Monday, September 25, 2023  |



The Travelin’ Man Returns to Canastota (with a pit stop in NYC) – Part III

Juan Carrillo celebrates his decision victory over Richard Vansiclen, which was part of a June 9 ShoBox: The New Generation broadcast from Verona, N.Y., near Canastota during the IBHOF induction weekend.
Fighters Network

Click here to read parts one and two.


Friday, June 9: When I turned out the lights in the wee hours of this morning, I was concerned about the possibility of oversleeping. I need not have worried; I awakened at 5:40 a.m. and comfortably dozed until 6, well within the time I needed to complete the morning routines, pack my belongings, check out of the hotel and secure a taxi. In calculating my wake-up time I allotted 45 minutes for the cab ride but because traffic was far less congested than was the case yesterday afternoon, I arrived at LaGuardia 15 minutes quicker than anticipated. The skyline looked considerably brighter than was the case yesterday afternoon, raising hopes that the events at the IBHOF’s Induction Weekend might be returned to the museum grounds. 

With boarding pass in hand, I entered the security line knowing that there would be an issue with one of the contents inside my laptop bag – The Good Guy award. The reason: Its crystal composition that would probably appear alien to TSA’s scanners. Sure enough, my bag was removed from the conveyor belt and the TSA agent motioned for me to walk toward him. 

“I think I know why this is happening,” I told him with a somewhat sheepish smile. “I was in New York to attend last night’s Boxing Writers Association of America dinner and I was one of the award winners. What I received must have set things off.” 

After he looked over the award and congratulated me, he allowed me to proceed. I have to admit, it was one of the happier security-based interruptions I’ve ever experienced. 

I considered the brisk the eight-minute walk toward my gate as my day’s mini-workout, and it didn’t take me long to find a place to sit at the gate area. As was the case yesterday, I arrived while Delta personnel were in the process of boarding passengers for the Bangor, Maine flight, after which travelers for a Montreal flight would be boarded (yes, I am an extreme “early bird”). Knowing I had a couple of hours to burn, I broke out my “workhorse” laptop and contentedly began my favorite time-burning activity: Writing.

While doing so, I received a pleasant surprise in the form of veteran judge John McKaie, who was flying to Syracuse to judge several fights at the card being staged tonight at the Turning Stone Casino, the last three of which would make up the latest episode of “ShoBox: The New Generation” (Clay Waterman-Kenmon Evans, Richard Vansiclen-Juan Carrillo, Ali Izmailov-Charles Foster). John and I chatted at length about his life, his travel stories and the principles he applies when judging fights. His energy, especially at this time of day, was impressive, and I later suggested to IBHOF host James “Smitty” Smith that he should appear on a future episode of our FITE.TV show “In This Corner: The Podcast.” The show began in October 2020, and at our current pace we could reach our 100th episode by the end of this year. By the way, all of our past episodes can be viewed free on demand on FITE.TV, so if you want to check it out, feel free to log in.

Now that I’ve finished the shameless plugging, I will proceed with the rest of what happened today.

Aside from some brief turbulence during our ascent, Delta Flight 4979 from LaGuardia to Syracuse was uneventful in terms of its smoothness while in the air, and I spent the vast majority of the flight chatting with my window-seat seatmate. Liz, a young bespectacled blonde, was flying to Syracuse in order to attend an 80-team baseball tournament that involved her son who was sitting directly across the aisle to my left. The boy’s athletic genes were clearly passed down by his mom, for she told me she was a multi-sport athlete – a setter in volleyball and a point guard in basketball among them – but her athletic career ended after suffering an ACL tear. 

Because the length of available runway was shorter than normal, the braking after touchdown was far harder than usual. I arrived at my car at 1 p.m. and I saw that the large black truck that created a space issue on the driver’s side when getting out of my car yesterday was still there. Had I not lost 20 pounds since staring my treadmill program nearly 19 months ago I might have had trouble navigating the narrowness, but now? No problem. 

After paying the $25 bill for garage parking, completing the 30-minute drive to the Days Inn in Canastota and checking into Room 210, I quickly prepared for my next stop, the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y., where, because of issues connected with the smoke caused by hundreds of Canadian fires, most of Thursday’s and Friday’s events had been moved. I was told that the day’s lectures and the annual fist casting had just concluded (longtime fist-caster John Hunt later stopped by and informed me that he had just completed his final event after more than 30 years), so I spent the next few hours chatting with anyone who wished to do so. Although I recognized all the faces from past years, I didn’t remember many names because the last time I saw many of them was during last year’s festivities (and because the part of my brain that should be used for remembering names is probably clogged with nuggets of sports trivia). Some of the visages I did recognize included longtime writer friends “Boxing” Bob Newman (who was accompanied by his wife Wendy) and Tris Dixon, both among the best people I’ve ever met. 

Bob Newman, Lee Groves and Tris Dixon pose following Saturday night’s Banquet of Champions at the Turning Stone Resort Casino’s Events Center. The trio have known one another for more than two decades, and in that time their respective writing careers have blossomed.

Other well-known visages who passed by belonged to Hall of Famer Lou DiBella (who gave me a congratulatory fist bump and a smile as he passed by) as well as 2023 Inductees Joe Goossen and Tim Ryan. 

During one of my conversations, I received a call from former multi-term BWAA president Jack Hirsch, who wanted to know if Saturday’s events were going to be staged at the casino or whether they would be conducted outdoors at the museum so that he could coordinate giving IBHOF Executive Director Ed Brophy his BWAA Barney Nagler Long and Meritorious Service award. I didn’t know for sure at the time, but, luckily for me, one of the ultimate authorities appeared just a few minutes later. Jeff Brophy, who has been “Mr. Everything” at the IBHOF for as long as I can remember, confirmed that the Hall had received permission to restore the original schedule of outdoor events for Saturday and Sunday. Hopefully the weather forecast – 75 degrees with a 20 percent chance of rain on Saturday and cloudy with a 21 percent chance of rain on Sunday – will trend even better. 

Although I always thoroughly enjoy the one-on-one chats with fellow fans, the time had come to prepare for the evening’s highlight – the boxing card on the casino’s second floor. I took the escalator up and as I walked toward the Birch Room where I was to pick up my media credential I spotted longtime friend Sean Sullivan, the Executive Assistant at DiBella Entertainment. He led me into the room, gave me my media pass and checked my name off the master list. Moments later, Kelly Abdo – the Director of Public Relations at Oneida Nation Enterprises and the Turning Stone Resort Casino – entered the room and gave me her “double-stamp” approval (a nod to 2023 Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Timothy Bradley, who uses the phrase to describe his blue-chip prospects). Once again, my “early-bird” instinct served me well, for I was the first media member to receive his proper authorization. 

Given the unintentional issues regarding my media pass last year, it seemed fitting that the following year not only would see me gain approval once, but twice.  Better yet, Kelly told me that my assigned seat would be in the front row of the media section, and after entering the arena and accepting more “Good Guy” congratulations from longtime friend Bill Johnston (who was thrilled with this year’s fan access to the boxers, a perennial gripe of his), Showtime’s Barry Tompkins, Raul Marquez and several members of the production crew, with whom I had worked for nearly a decade when I was working shows at ringside for CompuBox, I discovered that not only was I assigned a seat in the front row, I was given the one that lined up with ring center. I couldn’t have asked for a better spot, yet I felt a tinge of guilt because this non-deadline feature scribe might have been taking that space from a deadline writer who deserved the best possible spot. Still, I thought with a smile, I could get used to this treatment.  

The opening bout of the evening was a scheduled four-round heavyweight contest between pro debutantes Fabio Rodriguez of the Bronx and Robert “Rico” Hernandez from Rochester. The punches were slow and sloppy, but the effort was earnest from start to finish. The switch-hitting Hernandez’s corner constantly shouted advice and encouragement, and while their charge tried to turn their words into action, he lacked the talent and stamina to completely fulfill their strategic visions. Meanwhile, Rodriguez’s harder, sharper blows were strong enough to stun Hernandez at least once in the majority of rounds, but the bursts were too short-lived to convert his advantage into a TKO victory. Both men ended the fight marked up – Rodriguez had lumps and welts on his forehead while both of Hernandez’s eyes were slightly puffed. Although I was not watching the fight like a judge, the fight had the look of a 39-37 fight in favor of Rodriguez because he was the more consistently effective combatant. For the record, all three judges agreed.

Next up was a scheduled six-rounder that paired undefeated heavyweights Walter Burns of Detroit (who entered the bout 6-0, 4) and Moses Johnson of Huntington, N.Y. (who came into the ring with a 9-0-2, 7 ledger), but while the match looked attractive on paper, it was lopsided inside the ropes. A whistling hook to the chin seconds into the contest set up a flurry that scored the first knockdown moments later. From there, it was all Burns as a right registered the second knockdown and a final hook ended matters just 117 seconds after it began. This result was viewed by several respected sources as a stunner, especially in terms of its brevity. 

The third fight marked the return of hard-luck Polish contender Maciej Sulecki, who had fights with Jermall Charlo and Jaime Munguia fall through since his most recent bout, an eight-round decision against 17-15-1 journeyman Fouad El Massaoudi in December 2021. Here, he fought another hardscrabble operator in Indiana native Angel Hernandez, who came into the bout with a record of 19-21-1 (14) and who also was fighting for the third time in three months after returning from a 14-month hiatus. This ended up being a fight of extreme contrasts as a relatively routine first round was suddenly turned by a Sulecki power shot late in the session that would set up a one-punch knockout by Sulecki just 16 seconds into round two. It was a punch that was as much heard as seen, and, according to reporter/photographer “Boxing” Bob Newman, the culprit was a massive right to the temple. Unfortunately for Hernandez, this marked the second consecutive fight in which he lost in round two, for on April 15 he fell victim to Raul Salomon at the two-minute mark.

The biggest reaction of any fighter on the deep undercard was generated by Liverpool, N.Y.’s Bryce Mills, whose attire mirrored his origins, mindset and ring style: Yankee pinstripes, the phrase “don’t blink” and Aaron Judge’s number 99. His no-nonsense buzz cut, his rugged Gatti-esque visage, and his chiseled upper body stook in stark contrast to that of his opponent, Boston’s Jonathan de Pina, whose best assets include long arms, springy legs, slick upper body movement, well-timed counters and resourcefulness. Mills’ aggression and cleaner shots opened a cut over de Pina’s right eye and earned him scores of 60-54 (twice) and 59-55 that lifted his record to 12-1 (4) and dropped De Pina’s to 12-2 (5). 

The final pre-TV bout paired welterweights Mykquan Williams of Hartford with Paulo Cesar Galindo of Sao Paulo, a southpaw who was a late replacement for Ryan Martin, who opted to withdraw. The fight featured plenty of bristling action, and though the match ended in a majority draw that was booed by those who believed Galindo should have won, it was a solid match with a pleasing mix of styles. Given that the matchmaker is Eric Bottjer, one of the very best at what he does (and he’s a tremendous writer as well) that shouldn’t be any surprise. The result left Williams with a 19-0-2 (8) record and a 12-7-2 (8) mark for Galindo, but the draw was viewed as a setback for the former and a triumph for the latter. 

Following a 20-minute intermission, Showtime’s cameras powered up and commenced the fourth ShoBox telecast linked to the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend since 2013 – a tradition within a tradition, if you will. The opening bout paired undefeated light heavyweights in Australian Clay Waterman and Floridian Kenmon Evans, who is promoted by Hall of Famer Christy Martin. The stockier Waterman’s strength and compact power shots consistently got the better of Evans’ long-range boxing, resulting in a solid unanimous decision victory (78-74 twice, 77-75). 

Of the three fights on this card, the middle bout between light heavyweights Richard Vansiclen and Juan Carrillo was the one to which I was looking most forward based on the footage I reviewed for the CompuBox analysis I submitted for the network. Although both are southpaws, their career paths couldn’t have been more different. Vansiclen was a three-sport athlete who tried to walk onto Washington University’s football team, but decided against it because the schedule would have interfered with academics (he ended up earning a degree in nutritional science). But, at age 19, he discovered boxing, and he was good enough to advance to the final bout of the 2015 Olympic qualifier (he lost a split decision). After 45 amateur bouts, Vansiclen turned pro and in his 14 fights to date he displayed nuances that marked him as a more mature fighter than his level of experience would portray. 

In Carrillo, Vansiclen would be fighting the best opponent of his career, a power-punching lefty who competed in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. He won his opening bout of the games by unanimous decision but was eliminated from the tournament following a unanimous decision defeat to France’s Mathieu Bauderlique, an eventual bronze medalist. The man once described by a commentator as “one of the most decorated amateurs ever to come out of Colombia” thanks to his 388-23 amateur mark and slew of tournament titles, turned pro at 26 and was riding a six-fight KO streak, the longest of his career. As is the case with most lefties, his most potent weapon is his left cross, and it helps his cause that he hasn’t been babied as far as matchmaking as eight of his 10 opponents had winning records compared to six of Vansiclen’s 14. 

On paper, this was an attractive match, but would the action in the ring live up to it? Perhaps the presence of Hall of Famers like Roberto Duran (who was seated less than 20 feet behind and to the right of me) would provide the proper inspiration. 

In the end, I believe it did. To be honest, I did not watch the fight either like a fan or like a judge because I spent considerable time chatting with Sullivan, who was seated to my left, and a couple of New Haven, Connecticut natives who were there to root for hometown compatriot Charles Foster in the main event. But based on what I saw, a lot of what I wrote in the “prediction” section of the analysis I submitted to Showtime came to pass:

“This is an excellent crossroads fight between two undefeated southpaws, and while Carrillo’s tendency to fight with his chin high in the air might cost him dearly (he suffered a knockdown in round four largely due to that very flaw), the guess is that his work rate, superior power and deep amateur pedigree will help him find the right key to unlock Vansiclen’s style and take him to places he had not yet seen as a pro.” The only difference between my projection and what unfolded in the ring was that I predicted that Carrillo would win by TKO, but he ended up earning a majority decision (95-93 twice, 94-94) in a fight that was judged far closer than the one portrayed by the CompuBox numbers (Carrillo led 207-122 overall, 85-37 jabs and 122-85 power as well as 41%-25% overall, 37%-20% jabs, 45%-28% power and 9-0-1 in the round-by-round breakdown of total connects, usually a reliable barometer given that clean punching is a strong judging factor). Again, since I didn’t watch the fight closely, and because I feel the only legitimate scorecard is the one that is scored live or is scored off video without any knowledge of the post-fight narrative, I’ll refrain from offering any judgment on the scoring.

Also, since my conversations continued apace, I have no deep analysis of the main event between light heavyweights Ali Izmailov and the aforementioned Foster except to say it appeared destined to produce a close and potentially controversial decision given the mix of styles and the numbers that were being produced. Statistically speaking, Foster was more active (53.2 punches per round to Izmailov’s 38.5) and was the more effective jabber (27.4 attempts/4.0 connects per round to Izmailov’s 11.7 and 1.9 respectively) but Izmailov was more accurate across the board (29%-21% overall, 16%-15% jabs and 35%-28% power). The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connect had Izmailov up 5-4-1 but Foster closed the gap considerably by out-landing his foe in each of the final two rounds. 

The raw numbers couldn’t have been tighter; each landed 113 total punches but the distribution was strikingly different as Foster led 40-19 in connected jabs while Izmailov prevailed 94-73 in landed power shots as well as 48-28 in landed body shots. I believe the jabs-to-power punches ratio was potentially decisive as Izmailov fired more power shots than jabs (268 to 117) while Foster threw more jabs than power punches (274 to 258), which might have given Izmailov the edge in several “swing rounds” due to effective aggression, which, along with clean punching, is a huge part of the four judging criteria (ring generalship, which I also call “strategic” command, and defense, to me, are often tie-breakers as far as picking the winners of particularly tight rounds). 

After picking up a late-night snack, I returned to the Days Inn, consumed my meal, and turned out the lights shortly after 2:30 a.m.

Saturday, June 10: Yesterday’s events must have taken more of a toll on me that I expected because despite slumbering for just four-and-a-half hours, I packed plenty of rest into them. I spent most of the next three hours writing many of the words you have read, and while I intended to be at the “main event” of my annual IBHOF pilgrimage – the book and memorabilia show at Canastota High School – well before the 10 a.m. opening, my writing responsibilities kept me away until nearly 9:50 a.m. 

For the first time in several years, I will be attending as a shopper and not a seller. At last year’s event, I sold all my copies of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” and all but three of my copes of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers,” but now I was in the mood to shop, shop, shop. My first positive surprise was that despite the late hour I was able to find a good parking spot. In past years, anyone who arrived 10 minutes before the event began would have had a tremendously difficult time parking their car anywhere near the high school entrance, but here, this was done quickly and easily. 

I soon got the answer to why that was: The number of vendors was markedly less than was the case at last year’s “Trilogy” celebration, and I didn’t really get to start browsing until at least an hour after I entered the building because I was engaged in so many conversations. An especially terrific one involved 2020 IBHOF inductee Bernard Fernandez and his wife Anne; Fernandez was selling copies of his three anthologies (a fourth will be released soon) and it was especially good to see both of them because they have been dealing with medical issues. To look at them, one wouldn’t think that would be the case but they showed themselves to have just as much fighting spirit as the athletes Bernard covered during his Hall of Fame career. 

Once I shifted into shopper mode, I went into overdrive and purchased a nice haul. In addition to an autographed copy of Fernandez’s third anthology, I purchased the January 1955, July 1955, December 1955, August 1956, October 1957 and February 1958 issues of RING, the August 1982 issue of International Boxing, four issues of World Boxing (May 1979, March 1980, July 1982 and November 1983), the winter 1953 issue of “Fight” magazine featuring a signature by cover boy Kid Gavilan, a copy of Alan Goldstein’s Sugar Ray Leonard biography “A Fistful of Sugar” that was autographed by Leonard (a steal for $30), “The Life and Times of Stanley Christodoulou” written by the Hall of Famer for $6, and “Mickey Walker: The Toy Bulldog and His Times” by Mickey Walker with Joe Reichler for $20. Good thing I am going to be driving home instead of flying because that would have been a lot to try and pack into my three pieces of luggage. 

My next destination was the museum grounds, which was teeming with activity for the first time since the festivities kicked off on Thursday. Smitty was in the midst of a ring lecture as I purchased a small lunch (one hot dog and a can of Diet Pepsi) from the nearby food truck) and engaged in various conversations with anyone who approached me. However, my primary purpose for being on the grounds was to conduct what I call “Trivia Time with the Travelin’ Man,” an event scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. 

Lee Groves and IBHOF master of ceremonies James “Smitty” Smith,
who have hosted a podcast on FITE.TV since October 2020, pose together behind the podium under the pavilion during this year’s Induction Weekend. (Photo by Tris Dixon)

Here’s my theory regarding why I was given my first solo assignment on stage during an IBHOF weekend: Smitty and I engaged in an impromptu trivia session on the Sunday morning of last year’s “Trilogy” celebration, and the event must have gone well enough for Jeff Brophy to ask me to conduct one by myself this year since Smitty needed to leave and prepare for the Banquet of Champions. Always being one who is willing to help, I said “yes,” and, in retrospect, I figured that my “Good Guy” award acceptance speech at the BWAA dinner offered the perfect “warm-up” for this task. The only difference: I was on stage at the BWAA for a little more than five minutes; here I would be performing for at least one hour. 

It helped that I sat on stage for about 45 minutes before the event even started because it allowed me to settle in and “get used” to the situation. It also helped that many members of the audience were the same people with whom I conversed earlier; it’s much easier to talk to a group of friends (and boxing fans) than a group of strangers. My objectives were to ask a series of questions prepared by the IBHOF and award a variety of gifts – cup warmers, miniature gloves, t-shirts, key chains, hats, etc. – for correct answers. At 2:29, it was showtime.

I began by answering the question James Stockdale asked of himself before the 1992 U.S. Vice Presidential debate – “Who am I and what am I doing here?” I quickly had to set down some ground rules: Don’t answer before I finish asking the question, and raise your hand if you know the answer. As multiple hands were raised it was up to me to pick the person, and if a person answered correctly, I blindly dug into the bag and gave whatever I pulled out to the winner. At times, my execution was clumsy as far as maintaining crowd control, I did give a participant a t-shirt instead of a hat (“I don’t wear hats,” he said), and some of my tosses were off target (I jokingly referred to myself as having a “rag arm”), but as time went on, I felt relaxed enough to throw in a few self-deprecating jokes and to engage in banter with the audience. 

Near the end of the event, I invited a boxing expert who posed a question that stumped me the previous day to approach the stage and ask that very same question to this audience: What former world champion fought in the most countries during the course of his career? Interestingly, the person who gave the right answer (Eddie Perkins) was Mark Irwin, a fellow who, in previous years, bore such a strong resemblance to me that he was often mistaken for me and I was often mistaken for him. However, he came up with the answer only after the inquisitor offered several strong clues, so the inquisitor didn’t assign him the honor of being just the third person to get the right answer without help. 

By the way, the session went about a half-hour over because after I ran out of prizes, I decided to bring up a pair of hot news items: Tonight’s Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez fight, and the July 29 showdown between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford. Several members of the audience offered their opinions, after which I issued my own, and, all in all, it appeared everyone enjoyed themselves. To tell the truth, I did as well. 

I spent the next hour or so after that chatting with three members of the audience, one of which was Tim Piper, a British boxing emcee who made international news by cashing in a 50,000-pound bet (10 pounds at 500-to-1 odds) that Josh Tongue, then an 11-year-old cricket player, would eventually play a professional test match for England. Tongue, now 25 and the son of Piper’s club teammate Phil, completed the bet by debuting in the Lord’s Test against Ireland June 1, so the effervescent Englishman had to have been financially well-stocked for this visit to Canastota. 

Once the conversation broke up, I walked back to the Days Inn and prepared to leave for the Banquet of Champions, which had already begun by the time I arrived at 6:30 p.m. I was seated at Table 45, and many of the people with whom I sat last year sat with me this year. Many of them were nearly finished with their first course when I took my seat, but the hunger of which I was unaware until I took my first bite enabled me to quickly catch up. 

For me, there were several highlights:

*The eight items sold during the auction raised $16,750, and the items that drew the highest bid ($2,500) were a trip for two to see a Showtime Championship Boxing event (the winner sat at the table directly in front of me) and two autographed 16-inch-by-20-inch RING covers depicting Hagler and Leonard and Hagler and Duran. As an impromptu bonus, the winner of the latter item was invited on stage to pose for a picture with Duran. 

*Class of 2023 inductee Seth Abraham told a funny story that pitted the heated TVKO negotiations involving arch-rivals Don King and Bob Arum against his wife’s strictly enforced 10 p.m. cut-off time for business-related phone calls. The expletive-filled talks so emotionally exhausted Abraham that he and his wife flew out of the country – specifically Israel – to create the proper distance away from the situation. No such luck; King and Arum, who were based in different U.S. time zones, called Abraham and while the talks produced significant progress, the time difference forced Abraham to remain in the bathroom all night. When his wife asked why, Abraham said he had been ill, but the 10 p.m. rule – at least in terms of American time zones – was still maintained. 

*Hall of Fame ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. used his professional voice to initiate a face-off between 2023 inductee Timothy Bradley and 2007 class member Roberto Duran, and though “Manos de Piedra” was about to celebrate his 72nd birthday, he showed beyond doubt that his coal-black eyes were still capable of firing lasers. 

*Vinny Paz’s stream-of-consciousness remarks took a negative turn when one of his many admirers shouted “you belong in the Hall of Fame.” Paz, who has long advocated for his own induction along with his passionate supporters, used the occasion to make his case. 

Other speakers included new inductees Brad Jacobs, Brad Goodman, Tim Ryan, Joe Goossen, Timothy Bradley, Carl Froch, Rafael Marquez and the ageless Alicia Ashley as well as Michael Nunn, Michael Carbajal, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Lucia Rijker, Micky Ward, Dick Eklund, James “Buddy” McGirt and parade grand marshal Flavor Flav, who actually spoke twice. None of those who were called up to the microphone knew they were going to be asked to speak, and knowing Smitty as I do, that’s exactly the way he likes it. 

After the banquet ended, Smitty and I were informed that the Josh Taylor-Teofimo Lopez fight on ESPN had not yet started. We were invited to attend a private watching party inside one of the Turning Stone’s hotel rooms, and, to our surprise, Lopez won the WBO title with his best all-around performance since defeating Vasiliy Lomachenko in October 2020. One of the reasons I picked Taylor to win by decision was that one of the strongest correlations involving Lopez in recent years was the link between Lopez’s performances in the ring and his life outside it; when life was good, he performed well, and when his life was in turmoil, Lopez tended to take his troubles into the ring with him, especially since one of the sources of his angst – his father/chief second — was waiting for him in the corner after each round. Here, however, Lopez shattered the trend by overcoming a slow start to take control of the fight and win a properly-rendered unanimous decision. I scored the fight 115-113 for Lopez (as did Steve Gray and Joseph Pasquale) while Smitty tallied a 116-113 card for “The Takeover,” who has breathed new life into his career and is now poised for showdowns against the other 140-pound champions (Regis Prograis, Subriel Matias and Rolando Romero). 

Following the watch party, I spent time talking with Rhyan Neco, who served as the ring announcer for last night’s card at the Turning Stone, as well as 2023 inductee Joe Goossen and his family, renowned trainer Aaron Snowell, Michael Nunn, ace collector John Gay and a relative of Hall of Famer Joey Maxim who was closely connected with Paz. It was nearly 2 a.m. when the conversations finally broke up, and I arrived in my room shortly after 2:15. Once I settled in, I fired up the laptop and recorded my thoughts while they were still fresh in my mind. When a good stopping point presented itself, I shut down the creative juices and did my best to shut down the rest of me. I certainly needed to, because in just a few hours, the fourth and final day of this year’s Induction Weekend cycle will commence. 


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 22 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2006. 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. as well as a panelist on “In This Corner: The Podcast” on FITE.TV. 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) as well as the 2022 winner of the BWAA’s Marvin Kohn “Good Guy Award.” To contact Groves, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook and Twitter (@leegrovesboxing).