Rico Hoye-Montell Griffin: Respecting Our Elders

16.09.04 - By Joseph Buro: This Thursday night on SHOBOX: The New Generation, prospect Rico Hoye attempts to position himself as the IBF’s #1 contender in the light heavyweight division when he takes on Montell Griffin. Hoye, a Michigan native (be alarmed that the fight takes place in Michigan), has an impressive 17-0 (14) record and seems to be peaking now at the age of 29. After delivering two consecutive first round knockouts, his starting one-punch knockout of Richard Hall in the fourth round has sent ripples through the division. His impressive decision victory over the very capable Prince Badi Ajamu is another indicator that he is for real.

Not so fast.

While this fight is being set up as a sort of coming out party for an impressive young contender, Montell Griffin, a true backbone of the division for years, sees this as his final opportunity to win over a generation of fight fans. It’s easy to dismiss Griffin as footnote in the Roy Jones era, but he has, in fact, been a driving force in the division for years. Throughout his career, he’s fought nearly every top-flight contender: Roy Jones, Jr. (twice), James Toney (twice), Antonio Tarver, Dariusz Michalczewski, Eric Harding, Derrick Harmon, and George Jones. He’s gone a respectable 5-4 in those fights, with a razor-thin, highly controversial loss to Eric Harding.

This fight has an eerie resemblance to Jesse James Leija’s split decision victory over Francisco Bojado in June. The Atlantic City card was promoted by Main Events, Bojado’s promoter, and aired on HBO Championship Boxing. The strategy was clear: Given Leija’s age and propensity to cut, the young gun Bojado would have an easy night against a well-known veteran who had made a career losing to the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, and Kostya Tsyzu. It was assumed that the magic of his two victories over hall-of-famer Azumah Nelson was long gone. On that night, Leija would prove otherwise.

In the first round, Bojado came out swinging, eventually dropping Leija in the second. It seemed that everything would go as planned until the onslaught waned toward the middle rounds. Leija, sensing Bojado’s reluctance to press the action, took advantage by throwing accurate body shots and flurrying when he could, all while staying on the inside to prevent Bojado from using any leverage.

It was a veteran move that won him the fight and, to the chagrin of boxing fans, soured the expectations of another star in the making. It was like that feeling we had when Smarty Jones bailed out less than fifty yards before the finish line at the Belmont Stakes. What it should have been was a moment of reflection on the career of James Leija, a fighter who plies his craft like a true professional.

With Hoye v. Griffin, we have essentially the same scenario. Like Bojado, Hoye is seventeen fights into his career and on the verge of stardom. Like Leija, Griffin is well into his thirties, undersized, and is considered by most as a career opponent. Will Rico battle early and kick it into second gear for two-thirds of the fight? Not if he remembers who Montell Griffin is and who he’s been in with.

* Photos © TOM CASINO/SHOWTIME: Montell Griffin weighed 174 pounds Wednesday and Rico Hoye tipped scales at 173 for their big fight Thursday on "ShoBox: The New Generation'' on SHOWTIME (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast)

Article posted on 15.09.2004

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