Tonight was the first night of the upcoming season of Friday Night Fights. Teddy Atlas, in what must have pleased the ESPN network executives, warned us at the outset that it wasn't the best of cards to start the year, and he was right. I have to say that this was one of the toughest boxing events for me to watch. It was less because of the action and more because you really felt like you were seeing two guys' careers come to an end in ways they did not want to go.
Louis Sargeant (9-11-2, 2 KOs) RTD4 Darrell Woods (26-12, 18 KOs)
The card opened with Florida-based Darrell Woods fighting against a local pug named Louis Sargeant. Woods gained minor notoriety with his all-action win over then-undefeated Samuel Miller on a ESPN card last year; an early fight of the year candidate. It was a nice story -- a 40 year old guy, just using some veteran savvy and ring experience to get some nice wins (prior to the Miller win he had won three straight, including a good victory over Emmett Linton). In his next bout, he was blitzed in one round by Allan Green -- but lots of guys had been taken apart by someone as strong as Green. In this fight, against an opponent with a losing record, Woods was looking to bounce back -- or at least end his career on a note that wasn't a first round knockout.
Alas, it wasn't to be. Woods was put down in the first round by Sargeant (who, in addition to having won only 9 bouts, isn't exactly a power puncher -- one knockout coming into tonight's fight), and never really got his legs back. Physically, he didn't look steady, and mentally, he didn't seem confident. But he still had his pride, and when after four one-sided rounds the ref told him in the corner that he was stopping the bout, Woods looked near on the edge of tears, yelling "No, it's not over!" It was really difficult to watch -- particular because I still remember his Woods bout less than a year ago and because, even tonight you could still see flashes that made it clear that Woods was the far superior fighter. His body had just abandoned him.
Byron Tyson (9-0-1, 4 KOs) DQ4 Claudio Ortiz (6-15, 2 KOs)
This was the bright spot of the evening. The fight wasn't that good -- after getting hit with a low blow in the second round, Ortiz went into constant foul mode until he was finally disqualified in the 4th round for hitting behind the head. What made this fight my favorite was getting to watch Tyson, who really looked good. Sure, he was in against a tomato can. But he was very fast, punching sharp, in shape (coming off a two year layoff for shoulder surgery) and technically sound. Definitely the sort of guy I'd want to see again. He hasn't done enough to deserve any serious fight, but I'd like it if ESPN put him on a couple more swing bouts to give him more exposure.
Robert Hawkins (23-10, 7 KOs) UD10 Dominick Guinn (28-6-1, 19 KOs)
Very similar to the first fight, though not as extreme. Guinn is an extremely talented heavyweight who, after winning his first 24 fights, has let his career unravel. Like with Woods, it was clear watching the fight that he had far more natural talent than Hawkins. Unlike Woods, it wasn't Guinn's body that betrayed him. It's purely a mental block. He admitted before the fight that he was over-thinking in the ring and dwelling on the past, and it showed again tonight. Guinn did not let his hands go, he allowed himself to get smothered on the inside, and was just outworked by Hawkins. Guinn definitely has the talent and the natural ability to get somewhere in the heavyweight division, but he just can't seem to escape his own demons, and it's really unfortunate to watch.
Hawkins doesn't have the prettiest record, but all 10 of his losses have been to very strong opposition, and he owns some solid wins as well (former contenders Terry Smith and Guinn, gatekeepers Robert Wiggins, Kendrick Releford, and Melvin Foster, plus Gary Bell, James Ballard, Boris Powell, and John Poore, who I've never heard of but have if nothing else glossy records). Prior to this fight, he was handily defeating top heavyweight Vladimir Virchis in Germany before getting knocked down and -- he claims -- being victimized by a quick stoppage (this being Germany, I believe it -- refereeing and scoring is notoriously poor and biased over there). He's not going to make a run at any titles, but he's doing reasonably well for himself. I wouldn't say I enjoy watching him, because he's a defensive minded fighter who won this fight by smothering the taller Guinn all night, but give him credit -- he fought his fight, and won against a guy who was once considered an elite heavyweight. Kudos to him.
ESPN has some better name fighters coming up as the season progresses, including Allan Green, Edison Miranda, Jean Pascal, and Randall Bailey. Unfortunately, they're not fighting each other, but I've seen all of those guys in the ring before, and they're exciting no matter who they're in against. Hopefully it will be a better card than what we saw tonight.