Sunday, March 26, 2023  |


The Travelin’ Man goes to Bethlehem-Part II




Click here for part one

Saturday, March 15 (continued): When welterweights Nathaniel Rivas and Terrell James entered the ring for their scheduled four-rounder, the event center at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa. looked no different than any arena about to stage its first fight of the evening. The scene outside the ring was relaxed: the patrons were just starting to file in and while the NBC Sports Network cameras were ready to run, there weren’t any plans to beam anything out to the public as of yet. It was to be the opening act of a seven-part performance, a warm-up for the higher-level action to come. The two punch counters decided to work this bout as a way to pass the time as well as to collect some data that could come in handy down the road.

But once the first bell sounded, it became clear that Rivas and James wanted to be much more than a diversion. They wanted those who arrived early enough to watch them to still be buzzing about them after leaving the premises. I don’t know if they succeeded but they certainly made an imprint on this observer because the activity and action they produced in their nearly nine minutes of work was something to behold.

The typical welterweight lands 19 of 59 punches in a given round including 13 of 34 power punches. That means two normal 147-pounders would combine for 38 of 118 overall and 26 of 68 in power shots. In round one, Rivas and James combined for 76 of 232 overall (50 of 134 for Rivas, 26 of 98 for James) and 65 of 155 in power shots (46 of 92 for Rivas, 19 of 63 for James). Hardly a typical first round for the first fight of the evening but they followed that by going a combined 62 of 195 overall and 52 of 137 power in round two. Again, Rivas won the head-to-head battle by outlanding James 36-26 overall and 29-23 power but by the third, the effects of Rivas’ punishment became clear as he surged while James reluctantly receded.

The fight ended at the 2:37 mark after Rivas, now 3-0 (1), landed 43 of 93 punches overall (46%) and 35 of 64 power shots (55%) while James, 1-2-1, mustered 18 of 79 overall (23%) and 15 of 51 (29%) power.

Many people would think that working this kind of fight would leave us punch-counters frazzled or discombobulated. Quite the contrary, I love working fights like these. The constant action sharpens my reflexes and it makes finding a rhythm much easier to achieve. If I had my choice, I’d count guys like Leo Santa Cruz and Sergey Kovalev – and this version of Rivas – all the time.

During the little time I had to reflect, I thought of J. Russell Peltz, who, if he had his druthers, would have every fight, top-to-bottom, produce this kind of pulse-pounding action. Because he succeeded in doing so far more than he failed, his name is rightfully etched into the Hall of Fame’s roll call.

As a punch counter, it feels good when the ringside judges validate the figures we produce in a particularly close fight and such was the case in the following bout when unbeaten junior welterweights Jerome Rodriguez of Allentown and Brandon Williams of Rochester fought to an action-packed draw. The momentum continually shifted and the connect margins stayed within a tight range throughout. The judges’ cards reflected the difficulty of their task: Kevin Morgan saw Rodriguez a wide winner at 59-55 while Ron McNair viewed Williams a narrow 58-57 winner. The deciding ballot was cast by Julie Lederman, who saw the fight 57-57.

The CompuBox stats lined up with Lederman’s judgment as Rodriguez held a slim 137-136 lead in overall connects despite having exchanged a combined 965 punches. Rodriguez, now 6-0-3 (2), won the jab connect battle 56-49 while Williams, now 3-0-1, prevailed 87-81 in landed power punches. The pace was fast as Williams topped 95 punches thrown four times (104, 95, 98 and 102 in rounds one, two, three and six) while Rodriguez was more methodical (67.3 punches per round) but more accurate (34%-24% overall, 29%-18% jabs, 39%-31% power).

Next up was an eight-round lightweight bout between undefeated Karl Dargan of Philadelphia and Hartford, Connecticut journeyman Chazz McDowell, who rankled some by weighing 142, well over the contracted lightweight limit of 135. The expected result occurred as Dargan, now 15-0 (7), produced an 80-72 sweep on all three cards and sent McDowell, 6-5-1 (1), to his fifth loss in a seven-fight stretch.

Dargan dominated statistically as he outthrew (506-226 overall, 257-170 jabs, 249-56 power) and outlanded (114-36 overall, 41-22 jabs, 73-14 power) his durable but overmatched foe. He also looked good technically as he strung together effective combinations that occasionally had McDowell reeling about the ring but never put him in any danger of being stopped.

Dargan, who is trained by Naazim Richardson, is a technically schooled fighter who possesses world-class talent in terms of hand speed and savvy movement. But based on his last four fights, it can be said he will face an uphill battle once he steps up the level of competition because he lacks one-punch finishing power.

He struggled to a six-round split decision against the 8-5-5 Ramesis Gil in February 2013 but responded with a two-round stoppage of 12-9-2 Edward Valdez and sparkling decisions over the 10-0-1 Michael Brooks and McDowell (who has yet to be stopped despite facing fighters with a combined 40-2-2 record in his last four bouts).

One would think Dargan should be able to stop fighters like McDowell because of the cavernous gap in talent and most times, that is a correct assumption. But some fighters simply don’t have a knockout artist’s temperament. Such fighters derive enjoyment and fulfillment by winning round after round with dominant displays of skill and while that doesn’t thrill TV executives or inspire the general public to shell out extra dollars, it fulfills the boxer’s bottom line – winning fights.

More than a few outstanding champions created legends by going against the grain – Pernell Whitaker, Willie Pep, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, Tommy Loughran, Miguel Canto and Nicolino Locche among them – and it appears this version of Dargan will have to follow a similar path if he is to reach his goals. That means long fights requiring supreme focus and execution from first bell to last as well as a thick skin to absorb the inevitable criticisms from fans and media who don’t appreciate his execution of the more subtle arts of the game. Just as those who came before him did, victories in big fights will be the only way Dargan can answer his critics.

The Kermit Cintron-Ronald Cruz fight is one of those rare fights that have bragging rights on two geographic levels. Not only are they natives of Puerto Rico – Cruz from Manati and Cintron from Carolina – but when they settled in the U.S., they landed in nearby towns (Cintron in Reading, Cruz in Bethlehem). Of all the fights on this card, the vocal passions soared to the highest levels in this one.

At 27, Cruz is seven years younger than Cintron, had the hometown advantage and the more recent success as he won three straight after dropping back-to-back fights while Cintron was one fight removed from a dismal 1-3-1 stretch. When the “Fight Doctor,” Ferdie Pacheco called fights a generation earlier, he aptly called contests like these “crossroads fights” because the final result would cause each man to take dramatically differing forks. The bruising action inside the ring confirmed Cruz and Cintron were well aware of those stakes.

Although Cintron has 28 knockouts in 35 wins, he has lost the KO touch as of late. His last stoppage win took place in October 2009 while the 5-foot-8 Cruz was forced to burrow inside the 5-foot-11 Cintron’s longer reach to score his points. The action see-sawed between Cintron’s ring generalship and Cruz’s compact body punching and the stats couldn’t have been much closer. Cintron, who landed more overall punches in six of the 10 rounds, prevailed 154-152 in total connects and 33-21 in landed jabs but Cruz led 131-121 in power connects and was the far more accurate hitter (34%-22% overall, 18%-11% jabs, 39%-30% power). Cintron’s activity (703-453 in attempted punches) and heavier single shots paved the way for a close but deserved points win that will serve to extend his 14-year pro career.

It has been said that of all the punches in boxing, the jab is the only one that can win a long-distance fight by itself. After losing the rematch to Tony Bellew last May in a de facto title eliminator, Isaac Chilemba has climbed back into the title picture with back-to-back wins over Michael Gbenga and on Saturday, Denis Grachev almost exclusively on his educated jab. Aside from a worrisome wobble late in the fifth against Gbenga, Chilemba’s jab carved out wins so decisive that he earned 536 out of a possible 540 points on the judges’ scorecards against Gbenga and Grachev.

It is rare for a fighter this side of Wladimir Klitschko to average 10 jab connects per round in a single bout and even more so to do it in back-to-back fights. Against Gbenga, Chilemba averaged 10.2 jab connects per round while against Grachev, he averaged a stratospheric 13.1, more than double the 5.3 light heavyweight norm.

One of the major reasons CompuBox separates jabs from all other punches is the assumption that an effective jab positively affects the rest of a fighter’s offense. Chilemba embodies that proposition because the jab helped him land 55% of his power shots against Gbenga and 56% against Grachev. There also is a defensive component to an effective jab, for the taller Chilemba was able to keep his opponents at his preferred range, which, in turn, limited their ability to connect on him (24% overall, 15% jabs, 31% power for Chilemba, 18% overall, 12% jabs, 22% power for Grachev).

With every passing fight, Chilemba’s style has taken on the nuances practiced by his trainer, James “Buddy” McGirt, who, in his day, was a breathtakingly effective technician. But like Dargan, Chilemba doesn’t have the pop to make world-class opponents respect his power and because of that, he’ll be considered a significant underdog against Adonis Stevenson and Sergey Kovalev. His best course of action may be to go after the winner of April 19’s Bernard Hopkins-Beibut Shumenov unification contest because neither is a lights-out puncher.

The main event between Vyacheslav Glazkov and Tomasz Adamek was difficult to pick beforehand but following a close opening round, it became clear the 29-year-old Ukrainian had much more in the tank than his 37-year-old Polish rival. His sharp jab (35% accuracy) quickly swelled both of Adamek’s eyes and enabled him to establish obvious superiority in the middle rounds. It wasn’t a matter of Adamek growing old before our eyes but rather how much Glazkov has improved since his 10-round draw-that-should-have-been-a-loss against Malik Scott 13 months and three fights earlier. Glazkov boxed when he needed to, slugged when it was most advantageous and did what he needed to survive Adamek’s inspired rally in rounds 11 and 12, which saw him outland Glazkov 55-38 overall and 37-22 in power shots.

The CompuBox stats reflected the judges’ belief that Glazkov won by a wide margin (117-110, 117-111 and 116-112). Although Glazkov threw 181 fewer punches (580-761), he still led 212-161 in total connects and 124-71 in landed jabs to offset Adamek’s slim 90-88 lead in power connects, created entirely by his stretch drive. Glazkov was also more precise across the board (37%-21% overall, 35%-14% jabs, 38%-33% power) and after being outdone 9-6 in round one, proceeded to outland Adamek in each of the next eight rounds, cementing the victory that raised his record to 17-0-1 (11) while dropping Adamek’s to 49-3 (29).

The win also lifted Glazkov to the number-two slot in the IBF rankings, which would mean Wladimir Klitschko would inevitably face him should “Dr. Steelhammer,” as expected, dispose of Alex Leapai. As for Adamek, he’s left to ponder his next move. His late rally showed he still has enough in the tank to be effective over the long haul but the ease with which Glazkov hit him must raise questions about his reaction time on defense and whether he can credibly hope to upend whoever is holding the heavyweight belts down the line. Only he and his team can make that decision but the guess here is “Goral” will fight on, at least for a while more.

Following a long night of counting, Aris and I were famished – we hadn’t eaten in more than eight hours – so we trouped to the back to grab some pizza and soda instead of watching the walk-out bout between super bantamweights Josh Crespo of New Haven, Conn., and Bethlehem’s Luis Acevedo, which ended up being a four-round majority draw. After filling up, I returned to my room and prepared to retire for the evening.

But then I changed my mind. I decided to tap into the post-fight afterglow by running into some more familiar faces and engaging in some more boxing talk. I walked toward the food court to get something to drink before resuming my search and just as I approached the area, I recognized Harold Lederman in the distance. Sitting at the same table, with her back to me, was daughter Julie and her electric golden locks.

The father/daughter duo greeted me warmly, as I knew they would, and we engaged in a wide-ranging recap of the evening’s festivities. We weren’t alone for long because the Ledermans draw boxing people like honey does bears. Several notables stopped by our table to say hello – and a lot more – including Javon “Sugar” Hill, who guided Cintron to victory, and former cruiserweight titlist Al “Ice” Cole, with whom I just recently met through mutual friend and internet radio host Alex Pinnix.

One thing about Cole: the man can talk. And a second thing: the man is fun to listen to. When the smoke cleared, I looked at my phone and to my surprise, I saw it was past 2:30 a.m., meaning I had to get up in less than five hours’ time. I knew I was going to pay a price for this night’s verbal overindulgence but if confronted with the same situation, I’d do it again – every time.

Sunday, March 16: I got out of bed at 7:15 a.m. and to my surprise, I felt surprisingly refreshed and rested given the little time I actually slept. Once I finished my morning routines, I pulled back the curtains of my ninth-floor room and saw sunshine that made me smile. It looked like a great day to drive and fly but when I stepped outside, the icy wind and steamy breath offered a fresh reminder that winter, chronologically and meteorologically, still possessed a mighty grip.

Just before checking out of the hotel, I spotted a somewhat bruised Nathaniel Rivas sitting in the lobby along with a member of his team. I approached him, said hello, congratulated him on his victory and informed him of the insane numbers he put up in the first round of his fight. He smiled, shook my hand and offered thanks before we parted ways.

The walk toward the parking garage was a long one but now that the cars from the Chelsea Handler show had left, my rental car, a black Dodge, was extremely easy to spot. My GPS instantly “found” me and the drive to the airport was without any major hiccups. The checkpoint line was extremely short in Allentown and the 17-minute flight helped get me in great shape in terms of making my slim 55-minute connection window.

I needed that extra time because, unlike two days earlier, I needed to take the “F” terminal bus to reach my connecting gate in Terminal C. That the bus dropped us off at the Terminal C entrance saved some valuable time but before we got there, our vehicle was nearly involved in an accident. Yes, you read that right.

As our bus chugged straight ahead, another one started its left-hand turn directly in front of us. Those of us who drive know the vehicle proceeding straight ahead on the main drag has the right of way but apparently the rules of the road don’t apply to airport buses. For a few moments, it looked like we were involved in a game of chicken and it quickly became clear the other guy wasn’t going to blink. Yielding to the other driver’s stubbornness and stupidity, our driver put on the brakes and yielded to the rebel.

I spent less than 15 minutes at my gate and because I was seated in first class, I was the third person to board the aircraft. The flight was free of jarring turbulence, a rarity for many of my recent plane rides, and the aircraft landed in Pittsburgh at the advertised 1:01 p.m. A half-hour later, I was in my car and two-and-a-half hours afterward, I pulled into the driveway.

After unpacking my things, I went right back to work as I tended to tasks related to “Throwdown Fantasy,” CompuBox’s stats-driven game.

After finishing, I realized that today was the 40th anniversary of what I’ve called my “Thunderbolt Moment,” the day I became a boxing fan. March 16, 1974 was the day Roberto Duran avenged his only loss to date by stopping Esteban DeJesus in the second of their three-fight series and as a nine-year-old watching on ABC, I was so enthralled by what I saw that I had to learn everything I could about this exciting “new” sport.

I never would have guessed this single fight would ultimately shape the course of my life going forward. My enthusiasm for learning resulted in encyclopedic knowledge while I was still a pre-teen and my goal-oriented approach was shaped by the fighters I watched weekend after weekend. I began recording fights in January 1986 after getting a VHS machine for Christmas and to date, my collection on both VHS and DVD numbers well over 30,000 fights. I majored in English and minored in journalism because I envisioned myself eventually working as a ringside correspondent for THE RING. Although my professional career took several twists along the way — and thanks to Harold Lederman, I was able to make first contact with CompuBox present Bob Canobbio — I eventually got to the place where I could fuse passion and profession.

Every day is stuffed with boxing-oriented tasks that challenge and fulfill and at age 49, I couldn’t be happier. But everything I’m doing now can be traced back to that single day and that single fight and for that, I thank Roberto Duran and Esteban DeJesus for putting forth such a magnetic effort and for lighting a fire that will rage within me until the day I leave this Earth.

The next stop on life’s journey will begin in less than two weeks’ time when I return to Atlantic City to work an HBO-televised card featuring Karim Mayfield-Thomas Dulorme and Sergey Kovalev-Cedric Agnew.

Until then, happy trails.


Photo / Rich Graessle-MAIN EVENTS

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last two years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit or e-mail the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.