By: William Holmes
NBC Sports Network follows their inaugural Fight Night debut with an extremely impressive card featuring a main event of former title holder Zab Judah and undefeated prospect Vernon Paris. The chance for cable television exposure and to be broadcast in more homes than boxing giant HBO is an opportunity that any fighter would be hesitant to pass up.
Saturday’s undercard also features some big name fighters and intriguing matchups. Tomasz Adamek makes his return after being defeated by Vitali Klitschko in his bid for the WBC heavyweight belt as he takes on journeyman Nagy Aguilera. The opening bout of the televised card is perhaps the most intriguing, as Sergei Liakhovich battles undefeated prospect Bryant Jennings.
An in-depth preview of the three bouts on Saturday’s card follows below.
Bryant Jennings (12-0) vs. Sergei Liakhovich (25-4); Heavyweight
Jennings was unexpectedly cast into the spotlight when a last minute injury catapulted him into the main event spot on the inaugural NBC Sports Network Fight Night telecast. Before that, you’d be hard pressed to find many boxing writers or fans that were aware of whom Bryant Jennings was. Jennings made it to the finals of the 2009 US Golden Gloves, and has a record as an amateur of 13-4.
I first saw Jennings when he fought on the undercard of a fight headlined by Glassboro, NJ native Derrick Webster. It was his eighth professional fight, and he easily defeated an overmatched journeyman by decision. Jennings has yet to face any serious or credible opposition, and his fight against Maurice Byram on the first NBC Sports Network card was his toughest bout to date. He was able to stick and move against Byram on the outside, but was unable to put him away. He’s a prospect that still needs polishing, and that has yet to display serious power.
Sergei Liakhovich is a former WBO Heavyweight Champion with a deep amateur background. He compiled a record of 145-15 as an amateur, and competed in the 1996 Olympics. Unlike Jennings, Liakhovich has fought some of the best the heavyweight division has to offer. He has defeated Dominick Guinn and Lamon Brewster, but fell to Shannon Briggs, Nikolay Valuev, and most recently, Robert Helenius by 9th round TKO.
Liakhovich has gone 2-3 in his last five fights, and has 16 KO or TKO on his record. Jennings has 5 KO or TKO on his record. Liakhovich is by far the more experienced and technically sound fighter, but the biggest factor in this fight will be age. Liakhovich is obviously on the downside of his career, and he faces a much younger and fresher opponent. The longer the fight goes, the better Jennings has a chance of winning, but I think he has bitten off more than he can chew: Liakhovich should win on Saturday in an attempt to get his career back on track.
Tomasz Adamek (44-2) vs. Nagy Aguilera (17-6); Heavyweight
Of the three fights being televised on Saturday, this one is the biggest mismatch. Adamek has spent most of his career fighting as light heavyweight, eventually moving to cruiserweight and then to heavyweight. The first loss of his career was to Chad Dawson in February of 2007. After that loss, he moved up to Cruiserweight and took the IBF and Ring Magazine Cruiserweight Title from Steve Cunningham in December of 2008. Adamek has a large following in New Jersey, as many Polish immigrants call New Jersey their home. He moved up to the heavyweight division in 2009, and has stayed there ever since, but is an extremely small heavyweight.
Adamek won his first two heavyweight fights, first against an over-the-hill Andrew Golota in 2009, and later against heavyweight contender Chris Arreola. Adamek showed that he could handle much bigger fighters when he defeated Arreola, and he continued his success with two victories over Michael Grant and Kevin McBride. He challenged for the WBC Heavyweight title against Vitali Klitschko in September of 2011, but was clearly outmatched and lost the bout via TKO.
Aguilera is a journeyman fighter, a stepping stone for other fighters who are looking for a tune-up fight before taking on tougher competition. He did score an upset in December of 2009 when he defeated Oleg Maskaev, but has found little success since then. He’s fought Samuel Peter, Antonio Tarver, and Chris Arreola, losing to all of them. In fact, Aguilera has gone 2-4 in his last six fights.
Adamek has 28 KO or TKO on his record, and after Saturday he should have 29.
Zab Judah (41-7) vs. Vernon Paris (26-0); Junior Welterweight
This fight intrigues me for a number of reasons. First off, I’ve always been of Judah. His fights are always exciting, and his actions before and after his fights are often more interesting than the fight itself. Judah is entering the later stages of his career, has always been incredibly gifted, but has never been able to reach the full potential that many thought he previously had. This could be his swan song. I’m also interested in seeing how Vernon Paris does against a veteran who should still have some noticeable boxing ability. There’s been a slow build up of hype behind Paris, and many writers are picking him to upset Judah.
Judah, a two-time US National Golden Gloves Champion, started boxing as an 18 year old in 1996. He’s 34, and fighting at the top level for 16 years can suddenly take a toll on a fighter. Judah won his first legitimate championship in 1999 with the IBF Light Welterweight Title. His first reign as the IBF Welterweight Champion is most remembered for his highlight reel knockout loss to Kotsya Tszyu in 2001. After the referee waved off the fight, Judah became enraged, threw the stool, and stuck his glove in the face of the referee. His actions led to a six month suspension. He later won the WBO Junior Welterweight Title, and moved up to welterweight but lost to Cory Spinks when he challenged him for the Welterweight Championship. Judah became the undisputed Welterweight Champion when he rematched Spinks in 2004.
Judah was set up for a lucrative match with Floyd Mayweather Jr., but was upset by Carlos Baldomir. The fight with Mayweather went on anyway, and Mayweather defeated Judah by decision. The Mayweather fight was not without controversy, as Judah hit Mayweather with a low blow in the 10th round, and both Roger Mayweather and Yoel Judah entered the ring, resulting in Yoel throwing a punch at Judah. Judah would also lose to Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey in the welterweight division. He eventually moved back down to Junior Welterweight and defeated Kaizer Mabuza for the IBF Light Welterweight Title, before losing it to Amir Khan in another controversial result which saw the Judah lose by KO after being knocked down by a body blow. Judah still claims that it was a low blow that knocked him down, and he greatly desires a rematch.
Vernon Paris, like Judah, is also famous for some of his exploits that do not actually involved boxing. In 2006 he was shot three times, and still fights with a bullet lodged in his back, and another in his thigh. In 2008, Paris was stabbed and suffered a collapsed lung. He has also tested positive for marijuana three times, causing three of his victories to be nullified.
Paris has decent power, as 15 of his 29 victories have come by KO or TKO. Only 24, he’s also a much younger fighter than Judah, and has yet to fully hit the prime of his career. He also clearly has yet to face the type of opposition that Judah has faced. His biggest victory to date was a 7th round TKO over Tim Coleman. However, Coleman’s blowout loss to Kendall Holt on ESPN Friday Night Fights shows that Coleman was probably overrated as a boxer. Paris’ resume is littered with boxers with less than impressive records. His last opponent had a record of 27-18-4, his opponent before Coleman had a record of 38-33-6, and his opponent before that was 9-19-2.
Paris has a pretty record, but it’s paper thin. A lot of pundits are claiming Paris is the real deal, and a victory over Judah will prove that. However, this writer believes Judah has enough in his gas tank to win on Saturday, and fighting in front of his home town will give Judah some extra motivation to pull out a victory.