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New “Friday Night Fights” Boss Talks 2014 Season With TSS

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Good news, addicts. Your Friday Night Fights is on its way back. The new season debuts Jan. 3, with a fight card unfolding in Minnesota. We can assume the ESPN crew, specifically those folks not huge fans of the subzero temps, wished that new boss Brian Kweder had looked at a map and chosen a location a bit more southern to kick off the slate. But in the end, all of our joneses will be satisfied if we get more good bouts than bummers, right?

I chatted on Thursday with Kweder, a Philly native who graduated from Penn State, who replaced Doug Loughrey, and looked to get some intel about the forthcoming season.

Kweder left me with a generally upbeat feeling about the franchise, not for the least because he told me he’s a fight fan. “I’m thrilled to be doing this,” he said. “The sport of boxing is great and has so much potential.” The exec has been with ESPN for 19 years, and has already handled some boxing content while working the ESPN International and Deportes slots. Also, when he was director of programming for ESPN Classic, he told me, he loved choosing which archival gems Classic would show. Kweder will wear two hats for the lean and mean corporation, acting as senior director of programming and acquisitions of ESPN’s soccer slate while doing the same for the sweet science for the worldwide leader (for whom I also do some work, for ESPN Magazine, as well as ESPN New York). “I’m a fan,” he informed me, “and that gives me a leg up from some other folks, as I come from the perspective of the viewer who wants to see good fights.” Amen, brother…

Kweder said one of the building blocks of his leadership reign will be more long distance planning. He said he was surprised when he polled some of the promoters ESPN does business with, and when asking them how FNF could be better, instead of saying, “Give us more money,” the promoters said they’d appreciate more lead time, more time to build a cohesive, intriguing date. That means laying out the entire season, which ends on Aug. 22, ahead of time. No more, he said, hustling weeks before a date to fill up a card. In years past, cards would still be up in the air 45 or 60 days before air date. This season, Kweder continued, viewers can expect to see FNF doing a strong job introducing fighters to fans, and re-inviting them back for more opportunities. One fighter Kweder mentioned who will, quite likely, get that push, is Minnesota middleweight Caleb Truax. He meets Derek Ennis in the season opener and Kweder is high on him. “He was on last year and did deliver, and he can be a superstar in that division,” Kweder said. “He’s got an exciting style, and he’s marketable.”

It’s safe to assume that Kweder’s having taken in Philly fights, at the Blue and other hotspots, could influence the type of rumbles we see on FNF. Sure, we’ll see ring techs like Argenis Mendez, who fights Rances Barthelemy in a defense of his 130 pound crown, but game rumblers like Arash Usmanee, who we saw fight twice on ESPN2 last year in a losing effort and a draw, will also be rewarded with gigs.

Kweder said he’s psyched to be having Mike Tyson the promoter in the Friday Night Fights mix, and mentioned that Tyson’s signee Erickson Lubin will be on air, and is one to watch.

A Jan. 24 tiff between Javier Molina and Kendall Holt in Washington should produce sparks, he said, with an up ‘n comer meeting a vet who needs a win ASAP.

Two more vets who need to win to keep from sliding into irrelevance, Zsolt Erdei-Elvir Muriqi, will tussle on Jan. 31, on a Lou DiBella card in New Jersey which will be a nice appetizer for the Super Bowl at the Meadowlands. FNF will stay in the region for a Feb. 21 show which could run on Long Island, in Huntington, and feature Chris Algieri.

This being America, finances are always on everyone’s mind. I asked Kweder if the FNF budget is the same, or more this year. I was under the impression that most shows are put together by a promoter for between $60-$75,000 or so, and Kweder said as per company policy, he didn’t wish to delve into specifics. But he did note that the 2014 budget is similar to the 2013 budget, but FNF will run four fewer cards, because ESPN will be running World Cup action in June and July, so there is more money available per show this season.

There will be a continued commitment to fill in the blanks with fights streaming on ESPN3, which is available in 85 million homes, Kweder said. Also, you can expect the ESPN-HBO hookup, now in its second year, to mean that more content, more fight replays, and more PPV pre-fight footage, will run on ESPN. Also, that relationship means more ESPN “mainstream” personalities, like Skip and Stephen A., will occasionally spotlight the sweet science, which most boxing fans seem to get a kick out of.

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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