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The Travelin’ Man goes to Brooklyn: Part one – The rigors of Riley

06
Mar

Friday, March 2: Since returning home from Las Vegas nearly two weeks ago, the weather in my hometown of Friendly, West Virginia, has been unseasonably warm. While we’ve had an unusual number of sunny days as of late – our winters are usually marked by stone gray skies – we’ve also had more than our share of precipitation. Thanks to temperatures in the 40s, 50s and 60s (including one day when it was near 80), that precipitation has been in the form of rain instead of snow. Still, that rain has produced flooding so intense that it briefly made national news.

But our regional issues couldn’t compare to what was brewing a few hundred miles east of me. Thanks to a system dubbed “Riley,” a massive Nor’easter was forming off the Atlantic coast that the Weather Channel said was “threatening millions.” Among those millions are air travelers like myself, who must trek to New York City on business – and, in my case, to borrow an old Federal Express advertising slogan, it was “absolutely, positively, have to be there overnight” business. My business there will be working a “Showtime Championship Boxing” doubleheader featuring the rematch between Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui and, in the main event, the showdown between WBC heavyweight beltholder Deontay Wilder and dangerous Cuban power-puncher Luis Ortiz.

One could fairly ask which storm would be more intense – Riley or the two fights that will unfold inside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. From my perspective, Riley was the runaway winner, not because the two televised fights were lacking in any way but because the storm led to one of the most adventurous, exhausting and undeniably epic inbound trips I’ve ever experienced.

The old TV series “Naked City,” a police drama set in New York City that ran on ABC from 1958-1959 and 1960-1963, used the tag line “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” What you are about to read is one of the countless travel nightmares produced by Riley. For me, it was quite the ride.



*

 

It all started out so simply. I was originally scheduled to take a 12:50 p.m. direct flight from Pittsburgh to LaGuardia but, as the scope of Riley’s potential impact became clearer, I received an email from American Airlines at 8:42 p.m. Thursday that my flight had been canceled. I contacted production manager Angie Sztejn (who also handles travel for Showtime) and CompuBox president Bob Canobbio, after which I called American Airlines’ customer service line, which promptly put me on hold.

I remained on hold for more than 90 minutes but before I could talk to a live agent, I learned through my phone that I had been re-booked. The new itinerary: An 8:32 p.m. Friday flight from Pittsburgh to LaGuardia that would arrive at 10:05 p.m. I breathed a sigh of relief, for not only would I be getting to New York the day before the show, the late departure assured me of full rest as well as a potentially productive morning.

After arising at 7:45 a.m. and completing the morning routines, I logged onto the American Airlines website and checked on whether the flight was still on. It was.

But less than 20 minutes later, at 8:55 a.m., I received a text from American that my new flight had been canceled. I contacted Angie, who leaped into action and, not long after, called me at home and offered a potential new game plan:

*A United Airlines flight from Pittsburgh to Washington Dulles International Airport, in Washington, D.C., that would depart today at 2:45 p.m. and land at 3:45 p.m.

*A 45-minute cab ride to Union Station, from where I would board an Amtrak train bound for New York City’s Penn Station. Based on my arrival time in D.C., which I would text to Angie, she would then secure the appropriate train ticket.

*Another 45-minute cab ride from Penn Station to the crew hotel in Brooklyn.

After giving her the OK, I told Angie that I’ll leave for the airport as soon as soon as I get my travel documents via email. She said that I should leave for the airport now because it would take about an hour to complete all the transactions. After doing so, she said she would send me the info by email, which she did.

However during my drive to Pittsburgh, I received another email that needed my attention: American Airlines had automatically re-booked me onto a new flight for the second time – one that would leave Saturday at 3:35 p.m. Because my call time at the arena on Saturday was 2:30 p.m., that flight needed to be canceled. But I couldn’t cancel the flight electronically because if a passenger misses the outbound plane on Friday, the return flight home would also be canceled. I wanted to keep my original Sunday afternoon flight to Pittsburgh, which was to leave LaGuardia at 1:13 p.m., and, in order to do that, I needed to visit American’s check-in desk before going to United’s to get my new boarding pass.

Got all that? Good.

I made amazing time going to Pittsburgh, as I arrived on the airport property just 2 hours 9 minutes after leaving the house. Better yet, I found a prime parking space in the extended lot: The 11th space after the 11A sign, which meant I was parked less than 200 steps from the terminal entrance.

I approached the American counter and, during the course of our conversation, I learned one of the employees, a male, was a faithful viewer of boxing on HBO and Showtime.

“My son would get a real kick of out of this,” he told me after I informed him of what I’d be doing in New York. “I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for you.”

His counterpart, a female who actually handled the changes to my tickets, cringed when I mentioned I worked boxing shows. Thankfully that didn’t stop her from completing the necessary changes.

Then it was on to the United Airlines desk, where I was instructed to use the kiosk. Past experience with kiosks have taught me to be skeptical, as far as being able to complete necessary tasks, but, at least this time, I was able to secure my boarding pass.

As I approached the security line, I glanced up at the giant monitors and learned that my 2:45 p.m. departure had now been pushed back to 5:55. After clearing security and scanning the gate monitor, I learned the reason: “Late inbound aircraft arrival.” So all of a sudden, I had three more hours to kill. I spent that time eating lunch at McDonald’s, then alternating between writing with the laptop and reading David Michaelis’ biography of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.

Having that book was someone fitting, for more than once on this journey, I was Charlie Brown; the travel gods were Lucy and my route to New York City was the football.

I was scheduled to arrive in D.C. at 7 p.m. but, believe or it or not, the plane actually touched down at 6:44. Angie emailed me my Amtrak ticket after I notified her of my arrival but her subsequent text had a rather surprising and sobering message: “The only (train) that was open was at 3:15 a.m.” Apparently, Riley’s heavy winds had blown down trees onto tracks up and down the coast, which forced Amtrak to cancel the rest of its Friday night schedule. The 3:15 a.m. train was the first on Saturday’s slate.

I had a decision to make: Either check into a nearby hotel and get a couple of hours’ rest before returning to the train station (Bob’s preference), or stay put at Union Station and make sure the 3:15 a.m. train would still be running. As someone who prefers to be where I need to be long before I need to be there, I planned to go to Union Station and stay put. My choice was confirmed when another ticket agent told me all the nearby hotels were sold out.

But before arriving at Union Station, more logistics had to be worked out. As I walked toward the taxi station at Dulles, I called the crew hotel in Brooklyn to let them know I would be arriving in New York tomorrow morning and to ask them to retain my room reservation. That didn’t go well; I was shuttled from department to department to department but I ended up having to leave a voice message with yet another department. With no assurance that my message would be received or acted upon, I texted Angie and asked her to contact the hotel for me, which I later learned she did.

Before moving on, I’d like to offer a public thank you to Angie, who was a solid rock from beginning to end. Dealing with my travel issues alone would have been quite the job but she also straightened out the messes that befell several others. She was available, unflappable and thoroughly professional, as she always is. I always made sure to thank her at the end of my messages to let her know how much I appreciate her efforts but I still feel a need to thank her in this public forum.

It’s funny what you find out when you choose to talk to strangers – and when those strangers are comfortable enough to talk back to you. For instance, the cabbie who took me to Union Station said he drove Mike Tyson around D.C. shortly before he went to Indianapolis to attend what turned out to be a most fateful beauty pageant. At that pageant, Tyson met Miss Rhode Island, Desiree Washington and was subsequently convicted and imprisoned for her rape. The driver also said he met Muhammad Ali and his family about eight years earlier and he cited other famous passengers such as Stevie Wonder. Of course, anyone can tell any story he wishes but his tales certainly made the journey seem shorter than it was.

I arrived at Union Station at 8:32 p.m. and headed straight for the ticket counter to secure a physical copy of my train ticket. After doing so, the ticket agent told me that the 3:15 a.m. train might not run because of storm debris on the tracks. He also advised me to go to the monitor at 2 a.m. because that is when information regarding the upcoming train schedule would be posted. That was more than five hours in the future, so I had a long wait ahead of me.

With my cell phone’s battery descending toward 20%, I scanned the waiting area for electrical outlets. I spotted a bank of five along one wall in which two plugs were unoccupied, so I opted to set up “camp” there and plugged in.

The plugs were loose and the rate of charging was extremely slow. So, me being me, I chose to pass the time by striking up conversations with my fellow travelers. One of them was Hugh “Rough House” Whitaker, a Philadelphia fighter from the 1980s who bore a strong (but a bit grayer) resemblance to former WBA welterweight titlist Randall Bailey. Another was a lovely Filipino grandmother named Eve, who looked younger than her stated years (67) and with whom we forged an instant bond through our mutual admiration for Manny Pacquiao, as well as our shared faith (her husband is a pastor at a Virginia church). At her suggestion, I walked over to the nearby convenience store to stock up on snacks while she offered to watch my cell phone.

Eve also suggested that taking a bus to New York might be a viable alternative, so I headed upstairs (with my cell phone) and took my place in line at the Greyhound outlet. When I got to the head of the queue, I learned that no buses would be leaving D.C. until Saturday evening, which instantly closed off that escape route. Therefore for better or worse, it was “train or bust” for me.

After hanging out at the plug-in center for a while longer, I returned to the information desk and chatted with the half-dozen people congregated there. The man sitting behind the desk said he was a cousin of IBF junior middleweight titlist Jarrett Hurd and, upon learning I was a punch-counter, asked me about strategy for his cousin’s upcoming unification fight with WBA king Erislandy Lara. Of course, I put in my two cents but, as you might have guessed, those two cents were spread out over several minutes. Another person around the desk was a gregarious female Philadelphian, who also was very knowledgeable about the city’s boxing scene as well as its history.

Between talking with Hugh and Eve as well as the folks around the information desk, I couldn’t help but think the following: What could have been a long, dreary and depressing night at the train station was actually a lot of fun. Anyone who knows me knows I will talk about sports in general, and boxing in particular, at the drop of a glove and these conversations melted the minutes at breakneck speed. They also helped keep me awake and energetic. Also isn’t it interesting how many of the strangers I met knew and appreciated boxing? Dying sport? I think not.

As 2 a.m. approached, I got word that the 3:15 a.m. train had been canceled and that all trains running through tomorrow night had been scuttled, delayed or sold out. Uh-oh. That news was confirmed via phone by Bob Canobbio, who looked at the train schedule online and called me to discuss other options.

Here was one option: I was told it was possible that a passenger on one of the sold-out trains could cancel at the last minute and, if I was in close proximity to the train ticket counter, I could get that seat for myself. Hearing this, I hatched a plan: Sit in front of the train ticket counter, wait for the first employee to show up, explain my story and hope my story would be sympathetic enough to allow me to get a heads-up on any late cancellations. The only train that was not canceled was the one running at 6:20 a.m., which would get me into the city by 10 a.m.

As I munched on a bag of chips and sipped from a bottle of Diet Coke, I asked a passing female security guard when the first ticket counter employees were scheduled to arrive. Her answer: 5 a.m. The current time: 2:30 a.m.

Upon hearing that, I returned to the information desk to resume my lively conversations with the people there. By this time, Hurd’s cousin had departed but another character entered the story less than five minutes later – a lovely 30-year-old pharmacist named Elaine who had just endured a most harrowing bus trek toward New York, where she had hoped to meet her businessman boyfriend. Her bus was forced to turn back just miles from her final destination due to wreckage on the final bridge into the city. She was hungry, angry and exasperated for several reasons and, at first, she told her story to the half-dozen of us within earshot. As time went on, however, she turned her total attention toward me because I was the only one who continued to listen intently to her. Despite the fact that English was her third language (Mandarin and Japanese were her first two), and despite her understandable angst, she communicated fluently and well.

I am convinced that we are placed in situations to further the greater good, no matter how small that good may be. I also believe that one good turn usually results in another. Both dynamics were fulfilled here.

Elaine needed to talk to someone with a sympathetic ear and, sadly, her 37-year-old boyfriend didn’t own that ear. Fortunately for me, I did and, when appropriate, I offered feedback as well as gentle counsel. During the next two hours we formed a bond of sorts and that bond eventually helped me get to New York.

Here’s how: Elaine looked on her phone and saw there were available morning flights to New York at Reagan National Airport, which was located about 20 minutes away. We first walked over to the tram that would take us to Reagan, which, we were told, would open in just a few minutes. It didn’t. Elaine then summoned an Uber on her phone and, by 5:30 a.m., we, along with a third passenger – a very attractive (but married) government worker named Rebecca – were on our way to Reagan.

We arrived at Reagan’s American Airlines entrance at 6:05 a.m. and, as I scanned the flight monitor, I saw there were several flights to New York that were listed as being on time. After updating Bob and Angie, I got in line and waited for my chance to find out whether any of those flights still had seats.

The good news: I was booked on American Airlines Flight 4753, which would leave Reagan at 10 a.m. and arrive at 11:30. The bad news: I was placed on standby, which, for the uninitiated, meant that a certain number of passengers would have to cancel or not show up before I would be issued a boarding pass. The encouraging news: At the moment I was ticketed I was told I was second on the standby list and when I asked the gate agent about my chances of getting on the flight, she characterized them as “decent.” The cautionary news: If I did not get on this airplane, the next available flight would not be until after 4 p.m. So, in a very real sense, it was “get on this plane or else.”

I’ve been on standby a few times and, on most occasions, my name was called well before the boarding process began. According to the monitor, one standby passenger had already been issued a ticket but, by the time, boarding began no other names were called. Things looked bleak.

As passengers continued to board, I retreated to a nearby table, plugged in my laptop, and tried to get an internet connection so I could work on assembling the judges’ information for tonight’s HBO broadcast. But before I could get to work I heard the following:

“Groves, passenger Groves, please approach the counter for your boarding pass.”

Upon hearing this, my brain shouted, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” All you pro wrestling fans will get the reference but the bottom line (no pun intended) was that my path to New York has just been paved and I indeed would get to work the day’s most anticipated boxing match. If it had not been for Elaine, this story might have had a much different ending, so, for that, I thank her.

Meanwhile, I scrambled to put my stuff away, fearing that if I didn’t show up to the counter in 60 seconds’ time, I would be marked as a “no answer” in their computers and that they would move on to the next person on the standby list. Thankfully I reassembled myself in time to get my boarding pass, and, within moments, I was gratefully striding down the jet way.

Once I settled into my seat, however, another plot twist emerged. At 10:54 a.m. the pilot told us that a ground stop had been ordered at LaGuardia due to high winds and that our departure would not occur until at least 11:30. Ominously, he also brought up the possibility of our plane being returned to the gate if the delay lasted more than two hours.

At 11:08, the ground stop was lifted but we were told our plane wouldn’t be able to depart until 11:56. I made good use of the extra time – I closed my weary and burning eyes and rested them.

Once the aircraft left Reagan, it zoomed toward New York with dispatch. The pilot warned us that the final stages of the flight would be quite bumpy. He was right but only for the flight’s final 60 seconds where the plane dipped, dove and lurched horizontally before touching down at 12:45.

The next step was taking a cab to the crew hotel but, as has been the case with every step of this journey, there were complications. More than 500 people were lined up at the taxi pickup area but instead of getting upset, I opted to chat with the person in front of me. This woman, a native of New Jersey, was traveling into New York to celebrate her mother’s 90th birthday and, during our talk, she told a story that illustrated the value of talking to the right people at the right time – even if you don’t know who they are at first.

She and her husband used to attend Baltimore Orioles baseball games in the 1980s and 1990s, when they lived in Northern Virginia, but their seats were often in bad locations. One day, her husband was discussing this situation with a man at the park and the man to whom he was speaking happened to be Larry Lucchino, the president and CEO of the Orioles at the time. Lucchino said he wanted more fans from the Northern Virginia area to attend Orioles games, so he arranged box seats for the couple and hoped the couple’s positive word-of-mouth would work its magic. That arrangement remained in place until Lucchino left to work for the San Diego Padres a few years later but had it not been for her husband’s initiative, they never would have gotten those seats at all.

It took about an hour for me to get to the front of the line but, once I did, my cab driver skillfully maneuvered his way through the snarled, congested streets and got me to the crew hotel at 2:25 p.m.

I checked into my 19th floor room but, before going there, I noticed that the business office was on the way to the elevators. Because I now was within the 24-hour check-in window, I decided to print my boarding pass.

Guess what happened next? Paper jam.

That situation was positively resolved thanks to a helpful hotel employee but, once I got into my room, I dared not take a nap because, by this time, I had been awake for more than 31 hours and I feared that a nap would turn into full-blown slumber.

I grabbed a cab at 4:30 in the hopes of arriving at the Barclays Center by 5. When I told the cab driver where I wanted to go, he asked: “Is that in Manhattan or in Brooklyn?”

“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Aren’t you the guy who’d supposed to know where stuff is?”

But what I really said was, “It’s in Brooklyn; 620 Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Please make sure to drop me off at the Dean Street entrance (the location of the media entrance where I would get my temporary arena credential),” which he did.

At last – at long, long last – I was at the arena.

Punch-counting colleague Andy Kasprzak ably handled all the pre-show duties and handed me my credential upon arrival. Now for the first time in nearly two days, I could turn my focus to the fight action at hand.

*

 

Both bouts – Wilder-Ortiz on paper and Dirrell-Uzcategui II in reality – are combustible pairings but for different reasons. Let’s tackle the main event first.

The “Bronze Bomber” had already racked up historic numbers during his nine-year career, as well as in his three-year title reign. Even if he failed to score a knockout against Ortiz, his 38 stoppages already were the most ever scored by a heavyweight titlist through his first 40 fights, one more than George Foreman and Vitali Klitschko’s 37. That’s pretty heady stuff. By the way, the next fighters on this list include Rocky Marciano, Wladimir Klitschko, Mike Tyson, Frank Bruno and Herbie Hide, all of whom scored 35 knockouts in their first 40 contests. Other notables on this list include Joe Louis (33), Muhammad Ali (30), Larry Holmes (30), Lennox Lewis (29), Gene Tunney (27), Sonny Liston (27), Evander Holyfield (25), Jack Dempsey (20) and Tommy Burns (20). IBF/WBA counterpart Anthony Joshua, who has 20 knockouts in his first 20 contests, will surely be high on this list, should he go on to 40 fights in his own pro career.

The other historic stat on Wilder’s resume is that he has scored six consecutive knockouts in defense of his heavyweight title, which ties him with Mike Tyson for third all-time. Should he stop Ortiz, he will jump to No. 2 on the list, where he will join Joe Louis – who turned the trick three separate times during his record-breaking reign. Larry Holmes and Tommy Burns share top honors with eight.

Ortiz also is shooting for a piece of history, for, at 38 years 319 days, he will become the second-oldest man ever to win a share of the heavyweight title. Foreman, at 45 years 310 days, holds the all-time, all-divisions record but, should Ortiz win, he’d leap-frog over Holyfield (who was 37 years 307 days old when he decisioned John Ruiz in their second match to win the WBA strap in August 2000), Jersey Joe Walcott (who was 37 years 177 days when he stopped Ezzard Charles in the third of their four fights in July 1951), Oleg Maskaev (who was 37 years 172 days when he stopped Hasim Rahman to win the WBC belt in August 2006) and Vitali Klitschko (who was 37 years 94 days when he forced Samuel Peter to retire on his stool after eight rounds in October 2008).

Some wags have alleged that Ortiz may be as old as 48, which, if true, would threaten Bernard Hopkins’ seemingly unassailable records for “oldest this” and “oldest that” in boxing history. Until those rumors are proved true, however, we have no choice but to heed the official record.

How do I see this fight unfolding? While many see a bomb-throwing war, I foresee a battle of jabs – at least at first. Why? Because in his seven title fights, 61.3% of Wilder’s total output has been jabs (25.2 of 41.1), well above the heavyweight norm of 45.6% (20.4 of 44.7 punches per round). Moreover the jab has been responsible for 48.9% of his total connects during that span (8.6 of 17.6), as opposed to just 34.4% for the typical heavyweight (5.2 of 15.1). When one considers Wilder’s 6-foot-7 height and 83-inch reach, this makes perfect sense. As I’ve stated before, if Wilder’s trainer Mark Breland had been born a heavyweight, he would have fought exactly as Wilder has. Therefore Wilder and Breland have been perfect for one another.

But while one expects a fighter of Wilder’s dimensions to be jab-heavy, Ortiz defies his bowling-ball physique by using his jab liberally. In his last five fights, 54.2% of his 55.5 punches per round were jabs and, in his four most recent fights, he has thrown more jabs than power shots. Unlike Wilder, his jab is more of a range-finder than a viable weapon. The evidence: It accounts for only 27.2% of his total connects in his last five fights (4.2 of 15.4 per round) and is nowhere near as accurate as Wilder’s (14% vs. Wilder’s 34% in his last seven).

For these reasons, I believe Ortiz must go against his instincts and chase the knockout instead of engaging in a jabbing contest. But the hyped-up Wilder, who thinks he may be on the brink of a four-belt showdown with Joshua, may eschew his own instincts and gun for the big KO, which, ironically, will give Ortiz his best chance to win.

The boxing match will last until the first huge shot is landed and my guess is that Wilder will be the one who connects first. From there, I think his quicker hands and straighter bombs will get the job done.

*

 

As for Dirrell-Uzcategui II, this is an immediate rematch for one of 2017’s most volcanic conclusions, one for which I was an eyewitness.

At the MGM Grand at Oxon Hill, Maryland, last May 20, Uzcategui was seemingly on his way to victory, in this IBF super middleweight title eliminator, thanks to his aggression and harder punching, assets that appeared to be wearing down the 33-year-old Dirrell, who lacked the strength and consistent shot-for-shot power to hold off the 26-year-old Venezuelan. What happened in the waning moments of round eight would set off unforgettable pyrotechnics. Here was how I described the scene in my subsequent “Travelin’ Man.”:

Uzcategui trapped Dirrell near the corner pad and launched a three-punch combination. The first blow, a left, was thrown slightly before the bell. But the final punch, a massive left to the jaw, connected clearly after time had run out and left the Michigander flat on his face and struggling to recover his faculties.

It was a scene that conjured memories of Dirrell’s ill-fated Super Six tournament fight with Arthur Abraham in March 2010. Fighting brilliantly before his home area fans in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, Dirrell, who had slipped on the wet canvas, was struck with a flush power shot while on the ground. The flagrant foul resulted in an 11th round disqualification win for the American but the aftereffects caused Dirrell to take a momentum-killing 21-month layoff. One could argue that Dirrell has never fully recovered from that punch.

With that searing memory in mind and fearing the worst was at hand again, members of Team Dirrell lashed out with a fury. Brothers Willie and Anthony, the latter being the former WBC super middleweight champion, had to be restrained at ringside and while Willie was escorted from ringside, Anthony, who pushed a security guard during the scuffle, was allowed to enter the ring. Shortly after the fighters embraced (during which Uzcategui told Dirrell he was sorry and Dirrell told Uzcategui he forgave him), Dirrell’s uncle and chief second, Leon Lawson, stormed the ring, walked to Uzcategui’s corner and connected with a flush left hook to the jaw and a right to the neck, which, in turn, reignited memories of James Butler’s infamous post-fight sucker punch of Richard Grant in November 2001 at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. While Grant fell to the ground with blood pouring from his mouth, Uzcategui took Lawson’s punches almost unflinchingly, after which he fixed a quizzical stare. That alone should serve as a testimony to the Venezuelan’s chin as well as a further source of embarrassment for Lawson. Butler was arrested, charged and spent four months behind bars for the act while, as of this writing, Lawson (who somehow got out of the arena) has been charged with first and second degree assault by the Prince George’s County District Court, which, according to reports, could (but probably won’t) result in a maximum $2,500 fine and 35 years in prison.

Given what happened to Dirrell in the Abraham fight, one could extract the reasons why Dirrell’s male family members reacted the way they did. However, their actions, especially Lawson’s, served as an accelerant to an already explosive situation and the ramifications bled into the (subsequent Gary) Russell (Jr.-Oscar Escandon) bout in the form of a fight in the crowd that required further attention from venue security.”

Since last May, one fact changed. After numerous postponements, Lawson will face trial in April on a single second-degree assault charge but will still be barred from working Dirrell’s corner, due to suspensions by multiple boxing administrative entities.

Statistically speaking, Uzcategui was surging at the time of the foul/knockout. In rounds seven and eight, he out-landed Dirrell 35-22 overall, 16-9 jabs and 19-13 power to extend his final leads to 99-71 overall and 61-32 power, while narrowing Dirrell’s jab connect lead to 39-38. Uzcategui was more active (46.1 punches per round to Dirrell’s 34) and his punch selection was much more aggressive (129 jab attempts, 240 attempted power shots), while Dirrell’s output was defensive in nature (188 jabs, 84 power shots). Uzcategui was slightly more accurate overall (26.8%-26.1%) and was more precise with his jabs (30%-21%) but, interestingly, Dirrell struck more accurately with his power shots (38%-25%). Thus, while the flow of the fight was swinging toward Uzcategui, Dirrell was still in it, as far as the judges’ scorecards, as he was within 77-74 on Dave Braslow’s card and 77-75 on Jamie Garayua’s (both scores for Uzcategui) while earning a 76-76 score from Paul Wallace.

So how will the rematch unfold? Neither has fought since their initial encounter and, because Dirrell has had four breaks of more than a year since his disqualification win over Abraham, in March 2010, he is much more accustomed to the effects of ring rust. Uzcategui, on the other hand, is coming off the longest layoff of his career and he’s fought only once since August 2016. That said, I think Uzcategui proved he has the power to hurt and knock Dirrell out and, at 27, he is still at his chronological peak, while the 34-year-old Dirrell is years past his. Worse yet for Dirrell, he has been nailed early in past fights and Uzcategui’s fists will impose a huge threat from first bell to last. Yes, Uzcategui may be a bit gun-shy thanks to the layoff, as well as Dirrell’s switch-hitting “Matrix” style but I believe the Venezuelan will cash in on this second chance with his second TKO – and, this time, it will be official.

*

 

After all the twists and turns of my personal version of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” I was now ready to do some punch-counting, especially after a production assistant at ringside gave me an old-school, full-of-sugar can of Pepsi. Will the fights, and the crowd reactions to them, make for riveting viewing? I certainly hope so.

*

 

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 (available on Amazon)” and the co-author of the upcoming book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers.” To contact Groves, use the email [email protected]

 

 

 

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