Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man Goes to Carson – Part II

In the week’s second installment of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles Goes to Carson, RingTV.com columnist, resident historian and CompuBox punch-counter Lee Groves relives fight night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., where Nonito Donaire unified the IBF and WBO super bantamweight belts by decisioning Jeffrey Mathebula and Kelly Pavlik continued his comeback with a decisive decision victory over Will Rosinsky. Groves expressed strong opinions regarding Donaire’s margin of victory and attempts to bridge the unusual gap between the numbers and the scorecards.

Saturday, July 7: The buffet arranged by HBO began at 3:30 p.m. at the Home Depot Center’s Stadium Club on the East Side Terrace. We had the option of eating outside, but most of us chose to dine within the air-conditioned environs of the skyboxes. HBO’s “unofficial official” Harold Lederman and analyst/fighter Roy Jones Jr. were seated in the booth behind us, and while I had known Harold for more than a decade I had yet to introduce myself to Jones.

At an appropriate point, I turned to the booth behind me and employed a reliable ice-breaking method – bring up a familiar name.

“Hi champ,” I began. “We have a mutual acquaintance – John Scully.”

“Scully, he’s my man,” Jones said, his face lighting up in recognition. “How do you know him?”

“He was once my cornerman at an ESPN crew ‘fight night’ five years ago,” I replied. “He did his best to help me but I didn’t have the raw material to execute his advice. Although I already had great respect for the art of boxing, that experience brought home just how difficult this sport is to master.” At that, Jones nodded in agreement.

After congratulating him on his recent split decision victory over Pawel Glazewski in Poland, Jones, Lederman and I spent the next several minutes discussing the upcoming main event as well as last week’s Cornelius Bundrage-Cory Spinks rematch and how a Bundrage-Saul Alvarez match would go. We agreed Bundrage’s unpredictable style would present challenges to the soon-to-be 22-year-old but that “Canelo” would eventually prevail.

The buffet prevented me from witnessing the first two fights of the evening, which saw featherweight Victor Pasillas (now 2-0, 1 KO) stop Mexican Jesus Adame (2-10, 0 KO) in three rounds and junior welterweight KeAndre Gibson (7-0-1, 3 KO) score an across-the-board 58-56 decision over Moris Rodriguez (3-1-1, 2 KO). Joe and I arrived at the arena just in time to follow Eric Flores’ entourage down the ramp for the Inglewood lightweight’s scheduled four-rounder against unbeaten Raymond Nichol.

Denver’s Nichol began the fight by nipping in-and-out from a southpaw crouch while Flores looked to shoot lead rights from long range. It didn’t take long for Flores to assert his authority as he started firing combinations and because of that he easily won the opening session.

Nichols tried to change the tide by turning orthodox in round two, but Flores easily handled the situation by pushing his rival toward the ropes and bombing away. Carnicelli succinctly summarized Nichols’ problem by wryly stating “he’s ineffective both left-handed and right-handed.”

Flores’ combinations brought blood from Nichols’ nostrils and ensured he began and ended every exchange. As a result, Flores won a shutout decision (40-36 twice, 40-35) to raise his record to 4-1-1 (1 KO) while Nichol fell to 3-1-1, 2 KO).

Next up was junior welterweight Jose Roman, who notched his 14thstraight win with an impressive one-punch knockout over Rodolfo Armenta (11-8-1, 9 KO). Roman savagely attacked Armenta’s body throughout, and a lightning-fast double hook to the body and head in the opening round caused Armenta’s frame to slam the canvas with a thud. The Arizona-based fighter arose but over the next several rounds Roman’s volleys methodically seized on every defensive hole.

By round three, blood caked Armenta’s face and the back of his left arm. I also spotted crimson speckles dotting his back. The searing sunlight only added to Armenta’s suffering while also amplifying the effects of Roman’s success. The contest came to a sudden end near the midway mark of round five when Roman’s scorching left hook left Armenta flat on his back. The sound Armenta’s fall produced was even louder than the one that occurred in round one and it required several moments to revive him sufficiently enough to safely depart the ring.

Our rehearsal fight saw welterweight Brad Soloman up his record to 18-0 (7 KO) by decisioning Albuquerque’s Hector Munoz, whose ledger fell to 10-8-1 (9 KO). Soloman scored the fight’s only knockdown in the second with a hard right to the jaw, cut Munoz’s eye in the fourth and generally out-boxed him over the majority of the rounds by punching sharply off pivots and dictating the fight’s flow.

Soloman’s management couldn’t have chosen a better opponent from which to emerge from a nearly 16-month layoff. That’s because Munoz was no pushover. Despite the considerable punishment he absorbed – the least number of punches he tasted in a given round was 26 while that number topped 50 twice – Munoz never stopped coming forward and trying to implement his fight plan. He pounded in short, frequent but snap-less body shots – 80 of his 159 power connects targeted the flanks – and his connected punches per round mostly stayed in the 20s.

Munoz had two glimmers of hope when Soloman lost a bit of his form in the sixth and was assessed a point penalty for low blows in the seventh. But in the seventh Soloman regained his rhythm and both men recorded their fight highs in the final round with Soloman landing 53 and Munoz 32.

The final numbers reflected Soloman’s 79-71, 78-72, 77-73 decision win. Soloman landed 299 of 574 – an impressive 52 percent – overall to Munoz’s 182 of 599 (30 percent) and led in jabs (32 of 106, 30 percent to 23 of 125, 18 percent) and power punches (267 of 468, 57 percent to 159 of 474, 34 percent). The only category Munoz led was in connected body shots (80-45).

With a little more than 20 minutes until airtime, I questioned whether the final pre-TV bout – a four-rounder between junior welterweights Anthony Flores and Cameron Kreal – would finish in time. At first the question seemed moot as Flores blasted in heavy body shots, one of which forced Kreal to a knee in round one. But once Kreal survived Flores’ opening wave he adjusted to his surroundings and proceeded to give the prospect everything he could want – and some things he didn’t.

Flores’ slight deceleration combined with Kreal’s enhanced performance combined to create a scintillating example of trench warfare. It could be argued that Kreal, who entered the ring with a Mohawk that was split vertically between natural black and gold tint, won the final two rounds. Two of the judges agreed as Flores was awarded a narrow 38-37 margin while the third jurist saw it 39-36. The result raised Flores to 2-0 (1 KO) while Kreal fell to 2-2-2 (0 KO).

The sun that had bore down on ringside all day slipped behind the stadium slightly after 6:30 p.m. Once that happened the temperature fell into the high-50s, which felt even colder when combined with the almost constant swirling breeze. I neglected to bring a windbreaker with me but the two fighters I counted – Rosinsky and Mathebula – made sure my fingers stayed warm.

While Rosinsky’s intelligent dual-directional movement and lively combinations somewhat neutralized Pavlik at certain points, “The Ghost’s” height, strength, activity, heavier hands and superior one-shot power proved decisive. A crisply timed right to the chin floored the four-time New York Golden Gloves champion in round two combined with a mid-rounds surge helped power Pavlik to a healthy lead on the scorecards.

Rounds three through seven saw Pavlik roll up connect advantages of 114-60 (total) and 89-45 (power) and the taller Ohioan even racked up a 27-18 edge in landed body shots. Rosinsky enjoyed a resurgent eighth by landing a fight-high 24 punches to Pavlik’s fight-low 15, but the ex-middleweight titlist regained control by out-landing Rosinsky 58-40 in the final two rounds, including a fight-high 32 in the ninth.

The final CompuBox numbers again reflected the action in the ring as Pavlik boasted solid leads in each category – 227 of 661 (34 percent) to 159 of 564 (28 percent) in total punches; 49 of 269 (18 percent) to 39 of 197 (20 percent) in jabs and 178 of 392 (45 percent) to 120 of 367 (33 percent) in power punches. Pavlik also led 61-57 in connected body punches.

During the post-fight interview Pavlik said he was ready for the elite at 168 such as Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Andre Ward. While he impressed against Rosinsky, he has yet to regain the form that saw him steamroll Jose Luis Zertuche, Edison Miranda, Jermain Taylor and Gary Lockett a few years back. At age 30 there is still time for Pavlik to sharpen his tools, and perhaps a fight with someone like the rugged Sakio Bika may prove beneficial.

The main event between Donaire and Mathebula was one of those rare fights in which the final CompuBox numbers and the judges’ scorecards produced two completely different realities. Judges Deon Dwarte, Steve Morrow and Jonathan Davis saw Donaire an overwhelming winner by scoring 119-108, 118-109 and 117-110 respectively. The punch stats, however, saw the South African compile equally overwhelming numerical advantages in total connects (231-151) and jab connects (140-49) while Donaire led 102-91 in landed power shots and 18-13 in connected body punches. Also, Mathebula’s output was far superior as he out-threw Donaire 919-515 overall, 611-254 in jabs and 308-261 in power shots.

Make no mistake, the verdict in Donaire’s favor was justified. This was no Bradley-Pacquiao, Williams-Lara or Rios-Abril. That said, the extremely wide scoring margin was not reflective of what happened between the ropes. However, the lopsided CompuBox numbers in Mathebula’s favor didn’t present a complete picture either because the fight’s nuances went beyond quantitative measures. The truth, as often is the case of episodes painting two extremes, was somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, the judges were far more impressed with Donaire’s willingness to plow forward every second of every round as well as his occasional bursts of power. One such burst near the end of round four knocked Mathebula down for the first time in his 11-year, 32-fight career.

On the other hand, Mathebula found his rhythm beginning in round two and kept Donaire in check with frequent, accurate and stinging jabs that lumped the Filipino’s eyes and scrambled his efforts to establish proper punching range. By the midway point Mathebula had successfully turned the match into a jabbing contest, an aspect of which Mathebula thoroughly dominated.

More than many fights, Donaire-Mathebula embodied the eternal debate regarding how much credit to bestow these contrasting styles. Did Donaire punch frequently enough and with sufficient force to offset Mathebula’s far greater output and lighter but more numerous connects? Many believed Gabriel Campillo’s softer but more prolific punching was more than enough to dethrone the heavier-hitting Tavoris Cloud but most members of the press believed Donaire had done more than enough to become a two-belt titleholder.

In my view, the judges named the correct winner but the margins by which he won were patently absurd. Given Donaire’s swollen features and difficulty reaching Mathebula in certain rounds, scorecards awarding Donaire 10 and 11 rounds neither reflected reality nor gave proper credit to Mathebula’s stretches of excellent work.

Over the first 10 rounds Donaire’s highest output was 49 punches in round eight while Mathebula’s lowest was 52 in round seven. Three times in the first five rounds Mathebula surpassed the 100-punch mark (112 in the second, 101 in the fourth and 121 in the fifth) while Donaire threw 44, 33 and 39. Did Donaire produce enough power displays in those rounds to overcome output gaps of 68, 67 and 82? Donaire certainly did that in round four by scoring the knockdown but one must question whether he cleared that high bar in rounds two and five.

Additionally, Mathebula’s connect gaps in rounds two, three, five and six were 27-15, 27-10, 33-14 and 25-12. As far as power punches, Mathebula trailed narrowly in rounds two and five (14-13 both rounds) while the South African prevailed 12-6 and 10-9 in the other two. Thus, one can’t argue that Donaire’s power-punching success overshadowed Mathebula’s work in those rounds because Mathebula, in large part, actually did more. One could also make the case that Mathebula won the seventh through ninth rounds, for he out-landed Donaire by a decisive 54-35 margin overall and 39-19 in jabs while trailing just 16-15 in power shots.

Again, the question is whether Donaire produced enough force with his less-frequent blows to counteract Mathebula’s activity. Apparently the judges answered yes.

In my opinion the fight was still up for grabs entering the final two rounds, with Donaire enjoying a slight edge due to the fourth-round knockdown. However, Mathebula appeared to be surging heading into the homestretch and, despite what the judges believed, he was poised to make his case in the court of public opinion. But one big punch from Donaire changed the course of the contest, as well as both men’s boxing histories. A right to the cheekbone cracked Mathebula’s wisdom tooth and instantly plunged the South African into survival mode.

The pain from the injury — and his desire to protect himself from further damage — limited Mathebula to 25 punches and three connects in round 11 and 36 punches and 11 connects in the 12thwhile Donaire went 14 of 56 in both sessions. They represented the only two times in the fight where Donaire out-threw and out-landed Mathebula and that lifted Donaire to a 115-112 victory on my scorecard, which was identical to those of Lederman and fellow scribes Cliff Rold and Ryan Maquinana. In fact, I wouldn’t have argued with a 114-113 scorecard in Donaire’s favor.

Donaire, always the class act, acknowledged Mathebula’s talents after the fight, saying “that jab really took the element out of my power. He’s a great champion. I give a lot to him because he wouldn’t let me work, even to the body.”

Adding Mathebula’s name and belt certainly enhances Donaire’s status as well as his legacy, and for that he deserves congratulations and proper credit. But if Donaire, who had the best – or worst – seat in the house acknowledged Mathebula’s effort, why didn’t the judges? Was it another mass case of “aggressors’ derangement syndrome?” Was it a matter of Donaire’s star power subliminally granting him all of the close rounds? Was it both? Or was it neither?

The shame of it all is that anyone who reads the score line without actually seeing the fight will believe Donaire was an overwhelming, dominant and easy winner. The action in the ring suggested anything but, and the scoreline will serve to diminish Mathebula’s showing in the eyes of those who read but have not seen. Such has always been the way of boxing; this wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last. But it doesn’t make it any less wrong.

Joe and I grabbed a late-night bite at the production truck, then drove back to the hotel. After briefly freshening up, I joined Joe, Matthew Maxson and a few others in the lobby’s bar area. Off to my right sat a group that included Mathebula’s trainer Nick Durandt, so at an appropriate point I excused myself and approached that group.

Durandt is one of the boxing world’s most underrated trainers and in America only the hardest of the hard-cores know who he is. Over his 24-year career, Durandt has trained 27 world champions and if one includes clients who had captured South African, regional and international titles that number swells to 97. He has trained nearly every significant South African fighter at world level over the past two decades and the reasons why are evident when one speaks with him for any length.

Durandt is very selective about which fighters he works with; they not only must have talent but they also must exhibit extraordinary work ethic and the willingness to be taught. He said he has no time to waste on fighters he believes won’t make their mark on the world stage and his record suggests he was right a good percentage of the time.

Although soft-spoken in one-on-one conversation, Durandt expresses his opinions and dispenses his advice with unmistakable authority. He also has a pragmatic side; if he believes his fighter is badly outclassed or if he feels his athlete is in danger of suffering long-term injury, he won’t hesitate to pull him out. As for Mathebula and his injury, Durandt let the fight continue because he felt his man still had a reasonable chance to pull out the victory. Who knows what he might have done had he been given a peek at the scorecards?

He confirmed Mathebula’s wisdom tooth injury, which was initially interpreted as a broken jaw given the blood that flowed from his awkwardly positioned mouth. He was hopeful that his man would secure either a title eliminator or a shot at regaining the belt should Donaire decide to vacate and move up to 126.

With a 6 a.m. flight on the horizon, Durandt and his group excused themselves. Soon after I was headed back to my room to address end-of-day issues, and at 1:30 a.m. another day came to an end.

Sunday, July 8: I stirred awake five hours later and by 8 a.m. I began the process of retracing my steps. I drove the rental car back to its proper facility without incident and the company’s bus returned me to LAX’s United terminal. The security screening process proceeded quicker than expected because the lines were shorter than I thought they would be. Still, the flight departed 30 minutes late because of peripheral traffic on multiple sides of the gate.

After consuming a turkey sandwich, a small can of Pringles and 12 ounces of Coke Zero, I spent the next three-and-a-half hours cranking out most of the words you’re reading today. This time I had the luxury of a window seat so during those moments I needed to pause and reflect I had something interesting at which to look. The almost constant wailing, babbling and out-of-the-blue screaming of an infant seated two rows in front of me made it difficult to concentrate, but not impossible.

Appropriately, the in-flight movie was “A Thousand Words,” which was about one-fourth of the words I would write on this day when one counts the polishing work I did on Part One.

The plane landed shortly after 7 p.m. and I pulled into the driveway two-and-a-half hours later. As usual, a mountain of multi-faceted tasks awaited me and the only problem was picking which one to do first. The weariness I felt from the long day of travel didn’t stop me from at least starting my appointed rounds.

In a little more than four days’ time the next trip – this time to The Palms in Las Vegas to work Wealth TV’s broadcast of the card topped by Anthony Mundine-Bronco McKart – will begin.

Until then, happy trails.

*

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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