Almost every headline above articles published hurriedly in the aftermath of the co-main event of Saturday’s night’s fights from Las Vegas read something like “Chantelle Cameron Stops Melissa Hernandez.” But, as former two-division world champion Jeannine Garside astutely pointed out on social media in direct response, it was actually referee Celestino Ruiz who stopped Hernandez. Boxing history has seen more than its fair share of questionable instances of referee interference, but this had to have been one of the more egregious examples yet.

A fifteen-year veteran of the prize ring, Melissa Hernandez is a celebrated member of the female fight fraternity with a lengthy resume highlighted by notable wins over luminaries like Lisa Brown, Layla McCarter, Melissa Fiorentino, Ela Nunez, and Jelena Mrdjenovich (having defeated both Jelena and Nunez on two occasions), not to mention holding world championships in five weight classes. She is also one of women’s boxing’s most spectacular shit-talkers.

Melissa’s title fight against Chantelle Cameron wound up as the chief support bout to the Devin Haney/Jorge Linares main event this past Saturday when the originally scheduled date of March 20 was scrapped after Cameron was injured in an automobile accident less than three weeks out. Not only did Hernandez question the legitimacy of Cameron’s physical condition, stating instead that Chantelle was simply stalling for time, but she ripped into the WBC super-lightweight champion as being a ‘hype job.” It goes without saying that Cameron took exception to the verbal slings and arrows Hernandez hurled at her, vowing to make her challenger eat her words in “barbaric” fashion. Premature stoppage notwithstanding, this is precisely what happened.

The freewheeling Hernandez enjoys boogying to the ring wearing the biggest of grins, but a pair of straight right hands introduced by stiff jabs just ten seconds after the opening bell wiped the smirk off her face pretty quick. Less than twenty seconds later, Cameron staggered Hernandez with yet another right and finished out the first round by pummeling Melissa with well-measured, heavy-handed, and accurate shots which bloodied her 41-year-old challenger’s nose.

Stinging two and tree-punch combinations were the order of the day, and Cameron served them up in plentiful supply, giving Hernandez all she could handle and then some. With just over a half-minute gone by in round four, Melissa found herself backed against the ropes under heavy fire and hit the deck after absorbing an accumulation of punches. She rose quickly and seemed genuinely incredulous that referee Celestino Ruiz was administering a mandatory eight count. A bigger surprise was yet to come.

Giving a sarcastically affirmative nod of the head when asked if she wanted to continue, Hernandez playfully bared her mouthpiece to Cameron as she marched back into battle. The champion made her eat an uppercut followed by a right hook and succession of blows to the midsection as she once again pinned her adversary to the ring strands. 

A fiery exchange broke out with the pair in uncomfortably close proximity and, despite Hernandez nicely countering Cameron with a right hook in between the clubbing shots being let loose by the confident and determined champion, Chantelle got the better of the exchange by virtue of heavy volume. Hernandez forced her way off the ropes, but quickly found herself in the far corner with her back to the turnbuckle as Cameron switched back and forth from orthodox to southpaw, nailed Melissa in the temple with a straight right, and continued to work the body with both hands.

Another ramrod of a right hand from Chantelle forced a clearly deflated Hernandez back several steps in the early moments of the fifth stanza, but the pace slowed down in comparison to the work rate being exhibited from Cameron in the four rounds prior. Melissa deftly ducked beneath a three-punch salvo at center ring, and after being touched by a glancing left hook seconds before, Hernandez backed away only to be caught in retreat with a rather unexceptional right to the jaw which failed to faze her. Obviously, Celestino Ruiz had a different perspective on the situation and stepped in to wave off the fight at this most inopportune of moments.

Perhaps secure in the knowledge that she was getting her clock cleaned and that a stoppage was inevitable at some not too far off point in time anyway, Melissa accepted the verdict in stride, no matter how arbitrary, and embraced Cameron in a congratulatory show of respect. Regardless, this was by no means how Cameron wanted her first title defense to culminate, nor did Hernandez obviously desire to have her comeback fight (and maybe her last?) end not with a bang but a whimper. Both women deserved better, and the fans in attendance registered their shared disappointment with a chorus of sustained boos.

Nevertheless, Chantelle Cameron recorded her fourteenth victory with eight now coming by way of knockout. Katie Taylor is locked on Cameron’s radar, but the same can be said of every other female fighter within ten pounds, give or take, of the Irish phenom, so Chantelle will likely have to bide her time. The most prudent course of action would be to pursue a super-lightweight unification bout with either Kali Reis, Mary McGee, or Christina Linardatou, any of which would be a thrilling option.

Born in Mogadishu, Ramla Ali is a lifelong practitioner of the fight for survival. Her family fled the Somalian civil war after her twelve year-old brother was killed by mortar fire. Traveling first to Kenya aboard an overpeopled boat on which several fellow refugees did not survive the journey, Dubai was the next stop for Ramla, her parents and five surviving siblings—two sisters and three brothers. London wound up being their final destination, and it was there that Ali began working out at a boxing gym to shed excess weight which was fodder for school bullies. 

Because participating in a combat sport is frowned upon for a Muslim woman, Ramla kept her activities concealed even from her own family. Her mother and father were furious when they found out and forced her to quit. Covertly, she kept at it anyway and captured a handful of amateur titles in 75 fights over the course of the next five years. When the pandemic derailed her dream of Olympic competition, Ali opted to go pro and won her first two bouts against Eva Hubmayer last Halloween and Bec Connelly this past March, both at Wembley Arena.

Similar to Chantelle Cameron, Ramla was fighting on U.S. soil for the very first time on Saturday evening in Las Vegas. Her opponent was Mikayla Nebel, who calls Sin City home and is intent on making up for lost time in 2021. After being sidelined for eighteen months both by Covid and contractual squabbles, the 29-year-old Nebel had already fought (and won) twice this year and has another bout inked for early July. Having won only two of ten career fights entering into this year, Mikayla may not boast impressive win/loss numbers, but has an undeniable passion for boxing and invaluable experience against the likes of Nydia Feliciano, Shelly Vincent, and Heather Hardy who Nebel faced twice and decked in the first round of their initial scrap, which was Hardy’s pro debut. All things considered, Nebel presented Ali with a desired step up in competition for a planned world title run in the near future.

Outfitted in American flag-patterned trunks, it was Mikayla Nebel’s intention to be a one-woman welcoming committee to the visiting Ramla Ali. Needless to say, there would be no Stepford Wives-type cheerful greeting and tray of chocolate chip cookies involved. The intimidation factor proved all for naught as far as Mikayla was concerned, and Ali would methodically and ungraciously show up her host in Nebel’s own backyard.

The longer, leaner Ramla used her height and reach advantages wisely, working consistently behind a left jab and making an early investment in shots to Nebel’s body which created openings for her overhand right to come crashing through. With only 6 two-minute rounds to work with, there was little time to waste and yet there was no sense of an unduly hurried approach from Ali, who remained poised and composed throughout.

Ramla let the leather fly in the first thirty seconds of round two with a relentless flurry of combinations that left Nebel little opportunity to do more than cover up and weather the onslaught, but Mikayla did manage to sneak in a check hook or two when Ali’s  assault subsided somewhat. Her tendency to lean forward and lunge into action, however, only played into Ramla’s hands in the most literal sense, as Ali telegraphed and timed her punches very effectively and displayed a variety of jabs, body blows, and uppercuts all thrown with remarkable hand speed and from different angles. 

The effects were telling. After only four minutes, Nebel looked visibly winded and battle-damaged, huffing for breath while one of her cornermen applied an ice pack to her face as she received instruction on how to best make adjustments to the game plan between rounds two and three.

No doubt there was room for improvement for Nebel, but Ali simply wouldn’t allow it. Whenever Mikayla tried to bumrush her opponent, Ali was already one step ahead, nullifying Nebel’s offensive output even as she intensified her own. Nebel had some moments of success in the sixth and final frame, as she closed the distance behind her jab and let her hands go in close quarters, landing some nice right hooks. But it was simply a matter of too little, too late for the hometown fighter who was just starting to get revved up as the race wound down. Mikayla finished the fight on her feet and has never been stopped in what now totals nine career losses against four wins.

All three judges awarded each of the six rounds to Ali, who pitched a dominant shutout and kept her professional ledger pristine. Although a shot at a world championship is high on Ramla’s list of priorities, she has said that she has too much respect for the sport to believe that she is entitled to one after only a handful of fights the way we have recently seen boxers with similarly skimpy resumes gifted title opportunities. 

Talented and pragmatic, with the last name that indirectly implies greatness, Ramla Ali is undoubtedly destined for bigger and better things in the days to come.