The Ding-a-Ling Man was back in action on ESPN2 tonight against undefeated B.J. Flores, along with two journeyman schmoes nobody has heard of. We'll start with them.
Dhafir Smith (20-16-6, 4 KOs) UD8 Rayco Saunders 15-9-2 (7 KOs)
Not exactly the fight ESPN2 match-makers wanted to put up, no? Saunders was coming off a 14 month layoff and hadn't won a match since 2005. Dhafir Smith is the epitome of a journeyman, but he's someone I had heard of. Why? Because his name always seems to pop up when looking at the records of solid guys. Look at some of his losses: Andre Ward, Curtis Stevens, Max Alexander, Wayne Johnson, Henry Buchanan. Not elite guys, necessarily, but solid opposition. And it prepared him to do just a little bit more to beat Saunders. I won't belabor this one, because it's a meaningless fight. But Smith can win against fellow journeymen, and his record is slightly underinflated from all the fights he's taken against folks well above his level.
B.J. Flores (21-0-1, 13 KOs) UD12 Darnell Wilson (22-6-3, 19 KOs)
118-112? 118-112!?! What cocaine is that judge on? I will admit that my scoring (116-112 for Wilson) was possibly giving too much credit for Wilson's aggression, and there is one round, at least, which I gave to Wilson which I felt uncomfortable about (round seven). So really, I saw it 115-113 for the Takoma Park based Wilson. Teddy Atlas, too, had it 115-114 for Wilson, and I for one simply can't reward a fighter for simply running away. Boxing I can handle. If Flores had been throwing out the jab, and simply frustrating Wilson by utilizing range, that'd be one thing. But he didn't throw at all. He just backpedaled. Wilson landed more shots, and harder shots, and deserved to win, period. A 118 scorecard for Flores means that judge had him winning or even in all but two rounds. Given that Flores was being battered around the ring in at least two rounds (eight and twelve), that means that judge literally gave nothing else to Wilson, and that's absurd.
The thing is, Wilson, who was being totally ducked by all the top cruiserweights, shouldn't have had to take this fight to get a title shot in the first place. Four straight knockout wins over Daniel Judah, Dale Brown, Kelvin Davis, and Emmanuel Nwodo should have been more than enough. Wilson admitted that Flores had precisely the style to give him trouble. But because nobody was willing to give him the shot he deserved (and I'm not saying he would win a title fight, just that he deserved one), he had to take a fight that he really shouldn't have.
And let's be clear, this wasn't a sterling performance by Wilson. He did have trouble landing effective offense. Flores was much bigger, quicker, and longer than he was. Flores did make him miss -- often wildly -- and a top cruiserweight could make him pay for that. Wilson is in many ways one dimensional, and if he doesn't catch you, he's actually rather ordinary. All of this would have mattered if Flores was actually throwing punches. He wasn't. You can't win fights without throwing punches. Except apparently a USBA title.
This was an IBF Title Eliminator. That's Steve "U.S.S." Cunningham's belt, who was watching in studio. Cunningham will take Flores apart, and frankly, I hope he does. Flores may have won the fight, but he set himself way back in my eyes by fighting scared, by fighting ineffectively, and by coming away with a gift decision.
Oh, and what a sucky night for ESPN! One of their most watchable stars takes a loss, on a card where one fight was utterly meaningless and the other was a stinker. Network executives have nightmares over evenings like this.