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The Travelin’ Man returns to BethlehemÔǪagain-part II

22
Jul
Antoine-Douglas_Rosie-Cohe-Showtime

Photo credit: Rosie Cohe/Showtime

 

 

Please click here for part one

 



Friday, July 17 (continued): In 1988, Carl Weathers, best known for his portrayal of Apollo Creed in five of the “Rocky” movies, starred in a film entitled “Action Jackson.” While a box-office success despite its limited release, it wasn’t well received by critics and never developed into the multi-film franchise Weathers hoped it would.

Sixteen years after the best-known fighter to carry the name – two-division titlist John David Jackson – another middleweight has picked up the baton and is running at full speed. Although Antoine Douglas doesn’t share John David’s surname, his ring style certainly has lived up to the “Action” nickname.

In scoring an impressive third round TKO over rugged Swiss-based Hungarian Istvan Szili, Douglas performed as advertised. His lightning-quick jabs sliced through Szili’s high guard, reddened his forehead within 60 seconds and set up the tight curling hooks and straight rights that followed. While Szili came at him in determined straight lines with precious little head movement, Douglas pulled out the protractor and pounded him with the angles his legs and gloves created.

In round one, Douglas threw more than twice as many punches (65 to 28) and quadrupled Szili’s connect total (29-7), thanks to a dominant jab that piled up an 18-1 connect advantage and crisp, economical power-punching (11 of 23, 48%).

Douglas opened the second with a series of piston-like jabs but, 45 seconds in, Szili enjoyed his best sequence by landing his own jab as well as a solid right to the chin. He also managed to close the distance enough to dig in some nice body shots. But Douglas adjusted quickly by whipping compact, up-and-down combinations and, with 14 seconds remaining in the round, a pair of rights to the temple caused Szili to fall face-first about six feet in front of me. His face wore a dazed expression but his eyes appeared clear as he arose at referee Gary Rosato’s count of nine. The bell sounded before either man could throw another punch but it was apparent this show was about to be closed.

Szili tried to change the fight’s flow in round two and, although he successfully changed the geography, he failed to make a numerical dent. In fact, Douglas threw even more punches (from 65 to 80) while Szili attempted fewer (from 28 to 22) and, while Douglas put less emphasis on the jab (he was just four of 34, 12%), he more than made up for it with his power-punching (23 of 46, 50%). Douglas sensed the end was near and, like a good, action fighter, he made sure to finish the job as quickly as possible.

A snappy hook drove Szili to his knees just nine seconds into the third and a right to the ear finished the fight 20 seconds later. And how did Douglas celebrate? He did so with a brief leap in the air and an Olympic-style bow to each section of the crowd. No muss. No fuss. Get the job done.

The final numbers told the story: Connect advantages of 60-14 overall, 23-1 jabs and 37-13 power and percentage gaps of 39%-26% overall, 30%-11% jabs and 49%-29% power.

When assembling the pre-fight research for this fight, I counted Szili’s 12-round draw against Goekalp Oezekler, a verdict I thought should have gone to Szili, since he was the effective aggressor, who landed far more punches (243-155 overall and 205-87 power). That said, I saw flaws in Szili’s style that Douglas could exploit.

Douglas did too.

“From watching tape, I knew he was open around the corners of his gloves,” he told RingTV’s Joe Santoliquito. “His defense was tight but his defense was only tight in front. We wanted to jab, then sneak around the corner.”

Yes, the environmental factors surrounding the fight greatly favored Douglas. At 22, he was 10 years younger and his .611 KO percentage was considerably better than Szili’s .400. Szili also was coming off the longest layoff of his career (321 days) and his straight-ahead style appeared tailor-made for Douglas’ arsenal. Still, it was up to Douglas to execute once the opening bell sounded and from beginning to end he was superior in every way. Had he been any less than his best, Szili’s grit may well have brought shortcomings to the surface.

I was at ringside 51 weeks ago when Michel Soro overcame an early battering to push Douglas to the brink of defeat when he scored a knockdown in round eight. The rally continued for the remainder of the fight as Soro led 71-26 overall and 50-18 power to squeeze out a draw that, for a long time, looked to be a straightforward win for Douglas. Soro’s subsequent crushing of Glen Tapia added context to that blemish and Douglas’ improvement since then is beyond doubt.

The not-so-good news is that Douglas’ profile isn’t complete. There are two more questions Douglas must answer before he can be elevated to the upper tiers of the middleweight division. One: How well can he absorb a solid punch from a world-class foe? And two: Can he sustain his high performance level over the long haul? None of his four fights since the Soro draw have gone past round six and this outing will ensure that every fight from now on will be scheduled for at least 10 – and probably 12 rounds. How he reacts the next time he is pushed will tell us everything about how his future will unfold and I, for one, look forward to witnessing the process.

*

During those times when my father and I watch boxing together, I can count on him barking the following command at the TV screen at least once: “Up the middle!”

Just as Al Bernstein loves the double left hook, my father can’t get enough of the uppercut, which is arguably boxing’s most underutilized weapon. That’s because (1) the punch is difficult to deliver with maximum force; (2) if thrown improperly, it leaves the chin dangerously exposed and (3) it’s hard to pinpoint a target. Only a handful of world-class fighters have mastered the uppercut and even fewer are known for it.

When I think of the uppercut, I first think of three-time light heavyweight titlist Marvin Johnson, who possessed the best southpaw, left uppercut I’ve ever seen. I then remember three-division titlist Wilfredo Gomez (after which Sugar Ray Leonard said he modeled his own uppercut), Matthew Saad Muhammad (who scored a sensational lead uppercut KO of Lottie Mwale) and Larry Holmes (who used a devastating right uppercut to pull himself out of the fire against Mike Weaver in 1979).

Samuel Clarkson may or may not know about the history of the uppercut but, in stopping Jerry Odom in three, he showed he knew how to execute it. He cranked it repeatedly throughout the fight and, in all, he scored three knockdowns, one in the second and two in the third to complete the mild upset.

“We’ve been working on the uppercut all camp,” Clarkson told Santoliquito. “One thing I noticed is, when fighters come with the right hand, they’re real vulnerable to the left and right uppercuts. So when I saw him leaning in, his head really wasn’t moving with his punches. I just slipped and threw the right uppercut and hit him right there on the button.”

Clarkson’s marksmanship was devastating as he landed 41% of his total punches and 51% of his power shots while limiting Odom to 17% and 34%, respectively. Because Odom threw so many more punches (193-104 overall), the connect margins weren’t so dramatic (43-32 overall, 7-3 jabs and 36-29 power) but the competitive gap inside the ring couldn’t have been more graphic.

That last sentence includes the sheer difference in size. At the previous day’s weigh-in, Clarkson missed the contracted maximum of 169 by 3.2 pounds and at the second weigh-in the morning of the bout, Clarkson gained nine-and-a-half more pounds, barely fulfilling the mandated 10-pound weight gain. Worse yet, Clarkson reportedly scaled 189.7 pounds to Odom’s 175.8 just before they stepped inside the ropes. It was a cruiserweight fighting a light heavyweight in a super middleweight fight. That’s the logic of today’s boxing world.

Odom and his management team could have pulled their man out just as Diego Corrales did when Jose Luis Castillo missed the weight before their scheduled rubber match. Instead, Team Odom did what “Chico” did when Castillo exceeded the contracted poundage before their second meeting and, unfortunately for Odom, the result was much the same – a smashing KO loss at the hands of a far larger man. Team Odom willingly assumed the risks and they paid a huge price for their gamble.

“In the world of boxing you get caught,” Odom told RingTV.com. “Tonight, I got caught.”

Inside the ring, the difference in physiques was striking. Clarkson was thicker and stronger while Odom’s torso was slender by comparison. Every punch Clarkson landed visibly moved Odom while Odom, a very respectable puncher for the weight class, failed to earn a passing glance from Clarkson. Skill for skill, Clarkson and Odom rate pretty closely but the massive weight pull in Clarkson’s favor all but removed the competitive element from the equation.

Clarkson-Odom is just the latest example of how fighters have been able to manipulate the current environment to gain a decisive, competitive advantage. Boxing has never been a paragon of virtue when it comes to contractual obligations but it wasn’t too long ago when making the contracted weight was sacrosanct. If a fighter is too heavy in a championship fight, he either sheds the poundage or loses the title on the scales. If an undercard fighter misses weight, especially by an excessive amount, the fight doesn’t happen at all.

What happened with Clarkson-Odom doesn’t pinpoint a problem that is specific to this fight card or this commission. Rather, it is just the latest manifestation of a flawed system that encourages considerable wiggle room so that fights can be saved at the last minute. The two camps are encouraged to work out a deal if something goes awry and, after the offers are made from the heavier fighter’s camp, the onus is placed on the lighter boxer and his brain trust to determine if the parameters – physical and financial – are sufficient. If the talent gap is perceived to be big enough for the smaller man to take the risk, the dice is rolled. But more often than not, size ultimately matters. It’s simple physics.

Remember what happened to Vicente Escobedo when he fought Adrien Broner a few years ago? Yes, Broner lost his WBO junior lightweight belt on the scale and the fight was almost canceled when “The Problem” regained a shade too much poundage for everyone’s liking. But because the fight was staged in Broner’s hometown of Cincinnati and, because HBO was there to televise it, there was considerable pressure for the show to go on. Indeed, the show did go on after a deal was struck to handsomely compensate Escobedo, but once the opening bell sounded, so did the beat-down. Escobedo, who took the time to sweat down to the weight, tried his best but was painfully stopped in five rounds.

Another example of last-minute, weight-based deal-making occurred nearly six years ago when Floyd Mayweather Jr. scaled two pounds over the mandated 144-pound catchweight in his comeback fight against then-No. 3 pound-for-pound entrant Juan Manuel Marquez, who jumped up two weight classes in order to make the fight. Instead of insisting that Mayweather sweat off the poundage, which would have been asked of virtually any other fighter, the returning pound-for-pound king was allowed to pay a $600,000 fine for the privilege of not fulfilling his only mandated concession to Marquez. Moreover, Mayweather didn’t allow HBO to re-weigh him on its unofficial scale, so we’ll never know exactly how much bigger he was than the undersized Marquez that night. With Mayweather competing at full strength, he pitched a routinely brilliant shut-out, a result that should have enhanced Mayweather’s legacy. Instead, the drama surrounding Mayweather’s weight – and his unwillingness to at least try to make it – ended up staining what should have been a noteworthy accomplishment.

This systemic problem actually goes back decades. When James Toney risked his IBF middleweight title against Francesco Dell’Aquila inside Monaco’s famed Stade Louis II in Oct. 1991, his final weight read 160 ¼. The IBF should have stripped him of the title then and there but for whatever reason (perhaps a scheduled pay-per-view unification bout with Mike McCallum in two months’ time), “Lights Out” was allowed to keep the strap. The result was predictable: Knockdowns in rounds one and four en route to a fourth-round TKO for Toney, who went on to fight a draw with “The Bodysnatcher” in the first of what would be three fights.

What can be done? Same-day weigh-ins would be one way to limit the amount of weight one can gain from weigh-in to walk-in but will that fly, given that we’ve had two sporting generations of shrink-and-expand weight-making? Probably not, so the next best answer may be for commissions to take back the power to make and break fights, to provide far less room to maneuver when it comes to saving fights through negotiation. If a fighter misses weight by a sizable margin while the other fighter makes the contracted limit, the fight should be called off by the commission in the name of safety – period. If the weight gap is one that can be safely taken off – say a pound or less – then the offending fighter can be given a shot at sweating off the weight.

If fighters know beforehand that not making weight will carry severe financial consequences, then that should encourage them to either take fights at more sensible weights or do whatever is sufficient in camp to make the mandated poundage. I feel a harder stance would help preserve a semblance of safety and competition while also sending a message to those who seek to gain what NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden called “my fair advantage.”

*

Speaking of size, Arif Magomedov faced his own dimensional challenge when he met Derrick Webster, a 6-foot-4 southpaw with a massive 78-inch reach, eight inches longer than that of the 5-foot-11 Russian. Although Magomedov starched dangerous journeyman Darnell Boone in one round in his last fight, he struck me as a patient, points-oriented boxer who prefers to dominate from distance. To beat someone like Webster, Magomedov needed to become an assertive body-punching aggressor, something I didn’t see much of during my film study.

To Magomedov’s credit, that’s exactly what he was from first bell to last. He easily closed the gap, positioned himself in the trenches and slammed Webster with authority. Webster tried to impose a long-range fight by averaging 30 jabs per round but because he landed just 7% of them, he couldn’t keep Magomedov at bay. Knockdowns in round seven and 10 sealed Magomedov’s success and Webster’s first loss in 20 fights.

The final numbers reflected Magomedov’s command as he led 148-68 in overall connects and 139-46 in landed power shots despite throwing 130 fewer punches (372 to 502). That’s because Magomedov prevailed 40%-14% overall, 18%-7% jabs and 43%-23% power. At the end of the telecast, analyst Steve Farhood raised the possibility of a Magomedov-Douglas pairing. Count me in.

The second TV fight of the night saw junior featherweight Adam Lopez out-point Dominican mystery man Eliecer Aquino by a 10-round majority decision thanks to a first-round flash knockdown and a telling mid-fight adjustment. Aquino’s “wild angry man” swarming troubled Lopez during the first two rounds as the Dominican outlanded Lopez in each round but, with the help of his chief second, former 130-pound titlist Carlos “El Famoso” Hernandez, the prospect formulated then executed a winning formula: Staying off the ropes by pivoting out of the way and pelting Aquino with compact blows as he waded in.

The results were praiseworthy. In rounds 4-9, Lopez outlanded Aquino 114-62 overall and 100-61 power before Aquino stormed back in round 10 to tighten up the scorecards. While Aquino did a good job of holding the taller Lopez’s jab in check (18 of 133, 14%), Lopez’s sharp counter-punching (40% power accuracy) and body shots (he led Aquino 75-43) paved the way to the 10-round victory, Lopez’s first fight longer than six rounds.

*

The main event’s truncated ending allowed Aris enough time to join us for our customary post-fight slice of pizza inside the makeshift production office and, after chatting with Farhood and Raul Marquez, we went our separate ways. Even though I didn’t arrive in my room until 1:30 a.m., it still took at least 90 more minutes to wind down before turning out the lights.

Saturday, July 18: I ended up sleeping for only 4 ¾ hours, thanks to a thunderstorm that rolled through the area, but, all in all, I felt relatively fresh as I got ready for the day.

Thanks to my frequent flier status (Gold on US Airways, Ruby on American), I received an automatic, first-class upgrade for my scheduled 1:55 p.m. Philadelphia-to-Pittsburgh flight. Because of the massive traffic issues I experienced two days earlier – and my eroding but still-present concerns about driving inside the City of Brotherly Love – I decided to give myself plenty of leeway by leaving the hotel at 9:05 a.m.

Who knew? The travel gods ended up smiling on me – big time.

Aside from a brief jam 10 miles north of Philadelphia and the typically point-blank range driving within the city limits, the drive toward the airport was pleasingly uneventful. I also applied an effective game plan in terms of driving to the airport: I used the GPS to get me to the first set of road signs that indicated the location of the airport, after which I turned off the Magellan and let those signs guide me the rest of the way. As a result, I arrived at the airport two hours earlier than I anticipated.

Just before going through security, I checked the flight monitors and saw that US Airways had a Pittsburgh flight set for 11:50 a.m. and its boarding time was still 30 minutes away. Better yet, the gate was located in the same terminal as my 1:55 flight. Knowing I had an excellent history of changing flights at the last minute in Philly, I took a chance and walked to the earlier plane’s gate.

Believe it or not, I hit the aviation trifecta. First, I got a seat on the earlier flight. Second, that seat was in first class. Finally, thanks to my status, it didn’t cost me a dime.

The flight home was sweet, as was the two-and-a-half hour drive home. I pulled into the driveway just in time to catch the start of the 4 p.m. fight card on CBS topped by Carl Frampton’s decision win over Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. I spent the remainder of the evening alternating between work-related assignments and watching the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Marcos Reyes card on Showtime. It was a full but fulfilling, return travel day.

My adventures on Philadelphia’s roadways hopefully will prepare me for my next trip, which will take place in less than three weeks’ time when I return to Atlantic City to work the keys for a “ShoBox” tripleheader topped by Sergiy Derevyanchenko-Elvin Ayala.

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.

 

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