The Travelin’ Man goes to Alberto Palmetta vs. Erik Vega: Part One
Thursday, November 14: It has been 12 days since I returned home from Las Vegas and, for most of those days, I had been battling the ravages of what I believed to be the common cold. My nose ran like Hector Camacho after tasting Edwin Rosario’s fifth-round hook…
…the liquid from my tear ducts flowed like Sugar Ray Robinson’s combinations…
…and my ribs hurt from coughing as if I had just been in the ring with Mike “The Body Snatcher” McCallum…
I did my best to fight it with the tools of modern medicine – throat lozenges, cough syrup, decongestants, multi-symptom pills – as well as with more natural methods such as increased rest but the illness hung on for days longer than I expected. Usually the symptoms were worst in the morning and gradually lessened with each passing hour. On most days, I felt best at bedtime but the cycle began anew once I awakened.
As I knew it would, its grip on me lessened with the advancing days and, as I woke up today, it was all but gone. The only remnants were slight stuffiness in my ears – especially the right one – probably due to blowing my nose so often for so many days, and an occasional dry cough due to a ticklish feeling in my throat.
My improved health couldn’t have been better-timed, for today marked the start of my 21st Travelin’ Man journey of 2019. If all went well – and I trusted it would – my final destination would be South Sioux City, Nebraska, approximately 23 miles northwest of the WinnaVegas Casino and Resort in Sloan, Iowa. There, the long-running “ShoBox: The New Generation” series will chronicle a tripleheader topped by a slate of six first timers – middleweights Amilcar Vidal and Zach Prieto in the scheduled eight-round opener, light heavyweights Marcos Escudero and Joseph George in the 10-round co-feature and welterweights Erik Vega and Alberto Palmetta in the 10-round main event.
None of the fighters have a link to Iowa, as their respective birthplaces are Uruguay, Las Cruces, New Mexico, Argentina, Houston, Mexico and Argentina but their cumulative record of 65-1 (47) is pure ShoBox. Then again, Iowa has never had a deep roster of world-class fighters. Davenport claims two in Michael Nunn (the state’s only world champion) and three-time title challenger Antwun Echols while others such as Marcos Ramirez (Des Moines) and Jeremy Williams (Fort Dodge) made waves at featherweight and heavyweight respectively. If one wants to go way back – and, as a historian, I tend to do that – Iowa lays geographical claim to Decorah’s Al “Bigfoot” Palzer (who lost by 18th round TKO to “White Heavyweight Champion” Luther McCarty on New Year’s Day 1913), Des Moines’ Floyd Johnson (who defeated Willie Meehan, Bill Brennan and Fred Fulton but lost to Jess Willard, Jack Sharkey and Harry Wills) and Iowa City’s Johnny Miler (a 1932 U.S. Olympian who held an amateur win over Joe Louis and was the great-uncle of UFC Hall-of-Famer Pat Miletich).
In mapping out this trip, I had two options in terms of destination airports: Omaha and Sioux City (which is on the Iowa side of the border). Although Omaha had more options for those of us flying out of Pittsburgh, I chose Sioux City because of the short drive between the airport and the crew hotel (around 10 minutes as opposed to nearly two hours from Omaha), an especially important factor given the potential for hazardous weather. But in order to get the short drive, I had to make a big concession – connecting through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
I have nothing against Chicago itself – it was, after all, one of the great boxing cities in the early days – and I don’t have major complaints about O’Hare’s layout and facilities. My major beef is the frequency of delayed and canceled flights there and that’s because O’Hare is one of the world’s busiest airports. And with it being mid-November, the potential for hiccups is magnified exponentially due to the impending arrival of Old Man Winter. As a rule, I try to avoid all snow-belt airports between November and February but if I wanted to fly into Sioux City, O’Hare was the only viable way to go, especially on American Airlines, the airline for which I have the most frequent-flier juice (I am, at least until the end of 2019, a “gold” flier).
Shortly after arising at 6:33 a.m. and finishing the morning routines, I logged onto the Weather Channel’s website to check out the forecasts for Chicago and Sloan. To my relief, they were excellent – partly cloudy to sunny with highs in the 40s and 50s and lows in 30s. In fact, the outlooks in Chicago and Sloan were better than the overcast sky and 27-degree temperature I faced when I walked to the driveway at 7 a.m. to clear the ice from my windows and the dusting of snow covering the rest of my car.
Because I had the defroster running at full blast the entire time, I was ready to roll by 7:15. My progress, however, was impeded by another common source of navigational angst: School buses.
The necessity of having traffic stop in both directions while buses are picking up children is beyond argument. I grew up during an era when those laws weren’t in effect and, more times than not, we kids had to keep our heads on a swivel to make sure we weren’t hit by careless drivers, so I fully appreciate why improvements had to be made. But as an adult faced with having to get to a certain place by a certain time, having to stop every quarter-mile and having to wait for a minute each time does get old pretty quickly. It gets especially bothersome when the bus in front of me catches up to the backed-up traffic from the bus ahead of him, which was the case on this day.
Thankfully the clog loosened once I reached Sistersville four miles up the road and all bus holdups ended after clearing Paden City four more miles north on West Virginia Route 2. The rest of the drive to Pittsburgh International Airport was uneventful and I even managed to find a parking spot just 202 steps from the terminal entrance.
Since my first flight was an 11:42 a.m. bird to Chicago, it was fitting that my book for this trip was Kevin Cook’s “Ten Innings at Wrigley: The Wildest Ballgame Ever, with Baseball on the Brink.” On May 17, 1979, the Cubs and Phillies produced an offensive orgy for the ages – a four-hour, 10-inning thriller that saw the teams produce a combined 45 runs, 50 hits, 11 home runs (including three by Dave Kingman and two by Mike Schmidt) and 109 at-bats. (The Phillies, for the record, won 23-22). The rebroadcast of that game is in my video collection but it has been years since I watched it. It might be on my “to do” list once I return home.
The plane left Pittsburgh at precisely 11:42 a.m. and landed in “The Windy City” at 11:51, thanks to the time zone change. Because the aircraft touched down 45 minutes ahead of schedule, an open gate was not made available for quite a while but the very early arrival actually worked out very well for me because, once I deplaned, I learned my connecting gate in Terminal H was quite far from my arrival gate in Terminal K.
Another fortunate break for me was that both members of my carpool – audio aces Joe McSorley and Matt Zita – were going to be on the same flight to Sioux City as me. Usually Showtime’s travel team picks out carpools based on the party’s expected arrival times at the destination city but delays and cancellations end up complicating matters. Sometimes we wait for the final member of the pool to arrive while on other occasions, the office ends up reshuffling the deck to prevent hours-long waits for the other members of the pool. I’ve been on both ends of the equation and, for the most part, all ends up working out for the best. However with Joe, Matt and I flying into the destination city together, we got the best possible carpool scenario.
What we didn’t get was an on-time departure – not by a long shot. The aircraft was scheduled to depart O’Hare at 1:45 p.m. but after we boarded the extremely cramped jet, we remained parked at the gate until 2:27. The reason: An order from air traffic control to not move while they sorted out the hundreds of aircraft that were flying in and out at the time. But once we backed out of the gate, we remained near the runway area for another 20 minutes before the tower finally granted us a place in line.
For the most part, we passengers remained silent throughout the long wait but there were a few folks whom voiced their displeasure. One man pressed the button on his intercom to ask for an update and the pilot replied that we were set to move in about five to 10 minutes. It ended up being longer than that. A few minutes later, the flight attendant ordered a woman at the back of the plane who wanted to use the restroom to remain seated because of the supposedly imminent take-off. But while she remained put, so did the plane.
For the record, American Airlines Flight 4153 from Chicago to Sioux City departed at 2:52 p.m. CST – 67 minutes behind schedule.
Although the flight lasted 65 minutes, it felt longer than that for me because of how it affected my cold-clogged ears. While the Eustachian tube in my left ear popped like kernels inside a microwave during ascent and descent, the tube in my right ear remained resistant to all outside stimuli. At points I felt the pressure build inside my head and nothing I tried to relieve it worked. Only the initial descent provided some relief and by the time I landed, it was mostly resolved.
The drive to the hotel included crossing the border into Nebraska – my sixth state of the day when you consider I had been in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania on the way to the airport and Illinois following my first flight. A few hours after purchasing a salad from the Starbucks in the lobby, I ordered dinner from Kahill’s Chophouse and watched, among other programs, the Steelers’ 21-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns that will be best known for the end-of-game brawl that saw Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett strike Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph with Rudolph’s own helmet. Even former players now serving as network analysts – who tend to stick up for their own – considered Garrett’s act to be an abomination worthy of a season-ending suspension, if not more. (NOTE: The NFL suspended Garrett for at least the rest of the 2019-2020 season the next day).
Me being me, I tried to come up with similar incidents in boxing history when foreign objects were used in an attack connected to a match. Two came to mind and only one occurred during live action; the first was in July 1996 when a member of Riddick Bowe’s entourage hit Andrew Golota’s head with a walkie-talkie moments after “The Foul Pole” was disqualified for excessive low blows in their first meeting:
The second was a much closer equivalent and while the incident was quite serious at the time, it now has a more humorous legacy. In September 1982, Minna Wilson – the 62-year-old mother of boxer Tony Wilson, who, moments earlier, had suffered a knockdown – charged the ring and struck Steve McCarthy with her stiletto shoe, opening a wound that required treatment at a hospital. After order was restored, referee Adrian Morgan called for the action to resume instead of rewarding a disqualification win to McCarthy due to the actions of Wilson’s mom. When McCarthy refused, Morgan declared Wilson the TKO winner:
After watching the myriad post-game news conferences, I turned out the light and closed the curtain on another travel day.
Friday, November 15: I arose after five-and-a-half hours of occasionally fitful sleep and spent the first few hours going rounds on the laptop. When I reached a good stopping point, I headed downstairs to purchase a diet soda at the Starbucks but instead spent the next hour or so swapping stories with Executive Producer Gordon Hall, broadcasters Steve Farhood and Barry Tompkins, audio man Kevin White and stage manager Mike Shea inside the lobby’s Starbucks outlet. Together we have close to three centuries’ worth of sports-watching experience and all that cache came into play in a most fun roundtable.
Mike and I returned to the lobby to meet Andy Kasprzak, who was to drive us to the WinnaVegas to meet our collective 2:30 p.m. call time. Along the way, a road construction project forced us to take a detour while another forced us to stop for several minutes. During that hiatus, we couldn’t help but notice that the car immediately in front of us had no back windshield.
Once at ringside, Andy and I set up shop, got our wristband credentials from production supervisor Nikki Ferry, confirmed information with Joe Jacovino in the truck and, following the crew meal at the casino’s Flowers Island Buffet, secured all the electronic connections necessary to have a successful show.
As is usually the case – and happily so – Andy and I had were ready to go hours before airtime and, remaining true to my nature, I spent the time conversing with ringsiders such as referee Adam Pollack (who also served as timekeeper for some of the undercard fights), promoter Samson Lewkowicz (who is appearing on the International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot for the first time) and referee Mark Nelson (one of the very best at what he does). During our brief chat, Nelson informed me that St. Paul, Minnesota heavyweight James J. Beattie, who assembled a 40-10 (32) record during a career spanning from 1962-1979, had died at age 77. At 6-feet-9 ½ inches, Beattie is among the tallest ever to compete in a pro boxing ring and, in his time, he faced notables such as James J. Woody (split L 8, KO by 7), Alonzo Johnson (KO 9), Dick Wipperman (W 10, W 10), Levi Forte (KO 7), Buster Mathis Sr. (KO by 7), Fred Askew (W 10), Scott LeDoux (KO by 3) and, in his final fight, Leroy Jones (KO by 4).
According to a story posted by Minnesota Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse, Beattie served as the leading man in a story line weaved by publicist Gene Schoor. Beattie was chosen from among six finalists in a national talent search for “the next heavyweight champion,” one that began with a national newspaper ad promising $10,000 per year and all training expenses paid while learning the rudiments of the game. He trained at Gleason’s Gym and thoroughly enjoyed the attention he received from the carnival-like venture. His first fight justified the hype – a 24-second vaporization of Duke Johnson on May 28, 1963 that raised his record to 3-0 (3) – but the bloom quickly fell off the rose as the 2-3 Johnny Barazza stopped Beattie in five on August 10.
The New York State Athletic Commission issued an “involuntary retirement edict” following the KO loss to Woody in December 1965 but Beattie fought on – both inside the ring and on film. Beattie portrayed the Jess Willard-like character in the 1970 film “The Great White Hope” opposite James Earl Jones’ Jack Johnson-eque Jack Jefferson:
Although I had seen the movie a few times over the years, I did not know that it was Beattie who took part in the film’s culminating scene.
The undercard began with a scheduled four-round heavyweight fight between Aaron Quintana of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Lawrence Subelka of Topeka, Kansas. A volley of power shots dropped Subelka in round two, after which a flurry capped by a right to the ear prompted the stoppage at the 2:48 mark. The victory raised Quintana’s mark to 8-1-1 (5) while Subelka’s declined to 1-2 (1).
Next up was a scheduled three-round amateur/Toughman heavyweight match between Shalyn Joseph of Macy, Nebraska, and Dustin Dayhoff of Le Mars, Iowa. The pair had split four previous meetings 2-2 and this bout – which featured one-minute rounds – was supposed to resolve the logjam. The southpaw Dayhoff won the first round in my view on sheer aggression but Joseph, a member of the Omaha tribe who wore a ceremonial headdress into the ring, captured the second and third rounds thanks to a pair of overhand lefts to the temple that wobbled Dayhoff’s legs. All three jurists arrived at 29-28 scores, with two of them voting for Joseph. That, in my eyes, was a correctly rendered final result.
The crudity of fight two was replaced by more schooled battlers in lightweights Rayshaun Thomas of Anaheim, California, a lean right-hander, and Lincoln, Nebraska.’s Ginno Montoya, a stocky southpaw. Both men were making their professional debuts but thanks to a pair of knockdowns scored in the final minute of round one, Thomas emerged with a lopsided decision victory (40-33, 40-34, 39-35).
Andy and I counted the next bout between middleweight prospect Jonathan Esquivel of Anaheim and Rio Rancho, New Mexico, product Bryant McClain, who came into the ring to bagpipe music and wore a green tartan kilt instead of boxing trunks. Their scheduled six-rounder lasted just 134 seconds as a combination highlighted by a southpaw right hook to the side of the head produced the 10-count KO. The result lifted Esquivel to 13-0 (12) and while sending McClain’s ledger tumbling to 5-2-3 (1). For the record, Esquivel threw 57 punches to McClain’s 20, out-landed him 17-5 overall and 16-3 power and connected on 48% of his power shots to McClain’s 25%.
The final fight of the non-TV undercard was even more brief as super middleweight Tony Woods of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, used a pair of clean one-twos to the chin to polish off fellow pro debutant Kassius Holdorf of Omaha just 64 seconds after the opening bell.
The brevity of Woods-Holdorf ended the bout 71 minutes before airtime, so co-promoter Patrick Ortiz stepped inside the ring to announce a 30-minute intermission as well as an inducement to return to the arena afterward: The two ring girls would throw dozens of hats and t-shirts – some of which had $20 bills and one of which had five $20 bills. Near the end of that event, Ortiz dug into his wallet, pulled out several more $20 bills, stuffed them inside selected t-shirts and emptied the supply of gear.
With the time gap adequately filled, it was time for the televised portion of the card to begin. I had no earthly clue as to how these fights would turn out because of the lack of recent footage for everyone except for Palmetta (who has been regularly featured on Argentina’s TyC channel on DirecTV), so I had no expectations as to the results. Given the records and the style mixtures that more knowledgeable people imparted to me, however, I was convinced we were in for a most entertaining and revealing evening of pugilism.
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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