Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man: Las Vegas – part one

 

Less than five days after returning home from Santa Ynez, Calif., the Travelin’ Man hit the road – and the air – again. This time the destination was the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where he would “work the keys” for CompuBox for the ShoBox double-header that matched unbeaten junior welterweight prospect Jessie Vargas and veteran Lanardo Tyner as well as onetime title challengers Deandre Latimore and Milton Nunez at 154.

This two-part installment will touch on “Sin City’s” extraordinary place in boxing lore, the plot twists that usually come with air travel and the sights and sounds of fight night from a ringside perspective.

Without any further delay, let the adventure begin.

Thursday, February 23: The four full days between trips were stuffed with activity. After crashing for nine hours to recover from the previous three days’ lack of real sleep, I spent the lion’s share of Sunday researching and writing my RingTV.com piece on the top 10 St. Louis title fights. On Monday, I worked on several projects for CompuBox that were pushed back to accommodate last week’s trip to Santa Ynez. I polished off the remaining items on Tuesday so I could afford myself the luxury of competing in my weekly bowling league that evening. I rolled a 203 in the first game only to dip to 171 and 150 as this intermediate-level player dealt with ever-changing lane conditions.

When I returned home I was told that Ryan Davis, who was named Latimore’s opponent only last week, was out and Nunez was in. With the help of a fellow collector and longtime friend, I was able to get a glimpse – and only a glimpse as it turned out – of Nunez in action against Gennady Golovkin, who dusted the Colombian in just 58 seconds to win “interim” WBA middleweight belt.

The first thing I noticed about Nunez was his height; he looked far taller than the 5-9 listed on Boxrec. As he stood face-to-face with Golovkin – who is listed at 5-10 – the lean Nunez appeared at least three inches bigger (the ShoBox graphic subsequently listed him at 6-2).

When the opening bell sounded he attempted to execute the expected blueprint of stick and move. Unfortunately for Nunez his double jabs were slow and easily timed. Golovkin stiffened Nunez’s legs with the first right hand he threw and from there it was downhill. Golovkin never landed another right but his hooks to the head and body more than made up for it. The first punch of a double hook floored Nunez and although he arose in plenty of time,  referee Russell Mora waved it off when the challenger failed to comply with commands in a timely manner.

Not exactly a stirring first impression.

Was Golovkin that good – he was named the game’s ninth best one-punch knockout artist in the April 2012 edition of THE RING – or was Nunez that bad? Now he was being asked to fight Latimore on three days’ notice. The good news for Nunez is that (1) at 24 he was two years younger; (2) Latimore had lost two of his last five fights, the first was a split decision that should have been unanimous to Cory Spinks for the vacant IBF belt in April 2009 and the second was a decision loss to Sechew Powell (who Latimore had previously stopped in seven) in March 2010; and (3) Nunez entered the fight in a somewhat positive frame of mind because he had blasted out winless Howard Cassiani in 59 seconds last time out. I say “somewhat” because two months before the Cassiani win in May 2011 Nunez was iced in one by the 15-1 Hugo Kasperski.

Long, tall Colombian punchers like Nunez (23-3-1, 21 knockouts coming in) are difficult to figure, which is why they must be respected in spite of any recent struggles. The poster child for this train of thought was Breidis Prescott, who was largely unknown when he met Amir Khan at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester in September 2008. The 18-0 Khan and his team saw the 19-0 (17 KOs) Prescott as a steppingstone, largely because he struggled to a split decision over Richard Abril nine weeks earlier in his only other fight outside Colombia.

Fifty-four seconds and two resounding knockdowns later, everyone’s opinion of Prescott – and Khan — changed. That shocking victory confirmed suspicions surrounding Khan’s chin while lifting Prescott to world prominence (as well as acquiring the nickname of “Khanqueror”). It matters not that Khan subsequently won two 140-pound belts and vaulted himself into the top 10 pound-for-pound conversation while Prescott struggled to find his power stroke against better competition and suffered several heartbreaking road decisions; those 54 seconds will forever be part of each man’s fistic legacy. Surely Nunez would draw vicarious inspiration from Prescott’s success, either consciously or otherwise, against Latimore. Then again, he might not.

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