ON a “fight” card that figured to roll back every last tenet of respectability in prizefighting, it was the seasoned professional boxer, not the dilettante Youtuber, who made a sham of the so-called gentleman’s sport.
That at least appeared to be the case during an all-southpaw, super-lightweight clash (set for 10 rounds), when, in the sixth round, veteran Ukrainian Ivan Redkach thrashed around in agonising pain on the canvas for an interminable period of time after his adversary, former 140-pound titleholder, Regis Prograis, had landed what initially looked like a stray right hand to the groin.
It was an appropriate response, but there was one problem: repeated slow-motion video replays showed that the punch that Prograis threw not only sailed well above the belt line, but it seemed to glance off of Redkach’s elbow. And yet despite all evidence to the contrary, that “punch” triggered a paroxysm in Redkach so strong that for all anyone knew he could have been tied up to a medieval stretching rack, his ligaments separating from their joints.
Phantom blow? Voodoo spell? Bad gastric reaction? Questions abounded regarding this surreal fallout. No doubt, what was supposed to be the most conventional (read: respectable) bout on the card ended up producing the strangest – and most risible – moment at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on the Jake Paul-Ben Askren Triller Fight Club pop culture happening.
At first, it appeared that Redkach – in his first bout since being suspended for biting Danny Garcia – was reeling from a legitimately-placed gut punch. As soon as he fell to his knees from the blow, he began banging the canvas with his gloves. But then he placed a glove over the area of his groin and continued his contortions. The spasms (histrionics?) did not stop there. Redkach proceeded to flop and flail some more, his mouth agape and eyes tightly shut, until it was clear that he would not be getting up anytime soon, certainly not within the five minutes of reprieve that he was entitled to. (Even though the referee was no in position to view the trajectory of the punch, he ruled the exchange as a low blow). A ringside doctor eventually concluded that Redkach was in no shape to continue and called for him to be carried out on a stretcher.
A noticeably chagrined Prograis, a New Orleans native who resides in Houston, had to settle for an anti-climactic technical decision. The scores were 60-54 twice and 59-54, all in favor of Prograis.
To be sure, the fight was headed in only one direction. After a tepid first round, Prograis, who is best known for dropping a razor close decision to Scotland’s Josh Taylor, began pummeling Redkach with overhand lefts starting midway through the second round. By the third round, a cut formed over the left eye of Redkach. In one foray, Prograis landed a thudding six-punch combination.
In the decisive sixth round, Prograis, 32, connected on a slew of left hands that had Redkach, 35, holding on for his dear life, which may have been one reason why the fight ended on such a bizarre note.
Indeed, there were no shortage of bizarreries on this night – from a visibly sloshed Oscar De La Hoya on the broadcast to a giant, gyrating robot to vast plumes of marijuana smoke perpetually drifting through the air – the seemingly sanest moment occurred in the ballyhooed main event that saw Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of the meme generation and current face of celebrity boxing, wipe out Ben Askren, a former MMA contender, inside one curt round in a cruiserweight match.
The 24-year-old Paul, who was making his third professional debut, landed a jab followed by a straight right hand that immediately floored Askren. At first, Askren was able to beat the eight-count administered by referee Brian Stutts. But when he was instructed to come forward, he shuffled his feet, compelling Stutts to call off the bout at 1-59 of the first. An emotional Paul broke down in tears.
It is not clear whom Paul will face next in his ad-hoc boxing career, but if public sentiment is anything to go by, MMA star Conor McGregor could be an option.
Former cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham broke out of a four-year hiatus to outwork MMA stalwart Frank Mir for a six-round unanimous decision. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56 all for the Philadelphia native. Although he was outweighed by 70 pounds, Cunningham controlled the bout behind his jab and right hand potshots. Mir, a boxing newbie, fought just like one.
In the opener, Hammersmith native Joe Fournier, a billionaire businessman-turned-boxer, extended his undefeated record to nine wins with a third round drubbing of Reykon, a Regaeton artist who was making his professional debut. Fournier dropped the woeful Reykon twice in the second round, once with a left hook, then another to the body. During the break, the referee decided to call off the bout.