The Travelin’ Man returns to Foxwoods-part II
After dominating most of the first seven rounds, Joel Diaz Jr. was rolling toward an impressive victory against once-beaten Canadian Tyler Asselstine. Though the southpaw did his best to confuse Diaz with angles and hand speed, he lacked the power to make up the ground he had already lost or the ability to avoid enough of Diaz’s hooks, crosses and uppercuts.
However, that all changed in round eight when an accidental butt opened a gash above Diaz’s eye, the first such injury of the prospect’s career. Diaz’s crisis deepened in the ninth when a charged-up Asselstine had the 15-0 prospect looking confused as well as distressed. The CompuBox numbers further illustrated Diaz’s quandary: round nine saw Asselstine outland Diaz for the first time in the fight and Diaz’s 45 punch attempts and 15 connects both represented his lowest totals for the fight.
All of a sudden, Diaz was thrust into a crucial crossroads. Before this night, Diaz had never fought past the seventh round and his first voyages into the eighth and ninth were fraught with choppy waters. The momentum had clearly turned toward Asselstine, whose main voice in the corner (Rudy Hernandez, older brother of longtime 130-pound champion Genaro) had done an excellent job of cracking the verbal whip. The 10th round would reveal a lot about Diaz’s ability to handle adversity.
Fortunately for Diaz, he had already passed one such test – and it happened during his only other appearance on ShoBox. In January 2012, Diaz and Guy Robb, both 7-0 at the time, had engaged in one of the most exciting undercard bouts in series history. Diaz was dropped for the first (and still only) time in his career and he responded by decking Robb twice in the third and stopping him in the seventh. Until this night, it was the longest fight of his career.
Diaz had a choice: ride out the 10th round and hope his earlier lead will save him or summon his courage, regain control of the fight and show everyone he had the physical and mental tools to take back what Asselstine ripped away from him.
Diaz couldn’t have responded better. He took charge of the situation, increased his output from 45 to 58 punches while forcing Asselstine to decelerate from 63 to 38 punches and land just seven (his lowest total of the fight). Diaz’s 22-7 margin in total connects was the widest of the fight and provided a fitting flourish to a 97-92 victory on all three scorecards. Best of all, Diaz repeated the mental fortitude he showed in the Robb fight, a sign he was ready for another step up the ladder.
“It was a learning experience,” Diaz said. “I wish I got hit less.”
Asselstine, for his part, rallied strongly and nearly pulled out a fight that appeared to be a lost cause. He also proved himself a fighter who is not only willing to listen to his corner but also actually tries to execute the instructions. After the fight , Asselstine said size really did matter.
“I’m too small for 130 but I’m happy I took the fight because it was a great opportunity,” he said. “I fought a guy with 12 knockouts in 15 fights and took everything he had. He’s strong but I’m a 126, 122 [pound]-type fighter. I loved the opportunity because it showed me what I can take.”
A true glass-half-full outlook if ever there was one.
The final numbers reflected the judges’ cards as Diaz out-threw (640-486 overall) and out-landed Asselstine (214-145 overall, 66-43 jabs and 148-102 power). He also was more precise in every category (33%-30% overall, 23%-19% jabs, 41%-39% power). For Diaz, it was a hard night’s work but also a good night’s work.
Junior middleweight Frank Galarza forged a powerful first impression for ShoBox viewers in January when, as an underdog, he scored a crushing knockout of the previously undefeated John Thompson. But against the swarming Sebastien Bouchard, Galarza wisely utilized his advantages in height, reach and foot speed to score a comprehensive eight-round decision victory.
Beyond the stylistic shifts, Galarza went against type in another way. Against Rich Neves (TKO 4) and Thompson, Galarza suffered from slow starts that caused him to lose the first round but against Bouchard, he established his jab early (10 of 40 in round one, 13 of 36 in the second and nine of 47 in the third) and cranked out tons of punches (58, 63, 80 and 105 punches in the first four rounds) that led to a decisive 117-45 gap in total connects through the first half of the eight-rounder.
Galarza’s ability to seize the pace prevented Bouchard from establishing his own volume game, which proved so effective in his most recent fight last November against Mohamed Sidi Slimani when he averaged 83.3 punches per round (including 59.3 power attempts and 22.3 power connects per round) in winning a six-round decision. Bouchard’s best round was probably the sixth (in which he was out-landed by only 26-19) but Galarza came on strong in the seventh and especially in the eighth, when both fighters registered their highest totals in attempts and connects (23 of 66 for Bouchard, 45 of 125 for Galarza). A low-blow penalty against Galarza in the eighth, however, tightened the final margins to 77-74 (twice) and 78-73.
From my perspective, however, I’ll best remember Galarza-Bouchard for what happened in the fight’s final minute.
Before the card began, Aris told me, “I hope nobody gets cut tonight because I really like this sweater.”
Famous last words.
Aris had reason to like it: it was a gray sweatshirt with the words “Cassius Clay” written in the same script that the future Muhammad Ali had worn during the early 1960s. But something, either a punch or a butt, sliced open Galarza’s eye in the closing moments and as the New Yorker wheeled around the ropes Bouchard landed a punch that sprayed blood not only on Aris’ sweatshirt but also on his trademark driver’s cap, his laptop – and his mouth.
“The blood hit my chin and lips and splattered into my mouth because I had it open,” he said. Among us punch-counters this is called “being baptized” and while both of us had experienced this sensation before, this was the first time the crimson actually landed in someone’s mouth. With the narrow trench we were sitting in, there was nowhere to run – or duck. To his credit, Aris maintained his concentration and kept counting.
Once the fight ended, we counted six blood drops on his sweatshirt, one on his cap, three on his round-by-round sheet and a couple on his laptop. As for me, I avoided everything.
I had my own issues though. The trench described in Part One (“The Travelin’ Man returns to Foxwoods-part I”) prevented me from passing notes in the usual way – getting up out of my chair, trotting to the position occupied by the talent and dropping the paper in front of Steve Farhood. It also was impractical to have a production assistant stationed behind me in the stands lest he or she be kicked by front-row fans or worse. So I went to Plan B: handing the note to the timekeeper seated to my left, who handed it to the other timekeeper, who gave it to Raul Marquez, who passed it to Barry Tompkins, who completed the process by shoveling it to Steve. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.
Once the show ended, Aris and I joined the others in the production office for pizza and soda. As was the case at ringside, quarters were cramped but as before, we adapted.
Because my GPS failed to “find” me, I had to rely on memory to navigate the dark back roads that represented our route back to Mystic. For many minutes, I thought I had taken the wrong route until my GPS finally kicked in just before reaching the turn-off I was seeking – Shewville Road.
We returned to the hotel around 1 a.m. but after checking my emails I saw I had more work to do: compiling information on the judges for the Juan Manuel Marquez-Mike Alvarado/Viktor Postol-Selcuk Aydin doubleheader that was to air the following night. I knew instantly that the work had to be done now because (1) I needed to get up earlier than originally planned because Aris needed a ride to Foxwoods to catch his bus home and (2) I would be traveling most of the next day and if all went well, I’d be home by 4:30 p.m., far too late for the people who needed the information. So I settled in and finished the work before turning in at 2 a.m.
Saturday, May 17: Much as I tried – and probably because I tried too hard – it took at least an hour to fall asleep. Worse yet, I woke up several times over the next four-and-a-half hours before finally arising at my goal time of 6:30 a.m. Because of my anxiousness to complete the morning tasks, I felt a freshness that defied my brief sleep time.
While waiting for Aris in the lobby and knowing my GPS wouldn’t “find” me immediately, I asked the person behind the registration desk for the first series of turns toward Foxwoods. She gave me a slip of paper with printed directions that were far saner than the route I had taken the last two days:
*Take I-95 North to exit 92
*Take a left onto Route 2 off the exit
*Follow Route 2 for about eight miles
*Foxwoods Resort Casino will be on the left.
Who knew I could have avoided the land of Blair Witch all this time? Live and learn.
Although we agreed to meet between 7:15 and 7:30, Aris didn’t arrive until about 7:40 (he was looking for his sunglasses, which he eventually found deep in his backpack). I dropped him off at Foxwoods and programmed the address taped to my rental car’s dashboard into my GPS (4 Schoephoester Road, Windsor Locks, CT). I thought my device was playing games with me again when it directed me to drive through the narrow, multi-forked streets of Norwich but once I hit the interstate, I knew I was home free.
With some time to spare, I filled up the Sonata’s gas tank just before reaching the airport, dropped off the car at the Avis facility and breezed through security. I ate a late breakfast at D’Angelo’s sandwich shop, a familiar stop when I fly out of Hartford, took my second-row window seat and closed my Visine-starved eyes for a few minutes.
Perhaps because the pilot wanted to achieve an on-time departure, the plane was already moving by the time the flight attendant began to give her mandated pre-flight instructions. Although the aircraft was hustling along and taking sharp turns, the flight attendant was tossed about but never lost her balance or tripped over a syllable despite wearing high heels.
When I complemented her on her performance under duress, she said, “Thanks. We were really moving. I don’t know if those guys were messing with me but they knew I was back there.”
The plane landed in Pittsburgh eight minutes early but I cringed when I heard the temperature was barely above 50. Once I deplaned, I dug my windbreaker jacket out of the clothes bag and made my way to the car. Because I had already eaten in Hartford, I drove straight home without making my usual food stop.
I reached the driveway precisely at 4:31, one minute later than anticipated (darned stop light). For the rest of the evening, I tried to catch up on all the video work that had piled up in my absence and because I chose to watch the live broadcast of Omar Narvaez-Antonio Garcia on Argentina’s TyC channel and the West Coast feed of Marquez-Alvarado, I didn’t go to bed until nearly 4 a.m.
My next trip will begin in six days’ time as I will travel to Montreal to work a Showtime Extreme doubleheader showcasing Julian Williams-Michael Medina and Eleider Alvarez-Alexander Johnson followed by a Showtime tripleheader featuring Jermell Charlo-Charlie Ota, David Lemieux-Fernando Guerrero and Adonis Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara.
Until then, happy trails.
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 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. 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 Amazon.com or e-mail the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.
Photo by Tom Casino-Showtime