Saturday, April 01, 2023  |


The Travelin’ Man returns to Atlantic City…again-part I

Fighters Network

Bally's Atlantic City


Thursday, Aug. 6: For the first time since late March 2014, when Sergey Kovalev’s jab to the body ended Cedric Agnew’s upset bid in round seven, this Travelin’ Man returns to Atlantic City, NJ. There, specifically at Bally’s, I’ll be counting a ShoBox-televised tripleheader featuring Regis Prograis-Amos Cowart, Ievgen Khytrov-Nick Brinson and Sergiy Derevyanchenko-Elvin Ayala.

Had I begun working for CompuBox a few years earlier, I probably would’ve been trekking to AC at least once a month, if not more often. That’s because it was, for nearly two decades, the boxing capital of the eastern US, if not the entire country. Thanks to the 1976 referendum that legalized casino gambling in New Jersey – but only in Atlantic City – and the new economic model casinos presented to boxing promoters (paying them site fees out of their gaming profits as opposed to other sites charging them rent), the area became a hotbed, starting in the late-1970s. Just about every casino staged a boxing card and, according to a Jan. 1988 article in the Los Angeles Times, the city averaged as many as four shows per week over the first few years. Several casinos curtailed their programs after the glut eroded the bottom line as well as the quality of the fights.

At that point, the balance of power, in terms of attracting the biggest fights, shifted to Las Vegas, mostly due to flexibility and logistics.

“They can construct their own mini-arenas in a parking lot any time,” promoter Frank Gelb told the LA Times. “We only have the convention hall and that is not available all the time.” Additionally, Atlantic City had 10,000 quality hotel rooms, at the time, as opposed to Vegas’ 70,000 and the ease with which gamblers could reach Las Vegas by air provided an additional advantage, for gamers bound for Atlantic City needed to fly into Philadelphia, then drive an hour on the Atlantic City Expressway.

The tide began to turn in mid-1986 when an infusion of money from a prominent real estate mogul enabled Atlantic City to secure three major heavyweight fights in a seven-month period – Michael Spinks vs. Gerry Cooney, Mike Tyson vs. Tyrell Biggs and Tyson vs. Larry Holmes. So who was this “prominent real estate mogul?” Donald Trump.

It’s funny how life runs in circles. Back then, Trump’s considerable financial resources and force of will fueled Atlantic City’s re-emergence on the big-time boxing scene and now, nearly three decades later, his considerable financial resources and force of will has propelled him back to center stage – figuratively and literally – at the first presidential debate of the 2016 campaign cycle. As the current frontrunner in the GOP race, Trump earned the prime podium placement on the Cleveland stage, which is quite an accomplishment, given his novice status in the political world. No matter what one thinks about his filter-free bombast, one can’t deny Trump loves to think big, take big risks and live with the final result, good or bad.

Another figure who made big news this week was Floyd Mayweather Jr., who announced he will fight Andre Berto on Sept. 12. Millions of words have already been written about “Money’s” choice of opponent and the vast majority of the commentary has been negative because, among other reasons, many thought his final ring appearance should feature a final flourish against a high-caliber foe. Instead, Mayweather likely will enjoy a well-compensated victory lap.

Mayweather has long billed himself as “TBE” – “The Best Ever.” Better than Sugar Ray Robinson. Better than Harry Greb. Better than Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis or Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Better than all of them. While Mayweather has a perfect right to feel that way, serious historians will never place him at the very top of boxing’s Mount Olympus. They, too, have a perfect right to feel that way.

That said, it would be fair to say that Mayweather may indeed be the best ever in another realm of the sport – his ability to achieve record financial rewards despite hurricane-force headwinds.

It is one thing for a menacing knockout artist like Mike Tyson or a charismatic boxer-puncher like Sugar Ray Leonard to earn eight-figure paychecks for a single fight. It’s another thing entirely for a highly polarizing, safety-first scientist such as Mayweather to achieve boxing history’s first (and maybe last) nine-figure purse.

That unprecedented feat was the result of a beautifully orchestrated, long-range plan whose highlights include the thrashing of Arturo Gatti in his pay-per-view debut (which, combined with Bernard Hopkins’ first loss to Jermain Taylor, first lifted Mayweather to the top pound-for-pound spot), his wildly successful “black hat” branding of himself leading up to the Oscar De La Hoya bout and a string of high-profile wins over Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Victor Ortiz, Miguel Cotto, Robert Guerrero, Saul Alvarez, Marcos Maidana (twice) and, ultimately, Manny Pacquiao. His critics will say that each of those opponents had an inherent and/or circumstantial flaw that tilted the playing field Mayweather’s way (as will also be the case with Berto) but his supporters will counter that every one of his adversaries had his chance to beat Mayweather and failed, often in lopsided and humbling fashion.

Except for the 21 months between the Hatton and Marquez fights, Mayweather has been the face of boxing for the better part of a decade. He has spent more time at the top of the pound-for-pound list than any other fighter in the P4P era thanks to a skill set that is exceeded only by his Herculean work ethic and a superlative ring intelligence that I once equated to Bobby Fischer’s in chess. Should he, as expected, beat Berto, the record will show that in 49 fights he defeated 22 fighters who had held a major title, a designation that has applied to his last 15 opponents (and 16 fights). He long ago earned a place with Willie Pep, Pernell Whitaker and Nicolino Locche on boxing’s Mount Rushmore of defensive fighters and his countdown to Canastota will begin the moment he chooses to hang up his gloves for good.

For all of the plaudits Mayweather has earned, there always will be a “What could have been” aspect to his career. Unlike Wladimir Klitschko, Mayweather had more than his share of potential dance partners that could have maximized his legacy, especially after he first assumed the pound-for-pound throne 10 years ago. In my mind, he would have been favored to defeat all of them (except for Gennady Golovkin and a prime Manny Pacquiao). But for reasons only he can fully explain, he opted to take a more prudent path, a path that created improbable financial rewards but left observers wanting and wondering. Even if Mayweather scores a highlight-reel KO of Berto, that achievement will be waved off with a “Yeah, butÔǪ” And that’ll be a shame.

It wasn’t always this way. Before his bout with longtime 130-pound titlist Genaro Hernandez in Oct. 1998 many experts asked if the 21-year-old Mayweather was biting off more than he could chew. His answer: A flawless, one-sided drubbing of a respected and decorated champion. A little more than two months later, he met the surging Angel Manfredy, who enjoyed a stellar 1998 campaign. Both men had performed so well that year that THE RING announced before the fight that the winner of Mayweather-Manfredy would be declared its Fighter of the Year. Mayweather rose to the challenge and not only defeated Manfredy in two rounds but destroyed him.

In Jan. 2001, Mayweather agreed to fight Diego Corrales, a recently-stripped 130-pound titlist that had height, reach and crushing power. Yes, Corrales was weight-weakened and mentally distracted, thanks to legal issues, but even a primed “Chico” wouldn’t have been able to beat this version of Mayweather. In all, “The Pretty Boy” scored five knockdowns before registering the 10th round TKO. Two years later, Mayweather, now the WBC lightweight champ, met South African bomber Philip Ndou, who, like Corrales, carried terrific power within his willowy frame. I was so impressed by what I saw on video that I predicted Ndou not only would knock out Mayweather but would knock him unconscious. What a fool I was: Mayweather dissected, then dismissed the courageous but outclassed Ndou before stopping him in the seventh.

This was the Mayweather that was and this was the Mayweather that I felt could have created an unassailable legacy, had he chosen a different and more challenging path following his savage performance against Gatti. I marvel at his wondrous talent but lament that he didn’t meet those who could have revealed the full extent of his fistic genius.

There is no question that Mayweather will be regarded as one of the most gifted practitioners the sport has ever seen as well as the wealthiest boxer who has ever walked the earth. For him and his army of supporters, that’s sufficient. And once Mayweather leaves the ring for good, he’ll enjoy something that very few fighters ever will – the satisfaction of walking away financially secure, physically intact and choreographing his exit his way.


You might be wondering why I spent so much time discussing subjects other than my in-bound trip. The reason: It went off like clockwork.

Good: Showtime granted my request to take the 3:40 p.m. flight from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, probably because that helped create a carpool with EVS operator Dave Raynak, whose inbound and outbound flights fit neatly with mine. Better: The late-afternoon departure not only allowed me to operate on a full night’s rest, it also enabled me to finish some CompuBox-related research (specifically the Sept. 6 rematch between Jamie McDonnell and Tomoki Kameda). Best: The rental car was assigned to Dave because he was scheduled to land 45 minutes before me.

I left the house at 11:20 a.m. amid light but steady rainfall and comfortable temperatures in the mid-60s. Those showers lessened the further north I drove and disappeared once I turned onto I-70 East. The drive was utterly charmed as I managed to avoid three potential hold-ups. First, the railroad crossing gate on Route 2 in New Martinsville lifted just as I took my place in line, then I managed to avoid two developing bottlenecks because I reached my exits before they worsened.

I arrived at the airport at 1:40 p.m. and the good fortune continued when I found a parking spot less than 100 yards from the terminal entrance. I breezed through security thanks to TSA Pre-Check and reached my gate with no trouble.

Despite my Gold status with US Airways and my Ruby designation with American, I wasn’t able to improve my seating position – 19th row aisle – during yesterday’s check-in. No matter; I didn’t have to connect anyway.

The boarding process was routine but once our aircraft reached the runway, a roadblock suddenly developed. The pilot announced over the loudspeaker that our departure was going to be pushed back 50 (“five oh”) minutes due to Philadelphia’s chronic air traffic issues – too many planes, too few openings to land. A large contingent of fliers heading to Seattle groaned because the delay promised to destroy their connection window. As for me, it might force me to reserve my own rental car because I didn’t want to have Dave wait for me longer than already scheduled. I was OK with the “my own rental” scenario because (1) I knew the Philadelphia-to-Atlantic City route well and (2) I packed my Magellan GPS just in case this situation occurred. After all, I’d probably need it to get me through the final turns to Bally’s.

But as soon as I finished texting Dave, the pilot returned to the microphone. He announced that a landing slot in Philly had been secured and that we’d be departing in less than five minutes. Just like that, order was restored not only for me but for that group bound for the Pacific Northwest. I managed to fire off a second text to Dave just before the order to shut off our cell phones was issued and, soon, we were on our way.

The flight was quite bumpy in spots and, at one point, the aircraft suddenly lurched to the right with enough force that only our seat belts kept us in place. During my early years of flying, I equated turbulence to “potholes in the sky” but now it makes me nervous, especially during flights at night. To cope with it, I try to look out the window to establish my bearings, then either grip the arm rest or place my hand on the back of the seat in front of me to provide a sense of stability. I know neither tactic helps the plane fly straighter but my rituals do help ease my mind.

Thankfully, that was the flight’s last bob-and-weave and we actually landed 15 minutes early. Better still, the Avis bus stopped less than a minute after I arrived at the pick-up zone and Dave called my cell just before the bus made its final stop. After filling him in on how my flight fortunes suddenly changed for the better (he apparently didn’t receive my follow-up text), I walked inside the rental car building and, since we hadn’t seen each other before now, we introduced ourselves.

Dave was assigned a red Ford Fusion that had more than its share of dings and scratches, including a large scrape on the back right side. Dave smartly made sure to tell that to the woman manning the exit booth so he wouldn’t be blamed (and billed) for damages.

I was surprised to learn this was Dave’s first trip to Atlantic City and, irony of ironies, given my past navigational issues, I guided him perfectly to the Atlantic City Expressway. However, we had problems with Philadelphia’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. There was a massive line of vehicles seeking access to the Walt Whitman Bridge, so Dave easily cut a half-hour off our journey by veering one lane left and passing dozens of stopped cars over the next quarter-mile. With the entrance ramp now less than 300 feet away, we needed to wedge our way back into the rightmost lane.

We certainly didn’t think a Good Samaritan would willingly cede enough room for us to cut in line, so we had to wait for our opening. That came far quicker than expected.

When I glanced to my right, I saw that the driver in the gray van we had just passed was leaning way to his right to dig something out of the glove compartment. As a result, he slowed his vehicle to a virtual stop while the car ahead of him slowly created the gap we needed.

“There it is, Dave,” I said urgently. And, after briefly checking his mirrors, Dave shifted lanes and filled the gap. After that, we were home free.

As we made our way down the Atlantic City Expressway, we told our respective stories about how we got our current jobs and I learned our paths were paved with the ability to recognize opportunities and seize them. For the record, Dave has been a freelance EVS/tape operator since 2001 and has served as the EVS operator for the NHL’s Nashville Predators since 2008.

In TV production lingo, the EVS is called the “Elvis” and I had long been curious about what that job entails.

“It’s like a very sophisticated DVR,” he replied. Part of his duties during a boxing telecast includes finding the optimum action sequence during the previous round and doing so quickly enough so that the analyst can properly describe what happened. So, in effect, Dave is the “king” of the replays.

After Dave’s phone GPS guided us through the final turns, we arrived at Bally’s at 6:52 p.m. – one minute earlier than the time predicted by his navigational program. We found a parking spot on the sixth floor of the garage, checked into our respective rooms and went our separate ways. After buying a turkey sub, fries and a diet soda at Sack O’ Subs inside Bally’s, I spent the rest of the evening in my room.

Since the hotel didn’t carry FOX Deportes, I wasn’t able to watch the “LA Fight Club” card so instead I watched the GOP presidential debate to see if the expected rhetorical fireworks would come to fruition. They did thanks to Rand Paul and Chris Christie but the funniest line of the night came from Dr. Ben Carson, who said during his closing statement, “Well, I haven’t said anything about me being the only one to do anything, so let me try that: I’m the only one to separate Siamese twins, the only one to operate on babies while they’re still in their mother’s womb, the only one to take out half of a brain, although you would think if you go to Washington that someone had beaten me to it.” If he doesn’t get the nomination, he’d make an excellent Surgeon General in a future Republican administration. But I digress.

For some reason, I turn in earlier than usual while I’m on the road and sleep less soundly. At 12:45 a.m. – about 90 minutes sooner than normal – I clicked off the light.

Friday, Aug. 7: I alternated between rest and sleep for the next six-and-a-half hours before I arose for good and I spent the majority of the next several hours catching up on my writing. I occasionally took a few minutes to look outside my fifth-floor window where I had an excellent view of the Atlantic Ocean, whose waves were rolling in with noticeable intensity. I thought about taking a walk on the boardwalk but time – as well as the predicted heat and humidity – prompted me to remain indoors. The words didn’t flow nearly as smoothly as they usually do, so, as a result, I didn’t get to a good stopping point until 2 p.m. Just as well, I needed to check into the next day’s flight anyway.

That proved to be a problem. Shortly after I stepped off the elevator, I ran into analyst (and future Hall-of-Famer) Steve Farhood, who told me the business office was located on the sixth floor. Once there, I went through the usual check-in procedure online but once I got to the screen where I could print my boarding pass the page’s font, shifted to a courier-like setting that prevented me from successfully printing out the pass. I tried using the other computer but I got the same result. Hmph.

Having dealt with this problem on past trips, I had a Plan B: Having the people at the front desk print it for me. After a few long minutes in a side office, the clerk came out with my freshly minted pass in hand.

With that issue resolved, I walked to the venue and spent the next several hours conversing with various ringsiders – ring announcer Dave Diamante, the husband-and-wife judging team of Tony and Barbara Perez, “Original Travelin’ Man” Jack Obermayer, BWAA president (and RING TV’s own) Joe Santoliquito and my punch-counting colleague, Andy Kasprzak, among them – as well as several members of the technical crew, which, by the way, did a masterful job of playing catch-up after a slow start. The usual pre-fight electronics checks ended with a quick green light – a rarity for me but a routine result for master “lead dog” Joe Carnicelli. With that final hurdle cleared, Andy and I were ready to begin yet another fight night.

For some of us, the unofficial under/over for the three televised fights was 11 rounds but, for a while, it looked as if 11 rounds might have been sufficient for the entire eight-bout card as the first four fights ended in first-round knockouts (Avtandil Khurtsidze over Melvin Betancourt in 142 seconds, Anthony Burgin over Justin Johnson in 177 seconds, Noel Murphy over Stacey Anderson in 147 seconds and Joey Dawejko over Robert Dunton in 31 seconds). The spell was broken when Thomas Lamanna rebounded from his KO loss to Antoine Douglas in March by pitching an eight-round shutout over Joshua Robertson. At times, Lamanna’s constant pivots and up-down combinations had Robertson looking as if he were fighting inside a kaleidoscope, for he didn’t know from where the next combination would be thrown.

In the end, it was a dominant statistical outing for Lamanna, who led 187-81 overall, 63-14 jabs and 124-67 power while also leading 35%-24% overall, 26%-16% jabs and 42%-26% power. Lamanna’s jab was particularly noteworthy as he averaged 30.2 attempts and 7.9 connects per round, both well above the 23.6 and 5.2 middleweight norms. Finally, Lamanna featured an excellent finishing kick as he led 63-23 overall in the final two rounds, including a fight-high 39 connects and 92 attempts in the last stanza.

Five fights down, three televised bouts to go.


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 or email the author at [email protected] to arrange for autographed copies.