Jesse Hart -- seen here in his amateur days -- improved to 3-0 as a pro with a win on Friday night. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Ryan Bivins is back with a recap from last Friday's Harrah's Fight Night in Chester, Penn., which featured an exciting main event, another win for Top Rank prospect Jesse Hart, and much more.
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Friday, September 14th, Joey Eye Boxing and David Feldman presented another installment of Harrah's Fight Night at Harrah's Casino and Racetrack in Chester, Pennsylvania. The event was headlined by Victor Vasquez vs Naim Nelson for the vacant PA State lightweight title. By the time of the press release the card was scheduled for a whopping 11 bouts.
Come fight night the card was reduced to seven, a typical amount. One of the signature fighters scheduled to compete, Wahid Raheem, an undefeated Philadelphian lightweight prospect, was scrapped from the card. Wahid, younger brother of talented former world title challenger Zahir Raheem, has had his career stalled in recent years due to promotional/managerial issues and now will have to sit out even longer. Nonetheless, several undefeated prospects did manage to compete on the card, most notably Todd Unthank-May and Jesse Hart.
Unthank-May, who increased his record to 5-0 this night, pitched a shutout yet simultaneously managed to put on a thriller. His opponent, Taneal Goyco, proved experienced and durable enough to take bombs from the beginning to the end of the fight, and even landed a few of his own. Neither fighter emerged unscathed. To prepare for the bout Unthank-May sparred with the likes of Gabriel Rosado, Yusaf Mack, Dhafir Smith, Demetrius Hopkins, Tyrone Brunson, Latif Mundy, and Jesse Hart. Hart, who scored a sensational 1st round 1 punch KO earlier in the night, accompanied Unthank-May to the ring while Mack and Smith were in attendance watching. Other active Philadelphia fighters in attendance included Steve Cunningham, Garrett Wilson, Hank Lundy, Ray Robinson, and Eric Hunter among others. Most of them were paid tribute during intermission along with retired former world champions Buster Drayton and Robert Hines. Cunningham along with Marc Abrams worked commentary for GFL.TV, which broadcasted the event live over the internet, and is now available on demand.
While there were a few other exciting undercard bouts, which will be discussed later, the main event definitely stole the show. Undefeated Philadelphian prospect Naim Nelson moved down to the lightweight division for the first time in his pro career and put on a show those in attendance will not soon forget. Of course, the seasoned Victor Vasquez certainly helped make the fight as compelling as it was. Vasquez had Nelson cut badly in the 2nd and reeling at the end of the 3rd, but Nelson gradually took the fight over from then on despite bleeding profusely through at least half of the rounds. The cut was ruled due to a headbutt and was not a product of the punch that knocked Naim down. Most in attendance thought the knockdown should have been ruled a slip, but a punch did land prior to the slip. Assessing how much time needs to pass before a landed punch doesn't factor into a fighter losing balance can be difficult, for example the 1st round knockdown Abner Mares scored against Joseph Agbeko in their original meeting. Fortunately for Nelson referee Shawn Clark was fair to him for the remainder of the bout, unlike Russell Mora's treatment of Agbeko.
However, before Naim Nelson could celebrate victory, Victor Vasquez made sure he earned it in the last 2 rounds. While round 12 of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr vs Sergio Martinez may have grabbed the weekend headlines, rounds 9 and 10 of Vasquez-Nelson give it a run for its money. Although there were no knockdowns, the final rounds of Vasquez-Nelson were filled with wild swinging bombs from both fighters. The 9th was close and could have gone either way, but the 10th was sealed for Nelson by the end of the round. Ultimately Nelson's superior hand speed and longer combinations pulled him through, as they also did earlier in the fight when he was boxing far less recklessly. A full description of the main event and the entire undercard follows, filled with 4 action packed fights, 2 KOs, 1 stinker, and 1 robbery:
Edson Soto TKO1 Josue/Joshua Rivera - 4 Rounds - Junior Middleweights
Firstly I'd like to apologize to Rivera for not knowing whether his first name is Josue or Joshua. I can't recall what he was announced as but I found more sources with his name listed as Josue than Joshua. Just looking into all of that lasted longer than his fight did. In a bout where each fighter basically alternated punching and covering up, Soto's sustained attack and heavier hands won him the fight. After taking his second long beating while backed against the ropes, Rivera clowned Soto but was unable to actually mount further offense. The fight ended as the referee stepped in to stop the 1 way traffic while Rivera was pummeled into Soto's corner. Rivera started the fight strong, but faded quickly. This was the pro debut for both fighters.
Mark Rideout MD4 Lonnie Kornegay - 4 Rounds - Heavyweights
At a combined weight of nearly 500lbs and only about 12ft between them, Rideout and Kornegay fought at a furious pace for big men through 4 rounds. Rideout, taller and lighter, came in with a game plan of working behind his jab, keeping range, and moving. Kornegay had other plans. Kornegay started out using a jab of his own but the goal was ultimately to move Rideout to the ropes and go to work. Kornegay, squared and pressing Rideout up against the ropes, worked the body and head but wasn't landing too effectively. Rideout on the other hand was killing Kornegay with uppercuts and hooks. As Kornegay slowed down from the punishment, Rideout was able to execute his game plan and clearly took the 1st round. Round 2 was a lot closer. Jabs, uppercuts, and hooks continued to be key for Rideout as he fought going backward, but Kornegay kept pressing and worked the body well. Rideout's punches lost snap and weren't being turned over, a fact shouted by his corner mid round. Kornegay's momentum continued into the 3rd round as Rideout became even more of a target. Kornegay landed some wild, wide overhands to secure the round. But while Rideout got out worked in the 3rd, he made sure he didn't let his lapse in concentration continue into the 4th. Kornegay managed to back Rideout to the ropes yet again but Mark was able to counter very effectively with hooks and continued to land the cleaner shots throughout the round. While judges Dave Braslow and Pierre Benoist thought Rideout won every round, judge Alan Rubenstein scored it even. I disagreed with all of them and had it 3-1 Rideout, but ultimately the right man won. After the fight Rideout told me he injured one of his hands, which might explain why it was so difficult to keep Kornegay at bay.
Jesse Hart KO1 Lekan Byfield - 4 Rounds - Super Middleweights
It took only 48 seconds for Hart to put Byfield down for the count with a dazzling counter right uppercut. Byfield, unable to land a single clean punch the entire fight, postured with his right hand high in the air and his left hand low. It appeared as if Byfield was practically begging to be knocked out by the former amateur star, who improved his pro record to 3 wins with 3 KOs on this night. Interestingly enough, Byfield, who came in with a record of 2-1-1, had never been knocked out before. But when competing against a guy who spars with the likes of Jason Escalera, who headlines an HBO Boxing After Dark show on September 29th, a guy brought in merely as "the opponent" can only deliver so much. Jesse, son of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, is still 16 KOs short of tying his father's consecutive streak, but at the rate he's going it doesn't seem farfetched that he could pull it off. So far none of his opponents have managed to get out of the 1st round. Considering that Jesse's promoted by Top Rank, whom he thanked in his GFL post-fight interview, their pockets will be deep enough to pay for the right opponents. When I interviewed Hart while he was getting his hands wrapped in the dressing room, he expressed career goals that no one has ever achieved. Not only does he want to become middleweight champion of the world, he's aiming to pick up world titles in every division above that all the way up to heavyweight. He said, "You can't just let Roy Jones do it...I'm not just going to let him out do me..." When I followed up that Roy never won a world title in the Cruiserweight division he responded with, "He didn't, but that's what I'll do." If he manages to pull it off, I'll never forget this interview for as long as I live.
Alex Barbosa MD4 Arthur Parker - 4 Rounds - Super Bantamweights
If anyone was robbed at Harrah's this night, it was Arthur Parker. In the eyes of most that watched, Parker won 3 rounds. Unfortunately judges Alan Rubenstein and Pierre Benoist felt the opposite way, scoring it 39-37 for Barbosa. Barbosa, who managed to escape with his unbeaten record intact, improves to 4-0 with 2 majority decisions back to back. Surprise, surprise, Pierre Benoist judged Barbosa's previous fight in his favor as well. Parker, who came into the bout with 1 win and 7 losses, was obviously supposed to lose. Parker hadn't won a fight since his pro debut in 2007. But he sure as hell didn't fight like it against Barbosa. The 1st round opened technically with two dueling southpaws playing chess with each other. However, Barbosa couldn't seem to get off despite his corner's best efforts to motivate him verbally. More specifically, Barbosa's corner told him not to take a picture. By the end of the round Barbosa finally started to apply more pressure but just ate counters for his troubles. Parker didn't have much trouble seeing Barbosa's wide shots coming. While the 1st appeared to be a clear round for Parker, I suppose the 2nd round is open to debate. I believe Parker still landed the cleaner, more effective punches, but the two were often standing toe to toe exchanging where vantage point plays a large roll in judging. The taller Barbosa was putting himself at a disadvantage languishing on the inside but he felt more comfortable there than boxing from a distance where his punches often fell short. The 3rd round was the only round I scored for Barbosa, who out worked his opponent, but even that was close. There weren't a lot of clean punches from either guy in the 3rd and Barbosa continued to be wide with his shots. And then there was the 4th round. No argument can be made, by anyone, that Barbosa won the 4th round.
This had to be the one round all judges gave to Parker, who landed several big overhand lefts that rocked Barbosa's world. When the decision was read, most of the crowd protested loudly. As the press row table was too small that day and I was too late getting there, interviewing fighters in the locker room and whatnot, I ended up sitting 2 rows back in the VIP seats between 2 gentlemen that thoroughly enjoyed free hard liquor compliments of their VIP pass. Their offers to get me free Hennessy was tempting, but unfortunately I felt the need to maintain professionalism, which brings me back to the press row table. When the victory for Barbosa was announced, a member at the table, who will remain nameless, literally stood up and joyfully applauded the result. I honestly didn't even notice her, I mean, whoever it was, at the time that it happened, but fortunately I recorded the decision on camcorder. For whatever reason I just anticipated a robbery...
Todd Unthank-May UD4 Teneal Goyco - 4 Rounds - Light Heavyweights
A few weeks earlier and on the same day I saw Unthank-May and Goyco sparring other opponents in Shuler's Gym. Goyco wasn't aware of his opponent's presence until Goyco departed while Unthank-May took some time to scout him, after which he expressed complete confidence in his ability to win. Team Goyco made sure to use other gyms after that day. Before the fight both fighters wanted to work their jab. After it ended both wished they used it more. Goyco, despite being soundly defeated, delivered on his promise of a good fight. In the dressing room Goyco told me, "If you've seen me fight you know I walk forward, you know I can take a hit, and you know I give hits. Just expect an action fight." He was true to his word. Although Unthank-May dominated most of the fight throwing straight down the middle with bad intentions and Goyco was very wide with his punches, leaving himself open as he swung and missed, from time to time Goyco snuck in a good punch.
While I don't believe Goyco's punches were any harder than Unthank-May's, when his punches landed Todd wasn't expecting them. Teneal on the other hand knew Todd's shots were going to land and it's probably the main reason he managed to survive, along with his sturdy chin. Ducking low and bobbing his head proved to be Goyco's most effective defense while his left hook proved to be his most effective offense. After a spirited effort early in the 2nd round Goyco slowed down and focused more and more on defense. By the 3rd round he looked entirely spent, but dug deep and actually managed to land one of his big haymakers. Nevertheless, Unthank-May quickly recovered and hurt Goyco later in the round. By the final round Unthank-May was just landing whatever he wanted: jabs, lead right hands, lead hooks, and multiple combination variations of jabs, rights, hooks, and uppercuts. Yet, the ever dangerous Goyco still managed to bust Unthank-May's lip open. When the final bell rang the two warriors received a great ovation and those who sat next to me thought it was the fight of the night...so far.
Julio DeJesus MD4 Gabriel Diaz - 4 Rounds - Junior Welterweights
Listed in the official program as the 7th bout of the card, DeJesus-Diaz was bumped to 6 as Emmanuel Taylor-Humberto Tuledo was scrapped. When I asked Marc Abrams at the end of the night why Taylor-Tuledo never happened, he sort of shook his head and told me that Taylor pulled out. Needless to say, it appeared to be due to less than legitimate reasons. Speaking of legitimacy, DeJesus-Diaz had very little. While it was technically part of the fight card, it was anything but a fight. Basically DeJesus stalked and Diaz ran. Neither threw many punches and they landed even less. Honestly no one really deserved to win and I was hoping for a draw even though I scored it for Diaz. One of the judges scored the fight 40-36 to DeJesus, but if I didn't know it came from Pierre Benoist I could hardly argue that it's a bad card. Diaz fought far too negatively to make it possible for anyone to enjoy the fight, but I do feel his counters were cleaner than anything DeJesus could land. DeJesus didn't jab his way in and neglected working the body. But he was aggressive, and I suppose that alone was enough to win this contest. I'm just not sure anyone should call the contest boxing.
Naim Nelson UD10 Victor Vasquez - 10 Rounds - PA State Lightweight Championship
DeJesus-Diaz was not a tough act to follow. And perhaps that may have impacted my judgment on how good Vasquez-Nelson actually was. But it was certainly good enough that I spent more time enjoying it than I did paying attention to the subtleties that lead to each fighter's success and shortcomings. That in itself is out of character for me as I can be particularly anal about analyzing a fight. But this one I just had to enjoy. Well, that, and drunk people kept spilling beer on my notes, body, clothes, and belongings...but hey, obviously they lost control of their bodies as a result of the action taking place in the ring...moving on... I caught up with both Nelson and Vasquez in the dressing room earlier and asked them what they knew about each other.
While Vasquez had never seen Nelson fight before and prepared for him like he was anyone else, Nelson had seen Vasquez 6 or 7 times previously, considered him the biggest fight of his career, and trained accordingly. Nelson said he ran 7-8 miles a day, had 12-15 round sparring sessions, and was in the best shape of his life. Not only did he never slow down during the bout, he even managed to pick the pace up before it ended. The first round opened with both fighters feeling each other out, working behind the jab. I felt Nelson took the round primarily on the basis of being the 1st to get off, a theme which would dictate success for both fighters throughout the night. Despite the knockdown in round 2, I felt the round was fairly even and could have easily only been scored 10-9 for Vasquez. That said, the official judge's scorecards insinuate that they all scored it 10-8, the only 10-8 round of the fight. The blood certainly gave the appearance that Nelson was losing the round, but it was correctly ruled due to a clash of heads.
The blood however did cause Nelson vision problems, which he expounded upon post-fight. Nelson was well in control in round 3 but was staggered at the end by a right hand that he may not have seen coming. From rounds 4-8 Nelson continued to out box Vasquez while managing to avoid any big shots that could turn the fight around. Nelson was faster, busier, and crisper with his punches. By the 7th round Nelson's hooks to the body were noticeably taking a toll on Vasquez who appeared to be gasping for air. Nelson kept a tight guard and Vasquez struggled to break through. But for whatever reason, Nelson's technical boxing went out the window by the 9th round. Perhaps Vasquez's pressure finally got to him, but ultimately Nelson made the choice to brawl, which I felt played right into Vasquez's hands. While Nelson probably hit just as hard as Vasquez, Vasquez took the shots better and never appeared hurt during the fight. But ultimately he was undone by Nelson's athleticism and conditioning. The judges scored the bout 98-91, 97-92, and 96-93. These scores probably correspond to 9-1, 8-2, and 7-3 in rounds. I agree with the final card as I gave Vasquez the 2nd, 3rd, and 9th rounds.