The Travelin’ Man returns to Miami, Oklahoma … again: Part II
Friday, Sept. 23 (continued): When I looked at the bout sheet, I knew this would be no three-hour plus marathon edition of ‘ShoBox.’ In fact, all four fights had the potential to be concise and combustible affairs. Always guessing on the conservative side, I predicted the quadruple-header would complete 23 of the 34 scheduled rounds while colleague Andy Kasprzak – always one to lead with his heart – guessed 17.
Neither of us was right but Andy was more right than I was as the contests logged 19 rounds of action. But here’s the twist: One of the fights that appeared to be a surefire knockout was the only one that went the distance (Ivan Baranchyk UD 10 Wang Zhimin), while the one bout most said would go the whole way went two seconds past the halfway point (Radivoje Kalajdzic TKO 5 Travis Peterkin). That’s just another example of why boxing has such a strong hold on me; while all the perceived “A-side” fighters won, the manner in which they achieved victory was hardly predictable.
First up was welterweight Ivan Golub, who was seeking his seventh straight knockout against James Stevenson, whose nickname of “Keep ’em Sleepin’” is one of the sport’s more original monikers (an aside: When I took part in my ESPN crew fight night bout several years ago, I dubbed myself “The Red Menace” in honor of my blazing red hair). A ninth-round TKO loss to Sammy Vasquez removed the word “undefeated” from his resume and sparked a 2-2 slide. Stevenson wasn’t given the chance to apply his three-inch reach advantage as Golub, who was thought to be a slow starter, instead unleashed 75 punches in round one and averaged 81 for the fight, which ended by third-round TKO. A right hook scored the only knockdown and a follow-up flurry prompted referee Gerald Ritter to intervene at the 2:51 mark.
The stats were as lopsided as the fight itself as Golub prevailed 78-27 overall, 23-5 jabs and 55-22 power, while also being the more accurate hitter in all phases (32%-17% overall, 23%-6% jabs, 38%-28% power). Golub’s body-punching was superb as he registered 33 connects overall and most of his 27 body connects were achieved with straight lefts.
Next up was the fight everyone inside the Buffalo Run Casino wanted to see – Trey Lippe-Morrison’s national TV debut against Pittsburgh’s Ed Latimore. Though Morrison matched his father’s 11-0 (11) start, the 13-0 Latimore was his best opponent to date – and maybe his smartest as he possesses a reported 152 I.Q. But while boxing is a thinking man’s game, power is the surest shortcut to stardom. Lippe-Morrison proved that to be true as an early right to the temple shook Latimore, while a heavier one moments later scored the first knockdown. Latimore arose but two rights followed by a scorching hook dropped him a second time. Latimore regained his feet again but the follow-up barrage forced referee Gary Ritter (twin brother of Gerald) to stop the contest just 139 seconds after it began.
Lippe-Morrison landed 25 of his 60 punches, including 20 of his 29 power shots (69%) while Latimore was 14 of 51 overall (27%) and 8 of 27 in power shots (30%). Six months earlier, Lippe-Morrison was described to me as “strong but not technically sound” but, in this fight, his punches were delivered with speed, leverage, balance and power. It was obvious that Lippe-Morrison has benefited greatly from working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach and, at age 26, he is still climbing toward his athletic zenith.
There are flaws that still need to be addressed but his punching technique has improved to the point where, as analyst Steve Farhood aptly pointed out, “He looks like a fighter” and not a former football player. I even spotted a few echoes of dad Tommy “The Duke” Morrison himself, which should be taken as a high compliment.
The last time most viewers saw Baranchyk was last March in Miami, Oklahoma, when he destroyed previously unbeaten Nicholas Givhan in just 21 seconds. Not much was known about his opponent – China’s Wang Zhimin – except that he participated in the World Series of Boxing and that he sported a 7-0 (3) record but, based on Baranchyk’s recent performances, one had to think another blowtorch performance was in the offing. That impression was furthered by his elaborate ring entrance that included glow-in-the-dark masks, a Satanic voice that declared, “I’m coming for you,” as well as a steel cage.
Of all the fights on this card, Baranchyk-Zhimin peeled back the most layers. Baranchyk proved he could fight energetically from first bell to 10th – he accelerated his pace from 83 per round in the first five rounds to 85 in rounds 6-10, including a fight-high 92 in the final round – and to do so while experiencing the mild adversity of a cut over the left eye in round five. Also, Baranchyk’s jab was exceptional as he averaged 13.7 connects per round – more than double the division average – and registered double-digit connects in nine of the 10 rounds. Finally, Baranchyk’s punches landed with a percussive crispness that could be heard through the headsets.
Despite the loss, Zhimin proved himself to be a rugged competitor blessed with an effective jab (29.1 thrown/8.5 connects per round), nimble movement, excellent stamina and an iron chin. He also revealed that Baranchyk, while effective on offense (291-175 overall, 137-85 jabs, 154-90 power and accuracy ratings of 35% overall, 28% jabs and 44% power) has issues on defense, as Zhimin landed 34% overall, 29% jabs and especially 41% power. That may be just a byproduct of his high-octane approach but he’ll need to improve those numbers to optimize his chances against the harder hitters.
That said, Baranchyk performed well and proved he is worthy of another step up the ladder. I hope I’ll be at ringside to count it.
As mentioned in Part One, many believe light heavyweight Radivoje Kalajdzic should have gotten the decision against 2012 U.S. Olympian Marcus Browne (even though Browne led 105-101 overall and 52-20 jabs to offset Kalajdzic’s 81-53 lead in power connects) and, from the opening bell, the Florida-based Bosnian fought with a decided chip on his shoulder. He took the fight to Travis Peterkin from the jump and the backpedaling New Yorker was unable to conjure the proper response. Kalajdzic’s volume (54 per round to Peterkin’s 31), consistent aggression and superior power only made the defensively-minded Peterkin even more so and by round four, the ringside commentators questioned his desire to continue fighting.
A right-left scored the first knockdown of round five and a right-left-right dropped Peterkin heavily near the neutral corner pad moments later, persuading referee Gerald Ritter to wave off the fight.
The numbers were as overwhelming as Kalajdzic’s performance, for he led 96-25 overall, 29-5 jabs and 67-20 power as well as 39%-16% overall, 31%-9% jabs and 45%-21% power. Kalajdzic reached double-digit connects overall in every round (21, 15, 17, 23 and 20), while Peterkin failed to reach that threshold a single time (6, 4, 8, 6 and 1).
“I wanted to make a statement in this fight and I did,” Kalajdzic was quoted in the Showtime press release. “I want the biggest names in the light heavyweight division but, before that, I want Marcus Browne again. That is unfinished business for me. If he really thinks he won the fight, then let’s do it again. We could fight next week. I’m ready.”
So are we. But will Browne tempt fate a second time? His spirit may be willing but the guess here is his management will step in and say, “Thanks but no thanks.”
Shortly after arriving at the venue, Andy gave his rental car keys to someone else on the crew so that crew member could make his flight the next morning, which made me Andy’s ride back to the hotel. Since Andy had an early morning flight, we left ringside just after the closing credits. Once I uploaded the stats into the master database, I grabbed a quick snack from the lobby’s mini-mart and turned out the light shortly after 2 a.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24: This time, my five-and-a-half-hour slumber was much more restful and, after getting ready for the day, I checked out of the hotel and began the long drive toward Tulsa and its airport at 8:33 a.m. with the hope of getting there sometime after 10. The weather was beautiful: Sunny skies, a temperature in the high-70s and only a hint of humidity.
Because the directions from hotel to airport on the production memo were so straightforward – all I really needed to do was to get on I-44 West and follow the signs – I decided to leave the Magellan inside my clothes bag. And no, I didn’t get lost.
Driving in Oklahoma challenges one’s ability to remain focused. First, the roads are so straight, one can drive miles before having to make even a mild turn. Second, even though the speed limit on I-44 is 75 miles-per-hour, one still has to keep a sharp eye on the speedometer because one can easily drift up into the 80s and 90s due to roads far smoother than I experience in West Virginia. Finally, I couldn’t help but admire the scenery around me that included neatly rolled-up bales of hay, dozens of farmhouses and even more livestock. Oklahoma is unquestionably part of the world’s breadbasket and I am certainly thankful for the bounty those farms produce for us on a daily basis.
With my gas tank now nearly half-empty, I filled up at a QT facility a few miles from the airport and arrived at my destination just after 10 a.m. But when I dropped off the Altima, the Avis employee told me he couldn’t print out a full receipt because I had “excess mileage.” That struck me as strange because most of my mileage was devoted to driving from Tulsa to Miami and back.
When I reached the counter, the source of the error was found and all was made right with a few keystrokes. The TSA Pre-check security screening proceeded flawlessly and, within a few minutes, I settled into my seat at Gate A-9 with my version of breakfast: A turkey sandwich, a small bag of Cheez-Its and a Coke Zero. Not ideal but certainly filling.
Not long after I finished, I received a pleasant surprise in the form of ring announcer Thomas Treiber, whose route to San Antonio, Texas would begin with the same 12:25 p.m. Tulsa-to-Dallas flight as mine. Just before his arrival, however, we both received a call from American Airlines that the departure time would be pushed back to 1 p.m. and, by the time, we decided to seek out the gate agent, the monitor indicated a 1:20 p.m. departure, which suddenly shifted back to 1:10. Still, our connection windows were all but shattered.
Thankfully, that status didn’t last long. A few minutes after Thomas had his itinerary reworked, the same was done for me. I now had a seat on a 1:41 p.m. flight to Charlotte, after which, I would take a 5:07 p.m. bird to Pittsburgh. If all went well, I’d arrive home at 10:30 p.m., about two hours later than originally planned.
With extra time to burn, I spent it at Thomas’ gate (which was located just 200 feet from mine). We were soon joined by Team Zhimin, which included trainer/cutman Lenny DeJesus, a retired locksmith who has been in the sport in one capacity or another for more than five decades. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, which included names like Brinatty Maquillon and touched on various other boxing-related subjects. Both of us would have loved to talk even longer than we did but I had to break it off in order to get to my gate.
My seatmate on the Tulsa-to-Charlotte flight was a woman whom was flying for only the second time in 20 years and whom never needed to make a connecting flight. Once we deplaned, I guided her through the process of checking the monitor for her flight to Augusta, Georgia, as well as helping her locate her gate, which was just a few hundred feet down the hallway. It was a good thing her gate was so close because she arrived just eight minutes before her scheduled boarding time.
As for me, I had a longer walk ahead of me – from Gates E-32 to C-7 – but I still made it with seven minutes to spare, at least according to the monitor. In reality, it was far more than that.
That said, I spent my time wisely. I spotted someone who I thought looked like Latimore at the gate counter and I saw his boarding pass fall out of his bag. I picked it up and gave it to him, a gesture which he appreciated but, because I still wasn’t sure who he was, I didn’t strike up a conversation. Only after seeing trainer Tom Yankello with him, who I did recognize, did I come over and introduce myself.
Our mutual love of boxing instantly broke the ice and, as it turned out, Tom’s brother Mark (who has served as a manager, agent and matchmaker) is a fan of the “Travelin’ Man” series. The third member of Team Latimore was Morgan “Big Chief” Fitch, a 33-year-old Pittsburgh middleweight whose 17-0-1 (8) record seems perfectly suited for a future episode of ShoBox.
Latimore had no excuses for the defeat, saying he simply was caught with a punch he didn’t see. He was pleasantly surprised by the feedback he received from social media, which was largely supportive and encouraging, and he vowed to learn from the defeat and move forward. In short, he projected the perfect attitude.
Even better was the fact that all our seats were in close proximity – Mark was seated directly across from me on the aisle; Tom and Ed were situated in the row in front of me, while Morgan was two rows up – and thus the conversation ensued for the remainder of the flight.
Although the way home was greatly altered, I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable trip.
When I started the car to begin my drive back to West Virginia, I predicted I would arrive at the house at 10:30 p.m. According to my car’s clock, the car came to rest two seconds after turning over to 10:30.
I hate being tardy.
As of this writing, I have no idea when or where my next trip will be. So while I’ll be home for an extended time, that won’t stop me from enjoying each day I am given.
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].
Struggling to locate a copy of RING magazine? Try here or…
You can subscribe to the print and digital editions of RING magazine by clicking the banner or here. You can also order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page. On the cover this month: Sugar Ray Leonard