As critical as fans have absolutely had a right to be about 2012's ShoBox failure-a-thon, credit must be given for two very good action cards in a row.
A few weeks ago, Thomas Oosthuizen and Luis Del Valle came out on top over Marcus Johnson and Christopher Martin respectively, and entertained thoroughly in the process. It was a break from the road ShoBox had been going down, which had been more along the lines of stuff worthy of non-televised cards in Idaho high school gyms.
Friday night junior middleweight Willie Nelson peeled his lanky self up off the canvas to seize a meaningful decision win from former undefeated Cuban prospect Yudel Jhonson, and super middleweight up-and-comer Badou Jack barely outdid Colombian poor man's Sergio Martinez impersonator Alexander Brand to win a split verdict.
Cuban defector Jhonson, now 12-1 (8 KO), strolled into the main event bout against underdog Willie Nelson with perhaps a bit of a chip on his shoulder, despite the fact that maybe the most recognizable name on his ledger was inactive and ex-prospect Dorian Beaupierre, who gave "Haitian Sensation" Daniel Edouard hell a few times on ShoBox years ago.
And relatively unheralded Willie Nelson knocked that chip off to the tune of improving his record to 18-1-1 (11 KO).
Jhonson's motive became clear with his first punch, which happened to be a left hand from the southpaw view that missed, but may have bowled over a few members of press row with the shock wave. Nelson's jab and length seemed to bother Yudel, and his lunges largely fell short, while Nelson managed to land a few snappy rights.
Nelson's jab set the pace and distance, while Jhonson appeared to have the better power despite a slightly lower output early on. A series of long lefts from Jhonson had Nelson stung for a bit and holding on in the 2nd, and Jhonson swarmed like a locust. But as he looked to land the fight-ender, Willie Nelson landed a short right hand that bashed Jhonson to the canvas. The Cuban rose up though, and resumed his attack -- even connecting with some heat before round's end.
The range of things was key in the 3rd, as from the outside Nelson ruled the day with his jab and whipping right hands, but when he stood still or allowed Jhonson into an in-between space, he got nailed with sweeping blows that produced noise from the crowd. Following Nelson around, Jhonson's shots were generally picked off or falling short because of Nelson's better footwork in 4. Of course, when Nelson stood still for a bit too long, Jhonson was able to connect with a ferocious left hand that flattened the taller man terribly. Somehow Nelson got up, shaky, and finished the round.
Nelson looked not quite recovered at the beginning of the 5th and took a few more heavy shots, but tagged Jhonson back repeatedly in the final minute, wobbling Yudel visibly and finishing out the round coming forward.
Roles reversed some in the 6th, with Nelson stalking and Jhonson retreating. Yudel began finding countering opportunities when Nelson reached for shots though, occasionally landing something of note. Nelson was sprightly though, back to cutting sharp, and finished the round strong.
Walking Jhonson into right hands was Nelson's aim in round 7, but it allowed Jhonson to work a bit more than he had in previous rounds early on. Nelson began to press more halfway through the round and pushed Jhonson backwards for the remainder. But a higher guard and a bit more awareness paid off for Nelson in the 8th, and he broke through with a few nasty ones in the middle of the stanza. Jhonson retreated again, trying not to eat more right hands, but was bullied around nonetheless and offered little in return.
Both men stuck to the running script in the 9th, though Jhonson appeared to be millimeters away from landing some thudding shots on a few occasions. Nelson's punches smarted, and some knocked Jhonson off balance. Nelson cracked out a wicked left hook counter over Jhonson's slower rights, thinking on his feet some and having good success.
Likely needing a knockout or a series of knockdowns to win, Jhonson fought as if he knew he needed to up the intensity and output, but just couldn't, be it from fatigue, discouragement or Nelson's smarts. Jhonson again appeared wobbled halfway into the final round, but Nelson cruised a bit, not pressing his advantage for the time being. Yudel Jhonson attempted to close the round busily, but Nelson negated much of what he was able to accomplish with a late rush.
Indeed the judges' scored reflected how the fight played out, with Nelson taking a unanimous decision added up as 95-94, and 97-92 twice.
The first half of the 10 round contest was about as entertaining as it gets without being a full-on slugfest, both men hitting canvas and trading moments of breakthrough. But on the official TQBR card, Nelson took over in the latter half, fighting through shaky moments to control distance, pace and overall action.
According to Boxrec.com, Willie Nelson goes on the road again a week from this win in Missouri against 14-10-1 Jose Gonzalez. That fight likely won't do a ton for him, but this one may. Nelson showed a decent chin in standing up to Jhonson's slugs, and even displayed maturity when in potential trouble by clinching and shifting out of trouble. At the very least, it was a great leap from struggling with the other best name on his record, Vincent Arroyo, and hitting the deck thrice in the process. Simply getting up from being pasted early on was admirable, much less winning. There could be potential there.
"Bust" and "exposed" were a few of the words used to describe Jhonson on Twitter following his loss, though he didn't look that abysmal in losing. Granted, he didn't look that great either, but he flashed signs of knowing what to do in timing some big lefts and walking Nelson into shots every so often. The ESPN2 level may suit him for now, though.
In the support bout, Swedish transplant Badou Jack, 11-0 (8 KO), narrowly beat Colombian amateur standout Alexander Brand in an interesting match up that didn't produce a ton of trinitrotoluene (or TNT, for the layman), but held attention in other ways.
Brand, the owner of 400+ reported amateur fights and now a 17-1 (15 KO) record, out-styled Badou Jack for much of the fight, but failed to accomplish much despite his apparent comfort between the ropes.
Jabs, jabs and more jabs became the early story, with Brand attempting to stick his along with Jack, until Badou got a lot more busy with his own and landed effectively. Brand retreated a bit, likely looking to counter, and began clowning around. Brand's intentions became clear towards the end of the 1st round: time leaps in with big counters.
Brand showed some tricky movement and footwork in round 2, twisting and pivoting out of potential trouble and actually parrying some of Jack's poleaxes well. A few of Brand's wide-ish leaping body shots landed flush, but upstairs his punches appeared to do little damage. Towards the end of the round, the Colombian landed a handful of chopping shots around Jack's guard and roughed him up some.
Finding an awkward groove, Alexander Brand channeled Emanuel Augustus' "drunken master" routine in round 3, and even shot in with lead uppercuts, many of which landed swell. Jack seemed confused as his jab all but stopped, and he halted a number of shots halfway through delivering them, as if he were second-guessing himself. On top of that, he was beginning to consistently move backwards. And that momentum stayed with Brand in 4 as Jack appeared tentative and clearly bothered by Brand's antics and herky jerky mannerisms. A few shots in particular froze Badou Jack up his more linear approach was coming undone.
A more aggressive Brand opened up the 5th landing combinations and pushing Jack to the ropes to go all "True Grit" on him in the trenches. Finally Badou landed a nice jab-jab-right about halfway through and carried that success to the end of the round, timing Brand well as he wiggled and waved here and there.
Badou Jack came forward with clearer intentions in the 6th, and Brand's confidence appeared to be wavering some. Brand lashed out from time to time, but his combinations were fewer and farther between than earlier, and the 35-year-old looked to be tiring a bit. He made up for it with solid footwork, but didn't offer up much offense to close.
Badou's jab made a cameo in the early goings of round 7, and his aggression was noted, but he kept falling into Brand's clutches inside. Jack retaliated with his own rough stuff by draping over Brand's back, twirling around behind him, etc., and landed a banging overhand right to end the round. Then action resumed as it had before in the final round, with Jack trying to figure things out while Brand mostly flashed skills in a relatively sloppy fashion. A wardrobe malfunction following a nice left hand from Jack led to to some wild exchanging in the second minute of the round, punctuated by Jack nailing Brand with a few booming shots that had Brand holding on. Brand did a lot of hugging to round out the fight, but Jack continued to have issues landing consistently.
The official cards scored the bout a split decision for Badou Jack by 77-75 two times, and a 77-75 for Brand.
TQBR scored the bout a draw.
It was the type of fight a good, quality guy can learn from either way, and it was close. Badou Jack could learn to exhibit a more stone-faced approach though, as every time he got hit flush, he grimaced, showing his gum shield. It was like a fighter having long hair and getting nailed flush, his locks swinging in the wind for ringside judges to grab hold of. It's an in-ring poker tell that needs to be worked on, as is a possibly tendency to clam up when a guy moves on him. Otherwise, it's difficult to fault a guy for looking sub-par against a very awkward style and what appears to be solid athletic talent. Unfortunately, at 28-years-old, Jack doesn't have a lot of time left, and his pre-fight #9 ranking in the WBC should help him in that regard. Another fight or two, and he could find his way wriggling towards a title fight or eliminator.
Speaking of the ticking clock, Alexander Brand, in his mid-30's already, has little chance of becoming anything like the actual Sergio Martinez. His movement has good intentions, but he pulled right back into punches a number of times in the later rounds, and that reactionary style is increasingly difficult to pull off successfully as metabolism slows. Martinez in an anomaly, and Brand had trouble getting it done against a guy who had no clue for stretches. He'll need a major tune-up before stepping in with class.
At worst, it's disconcerting that the "name" fighter got the decision in the support fight of the night. If that's the worst you can manage, then it's a good night at the boxing racetrack as it is. Add a splash of knockdown trading and some undefeated guys dropped down a peg, and you have yourself something worth of the hangover in the morning.
Keep it up, Showtime. Dig the heels in and make these prospects fight.
Willie Nelson's right hand was a big weapon against southpaw Yudel Jhonson on ShoBox. (Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime)