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The Travelin’ Man goes to Washington DC: Part two

16
May
Mailbag readers were more impressed with Rogelio Medina's effort against James DeGale than they were with the defending 168-pound titleholder's performance. Photo by Esther Lin / Showtime

Rogelio Medina (left) versus IBF super middleweight titlist James DeGale. Photo by Esther Lin / Showtime

 

Please click here for Part One.

 

Saturday, April 30 (continued): While the intended destination was reached, the path getting there swerved in unexpected – and occasionally nonsensical – directions.

Many expected WBC super middleweight titlist Badou Jack to repel Lucian Bute’s challenge and, in most eyes, he did. Unfortunately for Jack, the eyes that belonged to judges Rick Crocker and Omar Mintun perceived an even match while overruling those of Steve Rados, who saw Jack a 117-111 winner. Meanwhile, those same experts thought IBF beltholder James DeGale would summarily dispose of Rogelio Medina, a late sub for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., but, while many saw a highly competitive back-and-forth scrap, two of the jurists saw “Chunky” a decisive winner over “Porky” in quite the meaty scrap.

While I thought Jack did enough to beat Bute and that DeGale won the fight by a closer margin, the CompuBox numbers do provide potential explanations for why Crocker and Mintun went against the grain in Jack-Bute and why Tony Paolillo (117-111) and Steve Gray (117-111) viewed DeGale far more favorably than John Madfis, whose 116-112 score for DeGale was closer to the mark, in terms of public perception.

The raw stats favoring Jack over Bute were overwhelming. Jack out-landed Bute by 99 punches overall (278-179), connected on 24 more jabs (61-37) and accrued 75 more power connects (217-142). Also, Jack was far more accurate in all three statistical phases (40%-21% overall, 18%-12% jabs, 61%-25% power) and, in this battle of noted body punchers, Jack more than quadrupled Bute’s total (107-23). Finally, the round-by-round breakdowns revealed that Jack out-landed Bute in every round except the 12th (24-23) overall, led 8-2-2 in landed jabs and 11 rounds to one in power connects. That’s why most of the public saw Jack as the winner and why Jack equated the decision to bovine excrement (so to speak) during the post-fight interview.

That said, a deeper look into the numbers might provide an explanation for Crocker and Mintun’s interpretation: In the first four rounds, Bute, whose trigger has greatly slowed in recent years, averaged 48.5 punches per round to Jack’s 42. But, from round five onward, Bute’s work rate soared to 82.3 (including 102 and 107 punches in the final two rounds) while Jack’s increased to just 66.9. Before the fight, Bute and his team emphasized the need to increase his output earlier in fights and, on this score, Bute more than lived up to that promise. Bute out-threw Jack in all but one round (the ninth, when Jack led 75-73) and in the 12th alone, Bute more than doubled Jack’s output (107-42).

The round-by-round breakdowns showed that Jack threw more jabs than Bute in nine of the 12 rounds but Bute unleashed more power shots in all 12 rounds. That last statistic is particularly important because, by doing so, Bute stamped himself as the more aggressive fighter in terms of punch selection. And when one combines that with his superior output, a judge might lean in Bute’s direction in rounds like the third, when Bute began reaching Jack’s chin with more force, the fifth, when Bute suddenly surged from 58 punches to 70, the eighth, in which Jack was 18 of 60 to Bute’s 14 of 71, the 11th, when Jack was 33 of 72 to Bute’s 31 of 102, and the 12th, when Bute was 24 of 107 to Jack’s 23 of 42.

As noted by Steve Farhood, the judges disagreed on each of the final seven rounds and one can bet it was caused by the mixture of Bute’s activity and heavier punching and Jack’s impressive precision but less impressive shot-for-shot impact.

Jack would have fared better with the panel that scored DeGale-Medina, for they placed more emphasis on DeGale’s diamond-cutter precision over Medina’s manic work rate. The CompuBox stats illustrated this contrast as DeGale amassed gargantuan percentage leads in all categories (51%-23% overall, 34%-10% jabs, 66%-34% power), while Medina’s engine fired nearly twice as often (95 per round to DeGale’s 51 and attempt gaps of 509-274 in jabs and 631-338 in power shots). The same principle that harmed Jack benefited DeGale: Because he was the harder hitter, shot-for-shot, and because he also was the much more accurate hitter, he won more rounds.

But why did the public perceive DeGale-Medina as a closer fight? Thanks to Medina’s higher work rate, the raw numbers of connects overall was fairly close (314-265, or 4.1 connects per round) and the difference in power connects was razor-thin (DeGale led just 222-216). The round-by-round breakdowns are also telling, for DeGale led just 6-5-1 in overall connects. As expected, DeGale landed more jabs in 11 of the 12 rounds but the fighters tied at six rounds apiece in power connects. Medina’s best round in that category was the 11th when he led 23-11 in power connects, while DeGale’s occurred in the first (16-9). Perception is everything when watching a fight and it appeared Medina was the much stronger fighter in the end. In rounds 10 through 12, Medina out-landed DeGale 79-72 overall and 67-56 power, with the 11th particularly telling, as Medina out-threw the champ 93-25 overall and 59-12 power.

Both men put forth excellent performances; DeGale, criticized for his severe peaks and valleys in terms of pacing, was better this time (only twice did his work rate dip noticeably: From 61 in the second to 44 in the third and from 62 in the 10th to 25 in the 11th), while Medina, who still absorbed a frightening percentage of his opponent’s punches, managed to persevere and put forth an effort worthy of another high-profile opportunity.

Here’s an idea: How about inking Bute-Medina as the co-feature to DeGale-Jack?

*

Sometime during the untelevised undercard Floyd Mayweather Jr. entered the arena. Everywhere he went, a clump of people surrounded him, whether it was his security team or fans seeking photos, autographs or both. At a reported 161, he looked slightly thicker but still fit and when he told Showtime’s Jim Gray, between the two televised fights, that he could be tempted back into the ring for a “nine-figure purse” and “a title,” the door for a comeback was definitely cracked for the first time. That was newsworthy but, to the boxing public at large, it was news that barely registered on the surprise meter.

Predictably, Mayweather dismissed IBF/WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin and the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter winner as potential opponents, while seemingly open to a fight with current WBC welterweight king (and longtime 140-pound titlist) Danny Garcia.

In my mind, if Mayweather wants his terms to be fulfilled in one massive dose, only one opponent credibly fits the bill: Golovkin. The reason he earned nine figures against Pacquiao was because “The Pac-Man” was believed to be, by fans and experts alike, a mortal threat to Mayweather’s celebrated undefeated record. That, in turn, was the reason Mayweather-Pacquiao was such a hot fight for so many years and why it ended up obliterating the all-time pay-per-view buys record, even at $99.95 a pop for the high-definition telecast. That result allowed Mayweather to earn arguably the highest hourly wage in human history.

If Mayweather expects to duplicate that payday in a single night, he must assume a similar level of risk. As of now, Golovkin is the lone fighter who poses the best challenge to Mayweather and, as a multi-belt middleweight titlist, he fulfills the other part of the future Hall-of-Famer’s stated terms.

Golovkin also brings much to the table, in terms of creating historic potential. A fight with “GGG” presents Mayweather the chance to become only the third man ever to win a sixth divisional title (Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya, both Mayweather victims, are the others) and also to duplicate Sugar Ray Leonard’s legendary feat of (1) coming straight out of retirement to meet the best middleweight in the world and (2) doing so in his first fight in that weight class. Here’s a final bonus: If the fight takes place after Feb. 24, 2017 and if he wins it, Mayweather would win a championship after age 40, which has been achieved by just a handful of fighters. For Mayweather there is much to gain – but also much to lose. Only that two-sided dynamic warrants a nine-figure check and, in my mind, no other opponent merits such an enormous single-night outlay.

Now if Floyd can persuade a network to guarantee a nine-figure payday to oppose Garcia or MMA superstar Conor McGregor in a boxing match, then Mayweather will have just done his job as a negotiator and the blame should be shifted to the entity that strikes the deal and the fans who choose to buy it.

For those who contend that GGG is too big for Mayweather, here are two points of rebuttal. First, Golovkin has repeatedly said he would fight Mayweather at a catchweight and “Money” has thrice scaled 150 or above to win 154-pound titles. (He was 150 when he fought De La Hoya, 151 when he dethroned Miguel Cotto and 150 ¾ when he out-boxed Saul Alvarez.) Second, at 72 inches, Mayweather’s reach is actually two inches longer than Golovkin’s but, at 5-foot-10 ¾, Golovkin (who is the same height as De La Hoya) is two-and-a-half inches taller, according to BoxRec.com. Yes, size matters but it’s not like the difference between GGG and “Money” would be as massive as what Roy Jones Jr. faced when dethroning WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz 13 years ago or when featherweight king Henry Armstrong topped welterweight champion Barney Ross during the Golden Age of Boxing.

Mayweather says he enjoys spending time with his family and relishes his role as a promoter who can help other fighters advance their careers. But if he wants to credibly return to his perch as pound-for-pound king – and be paid according to his demands – there’s only one equation that applies: TBE + GGG = $$$.

*

With the hour growing late (almost 1 a.m.) and with early wake-up times quickly approaching, Joe Carnicelli and I skipped the post-fight meal and headed straight for the rental car. The drive back was relatively smooth – although a few drivers were uncomfortably close to my back bumper – and, when we reached the seventh floor, we said our goodbyes.

I wanted to get a diet soda but the gift shop in the lobby was closed for the night. I was told that a soda machine was located on the second floor but when I deposited my cash, I got nothing, no matter which button I hit. I returned downstairs to tell the man at the registration desk that the machine needed to be fixed, then returned to my room and got a glass of water. It did the job and the price was right.

After inputting the stats from Jack-Bute and DeGale-Medina into the master database, I switched off the lights at 2:45 a.m. and hoped I could get at least a few hours of quality sleep.

 

Sunday, May 1: Wonder of wonders: Although I slept deeper and better than usual, my eyes still popped open within 10 minutes of my goal wake-up time of 7 a.m., just four-and-a-half hours after clicking off the lights. Following the usual morning routines, I emailed my loved ones that all was well and that I would be on my way to the airport in a few minutes’ time, then took the first step toward making it so: Calling the valet parking desk and arranging for my car to be waiting for me by the time I checked out. This time, it was.

As I loaded my bags into the trunk, I asked the attendant to confirm the directions the Magellan gave me: Turn right onto D-Street, turn left at Pennsylvania Avenue and get on I-395 South. He said that was correct.

But as I headed toward Pennsylvania Avenue, I saw several police cars with blue lights flashing. I inched ahead with some caution and slowly moved to drive around the first car. No one from the first set of police vehicles prevented me from moving forward, so I drove onward. But when I got to the left turn I next needed to make, the officer got out of his car and began to approach me. I rolled down my window and said, “I’m trying to get to the airport and my GPS told me to turn here.”

“We have the area blocked off, so you’ll need to turn around and ask the female officer to give you alternate directions,” he replied. Being the law-abiding type – and the type to apply good advice when given -I complied.

The lady officer told me to drive straight ahead until I got to either Second or Third Street, then take a right to access the tunnel that would take me to I-395 South. It ended up being on Third and, from there, I followed the signs to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. I dropped off the rental car with dispatch (the gas tank was still full) and took the elevator down to the shuttle bus boarding area. The time when I stepped on the bus: Exactly 9 a.m. Perfect.

Now I had to deal with my boarding pass situation, which, as I explained in Part One, was a bit dicey because there were no assigned seats, thus no way for me to complete the process online. This issue couldn’t be resolved at a kiosk; only a live person could do it.

With a little help from some friendly agents, I found my way to the American Airlines Resolution Line, which numbered 12 people when I arrived. I braced myself for a lengthy wait but, with four agents processing requests, the queue moved fairly quickly. Once I got to the head of the line, I explained my situation and, within minutes, I had a boarding pass, though still without a seat assignment.

I cleared security with no difficulty and it didn’t take me long to reach the waiting area for Gate 35X, which is actually located at the bottom of an escalator. A few minutes later, I got into another line in the hopes of being given a new boarding pass with an actual seat listed on it. That line was 14 people long but moved well because some of the people were traveling in groups. This agent told me that, while this flight was oversold by one seat, I would not be the person who would be bumped if no one ceded their place. He said all I needed to do was to be ready to head downstairs once the flight for Pittsburgh is called over the intercom.

Once we were summoned downstairs, I was the 14th person in line to board the bus that would take us to our aircraft. But when I got to the head of the queue, I was asked, along with several others, to not board the bus but to stand directly behind her work station while letting those with seat assignments through. Several new boarding passes were in front of her, presumably, to give to whomever survived the cut in our group. I glanced at her computer screen and saw my name in the No. 4 position to receive passes. With eight seats remaining, after all the others boarded, in this bus, I realized, I was home free. I also realized that, had I not checked in when I did – less than an hour after the 24-hour check-in window began yesterday – I might have been bumped. Given my frequent flier status, I shouldn’t have ever been put in this position but, as for now, that detail didn’t matter.

I was pleasantly surprised that I was given a window seat in row five but less so when our aircraft stopped on the runway. The reason: Exceedingly high winds on our side of the airport. The solution: Taxi to the other side of DCA. The result: An even later departure, for we were bumped back from first in line to sixth, plus we had to wait until air traffic control completed the list of arriving planes before addressing the departures.

Although the pilot warned us of potential turbulence, it didn’t materialize and we landed in Pittsburgh without incident. During the drive home, I listened to the Pirates-Reds game until I could no longer get a signal, then switched over to FM to listen to my usual battery of classic rock stations until I arrived home shortly before 4:15.

I spent the rest of the evening in my home office watching (and recording) three of the five boxing cards I recorded on the DVR while I was away. I didn’t feel like doing much more than that but a sudden drop in my internet speed prompted me to spend an hour on the phone with my service provider. The issue was eventually fixed but I’m sure more discussions will materialize in my future.

As of now, I will be taking an extended break from the road. But when I return, it’ll be for a good reason: My 24th consecutive visit to the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend, which also will include working the keys for a “ShoBox” telecast at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York.

Until then, happy trails!

*

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 15 writing awards, including 12 in the last six 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. To contact Groves, use the e-mail [email protected].

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