Nigerian heavyweight prospect Efe Ajagba made heavy weather of outpointing Jonathan Rice on his Top Rank debut over 10 rounds inside the bubble in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
The 26-year-old Ajagba (now 14-0 with 11 wins inside distance) had been vocal in recent weeks about his desire to one day face Anthony Joshua for the world heavyweight title.
But that dream looked a long way off as he failed to produce fireworks on his ESPN+ bow for Bob Arum’s promotion behemoth.
Ajagba duly did claim the win to maintain his unbeaten record, with Max DeLuca scoring it 98-92 while Adelaide Byrd and Dave Moretti both had it 99-91.
The 33-year-old Rice, who hails from Los Angeles, had been expected to provide Ajagba with another opportunity to really impress the heavyweight division.
But despite dominating behind a stiff jab, he was unable to provide the fireworks required to close the show inside distance. Rice meanwhile put up a very durable effort, coming on stronger in the closing rounds as Ajagba laboured somewhat.
The Nigerian is clearly being built with a view to a world heavyweight title shot some day, but on this evidence much more variety and venom is required before he can realistically start to think about taking on the elite of the division.
Ajagba signed a promotional agreement with Top Rank in August, having spent much of his career appearing on PBC (Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions) cards.
Ajagba is currently ranked 14 by the World Boxing Council (WBC) in its latest heavyweight rankings, while the World Boxing Association (WBA) has him at number 12.
Saturday’s bout was the first for Ajagba under the tutelage of new trainer Kay Koroma. He had previously been trained by Ronnie Shields.
It remains to be seen now whether Arum and Top Rank will look to try and get Ajagba out again before the end of 2020.