"He ain't pretty no more."
--Tommy Como on Tony Janiro in "Raging Bull"
It is one of my favorite movie lines of all time. Jake LaMotta had just applied the finishing touches in rearranging undefeated prospect Janiro's face when Como, the grizzled New York ringside character, uttered that classic line.
It's a line I would love to borrow one day. That day might be coming sooner than you think. Come Friday night in Tampa, somebody "ain't gonna be pretty no more." Friday Night Fights has a main event that will surely deliver, namely, pain and punishment.
Edner "Cherry Bomb" Cherry takes on undefeated Monty Meza-Clay (ESPN2, 9 ET). They are lightweights who are heavy on heart. They are out for respect even when they have earned plenty. And stylistically, they are the type of fighters who rarely make decisions, they just make fights.
"What a fight, we'll be ready," trainer Tom Yankello told me two weeks ago at Mohegan Sun.
He was getting ready to work the corner for his heavyweight Brian Minto, but he couldn't resist a little preview of his next FNF assignment.
No doubt Tommy and Monty will be ready. Yankello has been training Meza-Clay (20-0, 13 KOs) for the past five years. It seems as though a good three of those years have been spent with Yankello talking up Meza-Clay to me every chance he gets.
Yankello is one of my favorite people in the business. He has been carrying the label as one of the best next-generation trainers in the sport since he led lightweight Paul Spadafora to a world title. Now that the Pittsburgh native has trained thought-to-be underachiever Calvin Brock to top-10 heavyweight status, while farming his own stable of young homegrown prospects, Yankello has graduated to being a now trainer, not a next.
"You guys are going to love Monty. He's TV-friendly. He's aggressive, he's part Mexican, that's why he fights like a Mexican fighter, but at the same time, he's got a lot of flair, too. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy. He's going to come out and fight like Aaron Pryor and Julio Cesar Chavez combined. He can step back and box, but it's aggressive. He has a good jab, and he's got some speed. He's a little quicker than some of the Mexican fighters."
There, he said it. Yes, hyperbole can even find a home in the no-nonsense steel city. Pryor and JCC were just used to describe Meza-Clay. Yankello isn't the type to spread manure. If Tommy says the guy is going to fight like two of the most entertaining action fighters ever to tape up, then he is.
Meza-Clay had better fight that way. I can assure you his opponent doesn't know any other way to fight.
Cherry (19-4-2, 8 KOs) is 135 pounds of forged-steel muscle. He was hardened by a life of physical labor. He was born into near poverty in the Bahamas. At 11, he moved with his family to rural Wauchula, Fla. The entire Cherry family was drawn there for a fruit of a different name.
From Mom and Dad to the seven children, Edner and family picked oranges. They worked the groves from sunup to sundown every day. They barely got ahead in life, but they did survive, learn and love.
I had been hearing about Edner for some time. He finally made it to an ESPN TV slot in July 2004. Cherry promised an exciting fight. He over-delivered.
Facing rugged veteran Antonio Ramirez, the Cherry Bomb took some chances. He nearly didn't make it through the first round. Ramirez floored him. They traded in the second round. Then, in the third round, Ramirez rocked Cherry again. Gut-check time had arrived. Cherry passed the test. Later that round, he returned the favor, smashing Ramirez to the canvas. In the fourth, Cherry brought more pain.
This was a young man who was brought to tears while discussing with us the hardships of his family. This was a young man who was driving three hours a day to train at the nearest big-city gym. He wasn't going to let Ramirez get in the way of his dreams.
In the fifth round, he dropped Ramirez again and took a TKO win. Cherry had arrived.
The next winter, he would put forth another exciting effort in losing a split decision to Ricky Quiles. Quiles is going to fight for a world title because of that. Edgar's prize is seeing himself time and time again on ESPN Classic in a thriller. That strokes your ego, but it doesn't pay the bills.
This past February, Cherry did it again. Edner was in a tough spot against Jose Armando Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was the NABF lightweight champ and fought a consistent 12 rounds while Edner, as is always the case, fought an exciting 12 rounds. It's an easy boxing formula. Consistent equals wins; exciting equals close losses.
Cherry scored a knockdown early, staggered Santa Cruz in the middle rounds and swarmed him so bad in the 11th that only the ropes were holding up Santa Cruz. It was another awesome, fan-friendly display. Still, the decision went against Cherry.
"He'll land his big shots; he'll certainly do damage; but both in the Quiles fight and the Santa Cruz fight, I think he hurt himself a little bit because he doesn't win rounds," said Cherry's trainer, Peter Fernandez.
Cherry might not win as many rounds as he should, but he wins over fans and TV executives. Say the name Edner Cherry to our ESPN boxing programmer Doug Loughrey and he will start reaching for his calendar to find an open date.
That next date is upon us. This Friday, Cherry gets yet another undefeated fighter with whom to face off. But this time, it's a smaller one.
Meza-Clay is only 5 feet, 2 inches. I've watched tape on him. He fights bigger than that. He has an inside physical presence that makes height a nonfactor. Meza-Clay gives you the sense that he wants to hurt someone every time out. For most of his opponents, it's more than a sense. It's reality.
On the other side, Cherry can flat-out bring the right hand. He also has as much heart as anyone in the game. What he doesn't always have is defense. Yet another reason TV executives and fans love him.
"Cherry is a banger and he wants to bang. Monty's a smaller guy, so you would think that Edner's the stronger guy in there," Yankello explained.
"I just know that if you're technically better, and you've got good balance and good leverage on the inside, that's who has the strength. Edner Cherry might be the bigger puncher in this fight. He's the bigger guy and he's proven that he can knock guys out with one punch, but Monty is a break-you-down kind of puncher and he's so technically tight on the inside."
Is there really any way this isn't a great action fight?
It reminds me of one more line from Raging Bull. Joe Pesci, as manager/brother Joey LaMotta, said it perfectly: "You win, you win. You lose, you still win."
Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."