The Travelin’ Man returns to Sam’s Town: Part Two
Please click here to read Part One.
Friday, November 1 (continued): On April 5 at Sam’s Town Gambling Hall, junior lightweight Xavier Martinez, fighting on the undercard of Angelo Leo’s points win over Neil John Tabanao, backed up his promise to steal the show by scoring a decisive third round TKO over John Vincent Moralde.
Nearly seven months later, again at Sam’s Town, Martinez – now fighting in the main event – needed just a flush right to the chin, then a shotgun left to dispose of another Filipino opponent in Jessie Cris Rosales. According to Hall of Fame broadcaster and historian Steve Farhood, the 21-second stoppage is the third quickest ever recorded in “ShoBox” history; the fastest was T.J. Wilson’s 15-second knockout over Travis Walker on October 19, 2007, while the second was an 18-second wipeout by Allan Green over Jaidon Codrington on November 4, 2005. Moreover Martinez-Rosales seized the third spot from perhaps the most thrilling short fight in the series’ history, Sechew Powell’s 22-second knockout over future junior middleweight titlist Cornelius Bundrage on May 6, 2005, best remembered for the double-knockdown that was never called.
Martinez couldn’t have asked for an easier night at the office, for Rosales failed to land any of his three punches as opposed to his own two-for-four performance. Several days earlier, Martinez had declared that he wanted to make an even bigger statement than the one he made in April and now that he’s done it, one has to wonder what he can possibly do to top it. Maybe equal Efe Ajagba’s never-to-be-broken one-second DQ victory over Curtis Harper in August 2018? Or perhaps he could defeat three opponents on the same day as onetime heavyweight title challenger “Two Ton” Tony Galento did on May 1, 1931 at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium as part of the “Beeftrust Tournament.” There, he stopped Joe Brian and Frankie Kitts in one round while out-pointing Paul Thurman over three rounds to finish the night.
Then again, Martinez could take the more conventional route by maintaining his previous level of dominance over increasingly better competition, as recent ShoBox alum Devin Haney has. With his elevation from “interim” WBC lightweight titlist to the full beltholder, Haney became the series’ 81st world titlist and if all goes well for the 21-year-old Martinez going forward, he could join this roll call – perhaps by July 2021, ShoBox’s 20th anniversary month.
The remainder of the televised card offered a bit of everything. The opener between junior welterweights Rolando Romero and Juan Carlos Cordones was nearly as explosive as the closing bout ended up, being as Romero required just 134 seconds to advance his record to 10-0 (with 9 knockouts). In doing so, Romero threw more than twice as many punches (35 to 17), connected on three times as many total punches (9 to 3), prevailed 8-1 in landed power punches and boasted a 44%-11% gap in power accuracy.
For super middleweight Kevin Newman II, his eight-round unanimous decision victory over Marcos Hernandez, now 14-3-1 (with 3 KOs), was a complete reversal of the lopsided six-round points loss that represents the only defeat of his professional career. In that fight – which took place on the undercard of Floyd Mayweather’s 10th round TKO over Conor McGregor – Hernandez capped off his dominant performance by flooring Newman with a left hook in the final round. Given the disappointment Newman must have felt from that result, was it any wonder that he entered the ring to the strains of James Brown’s “The Payback?”
Payback was exactly what Newman got as he captured an even more comprehensive decision (80-72, 79-73 twice) to lift his record to 11-1-1 (with 6 KOs) and his control was such that he even threw in a Roy Jones Jr. move by tapping his glove on the sole of his shoe in round seven. The numbers also spoke to his command as led 152-97 overall and 114-57 power as well as 38%-22% overall, 24%-21% jabs and 48%-23% power. The foundation for his success was his body attack (he led 79-10 in connects) and his second-half surge (82-46 overall and 64-30 power in rounds five through eight).
If Romero-Cordones injected instant gratification and Newman-Hernandez provided a tale of redemption, the 10-round welterweight bout between 2016 Olympian Richardson Hitchins and Detroit’s Kevin Johnson was one for the purists. Their high-speed chess match was heavy on technical skill, footwork and defensive prowess but Hitchins proved to be just a bit better in every department than Johnson, who acquitted himself well but couldn’t quite match his longer, leaner and more polished foe. Johnson was a bit more active (52.6 punches per round to Hitchins’ 49.8) but Hitchins’ superior jab (20.9 attempts/3.9 connects per round to Johnson’s 16.8/1.7) set the table for his edges in all other departments – connect leads of 116-86 overall, 30-17 jabs and 86-69 power, percentage gaps of 23%-16% overall, 14%-10% jabs and 30%-19% power, and an 8-2 gap in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects, of which four of Hitchins’ rounds were decided by three or fewer connects. The three veteran judges agreed as Hitchins prevailed 97-93 (Dave Moretti and Adalaide Byrd) and 96-94 (Patricia Morse Jarman).
The main event’s brevity worked greatly in my favor because it enabled me to return to my hotel room sooner, required less time to enter the night’s numbers into the database and to send the files to the Draft Kings people and gave me some extra time to enjoy the post-show glow. I had hoped to spend some of that time with James “Smitty” Smith but circumstances prevented that from occurring. But I found a terrific alternative, thanks to another longtime friend, Buffalo native and Arizona resident Ernie Green, a sales coordinator for Aflac who boasts an unusual pair of hobbies: Boxing writer and stand-up comedian. Ernie and I first met in September 2003 inside Buffalo’s HSBC Arena when native son Joe Mesi headlined a “Night of the Young Heavyweights” show on HBO and the explosion of sound that accompanied Mesi’s 97-second KO of DaVarryl Williamson remains one of the loudest I’ve ever heard. My journey to Buffalo was the first travelogue I wrote for MaxBoxing.com, though the “Travelin’ Man” moniker came a few years later.
“I was a journalism major in college and got a full-time writing job in 2001,” Green, now 40, recalled. “I quit in 2005 and now I just do things here and there. I still love the art of boxing and I’ll always consider myself a writer. As for comedy, I’ve always been a fan and after I moved to Phoenix, I found a class in 2011 and never looked back.”
Smartly Green took classes before ever attempting to deliver a routine on stage.
“I think the hardest thing I did in the entire process was getting the guts to go to the first class,” Green said. “Given my communications background, a lot of the principles I had already learned in journalism were the same in comedy: Keeping things tight, staying on point and so on. The classes were awesome. The ones I took made the explanation behind the art of standup comedy so simple and succinct that I firmly believe anyone could do it if they took the class.”
Green agrees there’s a strong link between boxing and standup in that both performers expose themselves to public scrutiny and to instant audience feedback, though in vastly different ways.
“The only difference is that you can train more comprehensively for a fight through pad work, studying video and so on,” he said, “whereas in comedy, you really only have the audience to tell you if a joke works or not, which is the comedy equivalent of ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’ Much like boxing, styles make fights; different audiences like different jokes and you need to sometimes have a Plan B and C to make them laugh.”
From time to time, Green marvels about the extraordinary diversity of his life.
“One day last year, I got a phone call from an Aflac client, a comedy booker in Phoenix and Nevada State Athletic Commission Executive Director Bob Bennett in about a 10-minute span,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘What a weird life I live,’ but I absolutely love it.”
When asked to deliver a PG-rated joke from his act, he said the following: “I asked a girl out and she said she didn’t respect what I did for a living. It was my co-worker.”
Ernie and I could have talked boxing all night and we were stunned that the time was nearly 1 a.m. When I returned to my room, I saw a folded paper stuffed inside my door. When I opened it, I saw it was a notice that reminded guests to turn back their clocks one hour. For a moment I thought I had just been given a much-needed extra 60 minutes of sleep but once I realized it was Saturday morning instead of Sunday, I knew that the hotel staff had jumped the gun by a full day. Not only that, my hotel clock had already been reset to Pacific Standard Time, so I had to do the mental math every time I glanced at it.
Knowing I had precious few hours to rest, I rushed through the pre-bed routines and clicked off the light at 1:15.
Saturday, November 2: As hoped, my eyes popped open at 5:23 a.m. – just seven minutes shy of my goal wake-up time. Thanks to April’s stay at Sam’s Town, I knew I had to give myself an extra 20 minutes to wait for the taxi to arrive and, once it did, I received a nice surprise: The same taxi driver, a Thai driver named “P.T.,” who drove me from the hotel to the airport in April. As it was then, the back-and-forth combined with the very light traffic made this trip a short but most enjoyable one.
I received another terrific surprise shortly before boarding the tram from the security area to Terminal D – the presence of NFL Hall-of-Famer Randall Cunningham. The fact that he was wearing a blue track suit was fitting because his 21-year-old daughter Vashti – who he coaches – had just won the silver medal in the high jump at the World Track and Field Championships in Doha.
Because I am a big track-and-field fan – and because I didn’t want to create a mob scene around Cunningham by exposing his identity to anyone else on the train – I opened the conversation by quietly congratulating him on his daughter’s performance in Qatar, which he very much appreciated. It turns out Cunningham had been a high-jumper himself – his personal best was 6-feet-10 but he was convinced he could have cleared seven feet had he invested more time into the discipline – and he was the picture of the proud papa as he described his daughter’s various off-track business ventures. It took less than three minutes for the tram to arrive at the terminal and, once we exited, he went his way and I went mine.
My flight from Las Vegas to Dallas Fort-Worth touched down at 1:58 p.m. CDT but, unlike on Thursday, I had plenty of time to arrive at my connecting gate. In fact, according to the flight monitor, I had 10 more minutes than I thought, thanks to a modest delay. As I settled into my 10th row aisle seat, I noticed that the woman in the middle seat in front of me bore an extremely strong resemblance to a businesswoman I met last year on a cross-country flight. Except for the blonde hair and glasses, she not only could have been her sister but her twin, right down to the deep speaking voice and similar vocal inflections.
Me being the curious type, I had to know if I was correct, so after the plane touched down and we got the OK to retrieve our belongings from the overhead bin, I asked her if she knew anyone by my friend’s name.
“No,” she replied with a smile. After we deplaned, she asked me my name.
“Lee Groves?” she asked. “Are you in boxing?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“I’ve heard of you,” she said.
Needless to say, I was surprised. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to follow up because I had to do some impromptu research connected with tonight’s Canelo Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev fight and she and her friend were on their way out of the terminal. I’ll never know how she knew of me but, given her disposition and her smile when she said it, I must have made a positive impression.
Once I completed the research, I walked to my car, paid the parking bill and arrived home shortly after 9 p.m. With three boxing shows to watch – and CompuBox operators were working all of them – I opted to watch the DAZN show live while recording ESPN, FS2 and FS1 on the DVR.
Just before Alvarez began his ring walk, I noticed that the electronic billboards depicted two statements that would have been true only after an Alvarez victory – that he would become the only other boxer besides Henry Armstrong to hold world titles in three weight divisions at the same time and that he would become a four-division world champion. If one accepts an expanded definition of what makes a world champion – such as recognizing the wide variety of secondary belts as legitimate – those two declarations would have been true the moment after referee Russell Mora waved off the fight in round 11. But as a historian, I disagree and here’s why: First, Armstrong’s three simultaneous titles were undisputed while none of Alvarez’s are and, second, The Ring Magazine 168-pound champion Callum Smith holds the more widely recognized “super” version of the WBA super middleweight title while Alvarez owns the secondary “world” belt. Therefore to me, (and to BoxRec.com), he holds widely recognized belts in two weight classes at the same time (the WBA “super” belt at 160, the WBO light heavyweight title), a distinction that has been achieved by Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones Jr. and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But even if Alvarez wins a widely recognized title at 168 in his next fight – which, I think, should be against Smith in a WBA “unification” tilt – he still would be far from matching Armstrong in the purest sense. To do that, he must become undisputed champion at 160, 168 and 175 and, in today’s game, that means winning all four versions in all three weight classes. Should he pull that off, it would be an extremely impressive logistical feat but, in today’s environment it also would be an unworkable and untenable situation for both Alvarez and the sanctioning bodies.
With elite fighters competing only twice a year these days, Alvarez either would have to defeat other unified titleholders along the way (such as IBF/WBC light heavyweight titlist Artur Beterbiev) or else he’d be nearing his mid-30s by the time he completed this quest. But even if he somehow unites all the belts in three divisions, the sanctioning bodies would either order him to immediately vacate eight of his 12 titles to ensure regular activity (and income) or tell Alvarez to continue fighting at 160 while also ordering him to risk all of his belts at 168 and 175, since Alvarez would scale below those championship limits as well (there is precedent for this: WBC light heavyweight titlist Donny Lalonde was mandated to put that belt on the line in his WBC super middleweight title fight against Leonard, despite his scaling 167). The second choice would be extremely lucrative for the “alphabets” because all four bodies could order Alvarez to pay a 3% sanctioning fee on each belt, which would mean that Alvarez would have to fork over 36% of his $35 million per-fight purse – or $12.6 million – to preserve his special status. Of course, Alvarez would never sign off on such a demand, nor should he. This, above all, is why no modern fighter will be able – or willing – to duplicate Armstrong’s status in every way.
However while Alvarez didn’t match Armstrong by my reckoning, his victory over Kovalev was historic. He became the first reigning middleweight champion to dethrone a defending light heavyweight titlist, a deed that had been attempted only three previous times – in March 1929 by Mickey Walker (he lost a 10-round decision to Tommy Loughran), in June 1952 by Sugar Ray Robinson (he lost by 14th round TKO to Joey Maxim, thanks largely to his overexertion in the 104-degree heat) and in June 1955 by Carl “Bobo” Olson. (Archie Moore stopped him in three.) That means that by just taking the fight, Alvarez was doing something that had not been attempted in more than 64 years and, by beating Kovalev, he produced a boxing first.
Also Alvarez matched Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Mike McCallum by winning a belt at 175 after having held a title at 154. That’s excellent company and, from now on, one can safely characterize Alvarez as “a future Hall-of-Famer.”
But in terms of the claims made on the big screens? In my eyes – and in the eyes of many – he has yet to join Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Jorge Arce as four-division Mexican champions and he (and no one else, given today’s titular structure) will ever be a three-at-once champion quite like Armstrong.
Alvarez may not be a second Henry Armstrong but, given his considerable accomplishments, being the first Saul Alvarez is more than good enough.
As of this writing, I have one more trip in November. The destination: Sloan, Iowa. There, the “ShoBox: The New Generation” series will air a tripleheader from the WinnaVegas Casino Resort featuring six first-timers – welterweights Erik Vega Ortiz and Alberto Palmetta, light heavyweights Marcos Escudero and Joseph George and middleweights Amilcar Vidal and Zach Prieto.
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 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 “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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