A Sour Three Hours On ESPN Thursday Night

It seems that now is as good a time as ever to state that I’ve spoken too soon about the quality of boxing in 2014. After a decent card last week from HBO, we were treated with a laughably awful – no, perhaps not even laughable – three hour special from ESPN Thursday. It’s funny to think about people genuinely complaining about match-ups like Gabriel Rosado vs. David Lemieux when you have cringeworthy bouts being scheduled like the stuff from last night. I understand the issue of premium network television expectations versus those of basic cable, but this card had a plump 46-year-old Antonio Tarver pitted against a guy who has an awful tendency to be inexplicably inactive. There’s no reason for me not to complain.

Middleweight Terrell Gausha showed the world two things in the opening match-up against Cesar Vila; the fact that he has a lot of work to do in the gym with regard to tactics, but also that he can produce a pretty flashy knockout. Not everyone is going to put Gausha on HBO commentator Jim Lampley’s “Gatti list” of action fighters, but you have to respect an eye-catcher like the combination that finished the fight last night. Many people had Vila taking some of the early rounds, which ESPN’s Teddy Atlas was not too pleased about. He blamed such ignorance on an over-consumption of eggnog. There’s not much else to say about the bout except some advice to hunt down the knockout combination highlight; it’s worth a gander and was not in any way reminiscent of how the rest of the card would progress.

Next on the card was a bout featuring a rare Atlantic Canadian fighter from Nova Scotia, junior featherweight Tyson Cave, who was pitted against a man he’s fought previously in the amateurs, Oscar Escandon. This fight was mostly a display of weird taunting and completely awkward movement from Cave, and a frustrated offensive attempt from Escandon. I tweeted (half) sarcastically at the end of the bout that the Cave has done a great job of thoroughly embarrassing the East Coast, but it was pretty evident that he had won the bout easily on any sensible card. Atlas had only given two rounds to the ineffective Escandon and graphics had shown that fans utilizing the ESPN Friday Night Fights Scorecard app had the bout scored as a shutout for Cave.

In the end, the official cards gave a split decision win to Escandon with one judge submitting a gross 117-111 score in favor of the Columbian. This result, as well as Teddy’s live rage which ensued afterwards, reminded me of the 2004 bout between Emanuel Augustus and Courtney Burton which also aired on ESPN. Augustus was easily winning the fight, even if he did so whilst looking as if he was performing a circus act. Courtney was given a split decision victory and seconds after the decision was announced, you could hear boos erupting from the crowd – not the disappointed “fight more!” sort of booing, but the “oh my God!” gasp followed by a boo of rage. One difference between the Augustus fight and the Cave fight was that nobody booed when Escandon won. In fact, they booed when Cave climbed the turnbuckle to claim his victory; however, you have to remember that one of his taunts included flailing his arms and slapping his ass. I’ll reiterate, you’ve thoroughly embarrassed the East Coast, Cave.

Unfortunately, Austin Trout is in the position where he must fight on cards like this in order to work his way back up to better fights in the junior middleweight division. I cannot say I disagree with this. He was thoroughly out-boxed by Erislandy Lara and was dropped hard by the largely unknown Daniel Dawson in his last bout on ESPN. Trout has been in many situations in his career where he was fighting in low-key events to truck along and raise his rank, but getting knocked down and looking less-than-stellar in these bouts won’t help him in building a case for another big match-up. Trout won this one, but a solid effort was not needed as Luis Grajeda barely provided any offense and quit on his stool, resulting in an RTD 7.

To end the card off with a “special heavyweight attraction,” as ESPN’s Todd Grisham would put it, we were given Tarver, whose better days are clearly behind him, against Johnathan Banks. Prior to this bout, both of these fighters were away from the sport for at least a year, and perhaps they should have stayed out of the ring. Banks and Tarver begged for an encore performance of booing from the crowd as they worked together in creating one of the most inelegant bouts of the year. Tarver was stepping forward and waiting on a counter left hand for the vast duration of the fight as Banks backed off and looked terrified of the fat 46-year-old man. A counter left eventually landed flush on Banks and he never recovered from the shot, prompting Tarver to aggressively scream at the camera and boast about how he “brings the action!” Action, in this context, can be defined as “energetic activity” or “an exertion of power or force.” Perhaps Tarver exhibited the latter, but his activity was in no way “energetic.” I must say though, I’m glad referee Jack “The Beast” Reiss was there to show some energy as he gave Antonio an assertive shove as he was stopping the fight, as well as the event.

About Alex Barry

Alex Barry is a budding boxing scribe located in Newfoundland Canada. He's often found either working away at his commerce degree, or cheerleading Keith Thurman.