Stream of consciousness: Saturday night at MSG
There wasn’t massive buzz in the air as I headed to Madison Square Garden Saturday, taking a 5:05 p.m. F train from Brooklyn to a 34th St. stop. I would be watching Terence Crawford taking on Felix Diaz, and this statement is no knock on Crawford. To the contrary, it is because Crawford is a straight-A grade talent that my buzz-meter wasn’t popping.
Felix Diaz, some said, may be the best guy on paper that Bud has faced. Well, in my video scouting, it looked to me that when the 33-year-old Diaz was having luck in past fights, it came more so when he was facing targets that would be more stationary than Crawford. Getting off on the 29-year-old Crawford is so hard, and the Dominican hadn’t met any animal like Bud, I figured. But, of course, we’d need to see how it played out. I’d predicted stoppage for the Nebraskan around round 7-9.
I exited the train, waited to see if an old lady needed help bringing her walker up some train steps, and then heard her ask a guy quicker than me offering to help if he had a few bucks to spare. No, he said, and then helped her up the stairs.
Off to get my credential. I chatted with ex-BWAA president Jack Hirsch in line and we agreed that nah, not much buzz percolating. We talked about the old days, and he noted the times they have a changed. There was a show he went to in NYC, back in 1992, which had 39 attendees. He was maybe the only media guy there. More guys, mostly internet writers, will show up these days, even if larger outlets aren’t so boxing-centric anymore.
A nice surprise when I got my cred—I was handed a voucher for $15 to spend on food and drink in the Garden. Wow. Had never seen that. Now, the Garden is a different animal in that it requests a donation in the feed the press area, when there is a feed the press area, which tonight there wasn’t, because, I think, the building was scaled for 8,600 max. To my seat I headed, on the floor. One or five folks saw me and joked about the last time I was here, for the Golovkin v Jacobs fight, when promoters shrunk the press area to half size and booted some day to day boxing media to the upper reaches, even though they left a massive hole on the floor which could have accommodated 50 more media had the set-up crew decided to go that route. In fact, I sit next to another dude who’d been bounced last time, my friend Randy Gordon, who has a radio show on Sirius with Gerry Cooney. (I in fact will do a phone hit for the show Monday night.) He’d already scored his voucher swag, sushi from the sixth floor. He’d added a drink so he had to pony up $2 bucks out of pocket.
The fights kicked off early, so I held off on getting sushi or whatever, and watched, and typed. In these situations, most of the fun for me, during slow spots, is seeing friends and acquaintances and sources. This was a Top Rank promotion, and Lee Samuels is the most gracious of souls, making press feel welcome, which isn’t always the case at some shows, so this element I enjoy. Plus, Fred Sternburg is two seats away, and he was ON this evening, savaging me with Rickles-like zest. “Musta been some mistake, you’re down on the floor, Vape,” he jested, using a nickname that I confess I recall I do not know the origin. I counter over the evening with counter-punches, most of which are inside jokes, and I won’t share, because they’d maybe hurt the feelings of fellow media or what have you.
Steve Nelson gets fighting before 6:45 p.m., the supposed kickoff time. They often start these things super early because you can’t go past midnight, or the union fees kick into ouch territory. Nelson has good power, but we will need to see how that power holds as his competition is upped.
During a lull, I chat with Top Rank matchmaker Brad Goodman, and I pick his brain about who he really likes. We both agree that Puerto Rican Henry Lebron, winner via TKO, is one to watch. Fast hands, crisp punches, a desire to scramble senses. Good stuff.
As I cut my teeth fight writing in Massachusetts, I always get an extra kick seeing a Mass. guy on a card. No, they are not usually there to stand in the favored son corner. 6-2-3 Austin Mauras, I’m not familiar with. Back in Mass, in mid 90s cards at the Roxy, promoted by Rich “Used Cars” Cappiello, they used to bring in guys from a few pipelines to put up token opposition. Springfield, Mass. was a rich vein for travelers imported to take an L, and also NY. Jose Williams and Dominic Monaco used to come to Mass. and make young-uns work to get the W. Nine times in 1995 and 1996 Dom and his hairy back came to New England and just once, our boy won. He beat Gary D’Ambrosio who coincidentally or not, didn’t fight again. Jose used to lay on the ropes, and he’d conserve energy by sitting on the second rope, looking like he was using the toilet. Thirteen times in 1995 and 1996 he came to Mass., and he picked up one win and one draw. Back to Mauras… He in the vein of Jose and Dom gave his foe work, and rounds, and took an L. The Uzbek prospect Faz Gaibnazarov impressed some ringsiders, left some cold. He’s very composed, speaking to his hundreds of amateur bouts, so my guess is the 26 year old lefty lightweight rises the ranks.
Before the main event and co-feature, I shoot the s__t with Cameron Dunkin, the ultra ace fight manager who advises Crawford. We talk about what will happen tonight. He confesses that some in the Crawford camp think this will be easy work, but he thinks there will be some testing portions of rounds. Time will tell. And if Bud wins, what will happen? We toss names around: Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto—he’s a free agent after breaking with Roc Nation, might he circle back for a reunion tour with Top Rank? What about Tim Bradley versus Terence? Julius Indongo is likely next, and Dunkn predicts he could be more problematic for Bud than Diaz will be.
Then, more shoot the s__t during a break in the action, before they go live with an international feed. Thomas Hauser and Marc Abrams and me bust chops on each other. Last time, they too were relegated at the Garden, but are tonight on the floor.
Shakur Stevenson, he impresses with his dimples, personality, the number of fans here from Jersey to see him…but that stoppage win, I’d have to see n super-super slo mow what landed and had his foe so discombobulated. No matter, Shakur is one to watch insider experts insist, Top Rank knows which horses to push. Hey, not always, sometimes guys get off path for whatever reason, but even those sorts can and do sometimes see the light, and get right. Speaking of; Felix Verdejo will leave Puerto Rico for his next camp, time TBD, before he meets titlist Terry Flanagan.
Several times, I remark to publicist Sternberg, and then writer Geoffrey Gray, who plops next to me, that the joint is jumping and the lung power of the citizens inside is considerable. Peru, a vocal slice, is in the house, to root on Jonathan Maicelo, who has some nice moments before Ray Beltran turns his lights out with a left hook. A stretcher comes out, but the mood doesn’t chill totally, because we can all see Maicelo is conscious, even though his head clanged the canvas when he hit the floor. He raises his right gloved hand to acknowledge his massive rooting section, from the stretcher, as he gets taken out.
During a break, I hustle upstairs to use the voucher. Tacos, I choose, after scanning the availables. The food offerings are of a higher grade than they used to be, for sure, for those who haven’t been here in awhile. Arena experiences in the last five-ten years have been upgraded, as it is clear people would rather get raked over the coals monetarily and at least be given reasonably tasty fare. Jean-Georges’ tacos are that. Before I choose tacos, I say hi to Twitter follower Rikki Soumpholphakdy, who is there with his mum and her boyfriend. She got him into boxing, the soon to be ex college student tells me. She tells me she is an ultra diehard and lightly pitches a mother-son analysis show. The son is an “aspiring sports writer,” his Twitter handle says, so I opine on how to best make an impression, get a foothold into that space. I will share here what I usually say: get your ass into a gym, or track down a person who isn’t easy to track down. Give me, the editor, something I don’t have. NOT fair to middling off the top of your head analysis of the next big bout, stuff which I can find on any decent message board. Go above and beyond, basically, same thing you want to do to exceed in any vocational sphere.
Then, the main event. Diaz starts off OK, he maybe won the second round. Then, Bud gets his scouting report finished, and Diaz’ effectiveness lags. He’s a step slow, Bud is too mobile for him and his jumbo muscles. Muscles are good to look at but something is sacrificed in the speed department, in foot and hand, perhaps, and as we get into round six, seven, I start to think the Dominican could get stopped. In
the seventh, he lands double digits on Bud for the only time. His corner had told him, show something, bro, and he got busier. But in round eight, I saw Bud edge closer, mentally start to get into finishing mode. His foe had been broken down, wearied, bloodied, nearly bowed. After eight, a passel of docs look concernedly at the Dominican. It is decided he can continue. Round nine, Diaz is slowed, his counters aren’t near peppy enough. He went to his corner, and it is decided there to pull the plug. No knockdowns, this wasn’t a beat-down, but it was a thorough exercise in domination. 8,026 is the announced crowd for the night, not shabby being that Bud is a Nebraskan who doesn’t stir the pot in the Mayweather manner, and Diaz and him didn’t whet appetites with pre-fight beefing.
The night ends entertainingly. Bob Arum is A grade Bob during a ringside press conference, which, by the way, we like, as it gets the damn thing over with, rather than waiting a half hour for fighters to go to a room, where we spend another hour doing queries, leaving us to leave the arena way too late for those of us who have a family life, kids who poke us awake early, or dogs demanding to let their bladders release. Arum thunders at our boy Mike Coppinger, the intrepid interrogator, and then the next second slyly smiles, hinting that his tongue is 3/4 quarters planted in cheek. Arum gives tidbits, which you can see here.
Then, I head to the exit, but see Beltran doing press. I ask him about the import of his win and he shares in some depth his quest to get a green card and tells me why he loves America.
It is a thoroughly up note, and sends me into the night with some optimism and needed perspective, in light of the political and cultural tumult we are living in.
I walk to the exit, mulling over the prizefights seen, the persons interacted with, and whether I should transgress and get a late night snack. I do; chicken from a shady cart, and I give a nod to caloric sanity by ordering salad, no rice. I scarf and ponder, then it’s off to the train station. Down 34th St. I walk, past drunken lovers, wandering street folk, muttering mad monologues, lonely hearts who struck out at the tavern, and then swipe my card. The train comes in 15 minutes, not horrid, and that gets me home before 1:40 am. I won’t be able to fall asleep that quick, the energy from the event still vibrating within. The energy is upped more when I see video of Andre Dirrell’s uncle losing his mind and suckering his nephew’s conqueror earlier that night. Loser move. Punching someone while they aren’t looking is pretty much always wrong, unless that someone is pure scum who deserves comeuppance. Besides, in this case, that isn’t uncle’s call to make. Lord, I think, what a wild and wonderful and foolish and fabulous sport we have as our shared addiction. I choose to finish with positive thoughts, of Beltran’s refreshing patriotism, and I drift off. Wait…one more Tweet. Now, sleep.