Bika's eighth-round TKO nets him 'Contender' title

Updated: November 7, 2007, 1:46 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- If you're still looking for a fight of the year, you probably don't have to look any further.

In a grueling, non-stop action battle, Sakio Bika outlasted Jaidon Codrington, scoring a TKO at 2:18 of the eighth round to win the third-season finale of "The Contender" and the $750,000 grand prize on Tuesday night at TD Banknorth Garden.

"That was almost something out of a Rocky movie," said promoter Lou DiBella, who handles Codrington along with The Tournament of Contenders. "The kid [Codrington] is hanging his head now but he should be proud. They should both be proud. They proved everything you can prove. Both those guys proved their mettle. It was a Rocky movie. It was sick."

While it seems doubtful that either man will emerge as a serious contender, their fight was unforgettable, providing the crowd of about 6,000 with all the action it could have asked for.

INSTANT CLASSIC
The Contender finale between Jaidon Codrington and Saiko Bika will air as an INSTANT CLASSIC on ESPN Classic Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

The fight began in explosive fashion with a round of the year candidate. Both men were down, both men were hurt and both men were in deep trouble in the first round.

Bika (25-3-2, 15 KOs) got it started, knocking Codrington (18-2, 14 KOs) sideways and then hitting him while he was down, a move that could have gotten him disqualified had referee Dick Flaherty noticed the blatant infraction.

Moments later, Codrington, 23, of New York, responded with a left hook that dropped Bika, a 28-year-old from Cameroon living in Australia.

"When I got him down, he got up, and knocked me down too," said Bika, who was taken to the hospital for observation. "The first round was really hard."

So was the rest of the fight.

A left hook hurt Bika again, and he was trying to hold on with about a minute to go. But Bika came back and staggered Codrington two more times in the frantic round.

The action never let up in the best fight of the three-season "Contender" series.

They continued to pound on each other in the second as Bika badly hurt Codrington with a combination. The fourth was another fiery back-and-forth frame with both men absorbing punishing shots. First Bika pushed Codrington into the ropes and was teeing off on him before Codrington rebounded to slam him with a right hand.

Although both fighters looked like they could be knocked out at any moment, they continued trading. The sixth ended with them trading blows even after the bell, which could barely be heard over the roar of the crowd.

By the eighth, Codrington was spent and taking huge shots without throwing back. Bika hit him so often and so hard that he spun Codrington around along the ropes, forcing Flaherty to finally step in and stop the extraordinary fight.

"So much heart, so much determination, so much resiliency," series host Sugar Ray Leonard said. "I was truly amazed by the resilience, and the recuperative powers for Jaidon and Sakio. Real fighters, real warriors, real contenders."

Codrington was considered the favorite in the fight after blowing through both of his previous tournament bouts by knockout. He was also fighting for the memory of his father, Jamesy Sr., who committed suicide during the filming of the series. Codrington wanted to win so badly that he stayed for the tournament rather than returning to his family for the funeral.

He was obviously dejected after the fight.

"Well, we all know Sakio Bika is a warrior," said Codrington, who was headed for the hospital to join Bika.

In the other bouts on the all-super middleweight card:

• Australia's Sam Soliman (35-10, 13 KOs), with his maddeningly unorthodox style, outpointed Wayne Johnsen (17-3, 9 KOs) in the third-place fight.

Soliman, who had fought for a world title and lost a tight decision to Winky Wright, was the most experienced fighter in the tournament. Johnsen was one of the least experienced. It added up to an easy Soliman victory, 60-54 on two scorecards and 59-55 on the third in a sloppy fight that featured little clean punching. But Soliman landed enough, including a left hand that sent Johnsen reeling in the third round.

Johnsen just had no answer for Soliman's movement. It was like he was trying to catch a moth in chop sticks.

In the sixth, Johnsen, 30, of Lyndhurst, N.J., finally connected and Soliman, 30, touched his glove to the canvas, but referee Ed Fitzgerald did not call a knockdown, nor did he even wipe of Soliman's gloves.

Johnsen had lost via first-round knockout to Codrington in the semifinals. Soliman lost a decision to Bika, whom he had beaten when they first met in 2002.

• David Banks (15-3-1, 2 KOs) ended a two-fight losing streak with a razor-close majority decision against Donny McCrary (23-7-2, 13 KOs) in a fast-paced fight that had the crowd cheering throughout.

Banks was quicker and more accurate with his punches than heavier hitter McCrary, which two judges preferred, 58-56. The third judge had it 57-57.

Banks, 24, of Portland, Ore., had been knocked out of the tournament by Paul Smith and had lost to Peter Manfredo, a first-season "Contender" participant.

McCrary, 25, of St. Joseph, Mo., looked like he hurt Banks in the action-packed fourth round, but Banks must have landed something because McCrary emerged from the round with a small cut in the corner of his left eye.

McCrary, who lost to Bika during the season, lost his second in a row.

A left hook in the opening seconds of the sixth round rocked Banks, but McCrary was unable to do much more damage in the round.

• Brian Vera (15-1, 9 KOs), eliminated from the tournament by Codrington via second-round knockout, rebounded with a lopsided decision victory against Max Alexander (14-2-1, 2 KOs).

The 26-year-old Austin, Texas, native took it to Alexander from the opening bell. He was far more aggressive than the hit-and-run Alexander and was also the heavier hitter.

While Vera bulled forward for all six rounds, Alexander, 26, of Camden, N.J., tried to counter, but was not too successful. He had similar problems against Soliman in his tournament defeat.

In the fifth round, Vera charged forward and he and Alexander knocked heads. The accidental butt opened a cut on the outside corner of Alexander's left eye, which bled down the side of his face for the rest of the fight.

• In the opening bout, Philadelphia-based Russian Aslanbek Kodzoev (19-2-1, 13 KOs), the only non-"Contender" fighter on the card, easily outpointed Chicago's Miguel Hernandez (20-7, 10 KOs) in a foul-filled bout.

Although Kodzoev, 26, was penalized a point in the third round for one of many low blows, he prevailed on all three scorecards, 59-54, 59-56 and 57-56.

Hernandez, who was ousted from the tournament by Johnsen, had been an underdog from the start. He was one of the initial six cuts in the first episode when the field was trimmed from 16 to a 10. However, Hernandez, 33, was brought back when Henry Buchanan's legal issues prevented him from competing.

In the fifth, Kodzoev, who replaced injured Smith on the card, peppered Hernandez with hard right hands. Hernandez responded by smacking himself in the face as to say "hit me more." Kodzoev did just that, putting together several hard combinations in the sixth round. Hernandez, who has lost four of five, hit him very low in the final seconds of the fight, but he wasn't penalized.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.