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The 35years old Gabriel José Maestre Pérez couldn’t find favor with the judges this time around, though in a fight where he arguably deserved the nod.

A welterweight semi-final title eliminator between Venezuela’s Maestre and Ukraine’s Taras Shelestyuk failed to make a difference on Friday evening at Casino de Montreal in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The bout to determine the number-two contender in the WBA welterweight rankings ended in a ten-round split decision draw. Shelestyuk won 97-93 on the scorecard of Guy Girard, while Benoit Russell (96-94) scored in favor of Maestre. Judge Pasquale Procopio (95-95) awarded five rounds to each fighter, thus producing the stalemate.

Maestre entered the ring for the first time since his highly questionable, twelve-round decision win over Mykal Fox last August. The outcome was met with industry-wide outrage, to the point that the WBA was publicly shamed into entering an aggressive title reduction campaign.

This means that, Maestre was not able to maintain his status as interim WBA welterweight titlist, as he was stripped even before the sanctioning body did away with interim belts altogether. The two-time Olympic quarter-finalist for Venezuela rode out the sea of negative publicity and focused on advancing with his career.

Maestre jumped out a strong start against Shelestyuk, who earned a Bronze medal as part of the same 2012 Ukraine Olympic team that boasted Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk, all of whom medaled in 2012 London and won world titles in the pros. It hasn’t translated to pro success thus far for the 35-year-old Shelestyuk, who entered the fight unbeaten but unproven and struggling to figure out Maestre in the early rounds.

The early rounds saw Maestre steadily punch in combinations and work the body. Shelestyuk mostly fought off the back foot, flicking with his jab and more interested in playing defense against his aggressive foe.

Maesre continued to apply pressure, though Shelestyuk grew increasingly comfortable even if not to the point of winning rounds. Shelestyuk picked up the pace in round four, landing straight left hands out of the southpaw stance though with Maestre—who trains out of Ismael Salas’ facility in Las Vegas—still working the body and offering the occasional counter left hook.

Shelestyuk turned the tide in the middle rounds, outworking Maestre who appeared to reserve his energy for the latter portion of the fight. Shelestyuk took advantage of those moments, planting his feet and driving home stiff right jabs, along with straight rights and uppercuts.

Maestre swung the fight back in his favor midway through round seven. Shelestyuk grew comfortable in the pocket, leaving himself in position for Maestre to rake his midsection and come back upstairs with a whipping left hook in the closing seconds of the round.

Both fighters showed signs of fatigue down the stretch but pushed through it with the fight seemingly hanging in the balance. Shelestyuk offered a more fluid jab, positioning Maestre for a right hook upstairs before coming back with a looping left to the body as Maestre crouched low.

Maestre dug deep to close the fight strong, which proved necessary in avoiding his first career defeat. Clean combinations upstairs by the 36-year-old Venezuelan seemed to be enough to cement the win, though it merely allowed him to pull even on the deciding scorecard.

Shelestyuk is now 19-0-1 (11KOs); Maestre’s record moves to 4-0-1 (3KOs).

The outcome doesn’t affect the welterweight title picture, as there remains a wait to get to the main WBA welterweight title.

WBA “Super” welterweight titlist Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12KOs) is presently on course to face WBC/IBF welterweight champ Errol Spence (27-0, 21KOs) in a three-belt unification bout atop an April 16 Showtime Pay-Per-View event from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Radzhab Butaev (14-0, 11KOs) presently holds the WBA “World” welterweight title, which he is due to defend against mandatory challenger Eimantas Stanionis (13-0, 9KOs; 1ND). The bout is reportedly set to also take place on the April 16 Showtime PPV event, though not yet formally announced. The winners of Spence-Ugas and Butaev-Stanionis are mandated to next meet, as per an agreement reached between Ugas and Stanionis in lieu of their own previously ordered title fight.

Perhaps by that point, a new mandatory challenger will have been established.

The fight aired live on Probellum’s website and YouTube channel in the U.S. market. Headlining the show, local hero Kim Clavel (14-0, 2KOs)—A 2020 ESPY winner for her work on the Covid frontline as a nurse in Montreal—defends her WBC Silver junior flyweight title versus Bolivia’s Mariela Ribera Valverde (11-6, 8KOs) in a scheduled ten-round contest.

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