Hurricane Vernon reached Augusta's mainland, and the jaw of Santiago Samaniego, with sudden ferocity Friday night.
Vernon Forrest's prodigal return to his roots proved a huge success in the ring, thrilling the intimate but loud Bell Auditorium crowd and ESPN2 Friday Night Fights television audience by stopping Samaniego midway through the seventh round to headline the seven-fight card.
By improving to 30-0 with his 25th knockout, the welterweight considered boxing's most avoided fighter proved why many in his division have been refusing fights with him. Forrest packed a wallop, scoring early with overhand rights and dropping a considerable number of combinations on Samaniego's cheek.
Sporting a 27-5-1 record, it seemed that Samaniego's only credible boxing claim is being the nephew of Roberto Duran. Only Samaniego failed to inherit his uncle's hands of stone.
Samaniego should have stole his uncle's favorite line, and said "No Mas!" after the opening bell.
As he was introduced, Forrest planted a Chesire Cat-grin on his face, soaking in the support from the heavy pro-Forrest crowd.
A right-hand counter opened a nasty cut over Samaniego's left eye midway through the fourth, and like a shark smelling blood, Forrest kept trolling. To his defense, Samaniego kept charging and standing tough, taking many of Forrest's heaviest blows.
The diet of Forrest blows finally Samaniego to succumb. Getting the Panamanian trapped against the ropes, Forrest delivered a left-right-left combination 1:21 in the seventh to end it.
Augustan Brandon Mitchem didn't leave the ring as triumphantly. His progression up the crowded junior middleweight ladder suffered with his unanimous decision loss to Larry Marks.
Now 18-3-1, Mitchem, the 22-year-old product of the Augusta Boxing Club, never could stem Marks' straight right jab, the most damaging punch of the 10-round fight. While every round proved competitive, Marks delivered the majority of the scoring blows.
The 27-year-old from Selma, Ala., won 98-93 on one scorecard, and 98-92 on the other two.
"I thought I lost," Mitchem said afterward, his two eyes swelled . "I'm the first one to admit when I lose, and tonight I thought he fought a better fight than me.
"I had to be the aggressor, and I wasn't."
Mitchem had hoped to use Friday's bout as a stepping stone to a title fight. He'd hoped to impress on ESPN2, enough to warrant the attention of Main Events Inc. and impress it enough to join its powerful stable of fighters.
But with a heavy pro-Mitchem crowd, he appeared defensive in the fight's first four rounds, never really putting Marks in danger, except with an incidental butt above Marks' left eye midway through the third, and a butt late in the 10th.
Mitchem and Marks had fought before as amateurs, with Mitchem besting Marks by decision during the 1996 Olympic trials preliminaries.
The problem Friday proved to be a lack of power, a consistent knock on the technical fighter's career. Mitchem's jab lacked the snap that Marks' did. And the plan to work the body, then move to the head, never truly materialized.
"He had pretty decent power, but just not enough," said Marks, who improved to 19-2. "He fought hard. He kept coming after me, and he proved he can take a punch."
Friday, Marks landed all the damaging blows, hurting Mitchem in the fourth with a staggering right hook, then wobbling the Augustan with a straight right in the seventh.
Cruiserweights: Napoleon Tagoe (20-2, 13 KOs, Atlanta) d. Dennis McKinney (5-8-1, 4 KOs, Columbia), TKO :57, third round.
Cruiserweights: Dominick Robinson-Neal (2-0 2 KOs, Fort Gordon) d. Derrick Ziglar (0-2, Winston-Salem, N.C.) TKO :46, first round.
Heavyweights: Darrell Morgan (8-2, 6 KOs, Augusta) d. Ramon Hayes (3-6-1, 3 KOs, Athens, Ga.) TKO 2:16, fifth round.
Jr. Middleweights: Larry Marks (19-2, 12 KOs, Selma, Ala.) d. Brandon Mitchem (18-3-1, 8 KOs, Augusta), unanimous decision.
Jr. Welterweights: Vivian Harris (15-0, 13 KOs, Brooklyn, N.Y.) d. Isander Lacen (10-3, 4 KOs, San Juan, Puerto Rico) TKO, sixth round.
Welterweights: Vernon Forrest (29-0, 24 KOs, Augusta) d. Santiago Samaniego (27-4-1, 23 KOs, Miami), TKO 1:21 seventh round