Lee Groves

10: Best fights staged in Montreal

7. June 8, 2007 – Herman Ngoudjo W 12 Randall Bailey, Uniprix Stadium

Montreal was in the midst of a giant sports weekend with Formula One's Canadian Grand Prix ostensibly serving as the centerpiece. But in terms of excitement and drama, pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton's first victory on the circuit paled in comparison to what happened two days earlier at Uniprix Stadium between Ngoudjo and Bailey.

This IBF eliminator was to determine an opponent for the winner of the Lovemore N'dou-Paul Malignaggi fight to be held eight days later (Malignaggi won a 12 round decision), but the action and atmospherics made this fight much more than a table-setter. They included knockdowns of both fighters, multiple shifts of momentum, a dramatic cameo by Mother Nature that caused a brief power outage and a decision worthy of robust debate.

Bailey entered the fight in a transitional phase, for new trainer Norman Wilson insisted that "The Knockout King" become a more complete fighter.

"When I got with my new trainer, he specifically took everything away that had 'one punch' written all over it," Bailey said. "He invested time in making me use the jab, making me throw combinations, making me move, making me move my head, making me do a lot of the things I never had to do before."

Since losing his WBO junior welterweight title to Miguel Cotto in December 2004 (KO by 6), Bailey had won seven straight, including his last five by knockout. The hours of toil with Wilson paid off in his most recent fight against Harrison Cuello five months earlier as he showed both skills and sock in scoring a second round KO.  With newly developed assets to go with his still prodigious power, Bailey entered the match on a wave of confidence.

As for Ngoudjo, the Bailey fight represented his second consecutive title eliminator. Five months earlier he faced pound-for-pound entrant Jose Luis Castillo in a WBC-sanctioned eliminator as a massive underdog but the onetime Olympian showed he belonged by going punch-for-punch with "El Temible" before losing a hotly-contested split decision. Irked by Bailey's pre-fight chatter, Ngoudjo vowed to shut his opponent's mouth in the ring.

"In this fight tonight I've got to show Randall Bailey who I am," he said. "Because since he came to Montreal , I hear a lot of him. He's talked a lot."

Ngoudjo turned his words into action midway through the first when, moments after tasting several patented Bailey right hands, he dropped the off-balance American with a counter hook to the jaw. Bailey answered that knockdown with one of his own in round two thanks to a clipping hook that was preceded by a series of shifty moves.

As Bailey's skills and long-range punching tied Ngoudjo in knots, the weather took a startling turn. A hot and humid night started to change midway through round three as high winds swept through the outdoor stadium that, as Jerry Park, used to be the home of the Montreal Expos. Within minutes the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the banners that hung from the rafters started to flap wildly. Soon after, torrential rains came in sheet-like waves that caused water to pour off the tarps in steady, thick ribbons. Much of the 9,000-plus spectators ran for cover while hundreds of others chose to crowd underneath the steel ring canopy.

The storm's biblical intensity caused the lights to go out, first at ringside, then throughout the stadium between rounds four and five. The power was restored quickly enough to limit the between-rounds break to 1 minute 40 seconds. The wild weather hardly dampened the crowd's enthusiasm; instead it electrified it. Those who remained at ringside sung, chanted and cheered with a fervor befitting an soccer-oriented international crowd and the hometown favorite responded by stringing together several effective flurries.

But the rally was short lived and throughout the middle and late rounds Bailey's sharper jabs, understated aggression and heavier blows appeared to build a working margin on the scorecards. Ngoudjo exacerbated the situation by heeding his corner's orders to "respect Bailey's power." Bailey surged in rounds eight, nine and 10 behind several trademark crosses and it appeared he had done enough to secure a points win.

Ngoudjo, however, wasn't willing to concede. He finally took the fight to Bailey in round 11 by working both hands at close range, especially in the final minute. A hook that stung Bailey early in the 12th gave Ngoudjo the energy required to produce the strong finish many thought he needed.

It proved to be enough, for while Bill Ray saw Bailey a solid 115-112 winner, fellow judges Robert Hoyle (115-112) and Richard DeCarufel (114-112) pushed Ngoudjo over the top – and into a guaranteed crack at a major title.

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