Say what you will about this season of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights — I thought it was improved, others did not — it sure is closing strong. This weekend, by far its best card in a long, long time will go a long way toward healing the wounds of its worst card in a long, long time. If you’re still feeling turned off by Vivian Harris-Noe Bolanos on Aug. 14, the Aug. 28 alphabet title belt double-header between light heavyweights Tavoris Cloud and Clinton Woods and junior welterweights Randall Bailey and Juan Urango is some good medicine.
Both fights have tremendous promise on the merits of the fighters themselves, belts or no. Bailey-Urango, in particular, is a bombs-away match-up of heavy, heavy punchers who have proven they can deliver Knockout of the Year candidates. It’s rare that FNF hosts one fight of such stature; hosting two on one night is a real coup for the network.
RANDALL BAILEY – JUAN URANGO
Go to YouTube. Type in the words “bailey” and “figueroa,” and once you’re done there, type in “urango” and “vilches.” Bingo. That’s really all you need to know how much fun this fight might be.
Bailey, at 34, is really going on his second career. He’s always been a knockout artist. You don’t harvest 35 KOs in 39 wins without having power, and you can make a case that he’s the biggest single-punch knockout artist in boxing right now. But he also wasn’t much more than a knockout artist for much of his career. He got outboxed by the likes of Ishe Smith and DeMarcus Corley, then got picked apart by the mutli-dimensional Miguel Cotto. Since that 2004 loss to Cotto, Bailey says, he reevaluated his career and figured out he needed to use his power intelligently. In 2007, he stepped back up against a top contender, Herman Ngoudjo, and lost a decision that a lot of people thought the judges had wrong. That, plus avenging his loss to Corley in 2008, was enough to get him in another title eliminator, and boy, did he handle business against Francisco Figueroa. He did, indeed, look smarter, working off his jab, moving his feet defensively, setting up angles and counterpunching in spots.
Urango, 28, isn’t as powerful as Bailey, with 16 KOs in 21 wins, but he’s hurt and downed many opponents in fights where he didn’t put anyone to sleep. He hurts people not so much with one punch, although he can, but with swarming, unquenchable pressure, landing wide, powerful shots to the body and head at all costs and no matter what comes back his way. He lost his two biggest fights against his two best opponents, decisions against Ricky Hatton and, more recently, Andre Berto in a move up to welterweight. Urango, too, has suffered from a lack of dimensions, as those fighters had more than he did. But he also gave them hell with that dimension. He won the belt he has now by dominating Ngoudjo earlier this year.
Besides being the better puncher, Bailey is the better boxer, especially as improved as he is in the technique department. Where Urango has his edge is in who can take a punch. Urango could give a good god damn about how much you hit him, or how hard. Bailey has tasted the canvas a lot, even in his last fight against Figueroa. But then, nobody has ever fought anyone who hits as hard as Randall Bailey until they fight Randall Bailey. Urango’s turf is on the inside, which he works into without using his jab or anything other than sheer determination, while Bailey is usually better from long distance. Interestingly, though, the stockier 5’7″ Urango has a one-inch reach edge over the 5’9″ Bailey.
Bailey says the two have sparred, and that he’s the stronger of the two. I don’t think anyone questions that. Bailey also says that if he gets caught with Urango’s wide shots, he deserves to lose. The fight, then, comes down to whether Urango can connect on enough of his winging blows to disrupt Bailey’s shaky chin, compared to whether Bailey can connect on enough of his straighter punches early enough to put a dent in Urango’s chin before Urango catches up to him. My take is that Bailey may be smarter than before, but he’s not smarter than Berto or Hatton, and both of those guys got hit plenty by Urango and could take shots better than Bailey ever has. What’s more, Urango is going to go to Bailey’s body early and often, which could sap Bailey’s power late.
Bailey’s got a real chance of winning this fight if he gets to Urango early and ties up Urango on the inside and the ref lets him get away with it, which Berto and Hatton did to totally nullify Urango’s pressure. But if it goes more than, say, six, watch out. I think it will go that long, and that Urango’s going to win by knockout not long after. But this is one of those fights where danger lurks in every single moment, and it should be a thriller.
TAVORIS CLOUD – CLINTON WOODS
Cloud’s mismanagement of his career is ESPN2’s gain. He turned down an undercard slot on HBO with a guarantee that he’d fight Chad Dawson for his title belt next, all of which would have made him a lot more money than fighting on FNF. Instead, Cloud insisted on his mandatory shot, Dawson told the IBF to take its belt and shove it so he could fight Glen Johnson in a rematch worth more money and Cloud is left to fight for Dawson’s vacant belt against Woods.
I say this despite really liking Cloud as a fighter. He’s a huge puncher, with power in both hands, having scored 18 knockouts in 19 wins. He’s pretty solid on the fundamentals, keeping his hands high, slipping punches, working off the jab, all that jazz. That said, he’s only fought two boxers of any real note. One was Jose Luis Herrera, a bit of a journeyman, and the other was in his most recent bout, against Julio Cesar Gonzalez, a boxer who had seen better days. Still, he smoked them both, and nobody had ever done Gonzalez that way in particular. It was eye-opening stuff. You just can’t say for certain how good he is until he really steps up. I see some flaws — he throws punches wide at times, he maybe doesn’t work enough per round — but nothing really major. It’s also unclear what kind of chin he has.
Woods has never impressed me much. It’s only his record and wins that stand out. I really can’t figure out totally how he got some of the good Ws he got. Woods is slow, can’t punch very hard and his skills are mediocre. Yet he’s beaten Glen Johnson, Rico Hoye, Gonzalez and the like. I’ve seen Woods at his best — he really just is a tough fighter who can take a punch, presents a modicum of defense, has a good right hand that he works up and down and out hustles his man. It’s still mystifying. You see how Roy Jones blew him out, how Antonio Tarver coasted against him, and you’d think anyone with very much talent would demolish him. Not necessarily. He says he was ill for the Tarver fight, and he looked it. I’ve seen highlights of his last fight, a decision win against Elvir Muriqi, and I couldn’t judge whether I was unimpressed because I’m always unimpressed by Woods, because his opposition was average at best, because he looked spent or what. But you’ll find lots of different reviews. Some thought he looked done. Some thought he looked like his old self. Some thought he looked rusty early and good late. It’s at least an open question where he is now.
One of the things Woods will have going for him is height. He’s four inches taller than the muscular, 5’10” Cloud. One of the things Cloud has going for him is home turf. The fight is in his native Florida, and Woods has not looked himself outside his native U.K. And of course, that also can translate into judges favoring the guy whom the crowd is cheering for. I tend to think none of this will matter. Cloud is ten years younger and significantly more talented. Woods’ strength — hard work — may play into one of Cloud’s potential weaknesses — too much standing around — but I doubt it. I think Woods either gets knocked clean out for the first time in his life, or the fight has to be stopped because Cloud is dealing out too much pain. What I’d like is if Woods can put together a heroic stand early, though, a final last bit of blue-collar overachieving before he sails off into retirement.
(Note: I likely won’t be responding to comments on this post because of my vaca, but don’t let that keep you from leaving remarks and discussing amongst yourselves.)