Boxing, which so often taketh away, finally giveth

Yoshihiro Kamega and Robert Guerrero gave fans a surprise fight of the year candidate on Saturday in Carson, California. (Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions)

Yoshihiro Kamega and Robert Guerrero gave fans a surprise fight of the year candidate on Saturday in Carson, California. (Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions)

Two hours ago, I didn’t know Yoshihiro Kamegai from Adam. Now? Dude’s my new best friend.

Earlier this afternoon, I was chopping it up with my brother-in-law — a guy who, from what I understand, was a pretty good amateur fighter back in the day — about Saturday’s Carson, California card when I opened my big mouth: “As far as I’m concerned, Lomachenko-Russell is the main event. It’s cool Guerrero is back, but no one’s even heard of the guy he’s fighting.”

My brother-in-law nodded. And just like that, we glossed over Robert Guerrero’s return against whatshisname and shifted the conversation to Vasyl Lomachenko — perhaps history’s finest 1-1 fighter — and Gary Russell Jr., who entered Saturday with the fastest of hands and the emptiest of undefeated records. I was mildly intrigued at the prospect of Devon Alexander, who can’t seem to get out of the way of his own boring, facing the always-live Jesus Soto Karass on the undercard. Emphasis on mildly. But Lomachenko-Russell was Saturday’s real draw. Guerrero-Kamegai? Afterthought is the word that comes to mind. Truth is, though, I didn’t really think about that matchup at all.

And then the damnedest thing happened: I wound up tuning in to an afterthought and a fight of the year broke out.

I wound up catching most of Saturday’s card with that same brother-in-law, and we were duly impressed by Lomachenko while being predictably underwhelmed by Russell. If our armchair analysis hadn’t spilled into the main event, or if Superbad hadn’t just ended elsewhere on the TV dial, it’s possible we wouldn’t have bothered with Guerrero-Kamegai at all. Perfect timing, McLovin.

As it turned out, Guerrero and Kamegai gave fight fans that rarest of commodities in boxing: more than anyone bargained for. Kamegai didn’t merely bring out the brawler in Guerrero; he gave as good as (and sometimes better than) he got. Guerrero launched countless winging bombs, landing 400-plus power punches in all, and Kamegai wasn’t up to the task of answering them all. But neither did he wilt, despite Guerrero demonstrating the stamina of a Kenyan distance runner. When Guerrero almost immediately abandoned his boxing strategy and downshifted into caveman mode, Kamegai obliged him, rarely taking a backwards step and landing scores of his own flush shots to the head and body — plus a goodly number of sneaky elbows and forearm shivers — along the way. Midway through, Kamegai raised a mouse over Guerrero’s left eye with a slicing uppercut, nearly swelling it shut and keeping me and my bride’s bro glued to the scene when we otherwise might have been detained by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader.

Guerrero took the decision, sure. And Kamegai, in his own way, came out a winner. But even more significantly, boxing didn’t break our hearts. It even managed to charm the pants off us when we least expected it. Savor this one, fight fans. Triumphs like these are too rare.

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