Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man returns to Indio – Part II

Read part I of Travelin’ Man returns to Indio.

 

Friday, Aug. 9: I stirred awake at 8:45 a.m. after five hours of stone-cold slumber. The difficult travel day had taken plenty out of me and my late arrival blew away any chances of staying on East Coast time to mitigate tomorrow’s sunrise departure.

After completing the morning routines I printed out my boarding passes in the lobby and returned to my room to catch up on my writing. I received a text from Showtime production coordinator Nikki Ferry that all was well in terms of reversing the charges for the one-way rental from my credit card to the company’s and punch-counting colleague Joe Carnicelli asked me via text to meet him in the lobby at 11:30 a.m.

One characteristic that defines Carnicelli is “preparedness.” He’s so prepared that Scoutmasters come to him for advice. His 15-plus years of regular gigs have taught him to account for nearly every conceivable situation. Inside his giant laptop bag is a small carrying case that resembles a survival kit.

“I have nine pens in the case, and I just threw out two or three of them when they stopped working,” he said, noting that he was down to two refills. He also has a special operations flashlight that has 21 pinpoint lights, a calculator, white out pens, two pairs of back-up eyeglasses, one pair of darker glasses to cope with ringside glare and a laminated photo ID dating back to the first Vernon Forrest-Shane Mosley fight at Madison Square Garden for those times he encounters aggressive parking security people.

In another part of his bag he keeps several individual packets of Purell sanitizing wipes to clean blood splatters as well as wipe down germ-saturated items like hotel TV remotes, toilet handles, light switches, faucets and so on. For outdoor fights – like the Abner Mares-Jhonny Gonzalez/Victor Terrazas-Leo Santa Cruz card at the newly dubbed StubHub Center in Carson that he’ll work this Saturday – he includes sunscreen and a hat.

The calculator came in handy when the CompuBox team was confronted with an unexpected challenge.

“I remember when (CompuBox president) Bob (Canobbio) and I were doing one of the old Cedric Kushner Heavyweight Explosion shows in Miami Beach, we found out they had set up a special bonus system where they were going to pay by the number of punches or power punches landed each round,” Carnicelli said. “They told us we had to calculate this for every fight, so it was a good thing that I brought one along. Worse yet, we were in a nightclub and it was going to be pitch-black between rounds. Because my calculator was solar-powered, I grabbed the mini-flashlight to activate it so we could calculate the bonuses.”

Vinny Pazienza was always known as a blood-and-guts fighter, but the “Paz Man” took that reputation to extremes against Aaron Davis in February 2001, a bout he lost via eighth round TKO.

“They were fighting at the old Foxwoods Theater where the broadcasters, ring officials and punch counters sat in a narrow trench at ringside,” he said. “Vinny was really getting busted up and Davis had him backed up on the ropes. He was bleeding from his nose, his lip and his eyes and the blood was pouring out of him like a faucet. I managed to sop most of it up with the wipes and we managed to get through the rest of the show. But I ended up having to throw the computer out because the blood coagulated in the keys.”

To make his job easier between rounds, Joe prepares individualized round-by-round sheets as well as slips of paper with each fighter’s name in bold black ink to save him 10 seconds when writing notes to the talent. Joe even had some Advil, a fortunate turn when I was gripped by a sudden, searing headache after counting one of the untelevised undercard fights.

One thing Joe didn’t bring this time was earplugs, which would have come in handy when WBA welterweight titlist Adrien Broner practiced his ring walk rap for fellow Cincinnati fighter Brandon Bennett. It wasn’t that Broner’s rapping was bad – I’m hardly an expert on the subject – it was just that the public address system made it extremely loud.

The first bout of the 10-fight card began at 4 p.m., even before the doors were opened to the public. Lightweight Robert Easter raised his record to 6-0 (6) with a second-round TKO over Omaha southpaw Lowell Brownfield, whose mark dropped to 11-10-1 (4). A combination capped by a thumping left to the body forced Brownfield to kneel down in the closing moments of the first and an energized Easter gunned for the finish early in the second. His whipping combinations drove Brownfield to the neutral corner pad located directly above me, so I had a good view of the final blow – a thudding left to the stomach. Referee Ray Corona stopped the count midway when it became clear Brownfield was unable to continue.

Indio-based Irishman Jamie Kavanagh honored his roots by entering the ring with a green plaid driving cap, green trunks and a necklace made of rosary beads. Nicknamed “The Nuisance,” Kavanagh proved to be much more than that to his opponent, Mexicali’s Antonio Meza. Kavanagh came out strong and didn’t relent until Meza slumped to a knee near Kavanagh’s corner. As Meza pawed at his face, Corona stopped the fight just 59 seconds after it began. The win advanced Kavanagh’s record to 15-0-1 (7) and dropped Meza’s to 29-13-1 (21).

I spent much of the next fight, an action-packed four rounder between pro debutantes Allen Nevarez and Rigoberto Hermosillo, seated next to Bill Farhood, the older brother of Showtime analyst (and, in my eyes, future Hall of Famer) Steve. A third round knockdown proved decisive as Hermosillo captured a 39-36 (twice), 38-37 decision.

Next up were middleweights Juan Gonzalez of Phoenix and Inglewood’s Leshon Sims, whose records coming in couldn’t have been more different; 7-0 (4) for the baby-faced 22-year-old Gonzalez, 5-14 (3) for the 28-year-old Sims. Sims had lost his last eight in row but the only KO came at the hands of Daniel Jacobs in April 2008. Gonzalez swept the scorecards by 40-36 margins by being more aggressive but Sims fought much more competently than someone of his record would indicate. He lost every round, but was not badly outclassed and his movement presented challenges for the prospect.

The trend for U.S.-based heavyweight boxers in recent years is to turn to the sport only after playing another one. Such was the case for Gerald Washington, a onetime tight end for USC who, at age 31, is building a reputation as a banger. Two months earlier he won an eight round decision over veteran Sherman Williams on a card televised by Showtime Extreme and he made a strong case to return to the airwaves by scoring a scary second round knockout over previously undefeated Louisianan Jerry Forrest. In the first round Washington (9-0, 6) occasionally circled to his right against the southpaw Forrest, the wrong direction considering he was moving into his opponent’s power hand. But Washington eventually corrected himself by mixing his movement.

Forrest didn’t help himself by following Washington around instead of cutting off the ring and he eventually paid a big price. A right uppercut followed by a right cross caused Forrest to crash hard back-first. The back of his head slammed the canvas and he barely moved for several moments after referee Corona stopped the fight at the 1:32 mark of round two. I and others breathed a sigh of relief when, after a little more than a minute, Forrest was carefully placed on a stool and allowed to recover. The savage KO proved to be a precursor for the night’s defining moment.

2008 Olympian Gary Russell Jr. continued his development by facing competent journeyman Juan Ruiz, who nine months earlier took future WBC super bantamweight titlist Victor Terrazas to a high-energy eight round split decision. As was the case against Terrazas, Ruiz tried to exert smothering pressure but against Russell he often dove in head first and as a result drew repeated cautions for butting. Russell’s movement and flashy multi-punch bursts were more than enough to win every round with stylish ease.

The CompuBox numbers provided further illustration of Russell’s dominance, which the judges deemed worthy of 100-90 scores across the board. Russell out-landed Ruiz 220-76 overall and 178-75 in power shots, landing 30 percent of his total punches and 45 percent of his power shots while holding Ruiz to 22 percent overall and 29 percent power.

But the most impressive stat Russell achieved was his ability to defend the jab. In 10 rounds of ring action, Russell tasted just one jab out of 90 attempts. That jab was landed in the sixth round as the start of a three punch burst and to me it looked like it landed more by accident than by design. While it is true that right-handed fighters have trouble landing jabs against southpaws because of the positioning of the lefty’s lead glove, Russell’s performance in that department was above and beyond.

The junior middleweight fight between undefeated prospect Jermall Charlo and gatekeeper Antwone Smith was expected to be much more than it ended up being. Charlo had recently lifted his degree of difficulty by stopping the 29-3-2 Orlando Lora in five and the 22-5 Luis Hernandez in two rounds but Smith represented a potentially more challenging test given his propensity for springing upsets. In 2009 he ran off wins against the 16-0 Norberto Gonzalez (W 8), the 24-2-1 Richard Gutierrez (W 10) and the 22-0-1 Henry Crawford (KO 9) to dramatically lift his profile, and in recent bouts he dominated the 38-year-old Jose Luis Castillo and won a hard-fought split decision over Ronald Cruz in Cruz’s adopted hometown of Bethlehem, Pa.

But Smith has had issues fulfilling contractually mandated weights. For the third consecutive fight Smith missed the target as he scaled 159¾ to Charlo’s 154 and as a result he was forced to give up 20 percent of his purse and ordered to weigh no more than 165 at the morning re-weighing. It was clear the weight issues had a deleterious effect on Smith, for he entered the ring without a drop of sweat on him and, for the most part, he fought with uncharacteristic listlessness.

That, however, shouldn’t take much away from Charlo’s performance, for he executed as a rising prospect should. The six-foot-tall Charlo has always relied heavily on his jab to set up the rest of his offense and such was the case here as 67 of his 110 punches – or 61 percent of his total offense – were jabs. A right to the head dropped Smith and after arising with atypical unsteadiness referee Tom Taylor correctly stopped the contest at 2:23 of round two. The victory raised Charlo’s record to 15-0 (11) while Smith declined to 23-5-1 (12).

The numbers were as lopsided as the fight as Charlo out-landed Smith 40-8 overall and 23-8 jabs but the most telling stats were Charlo’s 17-0 shutout in power connects and Smith’s five attempted power punches, which illustrated further Smith’s inability to put forth a robust attack.

Speaking of robust attacks, that ‘s what junior lightweight Francisco Vargas put forth in out-pointing Brandon Bennett. In rounds three through eight, Vargas averaged 79.3 punches per round and out-landed Bennett 178-58 overall and 154-53 in power punches. That mid-fight surge powered his connect advantages across the board (228-81 overall, 39-14 jabs, 189-67 power) as did his accuracy (35 percent to 22 percent overall, 21 percent to 8 percent jabs and 40 percent to 36 percent power). Additionally, Vargas’ ferocious body attack – 102 of his 189 power connects targeted the flanks – gradually wore Bennett out. From rounds four through nine, Bennett’s total connects declined (21, 13, 9, 6, 5 and 4) and in round eight he threw just 16 punches to Vargas’ 73.

Bennett started the fight well as his slickness limited Vargas to 29 punches while Bennett fired 49. But once Vargas found his rhythm his size, strength and harder punching took over. The fight was effectively won for Vargas when Bennett launched an atypical full-frontal assault that dovetailed directly into Vargas’ strengths. Statistically it was his best round as he went 21 of 41 overall and landed 21 of 39 power punches, but Vargas responded with his own fight highs of 39 of 99 overall and 33 of 79 in power shots. After that, Bennett had little left in the tank and only his resourcefulness and fighting spirit enabled him to last the distance. Vargas won and fought with ferocity while Bennett lost and fought with honor.

Vargas and his corner should be granted extra credit for how they performed after the fighter suffered a nasty gash over his left eye. The cut was in a terrible location but the cut man did an excellent job in controlling the blood and Vargas didn’t allow the crimson to affect his performance. Fighting another man is tough enough, but to do so with blood-smeared vision is even more so.

If Washington’s knockout earlier in the evening was scary, Deontay Wilder’s one-punch demolition was even more so. Over the past eight years I’ve witnessed knockouts that alarmed me – Demetrius Hopkins vs. Michael Warrick in June 2006 and Delvin Rodriguez vs. Oscar Diaz in July 2008 among them – but Wilder’s explosive destruction of onetime WBO heavyweight titlist Sergei Liakhovich ranks as one of the most frightening I’ve yet seen.

Wilder’s right to the jaw line just above the ear must have overloaded Liakhovich’s circuitry, for after he hit the floor the excess electricity had no other place to go except through his legs. The wild gyrations had the look of an epileptic seizure and referee Tom Taylor’s quick action to stop the fight as well as the medical team’s instant attention neutralized what could have been a tragic situation.

After packing our equipment, Joe and I headed toward the back to visit the crew and to check out the culinary fare. As I discussed the Wilder KO with Barry Tompkins, Steve Farhood and executive producer Gordon Hall, we spotted Liakhovich being carried out of the area on a stretcher. The good news is that the medical team appeared to be acting with an abundance of caution, for Liakhovich was chatting away on a cell phone and otherwise appeared OK.

Although the fighter has a right to determine the course of his career, I, as an observer, hope this result sends a strong message to Liakhovich that perhaps another chapter in his life awaits him, one that doesn’t include fighting other men inside the ropes. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he should leave boxing altogether; quite the opposite. Younger fighters could benefit from his knowledge and status as a former major titlist, but, as I learned myself the hard way during an ESPN crew “fight night” in 2007, boxing is a sport that is best suited for younger men.

*

After Joe drove us back to the Hyatt, he suggested our post-fight meal should take place at Woody’s Burgers and Beer, which is located a couple of blocks away. As usual, Joe’s recommendation proved to be a good one.

The establishment is sectioned into two distinctive parts – the restaurant and the “back room.” The restaurant resembles a 1950’s-themed diner, with padded stools and a long, curving table. The short order cook does his work just a few feet away and he cooks the burgers to order. Meanwhile, the back room features live music and boasts a group of regular performers. On this night jazz/pop/R&B singer Rose Mallett was finishing up her four-hour live set, adding that she’d be off a week, then back for two consecutive Friday evening gigs.

Being a teetotaler since 1983 I skipped the beer but I definitely indulged in the burgers and fries. I ordered the Woody’s Original Cheeseburger – described on the menu as “100 percent angus beef, toasted bun, lettuce, tomato and Woody’s House Sauce” — and fries while Joe had a three-burger sampler and Woody’s Original Sweet Potato Fries. My burger was large, extra juicy and beyond delicious. If I lived in Palm Springs, Woody’s would be one of my regular haunts, though my waistline probably wouldn’t be able to stand it for long.

Just before I called it a night I noticed the clock radio’s illumination wasn’t working, and no amount of fiddling could restore it. So I went to an alternate plan that helped me on past trips: Tuning the TV to a channel that features an ever-present clock and using that to keep tabs on the time. Sometimes the hotel has an in-house channel that fulfills this purpose but absent that the Weather Channel and ESPN proved to be good alternatives. With the sound muted, I then turned out the lights at 12:15 a.m.

Saturday, Aug. 10: The plan worked to a tee; I awakened a few minutes before my target time of 4:30 a.m. The day, however, didn’t get off to the best start when I stubbed my toe on the corner of the sofa while fumbling in the dark and I accidentally knocked over the deodorant when reaching for something else.

Could it be déjà vu? Two days earlier flight delays caused me to miss my 39-minute connection window at LAX and today’s trip through Dallas boasted a 45-minute gap between arrival and departure. That day began with unusual clumsiness and now it was happening again.

Because the hotel shuttle to the airport didn’t start running until 7 a.m. that service was unavailable to me since my flight out of Palm Springs was scheduled to leave at 7:25 a.m. I learned the previous evening that the front desk could arrange a taxi for me, so I opted to take that route.

The taxi arrived quickly – too quickly, it turned out. The clerk on duty had an unusually difficult time making correct change, so much so that I had to signal to the driver that I was aware of her presence and that I would be out as quickly as I could.

The taxi drivers I’ve met over the years have assumed many shapes, sizes and nationalities but today’s courier was unusual indeed – a female 1960s flower child. While driving a taxi is her job, her interests were clearly elsewhere; she spoke of the sculptures she created in her youth and the ranch she hopes to purchase in the near future. She spoke so passionately about the red tape hindering the purchase of the property that she accidentally missed the turnoff to the terminal. I knew this was an accident because, to make up for her mistake, she turned off the meter for a few moments.

Once inside the terminal I consulted the flight monitor to take note of my gate. Of course, my flight was one of a handful that didn’t have an assigned gate and that fact remained so after I passed through security.

Palm Springs’ airport has two separate terminals, one for gates 1-11 and the other for gates 12-20. The two buildings are located a fair distance apart so if I guessed wrong a punitive walk awaited me.

When confronted by choosing One or The Other, I usually end up choosing The Other. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case this morning. I ended up choosing the building housing gates 12-20 and once I entered the building I approached the only working gate agent at the moment.

“Excuse me ma’am, I am booked on the 7:40 a.m. American flight to Dallas-Fort Worth but the flight monitor didn’t indicate the proper gate,” I began. “Do you have any updated information?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” she replied. “But those flights usually depart from the other terminal.”

Of course, I chose The Other.

After my late-night gut bomb at Woody’s Burgers and Beer, God knows I needed the extra exercise. When I reached the other terminal, one that was named for onetime mayor and longtime entertainer Sonny Bono, I saw that my gate was still unlisted. The gates were separated into several pods but my choices were narrowed considerably when I noticed just one of the pods was accessible.

One good sign: The one gate agent in sight was wearing an American Airlines shirt.

When I asked if he had any information regarding my gate, he said that this particular flight usually came out of gate 6. I’ve been in enough airports to know that information can change on a dime, so even though I settled into an empty seat, I made sure not to get too relaxed.

Once I reached a good stopping point in my writing, I checked the monitor to see if a gate had been locked down. Meanwhile, I spotted a familiar face – or rather a familiar hat – seated about 20 feet away from me. Wearing dark sunglasses, he also had on a sequined hat with the words “Bomb Squad” in large letters on the front. I remembered the hat from the night before, so, being a boxing guy looking for a way to pass the time, I walked over and sat down a couple of seats away from him.

I learned his name was John Madeiros and that he was a part of Deontay Wilder’s team. A certified amateur boxing coach with USA Boxing, Madeiros is also one of Wilder’s closest friends. The terrifying knockout of Liakhovich served as a natural starting point and it wasn’t long before I decided to center part of my story around our conversation. When I asked him if I could interview him for the story, he quickly accepted. The result is a story analyzing Wilder’s successes and reasons why we must remain cautious about his future.

As it turned out, he was seated one row behind me and we ended up talking for the entire two-and-a-half hour flight.

My gab fest didn’t end, for on the Dallas-to-Pittsburgh leg I sat beside a personable mother-daughter duo. The daughter, Bambi Bevill, instantly took note of my red hair and mentioned how much she liked red-headed men.

“Where have you been all my life?” I asked with a laugh. It wasn’t flirting on my part, for she mentioned her husband earlier in the conversation.

While all three of us discussed our extensive travels while also mentioning my deep roots in boxing, the mother asked if I had been to Yellowstone Park. I said no. She then mentioned that golden gloves boxing was particularly big in Montana, at which point Bambi mentioned she was born in Missoula.

Being a boxing fan, I associate most things with the sport and when Bambi mentioned Missoula I instantly mentioned Marvin Camel, a Missoula resident who also was boxing’s first cruiserweight champion.

“Marvin Camel?” the mother asked. “My brother actually dated his sister.”

You couldn’t make this stuff up. Whoever would have thought that I’d end up sitting beside someone with that kind of link to a onetime world champion? If I hadn’t known of Marvin Camel I never would have made the association and the mother wouldn’t have had any reason to reveal the unique “degree of separation.” Some things, I suppose, are just meant to be.

Once again, I spent the entire flight talking with my seat mates and the 500-plus page book I brought along for the long trips went unread.

I arrived home a little after 7:30 p.m., just in time to supervise the multiple recordings that are typical of Saturday nights. As is usually the case a mountain of work awaited me. The good news is that I’ll have nearly a month to whittle down the “to-do” list, for my next Travelin’ Man adventure is scheduled to begin Sept. 7 when I return to Indio to work a double-header featuring Chris Arreola-Seth Mitchell and Rafael Marquez-Efrain Esquivias.

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 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three 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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