A Fighting Chance
The return of pro boxing to Jacksonville is significant, even if the card isn’t stacked
The first rule of "Fight Club" was that you don't talk about it. However, boxing fans from around the region are talking about pro boxing coming back to the area in a major way for the first time this century, courtesy of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."
As of press time, the undercard is still taking shape. The main event is an intriguing battle between two middleweights — Los Angeles' Sergio Mora (@TheeLatinSnake) and Grzegorz Proksa of Poland. Both of these fighters are working their way back into contention after the kinds of losses that move fighters away from the big paydays, so there is a career-defining sense of urgency in this battle.
The 28-year-old Proksa is on the comeback trail after WBA and IBO title-holder Gennady Golovkin wrecked him in New York last September. Since then, he has had one fight — a six-round exhibition against a tomato can with 20 losses — so it is that his fight in Jacksonville could well be make-or-break for his career.
"The fight with Mora is set, the contract is ready, and I can't wait until June 28," Proksa told World Boxing News earlier this month. "This is a great opportunity for me as I have always wanted this kind of fight.
"Sergio Mora is a greatly skilled boxer and to fight with him is a big honor for me. He was on level what I want to be, so I need to win to get closer to my goal after I lost against Golovkin."
That loss was huge, exposing Proksa for the first time in his career. He couldn't really connect against Golovkin and ended up succumbing to a TKO. The left-hander had no answers, as Golovkin pummeled him throughout the fight. To hear the Pole tell it, though, there were extenuating circumstances.
"I want this second fight with Golovkin as I took the fight with just five weeks to go without a proper camp," he told World Boxing News. "I just wanted to fight for a world title, but I lost, and it has learnt me a lot. The Mora fight is now a chance to get back and I am going to prove that in this fight."
Mora — aka the Latin Snake — is likewise in a make-or-break position. Fight fans will recall his battle with Sugar Shane Mosley a few years back, in which the Snake slid away from Sugar Shane the whole fight, earning a draw and the boos of Los Angeles fans, according to ESPN, which compared the defensive battle unfavorably to the "knockout filled undercard."
Mora was scheduled to fight on ESPN earlier this year, but plans were changed by the network when a bigger fight became available — an indication of where the 32-year-old falls in the pugilist pecking order these days. However, there is reason to believe that he will perform well against his less-disciplined opponent. Mora's elusive style would seem to be a good match for a fighter who is as likely to punch himself out as he is to connect.
"I know I have what it takes," Mora said on Twitter. "I've proved it before and haven't been proved otherwise yet."
He didn't seem worried about his opponent.
"Youth and power have never bothered me. Southpaws can be problematic. Especially southpaws with power. I need to be faster and smarter."
And Proksa's weaknesses?
"All fighters have weakness. Won't be smart to say his. But he has a few, as do I. Capitalizing on mistakes is the hard part."
Down the card, Fernandina Beach boxer Chris Vendola is slated to fight someone — at the time of this writing, his opponent had yet to be announced. Vendola has a record of 5-4, light for a 44-year-old, and hasn't won a fight since the Bush presidency. This does not bode well for him.
Vendola has fought locally at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium and at Bourbon Street Station. As a fighter, plodding, ponderous, slow, methodical are words that would describe him. That said, he is a canny veteran, and it will be interesting to see who he's matched up with and how that matchup will go.
Bringing pro boxing back to Jacksonville is a significant achievement. If this event draws with this less-than-stacked card, it's easy to imagine ESPN bringing "Friday Night Fights" back again, perhaps with some bigger names.