Yoan Pablo Hernandez (25-1, 13 KOs) TD6 Steve Cunningham (24-3, 12 KOs)
Poor Cunningham. He can't catch a break (even the AP article mislabels its photo -- Cunningham is landing the punch, not eating it). He's got the building blocks to be a star: he's charismatic, has a good back story, a cool nickname ("U.S.S." -- he's a Navy guy), has a physique like Conan the Barbarian, and tends to be in exciting fights despite not having the most pop on the block. But of course, he isn't a star, because he's a cruiserweight, and Americans don't care about cruiserweights. So he fights in Europe, where bad things happen.
And tonight, a bad thing happened against Hernandez. In the first round, Cunningham was dropped, hard. He barely made it to his feet before the count was up (in fact, Hernandez's corner protested the count was long), and was out of it even when he did rise. It could have been stopped there, but Micky Vann let it continue, and Cunningham escaped the round.
After that, though Cunningham steadied himself and took over the rest of the fight. However, there was a headbutt that opened up a gash high on Hernandez's forehead. It wasn't a bad cut -- while it was bloody, it wasn't in a particularly dangerous location and didn't seem to be affecting Hernandez's vision. But inexplicably, the fight was stopped after six. And that cut short Cunningham's rally, where he was starting from behind on the cards but picking up momentum. Even accounting for that, I had the fight 57-56 (four rounds to two) for Cunningham. 57-56 Hernandez also would have been acceptable. But 58-55? 59-54? Outrageous.
And let's return to the stoppage again. What was that about? Here's the ring doctor:
Ring doctor Walter Wagner said he recommended the fight be stopped.
"The cuts weren't dangerous but the blood could have run into the eyes and affected his vision. I think the head clashes that the referee felt were accidental weren't entirely accidental. You can have different opinions there. Hernandez was at a disadvantage from the cuts, so I gave the recommendation," Wagner said.
Umm...what? The cuts weren't dangerous. They could have run into the eyes (but apparently were not). Hernandez was "at a disadvantage" -- which is not the standard for stopping the fight. And it isn't the doctor's job to determine whether the clashes were "accidental" or not (I think the announcers had it right in saying it was "reckless"). This is just a textbook case of a doctor completely botching his role, and it turned what was shaping up to be a dramatic comeback into a controversial victory for the wrong fighter.
Grzegorz Proksa (26-0, 19 KOs) RTD3 Sebastian Sylvester (34-5-1, 16 KOs)
A star fades, a star is born. Sylvester, a long-time German veteran last seen losing his middleweight title to Daniel Geale, was now facing rising prospect Grzegorz Proksa. Proksa picked him a part until Sylvester quit on his stool (a mix of accumulated punishment and an actual, factual, serious cut).
Proksa definitely impressed tonight. He was cocky, particularly for an Eastern Europe fighter, boxing with his hands down and moving with a fluidity one does not associate with fighters from that region. A little Sergio Martinez-esque. But in any event, one can say Sylvester is past his prime, and maybe. But he was a titlist the fight before this, and this is still a definite feather in Proksa's hat. Count me as one who wants to see more.
Andy Lee (27-1, 19 KOs) UD10 Bryan Vera (19-6, 12 KOs)
A rematch of Lee's first professional loss, a slugfest which I recall watching as one of the great upsets of 2008. I did think, however, that the stoppage in the fight was premature. And the fact remains that Lee still had the tools to be a blue-chip prospect, while Vera is Vera -- a game but exceedingly limited brawler.
Tonight, Lee seemed more concerned with exorcising the demon than with dazzling the crowd, boxing his way to a wide decision. Anyone who fights with a modicum of skill -- and can avoid being muscled around -- can beat Vera, and Lee certainly meets both of those qualifications. He certainly looked better than he did in the first Vera fight, or even than he did against Craig McEwan (where he needed a come from behind knockout to win). But he didn't look great, and I'm still left wondering how high his ceiling is.
Sergio Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KOs) KO11 Darren Barker (23-1, 14 KOs)
Darren Barker got no respect entering this fight. Hell, even Michael Buffer mispronounced his name. But he certainly earned one by exceeding expectations, even though all that meant in this case was that he was soundly beaten instead of obliterated.
Though Martinez won by knockout and was in control, this was not his most scintillating performance (of course, it was the fight I elected to introduce my non-boxing fan dad to Martinez). He seemed a little tentative, and rather unwilling to lead. Martinez remains a natural counterpuncher, and Barker took away that part of his game by keeping a high guard and just walking in without throwing punches. Martinez didn't want to let go until Barker did, but Barker closed the gap enough where it largely neutralized Martinez's speed advantage. Unfortunately, Barker didn't throw many punches either, so Martinez's pot shots were winning the early rounds.
As the fight progressed, Barker began to open up more, and Martinez was happy to oblige. Still, little was landing flush and the fight looked headed to a decision. A combination in the 10th wobbled Barker, however, and Martinez kept up the pressure in the 11th. The final punch that ended the fight did not appear to connect flush -- grazing Barker's glove before landing behind the ear -- but it was an accumulation of punishment that saw Darren Barker go down and out for the count.
Martinez continues to be in a situation where there just aren't that many fights for him. Middleweight is a wasteland -- Andy Lee is a top 10 guy at this point, and Martinez would tear him apart. Junior middleweight isn't all that much better, though Cotto or Margarito lurk there, it's not clear Martinez brings enough coin to get them to the table. Larry Merchant asked about fighting Bernard Hopkins at 170 lbs, but Martinez (correctly) demurred, noting that weight was simply too high for him (he's comfortable at middleweight, but certainly not particularly big for the 160 lbs division). It's unfortunate, because he really does have star potential. He's just the wrong body size at the wrong time.