Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man returns to Vegas – Part II

RingTV.com’s resident historian and punch-counter Lee Groves continues his stretch of boxing-related trips with this week’s second installment of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles, which relives his second visit to Las Vegas this year. In this edition, Groves discusses the reasons behind CompuBox’s success as well as the events surrounding the fight card topped by Anthony Mundine’s victory over Bronco McKart at the Palms Casino Resort.

Click here to read part one.

Saturday, July 14: In terms of the number and scope of shows being worked, this may well be the biggest and busiest day in CompuBox’s 26-year history. First up is the David Haye-Dereck Chisora grudge match being aired on EPIX, then simultaneous shows on HBO (Amir Khan-Danny Garcia), Wealth TV (a pay-per-view topped by Anthony Mundine-Bronco McKart) and Showtime (a Strikeforce MMA show headed by Luke Rockhold and Tim Kennedy being counted by CompuStrike, CompuBox’s MMA arm).

Imagine that: Four shows spanning four networks and two continents in a single day. CompuBox has come a long way since its debut in February 1986, and there’s reason to believe that its trajectory and influence will only continue to grow.

Speaking as a longtime boxing observer, the foundation of CompuBox’s success – its credibility – took years and countless fights to establish. When one fighter scored a dominating decision over the other, the final CompuBox numbers reflected that reality far more often than not. When fights appeared to be extremely close, the numbers indicated the same thing. In fact, several times over the years the final stats showed both fighters had landed the same number of punches and the judges ended up scoring a draw. The most recent manifestation took place May 18 when Jason Escalera and Nick Brinson each landed 185 punches, validating the judges’ split draw verdict.

But the meat of CompuBox’s reputation was forged under the white-hot lights of controversy. When Lennox Lewis dominated Evander Holyfield in their first fight, the judges might have seen a draw but the CompuBox operators confirmed what many eyes already knew – Lewis’ 348-130 lead in total connects, his 187-52 jab connect bulge and 161-78 power punch advantage. After seeing the punch numbers in his favor following his rematch loss to Shane Mosley, Oscar de la Hoya threatened to launch an investigation. Though the inquiry went nowhere, his call to arms after only one glimpse of the stats sent a strong message – that CompuBox’s numbers were credible and worthy of his trust.

That scenario played out so many more times over the years that the first question asked following a disputed decision is “how did CompuBox have it?” That’s the power of believability and that’s why CompuBox’s impact and influence continues to grow.

In fact, it was that impact and influence that persuaded Wealth TV to seek out CompuBox’s services – the first network to approach the company instead of the other way around. They felt CompuBox’s presence would enhance their presentation and production value and soon after a deal was struck. On this most monumental of days for the company, it was my task to create a positive first impression and do whatever I could to ensure a successful show.

The first step toward that goal happened at noon when I swung by the arena to discuss logistics with the crew. That done, I walked to the food court to eat the lunch of champions – a Nathan’s chili cheese dog, crinkle fries and a medium Diet Pepsi.

After addressing several more technical issues, I wandered back to my work station and spotted the announce team that included former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. I had briefly spoken to Holmes earlier this year while changing planes but this was my first opportunity to spend extensive time with him.

Holmes may have been nicknamed “The Easton Assassin” and in the ring that was true. But now the 62-year-old Holmes was a smiling, easygoing assassin who was quick with a joke and eager to accommodate every request made of him. Back in his heyday Holmes’ public persona suffered in part because he had to follow the most charismatic figure boxing had ever known – Muhammad Ali. What fighter wouldn’t chafe in that spot? But in the years following his retirement the appreciation for Holmes’ accomplishments has grown exponentially. He is now regarded as one of the top three heavyweight champions who has yet lived and if one pitted Holmes against the other two – Ali and Joe Louis – it wouldn’t be crazy to say that a prime Holmes would have beaten both of them.

Holmes often had to deal with in-ring crises by improvising and in a way I had to do the same thing here. Less than 30 minutes before airtime, blow-by-blow man Mike Mittman informed me that one of the fighters in the opening bout – heavyweight Ahror Muraalimov – had changed his name to Acha Muhammad Ali. At first we thought it was a joke based on Holmes’ presence at ringside and his longstanding relationship with “The Greatest,” but a check with ring announcer Michael Vale proved the story was genuine. At that I suggested we go backstage to inform the Chyron operator to change the graphic.

The newly christened Ali, a native of Uzbekistan, opened the broadcast – and the fight card itself – by winning a bruising eight-rounder with Los Angeles journeyman Andrae Carthron. The bout was short on speed, style and technique but made up for that in terms of pure action. Consider: The average heavyweight throws 45.9 punches per round, of which 23.8 are power shots. But Ali averaged 73 punches and 49 power shots per round over the first five to build a working margin on the scorecards and create connect gaps of 144-82 (total) and 124-68 (power).

Despite the battering he absorbed, Carthron tottered but never fell. He also fought back with spurious shots that caused Ali to curb his assault at times. But in the end Ali held it together and emerged victorious both on the judges’ cards (78-74 twice, 77-75) and the CompuBox numbers (211 of 537, 39 percent to 127 of 395, 32 percent in total punches; 34 of 187, 18 percent to 30 of 170, 18 percent in jabs and 177 of 350, 51 percent to 97 of 225, 43 percent in power shots). The win lifted Ali’s record to 13-0 (11 KO) while Carthron fell to 6-8-2 (1 KO).

The most evenly matched fight on the card’s televised portion matched light heavyweights Dmitriy Sukhotsky of Russia (18-1, 13 KO coming in) and Cornelius White of Houston (19-1, 16 KO). I told punch-counting partner Saul Avelar – who began his day in a hotel room in Chicago because he was the stage manager for the previous night’s Friday Night Fights show – that White would keep his fingers busy, and for good reason. In beating Yordanis Despaigne, White averaged 97.8 punches and 60.8 power punches per round – far above the light heavyweight averages of 54.2 and 31.7 respectively. I also anticipated an active fight from my man Sukhotsky, for he averaged 78.4 punches per round in losing to WBO light heavyweight titlist Juergen Braehmer, whom the Russian out-landed 237-214 overall and 197-157 in power shots.

Sukhotsky held the upper hand in the first two rounds as he out-landed White 33-27 overall and 25-14 in power shots. But once the taller White got his jab going the fight swung heavily his way. In rounds two through 10 White fired between 45 and 56 jabs per round, keeping Sukhotsky at arm’s length and setting the table for the battering to come. From round eight onward White out-landed Sukhotsky 144-72 overall, 56-37 in jabs and 88-35 in power shots, all of which raised horrible facial swellings, worsened a butt-induced cut around Sukhotsky’s right eye and created an equally overwhelming margin on the scorecards (120-108, 119-109, 118-110).

Both men lived up to their previous CompuBox profiles by maintaining an active pace (78.7 per round for White, 68 for Sukhotsky) but further proof of White’s strategic supremacy could be found in the following stat – 1,069 of the fight’s 1,760 punches (60.7 percent) were jabs. In all, White created connect leads of 270-191 (total), 124-82 (jabs) and 146-109 (power) while also being the more accurate fighter (28.6 percent-23.4 total, 22.4-15.9 jabs and 37.4-36.2 power).

The main event between Mundine and McKart was more sedate than its two predecessors, not surprising given that “The Man” was 37 and “Superman” was 41. Unlike most of Mundine’s previous fights where his incredibly accurate jab dominated the proceedings (a combined 46.9 percent against Xavier Tolliver and Rigoberto Alvarez), the former Rugby League star asserted his dominance with crisp, accurate power shots (46.1 percent) while limiting McKart to 32.1 percent in the same category. Another difference between the two was the spring still left in Mundine’s legs; he maneuvered around the ring with sage fluidity while McKart marched after his rival with moderate stiffness. Those legs gave way under Mundine’s attack in the seventh, which produced two knockdowns and an eventual stoppage.

The CompuBox numbers further amplified Mundine’s dominance as he out-landed McKart 54-25 over the final three rounds en route to connect leads of 129-75 (total), 29-15 (jabs) and 100-60 (power). The Australian also was the more precise puncher as he landed 37.8 percent overall to McKart’s 22.7 and 23.4 percent of his jabs to McKart’s 10.5.

After the fight Mundine engaged in some promotion-oriented banter with Floyd Mayweather Sr. in the hopes of building up a potential Mayweather-Mundine fight. In my eyes, there are only two fights worthy of “Money’s” time – the winner of the Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. fight and, of course, Manny Pacquiao. While Mundine is money in Australia he’s not well known enough in the States to merit serious attention from Mayweather’s brain trust.

Five more fights were staged after the Wealth TV cameras were turned off. Too bad they weren’t running during the four-rounder between novice featherweights Alexis Hernandez (1-1, 0 KO coming in) and local fighter Pedro Martinez, who was making his professional debut. Simply put, this was one of the most sensational undercard bouts I’ve ever seen – period.

At first, Hernandez looked to be an easy winner as he blasted unanswered combinations that forced Martinez to crumble under their weight. But once he arose a funny thing happened on the way to a Hernandez blowout: Martinez began fighting back – hard!

From that point forward Martinez went punch-for-punch with Hernandez, occasionally stunning him with overhand bombs that brought the crowd to its feet. Hernandez responded by escalating his attack even more and soon the pair were swapping punches at an inhuman pace.

Following a most extraordinary first round, I decided to count Hernandez for the rest of the fight just to see how the numbers stacked up. By this time Saul had left the arena to get some much deserved rest so I counted on my own. Here are the numbers Hernandez produced in rounds two through four and as you read them, keep in mind that Martinez appeared to throw and land just as many, if not more:

Round 2: 40 of 94, 43 percent (total), 5 of 16, 31 percent (jabs), 35 of 78, 45 percent (power)

Round 3: 50 of 89, 56 percent (total), 12 of 22, 55 percent (jabs), 38 of 67, 57 percent (power)

Round 4: 49 of 94, 52 percent (total), 8 of 18, 44 percent (jabs), 41 of 76, 54 percent (power)

Totals: 139 of 277, 50 percent (total), 25 of 56, 45 percent (jabs), 114 of 221, 52 percent (power).

At fight’s end, the crowd of approximately 350 people was roaring as if they were a crowd 10 times that size. The frenzied response was something to behold: Arms waved, some jumped up and down with excitement and a lone punch-counter couldn’t stop saying “wow!” to anyone within earshot.

After the majority decision in Hernandez’s favor was announced, color commentator Mark Abrams concluded a brief interview by informing them that he had just spoken to the matchmaker. At first I thought he was about to tell them that the promoter was going to give them a bonus, which happened fairly often in the old days. Instead, Abrams told them that they were going to stage a rematch at the next show.

After the card ended I spotted onetime title challenger Merqui Sosa in the audience and beside him was Martinez, who sported a lumpy face but a still-robust fighting spirit. When I asked Martinez how he reacted to the rematch announcement, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said “I’ll be ready to go anytime and anyplace.” Now that’s a fighter.

Most of us mere mortals would have dreaded the prospect of an immediate rematch, especially minutes after absorbing tremendous punishment in a short period of time. But boxers are a different breed from the rest of us. Pain is an ever-present part of their daily existence and because of that they build a tolerance against it. That phenomenon must also extend to the fans; how else can one explain the criticism Victor Ortiz took after he bowed out of his fight with Josesito Lopez with an obviously broken jaw?

The remaining fights were good contests, but they suffered in comparison to the Hernandez-Martinez mega-war. Denmark-based Nigerian junior welterweight Robert Osiobe – a loser in three of his last six – scored a mild upset by scoring a six-round decision over Cameron Kreal, who was fighting for the second consecutive Saturday. Another junior welterweight fight saw southpaw Chico McQueen out-point fellow pro debutant George Soto while local light flyweight Yosigey Ramirez upped his record to 1-0-1 with a four round nod over Nashville’s Edwin Reyes, now 0-1-1. Also, Las Vegas-based junior middleweight Yusmani Abreu lifted his ledger to the .500 level (3-3-1) with a majority decision over fellow Vegas president Lenny Ellis (2-2).

With my work done for the time being, I stopped by the food court to pick up a late-night snack and retired to my room to enjoy it. With a 9:15 a.m. flight to catch, I switched off the lights shortly after 1 a.m.

Sunday, July 15: I arose after four-and-a-half hours of light slumber. Even after all the shows I’ve done there’s always a post-performance surge of adrenaline that is difficult to shake, and when that is combined with an intense desire not to oversleep one ends up undersleeping, if that’s a word. I shouldn’t have been surprised; after all, Las Vegas is the city that never sleeps, right?

For the flight home I drew B-56, which meant that I was the 116thof 137 passengers to enter the plane. I thought I was fated to occupy a middle seat but to my delight I found an aisle seat in row 16. Thanks to the free wireless service, I found out our plane was traveling between 460 and 563 mph at an altitude just over 39,000 feet.

The drive home was pleasantly uneventful and I pulled into the driveway a little after 7 p.m. I allowed myself a few hours to wind down but I knew that Monday’s dawn would bring another wave of work.

But that’s OK – I love what I do.

In five days’ time I will again leave Friendly to attend the HBO-televised card topped by Adrien Broner-Vicente Escobedo. But this time, a staple of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles will be missing – airplanes.

Until then, happy trails.

*

Photos / Jed Jacobson, Holly Stein and Sandra Mu – Getty Images

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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