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Travelin' Man goes to Indio - Part II
In part one of this week’s Travelin’ Man Chronicles, RingTV.com’s resident historian and punch-counting specialist recounted his trip into Indio, Calif., where, he worked the CompuBox keys for last weekend’s ShoBox topped by Bundrage-Spinks II.
In part one of this week’s installment of The Travelin’ Man Chronicles, RingTV.com’s resident historian and punch-counting specialist recounted his trip into Indio, California. There, he worked the keys for CompuBox at last weekend’s ShoBox card topped by Cornelius Bundrage’s second TKO victory over Cory Spinks. Today’s piece – the second of two installments -- will focus on fight day and the journey home.
Saturday, June 30: Although I logged only five hours of sleep the firm mattress did wonders for my occasionally squirrelly lower back. After getting ready for the day I spent the next few hours polishing up Part One.
Just before I applied the final touches my cell phone rang. I expected punch-counting partner Joe Carnicelli to be on the other end, for it was just after the time his plane from Phoenix was scheduled to land. Instead it was my mother, who informed me that severe thunderstorms had wreaked havoc on the entire East Coast and knocked out power to vast swaths of land – including most of West Virginia. She said electricity wouldn’t be restored for at least two days but fortunately she had a generator that supplied power to a few vital appliances. Phone service had also been knocked out, but because she works at a hospital she was able to secure one of the few working land lines.
As I heard her tale I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast in circumstance. The view outside my fifth-floor balcony was bathed in sunshine – as well as 89-degree temperatures that were predicted to soar past 110. All of the modern amenities were at my disposal and I couldn’t help but feel for my loved ones who had just been transported back – quite literally – to the Dark Ages.
While still absorbing the stunning news from home, I went down to the lobby to secure my boarding passes for the next day’s flights. As I stepped off the elevator I spotted Carnicelli, who was about to call my cell, in the lounge. The Hyatt didn’t have his room ready so we spent the next half-hour or so talking about, among other things, his recent trip to Italy. Here’s his account of a particularly interesting encounter:
“For our first day in Rome, my wife and I had gotten on-line tickets for a two-hour tour of the Galleria Borghese, one of the city’s most famous museums. We were booked for the 11 a.m.-1 p.m. slot and arrived early.
“As I waited on the steps leading to the upper level, the main door swung open and to my surprise out stepped ‘Il Grande Unito’ himself, Randy Johnson. He apparently had just completed the previous two-hour tour and stretched out on one of the benches on the beautiful Villa Borghese grounds before being joined by the rest of his group. It’s very strange to fly thousands of miles from Arizona to Rome and one of the first people I see is one of Arizona’s greatest sports heroes.”
Funny how life works, doesn’t it?
Bowing to Joe’s local knowledge (he was so well known that he was dubbed the unofficial “mayor of Palm Springs”) I figured it was better that he drive. We arrived at the Fantasy Springs Hotel and Casino 40 minutes later and before long everything was set up electronically. After indulging in an all-you-can-eat-in-an-hour buffet – very useful given our next meal was at least eight hours away – we waited for the fights to begin.
The first fighters – flyweights Christian Lorenzo and Javier Barragan – entered the ring less than a minute past the scheduled 4:30 p.m. start time. Although both were unbeaten – Lorenzo was 1-0 while Barragan was 2-0 (2 KO) coming in – a savvy observer could surmise which was the favored fighter. While Lorenzo wore a T-shirt and a green cap with the bill turned backward, Barragan wore a red sequined robe with matching personalized sequined trunks. The fact that he was a local boy only amplified the intent in terms of who was to play which role.
Most of the time assumptions such as these end up going according to script inside the ring; the “winner” wins and the “loser” loses. But the beauty of boxing is that a fighter’s success is mostly powered by the force of will that emanates from the soul, not by glitter, geography or promotional graces. Sure, the “three Gs” can help greatly in terms of presentation and marketing but if the product can’t endure the heat of one-on-one battle the rest of it is not worth very much.
Boxing’s unique brand of human drama unfolded during this curtain-raiser, and it began approximately 45 seconds into what had been a long-range boxing match. The local fighter’s first adversity occurred when something – either a butt or a punch, I couldn’t tell – opened a slice over Barragan’s right eye. Lorenzo, who had already struck pay dirt with repeated long rights to the body, upped the ante by maneuvering Barragan to the ropes and initiating several tough toe-to-toe exchanges. Here, Barragan held his own, though he now was fighting his opponent’s fight.
Barragan tried to turn the strategic tide early in the second by getting on his toes and circling away from the advancing Lorenzo. But that didn’t stop Lorenzo from throwing hefty punches from all angles and roughing him up at every opportunity. During the round’s final minute, Lorenzo’s head crashed into Barragan’s upper lip, which caused him to grimace and pull away.
From that point forward Barragan’s competitive drive shone less brightly. Instead of engaging the eager Lorenzo he called boxing’s equivalent of a “time out” by initiating repeated clinches. He appeared confused and out of sorts, and his facial expressions betrayed his unsettled mental state. Lorenzo sensed his unease and drew strength from it. Even when Barragan pushed his opponent’s back to the ropes, it was Lorenzo who did all the meaningful punching. He hammered Barragan’s ribs relentlessly and without mercy, which had to further erode the local lad’s already ebbing will to fight.
In the corner between rounds two and three, Barragan’s discomfort and anxiety was obvious. The pre-fight script in his head that was also radiated by the “three Gs” was spiraling wildly out of control. Sixty seconds is too short a time for most fighters – especially novice pros – to summon the steely resolve necessary to author a rewrite and such was the case in round three when Lorenzo continued his surge.
By now it was only a matter of how long Barragan was willing to carry on. Not very long, it turned out. While Barragan never hit the canvas he also couldn’t fight back. A flush overhand right followed by a left hook persuaded referee Wayne Hedgepeth to rescue Barragan while also lifting Lorenzo to his second win in as many fights. The time: 49 seconds of round three.
As mentioned before, judging the two books by their covers (their physical conditioning), their respective records, their promotional ties and even the order of their introductions works a good bit of the time when predicting the outcomes of boxing matches. But the sport’s athlete-on-athlete confrontation also forces out the ultimate wild cards, all of which come from within. Until the opening bell sounds, no one – not even the fighters – knows for sure how all the physical, intellectual, circumstantial and emotional variables will work out, and the results can sometimes be dynamic. That is just one of the reasons why this Travelin’ Man loves boxing so much.
Next up was a scheduled eight-round welterweight clash between undefeated San Diego prospect Antonio Orozco (14-0, 10 KO coming in) and Canovanas, Puerto Rico’s Albert Cruz Jr. (9-3, 8 KO). Even though each weighed 141.8 pounds, their poundage was distributed far differently; Orozco was muscular and compact while Cruz Jr. was wiry and lanky.
Cruz Jr. tried to exploit his height and reach advantages during the bout’s first minute by keeping his distance and firing long jabs but within a minute the stronger Orozco sliced the distance and blasted away with meaty power shots. In the round’s final two minutes Orozco landed 27 of his 29 power connects, including 15 to the body.
Orozco consolidated his advantage in round two with scything right uppercuts that bloodied Cruz Jr.’s nose and raised swellings around both eyes. In that round Orozco was a brutal 35 of 101 while Cruz Jr. was a brave but battered 15 of 74.
The beating Cruz Jr. absorbed in round two was so severe that the ringside physician conducted a between-rounds examination before allowing the fight to proceed. Though Cruz Jr. did his best to reverse matters he had the look of a man fighting off an unstoppable avalanche – an impossibility even when perfectly healthy. To his credit, Cruz Jr. went 25 of 88 but even that wasn’t enough to overcome Orozco’s comprehensive attack.
Orozco’s precise jabs (17 of 33, 52 percent) nicely set the table for the bludgeoning power shots that followed. In all, Orozco went 30 of 57 (53 percent) in that category to complete a 47 of 90 round that prompted a second between-rounds visit from the doctor. This time she waved off the fight, a most correct and merciful decision.
Between fights, a contest for a signed Oscar de la Hoya glove as well as two tickets to the next fight card was conducted in two stages. Stage One was determined by which side of the ring produced the loudest crowd noise. Once that was decided, Stage Two began: The folks from the winning side were asked to produce the wildest and craziest demonstration of “I Want These” for approximately 30 seconds. Whichever demonstration caught the two judges’ eyes won the prizes.
Of all the jumping, arm-waving, screaming masses, one twenty-something patron went the extra mile by taking off his shirt. That show of semi-nudity did the trick and he was asked to approach the ring to collect his bounty. Thankfully the partially disrobed man re-robed before reaching ringside, but only after being asked to by the male emcee.
As this was unfolding I wondered what would have happened if an attractive twenty-something female had tried the same tactic. The guess here is that she probably would have been arrested for indecent exposure, but I guess that would depend on exactly how indecent the exposure really was.
But, as always, I digress. Back to the fights.
The first televised fight pitted junior middleweight contender Erislandy Lara (16-1-1, 11 KO coming in) against lanky volume-puncher Freddy Hernandez (30-2, 20 KO). The southpaw Lara was in charge throughout and his power connects emitted a far louder sound at ringside than Henandez’s best shots, which to me betrayed Lara’s advantage in natural size. Not only were Lara’s punches heavier, they were needle-sharp in terms of accuracy (44 percent overall, 64 percent power) as well as their ability to slice up Hernandez’s face. Lara opened a cut over the left eye in round five and an ugly vertical wound near the right orb in the seventh but in round six a potentially volatile scene unfolded.
Lara, perhaps frustrated at his inability to take out the rugged Hernandez, appeared to attempt a flying head butt. Hernandez, rightly indignant, gestured angrily toward Lara, which in turn ignited the sympathetic Mexican fans. Their stomps from the stands boomed around the arena and their yelps of support threatened to turn what had been, to this point, a lopsided fight.
Lara dug a deeper hole in the seventh as another butt prompted a point penalty. Unfortunately for Hernandez, Lara righted the ship in round eight; over the final three rounds the Cuban out-landed Hernandez 78-32 overall and 67-31 in power shots en route to a unanimous decision (although David Denkin’s 95-94 card reeked of what I call “aggressor’s derangement syndrome,” which is defined as a judge who grants ineffective but aggressive fighters undue credit.)
Next up was undefeated featherweight Gary Russell Jr. – 2011’s prospect of the year in many quarters – against Christopher Perez (23-2, 14 KO coming in), who was making his first appearance outside Mexico. The taller Perez was confronted with a strategic quandary that forced him to choose between two evils – a quandary that none of Russell’s 19 previous opponents were able to solve.
Perez logically tried to counter-punch from distance. His misfortune – one he couldn’t help – was that he lacked the gifts to pull off every necessary element to negate Russell’s many gifts. First, he didn’t have enough hand speed to catch Russell with enough blows to slow him down. Second, Hernandez was unable to see Russell’s punches quickly enough to (a) recognize what was coming at him; (b) calculate the proper defensive response and (c) execute that response while remaining on balance enough to produce the correct counter. Add to that Russell’s southpaw stance, deep amateur pedigree and extraordinary talent and one could see why Perez’s quest was nothing short of Quixotic.
Russell’s powerful left crosses proved decisive. A sweeping left produced the first knockdown early in round three and a second one, the final punch of a three-punch volley, scored the second. The final knockdown was produced by a beautifully timed hair-trigger left that nailed Hernandez as he was launching his own blow. It was as if Hernandez was playing against a video game program whose circuitry was set at the ultimate, unbeatable level.
Russell’s dominance not only was aesthetic but also arithmetic. He landed 43 of his 100 total punches, including 55 percent of his power shots (38 of 69) while Hernandez mustered 17 of 93 overall (18 percent) and 16 of 45 in power shots (36 percent). While Russell’s jab was hardly overwhelming (5 of 31, 16 percent), Hernandez’s was even less so (1 of 48, 2 percent).
The main event that saw Bundrage risk his IBF junior middleweight belt against the man he dethroned two years earlier was a better fight than the original because Cory Spinks produced a better showing. Of course, when one considered that Spinks averaged just 16.7 punches per round in fight one, he could only go but up.
As was the case in fight one, Bundrage’s overhand rights were too much for Spinks to handle. In round one the initial shock of tasting the blow caused Spinks’ body to shudder, his balance to implode and his legs to collapse alarmingly. Every Bundrage punch, flush or otherwise, shook Spinks to his core and a quick finish appeared imminent.
Spinks somehow worked his way through the thickets and found his way out. In round two he opted to employ an underused tactic for him – body punching. By the third Spinks had found a rhythm of sorts, although it wasn’t pretty to watch. His clutching tactics slowed Bundrage’s pace from the 62 and 57 punches he threw in rounds one and three to 37, 34 and 43 in rounds four through six. Spinks actually out-landed “K-9” 13-7 and 11-10 in rounds five and six and for all the world it looked like a long, tough (and difficult to watch) fight was ahead.
Bundrage, who at 39 is the oldest man to ever possess a 154-pound belt, always had that overhand right in his back pocket. One such right undid all the work Spinks assembled in the previous 15 minutes of action and the results were unmistakable. Spinks’ stiffened body landed with a thud just five feet in front of me and Joe quickly raised his arm to protect the laptop. With so much time remaining in the round, and with Spinks irreversibly woozy, the ex-champ’s fate was all but sealed. Two more knockdowns followed and just like that Bundrage had retained his belt and denied Spinks the chance to win the IBF belt for the fourth separate time.
Bundrage led in overall punches (97 of 301, 32 percent to 75 of 247, 30 percent) and power punches (66 of 141, 47 percent to 40 of 115, 35%) while Spinks held a slight lead in jabs (35 of 132, 27 percent to 31 of 160, 19 percent). Ironically, the slugging Bundrage had the highest number of jab connects in a round (10 in round three) while Spinks outdid Bundrage in landed body punches (21-14).
While the final decision is up to Spinks and his team, his career path took a seemingly fatal hit. Meanwhile Bundrage called out big-money counterpart Saul Alvarez in the post-fight interview – as every 154-pounder is obliged to do.
As Joe and I packed up our equipment, the ring was torn down with startling swiftness. We swung by the makeshift production office and the TV truck in search of a culinary fill-up but we ultimately decided to go another direction.
Joe and I ate at an Appleby’s located near the Hyatt, where a nine-ounce medium well steak, fries and a large glass of Diet Coke met their ends. By the time I settled in, I knew I couldn’t get in my usual post-fight writing session because less than five hours separated me from my mental wake-up call.
And with that, a month that included receiving a BWAA writing award in New York City, my 20thconsecutive trip to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and a most eventful trip to El Paso came to an end.
Sunday, July 1: Despite not falling totally asleep, I arose at 3:45 a.m. feeling somewhat refreshed. After getting ready for the day the hotel room phone rang. It was my mother, who told me the power was still out.
She told me just before the storm hit Friday night they thought they heard a train approaching, the classic sound of an approaching tornado. Fortunately, it wasn’t. The physical damage was minimal and the most important aspect was that no one was hurt. Still, I could only hope that power would be restored soon.
With the events at home still heavy on my mind I packed my belongings and headed to the Palm Springs airport.
I’ve often said that “experience is the best teacher.” That credo applied here, for a situation I encountered two weeks ago repeated itself here. I noticed that none of the Phoenix flights, including my 6:58 a.m. departure, had a gate listed.
But before I could address that problem, another one had to be tackled: I had to pick one of the two available concourses. Logic dictated that I choose the one at which I arrived and I knew I had chosen correctly when I spotted a US Airways plane sitting near one of the gates.
Once inside, there was only one gate agent at her appointed station but she worked with another airline. Because I was told two weeks earlier in Pittsburgh that the reason no gate was listed was due to that airline flying out of a single gate, this was the question I asked the agent once she was free of her pressing duties.
Sure enough: US Airways flew only out of Gate 15.
The Palm Springs to Phoenix leg went off flawlessly and I wrote most of this article on the Phoenix-to-Pittsburgh flight. At the end of the latter flight the pilot got on the intercom and said this:
“We are making our approach into Columbus, where it is partly cloudy and 89 degrees.”
Everyone in our row looked at each other and said, “Columbus? This has to be a joke, right?”
But when he said it again – and again – and again – we started to worry about our driver’s sense of direction. Finally, after four miscues, he corrected himself and before long we pulled into the correct gate in the correct city.
It wasn’t until I crossed the bridge into New Martinsville, W.Va. that I realized how much damage was inflicted. Trees with trunks six feet around were broken clean off and the traffic lights were dark. Necessity begat courtesy as all intersections were treated like four-way stops.
When I pulled into the driveway, I was greeted by a facetious “welcome to Hell.” Of course, this was an exaggeration; a generator powered a refrigerator and freezer, the living room TV and the accompanying DVR as well as a trio of fans.
But save for my cell phone I was literally cut off from the world. No internet, no land lines and no ability to get any research work done. According to the radio reports on my way home, this situation could persist until I leave for my next trip – Carson, California – Friday afternoon.
And on that sobering note, happy trails.
Epilogue: As of this past Tuesday afternoon – five days after the storms thundered through -- electricity was still out in many West Virginia towns, including Friendly. Thanks to the auspices of the Sistersville library, I was able to submit this week’s stories. The story will pick up at that point in next week’s installments of The Travelin’ Man Chronicles.
Photos / Naoki Fukuda and Tom Casino-SHOWTIME
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won seven writing awards, including four in the last two years. 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. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org arrange for autographed copies.