Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Friday Night Fights' 2011 Surge

Photo: AP

Us boxing junkies that have been waiting on a fix all week are used to watching helplessly as ESPN's Friday Night Fights is delayed by stuff like college softball and little league playoff games that run into the 13th inning. 

In fact, the last two Friday Night Fights cards of the season were delayed substantially by tennis.

But it was a small price to pay for this splendid season of our favorite Friday night boxing ritual. This year, ESPN had more action than a whorehouse on payday. 

Credit in part to ESPN's boxing programmer Doug Loughrey, along with promoters like Goossen-Tutor and Art Pellulo (and not to mention more licensing fee leeway), who kept solid matchups a-flowin', as in almost eight full months, there were only two Friday's where boxing wasn't on ESPN. 

We got five straight months of fights every Friday from March to August, and most were at least good on paper. 

That's good matchmaking from a boxing entity that actually does care about the fans, apparently. 


Since its inception in 1998, Friday Night Fights served as a platform for B-level guys, comebacking names and prospects, but also flaunted the occasional world class fighter or champion. 

That seemed to change in the early 2000's though, as debilitating budget cuts were made to ESPN's boxing department, and it clearly affected the quality of the matchups and subsequent action. 

It's not to suggest there weren't some solid collisions after the budget cuts, but Friday Night Fights was in a bit of a slump. 

Not this year. 


Last month began with awkward spoiler Sebastian Lujan seemingly taking a pounding from Filipino prospect Mark Melligen, only to out-last him despite taking the fight on a week's notice as a replacement for Freddie Hernandez. Lujan knocked him down four times en route to a 9th round stoppage. 

The following week saw late sub Francisco Sierra miss weight for the super middleweight bout with Jesus Gonzalez by 7 lbs., but the two made for a highly entertaining, if not sloppy, first half of the fight, as Sierra hit the deck in the 4th but floored Gonzalez in the following round, losing steam badly in the second half to lose a 12-round unanimous decision.

On July 15th, we got to watch as Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak beat the boots off each other over over 10 rounds that ended in a majority draw. Rodriguez may have deserved a win with slightly harder shots that seemed to land more flush, but the tenacity of Wolak - whose right eye sported a lovely hematoma for the last half of the fight - was something to behold. 

There was a slight lull in action the following week, and especially in comparison to Wolak-Rodriguez, but not a terrible show in and of itself. Anthony Dirrell marched right through outmatched Kevin Engel in the main event, but unbeaten prospect Joseph Elegele was handed his first loss in a fun scrap with Aaron Martinez in which Elegele hit the deck in the first round and was wobbled in the 7th. Martinez wound up winning a fair technical decision following a fight-ending headbutt. In a swing bout, Dushane Crooks and Greg Baca, with only one fight between them going in, swatted each other around in a messy 4-rounder that saw both guys falling around and off-balance - but in an entertaining way. 

Friday Night Fights in July ended with a thud, though. An IBF 140-lb. eliminator between Lamont Peteson and Victor Cayo ended in spectacular fashion after a routine and often-frustrating first 11 rounds, when Peterson began tagging Cayo with whipping right hands out of nowhere, slowed himself down, then proceeded to beat Cayo down near the end of the round. In the co-feature, we got a visit from our old friend referee Vic Drakulich, who DQ'd Edison Mirando for excessive low blows against Yordanis Despaigne just as the bout was becoming interesting and Miranda was surging back from being hurt badly early on. 


Unbeaten prospect Diego Magdaleno took on the outclassed Gilberto Sanchez Leon, who probably didn't have any business being near a main event showing. Magdaleno easily stopped him in 3. In the co-main, former title challenger Bernabe Concepcion wandered about the ring after unheralded Juan Carlos Martinez looking for a big shot, ultimately losing an absurd split decision - absurd that one judge actually had it for Concepcion, who looked terrible.

On the 13th, junior welterweight contender Kendall Holt stopped the slightly stale former contender Julio Diaz in 3 rounds with a huge left hook. The co-feature saw Jonathon Gonzalez motor his way to a 7th round stoppage over Rudy Cisneros in a fight that maybe shouldn't have gone as long. 

Explosive prospect turned gentle also-ran Joel Julio followed Anges Adjaho around the ring for 10 rounds and won a wide decision in the main event on May 20th. It was more Adjaho's doing, as he stymied Julio's offense and skipped around, but he complained about being "robbed" nonetheless. The other bout didn't excite much more either, as Sadam Ali took a fairly pedestrian 8-round decision over John Revish, and a 16-minute power outage during round 5 didn't help much. 

The last card of the month was an all-heavyweight Friday Night Fights. Does that require elaboration? Chris Arreola battered journeyman Kendrick Releford to score a 7th round stoppage, and Tony Thompson decked former Lennox Lewis sparring partner Maurice Harris three times before the fight was called off in round 3. 


June through early-July was a weird time in boxing - we saw idiotic decisions, abysmal officiating, you name it. And it wasn't in any way unique to Friday Night Fights. 

What makes controversies and the like particularly difficult to sit through on ESPN2, however, is having to suffer Teddy Atlas' melodramatic whining, as he repeats catchphrases and awkward metaphors to the tune of a really loud, grating violin. 

On June 3rd, Yudel Jhonson 1-2'd his way to a boring decision over Jose Miguel Torres, and not only did Teddy and Joe Tessitore talk other meaningless sports talk, but they kept referencing the fact that the fight was bad enough that they had to talk about other useless crap. Lightweight Walter Estrada took a decision over Tyrese Hendrix, who keeps finding his way onto television somehow, despite not really being that good. 

The second week in June, Irving Garcia was robbed of a win against 14-1 prospect Kenny Galarza in the main event. Garcia clearly out-boxed and busted up Galarza, almost closing his left eye. Instead two judges gave Galarza the fight to a chorus of boos. Thomas Dulorme cruised to an uninteresting decision win over a very shopworn Demarcus "Chop Chop" Corley on the undercard, seeming content to notch rounds on his belt. 

Grady Brewer scored what was considered an upset over then-unbeaten prospect Fernando Guerrero the following week, but Teddy felt it necessary to belabor the point that coming down in weight clearly didn't do Guerrero any good. He was probably right, but it was still annoying. Welterweight prospect Karim Mayfield pitched a virtual shutout over former lightweight Steve Forbes in the co-feature, before wobbling Forbes a bit in the 10th round and halting the former titlist, though Forbes was probably stopped a bit prematurely by referee Greg Alvarez. 

In June's last show on the 24th, Teddy went out of his way to show fans what a judge's perspective of a fight looks like, presumably in lieu of the recent questionable scoring. Fittingly, Mike Dallas Jr. out-boxed and out-foxed Mauricio Herrera over 10 rounds, beating him at his own game and, it seemed, clearly winning the bout. The judges disagreed, however, with one scoring the fight even and the others giving it to Herrera. In the main event, John Molina made his mediocre opponent look pretty good for a few rounds before Rob Frankel was stopped due to cuts and swelling in his corner after round 5. 


As usual, boxing fans will endure a lot for even fleeting moments of brilliance. We weren't forced to do that this season, though, as the Friday Night Fights program didn't become stagnant or a chore to watch, and the fights just kept coming. 

Teddy Atlas' irritating badgering quickly grows tiresome, but it's better that boxing is on television than not. And maybe Teddy has grown on us a smidge, even if it wasn't by choice. 

This season was very Cuban-heavy, which was both good and bad. Erislandy Lara has seemed to grow a bit on Friday Night Fights, and Yordanis Despaigne was in a few good scrapes. But Thomas Dulorme and Yudel Jhonson lacked spark despite attempts to push them along on the network. 

All in all, the new blood was a success. 

A few last requests:

       - Stop featuring Demetrius Andrade and his jab. When possible, just stick him on the un-televised portion of the undercard and give us a 15-second sum-up of how he jabbed the bejesus out of some guy. 

       - Antwone Smith, stop yelling.

       - Please refrain from showing Breidis Prescott simply because he stopped Khan a few years ago. He's gone limp in his last three straight Friday Night Fights appearances against Miguel Vazquez, Harrison Cuello and Bayan Jargal. He's not that dude. 

Thanks ESPN. 


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