This weekend was just an orgy of good things for the boxing fan.
First, Friday Night Fights got a knockout of the year candidate with Randall Bailey's (39-6, 35 KOs) vicious destruction of Francisco Figueroa (20-3, 13 KOs).
(Go to 2:13)
Then, Golden Boy Promotions put on a great PPV card Saturday with its "Lightweight Lightning" quasi-tournament. Everything about this card was done right. The original lineup of fights was spectacular; with injury dropouts, it stepped downwards merely to excellent. The price was $40 -- very reasonable for four legitimate lightweight battles. And the fans were not disappointed. In the first fight, which might have looked to be the least competitive on paper, late replacement Rolando Reyes (31-4-2, 20 KOs) turned on the heat in round five to take out former titlist Julio Diaz (36-5, 26 KOs). Reyes has been laboring as a fringe contender for awhile now, and this vicious KO of a legitimate top-10 guy may finally give him that big fight. He's calling out the other J. Diaz, Juan "The Baby Bull" (34-2, 17 KOs), and I for one like it. It's a good payday and step-up for Reyes, and it is a legitimate and live bounce back fight for Diaz, who is coming off a KO loss to division champ Juan Manuel Marquez (50-4-1, 37 KOs).
The next fight pitted Vicente Escobedo (20-1, 12 KOs) in a major grow-up fight against former titlist and Salvadorean national hero Carlos Hernandez (43-8-1, 24 KOs). Escobedo, who represented America in the Olympics, was a highly touted prospect whose career momentum stalled out after split-decision loss to Daniel Jimenez. Hernandez, the first person of Salvadoran descent to win a world title, had said he had to win this bout or retire, and he fought like it, putting forward every ounce of grit, veteran savvy, and determination to put Escobedo in the trenches all fight long. Escobedo, who is more known as a lanky boxer, rose to the occasion, matching Hernandez shot for shot on the inside and knocking down the veteran twice in rounds one and two to get the decision victory. If this is it for Hernandez, what a way to go -- he surely covered himself in glory.
The co-feature put action star Michael Katsidis (25-2, 21 KOs) against comebacking former titlist Jesus Chavez (44-5, 30 KOs). It may have been the least exciting fight of the night -- but that isn't saying much. It was a back and forth brawl for the first several rounds before Katsidis began to impose his will on the older, oft-injured fighter. Katsidis (and perhaps more importantly, Katsidis' corner) needs to learn that he is not a boxer. He is a brawler. He wins when he gets in his opponent's grill and wails on them. Chavez quit/retired at the close of the seventh round. It wasn't completely out of line -- Katsidis had seemingly turned a corner and was landing many hard shots on Chavez, but it still didn't look like the hometown fighter was completely out of the fight. But Chavez -- who has battled injuries throughout his career, not to mention the Leavander Johnson tragedy -- was bothered by a cut all fight long and seemed to definitively lose his focus. It may be time for him to call it a career as well.
Finally, we saw the headliner -- and by this point, the promoters had long since earned my $40. Antonio Pitalua (46-4, 40 KOs), who burst onto the lightweight scene with an upset KO victory over Jose Armando Santa Cruz (whom many thought should have been the lineal champ when he was robbed of a victory over Joel Casamayor), got the honor of fighting YouTube sensation (and 70s porn star look alike) Edwin Valero (25-0, 25 KOs) -- the Ring's #1 Jr. Lightweight contender who possesses frightening power. But this was the first time he has fought in the US (licensing issues due to a brain bleed in a non-boxing related accident). Valero was moving up in weight to fight Pitalua, whose power isn't too shabby itself (14 straight knockouts since his last lost in 2001).
Let's put it this way -- Valero is for real. Pitalua is a durable fighter, if a bit of an unknown quantity. In round two, not only did Valero knock Pitalua down, he did so with a hook on his heels. And it still had Pitalua on queer street. Pitalua managed to get to his feet, but it was only a matter of time, and referee Laurence Cole waved the fight off as Pitalua went down for the third time in the round.
Meanwhile, Showtime had its own card going on. I missed Librado Andrade (28-2, 21 KOs) cruising to a decision over Vitali Tsypko (22-3, 12 KOs), but from what I've heard it was a typical Andrade victory: marching forward with a terrifying imperviousness to punishment and progressively breaking down a game Tsypko. This sets up a rematch with Lucien Bute (now 24-0, 19 KOs), who controversially defeated Andrade after the referee gave him a little help and extra time allowing him to survive a 12th round knockdown. Bute, who is originally from Romania, has been adopted by Montreal as one of their own (which has lead many to speculate about the motives of Montreal-based referee Marlon Wright). But after two fights in Montreal, now Andrade has also seemingly been accepted as a local there, which will make for a fabulous fight scene when the two meet up again in what is rapidly establishing itself as one of the premier fight cities in the world.
The main event was a unification bout between Patterson, New Jersey based Kendall "Rated R" Holt (25-3, 13 KOs) and California-representing Timothy Bradley (24-0, 11 KOs). In the first round, Holt put Bradley down for the first time in his career (amateur or professional) with a huge right hand. It is testament to Bradley's incredible conditioning that he was able to rise at all, and he had the state of mind to walk to his corner and then take a knee to make sure he was all gathered up before rising again at 8. From there, the fight was a textbook Kendall Holt evening: the ability to control the fight, and persistent refusal to do so. Holt's jab was giving Bradley fits when he used it, but that wasn't often. His work rate was low throughout the fight but particularly in the middle rounds, when Bradley put round after round in the bank. Holt woke up a little towards the end of the fight, but even in the 12th round, when he actually scored another knockdown after Bradley's gloves touched the canvass, there was never any sense of urgency. It cost Holt his belts in a unanimous decision that could have gone either way (Bradley was clearly worried as the scores were being announced).
Holt wants a rematch. It isn't the most unreasonable request in the world, but really, Holt's got nobody to blame but himself for his loss. When he lets his hands go, uses his jab and keeps the workrate up, he really is a special talent. But in fight after fight (even some of his victories), he's demonstrated serious focus lapses, and at some point you have to wonder if it is something he'll ever overcome.
But that's a downer note to end this post on. The point is, I got to watch six genuinely wonderful fights this weekend. That is a great thing, and I am grateful to the fighters and promoters for putting these shows together and giving all of us fans such compelling performances.