Forget the “hit and not get hit” philosophy of boxing, Provodnikov is a tough man from a tough place, Siberia. Provodnikov fights every fight as if his life depended on it. He’s a brawler who could become a regular on FNF for years, good enough to beat most but not quite good enough for the premium networks; thank goodness. We saw him twice this season, the first episode dropping a controversial decision to Mauricio Herrera, then coming back to knock out Ivan Popoca. Both fights were exciting, and after both, Provodnikov looked like he’d been in a fight. I can’t get enough of this guy.
I can’t say that I really enjoy seeing a young prospect exposed and his dreams shattered. However, it is good to see a more deserving, unappreciated veteran get his due when he exposes an over-hyped prospect, like Josesito Lopez did to Mike Dallas Jr. Dallas had been pushed along by manager Jackie Kallen, even getting an appearance on Showtime before Lopez beat him like a rented mule in late January. To Dallas’ credit, he did come back to FNF later in the year and lost a very controversial decision to Mauricio Herrera in June, giving Herrera his second questionable win of the season. Dallas Jr. looked like a guy with a built-up record but hadn’t been developed as a fighter. “The Deuce” showed us what Showtime didn’t.
Is anyone else tired of hearing how great the Cuban prospects are just because they all went 317-8 as amateurs? If so, then you also enjoyed seeing Ismayl Sillakh manhandle Yordanis Despaigne en route to a unanimous ten-round decision. While it is clear now that it was hardly an upset, at the time, the so-called experts were ready to start scheduling Despaigne for a title shot. “Friday Night Nights” really separated the wheat from chafe with this fight and who doesn’t enjoy that on network TV?
Not every young prospect that suffers a loss is done by any means and I love that FNF regularly televises its comeback bouts, giving us the opportunity to watch a prospect possibly apply the lessons learned in his loss. Next year, it may be Fernando Guerrero, Mike Dallas Jr., Tim Coleman and, in the case of an ex-titlist, David Diaz seeking redemption on “The Deuce.”
Here are some who found it this year:
The Comeback Kids
Think about it; if ESPN focused solely on unbeaten prospects and “future stars,” we would have never seen the Wolak-Rodriguez instant classic. Few things are better in boxing than watching guys fighting to get back in the title hunt after losing a championship bout or falling from the rankings due to a previous loss.
Chris Arreola was perhaps the most refreshing sight on FNF this season as he came back looking fit and seemingly rededicated to the sport. While wins over Joey Abell and Kendrick Releford don’t exactly put you back in line for a shot at the Klitschkos, we are getting to see a Chris Arreola that is not letting his natural ability go to waste.
What does put you back in line for a shot at a Klitschko is winning elimination bouts and that’s what we saw when Tony Thompson faced Maurice Harris in late May. It didn’t take long to figure out who cared about his career and who didn’t. Thompson basically beat into submission a lethargic and unprepared Harris who, at this point, we can completely dismiss as a serious heavyweight. Again on network TV, we saw the difference between a contender and a pretender.
In 2010, we saw a cocky Hank Lundy somewhat humbled as John Molina handed him his first loss by way of 11th round TKO. This year we saw a more focused, businesslike Lundy fight his way back into the lightweight picture with wins over Patrick Lopez and David Diaz. The Diaz fight had it all, Lundy winning early before Diaz dropped him hard in the fourth. Diaz, then cut and bleeding profusely, trying to stop Lundy before succumbing to a Lundy left he could not have seen coming through his blood-soaked eye. Diaz’s courage to fight despite the gash and the blood reminded me why I’m a boxing fan. You can have your “boxing as a chess match” philosophy; I’ll take a courageous warrior any day of the week.
Kendall Holt gave Tim Bradley his toughest title defense back in 2009; in May, he showed us he’s ready to make another run at the belt. A left to the body, then one upstairs put Julio Diaz out and put the 140-pounders on notice that Holt is back in top form. Also the piece done about Holt leading up to the fight was brilliant.
Also looking for his chance again at a title was Lamont Peterson. In a fight I thought was much closer than Teddy’s card, against Victor Cayo, a hungry Peterson took nothing for granted and gave it everything he had in the final round to take it out of the judges’ hands, and earn the stoppage. That’s the kind of heart that makes you love this sport.
Toward the end of the season, we saw Dannie Williams finally display the talent Jack Loew has been talking about all year. His knockout win over Antonio Cervantes gave us glimpse of what this young man can do when he sticks to a game plan. His is also a great story of coming back in life, as well as in the ring. From the bad side of town in St. Louis to prison and now to Youngstown, Ohio, it’s a true story of redemption rarely found in other sports.
I’ll say it again; forget the fights that are compared to a game of chess. If chess is so great, when is it on ESPN Classic? Never. It’s because chess is boring and so are the fights that are compared to it. If you tell me it’s because I don’t “appreciate” a skillful, technical, 12-round boxing exhibition, I’ll say you’re right. I think it sucks. Take your technical 12-round decision and stick it. I want to see a fight!
The aforementioned Wolak/Rodriquez affair was just that, a fight. This season, we were reminded more times on ESPN than we were on the premium networks why we love a good brawl. In July, a heavier Jesus Gonzales returned to face Francisco Sierra in what turned out to be a decent scrap. What’s better in the fight game than when a fighter answers a knockdown by scoring his own knockdown in the following round? Doesn’t happen in a “chess” match.
Let’s not forget Vernon Paris vs. Tim Coleman. In a rare case of a fight actually living up to the pre-fight trash talk, Paris proved just about everybody wrong when he came to the ring in great shape and ready to fight. If one win can put a history of less than perfect habits both in and out of the ring behind, then this win might have done it. Shrugging off an early knockdown, Paris outlasted Coleman in a brawl, using body shots to end things in the seventh. My kinda fight.
When’s the last time a premium network had so many fights where fighters traded knockdowns?
In the end, let’s again remember the Wolak-Rodriquez fight. Neither man “took a round off.” Neither man gave an inch. Neither man was afraid to get hit. Neither man deserved to lose. When a fight ends in draw and you are completely satisfied with the outcome, that’s a classic fight!
The quality of competition seen regularly on ESPN2 demonstrates clearly that boxing is hardly dead. Yet while UFC is expanding its reach to “terrestrial” TV, boxing remains stuck in its PPV and premium network model, which is good for a few, bad for the sport overall.
But at a time when we all need reminders of how great the sport of is, thank goodness we still have “The Deuce.”