The Travelin’ Man goes to Shelton-part II
Friday, June 26 (continued): Less than two weeks after the purity of Induction Sunday at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the sport’s innate (and often maddening) subjectivity returned to the forefront as Dominic Wade captured a split decision over former middleweight titlist Sam Soliman at the Little River Casino Resort in Shelton, Wash.
That subjectivity extended to the defining moment of the fight when respected veteran referee Jack Reiss credited Wade with a knockdown in round four for a thrust that was much more push than punch. Reiss’ split-second call prompted all three judges – Robert Byrd, Max DeLuca and Robert Hoyle – to credit Wade with a 10-8 round and thus turned a potential “D” into a “W” for the still-unblemished Wade and the 13th “L” for Soliman. That’s because while it wouldn’t have made a difference on Hoyle’s outrageously wide 97-92 card for Wade or DeLuca’s more sensible 96-93 tabulation for Soliman, it proved decisive for Byrd’s 95-94 submission.
The consensus around ringside was that Soliman’s ring generalship – specifically his ability to turn the fight into the chaotic grapple-fest that suited him best – had sufficiently limited Wade’s effectiveness to the point in which he credibly overcame his fourth-round tumble. The raw CompuBox stats supported that contention because Soliman prevailed 98-74 in total connects thanks to his 64-35 bulge in landed power punches. The numbers also illustrated how successfully Soliman negated Wade’s most crucial weapon, the jab. In fact, Soliman threw more of them (222-218) and he limited Wade’s connect advantage to just 39-34. Best yet for Soliman, he landed a markedly higher percentage of his hardest blows (35%-28%) and demonstrated his aggressiveness by firing many more power shots (228-99). Finally, the round-by-round statistics indicated that Soliman out-landed Wade seven rounds to two with one even overall and led 9-0-1 in power connects to negate Wade’s 6-4 rounds edge in jabs. Based on the statistical evidence, Soliman got more done in the majority of the rounds and since fights are judged round-by-round he should have walked out of the ring with a hard-fought win instead of a soul-draining defeat.
That said, a deeper look into the numbers also depicted the judges’ dilemma in this extremely difficult to score contest. First, Soliman’s lead in raw connects was mostly the result of his superior work rate – 45 punches per round to Wade’s 31.7 – and since Wade was the slightly more accurate puncher overall (23%-22%) as well as the marginally more precise jabber (18%-15%), he might have evened out those gaps had he been able to match Soliman’s punch output. The fact he couldn’t spoke loudly for Soliman’s strategic success and had this identical fight been waged in Soliman’s native Australia he, not Wade, would have gotten the nod – probably unanimously.
Judges are asked to base their decisions on four criteria: Clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense. In my eyes, Soliman swept all four categories because he threw and landed more punches while also shaping the fight in his own image and neutralizing Wade’s youth, power and jab. But because the action was ugly and because Soliman edged rather than dominated, round by round, there were enough close rounds to justify tipping the scales ever so slightly to the prospect just enough times to affect the final result. Thus, Wade-Soliman can’t be classified as a robbery on the scale of Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield I or Dave Tiberi-James Toney but rather a fight with a disappointing result that went against what most eyes saw.
Although we often celebrate the action that unfolds inside the squared circle and honor the athletes who were the best practitioners, boxing is, was and always will be a business. More than most, boxing remains a sport fueled by agendas, politics, greed, subterfuge and general ugliness – factors that make an already violent sport even tougher to love. Although these terms have been coined only in the last few years, boxing matches have always paired an “A-side” against a “B-side” in which the former benefits from a subtly-stacked situation as well as the perception that he is the rising force while the latter knows going in that, if he is to get the win, he’ll have to overcome unseen yet considerable headwinds – being perceived as an easy mark by fans, media and the lead promoter, the burdens of persuading local judges to score close rounds your way and, quite often, a very real gulf in talent and physical equipment.
Soliman knew all this when he agreed to fight Wade in the States. In exchange for the exposure on American TV and the chance to make his case for another crack at a major title, he would take on an undefeated prospect who was being groomed for better things down the road. Soliman and his team weighed the risks with the rewards and gave the fight the green light. After all, they would be fighting Wade thousands of miles from his native Maryland, so there would be no overt local influence. Also, Soliman’s vast experience – his 506 professional rounds were 10 times more than Wade’s 50 – combined with his rhythm-destroying funkiness promised to wreak havoc with Wade’s body and especially his mind. Finally, it would give Soliman a chance to test the surgically-repaired and freshly-rehabbed ACL in his right knee that pretty much cost him the IBF middleweight title against the ill-fated Jermain Taylor last October.
For Wade, the Soliman fight represented a logical and calculated step up the ladder. The 41-year-old Aussie was far and away Wade’s most experienced and savvy opponent to date but one coming off a lopsided loss as well as a debilitating injury that prompted a lengthy layoff. Win or lose, fighting the quirky Soliman would provide valuable experience without the threat of one-punch power.
To Wade’s credit, he maintained his poise amid Soliman’s storm and, at points, he found ways to break through with effective punches. Less mature fighters would have cracked under the mental duress but Wade stayed true to his style and, in the end, he did just enough to earn the nod from Hoyle and, thanks to Reiss’ call in round four, Byrd.
That said, the verdict ignited vociferous boos because the man they felt had controlled the action had been denied his rightful victory. Because of the reasons detailed a few paragraphs ago, veteran fans knew well that what ended up happening was a real possibility but seeing it unfold still carried an emotional sting. Soliman took comfort in the well-wishes he received from the fans but the bottom line is a loss is still a loss and, for Wade, a win is still a win.
In a perfect world, a rematch should be arranged to either consolidate Wade’s victory or set the record straight for Soliman but, as we all know, boxing is light years away from that. After all, why would Wade’s management subject its fighter to 10 more rounds of misery that might result in a momentum-crippling first loss? From their perspective, what would be gained from it? Why tempt fate a second time? As for Soliman, he remains a respected veteran with excellent name recognition as well as supreme conditioning and still above-average athleticism. Yes, he’s no longer able to generate the fantastic volume that marked his prime but I believe he still has several more effective outings in him. Hopefully, his career path won’t be adversely affected by this outcome.
The televised undercard saw a pair of one-round knockouts as lightweight prospect Erickson Lubin destroyed late-subbing journeyman Ayi Bruce in 169 seconds while heavyweight hopeful Oscar Rivas took just 20 seconds longer to flatten Jason Pettaway. Both were predictable results. Not only was Bruce coming off a 16-month layoff, he was Lubin’s third opponent after Daniel Rosario and Eliezer Gonzalez dropped out. Meanwhile, the 35-year-old Pettaway was seven years older than the 2008 Colombian Olympian and his 17-2 record was built largely on 17 sub-par opponents and two step-up KO defeats to Joseph Parker and the ill-fated Magomed Abdusalamov. By the way, the Rivas-Pettaway pairing produced an all-time nickname match-up – “Kaboom” Rivas vs. “Put ‘Em Away” Pettaway.
Statistically, Lubin and Rivas were impressive. Lubin was 40 of 99 overall and landed 49% of his power shots (34 of 70) while Bruce could only muster 3 of 13 overall (23%) and 3 of 11 power (27%). Meanwhile, Rivas landed 55% of his power shots (22 of 40) while out-landing Pettaway 23-4 overall. The only cautionary stat: Pettaway did land four of his 10 power shots.
Referee Robert Byrd deserves praise for his handling of this fight. When Rivas struck the downed Pettaway following the first knockdown, Byrd correctly deducted two points for the clearly intentional foul. More than a few referees would have let the infraction go unpunished while the better ones might have issued a one-point penalty. Others might have disqualified Rivas on the spot, for it was that blatant a foul. But Byrd swiftly and firmly issued the proper discipline and the rest of the fight proceeded without further reason for numerical intervention. As much as people like to criticize ring officials, fairness dictates that they also should be quick to issue praise when warranted. Byrd has long been regarded as one of boxing’s best officials and in 2006 his work was validated by his induction into World Boxing Hall of Fame. His actions in Rivas-Pettaway justified why he remains among the best.
Aris and I counted two fights that didn’t make the Showtime roster: Argentine middleweight Brian Castano’s first-round destruction of Louisiana’s Todd Manuel and an intriguing crossroads match between welterweights Leonard Bundu and Pablo Munguia, which saw Bundu capture a comfortably wide but physically demanding eight-round unanimous decision.
I’ve seen Castano in action several times, thanks to Argentina’s TyC channel that is available on DirecTV, but his U.S. debut against Manuel was easily the most impressive outing I’ve yet seen from him. His blinding combinations challenged my ability to track his punches and, to a much greater degree, Manuel’s ability to absorb them. In 173 seconds of action, Castano landed 38 of 94 punches overall (40%) and 33 of 78 power shots (42%) while Manuel could only muster 6 of 43 overall (14%) and 5 of 32 power (16%). Castano’s performance earned nods of approval around ringside and, more than once, the words “I’d love to see him again” were uttered.
All punch-counters have their favorites and, for me, Munguia is one of them because he throws a ton of punches that are easily seen. On this day, however, Aris got to track him while I watched Bundu, who, like Soliman, is a freakishly athletic 40-something. From first bell to last, the switch-hitting Bundu’s plan for dealing with Munguia’s volume was obvious – angles, mobility and even more voluminous punching. If this had been a conversation instead of a fight, the Italy-based native of Sierra Leone simply didn’t allow Munguia to get a word in edgewise, for while they landed a similar percentage of punches (31%-30% overall and 36%-34% power for Munguia, 19%-18% jabs for Bundu), the output margins in Bundu’s favor were consistent (51-26 in round one, then 92-68, 96-53, 83-53, 94-58 and 73-51 in rounds two, three, four, five, and seven). The only breaks came in round six when Bundu led 63-61 in punches thrown but trailed 19-17 in connects and in the final round, when Bundu led 73-70 in attempts but 32-20 in connects. As almost always is the case with the diminutive Munguia, his effort, win or lose, was greatly appreciated but Bundu was the unquestioned winner. In the end, Bundu led 190-138 overall, 31-20 jabs and 159-118 power.
Two more bouts were staged after Showtime’s cameras shut down – Jamel Herring pitched an eight-round shutout over late-sub Hector Velazquez while Omar Chavez (son of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.) toughed out a 10-round majority decision over Hector Munoz. But Aris and I couldn’t stick around because we both had early-morning flights for which to get ready.
We agreed to meet in the lobby at 3:15 a.m. and, once I completed some odds and ends in the hotel room, I was faced with a decision: Stay up and get the writing done or go to bed immediately so I would be fresher for the 90-minute drive to the airport. It didn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that rest – even sub-par rest – would be much more preferable to driving groggily on unfamiliar roads. I clicked off the bedside lamp shortly after 10:30 p.m. and did my best to stuff in eight hours of sleep into four.
Saturday, June 27: To quote Rocky Graziano, somebody up there must like me. Just before I switched the light off, I set my mental alarm for between 2 and 2:30 a.m. to give myself sufficient time to freshen up. So when did my eyes snap open? At 1:59.
I arrived at the lobby at 3:10 and saw a pair of familiar faces – Farhood and director Rick Phillips. Following a short conversation, I checked out of my room and waited for Aris to arrive. During my wait, one of the clerks was working through her list of wake-up calls, one of which was for one of the boxers from last night’s card.
“This is my fifth call to his room,” she said as she dialed his number. This time, the boxer – who she rightly did not identify – answered the phone.
I don’t know who this athlete was but this sequence already told me something about him. During training, fighters routinely arise early in the morning to prepare for their roadwork and one can tell much about an athlete’s level of discipline by how he or she handles that responsibility. More often than not, those who arise on their own give themselves the best chance of maximizing their potential because they most likely would demonstrate similar diligence and determination in all of their other tasks during training and, most important, during their fights. Conversely, those who repeatedly hit the snooze button also reveal their core and, most times, ultimately seal their disappointing fate. Of the 20 fighters on the card, one surely can be crossed off the list of possible suspects – Soliman. If ever there is a fighter who is driven to succeed, it is he.
Aris arrived in the lobby at 3:20 and in less than 10 minutes’ time, we were on our way. Thanks to the GPS on Aris’ phone, we had no problems reaching the airport and, thanks to a tip from the hotel clerk, I wasn’t reeled in by a sudden speed limit reduction from 60 miles-per-hour to 45 on one section of Interstate 5. Along the way, Aris and I couldn’t help but marvel at the brilliant sunrise that was developing. The first bursts of sunlight began to emerge at 3:45 a.m., an indicator of how far north we were.
The road signs guided me perfectly to Avis’ drop-off area and as Aris hustled away to snap a photo of the sunrise – in recent months, he has developed a stronger fascination for his father’s profession of photography – I spotted Farhood and Phillips for the second time in less than two hours. We boarded the rental car bus then went our separate ways once the bus dropped me off at the Southwest terminal entrance.
The security lines, even at the Pre-Check queue, were especially long, even at 4:45 a.m., but, once I reached the head of the line, I passed through without trouble. Because my connection window in Chicago was just 50 minutes (and 20 minutes if the boarding process began on schedule), I again opted to fork over the $40 seating upgrade fee to jump ahead 83 spots. I learned my lesson from Thursday; after reserving my third-row aisle seat, I placed my larger laptop bag in the overhead storage bin while placing my clothes bag underneath the seat. Both fit perfectly.
I drew a much better place in line for the second flight – A 57 – and snagged an aisle seat in row 13. I finished William Dettloff’s excellent book on Ezzard Charles mere moments before touching down in Pittsburgh and I got inside my car just before the first sprinkles from the gathering storm clouds fell.
Seeing my gas tank was slightly below the one-quarter mark, I decided to fuel up at the station adjacent to the airport. As I put the nozzle in the tank, I noticed my front right tire was dangerously low, so, after filling up, I wheeled the car over to the air station. Guess what? The device was out of order and I didn’t find out until after I put in my four quarters. The station refunded the money and advised that I stop at a repair shop located 10 miles down the road. Instead, I stopped at a station a bit further away and managed to refill the tire without any problems.
I pulled into the driveway a little after 7 p.m. and, after unpacking, I tackled a punch count that needed to be done for the fantasy game. When I finished that task, I ordered the BKB (“Big Knockout Boxing”) 3 telecast, then watched the HBO broadcast off the DVR. In all, I was awake for 22 hours but, since those hours were filled with boxing and travel, it was a good day.
As usual, I will have a pile of boxing-related work to tackle before my next trip, a July 17 ShoBox telecast emanating from Bethlehem, Penn.
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 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.