Lee Groves

The Stretch Drive: Travelin’ Man returns to New York City – Part II

 

Click here to read part one of Travelin’ Man returns to New York City

 

Saturday, Nov. 23 (continued): Following a career-long 11 months away from the ring and after suffering a historic one-punch knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, the boxing world wondered if onetime pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao still had what it took to remain among the sport’s elite. Just days away from his 35th birthday, many speculated if the Marquez KO combined with the rigors of 61 professional fights spread over 18 years had taken take its toll on Pacquiao’s once supernatural skills.

Following 12 dominating rounds over the rugged Brandon Rios, the verdict was rendered and while it was mixed there was more to like than issues that would spark concern. First the good:

The judges saw Pacquiao an overwhelming winner (120-108, 119-109, 118-110) and the overall CompuBox stats accurately reflected the Filipino’s statistical command as he out-landed Rios 281-138 in total punches, 58-25 in jabs and 223-113 in power punches. Pacquiao’s sharpness, focus, mobility and precision proved too much for his courageous but out-gunned opponent, who defiantly kept moving in even after tasting flush, head-snapping power shots to the face round after round. His only moment of glory, at least statistically, came in the eighth round when he out-landed Pacquiao 17-14 overall and 14-9 in power punches.

Another encouraging sign for Pacquiao was that he remained engaged for all three minutes of each round, something he clearly did not do during his hotly disputed loss to Timothy Bradley. The minute-by-minute statistics compiled by CompuBox further revealed that Pacquiao grew stronger and more effective as the round went on. Consider:

First minute– 57 of 200 overall connects (20.3% of his total connects and 25.3% of his total punch attempts) and 41 of 92 in power punches (18.3% of his total power connects and 19.7% of his power attempts)

Second minute– 116 of 299 overall (41.3% of his total connects and 37.8% of his total punch attempts) and 93 of 179 in power punches (41.7% of his power connects and 38.2% of his power attempts)

Final minute– 108 of 291 overall (38.4% of his total connects and 36.8% of his total punch attempts) and 89 of 197 in power punches (40% of his power connects and 42.1% of his power attempts)

If one combines his work in the second and third minutes, one would find that Pacquiao landed 79.7% of his total punches and 81.7% of his power punches as well as produced 74.7% of his total punch attempts and 80.3% of his power attempts during those time spans. It was clear that Pacquiao, even nearing 35, had the cardiovascular conditioning to ratchet up his attack later in the round.

Despite quotes to the contrary by Pacquiao and his Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, the Filipino did not let up his attack in the 12th round – at least statistically. In round 11, Pacquiao was 23 of 56 (41%) in total punches and 16 of 29 (55%) in power punches. In round 12, he was 28 of 70 (40%) overall and 17 of 32 (53%) in power punches. Pacquiao threw more, landed more and came very close to matching his impressive accuracy in round 12 when compared to round 11. Moreover, Pacquiao was 7 of 19 overall and 2 of 5 power in the first minute of round 12 but in the second minute he accelerated to 11 of 25 overall and 7 of 11 power while in the final minute he was 10 of 26 overall and 8 of 16 power. Pacquiao may well have invested less power in each connect, but his activity and accuracy remained largely the same.

In other words, there are many reasons to believe – and accurately so – that we didn’t see an old Pacquiao on Saturday. However, it was also evident that we also didn’t see the Pacquiao of old.

The most compelling stat that supports this contention is the fact that Rios – a markedly slower puncher than Pacquiao in terms of hand speed – still managed to land 43% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. One consistent CompuBox rule of thumb is that a fighter who absorbs 40% or more of his opponent’s hardest punches bears watching in terms of defensive prowess, and Rios’ 43% figure means that Pacquiao’s reaction time may be eroding.

Compare Rios’ success in power percentage to that achieved by previous Pacquiao opponents:

Juan Manuel Marquez (fight four): 27.3%

Timothy Bradley: 27.7%

Juan Manuel Marquez (fight three): 39.4%

Shane Mosley: 27.5%

Antonio Margarito: 43.3%

Joshua Clottey: 34.6%

Miguel Cotto: 31%

Ricky Hatton: 28.6%

Oscar de la Hoya: 31.1%

David Diaz: 18.5%

Juan Manuel Marquez (second fight): 41.9%

Marco Antonio Barrera (second fight): 33.8%

Jorge Solis: 28.9%

Erik Morales (third fight): 29.7%

Oscar Larios: 34.2%

Erik Morales (second fight): 33.3%

Hector Velazquez: 30.5%

Erik Morales (first fight): 41.1%

In those 18 fights spanning seven years, Pacquiao tasted a combined 33.3% of his opponents’ power punches while dishing out 43.3% of his own, which rates a plus-10. That margin slipped to a plus-4.6 on Saturday (47.6% for Pacquiao, 43% for Rios).

Is this a by-product of Pacquiao’s age and wear or does this indicate that Rios is a better fighter than the pre-fight conversation suggested? It’s a little of both. Pacquiao is clearly not the force of nature that obliterated Diaz, De La Hoya, Hatton and Cotto in four straight fights but he’s still a terrifically skilled and experienced warrior capable of beating the vast majority of his peers. But Rios also deserves kudos for attacking viciously and accurately after taking more than a few patented Pacquiao volleys. He mixed his punches well between head and body and though his 41.8 punches per round was markedly lower than past efforts (68.6 vs. Mike Alvarado II, 77.3 vs. Alvarado I, 60.5 vs. Richar Abril, 91.1 vs. John Murray, 107.3 vs. Urbano Antillon and 64.7 vs. Miguel Acosta) one never got the sense he was close to giving up. That requires a bravery that is rare and admirable.

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Those kudos can’t be extended to heavyweight Tor Hamer, who, for the second time in four fights, inexplicably resigned on the stool following a strong opening two rounds.

Against Vyacheslav Glazkov last December, Hamer forged a commanding lead by out-landing the Russian 35-23 overall and 17-15 in power connects but in rounds three and four Glazkov wore Hamer out by out-landing the New Yorker 46-14 overall and 36-12 power. In the first three rounds Hamer fired 58 punches per round but slipped to a mere 30 in the fourth while Glazkov accelerated from 40 over the first three to 55 in the fourth. The momentum swing in terms of activity was striking and that development only stoked the post-fight curiosity.

On Saturday, Hamer again appeared to have his head in the game as he averaged 50 punches per round and out-landed Ruiz Jr. 41-35 overall and 32-23 in power punches. By landing 53% of his power punches and 41% overall Hamer exposed severe defensive weaknesses in Ruiz while the undefeated prospect struggled to draw a bead (31% overall, 34% power). But in round three Ruiz surged by landing 39 of 100 punches and connecting on 51% of his 57 power punches while Hamer crashed to 8 of 31 and 39% of his 18 power punches. After slumping in the ring, Hamer slumped on his stool and tendered his surrender between rounds three and four.

It wouldn’t be right for me to question Hamer’s innate courage because my own limited ring experience further confirmed my belief that it takes bravery just to step inside the ropes, much less fight within them. But Hamer’s actions don’t deserve any extra credit beyond the basic level of respect. Given what happened Saturday, one has to wonder about Hamer’s competitive resolve. At 220 pounds, Hamer appeared cosmetically fit and he proved himself an effective fighter during the first six minutes. Just when it looked as if Ruiz was about to undergo a severe acid test, the professor clicked his stopwatch and walked out of the classroom.

It was a most disappointing conclusion, for during Saturday’s fight Hamer exposed glaring defensive weaknesses in Ruiz and his facial tissues were already cracking under the New Yorker’s pressure. Going in, I believed Hamer represented a significant step up in competition for Ruiz and the first six minutes bore out my assessment. The guess here is that Ruiz will need some more seasoning before risking another fight at this level. At age 24, Ruiz still has plenty of time to find his place in boxing and I’m sure his matchmakers will have the patience. As for Hamer, one is left to ponder if what happened was the result of something emotional or something physical. The answers will be found by others.

Felix Verdejo and Zou Shiming continued apace and both impressively polished off their opposition. Verdejo pounded out a six-round decision over Thailand’s Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan, affectionately dubbed “Mookie” by HBO’s broadcast team, by out-landing him 123-37 overall, 89-36 in power shots and an eye-popping 34-1 in jabs and being the far more accurate athlete (33%-20% overall, 21%-2% jabs, 42%-25% power). He maintained an active pace by firing 61.7 punches per round to “Mookie’s” 31.2 (the junior lightweight average is 57.7) and he showed he could maintain his volume from first bell to last as he started with 67 and 62 in the first two rounds and 62 and 69 in rounds five and six.

As for Zou, the double gold medalist, he showed considerable aesthetic and technical improvement in capturing his six-round points win. In all three pro fights Zou produced extraordinary volume as he averaged 76 punches per round in his pro debut against Eleazar Valenzuela, 96 against Jesus Ortega and 88.2 on Saturday, all above the 62.4 flyweight average. The difference between his previous two efforts and this one lay in his technique and execution; his punches were straighter, carried more power and were thrown with strategic purpose. The connect gaps were monstrous – 192-56 overall, 70-6 jabs and 122-50 power – and his precision excellent across the board (36% overall, 32% jabs, 39% power to Juan Toscano’s 14%, 4% and 20% respectively). At age 32, Zou has little time to elevate his game to a world-class professional level but based on what he did here he appears ready for another step up the ladder.

The sole title fight on the pay-per-view bill saw IBF featherweight king Evgeny Gradovich impressively consolidate his belt-winning victory over Billy Dib by stopping him in nine rounds. This time Dib tried to return to his boxing roots by fighting at long range but all it did was cut down on his own output — he averaged 38 punches per round in the rematch as opposed to 64.1 in their March encounter – while encouraging Gradovich to accelerate his attack (69.4 per round in fight one, 74.4 in the rematch).

The numbers were far more lopsided this time as Gradovich out-landed Dib 203-73 overall, 28-18 jabs and a sickening 175-55 in power shots, including a 84-13 gap in the final four rounds. Another measure of Gradovich’s dominance was that through eight completed rounds Dib’s highest output (58 in round four) was less than Gradovich’s lowest output (63 in round one).

As the fight neared its end, I told Aris that Gradovich reminded me of Philip Holiday, a hard-working volume-punching lightweight titlist who reigned in the 1990s. Both required exerting extreme attrition on their opponents to score their TKOs at the highest levels and each had (or in Gradovich’s case has) an exciting, TV-friendly style. It took a special fighter in Shane Mosley to dethrone Holiday and it will take a very talented athlete to dislodge Gradovich. Until then, I will continue to enjoy watching “The Mexican Russian” ply his trade.

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After exchanging congratulations with everyone in our studio and the people stationed a few floors above us, I started back toward The Marcel. The temperature had plunged to the upper 20s and from time to time wind gusts intensified the chill. I briefly returned to my room to unpack my laptop, then walked to the 3rd Avenue Food Corporation outlet to pick up a late-night snack – a real late-night snack given that it was well after 1 a.m.

As I waited for my sub to be prepared, I struck up a conversation with an older modestly dressed patron who was standing to my immediate right. I told him I had just watched the Pacquiao fight, which sparked a knowing response. The philosophical nature of his reaction to Pacquiao’s name – a soliloquy on true athletic greatness compared to mere excellence – told me that he not only knew boxing but that he had thought deeply about it over the years. And my detailed response prompted an unusual reaction.

“You don’t strike me as a boxing aficionado,” he said. “I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.” I’m not sure if it was my demeanor or my still relatively youthful countenance, but I was happy he was impressed with my knowledge.

The sandwich maker and the employee manning the cash register overheard our conversation and the latter volunteered that he had boxed for a couple of years. For the next several moments we exchanged war stories and by the time I walked out the door we had established a rapport, albeit one that had a shelf life of a few moments.

I returned to my room, consumed my bounty and hoped to get in a few rounds with the laptop before going to bed. The images on the clock radio dissuaded me from following through, for it was already 2:30 a.m. At that point I thought it wiser to get my sleep now and leave the writing to later.

Sunday, Nov. 24: That turned out to be a good decision, for I got in a decent five hours of slumber before sitting down at the desk to begin catching up on the work I had previously neglected. The words flowed effortlessly and before I knew it I had reached a good stopping point. I had the luxury of a noon check-out time because I figured an 11:30 a.m. departure would best allow me to arrive at LaGuardia in plenty of time to navigate the usual pre-flight procedures.

It wasn’t difficult to hail a taxi, though the 23-degree temperatures and occasional gusty winds made the process somewhat uncomfortable. Within 20 minutes I was at LaGuardia but because I hurriedly forgot to remove my change before going through the X-ray I was subject to an extra screening that involved having a warm substance wiped on my hands. After passing the test I was waved through.

Despite the brief detour, I made good enough time that I considered trying to get on a flight leaving one hour earlier. I decided to keep my preferred access seat and spend the extra time catching up on my writing, which I completed with relative ease. I stopped at a Custom Burger outlet for a quick lunch after which I found a seat in the gate area. For the next 45 minutes I listened to two couples bound for Kansas City catch up. One of the topics involved one of the couple’s children who had an allergy to peanuts and as time passed I learned just about every aspect of that malady as anyone could want to hear.

Once I boarded the plane, the flight attendant made this announcement: “I’ve been informed that one of our passengers has an allergy to peanuts, so if you can please refrain from consuming them in his presence.”

Unbelievable.

The extremely choppy winds made for an equally choppy take-off but once we reached our cruising altitude the flight was pretty smooth. The flight landed on time but the chilly weather and the eye-watering winds made the walk toward my car a somewhat unpleasant chore. Two-and-a-half hours later I pulled into my driveway, after which I had an early-evening dinner. As I watched the start of the Broncos-Patriots game I was visited by a sleepiness that I couldn’t shake no matter how hard I tried. At 10:30 I finally gave up and went to bed, where I would stay for the next nine-and-a-half hours.

By the time you read this I will be starting the third leg of my five-leg stretch drive: Quebec City to work the HBO-televised light heavyweight title doubleheader pitting Adonis Stevenson-Tony Bellew and Sergey Kovalev-Ismayl Sillakh.

Until then, happy trails.

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Photos / Chris Farina-Top Rank

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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