Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man goes to Hallandale – Part II

 

Click here to read part I of Travelin Man goes to Hallandale.

Friday, Nov. 16 (continued): Punch-counting partner Joe Carnicelli and I were able to find the general location of the venue – Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino – but finding the specific area within the complex where the fight was being held proved a more troublesome task. To my surprise, Joe, a man who had seemingly worked everywhere and in every given situation over his years with CompuBox, told me he had never before worked a card at Gulfstream Park, a place that looked like a city within a city with all of its shops. After three unsuccessful attempts to locate the fight area ourselves, we ended up calling production manager Joie Silva, who pointed us in the right direction.

The set-up was somewhat unique: The ring and the tables for commissioners, TV people and media were on an elevated platform while the spectators surrounded us from below. This was the first time I recall seeing such a configuration but Joe, being the experienced hand he is, said he had worked at least two other shows with similar layouts.

Because of the multitude of last-minute changes, this Don King-promoted card had only five fights – a far cry from the marathon cards he staged during the glory years. The opening fight that saw 23-year-old heavyweight Trevor Bryan (now 5-0, 4) stop Hassan Lee (4-3, 0) in three rounds produced one of the most frightening knockouts I’ve ever seen live.

After dominating the first two-and-a-half rounds with power shots that had the 36-year-old reeling on unsteady legs throughout, Bryan lowered the boom in most emphatic fashion. A right to the head propelled Hassan back two feet to the ropes, where his arms involuntarily spread out on both sides and his head snapped back violently. He then boomeranged off the ropes and fell forward on his knees, then onto his face. Referee Frank Gentile tolled the 10 count at the 1:45 mark and it was obvious Lee was in need of immediate medical attention.

Joe thought his neck might be broken because of a small swelling on the back of his neck but any thoughts of paralysis were allayed when we saw him move his extremities. Ice was applied to his neck and within three minutes – to everyone’s relief – Lee had regained his feet and left the ring under his own power. It was just another demonstration of just how much boxers risk every time they climb the ring steps, step between the ropes and raise gloved fists before another athlete.

Ukrainian heavyweight Oleg Platov raised his record to 30-1 (24) at the expense of 18-26-2 (11) veteran Harold Sconiers, who stretched his slide to 1-6 following a two-round knockout defeat. Although Platov dominated the proceedings with his all-out left-hooking attack he was fortunate the stoppage came when it did. That’s because he was cut over the right eye in round one and picked up an even more severe cut over the left orb early in round two. With a knot growing over the right eye, Platov finished matters with a scorching hook that put the 36-year-old Sconiers down for good.

For all the fireworks that unfolded inside the ropes, Mother Nature was about to upstage – and nearly short-circuit – everything.

The weather forecast called for a 50 percent chance of showers and while there were sprinkles from time to time the conditions were largely calm. That all changed about 90 minutes before airtime when the skies opened up and the area was buffeted by hard rain and winds that blew the precipitation underneath the all-too-brief overhang. The press table was soaked to the point that the reporters had to vacate and the severity of the conditions prompted security people to clear the area of everyone except essential personnel. When it became clear this was no passing shower, the pre-telecast schedule was shuffled and contingency plans were made just in case lightning entered the picture. Thankfully, that never happened.

Meanwhile, a group of nine waited out the weather near one of the neutral corners – broadcasters Barry Tompkins, Steve Farhood and Raul Marquez, three temporarily displaced media members, Joe, myself and the makeup artist. With all of us boxing geeks in such close proximity, we passed the time by talking about the most memorable “rain fights” of all time such as Jimmy Carruthers-Chamroen Songkitrat in which both fighters fought in bare feet during a monsoon and Albert Davila-Enrique Sanchez in which torrential rains turned a fight dominated by Sanchez into a 11th round Davila TKO.

With all this sports talk, I felt that the makeup artist, the only female in our group, was feeling somewhat left out. So I turned to her and asked “so what do you think of all this?” referring to the weather and the bizarre circumstances unfolding before us.

With a look of resignation and world-weariness, this twenty-something looked up at me and said drolly “welcome to South Florida.”

And through it all, Don King smiled.

One had to question the wisdom of staging an outdoor event in southern Florida, even during November. The show, however, went on.

With much of the crowd dispersed and those who remained swirling about chaotically, junior welterweights Amir Iman and Tony Walker entered the ring. The surroundings and circumstances had to have been a distraction but they certainly didn’t act that way once the bell sounded. The two fighters traded power shots at an intensity that rivaled that of the storms and in the end Iman raised his record to 6-0 (5) and lowered Walker’s to 5-2-1 (3) via TKO at 2:59 of round two.

The rains stopped shortly thereafter and didn’t return with the same intensity the rest of the evening. But the damage had already been done: Puddles of water congregated around the TV wires and wreaked havoc with our electronic connections and the reporters had to either scribble in notebooks or even rely on memory to report the Iman-Walker fight recounted above.

When the Showtime cameras switched on, everything proceeded as expected in terms of winners and losers. “Twinkle Fingers” won a solid decision over Winchester while Santana spectacularly stopped Garcia. The stats revealed several interesting aspects:

  • Hernandez didn’t really draw a bead on Winchester until the fight’s second half. Over the first five rounds Hernandez built a slim 66-50 lead in overall punches and led 47-46 in power connects but rounds six through 10 Hernandez upped his work rate from 45.6 per round to 51 and forced Winchester to go with him (from 50.2 to 57). That, in turn, opened Winchester’s defenses to the point that Hernandez out-landed him 104-64 overall and 92-56 in power shots. That surge largely accounted for Hernandez’s leads in total punches (170-114) and power punches (149-102), plus he was far more accurate across the board (35%-21% total, 14%-6% jabs and 45%-31% power).
  • Santana’s knockout of Garcia must rank among the most visually stimulating of the year as the final blow had Garcia almost parallel to the canvas before sliding to a rest. Garcia out-landed Santana only once (14-13 in round one) but from that point forward it was a massacre as the unbeaten Cuban led 71-31 overall and 63-24 in power connects. Santana, not the most accurate of fighters (a combined 22.5% overall and 30.2% power in two previous CompuBox-tracked fights), nevertheless landed 33% overall and 41% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. One potential red flag is that Garcia landed 42% of his power shots on Santana. One rule of thumb I use in analyzing fighters is that anyone who is struck by 40% or more of his opponents’ strongest punches must be watched closely in future fights, for if they don’t tighten their defense sufficiently it will burn them when they take on superior opposition. But for now, Santana must be remembered more for his superlative KO of Garcia more than for his defensive shortcomings.

By the time the show ended at 12:30 a.m., Joe was tired and rightfully so. It had already been an extremely long day for him, for he took the red-eye from Phoenix to Charlotte, boarded an early-morning flight to Fort Lauderdale, had lunch with an old friend and then spent nearly nine hours at the venue. While his flight home to Phoenix was a direct one, it was set to take off a 7 a.m. Needless to say, a few hours of shuteye would have been most welcome.

Conversely, the first leg of my journey home was to depart at a much more reasonable time – 11:20 a.m. – and I arranged a ride to the airport with graphics man and devoted New York sports fan Joe Jacovino, who, like me, prefers to arrive at the airport well before boarding time. We agreed to meet in the lobby at 8:30 a.m. with an eye on arriving shortly after 9. In the meantime, lights out came shortly before 2 a.m.

Saturday, Nov. 17: I stirred awake a little before my intended wake-up time of 7:30 a.m. and one look outside my 10th floor window removed any residue sleepiness from my eyes. Instead of the customary cloudless skies expected of “The Sunshine State,” I saw conditions that were anything but – fog dense enough to obscure everything beyond 100 yards and torrential rain that appeared to have no end.

As Joe Jacovino and I waited for his rental vehicle to be retrieved we noticed just how deep the flood waters were on the street in front of the hotel. For smaller cars, the water swallowed up three-quarters of their tires so I was relieved that Joe’s rental was a SUV. The extra height served us well and soon we were on our way to the airport.

Because I had already printed out my boarding pass before leaving for the show yesterday afternoon, Jacovino and I went our separate ways at the ticket counter.

There was a good reason behind our very early departure from the hotel: Past experience taught us that the security lines at Fort Lauderdale are always extraordinarily long, especially on the weekends when passengers from multiple cruise ships flood in on their way home. On this day, the line stretched back at least 200 feet before the beginning of the partitioned off queues, which wasn’t as bad as one occasion several years earlier when that same line extended at least 500 feet – or nearly a tenth of a mile.

Still, I reached the head of the security line within 20 minutes and it was here I received a stroke of good luck. Moments after quoting Murphy’s Law to a couple in front of me, one of the TSA agents opened a tray table lane whose location happened to put us at the very head of the line. Instead of an additional five minute wait to begin loading our belongings, we were able to move ahead instantly.

“I guess Mr. Murphy’s ears were burning,” the husband joked.

 I sat at what I thought was my proper gate for nearly 30 minutes before realizing – once again – the airline had switched departure gates without making an announcement over the loudspeaker.

The boarding process proceeded without incident – I congratulated a sunglasses-wearing Winchester on his effort as he passed by me – but several minutes after settling into my seat, the left-side aisle seat in row 11, one of the flight attendants approached me.

“Excuse me, sir, but do you have a preference about sitting at an aisle seat or window seat?” she asked.

“Not really,” I replied. “Why do you ask?”

“Because this man’s wife,” glancing toward the fellow to my immediate left, “is located in the back of the plane and she would like to sit next to him. Would you mind moving?”

“Of course not,” I said. “It’s not as if I’m going to be landing in Denver instead of Charlotte if I move a few rows back.”

Because the plane was already full, as were the overhead storage bins, I decided to leave one of my bags where it was while I took my laptop bag to the very back row of the aircraft. The already cramped conditions were made even more so by my two larger seatmates and the fact that the person in front of me was in already in full recline mode. Since the guy was much bigger than myself, and because I’m not one to introduce myself through confrontation, I tried to make the best of the situation while staying silent.

Besides, my discomfort was entirely mitigated by the appreciation the flight attendant showered on me. My seatmates and I were given snacks normally served to first-class passengers free of charge. Not only that, we were served before anyone else and we also were given full cans of beverages instead of the usual ice-filled plastic cups.

OK, we weren’t given bricks of gold, but the Chex Mix and cashews really hit the spot as I had not eaten anything since the crew meal more than 18 hours earlier. Plus, I resolved my issues with the serial recliner without him ever knowing I was involved.

During the descent, the usual announcement regarding turning off all electronic equipment, storing tray tables and placing the seat in the upright position was made over the loudspeaker. Of course, my nemesis did not heed the instructions. When the flight attendant passed by to see that all was in order, I caught her attention with my eyes, pointed to the person in front of me and made pushing motions with my hands to tell her that he still needed to straighten his seat. She nodded to let me know she received the message, then proceeded to politely but firmly tell the man to take his chair out of recline mode. When he did so, I mouthed “thank you.”

Although I intended to spend the Charlotte-to-Pittsburgh flight reading my latest public library acquisition – “Tennis Confidential: Today’s Greatest Players, Matches and Controversies” by Paul Fein – I ended up talking with one of my seatmates, a special-education teacher, for the entire trip. As was the case on the Charlotte-to-Fort Lauderdale flight a couple of days earlier I was seated in the row directly behind first class and the extra leg room was most welcome.

I pulled into my driveway precisely at 7 p.m., the time I predicted upon telling everyone I had landed safely, and I spent the remainder of the evening tending to the multiple recordings I had set up as well as watching West Virginia University’s 50-49 loss to Oklahoma.

The Travelin’ Man will be grounded for a couple of weeks, a development that will allow me to catch up on my CompuBox research work. The schedule will pick up again on Dec. 7 when I will travel to Philadelphia to work the NBC Sports Network card topped by Bryant Jennings-Bowie Tupou.

Until then, happy trails.

*

Photos / Tom Casino-SHOWTIME

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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