There was a kaleidoscopic quality to Friday Night Fights this week, where it was impossible to know at any given moment who was up and who was down, and where the cylinder would stop twisting, nobody knew. The men who came out on the winning end of the stellar ESPN2 card, one of the finest you'll see all year regardless of the network — light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara, junior welterweight Adrian Granados and heavyweight Artur Szpilka — all spent time plummeting toward a loss, yet ended with stoppage victories. It was exilarating stuff. Whatever worries anyone justifiably had when reliable ESPN boxing boss Doug Loughrey departed during the network's string of layoffs have proven unfounded so far, and FNF's stellar card showed that there's been no drop off as a result of his departure yet.
The card, from Chicago's U.S. Celluar Field, was bolstered by a boisterous crowd with an announced attendance of more than 8,000, a big number in this day and age. You could not blame them in the slightest for being boisterous.
The opener was a rematch of February's wild heavyweight fight between local Polish hero Szpilka and Mike Mollo, and it was no less wild than the first time around. Szpilka came out strong, affecting Mollo with his punches but not vice versa. Mollo managed to get close in the 2nd where his short arms were less of a liability. Then came the topsy-turvy 3rd: Szpilka was blasting him all over the ring, only for Mollo to suddenly land a left hook that put Szpilka down hard. Another 10-20 seconds and Mollo walks away with the victory. Mollo retained control in the 4th but in the 5th Szpilka connected on a left hand that deposited Mollo on the canvas and forced the referee to halt the seesaw bout. Szpilka is deeply flawed but maybe with some additional seasoning he'll be able to step up to the contender level, although it is a long shot. Alternately, who gives a fuck? Szpilka is pure drama, especially on the lower end of the talent scale.
Adrian Granados-Mark Salser, Jr. was of little interest given the opener and the main event, but it earned boxing fans' affection. Granados, who had a draw with Kermit Cintron not so long ago, came out with fire. Salser would punch back with hard volleys when cornered with hard punches, in ferocious exchanges, and Granados would be buckled — he fell in the 2nd and 5th. Between, he showed off superior boxing technique for stretches, backing Granados up and tagging him then moving out of range. In the 6th, out of nowhere, Granados hurt Salser with a body shot then did it again, and the second time he went down, forcing the referee to end the contest. Granados is good enough to maybe upset would-be up-and-comers and ex-contenders, so he could earn a gig before long with a company contemplating an honest test for a prospect.
The main event capped off the kooky evening. After winning the 1st round, Andrzej Fonfara was flirting with a massive points loss, having arguably not won a round thereafter until the 7th. Gabriel Campillo was all kinds of boxing brilliance for those rounds, firing hard combinations to make up for his lack of one-punch pop, backing up the bully, defending impeccably and not minding Fonfara's shots so much when they did land. Then in the 8th, Fonfara turned the tables, wobbling Campillo with a right hand. In the 9th, Campillo apparently still hadn't recovered, and was hampered by a rapidly swelling right eye. Fonfara did him in with a right hand that dropped him, then a body attack that kept him down. Campillo boxes beautifully but doesn't have the cannon, while Fonfara does. He is in play as a very serious top-10 contender in a division HBO appears to like, while Campillo was on the verge of bouncing back from a stoppage loss to Sergey Kovalev before a heartbreaking turn.