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The ESPN2 Friday Night Fights TV Cheat Sheet – Feb. 15, 2013

Speculation is a large part of what drives boxing; intriguing questions with no easy answers are the best kind of speculation. There are no easy answers on tonight’s ESPN2 card that features boxers with multiple question marks surrounding them. Does the former world title challenger have one more title run left in him at a higher weight? Can the undefeated fighter who established an impressive résumé against lackluster opposition defeat a proven foe with an inferior record? We have a diverse cast of characters as well with a Native American, Dominican-born American and Mongolian displaying why boxing has the widest and most inclusive range of races and nationalities outside of soccer. While the overall quality of tonight’s card is lacking, the storylines and brawling tendencies of the fighters make up for that lack of elite athleticism.
At the Mohegan Sun Casino, Uncasville, CT
(ESPN2) Delvin Rodriguez (26-6-3) vs. George Tahdooahnippah (31-0-1)
(ESPN2) Bayan Jargal (17-3-3) vs. Chris Howard (14-2-1)

Chris Howard – Tennessee toughman hopes a third time is the charm when stepping up his level of opposition, entering this fight with two losses to undefeated foes though his last outing was a debatable defeat. Howard began boxing at age 11 (his father was a boxer and owns a gym) and was a sound amateur competitor nationally, who estimates a 60-20 record. Fell short in the biggest competitions but did represent America in a couple international matches before losing in the final stages of the Olympic trials. As a pro, has seen what it takes to become a champion by sparring often against Adrien Broner and has picked up a bit of that swagger, jawing with foes before a fight. Might be sparring too much instead of boxing, only averaging two fights a year over the last four years, causing Howard to lack sharpness when facing stern opposition. Generally a fast starter, five stoppages under four rounds, Howard earned his “Hurricane” nickname putting punches together nicely when allowed to fight at center ring. Still trained by his father, which might have stifled Howard’s development because his style has not appreciably changed since the amateurs. Only been outclassed once, losing a wide, 10-round decision to Canadian prospect Arash Usmanee, who showed his promise last month on ESPN2 in a thrilling fight against Rances Barthelemy. Howard suffered a workplace injury (a skill saw cut into his leg) that hampered his movement, making Howard adjust his style somewhat to allow opponents to come at him and try to counter more. Does sport a straight and accurate jab but despite its accuracy, does not carry a big impact and is used to navigate foes into follow-ups more than stunning them. A lot of Howard’s strategy seems based on getting an early lead and fights beyond six rounds have been an issue since he does not change or vary his attack, allowing foes to pick up on tendencies. Been 10 hard rounds before but faded late in his losses to Mark Salser and Usmanee, not pacing himself early in those fights where Howard did his best work early and could not hold on. A real hometown-type fighter in best sense of the word, Howard has local sponsors to defray the cost of training for an opportunity like this.
Bayan Jargal – Although Mongolia has a warrior nation reputation (granted it was earned back in the 1200s), it is not exactly a hotbed for boxing prospects to emerge from. Some might be surprised that Mongolia has produced a world champion in Lakva Sim, whom Jargal naturally calls his inspiration and bases his aggressive boxing style upon. Sim was a powerful straight-ahead brawler and even though Jargal has been nicknamed “The Mongolian Mongoose,” that is based more on the strength of Jargal’s reflexes than defensive aptitude. Jargal amassed a solid 65-5 amateur record and advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2004 World Amateur Championships. Still fights a bit in the amateur style with a lot of upper body movement, leaning, weaving and bobbing left and right avoiding punches instead of using his feet or blocking blows. Jargal lacked the accurate jab to excel in the amateurs, preferring to mix it up and still looks for one punch instead of combination punching in the pros. Keeps both feet planted for power, advancing slowly and trying to make every punch count. That cost Jargal in his last loss to elusive counterpuncher Chris Algieri, whom he charged straight at, unable to move laterally to cut off the ring. This is surprising since Jargal sparred a lot with former Olympian and hot prospect Gary Russell Jr. and even the much bigger Paul Williams. Majority of the time, he keeps both hands up but Jargal’s gloves are held wide open, leaving him vulnerable to jabs and straight punches down the middle. Too often lifts his back foot to lunge at opponents, causing Jargal to loop or lean in with punches. Finishing punch is the left hook but Jargal goes to the body well and consistently in the early portion of fights. Lacks sizzling hand speed, depending more on getting close to land punches. Does punch from awkward angles and out of a defensive roll of shoulders, his punches hidden by that movement, landing unexpectedly. Jargal has a dangerous tendency to lean back to avoid punches but does roll in anticipation, making him harder to reach and Jargal’s chin is solid. Early in his career, had stamina issues, his punch output steadily declining and lacking zip to land on target. Jargal lacks elite skills but his determination to force opponents to engage him makes for entertaining fights.
Verdict – If Jargal has his way, this will be an entertaining fight; if Howard wins, it will be an outside fight early on, followed by a lot of holding in the final three rounds. Howard has not shown the ability to step up when the competition gets tough while Jargal has mixed with better company, producing mixed results. I believe Howard is the faster fighter with better reflexes at this point but Jargal’s drive and still nimble feet should get him in position to land the harder punches. Timing could be an issue; Howard has not fought in six months, needing to adjust to Jargal’s awkward tendencies and odd angles on punches. Jargal’s aggression and late-round rally wins the day, the judges giving him the benefit of the doubt early for coming forward and also paying attention to him more because of those looping but eye-catching hooks. I like Jargal, 96-94, in a sloppy affair.
George Tahdooahnippah – Native American brawler could become a contender if victorious tonight, sporting thudding power that cripples opponents the way his name freezes my Microsoft Word spell-check. Carries appropriate nickname of “Comanche Boy,” growing up around boxing with his father and grandfather both amateur boxers. However, Tahdooahnippah came to boxing late engaging in his first pro fight at age 25. Has a combat sport background as a nationally rated wrestler (receiving a full scholarship to Delaware State University) and competed in kickboxing competitions before entering boxing via toughman competitions. Displayed natural boxing aptitude but never had an amateur bout, improving vastly by sparring hundreds of rounds with gatekeeper Grady Brewer and title challenger Allan Green instead of competing in amateur competitions. At 5’10” with a 73-inch reach, much of that bulk and strength in his upper body, Tahdooahnippah has good size but might lack the feet to track foes down and make it count for him. Worked with respected trainers Jeff Mayweather and Shadeed Suluki but settled in with less experienced David Vaughn who has been with him since the beginning. Seems to have a strong chin and employs a solid body attack before going for the finish with a big right hand. Tahdooahnippah described his style to writer Benny Henderson Jr., “Well, I am a power puncher. A lot of people think that I am just a power puncher but I am a very adaptable fighter. If I have to stay in the pocket or out of the pocket, whatever I have to do, I will do. I fight to win. I will do, if I have to be a pressure fighter or a defensive fighter like Floyd Mayweather, that is what I will do. I do want to knock people out; people like to see that. I am going to go in there and do what I have to do. I am going to mix it up and if I see blood, I am going in for the kill.” Performs a Comanche victory dance to take his opponent’s soul to the Creator after a knockout, which is a good little shtick. Averaged three fights a year over the last three years and at age 34, understands time is running out for big opportunities. An all-around success story, married with four children, Tahdooahnippah completed his Bachelors of Business Administration and is the Health and Fitness promoter for the Comanche Nation.
Delvin Rodriguez – As this slugger came up on ESPN2 (including tonight, 12 appearances on “Friday Night Fights”), I thought his familiarity with the network lead to an overhyping by the announcers, resulting in a limited brawler getting a title shot. I felt vindicated when Rodriguez was upset by Jesse Feliciano; however, Rodriguez then registered some good victories and surprised me with a quality win over Shamone Alvarez. As I was about to reverse myself and declare Rodriguez a contender, he lost twice in world title challenges to beatable titlists. Given the circumstances of his wins and losses, I remain confused about Rodriguez’s true abilities. Rodriguez is 2-2-1 in his last five bouts but the losses were close and every opponent was top 10-rated. There is no doubt Rodriguez is a good TV fighter who comes out swinging from the opening bell, looking to end fights at any chance afforded him. Dominican-born but raised in Connecticut, Rodriguez started boxing at age 10. Won some regional titles but, because of a reliance on power, never advanced far in national tourneys. A physical force at welterweight, Rodriguez wears on opponents with thudding blows and a lot of pushing and leaning when allowed to get inside. His blows are of the thudding variety but when allowed to get full extension, Rodriguez can end a bout with one shot. Gets caught with punches and has been rocked on multiple occasions, especially when his offense is clicking and Rodriguez lapses mentally by widening his stance to load up. Thinks the timing is right for this fight, telling Thomas Gerbasi of BoxingScene, “I believe he’s gonna come straightforward and he’s gonna be surprised when he runs into one of my punches. But I’ve still got to be alert in the ring because he is the bigger guy – he’s been fighting 160 his whole career pretty much and I just came up to 154 three fights ago.” In title setbacks, Rodriguez surprisingly could not finish Isaac Hlatshwayo and Rafal Jackiewicz after hurting them, which is usually a strong suit. Averaged three fights a year since 2006 but only had one bout in 2012. Not afraid to travel to other guy’s hometown, fighting in South Africa and Poland. Many thought location hurt Rodriguez in his draw to Hlatshwayo and controversial loss to Jackiewicz, where he threw more punches but did not follow a consistent jab with enough combinations. Regardless, win, lose or draw, Rodriguez delivers on the entertainment front.
Verdict – Neither man’s attacking traits grant foes an easy fight and the man with the better and more accurate right hand will emerge with a win. Rodriguez will get his pound of flesh with long right hands and bending hooks to the liver and his experience against a higher caliber of foe is the difference despite moving up in weight. Having said that, Tahdooahnippah eats punches up and comes back for more, which is not a good thing considering his level of opposition has been weak. Tahdooahnippah is willing to walk through fire to deliver his payload and has improved with each fight but lacks the hand speed and lateral movement to confuse or catch Rodriguez napping. Facing a tough physical specimen like Tahdooahnippah in your first bout at a new weight is folly but Rodriguez showed he can do it against similarly tough Pawel Wolak. This should be an entertaining brawl though Rodriguez tries to avoid exchanges early with his feet. Watch the “punches landed” statistic rise every round for Rodriguez and for Tahdooahnippah to slow with each new round as his frustration grows. I will be rooting for Tahdooahnippah but sense he lacks that certain something to become anything other than a good gatekeeper having entered the boxing arena too late in life. Rodriguez gets a win in the range of 97-93.
Prediction record for 2013: 86% (12-2)
Prediction record in 2012: 84% (128-25)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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