(An emotional Nick Brinson responds to the announcement of his big win; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Nick Brinson, a late substitute who had to lose around 17 pounds in 10 days to get on ShoBox Friday night, fought anything like the prototypical late substitute in a revelatory performance against big punching junior middleweight prospect Jorge Melendez. And he overcame massive adversity to do it: He was nearly knocked out in the 4th round, a Round of the Year candidate, and was badly hurt by some rabbit punches in the late rounds. But he got the big unanimous decision with an eye-opening showing.
Melendez is a knockout-or-get-knocked-out sort, so maybe it shouldn't have been too shocking that he got outboxed. But Brinson did serious damage right from the start, aided in part by being a little naturally bigger; Melendez weighed 157, Brinson 158. Melendez's face showed how worried he was right away. He couldn't find the target, and he was getting hit super-hard when he missed. He finally closed some distance and got himself in the fight in the 3rd, but even then Brinson was tagging him. Then came the epic 4th: Brinson dropped Melendez with a left/right combo, and though he was not badly hurt, it wouldn't be too much longer before Brinson was stiffening Melendez with big shots after he got up. Then, with just about 15 second left in the round, Melendez threw a beautiful short left that nearly had Brinson out on his feet, hit him flush a few more times and forced the ref to call a knockdown because the ropes were holding him up. It's amazing Brinson wasn't stopped right there, but he survived the round.
And he got right back to business. The remaining rounds, Brinson kept the fight in the center of the ring to outbox Melendez, outwork him and do more damage. The pattern was disrupted in a wild 9th, when Brinson endured some big punches behind the head. At first, it looked like he was leaning into Melendez just as he was throwing punches, but they clearly took their toll. The ring doctor examined Brinson, who didn't appear to want to continue until the ref told him that he would suffer a technical knockout as a result of not being able to continue due to an accidental foul if he couldn't. That rule strikes me as a bad one, if it's true -- it seems to occupy a netherzone in the rules, state or otherwise. And I'm not sure why the ref deducted a point from Melendez if he thought it was accidental. Either way, Brinson vowed to fight on and things got heated by the end of the round. Brinson appeared to head butt Melendez, and the two exchanged words after the bell, prompting both corners to run in and grab their men, with one Brinson cornerman briefly going after Melendez and inspiring Melendez to nearly get into a fight with that dude. The 10th was also wild and frisky.
In the end Brinson held on for the unanimous decision: 96-92, 98-91, 99-90. I gave Melendez three rounds, and the 4th was one of them, a 10-9 round because of the harder knockdown. It was an upset win for Brinson, who looked very good for a fighter with an undistinguished 14-1-2 record. Melendez looked like who he is: a puncher, but not a lot more.
Another Miguel Cotto-promoted fighter also struggled on the undercard, but got the decision anyway. I thought lightweight Jeffrey Fontanez deserved to lose by one point on the scorecards, but he got a split decision, with one judge seeing it my way for Jose Rodriguez and the other judges seeing it 77-74 and 78-73 for Fontanez. Fontanez definitely won the early rounds, but over the back half of the fight, Rodriguez began finding Fontanez as he tired (for his second consecutive bout). He even dropped Fontanez in the 7th with a right hand. Fontanez might only be 20 years old but I'm ready to move him from "prospect" to "pretender." At least Melendez has his uses -- he'll make exciting fights, win or lose. Fontanez is immensely unlikable, doing annoying things like throwing wild left uppercuts from range no matter how often he misses, or running the whole 8th and making shrugging motions every time Rodriguez did anything. It was a lackluster fight, and Fontanez was the only reason why.
I tried to record ESPN2's Friday Night Fights, but they moved it around from channel to channel so many times I don't know how much of the fights I recorded. Just know that former lightweight contender John Molina lost a decision to undefeated Andrey Klimov and super middleweight Farah Ennis won a decision over Anthony Hanshaw.