This past Friday was the season conclusion of ESPN 2’s Friday Night Fights and it was the first fight card put on by Mike Tyson’s promotion company – Iron Mike Productions. There were two exciting title fights, and Tyson became a big part of the night. It is just a part of fight fans and fighters fascination with Tyson. He is almost like some mythological titan out of ancient Greece. We know a lot about Iron Mike but so much less about Mike Tyson. Tonight we learned a little bit more about him and were treated to two close title fights.
Before the fighters had even been announced Tyson had already took over the broadcast. Broadcast analyst Joe Tessitore had to talk about what he just saw happen between Tyson and his broadcast partner Teddy Atlas. For the first time in decades the two embraced, shook hands and exchanged kind words. “You not still mad at me are you? I wish you wouldn’t be,” Tyson said to Atlas. It was an amazing image to see these two boxing icons reunited in a positive way. Too often moments like that come from a tragedy, instead this happened on what was a successful night of fights for Iron Mike Productions and their first fight card.
Tyson is a true living legend not just for the reaction he gets from fight fans, but for the way other great fighters react, such as Glover Teixeira at UFC 160. He was more excited about Tyson seeing him win via KO than the actual KO itself and during the press conference he looked like a little kid talking about his favorite fighter. There are very few people on this planet that can consistently do that to adults and Tyson is one of them. He just has that something that draws our attention and holds our fascination.
In many ways he embodies the true modern mythological hero athlete. His journey has been an epic one filled with many trials, tests, demons and comebacks both professionally and personally. He has been loved, revered and hated often at the same time. We know so many little details about him and his life and yet it is just little glimpses that have been shown us. It is only now that we are really starting to learn Mike Tyson the man, and not just the legends and stories. Like most people he is not perfect but you can see that he is trying to be better and that is all that you can ever ask of anyone. It is good to see him repair some of the hurt from his past, it gives one hope for a better future for him. His new promotion company got off to a good start with these two fights on ESPN 2.
The first title fight was for the interim WBA featherweight title and it featured Claudio Marrero (14-0, 11 KO’s) taking on Jesus Cuellar (22-1, 18 KO’s). This was a clash of styles as Marrero was the slicker, quicker and more of a technical boxer. His opponent, Cuellar, was much more straight forward in movement and style, but not punches. He came at Marrero the whole fight throwing a lot of wide looping punches as he worked his way to the inside. Marrero chose to employ a lot of head movement to slip punches and not as much footwork to avoid trouble.
This made it a very difficult fight to score and it had Atlas worked up about it all fight long. He was clearly frustrated by the trainer inside of him as he could see that Marrero had the necessary skill set to fight this fight differently. Atlas was looking for Marrero to do some damage on the outside and punish Cuellar as he was coming in. Instead he chose to spend much of the fight on the inside fighting where Cuellar wanted the fight. Now, Atlas did acknowledge that he was getting the better of the exchanges. He was still putting himself in unnecessary danger to do it and making it really hard on the judges. Marrero needed them to be able to see a lot of subtle and nuanced action. According to their scorecards they did not see it that way. Ironically enough Atlas did score the fight for Marrero. While the trainer in him was clearly frustrated with the way that Marrero chose to fight this fight, the analyst side of him could see what the judges could not.
The other thing that worked against him was that Cuellar fought his fight. It was an ugly brawling type of fight with a lot of pushing the edges of the rules. One big issue was Cuellar constantly clipping the back of Marrero’s head. It happened frequently in the fight and the ref did warn Cuellar in the fifth and threaten to take a point away if it continued. Cuellar hit him twice in the back of the head while they were tied up together. He had several opportunities to follow through on that threat, but never did as Cuellar hit him quite a few times throughout the rest of the fight. Part of this was Marrero’s fault in the way he was avoiding punches. He would either duck down or pull away and turn his back for a moment. In several of these incidents Cuellar already had his punch in motion when Marrero would duck or turn into it and could not help hitting him in the back of the head.
Not that Cuellar was a stickler for following the rules as he used a few tricks to frustrate Marrero during this fight. The problem is that he let people know that he was frustrated with Cuellar’s antics, in particular the blows to the back of the head. This seemed to spur Cuellar to hit him with little taps to the back of the head often when they were tied up. After the warning Marrero kept looking to the ref who had no interest in taking points away. He let a lot go on in this fight including some stuff from Marrero as well who was not above using his elbows, forearms and shoulders to strike in close. As effective as Marrero was with those tactics and on the inside in general this was still Cuellar’s kind of fight and that is the trap that Marrero fell into. He spent most of the fight at the only distance that Cuellar could do damage and it contributed to him losing a tough decision. It was one of those fights that could have been scored for either fighter.
As close as that fight was the main event was even closer on the scorecards, as Argenis Mendez (21-2, 11 KO’s) retained his title in a majority draw with Arash Usmanee (20-1, 10 KO’s). This fight set up much like the first one from a stylistic standpoint. Usmanee wanted to make the fight ugly and work inside, while Mendez would look to do some work at distance and make Usmanee pay when in came inside. The difference is that these two fighters were a little more skilled. Usmanee mixed in more jabs and straight punches. He was not just throwing a majority of wide looping punches. Across from him Mendez did a better job at fighting from an effective distance. He utilized his footwork as well as head movement to avoid punches.
Again, this was a difficult fight to score especially each individual round. There was a lot of back and forth action in each round but rarely did one fighter clearly win a round. It was also difficult because a lot of what Mendez did was very nuanced and he did not throw as many punches but was much more accurate than Usmanee. Who was the aggressor and constantly pressing the action. That being said one fighter landed more accurately and more punches.
There were also some shenanigans in this fight and they started during the instructions, when Usmanee half-lunged at Mendez. They did exchange some blows after the bell and each fighter was a little rough on the inside fighting. There were a lot of stares and glares; Mendez also frustrated Usmanee by holding his left arm out straight in his opponents face. He also employed the big brother move in the eighth round when he held his right hand on top Usmanee’s head. Beyond frustrating Usmanee it also allowed Mendez to create some separation and distance. He used his left foreman and elbow for this in the fight. For his part, Usmanee also brought constant pressure.
It was near the end of the tenth round when Usmanee landed a nice right hand. It was the most significant clean punch of the fight. This led to him landing several more good right hands in the eleventh round. Mendez came back with some good accurate shots working the body and the head. For a moment it looked like it was going to be a clear round for Usmanee but Mendez showed a lot of heart and came back. They fought a similar round in the twelfth battling just past the closing bell.
This was a tough one to score but Teddy Atlas brought up a good point after this decision. He talked about the need for the judges to be better than this; they are getting paid to make these tough decisions. They are supposed to be able to see the nuanced and the subtle. It is their job to see the artist at work and not just the obvious rough aggressor. He is right that there needs to be some criteria to rate the judges on their performance. Atlas had the fight scored 119 to 109 for Mendez and the Compu Box numbers backed him up. Mendez threw 876 punches and landed 314 for a 36% accuracy rate. Usmanee definitely was more active as he threw 1119 but only landing 276 for a 25% accuracy rate. One judge had the fight 115 to 113 for Usmanee and the other two had 114 to 114. It is much easier to make the case for the draw than it is for Usmanee winning the fight. The good news for Mendez is that this horrible decision will not cost him his belt. It also will not takeaway from the heart and skill that these two fighters displayed on this night.
It was a successful close to the season for Friday Night Fights and a great start for Iron Mike Productions. Each battle featured a more basic brawler type versus a skilled boxer. In the first fight Cuellar was able to use his rough brawling style to get the win. The other fight really rewarded no one in a majority draw but at least Mendez retains his title. Teddy Atlas’ head might have exploded if the judges had given the win to Usmanee. It was truly a historic night as Mike Tyson and Teddy Atlas shook hands for the first time in thirty years. Seeing two legends who meant so much to each other many years reconnect was special. It is good to see that Tyson is making the necessary steps to battle his inner demons – his promotion is off to a great start.
via Dwayne Wolff
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