by Fox Doucette
Novac called. It wants its dinosaur back. Claude Bell’s plaster blasts from the past formed the backdrop for ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights this week in Cabazon, California, and anyone who spent the night playing Fallout: New Vegas instead of watching the fights? They didn’t miss anything. But the diehards who watch every fight, every week, every time? Let’s dive right in and see what we got tonight.
The main event was a laugher and a mismatch, as Anthony Dirrell (23-0, 20 KOs) showed Kevin Engel (18-5, 15 KOs) what happens when working the speedbag means something completely different in the ring from what it means in the gym. It was a baseball game in action—two balls, one strike, and a walk-off home run. Teddy Atlas predicted that the fight wouldn’t go past the third round, and Engel had already been dropped earlier in the second before the end came in round two. A TKO win for Dirrell, a lot of grousing from the peanut gallery, and a “search the parking lot, we need a swing fight” later and we were all left cold by the main event.
The bigger issue here is that Engel got robbed. Yeah, he would’ve lost the fight eventually, if not right away in the second then in any of the eight rounds to follow. No, he didn’t have a prayer in hell of winning the fight—it was over before it started. But the rules are quite clear on this; when a fight ends due to a foul and the foul is not intentional, prior to the beginning of the fourth round the fight must be ruled a no-contest. California commission, this is on you. Step in, reverse the result of this fight, rule it an NC, and preserve the sanctity of the rules and the integrity of the sport. This is about respect and credibility, and since Dirrell did not win cleanly, rules are rules, and he should not be given the TKO.
The co-feature pitted Joseph Elegele (12-1, 10 KOs) against short-notice replacement Aron Martinez (14-1-1, 3 KOs), who fought on such short notice that he was not announced as the opponent until after the Tuesday preview went to press. ESPN’s commentators pointed out that Al Haymon manages both Elegele and his original opponent, prospect Lanard Lane, so it should not come as a surprise that the fight did not go off as originally planned. Haymon doesn’t seem quite ready to throw Lane to the wolves.
The short-notice play backfired badly for Elegele’s people, however. The big (6’0, 145 pounds) African went down in the first round, although Martinez was holding Elegele behind the head out of sight of the referee and teeing off on him for the entire final minute of the first round before the knockdown. Referee Tony Crebs needs to be shown the video of that fight and taught that at that point he needs to step in and break the fighters for the safety of the guy who has been tied up.
The knockdown became relevant, because when Elegele made a bloody mess of Martinez’s forehead with a headbutt that cut the Argentine fighter down to the muscle, the fight went to the judges’ scorecards. This writer had it 76-75 for Elegele, but the judges at ringside had it 77-74 (twice) and 76-75 for Martinez, giving him a unanimous decision and handing the African his first loss in the pro ranks. The difference between this writer’s scorecard and the ringside judges (and Teddy Atlas, who had it 78-74 Martinez) hinged on rounds five and six; the question came down to whether Elegele’s higher work rate and more frequent punching was enough to offset the harder, shorter punches landed by Martinez. This was not a bad decision, as all scores fell within the plausible range of outcomes given the action in the ring.
We got a double dose of swing fights tonight. The first fight taught viewers and young fighters what happens when you leave your feet and bunny hop around the ring rather than staying planted on terra firma. Kurtiss Colvin (6-0, 5 KOs) caught Cleveland Ishe (3-2, 1 KO) leaving his feet and planted a sweeping punch right on his kisser. With no anchorage to the ground, the laws of physics took over and Ishe somersaulted upon landing on his back and took the eight count; shortly thereafter a barrage of punches by Colvin put the fight out of contention and caused referee Lou Moret to wave it off at 1:24 of the third round.
The final swing fight was a carnival sideshow, with defense an afterthought for both fighters. Ring announcer Tom Treiber could have put his script away and gone with a Barnum-esque approach on this one. Step right up, take your best swing, ring the bell, and win a prize. Dushane Crooks (2-0, 1 KO) took on a very green Greg Baca (0-1) and showed him what happens when you make your pro debut with almost no amateur fights and not much in the way of skill. Crooks dropped Baca in the first round, then carried the bulk of the action through the rest of the fight. A couple of solid shots in the third gave Baca his moment of dignity and sole round on the scorecards, and his inability to keep his mouthpiece in his mouth cost him a point in round four. When all the scores were counted, all three judges plus The Boxing Tribune had the bout 39-35 in favor of Crooks.
One wonders if ESPN2 wasn’t just saving its pennies after paying for last week’s Rodriguez-Wolak fight and next week’s Lamont Peterson-Victor Cayo showdown. This had all the makings of “well, we have to show something, but don’t spend too much on it, would you?” You take the good with the bad, however. Next week’s fights, on Teddy Atlas’s 57th birthday, should be a great present not only for Atlas but for the fans. Besides Peterson-Cayo, we will get Edison Miranda against Yordanis Despaigne in the co-feature. This will be a card that is absolutely not to be missed. The fights air in their usual slot on ESPN2, ESPN3.com, and right out there in your living room on ESPN 3D. The Boxing Tribune will have full coverage, reliable as a jab from a Klitschko brother.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and Boone’s 1st Recon beret can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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