Martin, Kennedy can show their mettle
By Michael Woods
Boxing is known as the theater of the unexpected. If you're one who appreciates the beauty of a curveball thrown by life, this may be your sport of choice.
Contrary logic often applies in the sweet science, such as when a fighter gets more phone calls for potential fights after a poor showing than after a good one.
Contrary logic is in play on this week's installment of "Friday Night Fights" (on ESPN2/ESPN3, 9 p.m. ET). On the surface, the knowledge that both men fighting in the main event, super bantamweights Chris Martin and Teon Kennedy, are coming off losses isn't a swell selling point to lure in viewers. But most of the people who will tune in to watch the 23-1-2 Martin and the 17-1-1 Kennedy tangle aren't taken in by obvious, surface logic. I'm not; I'm actually more interested in this main event than I would be if they were both still undefeated, because I am curious to see how they rebound from their defeats -- or how they don't.
Purely judging by the content of the phone calls I had with the fighters in the past couple of days, skills aside, I like the Californian Martin to get the nod against Philadelphia's Kennedy at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. Why? Because it sounded to me like the loss humbled Martin a bit more than it did Kennedy and that the Cali boxer will be the better for it.
Martin, 25, dropped a split decision to journeyman Jose Beranza in October in Vegas, and he came clean with me about why he tasted from the bitter chalice of loss that evening.
"I thought I'd beat him easy," admitted Martin, ranked No. 9 by the IBF. "I looked way past him. I needed that kick in the ass."
Martin said Kennedy has a tendency to stay too flat-footed and won't be able to rectify that technical deficiency Friday.
Two months before, Kennedy, also 25, lost his unblemished record. He dropped a unanimous decision to Alejandro Lopez in Atlantic City, N.J. That was much more of a pick-'em matchup than Martin-Beranza, with Lopez bringing a 21-2 mark to Jersey. I asked Kennedy what explains the Lopez loss.
His explanation threw me. One of those curveballs I talked about ...
Kennedy said he had been in jail for about three weeks right before the bout for a shooting incident. A man was shot and fingered Kennedy, who says he didn't do it. The case was dropped, the fighter said, as a case of mistaken identity. It's fair to say Kennedy's head wasn't where it needed to be on fight night. He told me that won't be the case Friday. He said Martin has a tendency to get wild and that he will look to dip down and make "The Wildman" pay for his flailing right hand.
"I'm 'The Technician,' or I can be a slugger," said Kennedy, ranked No. 6 by the IBF at 122 pounds. "You're going to see me be technical, but if I have to bang with him, then you'll see that."
One could understand if Kennedy had focus issues, what with the incarceration and the fact that he was involved in a bout in which his foe died from brain trauma inflicted by Kennedy. Kennedy fought Francisco Rodriguez at the Blue Horizon on Nov. 20, 2009. The 14-2 Mexican boxer was stopped in the 10th. He lost consciousness on his stool after the stoppage, was taken to the hospital, had brain surgery and died two days later.
"I thought about it right after, but now I don't really think about the death much," Kennedy said. "This is the business we chose. You go in the ring, you know the possibilities since you first put on gloves."
Neither man is blessed with above-average pop. Kennedy has seven KOs, Martin six. I expect to see a distance fight, close rounds and Martin winning a close decision by a couple of points.
What else to watch for: You'll want to stick to the couch and check out 10-0 Cuban prospect Yordenis Ugas, who takes on Texan Esteban Almaraz (10-4). Dan Rafael has called Ugas a "crowd pleaser," while manager Luis DeCubas says he's a Cuban who fights like a Mexican. That's tall praise. The 25-year-old is a four-time Cuban national champion.
Chris Martin, photo by Felipe Leon