Friday, January 30, 2009

The Contender: Episode 8 Review

Felix Cora Jr. 19-2-2 vs Troy Ross 18-1

The second round of The Contender cruiserweight tournament began this past Wednesday night, with two of the most impressive fighters from the first round pitted against each other.

Both Felix Cora Jr. (pictured) and Troy Ross won their opening bouts in style – Felix with a convincing decision win over the previously unbeaten Joell Godfrey and Troy with a stunning 2nd round TKO victory over the tough skilled veteran Lawrence Tauasa.

On paper, it looked like we had the potential for a great fight.

These were two polished fighters. Both had good jabs. Both kept their hands up. Both respected the other’s power, but weren’t afraid to stand in and let their hands go.

The only regret going in was that these two had to fight this early in the tournament.

Blame Troy for that.

Having taken part in the season’s first fight, Felix didn’t have a say in his second round opponent. He had slotted his name into the first bout of the empty second round bracket and waited to see who would choose to fight him. Eventually, after the next four winners chose to take alternative routes forward, Troy decided he was up for the challenge.

Tony Danza asked him to explain his choice.

“I figure I might as well go with the best of the best right now and just keep the ball rolling.” Fair enough. Little injuries can happen at any time, and if Troy felt healthy and ready, taking on the man considered his biggest threat as soon as possible made sense.

Tommy Brooks was certainly looking forward to it. “This fight between Troy and Felix… put your hard hat on, put your safety belt on, and don’t go get a coke, because you might miss something. These two guys come to fight and the first one to make a mistake - good night sweet prince.”

After a cautious few moments to start the fight, Troy was the first to test the waters with a little aggression, following up his jab by mixing in some power shots. He had some success, but didn’t fully commit to attacking, and settled back to probing with his jab.

Tommy had told him in the dressing room to score points and not force anything. “If you’re looking for the knock-out, it ain’t going to happen. Just box, he’ll run into it.”

In the other corner, John Bray could be heard saying, “Jab, jab, you got to work. You got to work Felix.”

In a short fight, there’s really no alternative to staying busy. There’s just no time for much of a feeling out process, even when up against a strong opponent that might take a little figuring out.

Perhaps feeling the pressure to get something done, Felix got a little careless and leaned in to throw a lead left to the body, and as he started to follow up with a right, Troy countered with a chopping left hand.

The punch landed right behind the ear, and sent Felix toppling backwards.

It was clear right away he was hurt. He lay on his back and lifted his head, while the rest of his body lay flat. He used his elbows to slowly push himself up to a sitting position before struggling to his feet an instant before the ref’s count reached 7.

As the ref said 8, he motioned for Felix to step towards him and said, “Come here.”

It’s customary for fighters to raise their gloves to let the ref know they are fine, but with his gloves down Felix took an unsteady step forward. That was enough for the man in charge. He quickly grabbed a hold of Felix and waived it off.

That was it. At 2:38 of Round 1, it was over.

In his pre-fight interview, Felix had said “I just have to take what’s given to me and adjust to what’s in front of me. If I’m not careful how I go about doing things, it could be a short night for me. So I have to be perfect this fight.”

Perfect is always a tall order, but on this occasion, one mistake did indeed mean the end. Felix tried to come inside without jabbing his way in. It’s the type of thing that can often go unpunished, but against a good counter puncher, it’s a very risky move.

In every previous fight on the show, the climactic moments have been met with boisterous cheers from the fighters watching. Not this time. With the quarter-finals underway, and the team format that governed the match-making of the first round over, none of the other fighters had much of a rooting interest in the outcome.

They had all liked Felix. He was quiet, humble and respected. Everyone also knew about the situation going on back in his hometown of Galveston, Texas which had been devastated during the show’s taping by Hurricane Ike.

To add to his troubles, his participation on the show had meant his employer back home would be letting him go.

Troy Ross was fairly subdued as he came back to the corner. “You did what you were supposed to do.” Tommy Brooks told him. “Don’t worry about it.”

Easier said than done.

The fighters on the show, train in the same gym, live in the same house and eat at the same table. They are all there to knock each other off, but living in such close proximity, they can’t help but develop empathy for each other’s struggles.

They know only one man can win, but they wish each other the best. They understand the sacrifice involved to try and get ahead in a sport where only the elite of the elite earn extravagant wages. For the rest, even very good fighters like themselves; it’s a grind just to make a living.

For Troy Ross, a spot in the semi-finals is next.

For Felix Cora Jr., some bigger challenges await.

Good luck to both of them.

- Andrew Fruman e-mail

More on Felix Cora...

Cora Looks Back on Contender Experience: Galveston Daily News