ATLANTIC CITY - Millville junior-middleweight Thomas LaManna stepped up to the challenge at Bally's Atlantic City on Saturday night.
The 20-year-old passed the toughest test of his two-year professional boxing career, using an early knockdown to gain a six-round, split decision over rugged Yolexcy Leiva, of Nashville, Tenn., on the Joel Diaz-Guillermo Sanchez under-card.
Judges Alan Rubenstein (57-56) and Steve Weisfeld (58-55) both favored LaManna, as did The Press (57-56), while judge John Stewart (57-56) scored it for Leiva. Most of the crowd cheered the verdict, but there was a smattering of boos from fans who were impressed with Leiva's aggressiveness.
"That was absolutely the kind of fight I was expecting," LaManna said. "I knew it was going to be a war. But I felt like I learned so much from that. I was in the hardest fight of my life and I found a way to win."
Leiva, 34, represented a step up in competition for LaManna (9-0, 5 KOs). His first eight opponents sported a combined 12-24 record. Leiva (5-4, 4 KOs) had been in with some tough fighters, having faced undefeated boxers in his previous two fights.
LaManna nearly ended the bout in the second round, capping a six-punch fluury with a straight right that dropped Leiva in his own corner. Leiva easily beat referee Ricardo Vera's eight-count, however, and kept pressing forward.
"When I knocked him down, I thought the fight was over," LaManna said. "I hit him clean and I didn't think there was any way he was getting up. When he got up and raised his arms, I thought, 'Uh oh.' I don't know how he got stopped three times. He was like a pit bull in there. He was even grunting when he came at me."
As the bout progressed, Leiva began to gain confidence and momentum. He repeatedly muscled LaManna into the ropes and unloaded hooks and body shots while LaManna tried to keep him at bay with jabs.
LaManna regained control in the sixth and final round, peppering Leiva with combinations and then dancing out of danger.
"I did my best in there," Leiva said. "Do I think I won the fight? It's up to the people and the judges. It's a waste of time what I think. All I can say is I wasn't the one holding and backing up the whole fight. We were coming into the kid's hometown, so we knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I did the best I could and I don't have any regrets."
LaManna, a 2011 Millville High School graduate, should benefit from the experience.
Now that he has been in against an extremely tough fighter, he'll know how to handle adversity.
"I had never been in a fight like that before," LaManna said. "When it happens again, I'll know what to do and how to adapt. Now I know how to handle the heat, how to give a shot, how to take a shot. That kind of fight will only make me better."
In the main event, super-featherweight prospect Joel Diaz (11-0, 10 KOs) won via TKO at the end of the second round against Buffalo, N.Y. resident Guillermo Sanchez (13-7-1, 5 KOs).
A quick co-feature saw Passaic middleweight Glen Tapia (15-0, 9 KOs) have no trouble staying undefeated. Tapia scored two knockdowns en route to a first-round knockout over Franklin Gonzalez (15-11, 10 KOs), of New York.
On the undercard, Jersey City heavyweight Pat Farrell (8-1-1, 4 KOs) rebounded from a first-round trip to the canvas to gain a controversial, third-round TKO over Wayne Hampton (5-6, 3 KOs), of Capital Heights, Md. Hampton never appeared hurt, but he told referee Brian Vera he was unable to continue in the third.
Norfolk, Va., heavyweight Dorsett Barnwell (7-0, 3 KOs) handed Philadelphia slugger Joey Dewejko (7-1-1, 3 KOs) his first loss via a six-round, split decision. Jersey City heavyweight Tyrell Wright (1-0) won his pro debut with a four-round, unanimous decision over Dennis Benson (1-3, 1 KO), of Norfolk, Va. Mount Arlington middleweight Tyrone McKenna (1-0) took a four-round, unanimous decision over Philadelphia's Anthony Morrison (0-1) in an entertaining matchup of ring rookies. In the opening bout, Providence, R.I., super-featherweight Toka Khan Clary (2-0, 2 KOs) scored a one-punch, first-round knockout over Jamel Winfield (0-2), of Eaton, N.C.
Punchlines: Boxing returns to town Sept. 29 with a rare matchup of local fighters at Resorts Casino Hotel. Galloway Township welterweight Shamone Alvarez (21-5, 12 KOs) will take on Atlantic City's DeCarlo Perez (7-2-1, 2 KOs) in an eight-round bout. Somers Point middleweight Patrick Majewski (19-1, 13 KOs) is scheduled to be in the main event against an opponent to be named.
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