranked eighth in the world by the IBF.
He won the initial five rounds in his return against the reluctant Butler, but had done little to inspire notice before landing a left hook and a thudding counter right just past the 2-minute mark of the sixth.
A follow-up flurry drove the 6-foot-3 Minnesotan to the canvas, and the bout was stopped by referee Bill Clancy at 2:25 after Butler remained wobbly upon rising.
"I set him up with a jab and caught him with a left hook," said Chambers, who scored his 17th knockout.
"It was over."
Butler, now 31-6, was stopped for the fourth time.
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Local favorite Charles Whittaker entertained an enthusiastic home crowd and scored a TKO when opponent Troy Lowry failed to come out for the fifth round of their scheduled 10-round junior middleweight bout.
Whittaker, ranked ninth in the world by the WBO, scored late knockdowns in both the third and fourth rounds and dominated from start to finish against the 37-year-old Lowry, from St. Paul, MN.
Whittaker improved to 31-12-2 and scored his 19th KO.
Lowry is 27-9.
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In the night's opening bout, Washington, D.C.-based junior welterweight Ty Barnett remained unbeaten with a fourth-round KO of Pavel Miranda.
Barnett, now 14-0-1 with 10 stoppages, drove Miranda to the canvas with a well-placed left hook to the body early in the fourth and the Mexican was officially counted out at the 25-second mark.
Miranda is 15-2.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides "In The Ring" boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com), is a periodic contributor to "The Drive with Dave Smith" on KLAA radio (am830klaa.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.