THE talent-laden welterweight division became even more explosive following impressive performances by Jaron Ennis and Radzahab “The Python” Butaev on a Showtime/PBC card at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas on Saturday (October 30).

Philadelphian “Boots” Ennis did exactly what a rising star should do when matched with an inferior opponent, knocking out Thomas Dulorme in the opening round. A lot of boxers can punch hard, a lot can move well, and some can do both. “Boots” seems to have also mastered the all the nuances between the two. He is one of those fighters who could turn out to be very special, but right now it’s still a guessing game.

Butaev, a Russian fighting out of Brooklyn, battered Jamal “Shango” James into a ninth-round stoppage. Pythons crush their prey to death but Butaev is all about punch, chin and determination, a tough guy who isn’t afraid to get take a risk. He entered the ring wearing a wig – not a hat, a wig –that looked like he had a Russian Afro. He took it off right before the opening bell, revealing his real hair, and put it back on before the post-fight interview.

James, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, looked good for the first few rounds, moving spritely away from the onrushing Butaev and connecting with clean, crisp punches. If he could have kept it up for 12 rounds he would probably have won, and if there was any foreshadowing of James’ eventual demise in the early going it was that his punches did little to discourage the Russian.

Towards the end of the third round Butaev got inside, landed a few body shots and the 33-year-old James suddenly look uncomfortable, and the first bit of doubt crept across his face.

Butaev, 27, landed a leaping overhand right in the fourth that rattled James and began a three-round sweep in Butaev’s favour. He worked over James whenever he got him on the ropes, but even mid-ring where James had room to fire back, all he had left was arm punches and guts.

Referee Celestino Ruiz became a nuisance starting in the fifth round when he docked Butaev a point for landing a punch when James had his back turned after they had spun out of clinch. It was a borderline call but as the bout wore on Ruiz often interfered by breaking the boxers when they weren’t in a clinch. To make matters worse, it always occurred when the Russian was getting the better of it.

In the seventh and eighth rounds Butaev continually chased James into the ropes, where he lambasted him with overhand rights to the head and wicked hooks to the body. Even though he was fighting back, it seemed clear that James would not last much longer. He might not have survived the eighth if referee Ruiz hadn’t separated them three times for no apparent reason.

James’ face was lumpy and marked up when he answered the bell for the ninth. He was bone tired and hurting, a hangdog look on face. Butaev showed no mercy, pouring on the punishment until the referee stopped what had become a one-side beating at the 2-12 mark.

“Tonight was very important. It was a big step for me,” Butaev said through an interpreter, “but I believe my best is ahead of me.”

Ennis, 24, wasted no time disposing of Dulorme, a native of Guadeloupe fighting out of Puerto Rico. A whistling right landed in back of Dulorme’s left ear and floored him early in the round. He beat referee Mike Ortega’s count and indicated he was willing to fight on, but his equilibrium was scrambled.

“Boots” let his punches fly, and when Dulorme, 31, countered with a flush right to the jaw, Ennis didn’t seem to notice. Instead he unleashed a three-punch combination (left-right-left) that put Dulorme down for the 10-count at 1-49 of the first round.

“It was a good knockout,” Ennis said, “but you know me, I wanted to show my skills but as long as I win that’s okay with me. I was ready to fight the best two years ago. I’m taking over the welterweight division.”

When pressed to choose who he would most like to fight next, Ennis replied, “Errol Spence.”

The Verdict The welterweight division adds two more names to its roster of exciting talent