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The Travelin’ Man goes to Deadwood: Part one

Hours before working the "ShoBox" card in Deadwood, South Dakota, (from left to right) WBC official Mike George, "The Travelin' Man" Lee Groves, veteran referee and judge Mark Nelson and boxing scribe "Boxing" Bob Newman pose in front of Mount Rushmore.
22
Mar

 

Thursday, March 8: Less than four days after surviving the “Rigors of Riley,” this Travelin’ Man returned to the road – and, this time, my journey will feature a rare double-dip that will extend this travelogue to three parts instead of the usual two. Today, I will be traveling to Deadwood, South Dakota, to count (along with colleague Andy Kasprzak) a “ShoBox” tripleheader featuring heavyweights Junior Fa and Craig Lewis, junior welterweights Ivan Baranchyk and Petr Petrov in an IBF eliminator and, in the main event, Regis Prograis and Julius Indongo in a bout billed for the “interim” WBC 140-pound belt. (For the record, a fight for the “full” WBC title between Jose Carlos Ramirez and Amir Imam is set to take place in nine days, so it’s clear that revenue is the only motivation for the added designation for Prograis-Indongo. Such are the ways of modern boxing).

Then, just a few hours after finishing the Deadwood card (at the aptly-named Deadwood Mountain Grand), I’ll drive to the airport in Rapid City, South Dakota to take a 6 a.m. flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and a 10:33 a.m. bird to San Antonio, where punch-counting colleague Dennis Allen and I will count at least four fights: Richard Commey-Alejandro Luna in an IBF lightweight eliminator and Mario Barrios-Eudy Bernardo, that will air on Showtime Extreme, then, on Showtime, the rematch between Rances Barthelemy and Kiryl Relikh for the vacant WBA junior welterweight title and Sergey Lipinets-Mikey Garcia for Lipinets’ IBF junior welterweight belt. If one of the two Showtime Extreme fights ends early, we will count a junior featherweight contest between Brandon Figueroa and Giovanni Delgado.

Given the logistics and the short windows between the end of one task and the start of the next, this trip will likely push me just as hard – if not harder – than last week’s journey into Brooklyn. Being someone who prefers to look at the bright side, I believe the difficulties of the Brooklyn trip, especially in terms of operating effectively on little sleep, have properly prepared me for what may happen here. Before I tackle those challenges, however, I will need to tend to fight card number one.



*

While Fa, Baranchyk and Prograis had long known they were fighting on this card, their three opponents were not on the original bill. Lewis is a late-sub for Joey Dawejko while Petrov and Indongo are stepping in for Anthony Yigit and Viktor Postol. Therefore, one could say that this card could be billed “Stars Versus Subs.”

“We were told about Viktor Postol’s situation (a fractured left thumb) about four weeks before,” said Executive Producer Gordon Hall. “We obviously scrambled to find a new opponent and we were fortunate to get Julius Indongo, a former unified champion who has victories against good fighters like Eduard Troyanovsky, by one-punch knockout in Russia, and Ricky Burns, on points in Scotland. Of course, he had the unfortunate knockout (loss) against Terence Crawford but, if you look at his body of work and his tall, awkward southpaw style, you can arguably say that he’s a tougher opponent than Postol. We were also happy that the importance of the fight was retained – that it was still for the WBC interim title – so we were pleased with the outcome.

“Yigit pulled out just two weeks before the fight,” Hall continued. “Trying to find anybody to fight within two weeks is very difficult. We had more time with Postol than we did with Yigit and the fact we were able to get Petr Petrov on literally a week’s notice is great because he’s a two-time title challenger who’s always in the gym. There had been some discussions about him being in some future fights, so he was ready to go. He looks at this opportunity as one that doesn’t come along very often because of the fact that it is against Baranchyk, and, if you look at the body of work, it’s clear that it’s Baranchyk’s toughest test to date, even if Petrov is the lighter fighter going into the fight. It should be a good match-up.”

As for Dawejko’s withdrawal, Hall said the Philadelphian’s motives were purely capitalistic.

“Dawejko pulled out of the fight two weeks ago because he got a better offer to fight Bryant Jennings,” he said. “It’s something we’re not happy about but it’s something that happens in the sport. Craig Lewis was preparing for various fights; it was rumored he was going to fight (former IBF titlist) Charles Martin. He had been in the gym but he’s not a preferred opponent. He does stand 6-foot-5 and he was a two-time National Golden Gloves champion. He has some credentials.

“Under these circumstances, with three fighters pulling out on a three-fight card and being able to maintain the card, as well as the stakes, in terms of the Prograis and Baranchyk fights, we were well pleased that we were able to pull it all together,” Hall concluded.

Of course, anyone who has watched boxing for a period of time will tell you that late subs are more than capable of springing surprises. There are many such examples throughout history but three involving championships immediately came to my mind: Art Frias stopping Claude Noel to win the WBA lightweight title, Steve Cruz outpointing Barry McGuigan to capture the WBA featherweight championship and Rolando Navarrete stopping Cornelius Boza-Edwards to win the WBC junior lightweight belt. Frias and Cruz stepped in for Gonzalo Montellano and Fernando Sosa (both of whom suffered detached retinas), while Navarrete (who was preparing to fight Gerald Hayes) was subbing for an ailing Rafael “Bazooka” Limon, the man from whom Boza-Edwards won the title. Will another super-sub rise to the occasion here?

*

 

When many of us learned the location of this card, we were thrilled because, for virtually everyone, South Dakota was a new state, in terms of places worked or visited. There’s a good reason for that: According to BoxRec.com, this broadcast is not only the first boxing show from the state ever to be televised nationally but it is also the first boxing card staged in the state since November 28, 2008. On that card, Caleb Truax (now the IBF super middleweight titlist) stopped Larry Brothers in the first round, while the 17-25-2 Jason Nicholson upset the 20-3 Joey Abell, thanks to a first round disqualification that occurred after Abell struck the downed Nicholson.

While South Dakota is awakening from a nearly decade-long slumber, in terms of the “Sweet Science,” the state once bustled with activity and more than a few notable fighters have plied their trade here. They include:

* Battling Nelson, who stopped Freddie Green in seven rounds on May 10, 1898 and Soldier Williams in three rounds on May 11, 1898, Nelson’s third and fourth professional fights, respectively.

* Emile Griffith, who outpointed Art Hernandez over 10 rounds on August 15, 1969.

* Earnie Shavers, during his two appearances in the state, scored third round knockouts over Lee Roy (November 21, 1969) and Del Morris (November 28, 1971)

* Sammy Mandell, who, on December 11, 1933, fought to a 10-round draw against Johnny Stanton.

* Billy Petrolle made, by far, the most appearances in South Dakota among ring notables with eight. He drew over 10 rounds with Eddie DeBeau on October 23, 1923; outpointed Pete Campi over eight rounds on July 23, 1924, stopped Joe Jawson in seven on February 25, 1927, halted Eddie Dwyer in four on May 22, 1928, knocked out Billy Engman in three on July 12, 1928, iced Bulldog Gonzalez in two on March 20, 1929, battered Norman Brown into a fourth round KO on April 9, 1929 and crushed Doty Turner in three on September 1, 1930.

* Memphis Pal Moore made two appearances in South Dakota, as he outpointed Earl McArthur over 10 rounds on May 18, 1926 and fought Davey Atler to a 10 round draw on June 12, 1926.

* Lee Savold, best known as Joe Louis’ final knockout victim, made his professional debut in South Dakota, as he stopped Harry Bryan in six rounds on September 7, 1933.

* Ron Stander, best known for his courageous but futile challenge against then-heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, fought in his second pro contest in South Dakota, as he demolished Red Ferris in one round on August 15, 1969.

* A pair of light heavyweight title challengers appeared in the state as Ray Anderson (who challenged light heavyweight king Victor Galindez), stopped Joe Hopkins in one round on November 21, 1969, while Shawn Hawk (who fought then-WBO light heavyweight king Nathan Cleverly, in Hawk’s final fight in November 2012), scored a second round knockout over Jim Franklin on October 13, 2007.

* Mia St. John, who made her mark on several pay-per-view undercards in the 1990s, recorded a four-round decision win over Ragan Pudwill, on August 13, 2004.

* Another Pudwill, Tocker, who challenged Sven Ottke for his IBF super middleweight title in 2000 and Ottke’s WBO counterpart Joe Calzaghe in 2002, won a six-round decision over Donnie Penelton on September 7, 2002.

* Matt Vanda, who twice fought Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and met his share of other notables throughout his career, stopped Fidel Martinez in two rounds on May 18, 1996.

* Scott “Pink Cat” Walker, who defeated Alexis Arguello in the Hall of Famer’s final fight in January 1995, twice fought in South Dakota and scored two second round knockouts staged two days apart: Against Sammy Meull on August 12, 1991, then against Jason Barber on August 14, 1991.

* Pat Jefferson, Arguello’s first comeback opponent following the twin losses to Aaron Pryor, won a 10-round decision over Mike Essett on February 26, 1983.

* Middleweight Wilbert “Vampire” Johnson, who, as viewers from the 1980s recall, was carried toward the ring while lying in a casket, recorded an eighth round KO over Frank Lux on March 23, 1984.

* Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss, one of boxing’s most charismatic and interesting characters, appeared in South Dakota five times (and perhaps more under different names) but, according to BoxRec, he went 5-0 in his appearances there. He stopped Billy Turner three times (KO 5 on June 28, 1980, KO 7 on April 23, 1982, and KO 3 on March 23, 1984), while he halted Charlie Keller in seven on February 25, 1982 and out-pointed Larry Puchta over 10 rounds on March 17, 1982.

* Middleweight Doug Demmings, who twice defeated Tony Chiaverini and crossed paths with Marvelous Marvin Hagler (KO by 8), Alan Minter (L 10) and John Mugabi (KO by 5), fought three times in South Dakota and scored a trio of three-round knockouts (KO 3 Mario Collazzo on February 25, 1982, KO 3 Jimmy Lee Jackson on March 17, 1982 and TKO 3 Charlie Keller on May 27, 1982).

* Rugged, no-nonsense heavyweight Scott LeDoux (who was stopped by Larry Holmes in his only title challenge) fought once in South Dakota. On February 25, 1982, he stopped Steve Sanchez in two rounds.

* Del Flanagan, who began his career with 40 consecutive wins and remained unbeaten in his first 52, stopped Johnny Nieman in two rounds on September 8, 1960.

* Finally, onetime heavyweight title challenger Johnny Paychek stopped Clarence Leo Miller, in two rounds, on October 12, 1939.

The research unearthed two more interesting notes:

* Richard Beranek fought four times in a space of two days in Rapid City, once on August 15, 1980 (KO 3 Mike Smith) and three more times on the same card, the following day, on August 16, 1980 (KO 3 Don Severns, KO 3 Sidney Teyeda and W 4 Dwight Barber). Moreover, they were Beranek’s first four professional fights.

* The first known fight card held in South Dakota was staged December 15, 1887, at the Opera House, in Aberdeen, where Jack Keefe and Jim Gibson fought to a six-round draw. A note accompanying the bout stated “Keefe was to KO Gibson in six rounds. In the sixth, Keefe knocked Gibson over the ropes and Gibson did not respond in time, and the referee declared the bout a draw – Mitchell Daily Republican.”

*

 

I left the house shortly before 11 a.m. and, despite encountering two traffic jams, I still arrived at Pittsburgh International Airport by my target time of 1:30 p.m. Once again, it didn’t take me long to find a good parking spot; in fact, it was within a few spaces of the one I snagged last week.

Once the boarding process began for my opening flight – a 3:30 p.m. American Airlines flight to Dallas Fort Worth – it didn’t take long for an irregularity to surface. Even before Group 3 boarding was finished, the gate supervisor announced that overhead bin space was almost exhausted and asked that all remaining passengers with roller boards check their baggage. Usually, such announcements are made much later in the process, like around Group 6 through 8, but the entreaty turned out to be true. Although I was seated in row 10 on the aisle, I had to store my small clothes bag in the bin above row 14, which meant in order to retrieve my bag, I needed to “swim upstream.”

Anyone who has ever been on a commercial airplane will tell you it’s exceedingly difficult to move toward the back of the plane when all the other passengers are jamming the aisle and are determined to flow toward the front. But over time, I’ve worked out a method of doing so without having to wait until the very end of the deplaning process and without inconveniencing my fellow passengers.

As soon as the passengers directly across from me leave their seats and start exiting the aircraft, I grab one of my bags and immediately slide over so that my window-seat counterpart can leave unimpeded. From there, I wait until the next three rows of passengers pass by me, after which I watch the back of the plane for that one passenger who blocks the aisle while retrieving his luggage from the overhead bin. At that point, I slide back as many rows as I can but if I am unable to slide back far enough to grab my bag, I duck out of the aisle and repeat the process until I can.

After landing at DFW, I took the Skylink train to the connecting gate for my next flight (a 6:55 p.m. bird to Rapid City), which ended up being three stops away. During the trip, I spoke with a 70-year-old retired businessman who was on his way to Indianapolis to visit his tax preparer. Sitting next to him was a very attractive Hispanic woman who appeared to be in her mid-20s and who treated him with obvious – but not familial – affection. One possible reason: During our conversation he revealed that although he had been retired for several years, he had done an excellent job of saving his money. Since it was not my business, I opted not to pry. No matter the reason for the pairing, I couldn’t help but think, “Well played, sir.”

Once I landed in Rapid City, my final step was to drive to the crew hotel, the Deadwood Mountain Grand. The directions on the production memo traced a path dominated by Interstate 90 but after launching Google Maps on my phone, I was instructed to leave I-90 and take Exit 57 toward Mount Rushmore.

“Oooookayyyyy,” I thought. “This isn’t exactly the way I envisioned this drive but if Google Maps says this is the best way to go, who am I to argue?”

I should have argued.

Over the next 90 minutes, I wended my way through countless hairpin turns and undulations, which limited me to a seldom-reached maximum speed of 45 miles-per-hour. Then once I got into town, the directions took me to a location that, I learned later, was a couple of blocks away from the hotel.

After picking and probing my way to the hotel and completing the check-in process, I realized this drive into Deadwood couldn’t have unfolded any other way.

Of course my phone – The Travelin’ Man’s phone – would request that I drive the roads less traveled, which is fitting because my whole history is pock-marked with troubled trips and moments of high anxiety. Try driving unfamiliar, unlit roads at night – it isn’t easy. And because my surroundings were pitch-black, I didn’t get to enjoy any of the scenery. It was a good thing there weren’t any cars directly behind me because that gave me the freedom to drive as slowly as I needed to, without having natives pressuring me to drive outside my envelope.

Here’s the topper: Because I arrived at the hotel after 10 p.m., room service was no longer available. I was told I could get some food at a nearby restaurant but, by this point, I had had more than my fill of venturing out amid unfamiliar surroundings. Instead, I got some food out of a vending machine but was unable to get a soda because that machine would not accept any dollar bills. As is often the case, I made the best of the situation, accepted things as they were and moved forward.

Shortly before I arrived at the hotel, longtime friend and fellow boxing writer Boxing Bob Newman, who was covering the card for Fightnews.com, as a tribute to the late, great “Original Travelin’ Man” Jack Obermayer (who missed out on covering cards in Alaska and South Dakota), issued the following invitation via Facebook Messenger:

“Let me know if you’ll be up for an approximately 8 a.m. departure to Mount Rushmore,” he wrote. “I don’t know what your CompuBox schedule demands of you before noon but I figure the earlier we depart, the earlier we can return, rest and prepare for our fight-time duties. Just want to give you a chance to experience the monument. Happy sleep!”

The 8 a.m. departure time threw me for a temporary loop, but how could I turn down a potential once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit one of the world’s greatest man-made wonders? So after consuming my modest bounty, I instantly turned in and targeted a wake-up time of 7 a.m.

 

Friday, March 9: Staying on Eastern Time – two hours ahead of Deadwood’s – I awakened a few minutes before 7, then, once I finished the morning routines, I texted Boxing Bob to let him know I was ready to meet him in the lobby. Shortly afterward, he called to let me know two others will be joining us: Longtime referee and judge Mark Nelson (the son of Denny Nelson) and WBC supervisor Mike George, who happens to be a cousin of the late WBC President Jose Sulaiman. I had never met either before but our deep and mutual boxing connections instantaneously broke down the walls of “stranger-hood.”

The route to Rushmore seemed vaguely familiar to me and it didn’t take long for me to realize this was the backroads route my phone commanded me to take last night. The darkness had concealed the breathtaking scenery that was in my midst and the subsequent sunlight brought it forth with unmistakable intensity.

When this trip was scheduled in late January, I knew the powers-that-be were rolling the dice, in terms of weather. But we couldn’t have picked a better day to visit Mount Rushmore: Sunshine and a temperature in the low-50s. Nelson, a native of Minnesota who had visited the monument as a child, in 1974, served as our unofficial tour guide, and he even showed us a picture of himself with his family from that previous trip. He later posed for a shot in which he reprised the pose and scrunched-up facial expression he struck nearly 44 years earlier.

The mass picture-taking began the moment we first glimpsed the monument just before reaching the parking lot. I had seen Mount Rushmore countless times on TV (and I had even written a Rushmore-themed column for MaxBoxing.com) but that doesn’t compare to seeing it in person, especially on such a beautiful morning. I don’t usually take many pictures of the places I go and the things I do on my trips but chronicling the sights and sounds of this visit was an absolute must. I snapped several photos of the monument with my cell phone camera but a passing tourist took the group shot that accompanies this article in exchange for one of us taking her group’s picture. We didn’t know it at the time but, after seeing the photo on my Facebook page, Dr. David Baum (who I often see at the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend) pointed out that our heights and facial positions were nearly identical to that on Mount Rushmore. How eerie.

After marveling at the monument, we went inside to watch a 15-minute film about how it was built (Nelson thinks it was the same film he watched as a child), then visited various exhibits at an adjacent museum. One exhibit was particularly memorable (and addicting) because it featured a large video screen with a plunger in front of it. Visitors can choose one of several scenes from the film we had just watched, after which they push down on the plunger and watch the subsequent “explosion.”

 

 

Just before we departed, we encountered the Showtime group that included tonight’s broadcast team of Steve Farhood, Barry Tompkins and Raul Marquez. Once back at the hotel, there was little time left before my call time, so I packed my laptop, took the elevator down to the lobby, entered another elevator to the casino floor, then rode a third elevator to the level where the fight venue was located. For such a relatively small place, getting around was almost urban.

After Charles Conwell out-pointed 28-19 Mexican warhorse Juan Jesus Rivera over six rounds to lift his record to 7-0 (5), Andy and I recorded numbers for the two fights that followed: Heavyweight Trey Lippe-Morrison’s third round stoppage over Oswaldo Ortega and lightweight Matt Remillard’s eight-round technical decision win over Jesus Valdez, whose 22-3-1 record is as inflated as any I’ve ever seen. Why? Because while his three previous defeats came against fighters with a combined 41-11-2 record (Lamont Roach, Jesus M. Rojas and Saul Hermosillo), the records of his 22 victims was 51-148-9, or a .245 winning percentage.

Valdez hung tough throughout, despite taking an inordinately high percentage of punches from the “Sharpshooter” (44% overall, 35% jabs, 52% power) but, while his chin held up well, his facial tissues did not. An accidental butt cut both men (Remillard on the hairline, Valdez around the eye) but a subsequent butt widened Valdez’s cut to the point where the fight was stopped and sent to the scorecards. Remillard won a lopsided technical decision (80-72 twice, 79-73) that was backed up by the numbers (149-68 overall, 52-8 jabs, 97-60 power as well as 44%-20% overall, 35%-8% jabs and 52%-24% power).

As for Lippe-Morrison-Ortega, it was a slugger vs. boxer contest in which Ortega, the boxer, landed more than his share of blows against Lippe-Morrison, who ceaselessly chased the Mexican and banked on his crippling power to negate Ortega’s successes. A hook to the body produced a delayed-reaction knockdown in round two while a heavy right to the rib cage caused Ortega to buckle at the knees and hold his position long enough for Lippe-Morrison to drive him to the floor with a hook to the top of the head. Ortega rose at referee Nelson’s count of nine-and-a-half but because he never fully straightened himself and seemed hesitant to continue, Nelson rightly called off the fight.

Thanks to his excellent jab (32 of 75, 43%), Ortega finished the fight with a 64-60 lead in total connects and trailed just 37%-36% in total accuracy. But while Ortega dominated with his jab (Lippe-Morrison was just 14 of 75, 19%), Lippe-Morrison landed 52% of his power shots (46 of 89) to Ortega’s 31% (32 of 103). The pace was pretty brisk as Lippe-Morrison averaged 67.5 punches per round and Ortega fired 73.3, well above the 44.7 heavyweight average.

One possible explanation for Lippe-Morrison’s apparent decline in form, as compared to previous efforts: This was his first fight in nearly 16 months. At age 28, Morrison is at his chronological peak and, I believe, his game will return to the form he showed in impressive blowouts against Ed Latimore (TKO 1, September 23, 2016) and Ty Cobb (TKO 2, December 10, 2016), the former of which was aired as part of the “ShoBox” series.

With that, Andy and I were ready to count the televised portion of the card, which we expected to produce compelling numbers and even more compelling in-ring action.

*

 

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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