It was a grinding type of night on Friday Night Fights. That’s not to say it was anything you’d keep on your DVR for any extended period of time, but then quality is but a piece in the unexceptional pie we’ve been fed by ESPN2 this season. It’s one thing to settle into a boxing broadcast knowing that it’s unlikely to be special, but something else to expect a little more from a card, only be lulled to sleep halfway through one of the copious Cialis or Just For Men commercials.
Last night’s action at the Convention Center in Pharr, Texas was a case of the former — it was a middle-of-the road card that promised little in terms of gore or brutality, and it lived up to that promise in a watchable way.
In the main event, junior middleweight Roberto Garcia gnashed his way to a 31-3 (21 KO) record with a unanimous decision win over Antwone Smith, now 21-4-1 (12 KO). Garcia somehow withstood Smith’s banshee barrages over the course of the 10 round affair, essentially bullying his way to a points win, though Smith had a few moments late.
Opening up the 1st round, Garcia moved forward behind wide shots while Smith looked to yell his way up the middle with the jabs and straight rights. Smith found a measure of success timing Garcia with hooks, but Garcia worked effectively by measuring Smith’s head — that is, jabbing and leaving his glove on Smith’s face — and chopping about his guard. Garcia also liberally used his forearm to set up shots in rounds 1 and 2. Smith made it easy for him by failing to move his head, though.
Smith was clearly exerting himself as the volume of his screeching rose, but he had difficulty with Garcia’s pressure against the ropes.
Walking Smith down and smiling any time a shot caught him, Garcia upped the ante with his mugging tactics in round 3, whacking Smith low and pushing his head around more, finally drawing a surly warning from referee Lee Rogers. Garcia did good work to the body, though, and caught Smith with a solid right-left combination towards the end of the round.
Even if he wasn’t actually that much busier, Smith sure gave the impression that he was with all the vocalizations. In reality, Garcia’s heavier shots were largely slamming home inside in rounds 4 and 5. Frustration began to show for Garcia, though, as he banged his gloves together and scowled when he missed shots and Smith was able to capitalize.
Behind a little bit of distance, Smith played the angles game in the 6th, combining activity with better movement. Garcia caught up with a few right hands late in the round, but staying away from the ropes served Smith well. But Garcia pressed with greater urgency in round 7, again making things rough for Smith, who landed a few flashy shots, but was otherwise smacked and muscled around.
Rounds 8 and 9 were dominated by ref Rogers growling “No, Robert,” at Garcia just about every time Smith leaned in low and Garcia looked to nudge him into position with an elbow or forearm. It may have cleaned up the fight in momentary bursts, but at the expense of the flow of the match.
Smith took heavy shots early in the final round, but fought fire with brimstone, showing heart and doing fairly well despite the chanting of the pro-Garcia crowd. Smith cooled down to finish, though, and Garcia took advantage with a series of heavy rights on the stationary Antwone Smith’s dome.
Judges scored the Garcia victory 98-92, 97-93 and 97-93.
The win marks Roberto Garcia’s third in a row since his rough decision loss to Antonio Margarito in 2010. It should be noted, however, that his two other recent victims were Jose “Shibata” Flores, who retired for most of the 2000s, and win over previous conqueror Calvin Odom, now 15-9. And the word “recent” is a bit generous. The Texas-based Mexican has been on a two fight per year diet for a few years now, and at the age of 31, a face-first style can’t mean too much sand left in the hourglass. Kermit Cintron seems to be headed back to the realm of Friday Night Fights mainstays, and seeing as Garcia seemed to handle Smith more easily than Cintron did, that’s a decent payday that should prove easy to put together sometime late in the season.
Either way, Garcia’s always got that Miller Lite Texas State Light Middleweight Title he picked up in 2004. It’s perhaps the best tasting and least filling of all championships.
Antwone Smith’s Devon Alexander-esque chattering was annoying and, as the boxing elitists say, “amateurish.” At a few points it actually looked like Garcia was giggling at him when he cried out. He has a few good things going for him: His technique is solid, he took a number of booming shots relatively well, and he showed guts late in the fight. If it weren’t for said goofiness, he might make for better TV.
A couple of other junior middleweights saw combat in the co-main event, and the boxing world breathed a sigh of relief when some scary jawing at their weigh-in didn’t result in anyone getting “glassed” or “tripodded.”
As for the fight itself, James De La Rosa came forward looking to press in round 1, and Tyrone Brunson threw a jab that was between probing and pushing. Brunson clearly didn’t want much inside and draped himself over De la Rosa, not unlike Hopkins’ over-the-back move against Dawson in their first bout. De la Rosa responded by deadlifting Brunson over his head, likely in a show of physical strength and an attempt at intimidation.
De la Rosa resumed his aggression in the 2nd, switching from orthodox to southpaw with marked success, but Brunson was able to catch him with a combination as he was off-balance, his glove touching the canvas and eating a knockdown. De la Rosa roared back in the round though, likely winning it if the knockdown could be ignored.
Again Brunson opted to counter from the outside and wait for openings in the 3rd, though he did well in catching De La Rosa on his way in. But in the last minute, De La Rosa seemed to find a groove and punished Brunson with hooks and a few uppercuts as Brunson mostly just covered up.
It was unclear whether the blatant shift in momentum in De La Rosa’s favor was a product of Brunson slowing down and getting tired, or if it was due to De La Rosa finding ways to break through Tyrone’s guard. Either way, Brunson found himself on the wrong end of the tighter, cleaner shots and was moved around the ring for much of rounds 4 and 5. De La Rosa marched forward inflicting damage, and Brunson’s short rebellions were quelled post haste. Additionally, as Brunson’s jab crawled slower, De la Rosa began to time overhand rights that swelled Tyrone’s left cheek just under his eye.
Brunson swung freely early in round 6, but some well-placed hooks from De La Rosa put him on the defensive again. Occasionally Brunson would land an interesting right hand, but he couldn’t sustain anything, and his left eye appeared to be making right hands difficult to see.
In the 7th, ESPN2’s Teddy Atlas adeptly pointed out that Brunson would be well-served to punch with De La Rosa, whose chin has proven a liability in previous fights. Almost on cue, Brunson tried exactly that, but again simply couldn’t put together more than a combination or two. And Brunson’s defensive tactic of covering up and falling forward was consistently thwarted in the 8th when De La Rosa simply shook him off, or stepped to the side and tossed hooks. Brunson attacked a handful of times, but the effect was negligible. De La Rosa seemed to close the round trying to preserve a win rather than close big.
With scores of 79-72, 78-73 and a slightly questionable 77-74, James De la Rosa’s record rose to 21-1 (12 KO). Brunson fell to 21-2-1 (20 KO).
The effort, while solid, was a bit worrisome for a few reasons. De La Rosa was the first fighter to defeat Tim Coleman in 2008, but based on Coleman’s uninspired showing against Kendall Holt on last week’s Friday Night Fights, it’s difficult to say exactly how much that’s worth these days. But De La Rosa was also decked and stunned a few times by a guy who hadn’t fought in over two years and didn’t offer up anything that complicated. And in his last bout over a year ago, he scraped himself up off the canvas thrice against unheralded Allen Conyers to lose a decision. As the younger brother of The Contender’s Juan De La Rosa, he may find it easier to pick up ESPN-level dates than others, but his wide style, spotty defense and questionable chin will likely hold him back at higher levels.
Brunson found himself getting hammered by counter right hands over his vacationing jab against veteran Carson Jones on ShoBox in his last fight — in 2009. It’s an issue, and it was exploited tonight just as it was then. Brunson looked great mowing through schlubs with crappy records early in his career, and he has a scrappy streak to him in some rounds. But it’s not consistent, and the way he earmuffs himself and obliges shots doesn’t do anything good for him.
See? Not quite the Israel Vazquez vs. Rafeal Marquez quadrilogy, but it was more entertaining than we’ve seen from ESPN in a while this season. There’s still time. Friday Night Fights heated up with the weather last year, and slowly the degrees ascend.
Next week’s show from Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut: Lightweights Hank Lundy and Dannie Williams meet in what should prove to be a nice clash.
Also, since you’re here, check out Señor Starks’ preview of tonight’s Erik Morales vs. Danny Garcia, James Kirkland vs. Carlos Molina double-header on HBO.