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

Spence demolishes Ocampo. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime
20
Jun

Please click here to read Part One.

 

Saturday, June 16 (continued): One of the most difficult feats for an elite athlete to achieve is to far exceed expectations when those expectations are already sky-high. Such was the case for IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr., who blew out miscast mandatory challenger Carlos Ocampo with a pair of body shots, just three minutes after the opening bell.

Spence was expected to overwhelm Ocampo, who sported a 22-0 (with 13 knockouts) record, but was attempting a galactic leap, in terms of quality of opposition. Most experts rightly objected to Ocampo’s ranking, especially since welterweight is among the sport’s deepest classes, and they – ultimately correctly – believed Spence-Ocampo was (1) a hometown showcase, and (2) a jurisdictional impediment to the fights everyone really wants Spence to fight.



His domination was so complete that even Spence felt a bit let down.

“I was a little disappointed; I wanted to give the crowd their money’s worth,” Spence told freshly-minted Hall-of-Famer Jim Gray. “I wanted (Ocampo) to sustain a bit, and give him some punishment, but the body shot got him and I dropped him. That was my game plan: I’m the body-snatcher. If he reacts weirdly, I just keep going to the body and I keep breaking him down.”

While 2003 IBHOF inductee Mike McCallum will always be the original “Body Snatcher,” Spence has reason to feel strongly about his body punching ability. In the six fights preceding the Ocampo bout, Spence averaged 7.3 body connects per round – third most among world-class fighters tracked by CompuBox – and, in the last five fights in which this stat was tracked, 32.3% of his total connects were to the body, well above the 23.3% CompuBox average.

Spence improved on his body shot stats greatly against Ocampo: Of his 23 total connects, 14, or 60.9%, were to the flanks, as were 13 of his 16 landed power shots, a staggering 81.3%. The other parts of Spence’s game also were on point, for he landed seven jabs to Ocampo’s two, out-threw him 69-57 overall and 42-25 jabs and landed 33% of his total punches and 59% of his power shots to Ocampo’s 18% and 25% respectively.

While Spence added victory No. 24 and knockout No. 21 to his undefeated ledger, the legend-building process was running at full throttle. The surroundings were Clue No. 1; ESPN writer Dan Rafael told me before the show that the Ford Center, in terms of lighting and configuration, is identical to that of the 105,000-seat AT&T Stadium, except the dimensions are smaller. If Spence becomes a big enough attraction over time, an appearance at “Jerry World” is almost guaranteed, especially if an equally attractive opponent is standing across the ring from him in a big-stakes battle.

Adding to the star-making backdrop was the list of sports celebrities in attendance, which included Portland Trailblazers player Evan Turner, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Cowboys running back Bo Scarborough (who is also Spence’s cousin), Cowboys Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin and Jerry Jones, the charismatic billionaire owner of the Cowboys. Boxers in the audience included Adrien Broner, Jermall and Jermell Charlo, as well as Omar Figueroa Jr. Yes, the opponent was lacking but Spence, who wants his star to be as bright as theose adorning most of the buildings here, did what stars are supposed to do in these situations – he attracted a sizable and enthusiastic crowd, delivered a dominating performance and enhanced his standing on the pound-for-pound ladder.

 

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Spence may have laid claim to the “Body Snatcher” nickname but WBA junior featherweight titlist Danny Roman has the numbers to declare himself an even stronger candidate. In winning the belt from Shun Kubo by ninth round TKO, Roman registered 125 landed body shots among his 325 total connects, while, in outpointing Ryo Matsumoto, he amassed 192 landed body shots among his 386 total connects – numbers that would make anyone pee plaid.

At 5-foot-9, Moises Flores is similarly built to Kubo and Matsumoto, both of whom stand 5-foot-9½. And as expected, Roman utilized the game plan that resulted in victory: High volume (88 punches per round vs. Kubo, 82.8 against Matsumoto, 83.7 versus Flores), excellent up-and-down combination punching and nauseating strikes to the body – 175 of them to be exact. While the courageous Flores managed to throw more punches than Roman (1,023 to 1,004), he couldn’t match Roman’s drive and accuracy (35%-22% overall, 42%-26% power), and, despite his height and reach advantages, Roman was the superior jabber (31 attempts/7.1 connects per round, 23% accuracy to Flores’ 21.5 attempts/2.2 connects per round, 10% precision). The raw numbers favoring Roman illustrated the punishment dished out: 349-225 overall, 85-26 jabs and 264-199 power – including margins of 90-29 overall and 63-30 power in the final three rounds. Moreover 50.1% of Roman’s total connects were to the flanks, well above the 45% figure he amassed against Kubo and Matsumoto.

 

WBA junior featherweight titlist Danny Roman (left) vs. Moises Flores. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime

WBA junior featherweight titlist Danny Roman (left) vs. Moises Flores. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime

 

As devastating as Roman was in the late rounds, the key segment, in terms of the final result, occurred in rounds five and six. After Flores led 24-23 in total connects in round three, and trailed just 22-18 in round four, Roman kicked his attack into a higher gear, as he led 40-19 overall and 31-17 power in the fifth, despite throwing fewer punches (98-82 overall and 75-58 power), and prevailed 36-23 overall (30-21 power), in the sixth, while throwing 90 punches to Flores’ 103. From there, Roman steadily pulled away.

Yes, Roman isn’t a single-shot powerhouse. He is, however, an exceptionally consistent performer who banks heavily on attrition to get the job done. Roman has certainly propelled himself a long way since January 2017, when he was pitted as the “B-side” to Adam Lopez, who was one fight away from getting a title shot. Instead Roman pounded out a ninth round corner retirement, after which he used his blazing combinations to forge a promising title reign. When it comes to my counting punches, Roman is a joy and I hope I get more chances to track his progress – figuratively and quite literally.

 

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Adrian Granados and Javier Fortuna are two of boxing’s most star-crossed athletes. Strange occurrences seem to follow the Massachusetts-based Dominican, while Granados fights just well enough to earn the fans’ favor but not enough to win the eyes of two judges. With the pair coming off setbacks (Fortuna against IBF lightweight king Robert Easter Jr., in January; Granados in back-to-back points losses to Adrien Broner and Shawn Porter), a “W,” no matter how it was earned, was an absolute must.

So what did they end up getting? An “ND” – which stands for “no decision.”

Coming in, the thought was that the man who could impose his preferred pace would end up being the winner. The proof: In his last four fights, Fortuna averaged a modest 53.2 punches per round, while Granados, in his last four bouts, averaged a robust 75.2. But even if Granados succeeded in accelerating the action, Fortuna could feast on Granados’ leaky defense, which allowed 43.9% of his opponents’ power punches to get through – the third worst total among world-class fighters tracked by CompuBox.

The first two rounds were waged at Fortuna’s pace – 49 punches per round for Fortuna, 56 per round for Granados and connect leads of 30-26 overall and 27-20 power. But in the third, Granados dramatically upped his work rate (73 punches) and forced Fortuna to raise his (59), just to keep him at bay. The Chicagoan – the naturally bigger man – successfully bullied Fortuna to the ropes and laid the groundwork for the same kind of bruising physical fight that the hulking Porter used to defeat Granados last November.

But then came round four – and the confusing finish.

 

Junior welterweight Adrian Granados (left) vs. Javier Fortuna. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime

Junior welterweight Adrian Granados (left) vs. Javier Fortuna. Photo credit: Stacey Verbeek/Showtime

 

One of Fortuna’s flaws is his propensity to lose points on fouls – that happened in three previous fights – and referee Robert Chapa docked two of them, the first for rabbit punching and the second for excessive holding. An angry and anxious Fortuna tried to make up lost ground by upping his output and driving Granados backward with a series of whistling power shots.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Fortuna backed toward Granados’ corner and tried to set up shop along the ropes. However with the help of a slight push from Granados’ left shoulder, Fortuna fell through the incredibly loose two middle ropes, and, at first blush, appeared to slam the back of his head on something at ringside. He immediately grabbed the back of his neck, and, following a brief examination, Dr. Wayne Lee ordered the fight to be stopped, a neck brace to be fitted and for a stretcher to be brought to ringside.

Upon seeing the replay, it appeared that Fortuna’s head completely missed the camera box on which the handheld cameraman stands. That said, his neck could have suffered enough whiplash to warrant his instinctive reaction.

Granados, once seeing the replays on the Jumbotron, believed Fortuna was looking to bail out of an increasingly difficult situation.

“I thought he played it off,” he said. “I didn’t push him. I think he fell on his own. I thought he felt my momentum was coming on. He got me with a good shot; I ate it like nothing and I was gonna come out harder. I think he felt that, so I think he was looking for an excuse on his way out.”

As for me, I don’t believe Fortuna was in such dire straits that he wanted to escape. Just a few seconds earlier – moments after the second point deduction – Fortuna had stunned Granados with his best outburst of the bout. And statistically speaking, the fight was nearly even: Fortuna led 60-54 in total connects and 54-43 in landed power shots, while Granados held an 11-6 edge in landed jabs. Fortuna was more accurate overall (29%-24%), and in power punches (37%-25%), while Granados prevailed 19%-10% in jab accuracy. In round four, thanks to his rally, Fortuna led 11-10 in total connects and 11-8 in landed power shots. Also Fortuna managed to slow the frantic pace of round three to a more modest level in the fourth because, with 10 seconds remaining, Fortuna led 49-44 in total punches thrown. Why would he want to bail out on a fight whose result was still up for grabs?

Given the flow of the round and the statistics, I chalk up this incident as just another bizarre plot twist in the careers of two fighters who seem to find craziness inside the squared circle.

 

*

 

Once I got the green light to shut down the laptop following Spence-Ocampo, my colleague Dennis Allen and I packed our belongings, stopped by the area inside the arena, where we had the crew meal, to grab a meal box and a beverage, and returned to the nearby Omni. The area just outside the front door was teeming, as was the lobby, but I didn’t want or need to be part of that scene because I still had work to complete before calling it a night. When I arrived at my room, I reached into my pocket to retrieve my room key and found – nothing.

Sometime during the evening – I’m not sure when – my key had fallen out. I returned downstairs, showed my picture ID, and, unlike yesterday, my reservation was easily found and my replacement key was secured. The relatively brief night of televised action – 17 rounds – required just 25 minutes to upload into the master database, and, after consuming the contents of the meal box, I turned out the light a little after midnight.

 

Sunday, June 17: I awakened five-and-a-half hours later with the intent of checking out at 7:30 a.m. and arriving at the airport about an hour later, well before my 10:35 a.m. boarding time and 11:05 flight from Dallas Fort-Worth to Pittsburgh. While some people prefer the adrenaline rush that comes with cutting things close time-wise, I like to give myself a big cushion, in case unexpected delays occur.

Chalk one up for the early birds.

Because taxis are not stationed outside the Omni, those working the front door must place a call to summon them, which, for me, resulted in a 15-minute wait. Thanks to very light Sunday morning traffic, I arrived on the airport property in about half the time it required to get from DFW to Frisco, on Friday afternoon.

That said, the taxi driver added a bit to my confusion, due to where he dropped me off. Usually I am dropped off at the general terminal entrance – usually that for American Airlines – where I would consult the flight monitor to identify the proper gate, after which I walk toward to the corresponding security screening area. Here I was dropped off at the first American Airlines entry point the driver encountered, which, in this case, was just outside Terminal A. Here, the procedure is different: A passenger, assuming he is in the correct terminal, needs only a few steps to reach a given security screening line and gain entry to his or her gate but because I did not know my flight’s gate location, I wasn’t sure whether my driver had taken me to the right place.

Of course, it turned out he didn’t.

I walked up to the information desk and told the person stationed there my flight number. He told me that I needed to take a bus to Terminal C, and, to save a few steps, walk to Gate C-20, go through the TSA Pre-Check line, and walk to Gate C-16, the gate for the DFW to Pittsburgh flight. It took several minutes for the bus to arrive – and a few more minutes for it to arrive at Terminal C – but once it arrived, the steps of the pre-boarding process returned to normal.

Before I proceed, allow me to tell the story of my cab driver: Born in Morocco, he lived in Sweden and Denmark before emigrating to the U.S. on a temporary visa. He loved staying in this country so much that he wanted to remain here but do so legally. His plan of choice: Matrimony. Despite knowing just a few words of English, he managed to find a woman willing to marry him – and he did so within two months. They met at a party, had a short courtship, got married and, 18 years later, they are still together.

By the time we arrived at the airport, we achieved a friendly accord, and, as I retrieved my belongings from the trunk, I asked him his name.

His reply: “Fred.”

Now I’m sure this is an anglicized name but his answer was striking to me for this reason: Today is the second Father’s Day I’ve experienced without my own father, who died shortly before last year’s observance. One of his nicknames was “Fred,” and he loved it so much that he encouraged friends to address him by that name. He even named one of his cats “Fred,” and, for this particular cat, it was fitting. One of the qualities my father liked most in people was their capacity to be “ornery,” and Fred the Cat was that – and much more. He was so mischievous and obstreperous that he even wore my dad out at times. The Feline Fred died many years ago but the memories of his escapades remain vivid in our family.

If the cabbie’s unlikely name wasn’t enough of a coincidence, given the holiday, I received another bizarre sign at the end of the flight to Pittsburgh. The plane approached the runway at an unusually high speed, and, although the wheels touched down in feathery fashion, the braking was particularly severe. Just as I reached into my pocket to retrieve my cell phone, I saw an object whiz down the aisle. That object was a can of snuff and the brand was Skoal – one of the two brands my father used during most of his life. Never before had I seen an object fly down the aisle upon landing, and for it to be something my father used often – and to have it happen on this day of days, just over a year after his passing – suggested to me (and to me only) that Dad might have been having some fun with me from the Great Beyond. After all, he was the king of ornery.

 

Gary Lee "Fred" Groves Sr., father of RingTV.com writer Lee Groves, poses with a rifle inside his "shop." Following a career as a machinist at Union Carbide, Groves turned his passion into his profession as he owned a fur-selling business, after which he became a licensed gunsmith.

Gary Lee “Fred” Groves Sr., father of RingTV.com writer Lee Groves, poses with a rifle inside his “shop.” Following a career as a machinist at Union Carbide, Groves turned his passion into his profession as he owned a fur-selling business, after which he became a licensed gunsmith.

 

Following the two-and-a-half hour drive home, I unpacked, sorted my receipts and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in the Home Office. I know that the next three days will require me to get lots of work done, and the reason I only have three days is because, this coming Thursday, I will be on the road for the third consecutive week. The reason: The “ShoBox” tripleheader in Detroit that includes two middleweight title fights pitting IBF/WBC female super middleweight Claressa Shields and Hanna Gabriel, for the vacant WBA and newly-created IBF belts, as well as Christina Hammer and Tori Nelson, for Hammer’s WBC and WBO straps.

Until then, happy trails!

 

 

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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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