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The Travelin’ Man returns to Cincinnati…again: Part one

Fighters Network
21
Feb

 

 

Friday, Feb. 17: The mountainous to-do list that awaited me when I returned from Miami, Oklahoma six days earlier was whittled to a manageable level, so, by the time this day arrived, I was in a good frame of mind to begin the second leg of my “traveler’s tripleheader.” The destination was Cincinnati, Ohio, the site of the following night’s “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader. Topping the bill would be a 10-round welterweight bout pitting Adrien Broner against former sparring partner Adrian Granados, a bout that was, until recently, contracted for 142 pounds. Supporting it would be a defense by WBA “world” welterweight titlist (unrecognized by THE RING magazine) David Avanesyan against onetime 140-pound titleholder Lamont Peterson and a 10-round light heavyweight contest between 2012 U.S. Olympian Marcus Browne and recent title challenger Thomas Williams Jr.

This was my first trip to Cincinnati since October 2015, when Broner won his fourth divisional crown (the vacant WBA super lightweight title) by stopping ex-champ Khabib Allakhverdiev with 37 seconds remaining, in a fight he commanded from start to finish. That success, however, was followed by waves of turmoil, both personally and professionally. That adversity may well have delivered him to a better place in his life but to understand how far he needed to go to get there, a recounting of past events is necessary.



Six months after beating Allakhverdiev, Broner lost his title on the scale and fought Ashley Theophane in Washington, D.C., knowing there were two outstanding arrest warrants connected to an incident outside a Madisonville, Ohio bowling alley on Jan. 21, 2016. After Broner stopped Theophane in round nine, “The Problem” fulfilled his end of the deal reached with Ohio authorities by returning to the state and turning himself in the following Monday. He served 10 days in jail later in April for violating the terms of his probation stemming from a 2015 DUI arrest.

Broner was free on bond while awaiting his July trial for the bowling alley episode but, on trial day, he didn’t show up to the courthouse in a timely fashion. That prompted Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman to issue an arrest warrant and, after an ill-looking Broner showed up around noon, impose a 30-day jail sentence for contempt of court. Worse yet for Broner, Ruehlman (according to the story posted on Cincinnati.com) said he might have dismissed all charges had the boxer arrived in court at the appointed time but, because he thought Broner was suffering from a hangover instead of an illness, as the boxer claimed, he chose not to rescind the contempt charge.

“To coin a little boxing phrase: You’re not ducking this one,” the judge said.

For years, observers had been wondering when – or if – Broner would experience a day of reckoning, when he would finally decide to confront himself and the way he had led his life. If his Twitter account was any indicator, that day was reached last July 18. At 11:39 a.m., Broner wrote, “Today will be the DAY I change everything about my lifestyle, at this point of my life.”

Broner served the contempt sentence, after which he was scheduled to face the bowling alley charges on Sept. 21. But when the alleged victim failed to show up at the Hamilton County courthouse, all charges against Broner were dropped.

Just like that, “The Problem’s” latest round of legal problems disappeared.

But while his legal issues were settled, he still had to address his highly polarizing reputation among boxing people. His over-the-top “About Billions” boastfulness crossed numerous lines and rendered him toxic to boxers, media and fans alike. The legal woes only reinforced that negative image, though his alarming social media posts that hinted at suicide did spark concern for his overall well-being. The hard reality was Broner had to start at Square One if he were to eventually transform how he was perceived.

Such metamorphoses have been achieved before, with George Foreman’s being the most notable. Foreman was once thought to be – with good reason – a menacing, unapproachable, monosyllabic monster but when he re-launched his boxing career, following a 10-year retirement mostly spent in ministry, “Big George” had shown himself to be a changed man, not just spiritually but in how he dealt with the public. The conventional afro, sullen attitude and sculpted physique were replaced with a shaven head, a sunny disposition and a rounded body that seemed unprepared for exercise in general, much less prime-time boxing. The contrasts between the “old young George” and the “new old George” were stunning, intriguing, curious and captivating.

The first few years of the comeback projected a circus-like atmosphere as Foreman entertained the masses with his cheeseburger jokes and inspired them with his life-isn’t-finished-at-40 message. But he followed the folly with knockouts that helped consolidate his new brand. The first inkling that he might produce concrete accomplishments occurred after he spectacularly flattened Gerry Cooney with a highlight reel combination in round two. Five fights later, Foreman pushed the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield harder than anyone had a right to expect before losing a 12-round decision.

“He got the points but I made a point,” Foreman said afterward.

All hope seemed lost for Foreman after Tommy Morrison out-boxed him over 12 rounds to capture the vacant WBO belt in June 1993 but Foreman’s dream was rekindled when freshly-crowned champion Michael Moorer agreed to risk his WBA and IBF titles against him. We all know what happened on the night of Nov. 5, 1994: After losing virtually every moment of the preceding nine rounds, the 45-year-old Foreman nailed Moorer with a flush one-two to the jaw that drove the young champion to the floor in round 10. Moments later, Foreman’s improbable fairy tale reached its ultimate climax. The roars that accompanied referee Joe Cortez’s count were matched globally by those watching on TV.

As Foreman knelt in front of a corner pad and gave thanks to God, the rebuilding process was 100 percent complete. The public at large had been convinced of his attitude adjustment years before he stopped Moorer but the Moorer triumph allowed him to back up his behavioral transformation with a singular feat that cemented his place in sporting and cultural lore.

Nearly a quarter-century later, Foreman remains one of sport’s most beloved figures and, thanks to his association with the “George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine,” he is a millionaire many times over. It is a life no one could have ever conceived for Foreman in the 1970s but because he put in the hard work of rewiring his behavior and following through with excellent athletic performances, he successfully authored a new reality. That new reality should be Broner’s objective now.

The lead-up to the Granados fight represented the first tiny steps in that mission. Just as Foreman peeled away the hardest layers of his previous persona, Broner projected a humbler, more relaxed and increasingly personable side. His demeanor during a recent appearance on Showtime raised eyebrows and he continued that trend during final remarks before the Granados fight.

“I know everyone is used to me coming up here and being boastful,” he said at a pre-fight presser. “That’s not me anymore. I have a lot of respect for Adrian Granados and he’s a great fighter. A businessman that can fight: That’s what I am nowadays. I’m not a sh*t-talker anymore. I’m a businessman that knows how to fight.”

Before he fought Carlos Molina in May 2014, he mockingly projected a meeker persona before launching into some vintage Broner invective. Here, there was no mockery. At least in this moment, this was a different Adrien Broner. The question now is whether Broner can emulate the other half of the Foreman formula: Performing well in the ring.

Although Granados was a 2 ½-to-1 underdog coming in, he was a viable candidate to spring an upset. That’s because he did just that two fights ago when he stopped the previously undefeated Amir Imam in eight rounds and he came achingly close to upending Brad Solomon, who was very fortunate to escape with a 10-round split decision in May 2015. In that bout, Granados out-landed Solomon in all categories (279-197 overall, 40-13 jabs, 239-184 power), was the stronger fighter in the final three rounds and shook the contender in the final round.

But while “El Tigre” brings plenty of heat, he is consistently inconsistent. He averaged a robust 112.1 punches per round against Marc Salser (TKO 6), 90.6 against Solomon and 92.1 against Imam but he was out-hustled by Kermit Cintron (48.7 per round for Cintron, 44.1 for Granados) and he suffered two knockdowns in a draw against Felix Diaz. Unfortunately for Granados, his defensive numbers have been perennially sub-par, especially in terms of power punches absorbed – 48% vs. Imam, 40% vs. Diaz, 44% vs. Soloman and 49% of Salser’s. Against a sharpshooter like Broner, who landed 46% of his power shots in his last five CompuBox-tracked fights, that’s a recipe for disaster, especially when fighting in Broner’s hometown and when Broner is highly familiar with his style, thanks to their sparring sessions.

When I visited Cincinnati in 2015, I speculated that Broner might have begun to turn the corner, based on his subdued pre-fight behavior and the fact he weighed under the championship limit. Subsequent events proved me (and many others) wrong and, based on that history, there’s a strong possibility I could be wrong now. At 27, Broner is at the crossroads of his life, boxing and otherwise. By 27, we pretty much become what we will be attitude-wise for the rest of our lives unless a striking life event forces a seismic shift. Although I’ve never met Broner face-to-face, I’ve always sensed there was a good person underneath all the bluster. In that spirit, I hope he will be successful in rebuilding his life in every way.

*

 

As was the case with previous trips to Cincinnati, I chose to drive instead of fly. After all, why drive two-and-a-half hours to Pittsburgh to catch a plane when I’m already a third of the way there sitting in my own driveway? Because the MapQuest directions indicated the drive would be four hours in length, I chose to leave shortly after 10 a.m., with the goal of arriving shortly after 2 p.m., two hours before my call time at the Cintas Center on the Xavier University campus.

Unlike last time, when the ice was so thick that removing it broke all but two teeth on my ice scraper, the weather upon my departure was brilliant: Sunny skies and a temperature in the low-40s that promised to rise well into the 50s.

The first indicator that all wouldn’t be smooth was when I punched in the destination on the Magellan GPS and it indicated that the drive would last five hours, not four. Even if that were the case, I’d still get to the hotel by 3 and would have enough time to check in and unpack before leaving for the venue.

The second indicator occurred on Interstate 71 a mile from Exit 55 when, as was the case last week, during my initial drive from home to Pittsburgh, all traffic slowed dramatically. Thankfully, the cause wasn’t a multi-car pileup but changes in the traffic pattern that narrowed the available lanes by one and required those in the “good” lanes to make way for the ones stuck in the “bad” lanes. Cooperation is often in short supply on the highway because each driver is fueled by self-interest – getting to one’s destination – and giving ground to someone else is usually in conflict with that goal. While some (like me) are willing to allow a car in, others choose to get on with their business, decency be damned. Hence, the hold-up.

Traffic thickened again as I neared the Cincinnati city limits. Then, to my consternation, I discovered my intended exit was closed due to construction. Thus, I was forced to improvise, which, as longtime readers of “The Travelin’ Man” know, almost always means bad news for me.

That news got even worse, once I entered downtown because my Magellan GPS tends to freeze when I drive between tall buildings. That plunged me into what I call “scratch and sniff” driving: Craning my neck and squinting my eyes to read street signs while also making sure I successfully navigated the one-way streets so prevalent in inner-city driving. My hesitation, at points, caused the natives behind me to honk their horns in irritation.

“Thanks for the criticism, guys,” I thought. “I’m sure that will help me drive better.”

I somehow found the crew hotel but, because it was just 20 minutes before my call time, I was forced to delay my check-in until after I returned from the venue. But, before I left the hotel area, I got out of the car and asked a hotel employee about parking options. He told me the hotel had valet parking only but I could park across the street, if I wished. I told him that, for the sake of convenience, I would choose the valet option, once I returned.

With the GPS no longer a viable option, I dug out the Showtime production memo and used those directions to guide me to the Cintas Center, which I found without much trouble. Even with all my navigational issues, I had missed my call time by less than 10 minutes and no one in the production truck seemed concerned when they saw me.

The pre-fight testing with Sports Media’s Jeremy Thelen was completed flawlessly and the format meeting held inside Xavier’s press-room took about an hour to finish. With no directions describing the way back to the hotel, I scratched-and-sniffed my way back to the stadium area, where I knew the hotel was near. Then, on a whim, I turned the GPS on and it worked just long enough to guide me to the correct street.

After getting my valet ticket and checking into my 12th floor room, I made a few “I’m all right” phone calls, ordered room service and relaxed for the remainder of the evening. I received a text from punch-counting partner (and former boxer) Dennis Allen that indicated he had just landed. In light of my issues getting around, I asked Dennis if he could assume driving duties the next day, duties that are usually performed by the lead operator. Graciously, and to my great relief, he said yes.

Shortly after midnight, I turned out the lights and ended yet another adventuresome travel day.

 

 

Saturday, Feb. 18: I arose after seven hours of in-and-out slumber, after which I spent much of the morning on the laptop chronicling the events of the previous day. Once I got to a good stopping point, I headed downstairs in search of a light lunch and to peruse the premises. The hotel pickings were a bit slim, so I ventured outside and walked for about 20 minutes. I stopped by the Saigon Subs and Rolls and purchased a small cup of Coke Zero, then returned to my room to get some more work done.

At 1:45, I began packing my belongings and took the elevator down to the lobby to await Dennis’ arrival. I am an inveterate early bird; if I am asked to be somewhere at 2 p.m., I usually arrive 10 minutes early because I find comfort in being where I need to be long before I need to be there. The previous day, I showed up at the format meeting 15 minutes early, which not only allowed me to fulfill my objective but, being the first to arrive, enabled me to pick the best seat for me.

Moments after texting Dennis, my location he arrived in the lobby – five minutes early. Better yet, his rental car was already waiting in front of the hotel and we arrived at the Cintas Center well before our 2:30 p.m. call time. Security was tight at the entrance, as both our laptop bags were searched and our names sought from a master list. Once we were authenticated, we were given our credentials and allowed onto the arena floor.

All was up and running at our work station, less than 30 minutes after our arrival, which meant we had nearly six hours to kill before the show. I spent a good chunk of that time chatting with Jesse Carradine, a man of many trades: Amateur and professional boxing coach, a sanitation engineer for the city and the owner of three mattress stores, as well as a convenience outlet. Among the fighters the father of four trained was Aaron Pryor Jr. and Tommy Ayers Jr., the son of the former welterweight contender.

We chatted about issues big and small and, from time to time, a local boxing person would stop and say hello. It soon became clear that Jesse was a well-regarded person in his sphere of influence, for every person greeted him with a smile, handshake, a good word or, most often, all three. I observed that he bore a strong facial resemblance to former heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles, a man for whom a street is named in his native Cincinnati.

Because a scheduled six-rounder between undefeated Cincinnati super welterweight Jamontay Clark and Detroit veteran Lanardo Tyner was scrapped, the undercard consisted of a trio of scheduled four- round fights. The first saw onetime amateur standout and Cincinnati native Desmond Jarman destroy South Bend, Indiana’s Lucas Burger with a left hook to the jaw that caused him to spectacularly spin to his right and fall on his face. The time of the KO: 29 seconds. Not a bad way for Jarman to begin his professional boxing career.

Next up was Atlanta lightweight Trakwon Pettis, who outpointed squat southpaw Mike Fowler of Milwaukee in shut-out fashion to raise his ledger to 4-1 (1) and erode Fowler’s to 5-6-1 (2). The final pre-TV bout saw Indianapolis light heavyweight Curtis Hill Jr. advance his record to 10-0 (5) by polishing off Columbus, Ohio’s Cory Dulaney (5-4-1, 1) in 66 seconds.

A marvelous rendition of the National Anthem set the table for the televised portion of the card, which promised intriguing, and potentially explosive, action.

*

 

 

 

 

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 email [email protected].

 

 

 

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