By Cliff Rold
This Friday, ESPN2 (10 PM EST/7 PM PST) brings boxing fans the finals of the 2015 Boxcino tournaments at Jr. Middleweight and Heavyweight.
They also bring us the end of an era.
There has long been boxing on ESPN and that doesn’t end this week. Al Haymon’s PBC will take the reins at the ‘worldwide leader’ later this year and we’ll see where that goes. Boxing will go on.
“Friday Night Fights” as we have known it will be no more. If that provokes some feelings of melancholy or a touch of sentimentality, well, good. The show that launched in 1998 has gone through various changes over the years and there have been some bad nights.
There have also been some great ones.
The 2001 Fight of the Year is a good place to start. Before Gatti-Ward, there were the fights that created demand for that showdown. Mickey Ward’s come from behind win over Reggie Green in 1999 resurrected him. His 2001 win over Emanuel Augustus elevated him even more.
They added another Fight of the Year (the BWAA’s anyways) in 2011, a draw between Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak. Dotted throughout the years there were memorable clashes of young contenders (Julio Gonzalez-Julian Letterlough), veterans (Rey Oliveira-Ben Tackie), champions (Jose Luis Castillo-Stevie Johnston II), and championship controversy (Irene Pacheco-Hawk Makepula).
We have seen the future blossom before our eyes. Early fights from Diego Corrales, Antonio Margarito, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Guillermo Rigondeaux, and more were a hint at tomorrow. Before he was a big Pernell Whitaker fan at the HBO commentary desk, Max Kellerman was a big Pernell Whitaker fan in the ESPN2 studio chair.
Teddy Atlas’s head never exploded.
It seemed a few times like it might.
Whether the PBC ends up being a good or bad thing for ESPN, we know only that it will be something different for now.
Last year, Boxcino gave us an eventual title challenger in Middleweight Willie Monroe Jr. Now, okay, it didn’t go so well for Monroe last weekend against Gennady Golovkin. Would he have been there with the access the tournament and Friday Night Fights provided?
It seems less likely.
Could we see another future challenger emerge this Friday?
At Jr. Middleweight, we have a return finalist. Brandon Adams (17-1, 12 KO) moved down a division this year or, more aptly, went back where he belongs on the scale. The quick fisted Adams showed growth through both tournaments and could very well be in the title mix down the road at 154 lbs.
He’ll have to deal with John Thompson (16-1, 5 KO) first. An unlikely finalist, Thompson upset undefeated Stanyslav Skorokhod in the semi-finals. Thompson isn’t a big hitter but at 6’1, he creates range issues for Adams. Can the stout Adams get inside and do damage?
The Heavyweights probably don’t have a contender in their midst but who cares? It’s a pair of big hitting big men who have both suffered stoppage defeat. Donovan Denis (12-1, 10 KO) looked like a comer early on but a first-round knockout loss no Nat Heaven in 2014 left major question marks.
They remain even as he enters with knockouts in each round of the tournament so far. His opponent can say the same. Andrey Fedosov (27-3, 22 KO) may have a psychological edge. He opened the tournament with a first round knockout…of Nate Heaven. Fedosov was beaten up and stopped by Bryant Jennings in 2013.
Of the two, Fedosov appears to have the better chin, fundamentals, experience. Denis appears the quicker, more explosive of the two.
It’s as good a way to end as any. Two competitive fights, surely highlights of the past, and a known future. Boxing rolls on.
Friday Night Fights just won’t be rolling with it.
When folks who only text or call during major pay-per-view shows do it when they see Roman Gonzalez on HBO for the first time, that’s solid anecdotal evidence for his potential to be the biggest American-based Flyweight(ish) fighter since Michael Carbajal. His audience grew to over a million viewers in less than two rounds. It’s a hell of a start…The Flash season finale was outstanding…So was the Mad Men series finale. Were they trying to say something about the evolution of vice from big tobacco to the obesity epidemic? Probably. It was saying lots of stuff from start to finish. It’s television-as-Dickens in the best way…Finally reading Matt Taibbi’s ‘The Divide.’ Highly recommended…From Canelo, GGG, and Roman to DeGale-Dirrell. This weekend’s big fight is interesting but thinking the fireworks tone down.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]