With just 146 pounds stuck to his 6'2½" frame, welterweight Mark Breland looked as though a sudden wind might knock him over. And, indeed, although the only breeze blowing through the Columbia (S.C.) Township Auditorium on Saturday was the air-conditioning, Breland found it difficult to stay on his feet during his scheduled 15-round bout with Marlon Starling, before finally going down to stay at 1:22 of the 11th round.
After 18 wins, Breland suffered his first loss as a professional in the first defense of the WBA title he had won last February from Harold Volbrecht of South Africa. Starling, 5½ inches shorter than Breland, watched bewildered as the champ fell to the canvas eight times after clinches. Referee Tony Perez cautioned Starling for pushing and penalized him a point in the sixth, but Breland appeared drained and listless during his first bout longer than 10 rounds. "Mark was going down not because I was pushing him," Starling said. "He was going down for a rest."
Breland drew blood from Starling's nose and mouth in the sixth round and was, in fact, ahead on all three judges' cards entering the 11th. Starling (now 42-4, with 26 knockouts) turned aggressor and backed Breland toward the ropes. Three hard rights followed by a solid left hook put Breland on the canvas, and Starling was the champ.
Afterward Breland said Starling's body punches had reinjured rib cartilage torn during training eight days earlier. That excuse sounded like nothing so much as a tactical move in an opening bid for a rematch.
When he wasn't on the ropes, the spindly Breland was picking himself up off the floor.