As Friday Night Fights winds to a close—September 1 is the season finale—this show at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California, was eagerly anticipated. Vassily Jirov would be making his comeback at crusier, having had mixed results at heavy. And middleweight windmill Sam Soliman was to face Enrique Ornelas in a compelling match-up.
But both name-fighters, Jirov and Soliman, dropped out of the card with injuries, leaving us with little reason to watch. So FNF played up the national TV debut of yet another American heavyweight hope (gone are the days of white or black hopes—now we’re happy to see any red-blooded Yank in the fray).
Please step forward Damian “Bolo” Wills. This 6ft 4in, 250-pounder from Hollywood, CA, is appropriately co-managed by Denzel Washington, who came to see his kid take a big step up. He was in with Cisse Salif, one of the biggest underachievers of recent memory; a massive man with one of the best right hands in the business, he’s seemingly satisfied playing the role of high-priced sparring partner and opponent.
The trend continued at Pechanga. Wills, 26, passed the test, winning a UD by scores of 78-73 and 77-74 twice. He’s now 21-0-1 (15). In 2007 he will inevitably face other also-rans on his way to the top. Salif, who was James Toney’s chief sparring partner for the upcoming Showtime fight against Sam Peter, dropped to 18-7-2 (17).
Salif came out firing in the first two frames. His hands are unquestionably heavy, and anyone who stands in front of him could get their lights turned off.
Wills stood in front of Salif, bust he moved his head, parried with his gloves and offered some stiff jabs. Salif demonstrated a sharp, speedy jab, too, but he wasn’t consistent with it.
After Salif’s easrlysurge, everything slackened in the third and fourth. Wills did a bit more work, inside and outside. But he was by no means dominating the action.
That changed in the fifth. A big right to the grill had Salif holding. A straight right to the gut then brought his hands down. While Wills should’ve been throwing more jabs, when he did, 50 percent connected. When Wills was at the cusp of breaking Salif’s spirit, the vet decided to foul; he pushed the prospect’s head down and snuck in a heavy uppercut.
He ref took a point. Knowing that a 10-8 round would do him in, Salif swung wildly as the fifth drew to a close. You could hear the wind part when he moved his hands. He drove Wills into the ropes—large as Wills may be, he looked like Salif’s baby bro. Although the shots landed on Wills’ gloves and didn’t hurt him, they would disorient a less sturdy man.
“Bolo” went to the body in the sixth, landing 13 of 13 downstairs, and 35 of 59 overall. Salif began to lay on the inside, resting his bulk on the smaller man, rather than staying busy. He suffers from the curse of the puncher, relying too much on power. He doesn’t respect small, well-placed shots, and simultaneously becomes deterred when the big stuff doesn’t work. Having spent so much time with James Toney, he probably recognizes this mistake intellectual, but changing oneself is next to impossible.
The 35-year-old Salif summoned a Sunday punch here and there in the sixth through eighth, but “Bolo” typically handled them well and came back with something of his own. This was a fight Wills will grow from, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us what the future holds. Stay tuned.
Middleweight Enrique Ornelas’ late replacement, Raul Munoz, was sadly overmatched. He was put down twice with body shots early in the first. A flurry to the body and head forced the ref to jump in at 2:31 of the first. He fell to 18-9-1 (14) while Ornelas improved to 25-2 (15).
Coming in at a round 157, an in shape Munoz could probably make jnr. welter. Ornelas is coming down from super middle, having run into problems against physically stronger opposition in journeyman Sam Reese and Christian Cruz before him. Sam Soliman, who gave Winky Wright fits in December 2005, would’ve offered a heartier test, to say the least.
Jnr. welter Hector Alatorre stayed unbeaten at 13-0 (5), taking a four-round split SD over Carlos Cisneros, now 7-14-1 (4). It wasn’t easy, though. One judge gave the fight to Cisneros 39-37, the other two had it the other way for Alatorre. Along with his lack of pop, Alatorre might want to rethink his ring attire: he wore Sponge Bob-themed trunks. Those babies will surface bravery in even the most craven soul.
In one of the better FNF 4-rounders this year, jnr. middles Joaquin Marquez and Roderick Grajeda had to settle for a majority draw. Scores were 39-37 and 38-38 twice. Marquez, 23, was a standout amateur with a win over gold medallist Andre Ward, but had his boxing dreams derailed by a seven-year bit in the penitentiary. Now 2-0-1 (2), he’s trying to make up for lost time. Grajeda, 5-4-2 (3), has a story, too. Only six months ago he was living on the streets. Both fighters made Kassim Ouma look lethargic, averaging over 110 punches per round.
Lighweight Jo Jonz KO’d Carlos Marquez in one. Jnr. welter Jesus Rodriguez forced Rafael Ortiz to retire before the sixth and final round. Christopher Martin scored a UD4 over Saul Santoyo.