The Travelin’ Man goes to Mulvane, Kansas: Part One
Thursday, February 14: For the third straight week – and for the fifth time since January 10 – this Travelin’ Man hit the road in search of boxing and travel adventure. Thanks to the unholy triumvirate of Mother Nature, Old Man Winter and Jack Frost, every trip this year produced meteorological challenges – snowstorms during my transits to or from Shreveport, Louisiana, and Carson, California, and bitterly cold temperatures during my journeys to or from Rochester and Las Vegas – so it gave me some comfort to know that the spring equinox is only five weeks away.
Until then, the Terrible Trio will continue to do their work but, as I prepared for my latest journey, no major weather difficulties appeared to be on the horizon – at least any that would affect my ability to move about. Today’s destination is Mulvane, Kansas – a city so new to me that I mistakenly called it “Mulverne” last week (probably because late Hall of Fame trainer Gil Clancy had lived in Malverne, New York, for many years) – and the purpose of this trip was to chronicle a “ShoBox: The New Generation” doubleheader featuring junior featherweights Jesse Angel Hernandez and Thomas Patrick Ward and, in the main event, junior welterweights Shohjahon Ergashev and Mykal Fox. As is usually the case with ShoBox, the combatants’ combined records were glittery (71-1, 30) but the risk to those records was severely elevated.
The scheduled 10-round co-feature between Hernandez and Ward promised to be one for the purists, for while both had modest knockout percentages (seven in 14 fights for Hernandez, four in Ward’s 25-0 record), each possesses good technical skill. In Ward’s case, he is so fundamentally sound that former featherweight title challenger Scott Quigg and current IBF featherweight king Josh Warrington sought him out as a sparring partner to sharpen their skills to a razor’s edge. But while Ward likes to stay in his lane, in terms of being a mobile, points-oriented boxer, Hernandez sometimes prefers to walk on the wild side and trade with his opponents, which has sometimes resulted in tougher fights than necessary, given his superior height and reach (5-foot-8, 68 ½ inches). Therefore I believe that if anyone is going to “make the fight,” it will probably be Hernandez. However if he does press the fight, Ward could take advantage of Hernandez’s sometimes leaky defense (he tasted 38% of Glenn Dezurn’s total punches and 44% of his power shots), while his own airtight guard (he yielded just 11% overall, 5% jabs, 15% power against his last two opponents) could stop Hernandez from gaining any momentum. If Hernandez breaks form and boxes, however, he can turn the tables on Ward and force him to take the unfamiliar role of aggressor. But will he do it?
The plusses and minuses of each may well result in a compelling fight that will likely go the distance. Here is why I believe Hernandez will come out on top: He has the motor to impose a pace hot enough to throw Ward off his game (76.3 punches per round in four CompuBox-tracked fights to Ward’s 48.6 in his two most recent bouts), the height and reach advantages to force Ward to come forward should Hernandez choose to box, the stamina to come on strong late in fights (he broke open a close fight with Dezurn in the final two rounds by stepping up his work rate from 86.7 to 98.5 punches per round and out-landed Dezurn 60-39 overall and 46-36 power, then, against Ernesto Garza III, he rallied strongly in the middle rounds and led 40-38 overall and 37-34 power in the wild 10th), a good enough jab to open the scar tissue around Ward’s eyes (he was cut over both orbs in his November 2017 win over Sean Davis) and the southpaw stance to neutralize Ward’s best weapon, the jab. Additionally Hernandez has the better shot-for-shot power and it appears, based on what I’ve seen on video, that only he has the capacity to cut this fight short.
I believe that for Ward to win, he’ll need to induce the one scenario that will give him the best chance to win – slowing the pace to his level, solving the southpaw puzzle, nailing him with counters coming in and striking him hard enough to deter him from elevating the pace. Can that set of circumstances happen? Sure. But in picking fights such as these, I almost always go with the fighter who has more ways to win and, in this case, that fighter is Hernandez.
As for the main event between Ergashev and Fox, one couldn’t ask for a bigger set of contrasts. While Ergashev is an ultra-aggressive, seek-and-destroy, emotionally charged puncher who has scored nine first round knockouts that include four in the first 60 seconds and an 18-second blast-out in his most recent bout, Fox is extremely tall for the weight class (6-foot-3 1/2 inches, according to BoxRec.com), is a mobile left-hander who is heavily dependent on his jab and is nicknamed “The Professor” for his cerebral approach. Given the extremes they occupy, something has to give once the first bell sounds. The question is, who will be forced to cede strategic ground to the other?
Both men are one-trick ponies on offense. In his four CompuBox-tracked fights, power punches comprised 93.4% of Ergashev’s total connects and punches to the head accounted for 72.8% of his landed punches – bigger percentages than the 140-pound averages of 58.5% and 68.4% respectively. In his third round TKO over Sonny Fredrickson – whose 6-foot-1 height and 76-inch reach mirrors Fox’s – 53 of Ergashev’s 61 total connects were to the head and all of his landed punches were power shots. For him, the jab is only a rumor and body punching also is a rarity. Given Fox’s movement and very long torso, Ergashev would be well advised to target the body more.
Then again, he might not have to invest much thought into this fight because his opening-round rush is so intense that it might blow Fox away like a Kansas tornado. If Ergashev is given reason to believe he can overwhelm an opponent with massive pressure, there are few fighters in the game who do it better. For evidence, look at his fight with 37-year-old Ugandan Juma Waswa last August before a boisterous and borderline worshipful crowd at a small Moscow venue.
In round one, Ergashev unleashed 88 punches, out-landed Waswa 34-1 overall and 32-1 power and scored the first of two knockdowns. Once the opening wave ended, Ergashev throttled down the output but continued to force the action, scored a second knockdown in round three and forced Waswa to retire on his stool between rounds four and five due to an injury to the right shoulder. In all, Ergashev averaged 65.2 punches per round to Waswa’s 26.5 and led 71-10 overall and 66-8 power, as well as 27%-9% overall and 51%-12% power.
Zack Ramsey also got a taste of the Ergashev avalanche last November as Ergashev scored the first knockdown within the first 15 seconds of the fight, then, after Ramsey arose, he ended matters at the 69-second mark with a scything left to the belly. He only had time to throw 11 punches and land four but the flustered Ramsey could only fire one tentative jab (which missed) before being taken out.
But what if Fox is able to survive Ergashev’s opening wave? And what if Ergashev opts not to unleash it at all, as was the case in his April 2018 fight with Zhimin Wang? Because Zhimin had proven his durability by going the distance against future titlist Ivan Baranchyk, a fellow hard charger and big hitter, Ergashev didn’t bother to crank up the pressure. Instead he moved forward with less recklessness, kept the pace modest (52 punches per round) and reached double-digit total connects only three times in their 10-rounder. But that’s probably because Zhimin was in shutdown mode from first bell to last. He averaged just 25.5 punches per round, never reached double-digits, in terms of total connects, and never threw more than 40 punches in a given round (round nine). Had he upped his output, his accuracy leads of 18%-16% overall, 8%-4% jabs and 28%-25% power might have drawn him closer on the scorecards (Ergashev won 100-90 on two scorecards and 99-91 on the third) but would have also further exposed him to the Uzbek’s power.
If Ergashev is Captain Chaos, then Fox is Captain Control. His game is based on negation, which, given his extreme height and reach, is grounded in reality and intelligence. To exercise his mammoth reach to its fullest, he throws far more jabs than power punches (this made up 68.3% of his total output en route to out-pointing 44-year-old veteran DeMarcus Corley over 10 rounds last August and 52.6% during his two-round blowout over aggressive Argentine Gonzalo Dallera this past December) and he uses his leg speed to maintain plenty of space between himself and his opponents. The template, to date, has worked perfectly.
Against Corley, each round was a carbon copy of the other, as Fox danced, jabbed and crossed every so often while the veteran stalked without success. Fox maintained a modest pace (54 punches per round, while limiting Corley to 38), out-landed Corley in eight of the 10 rounds and limited the combat so much that Corley never landed more than seven punches in any round. Fox himself reached double-digit connects just once (16 in the eighth) but his leads of 79-45 overall, 33-12 jabs and 46-33 power were enough to get a comprehensive win that was scored far more closely by two of the three judges than the reality suggested (96-94 twice, 98-92) – probably because he was moving backward the entire time. That said, Fox was a shutdown master, as he limited Corley to 12% overall, 6% jabs and 18% power, and if he is to beat Ergashev, he’ll need to produce a similar blueprint. However as effectively as he limited Corley, he sacrificed his own accuracy to do so as he landed 15% overall, 9% jabs and 27% power. If he is to make a convincing case against Ergashev, he’ll need to up his accuracy.
His effort against the far shorter and stumpy Dallera…
…was more powerful in that a big left cross scored the fight’s only knockdown in round one and that he forced the stoppage in round two, thanks to a series of combinations that had the Argentine reeling about the ring. But again, neither man was especially accurate (Fox led 22%-12% overall, 10%-0% jabs and 35%-14% power) and Fox’s jab, while prolific (42.1 attempts per round), wasn’t effective (4.1 connects per round). To beat Ergashev, that jab must be more effective.
So how do I see this fight unfolding? Again, I go with the man who has proven he has multiple ways to win. While Fox can only win by boxing at long range to give himself sufficient room to operate, Ergashev showed against Zhimin that he can alter his game to the situation, while also showing against Fredrickson that he can deal well with tall fighters. Fox’s style will present quite the puzzle but his lack of accuracy is a big negative. Ergashev could blow out Fox early if his initial rush produces paydirt but the guess here is Ergashev’s power and aggression will score a decisive points victory.
Mulvane, Kansas is not an easy place for me to reach by plane through Pittsburgh because there are so few options. The most agreeable itinerary was a 3:42 p.m. American Airlines flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and a 6:43 p.m. bird from DFW to Wichita today but, on Saturday, the only viable option was a 6:31 a.m. flight from Wichita to DFW followed by a three-hour layover before my 11:15 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh. The good news is that, if all goes well, I’ll be home by 6 p.m. Saturday. The tricky part about today’s trip may well be my advertised 14-minute window between my scheduled arrival in Dallas today and the start of boarding for the Wichita flight.
The mid-afternoon flight allowed me enough time in the morning to edit and burn DVDs of last week’s fight action for the archives and while my 11:20 a.m. departure from the house was five minutes later than ideal, I more than made up the time during the first three-quarters of my drive to the airport. But once I turned onto Interstate 376, the final road leading to the airport, all my progress was wiped out by slow-moving traffic. The cause: A combination of road construction that shut down two of the four lanes and the unwillingness of those in the “right” two lanes to allow those in the “wrong” two lanes to smoothly merge into traffic. Luckily for me, I was in one of the “right” lanes and, when given the opportunity, I allowed the car to my immediate right to move over in front of me.
For the second consecutive week, finding a parking place in Pittsburgh was a chore. And for the second consecutive week, I parked near the 19C sign in the “hinterlands” section of the extended parking lot because it offered the straightest walk from Point A to Point B. Following the seven-minute trek to the terminal entrance, another five-minute walk to the security line, a two-minute tram ride to the “secure” part of the airport and another walk to Gate B-34, I arrived a little later than I wanted. I had hoped to arrive in time to have a leisurely brunch at one of the food courts but with 36 minutes until boarding, I opted to grab a snack at a convenience store to take onto the plane with me, a plan that worked out pretty nicely.
My worries about the too-close-for-comfort connection window were eliminated when the pilot told us we were set to land in Dallas 20 minutes ahead of schedule. He also did an excellent job of alerting us where we were on the flight path, when modest waves of turbulence were coming and how long he expected those waves to last. Thanks to my middle-seat occupant in row 12, an American Airlines flight attendant, I found out that my connecting gate not only was in the same concourse but also just 10 gates away from where I entered the airport.
The flight from DFW to Wichita was completed uneventfully and my carpool partner – CompuBox colleague Andy Kasprzak – arrived at the Avis rental car facility literally 30 seconds after I did. I was told a couple of days earlier that the car reservation was under my name but when I told the Avis agent my name, he said the reservation had been canceled. Upon learning that, Andy surmised that the reservation might have been placed under his name because, according to the production memo, he was set to take someone to the airport on Saturday. Incredibly there was no reservation for him either.
Andy then called production supervisor Nikki Ferry, who solved the problem. Her solution: Have Andy put the rental car charges on his credit card, after which Showtime would reimburse him. With that, we were on our way.
With Andy driving and me navigating via Google Maps on my phone, we arrived at the crew hotel, the Hampton Inn Mulvane, in less than 25 minutes. Better yet: The hotel is connected to the Kansas Star Casino, the venue for the ShoBox card.
Once I checked into my second floor room and settled in, I took an elevator down to the casino, stopped by the Star Deli to purchase an evening meal, answered some CompuBox-related emails, caught up on the news and sports I missed and turned out the lights at 11:15 p.m. CST.
Friday, February 15: Unlike most nights on the road, I slept very soundly for the next seven hours. Not only did I feel better than usual, my spirits were lifted further by the first email I read: American Airlines had upgraded me to First Class for tomorrow’s Wichita-to-Dallas flight.
After completing the morning routines, I spent much of the morning catching up on my writing but I took a 30-minute break to conduct a “walk-rehearsal” to the arena. Good thing I did because, as a casino worker told me, the event center is difficult to find and the signage for it is limited. As I walked around ringside, I thought of Hall of Fame trainer Angelo Dundee, who told author Ronald K. Fried in “Corner Men” about his habit of arriving at a venue several hours beforehand to familiarize himself with his surroundings.
“You go to a fight out of town, a very important thing is to go look at that arena – where it’s at. The location of the dressing rooms. Where are you at? Are you here or there? How far is it to get to the ring? If there’s no john in the dressing room, where’s the available john? Very important. Little things, but important. You gotta know where these things are. So when you get there you don’t walk into a…you know, like it’s all strange to you. You want to get rid of that strangeness; you want to make it smooth.”
Of course, I looked over the ring and, according to a technician, it measured 17 feet square inside the ropes. That dimension certainly suited the perceived “A-side” fighters Ergashev and Hernandez, while erecting yet another roadblock for B-siders Fox and Ward and, for that reason, I felt even better about my predictions.
Once I returned to my room and reached a good stopping point in the writing, I returned downstairs to seek out a light lunch. Along the way, I ran into Barry Tompkins, who was seated with UFC Fight Pass announcer Corey Erdman and three-belt women’s middleweight champion (and two-time Olympic gold medalist) Claressa Shields. Although I had been in Shields’ presence several times, it was our first formal introduction. We were briefly joined by blow-by-blow man Sean Wheelock and, after introducing myself, I said my goodbyes because I sensed they wanted to start their pre-telecast meeting.
As for lunch, I purchased a Lean Cuisine chicken fettuccine frozen meal and a bottle of Diet Pepsi, then, at 1:45 p.m. – 15 minutes before CompuBox’s call time – walked down to the arena.
Unlike last week at “The Destiny” in Carson, California, I didn’t have to deal with the elements – and, given the plunging temperature and the biting wind outside the Kansas Star Casino, I was very thankful for that. I also was appreciative that the electronic connections were made without any trouble and that the crew meal was at one of the casino’s buffets.
Back at ringside, the bout sheet I received from the production office listed 10 fights but when I glanced at the fight order given to the timekeeper, only six bouts were listed. The first two bouts lasted a combined three minutes and two seconds as Russian heavyweight Apti Davtaev stopped shorter but heavier journeyman Richard Carmack (now 15-15-1, with 12 knockouts – and 12 KO losses) at the 2:26 mark of round one to lift his record to 16-0-1 (with 15 KOs), while Russian junior bantamweight (and 2012 Russian Olympian) Elena Saveleva advanced to 5-1 (with 4 KOs) by crushing grossly overmatched late-sub Tatiana Williams of Kansas City in just 36 seconds.
Williams was originally set to fight 3-0 (with 3 KOs) Topeka flyweight Miranda Adkins but after Saveleva’s original opponent, Akasha Adams of Norman, Oklahoma, fell out, Williams took her place. While Williams charmed ringsiders with her understated dance moves, as Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” was playing over the loudspeaker, she couldn’t display the same coordination once the opening bell sounded. After a few seconds of awkward sparring, the shorter Saveleva (the first female to win an Olympic boxing match) charged inside and began blasting away with right hands. Williams responded by tucking into a defensive shell, turning away from her attacker and collapsing to the floor after taking an uninterrupted string of rights to the ribs. Mismatches such as these, in part, caused women’s boxing to fade from the American TV scene a sporting generation ago and it was good that this encounter was not seen by anyone outside the Kansas Star Casino arena.
Andy and I counted the last two non-TV fights that pitted junior welterweights Bakhtiyar Eyubov and Jose Luis Rodriguez as well as flyweights Nico Hernandez and Victor Trejo because Eyubov and Hernandez might be featured in future TV bouts. In my eyes, Eyubov was extremely fortunate to escape with a majority draw, while Hernandez thrilled the local audience with his competitive but correctly rendered unanimous decision.
Eyubov forged a 14-0 (with 12 KOs) record based on his hyperactive offense and his supercharged Joe Frazier-esque bob-and-weave but, in past outings, his defensive flaws were shown to be just as obvious as his offensive strengths because he invested so much attention on pounding opponents that he put defensive tactics on the back burner. Rodriguez, a 25-12-1 (with 13 KOs) journeyman from Mexico, exploited those weaknesses by retreating in small semicircles, raking the advancing Eyubov with combinations that included uppercuts, exceeding the Kazakh’s extraordinary output (104.9 punches per round to Eyubov’s 80.5), out-landing him by large margins (373-260 overall, 30-2 jabs, 343-258 power) and connecting with even more accuracy in all phases (44%-40% overall, 21%-9% jabs, 49%-41% power). Eyubov’s face, especially the area around his left eye, was badly weathered while Rodriguez’s visage was not nearly as abused.
The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total punches – useful because clean punching is a major part of scoring rounds for judges – saw Rodriguez with a 7-1 lead, including each of the final seven rounds. Not only that, Rodriguez out-landed Eyubov by at least 20 connects in four of those rounds (47-24 in the third, 48-23 in the fourth, 55-35 in the seventh and 53-33 in the eighth), out-threw him in every round, exceeded 100 punch attempts in every round but the fourth (in which he threw 99) and landed 40 or more punches in every round but the second (36), while Eyubov reached 40 or more just once (47 in the first). However because Eyubov was the man moving forward at all times, he was the beneficiary of two 76-76 scores that superseded the 77-75 score for Rodriguez. At least in this fight, ineffective aggression was more persuasive than ring generalship.
As for Hernandez, who pushed his record to 7-0 (with 4 KOs) at the expense of Trejo, now 16-10-1 (with 8 KOs), the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist displayed his ability to adjust to competitive conditions. In round one, Hernandez remained in the orthodox stance for the entire three minutes against the southpaw Trejo, who led 52-50 in punches thrown and trailed just 14-13 in total connects. Starting in round two, however, Hernandez switched to lefty and began landing right hooks and left crosses, resulting in a 15-10 lead in total connects and setting the stage for what followed in round three. There, Hernandez incorporated switch-hitting tactics that enabled him to out-land Trejo in every remaining round and to land much more accurately. Trejo continued to try his best – he averaged 59.5 punches per round to Hernandez’s 55 – but the American’s array of skills led to accuracy gaps of 31%-20% overall and 40%-21% power as well as leads of 136-95 overall and 122-81 power. The three judges rewarded Hernandez with a near shut-out (80-72 twice, 79-73) and the crowd rewarded their local hero with the loudest cheers of the evening.
To prevent the audience from leaving the arena, ring announcer Thomas Treiber reminded them that two more contests remained on the card and these two bouts, at least on paper, promised to be the most competitive. Would they be?
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 newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.
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