The Travelin’ Man returns to FoxwoodsÔÇªagain-part II
Saturday, Sept. 20 (continued): Philadelphia lightweight Karl Dargan knew going in that Dominican Angino Perez presented a formidable stylistic challenge. After all, 6-foot-2 foes with 77¾-inch reaches are extremely rare at 147, much less 135. But the fighter known as “Dynamite” never could have guessed how severe the challenge would become.
Just 19 seconds into round three, the mantis-like Perez decked Dargan for the first time in his career with a right to the chin and a hook to the throat. Adding insult to injury, Perez cracked a left to the ear while Dargan was down, a move that should have resulted in a point penalty at the very least but, for whatever reason, didn’t. Dargan was clearly buzzed as he arose but by the time referee Mike Ortega wiped his gloves off, he had already mapped out his survival plan and then proceeded to execute it. He circled to his right to avoid Perez’s right hand, fired counter hooks that nailed Perez cleanly and fiercely fought his way out whenever Perez trapped him in the corner.
Better yet for Dargan, Perez curiously chose not to press his advantage. Instead of gunning for the knockout, at least initially, Perez continued to stalk behind occasional blows. That tactic might have worked against Perez’s previous level of opposition – five of his last six opponents had two or fewer victories going in – but here, it allowed Dargan to regain his senses and, more importantly, his rhythm. In fact, Dargan managed to outland Perez 8-7 overall in round three despite throwing 24 punches to Perez’s 44.
After boxing his way to a 15-10 connect lead in round four, Dargan followed Naazim Richardson’s instructions by planting his feet, digging hard body shots with both hands and bringing up wicked shots to the head. His hard work paid off in the form of a jolting right uppercut that snapped Perez’s head and collapsed his legs 53 seconds into the round. Perez fell in sections and his attempts to reassemble himself were tellingly labored. He laid flat on the canvas for a moment before pulling himself to his haunches but then lost his balance and sat on the canvas for several more seconds before finally rising at nine.
When the action resumed, Dargan did what Perez should have done in the third – pursue the knockout. Dargan winged power shots and didn’t care that some of them missed the mark. All that mattered was the kill and moments later, he got it with a concussive overhand right to the temple that caused Perez’s limp body to fall forward and Ortega to stop the contest.
The final numbers weren’t indicative of how competitive the contest really was, for Dargan out-landed Perez 71-38 overall, 21-11 jabs and 50-27 power. He also was the far more accurate fighter as he led 42%-17% overall, 28%-8% jabs and 52%-31% power. Perez threw 60 more punches (230-170) but Dargan’s power and precision ultimately proved to be the difference.
For the second consecutive fight, Dargan produced a “Dynamite” finish in round five against a taller opponent. Unlike his destruction of Anthony Flores three months ago, however, Dargan had to overcome adversity to do so. That’s an intangible that will prove valuable going forward, for to win three of the four lightweight titles, he’ll need to beat long-armed men who are close to his own height – 5-foot-8 WBO king Terence Crawford (70-inch reach), 5-foot-9 WBA titlist Richar Abril (72-inch reach) and 5-foot-9 IBF beltholder Mickey Bey (69-inch reach). Even WBC monarch Omar Figueroa, at 5-foot-7¾, boasts a 73-inch wingspan. If I were a member of Dargan’s brain trust – which I definitely am not – Figueroa would be the man to go after because of his ultra-aggressive style, porous defense and tender tissues around the eyes, traits that will amplify Dargan’s strengths.
No matter which direction Dargan goes, his last two fights have transformed his image in a most positive way. The result is a well-rounded fighter who not only is ready to take the next step but boldly do so.
Cruiserweights Thabiso Mchunu and Garrett Wilson both vaulted into the U.S. consciousness as Cinderellas encased in heavily-muscled bodies. Thirteen months ago, Mchunu was cast as the party of the second part in Eddie Chambers’ cruiserweight experiment. Although scaling a svelte 196, a career-low by six pounds, Chambers fell victim to Mchunu’s southpaw stance, airtight defense and timely counters en route to a lopsided decision loss (99-91 twice, 99-93). The Chambers win combined with a points victory over Olanrewaju Durodola five months later vaulted Mchunu to number seven in the IBF, number 10 in the WBO, number two in the WBC and number eight in THE RING rankings.
While Mchunu had long known he was fighting Chambers, Wilson couldn’t say the same about his date with destiny against Vyacheslav Glazkov 10 months ago. Glazkov was primed for a major step up against highly-rated Tomasz Adamek but the stomach flu forced Adamek to withdraw from the heavyweight title eliminator. Wilson was summoned on less than two days’ notice and despite considerable disadvantages in height (six inches), weight (18 pounds) and reach (three inches), “The Ultimate Warrior” lived up to his nickname by winging tons of bizarrely angled punches and cutting Glazkov over both eyes. Yes, Wilson lost big on points (99-91, 98-92 and 97-93) but his Rocky-esque story and engaging personality earned him plenty of praise.
Unfortunately for Wilson, he had not fought since the Glazkov fight and ring rust is not good to have against a stylist like Mchunu. Wilson’s only hope would be to out-hustle the South African, which, on paper, would be easy to do given that he averaged just 30.4 punches per round against Chambers and 20.5 against Durodola, well below the 54.8 cruiserweight average.
Once the bell sounded, it became clear that Wilson’s aggression only served to accentuate Mchunu’s talents. Averaging a more robust 40.6 punches per round, he was sharp (39% overall, 25% jabs, 54% power), hard to hit (21% overall, 17% jabs, 23% power) and productive (158-72 overall, 53-18 jabs, 105-54 power). Aside from a few short-lived bursts by Wilson in the final two rounds and a point penalty for excessive holding in the 10th, Mchunu was in command. He fought in a far more fan-friendly manner as he stunned Wilson multiple times with impressively delivered combinations and his second round dominance was such that the round could easily have been scored 10-8. None of the judges, however, did so.
While the Chambers and Durodola fights invited unflattering comparisons to the ultra-scientific Guillermo Rigondeaux, Mchunu’s performance against Wilson was far more palatable to action-oriented fans. It wasn’t Orlando Salido-Terdsak Kokietgym level action but it wasn’t bad either.
The four fights that preceded the live NBC telecast produced more than notable action.
* After waiting in the ring for 30 minutes until the rightly mandated ambulance arrived at the arena, New Haven cruiserweight Charles Foster took just 111 seconds to raise his record to 6-0 (3) at the expense of Hampton, Va.’s Robert Jackson, who was making his professional debut. A right-left to the face caused Jackson to fall in delayed-reaction fashion and while referee Arthur Mercante Jr. allowed the fight to continue, it did so for only one more punch as a flush right to the chin prompted the veteran official to wave off the contest. For the record, Foster landed 9 of 19 overall (47%) and 55% of his 11 power shots while Jackson connected on 4 of 28 overall (14%) and none of his 14 power shot attempts.
* New trainer Abel Sanchez said he wanted light heavyweight Sullivan Barrera to increase his punch output though his volume in his last two bouts were far above the 53.4 division norm (70 per round vs. Larry Pryor, 81.2 vs. Lee Campbell).
Mission accomplished. Not only did Barrera surge to 83.8 punches per round during his sixth round TKO over Eric Watkins, he was more accurate in all phases (38% overall, 22% jabs, 53% power vs. 35%, 21% and 47% vs. Pryor and 35%, 13% and 45% vs. Campbell) and he effectively alternated his attack between head and body as 63 of his 116 power connects struck the flanks. Better yet, Barrera averaged an impressive nine jab connects per round.
The result was arguably the most complete of his career and the final numbers reflected just how dominant he was – 162-35 overall, 46-8 jabs and 116-27 power. Despite his prodigious offense, Barrera was barely struck as Watkins landed just 18% of his total punches, 10% of his jabs and 25% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Given this performance, the 13-0 (8) Barrera is poised to take the next step up the ladder.
* As Howard Cosell often said, “There are horses for courses and styles for fighters.” Then there are fighters whose styles perfectly complement each other like those of lightweights Joseph Perez and Agustine Mauras. Two months ago in Boston, the pair fought to an entertaining six-round draw and thanks to matchmaker Artie DePinho, they were paired again. The second act was just as good, if not better, than the original as they maintained an active pace (69.2 punches per round for Perez, 65.8 for Mauras) and a combined 97.1 power punches and 45.8 power punch connects per round.
Although Perez landed slightly more in each category (166-146 overall, 22-15 jabs, 144-131 power) and was marginally more accurate (40%-37% overall, 19%-14% jabs, 48%-46% power), all three judges came up with a different result. Glenn Feldman saw Mauras a 58-56 winner while Robert Paolino turned in the same score in Perez’s favor. Ultimately, Don Trella’s 57-57 card proved decisive as the pair fought to a second consecutive draw.
After the result was announced, I turned to Aris and said this two-fight series reminded me of another that took place almost 30 years ago. Junior lightweights Tommy Cordova and Rocky Garcia fought back-to-back 10-round draws on ESPN in late-September and late-November 1984 and both scraps were back-and-forth “Closet Classics” between two perfectly matched styles. The scuttlebutt I heard around ringside indicated a third match between Perez and Mauras might be made for either eight or 10 rounds. Let’s hope this one will be televised in full.
* The next fight featured a pair of spidery lightweights in Piotr Apostol (who was making his pro debut) and the 0-1 Tyrell White. Both unleashed plenty of wildly inaccurate punches but Apostol’s inspired body work (a 35-6 connect bulge), higher volume (61.5 per round to 40.5), marksmanship (34%-27% overall, 40%-29% power) and production (83-44 overall, 71-35 power) forged a 40-36 shutout from all three judges.
Once the live broadcast ended, Aris and I packed our belongings as middleweights David Wilson and Anthony Everett waged a spirited four-rounder that Wilson won by shutout decision. We, along with everyone else associated with the show, walked to the production truck and consumed our fair share of pizza. I particularly favored the pepperoni and sausage slices while others opted to consume some of the more exotic varieties.
As we finished our third and final slices, Aris noticed that directly across from us sat three large buses awaiting their next loads of passengers. Since Aris intended to catch a bus back to New York right after the post-fight meal, we walked over to see if this was where he needed to go.
It was. Not only that, Aris learned that the next bus to New York was going to leave in just 15 minutes’ time. At that, we shook hands, said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
I had planned to spend the rest of the evening cranking out copy but after being geared up since 6 a.m., all I wanted to do was relax for a while. Once I came down, I didn’t feel like ratcheting up again anytime soon, so I contented myself by working the remote control overtime.
A few hours later, I felt a gust of chilly air in the room and I looked around the room for the windbreaker jacket I took with me. It wasn’t there.
Only then did I realize that in my haste to leave the arena, I neglected to bring my jacket with me. Me being me, I had to at least try to get it back. By this point, more than three hours had elapsed and as I made the long walk to the arena, more than a few scenarios passed through my mind.
“The theater doors could be locked,” I thought. “So in that case, I’ll stop by the box office to see if they have a lost-and-found. Hopefully it will be there. If I do get inside the arena, someone on the cleaning crew might have thrown it away or moved it to a place where I can’t find it.”
I arrived at the theater entrance 15 minutes later and after saying hello to one of the workers, I reached out and tried to open the first set of double-doors. The right hand door didn’t budge but the left one opened with no problem. I then saw a second set of doors and happily, they were unlocked.
I entered the arena and immediately glanced down and to my right where the CompuBox work station had been. I was pleased to find my blue windbreaker jacket with the US Airways wings on the lapel was draped over the very chair on which I had been sitting.
As I made my way toward ringside, I glanced around to see if anyone was around to question why I was there. Although I spotted two members of the janitorial team cleaning refuse in the nosebleed seats, neither one said a word to me and I said nothing to them. I removed my jacket from the back of the chair, put it on and walked out of the arena undisturbed.
A couple of hours later, I returned downstairs to grab a late-evening snack to go at the food court, then consumed it while watching the final moments of West Virginia University’s competitive 45-33 loss to fourth-ranked Oklahoma. Shortly after the final gun, I turned out the lights and went to sleep.
Sunday, Sept. 21: A rare error on my part – I slept eight minutes past my intended 6 a.m. wake-up time. No big deal though; I gave myself enough of a time cushion to account for any missteps and as a result, I was in my car and ready to go by my goal time of 7 a.m.
Thanks to the MapQuest directions from hotel to airport I stored inside my laptop bag, I was in good logistical shape by the time the Magellan GPS “found” me.
As expected, traffic was considerably lighter than was the case two days earlier and even the path through Norwich was relatively simple to execute: wherever Route 2 West was, drive there. Unfortunately for me, the weather also was more foul – an overcast sky that produced nearly night-like darkness at one point, a temperature in the upper-50s and occasionally hard rain.
About a half-hour outside Hartford, I experienced what could best be described as a “sudden humidity zone.” One moment, my windshields on all sides were crystal-clear. Within seconds, they fogged up to the point that I had to turn on the front and rear defrosters quickly or else I wouldn’t have been able to continue driving. That did the trick, for the cloudiness disappeared almost as quickly as it arrived.
I arrived at the Hertz facility at Hartford’s Bradley International Airport around 8:15 a.m. After positioning the car behind the vehicle in front of me, the attendant informed me that he couldn’t give me a receipt because a power outage that began at 3:37 a.m. knocked out the computers.
“Fine,” I said. “Thanks to the good folks at NBC, the receipt is not mine to pay.”
His next couple of sentences surprised me: “If you’d like, I can drive you to the terminal in this car so you won’t have to wait on the bus. Just move over to the passenger’s side and I’ll take you there.”
“Cool!” I replied. “And thanks.”
“If you notice, we had to put mats over the tire spikes because the outage prevented us from lowering them,” he said as we approached the exit gate. “Also, some of the traffic lights around the area aren’t working. Earlier in the day, they had a traffic cop manning some intersections while at this one coming up, the city put up a stop sign. Driving customers to the terminal isn’t usually part of our job but sometimes you have to go with the flow. There haven’t been too many customers to drive this morning but I know it’s going to get worse if they don’t fix this by afternoon.”
After reaching the US Airways terminal entrance, he offered to unload my luggage but I told him there was no need since I had just a laptop carrying case and a small clothes bag.
“You travel light,” he said. “I like that.”
“Me too,” I replied with a grin.
The security screening line was almost nonexistent and once I reached my gate, I spent the next couple of hours catching up on some of the writing I felt I should have done last night. As was the case two days ago my seat was in row four, though I was situated in the single seat instead of one of the two seats on the other side. With some difficulty, I managed to fit my laptop bag underneath the seat in front of me.
The plane departed about 15 minutes behind schedule but once it reached its cruising altitude of 27,000 feet, all went well. The trouble began once the plane began its descent into Pittsburgh.
Thick clouds over the “Steel City” and the fact we cut through them at more than 500 mph caused the plane to shimmy, rise, dip and weave in unpredictable sequences that would have made Naseem Hamed proud. I looked out the window in the hopes of seeing something that would allow me to regain my bearings but all I saw was a sea of white. All I could do was clutch the arm rest with my left hand, the top of the padded seat in front of me with the right hand (as if that would help) and hope the turbulence would end soon.
In the midst of the shaking, I glanced to my left and saw a 20-something woman calmly reading her copy of People magazine. I envied her composure.
Once we dipped below the clouds, the shaking stopped and all was well again. When the wheels struck the runway a bit more heavily than normal, the woman and I suddenly switched roles; I stayed calm while she gasped out “Oh, Jesus,” before crossing herself. When I told her about this contrast, we both had a good laugh.
When the plane reached the gate, something I had never seen in my hundreds of flights took place. At the end of every flight, a “bong” tone sounds to let us know that we can unbuckle our seat belts and when that sound occurs, everyone leaps out of their seats to retrieve their belongings, clogging the aisles in the process. This time, however, not one soul arose from his or her seat. Everyone just sat and calmly waited until the cabin door was opened before making a move. The result: an incredibly orderly disembarking.
“Why can’t all flights end like this?” I asked myself. “I sure could have used this when I had close connections to catch.”
I spent much of the drive home listening to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ dramatic 1-0 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, which all but cemented my beloved Bucs’ spot in the NL playoffs for the second straight year. With six games remaining, the Pirates extended their lead to 4¾ games over the Brewers for the second wild card spot and climbed to within a half-game of the Giants for the right to host the one-game wild card playoff game. Who would have ever guessed during the midst of the team’s 20 consecutive sub-.500 seasons that the phrase “Hope springs eternal” would apply to the Pirates? Not me. But here we are.
As of this writing, my next trip is scheduled to take place one month from now when I travel to Philadelphia to work an NBC Sports Network card topped by Steve Cunningham-Natu Visinia. Given Cunningham’s stirring victory over Amir Mansour last time out, it should be another fun night at the fights.
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 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three 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 Amazon.com or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.