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The Travelin’ Man’s World Tour – Montreal: Part two

Photo by Stephanie Trapp/Showtime
07
Jun

 

 

Please click here to read Part One.

 

Saturday, June 3 (continued): In May 2014 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson endured the toughest defense of his reign by scoring an off-the-floor unanimous decision over Andrzej Fonfara.

On Saturday, against the same opponent in the same building, Stevenson enjoyed what may turn out to be the easiest of his title tenure by blasting out Fonfara in just 208 seconds. As usual, Stevenson’s lethal left cross – arguably the most dangerous punch in boxing – inflicted the damage as he nailed Fonfara with it time and again. One diamond-cutter left to the temple dropped Fonfara midway through the first, while another series of searing lefts rendered the challenger nearly helpless by the end of a round which saw Stevenson land 30 of his 66 punches, including 68% of his power shots (27 of 40).

“I didn’t see the first knockdown; it was so fast,” said Javan “Sugar” Hill, Stevenson’s trainer, told reporters later. “Everyone knows Adonis has a devastating left hand and that’s their game plan, to try to stop the left hand. But he throws it from so many different angles. That’s his weapon of choice and nobody’s stopped it yet.”

Trainer Virgil Hunter, true to his technically sound boxing roots, urged Fonfara to be defensive in round two but Fonfara’s statistical history suggested that was extremely unlikely. The reason: In Fonfara’s last eight CompuBox-tracked fights, he ranked last among its categorical leaders in two key defensive categories – opponents’ overall accuracy (37.3%) and opponents’ power precision (47.7%). Worse yet, in his last eight CompuBox-tracked fights, Stevenson landed the highest percentage of power punches among world-class fighters, a stunning 54.5%. In retrospect, this best vs. worst encounter couldn’t have ended any other way.

Still, Fonfara tried his best to comply with Hunter’s order but he was ill-equipped to carry it out. Stevenson, always hungry to score the knockout, charged out of the corner and nailed Fonfara with a series of clean left crosses that drove the challenger across the ring. The barrage convinced Hunter to climb onto the ring apron and end the annihilation.

“There was no need to continue,” Hunter said. “(Fonfara) was hurt in the first round. He survived but even when he came back to the corner, he wasn’t all the way there. I told him in the second round, ‘Don’t even throw a punch – just defend until you get yourself back (together),’ but it’s fighting. These things happen. I thought he was doing quite well until he fell in and got caught with a punch. But it’s a game of inches and just that little inch or a foot, whatever it was, it was enough to put him in distress.”

The classy and realistic Fonfara accepted the decision of Hunter, who was acting as his chief second for the second time and who had flown overnight from Paris to be in his corner.

“I have a family. He knows that. He wants to protect me,” Fonfara said. “Stevenson is a great fighter. He has a very hard left hand and, if I stayed in the ring, he could (hurt) me even more. This rematch didn’t go like I (want). He won the fight. That’s all.”

It was all indeed. The CompuBox statistics further illustrated the intensity and efficiency of Stevenson’s assault as he out-landed Fonfara 39-10 overall and 35-8 power while landing 48% of his total punches and a stratospheric 67% of his power shots. Fonfara managed to connect on 21% of his 48 punches and 35% of his 23 power punches. As improbable as it may sound, Stevenson, at age 39, appears to be fighting better than ever.

“I was focused on the fight and you saw what happened,” Stevenson said while wearing a red crown and a matching fur-trimmed robe. “My hands were moving very good. Fonfara tried but I was ready for this fight. I know that Fonfara is very dangerous. He’s a good fighter, so I was very focused on him. When I had the chance to catch him, I caught him. I took my time and finished the job.”

Stevenson’s performance in the Fonfara rematch revived memories of two past light heavyweight title fights that produced the same winner but followed diametrically opposed paths in terms of action – Archie Moore-Yvon Durelle II and Matthew Saad Muhammad-John Conteh II.

The first Moore-Durelle fight, also staged in Montreal in December 1958, still ranks as one of the greatest two-way wars in light heavyweight championship history as the nearly 42-year-old Moore overcame four knockdowns (including three in round one) to score four of his own en route to a thrilling 11th round knockout. The rematch, also held at the Montreal Forum eight months later, saw Moore score four more knockdowns of Durelle but, this time, he kept his own feet and won by third round knockout.

In August 1979, less than four months after lifting the WBC title from Marvin Johnson in a savage war, Saad Muhammad met Conteh, a respected boxer-puncher who had held the same title from 1974-78. An accidental butt in round five opened a monstrous gash over Saad’s left eye and Conteh smartly used his left hand to worsen the cut and to forge a narrow lead on all three scorecards after 13 rounds. But Saad, the legendary comeback king, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by flooring Conteh in the 14th and dominating the 15th to nail down a unanimous decision win.

The WBC ordered an immediate rematch after it was found that Saad’s corner men (Adolph Ritacco and Nick Belfiore) used an illegal adrenaline chloride solution mixed with ground tea leaves to treat the champion’s cut, an act that led the New Jersey State Athletic Commission to suspend both men. Saad, infuriated that he had to fight Conteh again for an unusually narrow 55-45 purse split, took out his anger on Conteh in the rematch, which, like Stevenson-Fonfara II, was staged in the same venue as fight one (Resorts International in Atlantic City). And, like Stevenson-Fonfara II, Saad-Conteh II was an epic wipeout as Saad scored five knockdowns in the fourth and final round.

While Fonfara is forced to ponder his next move, the identity of Stevenson’s next opponent was set in stone (at least in the WBC’s eyes) after Eleider Alvarez’s victory over Jean Pascal, a majority decision that most saw as unanimous. The key punch of this title eliminator was Alvarez’s rapier jab, which produced 10 or more connects five times and nearly cracked the century mark for the contest (99 of 317, 31%). Those jabs kept the notoriously frugal Pascal’s gloves in his pocket as he averaged a paltry 30.8 punches per round (compared to 32.7 over his eight previous CompuBox-tracked fights), while also setting up Alvarez’s timely power connects (75 of 191, 39%).

As aptly stated by Showtime’s announce team, Pascal’s strategy was obvious: Neutralize Alvarez for the first two minutes, then come on strong in the final 60 seconds. The minute-by-minute breakdowns revealed that of Pascal’s 104 total connects, exactly half (52) were achieved in the last minute, as were 45 of his 78 landed power shots. But while Pascal’s explosive bursts managed to steal several rounds, they didn’t happen frequently enough to offset Alvarez’s more consistent work. In fact, Alvarez out-landed Pascal 55-52 overall in the last 60 seconds and, while Pascal failed to reach double-digit connects until round eight, Alvarez surpassed that threshold in all but two rounds.

The irony: Although the two are separated by 18 months chronologically, Pascal fought like the far older man. It also helped Alvarez’s cause that he was eminently familiar with Pascal’s style, thanks to their frequent sparring sessions, while both trained under Marc Ramsay.

“I know Jean and I was ready; I was well-prepared,” said Alvarez through a translator. “I wanted (this fight) because champions aren’t fighting champions. I’ve been waiting two years (as Stevenson’s mandatory challenger), so now I can really get the title shot and there will be no doubt about it.”

Pascal’s most consistent work came in rounds 8-through-10 when he landed 37 punches but he still was topped by Alvarez, who trapped Pascal along the ropes in the ninth and pounded him with combinations en route to landing 54 punches in that nine-minute span.

Judges Rodolfo Ramirez (117-111) and Jack Woodburn (116-112) turned in scorecards that lined up with conventional perception while Richard DeCarufel submitted a curious 114-114 total. While Alvarez-Pascal was often a war of nerves, it included just enough war to make it an enjoyable match.

Pascal, for one, would like to see a second act.

“That was a close fight. I think the fans enjoyed the fight and I’ll try to be back stronger,” he said. “I would love to have a rematch because it was a close fight.”

If Alvarez-Pascal II is to take place at all, it likely will occur if Alvarez dethrones Stevenson and if Pascal can produce a convincing victory against a suitably well-regarded opponent. Based on his form in the last several years, that will be a steep mountain to climb – perhaps too steep for this version of Pascal to scale.

*

 

 

Following the post-fight crew meal, Andy and I walked back to the hotel and parted ways at the hotel entrance. I returned to my room to enter the night’s numbers into the master database, then caught up on the day’s news – sports and otherwise – before turning out the lights shortly before 1:30 a.m.

Sunday, June 4: I awakened five hours later and split the next 90 minutes between getting ready for the day and catching up on the writing I didn’t feel like doing immediately after the show. I then secured a taxi and headed to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, known to travelers as YUL. My cab driver was a shaven-headed Haitian, whom has lived in Montreal for the past 30 years, and I didn’t know which was faster: His supersonic French or his land-speed record driving, both of which I appreciated.

Nearly every trip of mine features at least one interesting coincidence and, this time, it was the fact that, for the second time in three days, I ran into broadcaster/writer Dave Bontempo. Our timing today was even more sublime as we arrived just outside the security line at exactly the same moment, despite coming from different hotels. Because I had to have both bags and both laptops in separate bins, I required five trays to accommodate my belongings, which passed through with the exception of a clear circular container in which I store paper clips and loose change. Meanwhile, Dave encountered a minor issue with his red-colored throat spray, which was stored inside a larger-than-regulation container. Dave’s charm and verbal skills helped convince the security officers that nothing was awry, enabling him to walk away with item intact. I wasn’t so lucky, for I didn’t realize until I got home that my container was confiscated.

As was the case on Thursday, Dave and I were booked on the same flight, which allowed us to share a small breakfast (I treated) that was subsequently washed down with a second set of beverages (he treated).

Because we were seated five rows apart, I spent the flight conversing with Pierre, who, with his gelled hair and neatly trimmed beard, was a dead-ringer for former WWE wrestler CM Punk.

Thanks to the new immigration protocols in Montreal, I didn’t need to undergo a second security screen, once I landed in Philly. I simply boarded a bus that took me from Terminal F to Terminal C, after which I walked to Gate C 30, where I awaited my 3:41 p.m. flight to Pittsburgh. For the second consecutive week, the act of handing over my boarding pass prompted a brief delay. And, for the second consecutive week, the reason was because I was upgraded to first class. It’s good to be a Travelin’ Man.

Because I was seated in the first row, I needed to stow both pieces of luggage in the overhead bins, which, because I was the last to arrive in the first-class cabin, were nearly full. I managed to find crevices on both sides of the aisle to store my stuff but the great part about being in row one is that the legroom is awesome; even Shaquille O’Neal would have been able to stretch out – at least a little bit.

The flight touched down shortly after 5 and once I reached my car, 30 minutes later, I was ready to begin the final drive home. I pulled into the driveway at 8:30 – a bit later than usual because I needed to pick up a few small items at an area Wal-Mart. Even for Travelin’ Men, the routines of daily life go on.

But I won’t be able to enjoy those routines for long, for, in less than 48 hours, I will commence the final stop on my “world tour” – the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend in Canastota, New York.

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 seven 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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