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The Travelin’ Man returns to MontrealÔǪagain-part II

21
Mar
Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

 

Please click here for part I

 

Saturday, March 14: The record books will state that Sergey Kovalev, leading 68-64 on all three cards, stopped Jean Pascal in eight rounds to retain his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles. Similarly, the CompuBox numbers will paint a fairly dominant portrait as Kovalev prevailed 122-68 in total connects, 61-14 in jabs and 61-54 in landed power shots.



On most occasions, the raw numbers would be enough to adequately illustrate what transpired between the ropes but such will not be the case for Kovalev-Pascal. Those of us fortunate enough to be inside Montreal’s Bell Centre not only heard the roars of the electrified crowd but also felt the reverberations from its volume as the two men took turns staggering one another with powerful bombs that landed with unusual flushness. The back-and-forth action was more intense and competitive than anticipated and the style mesh was such that each man showcased his best assets: volume, power and blossoming ring smarts for Kovalev, robust counterpunching and rhythm-disrupting speed for Pascal. Although the optics of the stoppage appeared premature at first blush – referee Luis Pabon intervened after Kovalev landed two more rights to the jaw – in retrospect, it was proper given Pascal’s rubbery legs and spacey eyes in the moments before the final sequence.

The headline writer at Fightnews.com called Kovalev-Pascal an “epic war,” which is overstating matters quite a bit when one considers genuine light heavyweight classics like Archie Moore-Yvon Durelle I, Victor Galindez-Richie Kates I, Marvin Johnson-Jean Marie Emebe and a fistful of Matthew Saad Muhammad fights. It was a good fight waged amid an exceptional atmosphere but it didn’t rise to the level occupied by those legendary encounters.

Although the stats didn’t reflect the fight’s competitiveness, they did reveal some interesting side stories:

* For the first time in several outings, we saw some of the old Kovalev volume as he fired 63, 70, 88 and 68 punches in rounds two, three, four and six, respectively and averaged 64.1 punches per round for the bout, far above the 49.4-per-round pace he averaged in his last three fights and virtually identical to the 64.2 he averaged in the seven CompuBox-tracked fights before it. Perhaps the styles of Cedric Agnew, Blake Caparello and Bernard Hopkins had something to do with the drop-off but Kovalev proved against Pascal that, when the situation arises, he can still bring plenty of wood, even against a fighter with Pascal’s idiosyncratic style tics.

* As for Pascal, a notorious low-output fighter (36.5 per round versus Lucian Bute and 39.8 in 10 CompuBox-tracked fights), it was vitally important for him to lift his output to compete with Kovalev. But failing that (he averaged just 27.2 this night), he needed to make every shot count and, for the most part, he did as he led 34%-26% overall and 41%-30% power. As hard as Pascal can hit, each one of Kovalev’s bombs carried far more power. Combine that with Kovalev’s more prolific trigger and one had a stew Pascal simply couldn’t swallow over the long haul. The round-by-round stats showed that Pascal out-landed Kovalev only once – a thin 14-13 edge in round five because Pascal threw only 27 punches to Kovalev’s 56. But in that round Pascal landed 52% of his total punches to Kovalev’s 23% and boasted a 60%-33% bulge in power precision.

Despite the fact that Kovalev-Pascal exceeded expectations, it probably won’t produce a rematch given Kovalev’s multiple mandatories and the Russian’s desire to become undisputed champion. To its credit, the WBC has deemed Kovalev its mandatory challenger to Adonis Stevenson, which means that the man nicknamed “Superman” either has to face Kovalev or vacate the belt. Stevenson, who has been roundly criticized for his perceived avoidance of “The Krusher,” could opt to shed the title but perhaps seeing Kovalev staggered multiple times against the lighter-hitting Pascal may convince Stevenson, whose left cross is the division’s single most dangerous weapon, to roll the dice should he, as expected, dispose of Sakio Bika on April 4. Stevenson said as much when he told HBO analysts Max Kellerman and Bernard Hopkins that the fight will definitely be made.

After all, if Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao can be made, why not Stevenson-Kovalev?

*

On a personal note, the most defining memory of Kovalev-Pascal was the atmosphere. As Pascal (who dubbed himself “The Black Rocky Balboa” for this fight) came down the aisle, a live band played part of the “Rocky IV” score with such precision that I thought, at least during the rehearsals, that the music was pre-recorded. Also, the crowd’s emotional investment in Pascal was as complete as I’ve ever heard. Ear-splitting roars accompanied every move he made and every punch he landed. The volume was such that the truck could barely hear what I was saying over the headset even though I was almost shouting in order for me to hear myself.

If ever there was anyone at ringside who could relate to the experience, it was Lucian Bute. The crowd reaction to his ring walk before his June 2007 bout with Bika remains the loudest I’ve ever experienced for they managed to drown out the live band that performed for him. Still, I removed my headsets during Pascal’s approach to fully drink in the massive energy and to compare it to the Bute-Bika all-timer. It wasn’t quite a match but it was darn close.

*

What do Chris Eubank Sr., Paulie Ayala, Hector Camacho Sr., Daorung Chuvatana and Vyacheslav Glazkov have in common? A gift for convincing judges that they deserve victories in fights that many observers believe they’ve lost.

For Glazkov, that knack again was on display when “The Czar” captured a stunningly wide decision over Steve Cunningham by producing a stronger finishing kick after being out-boxed in the early going. The Ukrainian’s aggression, stronger hitting and superior stamina added up to a pair of 116-112 cards by Sylvain LeBlanc and Pasquale Procopio while Alex Levin saw it 115-113.

The Cunningham result marks the third time in which Glazkov appeared to be out-pointed by speedy boxers only to walk out of the ring with a win. In Feb. 2013 Malik Scott administered the only blemish to date on Glazkov’s record as he held the Ukrainian to a draw. To most, however, Scott should have been declared the winner and that viewpoint is backed up by the statistics. Scott out-landed Glazkov in all three phases (161-127 overall, 67-53 jabs, 94-74 power) and also produced a convincing sweep in terms of percentages (41%-27% overall, 37%-25% jabs, 44%-29% power). Most times that confluence of numbers results in overwhelming victory and judge John Poturaj’s 98-92 card reflected the sentiments of the majority. But Poturaj was overruled by two historically excellent judges in Julie Lederman (95-95) and John McKaie (96-94 Glazkov), who saw a far different fight.

Four fights and 15¾ months later, Glazkov appeared to be out-slicked by gatekeeper Derric Rossy, who was far more active (73.8 punches per round to Glazkov’s 40), landed more in every category (184-159 overall, 62-51 jabs, 122-108 power) and, in overall punches, out-landed Glazkov in seven of the 10 rounds. That said, Glazkov was more precise across the board (40%-25% overall, 32%-18% jabs, 45%-30% power) and his desperation last-round rally (33-23 overall, 29-19 power) helped push him over the finish line. This time, the verdict was a majority one; while Poturaj (95-95) and Ron McNair (96-94 Glazkov) viewed a close contest, Pierre Benoist submitted a 98-92 score for Glazkov that, to my eyes and those of many others, bordered on madness.

As for the Cunningham fight, the numbers again indicated a stronger performance for “USS”: Connection gaps of 180-144 overall and 123-84 power to offset Glazkov’s 60-57 edge in landed jabs being one. Others include the round-by-round breakdowns that saw Cunningham with a 8-3-1 rounds edge in overall punches, 7-4-1 in jabs and a massive 11-1 in power shots.

So how did Glazkov win?

Statistically speaking, it was a story told in two halves. In rounds 1-6, Cunningham out-landed Glazkov 77-48 overall, 27-25 jabs and 50-23 power while averaging 53.8 punches per round to Glazkov’s 31.1. In rounds 7-12 the gaps closed considerably – 103-96 Cunningham overall, 35-30 Glazkov jabs and 73-61 Cunningham power. Cunningham managed to increase his work rate to 54.3 per round while Glazkov raised his by a bigger margin, to 42.3 per round.

One could say that Glazkov’s win was a triumph of perception. In comparison to what they did in the first half of the fight, Glazkov appeared to elevate his attack to a higher degree down the stretch and that counts for something. Additionally, Glazkov, the aggressor throughout, used his size to wear Cunningham down to the point in which his fatigue was slightly more visible to the judges. The 38-year-old “USS” did his best to keep up with Glazkov in the closing stages and while he did land more punches in the 10th and 12th rounds (20-17 and 23-18 respectively), Glazkov landed his shots more forcefully.

Was Glazkov-Cunningham a robbery? Not when compared to historic examples like Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield I, James Toney-Dave Tiberi and Jorge Paez-Troy Dorsey I. To me, it was a fight that had a disappointing result because I saw it as a 116-112/115-113 bout for Cunningham due to superior ring generalship over largely ineffective aggressiveness.

Glazkov walked out of Montreal a winner but his reward is a sobering one. Unless Bryant Jennings produces a shocker for the ages, Glazkov is now one of the mandatory challengers for three-belt and RING champion Wladimir Klitschko, owner of the second-longest continuous title reign in division history and one of the most imposing physiques the ring has ever seen. If and when that fight happens, Glazkov will have to depend on far more than good fortune with the judges to prevail. After all, as “Dr. Steelhammer’s” 53 knockouts can attest, his two “officials” are working just fine.

*

Of all the punches in boxing, the jab is the single most important building block of a fighter’s offense. It is the only blow that can establish both offensive and defensive dominance, the former for obvious reasons and the latter to keep an opponent at a safe distance.

Isaac Chilemba and Nadjib Mohammedi utilize completely different styles but, for both, the jab is a vital ingredient for success. The truth of that statement was illustrated on this card as Mohammedi, the IBF mandatory challenger, stamped his ticket to be Kovalev’s next opponent with a stay-busy sixth round TKO of Lee Campbell while Chilemba furthered his credentials as a future title challenger by decisively out-pointing Vasily Lepikhin.

For Mohammedi, the jab was part of an extremely high-volume attack that flooded, then drowned Campbell’s radar. The average light heavyweight throws 53.1 punches per round but against Campbell, Mohammedi averaged 53.5 jabs in his astonishing 112-punch-per-round attack. Spraying punches from all angles but doing so with less wildness than in the past, Mohammedi out-landed Campbell 243-40 in total punches, 91-11 in jabs and 152-29 in power shots and produced impressive accuracy given the huge output (36% overall, 28% jabs, 43% power). His 15.2 landed jabs per round nearly tripled the 5.2 division average, as did his 58.3 power punch attempts per round. Forced to constantly focus on defense, Campbell mustered only 32.7 punches per round and had problems drawing a bead on his dervish-like tormentor (20% overall, 15% jabs, 24% power). Mohammedi failed to score a knockdown, more a testament to Campbell’s durability than the Frenchman’s power since Mohammedi owns a respectable .575 KO percentage.

While Mohammedi likes to produce the boxing equivalent of Jackson Pollock splatter art, Chilemba is a classicist who uses the jab to set the table for stinging power shots, his biggest damage being mathematical rather than physical. Going in, Lepikhin’s 6-foot-3 height was thought to be an impediment to Chilemba’s bread-and-butter punch but, in practice, the Malawi native’s experience and savvy was more than a match. Of his 68.3 punches per round, 44.6 were jabs (nearly double the 22.5 light heavyweight average) and his 9.2 jab connects per round helped cement his geometric dominance. After 10 rounds of supreme ring generalship, Chilemba amassed connect gulfs of 192-75 overall, 92-39 jabs and 100-36 power and a 42%-27% bulge in power punches. At times, Lepikhin was at a complete loss as to what to do next, especially when he leaned against the ropes and covered up. When he did that against Jackson Junior, it had the air of strategy but here it had an air of desperation. Chilemba’s command was so complete that the judges honored it with appropriately lopsided scores (100-90, 99-91 twice).

*

After grabbing some food at the production truck – a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, a banana, a Rice Krispies bar, barbeque chips and bottled water – I soon learned how badly the weather conditions had deteriorated. Because several inches of snow had already fallen, I was forced to carry my 20-pound laptop bag instead of using its wheels. Worse yet, the snow blew into my face, fogging up my glasses, watering my eyes and rendering me virtually blind.

I quickly fell behind Aris and HBO feature producer Curran Bhatia, who sped through the mess like dogs in the Iditarod while my 50-year-old legs slogged forth as if I had suddenly become half-walrus. The five-minute walk seemed like 15 and by the time I reached the Le Crystal, my hair was drenched, my face reddened and my sweater covered in snow. Knowing a good opportunity for self-deprecation, I asked Curran to snap a photo to preserve the absurdity.Lee Groves-crop

It was 1:30 a.m. by the time I reached my room and it took me another hour to eat my bounty as well as plan my next move. I debated whether to stay awake until my 6:15 a.m. rising time but I ultimately decided to catnap so I’d at least feel semi-rested. Meanwhile, the snow continued to fall at a tremendous pace and my mind went through an entire series of doomsday scenarios – flight cancelations, long lines at check-in counters, tons of red tape to navigate, extra overnight stays away from home, the inability to use my cell phone thus preventing me from extricating myself from all sorts of evils and so on. It’s a wonder I was able to fall asleep at all.

 

Sunday, March 15: The string of 20-plus-hour days apparently caught up with me because I overshot my intended wake-up time by 32 minutes. When I realized that I was just 18 minutes away from the time I told Aris I would meet him in the lobby, I went into instant double-time mode with the morning routines. Meanwhile, I peeked out the window to check out the weather. I was shocked to see that the snow had stopped falling. Then I checked my email to see if there were any notices from the airline regarding delays or cancellations. There were none. As hurried as I was, this gave me reason to feel encouraged.

I arrived at the lobby at 7:07 – two minutes late – and Aris, for whom I usually have to wait, was waiting for me. My past punctuality was such that Aris had briefly wondered if something bad had happened to me.

The night before I asked the valet to have a cab arrive at the hotel at 7:15 and at 7:10, the valet told us it had just arrived. When we walked through the rear entrance as instructed, however, the driver told us we weren’t his passengers. The valet was surprised when we told him this but a check with the cabbie confirmed we were correct. Five minutes later, the valet again told us our cab had come but once again, after walking through the back door we were asked to take, we were told we weren’t the people he was supposed to drive. Seven minutes later, a cab driver walked through the front entrance and asked, “Where are my two passengers?”

All we could do was chuckle to ourselves. At least we had a ride.

When we arrived at the airport, I received a wonderful stroke of good fortune. Because I was unable to print out my boarding passes the previous day due to a conflict of names between my passport and what was entered into the American Airlines website, I was forced to correct it with an agent at the airport and the weather issues provoked visions of long lines at the check-in counter. While there were lengthy queues at the Air Canada station, I was about to become the next person served at the AA counter. Within two minutes of reaching the counter, I had my boarding passes in hand.

The various security layers were shockingly devoid of people; I say “shockingly” because, in my experience, Sundays are usually busy travel days. Just before Aris and I reached the layer that would require us to unpack and repack our belongings (TSA Pre-Check doesn’t apply in Canada), we spotted Bernard Hopkins chatting with the security guard. The guard handed me his cell phone and asked me to snap a photo. Of course, I did, not just because I’m a nice guy but also because I needed him to help me further the process of getting home. I had my own small moment with Bernard, with whom I’ve spoken a few times since first meeting him at the 2000 IBHOF induction weekend. After exchanging hellos, he left me with “Stay healthy.” I certainly will try, champ, because I love what I do and I want to do it for decades to come.

Although I hadn’t done it in a while, the unpacking/repacking process went fairly smoothly and once we passed through, Aris and I proceeded to my gate. His flight, also to LaGuardia, was to leave about an hour later than mine and it was nice of him to keep me company. As we chatted, we saw spotted several boxing notables. Buddy McGirt, wearing a grey fur coat, stopped by to say hello and I briefly saw a bruised Chilemba walk past.

My original schedule indicated that I would have a 75-minute connection window at LaGuardia but that opening narrowed at least 40 minutes due to renewed flurries as well as the wait required to secure a new take-off time slot that would safely get us into New York City. During a somewhat turbulent descent, we were instructed to meet a gate agent wearing a yellow vest who would guide us toward a shuttle bus that would allow us to avoid going through security (and immigration) a second time. That was a real time-saver.

As I took my seat on the bus, I realized all was well as far as making the connection but the same couldn’t be said for the two young women seated directly across from me. One of them, wearing a blue Duke sweater and a terrified expression, vigorously bounced her leg while resting her chin on her left hand. The cause for her angst: According to the schedule, her plane was in the process of boarding and she feared she was about to be left behind. To her great relief, one glance at Gate C 42 revealed that the US Airways aircraft was still at the gate and the bus supervisor made sure it stayed there by letting the agent inside know that two more passengers were less than two minutes away from entering the terminal. As for me, I reached the gate with 10 minutes to spare.

In hindsight, I needn’t have worried about missing my flight. After boarding, our plane remained at the gate for 15 minutes because of a late-arriving fuel truck and our departure was further postponed because our plane was part of a lengthy queue using the same runway. When the bird reached the head of the line and began its initial run, I counted the number of planes lined up behind us – 11.

The plane landed in Pittsburgh around 3:15 – just 11 minutes behind schedule – and I reached my car 30 minutes later. I had just enough juice in my phone to make a quick call home and at 6:52 p.m., I pulled into the driveway to officially put another journey in the can.

As of now, my next assignment will take me to Brooklyn, specifically the Aviator Sports Complex, where I will work an April 10 “ShoBox” tripleheader featuring Frank Galarza-Sheldon Moore, Ievgen Khytrov-Aaron Coley and Ivan Redkach-TBA, a fighter Joe Carnicelli often dubbed “To Be Annihilated.”

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] to arrange for autographed copies.

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