Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man goes to Cincinnati – Part II

In this week’s second installment of the Travelin’ Man Chronicles, RingTV.com’s resident historian and CompuBox punch counter Lee Groves tackles hotel room practical jokers, the on-again, off-again, on-again fight night happenings and his thoughts on Adrien Broner’s antics.

Click here to read part one.

Saturday, July 21: OK, I don’t know who stayed in this hotel room before me, but I have a serious problem with that person. First, the clock radio’s alarm went off at 7:43 a.m., jolting me from an unusually sound slumber. Second, “that person” left up the valve that triggered the shower heads so when I turned on the faucet I got a healthy dose of ice-cold water. Finally, “that person” plugged the drain so the shower water quickly accumulated above my ankles.

This triple whammy was not the way I wanted to start my day, and I hope “that person” is happy with the unpleasant results of his handiwork.

Many people fancy themselves as practical jokers but I don’t see the logic behind that term. After all, their deeds cause other people’s lives to become temporarily impractical.

Adrien Broner thinks of himself as a practical joker. At the end of an HBO interview he said, “I do cut up like scissors all the time.” He appears to be the type who revels in making those around him uncomfortable, whether they are the people closest to him outside the ring or those who have the misfortune of standing within arm’s reach of him inside the ropes.

Given the tumult he created on this day, it is clear the 22-year-old man-child from the streets of Cincinnati is still struggling to find his identity. At times he’s a fun-loving comedian while at other times, like this past Saturday, he was “that person.”

The good news is that Broner still has plenty of time to work out the kinks, but given the frequency and intensity of his foibles – at least on this day – one has to wonder how much more rope he’ll be granted by television executives, promotional companies, rival boxers and, most importantly, the fans who will decide whether enduring his antics is worth seeing his subsequent athletic brilliance.

For more than a few hours, nobody was sure whether anyone would get to see Broner do his thing in the ring. The day had a walking-on-eggshells feel that someone with a “that person” mentality would have loved. For everyone else, it was just a giant hassle. Here’s how it went:

After shaking off the effects wrought by my hotel room prankster, I finished up whatever writing I could and proceeded to check my e-mails. One message from my buddy Erik Killin at BoxingBB.com started “Well, with the HBO fight off there is still plenty of good boxing on TV tonight.”

“Whaaaaattt?” I thought. I knew that Broner had lost his title on the scales the previous evening by weighing 133 ½ — three-and-a-half pounds over the championship poundage – but I had no idea the fight itself was in that kind of danger.

Because Broner missed weight – and to prevent “The Problem” from exacerbating his already unfair physical advantage by packing on even more pounds – a second weigh-in was staged at 9:30 a.m. Broner’s camp believed they needed to weigh 10 pounds more than their original 133 ½ while Escobedo’s camp asserted that Broner had to weigh no more than 140 – 10 pounds over the championship limit. When Broner scaled 143 1/2, Escobedo’s infuriated brain trust apparently called off the fight.

After reading Killin’s e-mail, I visited a battery of web sites before coming across a dispatch from BoxingScene.com that explained the situation. I then called punch-counting partner Dennis Allen to see if he had heard anything from the HBO brass. After expressing initial surprise, he said he would make a few phone calls to make sure the reports were correct.

He called back a few minutes later to say that the fight was still on and the camps were in the process of working out their differences. Later, on my way to lunch at a Subway across the street, I ran into HBO anchor Jim Lampley on the escalator near the lobby and he answered my query about whether the fight was still on by saying “I’m going to find out.”

After returning to my room to continue editing a manuscript, I received a text from Dennis at 2:42 p.m. that said “now I’m hearing there may not be a fight. We will go over and find out.”

I met him at the hotel entrance 45 minutes later and as we walked toward the U.S. Bank Arena we had no idea what awaited us.

What we found was nothing unusual – the technical crew setting up as if nothing was amiss. I interpreted that as a good sign; why would they go to this much trouble if there were no fights to be shown? Shortly before 5 p.m., Dave Itskowitch of Golden Boy Promotions confirmed that the show – including Broner-Escobedo – would go on.

But really, it shouldn’t have come to this. Yet, through the insight of hindsight, there were signs that something like this was in the cards. The first clue occurred earlier in the week when Broner declared the Escobedo fight would be his last at 130, which, in retrospect, was a giant red flag. Why else would Broner say something like that during fight week, a time when fighters usually focus on positive, constructive issues? That’s because he knew he was about to lose his title on the scales, but, as it turned out, he was about to lose a lot more than that.

Broner’s failure to make the contracted weight not only cost him his title but he also took a major hit in terms of whatever public relations headway he achieved with his string of impressive knockouts on HBO. One example of that headway was Broner’s appearance on HBO’s 2 Days series, a vehicle used to build up budding stars the way 24/7 is utilized to showcase the elite. Moreover, it appeared that Broner was slowly crafting his own identity separate from the Mayweather-lite persona he adopted early on.

But just when it appeared Broner was poised to take another big step toward his big-picture goals, he instead took a hammer to the frame that housed those goals. Instead of Mayweather-lite, Broner tried to go Mayweather 2.0. As is the case with “Money May,” the act got mixed reviews; some loved it while it fell flat with others.

From this outsider’s vantage point, Broner was in the midst of a days-long downward spiral that just kept feeding on itself like a series of loud noises in an echo chamber. The moment after weighing 133 ½, Broner, instead of stepping off the scale and making at least a token attempt to shed weight, blithely took a healthy swig from his water bottle. By doing so he symbolically flipped the bird to everyone assembled – and beyond.

The scene was reminiscent of the only time Broner’s idol failed to make an agreed-upon weight. In September 2009 Mayweather ignored the contracted 144-pound catchweight for the Juan Manuel Marquez fight by weighing in at 146 and never attempted to shed the weight. An unashamed and unrepentant Mayweather simply paid the $600,000 fine and proceeded to dismantle his horribly outsized rival. Broner, whose financial penalty was one-tenth of what Mayweather paid that day, proceeded to do the same thing to Escobedo.

Broner compounded the damage by failing to make weight a second time the following morning, far overshooting the 140-pound limit Escobedo’s camp demanded.

Broner multiplied his errors with his dismissive, unapologetic attitude. When confronted by Max Kellerman about the pictures of Twinkies and ice cream sundaes he tweeted to the world, Broner provided this stupefying answer: “I don’t think ice cream sundaes make you grow out of a weight class.” Given the circumstances, it was an infernally illogical thing to say.

It only got worse: The blue “Free Money May” T-shirts he and his team sported rubbed many the wrong way given that Mayweather’s 90-day jail sentence for domestic battery was the result of a plea bargain that helped him avoid trial – and a potential 34-year prison sentence – and that his jail term was just a few weeks from ending anyway. Then there was the post-fight fake marriage proposal to his girlfriend Arie Nicole, which, if she was not in on the joke, struck me as cruel. To her credit, the mother of the couple’s one-year-old daughter played along and afterward she brushed off the hair-brushing incident as the joke it was.

The words I heard around ringside as all of this was going on ranged from “unprofessional” to “arrogant” to “obnoxious.” But in fairness, there were those who found the fake proposal funny – and newsworthy. More than a few web sites that usually ignore boxing not only covered the incident but offered a wide range of comments. Multiple videos were uploaded to YouTube and while most of the comments were negative, people were still taking the time to watch.

The world, at least for now, was talking about Adrien Broner – and that might have been his plan all along.

In this age of widely diverse entertainment choices, boxing – and boxers – are forced to push the envelope in order to get noticed. Mayweather masterfully exploited the opportunity granted to him by Oscar de la Hoya five years ago by creating a character that triggers strong emotions on both sides. That character propelled Mayweather to a string of million-plus-buy pay-per-view fights which, in turn, made him an extremely famous and wealthy man. Broner wants the same thing for himself and he’s smart enough to realize that going “heel” is the fastest way to get where he wants to go. Mayweather also taught him that if one has the skills to back up his bad behavior, the gravy train can go on for years. And at 22, Broner has many more years to maximize his profits.

And, as Stone Cold Steve Austin often said, “that’s the bottom line.”

On the other fist, Keith Thurman is trying to make his own name in a different – and more pleasing – way. Blending the charisma of David Haye and the high-octane ring style of a young Randall Bailey, Keith Thurman seeks to intrigue by speaking the language of fight fans and then bringing his words to life in the ring.

“I throw hard,” he told the HBO broadcast team in the fighter meeting, making sure to emphasize each word by saying it slowly and with intensity. “I throw with intentions to hurt. The chin can only take so much. Power punchers produce over the limit that the human body can take. And so as long as I land one of those punches one time, everybody’s going to sleep.” Judging by the grins on the faces of Lampley, Kellerman and Jones, Thurman had hit a home run in terms of creating a positive verbal first impression and he followed it up by hammering the ultra-tough but outclassed Mexican Orlando Lora into a sixth-round surrender.

In Lora, Thurman took out a man who absorbed 423 punches from David Estrada before being TKO’d in round eight, 312 of which were often flush power shots. If Lora is one thing, he is tough and willing. If  Thurman could make Lora give up his mouthpiece after tasting just 86 of his power punches, that speaks well for Thurman’s abilities. Lora is no Marcos Maidana, his original opponent, but given Maidana’s disappointing performance last time out against Devon Alexander one could picture Thurman performing just as well against the Argentine swarmer.

This is a fighter from whom I want to see more, both in the interview room and inside the ropes.

One prospect that didn’t shine so brightly was unbeaten lightweight prospect Omar Figueroa, who entered his step-up fight against Dominic Salcido with a 18-0-1 (15) record. To this point Figueroa had shown one of two sides; either he was a devastating power puncher who dismissed opponents early (coming in he stopped his last six opponents, all but one in the first two rounds) or a prodigious volume puncher capable of wreaking long-term damage. His one blemish was an eight-round draw against Arturo Quintero in November 2010 but in round four of that fight Figueroa unleashed 150 punches – the 14thhighest ever tracked by CompuBox in a lightweight fight.

Against the tricky Salcido, fans saw neither style. He appeared confused by Salcido’s tactics, which alternated between unpredictable in-and-out movement and extended tie-ups at close range. Figueroa dealt with it by switching stances and pounding Salcido’s body but aside from a few bursts of power in rounds five, six, eight and 10 he never seemed to get untracked. Still, Figueroa won a decisive decision (98-92, 97-93 twice) and successfully navigated the first real stylistic challenge of his young career. It will be interesting to see how he will handle the next quirky style he encounters.

Notes from the untelevised undercard include:

  • Trotwood, Ohio middleweight Chris Pearson extended his record to 7-0 (4) by stopping veteran tryer Angel Hernandez (14-11-1, 11 KO) in round two. Hernandez attempted to shake up the local prospect by charging out of his corner and winging wild punches at the start of both rounds but the southpaw Pearson remained calm, waited out the brief storm and picked away at his aggressive rival. A right hook-left cross dropped Hernandez midway through round two and the veteran slyly bought time by spitting out his mouthpiece but a short left cross dumped him for a second time moments later. A final overhand left registered the third and final knockdown but Pearson was fortunate to avoid a disqualification loss when he smashed his defenseless opponent with another heavy left as Hernandez kneeled on the canvas.
  • Another undefeated local southpaw, Brandon Bennett of Cincinnati, advanced to 14-0 (7) with a lackluster eight-round decision over Bayamon, Puerto Rico’s John Nater, who slipped to 9-2 (8). Nater looked to be an easy winner early when a superb straight right dropped Bennett in round one and several others appeared to rock him to his core. But Bennett shook off the blows and came on strong in the second when a series of left crosses drove Nater back toward the ropes. The middle rounds saw neither man anxious to test his rival’s wares but the combination of Bennett’s stronger finish and Nater’s point deduction for holding enabled the local product to gain a majority decision. Curiously, the ring announcer never revealed the scoring breakdown.
  • Cincinnati heavyweight Danny Calhoun, 238 ½, produced a successful pro debut by blasting out 272-pound Arkansan Quincey Palmer, 272, in just 129 seconds. Calhoun, a student at the University of Cincinnati, kept his distance early against the far larger Palmer, who shook his head disdainfully when he tasted Calhoun’s first power right. When Calhoun landed another right to the chin a minute later Palmer had a far different reaction – a slight hazing of his facial expression. That was enough to persuade Calhoun to barrel in behind half a dozen more rights, each of which sent Palmer further into what Muhammad Ali called “The Near Room.” His body sagged and then surrendered as he stuck the upper half of his body through the ropes to get away from Calhoun’s assault. At that the referee was forced to intervene and as Palmer walked back toward his corner he sported a look of utter disbelief.

I arrived at ringside during the final moments of the night’s opening bout, Cincinnati junior lightweight Ra’eese Aleem’s unanimous decision win over DeVonte Allen. The reason: I lingered over the catered meal for the HBO crew a little too long.

Dennis and I caught a ride back to the hotel and after returning to my room I ordered room service for a rare second time to quiet the internal growls. Because I had the freedom of departing at a time of my choice, and not that of an airline, I allowed myself to fall into a deep, restful sleep.

Saturday, July 22: The drive home was not uneventful, for my Magellan GPS dictated that I follow a different path than the one I used on my way into Cincinnati. That path ran me into not one, but two massive traffic jams on two different interstates, delaying my arrival home by more than 90 minutes.

When I pulled into the driveway shortly after 4 p.m. it marked the end of a lengthy boxing odyssey – six trips in seven weeks. The Travelin’ Man will be homebound for the next several weeks, for the next trip won’t take place until at least September 8. That’s OK, though — I’ll be at home enjoying the Olympics as well as tackling a prodigious list of pre-fight research and analysis for a most torrid slate of September shows.

Until then, happy trails.

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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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