Last night's ShoBox doubleheader from Las Vegas was entertaining for a variety of reasons, with prospects either hitting a wall, coming back into the mix, or meeting some cold reality that maybe they weren't quite as advanced as they thought they were.
Willie Nelson (18-1-1, 11 KO) stunned most observers with his fairly dominant decision win over Yudel Jhonson (12-1, 8 KO) in the 10-round junior middleweight main event, winning on scores of 97-92, 97-92, and 95-94. Both fighters tasted the canvas in a matchup that brought Nelson back from the brink of prospect bust status, and wound up a failure for the Cuban southpaw.
Nelson, who was moving up from welterweight with his 6'3" frame, said he felt great at the weight and has no plans to move back down. He weighed in at 151½ for this one and was fighting on short notice, so there's no telling how much better he might feel fully prepared and all the way up to 154.
"I will definitely be staying at 154 pounds," said Nelson, a Cleveland native trained by Jack Loew. "I felt great in there. I can’t be beat at this weight."
Nelson, 25, was defeated last year on Showtime by Vincent Arroyo, which was at the time also considered an upset. After a bounce-back fight in January ended a nine-month inactive spell, he got the late call for this fight after Freddy Hernandez pulled out due to injury.
Like Arroyo, Jhonson was able to knock Nelson down, but couldn't keep him down. Arroyo scored three knockdowns on Nelson last April. This time, Jhonson, 30, landed a monster left hand in the fourth round. The two fighters remembered the knockdown differently after the bout, with Nelson saying that instinct led him to get up as quickly as he did.
"It was my fighter’s instinct that got me back to my feet after that knockdown," said Nelson. "But once I got up, I was only hurt for a couple more seconds."
Jhonson felt that the referee gave the American too much time.
"The referee did a poor job. He gave him a lot of time to recover from that knockdown," said Jhonson. "I thought I did enough to win."
My personal opinion is that Jhonson doesn't have much of an argument for the win in this fight, as the fight was clearly Nelson's and the Cuban has only himself to blame for the loss, spending much of the fight far too inactive. If he expected another easy win tonight, he fooled himself into the loss column.
In the night's co-feature, Mike Tyson was part of the entrance festivities, accompanying Swedish-born, Vegas resident Badou Jack, a super middleweight prospect promoted by Lou DiBella, to the ring for what was also supposed to be an easy fight, and turned out to be one hell of a big growing pain for the 28-year-old body puncher, whose body punching never showed up against awkward Colombian Alexander Brand.
Jack wound up getting a split decision win over eight rounds, with two judges scoring the fight 77-75 for him, and the other with the same tally for Brand, a 35-year-old professional novice with a long amateur history. BLH scored it 77-75 for Brand.
Going by record, most -- including Jack -- seemed to expect Brand (17-1, 15 KO) to be a come-forward brawler, and his wins over very limited opposition frankly made it easy to assume he'd be Just Another Colombian Fighter, a rudimentary guy with what is believed to be big power that doesn't show up in fights outside of his home country.
Instead, Brand was something like a homeless drunk man's Sergio Martinez, a bizarre mixture of slickster approach, wild haymaker swings, hands down non-defense, and mind games that he used to perhaps the greatest effect of anything, as he seemed at times able to mentally toy with the inexperienced Jack, who improved to 11-0 (8) with the win.
The difficult victory can only now be treated as a learning experience, both for Jack in the ring and for his handlers outside of it. While "The Ripper" has received high marks as a prospect by many, the reality appears to be that those marks came at the expense of opponents who simply can't much fight or hang with his raw talent. This is a bridge every prospect, from the superstars-to-be to the busted blue chippers, must cross. There comes a time when you fight someone who you can't bowl over just on talent. Jack got that tonight, and had a good perspective after.
"He was awkward and he didn't want to fight," Jack said of his opponent, in a statement that on the surface may seem like an excuse, but is tough to argue.
"I had to press him to get to him. I will do better next time."
It might take a bit more time than was thought going into last night, but there's still promise left in Badou Jack, and the time is there to make him a better fighter. The good news is he learned something with this fight, or at least he should have. The bad news is he had a rough go of it with a guy who really was there to be hit, but seemed to get into his head and mentally shut him down for portions of the bout. He shouldn't step back to the guys he was smoking before, because that will do him no good. But obviously it might be smart to keep him away from guys like Brand. Luckily, there aren't many guys like Brand out there.
More photos from the main event (all photos by Tom Casino/Showtime):