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The Travelin’ Man goes to Frisco, Texas: Part one

The Ford Center at the Star, Frisco, Texas. Image courtesy of VisitDallas.com
19
Jun

 

Friday, June 15: Upon arriving home from the 29th Annual International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, on Monday afternoon, I confronted an avalanche of work on multiple fronts – research for a Saturday fight card in Germany, writing Part III of The Travelin’ Man, transferring last week’s recordings from DVR to DVD and mowing my rather spacious and undulating lawn being just a few of the tasks that needed to be tackled. But tackle them I did, and, while I didn’t complete the DVR to DVD transition, I completed enough of the other objectives to grant me a clear mind coming into my latest assignment: Traveling to Frisco, Texas to count (with colleague Dennis Allen), tomorrow night’s “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader.

The main event pits IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. against leading available challenger Carlos Ocampo, while the co-features pair WBA junior featherweight king Daniel Roman with lanky challenger Moises Flores and onetime WBA “world” titlist Javier Fortuna with Adrian Granados. Fortuna-Granados is a classic crossroads fight in that both men, because of recent setbacks, needed a win to remain in the running for more high-profile fights. In Granados’ case, it can be argued that he already had wins against Adrien Broner, Brad Soloman, Frankie Gomez and Felix Diaz but was denied them because of achingly close decisions while, for Fortuna, some believe he deserved the win over IBF lightweight titlist Robert Easter Jr. Even if he had gotten that “W,” Granados wouldn’t have dethroned Easter, since he scaled one-and-a-half pounds over the championship limit.

Speaking of missing weight by 1½ pounds, that was the margin by which Flores initially scaled over the 122-pound title limit, and, following the two-hour allotment, lost only a half-pound. While we have seen numerous fights in which the champion loses the title on the scale and the challenger, if victorious, would win the belt, the ramifications of Flores’ situation differed greatly: The WBA ruled that Roman, as the champion who made weight, would walk out of the ring the champion – win or lose – because his challenger didn’t fulfill his part of the contract by scaling under or at the mandated limit.



In any case, Roman-Flores, at least statistically speaking, could very well steal the show because both are action-oriented volume specialists. In his two title fights against then-champ Shun Kubo (TKO 9) and Ryo Matsumoto (UD 12), Roman averaged 82.8 punches per round – well above the 60.2 division average – and his body attack was particularly vicious, as it represented 45% of his total connects, nearly double the 23.3% CompuBox average. Meanwhile in his last three CompuBox-tracked fights, Flores averaged a robust 80.4 punches per round, and, despite his rangy physique, 92% of his total connects per round were power shots (23 of 25). Will Flores’ failure to make weight cause Roman to up the ante with his body attack and will his weight issues cause Flores to either remain at long range, to conserve energy, or to go for everything in the early rounds?

As for Spence-Ocampo, it has the look and feel of a homecoming showcase for the native of DeSoto (located 42 miles south of Frisco) instead of a world championship contest. That’s because Spence has become a pound-for-pound presence on most lists, thanks to his blend of volume, speed and accuracy and because few beyond the hardest of hardcores have heard of Ocampo, much less seen him fight. Three of his somewhat recognizable victims were Jhony Navarrete (UD 10), Jorge Paez Jr. (UD 10) and title challenger Charlie Navarro (KO 5) in consecutive fights, and, while he was effective, he didn’t have the look of a fighter who could push Spence. Here’s why: In his last five fights, Spence has met fighters with a combined record of 153-9-3 (a .927 winning percentage) and yet was able to dominate those opponents the same way he did those foes he beat during his record-building phase – a relatively rare feat. Consider: In his last five contests, Spence has thrown more (63.4 per round to 33.6), landed more (21.5 to 8.9 total connects per round; 6.2 to 1.2 landed jabs per round, 15.3 to 7.8 power connects per round) and connected more accurately in all phases (34%-27% overall, 20%-13% jabs, 47%-32% power). Additionally Spence’s name dots the CompuBox leaders list in several categories: His 7.3 body connects per round against his best opponents rates third among world-class fighters tracked by the company while his 47.1% power accuracy, his 22.7 total connects per round and 16 landed power shots per round rank seventh. Also his 35.2% total accuracy figure is ninth highest and his 31.5% ratio, in terms of body connects to total connects per round, is 10th.

In his most recent fight against Lamont Peterson, last January – his 10th consecutive knockout victory – Spence averaged 75.1 punches per round, while holding Peterson to 22.6, out-landed the veteran 161-45 overall and 138-36 power, and led 50%-31% in power accuracy. In the final two rounds, Spence prevailed, in terms of total connects (41-10) and landed power shots (33-6). That statistical success, combined with the electrifying manner with which Spence produced it, and his strong local connection, is why this fight is taking place at The Ford Center at The Star, a multi-use events center, which is part of the 91-acre campus utilized by the Dallas Cowboys. While the venue usually seats 12,000, a boxing event could register far higher figures, thanks to the sprawling floor space. The configuration to be used for this contest is intended to produce a crowd of nearly 15,000.

The objectives are plain: A sell-out before the fight and a spectacular highlight reel knockout for Spence during the fight. Upon seeing the video of Ocampo against Alvaro Robles (UD 10), southpaw David Echeverria (UD 10) and Dario Ferman (TKO 7), I saw an active fighter (62.7 total punches per round) who targets the body well (40.3% of his total connects) but nothing that suggests he has the power or skill set to compete with Spence.

My predictions: Fortuna by close (and perhaps debatable) decision, Roman by lopsided decision and Spence by TKO between rounds five and seven, and only because he wants to give the local fans a good show before lowering the boom.

 

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When I was asked to choose flights a few weeks earlier, I wanted to fulfill three requirements: First, a direct flight from Pittsburgh to Dallas-Fort Worth, second, a flight that wouldn’t require me to operate on severely shortened sleep, and, third, one that would get me into Frisco in time to make CompuBox’s 4 p.m. call time to conduct pre-fight checks and make the 5 p.m. format meeting. Thankfully American Airlines had a entry that addressed all three objectives: A flight departing Pittsburgh at 11:31 a.m. (which meant I would need to wake up at 6 a.m. and leave the house by 6:45 a.m., about 90 minutes earlier than my normal sleep cycle), one that was scheduled to land at 1:25 p.m., and, if the plane arrived on time, would allow me to reach my crew hotel (which was within walking distance of the fight venue) well before 4 p.m.

I awakened 15 minutes before my 6 a.m. target but I departed five minutes later than I wanted because, at the last moment, I decided to pack my windbreaker in case the venue decided to turn the air conditioning way up (which was the case, last week, at the Turning Stone, and, because I didn’t bring it, I felt chills throughout the show). Despite thick fog and two minor delays, due to road construction projects, I made excellent time and arrived at the airport in just 2 hours 10 minutes. Also I found a terrific parking spot in the nearest lot to the terminal, defying a sign indicating the lot was full (which is never true. After all, all I need is one spot).

The plane departed Pittsburgh 15 minutes later than expected, due to an unusual issue: The people sitting in rows 15 and 16 had to trade places because the original occupants in row 15 – situated directly behind the exit row – included a baby in a car seat, which, apparently, would be a hindrance in an emergency situation. Once we got in the air, however, all was smooth and uneventful, and we actually touched down in Dallas at 1:02 p.m., 23 minutes earlier than advertised. We taxied for about 10 minutes, and, upon deplaning, I took a 30-minute cab ride to our crew hotel, the Omni Frisco Hotel, at 11 Cowboys Way. Not only is the Omni an attractive, first-class hotel, it is also connected to the fight venue – a big plus in my book.

The check-in process – at least for me – was complicated. The reason: For the second consecutive week, someone misspelled my last name. In the press section at last week’s Diego De La Hoya-Jose Salgado card, the sticker bearing my surname read “Grooves,” while the hotel reservation here was under “Groes.” Thankfully I had physical and circumstantial evidence that I was part of the Showtime group: I was wearing a black “ShoBox: The New Generation” T-shirt, showed the clerk my Showtime Championship Boxing production memo and pointed out that the names “Groes” and “Groves” are very similar.

 

 

Happily I was able to convince the clerk that I was who I said I was.

“I’ll make an exception in your case,” he said with a smile. A few keystrokes later, I was in. But once I checked into my room, and attempted to access the hotel’s wireless internet, I typed, just for fun, the name “Groes” in the name box. It worked.

With the temperature reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it wasn’t the smartest decision for me to wear all black clothing but I managed to walk to the security entrance at the Ford Center without passing out. Once inside I saw the cavernous interior and the two massive Jumbotrons that hung on the wall. Another big plus: The air conditioning. It felt wonderful.

The pre-fight testing at ringside was completed within five minutes, a circumstance we, at CompuBox, call a “Carnicelli Test” because that’s how the tests involving the late, great Joe Carnicelli often unfolded. Mine are usually more complicated, so I was particularly appreciative of the change.

The format meeting was conducted inside the press box on the third floor – one of the more impressive venues for our get-togethers. While covering a lot of ground, it was shorter than usual, in terms of time. Once I returned to the hotel, I ordered room service, spent the remainder of the evening switching between the replay of the terrific 3-3 World Cup game between Portugal and Spain (which saw 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo become the oldest man to score a hat trick in tournament play, and be one of only four players to score in four World Cup tournaments) and catching up on the news of the day.

 

The Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy and Research Building

The Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy and Research Building

 

If I didn’t know I was in Cowboys country before, I knew it, thanks to the view outside my room – a great view of the Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy and Research building that included a football practice field – and a drawing of Hall-of-Famer Charles Haley in his Cowboys jersey that hung next to the room’s big screen TV. Coincidentally the NFL Network re-aired “A Football Life: Charles Haley” on this night.

For whatever reason – the rigors of travel, the room service meal or the comfortable king-size bed (one of two that were in my room) – my eyes grew heavy starting at 9 a.m. (10 a.m. body clock) time, and I ended up turning out the lights an hour later.

Saturday, June 16: Unusually I slept or rested for most of the next seven-and-a-half hours, and, after completing the morning routines, I spent the next couple of hours catching up on my writing. After texting a question to Hall-of-Famer Steve Farhood, he invited me to join him for breakfast in the lobby, an invitation I instantly accepted because, along with great conversation, it offered me a chance to give him his autographed copy of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers,” a book for which he contributed ringside memories of Ali’s final fight with Trevor Berbick.

The visit turned out to be even better, thanks to a gracious gesture by Steve: Spotting Elie Seckbach – an Israeli-born, American-based writer whose EsNEWS YouTube channel boasts almost 70,000 separate videos, hundreds of millions of views and nearly 298,000 subscribers – and waving him over to our table. Farhood introduced me and persuaded Seckbach to record a joint interview designed to promote the book:

 

 

In the video, Steve praised the book’s concept and gave it his highest recommendation. This is just another illustration of why Farhood is an even better person than he is a boxing professional; he didn’t have to make the extra effort but, because of his helpful nature, he went the extra mile, and then some, to help a friend and colleague.

After the nearly seven-minute interview ended, we were joined by Showtime executive Gordon Hall and ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. – two more terrific people – but the conversation was cut short by the proximity of our next must-do tasks. I returned upstairs to update this article, then downstairs to secure my boarding pass (which was ably handled by a cheerful young concierge named Madison) and grab a breakfast sandwich and soda to help tide me over until the crew meal.

I met punch-counting colleague Dennis Allen in the lobby, 15 minutes before our 1:30 p.m. call time, and, after entering the Ford Center through the appointed doorway, we and our laptop bags were subjected to a search we eventually cleared. Once we reached our work station – the first row behind a gate – we saw we already had a power source, as well as the wires needed to link to the production truck. Sure enough, we got the green light we needed and confirmed that the production truck could “see” our numbers. Just like that, we were ready for the show – more than six hours before airtime. Yes, that’s a pretty long wait but, for me, that dynamic is counterbalanced by the comfort that comes with knowing all is well way before it needs to be.

While Dennis returned to the hotel to spend time with his family, I hung around ringside and chatted with whomever came my way. They included veteran writer Dan Rafael, Hall (with whom I discuss every televised fight in deep detail) and Ray Flores, an excellent ring announcer/blow-by-blow man, who I call “The Everywhere Man” for his rigorous travel schedule. For me, there’s no better way to make time speed up than to engage in boxing talk. It certainly melted the hours away last week, in Canastota, and it did the same here in Texas.

Lennon Jr. also stopped by the work station, and here I asked his permission to use an insightful remark he made during breakfast: When foreseeing the outcome of Spence-Ocampo, “We are predicting Spence’s mind, not the fight in the ring.” To me, it was a different way of saying Spence was such a prohibitive favorite and possessed such a superior skill set that he could stop Ocampo at the moment of his choosing. As a writer, I appreciated the twist of phrase.

Although this bout was listed as being the last fight of the untelevised undercard, the scheduled 10-rounder between middleweights Yordenis Ugas and Jonathan Batista actually kicked off the card. Probably just as well: Ugas scored two knockdowns in the first and added two more in the second to end the bout, raising Ugas’ record to 22-3 (with 11 knockouts) and eroding Batista’s to 17-14 (10 KOs).

Next up was a six-round cruiserweight bout between Adrian Taylor – who I was told was Spence’s number-one sparring partner – and Chris Harris. Like Ugas-Batista, a look at the records (6-0, 3 KOs for Taylor, 2-3-2, 2 KOs for Harris), and the corners (blue for Taylor, red for Harris), telegraphed the intended result. But while Taylor thoroughly dominated the proceedings with razor-sharp punching that bloodied Harris’ nose, the Californian took every blow, kept chugging forward and did his best to fight back. Without sufficient tools to counteract Taylor’s talent, Harris made it to the end but lost 60-54 on all cards. One nearby wag said Taylor didn’t get the knockout because he was still in sparring partner mode but, being a half-glass full person, I thought Harris’ durability and competitiveness allowed him to finish the fight on his feet.

The ending of the junior featherweight bout between Dallas’ Fernando Garcia and Mexican journeyman Angel Carvajal – who looked even shorter than his listed 5-foot-1 – offered a preview of what would unfold later in the evening. When the 2-9 Carvajal was floored for the first time, he nearly fell out of the ring, and, at one point, was sitting on the ring apron with one leg dangling toward the floor. Carvajal regained enough of his senses to roll under the bottom rope and regain his feet but his night inside the ring lasted only a few seconds more, as a follow-up volley dropped him again and led to the bout being stopped, a development which raised Garcia’s record to 9-0 (with 4 KOs).

Irving, Texas, lightweight Alejandro “Pork Chop” Guerrero – trained by Robert Garcia – raised his record to 9-0 (with 7 KOs) by decking Fort Worth’s David Fabela once at the end of round one, with a heavy left, and finishing the fight with a straight right, near the conclusion of round two. Although Fabela arose, referee Robert Chapa called the fight with 10 seconds remaining, dropping Fabela’s record to 2-1 (with 2 KOs).

The best-matched fight on the undercard pitted Philadelphia’s Stephen Fulton and Sonora, Mexico’s Jesus Ahumada. Both junior featherweights entered the ring, with Fulton registering five stoppages and Ahumada boasting nine wins inside the distance. Fulton, trained by Naazim Richardson, used his superior mobility and effective jab to keep Ahumada at arm’s length but, at times, the Mexican successfully induced Fulton into a trench war that favored his more powerful punches. Entering the ninth, the outcome remained in the balance but Fulton produced a flurry that wobbled Ahumada, and, moments later, persuaded referee Neal Young to intervene at the 1:54 mark.

The final fight of the undercard, a junior middleweight bout scheduled for eight rounds, saw Oxnard-based Lithuanian Eminantas Stanionis – trained by Ronnie Shields – overpower Tijuana journeyman Erick Martinez and score a third round stoppage, raising Stanionis’ mark to 6-0 (with 5 KOs) and dropping Martinez’s to 14-13-1 (8).

As is the case at many fight cards, all the fighters who occupied the blue corner walked out winners. Would the corner formula hold once Showtime’s cameras are turned on?

 

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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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