Five hours of Showtime boxing Saturday ended in a draw in the evening’s main event between raw, clumsy cruiserweight Lateef Kayode and 43-year-old, borderline Hall of Famer Antonio Tarver, capping a series of fights that were sporadically entertaining.
This was something of a new direction for the network, to pile up a ton of bouts in one night, and in theory it’s a worthwhile notion to give people more bang for their buck. Problem is, few of those fights guaranteed excitement or the possibility of really shaking up the ranks of any particular division. The experiment might’ve been a success if things went better than they eventually did, but on paper this wasn’t a thrill a minute, and that’s how it ended up in reality, too, with even the pre-broadcast consensus most-fun bout between Austin Trout and Delvin Rodriguez disappointing.
This isn’t knocking Showtime for trying something new. It’s just that these were five fights that would’ve been nice main events on ESPN2, when we might’ve been better off with two or three more carefully chosen bouts that could’ve lead the top of a more traditional Showtime card.
ANTONIO TARVER-LATEEF KAYODE
So uncoordinated is Kayode that I expected even a very old version of Tarver to make him look like some random yokel off the street walking into the boxing ring for the first time, flopping down the top of his overalls and lacing up the gloves. That wasn’t how it played out. Kayode came out moving backward, in contrast with his reputation as a reckless headhunter, and was pretty effective attacking Tarver in spurts. I only had Tarver winning one of the first six rounds.
Tarver eventually found something like a rhythm in his old bones, and took over most of the rest of the fight with superior technique. At times, it was hard to tell whether his accurate counterpunches were sending Kayode stumbling around because they were doing serious damage, or because Kayode seizures around the ring as it is. The 9th — in that one, a left did wobble Kayode.
But but. Tarver might’ve won this if Kayode had faded down the stretch more than Tarver had. Instead, the final two rounds were very inconclusive. Scores on Twitter were all over the place in those rounds in particular. I had it 115-113 for Kayode. But the draw makes absolute sense. It was a very close fight, and anyone could’ve won, despite Kayode’s manic post-fight shouting about how Tarver only got a draw because he works for Showtime as a commentator.
It’s an expectations game, what you think of either man now. Kayode elevates himself a touch in my mind because I didn’t think he was capable of doing what he did. He still is an uncouth boxer who’s more a physical specimen than anything else. He boxed Tarver a little, but is no boxer. He has a high knockout ratio but isn’t a big knockout puncher against top competition, with only a mouse under Tarver’s left eye indicating any real damage from Kayode’s blows.
Tarver, he was living on surpassed expectations in his last fight, anyhow. He was impressive stopping Danny Green 10 months ago. But 10-month layoffs don’t serve old boxers well, and while Kayode’s unconventional game and unexpected tactics might’ve thrown him off, Tarver struggling with Kayode at all was not a feather in his cap.
I don’t leave this fight demanding to see either of them again anytime soon. But it was a competitive, hard-fought battle, and that provided some drama, if nothing else.
PETER QUILLIN-WINKY WRIGHT
“Kid Chocolate” got an aged enough version of Winky Wright that he wasn’t in danger of losing to him, but a vesion that had enough left in the tank that Wright’s sincere effort, savvy and toughness will make Quillin a better fighter in the long run. Two judges scored it 98-91, as did I, while one had it 97-92.
Quillin’s speed and youthful aggression carried the day against a 40-year-old coming off a three-year layoff. That’s not to say Quillin was as aggressive as he could’ve or should’ve been. He scored a knockdown in the 5th only after Wright stepped up his own aggression, compelling Quillin to come back hard with a flurry punctuated by a right hook. Quillin had Wright in even more trouble in the 8th, but it took a nip-and-tuck round up until the moment he went berserk to wake him up toward the end of that stanza.
In a card that was billed as youth vs. experience in several of the match-ups, this was the fight of the night where youth most definitely trumped experience. Quillin was faster and had better reflexes. Inexperience hurt him at times. Quillin made mistakes besides a lack of aggression at times, particularly backing up against the ropes and posing, something that gave Wright more chances to hit Quillin than he would’ve otherwise had. He’ll need to correct that before facing someone more vital than Wright.
Wright brought out some of the best of Quillin, though, who did that thing I like to see fighters do, where they say, “How dare you score against me! Here are five punches to your face.” And he showed what more Quillin needed to do to be ready for the elite, prime middleweights.
Quillin wants middleweight champ Sergio Martinez, so he keeps fighting southpaws in preparation. I like the approach. Quillin is showing enough to make himself worthy of Martinez, if not anything like the betting favorite, and Wright was a perfect step toward getting him there.
AUSTIN TROUT-DELVIN RODRIGUEZ
From the standpoint of fan interest, Austin Trout beating Delvin Rodriguez the way he did didn’t do Trout any favors in his pursuit of a big money junior middleweight showdown against Canelo Alvarez. But from the standpoint of Alvarez’ team looking for someone beatable, they probably saw a Trout they could beat. The 120-108 scorecard was way off: Rodriguez won at least a handful of rounds, and had he put his foot on the throttle like we’re accustomed to seeing from Rodriguez, he might’ve gotten a few more, too.
The first four rounds were close, with Trout deploying guerrilla tactics to freeze Rodriguez, alternating with rounds where Rodriguez was like a smarter version of his usual aggressive self, landing long right hands from distance. But after a while, Trout more or less took over. He got just a touch more aggressive and Rodriguez didn’t respond until around the 11th round, where he came alive for no apparent reason and outworked Trout. He might’ve won the 12th, too, but Trout might’ve stolen it with some of the best punches of the fight. Either way, Trout clearly won the bout, which was marked by long stretches of the two circling and watching one another.
I’m not sure why Rodriguez never got it going. Trout never seemed to hurt him, and Rodriguez has faced bigger punchers than Trout before. Trout’s defense was slippery, sure, but why didn’t Rodriguez throw more punches?
Trout called out Canelo after the fight, and he might be the default option. About the only other might be Cornelius Bundrage, with opponents falling through for Canelo left and right. I suppose if James Kirkland gets the impossible $2.5 million he reportedly asked for in one of the more ill-advised business decisions in boxing of late, then he’d still be the first choice. But while Canelo-Trout wouldn’t sell much in the way of pay-per-views, it might be a more interesting fight than Trout-Rodriguez was if Canelo is, as might be expected, more aggressive than Rodriguez was Saturday.
LEO SANTA CRUZ-VUSI MALINGA
Leo Santa Cruz is a bantamweight prospect some people are high on, some people not. He sure looked like the goods Saturday as he fully graduated from that prospect status against Vusi Malinga, his career-best opponent. Malinga is nothing special, but Santa Cruz had an exceptionally easy go of it in an impressive performance, probably his best to date. He got the unanimous decision where one judge somehow found a round to give Malinga.
Santa Cruz is very much an Antonio Margarito clone, and the comical punch numbers were but one reflection of that: He threw 1,350 in 12 rounds. There are a couple differences, though, some good, some bad. His defense was far, far tighter than Margarito’s ever was; Malinga got through with some uppercuts, but mostly Santa Cruz’ guard stayed high and tight with great discipline. But his power never accumulated into anything like what Margarito used to do to people. He connected, and flush, but never hurt Malinga seriously except for one stretch late where the body punches had Malinga backing up.
Cruz isn’t quick, even though he was quicker than the leaden-fisted Malinga, but he showed some characteristics of a technical boxer anyhow, in addition to the defense — he was countering smartly, punching between Malinga’s offense, and turning cleverly to get better angles. Which is another point: Malinga’s performance was such as to really boost Cruz’ performance in comparison, because Malinga showed none of Cruz’ subtelty, hurtling straight forward and trying to keep pace without any success. He also was coming off a long layoff and might’ve been rusty. All that Malinga accomplished was taking a beating, and he took it very well, although I worry for his innards Sunday morning.
Santa Cruz might struggle with someone like an Anselmo Moreno — who wouldn’t? — but he showed he’s a real contender, ready for someone else in the top 10 of the division. The fight got monotonous after a while, but with the right opponent, he could be in for some fun, action fights, and he’s got enough technique to hang with most anyone in the division.
SAKIO BIKA-DYAH DAVIS
Dyah Davis was totally overmatched against Sakio Bika, unable to outbox him and unable to hurt him before getting stopped in the 10th and final round. Bika is a hard man: It’s hard to imagine being a prizefighter and wanting a piece of that action, since the best case scenario is that you beat him but he roughs you up, and the worst case scenario is what Davis got, which is just plain beat up. Still, Bika might have earned himself another big fight out of this, especially with powerful adviser Al Haymon in his corner.
Davis was riding a nice streak of wins, including an upset of then-super middleweight prospect Marcus Johnson, but Bika put a brutal halt to that. Bika has joined up with trainer Kevin Cunningham, who, while not perfect in his coaching of welterweight Devon Alexander, has shown the kind of skill as a trainer to have a bigger stable than he does. Bika was awfully good, at least compared to Davis, and was more patient than in the past, something Cunningham apparently was helping him work on. Cunningham also very well might have helped Bika with his defense, which was better than ever, or maybe it was just that Davis had never been in with anyone remotely on the level of Bika, and Bika made Davis look like a C-level fighter.
Bika has never beaten an A-level guy, so he’s always been on the B-level himself. But it’s a pretty strong B-level. Bika has always been inordinately strong, and his roughhouse tactics can be a bit ugly and mean, but it works for him — A-level fighters never look their best against him. But put Bika in with someone like Davis, and he will beat the stuffing out of him. Davis never could get it going, and the handful of punches he landed of any consequence couldn’t hurt Bika’s brick of a head. By the 10th, Bika’s wild and strangely accurate shots caught up to Davis, and he was beating him all over the ring before the ref stepped in and stopped it.
For Davis, it was a discouraging encounter with reality. It was a worthwhile risk for him to step up against that caliber of opponent, but it didn’t pay off, and he just wasn’t ready for someone like Bika, and might not ever be. There’s no shame in that, really. Bika isn’t exactly a barrel of monkeys in there.