There was plenty of action on Friday night as Fox Sports, ESPN, Telefutura and Showtime all got into the act of feeding fight fans with competitive bouts as an appetizer to an even bigger day Saturday. Some have talked about the sport and business of boxing struggling, but with four networks broadcasting the night before HBO and Showtime events it seems we are doing just fine after all.
Saturday night Miguel Cotto 25-0 (21 KOs) and Gianluca Branco (36-1-1, 19 KOs) clash for Cotto’s WBO Junior Welterweight bout on HBO. Also, Showtime headlines with an intriguing championship fight of their own as Super Middleweight Jeff Lacy (21-0, 17 wins via the short route) goes abroad to defend his IBF and IBO titles in Manchester, England when he meets undefeated WBO champion Joe Calzaghe (40-0, 31 KOs). During the early hours Saturday 44-2-1 (33 KOs) Juan Manuel Marquez meets slick Chris John (36-0-1, 20 KOs) outdoors in Indonesia for the WBA Featherweight strap while in Japan Yutaka Niida defends his WBA Minimumweight belt against Colombian Ronald Barrera (14-1-1, 8 KOs). In Germany, talented banger Arthur Abraham will look to stop Aussie Shannon Taylor (42-4-2, 28 KOs) as the undefeated IBF Middleweight champ Abraham boasts 17 KO victories in 19 fights.
That is a nice slate of action for fights fans; it’s a good thing there’s no such thing as “too much” boxing.
Friday night was another frightful experience for snake-bitten Canadian heavyweight Kirk Johnson as Fox Sports Net brought us more boxing from Pechanga Resort and Casino in California. Johnson was in the ring against tough Mexican Javier Mora and landing clean heavy punches for the better part of three-plus rounds. It looked as if it was a matter of “when” the former world title challenger would stop Mora 20-2-1 (18 KOs), not a question of “if” he would. Things got closer in the fifth and sixth rounds as Johnson seemed to slow down and did not let his hands go as much as in previous rounds.
A fight that Johnson should have been in control of was suddenly close but Kirk suffered another setback in the seventh. As KJ began establishing his superior hand speed and accuracy once again, the two fighters met near the middle of the ring and Mora accidentally stepped on Johnson’s lead left foot. Johnson attempted to step back with his right leg but couldn’t move naturally because Mora was on his left foot. The native of Nova Scotia jammed his right leg in the process and his right knee gave out, unofficially it was diagnosed as a dislocated knee. In obvious pain Johnson, who falls to 36-3-1 with 26 KOs, grabbed the knee immediately and remained on the canvas until being taken from the ring on a stretcher, but was gracious enough to provide an interview as he awaited medical assistance. This is just the latest injury to the 33-year-old fighter who has had to overcome one obstacle after another during his pro career. Mora showed he is a tough nut, he kept coming at Johnson and took some damaging shots, which is also to say he was losing, but never gave up.
The main event from Temecula, California saw Sam “King” Soliman take care of Mexican Raul Munoz, 17-8 (14 KOs) in six rounds. Munoz had plenty of “give” in his midsection and managed to do his fair share of “take” as the unorthodox Soliman peppered his opponent almost at will. The highly ranked Soliman took the fight with less than a week notice when Vernon Forrest was forced to pull out due to injury, but showed neither ring rust nor jetlag despite shipping in from Australia a few days ago. Working with trainer Dan Goossen for the first time as his team couldn’t make the trip, “King” Soliman (32-8, 13 KOs) was the same nonstop punching machine that we saw give Ronald “Winky” Wright fits in December of last year on HBO. Fortunately for Munoz, Soliman does not pack much of a punch, but after less than six rounds it was clear that Munoz was clearly outclassed and referee Jose Cobian called a halt to the one-sided affair.
A good looking doubleheader on ESPN2 delivered much less than expected Friday as Demetrius Hopkins claimed the vacant USBA Junior Welterweight title and improved to 23-0-1 (9 KOs) with a whitewash of Mario Jose Ramos. Other than getting some valuable experience on how to fight a southpaw, Hopkins took far too long to figure out his attack. Ramos, who drops to 16-2-1 (3 KOs), showed little interest in actually fighting this night in Philadelphia and seemed content to last the distance. Hopkins was in control all night but never really looked dominant until the later rounds as his lead rights found their mark. He did get in some “championship rounds” having to go twelve rounds for the first time in his career and now can claim a minor title to his credit. After a string of three straight knockouts fans were hoping for more fireworks out of the nephew of Bernard Hopkins, but Ramos didn’t help the action much.
The chief supporting bout was also for a title as heavily favored Larry Mosley came out on the short end of a Draw against Miguel Figueroa as the two battled for the vacant WBO NABO Welterweight strap. Now 15-1-1 (6 KOs), Mosley took the majority of the later rounds after much of the early portion was split or at least difficult to score. Tough guy Figueroa was allowed to fight his type of fight as the two had many quality exchanges in close quarters trading uppercuts and hooks to the head and body. It seems that Mosley was the better tactician of the two and could have fought more at a distance to pepper his opponent with one-two’s for most of the night. However, Mosley looked as though he felt he was the naturally bigger man of the two and would eventually wear Figueroa down. Maybe the distant relative of “Sugar” Shane Mosley had fallen in love with knockouts after stopping his past five opponents (despite just one knockout prior to that). But Figueroa never wore down, or at least not until he Mosley had given away too many rounds, and, although I agreed with the 116-112 score for Mosley, two judges saw the bout as a 114-114 Draw, and so it ended.
Also last night, ShoBox showcased hard-hitting Armenian-Australian Vic Darchinyan in defense of his IBF and IBO Flyweight titles. “The Raging Bull” Darchinyan moved to 25-0 with 20 knockout victories as his punching power was too much for Diosdado Gabi. Gabi, now 26-3-1, 19 KOs, held his own as best he could, but a left cross separated the Philippine from his senses in the eighth round. Referee David Mendoza correctly called a stop to the action as Gabi rose as if the earth was shaking beneath him and was saved from any further punishment.
Chief support to that bout at the Chumash Casino Resort saw Rustam Nugaev improve to 16-4 (8 KOs) as Anthony Mora surrendered his unbeaten record when he quit in the fifth round. Mora drops to 15-1 with 10 KOs as the Russian Nugaev simply had too much to handle for Colorado’s Mora. Weight may have been a factor as Mora had fought at welterweight before and getting back down to 140 proved to be a difficult task itself.
Finally on Friday night, Fernando Trejo and Luis Antonio Arcero put on a good scrap over twelve rounds for the vacant NABF Super Featherweight trinket. A close bout went in favor of Trejo (26-11-4, 17 KOs) as the feisty Mexican began to pull away on the second half of the bout. “El Vampiro” Arcero (19-4-2, 13 stoppages) drops his third bout in a row but looked like a fighter with plenty of fight left in him, although he seems to be more comfortable at 135 pounds as opposed to this 130-pound bout.
Taking a look at the action this weekend gives a great boost to the sport of boxing as the momentum from a successful 2005 has kept on going so far this year. We have already seen several excellent fights in ‘06 and our thirst for good fights continues to be quenched. After HBO and Showtime cap off this weekend on Saturday we have Telefutura and Telemundo stepping in to keep us busy next weekend in addition to the steady stream of fights offered in Europe.
Looking at this week’s action in the ring and the 410,000 PPV buys for the Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas fight last Saturday, if anyone suggests the sport and business of boxing is struggling, it’s time for a wakeup call.