Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Contender: Episode 9 Review

Alfredo Escalera Jr. 16-1-1 vs Akinyemi Laleye 11-1

The lasting impression from this week’s episode should have been the toe to toe, shoulder to shoulder, grueling struggle that took place in the ring between Alfredo Escalara Jr. and AK Laleye (pictured). Unfortunately, some infighting of a different kind stole some of the spotlight away from the ring action.

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

The trouble started after Ryan Coyne was declared medically unfit to fight due to the cut he suffered in his first round win. This meant bringing back one of the already eliminated fighters to take Ryan’s spot against Rico Hoye.

The fairest solution to the dilemma would have been for trainers Tommy Brooks and John Bray, along with host Tony Danza to talk it over and decide which fighter was most deserving of getting a second chance.

Instead, Tony informed the fighters that it would be up to them to decide who would return. Leaving it up to the competitors, who would obviously have ulterior motives beyond selecting the most deserving fighter, was a lousy decision. This became clear enough once they started debating who to go with. Alfredo didn’t like the direction the selection process was going in, and spoke his mind, suggesting that Rico was angling for an easier second round match-up.

Perhaps if Alfredo had been a little calmer, things wouldn’t have gone the way they did, but his words were said in a huff, as he was leaving the room. Before Alfredo was out the door, Rico lashed out by saying, “You’re going to get stretched tomorrow night.”

Not surprisingly, Alfredo didn’t take kindly to the remark, and stormed back towards Rico. They were quickly separated before hostilities could further escalate, although a few more unpleasant words were exchanged.

The other fighters decided to leave the decision up to Rico, and he chose Joell Godfrey. Rico made no bones about the fact his selection was based on who gave him the best chance to make the semi-finals. Good for him, I guess, but the whole process was kind of lame and not really in the interests of having the best possible tournament.

But enough about all that - let’s get to the fight.

With a fairly big size edge (Alfredo typically weighs in around 200, while AK is usually at 175) John’s pre-fight instructions were intended to make use of that advantage. He told Alfredo to put pressure with the jab, cut off the ring, and work the body. “Just go in there and steadily, methodically, break this guy down.”

Tommy told AK that he was too quick for Alfredo, and his plan was based on using movement and speed. “It’s your show, get out there and be first. Keep him turning in circles, trying to find you. Stay off the ropes.”

Based on the size difference and trainer instructions, one might have expected Alfredo to assume the roll of stalker, with AK boxing and moving, but the action quickly developed into an inside battle, with AK refusing to back off. Even with Alfredo landing his jabs, and ripping uppercuts in close, AK was undaunted in his determination to stand his ground and if anything, he was slowly becoming the aggressor.

As the second round began, John could be heard yelling for his fighter to, “Close the gap, don’t let him breathe, Fredo!”

In the other corner, Tommy could also be heard giving instructions, but his voice paled in intensity from that of Rico, who kept yelling loud instructions at AK. One telling shot showed Tommy sitting and watching, with Rico shouting in the background, “Work him AK!”

Even after Alfredo landed something big, AK refused to stop throwing. There was one sequence near the end of the round where Alfredo landed a nice left hook, and a few moments later a hard right hand, but AK shrugged them off went right back to work.

Seeing his opponent take his best shots and refuse to back up had to be somewhat of a psychological blow to Alfredo. John tried his best to keep him going though and urged him to keep letting his hands go and working the body.

Unfortunately for Alfredo, his gas tank was starting to dry up. The fight had been fought with tremendous intensity, and he was the one starting to feel it.

AK was the fresher fighter, with a bounce in his step. Almost all the effective work was coming from his hands, as Alfredo was starting to struggle. He kept trying, but his punches were becoming sloppier, and increasingly wider, and seem to totally lack the snap they had earlier.

As Alfredo flailed away, Rico yelled, “He’s ready to quit! He’s ready to quit!”

When Alfredo came back to the corner before the final round, John told his exhausted fighter to, “Dig deep, dig deep! Find it, find it!”

Tommy told AK to give him one more round. “Look over there,” Tommy said, pointing to the other corner. “He can’t even stand up, son!”

Alfredo could barely get to his feet, but he came out for the final round and gamely attempted to land something big. It just wasn’t going to happen though. He didn’t have the steam on his punches, while AK was still strong.

With Alfredo breathing heavily, AK turned it up a little more. He hurt Alfredo with a right cross, and a little later, a big left hook sent Alfredo collapsing into the ropes and falling sideways to the canvas. There was no count. The fight was over.

In the locker room after the fight, John told his fighter, “Let me tell you something. I’m proud of you. You know why? You went out like a soldier. You went out like a viking. You went out swinging. You weren’t looking for a place to run. You weren’t looking for a place to hide and lay down. You went out swinging, and there’s never any shame in that.”

It was indeed a gusty effort.

AK looked good. He's certainly not fighting like the smallest fighter on the show, and now moves on face Troy Ross in the semi-finals.

It should be a good scrap.

- Andrew Fruman e-mail