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The Travelin’ Man goes to Brooklyn: Part two – Fight night at Barclays and the journey home

Deontay Wilder (right) drops a bomb on Luis Ortiz. Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME
06
Mar

Please click here to read Part One

 

Saturday, March 3 (continued): It was wild. And in the end, it was Wilder.

Following a start so tepid that boos reverberated throughout Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder and challenger Luis Ortiz more than delivered on the hype that preceded their highly anticipated contest. Each man was stunned by the other but because Wilder kept his feet under fire – and because he was able to floor the iron-chinned Ortiz three times, including twice in the 10th – he emerged victorious.



“Luis Ortiz was one of those fighters that everyone ducked. Even champions ducked him,” Wilder said afterward. “I wondered why it took so long for him to get a title shot – and now we know.”

The tumultuous action that unfolded in rounds five through 10 not only lifted Wilder-Ortiz into this year’s race for “Fight of the Year,” it revived memories of last year’s Fight of the Year – IBF/WBA titlist Anthony Joshua’s 11th round TKO against Wladimir Klitschko. In a fight that saw both men hit the canvas, the 41-year-old Klitschko forced his 27-year-old opponent to dig into his very deepest reserves. During those moments of truth, which began when “AJ” suffered a sixth round knockdown, Joshua learned those reserves were sufficient to produce an inspired rally that culminated in two 11th round knockdowns and the eventual stoppage. Here, the 38-year-old Ortiz – who, had he won, would have been the second-oldest man ever to win a piece of the heavyweight title behind George Foreman, a record Klitschko would have claimed for himself, had he beaten Joshua last year – forced Wilder into his moment of truth, thanks to a crunching left cross in round seven that turned the beltholder’s legs to boiled spaghetti. As Wilder reeled about the ring, Ortiz gunned for the dramatic knockout in an assault that began with 41 seconds remaining in the round and lasted until the bell. In the round’s final 60 seconds, Ortiz threw 44 punches and landed 23 – including 21 of 31 power shots – but “The Bronze Bomber” somehow kept his feet and retruned to his corner.

Ortiz’s assault wiped away any memories of the knockdown Wilder scored in round five (just as Klitschko’s knockdown in round six erased Joshua’s flooring of “Dr. Steelhammer” in round five) and, between rounds seven and eight, the Barclays crowd vibrated with the excitement that could only be generated by a potential changing of the guard at the top of boxing’s most glamorous and historically significant weight class. But while Ortiz managed to out-throw (54 to 41) and out-land Wilder (14-10 overall, 13-5 power) in round eight, he gave the champion just enough breathing room to recover his senses. That, in retrospect, was when the fight’s balance of power – and, ultimately, its final result – was shaped.

That process was furthered in the ninth, when Ortiz threw just 25 punches (landing three), while Wilder was 11 of 33, including 6 of 12 in power shots. It was confirmation that Ortiz’s seventh round assault was, quite literally, an “all or nothing” quest to become a professional champion and that he had nothing else with which to threaten Wilder. Wilder, on the other hand, had something with which to threaten Ortiz and he showed that something in the 10th, when he scored not one but two knockdowns in a round that saw him land 22 of his 42 total punches, including 58% of his power punches (18 of 31). The second knockdown prompted referee David Fields to call an immediate halt to the hostilities, an act that brought the curtain down on a pleasingly theatrical heavyweight championship contest.

“A true champion always finds a way to come back and that’s what I did tonight,” Wilder told Showtime’s Jim Gray (whose interview was briefly interrupted by Jarrell Miller approaching the ring apron). “Luis Ortiz is definitely a crafty guy. We already knew he had the fundamental skills and they showed. He put up a great fight. We knew we had to wear him down and he was a great opponent. I showed everybody I can take a punch.”

Statistically speaking, he took a lot of them – 87 to be exact – but happily for him, he landed more of his own (98-87 overall and 38-24 jabs to offset Ortiz’s 63-60 lead in landed power shots). The same dynamic prevailed in each man’s accuracy, as Wilder prevailed 28%-24% overall and 20%-11% jabs, while Ortiz led 43%-39% power.

As has been the case throughout Wilder’s career, his attack was focused on Ortiz’s head. In his seven title fights, only 10% of his total connects had struck the body and, against Ortiz, only five of his 98 total connects – or 5.1% – hit the body. Ortiz also lived up to his statistical pedigree in that area, as 33 of his 87 total connects (37.9%) were body shots, which was right in line with the 33.3% rate he recorded in his five CompuBox-tracked fights before meeting Wilder.

Wilder, who had averaged 41.1 punches per round in his seven previous title fights, produced just 35.7 per round here, while Ortiz, who threw 55.5 punches per round in five previous CompuBox-tracked fights, averaged 37.4 against Wilder. But while both men’s output was well under the 44.7 heavyweight average, they made sure each of their punches counted.

At the time of the stoppage, all three judges had Wilder up 85-84, which meant Wilder had won two of the first four rounds during a segment in which many thought Ortiz had the edge. According to CompuBox, Ortiz out-landed Wilder 26-22 overall and 15-8 power in rounds one through four but the round-by-round breakdowns had Ortiz up 7-4 in round one, Wilder ahead 7-5 in round two, Ortiz leading 5-2 in the third and each man connecting nine times overall in the fourth. Given the close margins, it is easy to see why the jurists – Glenn Feldman, Kevin Morgan and Carlos Ortiz Jr. – opted to score the way they scored and also why Showtime’s scorer Steve Farhood gave Ortiz all four rounds.

The bout produced other notable statistics, which will be presented here, courtesy of CompuBox president Bob Canobbio:

*Wilder had a 33-6 edge in total punches landed in the last two rounds.

*Wilder landed 55.8% of his power punches in the last two rounds after landing just 32% in the previous eight rounds.

*Eighteen of Wilder’s 60 landed power punches (30%) were in the 10th round.

*Thirty-five of Ortiz’s 63 landed power punches (56%) were in rounds seven (22) and eight (13).

*The 22 power shots landed by Ortiz in the seventh round were the most by a Wilder opponent in 20 of his fights tracked by CompuBox.

*Ortiz landed 43.4% of his power punches in the fight, the highest percentage by a Wilder opponent in his 20 CompuBox-tracked fights.

This first installment of boxing’s “March Madness” in the heavyweight division delivered the action it promised – and more. It also confirmed that, when push comes to shove and when shove comes to punch, Joshua and Wilder each have the talent and the tenacity to overcome just about every situation. The only questions now are (1) will this “all the marbles” super-fight actually be made and (2) if Joshua beats WBO beltholder Joseph Parker and the fight is made, will Joshua or Wilder force his opponent to prove he can overcome all situations?

*

 

For about a half-hour, it appeared the rematch between Andre Dirrell and Jose Uzcategui was going to be called off because someone in the Venezuelan’s dressing room noticed an irregularity in the Venezuelan’s urine. The rumors swirling around ringside soon became fact and, while we awaited further news, my memory recalled three incidents in which a fight was canceled at the very last minute.

The first took place February 24, 1979, in Las Vegas, when WBA light heavyweight king Mike Rossman was scheduled to make his first defense against the man from whom he won it, future Hall-of-Famer Victor Galindez. The fight was to be aired on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” but all fans saw that day was Rossman, the champion, standing in the ring awaiting his opponent’s arrival. According to reports, the heart of the dispute was in the composition of the judges; Galindez asked that the WBA be allowed to appoint two of the judges while the Nevada State Athletic Commission contended it had the right to name all three officials. Promoter Bob Arum, of Top Rank, attempted to mediate the dispute but his lawyerly skills failed to move either Galindez or the commissioners. Thus the fight was called off and a rather bizarre episode of “Wide World” came to a close. For the record, Rossman and Galindez did stage their rematch on April 14 in New Orleans, with Galindez regaining his title between rounds nine and 10, after Rossman retired on his stool due to a broken right hand.

The second last-minute cancellation that came to mind happened in November 1982, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and, this time, it was NBC’s “SportsWorld” series that was adversely affected. Once-beaten middleweight contender Alex Ramos – once dubbed by NBC as one of “Tomorrow’s Champions” – was set to face the man who had inflicted that one loss, Ted Sanders, in a rematch of a bout that saw Sanders stop “The Bronx Bomber” in eight, three months earlier.

According to the New York Times, Sanders missed the previous day’s weigh-in because he instead flew to Los Angeles. Assistant trainer Richard Mazzochi said Sanders was unhappy with his accommodations, as well as with insulting comments made about him and his friends by one of the event’s promoters. Additionally, Mazzochi said Sanders had not put his name on a contract for the rematch, so he didn’t feel obligated to go through with the fight. The rematch was never rescheduled and Sanders would fight only once more (he stopped IW Johnson in six rounds in May 1983) before retiring.

The final incident took place September 26, 1992, at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, when former unified welterweight titlist Simon Brown was scheduled to challenge WBC junior middleweight king Terry Norris, on HBO. However the fight never took place because Brown was diagnosed with vertigo and was subsequently taken to the emergency room.

“Simon complained that, when he stood, the room was revolving around him,” said Edwin “Flip” Homansky, chairman of the medical advisory board to the Nevada commission. “There is no definitive test for vertigo, no tests that rules it in or rules it out.”

According to the New York Times’ story written by Phil Berger, Brown underwent a battery of tests and that “all of them were normal.” At 4:40 p.m. Pacific Time, Norris’ team was told the fight was in jeopardy and, by 5:15, the official cancellation was announced.

“There is only one reason why I came in here,” Brown said in a statement from the hospital. “I just felt a little dizzy. I hadn’t the slightest idea they would keep me here this long. As far as I’m concerned, I’m ready to fight. They can reschedule this fight tomorrow, as far as I’m concerned.”

That didn’t happen but, when the bout was staged on December 18, 1993, in Puebla, Mexico, Brown pulled off what was deemed THE RING’s “Upset of the Year” when he stopped the overly aggressive “Terrible Terry” in four rounds. They met again the following May, with Norris, now in full boxing mode, regaining his belt by a lopsided decision.

Farhood, producer Jody Heaps and I were discussing some of these fights and were assembling notes about them just in case more “stretching” was needed for the broadcast. At 9:23 p.m., however, Uzcategui was cleared to fight because, according to Ryan Songalia’s story on RingTV.com, it was determined that a Vitamin B-12 shot was responsible for the unusual coloration.

In the past, such interruptions so close to the ring walk have crippled other fighters’ focus but Uzcategui radiated joyful relief, upon entering the ring. It was as if he knew something good was about to happen for him and, once the bell sounded, a lot of those good things became reality.

In his first fight with Dirrell, Uzcategui landed just 23.5% of his power shots but, here, his hooks, crosses and uppercuts landed with telling precision and regularity. For the fight, Uzcategui connected with 37% of his power punches and his 112-51 gap further illustrated his superiority. More than a third of those 112 power connects occurred in round eight, as he went 38 of 96, en route to a withering 48 of 143 performance that prompted Dirrell’s new trainer Virgil Hunter to threaten to stop the fight and cutman Jacob “Stitch” Duran to express great concern to a ringside physician. Two seconds after the ninth round bell sounded, another doctor waved off the bout.

 

Super middleweight contender Jose Uzcategui (left) vs. Andre Dirrell. Photo credit: Amanda Westcott/Showtime

 

“I was a little surprised they stopped it,” Uzcategui said through Showtime translator Felix DeJesus. “With a lot of people, I was wrong saying it would be a third round knockout. It took a little longer but it finally came.”

Did it ever. While Dirrell’s accuracy was on par with Uzcategui’s (he led 31.6%-31.5% overall, 29%-25% jabs but trailed by just 36.964%-36.957%), he couldn’t keep up with Uzcategui’s volume (67 vs. 55.8) or his shot-for-shot power. Another telling stat: Uzcategui was much more aggressive with his punch selection, as he threw 303 power punches and 233 jabs, while Dirrell fired 308 jabs but only 138 power shots.

While Uzcategui put himself in line for a shot at IBF titlist Caleb Truax and expressed a desire to fight WBC champ David Benavidez (a man Uzcategui considers a friend), Dirrell was forced to ponder his future.

“The way it was going, I needed to at least pick it up,” he said. “I felt a little sluggish and (Uzcategui) hit all the right shots. None of them really hurt but he hit me where he was supposed to. My family, my team and (I) will make a decision about what’s next but we’ll soon find out.”

I was ringside when Dirrell (as well as his brother Anthony) made his professional debut January 27, 2005, at Michael’s Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie, Maryland. On that night, Dirrell scored a second round knockdown, en route to a fourth round TKO victory over the 3-4 Carlos Jones and I recall his grandfather Leon Lawson allowing me to touch Dirrell’s Olympic medal. Now, 13 years later, I am no longer the punch-counting apprentice and Dirrell is no longer the brilliant prospect, whose star shone brightly inside that ballroom ring. Boxing is often a “here today, gone tomorrow” proposition, especially for those brave enough to step between the ropes and compete against other professionals. Having had a small taste of that crucible makes me appreciate the fact that I can make a living outside those ropes that much more. Whatever Dirrell decides to do going forward, I wish him well and because of the night of January 27, 2005, he and his brother (who scored a first round TKO over the 0-4 Henry Dukes) will always be a part of my own unique boxing experience.

*

 

I shared a shuttle van back to the hotel with Andy, Farhood, replay director Ray Smaltz, Raul Marquez, Mauro Ranallo, Al Bernstein, Brian Custer and Mike Teodoru (who determines which stats are shown on screen) and, after saying our goodbyes, I returned to my room, uploaded the night’s numbers into the master database, consumed a small post-midnight snack and turned out the lights at 2:30 a.m., ending what had been nearly 43 consecutive hours of consciousness.

Sunday, March 4: Given the amount of time I had been awake, I was surprised that I slept for my usual five-and-a-half hours. By the way, despite the long hours, my focus was on point throughout the show, thanks to a can of “old-school” Pepsi a production assistant gave to me during the final undercard fight, which saw junior middleweight Patrick Day outpoint Kyrone Davis over 10 rounds.

Upon arising, the first thing I did was make sure my 1:13 p.m. flight from LaGuardia to Pittsburgh was still on. It was and it was listed as being on time. Still, I checked out of the hotel at 9:45 a.m. in the hope that I would arrive at LaGuardia by taxi at 10. I figured if I arrived early and if my flight had been canceled during the trip, I would already be on site to make other arrangements.

I need not have worried. The trip home was as uneventful as my inbound journey had been chaotic. My seatmate in row six, while nice enough, wasn’t in the mood to chat, so I spent most of the flight, which departed on time, resting my eyes. The plane landed shortly after 2:30 and, by 3, I arrived at my car. I did receive a bit of a scare when it appeared my left front tire had gone flat but it turned out to be an optical illusion caused by a mini-pothole with small leaves around the perimeter. After making a couple of “I’m all right” phone calls, I began the final leg of the journey home.

I spent the entire drive listening to “Busted Open Radio” on Sirius XM Channel 93, a show about pro wrestling. Longtime readers of “The Travelin’ Man” know I follow lots of sports besides boxing – tennis, baseball, track and field, football (college and pro), while also watching some rugby, hockey and Australian Rules football – and I’ve watched the WWF/WWE since the late 1970s. It was my first time listening to “Busted Open” and the light-hearted but informative banter was perfect for me, in terms of staying alert and remaining fully engaged.

I arrived home shortly before 5 p.m. and the adrenaline was such that I didn’t go to sleep until 12:30 a.m. But I only have a little more than three days to recover because, starting Thursday afternoon, I will start a rare two-show trip that, God willing, will take me to Deadwood, South Dakota, to count a “ShoBox” tripleheader topped by Regis Prograis-Julius Indongo and to San Antonio to work a Showtime Extreme/”Showtime Championship Boxing” four-bagger headed by Sergey Lipinets-Mikey Garcia.

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 (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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