The Travelin’ Man returns to IBHOF Induction Weekend: Part two
Friday, June 8: If Wednesday and Thursday represented the undercard of my six-day Induction Weekend odyssey, then today and tomorrow comprise the meaty co-features that may steal the show: Friday’s live boxing at the Turning Stone, the fist casting ceremony and the ringside lectures on Friday and Saturday’s card and memorabilia show, golf tournament, 5K run, VIP cocktail and the Banquet of Champions (now held at the Turning Stone). Induction Sunday, of course, is the main event but, for me, the Friday/Saturday slate is where most of my memories have been created.
If all goes as planned, today will be immensely busy but thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to event host James “Smitty” Smith, I am scheduled to take part in a ringside lecture with Jessie Vargas, addressing the best fights of 2018 and dream fights we’d like to see during the remainder of the year. I also am tentatively scheduled to appear on “Randy’s Ringside” with Randy Gordon (although that could fall through if things don’t fall into place), after which I will attend the ESPN-televised boxing show as a member of the media but not as a deadline reporter. In between, I hope to close more book sales.
In preparation for the lecture, I spent more than an hour preparing CompuBox-style notes regarding fights I thought would be discussed during the first part of the lecture (Gary Russell Jr.-Joseph Diaz Jr., Adonis Stevenson-Badou Jack, Vasiliy Lomachenko-Jorge Linares, Isaac Dogboe-Jessie Magdaleno, Jessie Vargas-Adrien Broner, Jarrett Hurd-Erislandy Lara, Oscar Valdez-Scott Quigg, Deontay Wilder-Luis Ortiz, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai-Juan Francisco Estrada and David Benavidez-Ronald Gavril II) and assembling further thoughts on the dream fights. If any other subjects are addressed, I’ll be winging it.
Before I proceed, I’d like to recognize that if it hadn’t been for my CompuBox colleagues, I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend the entire weekend. Andy Kasprzak and Dennis Allen are now in Los Angeles to work the “Showtime Championship Boxing card” topped by the Leo Santa Cruz-Abner Mares rematch, while my co-author Bob Canobbio and his sons will be working ESPN+ shows on Friday and Saturday. As a result, I was free to enjoy the sights and sounds of Canastota to the fullest, and I’m truly grateful for that.
I arrived on the grounds during the Ringside Lecture featuring Antonio Tarver and 2018 IBHOF inductee Ronald “Winky” Wright. Although I didn’t hear the entire conversation, the comment that struck me most was uttered by Wright. The subject was bestowing greatness on fighters prematurely, and he said, “While these guys have great ability, you can’t truly call them great until they meet and beat other great fighters.” It is natural for us sports fans to want to witness greatness and declare that event, that athlete or that team the “best ever.” But as sportswriter/broadcaster Skip Bayless coined, we often are “prisoners of the moment.” Only with time can we gain perspective, and, more often than not, the immediate “glow” fades and settles into its proper place in history.
One relevant point regarding this phenomenon is the ranking of three-division champion Vasiliy Lomachenko as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter – a ranking with which I agree. I believe his performances over the past 18 months – capped by his off-the-floor 10th round stoppage over Jorge Linares to win the WBA lightweight title and THE RING championship – elevated the Ukrainian to his current perch. His incredible talent combined with his offensive mindset makes him an electric performer inside the ring, and his wins over Linares, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Jason Sosa, Miguel Marriaga and Nicholas Walters represent quite the run, especially considering that the latter four on this list retired on their stools and, with the exception of Sosa, none have fought since. Did Lomachenko “ruin” them? Only time will tell. Also Lomachenko shattered Jeff Fenech’s all-time record for fewest fights required to capture three divisional titles (20) by dethroning Linares in his 12th official outing. Even if you add his six World Series of Boxing contests (which I consider pro bouts since the fights were conducted under professional rules and the participants were paid), he still achieved it in 18 bouts. That’s extraordinary, and I believe there is much more to come from the 30-year-old, who, given the fact he won a gold medal at lightweight at the 2012 Olympics, is not yet stretching the limits of his physique.
I spent most of the next several hours doing what I usually do – hanging out on the grounds and talking with whomever wishes to do so. As I was speaking with veteran photographer Chris Farina and onetime Boxing News editor-in-chief Tris Dixon, one man broke in and asked me to sign his copy of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers,” which he purchased from the gift shop. His enthusiasm for boxing shone through as the words sprayed like machine gun bullets, and, while I could hardly get in a word edgewise, I appreciated the passion and knowledge he gained from his voracious reading habits. Only in Canastota, during Hall of Fame Weekend, can one run into a random person and know that he or she will likely know as much – and sometime much more – about boxing than you do. That certainly has been the case with me during my 26 trips.
As I was involved with yet another conversation I heard event host James “Smitty” Smith softly call my name over the loudspeaker. When I looked up, he motioned me to come over. The reason: He wanted to go over the format of our Ringside Lecture, with the most pertinent instruction being “be brief.” I chuckled internally for this reason: Asking me to be brief is like asking me to make five consecutive free throws – I will try my best but I’ll probably fail. Williams Shakespeare once wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and if that’s true, then I’m totally witless. The proof: The length of this article.
Although I’ve conducted a few Ringside Lectures over the past few years, this would be the first time I would share the stage with a prominent boxer. I was aware of the reputational imprint this would create, and I felt up to the challenge.
When Smitty got word that Vargas’ arrival would be delayed, he started the lecture with just the two of us. Smitty expertly quarterbacked me through the talk by asking cogent questions, and I must have done well enough because, when he reached into his goodie basket to give out prizes for correct trivia answers, he asked me to come up with a few (thus began the “winging it” portion of the talk). My questions were fairly easy: 1. Who was Ali’s final opponent? 2. Who was Ali’s first professional opponent? 3. Who was Ali’s final knockout victim; what was the round of the KO and where did it take place? I’ll leave it to you to find out the answers if you don’t already know them.
Based on the remarks of those who spoke to me after the lecture, I did very well. Longtime Canadian buddy Bill Johnston called it “gorgeous,” while others offered glowing praise. One interesting conversation I had was with a Canadian boxing judge named Jasper Kujavsky, a veteran amateur official who is now expanding his reach to the pro game. Among other things, I was impressed by his judging philosophy, one which mirrors my own: At the beginning of a round there is a line in the middle from which the round starts. If a fighter lands a light jab, the mark moves one spot from the middle. If a fighter lands a jolting punch but doesn’t buckle his legs, the mark moves two spaces away from center. If a fighter lands a power shot that staggers an opponent, then it’s three spaces (or more depending on the severity). If the other fighter lands similarly, the mark moves in the other direction. I keep track of this dynamic on both sides as best as I can, and, at the end of the round, I score it for the appropriate boxer.
This method, one I call the “fulcrum method” but Jasper calls “the meter method,” is foolproof in that we are not deceived by a sudden flurry in the final 30 seconds and we can determine the winner of a round, even if it is stopped at the 15-second mark.
Assuming the “Randy’s Ringside” appearance was a no-go, I decided to drive to the Turning Stone Casino so I could grab a mid-afternoon meal before collecting my media credential for the ESPN-televised show topped by junior featherweights Diego de la Hoya and Jose Salgado. Near the end of the meal, longtime event attendee Patrick McGrath stopped by my table and, following an enjoyable discussion, purchased one of the books I had in my laptop bag. For me, it literally paid to be prepared.
Just before walking toward the Willow Room (the media pass headquarters), I was beckoned by longtime Fightnews.com writer “Boxing Bob” Newman, who, with his photographer brother Andy, was also covering the card. We spent the next few minutes catching up, as well as discussing the upcoming show, after which I gave him a review copy of the book.
All of the attention surrounding the book has been gratifying, and, had I been my much younger self, I probably would have gotten somewhat conceited. Thanks to life experience, however, I knew something would happen that would keep my ego in check. Such an event occurred shortly after I got my credential and found my place in the press section: I looked at the sticker denoting my work station and saw the following: “Lee Grooves, Ring TV.” I showed the spelling error to the reporter seated to my right – Scotland native Jon Bruce of Ring News 24 – and both of us chuckled. Message delivered – and message received.
The first fight of the night pitted two area cruiserweights making their professional debuts. Ithaca’s Armus Guyton, a relatively lean athlete whose weight on the program was 183½ but announced at 185, was paired with Cortland’s Mike Diorio, a stocky but broad shouldered 180-pounder whose cauliflower right ear suggested a past in mixed martial arts. The pattern of the fight remained unchanged throughout: Diorio charging in behind windmill punches and the retreating Guyton on the move, occasionally switch-hitting, and catching Diorio coming in with sharp counterpunches, especially with the right hand.
The second round saw Guyton make a subtle adjustment: Remaining in the southpaw stance for longer periods. That said, he appeared more effective as a right-hander because, from that stance, he connected with clean rights to the charging Diorio’s cheek.
Diorio’s best moment occurred late in the third round, when a sudden combination caused a stunned Guyton to retreat. The surge was short-lived, and, moments later, Diorio emerged with a gash over the left eye that soon was accompanied by swelling. During the fourth, Diorio made it clear the blood bothered him, as he wiped it away with his glove.
The decision was unanimous for Guyton as Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan saw it 39-37 and John McKaie turned in a 40-36 scorecard. The scores were reflective of the in-ring action as Guyton began and ended most of the exchanges and appeared to own strategic command (my alternate term for “ring generalship”).
Next up was a scheduled eight-round light heavyweight fight between 170-pound Brazilian Isaac Rodrigues, who entered the ring with a 24-2 (with 19 knockouts) record, and 168-pound Chesapeake, Virginia, southpaw Frankie Filippone, who owned a 25-7-1 (with 9 KOs) ledger, and works as a policeman when not training. On paper, it appeared to be a mismatch but, once the bell sounded, Filippone landed the cleaner, harder punches. A heavy left cross near the end of round one sent Rodrigues reeling back and a follow-up volley in the final 10 seconds earned Filippone a round that, to that point, had been nondescript.
Filippone continued to connect with lefts to the jaw in round two, and later mixed in a hard body shot at the end of a combination. The American’s control was such that I began to question the quality of the Brazilian’s record. Consider: After suffering back-to-back KO losses, Rodrigues won seven straight fights, six by knockout, and all in his native land. Five of the six stoppages occurred inside four rounds and his opponents sported a 60-40-3 mark. Take away Jose Pinzon’s 25-7 mark and the record slides to 35-33-3. So in that respect, Filippone was near the top of the charts, in terms of recent opposition, and perhaps that’s why he was administering a decent test.
The third saw a brief but robust exchange after Filippone connected with a smacking right-left to the stomach. The Virginian’s confidence was such that he turned right-handed and danced in front of Rodrigues with slightly lowered hands. Seeing this, Rodrigues chastened him with a lead right to the face, a punch that prompted Filippone to immediately switch back to lefty.
Any thoughts of an upset vanished with startling speed in the fourth. A solid right to the chin suddenly dropped Filippone and left him curled in a ball under the bottom rope, then, after arising, a brief volley sent him down for the second and final time, prompting referee Gary Rosato to wave off the bout at the 1:46 mark.
After a 15-minute break that allowed me to clean up the copy I hurriedly typed on the laptop, the next bout – a scheduled four-round heavyweight bout between Lawrence Gabriel (2-1-1, 1 KO) and Buffalo’s Jimmy Levins, an 0-2 fighter benevolently described as “a veteran of two fights” – began. Given the old-school flavor of Hall of Fame Weekend, it’s fitting that Gabriel is maintaining an old-school schedule: Just 27 days ago, he stopped Brad Vargeson in two rounds, on the undercard of Jaime Munguia-Sadam Ali at Turning Stone. Also Gabriel is fighting at this venue for the third consecutive time, so he’s building a bit of a home base.
The taller Gabriel, 203, used his height and reach to force the 220-pound Levins to retreat, a tactic that completely nullified the shorter man’s ability to score effectively. It wasn’t long before Gabriel began connecting with long rights to the face and even longer rights to the ribs. In the final minute of the first, Gabriel floored Levins with a corkscrewing hook that landed near the temple. As Levins walked to the corner, he flexed his right leg as if he had twisted it. Seeing this, I thought, “Is this a legitimate injury, or is Levins establishing an excuse for the KO loss that may be coming soon?”
Whatever the motivation, Levins unsteadily limped back into battle and threw winging punches that had the air of desperation. Those blows allowed him to last out the round.
Unfortunately for Levins, his night’s work didn’t last much longer. He fell to the floor early in the second from an undetectable blow and the lengthy process of regaining his bearings again suggested he wanted to bow out gracefully. That opportunity came about a minute later when Gabriel connected with a wide hook that sent Levins heavily to the canvas. Referee Charlie Fitch, recognizing the situation, immediately called off the contest at the 1:56 mark of round two.
On paper, the story line of the night’s fourth bout between middleweights Alex Rincon and Engelberto Valenzuela was clear: A 3-0 southpaw with three knockouts looking to add another early KO against an 11-13 (3) journeyman, who looked to be straight from Central Casting. The reason: Valenzuela had lost seven of his last eight fights, all by knockout and all within two rounds.
Shortly before the opening bell, I turned to Jon and said, “I think the over/under for this fight should be two minutes and 15 seconds.” And then the bell rang.
As the pair moved toward one another, I perceived Valenzuela’s soft torso was tailor-made for a stiff body shot. Rincon apparently saw this too as a right hook to the body produced a delayed-reaction knockdown less than a minute into the round. Valenzuela struggled to make referee Mark Nelson’s count, and, a few moments later, a heavy right to the ribs ignited a flurry that decked him a second time. Again, Valenzuela regained his feet but it was clear the end was near. Two right hands and a final left cross along the ropes snapped back Valenzuela’s head, which was all Nelson needed to stop the contest. The time: One minute and thirty-five seconds – a full 40 seconds under my prediction.
“That’s what I get for being a softie,” I jokingly told Jon.
With an hour before the live telecast remaining, the time was consumed by the rendering of the National Anthem followed by Smitty’s introduction of the 27 boxing celebrities in attendance, in addition to living members of the IBHOF Class of 2018. Of those, broadcaster Jim Gray enjoyed the moment the most, as he wore an ear-to-ear grin and happily engaged with his fellow classmates, as well as with Hall-of-Famer Mike Tyson, a friend of Gray’s who also was in the ring.
Another interesting moment was Vitali Klitschko high-fiving many of the people lining each side of the aisle, entering the ring and engaging in surprisingly spritely shadow-boxing. Save for the graying hair, “Dr. Ironfist” looked as if he could pick up where he left off in 2012.
The first fight on the ESPN-televised portion of the card matched junior middleweights Travell Mazion and Daquan Pauldo, better known as Daquan Arnett (Arnett legally changed his last name to Pauldo, to match that of his stepfather, the man who raised him). Because there was no recent footage of Mazion, I had no feel for how good he was. A look at his record on BoxRec offered a possible clue: While he sported a glittery 12-0 (with 11 KOs) record, many of those stoppages came against opponents with sub-par records (the 10-40 Terrance Roy, the 2-24 Aaron Anderson, the 6-15 Justo Valecillo and the 13-29 Steve Trumble among them). Another eyebrow-raising stat: Mazion’s most recent fight was a six-round decision over Evan Torres – 359 days ago.
Mazion’s lean but sculpted physique, especially when compared to Pauldo’s somewhat softer torso, was a reason for me to withhold judgment – for the moment. Another was how Mazion began the fight: A well-executed shoulder feint that briefly deked Pauldo out of position. A third was his jab, which was thrown with enough speed and frequency to force Pauldo to engage him solely at long range while also setting up opportunities to fire his speedy right hand.
At times Pauldo closed the gap enough to connect with long rights to the ribs and to ignite several compelling exchanges. But every time he did so, Mazion immediately retaliated with his own volleys that appeared to say, “You’re trying to rattle me but now I’m going to make you behave.” More often than not, Pauldo behaved.
Still, Mazion tempted fate several times. During one segment in round two, Mazion dropped his left glove to waist level, and, spotting that, Pauldo shot over a right hand that missed the target. As the fight proceeded, I believed Pauldo was just a few inches away from solving the puzzle, and, once he did, all the locks would pop open. A Pauldo hook landed hard in the final moments of round three and it looked that, if he kept up the pressure, he would cross the finish line the winner.
Unfortunately for him, he was unable to sustain the momentum, even when Mazion voluntarily closed the distance and began going after Pauldo with combinations, starting in round five. Here, Mazion exhibited a more aggressive mentality, and, while he occasionally fielded a strong counter right (one of which stunned him at the end of the fifth), it looked as if the man nicknamed “Black Magic” had sized up his quarry and determined he was ready to cast his final spell. Late in the sixth, Mazion expressed his confidence by juking in-and-out and side-to-side, then, in the seventh, he doubled down by driving Pauldo back with hard body/head combinations. When Pauldo retaliated with a powerful counter right, Mazion instantly retaliated with a flashy combination that stemmed the tide.
By now it was clear that Pauldo needed a big rally in the eighth, if he were to pull out the victory. He didn’t have it in him. Instead, Mazion produced an impressive finishing kick, as he threw 74 punches to Pauldo’s 40 and out-landed him 26-16 overall, as well as 21-14 in power shots.
The final numbers reflected the scorecards of the judges (77-75 by John McKaie and John Morgan, 78-74 by Eric Marlinski): 112-84 overall, 36-21 jabs and 76-63 power. Frustratingly for Pauldo, he was slightly more accurate overall (28.6% to 28.5%) but Mazion prevailed 15.5%-15.2% in jabs and 47.5%-40.4% in power shots. The story was that Mazion was more active (49.1 punches per round to Pauldo’s 36.8) and more assertive when he needed to be.
Last December, Diego De La Hoya was set to face Jose Salgado to wrap up a tremendously successful 2017 campaign. However the fight was scrapped after the cousin of Hall-of-Famer Oscar De La Hoya scaled four-and-a-half pounds over the contracted weight. De La Hoya had not fought since, resulting in the longest layoff of his career (265 days) but he was matched again with Salgado, who, according to one source, hadn’t fought in 13 months. At the day-before weigh-in, the story nearly repeated itself as De La Hoya initially missed weight by a half-pound, then a quarter-pound after he went au natural. On the third and final try, De La Hoya, spitting into a cup, finally made weight.
One would have thought such a draining process would show up in the ring but, in De La Hoya’s case, it might have just fueled his anger, as he battered Salgado throughout the contest and scored an impressive corner-retirement TKO. De La Hoya’s superior hand speed, laser-like precision and jolting up-and-down combinations left Salgado not only puzzled, but bleeding from multiple locations. Salgado sustained a bloody nose in round one, picked his first cut from an accidental butt late in round two (right eye) and acquired his second cut from a punch in round five. The crimson served only to stoke De La Hoya’s controlled rage, as he riddled him with dazzling volleys that made Salgado shake his head in disbelief.
One such episode occurred in the third: A right-left to the chin…a lead right to the face…a left to the chest, then a right uppercut to the jaw and a right that drove Salgado back to the ropes. For the remainder of the bout, De La Hoya picked away at will and looked as if he was thoroughly enjoying the process. A straight right near the end of the third dislodged Salgado’s mouthguard within his mouth and it took a long moment for the Mexican to maneuver his gum shield back into its proper position.
As the beating continued, the Turning Stone crowd, now sensing the ultimate result, quietly waited to see how that result would be achieved. The answer arrived between rounds six and seven, when Salgado’s corner informed referee Mark Nelson that its man could not continue.
I shut down my laptop even before Gary Rosato tolled the final count over Julio Perez that completed Danielito Zorrilla’s second-round KO victory in the “walkout bout.” When I realized how late it was, I knew I had to drive straight back to the hotel in Syracuse – which, for me, is a 45-minute drive at night. Jeff Brophy told me that those with a table at the card and memorabilia show can arrive at Canastota High School beginning at 7:30 a.m. – two-and-a-half hours before it opens to the public and I wanted to grab the best parking spot possible.
After reaching the appropriate exit, I swung toward a drive-thru, took my place in line and waited. And waited. And waited some more. And did even more waiting.
I was the second car in line and when the delay reached the 10-minute mark, I wondered if the single person in front of me had placed an order worthy of 50 people. I knew that wasn’t the case when I saw the exasperated look on his face; he apparently hadn’t even placed his order yet. When he pulled forward, I was able to place mine and settle in behind the front-runner.
Again, the front-runner had to wait several minutes before his rather large, but singular bag, of food was given to him. I then drove up to the window, paid the bill and waited my food. As I did so, I overheard the manager discussing an issue with his workers, and I later learned the reason for the long delay – the outlet was simultaneously running low on meat and fries. Knowing I would be served soon, I remained silent and didn’t make a fuss.
It is written that patience is a virtue but, here, it also proved profitable. The woman working the window approached me and asked, “Would you like some cookies?”
Given what I had just heard about the food shortage, I smiled and asked, “Instead of the burger and fries?”
She smiled back and said, “No. You’ve been the best person – so patient. I just wanted to say thank you. Do you want sugar cookies or chocolate?”
“Chocolate,” I responded.
And chocolate was what I got – two of them, in fact – and they were included with my complete order. I was particularly famished, so the extra food was much appreciated.
I drove back to the hotel and consumed my bounty while catching up on the latest sports news, the most important of which was the Golden State Warriors completing a four-game sweep over the Cleveland Cavaliers, to win their third NBA title in the last four years. Being a somewhat lapsed Sixers fan, I had no dog in this fight, so I hadn’t watched any of the games, but the finality of the event hit home, as I watched the Cavaliers’ LeBron James’ post-game press conference. To his credit, he answered all questions posed to him and did so patiently and in detail. I don’t know about the writers who were there but, had I been there, I would have appreciated his willingness to face the music following such a disappointing outcome.
Knowing my sleep window was short, I turned out the lights at 1:30 a.m.
Saturday, June 9: Ever since Bob Canobbio and I reached the closing stages of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers,” we knew this was the day for which we were pointing: The IBHOF’s card and memorabilia show. Although I was successful in executing on-the-spot sales, I knew the card show would give us the most accurate gauge of how attractive our concept would be to our core audience. Yes, the response on Facebook and at the event thus far has been tremendous but would that enthusiasm extend to their willingness to reach into their wallets and purses?
I awakened at 5:30 a.m. and snoozed until 6, in the hopes I would leave around 7 a.m. But after getting on the laptop, I got on a “writer’s roll” and kept going until 7:15. No matter: I would trade progress at work for a few minutes’ delay in my arrival at Canastota High School. I just hoped there would be some good parking spaces.
As it turned out, there were plenty when I arrived at 7:45. I grabbed a spot about 100 feet from the front door, a terrific break since I needed to unload the three boxes of books onto the dolly and roll them to my table.
During the two years in which I sold “Tales From the Vault,” my table was in a nice spot on the gym floor, and, one year, my neighbor was heavyweight bomber Ron Lyle, whose popularity surely helped my sales. This time, I was placed in a prime location: The center of the hallway along the wall outside the gym floor, where everyone attending the event must pass through. I also was given plenty of space to place my books as well as the promotional postcards I passed out last year.
The original plan was to have my co-author – CompuBox President Bob Canobbio – with me at the event but last-minute business prevented him from coming to Canastota. It would have been nice to have someone to talk with during the nearly two-hour wait but, absent that, I busied myself by working on the laptop and chatting with my fellow sellers.
Of the 51 copies I picked up on Thursday, 39 remained. I saved back five copies, one for Randy Gordon (who has already promoted the book on “Randy’s Ringside” and will interview Bob and me on a future edition of his Sirius XM show), one for Steve Farhood (who granted an interview and was one of the people who helped me get my start), one for collector John Gay (who purchased a copy at the fight card but didn’t have enough room to pack it in his luggage), one for Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (who was quoted in the book) and a review copy for author Thomas Hauser. So how quickly would the 34 available copies move?
The answer: Very well.
I made two sales even before the doors opened to the public. Photographer friend Jeff Julian, who has spent considerable time with Ali, purchased the first copy at 8:42 a.m., while Michigan collector Bob Ryder purchased one 36 minutes later. I had wanted to give a copy to Kevin Bandel (also known as “Mr. Magazine”) because, at last year’s card show, I purchased 113 back issues I used as source material for the book from him. But when I asked him, he said he had already purchased his copy from Amazon and had already read the acknowledgements page that expressed praise for his role in the book.
“I was wondering if you were going to follow up on your promise that would you mention me and my son in your book,” Kevin said. “You are a man of your word.”
The traffic at my table was, at times, dizzying because, at one point, I completed three sales in less than five minutes. During every sale I made, I asked the purchaser if he wanted me to sign with a pen or with a Sharpie and I asked the person their name, even if I knew it already, because I wanted to get the spelling right. The only time I got it wrong was when good friend Alex Pinnix bought a copy; I had already written “To Alex” when he indicated he wanted me to sign it “State Alert,” the name of his company. I apologized but proceeded after asking me to continue signing.
Several notables stopped by the table: Christy Martin (who introduced me to spouse Lisa Holewyne, who had also boxed professionally), award-winning writer Springs Toledo (who remarked, “Nice cover”), master matchmaker Eric Bottjer, ace referee Kenny Bayless and his wife Lynora and Hall of Fame manager (Class of 2010) Shelly Finkel. Another friend who stopped by the table was Ernie Brown (with his wife Nette), who told me that the ABO Cares Outreach Program and Fres Oquendo have arranged for Hall-of-Famer Wilfred Benitez to be moved to Chicago, where he will be treated for the next 18 months.
How good was my day at the card show? Even after I finished packing my items, I was able to make one last sale. When I left the high school, I had only seven available copies.
I couldn’t have asked for a much better outcome and if the comments accompanying the sale are any measure, the concept appears to be a home run. Only time (and reviewers) will determine whether “By the Numbers” could become a series. We’ll see.
The books that remained fit comfortably into the smallest of the three boxes I dollied in, and I offered the larger ones to a vendor who was putting away his magazines, an offer he accepted.
After arranging for a Sunday morning interview with Randy Gordon for “Sirius XM at the Fights,” former BWAA President Jack Hirsch provided the details for my second dinner with the group in the last three days: Meet him at 6:30 p.m. in front of Graziano’s, after which we would drive to Casatina’s, an Italian restaurant located on Main Street. I spent some time charging my phone inside the air-conditioned car, then drove to Graziano’s to engage in even more boxing talk. This time my partners included longtime pal Dave Wilcox (who was included in Showtime’s Muhammad Ali tribute piece two years ago), Scott (who bears a striking resemblance to Andre Agassi) and Bill, who, at 58, was experiencing his first Induction Weekend. Before I knew it, it was 6:25 and though it was hard to break away, I said my goodbyes and waited for Jack’s vehicle to arrive.
It arrived exactly on time, and here I learned three others would join the group that gathered Thursday night (“Mantequilla” Jack, his wife Audrey, J.R. “Jowett Joy” Jowett and Neil “Mustafa” Terens): Eric “The Creep” Bottjer – I don’t know the origins of that moniker – Boxing News USA writer Frank Bartoloni and Eric Armit, one of the boxing world’s most informative scribes, thanks to his considerable talent for research, neither of whom bore a nickname. Because there wasn’t enough space in Jack’s vehicle for all of us, I was asked to drive Eric to our destination, I request I instantly accepted.
During the dinner, I accidentally broke protocol by suggesting a nickname for Eric in a public setting (rookie mistake). In past conversations, I learned that the most preferable nicknames must have a connection to a boxing legend, for example, my own – “Hit Man” – is a reference to Thomas Hearns.
My suggestion for Armit was “The Professor,” a link to the legendary Azumah Nelson, as well as the parallel to Armit’s studious visage, demeanor and researching talents. I was told it would be discussed by the rest of the group (I learned the next day it was approved).
After consuming some delicious lasagna, as well as wonderful conversation – besides the boxing talk, I spent considerable time asking Eric about the rules of rugby, a game I was hoping to understand better – we went our separate ways. I drove Eric to his car in the back Hall of Fame parking lot, after which I drove back to Syracuse, in the hope of catching the Jeff Horn-Terence Crawford card on ESPN+. While that objective was achieved, my eyes became progressively heavier as I watched Jose Pedraza’s narrow decision win over Antonio Moran, which had everything to do with the length and expended energy of this day and not the fight action. Another clue was that the stream cut out just after the decision was rendered, so, instead of trying to reconnect, I chose to get some much needed sleep.
Based on past experience, I knew every piston needed to be pumping full throttle if I wanted to make the most of Induction Sunday.
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 16 writing awards, including 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 e-mail [email protected].
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