By Francisco Salazar
Deejay Kriel dropped Carlos Licona three times late Saturday night to win by knockout in round 12 at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles.
The fight took place after the main event bout featuring Leo Santa Cruz successfully defending his WBA featherweight title over late-sub Rafael Rivera.
Licona (14-1, 2 knockouts) was making the first defense of the vacant title he won on Dec. 1, winning a split decision over Mark Barriga of the Philippines.
The 23-year-old Licona, who is originally from Mexico and now resides in the Los Angeles suburb of Westminster, was the more-effective fight during the first half of the fight.
Sensing he was down on the scorecards, Kriel began closing the distance between the two fighters, increasing his punch output by the eighth round. Licona’s punch output dropped by the 10th round and he began to receive several combinations to the head from Kriel.
In round 12, Kriel battered Licona until a right hand dropped him to the canvas. Licona got to his feet, but was dropped again, this time by a left-right combination to the head. Licona got up on very unsteady legs, but was dropped moments later by a combination to the head, prompting referee Wayne Hedgpeth to stop the fight at 2:16.
Entering the 12th round, Licona was up 108-101 on two of the judges’ scorecards. The third judge had Kriel winning 105-104.
Kriel, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, has not won his last seven fights and improves to 15-1-1, 7 KOs.
In featherweight action, Marlon Tapales stopped former world title challenger Fernando Vargas after the end of the fifth round.
Tapales, who resides Kapatagan, in the Philippines, broke Vargas (34-15-3, 23 KOs) during each round. Vargas did not answer the bell for the sixth round.
The 26-year-old Tapales (32-2, 15 KOs) is ranked number six by the IBF and the WBO at 122 pounds.
Middleweight Hugo Centeno won by technical decision in round four over Oscar Cortes of Mexico.
The taller Centeno dropped Cortes to the canvas in round four, but the fight was stopped when an accidental clash of heads opened a cut over the right eye. The ringside physician advised referee Jerry Cantu to the stop the fight.
California Athletic Commission rules state the fight goes to the scorecards when the fourth round begins in a scheduled 10-round bout.
Centeno (27-2, 14 KOs) of nearby Oxnard had not fought since Apr. 21, when he was stopped by contender and unbeaten Jermall Charlo in Brooklyn, New York.
Cortes (27-4, 14 KOs) has now lost two of his last three fights.
Junior welterweight Ivan Redkach (22-4-1, 17 KOs), who is originally from the Ukraine and now resides in Los Angeles, stopped Tyrone Harris in the opening round.
The southpaw Redkach dropped Harris (26-14, 16 KOs) three times before referee Thomas Taylor stopped the bout at 2:49.
Lightweight and 2016 U.S. Olympian Karlos Balderas (7-0, 6 KOs) dropped late-sub Jose Cen Torres (13-11, 1 KO) of Mexico in round one en route to a knockout win after the third round. Torres has now lost his last seven bouts.
Lightweight Julian Rodarte of Los Angeles won an eight round unanimous decision over Mexico’s Miguel Angel Mendoza. All three judges scored the bout 79-73 in favor of Rodarte, who improves to 16-0-1, 7 KOs.
Mendoza (23-16-2, 22 KOs) has now lost 10 of his last 11 bouts.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing