The Travelin’ Man goes to Easter-Barthelemy: Part Two
READ THE TRAVELIN’ MAN GOES TO EASTER-BARTHELEMY PART 1 HERE
Saturday, April 27 (continued): The fiercest combat between Robert Easter Jr. and Rances Barthelemy was not produced by their fists, but by their brain cells. As their eyes scanned their targets for openings, their synapses snapped, their cortexes clashed and their frontal lobes processed the equations, angles and options with enviable alacrity. It was a contest that was more Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky than Arturo Gatti-Mickey Ward and one that might have positively engaged thinkers such as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and Aristotle had they been alive to see it.
Not only did Easter and Barthelemy challenge their opponent’s intelligence, they also challenged the live audience at The Chelsea inside the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, those who watched on Showtime and the two punch counters charged with tracking their success (or lack thereof). Most of all, they tested the three judges charged with determining a winner. Fittingly, the experienced panel came up with three different verdicts, but while Eric Cheek saw Barthelemy a 115-113 winner and Tim Cheatham scored 115-113 for Easter (the same score as Showtime scorer Steve Farhood), the card of Glenn Trowbridge carried the most weight as he saw it a 114-114 draw.
As draws go, this was a most agreeable one, not only because the result perfectly reflected the action that preceded it, but also because the vacant WBA secondary lightweight title for which they were fighting remains unfilled. In this one world of ours, there is room for only one world champion, and, according to the WBA at least, the lightweight champion of the world is pound-for-pound king Vasiliy Lomachenko.
During the late rounds, my mind briefly flashed back to a fight report penned by the late great Bert Randolph Sugar. The Hall of Famer was at ringside for a championship fight between Thomas Hearns and Wilfred Benitez, two fighters, like Easter and Barthelemy, who were known for producing exciting contests. Their December 3, 1982 contest for Benitez’s WBC junior middleweight championship also fell far short of expectations, and their lack of fireworks was made even more glaring by the title fight that immediately preceded it – the historic firefight between Wilfredo Gomez and Lupe Pintor. After Hearns won a majority decision that most believed should have been unanimous, Sugar, as he often did, chose to go outside the box in terms of how he reported the action.
“Hearns’ 78-inch wingspan dominated the first three rounds,” he wrote in the February 1983 issue of The Ring. “He would feint his first jab, leading the counter-punching Benitez on, and then he’d counter Benitez’s own jab with what became a series of punches. Time and again the two men stood looking at each other, playing mind-bending games and feinting so much that it looked like the two were on the verge of becoming human pretzels.”
That last sentence was what I recalled as I watched Easter and Barthelemy tie each other into knots with feints, counter feints and other sundry maneuvers. Their eyes were ablaze with concentration, and, to me, their intent was obvious: They wanted to score, but their years in the game told them that it was better to move on to the next opportunity rather than lashing out indiscriminately and possibly yielding the single punch that would lose them the round in a tightly-waged contest. This cycle continued minute after minute and round after round, and while the whole fight was disappointing for most, it was understandable why it happened.
The CompuBox stats perfectly illustrated the challenges facing the fighters as well as the scorers, both amateur and pro. The work rate for both fighters was well below the lightweight average of 59.4 punches per round as Easter averaged 34.6 to Barthelemy’s 27.3, which forced viewers to intensify their focus so as to not miss the decisive blow of the round. The round-by-round breakdowns revealed that neither fighter reached double-digit total connects in every round (Easter’s best was eight in round two while Barthelemy’s highest total was six in rounds five, six, nine, and 10), that Barthelemy forged a 6-5-1 lead in terms of total connects, and that the one drawn round was the 12th when each landed just three punches each. Easter’s activity ranged from 25 punches in the fifth to 42 in the second while Barthelemy’s activity roamed from 22 in the eighth to 32 in the fifth.
Even more daunting for the judges was that the connect margin between the pair was never more than four in any round (8-4 Easter in Round 2), and that the difference was either one or zero connects in six of the rounds. Easter prevailed 54-52 in total connects thanks to his 21-16 lead in landed jabs. Barthelemy, who prevailed 36-33 in power connects, was the more accurate hitter overall (16%-13%) and in power punches (35%-25%) while also being the far more successful body puncher (33-20).
To me, the pivotal moment in terms of strategy arrived at the start of Round 3 when Barthelemy decided to stay in the southpaw stance for the remainder of the fight. My theory as to why: In Round 2, Easter landed 7 of 31 jabs to produce his biggest connect lead of the fight and Barthelemy knew that by turning lefty he would neutralize that weapon. It certainly worked, for in Round 3 Easter landed just one of his 26 jab attempts, and, in Rounds 4-12, Easter connected on only 13 of his 195 jabs, which translates to 6.7% accuracy. But while Barthelemy shut down Easter’s jab, he struggled with his own as he went 5 of 40 in the first two rounds, but just 11 of 184 (6%) the rest of the way.
Both fighters surely wanted to produce a more exciting contest optically, but it wasn’t easy for Barthelemy – a counterpuncher by nature – to cope with height and reach deficits he normally doesn’t face, and for Easter to counteract the “Cuban Boxing School” tactics Barthelemy learned over the years, and for which he received amplification from his new trainer Joel Casamayor, who, in his day, was one of the deans of the academy.
The bout’s most surprising aspect was how the live crowd received it. In most other arenas, boos would have reverberated off the walls by Round 3, but here, there were cheers and chants. The Barthelemy partisans were solely focused on supporting their man – for better or worse — and there appeared not to be enough Easter backers to drown them out. Their unwavering support set the tone, and while the press described the fight as “uneventful,” “dull,” “tactical,” “slow-paced,” “a chess match” and “utterly forgettable” – all of which are true – the positive vibe inside the arena helped take the edge off of an otherwise negative situation.
One of boxing’s most famous sayings is that “styles make fights,” and its crystal-clear that if Easter and Barthelemy fought 10 times, their thinking-man’s battle will likely be the result the majority of the time. But while they won’t fight 10 times, both said they wanted to have a second. Since neither man was able to establish superiority over the other head-to-head, a rematch – in a vacuum – would make sense. But the hard reality is that the first fight is the best advertisement for why a second won’t happen. How would a promoter promote it? Who would want to pay to see it? Who would want to televise it? And are there other, more attractive pairings that can be made? My answers: (1) I don’t know; (2) Einstein, Newton, and Aristotle, but, according to “Bill and Ted,” they’re all “old, dead dudes,” (3), I can’t think of anyone, and (4) absolutely yes.
Perhaps the vibe for Easter-Barthelemy was set by the fight that happened right before it: Viktor Postol’s cerebral dissection of French southpaw Mohamed Mimoune that resulted in appropriately lopsided scores of 99-91, 98-92 and 97-93. Mimoune did what he usually did – slip, duck, dodge, move and negate – but, against the taller, rangier and vastly more experienced Ukrainian, those tricks only extended Postol’s dominance to the full 30 minutes of ring time. The key to Postol’s victory was his ability to land his jab with consistency while also blunting Mimoune’s awkward thrusts. At 35, Postol still possesses above-average quickness, superb timing, outstanding intelligence and rock-solid focus, and all those assets were on display against Mimoune, whose baffling style had led him to road victories over Franck Petitjean in Senegal, Sam Eggington in England and Ceferino Rodriguez in Spain – opponents with a combined record of 61-4-3 – but did him no good against Postol.
Another factor in Postol’s win was his far superior work rate. In his last four CompuBox-tracked fights, Postol averaged a modest 40.8 punches per round, but, against Mimoune, he averaged 58.7 while limiting Mimoune to 30.6, far below the 58.1 he averaged against Eggington and Petitjean. Perhaps Mimoune’s profound lack of power emboldened Postol to the point where he could let his hands go without fear of being hurt, especially since Postol suffered four knockdowns in consecutive fights against lefties Terence Crawford, Jamshidbek Nadmiddinov and Josh Taylor.
The CompuBox stats accurately reflected the level of Postol’s control as he out-threw and out-landed Mimoune in terms of total punches and jabs while also going 10-for-10 in power connects and nine of 10 in attempted power punches (Mimoune led 26-19 in the seventh). In all, Postal prevailed 149-73 overall, 68-9 jabs and 81-64 power as well as 25%-24% overall, 23%-17% jabs and 27%-25% power. The only aspect in which Mimoune outdid Postol was in landed body punches (26-15).
As this was a WBC title eliminator, the fourth-ranked Postol, by beating the third-ranked Mimoune, moved closer toward a chance at regaining his old title against current champion Jose Ramirez. Should Postol get that opportunity, the contrast between the rangy and scientific Postol and the rangy and savage Ramirez would be quite the spectacle.
And, speaking of spectacle, there is Nigerian heavyweight Efe Ajagba, whose fusion of size, work rate and power has resulted in fights that stir passions, inspire awe and convince many that the revival of the heavyweight division in the post-Klitschko era will continue. Most expected Ajagba to quickly dispatch Wallisch, but, before the bout, one insider told me that the German’s courage was such that he might force the Nigerian into deeper waters.
As it turned out, Ajagba barely dipped his toes into the wading pool. It took him just four minutes and 40 seconds to complete his assignment, but it didn’t come without some drama. After a series of right hands dropped Wallisch in round two, Ajagba nailed the fallen German with a final right to the side of the head. While no one but Wallisch knows what was going on inside his head, the view from this outsider was that he had spotted a prime opportunity to turn a KO loss into a DQ win and acted accordingly. Instead, referee Tony Weeks stopped his count and allowed the German sufficient time to recover. Once the action resumed, it took Ajagba a few moments to apply the finishing touches on his 10th professional victory and his ninth stoppage win.
Ajagba produced a multitude of striking numbers. His 104.5-punch-per-round average more than doubled the 44.6 heavyweight average, his jab worked outstandingly (56.4 attempts/9.6 connects per round), and he created connect margins of 47-10 overall, 15-0 jabs and 32-10 power as well as percentage gaps of 29%-20% overall, 17%-0% jabs and 43%-23% power (including a 54%-20% gulf in round two). Finally, despite the display of raw power, Ajagba threw more jabs (88) than power punches (75). If there is one area to criticize, it was his lack of body punching as only five of his total connects struck the flanks. But when a fighter can blast out opponents like Ajagba has so far, any complaints have the air of nit-picking.
After Dennis and I packed our belongings, we decided to skip the post-card meal. Good thing we did, because traffic on our way back to the crew hotel was jam-packed and mostly immobile. A normally 10-minute drive took Dennis nearly a half-hour to complete, and after a night of challenging fights of count he showed more patience than most. Upon arriving at the Westin, I thanked Dennis for the ride, returned to my room, entered the night’s data into the master database, alerted the good folks at Draft Kings that the numbers were ready for their use, ordered room service and went to bed shortly thereafter.
Sunday, April 28: Despite turning out the lights a little after 1:00 a.m., I stirred awake a few minutes before my target time of 5:00 a.m. Because I wanted to arrive at the airport by 6 to catch my 8:30 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh, the plan was to call the valet 20 minutes before I wanted to leave to ensure a taxi would be waiting for me (the advice I was given upon checking in Thursday night). But when that time came, the phone did not have an option to directly contact the valet station. Instead, I called the front desk, and the person who answered told me that all I needed to do was to approach the valet podium in front of the hotel, where a cab could be summoned within five minutes. That’s exactly what happened.
Following a brief chat with my cabbie (who hailed from Ethiopia), I walked to the Southwest ticket counter in the hopes of exchanging my boarding pass bearing “B-35” (meaning I would be the 95th person to board the aircraft after pre-boarders) for one that would move me up into the first 15 spots. Happily, I was able to do so, and, within moments of paying the $50 charge I was moved up to A-12.
Once I settled into my fourth-row window seat, the pilot told us he had good news and bad news. The good: An 80-knot-per-hour tail wind would shorten our flight to approximately three hours and 20 minutes. The bad: This fight would not have Wi-Fi service. No matter: I spent most of the flight finishing Buster Olney’s excellent account of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series (“The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness”) and starting Arnold Palmer’s “A Life Well Played.” The plane landed at 3:12 p.m., but, for some reason, my group text to CompuBox president Bob Canobbio and to Dennis would not send. I also couldn’t download any e-mails sent within the last 17 hours nor could I log onto the internet. I checked all my settings and saw them to be in order. So why was this happening?
Having purchased a new smartphone last week after my refurbished one died after more than two years of use, I decided to drive to the place where I had purchased my new phone: the Wal-Mart in New Martinsville, W.Va. I hoped that a young person in the electronics department might point out a setting I might have missed. When I approached the counter and started to describe my issues, the employee stopped me cold and said, “I know why you’re here: There has been a nationwide outage for Verizon customers since last evening.” He surmised that the issues might have been linked to the effort to institute 5G technology, but he had no proof to back his statement. I pulled into the driveway around 6:15 p.m., and by 9:00 p.m. my phone’s internet issues were solved.
My next scheduled journey will return me to the west coast, for I am slated to work a “ShoBox: The New Generation” triple-header at the Omega Products International in Corona, Calif. featuring bantamweights Saul Sanchez and Brandon Leon Benitez, lightweights Michael Dutchover and Ramon Mascarena, and, in the main event, featherweights Ruben Villa and Luis Alberto Lopez.
Until then, happy trails!
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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