Michael Zerafa has had the last laugh after setting himself up for a world title shot with his second-round stoppage of Issac Hardman in their middleweight showdown at the Melbourne Convention Centre.
Zerafa sent Hardman crashing to the deck with a left hook and while the Queenslander recovered, the referee stopped Wednesday night’s fight soon after with the 30-year-old landing a flurry of punches.
Zerafa didn’t even need a shower and was dressed and out the door within 30 minutes to start his celebrations.
On the back of the victory Zerafa becomes the world No.2 IBF contender and will now fight Brazil’s No.1-ranked contender Esquiva Falcao for the IBF belt in Melbourne later this year.
That opportunity came after unified world champion Gennady Golovkin opted to vacate the division and chase a third bout against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
The war of words is over.
Michael Zerafa solidifies his place as Australia's number one middleweight, halting Issac Hardman inside two rounds.
— Aus-Boxing.com (@ausboxing) April 20, 2022
Zerafa thanked the “haters” for spurring him on, with the 30-year-old taunted after his mysterious late withdrawal from last year’s fight against Tim Tszyu.
“To all the haters, thank you, thank you,” Zerafa said.
“I did this for you. I know you all doubted me and I wanted to come out here and show the world.
“I’m bringing a world title back to Melbourne.
“I’ve got a world title shot next and what’s Timmy doing?”
Zerafa said the fight had gone perfectly to plan, and could see he had the early edge.
“I knew, with my experience, he was making mistakes in the first round and he landed a nice shot but I stayed composed.
“I clipped him with that left hook and I knew he was gone.”
The Victorian veteran looked sharper in the opening exchanges, landing some jabs while Hardman barely threw a punch.
While he eventually made a move, Zerafa was a clear round-one winner.
The second only lasted one minute and 27 seconds before it was all over.
Hardman protested the referee’s call and had to be pulled away to his corner by his team but later conceded that Zerafa had got the better of him.
“He got me plain and simple,” said the 25-year-old former MMA fighter, whose record is now 12-1 (10KO)
“Mick got me and that’s boxing –.you win some and lose some. You win well and I’m going to lose well.
“There was a lot of beef … at the end of the day he got in here and punched my head in and I lost.”
The pair had engaged in verbal sparring in the build-up, with Zerafa accusing Hardman of being a racist, and it turned physical at the weigh-in when they had to be pulled apart.
Zerafa, whose record is 30-4 (18KO), said he knew he had Hardman’s number.
“I knew it was going to happen with my experience and my skills,” he told AAP.
“Credit to Issac because he’s a warrior but I backed my ability. Skills pay the bills.”