(Sergey Kovalev downs Cornelius White; credit: Larry Levanti, Main Events)
It was an early night, in every sense of the phrase, for the winners Friday on NBC Sports and ESPN2. The action had wrapped up before 11 p.m. ET, and the top match-ups on each card finished in knockouts or technical knockouts.
In the NBC Sports headliner, top American heavyweight Bryant Jennings got a competitive win over Andrey Fedosov before referee Steve Smoger stopped the bout at the end of the 6th with Fedosov unable to see out of his swollen left eye. That Jennings can be called the "top American heavyweight" says more about the nation's worthiness in the division than Jennings. Jennings is an honest contender, sure, who comes to fights looking like an actual athlete and he has some speed and can box a little, but showings like this suggest he'd struggle against anyone in the divisional top 10. It was a good battle, though, which helps justify his frequent appearances on the network. Jennings had a helluva 3rd, wobbling Fedosov with a beautiful right uppercut/left hook combination, but he was unable to finish off the gritty Russian and by the end of the round was gassed. Fedosov was able to take advantage for a while, especially working Jennings' body well, but Jennings recovered and began boxing well off his back foot, and by the end of the 6th Fedosov's eye was fully closed. At age 28, no reason to step up Jennings too much more yet, given he's getting good seasoning against this level of competition without dominating.
On the ESPN2 headliner, bantamweight Juan Carlos Payano drilled Jundy Maroan in the 7th with a left-right-left combo that left him crumpled on his side in heap of pain. It was a real move up in competition for both men, neither of whom had fought the kind of competition that should have made this a title eliminator. Yet it was clear both could fight a little. Payano suffered a cut on the outside of his right eye from a 1st round head butt, then got dropped by a left hand high on his head at the end of the 3rd. Payano, less accurate than Maroan but faster, adjusted by getting more aggressive, then was countering especially well to stifle Maroan's own volume. That 7th round combination was also beautiful, if not quite as snazzy as Jennings', although it got the job done a little better. This apparently puts him in line for Koki Kameda, which is about as interesting as anything else happening in the bantamweight division these days. Whether Payano is ready for it or not, it's hard to tell from beating a fighter greener than even he is, unless you're blown away by Payano beating a Luis Maldonado who had lost six of his last seven. Also, Payano's nickname of "Baby Pacquiao" is laughable. They're nothing alike. Just do you, Payano.
Over on the NBC Sports undercard, the most significant fighter in action Friday, light heavyweight contender Sergey Kovalev, made his customary short work of his opponent. Cornelus White is no Gabriel Campillo, though, so it wasn't as surprising for Kovalev to do it to White compared to when he did it to Campillo. Kovalev is up there right now with the biggest punchers in the sport, but unlike the Lucas Matthysses, Gennady Golovkins and Adonis Stevensons of the world, he does it with two-fisted combinations. He dropped White three times in the 3rd, with each combination ending with a left hand, and the third knockdown was enough for the ref to wave it off. Kovalev is next in line for the alphabet belt held by Bernard Hopkins, and there's been talk of Nathan Cleverly. Both would do because Kovalev's punching makes him worth watching against anyone, but everyone pretty much wants to see him face lineal champ Adonis Stevenson because everyone is smart.
Lastly, on the ESPN2 undercard, Yenifel Vicente stopped Jorge Diaz, a junior featherweight short on ability but long on getting punched and punching back. It was a good back and forth scrap through three, but then Vicente caught Diaz with a monster right uppercut that stopped Diaz, and when Diaz got up, he couldn't get out of the way of the same punch and the ref stepped in. Vicente gets big demerits for jumping around the side of the ref while he protected Diaz to try and get more shots in, and while it was a good slash fun performance, I'm not sitting around on a Friday night most nights thinking, "Say, who would try to punch an incapacitated fighter while a referee is trying to protect him? Put that dickweed back on TV." So if I never see him again, a-OK by me.