Five fighters walked onto this week's Friday Night Fights broadcast undefeated -- a lineup more like the ideal ShoBox card than any of the cards we've gotten from ESPN of late. Actually, it seemed more like an ideal ShoBox card than we've gotten from a ShoBox program itself so far this season.
Even better, it was fun.
We don't necessarily need title fights, big names, comebacking former stars or any other fistic gimmick if the match ups are fair and the action is sweet.
Following a highlight reel-caliber knockout and a solid swing bout, a number of fans delightfully cringed with a sense of strange karma in pocket as Denis Grachev bounced back from likely being shutout, to catch Ismayl Sillakh and pummel him into submission in eight rounds.
To be fair to the aforementioned ShoBox, their triple-header following Friday Night Fights was a very good one. But the point is our expectations have been lowered and our guard raised when it comes to early weekend cards this year.
Unlike last week's opening bout that saw Noe Gonzalez stopped a bit early, according to many, at the hands of Adonis Stevenson, Yuandale Evans rose from an early knockdown, plainly wobbled, and continued. But rather than a Hollywood comeback, shocking rally, or even just a vaguely whine-worthy stoppage, this week the affected fighter was finished brutally and without ambiguity.
Fortuna and Evans both opened up tactically in this southpaw vs. southpaw match up, both looking for surprise lead hooks and jabs from range. A nice left from Fortuna a ways into the round seemed to make Evans' glove touch the canvas and buzz him momentarily, but a follow up assault, punctuated by a big left, was too much for Evans, who hit the deck hard. He was up before the count ended, but was somehow allowed to continue despite not being able to balance himself away from the ropes. Fortuna knew his range when action resumed though, and finished Evans with another thudding left hand that prompted a merciful ref stoppage.
It's tough to really take much from the performance but that Fortuna swings freely and can clearly put devastating shots together when he smells blood. Evans showed guts not only getting up from that first knockdown, but also chucking a few shots back and trying to fight his way out of trouble. The loss may prove to be a rough setback for Evans, who fought six times last year but is now on track to fight maybe half that this year. Where Fortuna goes, who cares? Just put him on television.
Unsurprisingly, the early ending opened the door for a lengthy discussion about tomorrow night's light heavyweight bout, Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson II. However, you'd be much better off reading TQBR general Tim Starks' preview here than listening to a bunch of pseudo-psychoanalytical jibber jabber. No, really. You would.
The swing bout had welterweight Randy Fuentes, now 2-0-1 (0 KO), outclassing awkward kid John Montes, whose record fell to 1-2 (1 KO).
Montes mostly resembled a homeless man's Antonio Margarito, landing some smacking shots from the outside, many of which wound up hitting Fuentes in the back of the head they were so wide. Fuentes showed some solid body work throughout, even though Montes was able to land a hard uppercut that appeared to make Fuentes hesitate in the 2nd. That was perhaps his biggest moment though, as he ate leather consistently in the last two rounds, and from a distance in the 4th as Fuentes danced and angled away. A few around-the-world punches from Montes found a home later in the 4th, drawing some cheers from the crowd, but judges scored the bout 40-36, 40-35 and 39-36, all for Fuentes.
Fuentes, a Texan who also trains and competes in mixed martial arts, is likely still at the four round level, as he appeared ready to catch a few breathers in the closing moments of the fight. His style was usually entertaining though, and his lack of a classy defense should make him fun to watch.
According to ESPN commentator Bernardo Osuna, light heavyweight Ismayl Sillakh was tabbed at 11-1 to beat former kickboxer Denis Grachev, and the odds were playing out accurately for much of the fight.
Through the 1st and 2nd rounds, Sillakh, now 17-1 (14 KO), used his length and jab to control the much shorter Grachev from the outside, as the Russian followed straight lines with rhythmic predictability. Grachev was able to land to the body without issue, but getting there, he took stinging shots.
The rangier Sillakh poleaxed with his jab in the 3rd, controlling just about every inch of the ring until dropping Grachev with a stiff right hand behind a jab with about a minute remaining. He spent the last bit of the round chopping with punches rather than stepping into anything, and Grachev survived the round.
Grachev tried in vain to make something happen over the next few rounds, but made his noggin a painfully available target for one of Sillakh's uppercuts, which he curiously never seemed to commit to. Grachev would occasionally find a right hand lead or counter a jab with a pushing right, but they all seemed too little, too late, and he had been losing rounds in succession. Sillakh had begun droning out rounds at a comfortable pace.
But a sleepy 8th round for Sillakh walked him into a damaging right hand with about a minute left in the round that clearly stunned him and sent him him back-first to the ropes slowly. Grachev stepped up and unleashed about twenty unanswered shots, most of which landed flush, and Sillakh fell sideways to the canvas, breaking his own fall with the ropes, leading to a referee stoppage at 2:18 of the round.
The end was so abrupt that nobody really had an opportunity to complain about a quick stoppage.
Denis Grachev's record improved to 12-0-1 (8 KO). Now based out of San Diego, the elated Russian took a nice licking and kept on ticking until he was able to ring Sillakh's bell. There's not much to praise in his favor over the first seven or so rounds, though his gritty come-from-behind stoppage has to at least be worth another television date. Fighting through swollen eyebrows and basking in Sillakh's range for about 20 straight minutes of combat is admirable, but probably doesn't bode well for his chances against someone more durable.
And speaking of which, Sillakh, now fighting out of Southern California likely was affected by consecutive long layoffs between fights, having fought twice in the last 12 months coming into the bout. Furthermore, his style is unorthodox and he likely could have pressed the issue, but didn't. Wins over Yordanis Despaigne and Daniel Judah aren't altogether top notch, but they're good, and the momentum he'd gotten from them was squandered a bit.
But if some squandering is all we have to endure to get some good fights from ESPN, by all means, guys...squander away.
It's not that often anymore that we can say with a straight face that a full night of fights was entertaining, and it's not that it's being taken for granted here. But please, boxing gods, see fit to have Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson II follow suit?
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