Two vets who’d come up empty in high stakes title fights squared off in the main event on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, and the winner would leave with the IBO featherweight crown, and the strong possibility of another title crack, for a higher profile sanctioning body. The headliner took place at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tennsessee, and the Mexican Fernando Beltran was a bit busier and landed the more effective blows in the eyes of the judges, over Taka Ndlovu, at the end of the affair.

The 126 pounders, Beltran (30-3-1 entering, age 27, 125 ½ pounds, from Mexico) and Ndlovu (28-4, age 30, 125 ½, from South Africa) were set to go 12 or less.

Beltran, a lefty, has notable losses to Joan Guzman (in a WBO super bantam title fight in ’05) and Steve Molitor (in an IBF super bantam title scrap in April) who also beat Ndlovu (in a title defense last year). Beltran dropped a right to the body that looked heavy in the first. BTW, both men just dumped their dads as trainers, for what it’s worth. These were two consummate pros, wily, seasoned vets wanting to get into a title picture ASAP. In the fourth, Beltran was warned for going low, sternly, by the ref. He didn’t stop to the body and even strayed low about 30 seconds after that. Beltran was the busier man to this point.

In the sixth, Beltran smacked his foe with right hooks to the body, setting the table for an edge down the stretch. But Ndlovu stepped it up midway through, and the cards could’ve tabbed either guy. In the tenth, the ref took a point from Beltran for a low blow. Beltran did good work late in the round, maybe taking out some frustration from the ref’s call. The Mexican came forward, and probably got an even round out of it. In the 12th round, Taka ran some, protecting what he thought was a lead. But Taka landed a clean right that knocked Beltran backwards. He didn’t, though, likely carry the round. Beltran outlanded and out-threw Taka, 226 to 176, and 896 to 827. Analyst Shannon Briggs gave the bout to Ndlovu, 115-113. To the cards we went. One judge saw it 114-113, Ndlovu, another 115-112 Beltran and the tiebreaker was 115-112, for Beltran.

Joe Tessitore worked the show ringside with Briggs, subbing for Teddy Atlas, who is working the Olympics in Beijing.
Brian Kenny sat in studio with Michael Spinks, a vet of the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Spinks could not explain exactly why the US team came away with a measly bronze. He did mention that the cost of going to the better gyms is prohibitive for a poorer family. Also, back in the day, kids settled scraps with fists, he said, not weapons, so they were taught the art and science of fighting more before they stepped in a gym.

We saw Spinks in middleweight action, with Cosell doing commentary, in the ’76 jubilee. In the finals, he met a Russian, Rufat Riskiev. In training, Spinks said, he did an extra ten pushups every day to insure a win. In case you forgot, or didn’t know, the fighters didn’t wear headgear, and fought in a pro style back then. Riskiev accused Spinks of hitting him low after he caved in but the shot looked to be on the beltline. Michael then talked about how much he loves big brother Leon, and admitted he kissed him on the lips every now and again, as proof. Leon fought a Cuban, Sixto Soria in the light heavyweight final in ’76. Leon blasted the Cuban to the mat with rights in the first. The Cuban placed his punches so well, and came back, but Howard nearly flipped his hairpiece bellowing as Spinks whacked the Cuban with a right to drop him again. Again, what stands out watching the old films  is the fire and fury that Leon showed, a desire missing in the amateurs, because of the changes enacted by the politically correct powers.

In the TV opener, Maine’s Jason LeHoullier (21-0-1 coming in) met Harry Joe Yorgey (entering at 20-0-1) of Philly) in a junior middleweight scrap, set for 12 or less. Yorgey popped a jab early on. LeHou looked to land a left hook to do damage. LeHou drew blood from the nose of Yorgey in the second, a round in which we saw some solid trades. Yorgey is the better mover, and he wanted to time an uppercut as LeHou bored in. The NE fighter comes in square, and because he’s squared up, he doesn’t get great a great weight transfer. His arm punches didn’t bother Yorgey much, but LeHou was right in his face, through five. Too often, the New Englander got himself in close, but did nothing when he arrived. The right uppercut was Yorgey’s best weapon through ten, and neither man had hit the deck. Lehou landed clean in the 11th, but his hands are not heavy enough to dent a solid chin. Lehou sported a cut on his right eye in the 12th. Yorgey flurried hard midway through, craving a KO, but he didn’t have the zip for that.  Yorgey was 300-831, to LeHou’s 222-802 in punchstats. Briggs  saw it 119-109 for Yorgey. The judges spoke: 114-114, 117-111, 116-112, majority decision for Yorgey. BTW, the IBF North American junior middleweight belt was up for grabs.

To be brutally frank, Yorgey is a decent pro, but cannot be labeled a serious prospect, not yet. It may still happen, but he is 30.

SPEEDBAG Already, without much seasoning, Shannon Briggs is a better analyst than Lennon Lewis. For what it’s worth.

—“Teddy’s back next week and I’m back pumping gas,” Briggs cracked during the telecast. Good line.