Jack Loew apparently knew what he was doing.
Loew, who trains journeyman fighter Willie Nelson, decided to gamble and accept a fight against undefeated Cuban junior middleweight Yudel Jhonson on 11 days' notice. Loew thought the rangy 6-foot-3-inch Nelson could handle Jhonson with his 76-inch reach and his power.
Nelson justified Loew's faith, surviving a vicious fourth-round knockdown to hand Jhonson his first loss with a 10-round unanimous decision victory Friday at Texas Station.
"I knew I was ready," said Nelson, who improved to 18-1-1 after judges Tim Cheatham and Duane Ford had him ahead, 97-92, and Jerry Roth had Nelson winning, 95-94. "I hurt him early in the fight, and once I got him moving backwards, I knew he couldn't beat me."
Loew said, "I never would have taken this fight unless I thought Willie was ready and he was. He had to adjust a little with fighting a left-hander, but once he got (Jhonson) backed up, he was going to win the fight."
Nelson knocked Jhonson down in the second round with two lefts to the head and it looked as if an upset was brewing. But by sticking with the game plan and remaining patient, Nelson took his time, and that gave Jhonson just enough breathing room to recover.
The fight nearly ended in round four as Nelson walked into a huge left hook and went down. Somehow, he managed to beat the count of referee Robert Byrd. Although he lost the round, he was still in the fight.
"It was a hell of a shot but it was fighter's instinct," he said. "You just got to get up."
Jhonson, a former Olympian from Cuba who lives in Miami, couldn't finish Nelson, and he was frustrated to fall to 12-1.
"The referee did a poor job," Jhonson said. "He gave him a lot of time. But I still think I won the fight."
The fight on Showtime was fought at a catch weight of 152 pounds instead of the standard 154 for junior middleweights. Jhonson claims the two pounds hurt his performance.
Nelson didn't want to hear any excuses. He won and he's moving on.
"This is huge for my career," he said. "To fight on national TV and win the way I did, it's going to open up some doors for me."
In the co-feature, Badou Jack remained undefeated as the Las Vegas super middleweight outlasted Alexander Brand and scored an eight-round split decision, Brand's first defeat.
Jack (11-0) had to deal with Brand's awkward, unorthodox style, which made him hard to hit. Eventually Jack figured him out and nearly ended the fight in the fifth round with some big shots to the head and body. Brand (17-1) kept coming, and judge Bob Bennett had him ahead 77-75, while judges Robert Hoyle and Dave Moretti both scored it 77-75 for Jack.
"He's awkward," Jack said. "He didn't want to fight. I had to press him to get to him. I'll do better the next time."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.