By John Cudney
Boxing returned to the Nassau Coliseum in a show that delivered action and strong swings of emotion for local fight fans.
On Saturday night fans were treated to a great show at the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum*. The event was broadcast nationally on FOX, but the roster on the card had a distinctly local flavor. The trio of PBC, DiBella, and Brooklyn Boxing have done a great job of building up boxing at the Barclays Center in recent years, and Saturday night’s show represented an extension of their efforts out onto Long Island. The event drew 7,492 fight fans, out-performing the 5,846 attendance figure for Golden Boy’s triple-header that was broadcast the same night on HBO. The lineup featured a number of local boxers who had been developed at Barclays Center shows, and ticket sellers smartly coordinated buses to get fans of those local attractions out to Uniondale.
This was the first boxing event at the Nassau Coliseum since Mike Tyson fought Steve Zouski in 1986 (when Tyson was only 19!) and the backers of the event couldn’t have asked for a better return. All three fights on the main broadcast ended by exciting knockout, and all three outcomes elicited strong reactions from the crowd.
Adam Kownacki TKO 4 over Artur Szpilka
Adam “Baby Face” Kownacki surprised me on Saturday night. I have become acquainted with him on recent Barclays Center cards and, while he is undefeated, I always thought his ceiling was squarely at the local level. The most notable thing about Kownacki to me had been that he constantly draws 1,000+ screaming Polish fans in red “Baby Face” t-shirts to all of his fights.
Coming in, Artur Szpilka was a much more proven entity. He holds a win over Tomasz Adamek and he gave Deontay Wilder a lot of stress prior to getting stopped in their 2016 bout. Throughout fight week Szpilka simply looked more confident, and I believed this clash of Polish fighters would result in a clear win for Szpilka.
The first two rounds played out out as I predicted. Kownacki pressed the action, but the southpaw Szpilka was able to deflect his offense and land countershots in return. Kownacki’s face was reddening and it looked like he might have gotten in over his head. By the third round, the tide had turned and the narrative shifted. Kownacki started to connect with right hands upstairs and down and it became clear that his aggression was more effective than I had realized. The fourth round saw Kownacki totally take over the action, landing flush shots with increasing frequency. He eventually dropped Szpilka, and then promptly finished him off.
Given that this was a battle of two Polish fighters, I had assumed the allegiance of the crowd would be split. As it turns out, that contingent was dominated by fans of Baby Face, who erupted in cheers when the stoppage was called. I captured a great video of their reaction which I have linked below.
After the fight Kownacki was ecstatic. “I always knew that I had him. From the first shot I hit him in the body, I knew he didn’t have enough. My pressure was too much.“ He made sure to note his performance relative to Szpilka’s other conquerors: “It took Deontay Wilder and Bryant Jennings a lot longer to get him out of there. But I still have things that I’m going to go back and fix. Once I improve those aspects of my game I think that a lot of people are going to know me.“
Adam Kownacki is not ready for the top 5 at heavyweight (though his red-shirted fans might disagree), but I would love to see him in with some of the fringe contenders in Al Haymon’s stable. He would be a great match for Travis Kauffman or Amir Mansour, especially if contested in front of his local fans.
Marcus Browne TKO 2 over Seanie Monaghan
Going into this fight I had predicted a sensational win for Marcus Browne, and he more than delivered. Browne, a 2012 Olympian, has looked solid fundamentally and exceptional in terms of physical talent, but he needed a showcase performance to get the attention of the boxing world. On Saturday night he was given an opportunity on the national stage and he seized it.
The clash between Browne and Seanie Monaghan was not a long one. Browne looked sharper from the first moment of the first round, and he dropped Monaghan with a powerful straight left 39 seconds into the fight. Monaghan never recovered. Browne couldn’t miss, landing 52.3% of his power shots in the first round. Monaghan looked badly shaken when he went back to his corner, but he gamely emerged for the second. Unfortunately he didn’t have any new tricks to deter Browne, who closed the show 38 seconds into that round.
It was a huge win for Browne and a devastating defeat for the 35 year old Monaghan. Although Browne is from nearby Staten Island, Monaghan seemed to have more fans in attendance on the night, and they were definitely disappointed by the loss. In a heartening gesture, they let out cheers of “Sheanie!” in the moments after the stoppage to show their appreciation for his career. Luckily there is a clear next step for Monaghan. Joe Smith Jr also lost on Saturday night, and fight fans in Long Island and across the country still want to see them clash. It would be a natural matchup for the next card at the Nassau Coliseum.
As for Browne, the sky’s the limit. Any wise observer of the sport would place him in the top 10 at 175 following his performance on Saturday night. Though Ward is tied up with a likely Tony Bellew clash, I would love to see him in with anyone from Adonis Stevenson on down. One natural fight would be a rematch with Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic, who fought Browne to a contested SD last year. Marcus Browne raised a lot of eyebrows on Saturday night. Hopefully he can keep that momentum going.
Omar Figueroa TKO 3 over Robert Guerrero
Prior to the fight I predicted this would be “an action fight between two guys who prioritize offense over defense”, and I think that’s just about right. It was a war while it lasted. Robert Guerrero landed 40.7% of his power punches and Omar Figueroa landed an impressive 55.5%.
Figueroa had looked like a rising star as recently as 2014 when he scored a highlight reel knockout against Daniel Estrada, but since that time his career was beset by injuries, flat performances, and inactivity. He needed to reestablish himself against Guerrero, and his spirit in the ring showed that he understood this. Guerrero also had a lot to prove following a string of disappointing performances, but unfortunately his body was not able to follow through with the gameplan he attempted.
Guerrero started the first round strong and he was able to exploit the ring rust Figueroa had accumulated in his 19 months out of the ring. Guerrero looked to be making it the type of dogfight that earned him a win over Andre Berto and kept him competitive against Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia. Figueroa looked very unpolished, but he pressed the action and kept to his gameplan. The result was an action-packed stanza that was clearly won by Guerrero.
The second started off as a direct continuation of the action of the first, but it soon became clear that Figueroa and his trainer Joel Diaz had watched their game tape. Omar was able to make subtle adjustment to his inside game that Berto, Garcia, and Thurman had been unable to, and the dogfight soon became target practice. Figueroa would drop Guerrero three times in the second.
While Guerrero miraculously made it out of the second, he wouldn’t make it out of the third. The third round picked up where the second left off, and referee Ron Lipton finally waved it off after another two knockdowns. Those who didn’t watch the fight might wonder why the bout wasn’t stopped after the first four knockdowns, and it’s because Guerrero rose each time and dashed right back into the lion’s den and succeeded (to varying degrees) in landing his own offense. It was just that kind of fight. Interestingly, I talked to Randy Gordon (former NYS athletic commission chair) after the fight and he argued that the fight shouldn’t have been stopped on the final knockdown since it had been a body shot and was therefore distinct from the previous four knockdowns (which had been caused by shots upstairs).
In the aftermath of the bout, many have called for “The Ghost” to retire. I understand why people think this, but he actually might have some future opportunities given Al Haymon’s deep stable of older welterweights. I could see him in with Brandon Rios, Victor Ortiz, Devon Alexander, or even a rematch with Andre Betro.
As for Figueroa, his future looks bright again. He’s 27–0, just 27 years old, and he’s strategically well positioned in the sport to earn big paydays. I was fortunate enough to talk to him at length at the post-fight press conference and he said he would like his next fight to be at a catchweight of ~143 with the eventual goal of fighting for a world title at 140. He wouldn’t name names, but a few come to mind. I could see him in with John Molina, Rances Barthelemy, or Kiryl Relikh. He probably won’t challenge the winner of Crawford-Indongo immediately, but we could see that down the road or we could see him fight for a title once that winner leaves the weight class.
One final note: as I mentioned I was able to talk to Figueroa after the fight, and I was finally able to ask him about his amatuer victory over Errol Spence in the 2007 Texas State Golden Glove finals. I have attached the video below.
* For the record, the absurdly long full name of the venue is “NYCB LIVE: Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum”