Beibut Shumenov returned to the scene of his greatest triumph, the Hard Rock Hotel, on Saturday night. But this time there was more pressure to produce as Shumenov attempted to show he's the best 175-pound boxer in the world.
More than two years after winning the WBA light heavyweight title from Gabriel Campillo at the Hard Rock in January 2010, Shumenov manhandled Enrique Ornelas for 12 rounds to make his fourth successful title defense.
The unanimous decision was impressive, lifting the 28-year-old Kazakhstan native to 13-1, but Shumenov was unable to knock out the 31-year-old Mexican.
Shumenov probably was in need of a flashier outcome to make a case for deserving a title unification bout against fellow 175-pound kings Nathan Cleverly (WBO), Chad Dawson (WBC) and Tavoris Cloud (IBF) or a fight against top contender Jean Pascal.
"I was trying for the knockout, but Ornelas is a tough guy," Shumenov said. "His defense was good."
Not that good. Ornelas didn't win a round, as judges Robert Hoyle, Dick Houck and Burt Clements saw it the same - 120-108 for Shumenov.
Fighting for the first time since July 29, Shumenov said he hurt his right arm while sparring 10 days ago and it might have sapped his power. Yet his right hand nearly had Ornelas done early, hammering him in the first round with hooks to the body and uppercuts to the chin.
If Shumenov was hurting, he did a good job of hiding it. He pressured Ornelas throughout and rarely absorbed any punishment.
"I didn't throw my left as much because I was worried about him countering me with his right," Shumenov said. "But I was pleased with my performance, and I'm happy with the win."
Don Chargin, a Hall of Fame promoter who is working with Shumenov, said despite the lack of a knockout, his fighter was impressive in light of the 11-month layoff and Shumenov's split with trainer Kevin Barry in September.
"He could have turned it on a little more at times, but all in all he did well enough that he deserves a shot at unifying the title," Chargin said. "We will continue to pursue that, whether it's with Cleverly or Dawson or Cloud."
Chargin said he wants Shumenov to fight again within three months, but won't force him to hire a full-time trainer. Dewey Cooper worked Shumenov's corner Saturday but is not his trainer of record.
"Whatever he feels comfortable doing is fine by me," Chargin said.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.