- Joe Tessitore, Boxing
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Everything in life comes full circle. Even Wednesday Night Fights.
The show made its 2006 debut on April 5 with former world champion Verno Phillips in the main event. Come this Wednesday, the season finale of WNF will end with Verno Phillips in the main event.
In between, a lot has happened. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable season of ESPN2's midweekly boxing series.
For nearly five months, our pugilistic production has crisscrossed the country. We have stretched our focus far, bringing you world title bouts with fighters you've come to know well, first-round knockout wins by fighters you've never seen before and some knockout drubbings of fighters you might never want to see again.
Wednesday Night Fights 2006 has much to be proud of. In fact, right from the start we made history. WNF was the first nationally televised sports event to originate from post-Katrina New Orleans Arena.
For years, the Crescent City provided ESPN Boxing with ratings higher than any other major metropolitan market. On that opening night of WNF, those same loyal New Orleans fans thanked our crew for coming to their abandoned arena. They wanted to show the rest of the country that life does indeed move on. It was our pleasure to be there and I hope we can return someday soon.
Now, here we are at the end of the road. The last stop on the WNF tour is the fabulous Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Conn. Before you settle in to watch what should be a ruthlessly contested main event (Wednesday, 9:30 ET, on ESPN2) between Phillips (39-10-1, 20 KOs) and Teddy Reid (23-7-2, 17 KOs), let us reflect on the rest of the WNF season. Here are my expanded end-of-the-year Wednesday Night Fight awards.
WNF Fight of the Year
To me, this is an easy choice. On April 19, in Palm Beach, Fla., Kermit Cintron TKO'd David Estrada in a thriller. Just a year before, Cintron and Estrada were on ESPN pay-per-view losing career-altering fights to Antonio Margarito and "Sugar" Shane Mosley, respectively. Now Cintron was reestablishing himself as a major force while Estrada wasn't ready to give up his top-10 status. The back-and-forth brawl saw wild action, big power shots and relentless attacks. In the end, Cintron pummeled the tough Estrada for a 10th-round stoppage. The fight was proclaimed the first-ever boxing Instant Classic by ESPN and was immediately promoted for a well-watched replay six days later.
WNF Fight of the Year honorable mention: Joey Spina TKO11 Jesse Brinkley; Oscar Diaz UD12 Chris Smith; Allan Green TKO6 Donnie McCrary; Jonathon Banks KO4 Eliseo Castillo.
WNF Knockout of the Year
Forget WNF, this might be the Knockout of the Year for all of boxing. Three nights before his Uncle Bernard won the light heavyweight title in Atlantic City, Demetrius Hopkins had his own moment in the spotlight. In the ninth round of a fight in which he was hardly in control, Hopkins suddenly exploded. It was a brutal right hand. Michael Warrick took the shot on the chin and crumbled. He was unconscious before he hit the canvas. The thud was loud, the medical attention was immediate, and the highlight ended up being No. 1 on "SportsCenter's" Top 10 Plays of the Day.
WNF Knockout of the Year honorable mention: Matt Godfrey TKO1 Shaun George; Rogers Mtagwa KO4 Alvin Brown.
WNF Shocker of the Year
On April 26 Allan Green was one of the most talked-about unbeaten prospects in boxing. He was tall, athletic and fighting at home in Oklahoma. He was set for a world-title shot with an impressive win. When his original opponent Anthony Bonsante dropped out, many contenders were called. There were no takers to face the skilled Green. The promoters were left with lightly regarded Midwestern journeyman Donnie McCrary. McCrary was a former sparring partner of Green, who used to toy with him in the gym. But in the third round of their televised main event, McCrary was no toy. McCrary survived a knockdown, got up and floored Green. McCrary had the hotshot nearly out on his feet. In all my years of broadcasting, I had never lost it on the air, but I lost it at that moment. We were on the brink of the biggest upset in the recent history of the sport. Green was given the benefit of the doubt by the ref and instead of a stunning TKO for McCrary, the fight continued. Green would go on to win in the sixth. But for that one shocking round, the boxing world was turned upside down.
WNF Shocker of the Year honorable mention: Jonathon Banks KO4 over Eliseo Castillo; Cassius Baloyi TKO11 over Manuel Medina (wins IBF 130 title); Tony Thompson UD over Dominick Guinn.
WNF Comeback of the Year
Cruiserweight Jonathon Banks was unbeaten but untested until July 26, when he was tested early by accomplished veteran Eliseo Castillo. Banks was knocked down twice in the first round. The fight was in front of a rowdy, jam-packed crowd at the Manhattan Center. There, seven floors above 34th Street, in the middle of the city that never sleeps, Banks came alive. He did so with a charge of energy in rounds two through four that stunned us all, although not nearly as much as it stunned Castillo. With Manny Steward and his Kronk teammates rooting him on, Banks unleashed an attack of rights and lefts that had the Cuban star out and finished for a fourth-round knockout.
WNF Comeback of the Year honorable mention: Joey Spina comes from behind to KO Jesse Brinkley; Allan Green off the canvas to top McCrary; Sebastien Demers off the canvas to TKO Sherwin Davis; Jerome Ellis seemingly outboxed to KO Neil Sinclair.
WNF Unique Moment of the Year
Broadcasting a live sporting event is not as easy as it might appear. You try to think about everything you say, but have little time for reflection in the heat of the moment. You have to react and let your preparation mix with your instincts and experience.
Teddy Atlas and I work in the most subjective of sports. There is no down and distance, scoreboard or shot clock in boxing. It's our opinions and projections, not balls and strikes. I've had the honor of working with Teddy for more than 4½ years. Never have I seen him so boldly turn an opinion into a fearless prediction as he did on Wednesday Night Fights on Aug. 2. In his fight plan, Teddy said featherweight Rogers Mtagwa would knock out veteran Alvin Brown with a right hand. Risky call. Then, in the first round, Teddy took it one step further. He stated that not only would Mtagwa win by KO from a right hand, but that he would do it in the fourth round. You don't hear color commentators doing this kind of stuff. Joe Morgan doesn't predict after the first pitch that the Yankees will win on a ninth-inning walk-off homer hit into the right-field seats on a 3-0 count. Joe Theismann doesn't reveal on the opening kickoff that the Patriots will win with a Corey Dillon 50-yard run off tackle on the final drive. But here was Teddy putting himself way out on the ledge. The final seconds were ticking off the clock in the fourth round. Combination by Mtagwa backed up Brown. Less than 10 seconds to go, another right hand flush to the side of the head. BOOM! Brown went down so fiercely, he ended up on the ring apron looking through the other side of the ropes. The result: fourth-round KO by a right hand and Teddy Atlas' agent started marketing Ouija boards.
WNF Unique Moment of the Year honorable mention: Verno Phillips and J.C. Candelo pre-fight staredown after a personal issue tore their friendship apart; the old-school Fight Club venue in Montreal with fans rooting on their hometown fighters; David Tua's return to televised co-feature in front of a vocal NYC crowd.
WNF Interview of the Year
Teddy Atlas and I are fortunate to be ringside with many boxing stars who join us live weekly. Many times we are fortunate to have stars from other walks of life sit with us. On July 12, at our annual pre-ESPY edition of Wednesday Night Fights, Seattle Seahawks star running back Shaun Alexander joined us. Alexander is a big boxing fan who appreciates the mental side of the sport. Teddy asked him to compare the anxiety of waiting in the locker room before a Super Bowl to the feeling of waiting for a championship fight. Alexander's answer was revealing. He said he felt many of his Seahawks teammates couldn't handle that moment. He agreed with Teddy's analogy and took it one step further, surmising that the Seahawks lost the big game to the Pittsburgh Steelers because of it.
WNF Interview of the Year honorable mention: Oscar De La Hoya hinting that he likely will have one more fight -- vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.; Sergio Mora candidly discussing if he is ready for Jermain Taylor; Michael Moorer ringside predicting Allan Green could get caught by Donnie McCrary; Hasim Rahman acknowledging that Wladimir Klitschko, not Rahman himself, is the No. 1 heavyweight in the world; Antonio Tarver guaranteeing a KO of Bernard Hopkins; quarterback Vince Young discussing his appreciation for boxing.
WNF Mistake of the Year
We all make mistakes. It's just that most of us don't make mistakes that cause a television network to scramble and a promoter to tap dance. Fifteen minutes before we were about to go on the air live with WNF on July 19, California Chief Inspector Dean Lohuis walked up to me and admitted, "Dean messed up!" Did he ever. Somehow nobody in the California commission informed a licensed ringside physician that there was a fight card that night. Not just any fight card, but a live televised fight card headed into 90 million homes. Could you imagine an NBA game delayed an hour because no one brought basketballs? Or a Major League Baseball game delayed because no one scheduled an umpire? Welcome to our world. You never know what you will get in this game.
WNF Mistake of the Year honorable mention: The licensing, managing, promoting and broadcasting of utterly undeveloped female fighter Unity Young in Colorado Springs on July 5.
WNF Venue of the Year
Cookie-cutter TV camera angles and conformist courts and fields are the business of other sports. But in boxing, anything goes with the venues we visit. And perhaps more than any other sport, the feel and look of boxing on TV is greatly affected by the setting we are in. Picking the best host site of WNF 2006 is a tough call. We visited some outstanding arenas and fight venues. The fans play a big role in this choice, too. Most of the fans were smart and passionate. Most of the venues were a perfect fit. I struggled with this, but I find it tough to pick a better venue than the New Alhambra in South Philly. It is packed with fans -- real fight fans. They seem to have a rooting interest in each fight, even the four-round swing bouts. Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz lines the walls with black-and-white posters of legends. The whole atmosphere is like something out of an old-school boxing movie. The New Alhambra has taken the place of the Blue Horizon as the home of Philly boxing. It's a must-visit for every fight fan.
WNF Venue of the Year honorable mention: The Grand Ballroom at the Manhattan Center, New York City; The Grand Ballroom at the Borgata, Atlantic City, N.J.; The Fox Theater at Foxwoods Resort Casino, Ledyard, Conn.
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."
8hEthan Sherwood Strauss