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When Things Go Right, They End in Fights

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Right now, a typical schedule of boxing’s upcoming bouts would include the following two entries with few other details:

July 9: Erislandy Lara vs. Paul Williams (HBO)
July 9: Carlos Molina vs. Kermit Cintron (Showtime)

However, the work that went into propelling Lara and Molina into these high-profile fights against former world champions is an example of professional boxing when everything is working the way it should.

Lara and Molina took distinctly different paths to their shots at potential stardom, but both can credit many of the same parties for the series of events that finally got them there.

It begins with a brand-new casino on the heart of the Las Vegas strip named The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and its CEO, John Unwin.

Early this year, Unwin revealed his plans to give world-class boxing a swanky twist by innovating the way it is presented.

The surprisingly refreshing result was unveiled on March 24 when Molina and Lara met in a main event that was also broadcast on “beating heart of boxing” series ESPN Friday Night Fights (more on them later).

Sofas. Open bar. $250-a-seat VIPs elevated to fighter eye level, enjoying the action from an amazing viewpoint.

The reviews were smashing. The Las Vegas Sun said “it was like a trendy club built inside a boxing venue. The intimate setting is one-of-a-kind.”

As always, ESPN’s Boxing Director of Programming, Doug Loughrey did his part that night as well, not only with the top-shelf production that has become the series’ trademark, but also with the way he presented the Cosmopolitan’s innovative approach and in the crafty matchmaking of pairing these two fighters seemingly on radically different trajectories.

The undefeated Cuban, Lara, had been an amateur hotshot; pegged for fistic stardom from the day he escaped his homeland and announced plans to turn professional. Meanwhile, Mexican Chicago resident Molina hadn’t fought in two years due to promotional problems and had four losses on his slate.

Frankly, approving that match-up took vision most in boxing do not have. To many, an uneventful mismatch seemed imminent.

Many were wrong.

Molina vs. Lara was a back-and-forth affair that finally ended in a majority draw, with one judge scoring for Molina.

It was the same kind of result that, week after week, Loughrey and his team put together despite their considerably smaller budget compared to HBO and Showtime. Looking deeper than the fighters’ names and which promoter they fight for, the Friday Night Fights team has made a science of pairing up compatible styles of fighting and turning coal into diamonds. ESPN has become the feeder system for televised boxing.

The opulence of the event and its surprising result stuck in the minds of boxing’s insiders long after the final bell.

It was followed up by another show at The Cosmopolitan on April 29, this time on the deck of their luxurious Boulevard Pool.

Molina was brought back to face hard-punching contender Allen Conyers.

Even the Las Vegas wind couldn’t spoil what turned out to be another home run for Unwin and his creative team, as a sell-out crowd milled around sipping cocktails and taking in the fantastic views while Molina hammered out a TKO 7 over Conyers.

And once again, ESPN was there to present it to the world.

ESPN Friday Night Fights has been the televised foundation for a sport with waning mainstream coverage. Without them to tell the hundreds of boxers’ stories who appear on their air every year, who knows how much deeper boxing would sink.

And every week, they tell the story well, with an expert broadcast team sharpened to perfection by years of experience.

And so, both Lara and Molina now find themselves in every boxer’s dream position. Taking on world champions and being one punch away from becoming stars. Molina has opened everyone’s eyes with his two fantastic Cosmopolitan performances and the seemingly invincible Lara looked just vulnerable enough against Molina to lure in a big fish in Williams.

On July 9, the two young fighters will be the ones throwing the punches, but behind them will be the excellent work of many talented people.

These are the kinds of stories that are the result of things going absolutely right in boxing.

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