PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                             July 10, 2009


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Tony Ferrante won a majority decision over Billy Bailey last night at the South Philly Arena. The 8-rounder was the best Philly fight of the year so far, and easily outshined the overblown ESPN2 main event that was plunked down on top of this competitive local show. Ringsiders would have been better served if ESPN had never disturbed the original lineup, and cable viewers would have been far better off if the Ferrante-Bailey slugfest had been broadcast and not rejected as the co-feature. To be fair, the actual semi-windup (Chris Henry TKO6 Shaun George) was a pretty good scrap. But the "main event" (Matt Godfrey W10 Shawn Hawk), which inched along before a drowsy crowd, was insufferable. Mercifully, the bout was cut from 12 rounds to 10, to better fit the telecast, but other good local performances were still obscured by this visit from big time boxing.

About one month ago, ESPN began looking for a new site for the scheduled 12-round NABF cruiserweight title bout between Matt Godfrey and Shawn Hawk. Originally slated to take place in Texas, this fight found itself homeless after numerous undercard bouts fell out, and made the live Texas show an impossibility. Enter Philadelphia and fledgling promoter Blaine Garner who was putting the finishing touches on his very first promotional lineup. His card looked like a local winner with Ferrante and Bailey leading the way with eight other fights as support. Most importantly to ESPN, Garner's show was already scheduled for Friday, July 10, and would do just fine as a life raft for the sinking CES card.  

But ESPN wouldn't even sniff Ferrante-Bailey as the televised co-feature, feeling that their respective records of 7-0 and 9-3 indicated they weren't ready for prime time. Enter streaking prospect Shaun George (18-1-2) and well-tested Chris Henry (23-2). The two light-heavyweights suddenly found themselves as the televised second banana on the sport's network's weekly boxing telecast.

Somewhere long the line, the Godfrey-Hawk fight was cut by two rounds. Still the NABF belt, usually contested over 12 rounds, remained on the line. Further, it was announced that the Native American cruiserweight championship, a title that must have been conceived the instant someone realized that both guys were of Native American decent, would also be at stake. Is there such a title? I seriously doubt it, and defy anyone to show me those rankings. Such a title is the equivalent of creating a "southpaw title", if it turns out both contestants are lefties.

So with a complicated back story in place, the card proceeded as scheduled.

Shawn Hawk (198 lbs) entered the ring in full a Native American headdress that would have made Danny Lopez proud. But his contribution to the evening pretty much ended there. He methodically went through the motions over the ten rounds. He dutifully caught southpaw Godfrey's soft but steady right jab all night long. The 200-pound Godfrey kept at it and captured the verdict unanimously by scores of 99-91, 97-93, and 98-92. There is really nothing else to say about the lackluster bout except that it brought a pretty good night at the fights to a screeching halt. The feeling of relief that I felt when I learned that I'd be spared the 11th and 12th rounds is indescribable. 

The night started with a pair of four round female welterweight bouts. First up, lefty Rachel Clark (139.5 lbs) of Columbia, SC dropped Philadelphia's Jackie Davis in round one. But Davis (146.5) got up and fought back. They waged a nice battle in round two, exchanging the entire round in a neutral corner. Davis' shots sent Clark's braids flying, but the rest of her stood firm, and fired back. Davis captured round three, despite almost being floored herself, and round four was also good. All three judges saw it the same, 38-37 for Davis, who raised her record to 2-0. She is trained by former Philly star Ivan Robinson. Clark returns to SC 2-2-1.

Next, Olivia Fonseca, the most beautiful boxer in Philly's storied boxing history - and that includes Garnet 'Sugar' Hart - broke out of the terrible twos on this night. Her two year pro career was deadlocked at 2-2-2. But her two-round TKO victory upped her slate to three wins. More importantly it was without question her best performance to date. Her opponent, Lisa Bolin of South Carolina, weighed 145.5 and came in with a record of 2-2. They mixed it up pretty well in round one but Fonseca, 149 lbs, had the edge. Olivia walked into a stiff jab to begin the second, but she rebounded nicely. She scored heavily with a left-right. Then a left hook hurt Bolin. Later in the round, a body shot doubled Bolin over in a neutral corner. Olivia stayed on her and was effective, especially to the body. After a bit more, referee Gary Rosado stopped it at 1:51. It was Fonseca's second KO.

Angel Ocasio, Philadelphia, 135 lbs, made a successful pro debut by beating Dan Morales of Albany, 137 lbs. Ocasio landed a good left hook early and went on to dominate the action. He nailed Morales with a hard and sweeping right hand in the last round and walked away with a 40-36, 39-37, 39-37 victory. It was a nice start to his career. Morales dropped to 0-4.

With the ESPN telecast set to begin at 10PM, the Tony Ferrante / Billy Bailey 8-rounder came next, a little before 9 o'clock. As mentioned, this was the fight of the night. It was a two way war that wound up being pretty close. In round one, Ferrante, 174 lbs, seemed to have the better of the opening action, but by the end of the round he was marked under both eyes, especially the left which sported an ugly mouse. That the damage was done so early in the fight, wasn't good for Tony. As soon as I saw the bruising, I nervously peered into his corner. When I saw Joey Eye there waiting to pounce up the steps, I knew he'd be okay.

Joey Eye (Intrieri) is the man these days when it comes to swabs and stopping the flow of blood. He is a good addition to the list of legendary cut men of Philly, and has been the savior in many a corner. His work with Ferrante surely helped. Although Tony's face looked pretty banged up after the fight, swelling was never an issue during the bout. He has Joey Eye to thank for that.

In the second round, Ferrante plastered Bailey, 174.5, with rights, but looked a little winded after a while. Californian Bailey fired back well, but kept shaking both arms, as if they were feeling heavy. Was it possible that both guys were gassed after just two rounds?

Bailey fought tough in round three, backing Ferrante up with stinging shots. He turned the tides and won the round, despite Tony's edge in physical strength. But he looked tired. Ferrante's always rabid fan base loudly chanted "BOOM BOOM" until the bell ended the round. 

In round four, Bailey hammered the body and head. Ferrante fought back well and the two exchanged vicious volleys in the red corner (Bailey's) for the final 30 seconds. It was reckless and exciting. Bailey had the better of it and took the round.

Bailey jumped out to an early lead in round five, but then both fighters took a breather and rested for the remainder of the session. It really was the only slow round in the fight. 

In the sixth, Bailey pounded the body and it seemed to be wearing Ferrante out, who puffed from his mouth. Near the end of the round, Bailey whacked Ferrante with a right hand that dislodged Tony's mouthpiece. Ferrante caught the piece and replaced it himself. It was Bailey's round, and the score was even on my card.

The seventh round was great. After losing a good portion of the period, Ferrante roared back and looked to be on the brink of finishing Bailey. But Bailey returned the fire with shots of his own and although tired, wasn't going anywhere. Maybe it was a copout in my part, but I couldn't pick a winner in the seventh, and called the round even.

So it came down to the eighth and final round to determine a victor. Things stared slowly, with both men looking exhausted, mouths open. Suddenly Ferrante landed a nice left hook that staggered Bailey. He followed up with several rights that landed. Bailey tried to return the favor, but was just too tired to mount another rally. He did corner Ferrante once late in the round, but still couldn't capitalize. Ferrante kept up the pressure and cut Bailey over the right eye. With help from his chanting fans, Ferrante managed to keep things going his way until the bell, and won the fight by a point on my card (77-76, or 5-4-1 in rounds). The official scores read 76-76, 78-74, and 78-74. Ferrante won the majority decision and raised his record to 8-0 with 4 KOs. Bailey left 9-4 with 3 KOs.

This was Bailey's second visit to Philly. He stopped Brian Cohen in January, and after this brawl, he's welcome back anytime. In the dressing room after the fight, the two showed mutual respect for each other. They praised each other's toughness and it was nice to see. Bailey suggest a rematch and also joked that Ferrante might have "ruined my modeling career."  Both fighters showed just how tough they were, but Ferrante pulled the fight out and showed some nice focus and maturity too.


It was an excellent brawl and certainly should be considered for the year's Briscoe award as the 2009 Philly Fight of the Year. But with five months of boxing remaining, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The fifth fight of the night was a four round heavyweight match that pitted Philly's Kareem Harris against Winston Thorpe of South Carolina. Both were making their pro debuts. Thorpe stormed out, hurt Harris, and trapped him on the ropes. Referee Steve Smoger halted the bout at 1:14 of the first round.

Around this time, the ESPN telecast began and with it came the Shaun George - Chris Henry, 10-round co-feature. George came down from Brooklyn for the fight, and with his 18-2 record, and prior KO win over Chris Byrd, was the favorite. George, 176.5, won the first round in a big way. In fact, it looked like the Texan Chris Henry, 177, might not make through the first three minutes. Henry performed a little better in the second, but George still won the round. In the third, the pair kept tangling up and spinning each other. Henry stepped up the pressure and after hurting George, outworked him to win the round. Henry evened the score by winning the fourth. In the next round, he clubbed George with a good right hand, and it had George slumping against the ropes. In the sixth, Henry dropped the New Yorker and battered him until referee Steve Smoger stopped it at 1:08.

With this early finish, ESPN swung the scheduled six round jr. middleweight tiff between Derek 'Pooh' Ennis and John Mackey onto their live TV broadcast. Philadelphia's Ennis was a 17-2-1 (12 KO) pro who needed a nice break like getting a national TV spot. He deserved a spotlight, and he got it. But his match with Mackey of Montgomery, AL, was a one-sided affair. Ennis, 154.5, was the aggressor and controlled the action. He dropped Mackey, 157, in the second but it didn't end there. Mackey fought gamely but was outgunned. Ennis landed a variety of shots and banked the next few rounds. Mackey was having a good round six, finally winning one cleanly when Ennis floored him with a hard right. He couldn't finish him off, but the knockdown easily sealed the victory. The official cards were 58-54, 59-54 and 59-53, all for Ennis.

Next came the Godfrey-Hawk fight, which has been discussed more than enough. As soon as it was over, the combatants for the ninth and final fight of the night were ushered in. Glassboro, NJ's Derrick Webster, 165, scored a TKO at 2:23 of the first round over Roger Locklear, 165, of South Carolina. The win raised Webster's record to 2-0 (1 KO). Locklear fell to 1-3.

It was a long night of boxing in South Philly, and a successful first promotion for Blaine Garner. Almost 1,000 (est.) fans came to watch the event, and who knows how many watched on TV. Unfortunately those at home didn't really get a taste of boxing in Philly. They missed the gritty fight of the night that felt very Philly, and probably switched the channel long before Matt Godfrey's hand was raised.




John DiSanto - South Philly - July 10, 2009