Saturday, April 01, 2023  |



The Travelin’ Man goes to Easter-Barthelemy: Part One

Easter Jr. (left) and Barthelemy. Photo courtesy of Premier Boxing Champions
Fighters Network

Friday, April 26: For the second time this month, this Travelin’ Man will be trekking to Las Vegas to chronicle the hits and misses of a Showtime-televised card. Three weeks ago, CompuBox colleague Dennis Allen and I worked a “ShoBox: The New Generation” triple-header that saw Andres Cortes score an up-from-the floor decision over Jahmal Dyer, Xavier Martinez steal the show with his third round TKO over John Vincent Moralde, and, in the main event, Angelo Leo toss a three-way shutout over Neil John Tabanao. This time, the site will be the Cosmopolitan, the telecast will be part of the “Showtime Boxing Special Edition” series, and the three televised bouts will pit heavyweights Efe Ajagba and Michael Wallisch, junior welterweights Viktor Postol and Mohamed Mimoune, and, in the main event, Robert Easter and Rances Barthelemy for the WBA’s vacant “regular” lightweight title – as if having pound-for-pound monarch Vasiliy Lomachenko as its “super” champion didn’t already give the WBA the prestige it wants.

The World Boxing Association, more than any other sanctioning organization, has made a mockery of the concept of title lineages with its multiplicity of championship belts. They consist of the “super” title (the most widely recognized version), the secondary “world” belt, and the tertiary “interim” bauble, a hierarchy that has been in place for several years and has effectively accomplished its mission of filling the WBA’s coffers through sanctioning fees. In response to complaints lodged by fans, media and historians, WBA president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza has repeatedly vowed to reduce its number of championship belts, but the recent introduction of a fourth belt — the “gold” title — flies in the face of those promises. However, if a recent statement by Hector Fernandez de Cordova of Fercobox to BoxingScene’s Ryan Burton is to be believed, the Easter-Barthelemy bout could represent a step toward reuniting most of the WBA’s lightweight belts. According to Fernandez de Cordoba, the winner of the “gold” title pairing between Felix Verdejo-Bryan Vasquez fight (which Verdejo won) would meet the winner of Easter-Barthelemy for the “world” title, and that winner would meet Lomachenko for the “super” title.

If that happens – and if it sticks – fine and good. But there is reason to believe this is a mirage: To me, the key part of Fernandez de Cordoba’s quote is that Verdejo would meet the Easter-Barthelemy winner for the “world” belt – not as a unification of the “world” and “gold” titles. Therefore, while the mini-tournament could result in a Lomachenko versus the winner of the other side of the bracket, my bet is that the WBA will quietly fill the void in its “gold” section and go on its merry way.

It’s easy to be cynical about the ways of the boxing world, because history suggests that undisputed championships – especially in this era – are as fragile as a freshly blown soap bubble. In the four-belt era that began in 1988, only four male fighters have owned all the available titles – Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk – and, of those, only Hopkins and Usyk managed to make one title defense. Five months after WBA/WBC/IBF champion Hopkins stopped WBO titlist Oscar de la Hoya to unite the middleweight titles in September 2004, “B-Hop” outpointed Howard Eastman to keep them together. Five months after that, Hopkins controversially lost them to Taylor, and while Taylor would have loved to retain them, the IBF made sure that would never happen by using a familiar ploy: Force the unified champion to pick one of two options; (1) Fight a highly ranked but lesser known (and thus financially unattractive) contender to remain undisputed, or (2) Drop the belt and face a household name for much bigger money. Here’s how it went down with Taylor:

Shortly after Taylor dethroned Hopkins, the IBF ordered the new champ to fight second-ranked Kingsley Ikeke – a 6-foot-4 Nigerian with a 79-inch reach and a 23-1 (13) record who also happened to be its highest rated available challenger (top-ranked Sam Soliman had already committed to fight Ronald “Winky” Wright” in a WBC/IBF middleweight title eliminator) – and if he didn’t, he would be stripped of their title. Meanwhile, the outcry over the verdict in the first Hopkins fight demanded that a rematch be made, and HBO was more than willing to open its checkbook to make it happen. So Taylor did what any self-respecting prizefighter would do: He “relinquished” the IBF title and signed to fight Hopkins (who he controversially decisioned again) while Ikeke faced third-rated Arthur Abraham for the vacant IBF belt (Abraham stopped Ikeke in five to begin a reign that would span three-and-a-half years and 10 title defenses. Interestingly, Abraham’s first fight after voluntarily ending his IBF reign was a 12th round KO over Taylor in the opening fight of the “Super Six” super middleweight tournament).

The other reason undisputed championships do not remain unified is because fighters now see unification as the final act of a long journey instead of the start of an even higher plane of accomplishment. Even before crushing Julius Indongo in August 2017 to become the undisputed 140-pound champion, the conventional wisdom was that Terence Crawford would immediately vacate those titles to pursue further glories at 147, and within weeks “Bud” shed himself of all the belts. As for Usyk, he vacated his WBA “super” title at cruiserweight on March 27, a week after the WBA ordered him to defend its belt against mandatory challenger (and former champ) Denis Lebedev. Like Taylor, Usyk’s move was an intelligent business decision, for he has already announced he would move up to the ultra-lucrative heavyweight division (he is set to fight Carlos Takam on May 25). Yes, he’s still listed as the cruiserweight king by the other three organizations, but the Takam fight is a clear signal that his cruiserweight days are behind him.

For those who support women’s boxing – with me being one – it can be said the ladies’ game has it all over the men in terms of unified champions. Cecilia Braekhus has been the undisputed welterweight monarch since September 2014 and has logged nine successful defenses of those belts. Earlier this month, Claressa Shields became the undisputed middleweight champion by beating rival Christina Hammer while three-belt lightweight leader Katie Taylor is scheduled to meet WBC counterpart Delfine Persoon June 1 at Madison Square Garden. That alone should be reason to follow the women’s game more closely – it’s less complicated.

Returning to the men’s game, it can be said that, except for heavyweight (where there is no weight limit), the possibility of a long-term undisputed champion is virtually nil, not just because of the jurisdictional games played by the sanctioning bodies, but also because the definition of greatness has changed among the fighters. I believe the seeds of that change occurred during a 28-day span in 1981 when Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello won their third divisional championships – a feat that hadn’t been done since Henry Armstrong last turned the trick nearly 43 years earlier – and the massive press coverage they received for their accomplishments convinced other fighters that there was another way to be remembered as a bona fide legend. Instead of holding onto a single championship for years, one could win titles in multiple weight classes and achieve the same degree of adulation and long-term historic distinction. Yes, there have been exceptions to this rule since then in the lighter weight classes – Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Joe Calzaghe, Dariusz Michalczewski, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Ratanapol Sor Vorapin, Ricardo Lopez, Bernard Hopkins, Khaosai Galaxy, Sven Ottke, Virgil Hill, Myung Woo Yuh, Shinsuke Yamanaka, Takashi Uchiyama, Gennady Golovkin, Orlando Canizales and Wanheng Menayothin among them – but, for most fighters, acquiring belts in at least three weight classes appears to be the new minimum requirement if one wants to be remembered as an outstanding fighter. And that’s a big if, because winning belts in multiple divisions is no longer a guarantee for eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement; just ask Iran Barkley (who won belts at 160, 168 and 175), who is not on the IBHOF modern ballot despite having been eligible for years. It’s also likely that Adrien Broner, who won widely recognized titles at 130, 135, 140 and 147, won’t get inducted once he becomes eligible.

Barthelemy, a former titlist at 130 and 135, tried (and failed) to reach that three-division benchmark in March 2018 when he lost his rematch to Kiryl Relikh for the WBA “super” title at 140 that was vacated by Crawford. Instead, he’ll try to become a two-time titlist at lightweight when he meets Easter in what will be a crossroads fight for both. After all, Barthelemy has logged only three rounds of action since losing to Relikh 13 months ago (KO 3 over journeyman Robert Frankel) while Easter hasn’t fought since dropping the IBF title to Mikey Garcia last July.

In analyzing Easter-Barthelemy, I saw that it was a fight between two athletes whose ceilings have been clearly defined – good enough to become a champion (a terrific accomplishment achieved by few who ever pull on the gloves), but not great enough to become even more. Easter’s rise to contender status was marked by dominant statistical gaps and highlighted by a one-punch knockout over Argenis Mendez that made the Ohioan look like a Thomas Hearns mini-me.

The statistical differences between the rising star version of Easter and the one that has competed at championship level has been stark. Consider: In seven pre-title fights counted by CompuBox, the numbers were lopsided in Easter’s favor: He threw more (59.3 punches per round to his opponents’ combined 31.9), landed more (21.5 vs. 7.6 in overall connects per round, 4.3 vs. 1.7 landed jabs per round, 17.2 vs. 5.9 power connects per round) and connected more frequently (36%-24% overall, 21%-14% jabs, 44%-30% power). But in his five title fights against future titlist Richard Commey, Luis Cruz, Denis Shafikov, Javier Fortuna and Garcia, all went the distance and two were split decision wins. Instead of Hearns, Easter looked more like Hearns’ Kronk stable mate Milton McCrory, who, like Hearns, started his career with 17 straight KOs, but was far less dominant once he advanced to the championship level. The evidence: In Easter’s five title fights, his leads narrowed considerably (51.6 punches per round to his foes’ 49.7, a 13.7 to 12.6 gap in total connects per round, a 4.6 vs. 2.6 lead in landed jabs per round, and a 10 to 9.1 deficit in power connects per round). Moreover, his percentage leads over his title-fight opponents narrowed to 27%-25% overall, 18.3%-18.2% jabs and 35%-28% power. Of course, one would expect the numbers to narrow somewhat due to the more demanding level of opposition, but truly great fighters manage to achieve an unmistakable physical and statistical superiority even at the highest levels. That hasn’t been the case with Easter.

Mikey Garcia (right) vs. Robert Easter Jr.

Mikey Garcia (right) vs. Robert Easter Jr.

The Garcia fight showed Easter the difference between being a good fighter and being a pound-for-pound stalwart. Yes, Easter started the fight well by maintaining a busy jab while taking advantage of Garcia’s habit of deliberate starts. In the first nine minutes, Garcia averaged a pedestrian 27 punches per round, allowing Easter to forge connect leads of 33-20 overall and 22-8 jabs to offset Garcia’s narrow 12-11 edge in landed power punches. The bad news for Easter was that Garcia’s narrow power connect lead was produced by the bout’s only knockdown punch, a punch that kick-started Garcia’s battery and led to an excellent finishing kick in the final four rounds (95-34 overall, 37-21 jabs, 58-13 power) to sew up the decision as well as produce statistical leads of 176-129 overall and 99-40 power and percentage gaps of 32%-25% overall, 27%-26% jabs and 38%-24% power. In those final 12 minutes, Garcia showed Easter what being elite meant. Will he take those lessons to heart and apply them against Barthelemy, or will the reality check result in a reality shock that will permanently affect his psyche and his performance level? I believe Barthelemy is good enough to provide an accurate barometer on the State of Easter.

As for Barthelemy, his six performances after rising from 130 have been inconsistent at best. While he performed well against former titlist Antonio DeMarco in his 140-pound debut in June 2015, against Mickey Bey in a split decision that should have been unanimous for Barthelemy in June 2016, in the final four rounds against Denis Shafikov in December 2015 and in his “get well” fight against Frankel this past December, he struggled mightily in his two fights against Kiryl Relikh in May 2017 and March 2018 (the first of which he should have lost and the second in which he officially lost in decisive fashion). In the four bouts in which he performed well, Barthelemy was able to dictate pace (he averaged 60.2 punches per round to their 53.3), dominate with the jab (30.4 attempts/4.3 connects per round to their 23.4/2.2), land more power shots per round (13.7 to 9.6) and create sizeable accuracy gaps (30%-22% overall, 14%-9% jabs, 46%-32% power). But Relikh was able to scramble Barthelemy’s wires by setting a hyperactive pace (80.8 per round in fight one, 103.1 per round in the rematch) that kept Barthelemy so occupied on defense that his output dropped to 43.4 in fight one and 41.2 in the rematch while also adversely affecting his jabbing performance (Barthelemy averaged 24.3 attempts and 3.8 connects per round in fight one to Relikh’s 31.7 and 4.8 respectively, and 17.8 attempts and 2.9 connects per round in the rematch to Relikh’s sky-high 50 and 6.8). The connect numbers in both fights were remarkably similar (Relikh led 248-137 overall in fight one and 249-137 overall in the rematch) but the judging could not have been more different as Barthelemy won a scandalous unanimous decision in fight one (117-109, 116-110, 115-111 despite being dropped in round two) while Relikh won a rightly rendered decision in the rematch (118-109 twice, 117-110 with Barthelemy being penalized for low blows in round seven). The Frankel mismatch notwithstanding, Barthelemy enters the Easter fight with plenty to prove.

What must Easter do to win? I believe the Relikh-Barthelemy fights offer a game plan that Easter is capable of following: Set a fast pace, maximize the jab to keep Barthelemy from launching his offense and keep it up for the entire contest. Easter has sufficient advantages in height (one inch) and especially reach (three-and-a half inches) to carry out this strategy, and he proved in the early rounds against Garcia that he is talented enough to execute against even the very best. He also is nearly five years younger, and despite his recent power drain, one can’t forget the force with which he starched Mendez, who fought Barthelemy in back-to-back fights in January 2014 (a two-round no-contest) and July 2014 (unanimous decision to win Mendez’s IBF junior lightweight belt).

For Barthelemy to win, he must close the gap against the taller and rangier Easter, let him know why his nickname is “Kid Blast,” and force Easter to fight in a more chaotic environment. This goes against the “Cuban Boxing School” mentality, but when faced with anatomical disadvantages such as Barthelemy will face against Easter, one must dig deeper inside his tool box. If he can, he might be able to rattle Easter’s cage to the point where he can go back to his familiar style, pile up the points, and walk out of the ring with another belt. If he stands at range and tries to box with Easter, he’ll be surrendering his best opportunity to get the “W.”

The other two televised bouts, at least on paper, are polar opposites in terms of styles and conventional wisdom. The heavyweight fight between Ajagba and Wallisch has the air of a showcase because the Nigerian – who sports a chiseled 6-foot-6 physique and an 84 1/2-inch reach – comes into the fight with a 9-0 record and plenty of buzz, much of which resulted from his only fight not to end in knockout. Last August 24, in a bout nationally televised on FS1, Ajagba’s meeting with Curtis Harper set an unbreakable record for the quickest result in boxing history. At one second of the first round, Harper walked out the ring, up the aisle and out of the arena, resulting in a disqualification win for Ajagba. Since then he has notched three straight knockouts that required less than four rounds to complete, the most recent of which was against 46-year-old marvel Amir Mansour, who was dropped twice in round one and forced to retire on his stool after the second round. Wallisch, for his part, is coming off the only defeat of his 20-fight pro career, a bizarre fifth-round TKO loss to Christian Hammer last December.

Early in Round 4, as the pair were exchanging blows, Wallisch suddenly fell to a knee. The referee counted Wallisch out, but complaints from the Wallisch corner prompted a four minute and 13 second time-out in which the video was apparently reviewed. The video revealed that the knockdown was caused by a clash of heads, not an exchange of punches. Hammer, who had already celebrated his apparent victory, was told he had to resume the fight after officials correctly pieced together the chain of events. Then, early in the fifth, Hammer lightly pulled down Wallisch’s head and landed a right uppercut to the jaw. Wallisch, who acted as if he wanted to draw a DQ for Hammer’s hold-and-hit maneuver, fell backward, sat on the bottom rope and waited for the time-out to be called. Instead, he was counted out and Hammer was declared the KO winner — for the second time. To that point, Hammer was winning the fight; although he was throwing fewer punches per round (39 to 50), Hammer led 46-24 overall, 14-10 jabs and 32-14 power thanks to his accuracy leads of 28%-11% overall, 21%-8% jabs and 32%-16% power.

Wallisch’s performance against Hammer featured much of the drama often found in Alexander Dimitrenko fights. If he doesn’t physically dominate his opposition, Dimitrenko finds a way to allow weirdness to encroach on the contest. Will the same forces invade Wallisch’s fight with Ajagba? One must wonder; if Wallisch’s composure could be shaken when facing an experienced but hardly physically imposing underdog like Hammer, how will it hold up when facing a physical specimen like Ajagba? For these reasons, Ajagba is an overwhelming favorite but if Wallisch can somehow get inside Ajagba’s long arms and make those long levers a hindrance instead of an advantage, we might see how well the Nigerian can function in an unfamiliar environment. That, I believe, is Wallisch’s only chance to win.

The co-feature between Postol and Mimoune, unlike Ajagba-Wallisch, is no showcase fight; it’s a contest in which both men have a legitimate chance to win. However, this could be an awkward affair, for both are lanky, fast-twitch boxers who depend on mobility and timing far more than blunt force trauma. While Postol has 12 knockouts in 32 fights, Mimoune has logged only two in 23 fights, meaning that a distance fight is a near certainty. Adding to the potential stylistic squalor is the fact that Mimoune, appropriately nicknamed “The Problem,” is a left-hander, and while Postol is extremely familiar with southpaws – Mimoune will be his fourth lefty foe in his last five fights – the Ukrainian has gone 1-2 against Josh Taylor, Jamshidbek Najmiddinov and Terence Crawford and some say he should have gone 0-for-3 because, like the Taylor and Crawford fights, Najmiddinov managed to score a knockdown against Postol. In fact, this trio decked Postol four times — two by Crawford and one each by Taylor and Najmiddinov – so his chin will be a viable variable in terms of the result. But will Mimoune be able to strike it hard enough to register with Postol. If he is to win, that will be a minimum requirement.

One positive sign for Mimoune is that his game has traveled well. He will be fighting away from France for the third time in his last four fights and for the fifth time overall – and, so far, he’s won them all. Most recently, he scored an eight-round decision win over Ceferino Rodriguez in Spain while notching a split decision victory over Sam Eggington in England and a 12-round unanimous decision over Franck Petitjean in Senegal in his last outing. Now, he’s facing a former titlist in Postol in his American debut — and he’s doing so in Las Vegas – quite the big stage. His past performances against Eggington and Petitjean suggest to me that the unfamiliar surroundings will have no negative impact on his performance.

That said, one potential weakness coming into the Postol fight for Mimoune could be his inaccurate jab. For a fighter who is so dependent on science, it is disconcerting that his jabbing in the Eggington and Petitjean fights was so imprecise (8% against Eggington, 13% versus Petitjean). Moreover, he might have an even harder time landing it against Postol, who will boast a one-inch height advantage as well as a two-and-a-half-inch edge in reach. If he is to win, Mimoune must find a way to neutralize Postol’s jab and make his unorthodox methods the story of the fight.

As is the case with most boxing cards, this triple-header offers a variety of story lines and potential outcomes, and I am looking forward to seeing how they play out. But first, I need to get to Las Vegas

Longtime readers of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles – and I know you’re out there – often tell me their favorite parts are when things go sideways for me during my trips. I don’t think it’s a case of shadenfreude (at least I hope not) but rather a chance to relate to shared experiences. But while the troubles usually begin for me during the trips, the issues surrounding this one started the night before when the electricity to the house suddenly went out – not once, but twice in the same day.

The first outage occurred around 9:00 p.m., and because I have a whole-home generator powered by natural gas, the lights returned after about 20 seconds and all seemed well, especially after natural power was restored about a half-hour later.

But while watching the final rounds of the rematch between Joshua Franco and Oscar Negrete on Facebook, the power went out again – and this time, the generator didn’t kick on. That’s because, after a few minutes, power was restored – negating the need for the generator – but the lights returned to only parts of the house. While the garage, half the living room and the ceiling fan in my home office was working, the rest of the house was in darkness – and remained that way the rest of the night. Because I had no internet access, I didn’t know that Franco had beaten Negrete by split decision or that Yves Ulysse had avenged his only pro defeat by out-pointing Steve Claggett in the main event.

A power truck arrived at the house early the next morning, and, after checking the wiring, it was determined that full voltage was coming into the house. He said the transfer switch to our generator might be why full power wasn’t being restored, and suggested we call the generator company’s repairman to address the issue. Just minutes after placing a message on his cell phone, the repairman called us back, compared notes with the power company employee and mapped out his course of action. Not long he arrived at the house an hour later, he told us the good news – this was going to be an easy fix.

It turned out that a small piece of plastic had broken off inside the generator’s power box due to the vibrating that naturally occurs when the generator is working, and that piece had landed in just the right place to prevent the conduction of electricity. Once that piece was removed, full power to everywhere in the house was restored.

Just like that, the tenor of the day brightened; I was able to reconnect to the internet, and, because my Southwest flight to Las Vegas was not set to depart until 6:20 p.m., I had enough time to wrap up some loose ends on the CompuBox research before leaving the house at 1:20.

Once I hit the road, however, the road hit me back. I had already accounted for the detour on the I-470 East entrance ramp, but once I took the detour, I saw a slow-moving line of vehicles on the other side of the interstate that stretched for more than three miles. It was a good thing I had left the house a bit earlier than planned, because this queue made clear I would need every spare minute.

It took me nearly 45 minutes to get past the choke point on I-470, and while it was clear sailing for the next hour or so, I ran into a stretch of rush-hour traffic a few miles before the airport. Despite the multiple delays, I arrived at the airport only 20 minutes later than I hoped, and because I quickly found a decent space in the extended lot, I arrived a little more than an hour before boarding.

Once inside the terminal, my first stop was the Southwest ticket counter. That’s because despite checking in precisely at the start of the 24-hour check-in window, my boarding pass still bore “B-60”. For those who don’t fly often, a boarding pass with “B-60” on Southwest means that I would be the 120th person after pre-boarders to get on the aircraft, and because Southwest uses open seating, it was likely that I likely would have no choice but to sit in a middle seat on a cross-country flight that was timed at 4 hours 40 minutes. Thankfully, Southwest has an alternative for passengers like me: Business Select seating. For a fee — $30 to $50 depending on the route, and, for Las Vegas, the fee is $50 – one can guarantee a place between A-1 and A-15, and I hoped that, despite all my delays, I had arrived in time to secure one of those seats.

After waiting for four other customers to be addressed, I approached the counter and asked if there were any upgrades for the Pittsburgh to Las Vegas flight. Within seconds I had my answer: Not only yes, but my new place in line would be A-3, which meant that, for $50 (which you can pay in cash at the counter outside the secure area), I had moved up 117 places in line – which translates to 42.7 cents per place. Not a bad deal, if I say so myself.

I chose a window seat in row five and I was soon joined by Sophie Park, who, with her husband Jim, has owned and operated the Neville Roller Drome in Pittsburgh, which, according to a story in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review is one of only two roller rinks left in Allegheny County and has been in continuous operation since 1948. Talking with Sophie brought back memories of my own childhood that included trips to the Rendezvous Roller Rink in Sistersville – which, by the way, is still in business and is one of 13 rinks available in West Virginia.

The flight – which lasted more than four-and-a-half hours because of headwinds – went off without a hitch. Once Sophie and I said our goodbyes, I took a taxi to the crew hotel – The Westin Las Vegas on East Flamingo Road – and checked into my room in time to watch the rematch between Juan Francisco Estrada and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. It was clear from the start that Estrada was energized and Sor Rungvisai was stale, so stale that the natural southpaw fought most of the fight right-handed. Only during Rounds 10 and 11, when he fought mostly as a lefty, did Sor Rungvisai make headway, but, curiously, he returned to the orthodox stance in the 12th and lost by closer-than-reality scores (116-112, 115-113 twice).

In the first fight, Estrada suffered for starting his patented second-half surge too late, but here the motivated Mexican was raring to go from second one. In the first round he fired 92 punches to Sor Rungvisai’s 62 and out-landed him 34-17 overall and 27-12 power, setting the stage for leads of 88-46 overall and 69-33 power in the first three rounds that allowed Estrada to gain a solid foothold in terms of momentum. Yes, Sor Rungvisai managed to kick up into a higher gear in terms of output, but, save for the 10th and 11th, there never was a sense that the narrative would change in a dramatic way. For the fight, Estrada out-landed Sor Rungvisai 289-230 overall, 58-43 jabs and 231-187 power, was more accurate in all phases (28%-24% overall, 21%-16% jabs, 31%-27% power) and earned a 10-2 lead in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects. Only four of the 12 rounds were separated by three or fewer total connects, and, of those Estrada prevailed in three of them. It was the signature performance of Estrada’s career, and, for Sor Rungvisai, his strategic blunder will forever be equated with Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s stance switch against Sugar Ray Leonard a little more than 32 years earlier.

With my appetite for live boxing fully sated, I turned out the lights shortly thereafter.

Saturday, April 27: The next five hours were restful, and following the morning routines I was ready to go a few rounds on the laptop, where I cranked out virtually every word you’ve read thus far. It was a most productive morning.

Shortly before noon, I received a text from Dennis saying that he would meet me in the lobby of the Cosmopolitan at 12:30 p.m., where he then would give me my credential. Since Dennis lives in Las Vegas, I asked him if he could instead pick me up at the Westin since he would probably be driving me back there after the show. Being the good guy that he is, Dennis agreed to the request, and we arrived at the Cosmopolitan without any trouble. Once we got power at our work station, it didn’t take long for all the green lights between us and the production truck to illuminate. As far as we were concerned, we were ready to work. Unfortunately for us, the first bell of Ajagba-Wallisch was more than five hours away.

After eating the crew meal, I returned to ringside to count the one non-TV fight that we opted to count: Terrel Williams’ 10-round split decision victory over Justin DeLoach. The willowy welterweights engaged mostly at long range, with the 35-year-old Williams winning the early rounds with his slightly harder hitting and more accurate power punching while the 25-year-old DeLoach subtly rallying in the later rounds by being more consistent. In the end, Williams (now 18-0 with 13 knockouts) was slightly more active (52.2 punches per round to DeLoach’s 49.7), was more precise with his power shots (35%-20%) and prevailed 6-4 in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects. However, DeLoach swept the final three rounds (42-26 overall, 24-7 jabs) to edge Williams 129-121 overall thanks to his 61-31 lead in landed jabs. Williams led 90-68 in power shots while also leading 73-8 in landed body punches, which may have helped lift him to 96-94 scores on two of the cards to negate the 96-94 score for DeLoach on the third.

With the preliminaries now history, it was time for Dennis and me to see whether the TV fights would fulfill conventional wisdom or produce another helping of script-flipping magic.


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 18 writing honors, including first-place awards in 2011 and 2013. 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 “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.


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