Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man Goes to El Paso – Part II

After columnist Lee Groves avoided a potential international incident in Part I, the RingTV.com writer described the rest of his stay in El Paso in today’s installment of The Travelin’ Man Chronicles. He was there to “work the keys” for CompuBox as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. defended his WBC 160-pound belt against Andy Lee, but, as you will read, there also was plenty of behind-the-scenes action.

Friday, June 15: My unintended run for the border the previous evening must have been more demanding than I thought, for I got a better night’s sleep than normal. I spent most of the morning writing about yesterday’s events and when I got to a good stopping point I broke away in search of sustenance.

On the way down to the lobby I saw newly-minted Hall of Famer Freddie Roach waiting to take part in the fighter meetings with HBO. I stopped by to say hello to him as well as his able assistant Marie Spivey and they laughed as I told them the previous evening’s tale. Marie assured me accidental border crossings were a fairly common occurrence, which made me feel better.

The weather was sunny but hot; it didn’t take long for my impromptu walking tour to produce a light sweat. I was looking for the Taco Bell I spotted from my seventh-floor window but instead I ended up at a local coffee shop called The Percolator on North Stanton Street. The menu looked appetizing enough so I decided to order a toasted turkey and bacon sandwich with a side of coleslaw and a Diet Coke. The décor was like most places that strive to be trendy – simple tables, eclectic local art on the walls, plush couches and a stage with a microphone stand, surely the site of poetry readings or performances by obscure local bands. At 11 a.m., however, the place was virtually empty so my service was prompt. For the record, the sandwich was quite tasty.

(The previous paragraph is dedicated to the Original Travelin’ Man Jack Obermeyer, whose reviews of local bistros, dives, diners, eateries and other culinary venues were always a source of enjoyment over the years.)

When I returned to the Camino Real, the lobby was jammed with boxing people. WBC president Jose Sulaiman and Marco Antonio Barrera (who was doing commentary for TV Azteca) signed autographs while Lou DiBella’s cell phone received a healthy workout. An assortment of fighters, trainers, managers, hangers-on and a reporter or two milled about with the public at large, all bound by a sport that still matters to them, if not to the casual U.S. sports fan or the mainstream sports media that only focuses on boxing only when controversy or discord erupts.

The next stop was the weigh-in, which took place at 1 p.m. at The Plaza Theater across the street from the Camino Real. Unlike many weigh-ins involving major title fights, this one began only five minutes late and the main event fighters were brought out first. Andy Lee was the first to step on the scale and, with Chavez’s trainer Roach watching intently, he stayed just long enough to officially weigh 159 ¼ pounds. Though I have no facts to back it up, my instinct told me Lee must have struggled to boil his 6-foot-2 frame down to middleweight. He did just enough to get the task out of the way, and nothing more.

Chavez, whose last few fights saw him strain mightily to reach 160, lingered far longer on the stage. He remained on the scale for several long moments, and after he weighed a healthy-looking 159 he flexed his muscles for the fans. His mood was almost buoyant, which told me the weight-making process must have been more agreeable this time.

The rest of the weigh-ins took less than 30 minutes to complete and nothing newsworthy happened on stage. The same couldn’t be said about backstage, where a kerfuffle regarding the weight of the gloves brewed. Lee’s team wanted both pairs of gloves to be officially placed on a scale to make sure neither was under the mandated poundage while Chavez’s team balked. Texas Commission Sports Inspector Robert Tapia rejected the request from Lee’s camp and Roach nixed the one-on-one request because they weren’t mandated to do so by the commission.

With the run of controversies in Texas as of late – among them the James Kirkland-Carlos Molina DQ, the abhorrent Tavoris Cloud-Gabriel Campillo decision and the lack of post-fight drug tests for Chavez Jr. after the Marco Antonio Rubio fight – one would think those who are in charge would do everything possible to assure the public every aspect of the production was above board. On the heels of the Bradley-Pacquiao travesty the last thing boxing needs is another infusion of jurisdictional chaos.

A couple of hours later, punch counting partner Dennis Allen and I drove to the Sun Bowl to do some technical housecleaning that took less than 15 minutes to complete. A few hours after that, I walked to a nearby Burger King to fill up for the evening but as I ate I noticed the skies darkening and the wind picking up. I hustled out the door with half-finished soda in hand and it was a good thing I did. Just before reaching the hotel the wind gusts surged and I tasted the grit of sand granules in my mouth.

Only moments after scooting into the lobby, the full effects of this desert storm struck. Flagpoles rocked back and forth, the tops of trees bent at nearly 90 degree angles, loose papers and plastic bags swirled wildly and thick orange road barricades were pushed into the ditches for which they stood sentry. Dozens of people who gathered to hear a free music festival were forced to seek shelter, but they did so with surprising reluctance. Only when the 60 mph winds reached a fever pitch did they decide to move. The music must have been fantastic.

The storm ended within 30 minutes and the remainder of the evening was spent quietly in my hotel room. I reviewed the Bradley-Pacquiao fight on DVD through my “judges’ eyes” and came up with a 117-111 card, giving Bradley only the fourth, eighth and 10th rounds. Two other rounds were very close so if one completely bent over backwards for Bradley, a 115-113 card for Pacquiao could have been within reach. As for the two 115-113 cards for Bradley, they were, in my opinion, far beyond the bounds of good sense.

One can’t declare corruption had taken place without proof to back it up and in that regard we may never know the whole story behind what unfolded June 9. What we do know is that the controversy will be used to sell the mandated November 10 rematch, which would do good numbers if it indeed comes to pass. If there is any drop in buys, they probably will come from occasional buyers or fed-up casual fans because the die-hards – like myself – will always seek a fresh fight fix (no pun intended).

Saturday, June 16: Last night’s stormy skies gave way to a pleasant morning, one made even more so when Dennis invited me to eat breakfast at the nearby El Tejas Café, a classic “hole-in-the-wall” diner. As soon as I walked in I remembered that another punch-counting colleague – the excellent Joe Carnicelli – took me there several years earlier. Dennis and I settled into one of the back booths and I ordered eggs, sausage, hash browns, bacon and orange juice. I’m not normally a breakfast person, but the food was good and the visit with Dennis was enjoyable.

Once I returned to the hotel, I passed the time watching the rest of last week’s pay-per-view, which I brought with me on DVDs I made back home. Guillermo Rigondeaux’s performance against Teon Kennedy was perhaps his most impressive yet as he blended his incredible seasoning with exciting displays of power while Mike Jones’ deference for Randall Bailey’s punching power handcuffed his offense while providing the 37-year-old the perfect environment to spring his upset KO victory. As for Jorge Arce – still among the sport’s most exciting fighters even after investing half his lifetime in it – he was victimized by a four-foul combination I had never seen in 38 years as a fan: A head-butt, a low blow, a kidney punch and a rabbit punch. Only that could produce that rarity of rarities in an Arce fight – disappointment.

Dennis and I met in the lobby at 2:15 and we soon were joined by production coordinator Tami Cotel, who needed a ride to the Sun Bowl. Once we arrived the skies turned gray and the winds picked up noticeably. While there was talk of moving the Chavez-Lee fight up an hour, Mother Nature had the final word.

In that regard we got good news and bad news. The good – the storm clouds cleared out a couple of hours later and never returned. The bad – the late-afternoon sun and 100-plus degree temperatures bore down on everyone, including this fair-skinned redhead. Thanks to my SPF-infinity sunscreen, my pasty complexion remained intact.

The nine-fight card began a little after 5:30 with super bantamweight Tremaine “The Mighty Midget” Williams stopping Theo Johnson at 2:24 of round three. Each fighter’s role was established just seconds in when a sharp left cross from the southpaw Williams staggered and nearly dropped Johnson. From that point on, Williams nailed the onrushing Johnson with well-timed power shots and he always was the first to pull the trigger. A barrage along the ropes caused Johnson to slowly slump to the canvas, where he was counted out by referee Rocky Burke.

Bantamweight Alejandro Gonzalez Jr. – the 19-year-old son of the former WBC featherweight titlist – turned in the night’s quickest demolition. He scored three knockdowns in just 44 seconds thanks to an overhand right in the opening five seconds, a right hand that nailed the charging Leopoldo Gonzalez and a final left uppercut moments later. It was Gonzalez’s sixth consecutive knockout, his second consecutive one-round fight and the briefest bout of his unbeaten career.

Next up was undefeated El Paso middleweight Abraham “Abie” Han, who ran his string to 17 by stopping rugged journeyman Joseph Gomez at 1:39 of the fourth. Fans saw the best and worst of Han, whose ability to avoid power shots was not up to snuff but his talent for delivering them was. He scored three knockdowns in the third and finished the job with a right to the temple.

Another unbeaten Texan, Austin’s Casey Ramos, impressively halted Fort Worth’s Arthur Trevino (nephew of fringe contender Danny Trevino) at 1:14 of round five. Ramos, nicknamed “The Wizard,” easily worked inside the taller Trevino’s reach and repeatedly nailed him with lead rights followed by solid hooks. Ramos’ combinations emitted loud thudding sounds at ringside and soon Trevino’s face was discolored and swollen. Trevino courageously tried to fight back in the fourth but Ramos regained control in the fifth. A solid one-two prompted Trevino’s corner to throw in the towel, a decision that prompted boos from the stands but from ringside made perfect sense. Ramos had long established his superiority and Trevino, brave as he was, never could solve the puzzle before him.

Once-beaten super bantamweight Robert Marroquin powerfully disposed of Puerto Rican Arturo Santiago with three first-round knockdowns and a final right to the temple at 1:32 of round two. After that, San Antonio bantamweight Adam Lopez scored a tougher-than-it-looked shutout four-round decision over El Paso’s Raul Carillo, who absorbed big punishment in the first only to engage in lively trench warfare the rest of the way.

Reigning IBF lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez did his best Oscar Larios impression in pounding out a non-title 10-round decision over Nigerian veteran Daniel Attah, now a loser in his last four. The 100-90 scorecards across the board reflected Vazquez’s dominance, for his loose-limbed long-range game rendered the game African impotent. The CompuBox stats were equally illustrative, for Vazquez out-landed Attah 161-34 overall, 37-22 in jabs and 124-12 in power shots. In the ninth round alone Vazquez landed 27 punches, the same number of blows Attah landed in the entire fight to that point.

The final pre-TV fight pitted 17-year-old welterweight Juan Saucedo against Louisiana’s James Harrison, which saw Saucedo capture a 40-36 nod from all three judges. Saucedo, who despite being from Oklahoma received thunderous crowd support, blasted Harrison with combinations that would have dropped many others, but not the iron-willed Harrison.

The main event between Chavez and Lee was a tale of two fights. Lee executed his game plan to perfection in round one as he fired 49 jabs (of which he landed 10) while Chavez didn’t throw his first punch until more than a minute had elapsed. The pattern continued in rounds two and three as Chavez slowly picked up his game while Lee moved and pelted Chavez from distance.

Starting in round four, the tenor of the fight completely changed. Chavez’s physical strength and power game was a sight to behold at ringside and one could almost see Lee’s gas tank plummet toward “E.” Chavez didn’t throw or land a single jab in three of the final four rounds but his hooks, crosses, uppercuts and body shots obliterated the well thought out blueprint crafted by Emanuel Steward. In the first three rounds Chavez landed just 18 power punches but in the final four he connected on 95 of them, including 31 in the fateful seventh.

Like his Hall of Fame father, Chavez’s accuracy and withering pressure paved the road to victory like a steamroller. Though Chavez trailed slightly in overall punches (121-116), he proved far superior in power punches by out-landing Lee 113-87 and connecting on 47 percent of them to Lee’s 40 percent. Lee’s large lead in jabs (34 of 204, 17 percent to a meager 3 of 11, 27 percent for Chavez) was rendered moot.

A year ago, a fight between Chavez and Sergio Martinez was considered a laughable farce. Today, it may be the best middleweight fight that can be made and if Bob Arum has his way it will take place September 15. Unlike the Juan Manuel Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa and Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fights, it appears that Chavez-Martinez has been marinated perfectly. Given Chavez’s steady improvement and Martinez’s slight decline in comparison to his signature KO over Paul Williams, picking a winner will be a growingly difficult process.

After packing up our equipment, Dennis and I headed back to the hotel with two other passengers in tow, including gifted interpreter Jerry Olaya. We then went our separate ways; for me several hours of writing awaited, as well as a 7 a.m. mental wake-up call.

Sunday, June 17: I finished my writing around 12:45 a.m. and it took a while to finally drift off to sleep. An ill-timed phone call from home stirred me awake at 5:30 a.m., and fearing I wouldn’t wake up in time had I gone back to sleep, I decided to get ready for the day and get some extra work done.

I had originally planned to drive to the airport with Dennis but I subsequently discovered my flight was departing earlier than I thought at the time I made those arrangements. So I texted Dennis my regrets and caught a shuttle to the airport. Had I left when I originally planned, I would have arrived at my gate only three minutes before boarding. Anyone who knows me knows about my early-bird ways; I hate working against the clock, especially when it’s unnecessary.

As luck would have it, during the El Paso to Dallas flight I sat beside one of the ring physicians at Chavez-Lee, who confirmed Chavez’s urine sample was provided before the fight, not after as some believed. Then, while changing planes in Dallas I ran into former two-division titlist Joey Gamache, a longtime associate of the Emanuel Steward camp who had worked with Lee. He agreed with my assessment that Lee lost because his fighter’s soul overrode his boxer’s frame.

Since our gates were a couple of hundred feet apart, and since his boarding time was 30 minutes before mine, I spent the next 45 minutes chatting with him at his gate about a wide range of boxing-related subjects. By the end he gave me his card and asked that I remain in contact.

The Dallas-to-Pittsburgh leg and the two-and-a-half hour drive home proceeded without incident. Though I had a lot of catching up to do in regards to my boxing video collection, my thoughts still drifted toward the next scheduled journey – Indio, California for a Showtime card topped by Cornelius Bundrage-Cory Spinks II and supported by Erislandy Lara-Freddy Hernandez and Gary Russell Jr.-Christopher Perez.

Until then, happy trails.


Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com, and Lee Groves

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 l.groves@frontier.comto arrange for autographed copies.

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