Resurgent super bantamweight prospect Antonio Escalante put himself on the fast track to contention after scoring the biggest win of his young career, stopping Gary Stark in three rounds Friday night at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois.
The bout served as the main event of ESPN2’s presentation of Friday Night Fights.
Both fighters entered the fight with modest win streaks after suffering career setbacks a couple of years ago. Escalante won five straight against mostly respectable competition; Stark took the slow road back, nibbling around the edges while eyeing his next meal.
The difference in being combat ready and merely being gym ready showed greatly in the fight.
Stark began the fight moving forward and working behind his jab, fronting like he planned to take the fight to Escalante. That strategy was quickly altered the moment Escalante began to land, connecting with enough telling blows to momentarily send the New Yorker in reverse. Stark regrouped, landing right hands in the final minute of the round and boxing smartly.
Escalante forced a fast pace in the second, but Stark remained poised. However, he slowly allowed the tempo of the bout change from a boxing match into a fight.
Advantage Escalante – in a very big way.
Both fighters were having their moments, but it was Stark who was feeling himself a little too much. Coming in ready to trade with his hands down by his side, Stark was a sitting duck for a leaping left hook that absolutely cleaned his clock.
The one-time hyped prospect crumbled to the canvas, but benefited from a long count when the referee gave him extra time due to Escalante straying from his neutral corner. The additional time only prolonged the inevitable. Stark beat the extended count, but for all intent and purposes was done for the night.
Another left hook came crashing home on his chin seconds later, freezing him along the ropes before a right hand flattened him, ending his night and sending his career in disarray. Referee Gerald Scott recognized a done fighter in front of him, waving off the bout on the spot.
The official time was 1:31 of the third round.
Escalante improves to 20-2 (13KO) with the win, his sixth straight since the shocking knockout loss to Mauricio Pastrana a couple of years ago for the only loss of his career.
The Mexican was being groomed for a possible title shot before suffering one of the bigger upsets of 2007, which came on Telefutura’s former Solo Boxeo series. So too did much of his comeback trail, including his previous fight heading into this one, a third round knockout of Stark’s first conqueror, Mike Oliver.
Stark insisted before this fight that the Oliver that Escalante fought was nowhere near the same version that he faced on Shobox, when both fighters were undefeated. It’s all a moot point now, as Stark quite possibly is no longer the same fighter.
He’s certainly no longer in consideration for junior featherweights to watch, suffering his third loss in his past seven fights as he falls to 22-3 (8KO). Snapped is a four-fight win streak coming in, though mostly against non-descript opposition.
The only way is up for Escalante, and he certainly has his sights set high. No translation was needed when the words “Juan Manuel Lopez” were heard somewhere in his in-ring Spanish-speaking interview.
ANOTHER UNDERCARD THAT’S ANYTHING BUT GOLDEN
It’s tough to argue against the statement that very few do it better than Golden Boy Promotions when it comes to securing and delivering the big events. But one area where it still looks like a promotional company barely beyond its infancy is in putting together undercards.
The latest example came in the ESPN2-televised supporting bouts, which collectively lasted less than four total rounds. None were a case of shocking results taking place; all were mismatches going in, and played out exactly as expected.
If there’s an upside to what took place, it’s that undefeated middleweight Daniel Jacobs and 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist Deontay Wilder were granted their first televised performances (Jacobs previously appeared on pay-per-view televised undercard bouts).
Neither fighter seemed particularly interested in sticking around very long. Wilder (now 4-0, 4KO) made quick work of hapless heavyweight Joseph Rabotte, sending the chubby and chinless journeyman to the canvas three times in forcing the stoppage at 2:33 of the opening round. Rabotte tumbles to 3-6-1 (1KO), with all six losses coming via stoppage.
Jacobs was forced to go a little deeper, as career welterweight and junior middleweight Jose Varela managed to remain upright in the opening round before succumbing in the second. A right hand ended the Nicaraguan’s night, crashing to the canvas and never a threat to recover.
The bout was waved off at 1:29 of round two.
Jacobs improves to 15-0 (14KO). Valera loses his fourth straight in falling to 23-6 (16KO).
Featherweight newcomer Noe Perez was brought in to kill airtime, but hardly stuck around long to put a dent in the newfound plan. He only needed 106 seconds to score his second win in as many pro fights, stopping Ronnie Howell (1-2) in the second of their scheduled six.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.