Make no mistake, it was with great anticipation that I readied myself for the 2009 Friday Night Fights finale. But as the action unfolded at the Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywoods, Florida, and two title fights were contested, I was left a bit bummed. Because I believe that Friday Night Fights should be, and easily could be, putting on cards such as this one week-in, week out, if certain powers that be gave boxing its due.
Both scraps were entertaining, and all four men involved gave solid accounts of themselves. In the main event, Colombian Juan Urango kept hold of his IBF 140 pound crown, as he scored two knockdowns in the ninth, and another in the tenth, before Randall Bailey’s corner threw in the towel at 1:51 of the 11th round. In the support faceoff, viewers saw Tavoris Cloud exert his strength and freshness enroute to a decision win over rugged Brit veteran Clinton Woods. Hopefully, ESPN will throw some more money in the pot to get better fights, and promoters get a bit more inventive in staging shows that take in money from other sources besides the cabler.
Urango (139 pounds; age 28; from Colombia, living in Florida) was 21-2-1, with 16 KOs coming in, while challenger Bailey (139 ½ pounds; from Florida; age 34; two-time 140 pound titlist) was 39-6, with 35 KOs entering. Bailey won his first belt in 1999, but was 11-1 up to this scrap, so it’s not like he was a shopworn vet brought in to lay down. Urango, trained by Evangelista Cotto, had taken possession of the title with his win over Herman Ngoudjo in January.
In the first round, the lefty Urango came forward, head low. Bailey clanged a right off his noggin, just to let him know what he’d be facing in the ensuing rounds. It was a quiet first round. In round two, Bailey was again controlled, studying his foe, breaking down his tendencies, figuring out where and when to drop the right-hand hammer. Urango warmed up, and sat down more on his shots. In the third, Bailey, trained by John David Jackson, popped a rhythmic jab, not meant to inflict damage, but rather to just set up his right hand behind it. He fired and then looked to get out of range. Urango bore in, and winged mostly wide shots. He likes to bring the left underneath, and he did so on Bailey, targeting his stomach. In the fourth, both men were loose. Urango, the busier boxer, fired angry shots, many wide and errant. In the fifth round, Bailey used the ring to his advantage. He had Urango chasing him. In the sixth, Bailey dropped Urango, with a right counter, a minute in. He got up, at nine, and there was a cut under the Colombian’s left eye. Bailey too went down, as his glove hit the canvas to help him keep his balance after Urango bopped him, but the ref missed it. It looked Urango’s legs and desire were still present, though, and he marched on. In the seventh, Urango looked to even the score with a southpaw launch. In the eighth, he slammed Bailey with a right, and kept in his face, kept on trudging forward. It looked like Bailey might be losing his legs a tiny bit. In the ninth, Bailey went down at 2:20, off of a left counter, right down the pike. He got up at nine plus. He then held on, but again, was sent to the canvas, from a clubbing left. Again, he grabbed on for dear life. More than a minute remained, could he finish the round? After multiple clinches, he did. He went to his corner, his left eye cut and swollen. To the 10th. Bailey kept his wits, and kept distance between him and the muscleman. But his energy dipped, and a left and another left and a right to the body landed, and Bailey went to a knee with 45 seconds to go, for Urango’s third knockdown. His legs were betraying him. In the 11th, Bailey fell to the floor after a clinch, no knockdown. But his corner saw his status, and threw in the towel. Bless them. They saw Bailey with minimal juice left, possibly in a place to get hurt, and pulled the plug.
In the TV opener, cousin Clinton Woods (42-4-1 entering, with 25 KOs; fighting for the third time in the US; from England; age 37; 173 ½ pounds; No. 2 in IBF ), a former light heavy champion, met Tavoris Cloud (19-0 entering, with 18 KOs; from Florida; No. 1 in IBF; 174 pounds; age 27). The vacated IBF light heavyweight title was up for grabs. Would the vet Woods, used to competing on big stages, show the world that Cloud’s record was puffed up and padded? Or would Cloud put a final nail in the career coffin for Woods, who’d contemplated retirement after a conclusive loss to Antonio Tarver last year. After twelve busy rounds, anyone watching had to think that not even Gale Van Hoy could screw this up, and this was so: the judges did the right thing, and awarded Cloud a decision victory, by scores of 116-112. TSS gave cousin Woods just two rounds and had one even, but hey, they at least got the right guy, even if the margins were a bit tighter than one might’ve thought.
Cloud came out banging, but the vet Woods stayed cool; he’d faced down flurries like that before. Cloud came off like the quicker, hungrier man in the first. In the second, Woods looked to be first more. It worked, Cloud looked like a rook, being picked apart by a seasoned hitter. Cloud didn’t fold, though. He kept at the jab, and at the end of the round, scored with an uppercut. Cloud took the lead in the third, to start. He used his legs more, a good idea against the 37-year-old, I’d say. Woods connected with an uppercut at the 1:20 mark, but Cloud was imposing his will and strength on the elder. In the fourth, we wondered if the less seasoned man could keep up the pace? Had he shot his wad somewhat? Woods wanted to land a lead left hook to this point, and Cloud had been slipping it, but as he slowed down, that hook hit. But Cloud didn’t drop off too much, he still slung the jab and power rights. He mixed in left hooks above the hip bone, as well. Woods used wily vet tricks, shoving off with his forearm, and winging little rabbit punches intermittently in round five. In the sixth, Woods was in retreat mode too much, and that was because Cloud was bringing it to him. Flush rights landed, but Woods didn’t seem all that phased by them. Would that resilience be present later? In round seven, Cloud looked the fresher man early on. He trapped Woods on the ropes, and went to work, but with a veteran’s smarts, didn’t get over-excited or sloppy, and get tagged by a counter. In the eighth, we saw Cloud continue to try and chop down Woods, and it looked like he was getting closer to maybe dropping the Brit. Cloud pinned him in the corner, and whaled away for 30 seconds, with Woods answering just often enough to keep the ref at bay. Woods would have been well served to tie Cloud up some, but that’s not his way. In round nine, a nasty right hit Clint on the chin. He didn’t drop, though. And darn it, as Cloud grabbed a few extra breaths, Woods tosses still flew. He wasn’t going to make it easy for the Floridian. In the 10th, Cloud scored with left hooks, and again mashed Woods on the ropes to absorb punishment. In the 11th, with his left eye puffed, Woods couldn’t quite muster the urgency to strain for the kayo. Cloud played it smart, but still threw with vicious intent to clearly win the round. In round 12, Cloud needed only to stay conscious to win the belt. He did so, and prepared to soak up the joy as the strapped on his new belt. All in all, a fine scrap, and both men deserve ample praise for their efforts. The stats smiled on Cloud: he went 371-1113, to Woods’ 265-677.
You might recall that Chad Dawson had this IBF belt, and gave it up because there was no money in fighting Cloud; maybe now Dawson might give him a crack next year. I see Dawson being too skilled form the outside for Cloud, but I don’t think the Floridian would be in over his head.
SPEEDBAG Where was Tess? Joe Tessitore missed the finale, and someone named Bob Wischusen filled in for Tess. Nothing against Wisch, but we missed Tess! He was getting ready to call the Travers Stakes in Saratoga Springs on Saturday.
--Brian Kenny was also missing from the finale. Kevin Connors, his fill-in, said he was “on assignment.”
---Urango mentioned Tim Bradley as someone in his sites.