Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man returns to California – Part II

 

Click here for part one of Lee Groves’ Travelin’ Man returns to California.

Saturday, Nov. 10: From my perspective, this day began six hours after the last one ended and at 7:45 a.m. I met punch-counting partner – and soon-to-be chauffeur – Joe Carnicelli in the lobby. By 8 a.m. we had begun the two-hour drive from Palm Springs to Los Angeles, where a card topped by WBC super bantamweight titlist Abner Mares and longtime WBA bantamweight king Anselmo Moreno would be staged.

I spent most of the drive tapping away on my laptop while Joe dealt with – to put it mildly – the unorthodox driving styles that grace Interstate 10 on a daily basis. To get an idea of what went on, think about the ring styles of Naseem Hamed, “Gyspy” Joe Harris and Emanuel Augustus. Then put them in a blender and flip the switch. Yes folks, it was that strange.

“The sound of screeching brakes is the surest way to know you’re about to enter Los Angeles,” Joe said as we came within nine miles of our destination, the Staples Center. Since our call time was 10 a.m. our plan was to drive directly to the venue, make sure everything was in order electronically, drive back to the hotel, rest up, drive back to Staples and work the card.

It didn’t work out that way.

The route Joe usually took to Staples was blocked off, as were his second and third options. Once we found a path to a garage he used on previous trips, Joe found out his name was not among those approved to park there. Therefore, we hatched a new plan – drive to the hotel, check in, freshen up and walk to Staples to complete our pre-telecast routines.

That plan didn’t work out either.

Our rooms weren’t ready, so we pre-registered and left our luggage with the bellman with the promise that all would be made right by the time we got back. Not exactly the optimal scenario but one that we had no choice but to accept.

With no parking space at Staples Joe and I began the 15-minute walk to the arena. We passed by the statues of Magic Johnson and Oscar de la Hoya but the most popular statue was that of iconic Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn as several groups waited to take pictures with it.

A couple of hours later, when all appeared to be in order at the arena, we walked back to the hotel, arriving at approximately 1:30 p.m. Though we expected to be back by 2, we hoped our rooms might have been ready earlier than anticipated.

They weren’t. In fact, the hotel clerk told us that because of the USC-Arizona State college football game that was to take place this day, the flow of check-ins and check-outs was clogged. In fact, we were told that more than 60 people had to leave before the bottleneck could be cleared.

Joy to the world.

We explained we were working the boxing show at Staples and that if we weren’t checked in by 2:30 p.m. at the latest we wouldn’t be back until the telecast had ended. The clerk said he’d do his best to help us but he wasn’t in a position to promise anything. He gave us a card with a phone number so that we wouldn’t have to keep returning to the registration desk, then asked us to make the first call at 2 p.m.

To pass the time Joe and I stopped at an ice cream place to drown our sorrows (I ordered a cup of cookies-and-cream). Joe said we should wait until 2:15 to find out our fate. I think it might have been because he didn’t want us to be seen as pests, but I didn’t ask him to elaborate.

At the appointed time we approached the check-in desk and, to our relief, two rooms were available. We checked in, retrieved our bags from storage, freshened up a bit and began our third 15-minute walk of the day, this time back to the arena.

All appeared to be in order electronically by the time we left ringside to eat the Showtime crew meal, which was held at the press room named for Hearn.

Joe and I arrived at ringside just in time to catch the final two untelevised undercard fights. The first matched undefeated Hollywood welterweight Zachary Wohlman against 2-7-1 (2) journeyman Alonso Loeza in a scheduled four rounder. The first round unfolded as expected, for Wohlman dominated with fast, hard and well thrown left hands. One right uppercut to the jaw stunned Loeza and it appeared Wohlman was well on his way to victory number five.

In round two, however, boxing’s mental component kicked in big time. Loeza, convinced he had already absorbed Wohlman’s best without going down, plowed in fearlessly behind purposeful power shots. He shrugged off Wohlman’s counters and by round’s end the local favorite showed the first signs of cracking. The emboldened Loeza tore after Wohlman with both hands and forced him into a point-blank firefight.

Wohlman’s lack of one-punch power became graphically evident and the fast pace soon took a toll on his energy supply. A massive right uppercut sent Wohlman face down in the final moments of round three and while the bell saved him his eroding condition was there for all to see as he briefly wandered toward the wrong corner.

Wohlman wore a woozy expression as he awaited the bell for the fourth and final round, a telltale sign that Loeza seized upon by pushing his opponent toward the ropes and unleashing a volley of blows. Seventeen seconds later it was over as referee Tom Taylor pulled Loeza away from his nearly helpless rival. Wohlman’s considerable contingent was stunned into silence.

The final pre-TV bout saw Trotwood, Ohio middleweight Chris Pearson pulverize Ottumwa Iowa’s Jeremy Marts so quickly (44 seconds) that neither Joe, I or Showtime analyst Joe Cortez saw the knockout blow. I was busy scribbling something on my bout sheet when I looked up and saw Marts down and out on his back. We learned from the timekeeper that it was a right hand that upped Pearson’s record to 6-0 (5) and lowered Marts’ to 8-13 (6).

The two Showtime Extreme bouts saw WBO light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly and undefeated welterweight Antonio Orozco score lopsided stoppage victories using the same blueprint – volume punching peppered with bursts of power. Both opponents – Shawn Hawk and Danny Escobar – demonstrated admirable courage in lasting eight and six rounds respectively but it was clear they were fighting opponents who operated at levels far beyond theirs.

Cleverly averaged 83 punches and 34 connects per round – far above the light heavyweight norms of 54.2 and 17.6 – to achieve his win. The Welshman’s whirlwind approach appears to be a recent style shift, for while he averaged 82.2 punches and 31.2 connects per round last time out against Tommy Karpency, Cleverly was more measured in beating Tony Bellew (53.8 thrown, 17.4 connects per round) and Alexey Kuziemski (64.8 thrown, 26 connects per round).

What has always been there is Cleverly’s accurate power punching, for he landed 57 percent against Hawk, 51.5 against Karpency, 42 against Bellew and 48.7 against Kuziemski. From a viewer’s perspective Cleverly’s robust offense was a pleasure to witness and here’s to seeing more of it in the future.

The same could be said of Orozco, who landed 58 percent of his power shots, 49 percent of his total punches and amassed connect advantages of 244-130 (overall) and 220-102 (power). He averaged 87.4 punches per round (above the 60.8 average for 140-pounders), of which 74 percent were hooks, uppercuts or crosses. Combine that with Orozco’s heavy-handedness and one has a most exciting package.

The action didn’t wane once the card switched over to Showtime.

Alfredo Angulo capped off a most frustrating year with a most satisfying triumph as he blew away Raul Cesarez in just 56 seconds. In past fights Cesarez managed to get under his opponents’ skin the way A.J. Pierzynski does in baseball but Angulo didn’t give him time to work his psychic games. When both men cranked up hooks, Angulo’s was first, shortest, fastest and harder and as a result Cesarez was left in a heap.

For me, Angulo’s blow revived memories of Juan “Kid” Meza’s knockout-of-the-year hook against Jaime Garza 28 years earlier and when I brought this up to Steve Farhood, who by now was seated to my right, he said “I was there.”

Show off.

While Angulo’s performance transcended numbers, IBF bantamweight titlist Leo Santa Cruz’s ninth round TKO over Victor Zaleta was largely defined by them.

Santa Cruz’s rising star is predicated on his withering volume attack, which, in just five CompuBox-tracked fights, has already has garnered him two spots in the all-time top 10 bantamweight list for punches thrown. But what separates him from every other volume puncher is his extraordinary accuracy and impact. His hooks to the body nearly tore Zaleta in half and his power combinations were swift and beautifully delivered. It was a tribute to Zaleta’s toughness that he stood up to the punishment for as long as he did, but the fact that he fired back with such gusto from beginning to end was worthy of an even higher grade of respect.

Santa Cruz’s 342 connects in a little less than nine rounds nevertheless was the 15th most ever recorded in a bantamweight fight by CompuBox and his 294 power connects was ninth best among 118-pounders. Of course, Santa Cruz was already well represented on that list as his 327 power connects against Vusi Malinga occupied the number-four spot.

Santa Cruz landed 41 percent of his total punches, 52 percent of his power shots and connected on 119 body shots. He more than doubled Zaleta’s connects (342-164) and for all of his offensive prowess he absorbed relatively little punishment in terms of percentages (26 percent overall, 20 percent jabs and 29 percent power).

However, there are weaknesses that future opponents can exploit, most notably his vulnerability to right uppercuts.  Also, his facial tissues are somewhat fragile as Zaleta managed to bloody Santa Cruz well before he reached the 100-connect mark. Still, Santa Cruz’s series of impressive performances has sparked talk of future pound-for-pound consideration and if he gets his way he’ll get the chance to prove himself sooner rather than later.

The man Santa Cruz wants next is Mares, who solved Moreno’s puzzling southpaw stance and defensive wizardry to capture a lopsided unanimous decision. This was a war of pace, for when the action was fast and furious Mares prevailed but when the flow slowed the Panamanian gained the edge.

Dr. James Jen-Kin aside, most observers saw Mares-Moreno as a competitive affair in which Mares’ stronger blows gave him the rightful edge. Had it not been for the knockdown in round five and the point penalty against Moreno for pulling Mares’ head down, all three scorers for Showtime would have scored it 114-114 instead of the 114-112 sweep.

The CompuBox figures reflected that closeness, for Mares held a slim 195-192 lead in total connects. Moreno was more accurate (27 percent to 23 percent overall, 17 percent to 10 percent in jabs and 37 percent to 27 percent in power punches) but Mares was far more active as he led 850-708 in attempted punches.

The pre-fight analysis indicated this would be a fight largely dictated by pace and in the ring it played out. When Moreno imposed a slower, more long-distance fight he did better. In rounds one, three, five, seven, eight and 11, Moreno’s ring generalship limited Mares to 59.7 punches per round and in those rounds Moreno out-landed him 105-70. But in the other six rounds Mares averaged 82 punches per round and out-landed Moreno 125-87. Because Mares made a bigger impact in his rounds than Moreno did in his, it looked to be a more lopsided fight than it really was. The right man won, but it was a hard night all around.

A match between Mares and Santa Cruz would be fascinating and the overriding question would be whether Santa Cruz’s strength at 118 would translate to 122. Santa Cruz is technically superior on offense and defense and he’s one of a handful of fighters who could out-gun Mares in terms of volume. Mares, however, has successfully navigated a gauntlet that has included Joseph Agbeko (twice), Vic Darchinyan, Yohnny Perez and now Moreno. Only a faded Eric Morel represented a “lay-up” of sorts and he came through it all without a loss. That experience would serve him well against Santa Cruz, who hasn’t fought anyone on Mares’ level. The blend of strengths and weaknesses would make predicting Mares-Santa Cruz a difficult task. It may not happen at all, because while Santa Cruz wants to fight Mares to brighten his star Mares wants to fight Nonito Donaire to brighten his.

Nightfall had brought unusually chilly and blustery conditions but my windbreaker helped blunt their effects. Therefore, our fourth (and thankfully final) walk of the day, this time back to the hotel, was a somewhat uncomfortable trek. Once I finally unpacked my things I returned to the lobby in the hopes of printing out my boarding pass.

No dice. My direct flight from LAX to Pittsburgh was booked on another airline and when I logged into that site it informed me that I had to wait until I was at the airport to get my pass. This minor speed bump was mitigated by the fact that I had already arranged a ride to LAX with Joe, whose flight was one hour earlier than mine. That meant I would have some extra time in case the line at the United Airlines check-in area was longer than hoped. Given all the little things that had gone wrong on this trip, my hopes for success weren’t exactly high. I was so worried about what could go wrong that I actually had a dream about one particularly bad scenario – one that I thankfully forgot about upon waking.

Sunday, Nov. 11: Although I agreed to meet Joe in the lobby at 8 a.m. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. to tend to some last-minute business. To my surprise Joe showed up just a couple of minutes later because he had to account for the time needed to fill up the tank of his rental car. As a result, I had an extra half-hour to deal with any difficulties I might face at the airport.

I tried to get my boarding pass at the kiosk but as soon as I entered my confirmation data it told me that mine was a such a special case that it had to be addressed by a United Airlines staffer.

I found one fairly quickly and when I told her I was flying directly to Pittsburgh a confused look creased her face.

“If you’re flying directly from Pittsburgh you should be flying US Airways,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “But when I logged onto their web site last night it said that United was servicing the flight. I tried to check in on United’s web site and it told me I had to do that at the airport. Then when I tried to use the kiosk it couldn’t find my reservation, so here I am.”

She asked for my itinerary and after looking at it briefly she pressed a few buttons and out came my boarding pass.

“I’m sorry about the confusion,” she said. “For whatever reason this whole process has become so much more complicated.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “I’m just glad everything worked out.”

I took the elevator up to the third floor where the security line was unexpectedly short – three people. I cleared security without a hitch and within a couple of minutes I was seated at my gate, a full 90 minutes before my scheduled 11:13 a.m. departure.

In a life that saw many dreams come true, I was happy the one I had this morning did not.

About 25 minutes before our scheduled boarding time I was summoned to the desk at my gate. Fearing I might have been bumped I approached with a hint of trepidation. Instead I received some excellent news.

“We are trying to seat a couple together,” she began. “Would you be willing to give up your middle seat for a window seat?”

Does a cat love catnip? Does Clay Matthews like crushing quarterbacks? Do I love boxing? Of course, I took the window seat.

This couple must really love each other if one of them was willing to accept the hassles of middle-seat occupancy. It was even nicer to be the beneficiary – however indirect – of that devotion.

Aside from one or two minor bumps, the four-hour flight was uneventful. I finished reading the recent Ray Mancini biography while also managing to rest my eyes for the two-and-a-half hour drive that awaited me after landing. I finally pulled into the driveway shortly after 10 p.m. but my day wasn’t quite done as there were some tasks that needed my immediate attention.

There is no rest for the weary, for in just five days’ time the Travelin’ Man will be traveling again. This time the destination is Hallendale, Florida where a ShoBox card topped by lightweight prospect Angelo Santana (versus Johnny Garcia) will be staged.

Until then, happy trails.

*

Photos / Naoki Fukuda

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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