By Fox Doucette
Rising junior lightweight contender Juan Carlos Burgos (29-1, 19 KOs) retained his minor belt and continued his ascent through the WBC rankings with a unanimous decision win over former IBF featherweight champion Cristobal Cruz (39-13-1, 23 KOs) in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights series. In the co-feature, journeyman Manuel Perez (17-7-1, 4 KOs) got a trinket and a night in the spotlight with an upset decision win over Edgar Santana (26-4, 17 KOs).
The main event may as well have been Boxing On Ice, as there were two knockdowns (one in the sixth when Cruz hit the floor and one in the ninth when Burgos got caught flush with a crisp jab right on the chin) to go along with an array of slips, tumbles, and awkward breaks from clinches. When the fighters managed to remain upright, Burgos generally was able to control distance, frustrate his opponent, and maintain a higher work rate throughout the fight.
Cristobal Cruz looked like what he is–a guy with 56 pro fights (including a no-contest along with his record) who is 34-years-old and doesn’t have his legs under him anymore. At least two of the falls that were ruled slips, one in the third round and the other in the seventh, looked an awful lot like knockdowns. In each case referee Gary Rosato said that the punches that appeared to land and send Cruz down came after Cruz had slipped and fallen off balance; this is a very dubious assertion given the apparent sequence of cause and effect on replay.
Despite this, Cruz nearly managed to steal this fight. Besides the flash knockdown in the ninth that gave him a 10-8 round, Cruz also fought in a spirited fashion in the tenth. Had Cruz been able to open up earlier, he might have done more to ruin the younger man’s night. Burgos did not respond well to pressure; his jab was virtually nonexistent throughout the night, and it was mainly Cruz’s awkward attempts to get inside that enabled Burgos to land the counter shots.
When the fight was said and done, judges Julie Lederman and Steve Weisfeld both had it 96-92, seven rounds to three including the knockdowns, for Burgos, while infamously incompetent judge Pierre Benoist went 98-90 (a truly preposterous score) for the winner as well. The Boxing Tribune had it 95-93 for Burgos while ESPN’s Teddy Atlas had it 95-94 for Cristobal Cruz, scoring the first round even and giving Cruz more credit than he probably deserved for landing harder punches when Burgos was in retreat.
The co-feature was another case of a bigger man not knowing how to use his size to his advantage. Edgar Santana is a natural junior welterweight who has fought seven pounds above that weight and held his own. Manuel Perez is a featherweight who has moved up in weight over the years to take fights. This should have been a mismatch in size and power; not only was Perez the smaller man, but his knockout percentage suggested that Santana had very little to fear from him.
Perez used Santana’s lack of a jab to his advantage, walking Santana down, leaning his shoulder into the body of his opponent, and pounding away downstairs, landing an impressive output of body shots that slowed down the bigger man over the course of ten rounds. From about the fifth round onward, Santana’s frustration was evident as Perez continued to hit him and score on the inside; Santana did not win a round (with the debatable exception of the tenth) on the back end of the fight.
When the scores came down, all three judges had it 96-94 for the underdog journeyman, while Teddy Atlas had it 97-93 and your columnist scored it 98-92 for Perez as well. This was a good win for the kid. Whatever one may say about the value of trinkets like the NABA championship that was on the line in this bout, Manuel Perez has every right to feel like a champion and get some reward for a good upset on national television.
With both fights going their ten-round distances and the start of the broadcast delayed 20 minutes for a basketball game, there was no time for any swing fights on TV tonight; FNF has seriously lacked for four-rounders this year.
Next week, the traveling pugilistic circus heads to the Westin Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, just outside Miami, for another junior welterweight clash, this one between Joan Guzman (31-0-1, 18 KOs) and Jesus Pabon (17-2, 11 KOs). The co-feature is at welterweight, pitting Ed Paredes (29-3-1, 19 KOs) against Cosme Rivera (34-14-3, 24 KOs.) That card airs on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com at 9 PM Eastern/6 Pacific on Friday, March 2nd, and The Boxing Tribune will have a full recap of the night’s televised action, including any swing fights that make air, following the conclusion of the broadcast.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and an ounce of whatever Delvin Rodriguez was smoking when he scored all of the first eight rounds for Burgos on ESPN Deportes can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Seriously, Delvin. You sure you didn’t take one too many shots to the head from Pawel Wolak?