Click here to read part one of Travelin’ Man returns to Mohegan Sun.
Saturday, Jan. 19: As usual during road trips I slept like a baby – restlessly. I woke up several times thinking it was time to get up only to realize I had only been asleep for 90 minutes. The cycle repeated itself three more times before I finally arose at 9:15 a.m.
As I was editing Part I, my cell phone rang. It was punch-counting partner Dennis “Magic Man” Allen, a native of North Dakota who put together a 22-5 (11) record between 1992 and 2001 and fought, amongst others, Reggie Strickland, Lonnie Smith and Cory Spinks. The last time we worked together was in El Paso for the Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Andy Lee fight and at age 40 his eyes remained sharp enough to spot one of the snipers in the hills surrounding the Sun Bowl several hundred feet away. If he could see that, how could he not track punches inside the ring?
Anyway, he called to let me know that I didn’t need to come to the Mohegan Sun Arena at our 2 p.m. call time because only one operator is needed to help with pre-fight procedures. So that gave me an extra few hours to tie up some loose ends.
Because they were tied up more quickly than expected, I decided to drive to the arena at 2:15 p.m. Once I reached ringside I called Dennis to let him know he didn’t need to pick me up at the hotel as previously planned. About two sentences into the conversation, I spotted him walking toward me out of the corner of my eye and at that we hung up our phones.
The set-up process went well and after eating lunch at the Seasons Buffet I settled into my position at ringside. Over the next few hours several friends stopped by to say hello – photographer Richard Esposito (a longtime devotee of Panasonic products who recently switched his allegiance to Magnavox), the versatile Brian Adams (boxer, stage manager, punch counter, color commentator, writer and director of the New York Golden Gloves tournament amongst other titles) and fellow writers Jeffrey Freeman of KO Digest and Jack Obermayer, the “Original Travelin’ Man.” My only regret was that our encounters were far too brief, but each of us had our jobs to perform and we wanted to do them well. That’s one of the reasons we all still have jobs.
Later on, a familiar name – if not a familiar face – greeted me. He recognized me from the cover photo from “Tales from the Vault” but it took me a couple of minutes to completely place him. His name: Woody Kislowski. His place in my boxing life: Chat room buddy.
For more than a decade we’ve been members of a private boxing chat room that includes matchmakers, judges, writers and extremely knowledgeable – and opinionated – fans. Kislowski, who in his past life was a referee and judge in Colorado as well as a restaurant owner in Maine, was hoping to re-enter the sport by serving as a “shadow judge” on this night. For the uninitiated, “shadow judges” are seated near the actual judges and score the bouts as if they are working them. Their cards are compared to the “real judges” and, based on their performance, will be asked to “shadow judge” several more times to further establish their competency and, hopefully, secure a permanent position. Based on what I know about Woody, I’m confident that he’ll achieve his goals.
Not long before the action started, ring announcer “Generous” Joe Antonacci tapped me on the shoulder and said hi. An instant later, he dropped the first two issues of his revived “Joe Palooka” comic book series and invited me to “dig in.” After doing so, I dug it.
In a previous life Palooka was a boxer but here he is a sympathetic fugitive who uses his mixed-martial arts skills to literally tackle a series of bullies. Although MMA is not my sporting preference – though I believe there’s room for both sports in the combat hierarchy – the fight action is a vehicle to further the story rather than its central focus. Recognizing the 140-character reality of its customer base, multiple speech bubbles are used to convey the more complex parts of the story, and thus the narrative moves quickly and concisely. The story by Antonacci, Matt Triano and Mike Bullock was compelling, the full color pages printed on glossy paper was attractive and the artwork by Fernando Piniche was top-notch. I can hardly wait to see issue three.
The eight-fight card began with an action-packed heavyweight bout between 6-4, 286-pound Brooklynite Jarrell Miller and 5-10, 242 ¾ pound Philadelphian Joey Dawejko. Based on physiques alone one would have thought this a mismatch but it was anything but that in reality. I felt Dawejko won the first round with sharp body shots at close range as Miller opted to gather reconnaissance. Miller decided to fire his guns in round two, belaboring Dawejko with clusters of power shots that had the Philadelphian wobbling. After going just 10 of 51 in round one (8 of 26 power), Miller surged to 33 of 87 overall and 31 of 75 in round two, far outdistancing Dawejko’s 16 of 34 and 16 of 32 respectively. By the way, Miller’s 87 punches almost doubled the 45.7 heavyweight average and his 75 power shots nearly tripled the 25.9 norm. In other words, Miller was really cranking.
Miller continued to whale away in the third but he deeply hurt his cause by incurring two point penalties, one for what appeared to be a “mush” to Dawejko’s face and another for butting. Those deductions, whether fair or not, turned what would have been a 39-37 decision victory for Miller into a 37-37 draw, causing Miller to drop to 4-0-1 (4) and Dawejko to 7-1-2 (3).
The raw numbers favored Miller as he out-landed his rival 97-74 (overall) and 89-69 (power), but one point of concern for Miller in the future is his defense because Dawejko landed 50 percent of his total punches and 51 percent of his power shots, many of which were point-blank body shots. One important CompuBox benchmark is that any fighter who absorbs 40 percent or more of his opponent’s punches represents a statistical red flag.
Next up was a scheduled six-round super featherweight bout between Joseph “Chip” Perez of nearby East Hartford and Camden, N.J.’s Jason Sosa, whose more powerful physique made him look at least one weight class larger. His skill set and power also were a surprise to Perez and his supporters, for near the end of round one a right to the ear – the last punch of a four-part volley – caused Perez to crumble near the neutral corner and broke open what had been a fairly close round.
Sosa dictated the tempo throughout by forcing Perez to retreat at every turn. Perez did his best to fight back but he had the look of someone who was constantly struggling to keep afloat. Sosa out-threw and out-landed Perez in every round and the accumulation of punishment led to a most emphatic conclusion. As the bout swung into its final minute Sosa unleashed a right that caused Perez to fall as if in slow motion while a clean-up left hook left him flat on his back. Perez bravely arose but his legs’ tell-tale wobble was enough to persuade referee Johnny Callas to end matters at the 2:10 mark. With that, Sosa raised his record to 8-1-3 (4) while Perez fell to 10-2 (3).
Sosa’s dominance was reflected in the CompuBox numbers, for he was 89 of 281 (32 percent) overall to 54 of 187 (29 percent) for Perez, who also trailed 69-42 in power connects and 20-12 in landed jabs. Sosa landed 40 percent of his power punches to Perez’s 32 percent and led 24-10 in landed body shots. The two knockdowns, however, proved most decisive.
One final-round knockout was followed by another as Marcus Upshaw, a willowy 6-foot-3 super middleweight, raised his record to 15-8-1 (7) by upsetting Providence’s Vladine Biosse (now 14-2-1, 7) at 2:25 of round eight. The southpaw Biosse, three inches shorter, easily worked his way inside Upshaw’s long arms in the early rounds but starting in round three Upshaw began catching Biosse barreling in with well-timed right crosses and uppercuts that shook him briefly.
Upshaw received a constant stream of intelligent advice from Kronk corner man Anthony Wilson and in round four, his instructions and Upshaw’s ability to execute them began to bear fruit. A quick right-left to the top of the head during the final minute adversely affected Biosse’s equilibrium and a right to the chin produced the first knockdown early in the fifth. From that point forward Biosse appeared less willing to charge inside and that, in turn, gave Upshaw the room he needed to inflict even more damage. And inflict damage he did, for in rounds five through seven Upshaw out-landed Biosse 41-21 overall and 31-18 in power shots. A wicked straight right to the jaw floored Biosse for a seven-count but a follow-up flurry of unanswered blows forced referee Tony Chiarantano to stop the fight with just 35 seconds remaining.
Upshaw’s mid-rounds surge propelled him into the lead statistically as he forged connect leads of 118-90 (overall), 32-12 (jabs) and 86-78 (power). The winner landed 39 percent of his power punches to Biosse’s 33 percent.
The final bout before the live broadcast saw Willimantic, Connecticut lightweight Edwin Cotto make a successful professional debut by stopping Brooklyn’s Ian James at the 18-second mark in the fourth and final round, scoring knockdowns in rounds two and four and sending James to his fifth loss against two wins, one draw and one KO victory.
On paper, the 10-round middleweight co-feature that led off the NBC Sports Network telecast promised to be an intriguing crossroads match. One the one hand Ayala, from nearby New Haven, was a classic “barometer fighter,” one good enough to beat most fighters and expose weaknesses in prospects but also one who struggles against higher-level competition. Entering Saturday’s fight Ayala was on a six-fight win streak, his longest since running off his first 16 fights between September 2003 and when David Banks scored the first of back-to-back decision wins over Ayala in November 2006.
Several more disappointments were in his future – a disputed draw to Sergio Mora that many (including myself) thought Ayala deserved to win, a 12th round TKO loss to then-IBF middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham in his only shot at a major title and consecutive defeats to Lajuan Simon (L 12) and hotshot power puncher David Lemieux (KO by 1). His recent run of success against modest competition suggested he would, at least, enter the ring with a winner’s mindset, and at 159 the onetime super middleweight was noticeably leaner.
On the other hand was Stevens, who, with Jaidon Codrington, was one-half of the “Chin Checkers” that electrified the New York City market during the middle part of the last decade. Anterio Vines was dusted in 30 seconds while Anthony Konicek lasted just 35 seconds, Kia Daniels 44 seconds and Darin Johnson 58 seconds. But the rollicking ride on which Stevens took his fans stopped when 19-15-2 journeyman Marcos Primera, a loser of five straight, stopped Stevens in eight rounds in July 2006. In the process, the 31-year-old Primera captured the “interim WBC Youth Super Middleweight” title, a belt that fighters only 23 and younger could possess. The powers-that-be reasoned that, given Primera’s journeyman status, they could get away with putting the youth title on the line. After all, there could only be one winner, right? Needless to say, Primera’s win left a lot of people red-faced.
Stevens scored a shutout decision in the rematch four months later and assembled two four-fight winning streaks before losing to Andre Dirrell (L 10) and Jesse Brinkley (L 12). The Brinkley defeat prompted a two-year hiatus from boxing and when he re-emerged in March 2012 against Romaro Johnson he proved he still had his knockout touch with a 146-second stoppage. It was an aesthetically pleasing result but, given that the 11-5-1 Johnson had lost his last three, the victory was viewed as a first step rather than a revelation.
For Stevens, the Ayala fight was a chance to take a vital step toward regaining his former position – a televised co-feature against a onetime title challenger capable of exposing weaknesses but whose vulnerable chin offered chances to shine. From Stevens’ perspective, he answered the challenge in the best way possible.
A beautifully timed hook with scorching power dropped Ayala seconds into the contest and a follow-up flurry capped by another hook sent Ayala tumbling, causing referee Chiarantano to stop the fight just 70 seconds after it began. Once again, Stevens was in the “Chin Checking” business, so much so that the punch numbers were rendered irrelevant. For the benefit of curious souls, Stevens landed 6 of 13 power shots to Ayala’s 1 of 5 and forged a 9-2 lead in total connects.
As I was writing the final figures on my stat sheet another battle broke out. As Stevens was acknowledging the cheers of the crowd while standing on the ropes, a man later identified as Ayala’s cousin rushed across the ring and tried to attack him – a monumentally stupid move given that the man he was grabbing had just cold-cocked a professional fighter with a single punch. A filled water bottle was thrown into the ring, which only amplified the raw emotions that swirled about the ring. Then another person, who told security he was Stevens’ brother, rushed from the crowd, leaped over the top rope and attempted to protect his sibling. Chaos ensued for several frightening moments but to the security team’s credit order was restored shortly thereafter. I learned later that Ayala’s cousin was placed under arrest but at the under end of the spectrum the two fighters, who had exchanged barbs during the build-up, embraced and expressed their mutual respect.
Because Stevens-Ayala was so brief, welterweights Jimmy Williams of New Haven and Noel Garcia of Springfield were summoned from the dressing room and asked to begin their scheduled four rounder. Williams was making his pro debut while Garcia carried a 2-15-2 (1) ledger into the ring. While Williams dominated round one by out-landing his rival 22-6, Garcia enjoyed excellent sequences in rounds two and three by landing several looping rights.
Seconds after Garcia connected on yet another series of wide blows Williams produced two fast, chopping rights that drove his opponent to all fours. That set the stage for the stoppage that came 39 seconds into the fourth and final round. In all Williams out-landed Garcia 73-32 (total) and 49-18 (power) and connected on 43 percent of his power shots to Garcia’s 24 percent. The only category in which Garcia prevailed was landed body shots (11-8).
As someone who makes his living from compiling and analyzing statistics, I know that numbers can add texture to a story. But every once in a while a single trend can literally foreshadow how a fight will unfold. Such was the case for the main event between onetime light heavyweight titlist Gabriel Campillo and knockout artist Sergey Kovalev.
Campillo is one of boxing’s slowest starters but once his engine warms up the Spaniard is capable of producing extraordinary late rallies. Consider the numbers from his last five CompuBox-tracked fights:
Campillo’s punches thrown (rounds 1-5): 52
Campillo’s punches thrown (rounds 6-12): 78
Campillo’s punches landed (rounds 1-5): 14
Campillo’s punches landed (rounds 6-12): 27
In other words, once Campillo works out the kinks he becomes a punching machine; his work rate increases by one-third while landing nearly twice as many blows each round. Armed with this information I said that if Kovalev is to win he would have to strike in the first three rounds when Campillo was still cold.
Which was exactly what happened.
Kovalev tore out of his corner, firing power punches from all angles and kept Campillo on the back foot. In all Kovalev threw 90 punches to Campillo’s 12 and out-landed him 24-2. The pattern continued in round two as Kovalev was 30 of 83 to Campillo’s 9 of 41 and out-landed the Spaniard 14-2 in power shots. With two rounds in the bank and Campillo still trying to shed the rust caused by one year’s inactivity, Kovalev did his best impression of a rust-blaster in round three. A straight right drove Campillo to the floor while a hook to the body and a left to the jaw produced the final two knockdowns. Just like that, the “Krusher” had scored the most important victory of his career to date.
The lopsidedness of the CompuBox figures illustrated Kovalev’s dominance. He out-landed Campillo 77-13 overall, 22-9 in jabs and 55-4 in power punches but more importantly Kovalev averaged 90 punches per round to Campillo’s 23.6. He took full advantage of Campillo’s slow-starting tendencies and as a result he created tremendous buzz for himself. Boxing can never have enough TV-friendly sluggers in its midst and by stopping Campillo he has become a marketable, bankable commodity.
The final bout of the evening pitted bantamweights Michelle “Shelito” Vincent of New London, Conn., and the Bronx’s Nydia Feliciano. The two women offered a nice contrast of styles as Vincent continually marched forward behind power shots and Feliciano showed off long-range skills that belied her 5-3-3 record. The final two rounds proved to be pivotal as Vincent upped her pressure and work rate and during the fight’s final minute she managed to pin Feliciano to the ropes and blast her with ceaseless power shots. The judges rewarded her with a 59-55, 58-56 (twice) verdict that raised her record to 7-0.
I stopped by the production truck and grabbed two small pizza slices, then drove back to the hotel in hopes of seeing part of the HBO tripleheader. Unfortunately, the hotel didn’t carry HBO so I satisfied myself by watching some more Australian Open tennis before drifting off shortly after 1 a.m.
Sunday, Jan. 20: Once again my semi-insomnia kicked in as I awakened at least three times during the night but by the time I arose at 8 a.m. I felt ready to get on with my get-a-way day. Because my flight home wasn’t scheduled to leave until 3:30 p.m., I had the luxury of spending a couple of hours catching up on my writing responsibilities. With an hour-long drive to Hartford and a 15-minute trip on the rental car shuttle, I decided to leave the hotel at 11 a.m.
Under dazzlingly sunny skies and a spring-like 52-degree day, the drive was a mostly pleasant one. I say “mostly” because the Mapquest directions failed to give me a numerical prefix for Schoephoester Road in Windsor Locks, Conn., so I programmed my Magellan GPS for the highest numbered address in the hopes that I would reach the airport before reaching that destination.
It didn’t work out that way, for I ended up at a workplace adjacent to Bradley International Airport. It took me a few tries, but I was able to find an exit road that led me onto the airport property and, eventually, Hertz’s rental car return area.
Another small bit of weirdness occurred at Hertz when, while one employee was electronically checking in my vehicle, the employee driving the car directly in front of mine accidentally backed into my car’s front bumper.
“Don’t worry about it,” my guy said. “It’s just a little love tap.”
“That’s cool,” I replied, “just as long as that doesn’t tap me.” He laughed, which told me it wouldn’t.
I cleared security a full three hours before my scheduled 3:29 p.m. departure time. One hour was spent eating a turkey sub and a small bag of chips at D’Angelo’s Grilled Sandwiches while I spent the next 90 writing many of the words you’re reading today. The remaining time was invested in reading “Double Yoi,” the autobiography of legendary Pittsburgh sportscaster Myron Cope that I received as a Christmas gift.
Older boxing fans may remember Cope as the ring announcer for Larry Holmes-Renaldo Snipes, which was staged at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh in November 1981. Most will recall Snipes’ shocking seventh round knockdown that had many envisioning a monstrous upset while others will relive the post-fight confrontation between the pair at ringside that ended with Howard Cosell suffering a split lip and Snipes a cut right hand from some carelessly handled scissors. But when I think about Holmes-Snipes, my mind also flashes back to the pre-fight introductions. Cope’s idiosyncratic voice reverberated through the P.A. system and I couldn’t help but notice the unmistakable enthusiasm with which he achieved a lifelong dream – announcing a heavyweight championship fight. Being one who has realized his own dreams, I can relate to how Cope must have felt.
I again was seated in 2A and again I was the first passenger to depart the aircraft. Unlike Hartford, Pittsburgh was a chilly 31 degrees and the accompanying winds caused my eyes to water as I made the long walk back to my car. The drive home was uneventful and I arrived home just in time to see if the 8 p.m. boxing card on SNY was a repeat (it was.)
My return home wasn’t a signal to rest; rather, it was a signal to begin working through another “to-do” list. I spent the rest of the evening editing the contents of two of my three DVD recorders while prioritizing what I needed to do over the next week in terms of pre-fight CompuBox research, future articles for RingTV.com and juggling other aspects of my daily life. Although I portrayed my non-traveling life in Part One as quiet and peaceful, in reality it’s not. It just happens to be less glamorous.
I’ll have a full month complete my assignments, for my next journey is scheduled to begin Feb. 22, when I will travel to Detroit to “work the keys” for a Showtime double-header featuring Devon Alexander-Kell Brook and Cornelius Bundrage-Ishe Smith.
Until then, happy trails.
Photo of Kovalev-Campillo / Rich Graessle-Main Events
Photo of Stevens / Ryan Songalia
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 firstname.lastname@example.org arrange for autographed copies.