Gary Starks was getting untracked in the second round, and his hand speed, and footwork looked to be of a slightly higher caliber than Antonio Escalante in the main event of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights which unfolded at the UIC Pavillion in Chicago.  But in the third round, Escalante, edging from prospect to contender status, erased any Starks edges with a left hand that sent Starks to the floor, and a crushing combo that ended the contest with another knockdown. The time of the finish was 1:31.

Starks was bummed out after and he tried to go after fans booing him as he left the ring before the time of the stop was announced. His career might be on the ropes, after his second KO loss in two years.

Escalante (age 23; resides in  Texas; 122 pounds; 19-2, with 12 stops) had beaten Mike Oliver last October to get on radar screens. Stark (age 29; 121 ½; 22-3; from Brooklyn) won the NY Golden Gloves three times, but his career has taken a dip, and then was on a slight upswing entering this FNF main event. The two men had sparred three years ago, and Escalante said then that Starks couldn’t handle too much pressure.

In the first, Escalante showed a nasty left hook, to the head and body. He marked Starks’ left cheek right away. Starks backed up, as Escalante bore in, magnetized. In the second, Starks’ timing improved, and he was in forward mode more. His right hand hit home a couple times.

In the third, Starks went down off a left, hard. He said, “I’m OK,” and continued. He was not. He went to the mat again, from a left-right twofer. The ref waved it off, as he noted Starks’ blank look.

New Yorker Danny Jacobs went to 15-0 with a win over Jose Varela (22-6) in a middleweight plus bout. Varela took the bout on 11 days notice, by the way. Jake has fast hands, and he put them to work in the second. A right hand delivered just as Teddy Atlas dissed his power put Varela on the mat. He went downstairs, made V drop his hands, and bam, round two TKO.

2008 Olympian Deontay Wilder went to 4-0, with four kayoes, as the heavyweight stopped Joseph Rabotte. The bronze medalist scored two knockdowns, and then finished the deal with a third, off a mean right, in the first. No surprise here, as Rabotte is 3-6, and all his losses have been by KO. The man shouldn’t be licensed to box, not by any commission with a shred of diginity and conscience. Though I do understand a man having to do things he doesn’t want to do to pay bills, or what have you…OMG, I love this, did I hear Teddy Atlas say, “You don’t have to be Notre Damus here to say that there’s a pretty good shot that Wilder’s gonna score a first or second round knockout?” Brilliant…

SPEEDBAG Atlas picked Hatton to beat Pacman on May 2. “It will not be a blowout like the De La Hoya fight,” he said. “It was almost a dead man walking.” Atlas said Manny is now an icon, and he may have reached his pinnacle, while Hatton has his pride to nurture after losing to Money Mayweather. Dan Rafael held off making a pick until he gets to Vegas. Woods ain’t shy. Manny’s hand speed, footwork, southpaw stance and accuracy bring him to a UD on May 2.