Dan Rafael: Frdiay Night Fights

The ESPN2 “Friday Night Fights” season ends on Aug. 22, but there will be more boxing on the network in the fall.

ESPN2 is in the process of finalizing plans to carry a Wednesday night boxing special on Oct. 1 (9 p.m. ET) from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California. The card will be headlined by the middleweight title elimination bout between Curtis Stevens and Hassan N’Dam, a fight with great potential to be action-packed.

The winner of the fight will become the mandatory challenger for 160-pound titleholder Sam Soliman (44-11, 18 KOs) of Australia, who won a belt via unanimous decision against Felix Sturm on May 31 in Germany.

The Oct. 1 card will be the first televised card put on by promoter Michael King. The undercard is still being worked on.

King, who promotes former titleholder N’Dam, won the rights to Stevens-N’Dam at a purse bid earlier this month, outbidding Stevens promoter Main Events $80,000 to $62,000 in a bit of a surprise.

N’Dam (30-1, 18 KOs), 30, of France, has won three fights in a row since losing a decision in a world title fight to Peter Quillin in 2012.

Stevens (27-4, 20 KOs), 29, of Brooklyn, New York, has won two fights in a row by knockout since being stopped in the eighth round challenging titleholder Gennady Golovkin in November.
Junior middleweight contender Willie Nelson was out of action for a year because of left elbow surgery, but returned June 7 on the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez undercard to drill soft-touch Darryl Cunningham in the first round.

Cleveland’s Nelson (22-1-1, 13 KOs) came out of the fight with his elbow feeling good and will be back in a tougher fight when he headlines the Aug. 8 edition of “Friday Night Fights” (ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, 9 ET) at the Churchill County Fairgrounds in Fallon, Nevada, promoter Lou DiBella announced on Tuesday.

Nelson will face Luis Grajeda (17-2-2, 13 KOs) of Mexico in a scheduled 10-rounder.

In the eight-round super middleweight co-feature, 18-year-old Hungarian prospect Norbert Nemesapati (14-0, 13 KOs) will make his U.S. debut against Lennox Allen (17-0-1, 10 KOs). The opening bout will feature the heavily hyped four-round pro debut of heavyweight Zhang Zhilei, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist from China.

“Willie is knocking on the door to a world title opportunity and an impressive performance against the hard-punching Grajeda moves him in that direction,” DiBella said. “The co-feature pits two undefeated boxers in the most important fight of their careers. Norbert is on the fast track to stardom and is looking to make an immediate impact on the super middleweight division in his U.S. debut, but this is the type of opportunity that Lennox has been waiting for, to prove that he is among the best 168-pound fighters in the world. It is a true crossroads bout, with the winner clearly cementing himself as a legitimate player in the division.

“Opening up the card, you have Zhilei, a silver medalist who many believe has the ability to be a future star in the heavyweight division. This is a big event for the people of Fallon and we are excited to be a part of it.”

Nelson, 27, has won six fights in a row since a majority decision loss in an eight-rounder to Vincent Arroyo in 2011.


Promoter/rap star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson started off slowly in the promotional game.

The first fight he was involved in was when he made a deal with Top Rank to put his top fighter, Yuriorkis Gamboa, on the HBO PPV undercard of Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao IV last December.

For his second foray, Fiddy's SMS Promotions teamed up with promoter Lou DiBella to put on an ESPN2 "Friday Night Fights" card on March 1. But it was really DiBella’s staff that did the heavy lifting for that event in which Billy Dib, one of Jackson’s fighters, lost a split decision and his featherweight world title to Evgeny Gradovich in the main event at the Foxwoods resort in Mashantucket, Conn.

And last Saturday, he had Gamboa on an HBO card in Montreal promoted by Yvon Michel and Gary Shaw.

Now with a little experience under his belt, Jackson is promoting his first card solo-style, another "FNF" show, which takes place July 5 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn.
Jackson was in Hartford on Wednesday for a news conference to announce the card.

Dib originally was going to headline the card, but when a main event-worthy opponent could not be lined up, Jackson made a deal to bring in the fight between light heavyweight Eleider Alvarez (12-0, 8 KOs), a 2008 Colombian Olympian living in Montreal, and Tulsa, Okla., native Allan Green (32-4, 22 KOs), who participated in the Super Six World Boxing Classic super middleweight tournament.

Alvarez-Green was originally supposed to be on the May 25 Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute undercard in Montreal. When Bute got hurt and the show was postponed, promoter Yvon Michel shifted the fight to last Saturday’s Adonis Stevenson-Chad Dawson undercard. But it was pulled off that show for various reasons and ultimately, a deal was made with Jackson to have the fight headline the ESPN2 card.

Australia’s Dib (35-2, 21 KOs) will also be on the card in a non-title bout in the co-feature against Mike Oliver (25-3, 8 KOs) of Hartford. Dib has a rematch clause with Gradovich and if Dib beats Oliver and Gradovich retains his title against Mauricio Munoz on July 27 in Macau, the rematch is expected to follow.

"I'm excited because this is the first show put together by SMS Promotions,” Jackson said. “It's been a learning experience. We've been part of shows but never did the promotional job. I'm not far from home in Farmington [Conn.]. We've put together a real event with some of the best fighters in the world, good prospects and some local fighters. We're creating a platform for fighters to progress and I want to be part of it. Overall, it's a great opportunity to do things a little differently. I've associated myself with some big name fighters.

"The Hartford area has a long boxing history with Hall of Famer Willie Pep and other world champions and top contenders [and champions] like Battling Battalino, Marlon Starling [who was in attendance at the news conference], Kid Kaplan, Tyrone Booze and 'Iceman' John Scully.”

Jackson will also have three of his other fighters on the card, lightweight prospect Mark Davis (16-0, 5 KOs), a former two-time U.S. national amateur champion, junior welterweight Luis Olivares (3-0, 2 KOs) and junior welterweight Donte Strayhorn (1-0, 0 KOs).

Oliver hasn’t fought since being knocked out in the second round by former featherweight titlist Juan Manuel Lopez in October 2011 and is in a tough fight against Dib.

“I haven't fought in over a year, but I'm back,” Oliver said. “My last fight was against 'Juanma,' but that was in Puerto Rico and this fight is in my hometown, Hartford. I know you don't believe me 50, but I'm going to beat your guy.”

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