LANHAM — It was only an Intercontinental championship belt sanctioned by a new boxing organization hardly anyone knows. But Eugene Speed wore it last night as proudly as the crown jewels.
Speed, 28, of Palmer Park, earned his International Boxing Council junior lightweight title the hard way.
Nearly knocked out in the eighth round by Venezuelan Jose Sanabria, Speed (20-0, 15 KOs) turned masterful boxer in the last four rounds to gain a unanimous decision before a roaring crowd of 500 at LaFontaine Bleu.
In one of the best fights staged in Maryland in the past decade, Speed, a one-time protege of multi-champion Sugar Ray Leonard, needed a strong will and all his ring prowess to survive the determined effort of Sanabria (16-7 13 KOs).
Judge Terry Moore favored Speed, 117-112. Frank Kelly voted for Sanabria, 117-115, but Ray Klingmeyer cast the deciding vote for the Maryland native, 117-110.
Speed seemed to have Sanabria in serious trouble early in the eighth round when he rocked him with several bristling combinations. But the stoic Venezuelan suddenly mounted a furious rally, first knocking out Speed's mouthpiece and then bloodying his mouth.
Speed held on frantically to survive the final seconds of the eighth round and then wisely followed the instructions of veteran trainer Dave Jacobs, dancing and jabbing effectively to sweep the final four rounds.
"I feel I did a superb job of boxing," Speed said."After the second round when he thumbed me in the left eye, I was fighting with only one good eye. That's why I had to box and move in the late rounds.
"I had to fight and really gut it out. I knew it wasn't going to be a one-punch knockout. I fought a great fighter tonight, and that makes this title all the sweeter."