The Travelin’ Man goes back to Miami, Okla. … again: Part one
Thursday, July 13: The four weeks since returning home from the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s induction weekend have flown by because of what awaited me after pulling into the driveway. That consisted of four specific tasks/goals, the first of which was to establish a comfortable time margin on the CompuBox pre-fight research, so I could feel free enough to address the other items on the list. Creating that buffer was particularly daunting because there was a four-fight card on July 14, two multi-fight shows on July 15, two more programs on July 29 and another two-fight telecast on August 4. Thanks to some hard work and time-management skills, I completed that gauntlet this past weekend.
The second goal was to make significant progress on the research for the book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers,” on which I’m working with CompuBox President Bob Canobbio. I finished the first draft in February but all that changed when, by chance, I ran across some neat quotes regarding the Ali-Jimmy Young fight in a 1976 issue of International Boxing, quotes that couldn’t have been gleaned from an internet search engine. That prompted me to purchase 113 magazines between 1962 and 1981 at the IBHOF’s card and memorabilia show and, once I got home, to order a couple of dozen more when other gaps in the collection were discovered.
I spent nearly every waking hour over a four-day period combing through not only those issues but nearly 100 more I already had in “The Vault,” including two issues of LIFE magazine that chronicled the first Joe Frazier-Ali fight. Every time I ran across a “nugget” and added it to the manuscript, I made sure to preserve the footnote on a separate document. Once I finished scouring the magazines and other sources in my library, I went through the manuscript a second time to polish the copy and to chronicle other footnotes I might have missed. As of now, the manuscript is about 80 percent done.
The third item on the list was addressing the fight cards on the DVR that I hadn’t yet converted to DVD. That took me nearly two full days to finish because the work on the book put me two weeks behind instead of my usual one. Also, because I hadn’t updated my master DVD list in more than two months, I spent the next two hours after that typing in the new acquisitions.
Such is the life of a boxing maven…and I love it!
The final item had nothing to do with boxing but was the most important and emotionally challenging of all: Addressing issues connected with my father’s death last month. Thanks to helpful neighbors and relatives, my mother, older sister and I are adjusting to our new reality, while also going about the business of cleaning out his “shop,” canceling magazine subscriptions, sifting through other belongings and so on. This process only intensified the already profound sense of loss and, being the youngest of the remaining trio, it’s likely I’ll have to endure it two more times. As wrenching as that possibility is, I can’t allow that to interfere with the time I have now, not just with my remaining loved ones but also with life in general. As of now, the future is bright and there is much to do.
Today, “much to do” means commencing the next installment of “The Travelin’ Man Chronicles.” The destination is one with which I’m very familiar: Miami, Oklahoma.
This will be my fourth trip to Miami (pronounced my-AM-muh) since March 2016 and, for the uninitiated, it is a town of nearly 14,000 located in the extreme northeastern corner of the state. Named for the tribe of the same name, Miami is the hometown of 1969 Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owens and is just a few miles south of Commerce, the birthplace of baseball legend Mickey Mantle. Miami’s main street is named for Owens and it only takes one left turn to put one on the path toward the site of this “ShoBox” quadrupleheader, the Buffalo Run Casino and Resort.
All eight participants on the card are ShoBox alums and, as is often the case with the series, each will be confronted with a “day of reckoning.”
The main event will pit undefeated super lightweights Ivan Baranchyk and Keenan Smith, while the supporting bouts pair 140-pounders Kenneth Sims Jr. and Rolando Chinea, super bantamweights Glenn Dezurn Jr. and Adam Lopez and bantamweights Joshua Greer Jr. and Leroy Davila. Although Baranchyk hails from Russia, he has become a fixture at the Buffalo Run Casino, as he will be fighting there for the sixth consecutive time. Each bout, however, has become increasingly difficult. After blowing out Nicholas Givhan in 21 seconds on ShoBox’s air and Eliseo Cruz Sesma in three rounds off-TV, his last three outings against Zhimin Wang, Wilberth Lopez and Abel Ramos have gone the 10-round distance. In each, Baranchyk had to overcome various adversities (cuts vs. Wang and Ramos, knockdowns against Lopez and Ramos) and some have declared the Baranchyk-Ramos bout the greatest fight in ShoBox’s 16-year history.
While those victories have done wonders in establishing Baranchyk’s mettle, one must wonder whether he’s about to reach his ceiling because, at least for genuine stars-in-the-making, these difficulties usually occur well after one achieves contender status. Smith appears to have the technical tools to test Baranchyk further, for he is a southpaw capable of massive numerical outbursts. That said, those bursts tend to come in waves and, at least in past fights, the lulls that preceded them were rather lengthy. That will likely work against him here because Baranchyk, for all his flaws, is a consistent worker.
While Baranchyk-Smith could provide excellent action, it’s a virtual guarantee that Sims-Chinea will deliver it. In his four CompuBox-tracked fights, power shots comprised 71.7% of Sims’ 74.3 punches per round while they made up 66.8% of Chinea’s 89.7 punches per round in his two tracked fights. So, if form holds, they’ll average a combined 164 punches each round. One potential stumbling block for Sims is he tends to slow his work rate in the middle part of fights but the good news for him is that, in both tracked fights that went long rounds (vs. Francisco Lopez and Gilbert Venegas), he found a second wind and produced huge numbers. As for Chinea, he earned this spot by upsetting decorated amateur O’Shaquie Foster over eight rounds in July 2016, by forcing a fast pace (91.6 punches per round), while also making the usually discriminating Foster to fight at that pace (80.1 per round).
Of all the fighters on this card, Lopez, who is making his record-tying sixth ShoBox appearance, is the one who needs victory the most. Twice he was one win away from a likely world title shot and, both times, he fell short. With then-newly crowned IBF titlist Jonathan Guzman at ringside, Lopez struggled to a draw against Roman Reynoso in July 2016, then, last January at Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City, Lopez suffered a torturous ninth-round TKO loss to Daniel Roman. The adjective “torturous” is apt because, in the final three rounds, Lopez was out-landed 107-27 overall and 84-20 in power shots. Worse yet: In the final round, Roman landed more punches (43) than Lopez threw (42). It was no wonder trainer Robert Garcia mercifully ended the fight between rounds nine and 10. Will Lopez carry those memories into the ring against Dezurn? Of course he will but will he let those memories adversely affect his performance? For him, that will be the most crucial question.
Conversely, Dezurn is coming off a highly successful ShoBox debut in which he decisioned Davila over eight rounds in a pulsating affair that saw a combined 890 power punches thrown (or an average of 111.25 per round). The pace was brisk (80.6 per round for Dezurn, 66.1 for Davila) but Dezurn’s rally in rounds three through five (84-51 overall), as well as his superior body attack (81-50 for the fight), proved vital to Dezurn’s narrow connect leads for the bout (185-164 overall, 173-10 power). Also, Dezurn is the husband of Franchon Crews, the pro debut opponent for two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, and each has served as the other’s sparring partner from time to time. The Davila victory helped Dezurn establish his own identity and a win over Lopez would be, by far, his most important to date because of where Lopez was perceived to be a relatively short time ago.
Davila proved against Dezurn that he is willing to take risks to land his own punches, while Greer showed against James Gordon-Smith last March that he is more than capable of posing those risks on opponents (as well as delivering a crushing knockout blow). Greer vs. Gordon-Smith was a sensational punch-out that saw Greer pull ahead with a fifth round knockdown, then end it in the sixth with a vicious right to the jaw that caused Gordon-Smith to collapse in sections. That lights-out punch capped a fight in which Greer landed 45% of his total punches and 51% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. He also created a marketing imprint with his celebration: Bounding atop the rope supports and holding up a pillow with the words “Night, night” inscribed in black marker. In this way, Greer created a tough-guy twist on the term “pillow fighter.”
One truth I’ve learned in my 13-plus years with CompuBox is that all fighters have habits and those habits eventually reveal themselves through the numbers. If those past numbers are any indication of future performance, then this quadrupleheader may end up being a grand slam.
As regular readers know, many of my incoming and outgoing trips end up being adventurous for one reason or another. Thankfully, while some interesting things happened on the road to Miami, none of them qualified as stress-inducing.
I arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport shortly before 10 a.m. and, as has been the case in recent trips, finding a parking space was a difficult chore, even after being forced to wander “The Hinterlands,” the term I use for the outermost rings of the property. I soon discovered why: One entire section of The Hinterlands was closed off due to “repairs.” I settled into a space directly in front of the 15H sign in the extended lot and, because it was raining, I braced myself for a long and wet walk.
Just as I was about to turn and take the first of what would be 2,000 soggy steps, I spotted an airport shuttle bus parked directly behind my vehicle. Talk about timing.
I gratefully boarded the bus, which took me to the American Airlines check-in counter located one floor above the security area. After clearing inspection with no issues, I ate a light breakfast and waited for the 12:05 p.m. flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte to begin boarding. I passed some of the time by talking with a Catholic priest who took the seat beside me about 20 minutes before boarding. Earlier that morning, he had taken a private plane from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and he spoke of recent mission work he and some of his parishioners had completed in Central America. As rewarding as my work is for me, his work is even more so for him – as well as for Him.
Our aircraft left Pittsburgh 15 minutes later than scheduled, narrowing my already slender connection window in Charlotte. Worse yet for me, my arrival gate was at the very end of Terminal B and my gate for the Tulsa flight was midway through Terminal E. While my “power walk” is not as powerful as it used to be, it was enough to get me to the gate with eight minutes to spare.
There, I ran into stage manager JT Townsend, my carpool partner not only for today but for the way back to Tulsa on Saturday morning. Being a far more frequent traveler than I, he was seated in First Class, while I was situated on the aisle in row 10.
As was the case for the Pittsburgh-Charlotte leg, the Charlotte-Tulsa flight was enjoyable, not only because there was no noticeable turbulence but also because I spent both flights reading Springs Toledo’s latest book titled, “Murderer’s Row: In Search of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts,” which was the first item I bought at this year’s IBHOF Card and Memorabilia show.
Like his two other books – “The Gods of War” and “In the Cheap Seats” – Toledo masterfully merges extraordinary research with muscular prose and excellent storytelling to paint vivid portraits of eight fighters whose careers were shamefully stunted by societal circumstance – Cocoa Kid, Lloyd Marshall, Charley Burley, Jack Chase, Aaron Wade, Bert Lytell, Eddie Booker and Holman Williams. In describing each man’s tale, the in-ring virtues and out-of-ring warts – some of which were self-inflicted – are brought to life. In fact, two members of Murderers’ Row were actual killers. The reader is also educated on the ugly underbelly that blighted boxing in the “Golden Age” when money, manipulation and the mob superseded merit and sporting justice.
The depth of Toledo’s research is such that he even surprised the fighters’ family members. Vanessa Marshall, daughter of Lloyd and Mazie, exclaimed, “I never knew he was a boxer….to me, Dad was just a custodian.” Through Vanessa, Toledo not only profiles Marshall the fighter and the man; he also unearths the feisty spirit of Mazie, who was even more combative on her husband’s behalf than the fighter was inside the ropes.
Toledo’s technical expertise came through in one particular passage, in which he explains why a fighter should jab with a jabber, while his film noir sensibilities can be read and felt throughout the manuscript. One gets the sense that Toledo, while definitively a modern man, would have thrived in the age of AJ Liebling.
The book draws to a close with the recollections of Archie Moore, an honorary member of the club, who finally got his chance by outlasting the era of suffocation, campaigning hard for his opportunities and coming through when the door was finally opened in his 17th year and 162nd fight. Moore said his trademark goatee was a tribute to his long-bypassed peers and his admiration for them was not one developed from afar but was inspired by his own hand-to-hand combat with them. In Toledo’s book, he declared that Booker, with whom he went 0-1-2, was “a fighting machine” who gave him “one of my toughest” fights. According to Toledo, Moore blamed Booker’s body punches, in Fight One, for a perforated ulcer that required emergency surgery and, because of his weakened abdomen, he fought with a license plate stuffed inside his waistband. The rubber match was the hardest of all for Moore as he suffered three resounding knockdowns before being stopped in round eight, the first KO loss of the “Ol’ Mongoose’s” career.
“He was poison to me,” Moore would say later.
So it was with most opponents who dared fight against the Row and for the members themselves, when they were forced to fight each other with unnatural frequency. Surely those intramural battles shortened their respective careers and limited their accomplishments, thanks to spotty records that didn’t reflect their true abilities. Thanks to Toledo (as well as others), the Row is getting its just due, not only in terms of having their stories told to a new generation but also as far as gaining entry into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In all, five of the eight members have been enshrined: Burley (1992), Williams (2008), Cocoa Kid (2010), Marshall (2010) and Booker (2017).
Toledo’s book is entertaining, educational, riveting and, for those who love boxing history, a must-buy.
The plane landed in Tulsa shortly before 3 and JT and I arrived at the crew hotel about 90 minutes later. Since I didn’t have a car, I got a list of local restaurants from the registration desk, had dinner delivered and happily munched away as I watched the premiere showing of ESPN’s “30 for 30” film on Mike and the Mad Dog, the New York-based duo who led the sports talk radio boom. They became giants in Gotham because, while extremely knowledgeable, they shared their local audience’s passion for sports, while expressing it with a familiar accent. As stated in the film, Greg Gumbel and Jim Lampley were able hosts who failed to connect because of the audience’s provincial tastes. Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, though reluctant to join forces, more than satisfied those tastes and became legends because of it.
To this day, nearly a decade after they dissolved their partnership, there is a yearning for the pair to reunite. But more often than not, such reunions are doomed to fail because part of the magic is inexorably linked to time and circumstance. An example: What would have happened had The Beatles reunited in the mid to late-1970s? Answer: They would have been blunted by the overwhelming wave that was disco and one can’t imagine John Lennon writing songs with the word “boogie” in them. Every phenomenon has its season and those who dare to operate beyond that season usually run into brick walls.
Soon after the film ended, my eyes were overwhelmed by fatigue. I did my best to fight the urge because I feared I would snap awake in the middle of the night and irreparably ruin my circadian rhythm, for all of Friday. In the end, I was left little choice but to turn out the lights at 9:30 and take my chances.
Friday, July 14: While I did awaken at 4 a.m. I was able to rest deeply enough that I got up for good at 7 a.m., which meant I slept/relaxed for nine-and-a-half hours, nearly double my usual slumber time. I spent most of the morning going rounds on the laptop but, try as I did, I couldn’t get to the good stopping point I wanted before meeting punch-counting partner Andy Kasprzak in the lobby at 1:25. Thanks to the proximity of the Buffalo Run Casino, in relation to our hotel, we still arrived in time to make our 1:30 call time.
We got our necessary green lights soon after the meal break, after which Andy and I sought ways to burn off the remaining six hours before airtime. For me, part of that time was spent chatting with ring announcer Thomas Treiber and fellow maven Marc Abrams, who told me he was going to fly to London not long after this show ended. I may be known as “The Travelin’ Man,” but my schedule pales in comparison to many others in the business of boxing. Because I know the wear and tear that comes with traveling, I salute them.
While packing for this trip, I made sure to include a vital but counterintuitive item when one considers summer in Oklahoma: A windbreaker jacket. The reason: The arena inside the Buffalo Run Casino, no matter the season, is always chilly and it doesn’t get much better even after the arena fills up. Sure enough, the strong but necessary air conditioning system started to produce goose bumps on my arms and I felt much better, once I slid on the jacket.
Unusually, the first fight of the evening was a 10-rounder featuring middleweight Antoine Douglas, who has frequently appeared on ShoBox, and journeyman Juan De Angel, a late sub for Bruno Sandoval. Douglas was making his third ring appearance following his March 2016 bludgeoning at the hands of Avtandil Khurtsidze while De Angel came into the fight on a 2-3 slide inflicted by Kanat Islam (TKO by 6), Caleb Plant (L UD 10) and Lamar Russ (L SD 8), fighters with a combined 49-2 record (with both losses belonging to Russ). Here, Douglas lived up to his nickname of “Action” as he stalked the retreating Colombian, tenderized him with a scything body attack (46 of 67 total connects, 11 of 19 jabs, 35 of 48 landed power shots) and ended matters in round four by backing De Angel to the neutral corner pad and capping off a combination with a compact right to the ribs. De Angel crumbled to the canvas and made sure to rise a moment after referee Gerald Ritter said the number “10.”
The numbers added to the story as Douglas prevailed 67-31 in total connects, 19-11 in jabs and 48-20 in power punches. His percentage leads were similarly wide (39%-23% overall, 29%-20% jabs, 46%-25% power) and, at least on this night, he looked every bit the prospect he appeared to be going into the Khurtsidze fight. The question now is whether Douglas will maintain that form, once he steps up the level of competition. My guess is we’ll find out on a future edition of ShoBox.
The other undercard fights proceeded quickly as Isaiah Steen starched Travis Nero in round one while Steen’s half-brother 2016 U.S. Olympian Charles Conwell did the same to Rick Graham in round two.
With that, only the four televised fights remained. Will the card live up to its paper promise?
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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