The Travelin’ Man goes to Wilkes-Barre-part II
Saturday, June 21 (continued): Just before New Jersey junior middleweights Hakim Bryant and Al Johnson began their scheduled four-rounder, I turned to Aris and said, “Both of these guys are making their pro debuts. I remember Sean O’Grady saying during one episode of ‘Tuesday Night Fights’ on USA that such fights usually have terrific action because they burn up so much nervous energy. And wouldn’t you know it, they backed Sean up. Let’s see what happens here.”
I’m not sure whether it was the pro debut dynamic or the turf war aspect (Middletown vs. Vineland) but from first bell to last, they went at it with a fury. Both topped 100 punches thrown in the first round and in round two Bryant, went an incredible 64 of 136 (47%) to Johnson’s 27 of 108 (25%). When I reported those numbers between rounds to the press guys behind me, one of them asked, “Is that for the fight?” and was shocked when I told him that was just for round two.
They maintained the torrid pace for the remainder of the contest. In round three, Bryant was 35 of 101 to Johnson’s 16 of 114 and in the fourth, Johnson’s furious 19 of 160 couldn’t overcome Bryant’s 35 of 91. In the end, two of the judges saw a 40-36 shutout while the third viewed it 39-37, all for Bryant.
“That was a heck of a warm-up fight,” I told Aris, who nodded in agreement. But given those numbers, it was hardly a warm-up for the fighters, who deserved applause for setting a high bar for the other guys on the card.
The next bout was an intriguing crossroads battle between undefeated light heavyweights Sullivan Barrera (11-0, 6 knockouts coming in) and Lee “Silverback” Campbell (7-0, 3 KOs). On paper, Barrera, a 32-year-old Cuban standout whose 282-27 amateur record included a decisive 21-11 decision over Chad Dawson in 2000 and a first-round knockout of Beibut Shumenov two years later, was the clear favorite given his pedigree but Aris and I remembered working Campbell’s most recent fight, an eight-round upset majority decision over Roberto Acevedo that prompted Aris to propose a match between “Silverback” and “Subway” Mike Lee, who also fought on that card.
Barrera seized instant command in the first by throwing 93 punches to Campbell’s 31 and outlanding him 27-6, including a 24-4 bulge in landed power shots. But the tide turned a bit in the second when Campbell’s hook scored a flash knockdown, a development that troubled Barrera to the point of hitting on the break a few moments later. Barrera was fortunate not to have a point taken away for his obviously intentional foul but from that point forward, the Cuban rendered the math irrelevant as his superior power, volume and physical strength gradually but graphically wore Campbell out. The numerical gaps in rounds three through five told a most withering tale:
Round three – Barrera: 24 of 76 (32%) overall, 22 of 48 (46%); Lee: nine of 28 (32%) overall, seven of 21 (33%) power.
Round four – Barrera: 33 of 84 (39%) overall, 30 of 60 (50%) power; Lee: 10 of 33 (30%) overall, 10 of 28 (36%) power.
Round five – Barrera: 29 of 82 (35%) overall, 25 of 55 (45%) power; Lee: nine of 44 (20%) overall, nine of 42 (21%) power.
That set the table for the inevitable conclusion in round six in which Barrera landed 41 punches to Campbell’s six, connected on 58% of his 62 power punches and caused Campbell to collapse along the ropes under a blizzard of unanswered blows. Referee Gary Rosato rightfully ended the fight at that point and why not? For the fight, Barrera outlanded Campbell 170-51 overall and 151-43 in power shots, including a 66-12 bulge in landed body shots, which no doubt contributed to Campbell’s fatigue.
Next up was a scheduled four-rounder that pitted undefeated Dominican Olympian Wellington Romero and winless Brooklynite Mack “Truck” Babb. On paper, it appeared to be a record-building exercise, an impression that unfolded inside the ring. An avalanche of Romero blows scored a knockdown late in round one – a round that saw Romero go 23 of 85 overall to Babb’s six of 46 – and a blizzard of bombs in the second persuaded Babb to take a 10-count on a knee in the second. In all, Romero (4-0, 2 KOs) tripled Babb in overall connects (36-12), landed more than six times the power shots (31-5) and the last of his 17 body shots propelled Babb (0-3) to his breaking point.
Aris and I took a break from counting during the four-round swing bout that saw Reading, Pa. junior middleweight Erik Spring raise his record to 2-0 at the expense of Newark, N.J.’s Jamil Gadsden, who dropped to 0-5. Both put forth a spirited effort that featured few straight punches but Spring’s inspired body work and superior combination punching was too much for Gadsden to overcome. All three judges scored a 40-36 shutout for Spring but it wasn’t for Gadsden’s lack of trying.
After Philadelphia lightweight Karl Dargan outpointed Chazz McDowell in March, I offered praise for his technical skills but expressed concern over his future drawing power and fortunes against stiffer competition because of his cerebral temperament and lack of compelling power.
I don’t know whether Dargan, his father/trainer Naazim Richardson or anyone at Main Events read my words but the fighter’s outstanding performance against fellow Philadelphian Anthony Flores seemed a definitive reply to my comments. While remaining true to his scientific approach, Dargan assumed immediate command, fired blistering combinations that connected sharply, powerfully and with impressive accuracy and willingly stepped up his game even more to secure the eye-catching stoppage. He wasn’t content to outscore his opponent as was the case against McDowell; he specifically intended to hurt and put away the man in front of him and the sea change in attitude was wonderful to see.
The ending sequence was quite telling. Moments after Flores stunned Dargan with a solid right – his best punch of the fight – Dargan lived up to his nickname of “Dynamite” by landing an explosive right over the top that shook Flores to his core followed by two wicked hooks and two final rights that had his opponent sprawled along the ropes. Using those ropes to quickly haul himself to his feet, Flores appeared clear-eyed by the time referee Rosato finished the mandatory count. But when the action resumed, Dargan made clear he was ready to do serious damage when he launched – and landed – a lead right to the jaw so flush, Rosato immediately stepped in and stopped the fight.
In previous fights, Dargan might have chosen to ride out the storm, collect his thoughts and resume his attack only when his head adequately assimilated Flores’ heavy right. But here, Dargan reacted instantly, instinctively and with irresistible violence, a brand of which that should compel TV executives to view Dargan in a new light.
Despite his 11-4-1 (6) record coming in, Flores was not an easy opponent. He had the height (5-feet-10) and reach (73 inches) to force Dargan to assume the unfamiliar role of aggressor and he entered the ring with a winner’s mindset. Flores regained his love for the sport following a 32-month layoff and in his second fight back in April, he impressively outpointed Mike Faragon, who had entered the ring with a 19-0 record. His mobility, high work rate (76.5 per round over two fights) and active jab promised to challenge Dargan. But even though Flores opted to come at Dargan – not surprising given his Philadelphia roots – Dargan answered by going hard anyway. That shift in mindset fueled an execution level that, if it continues, should lift the 29-year-old Dargan toward the heights he seeks.
Although Dargan averaged 48.5 punches per round – well below the 62.1 lightweight average – he was precise on offense (39% overall, 30% jabs, 46% power) and elusive on defense (17% overall, 6% jabs, 30% power). He outlanded Flores 80-51 overall, 26-10 jabs and 54-41 power but the final five power connects said all that needed to be said.
Anatoliy Dudchenko was originally scheduled to fight Dmitry Sukhotsky on the April 4 NBC Sports Network card topped by Steve Cunningham’s stirring victory over Amir Mansour. But when Sukhotsky withdrew (ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael believed it was due to his $9,000 purse), Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi – a two-round KO victim of Sukhotsky’s – stepped in and the bout was billed as an official IBF eliminator to determine Bernard Hopkins’ mandatory challenger.
For Dudchenko, the change in opponents couldn’t have been more disastrous. While Sukhotsky showed a vulnerability to being hit with jabs – a primary weapon of the 6-foot-3 Dudchenko – Mohammedi’s game centered on extreme unorthodoxy. His whirling dervish attack and unpredictable punching patterns pushed future WBO light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly in their December 2010 fight won by the Welshman over 12 and bedazzled journeyman Shalva Jomardashvili (KO 3) as well as Brock Lesnar lookalike Patrick Bois (W 10). I declared in my analysis that if Dudchenko was less than 100 percent, he would have big-time problems.
And big-time problems were exactly what Dudchenko experienced.
Mohammedi’s awkwardly effective style prevented Dudchenko from establishing his jab and without the jab to command range, the Ukrainian was at Mohammedi’s mercy. Following a slow first two rounds that saw Mohammedi outland Dudchenko 14-11, the 29-year-old Frenchman seized the initiative in the third and continually landed rights over Dudchenko’s fatally low left. As the punishment mounted, the 35-year-old Dudchenko, who came into the fight saying this was “the chance of my life,” seemed completely lost as to what to do. His chief second, Jesse Reid tried his best to whip his charge into action but his words had little, if any, effect.
After Mohammedi out-anded Dudchenko 16-2 in the third, the gaps grew more grotesque: 26-6 overall and 18-3 power in the fourth, 34-3 overall and 22-2 power in the fifth and 35-4 overall and 20-4 power in the sixth. Mohammedi ravaged him every time Dudchenko parked himself against the ropes and it was against the ropes where the fight ended 37 seconds into the seventh.
The final numbers were devastating. Mohammedi outlanded Dudchenko 137-28 overall, out-jabbed the taller man 50-8 and blasted in 87 power connects to Dudchenko’s 20. He landed 38% overall to Dudchenko’s 14% and led 32%-7% in jabs and 43%-23% in power punches.
With the victory, Mohammedi became Hopkins’ IBF mandatory and his weirdness may well present problems for “The Alien” if – and this is a big if – Hopkins opts to keep his belt and fight him.
The 49-year-old legend has been about making history for the last several years and surely he relishes the possibility of becoming the only man in the four-belt era to hold all the straps in two weight classes, which would happen if he beats WBC counterpart Adonis Stevenson and WBO colleague Sergey Kovalev over the next year. But that dream could die should the IBF insist Hopkins fight Mohammedi next.
Mohammedi certainly impressed those who watched the Dudchenko fight but would that translate into enough dollars to have a Hopkins-Mohammedi match make sense to “B-Hop”? Hopkins knows he has precious few efforts left in even his wondrous tank and, smart businessman that he is, he wants to make the most of his opportunities in terms of legacy and finances.
I believe the scenario hinges on when the Stevenson fight can be made. If it can be made next – and if Hopkins convinces the IBF not to strip him based on a promise to fight Mohammedi afterward – then all will be well from Hopkins’ perspective. If he beats Stevenson, he’ll be a three-belt titlist who will be in a powerful negotiating position, a position that would also apply to Stevenson if he prevails against Hopkins. If enough public pressure comes to bear on the Stevenson/Hopkins winner to fight Kovalev for all the marbles immediately – and if there’s enough money to be made to convince the sanctioning bodies to look the other way and if the Hopkins/Stevenson winner even wants to fight Kovalev – Mohammedi may well be left out in the cold. But if the IBF sticks to principle and demands that Hopkins fight Mohammedi next, the guess here is Hopkins will shrug his shoulders and go after Stevenson (and the big money) with his WBA belt in tow while Mohammedi will either be named IBF champion retroactively or fight for the vacant belt against the highest available contender.
If, if, if. That’s the world of boxing. And that’s just one of the reasons the sport remains so intriguing – and maddening.
While NBCSN aired a tape of the Romero-Babb fight, the good folks in the production truck gave Aris and me the green light to leave. Famished, we headed to the Johnny Rocket’s outlet in the food court and chowed down on burgers and fries. As we left, we ran into two notable people: a heavily bruised but still smilingly pleasant Anthony Flores and Jesse Reid Jr., a Facebook friend, avid video collector and son of Dudchenko trainer Jesse Reid Sr., for whom he served as an assistant in the corner. His shaved head, muscular physique and goatee may put forth an intimidating front (actually, there’s no “may” about it) but his enthusiasm, friendliness and energetic demeanor put those traits in the background. He was as perplexed about Dudchenko’s performance as anyone, for he was convinced going in that his charge was ready to complete the job. It just goes to show you that while many can make educated guesses – guesses that usually come to pass – one can never truly know what will happen inside a boxing ring until it actually happens.
Because our card ended earlier than expected, Aris and I were able to watch the entire Vasyl Lomachenko-Gary Russell Jr. bout on Showtime. Some will say Lomachenko’s decisive decision victory allowed him to equal Saensak Muangsurin’s all-time record for winning a major title in the fewest number of pro fights (three) while others (like me) consider him to be 9-1 because of his six World Series of Boxing fights. But no matter what side of the fence one occupies, one can’t deny the impressiveness of Lomachenko’s performance from first bell to last. His in-and-out and side-to-side movement constantly kept Russell off-balance while his vicious body punching set up flush head shots time and again. He was the ring general no matter whether he was the one coming forward or the one backing up and judges Pat Russell and Max DeLuca gave him proper credit by deeming him a 116-112 winner. Only Lisa Giampa can fully explain her 114-114 scorecard – a card that gave Russell the first four rounds – because that viewpoint is beyond my ability to grasp.
The main event between Robert Guerrero and Yoshihiro Kamegai was everything I expected it to be – and more. Kamegai’s defiant aggression and Guerrero’s trademark volume punching spawned a brutal war of attrition that stretched every physical and psychological limit. Guerrero fought through a cut and horribly swollen left eye while Kamegai willingly and continually walked into the leathery thicket that was “The Ghost’s” attack. Guerrero earned his $1 million purse while Kamegai punched far above his modest $75,000 check. Here’s hoping that Kamegai, like Nihito Arakawa before him, will make a repeat appearance on premium cable.
The long night of boxing action ended after 1:30 a.m. and, unlike most nights, it didn’t take me long to wind down enough to turn out the lights. I wanted to get in enough sleep so that I can successfully make the long drive home.
Sunday, June 22: Sleep proved elusive for me. An unstoppable attack of dry coughing forced me to arise briefly at 4 a.m. while a searing calf cramp jolted me awake for good at 7:30 a.m. Just as well: I wanted to have plenty of time to catch up on my writing before leaving the hotel and beginning the marathon drive home.
Over the next two-and-a-half hours, I made amazing progress – nearly 2,000 words in all – before I reached an excellent stopping point and prepared to pack. What a delightful day to take a Sunday drive – luminously sunny skies, temperatures in the 70s and nary a cloud to be seen. I checked out of the hotel shortly before 11 a.m. (30 minutes before the cut-off time) and because I wanted to get home in the most efficient way possible, I chose to drive the interstate-heavy route provided by MapQuest.
I immediately filled the tank at the first gas station I saw, listened to a series of sports radio stations, set the cruise control on 65 mph and enjoyed the ride. I stopped at a drive-thru to satisfy my increasingly grumbling stomach and attributed my West Virginia background for being able to hold the food down as I drove up and down the steep, curvy mountain roads. The slopes were such that I could coast at 65 mph – or more – for three minutes at a time, which helped me save on gas. Still, I had to fill my tank a second time in Salem, W.Va.
I arrived home seven hours and 18 minutes after I started, which was what I expected given my two gas stops and my one drive-thru pit stop. In all, I drove 877 miles on this trip and more than 2,000 when one includes my Hall of Fame trip.
On Thursday, the Travelin’ Man will hit the road again as I will work a ShoBox tripleheader at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas. Needless to say, I’ll be flying this time.
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 email the author at [email protected]com to arrange for autographed copies.
Photo courtesy of SI.com