Oh man. Oh man. This is everything the ESPN executives could have dreamed of and more. The Contender gold medal match pitting Jaidon Codrington against Cameroon native Sakio Bika really stamped itself as a fight of the year candidate. These two guys went to war. It was truly something to see. And combined with a solid if unspectacular undercard, it made for two hours of brilliant programming to close out the finest season yet of The Contender.
David Banks (15-3-1, 2 KOs) MD6 Donny McCreary (23-7-2, 13 KOs)
I really don't know what to think about Banks. He has no power, is completely ineffective on the inside, and just doesn't seem to have the type of fighting mentality to really compete at anything approaching the upper echelons. On the other hand, he is without a doubt a skilled counter-puncher, and his losses aren't nobodies: his first defeat was to highly skilled contender Eromosele Albert, then after that a close decision to Peter Manfredo (in Manfredo's hometown), and finally a disputed split decision to start The Contender against Paul Smith.
But regardless of where he's going career-wise, if he's heading anywhere aside from retirement he had to beat McCreary, who really is just a journeyman at this point. Coming into the bout Banks had lost two straight, neither of which he was particularly happy about, and I would not be surprised if he would have hanged it up entirely out of frustration if he hadn't pulled this one out. To be honest, I was surprised by the one judge who had it a draw. I had it 59-55 Banks. Teddy had it 59-56, with one round even. I guess I can see that, as both fighters had moments in the round in question, and so I suppose it's reasonable that a judge might have given it to McCreary. But I really would have to labor to find a third round Banks didn't win.
Anyway, Banks deserved this decision, and looked much as he always does to me: skilled, slick, but not particularly interesting (or interested).
Sam Soliman (35-10, 13 KOs) UD6 Wayne Johnson (17-3, 9 KOs)
Johnson, who was bouncing back from a brutal first round destruction by Jaidon Codrington in the semifinals, was an opponent tailor-made for Soliman. His inexperience showed, as he was totally baffled and befuddled by the chaotic, unorthodox Australian. Soliman looked good in this fight. Folks questioned whether the near-34 year old was done after his loss to Sakio Bika. Between Bika's performance in the finals, and Soliman's display here, I think that's premature to say the least. Johnson definitely needs a bit more seasoning -- but Soliman is a tough (and unique) match-up for anybody.
Sakio Bika (25-3-2, 15 KOs) TKO8 Jaidon Codrington (18-2, 14 KOs)
Wow. Just, wow. This was just a brilliant fight. Both men throwing absolute bombs, all night long, showing tremendous heart. There was not a dull moment in the entire bout, and frankly, I'm impressed it lasted as long as it did. Bika won tonight purely off experience: he knew what he had to do to gain the victory. Codrington, who is still only 23, couldn't figure out a way to gain the upper hand and began to falter and finally crack against the African's sustained assault.
But goodness, what a fight it was while it lasted. Bika dropped Codrington early in the first round (and, it's worth noting, continued to pound him while he was down -- I thought a point should have been taken for that) -- bringing to mind Codrington's only loss up to this fight: an 18-second demolition at the hands of Allan Green. But Codrington got back up and, as Bika tried to finish him off, Codrington landed a vicious left hook inside Bika's looping shots to score a knockdown of his own. And Bika, who has never been stopped and is just an all-around tough customer, was badly hurt. By the end of round one, I had moments where I thought either fighter might garner a stoppage. It was that wild.
As the fight progressed, there were no more knockdowns, but many more crunching shots from both men. But in every round, it seemed Bika was coming of just a little better. He was backing Codrington up, and the latter was definitely showing more effects from the punches he had accumulated. But Codrington never stopped throwing himself, and always looked as if he could land another shot like the one in the first round that would have been an instant knockout of many fine boxers.
Alas, it was not to be. Bika simply broke Codrington down. He never stopped coming, and Codrington finally wilted under the sustained pressure of a man who would not go away. Incidentally, folks questioned Codrington's chin after the Green fight. I think the way Jaidon responded to the sustained assault he took from Bika shows he can take a punch. However, I do think there is a serious question about his defense. Bika, who throws wide, looping shots, was essentially landing at will, and when you're facing someone as strong as Bika, you can't do that and expect to survive 10 rounds, much less pull out a decision. I think Codrington is comfortable with his power and normally is quite glad to just trade bombs with his opponents. But faced with someone who could match him blow-for-blow, he didn't have a Plan B (in this, he reminds me of Edison Miranda against Kelly Pavlik). This is a problem. But it's the type of problem that can be fixed with more experience, and I still think that "The Don" has a bright future ahead of him.
As for Bika, I think he really proved something tonight. Say what you will about him: he's raw, he's crude, he throws wide, he lacks technique. I say, he can fight. He's relentless, he's got a granite chin, he's strong, and he doesn't stop throwing. Bika's three losses are all against elite fighters -- Sam Soliman (which he avenged in this tournament), Lucien Bute, and king of the Super Middleweight division (and pound-for-pound elite) Joe Calzaghe. He deserves every cent of the $750,000 payday he just earned, and I'm excited to see him in more fights down the line. He'd be a great person to match up against one of those middleweights who are looking to transition to 168 pounds.
Link to the 2007 Weblog Award Polls: Vote Debate Link