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Monday, June 4, 2007
Updated: June 5, 10:44 AM ET
When it comes to boxing, Montreal c'est magnifique

By Joe Tessitore
Special to

Maybe we should change the "Friday Night Fights" theme song to include the lyrics, "With glowing hearts we see thee rise/The True North strong and free!"

If you're a hockey fan or studying for a local "Jeopardy" mall audition, then you recognize those words. If not, let me clue you in: They are the fourth and fifth lines of the Canadian national anthem. Appreciative ESPN boxing fans understand how strong the True North has been for our boxing broadcasts recently.

This Friday we are heading to Montreal for a rock-solid card (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), on the heels of last month's smashing success on "Wednesday Night Fights" in Montreal when Adrian Diaconu demolished Rico Hoye. A red-carpet crowd arrived in style to that sold-out event. Nearly 10,000 more are expected to come out for this week's card outdoors with VIP table service at Uniprix Stadium. Paint me with maple syrup and slap me with a beaver tail!

The main event is power-punching former titlist Randall Bailey taking on top contending junior welterweight Herman Ngoudjo. Strong main, isn't it? But wait, there's more. Just like the pocket can opener thrown in for buying a Ginsu knife set, we offer up unbeaten Jean Pascal versus veteran brawler Rubin Williams. They know how to make cards up there. Go Alouettes! Grey Cup fever -- catch it!

Yvon Michel is the promoter for this week's show. For some reason he is able to promote the way promoters always promoted in the past. He builds an audience, sells tickets and ads and puts on a first-class live event. American promoters in the last 10 years have fallen into the lazy trap of simply taking network TV money and securing a location-site fee, typically from a casino. With that cash in hand, they tend not to care about selling tickets or putting forth an exciting evening. Thus, many times the fans don't get one. It makes for a mediocre experience for the customer, which makes for fewer repeat customers.

Not the case in Canada. The promoters there aren't making enough from our ESPN budget to sit back and relax. And that's a good thing. Instead, they gladly trade off the expense of putting forth a top-notch show for the chance to have their fighters seen on the most-watched American sports network.

Last year, Montreal-based ESPN shows gave us sold-out thrillers featuring Ngoudjo, Pascal, Joe Mesi and the exciting, title-seeking Joachim Alcine. In recent years, "Friday Night Fights" has gone to Quebec and showcased Arturo Gatti, Davey Hilton and Stephane Ouellet. Wrap me in a Maple Leaf and call me l'habitant!

You could argue that some of the best ESPN fight cards in last 10 years have been in Canada. This week's should add to the list.

Herman Ngoudjo (15-1, 9 KO) might be the most underrated fighter in the game right now. The former Olympian from Cameroon has become a hot attraction in Montreal, his adopted hometown. He was 15-0 in January when he stepped in against pound-for-pound elite Jose Luis Castillo. Ngoudjo was supposed to lose. Most thought he won, although a split decision went the two-time world champ's way.

"A few people, they came and they said this and they said that to me about the Castillo fight," said Ngoudjo's trainer, Howard Grant. "They said, 'There are only three scenarios: Castillo is finished because he started fighting when he was 16; Castillo is too small for 140; and the third is, Herman is really that good.'"

My take is that he is really that good. But he's facing a guy who was really good; a guy who still might be good enough to knock out Ngoudjo.

Miami's Randall Bailey can crack. The punch is the last thing to leave you. Bailey has 32 knockouts among his 35 wins. He also has a lot of confidence.

"[Ngoudjo's] probably very strong physically, but he doesn't have one-punch knockout power, he doesn't really punch," Bailey said.

"I'm training real hard. I'm pretty sure the work I'm doing in the gym is going to be harder than the fight and that's all I try to do, make it as easy as possible for me when I get in the ring. The fight can't be as hard as this. He doesn't hit harder than none of my sparring partners. My sparring partners are probably better fighters than he is."

Bailey can get in line for another title shot with a win. Ngoudjo probably is worthy of one right now. It's a very good fight, a fight that makes you proud to be Canadian, eh?

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."