It was cruel of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights to show all that warm, sunny footage of Key West, Florida, when you’re watching from frosty New York and your radiator is on the fritz. Crueler still was to air such a paltry boxing card held at Mallory Square, with former two-time jnr. welter titlist Randall Baliley in the main-go against unknown Harrison Cuello.
I can’t fully blame FNF’s matchmaker for cobbling together a card like this (and Cuello was a last-minute replacement). The penurious decision makers in Bristol, Connecticut, who allocate little mula to a show that consistently does respectable ratings, are the true culprits.
The evening’s conceit was that the 32-year-old Bailey, now 35-5 (32) has finally dedicated himself to his craft, recognizing that at the highest precincts of the sport you need more than just a big right hand. His thunderbolt punch got him to the top, but his limited skills wouldn’t let him stay there.
With losses to the slick southpaw DeMarcus Corley, a green Ishe Smith, and a six-round shellacking by Miguel Cotto in December 2004, it didn’t require in-studio guest Angelo Dundee to conclude he needed to improve his game, or get the hell out. Trainer Norman Wilson forced Bailey to stay out of the ring in 2005—save one fight—where they went back to basics and equipped him with new tools.
In spite of his 10 years of prizefighting, Bailey was blessed with genes that allow for second acts. Tall and rangy, he still makes 140 pounds without trouble; his hand speed and legs are undiminished; his conditioning has never been in question. And, of course, his massive power in the right hand will be the last thing to go.
Bailey had strung together six wins going into the fight and, indeed, looked like ready money during the short time the southpaw Cuello was in with him. The opponent was TKO’d at 2:24 of the second in this scheduled 10-rounder.
Although it was straight right hands that hurt and dropped Cuello midway through the second, a new-edition left hook closed the show. Bailey was patient, sharp, balanced and deadly throughout.
But who is Cuello? Now 13-5-2 (9), this was his first time fighting outside the Dominican Republic. He took the fight on two day’s notice and hasn’t beaten anyone of note. Until his encounter with Bailey, he’s also lost to no one of note.
The broadcast opened with an entertaining scrap between aging light heavies who apparently had some bad blood going in. Hoosier George Blades, now 21-2 (15), is a heavy-handed journeyman coming off a 28-month layoff. John R. Williams is a native Costa Rican now making his home in the place Papa Hemingway put on the map.
Williams caught hard shots in the first and his legs looked unstable thereafter. Pride kept him standing off the canvas until after the bell sounded ending round two. A late jab to the chin put him down. The perceptive Teddy Atlas argued that Williams was unhurt but was “looking for help from the ref.” Self-doubt was creeping in, the commentator said.
While Blades generally landed the big stuff from the third through the sixth, and came close to dropping his man on several occasions, Williams showed a dangerous amount of guts.
At the very end of the sixth, Blades threw a ferocious right, followed with a nasty uppercut to the chin and didn’t forget about the body. The minute break was not enough recovery time for Williams. A minute into the seventh, a Blades right hand—straight down the pike—set up a hellacious attack that ended the contest at :53.
Referee Jorge Ortiz jumped in too late, not just according to this observer but Mr. Dundee watching from the ESPN studio in Bristol.
Jnr. welter Damian Frias TKO 7 over Anthony Woods.
Super Middle Juan Carlos Lamberti MD 6 over Brian Norman.
Lightweight Danny Vanstaden UD 4 over Alex Brenes.
Jnr. middle Timmy Leonard TKO 2 over John Mackey.
Jnr. welter Devarise Crayton UD 4 over Jean Petit Homme.