By Jake Donovan
Raise your hand if you’re anxious for a boxing story with a happy ending.
It’s been a dissatisfying summer for our sport, to say the least. Death ran rampant through July, and August has been anything but lively in the ring. Even when we get a night of good fights, there’s always something to dampen the spirits.
Such was the case last weekend, with HBO’s tripleheader. Their first telecast in nearly two months, the night was a success only if you judge it by the action that took place from bell to bell. All three fights were entertaining, only for the fighting to be overshadowed by atrocious scorecards turned in for the main event, not only declaring the wrong man the winner, but by absurd margins that suggest the judges filled ‘em out before the show even began.
Magnifying the issue was that it was the lone notable stateside show of the weekend. Nothing on Showtime, and such will be the case until September 12.
ESPN2 Friday Night Fights also took the night off last Friday, which means that it will be two weeks since we’ve last tuned in by the time this weekend rolls around.
Apologies to those who were trying to forget that August 14 edition, easily the worst card ESPN2 has posted this season, and quite possibly its worst in quite some time. Four terribly matched bouts lasted a combined total of less than six rounds, with the main event ending in a two-round no-contest after a clash of heads left Vivian Harris nearly unconscious and unable to exit the ring on his feet or without medical assistance.
But as bad as the August 14 show may have been, the network has a shot at atonement with this weekend’s card.
The show, which airs live from the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida (Friday, 10PM ET), is as good as it gets for the Friday Night Fight series.
Look past the network’s push of their being two WORLD title fights in its telecast. Ignore the wanna-be-purist’s rant about how both belts are manufactured and meaningless in regards to true title lineage.
The doubleheader on tap this Friday – Juan Urango versus Randall Bailey and Tavoris Cloud against Clinton Woods – is as meaningful to the sport’s present and future as any telecast on the Deuce in quite some time. The winner of both bouts figure to be immediate threats to the top players in the junior welterweight and light heavyweight divisions, respectively.
It’s bittersweet that this weekend’s show marks the season finale for the 2009 edition of Friday Night Fights. The sad part is, unless college football alone is enough to get you through the night, there’s not much to look forward to on Friday nights until Telemundo and Shobox re-enter the fray.
The good part is that the FNF season has a chance to go out with a major bang, giving boxing a much needed shot in the arm in the process.
In search of a happy ending even more so than the sport itself, are all four participants of the two intriguing crossroads match.
Juan Urango (21-2-1, 16KO) can certainly use the boost. He enters the fight making the first defense of the junior welterweight alphabet belt he won with perhaps the best performance of his career in easily turning back the challenge of Herman Ngoudjo. The two threw down earlier this year on The Deuce, with Urango scoring two knockdowns, landing over 100 more punches and nearly doubling up his opponent’s connect percentage en route to a well-earned decision.
All that would be great if it were his last performance to date. But he instead chased a payday with his ill-advised venture to welterweight, resulting in a loss to undefeated titlist Andre Berto in a largely unwatchable fight less than three months ago.
It wasn’t all Urango’s fault, at least the unwatchable part. The naturally bigger Berto dictated the pace, often slowing things down to a crawl with a hit-and-hold strategy which drew boos from the crowd and criticism from the HBO broadcast crew.
One bad night is forgivable for the iron-chinned Colombian, who is rarely in a bad fight.
Chances are, such won’t be the case this weekend, as his opponent has managed to find his way to the highlight reel on occasion.
When we last left off in the career of Randall Bailey (39-6, 35KO), he was on the delivering end of one of the top candidates for 2009’s Knockout of the Year. Climbing off the canvas himself, Bailey rallied back to annihilate Francisco “El Gato” Figuero in four rounds in their ESPN2-televised main event this past April.
You know you’ve earned the respect of your opponent when his among his first words in public include, “Now go get that title.” Such was the request Figueroa had for his conqueror the moment he opted to talk about the loss, which was almost right away.
Figueroa isn’t the first to be in awe of Bailey’s punching power. What’s truly impressive is that, 13 years into his career and having been written off long ago, he still carries the almighty equalizer that is the dynamite he carries in his fists.
He’s best known for his right hand, but it was a left hook that netted the Floridian his lone alphabet title, a brutal one-punch knockout of Bolillo Gonzalez a decade ago in a fight that lasted all of 41 seconds.
It remains the highlight of his career, having fallen short nearly every other time he’s stepped up since then, though he’s in the midst of a career revival. He’s now 11-1 since suffering a brutal stoppage loss to Miguel Cotto, with the one defeat over that near five-year stretch a controversial points loss to Herman Ngoudjo two years ago on ESPN2.
However, it will still take a win over Urango to provide the storybook ending that has long eluded his career.
While Bailey is creeping up on the twilight, Tavoris Cloud (19-0, 18KO) is just getting started. The heavily muscled 27-year old Tallahassee product has longed for a shot at the big time, but to date has been forced to view the landscape from the outside looking in.
The closest he came to proving his worth in the light heavyweight division came last summer, when he brutalized former lineal champion Julio Cesar Gonzalez en route to a 10th round stoppage in his lone ESPN2 Friday Night Fights appearance to date.
Friday night not only marks just his second bout on the show, but the first time he’s stepped in the ring since the aforementioned Gonzalez fight.
Not exactly the best way to build on momentum. Neither is turning down a chance to fight on HBO, which is precisely what his handlers did in attempting to force the hand of fellow unbeaten light heavyweight Chad Dawson. Cloud served as his mandatory challenger, but was asked to step aside for one fight, with the promise of an HBO undercard appearance and next in line for the winner of Dawson’s planned rematch with Glen Johnson.
Team Cloud decided it’d be best if their fighter instead contended for the vacant title, believing they could give him a much needed bargaining chip in attempting to secure other big fights.
Rejecting an HBO appearance to instead fight on ESPN2 isn’t exactly the best way to maximize exposure, but even in passing up a guaranteed six-figure payday and a future title shot beyond that, Cloud still clears by far the highest purse of his young career in this fight.
Such is hardly the case for Clinton Woods (42-4-1, 24KO), whose earned a decent buck or two over the course of his 14-year career, which includes a three-year alphabet reign that came to an end last April.
What he has yet to earn is a win outside of the UK. Of his 47 career fights, all but two took place in his home country. The other two took place in the states, neither of which were remotely competitive.
His stateside debut came seven years ago, when he served as a mismatched mandatory to a still live version of Roy Jones Jr. The bout represents the lone stoppage loss of his career, though he certainly didn’t look much better in his other bout on this side of the Atlantic, a lethargic showing in his title-losing effort against an aged Antonio Tarver last April.
Woods has managed a win since then, a points victory over fringe contender Elvir Muriqi this past February. Tavoris Cloud represents a different beast altogether. So much, that this weekend is viewed more so as a coronation for a new, young light heavyweight on the scene. That means that Woods, who turned 37 this past May, is quite possibly looking at his last chance at a lasting impression.
For avid fans of the Friday Night Fights series, it’s the last chance to catch a live card in 2009. After a month littered with controversy and whimpers, it’s also the only shot we have at removing the bad taste out of our mouths and ending the summer with a much-needed bang.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .