November 6 -- TD Banknorth Garden, Boston, MA
Winner: Sakio Bika TKO-8
Some might say that Jaidon Codrington and Sakio Bika's jaw-dropping slugfest in the climax of the third season of "The Contender" was between two guys who looked near amateur-ish in their wild swinging, all haymakers and no defense.
Then again, some might say that sunshine follows thunder.
Some would penalize it for being that sort of fight, not wanting to consider it better than so many more "professional" encounters this year. That, I cannot agree with.
What made Codrington-Bika so special was that I don't think anyone really thought it would be so good. People expected a decent fight, since this season's reality series was by far the best in the history of the show (go figure, when you put good fighters in there, good fights happen). It also was the sandwich fight in what was a truly remarkable seven days of boxing, between Calzaghe-Kessler on November 3 and Cotto-Mosley on November 10.
Jaidon Codrington was the lesser-known of the two fighters when the show started. Born in Connecticut, Codrington now hails from Queens, New York, and is very much a New York fighter. He also was fighting with what must have been a still-heavy heart. After his first round win against formidable Brian Vera, Codrington learned that his father had committed suicide.
With the blessing of his family, Codrington chose to keep fighting his way toward his goal of winning "The Contender," rather than leaving the show to attend his father's funeral and mourn with his loved ones. It was, at once, one of the saddest and most inspiring stories ever heard from a professional boxer.
Bika could be considered a marginal ringer. He had already challenged Joe Calzaghe for the super middleweight crown before becoming part of the show, but many of the same things could have been said for his semifinal opponent, Sam Soliman, another veteran contender. In his last fight before "The Contender," Bika lost a one-sided decision in Montreal to Lucian Bute, in an eliminator bout.
Bika, born in Cameroon but a resident of Australia, was 28 years old when he stepped into the ring with the 23-year old Codrington for the ten-round affair, and had had to work a little bit harder in the ring to get there than had his opponent. While Codrington had knocked Brian Vera out in the second round, and then Wayne Johnsen in the first, Bika went the full five with Donny McCrary and a rough eight with Soliman.
Codrington should have been considered the favorite. He was younger, stronger, and his only pro loss had come in 2005, when power punching top tenner Allan Green destroyed him 18 seconds into a fight in Oklahoma.
But in much the same way that you couldn't have written a script with as much drama as these two fighters came into the fight with, you also couldn't have written their fight. It was, in a word, thrilling.
Once it was over, it was subject to some hyperbole. While it wasn't the year's best fight, it was a legitimate contender -- no pun intended. Or maybe so, as I love puns.
When Bika and Codrington kicked off their fight, they did it in manic style. The two came out swinging, delighting the Boston crowd quickly by fighting as the situation called, like two guys who badly needed this win to get into real contention. For Codrington, it would be the first time. For Bika, another shot at getting another shot.
Bika floored Codrington quickly, then hit him while he was down, which referee Dick Flaherty didn't notice. Bika has long been criticized as a dirty fighter. Calzaghe, in fact, called him "a horrible, dirty fighter" after their title bout. The punch while down, at best, should have cost Bika at point. At worst, it could have lost him the fight right then.
But it's not as if Codrington didn't rally. He caught Bika with a left hook just moments after returning to his feet, sending the veteran to the canvas. Bika, like his opponent, recovered. And the two continued winging bombs until the bell sounded to end the round, Bika hurt by another left hook, then rallying to stun Codrington twice more, nearly knocking him down again, with the Boston crowd on its feet.
Bika took the second with ease, if any round in the fight could be considered easy. He hurt Codrington pretty badly at one point. He took the third, as well. In the fourth, the two again traded brutal punches, with Codrington memorably being hammered on the ropes, only to fight back with a monster right hand that stunned Bika.
At this point, how on earth could you not be utterly captivated by the action? It was a brawl, plain and simple, with two super middleweights firing serious ammunition at one another. But it became clearer by the round that Sakio Bika was distancing himself from Codrington.
The sixth round was almost as good as the first, with the two bombing away until the bell, and then some time after. The crowd was in a frenzy -- to get a fight like this on what was more a "Hollywood" night than a boxing night was icing on the cake. It was a minor event, all in all, especially for two guys who are not exactly main event talent.
The eighth round was the end. Codrington was exhausted, and at this point, unable to fight back. Flaherty gave him every opportunity, which at the time I found to be a bit off. I was calling for the fight to be stopped before it was. But in hindsight, I find it admirable of the referee to give Jaidon Codrington every chance he could to fight himself back into things. It just wasn't in the cards. Bika was declared the winner of the best season of "The Contender" ever, in the best fight the show has ever produced.
In what may amount to the greatest moment in either man's career, they gave us everything they had. Even the show's biggest supporters will admit that neither Bika nor Codrington are likely to become serious contenders in the 168-pound division, let alone champions. After all, Bika's had his shot at Calzaghe, and he lost to Bute, who went on to win a title, too. And Codrington just doesn't quite seem to have the defensive ability or chin capable of being that guy.
That's simplifying things, though, and looking at the big picture. For now, screw the big picture. All that really matters is that even if neither ever does anything else of major note, they did give us one great fight that will surely live on. It was the non-HBO/Showtime Fight of the Year.
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