By Derek Bonnett: All the victors on ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights April 24 card at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois, USA hoped they had prepared the right game plan coming into the night’s show. Little did they know, the only thing they had to prepare was their right hand. All four televised bouts ended with right hands and none of the bouts heard the bell concluding the third round.
The main event pitted rebuilding contenders in the 122 pound division against one another. The favored Antonio Escalante, 23, was riding a five bout win streak since suffering his lone defeat by eighth round stoppage to old warhorse Mauricio Pastrana. His nemesis, Gary Stark Jr., of Brooklyn, New York, suffered back to back defeats in 2007, but had since run off four straight decision victories. It was a match-up of puncher and boxer and one that figured to boost the victor back into title contention.
Round one was fairly evenly contested by each man. Escalante landed the harder blows as was expected, but Stark Jr. managed to use his legs to carry him in and out with receiving too many punches. Stark Jr. also started off throwing more punches in combination, but had an recent cut under his left eye re-opened by a legal blow be the round ended. Either fighter could have been given the round, but I favored Stark Jr.’s cleaner boxing.
Escalante started the second frame more quickly and immediately began testing his man to the body. None of the blows landed significantly, but Stark Jr.’s punch-rate dropped and he remained on his bicycle while the harder punching Escalante stalked him. Escalante was the clear winner.
Rounds won quickly became insignificant statistics about mid-way through round number three as Escalante, of El Paso, Texas, landed up a leaping left hand that launched Stark Jr. backward and flat on his back on the canvas with his head beneath the corner post. As impressive as the knockdown was, it was even more of a surprise to see the Brooklyn native reach his feet and continue before the count of 10. Again, this would prove to be an insignificant detail as Escalante, smelling blood, brilliantly finished his stunned opponent with a left-right combo to drop him for a second time. The referee quickly called a halt to the contest at the 1:31 mark and Escalante moved his record to 20-2 (13). Stark Jr. dropped to 22-3 (8).
Immediately after the stoppage, Escalante’s corner began to bravely call out 122 pound WBO champion Juan Manuel Lopez. The victory certainly ups Escalante’s stock and should elevate him to top 10 contender status universally; however, besting the rising Puerto Rican star is an entirely different proposal than Stark Jr. One should be careful what he wishes for.
In other action, the Mark Breland trained Olympic bronze medalist, Deontay Wilder, lived up to his name by scoring a wild first round KO of last minute opponent Joseph Rabotte. Three knockdowns in total were scored by the former Olympian, but he still showed a tendency to keep his chin up and his hands down in the 2:33 it took to dispose of his overmatched opponent. Wilder moved to 4-0 (4) while Rabotte fell to 3-6 (1).
Rising prospect Danny Jacobs also remained unbeaten on the undercard as he took a slight step up to meet veteran Jose Varela, who lasted the distance with Edison Miranda previously in his career. It was a patient start for Jacobs, who worked the body in the opening minutes of the fight and later used two body shots to set up a nice one-two with his jab and right hand to close the show at 1:29 of round two.
Jacobs earned his fifteenth win in as many bouts as a pro and scored his fourteenth stoppage. Varela saw his record plummet to 23-6 (16). Going into the bout there was talk that Jacobs could replace the incarcerated James Kirkland on the Pac-Hatton May 2 undercard if he could score a quick enough victory. Jacobs certainly carried his end of the bargain, but it remains to be seen if he will be added to the year’s biggest PPV extravaganza.