Last night's FNF was described, rather accurately, as a "semi-finals" for Edison Miranda and Jean Pascal. If both won their fights, they'd set up an intriguing bout between the two on ESPN2 in June.
Kasim Howard (5-0, 4 KOs) TKO2 Ron LaForge (1-1, 1 KO)
This was the last bout of the evening, but I'm putting it first because it was the swing bout. Howard and LaForge had lots in common as fighters. Both were undefeated heavyweights with a good knockout percentage in the very early stages of their careers. Wait, that's all they had in common. Howard showed skill and technique. LaForge kind of lumbered at his opponent. Howard was ripped and in shape. LaForge, well, he carried 220 pounds on a 5'9 frame. I'm a lean 5'8, but he's got almost 80 pounds on me with that extra inch. And finally, Howard has been busy since turning pro, while LaForge took 9 months off since his first fight.
It went about as could be suspected. Howard knocked down LaForge twice in the second round in route to an easy knockout victory. He didn't look perfect -- there are still plenty of technical issues the young fighter could improve upon (falling in from too far out would be a big one). But he's got skill, appears to have conditioning and power, and he's doing what a talented young heavyweight prospect should be doing -- knocking fighters out.
Jean Pascal (21-0, 14 KOs) UD10 Omar Pittman (15-4-1, 8 KOs)
I've see Pascal fight once before, and he looked pretty good stopping late replacement Christian Cruz. He's hyper-fast, with tremendous athletic gifts. But despite the lop-sided (and deserved) decision victory, this wasn't his best fight, in against a boxer he really should have out-classed.
Pittman, a Philly based fighter, came out aggressively in the first round and scored what arguably could have been a knockdown, though the ref ruled it a slip (the punch cuffed Pascal more than it landed cleanly). After that, though, Pascal dominated through round six, knocking Pittman down in round two with a beautifully timed hook. Pittman wasn't throwing much, and as Teddy Atlas observed, his spirit looked throughly broken.
But I have to say, even at this stage in the fight, I was raising an eyebrow at Pascal. Sure, I was impressed with his speed. But he seemed technically very unsound. Jumping in without defense, going straight back with his hands down. There were a great many moments where I thought, "If Pascal was fighting someone better than Omar Pittman, he could be in serious trouble right now."
And then, in the seventh round, just after Teddy said that Pascal needed to buckle down and get Pittman out of there if he really wanted to make the "statement" he said he was going to on national TV, Pittman landed a massive left hook out of nowhere that sent Pascal staggering. Honestly, Pittman looked as surprised as anyone, but it gave him a much needed boost of confidence, and for the rest of the round through the 8th he was chasing a wobbly Pascal around the ring. By the 9th, Pascal had steadied himself, and he clearly won the 10th to take a comfortable decision.
But again, despite the win, this did not look good for Pascal. Aside from the fact that he should have knocked Pittman out, he showed a mess of defensive failings, and thus took a scare from a fighter he should have dominated. If the shot Pittman landed came from the right hand of Edison Miranda, he'd have been out cold. I'm still looking forward to Miranda/Pascal, but only because I want to see Miranda blast him out.
As for Pittman, this will probably be the last time we see him, as he was definitely just an opponent for Pascal. The North Philly native, who described his upbringing as a struggle just to wake up in the morning and said he had already come further in boxing than he ever dreamed possible, is no world beater. He's not very skilled, and while he's quite game, he also gets discouraged easily. In fact, there were several points in the bout where he looked so miserable I seriously wondered if he was suffering from depression. Anyway, I wish him all the best, and hopefully he will continue to make a nice run in the B/C level circuit.
Edison Miranda (30-2, 26 KOs) KO3 David Banks (15-4-1, 2 KOs)
Poor David Banks. I had a couple of observations after watching his last fight. The first was that he's a difficult fighter to get a handle on. He can be seen as a slick, skilled counter-puncher. But he also can be seen as a dull fighter with no power or inside ability who, too often for comfort, doesn't seem interested in being in the ring. The second was that he's had what must be a really frustrating career. His last five prior to this fight tell the story. After really getting on the map with two straight wins over prospect Elvin Ayala (who would later draw with Sergio Mora), he then lost a decision to Peter Manfredo on Manfredo's home turf in which Banks didn't look half bad. He followed that up with a disputed split-decision loss to Paul Smith in the opening round of The Contender, season three. Finally, he righted ship with a majority decision victory over Donnie McCrary -- someone he had to beat if he was going to continue his career. Even that fight, though, I thought he deserved a UD.
Anyway, now Banks is being trained by Buddy McGirt. And I'll give him credit, he definitely at least looked interested in being in the ring for the first two rounds. But honestly -- what Banks needs now is a few wins to build up his confidence and let McGirt's tutelage sink in. He did not need to be matched with the human wrecking ball that is Edison Miranda. [UPDATE: Speaking of bad luck, if I recall correctly, Banks was originally supposed to face Pascal, not Miranda. Am I the only one who wonders if Banks might have been able to beat Pascal last night?]
After a slow start, Miranda, who was fighting for only the second time at Super Middleweight, started to pick up the pace in the third round. And it was in that round that he landed a massive right hand that literally put Banks through the ropes. The image of him sprawled on his back, balanced limply on the bottom two ropes, was just amazing. And I'm further amazed that Banks even tried to get up, though he didn't come close to beating the count.
Miranda's only losses are to Arthur Abraham and Kelly Pavlik, hardly shabby (Banks', for that matter, are to Miranda, Manfredo, Smith, and Eromosele Albert -- not nobodies either). He continues to show that his power is no fluke, and his form continues to get better. Based on what we saw tonight, he'd eat Pascal alive. And boy, wouldn't that be fun to watch.