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The Travelin’ Man goes to Temecula, California: Part two

Justin DeLoach (right) overwhelmed fellow junior middleweight prospect Chris Pearson in the second round of their ShoBox main event on Feb. 24, 2017, in Temecula, California. Photo by Esther Lin / SHOWTIME
Fighters Network
10
Mar

Please click here for Part One.

 

Saturday, Feb. 25 (continued): They say a bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly because its wings are too small for its body.

They say a 5-foot-7 person shouldn’t be able to dunk a basketball.



And they say a right-handed boxer can’t succeed while moving into a southpaw’s power hand.

But bumblebees do fly. Spud Webb not only dunked but did it so spectacularly that he won the NBA All-Star Game’s dunk contest in 1986. And while Roy Jones Jr. went against the “book” against lefties during his heyday, one of his worshipers, super welterweight Justin DeLoach, used Jones’ blueprint to shred Chris Pearson’s defense with lead rights, score two knockdowns in round two and finish the job shortly thereafter. His rewards: A main event victory in his latest appearance on “ShoBox: The New Generation” and a highlight-reel knockout to go with the one he scored nearly 11 months earlier against Dillon Cook.

The numbers were as lopsided as the fight itself, for DeLoach prevailed 29-4 in total connects, 3-2 in landed jabs and 26-2 in power connects. The size of the percentage gaps overall (32%-9%) and in power shots (45%-14%) were exceeded only by the upward leap in status DeLoach had just achieved.

Boxing purists correctly say orthodox fighters must move to their left for two reasons: First, to avoid running into the left-hander’s most powerful punch, the left cross, and second, to increase the likelihood that the right-hander’s lead foot is outside the southpaw’s front foot, which, because of the angles involved, would improve the righty’s chances of landing straight right hands and wide left hooks through the guard.

So how did DeLoach pull off this geometric anomaly? I have some theories, theories solidified by a post-card conversation with ShoBox analyst and former 154-pound titlist Raul Marquez.

First, DeLoach has long fought southpaws in this manner. He used this tactic last June in out-pointing Junior Castillo over eight rounds, a fight in which he scored knockdowns in rounds three (right cross/left hook) and six (straight right). The muscle memory DeLoach developed over the years ensured he was fighting within a deeply familiar and comfortable realm, while Pearson, who usually sees right-handers moving away from his left cross, was operating within a strange and unsettling environment. The difference in psychology was telling, powerful and, ultimately, definitive.

Second, the reason Pearson didn’t nail DeLoach with left crosses is because he is a natural right-hander, who just happens to fight out of the southpaw stance. Thus, his right hook, not his straight left, is his most dangerous punch and, because of that, DeLoach was moving away from Pearson’s power hand, just not the one owned by most southpaws. That’s why DeLoach got away with strategic murder.

Finally, DeLoach was simply the better all-around fighter, who was at a better place in his career than Pearson. DeLoach had won six straight since his lone defeat, a third-round TKO against Cesar Avila, while Pearson was coming off a career-long 300-day layoff and was just two fights removed from his only loss, an overwhelming eight-round decision to Eric Walker. Additionally, Pearson had endured hardships in beating Said El-Harrak (right eye cut) and Steve Martinez (slow start), while he faded late against Lanardo Tyner, an eight-round split decision win that was changed to a no-decision after both fighters failed a post-fight drug test. One sensed it was only a matter of time before Pearson would tumble off the high wire a second time and DeLoach ended up being the one who pushed him.

In my pre-fight analysis, I thought DeLoach’s height, reach, jab, movement and one-punch power would enable him to control range and out-hustle Pearson over the long haul but instead his big punch created an impressive shortcut. As was the case following his crushing KO over Cook, DeLoach has positioned himself for bigger and better opportunities in the immediate future. As for Pearson, he was fearful of what might happen to his career, should he pick up another defeat. Unfortunately for him, he is about to find out.

The co-feature was the last of the three televised fights to be assembled as Oscar Bravo was penciled in to face unbeaten local favorite Saul Rodriguez just days before the telecast. One would have thought that Bravo wouldn’t be able to offer much offensive resistance, given that he hadn’t fought in the last 13 months and had lost three of his last four. Once the bell sounded, however, the Chilean, who had never won a pro fight outside his home country, proved to be a more formidable obstacle than his resume suggested.

From the start, Bravo applied steady pressure, punched in combination and produced enough head movement to present a challenging target. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, whose body looked a bit soft following rehydration, seemed stuck in second gear. But after a strong first 20 seconds by Bravo in round two, Rodriguez found his rhythm and started hitting the South American with heavier blows, especially to the body. The third and fourth rounds were even better for Rodriguez, as he did a better job of keeping Bravo at bay with a busy but inaccurate jab (4 of 27 in rounds two and three, 3 of 17 in the fourth) and belaboring him with flurries that helped him forge connect leads of 19-7 and 22-12 overall in rounds three and four.

Rodriguez’s tendency to fight in spurts wasn’t a surprise to me because, in running his fights against Ramsey Luna (W 8) and Daulis Prescott (KO 7), he produced significant statistical peaks and valleys, in terms of punch output and number of connects. In assembling statistical profiles over the past decade, I’ve learned that, over time, fighters fight in discernible patterns that can enhance one’s ability to predict the outcomes of fights. On the occasion of CompuBox’s 30th anniversary a couple of years ago, I went through my archives and found that, over an eight-year period, the pre-fight analyses correctly predicted the winner in 378 of 467 fights – an .809 winning percentage. Since the beginning of 2016, the record is 147-34-7 (.782) and if one excludes the seven draws (most of which didn’t reflect the “eye test” winner) the winning percentage is .812. Not bad at all.

Just when it appeared Rodriguez had settled in, he was toppled. An overhand right to the jaw by Bravo caused Rodriguez to stumble into the corner pad located almost directly in front of me, then fall to the canvas for the first time in his pro career. Like hundreds of other fighters who have appeared on ShoBox over the years, Rodriguez was snatched away from his comfort zone and forced to call upon previously untapped (and unnecessary) resources.

Rounds six through nine were competitive but Bravo held the overall connect edge in three of those rounds and prevailed 88-72 overall and 82-59 power to close within nine overall connects and tie Rodriguez in landed power punches. Therefore, it appeared the final result remained in doubt entering the final three minutes.

In crunch time, Rodriguez was able to produce like the prospect he is thought to be, for, in round 10, he nearly matched Bravo shot-for-shot (58 punches thrown to Bravo’s 62) but out-landed him 22-12 overall, 8-0 jabs and 14-12 in power shots while also being more accurate in all phases (38%-19% overall, 28%-0% jabs and 48%-24% power).

The decision was split as Carla Caiz saw Rodriguez ahead 95-94 while Tony Crebs saw it 95-94 for Bravo. The deciding card belonged to Jerry Cantu, who somehow gave Rodriguez a wide 97-92 victory, which meant he scored eight rounds to two for the local.

The numbers supported Caiz and Crebs’ vision of a close contest because, thanks to his 10th round surge, Rodriguez emerged with leads of 174-155 overall and 35-14 jabs while Bravo prevailed 141-139 power. Rodriguez was more accurate in all phases but Bravo’s percentages suggest defense might be a future issue for the prospect (33%-31% overall, 16%-13% jabs, 46%-37% power). The round-by-round breakdowns indicated that Rodriguez out-landed Bravo 6-4 overall and in power shots, as well as 7-3 jabs, which appear to track closely with Caiz and Crebs’ perception.

Rodriguez emerged victorious in his first real gut-check fight, which, in ShoBox’s world, will probably result in an even more challenging assignment next time out. As for Bravo, his performance exceeded expectations, given the long layoff and his recent slide, in terms of record. His aggressiveness, durability and solid chin will surely net him more chances to test other up-and-comers, and if they’re not ready, Bravo will expose them.

On paper, the opening bout of the telecast between cruiserweights Andrew Tabiti and Quantis Graves appeared competitive because of their undefeated records (13-0 for Tabiti, 11-0-2 for Graves). But one didn’t need to delve much deeper to realize the ledgers were a mirage. The 27-year-old Tabiti is now in his physiological prime while the 34-year-old Graves was years past his. Tabiti owned a .846 knockout percentage while Graves’ was an anemic .308. And while Tabiti was coming off a career-long 287-day layoff and Graves a 182-day hiatus, Graves was fighting for only the second time since November 2014 and had gone 2-0-2 in his last four.

As analyst Steve Farhood noted, the competitive portion of Tabiti-Graves lasted about 15 seconds, or until a Tabiti punch bloodied Graves’ nose. From there, Tabiti administered a systematic, one-sided beating that showcased the native Chicagoan’s offensive skills but examined nothing else. A scything right to the ribs dropped Graves late in the sixth and, while the Texas-based native of New Orleans regained his feet, referee Ray Corona intelligently stopped the fight between rounds.

The numbers further illustrated the showcase nature of the contest as Tabiti led 100-15 overall, 41-5 jabs and 59-10 power as well as 43%-11% overall, 35%-6% jabs and 51%-18% power. The closest round was the third, in which Tabiti led 10-4 overall but the other rounds were almost comically lopsided (17-2 18-4, 18-2, 12-2 and 25-1 overall. Tabiti’s jab was excellent (19.3 thrown/6.8 connects per round), as was his offensive variety and elusiveness on defense.

Based on the skills and talent he showed against Graves, both of which are considerable, Tabiti’s management team should pick up the pace considerably in terms of opposition, so Tabiti won’t waste his physical prime on more record-building assignments.

*

 

 

 

As Joe Carnicelli and I packed our equipment, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and his entourage snaked their way toward our work station. Spotting us, “Money” offered his hand first to Joe, then to me, and, as we shook his hand, said, “Everyone counts. Everyone counts.” It was an obvious reference to our occupation and, to me, it was a pleasant surprise.

Joe told me he had sat across from Mayweather on at least a half-dozen occasions over the years, so it’s very likely that the future Hall-of-Famer recognized Joe and remembered his role for CompuBox. As for me, it was my first face-to-face encounter with Mayweather, so he probably doesn’t know who I am. Over the years, I have praised his otherworldly skills and criticized him for the lesser degree of difficulty he chose to assume during the second half of his career. Retirement has agreed with him but it’s hard to say whether this one, his second, will stick.

One note: For his ability to be one of only two fighters ever to cash a nine-figure check, I declared Mayweather the best ever, in terms of marketing among boxers because no other fighter, especially one who fights like Mayweather, will ever come close to duplicating the one-night haul he achieved against Manny Pacquiao. If he manages to earn the same against MMA superstar Conor McGregor – and if he manages to persuade the public to buy it in numbers that would justify and make up for the monstrous financial layout – I am willing to declare Mayweather the best salesman who has ever walked the earth.

Then again, it may also be a telling commentary on the sophistication of the general public, regarding combat sports and what they deem a worthy and competitive contest. To me, only one fight merits a second $100 million purse for Mayweather, in terms of historical significance and level of risk – THE RING magazine middleweight champion Gennady Gennadyevich Golovkin, with no catchweights.

Golovkin, for his part, is just days away from taking his own high-risk fight against Daniel Jacobs, who own the WBA’s subordinate version of the title (which remains unrecognized by THE RING while “GGG” possesses that organization’s more recognized “super” championship. For this, Golovkin will make significantly less than $100 million. That’s because GGG is part of the traditional boxing universe. As for Mayweather, he occupies a universe that is all his own – in more ways than one.

*

Joe drove us back to the hotel and, since our rooms were on different floors, we said our goodbyes there. Since I don’t work a lot of West Coast shows, I’m not sure when our next collaboration will take place. I hope it will be sometime soon.

I spent about a half-hour chronicling my initial thoughts on the card, then, knowing I needed to awaken by 4:30 a.m., turned out the lights shortly before 11 p.m.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Feb. 25: Despite an unusually deep sleep, my eyes still snapped open at 4:18 a.m. and I chose to arise seven minutes later. After getting ready for the day and packing my belongings, I programmed the location of San Diego’s airport into the Magellan, while also memorizing the first few turns of the journey off my MapQuest printout, so I would be on the right road once the device “found” me.

I left the hotel at 5:38 a.m., which was eight minutes later than planned. That’s mostly because I had to wait for my windows to defrost, thanks to the chilly 40-degree temperature.

While driving south on Interstate 15, the first signs of sunrise were in the eastern sky. As the minutes and miles passed, I came to realize that CompuBox president Bob Canobbio was right about the spellbinding scenery. At first, the mountains in the background, as well as the desert trees and other plant life in the foreground, were striking silhouettes but, as the sunlight began filling in the details, the full range of optic delights emerged. Because traffic was relatively light, I was able to appreciate the beauty that was before me.

The GPS guided me perfectly to the airport property but, as I went down a ramp, I looked up to my left and saw a sign on Exit 17B: “For rental car returns, use Sassafras Street exit.”

“Oh no,” I thought. “I was misled.”

I thought I had a saving grace: Most airports have excellent signage when it comes to detailing where to return rental cars. Unfortunately for me, San Diego is not one such airport.

At one point, I found myself in a vacant, blocked-off parking lot, at, which point, I decided to drive back toward “civilization” and hope I would be blessed with good fortune. Less than two minutes later, I saw a series of detour-type signs that led me to the rental car facility, a giant state-of-the-art stand-alone building.

As I turned in my vehicle, an Avis employee said my error was a common one.

“This building was put up last year and we’ve been telling the GPS companies to include our location,” she said. “But, for whatever reason, they still haven’t done it.”

As I boarded the rental company’s bus, I looked toward the LED display at the front of the vehicle and saw, to my horror, that the time read 7:46 a.m., just 14 minutes before my scheduled boarding time. I quickly dug out my smart phone to check the time, which, to my puzzlement, read 7:26. I then asked a woman with whom I had been chatting to break the tie. Thankfully, she had the same time I did.

Thanks to my TSA Pre-Check status, I sailed through security and arrived at my gate 10 minutes before boarding. Despite a boarding pass bearing “B-45,” meaning I would be the 105th person to board, I was able to grab an aisle seat in row 11.

With Christian Giudice’s book on Wilfredo Gomez completed, I dug into my laptop bag and began reading the second of the two books I brought with me: Springs Toledo’s second book of essays titled “In the Cheap Seats.”

From first word to last, Toledo’s book reads like prose that compares favorably to that of AJ Liebling, WC Heinz and Hugh McIlvanney, Hall -of-Famers all. In “Cheap Seats,” Toledo credibly draws direct stylistic comparisons between Jack Britton and Sergio Martinez, while also delivering another compelling case for Harry Greb being the greatest single fighter who has yet lived. He also writes essays about contemporary subjects such as Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev (who sparred with super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez) and George Zimmerman, who Toledo says would not have had to kill Trayvon Martin, had he been taught to box.

Toledo is a relatively young man with a soul from boxing’s Golden Age and that’s to his eternal credit. His craftsmanship is executed at a level few can approach, much less reach and, better yet, I could not spot a single error in his copy. For those reasons, and more, I highly recommend this book, which, to me, was a joy. Toledo is a truly gifted writer and all boxing fans would do well not only to purchase “In the Cheap Seats” and his first book “The Gods of War” but any other books he writes in the future. I know I will.

Thanks to a tailwind measuring, according to the pilot, 134 knots, we landed with a thud in Houston at 12:56 p.m. CST, 34 minutes ahead of schedule. The positive trend continued on the Houston-to-Pittsburgh leg, as I had a window seat in row 13, despite being the 50th person to board and landed at 5:54 p.m. EST, 26 minutes earlier than anticipated. The drive home, completed without incident, ended shortly before 9 p.m.

While the “Traveler’s Tripleheader” has reached its end, it won’t be long before I head out again because I am scheduled to work the March 10 ShoBox quadrupleheader in Detroit, topped by Claressa Shields-Szilvia Szabados and supported by Antonio Nieves-Nikolay Potapov, James Smith-Joshua Greer Jr. and Wesley Tucker-Edward Williams.

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 email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

 

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