- Joe Tessitore, Boxing
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Everything comes full circle, even "Friday Night Fights." We started our 2007 season Jan. 5 in Biloxi, Miss., and we are returning this week to the same Gulf Coast city to wrap things up. In this week's season finale, former undisputed welterweight champion Zab Judah is looking to bounce back after his thriller against Miguel Cotto. Zab faces Edwin Vazquez in our main event from the Hard Rock in Biloxi, the second time Zab has appeared on "FNF" this year.
It's been a year full of solid fights, sensational fans and stunning knockouts. It's a year worthy of awards and honors, so let's hand them out.
2007 "Friday Night Fights" Awards
Fight of the Year
This category had tough competition this season. Terry Smith and Kelvin Davis provided by far the best heavyweight fight of the year on our air. It was nonstop action from two big men that resulted in Smith pulling out the win. In many other years, this would have been the clear-cut winner. However, for sheer entertainment and unpredictable happenings, the back-and-forth war between unbeaten prospect Samuel Miller and veteran Darrell Woods was wonderful. Woods pulled out the eight-round majority decision win in Tampa on March 2 after nearly being blown away in the first round, and hurt in the seventh and eighth.
Winner: Woods W8 Miller
Others: Cruz Carvajal's draw with Eric Aiken
Fighter of the Year
Three fighters really stood out on our series this year. Nate Campbell is a big part of the ESPN boxing scene. Aside from being a strong and capable guest studio host, the top-ranked lightweight is a star in the ring. Nate went 2-0 on FNF in 2007, and both performances were nearly flawless. Undefeated Montreal-based super middleweight Jean Pascal also went 2-0 on "FNF" and established himself as a force in the division. However, the Fighter of the Year comes from the cruiserweight ranks: Darnell Wilson did more to advance his career than any other. On Feb. 23, the Ding-A-Ling Man KO'd former world champ Kelvin Davis, then in June he made highlight reels across the country with his KO of Emmanuel Nwodo on Staten Island, N.Y. He is now cemented in the top 10 rankings and it was all because of his big year on "FNF."
Winner: Darnell Wilson
Knockout of the Year
When Darnell Wilson's left glove struck the right side of Emmanuel Nwodo's head on June 29, it was the hardest hit I have ever seen another person absorb. I don't know how else to describe it. I have not seen another punch delivered with more force or a more devastating result. Teddy Atlas immediately said he couldn't recall a more brutal KO in all his years at ringside. Nwodo's body crumbled to the ground and his legs folded back underneath him. At Teddy's house later that night with family and friends, we must have replayed the moment on TiVo at least 30 times. There have been other very impressive KOs elsewhere this year, there have been KOs that won world titles, but if you were at ringside, you wouldn't question that this KO was among the most vicious -- not just of this year, but in this era of fights.
Winner: Wilson KO Nwodo
Others: Jiminez KO Anchondo, Felciano TKO Rodriguez, Godfrey KO Cora, Green KO Woods
Prospect of the Year
There were so many good candidates for this award. I thought Andre Berto really grew up in front of our eyes when he got up off the canvas to defeat Cosme Rivera. I thought the Peterson Brothers both had more top-level results and delivered in their hometown of Washington, D.C. Eddie Chambers and Chris Arreola clearly established themselves as heavyweights to be dealt with after TKO wins on the same "FNF" card. This is a very tough call to make, but I'll go with the guy who impressed and was on the "FNF" schedule three times this season; no other prospect can say that.
Winner: Lamont Peterson
Moment of the Year
On March 16, Cruz Carvajal started his day not knowing he was fighting that night. After medical test results came in, Eric Aiken's opponent was declared unable to fight, so Cruz took the fight on seven hours' notice. He fought like a champ. The draw seemed like it should have leaned Carvajal's way. This ultimate short notice also took place in blizzard conditions in New Hampshire. Speaking of bad weather brings to mind June 8. Nearly 10,000 fans were in Montreal rooting on title contending local junior welterweight Herman Ngoudjo against former belt holder Randall Bailey. It was a tough fight; Bailey was at his best. Yet Bailey's powerful right hand wasn't the only threat at the outdoor Uniprix Stadium. A severe thunderstorm rumbled. Halfway through the fight, it exploded upon the crowd. The lights went out. The rain poured down. Just as the ref was wondering what to do, the lights went back on, the crowd erupted in celebration, and the two combatants continued fighting harder than they had all night long. The rain only intensified. Everyone was soaked except those within five feet of the covered ring. Thousands of fans swarmed the floor level and surrounded the ring, chanting in unison, splashing in the water and cheering on their hometown hero to a razor-thin win.
Winner: "Splish Splash" in Montreal, June 8
Others: "CSI Tunica," the ringside video investigation in Mississippi involving Zab Judah and commissioners to determine if a punch or clash caused a fight-ending cut to Ruben Galvan.
Venue of the Year
Mallory Square, Key West, Fla., deserves a lot for credit for its impressive views of the sunset and 5,000-plus fans. The Catholic Youth Center in Scranton, Pa., was also a good old-fashioned fight venue with a packed house and a pit atmosphere. The St. George Theatre on Staten Island, N.Y., had a special feel to it. And it's tough to top that scene at Uniprix in Montreal but just a few miles down the road, it was. Lucian Bute's impressive title eliminator win over Sakio Bika came in front of a huge crowd at the Bell Centre with an atmosphere that would only be outdone by Les Habs winning a Stanley Cup in the arena. The energy level was as high as it could be. Before Bute entered the ring, a live concert broke out. A drum soloist was raised above the stage, a lead guitarist was rocking his way through the arena and a Bono impersonator wound his way through the entire arena floor as Bute followed behind to "Where the Streets Have No Name." The phrase "You couldn't hear yourself think" was intended for moments like that. The Bell Centre is top-notch for a major fight, all the way around.
Winner: Bell Centre, Montreal
Show of the Year
The May 25 show in Washington, D.C., with both Peterson Brothers scoring knockouts and Floyd Mayweather Jr. at ringside, was a good watch. The March 23 show from Foxwoods in Connecticut with Said Ouali TKOing Irving Garcia and then Delvin Rodriguez being upset by Jesse Feliciano was a quality card. The March 2 card, when Nate Campbell battered Ricky Quiles after Samuel Miller and Darrell Woods took part in our Fight of the Year, was a classic. However, nothing can match the late-July evening from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., from top to bottom. This show had everything. Unbeaten heavyweight contender Chazz Witherspoon had a ninth-round TKO against a very rugged and determined Talmadge Griffis. NFL coaching legend and lifelong boxing fan Bill Parcells was our live guest ringside analyst. The two-time Super Bowl champ helped Teddy and I call the thriller with super prospect Andre Berto -- Berto rising up off the canvas to clobber Cosme Rivera was a great fight. The night also featured a segment with Teddy, Parcells and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey discussing what makes up a champion in various sports. It was compelling television and a show that garnered plenty of positive feedback. Both fights were entertaining and the broadcast was filled with surprises.
Winner: July 27, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Upset of the Year
Darrell Woods topping Samuel Miller seemed like a solid upset at the time. Delvin Rodriguez was one of the most-feared power-punching welterweights around when he was stunned by Jesse Felciano. Fernando Agnulo was a former sparring partner for the much-hyped unbeaten Patrick Lopez when he turned the tables and took a hard-earned 10-rounder over Lopez. Rob Calloway outhustled, outworked and outsmarted Terry Smith to win a significant heavyweight fight for this a cruiserweight journeyman/fringe contender. However, the winner of this award is a no-brainer. Troy Browning, 40, was served up to prospect Julio "Baby Face" Garcia, 20. Somebody forgot to give Browning the script. The one that says to just show up, try the best you can, get KO'd and never be seen on a televised fight again. But Garcia was as flat as a fighter has ever been and Browning simply did what a pro does -- he fought. The result was not just any upset win, it was a win that sent Garcia far off the radar screen of hot prospects. It was a win that had international bookmakers scratching their head wondering how a 39-to-1 underdog cruises in a fight like that.
Winner: Troy Browning W10 Julio "Baby Face" Garcia
Special thanks to the sponsors for supporting the fighters and trainers who are the backbone of this sport. Fight fans everywhere should appreciate the efforts of our colleagues in Bristol, Conn., putting together the studio segments; the ESPN programmers juggling schedules and budgets; and especially the remote "FNF" production crew that works tirelessly week after week. Men such as Lance Palmieri, Wayne Nelson and David McCoy are on the road with Teddy and me, taking more than eight months away from family and friends to make this series the consistent winner it has always been. There are many more like those three who have taken on a required commitment that is fulfilled to the highest level each and every week. I am blessed to call them friends. It was a memorable 2007 season, and I thank you for sharing it with us.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
2hMarc Stein and Tim MacMahon
10hMarc Stein and Calvin Watkins