Glen Tapia photo by Kendall Holt (@KHolt456)
by Gautham Nagesh
Junior featherweight Chris Avalos won a unanimous decision against Drian Francisco of the Philippines on an entertaining edition of Friday Night Fights on ESPN 2 from Texas Station Casino in Las Vegas. Avalos out-worked the game but crude Filipino to earn the win by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 (twice).
Francisco looked strong early, landing hard shots with both hands against the aggressive Avalos in the first two rounds. The American’s pressure began wearing Francisco down in the third round, as the last 10 seconds saw Avalos unload a flurry of punches as the Filipino covered up. Avalos stayed on top in the 4th, but Francisco mounted a rally in the 5th by landing a hard counter-right hand followed by a left hook. Avalos came back to win the 6th by staying busier and jabbing Francisco, who swung for the fences with wide counter shots. A few landed, but most didn’t.
Francisco is awkward but crafty, far from a polished fighter but effective in his own manner. Avalos was more orthodox, and slightly larger in stature. He simply marched forward the whole fight and fired more punches than his opponent, the simplest and best strategy when facing a smaller foe. Francisco landed a few hard shots in the second half of the fight, most notably the right uppercut, but simply didn’t do enough to win the fight. Francisco also faded in the final two rounds, as the accumulation of the more than 1,000 punches thrown by Avalos finally took their toll.
The co-feature saw Abie Han of El Paso, Texas battle courageously for eight rounds against the superior Glen “Jersey Boy” Tapia, before multiple cuts prevented Han from answering the bell for the 9th in a matchup of unbeaten junior middleweights.
Sporting a loincloth with the flags of South Korea and the U.S., Han came forward from the opening bell without hesitation. But his straightforward style left him wide open for Tapia’s punches, particularly the right hand. Tapia hurt Han early with a combination, then proceeded to batter him continuously for the remainder of the first round. Tapia’s pedigree looked like too much for Han, whose record of 19-0 started smelling more strongly of Texas with every punch absorbed.
To his credit, Han battled back in the second round, winning it on our card and controlling the action with his constant pressure. Han will take three punches to deliver one, a strategy that only works if you punch harder than your opponent. Tapia appeared to be the harder, crisper puncher in this fight, but Han also showed the ability to take a considerable amount of damage without blinking. Han’s will and pressure alone would have broken many other prospects. That Tapia didn’t wilt is evidence of his promise.
Tapia took control again in the third round, though the fight remained on even terms. Tapia bided his time as Han came forward, avoiding most of Han’s better shots, but taking a few to his gut. Han slaps a bit with his punches to the head, but gets excellent leverage on his left hook to the body. A byproduct, no doubt, of sparring so close to the Mexican border.
Han’s shining moment came courtesy of one of those left hooks to the body in the 5th round. He caught Tapia unawares, and forced the Jersey Boy to double over in pain for the remaining seconds of the round. Had the fight gone the distance, it could have been a turning point, but Han never landed another body shot with close to the same impact. Some of the credit for that must go to Tapia, who wisely held more and guarded his torso for the rest of the fight.
Tapia was back in control in the 6th, and turned up the pressure steadily over the next three rounds. By the 8th he was landing seemingly every punch, and blood was spurting from an assortment of gashes on Han’s brow and face. Still, Han plowed forward, refusing to succumb until he had been well and truly bested.
Tapia obliged, clubbing Han with a short right on top of the head to send the Texan face-first into the ropes. Referee Jay Nady correctly called it a knockdown; Han remained easy to hit when he rose to his feet. Tapia punished Han for the rest of the round, splattering the ring with blood as he connected with arrow-straight right hands. Thankfully, Han’s corner saw it fit to stop the fight when they did, before he was at risk of taking serious damage.
Tapia, 23, of Passaic, New Jersey, has been quietly brought along by expert Top Rank matchmaker Carl Moretti in much the same way that lightweight contender Terence Crawford was built into a contender. Tapia may not be quite the talent that Crawford is, but he may also prove to be more popular with the fans, thanks to his TV-friendly style. Tapia also lives two hours away from Atlantic City, while Crawford is from a state more known for the wishbone offense and Warren Buffett than boxing.
Tapia didn’t set the world afire tonight, but he passed a real test against an opponent with world-class toughness, if not skills. Some may say he should have won sooner or gotten hit less, but getting hit is part of boxing, and he handled it well. I underestimated Crawford after seeing him similarly tested against what I considered unremarkable opposition. I won’t make the same mistake twice.
It’s too early to grade Tapia a future star, since he has yet to fight anyone of real note. But this win should be considered a strong indication of his potential for growth. Only the considerable depth of the junior middleweight division could prevent Tapia from at least reaching contender status, especially given his ties to Top Rank. Tapia looks like a potential cash cow for Bob Arum and company. Any fighter with so much love for his home state and such prominent tribal tattoos shouldn’t have any trouble selling tickets on the Jersey shore.