The Travelin’ Man goes to Cruz vs. Mattice: Part Two
Friday, February 14 (continued): During the opening segment of tonight’s episode of “ShoBox: The New Generation,” I was given a stark reminder regarding the passage of time. In introducing lightweight prospect Isaac Cruz, Hall of Fame writer/analyst Steve Farhood reported that his grandfather Memo Cruz defeated two world champions (Pipino Cuevas and Alfredo Escalera) and that his father Isaac Cruz Sr. lost a 10-round decision in Philadelphia to Ivan Robinson in April 1995. All of that caused my bespectacled eyes to widen, for I have the grandfather’s 10-round decision win over Cuevas in May 1973 in my private video collection (also known as “The Vault”) and while I don’t have Robinson-Cruz Jr., The Vault does contain the father’s first round KO win over Nicolas Ortiz in October 1992, his eighth round TKO loss to future champion Vernon Forrest in April 1996 and his eighth round TKO victory over Guillermo Valdes in October 1999.
I now have the third generation fighter’s 10-round majority decision victory over Thomas Mattice in the collection and in raising his record to 19-1-1 (14 knockouts), the 21-year-old is on his way to besting his familial predecessors. The formula Cruz used to defeat Mattice was dictated by his deficits in height (four inches) and reach (10 ½ inches): Unceasing pressure, early-round opportunism, high work rate, wicked body punching and an unyielding desire to sustain his strategy even when he was met with movement, long-armed punches and competitive resistance.
The numbers bore out his success. Cruz jumped on the slow-starting Mattice and managed to out-land him 49-15 overall and 39-8 power in the first six minutes. His ability to cut the distance between himself and Mattice enabled him to average 69.4 punches per round to Mattice’s 57.8 and to get close enough to land 82 body punches to Mattice’s 31. However a massive component of his win was his ability to neutralize Mattice’s jab, a weapon that helped the American average 7.3 landed jabs per round in his last four CompuBox-tracked fights. Not only did Cruz effectively remove Mattice’s jab from the equation, he actually out-landed him 34-30 while also being more accurate with it (17%-8%). In all, Cruz out-landed Mattice 205-117 overall and 171-87 power while also leading 8-2 in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects, a wider margin than that of the official judges (96-94 by Steve Weisfeld and Adam Friscia, 95-95 by Dave Braslow) but more in line with Cruz’s thinking.
“I thought I won all 10 rounds,” he said. “I don’t know what fight the judges were watching. Round 1 to 10. I dominated and was never hurt.”
To his credit, Mattice accepted the result in sportsmanlike fashion and attributed his deliberate start to his effort to get a firmer fix on his surroundings.
“I came up short,” he said. “He was the better man. He could hit a little bit. I started out a little slow, trying to see what he had. He jumped out to an early lead and I was just trying to get familiar with his power. I have no excuses.”
Before the bout, I believed Mattice’s length and mobility would provide him more strategic options while Cruz’s lack of the same would render him too one-dimensional. But in the ring, Cruz possessed the necessary foot speed to maintain his preferred range, delivered thudding body punches that piled up points and punishment and displayed the condition necessary to offset Mattice’s furious final-round flourish (23 of 85 overall, 21 of 47 power to Cruz’s 22 of 72 overall and 19 of 58 power). Showtime analyst (and former IBF junior middleweight beltholder) Raul Marquez told me before the broadcast that he thought Cruz would win for the very reasons that would play out inside the ring. In terms of predicting this fight, “El Diamante” proved to be golden.
A fighter’s rise is often painted in bold strokes and the same can be said of his decline. This applies to junior featherweight Adam Lopez, who once was on the doorstep of a world title opportunity but is now confronted with his fistic mortality following his fourth round TKO loss to Ra’eese Aleem, a fighter who is nearly six months older chronologically but years younger in terms of ring age. The latter difference was on full display throughout the bout as Aleem used his speed and unpredictable punch sequences to keep Lopez in a reactive mode instead of a proactive one.
Aleem shot out of the blocks at the opening bell and proceeded to overwhelm the veteran with his all-angles attack, an attack that saw him throw 62 punches to Lopez’s 38 and out-land him 23-3 overall and 17-3 power. The second round was nearly identical to the first, both in form and numbers as Aleem again prevailed 23-3 overall but also led 17-0 in power shots. In terms of punches thrown, Lopez totaled 38 punches for the second straight round while Aleem’s activity surged to 72. The optics worsened for Lopez as a cut on the scalp reddened his visage in Round 2.
Aleem’s command continued to grow as he was the man who began and ended all skirmishes and his blows connected more often and with more force. The numbers in Round 3 painted an even grimmer picture as Aleem landed 30 of his 80 punches while Lopez landed three total punches for the third straight round but fell eight punches short of the 38 he logged in Rounds 1 and 2. The proverbial writing on the wall was becoming ever more visible for Lopez and the color of the ink was crimson.
The fourth round proved to be the last. Aleem’s attack added a nosebleed to Lopez’s troubles and a series of clean punches prompted his corner to wave the towel, which led referee Gary Rosato to call a halt at the 1:31 mark. Aleem, now 16-0 (with 10 KOs), out-landed the 19-4-2 (with 9 KOs) Lopez 16-3 overall, 5-0 jabs and 11-2 power to expand his final leads to 92-11 overall, 31-4 jabs and 61-87 power as well as 36%-9% overall, 32%-6% jabs and 39%-14% power. Aleem also prevailed 39-3 in landed body shots and he averaged 72.7 punches per round to Lopez’s 35.3.
An aging Joe Louis was once asked about the difference between his prime and his later years as a fighter. He replied that while he could recognize the openings with the same clarity as his youth, he no longer had the reflexes to take advantage of them. Aleem spotted that dynamic in Lopez.
“Once we got in there, I could see the speed difference,” he said. “I could see his punches coming. I did rush some punches and made some mistakes but it was good and I kept my hands up and my speed and movements were good. And I’m glad I stopped him. I didn’t want to go the distance.”
Aleem also said he could not wait to make his second appearance on ShoBox. As for Lopez, a ninth appears very unlikely.
Certain fighters are just made for certain days on the calendar. Mexican attractions smartly seek to fight on the week of May 5 to honor the Battle of Puebla as well as in mid-September to mark their nation’s Independence Day while Irish fighters such as featherweight Michael Conlan leap at the chance of competing on St. Patrick’s Day. In that vein, it’s quite fitting that someone named Montana Love would fight – and win – on Valentine’s Day.
The appropriately named Cleveland southpaw raised his record to 13-0-1 (with 6 KOs) after scoring an eight-round unanimous decision over Jerrico Walton, now 16-1 (7). The fight was filled with moments when one fighter would strike with a singular forceful blow but Love won because he produced more of them over more rounds.
Love started sprightly as he out-landed Walton 13-3 overall and 11-0 power in Round 1 and expanded his leads to 36-9 overall, 6-5 jabs and 30-4 power after nine minutes. Walton rallied in Rounds 4 and 5, out-landing Love in both rounds (9-6 in the fourth, 12-11 in the fifth) thanks to his superior work rate (49-35 in the fourth, 47-35 in the fifth). But Love regained his rhythm in the sixth (11-9 overall, 11-8 power), enjoyed his best round in the seventh (23 of 55 to 7 of 37 overall, 21 of 47 to 6 of 30 power) and came out on top in the final round (16-10 overall, 14-10 power) to sew up the decision.
Statistically speaking, Walton was slightly more active (45.4 punches per round to Love’s 42.3) and while neither man jabbed effectively thanks to the southpaw-orthodox mix (15.6 attempts/1.5 connects per round for Love to Walton’s 18.6/1.4), Love’s superior precision in all phases (31%-15% overall, 10%-7% jabs, 43%-21% power) led to final connect leads of 103-56 overall, 12-11 jabs and 91-45 power. The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects – relevant because clean punching is a key judging factor – had Love ahead 6-2, which was in line with Dewey LaRosa’s 78-74 score and was close to the 77-75 total submitted by Dave Braslow and Tony Lundy.
While Love had to have been satisfied with the victory, he didn’t love the optics he produced to get it.
“I give my performance a C-plus,” he said. “I could have been more active in there. I didn’t get hit a lot and I hurt him a few times but I let him off the book. I was getting off good shots and the thing I’m mad about is that the fight should not have gone the distance.”
This was Love’s first pro fight staged on February 14 but the prospect of doing so again – at least on ShoBox – is highly doubtful given that next year’s commemoration will fall on a Sunday.
On paper, Derrick Colemon of Detroit is a prototypical “ShoBox fighter.” He’s 20 years old, turned pro following a 135-fight amateur career that saw him win four national championships and featured a good back story as he began boxing because of his grandfather’s love for the sport. Moreover Colemon was said to be one of the final fighters who worked with the legendary Emanuel Steward. Marlon Thomas – a member of Steward’s Kronk stable in the 1980s – is now Colemon’s chief second and the fighter was fresh off signing a promotional deal with GH3. Finally his most recent fight took place just 62 days earlier – a 125-second KO over Henry Mercer.
Conversely Joseph Jackson’s profile does not fit the usual mold. The 31-year-old native of Greensboro, North Carolina, turned pro at the advanced age of 27 and though he sported a glossy 15-0 (with 12 KOs) record, some of it was built by beating fighters with loss totals of 10, 20, 26 and 34. He didn’t have the blue-chip amateur career; he was coming off a 160-day layoff – the second-longest of his career – and he was fighting outside his native state for the first time, not exactly circumstances that foreshadow success.
One of the great appeals of boxing is that once the bell rings, the fighters – not their resumes or other outside trappings – have a definitive say in how a fight proceeds and, more often than one might think, the “underdog” will have his day.
Colemon appeared to have the edge in the first three rounds with his aggression and energy and after the first nine minutes, he forged leads of 36-28 overall and 24-15 power. But following a transitional fourth round that saw Colemon earn edges of 14-13 overall and 7-6 power but Jackson turn up the heat considerably as he upped his work rate from 47 punches to 72, the tenor of the fight turned. Jackson more than lived up to his nickname of “Action” in Rounds 6 through 8 as he averaged 89.3 punches per round to Colemon’s 37.7, out-landed him 76-19 overall, 26-10 jabs and 50-9 power to expand his final leads to 130-77 overall, 50-33 jabs, 80-44 power, 58-22 in body shots and created a 4-3-1 lead in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects. Jackson also was the more accurate hitter (24%-20% overall, 18%-15% jabs, 30%-28% power) and his control over the proceedings was most pronounced in the seventh as he landed 31 of 115 punches overall while Colemon was a meager 5 of 22. Jackson’s second-half surge resulted in scorecards reading 78-74, 77-75 and a curiously wide 80-72.
“We just dug deep and got the job done,” Jackson declared. “I’d give my performance an eight out of 10. I know I can show better.”
In reversing the course of the first three rounds, Jackson displayed savvy, strength and versatility. If that performance rated an “eight,” I’d like to see what a “10” would look like.
The original plan Andy and I had before the show was to catch an Uber summoned by stage manager J.T. Townsend but that plan was altered when Andy opted to leave with a group that was ready to depart sooner. As for me, I was privileged to ride back with the on-air talent (Barry Tompkins, Steve Farhood and Raul Marquez). Barry, one of the most well-traveled people on Earth, needed no electronic aid to guide him back to the Marriott and, after he dropped off the rental car at the AVIS facility, we made the short but frigid trek to the hotel entrance.
With four fights and 60 rounds’ worth of numbers to enter into the master database, it took me an hour to complete my final official duty of the evening but it was still nearly 3 a.m. before I wound down enough to turn out the light.
Saturday, February 15: Being a night owl and an early bird, I got in five hours of sleep, a total that was enhanced by two facts: (1) I was just a few minutes away from the security screening area and (2) during the show I received a text from American Airlines that my 11:35 a.m. departure had been moved back to 11:59 a.m. At 7:05 a.m. – while I was still sleeping – I received another notice that the time was pushed back to 12:05 p.m. and that my gate would be F-18.
After finishing the morning routines, I spent the next couple of hours working the laptop keys. Being so close to the airport gave me the luxury of waiting until an hour before my scheduled boarding time to begin packing my belongings; I figured that was plenty of time to get everything done.
I checked out of my room without any trouble, after which I took an elevator to the second floor, then walked toward the Terminal B security checkpoint. While there, I was told that, as a TSA Pre-Check passenger, I needed to walk to Terminal C to have my belongings screened. “No problem,” I thought but during my trek, I saw on the flight monitor that my gate had changed from F-18 to F-38 – not an unusual occurrence, especially in Philadelphia. What was unusual was that after getting off the shuttle bus that took me from Terminal C to Terminal F, one monitor read that the Pittsburgh gate was F-18 while another in fairly close proximity read F-38. Logic told me to walk to F-38 – the updated gate – but once I got there, the gate monitor had no indication that a flight to Pittsburgh was about to be done there. I asked a woman sitting nearby whether she was “awaiting an alleged flight to Pittsburgh.”
“No,” she said. “I’m waiting for a confirmed flight to Albany.”
With that the score remained 2-2 – two monitors reporting F-18 and two monitors reading F-38. I needed to break the tie, so I approached the nearby information desk.
“Your flight is at Gate F-18” the agent declared with utter certainty. So off to F-18 I went.
A few minutes after settling into my seat, the gate agent there announced a good news/bad news scenario. The bad news: The plane that was to take us from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh was still in Dayton due to maintenance issues and, if the situation remained unchanged, it would be quite a while before we would get to board, much less leave. The good news: American Airlines was actively searching for an alternative aircraft on the property and, should one be made available, they would let us know immediately.
At 11:33 a.m. clarity was provided: A new plane was secured but now we would have to walk to Gate F-1 – the farthest gate in terms of proximity to our current location – to get there.
When we arrived at F-1, we sensed there was a light at the end of the tunnel – and it was as plain as the airplane that was already linked to the sky bridge. Boarding began soon thereafter and I settled into my First-Class seat in the third row, confident that we were finally going to get going. At 12:20 – just 15 minutes after the adjusted departure time – we did just that.
The flight was smooth and we touched down in Pittsburgh 46 minutes later. After deplaning I decided to try a change in my routine; instead of walking to my car – which was parked in the outer reaches of the extended parking lot – I boarded the airport’s parking shuttle to see if doing so would be more efficient. That and I didn’t feel much like walking out in the 28-degree chill.
With all the jolting starts and stops, I was convinced that the shuttle driver must have been a jackrabbit in a previous life. All in all, however, it proved to be a viable option in terms of time management.
The drive home was generally pleasant and uneventful and I arrived home shortly after 4:30, closing the curtain on what has been a whirlwind first six weeks of 2020. Since January 10 – a 36-day span – I’ve worked shows in Atlantic City, Sloan, Shreveport, Allentown and Philadelphia and while I’ve experienced more than my share of logistical issues – snowstorms, long white-knuckle drives, delayed and cancelled flights and frigid ice hockey arenas being some – I can honestly say that I still love what I do with the same intensity as I had on Day One. The experiences I’ve had – good and not so good – have created indelible memories and because they were created within the backdrop of boxing, I couldn’t ask for a much better way to spend my life.
The adventure will continue on February 27 when I will return to Sam’s Town in Las Vegas – one of my very favorite stops – to chronicle a ShoBox tripleheader topped by junior welterweights Malik Hawkins and Keith Hunter in a scheduled 10-rounder supported by super middleweights Kevin Newman II and Genc Pllana as well as junior welterweights Malik Hawkins and Keith Hunter.
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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