- Joe Tessitore, Boxing
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"Give us your fighter, we'll get him beat!" Not exactly the kind of endorsement many managers are seeking out. Yet it's just what fans and viewers want.
An overmatched underdog pulling off an improbable upset: That has emerged as the central theme for boxing on ESPN in 2008. It's become more common than Joe Simpson meddling in his daughters' relationships -- but enough about Tony Romo and an acne medicine pitchwoman. The blemishes concerning us are now pimpled across the records of previously unbeaten boxers and one top title contender.
It has actually become comical. At least from my view. Let me clue you in on how this goes.
Our boxing crew shows up at production meetings with TV fighters the day before a broadcast. We scour the statistical info and dive into the past fight reports. Then we interview each fighter. They are peppered with questions. They tell us about their strategy, training and mental makeup. The glory-seeking underdogs almost always tell us they are in the best shape ever and they will shock the world.
This year, those bold statements are coming to fruition.
Trust me, when we emerge from these meetings we feel like we have more info on each fighter than their manager, trainer and mother combined. We also have a very strong feeling as to what is going to happen in the fight.
Then comes the conversation which plants the seed for a Murphy's Law upset. It goes something like this.
Broadcaster (yours truly) to producer: "Do you really think we are going to get many rounds out of this fight?"
Producer: "Not really, maybe six or seven."
Other producer: "You kidding me, this guy hasn't fought anybody! He's been TKO'd recently and doesn't have the speed or experience to compete. We'll be lucky to get three or four rounds from this fight."
Entire ESPN crew: "Yeah, this isn't going the distance, he's got no shot."
Me: "It really does seem like [insert heavily favored top name fighter here] is in easy."
This is coming from a group which has combined to produce literally thousands of TV fights. Yet this year, we can't figure on anything. If we were gamblers they'd be calling us Eddie Mush. If we were on local TV they'd be calling us weathermen.
The fighter's who made us look silly this year are Reynaldo Lopez, Brian Vera, Jose Luis Herrera, Gabriel Rosado and Deandre Lattimore. Not exactly Buster Douglas material.
This group had hardly accomplished anything of note before their prime-time TV upsets. They were brought in to be on the opposing side of showcasing a rising star. Instead, they stole the spotlight. And they deserved it.
Reynaldo Lopez knocked out Mike Oliver, who was undefeated in 21 fights. Oliver was faster, better and fighting with a world title shot lined up. Lopez waited for the one moment to find the perfect punch and nailed it.
Brian Vera was an also ran from "The Contender." Yet he made Andy Lee -- the heavily marketed Manny Steward trained "sure thing" -- look with a torn and battered heavy bag.
Bernard Hopkins' sparring partner, Gabriel Rosado, handed James Moore his first loss. Jose Luis Herrera, who was almost stopped in the first round, rallied to TKO cruiserweight stud Aaron Williams.
Then there's Deandre Lattimore. A TKO victim himself who had never fought outside of Missouri. So he comes to Sechew Powell's New York stomping grounds and stomps all over the No. 1 junior middleweight contender.
Why is this happening so often? What do these matchmakers and ESPN boxing programmer Doug Loughrey know that the average fight follower doesn't?
"I think these opponents are really not that bad," said "Friday Night Fights" producer Rob Beiner. "And the heavy favorites are a little built up. You can't measure the other guy's heart. You never know what you are going to get on that one night."
No doubt that these upset makers have shown great heart. They all withstood tough times in their big fight as well as their careers. Perhaps it goes beyond just what the winner brings to the table, but rather the inflated sense of self that the beaten favorite enters the ring with.
"Fighters now are more known, more famous earlier in their careers," said John Scully, the trainer of Mike Oliver who was one of the upset victims this season. "They get hyped. The Internet has done it. The kids are able to read about themselves more now. I warn kids about this all the time. They start to believe their own Internet and TV hype. They get a little too big in the head with all the praise coming quicker than it should be now."
Scully theorizes that 10 or 15 years ago we would never know about some of these emerging stars. The fact that we all do know of them, means the fighters themselves are prone to getting caught up in it.
"So now maybe they don't train as hard, or maybe they take somebody lightly," says Scully.
Whatever it is, it's happening more than any of us can recall. That's not a bad thing. Upsets in boxing are thrilling. They are what keep us tuning in. Here's to many more.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
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