The Travelin’ Man goes to Mashantucket: Part two
Friday, July 22: Minutes before the most important fight of his young career, 25-year-old Adam Lopez stood a few feet away from his lifelong goal – and potentially his immediate future. At ring center stood Dominican power-puncher Jonathan Guzman, who, just two days earlier, joined the roll call of champions by scoring an 11th round TKO of Shingo Wake, his 22nd stoppage in as many fights. The fact that Guzman was present at Foxwoods Resort Casino at all was extraordinary because Guzman achieved his dream in Tokyo, nearly 6,800 miles and 13 time zones away. The jet lag must have been profound but he thought this occasion was important enough to be there in person, not only to publicize his signature achievement but also to send a message to his future antagonist: I am watching you and you’d better be worthy of the chance that may await you.
Guzman’s biggest fashion statement wasn’t the pale pink shirt, the white pants or even the dark sunglasses he wore, despite the fact he was indoors and the mid-summer sun had already dipped below the horizon. It was the large red strap that adorned his waist, specifically the IBF junior featherweight belt. The title he won in the Wake fight had been vacated by Carl Frampton ahead of Frampton’s challenge against WBA featherweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz. But to Guzman, the circumstances of his elevation couldn’t minimize the pride he felt in his accomplishment. The concept of genuine lineal champions – the “man-who-beat-the-man-dating-back-to-the-early 1900s” variety – died with the poisonous proliferation of sanctioning bodies that irreparably shredded the threads of history. By beating WBA titlist Scott Quigg in February, Frampton had acquired half of the four available belts but instead of pursuing further unification with the WBO’s Nonito Donaire or Donaire’s conqueror, the WBA’s Guillermo Rigondeaux, Team Frampton chose to abandon the effort and chase the real prize – the biggest purse possible. After all, “prizefighting” is another word for boxing.
So there Guzman stood, listening to the announcements while Lopez awaited the start of his fateful encounter with Roman Reynoso, a shorter Argentine whom, to Lopez, was a temporary human roadblock to his ultimate objective. In less than an hour’s time, Reynoso’s ability to actively impede Lopez’s dreams would be over and, if he played his cards right, Lopez not only could gain the “W” but also impress Guzman enough to insert himself into the title picture.
Reynoso was expected to take the fight to Lopez but, when the bell sounded, Reynoso defied type by circling and feinting, diving in only when he saw an opening and nipping out before the American could respond. For a while, Lopez seemed unsure about how to respond to this stylistic challenge – he expected to play matador to Reynoso’s bull – and the result was a nip-and-tuck affair until nearly the very end.
Entering the 10th and final round, the result remained in doubt, both aesthetically and statistically. Through nine rounds, Lopez held a slim 124-123 advantage in total connects, despite his jab being largely neutralized (27 of 134, 20% for Lopez to 18 of 121, 15% for Reynoso). The Argentine led 105-97 in landed power shots but Lopez’s superior accuracy (43%-29%) more than kept him in the running.
The urgency of the moment and the underlying stakes were obvious to both men and they fought accordingly. A furious first minute saw Lopez land 11 of 22 overall and 11 of 20 in power shots to Reynoso’s 12 of 33 overall and 11 of 30 power. But Lopez found a higher gear starting, in the second minute, and the gaps reflected the intensity of his surge – 13 of 23 overall and 13 of 22 power for Lopez, 7 of 23 overall and 7 of 21 power for Reynoso. Lopez amplified his momentum in the fight’s final minute as he went 10 of 19 to Reynoso’s 2 of 19 and the rally was strong enough to prompt Reynoso to purposefully spit out his mouthpiece to induce a time-out. Even more notably, neither man even attempted a jab in the bout’s final 60 seconds. They clearly wanted to make the best possible imprint on the judges as well as on the champion seated a few yards from them.
At round’s end, Lopez had landed 34 of 64 punches (53%), including a superb 34 of 61 in power shots (56%), while Reynoso was 21 of 75 overall (28%) and 20 of 70 power (29%). In Lopez’s mind, he had done enough to get the victory and his last-round flurry created small but noticeable statistical gaps (158-144 overall, 27-19 jabs, 131-125 power as well as percentage gulfs of 37%-26% overall, 20%-15% jabs and 46%-29% power).
To the dismay of both corners, the judges’ scorecards produced a most unsatisfactory result – a split draw. Don Ackerman viewed Lopez a 96-94 winner while Bill Morande scored it 97-93 for Reynoso. Peter Hary produced the pivotal score of 95-95. In retrospect, Reynoso’s mouthpiece ploy saved him from defeat; all three judges scored the 10th round 10-9 for Lopez and, had the South American hit the canvas, the resulting 10-8 score would have given Lopez a split decision victory.
“It was a tough fight,” Lopez said in post-fight quotes provided by Showtime. “He didn’t want to engage. He’s slick and experienced and a good fighter. I feel this was my best performance on ‘ShoBox.’ I have been working on new things with (trainer) Ronnie Shields and it showed in there. I know I hurt him in the last round.”
As for the draw verdict, Lopez predictably disagreed with it.
“The decision was bullsh*t,” he declared. “(Reynoso) could not hit me.”
Reynoso, also predictably, believed he did enough to win.
“It was a close fight but I feel I won,” he said. “(Lopez) never hurt me. The only thing that surprised me is that he was more aggressive than in other fights. I hurt my hand from hitting him.”
But while Reynoso hurt his hand hitting Lopez, the result probably hurt Lopez’s heart even more.
The other three fights on the ShoBox telecast, in their own manner, unfolded in ways that befitted the arc of the series. The opening bout pitted junior middleweights Khiary Gray (the local favorite from Worcester, Massaschusetts) and Paterson, New Jersey’s Ian Green, who was competing on just five days’ notice. Both men were making their first appearance on ShoBox’s air and, for most fans, this was their first look at either man.
The five minutes and 50 seconds of action was tumultuous to say the least. Gray, who came into the ring with waves of sonic support, dominated the first round with power punching (13 of 36, 36% to Green’s 6 or 26, 23%) that bloodied Green’s lips and weakened his legs. The mobile Green hung in behind excellent jabbing (11 of 30, 37%) but the first three minutes were clearly Gray’s.
Green’s troubles continued into the second and, soon, the fight appeared as if a coronation were about to take place. But boxing being boxing, the story line instantly and irreparably changed with a single punch. A crackling right to the jaw suddenly caused Gray to fall forward to the canvas. His equilibrium horribly scrambled, Gray somehow regained his feet and convinced referee Arthur Mercante Jr. that he was fit to continue.
He didn’t continue much longer. Gray desperately tried to ride out the storm but the suddenly energized Green was all over him with a torrent of power shots. The assault left Green helplessly falling back onto the ropes, prompting Mercante to intervene. Only 10 seconds remained in the round. In those final 50 seconds Green out-landed Gray 14-0, and that surge enabled him to take leads of 42-32 overall, 17-11 jabs and 25-21 power as well as 36%-33% overall, 32%-26% jabs and 40%-39% power.
Green’s assault probably shouldn’t have been a surprise because one of his seconds was former 140-pound titlist Kendall Holt, who, in his day, produced more than his share of “Rated R” knockout performances.
“I got him good and I got him out of there,” said Green according to the Showtime release. “He got me good one time but I kept my left hand up and hung in there. We’re going all the way up. This is just the start.”
“He just caught me,” the disappointed Gray agreed. “I didn’t even know what punch it was. I didn’t even see it. I tried to hold on and waste some time but I got caught again. I just need to get back to the gym and fix my mistakes. I’ll bounce back.”
While ShoBox has helped introduce a slew of future champs it has also wrought a swath of broken dreams. Gray was the 151st fighter on ShoBox to lose his undefeated record but he can take heart that 11 fighters who lost on ShoBox went on to win a world title – Luis Collazo, Robert Guerrero, Eric Aiken, David Diaz, Isaac Hlatshwayo, Cornelius Bundrage, Rodrigo Guerrero, Ishe Smith, Gamaliel Diaz, Mickey Bey and Badou Jack.
Speaking of second chances, lightweight O’Shaquie Foster was the beneficiary of one five months ago when he scored an impressive seventh-round knockout of Lavisas Williams, in which he scored four knockdowns. The Williams performance was preceded by a puzzling and disappointing eight-round decision defeat to Samuel Teah that he blamed on stage fright. There, he averaged just 31 punches per round to Teah’s 58.9 and, had he picked up his work rate, his accuracy advantages in all phases (37%-27% overall, 23.4-22.7% jab and 53%-34% power) could have carried him to victory.
Now, in his third appearance on ShoBox, Foster had the chance to show everyone which version of himself was the genuine article. His opponent was Rolando Chinea, an aggressive and ambitious Pennsylvanian who had won two straight since his only loss, an action-packed majority decision against Ismail Muwendo on the Terence Crawford-Thomas Dulorme undercard. As well as Chinea performed that night (a robust 87.8 punches per round that included 10.2 jab connects and an impressive 39 of 103 performance overall in the final round), Muwendo was even better as he averaged an insane 124.5 punches per round and an even better body attack, despite his lanky frame (120 connects to Chinea’s 83). If ever a fighter could get Foster out of his low-output shell, it was Chinea.
The definition of “ring generalship” has long been elusive to many but, to me, it is the degree by which one fighter imposes his style and strategy on the other. Chinea vs. Foster could be used to illustrate that concept with clarity because his high-volume attack (91.6 punches per round) forced the cerebral Foster to dramatically increase his work rate (from a combined 32.9 in the Teah and Williams bouts to 80.1 here) while also being trapped along the ropes for long stretches. To his credit, Foster countered sharply enough to be the more precise fighter in all categories (30%-28% overall, 12%-11% jabs, 38%-32% power) but the margins weren’t enough to separate himself from the feisty underdog. Also, the leaky defense that marked Chinea’s performance against Muwendo had tightened (Muwendo landed 44% of his power shots against Chinea while Foster connected on 38%). Finally, Chinea’s ability to force point-blank warfare effectively neutralized Foster’s jab (23 of 192, 12%), which was expected to be his most important weapon.
The final statistics illustrated the back-and-forth nature of the bout as Chinea narrowly led overall (206-193) and in power connects (190-170) but, while the decision was split, the margins were pronounced. Ackerman (79-73) and Hary (78-74) were more impressed by Chinea’s aggression while John McKaie (77-75) was swayed more by Foster’s counters.
“He is a hell of a fighter and it was fun to fight him,” Chinea said, according to the Showtime notes. “Like I said before the fight, (Foster) could not take pressure. I brought the pressure. I blocked and slipped a lot of his punches. My will and desire to win outweighed his will to punch. He did not take my pressure well. I worked my shots well inside and that was a difference in the fight.”
Foster said he “had distractions and couldn’t focus.” While that may have been true, he fought hard and showed, if pushed enough, he is capable of producing excellent action fights. Still, Chinea revealed the blueprint for future Foster opponents and he should expect those foes to apply it.
Another recipient of repeat ShoBox appearances, despite setbacks, was Jerry Odom, who won a blood-soaked war with Vilier Quinonez and avenged a DQ loss to Andrew Hernandez in one round on Showtime’s air. He followed those performances with an upset three-round TKO loss to Samuel Clarkson and a draw to Ronald Ellis that could have been a loss, given Ellis’ small but significant connect leads of 151-131 overall, 40-22 jabs and 114-109 power and Ellis out-landing Odom in six of the eight rounds.
In fact, Ellis was originally scheduled to fight Julius Jackson on this card but, after injuring his hand in training, Odom was summoned from the bench. Jackson, the son of two-division champion Julian Jackson, was in the midst of his own rebuilding project as he was coming off a disastrous two-round knockout loss to Jose Uzcategui last October. In just three minutes and 45 seconds, Uzcategui scored four knockdowns and, in the second round, the Venezuelan bomber landed 59% of his total punches and 65% of his power shots. Worse yet, the bout was an IBF title eliminator.
Like Green vs. Gray, Odom vs. Jackson featured a dramatic reversal of fortune. The taller Jackson smartly used his jab to dictate range (9 of 24, 38% in round one and 10 of 23, 43% in round two). But while we observers thought Jackson was winning on merit, Odom had a different opinion. Between rounds two and three, he told his chief second he allowed “The Chef” to win the first two rounds so he could draw the Virgin Islander into a punching match.
“Let me tell you something,” Odom said as he used his glove to tell his trainer Kennie Johnson to lean in close. “I’m letting him build up confidence. It’s going to help him open up.”
Odom proved true to his word as a huge counter right snapped the trap shut and left Jackson crumpled along the ropes. Jackson tried to regain his feet but couldn’t do so as Mercante stopped his count at seven. Odom’s third-round surge (21 of 47 overall, 20 of 50 power) enabled him to take a 58-57 lead in overall connects and a 52-36 advantage in landed power shots in a bout in which defense was at a premium (Jackson led 40%-35% overall and 38%-14% jabs but Odom prevailed 43%-42% in power precision). That said, the dramatic sight of Odom’s finishing blow and Jackson’s broken frame superseded the statistics.
“I saw the right hand,” Odom said in the Showtime release. “I was throwing combinations and I saw the opening and landed a good shot. As opposed to the last couple fights, I am in a great place physically, mentally and spiritually. I have a great team around me. We are unbreakable.”
“He threw the punch at the right time and caught me,” Jackson said. “I was OK but the referee stopped the fight. I felt up until that point I was boxing well and winning every round.”
That may be but, given his parentage, Jackson knows better than most that, in boxing, an insurmountable lead can be overcome by a single punch. Unfortunately for him, he was on the wrong end of the equation for the second consecutive fight.
Andy and I began packing our belongings moments after the final numbers for Lopez-Reynoso were aired and our getaway from ringside was an extraordinarily quick one. We stopped for a quick serving of pizza and soda, after which we walked to his newly purchased Subaru. I had asked him earlier to drive me to the Rainmaker Garage, so I could avoid another lengthy sore-footed walk in dress shoes and, Andy being Andy, he did so, dropping me off at the garage entrance. I took the elevator up to the fourth floor and, within moments, I was inside my own vehicle.
I programmed the address of the crew hotel into the GPS but I already knew which route I wanted to take – Connecticut 2 to Exit 90 on I-95 South. I just needed the Magellan to guide me through the final few turns but the device insisted I take alternate routes. For one of the few times in the last decade, I openly defied the commands emitted by the device’s female voice, who calmly (and repeatedly) asked me to “when possible, make a legal U-turn.” After the fourth request, I pressed the “off” switch and left it out of the loop until I arrived on I-95 South. Once I turned the switch back on, the Magellan quickly recalculated its proximity and informed me of my location in relation to Exit 90. Just like that, adversary had turned into ally.
I arrived at the hotel shortly before 1:30 a.m. and was in my room five minutes later. I still had work to do as I needed to upload the stats from each of the four TV fights to the company’s central database and, thanks to Andy’s round-by-round sheets, I completed the task in less than 30 minutes. As usual, it took me a while to wind down enough to turn out the lights, which I did a few minutes before 3 a.m.
Saturday, July 23: Following a somewhat restful slumber, I stirred awake a few minutes before my target time of 8 a.m. After getting ready for the day, I pulled back the curtains and saw a cloudless sun-drenched morning, the perfect backdrop to what I hoped would be an uneventful 80-minute drive to Bradley International Airport in Hartford. The route home was nothing unusual: A 1:30 p.m. flight from Hartford to Philadelphia, a 4:05 bird from Philly to Pittsburgh and a two-and-half hour drive home to Friendly. If all went well, I’d be at home at 8:30 p.m., a half-hour before the Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol pay-per-view telecast.
To account for potential traffic issues, I opted to leave the hotel at 9:30 a.m. If all proceeded smoothly (there’s that caveat again), I’d arrive at the airport around 11 a.m., two hours before my boarding time, but, if I ran into snags, I would still have enough of a cushion to get by. Such are the ways of an inveterate planner and a devoted early bird.
As it turned out, I couldn’t have asked for a smoother drive. I turned on the ignition at 9:27 a.m. and the massive traffic jams that marked Thursday’s inbound drive were completely absent. In fact, I made such good time that I theoretically could have boarded the Philadelphia flight that immediately preceded my own – and better yet, that flight was set to leave from the same gate. And, if I were able to pull off this switch, perhaps I also could secure an earlier flight back to Pittsburgh. Alas, the plan didn’t come to fruition; the gate agent said the 11:43 a.m. flight to Philly was oversold. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
To pass the time, I bought a turkey sandwich, chips and soda at D’Angelo’s Sandwich Shop, after which I returned to the gate and caught up on my writing.
The boarding process began on time but, once we arrived on the runway, we were kept there an extra 30 minutes. The possible cause: High winds at both Hartford and Philadelphia that caused considerable turbulence on ascent and descent. The lateness of our exit worried my seatmate, an older woman who used the delay to finish knitting a vest for her adult son. She said her connection window had narrowed dangerously and, once we landed, I learned by how much: We landed at exactly 3 p.m. – five minutes before her scheduled boarding time.
I tried to clear the way for her as best as I could; I retrieved her roller board from the overhead bin and let her get in front of me on the aisle. It did little good because everyone in front of us held their ground.
Before we left the plane, I asked her where she was flying. “Myrtle Beach,” she replied.
“OK, I’ll look on the flight monitor to see how close your gate is to B13 (our arrival gate).
As we exited the aircraft, I spotted the words “Myrtle Beach” and “Departs: 3:35 p.m.” on the monitor situated 30 feet in front of us.
“Is that your flight?” I asked.
“Yes it is,” she said.
“Well how about that? You’re at your gate and they haven’t started boarding yet,” I said. “You have nothing to worry about.”
How fortunate was that? Meanwhile the delay had tightened my own connection window and, in terms of gate proximity, I wasn’t nearly as lucky; my gate was C -17, a full concourse away. Still, my situation wasn’t nearly as dire as my seatmate’s and, with a little help of my power-walking stride, I reached my connecting gate with 18 minutes to spare.
Fate, along with Mother Nature, would intervene. After boarding the aircraft and rolling onto the runway, we weren’t able to proceed. The reason: A thunderstorm cell was approaching the area and that cell occasionally spat out lightning. Thus, we stayed where we were while air traffic control tried to deal with those planes that were in the middle of their departure and arrival protocols.
In all we stayed on the runway for two hours and two minutes before we finally received the all-clear from the tower. At least I spent my down time productively; I dug out the laptop and made progress on my writing, after which I alternated between resting my eyes and reading. Also, the pilot did an excellent job of keeping us informed as well as marshaling his fuel so that the aircraft wouldn’t have to return to the gate.
The ascent and descent weren’t nearly as turbulent as the pilot had suggested and we landed in Pittsburgh at 6:50 p.m., nearly 90 minutes later than anticipated.
Then there was the matter of getting back to my own car, which, if you recall in Part One, was parked in the furthest reaches of the parking lot. Instead of walking, I chose to wait for the shuttle bus. Once again, the theme of this trip – patience – kicked in. The bus didn’t arrive until 20 minutes later but I passed the time by chatting with another hopeful passenger who happened to be standing a few feet away. He had just returned from a meeting in Fort Myers, Florida, and was eager to get back to his vehicle.
The area near the 15N sign in the extended parking lot was the fourth stop the bus made and, after stowing my belongings on the front seat, I made a couple of “I’m all right” calls to CompuBox President Bob Canobbio and my family. It was 7:37 p.m. when I finally turned on the ignition, which meant, if I drove in my customary fashion, I’d be home at 10:07.
The time when I pulled into the driveway: 10:06. It was a predictable end to a most unpredictable journey home.
Although my patience was tested more than a few times, I never lost the underlying joy that is always present on these trips. Even nine years into my current professional incarnation, I have never forgotten where I came from – and I’ve never forgotten the stresses that came with it. Yes, I’m busier than ever but at least my work is directly connected with my passion in life and, for that, I’m forever grateful.
As of this writing, my next trip will be to Rochester, New York for another ShoBox telecast. There, heavyweights Jarrell Miller and Fred Kassi will top the card, which will be supported by crossroads bouts between bantamweights Nikolay Potapov and Antonio Nieves as well as welterweights Bakhtiyar Eyubov and Karim Mayfield.
Until next time, 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].