Second half of ESPN2's fight season gets into gear

Memorial Day is the unofficial start to summer. For those of us wrapped up in the world of ESPN boxing, it has a different meaning. The end of May represents the halfway point of a very busy season.

From January to Labor Day we broadcast 30 "Friday Night Fights," 18 "Wednesday Night Fights" and about three or four "Contender" specials. That's around 51 shows in just eight months.

This week, we have show No. 26. Let's call it our own imaginary all-star break. It comes with the IBF junior lightweight championship on the line in our main event. Manuel Medina is looking for yet another world title as he faces Cassius Baloyi (Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

We know Medina will give a sincere effort. The Tijuana tough guy has fought in 20 championship fights. That's more fights than some pro boxers in our main events have had altogether.

On the other side there is Baloyi. He has proved himself against former world champs. Most of his fights have been in Africa. Cassius was born there six days after the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, thus the first name his father gave him to honor the "Greatest of All Time," Muhammad Ali. Apparently, Daddy Baloyi didn't get the news. "Your momma called you Cassius, I'm gonna call him Cassius" went out in the '60s. Still, I give him credit for being so prescient.

We have had an outstanding first half of our boxing season. A lot of credit goes to our boxing program director, Doug Loughrey. Doug deals with more promoters than any TV executive in the business. That means two things. First, enough hair pulled out to make Matt Hasselbeck cry for glue. And second, enough varied and solid fights to give us a sense of what is really happening in boxing. Because of Doug's scheduling, we have learned a lot.

We have learned that Paulie Malignaggi can go from big talker on "Friday Night Fights" to world title contender on pay-per-view. We have learned that other fighters are worthy of title shots, too. Jose Navarro, Isaac Hlatshwayo and Edner Cherry all proved they can topple the upper echelon. I would have no problem calling any of those guys champ.

We also learned that there is a bright future in the sport. Undefeated prospect Andre Berto has already twice won impressively during our first half. He is not just going to be a world champ, he is going to be one of the most entertaining fighters of the next generation.

We learned Sam Peter still can punch, Emmanuel Augustus still can turn it on, and that Mary Jo Sanders still can make you think women's boxing will make it.

We saw J.C. Candelo and Verno Phillips put forth a "Jerry Springer"-like setup to their fight. Then, we saw that personal conflict turn into a heated battle that had Verno beating down his former friend.

The first half of our boxing season taught us big crowds can fill venues in Montreal, Pompano Beach and El Paso. We saw more than 10,000 come out in the aftermath of a blizzard to see Peter Manfredo Jr.

We learned that Freddie Roach, Jesse Reid, Tom Yankello and other lesser-known craftsman really do make a difference. And we learned that our own expert trainer, Teddy Atlas, has made a difference with a life worth living. If you read the book "Atlas," you'll know exactly what I mean.

We learned that Sergio Mora has smarts once he is up off the canvas. And we learned Delvin Rodriguez can put bigger men on the canvas.

We learned some guys are not what we thought they were. Mike Marrone, Monty Meza-Clay and Yusaf Mack would admit that now. But we also learned that some guys are much more than we ever expected. Donnie McCrary almost deserves an apology and power punching Alejandro Berrio should apologize to no one.

We learned there are tremendous stories in this sport that other sports couldn't dream up. And then we learned that Edison Miranda's torturous childhood is going to end like a fairy tale. His TKO of Howard Eastman might have been the victory of the first half.

As for the fight of the first half, that's easy. Kermit Cintron and David Estrada made their "Wednesday Night Fights" appearance an "Instant Classic." That's right, the first ever ESPN fight to be turned around, promoted and re-packaged by our sister network, ESPN Classic, so that everyone could view it again.

It was a thrilling first half of the boxing season. Allan Green nearly blew his perfect record. Paul Williams set himself up for a big cash future.

"Boom Boom" Mancini, Ricky Hatton and Hasim Rahman were awesome in studio. Even Joe Frazier came by to say hello on a night Audley Harrison said goodbye to his once-promising career.

Lamont Peterson had a tough go, Demetrius Hopkins was on the go and Oscar Diaz wouldn't let his victim go.

Joey Spina ruined the future for a former "Contender." Meanwhile Jesse Feliciano and Alfonso Gomez put forth an encounter that had nothing to do with a reality show, and everything to do with the reality of a boxer's pride.

I hope you enjoyed the first 25 broadcasts as much as we have. And I hope the remaining shows are even better.

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