Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man goes to Dallas – Part II

Click here for part one.

Saturday, June 15: The lights clicked on five hours after they were turned off and soon another big day began. The centerpiece of the morning hours came about because of an invitation from HBO’s “Hyper-X” operator Chris Jones: A group of HBO personnel was to tour the area where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, which was located a few blocks from our hotel.

“We plan on meeting in the lobby at 9:45 a.m.,” he said. “You’re welcome to come along.” I, of course, accepted. It’s not every day that one gets to visit such a historic site.

Our gaggle of nine headed out on foot toward The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, which is located inside the Dallas County Administration Building (formerly the Texas School Book Depository) where, according to four separate government investigations, Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK. As we neared our destination I noticed vendors hawking maps and a tour bus waiting for its next load of passengers to settle in. Even though the landmark event that spawned all this took place nearly a half-century ago, JFK’s murder and the events that followed remain incredibly impactful, not only because an idealistic U.S. president was cut down in the prime of life and at the peak of his powers but also because so much mystery continues to surround the event. The nation will continue to be divided as to the “who” and “why” and it’s likely definitive answers will never be revealed.

The $2 off coupons we were given reduced the admission price to $14 each and upon entry each of us was given a device that resembled an I-Pod as well as a set of headphones, allowing us to proceed through each of the nearly 40 exhibits at our own pace. Over the next 90 minutes the depth, breadth and detail surrounding just about every aspect of the JFK assassination was laid out, including a multiplicity of conspiracy theories. One-of-a-kind artifacts such as original police reports detailing witness accounts, items linked to Oswald’s assassin Jack Ruby and a sword held by one of the security detail as Kennedy’s body lay in state were available for viewing as several films linked to the event were played inside mini-theaters. While we weren’t allowed to take photos on the sixth floor portion of the museum, we were able to snap pictures one floor up. That provided us a fair idea of what Oswald might have seen on that fateful day, although we, as sane people, can’t possibly relate to what was going on in his mind.

Once we completed the tour, we stopped by the adjacent book store and stepped outside to gaze at the Grassy Knoll. One member of our crew actually ran into the street and briefly stood on the chalk-marked “X” that marked the spot where Kennedy was hit with the fatal bullet. Lucky for him he’s a fast guy; otherwise he might have been hit by oncoming traffic. We also took pictures of the Grassy Knoll, which, for those of us unfamiliar with the area, was marked with a large yellow sign with black letters bearing the words “Grassy Knoll.”

We returned to the hotel to have lunch in one of the restaurants and by 1:30 p.m. I was back in my room to record what I had just seen. Anyone visiting Dallas in the near future – or beyond – should include this tour as part of their itinerary, for it is a significant yet sobering experience.

Punch counting colleague Andy Kasprzak and I caught a cab to the American Airlines Center and the pre-fight procedures that had been postponed from yesterday were completed with unprecedented dispatch. Another somewhat unusual occurrence: The first fight of the nine-bout card – a scheduled four round junior featherweight fight between Austin’s Kurtiss Colvin and Arlington’s Angel Sigala – began precisely at 6 p.m.

The lanky Colvin – whose willowy frame, switch-hitting tactics, hairstyle and goatee mirrored that of 1990s title challenger Angel Hernandez – bolted out of the corner and gunned for the early kill. A shotgun jab dropped Sigala in the opening moments and he landed a withering 18 of 26 punches in the first minute en route to a 32 of 52 opening round that also saw him connect on 70 percent of his power punches (21 of 30). The effort, however, must have tired him somewhat because Colvin throttled down considerably in round two while the southpaw Sigala (who landed just 11 punches in round one) managed to unleash 80 punches and out-land Colvin 19-11. In the process he exposed some defensive flaws but his success wouldn’t last as Colvin regained his rhythm in round three.

In the latter stages of that round Colvin unveiled a showboat move I’ve never seen in nearly 40 years as a boxing fan: While standing “in the pocket,” Colvin suddenly lifted his right foot behind him so that the sole of his shoe was facing up. As he did so he tapped his right glove on the sole, snapped both foot and glove back into proper position and unleashed a combination. That sequence had the look of a vintage Michael Jackson “Thriller” move and all Andy and I could do was shake our heads.

Colvin further stamped his superiority by scoring a second knockdown with a right cross-left hook combo with 30 seconds remaining in round four and quickly finished matters 22 seconds into the fifth (not the announced 2:38) with an all-out assault that trapped Sigala (8-4, 2) on the ropes and persuaded the referee to intervene. The victory raised Colvin’s mark to 8-1 (7).

Because the HBO crew dinner began at 6:30 p.m. Andy and I missed the next fight that saw dazzling Puerto Rican prospect John Karl Sosa raise his record to 7-0 (5) at the expense of Mexican Ramon Alejandro Pena (7-3, 5), who he stopped in two rounds. We returned in time to catch the night’s next fight between unbeaten 154-pounder Vanes Martirosyan and Granite City, Illinois journeyman Ryan Davis, who sat next to me at the previous day’s weigh-in.

This fight’s early placement on the card struck me as unusual given Martirosyan’s record and the fight’s scheduled 10-round distance. It was listed third highest on the bout sheet but chronologically it took place before several shorter and less significant fights. Perhaps it reflected the nature of the contest in terms of Martirosyan’s career path; seven months earlier he fought Erislandy Lara to a nine-round butt-induced technical draw and this was the quintessential rust-removal fight. After all, the 34-year-old Davis had lost three of his last four fights – all by knockout – and not only that, Davis’ conquerors boasted a combined record of 80-2-2 while the man he beat during that stretch was a mere 3-14-1.

In the end there were no surprises. Davis opened the bout by giving Martirosyan plenty of side-to-side motion but he lacked the hand speed to adequately deal with Martirosyan’s lightning-quick counters. A swift right opened a small cut in the corner of Davis’ left eye and by round’s end Martirosyan had built an 18-2 lead in total connects. Martirosyan got down to business in the second as a trio of right hands put Davis down along the ropes. After slowly getting to his feet, Davis was met with a pair of chopping rights that put him on all fours, a sight that prompted Davis’ corner to signal their surrender to referee Neal Young. With that, Martirosyan’s record advanced to 33-0-1 (21) while Davis’ fell to 24-11-3 (9).

The round two numbers reflected the devastation Martirosyan wrought: 21 of 46 overall, including 20 of 32 power shots, to Davis’ 2 of 20 overall. In all Martiroyan led 39-4 in total connects and 35 of 72 (49 percent) in power punches while Davis could only generate 4 of 47 overall (9 percent) and 3 of 15 (20  percent) on his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Both men will likely continue their respective roles in the sport, never to meet again.

Onetime amateur standout Tony Lopez brought a vocal rooting section befitting his hometown hero status to his super bantamweight bout against South Carolina’s Jonathan Hernandez, who, at 1-2-1 (1), was the designated victim. The quick-fisted southpaw got down to business in a hurry as he out-landed Hernandez 18-3 overall and 11-3 in the bout’s first minute but after Hernandez survived the first wave Lopez settled into a pattern that saw him land sudden, singular right hooks while Hernandez continually bore in and sought openings that constantly eluded him.

Just when it appeared the bout was fated to go to the judges Lopez summoned a 10-punch explosion that drove Hernandez toward the neutral corner pad. The final punch of the volley – a smashing left cross to the face – propelled Hernandez down and nearly out of the ring. Several doctors ran to the fallen fighter and tended to his immediate medical needs. Thanks to them, Hernandez’s recovery time was relatively short given the punishment he absorbed. The time of the knockout was 33 seconds of the final round and the numbers favoring Lopez (now 4-0, 2) were illustrative of his dominance – 66-18 in total connects, 49-12 in landed power shots and big percentage leads across the board (40-10 overall, 26-8 jabs, 49-11 power).

While most of the bouts thus far were “Godzilla” phase fights that heavily favored the prospects, the next bout occupied a somewhat higher level in term of boxing story lines – an undefeated hopeful in Matt Korobov against a skilled if somewhat weathered onetime fringe contender in Ossie Duran, who, like Ryan Davis before him, was coming off a 1-2 stretch that saw him defeat a 9-6-1 Joshua Snyder (W 6) while losing to Brandon Gonzales and Avtandil Khurtsidze who boasted a combined record of 40-2-2.

For many fans, including myself, it had been a while since I had seen Korobov in action. During his “Godzilla” phase he was a staple on pay-per-view undercards. In fact, the last fight of his I have on my master DVD list was his eight-round decision against Derrick Findley in November 2010 and since then he had fought six times against foes with a combined 97-53-7 record (.618). The 36-year-old Duran represented a step up in terms of seasoning and durability since all of his previous 10 defeats were by decision.

Korobov’s careful and cerebral approach prompted the fans to boo the lack of action in round one, a round that saw Korobov go 0-of-56 in jabs and 7 of 77 overall to Duran’s 3 of 31 overall. But late in round two the crowd turned in his favor after the Russian unleashed a sizzling three-punch burst – a left to the body followed by a right hook-left cross to the jaw – that put Duran on the floor. Smelling the kill, Korobov tore after Duran with both hands to start the third. A scything left to the ribs caused the Ghanaian veteran to slump to a knee, which is where he was when referee Robert Chapa counted him out at the 51-second mark.

Given Duran’s previous ruggedness, Korobov’s KO victory was most impressive and the CompuBox statistics amplified that: A 32-12 bulge in total connects and 42 percent accuracy on his power punches (31 of 73) while taking just 18 percent of Duran’s hardest blows (7 of 38). For Korobov, now 20-0 (12), this definitive ending should signal the end of one phase and the beginning of the next, for he appears ready to step up his visibility to American audiences as well as his level of competition.

In terms of sustained action, the welterweight clash between welterweights Mikael Zewski and Damian Frias may have been the fight of the night, for the mixture of Zewski’s offensive firepower and Frias’ comeback capacity produced a compelling contest that revealed each man’s strengths and shortcomings. For Zewski, his competitive fire and combination punching are his greatest assets while Frias exposed defensive weaknesses as well as Zewski’s lack of one-punch power, a gift that is rarely bestowed. As for Frias, he demonstrated admirable grit in absorbing Zewski’s early tidal wave – a wave that included a first-round knockdown – and by also summoning a late-fight surge that tested Zewski in ways that he had not encountered previously. In fact, Frias out-landed Zewski in rounds five and six (30-29 and 22-16) and entering the eighth there was some suspense as to the final outcome.

The final round was three minutes of mayhem that had the crowd roaring and the punch-counters’ fingers blazing. When the dust settled, Zewski went 42 of 91 (including 41 of 79 in power shots) while Frias was 40 of 123 overall and 31 of 94 in power shots. To get an idea of how explosive this round was, Zewski more than tripled the welterweight average of 13 power connects per round while Frias doubled it.

The numbers reflected the relative closeness of the judges’ cards (each scored it 77-74 for Zewski) as Zewski led 201-179 in total connects. But Zewski’s 180-103 lead in landed power shots and his 47-29 bulge in power connect percentage more than trumped Frias’ 76-21 lead In landed jabs and the fact he averaged more punches per round (83.5 to 78, far above the 58.2 welterweight average). The victory advanced Zewski to 20-0 (15) and dropped Frias to 19-8-1 (10).

The final bout of the undercard saw two-time Mexican Olympian Oscar Valdez advance his record to 5-0 (5) with a two-round TKO over Gil Garcia (5-5-1, 1) and in doing so flashed the fusion of speed and power befitting a fighter of his elevated stature so early in his pro career. After gathering reconnaissance in a closer-than-expected first round (Valdez was 14 of 45 to Garcia’s 12 of 48), the 22-year-old unleashed his findings in round two in most destructive fashion. Valdez’s crushing right to the chin — delivered while his back was on the ropes — pole-axed Garcia and a follow-up flurry prompted the stoppage at the 2:32 mark. To that point, Valdez had landed Garcia 25-7 overall and 20-5 in power shots and he wound up connecting on 50 percent of his power punches (31 of 62) to Garcia’s 24 percent (15 of 63). In terms of building his highlight reel for future appearances, Valdez more than accomplished his mission.

The co-feature saw Terence Crawford continue his meteoric rise up the boxing ladder by stopping lanky Mexican Alejandro Sanabria in six rounds to raise his record to 21-0 (16) and drop Sanabria’s to 34-2-1 (25). The native Nebraskan’s ascent to the upper levels of his chosen sport has been staggering given where he was just a few months ago. When an elbow injury forced WBA junior welterweight titlist Khabib Allakhverdiev to withdraw less than 10 days before his HBO-televised defense against Breidis Prescott, Crawford was ushered in to serve as the “B-side” of a fractured co-feature slot. But the intended understudy turned out to be a star-in-waiting as Crawford sliced and diced the slow-footed Colombian en route to a stylish 10-round decision victory. Even in progress, Crawford’s work, especially from the southpaw stance, inspired comparisons to Pernell Whitaker from Max Kellerman, perhaps the most ardent exponent of “Sweet Pete’s” work in the boxing media. The near shutout victory (100-89, 99-91, 97-93) propelled the Midwesterner skyward in terms of regard and his reward was the Sanabria fight – as well as treatment worthy of an “A-side” attraction.

Crawford is not an easy fighter to peg in terms of style. Besides his Whitaker-like approach from the lefty stance, he is capable of banging away at close range as he did against Prescott and unleashing excellent volume (81 per round) and body punching (40 of 101 power connects) as he had in beating Sidney Siqueira. Also, as effective as he is as a southpaw, he is a natural right-hander (at least according to Boxrec).

On tape, Sanabria appeared to be a poor man’s Diego Corrales in that he had the body of a tall boxer but the temperament of a wade-in slugger. His fight with Seiichi Okada was extremely physical as Okada lost points for butting in round four and a low blow in the sixth while cutting and swelling Sanabria’s eyes. But the Mexican persevered and found a way to win, landing two heavy rights and a follow-up flurry that prompted an eighth-round stoppage.

Ironically, Sanabria tried to fight Crawford according to his frame by staying at long range and circling but he wasn’t able to conjure enough volume to push Crawford out of his comfort zone as he averaged just 43.8 punches per round, below Crawford’s 46.2. He also couldn’t penetrate Crawford’s guard as he landed 23 percent of his total punches, 21 percent of his jabs and 27 percent of his power punches, all below the lightweight averages of 30, 21 and 36. Meanwhile Crawford picked his spots well and he landed 36 percent overall, 50 percent of his power punches and out-landed Sanabria 83-51 (total) and 60-26 (power).

It has been written that “success is where opportunity meets preparation” and Crawford is living proof of that adage. He stepped up to the plate on short notice, seized the day by beating Prescott in March and amplified his credentials by impressively disposing of Sanabria less than three months later. As a result Crawford is on the brink of a life-changing fight, quite a leap compared to where he was at the turn of the year when only sparse footage of his fights were available on YouTube. Good for him.

When the main event between Mikey Garcia and Juan Manuel Lopez was announced, the metrics were pretty easy to figure. The rising star-versus-recent ex-champ equation is a long-held matchmaking tradition and most of the time youth trumped experience and speed trampled savvy. When one factored in the 29-year-old Lopez’s pair of TKO losses to Orlando Salido and the defensive troubles he showed against Mike Oliver (who landed 53 percent of his power punches before being stopped in two rounds) one had to figure the familiar pattern would play out.

But the events of the weigh-in – Garcia losing his title on the scales by scaling two pounds over and the 125 ¼-pound Lopez looking rock-hard and motivated – threw several layers of intrigue into the mix. Would Garcia lack the drive to hold off Lopez, who surely knew this would be his last, best chance to regain the standing he had when he was riding high a few years back? Would Garcia have the energy to kick his attack into high gear after his usual deliberate start over the first three rounds? Would JuanMa re-ignite the fabulous form that propelled him to two divisional titles and a spot on the pound-for-pound rankings by upsetting a heavy favorite who was physically compromised?

When the dust settled all went according to the original conventional wisdom. Garcia’s rehydrated body looked far healthier than the dry, drained physique he showed at the weigh-in and a knockdown in round two built the foundation for his sensational fourth round stoppage victory. As for Lopez, his sculpted exterior was a mere shell for the decay within. He lacked the reflexes to avoid the incoming and the chin to resist the power that Garcia unleashed.

Statistically, Garcia held to his low-output habits early as he averaged 42.3 punches per round (the featherweight average is 57.8) over the first three rounds but Lopez ended up throwing the exact same number of punches in the fight (153) and was on the wrong end of the connect totals (53-23 overall, including 40-4 in jabs).

While Garcia looked terrific amidst his adversity, a deeper look into the statistics revealed one significant concession to his weight issues – the distribution of his punches. In his three previous CompuBox-tracked fights against Salido, Jonathan Barros and Bernabe Concepcion, Garcia’s punch ratio was 58 percent jabs (the typical featherweight’s attack is 60 percent power shots) and in his last outing against Salido, his attack was almost perfectly balanced as he threw 193 power punches and 190 jabs. But against Lopez, Garcia threw 120 jabs and just 33 power punches – which meant a staggering 78.4 percent of his total punches were jabs.

So how does this apply to Garcia’s weight issues? Simple: It takes far less energy to throw jabs than power punches. It was obvious Garcia was saving himself for the later rounds should that become necessary but he couldn’t have dreamed his jabs would be so accurate, especially against the left-handed Lopez. Fourteen of Garcia’s 15 landed punches in round one were jabs and the pattern continued in rounds two (8 of 12) and three (11 of 13). Those jabs set the table for what happened in the fourth when Garcia finally turned on the jets for the first time, for at the time of the stoppage (1:34 in the fourth), Garcia was on pace to approach 60 punches for the round. Even then, Garcia’s attack was enviably balanced (16 jabs, 14 power shots) and superbly accurate (43 percent overall, 44 percent jabs, 43 percent power). Another stunning stat: Garcia didn’t land a single body shot. Then again, he didn’t need to.

Although Garcia said in the post-fight interview that his days at 126 are not over, his body may be saying something different. The options at 130 and, eventually, 135 are legion and for the past 30 years (ever since Wilfred Benitez and Alexis Arguello garnered huge press coverage for winning their third divisional titles) the mark of a great fighter lies in the number of weight classes conquered rather than his ability to dominate one. If Garcia isn’t already a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter he’s knocking on the door and while his immediate past was pockmarked with professional difficulties his future still looks incandescently bright.

*

Andy and I stopped by the production truck to secure a ride back to the hotel, not the easiest thing to do when the clock is nearing midnight. Fortunately for us stage manager Curran Bhatia, whose many duties on this night included passing my notes to blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley, had a minivan for this trip so we walked to the arena’s garage area and piled in. Curran dropped us off at the hotel entrance and the lobby was bursting at the seams with fight people. I spotted Crawford, belt slung over his shoulder, posing for pictures amidst the dozens of conversational clumps that populated the area. I had originally planned to unpack my stuff and join in but I thought better of it. After all, following a night of work at the arena, more awaited me in the hotel room in the form of writing. Unfortunately for me, not a lot of that ended up getting done and I turned in shortly after 1 a.m.

Sunday, June 16: For me, this day began at 7:30 a.m. and after getting ready I texted Andy to see when he wanted to meet in the lobby since our respective flights were to leave within minutes of each other. As I waited for him to respond I bought breakfast (a chocolate Krispy Kreme doughnut and a carton of milk) and said hello to Hall of Famer matchmaker Bruce Trampler, HBO analyst Max Kellerman, veteran trainer (and, briefly, CompuBox counter) Miguel Diaz and WBO junior lightweight champion Roman “Rocky” Martinez, who hinted his next fight may be in September against Garcia.

Because Andy’s more of a daredevil than I when it comes to airport arrival times (I prefer two hours before departure on domestic flights, three hours on international trips), he gave me the go-ahead to proceed without him. I walked across the street to grab a cab and, assuming my plane to Pittsburgh would arrive in the same concourse as was the case when I landed two days earlier, I asked him to drive me to the Terminal C entrance.

Of course, I was wrong. My gate was in Terminal A so I took the Skylink tram at the top of the escalator and two stops later I was where I needed to be. I was briefly fooled by the fact that the gate monitor read “San Francisco” instead of Pittsburgh but another check of the monitor a few minutes later confirmed my initial belief.

Because our plane experienced delays coming in from Colorado Springs, the departure time was pushed back at least 30 minutes. For one of the rare times in my travels I was assigned an exit row seat and its extra leg room. Seated to my immediate left was one of the more interesting people I’ve yet met on my journeys. Enrico Antonini, who was returning home after attending a wedding, is a retired school superintendent who, during his days as a teacher, had former Boston Red Sox and current Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona as one of his students. His stories about the colorful Francona could have easily occupied the entirety of the two-and-a-half hour flight but he also threw in a tale about one memorable on-field encounter with Hall of Famer Mike Ditka.

Antonini was a fullback on a powerhouse high school team while Ditka was the opposing linebacker on a lesser-ranked squad. The first play of the game required Antonini to block Ditka and was told that if he did so successfully the play surely would result in a touchdown. Just before the ball was snapped, a frothing Ditka snarled a threat at Antonini, who was non-plussed by Iron Mike’s attempt at intimidation. Once the play began, Antonini and Ditka blasted their pads together and a rousing cheer came up from the crowd. Antonini thought they were reacting to his superb blocking skills but it was actually the touchdown that had just been scored. The pair would meet several times over the ensuing years and, according to Antonini, a holder of three masters degrees, Ditka always brought up that play – as well as a good-natured threat to kick his butt for it.

Despite our later-than-expected departure, our plane landed in Pittsburgh several minutes earlier than anticipated. The drive home was pleasingly uneventful and I pulled into the driveway shortly after 6:30 p.m. I had planned to get a jump on the mountain of loose ends I left behind but I was hit with a tidal wave of fatigue that forced me to turn in less than two hours later. In all, I was out for the next 11 1/2 hours.

My travel schedule since late April has been nothing short of staggering – Buenos Aires, Miami (Oklahoma), London, the International Boxing Hall of Fame Induction Weekend, Montreal and now Dallas. While I love the travel and the adventures contained therein, I also appreciate those times when I need to be home because they give me the opportunity to address tasks that have been left undone. In that respect, the good news is that my next trip is scheduled to begin July 18, when the Travelin’ Man will fly to Las Vegas to work a card topped by Ishe Smith-Carlos Molina for Smith’s IBF junior middleweight belt.

Until then, happy trails.

*

Photos / Naoki Fukuda, Lee Groves

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.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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