(Deontay Wilder, left, Siarhei Liakhovich, right; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Beforehand, most people expected heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder taking on faded ex-contender Siarhei Liakhovich on ShoBox would be ugly. I was in the minority: Wilder still was living up to his name as a wild, raw, untested fighter, and Liakhovich's recent losses were against good competition, so I thought it was a worthwhile step up, maybe even too much of one.
I was very wrong. Wilder scored a 1st round knockout, which told us something we knew, which is that he really can punch. And he fought off his jab, composed, not so windmill-like, which was a positive development. But the way Liakhovich convulsed and spasmed on the ring mat was not at all the kind of thing he should've been doing after Wilder landed a solid right hand that wobbled him and another solid right hand that dropped him. You don't see fighters writhing on the ground like that unless they get caught with a perfect shot — or unless they're damaged goods coming into the ring.
Golden Boy has talked about putting Wilder in against the winner of Chris Arreola-Seth Mitchell, and despite my reservations about Liakhovich being shot prior to Friday, I can't exactly dismiss Wilder coming off a performance like this, either. Arreola's trainer has pooh-poohed the idea on Twitter, citing some secret plan assuming they beat Mitchell. But it does seem like GBP is ready to step Wilder's competition up significantly soon, since they've also vocally chased some other tough fights for the huge, athletic prospect.
The opening bout of the night was extremely similar to Wilder-Liakhovich: junior middleweight prospect Jermall Charlo seemingly stepping up against a faded contender, Antwone Smith, who was more damaged than we realized and who was stopped early on two solid yet unspectacular right hands. Smith has been off his peak for some time, but he also had weight problems coming into this one. He was noticably less energetic than usual, not even able to muster his trademark annoying barks. The end came in the 2nd after a blowout 1st, and while it's hard to be too impressed with the win under the circumstances, Charlo also performed about as well as you could want under the circumstances.
The middle bout of the tripleheader was more satisfying. Junior lightweights Francisco Vargas and Brandon Bennett gave it their all in a frisky scrap that was marred by some holding and head butting but that saw Vargas emerge with a clear unanimous decision with its share of action. Bennett came out with weight-shifting talent Adrien Broner, which didn't put him on the side of boxing fans who find Broner's every antic and every facial tick grating, especially since Bennett mimicked them all to a tee — the furrowed brow, the pooched bottom lip, the incessant head-shaking after getting hit. He won the 1st round and maybe the last with his boxing ability, but in between Vargas was pressuring him and messing him up along the ropes. Bennett eventually dispensed with all the movement and boxing and tried to establish he could back off Vargas, who never did, not even with a bad cut over his left eyelid stemming from a head butt. Vargas and Bennett both showed flaws; the difference was, Bennett can't punch or Vargas can catch or both. That means Vargas moves forward with the win and brighter future. I would be curious to see whether he could replicate the feat with someone who has proven power before declaring him a prospect with true contender potential.