Lee Groves

Travelin’ Man returns to Verona – Part II

Click here to read part I.

 

Saturday, Nov. 16 (continued): Statistically, Vyacheslav Glazkov’s 10-round decision over Garrett Wilson was a certifiable blowout. The unbeaten Ukrainian out-threw (584-294 overall), out-landed (238-75 overall, 100-20 jabs, 138-55 power) and nearly shut out his American rival on the judges’ scorecards (99-91, 98-92, 97-93). Glazkov’s connects reached double digits every round while Wilson never managed to land more than nine punches (rounds two, nine and 10).

But while Glazkov won the fight, Wilson won the night – in more ways than one.

Plucked from obscurity on four days’ notice when the stomach flu KO’d Tomasz Adamek, Wilson made the most of his opportunity by continually charging forward, taking everything Glazkov dished out without so much as flinching, winging haymakers from bizarre angles and opening cuts over both Glazkov eyes thanks to accidental butts. At the end, Wilson had enough energy left to throw his hands in the air, bounce about the ring and climb the ropes to accept his deserved cheers.

His energetic performance earned him another chance to show his wares on TV. Talk about winning for losing.

“He will be back on the NBC Sports Network early next year, we’ve already told him that,” Main Events CEO Kathy Duva told RingTV.com’s Corey Erdman afterward. It’s easy to see why given the enthusiasm he showed amidst the pounding he absorbed.

Of course, that shouldn’t have been surprising. After all, Wilson is a Philadelphia fighter.

No other city in America boasts a label that’s so instantly recognized and respected by boxing fans. Although Joe Frazier was born in South Carolina, his never-say-die aggression and ferocious fighting spirit embodied the city’s grit and blue-collar strength. No matter what the record or the style, it is universally accepted that a Philly fighter with Wilson’s modest record – now 13-7-1 (7) – represents a sterner test than a 21-0 fighter from most other cities, mostly because of the extremely tough sparring that takes place in the gyms.

“I’ve been boxing Bryant Jennings, Steve Cunningham, Eddie Chambers, I’ve sparred with lots of heavyweights,” Wilson told Erdman. “He hit me with one of his hardest punches, and I was still standing, so I was like, ‘alright, I’m good, I can take it.’”

And take it he did. For doing so with such panache he enhanced his professional opportunities. Here’s hoping he’ll face someone nearer to his weight category, if not his size.

Overshadowed in all the Rocky-esque feeling surrounding Wilson was Glazkov, who fulfilled his role as prohibitive favorite about as well as one could. He won the vast majority of rounds, dictated the geography and pace, landed dozens of sharp punches and carried out his strategic blueprint to a tee. He also deserves credit for executing the necessary technical adjustments as well as maintaining his focus and motivation, for not every fighter is able to shrug off the disappointment of losing a career-enhancing fight at the last minute and then turning in a winning performance.

Cynics, however, would be correct to ask whether Glazkov’s inability to stop Wilson is the result of Glazkov’s below-average ability to dish out knockout drops or Wilson’s above-average ability to take it. As for me, I believe it’s a bit of both. I was at ringside when Glazkov crushed the similarly built and far heavier (254 pounds) Byron Polley in two rounds and there he had no problems scoring knockdowns. Then again, it was a matter of levels, for Polley was a journeyman while Wilson showed himself to be more than that. Tor Hamer was stopped in four, but that was the result of a corner retirement than a highlight-reel KO and his victories over Konstantin Airich (W 10), Evgeny Orlov (KO 5) and Gbenga Oloukin (KO 7) also were achieved through attrition. He never seriously hurt Malik Scott and most observers (including myself) believe Glazkov deserved to lose that decision.

Only future fights can confirm Glazkov’s true worth as a puncher, but as of now he is still one thing – a winner.

The co-feature saw lightweight Karl Dargan score a sparkling 10-round decision over fellow unbeaten Michael Brooks, an aggressive southpaw who simply didn’t have the answers to cope with the Philadelphian’s all-around skills. At age 28, Dargan is at his chronological and athletic prime and his full variety of talents were on display at the exact right time on the exact right TV platform. His lateral movement effectively set up razor-sharp counters, especially with right crosses and right uppercuts as Brooks charged in. He lacked the power to drop the determined Brooks, who simply refused to quit trying to turn the tide.

The judges’ scorecards (98-92, 99-91 twice) and the CompuBox stats reflected Dargan’s dominance. Averaging 63.2 punches per round (slightly above the 62.3 lightweight average), Dargan out-landed Brooks 178-96 overall, 35-20 in jabs and 143-76 in power shots. Dargan initially used the jab to establish geographical control as he landed 30 of his 35 jabs in the first five rounds but once he cemented his preferred distance he brought in his power game by landing 90 of his 143 power punches in rounds 6-10. As for Brooks, he reached double-digit connects only four times overall and three times in terms of power shots while Dargan reached those plateaus a combined 19 out of 20 rounds.

“I was trying to keep busy, keep a solid pace,” Dargan told RingTV.com. “Most guys in this weight division can’t keep that pace.”

Other notes from the undercard:

* Isaac Chilemba got back on the winning track following back-to-back blemishes against Tony Bellew (D 12, L 12) by out-classing tough-minded Michael Gbenga via near-shutout (80-72, 79-73, 79-73). Like Dargan-Brooks, Chilemba-Gbenga was determined by a discernible difference in pedigree as Chilemba dominated the first four rounds with savvy movement and a dominant jab that set up crisp and accurate power punches. During the first 12 minutes of action Chilemba out-landed Gbenga 91-35 overall, 32-11 jabs and 59-26 in power connects.

But just as it appeared Chilemba was on his way to a clear-cut win on points, Gbenga produced a looping right that rendered the Malawi native loopy in the final minute of round five. Gbenga desperately gunned for the finish as he out-landed Chilemba 9-2 overall and 7-1 in power shots during the final minute, but Chilemba’s resourcefulness saw him through to the bell.

Chilemba never was threatened again because in rounds six, seven and eight he returned to what worked for him – the jab. In the final nine minutes Chilemba threw 124 jabs (41.3 per round) and his 44-7 jab connect advantage paved the way to a 68-20 lead in total connects and an impressive 55 percent connect rate on his hooks, crosses and uppercuts for the fight.

* The other two undercard fights were competitive aesthetically and statistically. The afternoon’s first bout saw Sevdail Sherifi (9-2-3, 8) fight a six-round majority draw against previously undefeated Quantis Graves (9-0-1, 4) while Utica super middleweight Andy Mejias raised his record to 15-0 (6) by out-pointing rugged Latif Mundy (10-9, 4) over four.

Statistically speaking Sherifi made a solid case for himself by being far more active (325-205 in overall punches) and landing more punches (110-77 overall, 17-12 jabs, 93-65 power). However, Graves was more accurate across the board (38 percent to 34 overall, 19 percent to 18 in jabs, 45 percent to 40 in power punches). What made the bout close was that when Graves landed he did so with far more impact and that matters heavily with judges.

As for Mejias-Mundy, the gaps were nearly as significant as Mejias out-landed Mundy 80-51 overall, 21-13 in jabs and 59-38 in power shots but Mundy landed the harder punches and was more accurate overall (31 percent to 29) and in jabs (22 percent to 14). But the capper was that Mejias connected on 49 percent of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts while Mundy saw pay dirt 36 percent of the time.

As Aris and I walked out of the arena we noticed two unique factoids about this card: (1) All five fights went the scheduled distance and (2) no knockdowns were scored. That’s a tribute to the matchmakers at Main Events, for the vast majority of undercard fights are intended to be record-builders for the promoter’s prospects. This wasn’t the case here, and Main Events should be congratulated for staging a competitive and entertaining afternoon of fights.

*

Following a few more rounds on the laptop I ventured downstairs to kill some time before meeting Aris for dinner. Moments after stepping out of the elevator I spotted Wilson walking toward me with several members of his team. He looked remarkably unblemished given what he had just gone through and when I stuck out my hand and said “nice fight,” he lowered his head, closed his eyes, smiled, shook my hand and said, clear as a bell, “thank you very much.” One would think that someone who makes his living throwing punches would have hardened, calloused hands but Wilson’s right hand was the completely opposite.

As I continued to wander around the casino I ran into NBC’s blow-by-blow man Kenny Rice, who flashed me a friendly non-verbal “hello” as he talked on his cell phone. Shortly thereafter, I heard a familiar voice call out “Lee Groves!” It was Brian Adams, onetime fighter and punch-counting colleague and current commentator/stage manager/New York Golden Gloves tournament organizer as well as an all-around good guy. We walked and talked for a few minutes before separating at the top of the escalator. Anticipating a future late-night meal, I stopped by the Turning Stone General Store and bought a can of sour cream and onion Pringles before returning to my room.

As anticipated, I met Aris at the elevators at 7 p.m., after which we used our voucher to get a second meal at the Season’s Harvest Buffet. I made the most of my visit, because by the time I walked out more than an hour later I felt as if I weighed 900 pounds. I waddled back to my room, watched Andre Ward dominate Edwin Rodriguez in a foul-infested 12-round non-title go (thanks to Rodriguez missing the weight) and turned out the lights shortly after 1 a.m.

Sunday, Nov. 17: This time the sleep was far sounder and six hours later I began the usual morning routines. After that, I spent the next couple of hours catching up on my writing and preparing to catch the 9:30 a.m. casino shuttle that would take us to Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport.

I initially felt uncomfortable when I learned that other people would be driving us to and from the airport because I’d rather travel at my pace. But all in all, despite my troubles finding the driver Friday night, this arrangement worked out well. I also learned that I drive pretty slowly, for while the drive from Hancock to Verona usually takes me around 40 minutes, it took our drivers less than 30.

According to the production memo, I was to share a driver with NBC’s roving reporter and award-winning writer Chris Mannix. Despite not having to be there until 9:30 a.m. the early bird in me demanded that I show up at least 15 minutes early. As I waited for the car (and Chris) to arrive, I spotted someone who I briefly bumped into yesterday but whose name I didn’t know. It turned out to be boxing judge John McKaie, who saw Glazkov a 98-92 winner the previous day. We got to know each other pretty well over the next hour; for instance, he told me he is one of the few people alive who could truthfully claim he attended the final boxing card held at the old Madison Square Garden location and the first card staged at MSG’s current spot.

It’s funny how life works out. When 9:30 became 9:40, one of the hotel employees wanted to contact Mannix to check his status. The call went to voice mail. Then he went inside to consult the concierge, who told him Mannix had checked out the previous night. Meanwhile, according to the driver’s list McKaie’s shuttle was listed as leaving at 11:30 a.m. instead of 9:30 a.m., a big error since his flight was scheduled to leave at 11:30. So because Mannix had flown the coop, a space opened up for McKaie, who now had the means to get to the airport on time. To paraphrase Rocky Graziano, “someone up there likes us.”

The half-hour drive was delightful as we swapped stories faster than Sugar Ray Robinson threw combinations. We parted ways once we reached the terminal because we were flying on different airlines – JetBlue for him, US Airways for me. Our itineraries couldn’t have been more different as well, for he had a direct flight to New York City while my route involved flights from Syracuse to Washington, D.C., D.C. to Pittsburgh and the two-and-a-half hour drive home to West Virginia.

As I waited in the security line, whose picture would have perfect accompanied the word “bottleneck” in the dictionary, a wailing baby serenaded us with his version of “Infant Opus Number One in B-Flat.” When I made that joke to the woman standing behind me, she chuckled and replied in her best maternal voice “one of my favorite songs.”

Not only was I graced with a first-class upgrade for my first flight home, my seat was on the aisle in row one. Of course, there are pros and cons with everything and this was no exception. The cons: I usually put my laptop case underneath the seat in front of me because that’s where I keep the books I read to pass the time. In row one there’s no such sanctuary and by the time I boarded the plane the overhead bins in first class either were already full or were too small to accommodate my bag. I placed my laptop bag in front of me and asked the flight attendant for help. A few minutes later space was found when my seatmate’s two lighter and more flexible bags were moved to the thinner bin across the aisle while my laptop case was stored in the deeper, thicker space her bags previously occupied.

The pros: First, I had tons of leg room. Second, I was seated less than 10 feet from our first-class flight attendant, an attractive blonde from Siberia who had her hair pulled bag in a bun and wore school-teacher style black-rimmed glasses. She also had a sense of humor, for after our rather bumpy take-off caused me to smile wryly she looked at me and said “roller coaster.” Several more turbulent moments would follow and our banter kept both of us occupied. All in all, the flight to Reagan International Airport was a pretty fun one.

As was the case in Philadelphia two days earlier, I had to take a shuttle bus to my connecting terminal. The man standing behind me was somewhat nervous because his plane was scheduled to depart in 30 minutes’ time. I assured him that if the bus arrived in the next five minutes that he’d still be OK. Sure enough, the bus arrived exactly five minutes later.

The day’s final flight was bumpy and occasionally tense but it achieved an on-time landing. A nasty weather system moving across the Midwest produced strong and constant rain and I was thankful I only had to walk 125 steps to reach my car. Once inside, the weather had no bearing on my drive home, for I arrived in my driveway at 6:55 p.m., five minutes sooner than predicted.

By the time you read this I already will be on my way to my next destination – New York City. There, Aris and I will be counting Saturday’s pay-per-view card topped by Manny Pacquiao-Brandon Rios from HBO’s studios.

Until then, happy trails.

*

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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