by Fox Doucette
It would seem that 70 pro fights might very well be the limit for Glen Johnson (51-17-2, 35 KOs) as he showed every one of his 43 years in a lopsided unanimous decision loss to Andrzej Fonfara (22-2, 12 KOs) at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. In the co-feature, Jose Luis Castillo (64-11-1, 55 KOs) got a lot of help from a no-balls referee in an eight-round TKO victory over club fighter Ivan Popoca (15-2-1, 10 KOs).
The main event was an exercise in tragedy. Johnson came out strong, landed the cleaner, harder punches, did an excellent job on defense, banked rounds…then fell apart badly, looking closer to 83 than 43 after about the seventh round. The young Polish fighter, Fonfara, figured out how to loop his right hand around the guard of Johnson and started doing some meaningful damage as early as the third.
Johnson did show some pop in his punches; perhaps he exposed a weak chin in Fonfara (the same guy who fell in knockout defeat to Derrick Findley on FNF four years ago) because every time Johnson landed a clean jab, Fonfara’s head snapped back like he’d eaten a cross from a Klitschko brother. From a scorer’s point of view, a case can be made that Johnson was simply landing the cleaner, more effective punches until that seventh round. Indeed, your columnist had this one 96-94 for Johnson.
However, that was a minority viewpoint. One judge had it a preposterous hometown 99-91 decision for Fonfara, but the other two judges, plus this publication’s own editor-in-chief had it 97-93, and Teddy Atlas had it 97-94 with the first round even. For the 24-year-old Fonfara, this is a nice feather in his cap; for Johnson, this should probably be the end of the road before he ends up moving up to cruiserweight and fighting Denis Lebedev like Roy Jones and James Toney did when they were embarrassingly too old to be effective.
In the co-feature, Ivan Popoca looked like a guy who was in a fight on Friday the 13th; indeed, he looked like he’d spent the day having sex in a cabin, walking in the woods unattended, entering a room without turning on the light first, and trying to run from a killer in a hockey mask. To say he was bloody is to say that a properly done steak is “red in the middle”. Sure, it’s factually accurate, but it misses the essential element of the description. And just as a properly done steak should have enough life left in it to raise an objection when you stab it with a knife, so too was Ivan Popoca’s face so bloody that it would not have been out of bounds to ask the question of whether Castillo would have to even knock him out before he simply fainted from blood loss.
All of the above having been said, the cuts were superficial. Sure, Popoca bled like he’d been attacked with a cheese grater, but the cuts were not bleeding directly into his eyes, nor were the cuts so deep as to pose a threat to his continued health. This wasn’t Chuck Wepner against Sonny Liston, nor was it Sebastian Lujan’s ear against Antonio Margarito. As the doctor at ringside said, “he’s a bloody mess, but he can continue”, thereby making the second straight year where a mid-July ESPN event incited a great quip from an official. A year ago this Sunday, Steve Smoger said “it’s ugly, but I don’t mind” about Pawel Wolak’s super-sized mouse under his right eye in the first Delvin Rodriguez fight.
The trouble is that nobody told referee Pete Podgorski to grow a pair. With Jose Luis Castillo having hurt and possibly broken the only weapon he has left in his left hand, the same left hand that had put Popoca on the floor in round two after badly hurting him in round one, with Popoca having turned southpaw and found tremendous success after having been rocked from the orthodox position, with the fight turning into one of the most genuinely entertaining scraps on ESPN this year, a faint echo of Diego Corrales’ ghost looking on approvingly from the afterlife, the fans howling for more blood, a puncher’s chance always a possibility…
Podgorski stopped the fight. There has never in the history of boxing been a fight where a stoppage in an entertaining scrap made the fight better. When a referee stops a fight, it should be to protect the fighter from himself (Duk Koo Kim and Bee Scottland, looking on from Valhalla, would no doubt agree), or else to put a stop to something that is rapidly becoming more scary than enjoyable. Steve Smoger set the example for all others to follow, the ringside doctor gave his OK…and Pete Podgorski, bereft of testicular fortitude, punked out and deprived the fans of a potential tremendous finish.
His excuse? Ivan Popoca “had no chance to win.” Well, hell, if that’s going to be your rationale, we should stop any fight that makes it past the seventh round with one fighter way ahead on the cards. Roman Karmazin’s miracle tenth-round comeback over Dionisio Miranda, Diego Corrales coming back from the dead in the tenth round of his first fight with Castillo, Micky Ward knocking out Alfonso Sanchez with one vicious body shot in a fight that he was frankly getting his ass kicked? Denis Grachev’s win over Ismayl Sillakh on FNF earlier this year? If guys like Podgorski got their way, none of those fights would have been allowed to reach their conclusion. For love of the gods and the good of the sport, let those guys fight unless they’re about to get killed in there. This isn’t pillow fighting. This is boxing.
Friday Night Fights returns next week, as Juan Carlos Burgos (29-1, 19 KOs) takes on Cesar Vazquez (25-0, 16 KOs) in a junior lightweight main event. The co-feature brings Prenice Brewer (16-2-1, 6 KOs), his status as a prospect in tatters, trying to salvage what’s left of his reputation and career against light-punching welterweight Aaron Martinez (17-1-1, 4 KOs). That card airs next Friday, July 20th, at 9 PM Eastern/6 PM Pacific on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com. The Boxing Tribune will have your coverage every step of the way. Stay tuned—we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. He’s graduating from the coveted “men age 18-34” demographic on Monday, so wish him a happy 35th. Fan mail, hate mail, and ice cream cake can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.