Tonight's Friday Night Fights card comes at you from Montreal, Canada. Like Oklahoma, Montreal has hosted some excellent fights, supported by a passionate fan base, but has to my eye suffered from controversial judging. Tonight's card, which featured three Montreal natives, had the potential to add to that notorious legacy.
Fortunately, judging didn't make a difference in the first two televised fights: Antonin Decarie (15-0, 5 KOs) won convincingly over Aaron Drake (12-5, 9 KOs), and the incredibly gifted Jean Pascal (17-0, 13 KOs) didn't let the judges have a say at all, getting a corner retirement from late replacement Christian Cruz (12-8-1, 10 KOs).
The main event was a very exciting and meaningful IBF junior welterweight eliminator. Herman Ngoudjo, who dropped a very controversial split decision to pound-for-pound elite Jose Luis Castillo earlier this year that many thought he won, faced former two-time champion Randall Bailey, a tremendously powerful knockout artist. Ngoudjo, a Cameroon Olympian who now makes his home in Montreal, got clipped in the first round but responded with a beautiful counter that sent Bailey to the canvas. Bailey came back in round two to score a knockdown of his own. Then the heavens opened up and the rain started pouring down on the outdoor arena--complete with a brief power outage between rounds four and five. But the fight continued on, and though it didn't have the fireworks of the early rounds, both fighters continued to put on an impressive show. At the end of the day, I had Bailey winning an extremely narrow (one point) decision--and I felt that was the right outcome. Teddy Atlas had him winning by two.
In theory, this should be a recipe for disaster, with a Montreal hero going to the scorecards in Montreal in a razor-thin fight that I thought he barely lost. But, to the organizers credit, the panel was actually fairly mixed: one judge was from Montreal, but another was from Bailey's hometown of Miami, and the third hailed from Las Vegas, the closest thing boxing has to "neutral" turf. At the end of the day, the Las Vegas judge joined his Montreal compatriot to give Ngoudjo a tight split-decision victory. So Ngoudjo improves to 16-1, 9 KOs, while Bailey drops to 35-6, 32 KOs.
Bailey was justifiably upset--but this was a very close fight, and in Ngoudjo's defense he shouldn't always come out on the wrong end of close split-decision contests. Sometimes the breaks cut against you, other times, cut for you. Personally, I think Bailey's comeback effort will have suffered not a whit from this contest. He showed himself to be tough, far more versatile than his old one-punch glory days, and even a bit of slickness and movement. We won't see the last of him. And, regardless of whether I think he won this particular fight, Ngoudjo is a bona fide rising star, and deserves another shot at the crown, not in a match he was pre-selected to lose.
The only other thing to say about boxing tonight is to talk about tomorrow's Zab Judah-Miguel Cotto superfight. I don't buy PPV fights, so I won't see it personally. It should be explosive, though. Predictions? Well, a lot depends on how much Judah's lost in his long lay-off--his tune-up fight against Ruben Galvan was stopped after one round due to an accidental foul--and that's anyone's guess. But assuming Judah's still "got it", what he's got is spectacular speed. What's the best way to counter speed? Body punching, and Cotto's body hooks are lethal. Judah has impressive power along with his hand speed, but Cotto, while not having the sturdiest chin, does have a spectacular heart. Judah has gotten knocked silly before, while Cotto, while having been dazed and hurt, has never been knocked out, and never lost. I give a slim advantage to Cotto.