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The Travelin’ Man returns to Quebec-part II

31
Dec
Photo by Herby Whyne

Photo by Herby Whyne

 

Please click here for part I

 

Friday, December 19 (continued): When it comes to boxing’s best weapons, Adonis Stevenson’s left cross must rank near the very top. And that’s why THE RING (and WBC) light heavyweight champion will be a force for some time to come.



Following a slow start against an extremely defensive-minded Dmitry Sukhotskiy, that left began hitting the mark in round three, a round that saw Stevenson land 11 of 29 power shots (38%) and up his work rate to 63 punches from 41 and 49 in the first two stanzas. Once this “Superman” gets rolling, he’s almost impossible to stop and it was clear that the 33-year-old Sukhotskiy lacked the firepower to prevent his demise.

Stevenson used the fourth round to sharpen his targeting and finalize his punching range (15 of 46 overall, 10 of 24 power) and round five bore the fruits of his previous labor. A savage left cross drove Sukhotskiy back-first to the canvas 74 seconds into the round and at first, it didn’t appear he’d have enough energy to regain his feet. The Russian somehow managed to rise at seven but it was clear that he was nowhere near recovered when another left produced a delayed-reaction knockdown a few moments later. Sukhotskiy tried to shake the fireflies from his shoulders as he sat on the canvas before rising at six. Stevenson went all out for the finish as he fired a hailstorm of lefts that slammed against the Russian’s chin and torso again and again. No matter what form it took – cross, uppercut or body shot – that ripping left inflicted pain wherever it landed.

The 42-second assault ended with a touch jab followed by a crushing cross that dropped Sukhotskiy in sections along the ring apron. No count was necessary. Referee Michael Griffin immediately waved off the fight and officially entered Stevenson’s fourth successful defense into the history books.

Round five was as big a slaughter numerically as it was inside the ring as Stevenson out-landed Sukhotskiy 35-4 and out-threw him 73-30. He landed 25 of 48 power punches (52%) and 10 of 25 jabs (40%) while taking just 3 of 13 (23%) and 1 of 17 (6%) in return. That bulge enabled Stevenson to pull away in the final numbers as he led 80-23 overall, 29-9 jabs and 51-14 power and built dominant percentage gaps as well (29%-17% overall, 19%-11% jabs, 42%-25% power). Sukhotkiy, who spent much of the fight leaning heavily on his back leg, never got going on offense as his highest punch output (40 in round three) was below Stevenson’s lowest (41 in round one).

For Stevenson it was an excellent way to round out an extremely disappointing year. It re-asserted his status as the lineal and RING champion, a status he believes is enough to trump Sergey Kovalev’s three belts and comprehensive victory over Bernard Hopkins.

[Kovalev] has to come to me,” Stevenson told Showtime’s Jim Gray. “I’m the big champion because I’m THE RING magazine champion and I beat the man [lineal champ Chad Dawson, who beat Hopkins]. I’m the man at light heavyweight, so they have to come to me.”

Believe me; Kovalev will. After all, he did just that all of last year and he wasn’t the one who blinked. Yes, there will be preliminaries in the spring and summer (Kovalev vs. Pascal and a possible Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara rematch) but after that, Stevenson will have one last chance to prove that his nerve to fight the best is as formidable as his nickname and that speeding bullet of a left hand.

*

 

The televised undercard began with what I thought would be a blowout win for the surging Artur Beterbiev against largely unknown Jeff Page Jr. While the final result was expected – a second-round KO – the route getting there was anything but.

The longer, leaner Page – trained by highly respected veteran Abel Sanchez – smartly utilized his height, reach and mobility to out-box the prospect before dropping in a right to the jaw that sent Beterbiev sprawling in the final moments of the first round. The highly decorated Russian amateur star, who was coming off an eye-opening second-round knockout over former titlist Tavoris Cloud, immediately got up and received an additional one-minute rest in the corner since the bell sounded the moment referee Jean-Guy Brousseau’s count ended.

I felt a bit sleepy before the fight and I lost my focus for just a fraction of a second,” Beterbiev told Showtime’s Jim Gray. “I got a bit angry after [the knockdown] and decided to go after him.”

He sure did. Moments after firing a double-jab to the face, Beterbiev followed Page to the ropes. Page darted to his right to set up a left to the face but just as he did, the Russian superbly timed his opponent’s movement and landed a hook that met Page at the pass. The blow buckled Page’s legs and ignited the sequence that led to the first knockdown. Yes, it was a clubbing right to the back of the neck but it was good enough for Brousseau.

Page resumed his sprightly boxing but a hair-trigger lead right flush on the jaw produced the second knockdown. This time there was no argument as to its validity; it was a powerfully concussive and well-timed blow. A pair of hooks floored Page a few seconds later, persuading Brousseau to wave off the fight.

Statistically, Beterbiev’s effort fulfilled every task. He out-landed Page 25-11 overall, 10-3 jabs and 15-8 power and connected accurately in all phases (43% overall, 42% jabs, 43% power) while taking relatively little in return (24% overall, 16% jabs, 30% power). But aesthetically, one has to believe that Beterbiev’s meteoric rise toward a title shot should be throttled down a bit. His world-class skills and extensive amateur experience has led him to a top-10 ranking in just six fights and he may still break Beibut Shumenov’s divisional record for least fights to a belt (10). But the knockdown against Page should give his team reason to sharpen its focus going forward.

*

 

The next fight pitted Andre Dirrell and Derek Edwards and Dirrell’s presence caused my mind to drift back in time.

One of my first punch-counting jobs was a live-to-tape card on January 27, 2005 at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Md. That card was memorable for three reasons: First, it is the only card to date that I’ve worked with CompuBox president Bob Canobbio; second, one of the ring card girls was a human clone of Jessica Rabbit (right down to the five-alarm, fire-engine-red evening gown) and third, Andre and Anthony Dirrell made their professional debuts.

I remember meeting Andre and his grandfather, Leon Lawson, who allowed me to hold the bronze medal that was won in the 2004 Athens Olympics. I also remember the lightning speed and manic switch-hitting style that enabled Dirrell to stop Carlos Jones in the fourth and final round. Dirrell scored a second round knockdown against an opponent who, at 176¾, out-weighed him by 9¼ pounds but was far slower of hand and foot, mostly because the 34-year-old was 13 years Dirrell’s senior. Jones failed to land any of his eight punches in round one while Dirrell landed 16 of his 44. The gulf in class was so large that Dirrell took time out to showboat; at one point early in the fourth, Jones spun himself into the canvas after missing a hook and Dirrell, after pivoting behind him, playfully kneed him in the behind.

Wagging his finger, referee John Gradowski advised Dirrell to box him, beat him up but not to disrespect his opponent. A somewhat chastened Dirrell proceeded to heed Gradowski’s counsel as he swarmed Jones, which caused his frustrated foe to lose a point for an obvious low blow. A quintuple left cross bloodied Jones’ face and a few more unanswered punches ended the fight just 10 seconds before the end of the contest, a bout that saw Dirrell pound out connect advantages of 81-16 overall and 63-8 power.

Not at all,” Dirrell told John Scheinmann when asked if the crowd’s strong negative reaction to his actions in the final round bothered him. “It was unsportsmanlike conduct and it’s really not me. But the guy was talking a lot and I don’t talk back; I let my hands do the talking. So I gave him a little bump to let him know who was the dog in there and who was the cat.”

Much has happened to Dirrell in the nearly 10 years since then, including a pair of long layoffs totaling 35 months brought about by injuries. Those adversities – along with the natural maturing process – has enhanced his perspective and his level of professionalism and those qualities were in full evidence during his 12-round decision win over Edwards. Fighting almost exclusively from the southpaw stance, Dirrell methodically picked Edwards apart with his still lightning-quick right jab and fired combinations only when it suited him strategically. He also proved his ambidextrous abilities by smoothly and instinctively avoiding Edwards’ punches. Fighters may learn to effectively switch-hit on offense but only the best of the lot can be equally effective on defense.

It was a controlled, cerebral and appropriately confined performance in terms of attitude and execution and the numbers bore out his dominance – connect leads of 225-47 overall, 168-46 power and a stunning 57-1 in jabs. Dirrell landed 46% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts and made sure to mix in plenty of body shots. He also continued to freely throw the left hand despite an injury later disclosed to be a bruise to his knuckle. Best yet, he gave Edwards plenty of credit for his toughness during the post-fight interview.

This boy can take a punch,” he said. “I sparred with a lot of tough guys in this camp and I hurt every one of them, even light heavyweights. I was hitting him with everything but the kitchen sink but he was eating every punch. It was a tough 12 rounds and that was my first 12-rounder [during my comeback] and I put on quite a performance.”

That he did – and in more ways than one.

*

 

For the second time in 13 months, welterweight Jo Jo Dan defeated Kevin Bizier by split decision inside the Pepsi Center. But while the action in both fights was fiercely fought, the route by which the final result was determined was far different.

In fight one, Dan sprinted to an early lead only for Bizier to come on strong in the middle portions. An accidental butt in the final round appeared to re-energize Dan, who won the final round to sew up the decision. Dan’s activity advantage (74.9 punches per round to Bizier’s 56.6) proved pivotal to his 274-235 overall connects lead, which included a 236-233 edge in landed power shots. One of Bizier’s goals entering the rematch was to match Dan punch-for-punch, believing his heavier blows would get him enough rounds to win on points.

Bizier achieved that objective Saturday as Dan threw just six more punches overall (685-679) and Bizier fired 104 more power shots (548-444). He also registered a knockdown in round seven, which saw Bizier unleash a fight-high 95 punches and out-land Dan 38-15 overall and 35-14 power. The exertion, however, proved too much for Bizier to sustain and his dramatic drop-off in rounds eight through 10 (40, 44 and 40 to Dan’s 66, 59 and 58 from 43 in round seven) allowed Dan to regain a foothold. After the knockdown, Dan out-landed Bizier 96-60 overall and 95-49 power in rounds 8-11, a margin that allowed Dan to weather Bizier’s final-round burst (18-17 overall, 17-16 power) and earn just enough points to win the rematch (115-112, 114-113, 113-114).

With the win, Dan becomes the mandatory challenger to IBF titlist Kell Brook. After two highly questionable losses to Selcuk Aydin in 2010 and 2011, Dan rightfully earned the judges’ nod twice against Bizier and if politics don’t stand in his way, he’ll get his first crack at a major belt, which promises to be an interesting style match. Good for him.

*

 

Aris and I began the packing process as soon as the credits began rolling. After briefly visiting our rooms, we, along with graphics operator Mary “Queen of Stats” Swinson, walked to the hotel’s Bar and Restaurant where several dozen fight people of various roles were congregating. Normally I would retreat to my room to either get some work done or sneak a few hours of sleep but since my first flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until 12:40 p.m., I felt comfortable about engaging in some fight talk while sipping on some diet soda.

But me being me, I overdid the talking part. Before I knew it, it was 3:40 a.m. and I realized I needed to leave if I wanted to get at least some decent rest. Once I returned to my room, I dispensed with the usual winding-down process and turned out the lights at 4 a.m. with an eye on rising four hours later.

 

Saturday, December 20: Mission accomplished: My eyes snapped open at 7:45 and I made it down to the lobby by 9 to settle my bill. Although my boarding passes indicated I had TSA Pre-Check privileges, I didn’t know whether they would apply in Canada, so I set up my timetable as if they didn’t. If I had extra time to wait at the gate, fine. As long as I was where I needed to be when I needed to be there, all was well.

My instincts proved correct – everyone congregated in the same slow-moving line and once I reached the screening area I presented my boarding pass and engaged in the shoes off/unpacking laptops and liquids protocol. Although I hadn’t done it in a couple of months, I executed the necessary moves without missing a beat.

I spent the next 90 minutes catching up on my writing responsibilities while checking email and Facebook messages. When I reached a good stopping point, I bought brunch at the Restaurant Altitude and ate with associate producer Mike Teodoru, whose flight to Montreal was delayed.

After taking my third row aisle seat, I saw Andre Dirrell coming up the aisle.

Nice performance last night,” I said.

Thanks,” he replied with a bright smile that creased his unmarked features.

It turned out that my seat-mate was Matt Cedrone, Dirrell’s strength-and-conditioning coach. Perfect. We spent the entire flight re-hashing last night’s fight as well as broaching other boxing-related subjects. For me, there’s no better way to spend a 90-minute flight – or any length flight for that matter.

The plane landed on time, which was a good thing because I had an hour to wend my way through customs, undergo a second security screening and reach my connecting gate. Unlike in Quebec City, the passport screening portion proceeded flawlessly and, as a result, I was passed through quickly.

If ever there was a time I was happy to have TSA Pre-Check privileges, it was here in Philadelphia. The line for regular passengers extended into the hundreds and had I been in that queue, I surely would have missed my connection to Pittsburgh. But in the Pre-Check line, only two women were ahead of me and the screening lasted less than two minutes. Just like that, I was headed toward my gate, which was located several concourses away.

Breaking into my best power walk – which, at age 50, is still pretty fast – I arrived at Gate B8 with tons of time to spare. Better yet, my preferred status triggered an automatic upgrade to first class. I couldn’t have asked for a better journey home.

That is, until I zipped open my laptop bag and discovered something was missing – my copy of “John L. Sullivan and His America” by Michael T. Isenberg. I had planned to read it on my flights but once I discovered I had a fight person sitting next to me – and one who was just as willing to talk as I was – I stowed it in the storage flap in front of me and, in my haste to make my connection, forgot to retrieve it before deplaning.

In more than a decade of flying, I had never done this and, being the perfectionist I am, I mentally kicked myself over my carelessness. But I didn’t do it for long because there still was time to make it right.

I approached the gate agent, explained my situation and sought her counsel.

You came in through Terminal F, so I’ll call there and see if anything had been retrieved,” she said. She made several attempts but no one answered. She then advised me to file a report in Pittsburgh’s baggage claim office. Now that it was clear I wouldn’t have book in hand for quite a while – if ever – I focused on the next task, listening for the announcement for first-class passengers to board. I wanted to be among the first in line so I’d have enough overhead space to stow my luggage.

I ended up being the sixth because while I was seated 10 feet away from the entry point, the others were standing and lined up there. As a result, I barely had enough room to squeeze in my clothes bag.

I settled into my third-row window seat and instead of reading, I watched the other passengers enter the aircraft. One older red-headed woman was certainly ready for the Christmas season; she wore a Santa-style dress, black buckled boots, granny classes and a festive hat with a decoration on top.

You’d think that instead of going on a plane, she’d be able to call home and have the reindeer summoned,” I told the man sitting to my left. He smiled and briefly chuckled before resuming his reading.

I had no idea who I was sitting next to until the plane landed and we began to gather our luggage. I noticed his smaller bag had his name along with a Super Bowl XLI patch.

Oh, did you have something to do with the Super Bowl?” I inquired.

Yes,” he replied. “I was one of the line judges.”

It turned out he was Ron Marinucci, a line judge and head linesman in the NFL since 1999. He had just finished officiating the Thursday night game in Jacksonville between the Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans and was on his way to Pittsburgh to work tomorrow’s game between the Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that had massive playoff implications for both teams. According to Pro Football Reference.com, he was about to officiate his 248th regular season game and had logged 11 more post-season contests spread over 14 years, including the aforementioned Super Bowl and the classic double-overtime contest that saw the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens beat the heavily favored Broncos on the road 38-35. Not only was I seated next to a NFL official, I was next to one of the more experienced ones.

After telling him that I too was in the sports industry, we immediately hit it off. We chatted about our various jobs for the next 15 minutes as we made our way toward baggage claim, he to retrieve his gear and me to hopefully start the process of retrieving my book. I provided the necessary information to set the wheels in motion and then walked to my car to begin the long drive home.

I pulled in the driveway shortly after 8 p.m. and after unpacking, I spent the remainder of the evening watching the Showtime-televised quadruple-header emanating from Shelton, Wash. while making sure all my other recordings on the DirecTV Genie were going off as scheduled. As I’ve said many times before, boxing never ends for me – and thank God for that.

This journey marked the end of this Travelin’ Man’s 2014 schedule, which began in Canada (Montreal) and ended in Canada (Quebec City). In between, I’ve worked in New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Connecticut, Texas and Nebraska and added 7,866 miles to my car’s odometer, of which 2,130 were logged between June 3-23 when I attended the International Boxing Hall of Fame weekend and drove to and from Wilkes-Barre, Pa. There were a lot of adventures and experiences – most good, some not so good – but I always appreciated the chance to live them. Here’s hoping that 2015 will bring even more memorable moments inside the ring, aboard the planes and everywhere else I’ll get to roam. The first stop of the New Year will be Cabazon, Calif. on Jan. 9 to work a “ShoBox” tripleheader.

Until next year, 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] to arrange for autographed copies.

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