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The Travelin’ Man goes to Shelton – part I

30
Jun

Little Creek Casino Resort-Shelton Washington

 

Thursday, June 25: Virtually every trip I’ve taken over the past decade has featured a mix of business and pleasure with the only variable being the degree between the former and the latter. For example, my most recent journey to the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend – my 23rd straight – was mostly pleasure with the writing being the sole business component. Although I was given a press credential to hang around my neck and a red ticket to ensure a front row seat at the induction ceremony, I mostly left my professional persona in the background in favor of maximizing the fun factor.

Once I returned home, I snapped back into full-blown professional mode as I tackled a mountain of time-sensitive research, both for CompuBox’s ever-growing list of network clients and for the company’s stats-driven game Throwdown Fantasy. Now, nearly two weeks after arriving home from Canastota, I again was about to begin a trek that mostly would be business-oriented: Working the keys for a “ShoBox” tripleheader topped by rising prospect Dominic Wade and recently dethroned middleweight titlist Sam Soliman.



This marked my first show at the Little Creek Casino Resort in Shelton, Wash. Punch-counting colleague Aris Pina and I got this gig because the “A-team” of Joe Carnicelli and Dennis Allen were in Carson, Calif. to work the HBO-televised Timothy Bradley-Jessie Vargas card. No matter how the job came about, I was more than happy to have it.

For a state that’s not often in the national spotlight, Washington boasts an excellent boxing history. Hall of Famer Freddie Steele was known as the “Tacoma Assassin” for good reason, for his 123-5-11 (58) record claimed more than a few notable scalps – Solly Krieger, Ken Overlin, Babe Risko, Gorilla Jones, Gus Lesnevich, Vince Dundee and Ceferino Garcia among them – and he beat most of them multiple times. Tod Morgan, who registered 12 defenses of the world junior lightweight title between 1925-29, was born in Dungeness and was one of boxing’s most successful “singles hitters” as he logged just 29 knockouts in his 133-42-33 record.

Spokane was the hometown of power-puncher Tiger “Jack” Fox, whose 89 knockouts in 139 victories landed him a spot in THE RING’s 100 greatest punchers of all time (as well as the IBHOF ballot) while Tieton in Yakima County was the birthplace of Pete Rademacher, one of boxing’s most versatile and compelling characters. Thanks to his superlative salesmanship and business acumen, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist became the only fighter in history to challenge for the world heavyweight championship in his pro debut when he met Floyd Patterson at Seattle’s Sicks Stadium in Aug. 1957. His brilliantly executed marketing campaign nearly achieved the ultimate payoff when he scored a shocking second-round knockdown. But Patterson arose, then proceeded to decimate Rademacher with six knockdowns on his way to a sixth round knockout. After retiring in 1962 with a 15-7-1 (8) record, Rademacher engineered a successful business career as president of the McNeil Corporation in Akron, Ohio and was, at various points, a professional shooting instructor, boxing promoter, referee, inventor and prolific fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.

The state’s most productive era in terms of producing world-class fighters occurred during the 1970s and 1980s. Two members of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team were from Washington – light flyweight Davey Armstrong from Puyallup (10 miles southeast of Tacoma) and junior welterweight gold medalist Sugar Ray Seales (who was born at a US Army base in St. Croix before his family moved to Tacoma when Seales was three). The Tacoma Boys Club that developed those two did the same years later for future titlists Rocky Lockridge and Johnny Bumphus, the latter denied potential Olympic glory thanks to the 1980 US boycott. Leo Randolph, though born in Mississippi, had deep Washington State roots and he earned gold at age 17 at the Montreal Olympics. In May 1980, before a boisterous crowd inside the Seattle Center Coliseum, Randolph scoring a stunning 15th round TKO over the heavily favored Ricardo Cardona to wrest the WBA junior featherweight title and affix his name to Pacific Northwest boxing lore.

Speaking of Olympians, Seattle’s Robert Shannon, who also qualified for the 1980 games, was a member of the 1984 US squad that captured nine gold medals and one controversial bronze belonging to Evander Holyfield. Unfortunately for Shannon, he was the only member not to win a medal, for after winning his first round match, Shannon lost to South Korean star (and future pro champ) Sung Kil Moon by third round TKO. Pasco’s S.T. Gordon shook up the cruiserweight world by blasting out WBC champ Carlos De Leon in two rounds in June 1982 and Auburn’s Greg Haugen did the same four-and-a-half years later when his majority decision victory over Jimmy Paul earned him the IBF lightweight title.

The supremely muscular Gordon’s time in the limelight didn’t last long as he successfully defended against Jesse Burnett and scored a decision win at heavyweight over Trevor Berbick before losing the belt back to De Leon but Haugen, affectionately nicknamed “Mutt,” enjoyed a longer stay at the upper levels of the sport. His trilogy with Vinny Pazienza was among the more entertaining of the era, thanks to its robust action inside the ropes and the acidic trash-talk outside them, while his April 1988 IBF title defense against Miguel Santana at the Tacoma Dome ranks as one of the most bizarre. A headbutt opened a two-inch gash over Haugen’s right eye that forced the fight to be stopped in round 11 and, because the cut was originally believed to have been produced by a punch, Santana was announced as the winner. Officials reversed the result a half-hour later when they ruled Haugen’s cut was caused by an accidental butt and, since Haugen was ahead 106-102 and 106-101 on two scorecards (Santana was leading on the third, 106-103), the championship belt was returned to him.

Haugen’s tenacity and trickery helped him become the first man to defeat Hector Camacho Sr. Haugen’s refusal to touch gloves with the “Macho Man” before the final round of their first fight induced Camacho to start throwing punches, a move referee Joe Cortez interpreted as an unsportsmanlike act worthy of a point penalty. That deduction turned a potential draw into a split decision victory for Haugen. After Camacho turned the tables on Haugen by winning a split decision in the rematch, Haugen ended Ray Mancini’s career with a savage one-punch knockout in round seven.

Yes, Haugen decisively lost to the best of the best in Pernell Whitaker (L UD 12) and Julio Cesar Chavez (TKO by 5) but, then again, just about everyone fell to those two during their respective primes. Haugen’s tough-guy reputation was well-earned but those who dared to overlook his boxing skills did so at their peril. Haugen fought on until age 39 and closed his 17-year career with a 40-10-1 (19) record.

Interestingly, only one of the 20 fighters on this card hailed from Washington State. Southpaw heavyweight Sylvester Barron – from Anacortes – was set to fight John Wesley Nofire on the deep undercard. Only time – and proper financing for amateur programs – will tell whether the region (and the country at large) will ever again approach the heights of the past.

*

 

My latest journey began at 8:25 a.m. and, as I pulled out of the driveway, I knew potential hurdles stood in my way. One was meteorological; although my connection window between landing at Chicago’s Midway airport and boarding for Seattle was 90 minutes, a cell of storms in the flight path could cause severe turbulence at best or delays that would destroy my itinerary at worst. A couple of positive signs: One, I arrived at the airport in just two hours, seven minutes and, two, I found a decent spot in the extended parking lot.

Because I didn’t have much frequent flier status with Southwest, my boarding pass had “B-53” stamped on it, which meant I’d be the 113th person to board on the airline’s “first on-first seated” policy. In order to enhance my prospects of deplaning quickly and getting to my connecting gate if I ended up being squeezed for time, I paid a $40 fee that would guarantee me a much better spot in line as well as an optimal seat location. My new place in line was A-10, which meant that I improved my lot by 103 places at 39 cents per spot.

I snagged an aisle seat in row three and, after I placed my smaller clothes bag up top, I sought to put my larger laptop carrier, where I stow my reading material, underneath the seat in front of me. Unfortunately, on this flight at least, that space was half of what it is on most airlines and my bag was far too cumbersome to accommodate it. So, I did the next best thing – I stuffed it in the larger space underneath the middle seat in the hope that no one would choose to sit there.

But since it was a full flight, someone did want to sit there. And not only that, that someone was a daddy-long-legs who said he had sore knees and needed the space under the seat to stretch out. Knowing how uncomfortable a middle-seat can be under the best of circumstances, I tried my best to help him out. I extricated my bag and tried to put it in the overhead bin but, by then, virtually every inch of space had been taken. I attempted to jam my laptop bag in the space under my seat for a second time and, of course, I failed miserably. Even the flight attendant pointed out a few potential spaces but they too were too small. I even offered to change seats with him but he politely turned me down. Since I wasn’t allowed to keep my bag on my lap, there was no other alternative but to return to the status quo and, to his credit, he didn’t lodge any more complaints.

The feared turbulence never showed up during the flight, though the landing at Midway was jarring and the braking was pronounced. Once I deplaned, I was happy to see that my connecting gate not only was located in the same terminal but also was less than 500 feet away. For this flight, I had “B-30” – which meant I’d be the 90th to board – but, since this would be my last flight of the day, I opted to keep my spot in the queue. The move paid off, for I still managed to get a window seat in row six.

In the end, I need not have worried about making my connection because the Chicago-to-Seattle leg was delayed 45 minutes. First, a manpower shortage in the area caused the baggage handlers (or, in our case, the baggage throwers) to arrive late. Second, a weight and balance issue required that one passenger needed to deplane immediately. The person’s last name was announced over the loudspeaker and that person was asked to pinpoint his location by pressing the call button. When no one did, an onerous option that could have severely delayed our departure was taken: Asking everyone to take out their photo IDs, then going seat to seat in order to flush out the offending name.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. The person – who happened to be sitting directly in front of me – didn’t hear the first announcement because he was wearing ear buds at the time. When he realized he needed to deplane, he did so without hesitation or fuss. That’s because he was flying on a free pass provided by a third party and he understood that this scenario could have been a potential pitfall.

Just as I had for the Pittsburgh-to-Chicago leg, I spent the majority of the four-and-a-half-hour flight reading William Dettloff’s biography of Ezzard Charles. Anyone who appreciates boxing history and terrific storytelling should get this book and get it soon. It not only recounts Charles’ extraordinary boxing career but it also provides a penetrating look inside the man, the people who influenced his life and the circumstances that shaped boxing at large. It didn’t take me long to realize that Dettloff’s effort was worthy of praise and by the time we landed in Seattle, I was more than halfway through it. That was good because then I knew I’d be able to spend most of the flight home finishing it.

The pilot managed to shave 30 minutes off our delay, which allowed me to reach the Avis rental car desk right around the time one of my carpool members was to arrive. I learned later that he rented his own car and had already left the area, so all I needed to do was to wait for Aris, the other member of the pool, to arrive.

He did so about an hour later and once we found my vehicle, a gray Toyota Camry, we began what was expected to be a 90-minute drive to the Little Creek Casino Resort. It ended up being much longer.

Because the casino’s address was one I couldn’t enter into my GPS, I called the hotel to see if there was an alternate address. There was none. So I relied largely on the step-by-step directions printed on the production memo, which seemed straightforward enough.

After flying all day, we were both famished, so Aris brought up the possibility of making a food stop on the way. I left the choice of restaurant up to him and he ended up picking the Five Guys outlet in Linwood. Not the healthiest of choices but it certainly hit the spot in terms of satisfying our palates and appetites.

It took a while for us to even get to the Five Guys, thanks to massive traffic, and it required even more time for me to get back on Interstate 5 South – I kept looking in vain for road signs that would point me in the right direction – but once I spotted the sign, I wanted we were home free. I pulled into the casino shortly before 9:30 – 12:30 a.m. local time – and spent the next couple of hours unwinding before switching off the lights for good.

 

Friday, June 26: I stirred awake six hours later and, once I got ready for the day, I headed down to the lobby and printed out the boarding passes I would need for tomorrow’s first flight – which, for me, would be a 6:30 a.m. bird from Seattle to Midway. With the long drive from Shelton to Seattle, the time required to go through security (even with Pre-Check) and returning my rental car, I knew I’d have to rise at the ungodly time of 2:30 a.m. and leave the hotel at 3:30 a.m. in order to comfortably reach my destination. I only hoped Aris and our other scheduled passenger, senior audio man Doug Deems (who was to be on both of my flights) would agree to my meeting time.

I printed out the passes with no trouble and I spent the next three-and-a-half hours writing the first 2,500 or so words of this article. Once I reached a good stopping point, I headed downstairs and sought out a decent late-morning meal. While I came up empty in that quest, I did run into Showtime analyst Steve Farhood and Executive Producer Gordon Hall in the lobby. Talking with them is always a pleasure and, had it been my choice, our conversation would have lasted longer. Alas, duty called for all of us.

I walked over to the venue 20 minutes before my 12:30 p.m. call time, only because I felt it was the best thing to do at the moment. The electronic checks went swimmingly and Aris arrived shortly before our 1:30 p.m. crew meal at one of the casino’s buffets.

The next few hours were filled with ringside chatter and, for me, the highlight was speaking with writer/public relations ace John Beyrooty, who regaled Aris and I with stories about Chick Hearn, Lupe Pintor, Jorge Paez, Adrian Arreola, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez and other notables on the Southern California boxing scene. As someone who followed all their careers in real time, I appreciated the walk down memory lane and though he downplays himself – he called himself the “King of Food Runs” during his early newspaper years – the 2010 California Boxing Hall of Fame inductee merits all the praise that comes his way.

With all the preparations finished, all that was left to do was to count the fights. As usual, the numbers would end up telling many tales.

*

 

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 13 writing awards, including 10 in the last five 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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