LAS VEGAS – Azinga Fuzile quietly yet confidently claimed Martin Joseph Ward isn’t on his level during a press conference Thursday.
The South African southpaw proved it Saturday. The sharper, stronger Fuzile floored Ward twice and won their 12-round, 130-pound IBF elimination match by seventh-round technical knockout at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob Ultra Arena. England’s Ward got up from both knockdowns, but the battered, bleeding Brit’s trainer instructed referee Mike Ortega to stop the fight following the second knockdown.
The official time of the stoppage was 2:41 of the seventh round.
Fuzile improved to 15-1, recorded his ninth knockout and moved closer to a shot at the IBF’s vacant junior lightweight title. The 24-year-old contender looked sharp during his first fight since Tajikistan’s Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov stopped him in the eighth round of their IBF eliminator in September 2019.
The 29-year-old Ward (24-2-2, 11 KOs) lost by technical knockout for the second time in his eight-year pro career. Ward is ranked fourth among the IBF’s contenders at 130 pounds, one spot atop the fifth-ranked Fuzile.
A right uppercut by Fuzile stunned Ward with just under a minute to go in the seventh round. Fuzile’s sweeping right hook then sent Ward to his gloves and knees with 33 seconds remaining in what turned out to be the final round of the fight.
Ward used the ropes and struggled to reach his feet. He was ready to continue before his trainer walked up the steps and waved his towel.
Fuzile’s counter left buzzed Ward with just under 1:40 to go in the sixth round. Ward held long enough to recover and Fuzile couldn’t capitalize on that momentum.
Ward landed a right hand as Fuzile was backed against the ropes 35 seconds into the fifth round. Fuzile blasted Ward with a low a left with about 20 seconds to go in the fifth round, which caused a brief break in the action for Ward to recover.
Fuzile also caught Ward with a counter left up top just before the fifth round concluded.
A quick right hook by Fuzile made Ward use both gloves to remain on his feet with 2:16 left in the fourth round, which counted as a knockdown. Ward wasn’t badly hurt, though, and fought on strong legs for the rest of that round.
Fuzile snuck in a right hook with just under 30 seconds to go in the third round. Ward countered Fuzile with a right hand just before the third round ended.
A straight left hand by Fuzile snapped back Ward’s head with about 35 seconds to go in the second round. Fuzile mostly tried to attack Ward’s body in that second round.
Ward’s right hand landed with less than 10 seconds to go in the opening round.