Commentary

Condrington crushes Johnsen's "Contender" hopes

Jaidon Codrington put his heavy hands to good use by knocking out Wayne Johnsen in the first round in their semifinal match.

Originally Published: October 23, 2007
By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com

No contestant on this season of "The Contender" had a better handle on what it feels like to be demolished quickly, ruthlessly and embarrassingly, as Jaidon Codrington did.

Rewind to Nov. 3, 2005.

Codrington, a Queens, N.Y., resident with some fast hands, a growing rep buoyed by a promotional push compliments of multimedia entrepreneur Damon Dash and Lou DiBella, and an undefeated record at 9-0, was a media darling.

Fightwriters were churning out copy on The Don, one half of "The Chin Checkers" (the other half was Curtis Stevens), DiBella's new stash of homegrown talent.

Codrington was expected to show Oklahoman Allan Green, a 17-0 prospect, how the big-city ruffian got it done.

It didn't exactly go down like that.

Green came out fast and furious on Codrington, who didn't have time to get the plate number of the truck that hit him, let alone file a report on the bludgeoning. Green, starting off with a clean left hook, pinned Codrington on the ropes and basted him with ill intent.

Codrington crumpled under the attack, and the bout came to a grinding halt when the New Yorker got knocked into la-la land. It was the scariest knockout of the year, the sort where a viewer has to wonder if the downed party is still breathing.

Codrington did breathe again, and in fact gained another round of admirers for bouncing back from that humiliating beatdown.

Fast forward to the present. Now on "The Contender," Codrington was tabbed as a favorite to make it to the finals, and he did nothing to minimize that belief in his first fight on the show. Codrington downed Brian Vera, a Texan, via a second-round knockout. That win put him in the semifinals against New Jersey's Wayne Johnsen, a fighter who started fighting only four years ago, but someone who made up ground sparring with top-tier pros Jermain Taylor and Edison Miranda.

Johnsen was clearly seen as an underdog against the more seasoned Codrington, who started in the ring when he was nine. But all involved with the show, including his trainer, Pepe Correa, and the show's host, Sugar Ray Leonard, figured Johnsen would have a puncher's chance.

After all, Codrington's chin had been checked -- and found to be deficient -- once before.

Come fight night, Johnsen looked sharp. In the dressing room, anyway.

His jab snapped as he hit the pads with Correa, who told viewers that the Jersey boy could pack a wallop.

In the arena, Johnsen's mom, brother and fiancee sat in the stands, both nervous and pumped, waiting for the full-time contractor/carpenter with just three amateur fights and 18 professional fights under his belt to get to business.

"Pull an Allan Green on his a--," the fiancee whispered to Johnsen's brother as the bell rang to start the round.

In the first round, Johnsen searched high and low for a home for the jab. He looked relaxed, and by no means out of his element against Codrington.

Then, Johnsen let his guard down. He played the role Codrington had played, to his chagrin, in 2005. Johnsen threw a jab and was tossing a right-hand follow. His hands were both low, and his chin jutted out, as if on a platter.

Codrington saw that, licked his lips and threw a quick, clean, short right. It hit chin.

Johnsen went down to the floor, on his back, with his gloves over his face. He rolled over and pushed himself up at the count of nine and a half.

Referee Jack Reiss, in textbook style, took his time to check out Johnsen's eyes and legs. He asked him to walk toward him, and gave him a tiny shove back. That little push showed that Johnsen's legs were nowhere near sturdy enough to go on, and Reiss halted the scrap.

The official time was 1:17 of the first round.

ESPN.com talked to Johnsen (17-2), and asked the fighter to recall the painful outing against Codrington (18-1, 14 KOs).

"I got caught, it was the first round," said the 30-year-old. "I was throwing an overhand right. I got up, I thought I was good to continue. The ref stopped the fight. I still think I could've continued. It was a stupid mistake, but you can't do that against a guy like Jaidon."

Johnsen maintains that the knockout is far in his rearview mirror and that his head is screwed on straight. It better be, as Johnsen has been tapped to fight in the season finale on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. He'll face the loser of the other semifinal match, which pits Sakio Bika against Sam Solimon.

"That knockout is the past; it doesn't bother me at all," Johnsen said. "It's gone. You've got to stay strong mentally. A real fighter becomes a champion when he loses and comes back."

The proud puncher sticks to the stance that he could've battled on. "I got up, I was fine," Codrington said. "I didn't think it was a good stoppage."

Correa is quite fond of Johnsen, who gave the Blue Team a positive jolt with his first-round win over Miguel Hernandez (UD5). He believes the boxer would be well served to drop down to the 160-pound class and spend more time with a solid tutor who can continue to hone his skills.

"Please don't count him out," Correa said. "It could happen to any fighter, in any division, the best of the best, getting knocked out."

For instruction on how to handle the painful indignity, Wayne Johnsen doesn't have to search long or hard. He can study the career arc of the man who knocked him out, and out of the tournament, Jaidon Codrington.

Michael Woods, the news editor for TheSweetScience.com, has written for ESPN The Magazine, GQ and The New York Observer.

Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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