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, April 13, 2007

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Godfrey The Goods
He’s Made Me a Believer



It’s official: cruiser Matt Godfrey is da goods. May the hype begin!

The now 15-0 boxer promised a toe-to-toe war against respected vet, and major step-up, Felix Cora, Jnr. Had he delivered on that, his stock would’ve risen markedly. But his startling two-round demolition—TKO 2 @ 2:45—of Cora on Friday Night Fights has the Providence, Rhode Island prospect-contender valued higher than shares of Halliburton.

Even though three of the major alphabet groups (WBC, WBA, IBF) had Godfrey ranked in the top 10 going into this fight, I’m still reluctant to call him a full-fledged contender. At least, if I were his manager, I’d feed him a few more live—but not elite—bodies. He may be capable of snatching a belt today, but once he does so, there’s no turning back. Ask David Reid or Fernando Vargas what it’s like to be a titlist that’s still learning on the job and then matched against a Felix Trinidad.

The Felix Godfrey just faced is no Trinidad, but there are a handful of cruisers that are as unsafe as the legendary Puerto Rican once was.  Jean Marc Mormec, O’Neil Bell, Vadim Tokarev, Enzo Maccarinelli and Guilermo Jones are all skilled bruisers Godfrey should not face until he’s at the peak of powers.  

Still, last May on FNF Godfrey made a bold statement in obliterating Shaun George in 40 seconds. I was impressed, yet wasn’t ready to hop on the bandwagon.  Maybe I was prejudiced against a 25-year-old (now 26) that looks more Babe Ruth than Evander Holyfield? That, and his close friendship with underachieving heavyweight and 2004 U.S. Olympic bust, Jason Estrada—a classic Jenny Craig candidate if ever there was one—caused some reservations.

I should’ve focused less on Godfrey’s dimpled abs and more on his stellar amateur pedigree; 193-23, with a couple national titles to his credit at middleweight (U.S. National Amateur Champion in 2000) and heavyweight (National Golden Gloves in 2002).

Generally speaking, a fighter with this type of amateur background could forego the four- and six-rounders, and go straight to eights. He doesn’t begin to face the caliber of fighter he fought for trophies until he gets deep into the double digits in the win-column. Godfrey, who has the apt handle “Too Smooth,” falls into this camp.

His confidence, comfort, and versatility were apparent at the beginning of the first, when he revealed his fight plan against the southpaw Cora: The orthodox Godfrey came out lefty.

And you would’ve never known that he wasn’t a true lefty. Godfrey jabbed to the body and head, while presenting an elusive target. Sometimes he stuck it hard, other times he probed with it. Sometimes he turned it over into a sharp uppercut and followed with fast, well-timed lefts.

Cora, now 18-1-3 (9), is normally a volume puncher who has set punch-stat records. But he barely threw a punch in the first. It wasn’t simply due to Godfrey catching him off guard with his stance, but the way the less experienced pro controlled the tempo and exhibited a highly developed ring generalship.

Commentator Teddy Atlas didn’t like Godfrey’s plan—but maybe only because he hadn’t hatched it himself? Godfrey looked sharp. And even after it all worked out beautifully with the early TKO, Atlas wouldn’t let the issue rest in the post-fight interview. The articulate fighter, however, quashed the ex-trainer’s probing questions like a telegraphed haymaker.

The second round was more of the same. Cora did land a good left and worked the body some, but he was clearly bothered by the man in front of him.

With a minute left and Godfrey’s back to the ropes, Cora found himself standing orthodox. A right hand landed high on his head and slightly buzzed him. Cora responded with an over-reaching right that Godfrey slipped and then answered with a crisp left hook to the temple.

Cora fell to the canvas. Badly hurt, he rose just as the referee, Eddie Claudio, reached nine. With 30 seconds left, Cora retreated to the ropes and covered up.

Godfrey threw—by my count—38 unanswered punches. There wasn’t one killer shot, more of an extended flurry, but they came from all angles, up and down.  And 38 unanswered punches can’t be denied.

It was a big win for a fighter worthy of the expected buzz.

I took a pot-shot at Jason Estrada earlier in this piece. I think fighters that lack respect for themselves and their craft by showing up to the Olympics and their pro debuts looking like fast food champions are fair game. But it’s also wrong not to give credit when it’s due.

The 6-foot slickster showed up at an all-time high 257 when he fought—and lost to—Travis Walker on ShoBox last November. This time he came in 18 pounds lighter for journeyman Zack Page. Could he shed another 15? Sure. But let’s not quibble.

In this sixer, all three judges gave Estrada each round—60-54. He didn’t look spectacular and explosive like his fellow fighter from Providence, but it was an encouraging sign from a kid with loads of skill, if not power. He moved up to 8-1 (1), while Page dropped to 13-12-1 (5).  

Welterweight Juan Manuel Buendida was too young and strong for the shopworn Israel Cardona. He won a UD 8 by scores of 79-73 on all three scorecards. Now 14-1-1 (8), the rugged Buendida has been in fairly tough for a young pro. Cardona, now 36-7 (28), was a lightweight in his prime, and had a shot at the IBF title in 1999 against Paul Spadafora. He blew it and I highly doubt there’ll be any second chances in his case.





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