Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man goes to Miami, Okla. – Part II

 

Click here to read part one.

Saturday, May 10 (continued): Every so often one experiences strange coincidences that simply can’t be explained. Here’s one example:

When Showtime analyst Raul Marquez came to ringside wearing a particularly becoming suit, I greeted him thusly: “Hey, sharp dressed man, looking good!” A few minutes later, what song played over the P.A. system? You guessed it: “Sharp Dressed Man” by ZZ Top. Was I being bugged or something?

Although the outside temperature was in the high 60s – unusually cool for this time of year – the arena’s air conditioning was on full blast. I felt particularly sorry for the bikini-clad ring card girls and had I had a jacket I would have loaned it to them to pass around. To their credit they hid their discomfort well. Still, the chilly atmospherics did nothing to deter the action inside the ring, which, at times, was intense and explosive.

The evening’s opening fight paired junior welterweights Chris Plaitis from Montreal and Octavio Garay from Muleshoe, Texas — an even better-named hometown than my own. The scheduled four-rounder looked to be a brief one when the southpaw Plaitis’ first left to the stomach made Garay wince. He landed that punch repeatedly throughout the opening round but while Garay flinched and grimaced he kept trying to fight back. His infrequent, lunging punches rarely hit the target, but Plaitis’ avalanche of blows failed to make a serious dent either.

That dynamic made for some spectacularly lopsided CompuBox numbers. In round one Plaitis was 29 of 79 overall to Garay’s 3 of 37, including a 29-1 bulge in power connects. The pattern repeated in rounds two (31-3 and 29-1) and three (37-3 in both total punches and power shots), which meant that in just nine minutes Plaitis had built an astronomical 97-9 lead in total connects. I can’t think of another fight in which one fighter was able to sustain a nearly 10-to-1 advantage in total connects for that long without scoring a knockout, which speaks well of Plaitis’ work rate and Garay’s durability but not so well about the Canadian’s punching power. In round four Garay, by now accustomed to Plaitis’ force, had his best round as he trailed 31-7 in total connects but in the end he lost a 40-36 decision across the board.

Plaitis averaged 78.5 punches per round to Garay’s 32.8, contributing to his cavernous connect gulfs of 128-16 (total) and 126-8 (power). The result sustained both fighters’ claims to perfection – and futility — as Plaitis raised his mark to 4-0 (0) while Garay dropped to 0-7-1 (0).

The night’s most destructive performance belonged to middleweight Antoine Douglas, who impressively advanced his record to 7-0 (5) with a wicked 96-second knockout over fellow Virginian Coy Witt, whose record declined to 2-4 (1). Twelve years and light years in talent separated the 20-year-old Douglas from his willing but grossly overmatched opponent, who didn’t have the goods to get away from his antagonist’s lightning fists. A flush combination floored Witt 70 seconds into the fight while the end came after Douglas landed a flurry, took a half-step back, reset his feet and connected with a crushing lead right to the jaw that left Witt on all fours near the ropes. Referee Gary Ritter rightly ended matters without a count.

The CompuBox numbers spoke loudly: Douglas landed 68 percent of his total punches (32 of 47) and an stratospheric 83 percent of his power shots (29 of 35) while Witt could muster only 17 percent overall (3 of 18) and 20 percent of his power punches (2 of 10).

The scuttlebutt around ringside indicated that if an upset was to be sprung, it would be achieved by Colorado Springs welterweight Abel Perry against undefeated Maryland product Cecil McCalla. The theory was McCalla’s 15-0 (6) record was built on the backs of sub-par competition and their evidence was that the combined record of his last four opponents was 49-130-7 – a paltry .263 winning percentage. Meanwhile, Perry had won four of his last five but his most recent effort was an eight-round decision loss against Don Mouton, who this scribe recently labeled the Sanderline Williams of this era. For those of you who don’t know who Williams is, look him up on Boxrec and note the opponents and results.

Based strictly on outside appearances, both men looked in spectacular condition and during the first half of round one, those who smelled a surprise might have been encouraged as the feeling-out process was closely contested. But once the taller McCalla began loosening up his minute-by-minute advantages added up steadily. By round three McCalla let loose with all his guns and sprinted away from his 34-year-old opponent. As is the case the vast majority of the time, the judges’ scorecards and the CompuBox stats were in synch. The former group saw McCalla a 60-54, 59-55 (twice) winner while Andy and I saw McCalla prevail 163-62 in total connects, 49-27 in landed jabs and 114-35 in power shots, including 50 percent accuracy and a resounding 64-4 gap in body connects.

The final pre-TV fight saw Montreal’s Ahmad Cheiko parlay his hands-down, fast-twitch style into a two-round TKO over Russellville, Mo., journeyman Shad Howard. After out-landing Howard 19-3 in total connects over the first three minutes, Cheiko raised his record to 10-4-2 (6) by scoring three knockdowns. The first came from a right to the chin that caused Howard to stumble down toward the corner pad, the second was produced by a volley that drove Howard to all fours and the final one was created by a flurry capped by a hook to the jaw at the 1:55 mark. The CompuBox numbers were as illustrative as Cheiko’s display, for he out-landed Howard 19-4 overall and 18-2 in power shots en route to 38-7 and 34-4 connect gaps respectively. Cheiko landed 49 percent of his power punches to Howard’s 19 percent, a disparity that usually results in brief evenings.

Little was known about Puerto Rico’s Geovanni Rodriguez before his eight-round co-feature against fellow unbeaten John Thompson – including the spelling of his first name. The commission’s bout sheet, along with Boxrec and Fight Fax, had it spelled “Giovany” while other sources had it the more traditional “Giovanni.” The final word came down from executive producer Gordon Hall during our morning get-together and was recorded as such into the database.

Once the action began viewers started to know him better as he came forward behind a southpaw stance and launched punches from unusual angles. His quirky style initially troubled Thompson, who stressed before the fight that his jab would be the pivotal weapon. In the first three rounds Thompson landed only 15 percent of his jabs (10 of 65) and that enabled Rodriguez to hang tough as he trailed 30-21 in overall connects.

The floodgates opened in round four as Thompson scored two knockdowns, the first from a hair-trigger hook and the second via a shotgun jab. In that round Thompson’s jab finally got untracked (8 of 25, 32 percent) and that fueled his 16-6 gap in total connects. In round five through eight, Thompson out-landed Rodriguez 70-33 overall, including a 39-6 bulge in landed jabs and two more knockdowns in the final round.

The numbers from the judges (78-70 twice, 78-71) was backed up by the CompuBox figures, which saw Thompson go 116 of 357 (32 percent) overall to Rodriguez’s 60 of 287 (21 percent) and accumulate a 57-11 lead in landed jabs and a 59-49 edge in power connects. The only category Rodriguez ruled was connected body shots (29-12).

The main event between Dierry Jean and Cleotis Pendarvis superseded the usual ShoBox formula of matching prospects, for both were rated in the IBF’s top 10. One familiar element remained – the intriguing mix of styles and the puzzles they presented to each combatant. Jean’s challenges against Pendarvis were two-fold: Geographical (this was only his second fight on U.S. soil) and biological (Pendarvis’ southpaw stance).

Meanwhile, Pendarvis’ issues also contained two prongs: Ring rust (the Jean fight was his second in the last 12 months) and a big jump in terms of degree of difficulty. Going into the Jean fight, Pendarvis had scored just one win over an undefeated and untied opponent with double-digit victories (KO 5 over the 18-0 Hector Sanchez in April 2010 nine fights earlier). The only other time he faced a similar situation was one fight earlier when he lost an eight-round majority decision to Mauricio Herrera, who was 12-0 coming in.

The first three rounds were tense and not action-filled. Jean’s 52.3 punch-per-round pace was close to the 60.3 division average but Pendarvis’ 33.4 was well below the 140-pound standard. Still, Jean led by only 36-32 in overall connects and led 11-5 in landed jabs and after an accidental butt opened a five-stitch cut over Jean’s right eye in round three a potential technical decision might have been a nail-biter.

With his title hopes in jeopardy, Jean proved his mettle in most emphatic fashion. A double-jab followed by a looping overhand right floored Pendarvis and a follow-up barrage ended matters at the 2:01 mark.

Jean and his team said the first knockdown was the result of film study and intense practice.

“I threw the double jab and then, knowing he always slipped punches the same way, I looped the right hand so that it ran right into him,” Jean later explained in the hotel lobby as I stood before him in a lefty stance. “It was jab, jab, then BOOM!”

The victory ensured Jean a shot at the IBF belt, presumably against Lamont Peterson, but more importantly it demonstrated his capacity to summon elite resources under fire. In round four Jean out-landed Pendarvis 17-4 overall and 16-2 in power shots, which expanded his overall lead to 57-36 and 47-23 in power connects. Jean, usually a devastating body puncher, was slightly off here as 14 of his power connects struck the flanks. No matter, a victory is a victory, especially with stakes like these.

Rachel and Diana were understandably subdued when I met them at ringside and, upon request, I showed them the CompuBox numbers that indicated a close fight through three rounds as well as the devastation Jean wrought in round four. For them it was a difficult promotional debut but the odds are that there will be far happier nights in the future.

Despite knowing an early wake-up time awaited me, the day’s excitement prevented me from falling asleep until 2:30 a.m. Some things just can’t be hurried, I suppose.

Saturday, May 11: Just four hours after turning out the lights I turned them on again but despite the short turnaround I felt well. As I looked out the window the embryonic sunlight was waging war with fog that had shrouded the area, but by the time I met Andy in the lobby at 7:40 the sun had scored an undisputed victory.

Unlike Friday’s off-the-beaten-path journey, Andy and I arrived at Tulsa International Airport without a hitch, for early Saturday morning traffic was much less demanding and my GPS unit flawlessly locked onto our location. Andy dropped me off at the American Airlines entrance and after clearing security I passed the time by talking with Barry Tompkins, who had to rebook on this flight due to delays that destroyed his original connection window.

The one-hour flight to DFW touched down on schedule and this time the layover was a little more than two hours. I usually would have spent this time writing on the laptop but instead I grabbed a late lunch while reading my latest literary companion, Peter Richmond’s “Badasses: The Legend of Snake, Foo, Dr. Death and John Madden’s Oakland Raiders.” Although I’m a Steelers fan that was cultivated during the “Steel Curtain” era, I respected the skill, talent and off-center personas that comprised those Raider teams and I enjoyed learning more about what made them tick. I must disagree with Mr. Richmond on one point however: The “Immaculate Reception” was caused by the football caroming off Jack Tatum’s shoulder pad – and only Tatum’s shoulder pad. How else could the ball have bounced back that far? It’s simple physics. But I digress…

The flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Pittsburgh landed 18 minutes early thanks to a tailwind and I pulled into my driveway shortly after 8 p.m. But there was no rest for the weary because one more task awaited me – counting Ricky Burns’ ninth-round corner retirement win over Jose “Chelo” Gonzalez to retain his WBO lightweight title earlier in the day.

So why was I counting Burns-Gonzalez? Because CompuBox has now entered the fantasy gaming world via the new web site ThrowdownFantasy.com in which points are awarded based on the fighters’ punch stats. For example, players who drafted Leo Santa Cruz for his bout with Alexander Munoz earned a hefty 141.5 points, for he earned 30 points for winning the fight, 40 points for the KO bonus, 21.9 points for landing 219 punches during the bout, five bonus points for landing more than 200 punches, five points for scoring one knockdown, a 20-point plus-minus bonus for producing a 26 percentage point differential in total connects (52 percent to 26 percent) and a 20-point bonus for his 52 percent connect percentage.

The site is now in its second “Free Roll,” which covers fights between May 18 and June 15. Players can draft their team from three groups of athletes competing during the given period and can base their choices on past CompuBox-tracked performances. The top five scoring leaders will share a pot totaling $500, with the winner capturing $250. Tiebreakers involve guessing the exact result of certain fights and a guess regarding the total number of punches the player’s fighters will amass. The draft deadline is 7 p.m. EST May 18.

After running the numbers for Burns-Gonzalez, I finally had enough time to exhale a bit. But before I know it my next trip will be upon me and it’s a doozy – the Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler rematch in London, England.

Until then, happy trails!

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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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