BOWIE — BOWIE - Left-hander Nikki Eplion told Laila Ali earlier last week that she would not only lift the super middleweight champion's International Boxing Association title, but also take "all of your houses, all of your money, everything you have away from you."
But Eplion left Prince George's Stadium empty-handed last night, as the youngest of Muhammad Ali's seven daughters took the challenger's heart by stopping her at the 1:30 mark of the fourth round.
Ali, 26, who is 17-0 with 14 knockouts, defended her 168-pound title for the fifth time before a crowd of more than 7,000. She is rated the No. 1 female fighter, pound-for-pound, by Ring magazine.
Using nearly every punch imaginable, Ali came forward behind mostly overhand rights that were followed by punches to the head and body. She dropped Eplion (12-2-2) twice in each of the third and fourth rounds, with the last one forcing referee Gary Camponeshi to stop the fight.
Booed by Ali fans at the opening bell, Eplion, her braided hair bouncing, attacked immediately. Although she nailed Ali with a flurry of punches as the champ covered up, that was the best Eplion had to offer. Ali rallied with a big right hook, then twice cornered the retreating Eplion and rocked her with several left-right combinations to the head and body to end the round.
"I knew she would come out after me that fast," Ali said. "She's my size. Of course, she came after me because I have those belts. She kept coming after me until she got cracked.
"I wanted to see what kind of shape she was in and what kind of power she had. She didn't hit me that much, but I did feel a few of her shots."
The second round was more of the same, with Eplion landing two left hands early before Ali trapped her in a corner. Ali landed 10 unanswered punches as the bell sounded.
An overhand right and left hook early in the third staggered Eplion, who dropped her hands and fell backward against the ropes. Ali, with the crowd chanting her last name, pursued her and dropped Eplion for the first of three standing-eight counts with an uppercut, a right cross, and an uppercut combination.
Ali was on her toes to start the fourth, pawing with her jab. An overhand right followed by a looping left dropped Eplion for the third time. She got up, but Ali quickly closed in to finish her off, firing relentlessly to the body before going to the head as Eplion collapsed to the canvas for the third and final time.
A steady drizzle delayed the scheduled 7 p.m. start of the event.
At 8:25, marketing director Phil Wrye announced a decision by promoter Marty Wynn of Raging Promotions and Baysox general manager Mike Munter to start with the main event at 9, followed by the rest of the card in reverse. The Ali-Eplion fight actually began at 9:40.
"The truth about it is that I didn't want the fight to go very long," said Ali, who had a new trainer, Buddy McGirt, for last night's bout. "It was raining hard, and for me, it was tough to get focused. I didn't want to spend five or six rounds going after her. That's why I wanted to make it quick."
In addition to putting her super middleweight crown on the line against Eplion, 25, of South Point, Ohio, Ali risked a lucrative payday July 30.
That's when Ali will return, for the second time in her career, to her father's hometown of Louisville, Ky., for a shot at the Women's International Boxing Association light heavyweight title, held by Gwendolyn O'Neal (9-3-1) of Georgetown, Guyana.
That fight, on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Danny Williams heavyweight bout, "was simply an opportunity that we couldn't pass up," according to Ali's husband and promoter, Yahya McClain.
In last night's co-feature, World Boxing Organization junior bantamweight (115 pounds) Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson (44-3) of Washington won a 10-round, unanimous decision over Paulino Villalobos (23-25-2) in a non-title fight.
Johnson announced Wednesday that he was optimistic that negotiations between his manager, James Prince, and promoter Don King would yield a lucrative bout with International Boxing Federation king Luis Perez.
But a frustrated Johnson said talks stalled on the Perez fight, in addition to those with Eric Morel, the WBO's No. 2 contender.