MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP-Only four years and 22 fights into his professional career, Andre Berto is on top of the WBC's welterweight division.
Berto stopped Miguel "Mikki" Rodriguez in the seventh round to capture the WBC welterweight title Saturday night at the FedExForum.
"I'm really excited right now," Berto said. "It's an unbelievable feeling at age 24 that I'm now the world champion."
Berto knocked Rodriguez down twice in the seventh before the referee stopped the bout with 47 second left as Berto continually rocked Rodriguez with right hands.
The bout became a battle for the belt after former champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired earlier this month, setting the stage for Berto and Rodriguez, the top contenders, to fight for the championship.
"When this fight was first signed,it was just supposed to be an eliminator," Berto said. "Now that Floyd has retired, I'm very happy to be at the top of the WBC."
Berto, from Winter Haven, Fla., entered the fight undefeated in 21 previous bouts, 18 of them by knockout. Rodriguez had lost only twice in 31 fights, with 23 knockouts along the way.
The bout was part of HBO's "Boxing after Dark" series. On the card, Chris Arreola defeated Chazz Witherspoon in a battle of undefeated heavyweights when Witherspoon was disqualified at the end of the third round.
Arreola (24-0, 21 KOs) pounded Witherspoon in the third round, the last knockdown coming after a trio of left hands to the head. Witherspoon stumbled to his feet as the bell rang, but a member of Witherspoon's corner entered the ring before the end of the mandatory eight-count, causing the disqualification.
Witherspoon (23-1) was in trouble anyway, but the decision by referee Randy Phillips ended the fight. "They can't get up on the apron," Phillips said of the cornermen. "That ends the fight right there."
Berto entered the bout primed to ascend to the top of the WBC welterweight ranks after only 22 fights over four years as a professional. Capturing the belt was a long way from losing in the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials, then taking a quick exit from the Games when he boxed for Haiti.
Rodriguez of Mexico traded punches with Berto in the early rounds, occasionally landing a good right hand. The bout featured spirited exchanges after the early feeling out period. Berto came out aggressive in the early stages of the rounds, but Rodriguez held his own through the first half of the scheduled 12-rounder.
"Mikki Rodriguez is a great opponent, a hard puncher and a tough opponent," Berto said. "From start to finish, it was a tough fight, but I finally caught him in the end with my quickness."
Berto connected on 63 percent of his power punches, compared to 28 for Rodriguez. In the seventh round, Berto landed 24 punches to only four for Rodriguez before the fight was stopped.
In that deciding seventh round, the first damage was done by a right uppercut that connected with Rodriguez's chin and sent him to the canvas. That took the bounce out of Rodriguez, and two chopping rights did further damage with just over a minute left in the round. A series of five shots from Berto ended the bout, putting the WBC welterweight belt around Berto's waist.
"I'm on top of the world," Berto said. "This is the greatest feeling in the world. I can't wait to go out and celebrate and get ready for my next group of fights."
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