Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man returns to Atlantic City – Part II

Stevens-Majewski_Sylwek

Click here for part one.

 

Friday, Jan. 24 (continued): Forty-six seconds.

Sixteen thrown punches.

Eight connects, including seven power shots.

Three knockdowns.

That’s all middleweight Curtis Stevens needed to dispose of Patrick Majewski as well as move past, at least in part, the painful memories of his Nov. 2 loss to WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin. The pangs of regret from that eighth round corner retirement ran deep within the man named “Showtime,” deep enough to fuel an instant return to the ring and its redemptive powers.

For Stevens it was all a matter of letting go, both physically and emotionally.

“A lot of people were questioning me after (the Golovkin fight),” Stevens said during the post-fight press conference. “That fight was so disappointing because I wanted to fight so bad. I got in there and I was over-thinking, not reacting too much. But everything is a learning lesson. I went in there and did what my uncle told me to do. Don’t think too much, have fun and let my hands go.

“I do think this fight redeemed me from the Golovkin loss,” he continued. “When I get in there and don’t think too much and let my hands go, I’m OK. That’s me. But I’ve never changed. I’ve always been ‘Showtime.’ I’m ready to get back into the title picture again.”

Indeed he is.

Given Stevens’ enormous power, especially early, the knockout ending wasn’t a surprise. Its brevity, however, was still jolting to the senses. Stevens’ first landed punch, a shotgun jab to the face, instantly crumpled Majewski’s knees and from that point forward the fight turned into yet another Chin Checker showcase. Two knockdowns later, Stevens had recorded the 11th first round knockout of his career and the fourth in the last five victories. A telling stat: 16 of his 19 career knockouts – or 84.2 percent – have occurred within the first two rounds. If Stevens isn’t boxing’s most dangerous early rounds fighter, I don’t know who is.

In past fights Majewski had pushed the pace to record-setting levels. During his 10-round majority decision win over Latif Mundy in September 2012 Majewski produced the two highest in-round outputs among middleweights ever recorded by CompuBox: 146 punches in round seven and 145 in round nine (interestingly, the third-place fight was Golovkin’s 144 in round eight versus Stevens). But that fighter was nowhere to be seen as he fired only six punches and landed one. Stevens’ heavy hands effectively turned “The Machine” into scrap metal.

Stevens’ annihilation of Majewski offered a fresh reminder that he remains a top middleweight contender. In fact, Stevens’ strong showing only amplifies the impressiveness of what Golovkin did; “GGG” continued to dish out tremendous punishment even after absorbing several of Stevens’ bombs and in the end it was he who had his hand raised in the middle of the ring while a courageous Stevens was forced to remain on his stool. Golovkin’s chin was indeed checked, and it checked out just fine.

One favorite post-fight discussion involved a turf war against WBO titlist Peter Quillin, who Stevens called “a good friend” and with whom he has sparred. If the politics can be cleared away – the Golovkin-Stevens fight was aired by HBO while Quillin-Rosado was seen on Showtime – Quillin-Stevens would be a natural for Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Stevens’ explosiveness and Quillin’s sub-par but winning performance against Gabriel Rosado makes this a genuine pick-‘em proposition – and a fight I’d love to see.

*

One oft-repeated CompuBox truism is that the fighter who lands more punches ends up winning the decision about 95 percent of the time. But every so often a fight strays outside the lines. Thabiso Mchunu’s unanimous decision victory over Olanrewaju Durodola was one such case.

Mchunu deservedly earned a wide unanimous decision (98-91, 97-92, 96-93) thanks to his outstanding ring generalship and eye-catching counterpunching – and the second round knockdown didn’t hurt either. The figures, however, painted a far different story as Mchunu landed only one more punch overall (79-78), was out-jabbed 20-10 and boasted only a 69-58 lead in power connects. Under normal circumstances such numbers would have portended a debatable split decision but inside the ring it was anything but.

How can this be? A deeper look into the numbers provides the answers.

The biggest reason for the close numbers was a wide disparity in punch output as Durodola out-threw Mchunu 389-205 overall, 211-63 in jabs and 178-142 in power punches. In order to make up that much ground – statistically and potentially on the judges’ scorecards – Mchunu had to make every punch count, and fortunately for him he did just that. He landed 39 percent of his total punches to Durodola’s 20 percent, 16 percent of his jabs to Durodola’s 9 percent and, most importantly, 49 percent of his power punches to Durodola’s 33 percent.

The South African walked an extremely dangerous tightrope as he never threw more than 30 punches per round, and that was in round one. He was out-thrown in every round, and not by a little (30-40, 26-44, 17-54, 17-36, 14-34, 16-24, 19-31, 18-38, 24-38 and 24-50) but because his counterpunches landed so sharply and his strategic blueprint was executed so effectively, Mchunu transcended the usual statistical norms.

Also, for the second consecutive fight, Mchunu managed to out-box a taller rival from long range, something a 5-foot-11 cruiserweight shouldn’t be able to do against someone three inches taller and with a five-inch reach advantage. But the secrets of Mchunu’s success are exquisite timing, advanced ring intelligence, superb targeting, savvy movement, extremely fast hands and a talent for forcing opponents to fight only on his terms. Surely Eddie Chambers and Durodola wanted to control the action from the outside and make the shorter Mchunu come to them but the South African’s wiles created an environment that demanded they play bull to his matador. This approach doesn’t make for exciting fights, but it’s highly effective.

One big danger for Mchunu for future fights is his extremely low punch volume — he averaged 20.5 punches per round against Mchunu and 30.4 against Chambers – and he may well run into a fighter who will use far bigger numbers to out-hustle him and steal rounds. Mchunu’s game is not built to produce come-from-behind heroics so it is vital for future opponents to jump on him early and stay on him for as long as it takes. If they don’t, they’ll end up falling under his hypnotic spell just like opponents of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Bernard Hopkins continue to do and, in turn, Mchunu will continue to defy boxing’s most deeply confirmed statistical axioms – more punches, more victories.

*

Every so often, one comes across a fight so well-matched that it will produce pulse-pounding action no matter how many times it takes place. Here’s hoping that Wilky Campfort versus Decarlo Perez will become a series, for their eight rounds of pulse-pounding action was a treat that should be experienced again and again.

For a fight that featured no knockdowns or violent shifts of momentum, Campfort-Perez was as good as boxing gets. The stylistic battle lines were drawn immediately – Perez the boxer and Campfort the slugger – but what made this fight special was the combination of high-octane pace and excellent technique. Their exceptionally fast punches were delivered in tight, highly disciplined arcs and despite the incredible punishment each man absorbed they somehow managed to amp up the pace in the late rounds.

Like Mchunu-Durodola, Campfort-Perez managed to defy conventional and statistical wisdom. First, Campfort, a Florida-based Haitian, emerged with the split decision victory over the local fighter. And second, Campfort prevailed despite throwing fewer punches (646-725 overall) and landing far fewer (237 to 300 overall, 14-62 jabs and 223-238 power).

So how did Campfort raise his record to 16-1(9) while dropping Perez’s to 11-3-1 (4)? Effective aggression and heavier punching.

By plowing forward every second of every round, Campfort made Perez look as if he was swimming upstream even though more of his punches were getting through. That counts in closely contested rounds that require judgments beyond the usual, obvious ones. Campfort’s thumping punches trumped Perez’s scientific sharpshooting in the eyes of two judges while Perez’s more diversified attack impressed one of the jurists.

The CompuBox statistics further illustrated how good a fight this was. The normal junior middleweight averages 58.2 punches and 17.9 connects per round. Campfort averaged 80.8 and 29.7 while Perez averaged 90.7 and 37.5. The typical 154-pounder uncorks 33.6 power punches and 12.5 power connects per round and again they far exceeded those thresholds (62.6 and 27.9 for Campfort, 58.1 and 29.8 for Perez). Despite their elevated activity levels, they also were exceptionally accurate. Perez landed 41 percent of his total punches to Campfort’s 37 percent and 51 percent of his power shots to Campfort’s 45 percent.

This fight shattered several established CompuBox axioms: Perez lost the fight despite throwing more punches, landing more punches and exceeding the 50 percent mark in power connects while taking less than 50 percent of his opponent’s hooks, crosses and uppercuts.

Finally, as punishing as the pace had been in the first six rounds they improbably kicked it up in the final six minutes. Perez, who had been averaging of 36 of 88 overall in the first six rounds, went 42 of 98 in rounds seven and eight while Campfort (26 of 74 over the first six) surged to 38 of 95 in round seven and 44 of 109 in round eight, the latter of which were his highs for the fight in both categories. Moreover, in rounds seven and eight Perez went 72 of 143 (50.3 percent) In power punches while Campfort was 78 of 162 (48.2 percent). In that category, Perez and Campfort did more in two rounds than Mchunu (69 of 142) and Durodola (58 of 178) achieved in their entire 10 rounder.

A sign of good matchmaking is that the winning fighters didn’t come from the same corner. This night the red corner represented the “A-side” fighters on the bout sheet and while Mchunu, Stevens, Wellington Romero (KO 1 Ismael Serrano) and Hasan Young (W 6 Justin Johnson) emerged victorious others weren’t so fortunate. Along with Perez’s stirring loss to Campfort, Shevdail Sherifi lost a blood-soaked six rounder to Venroy July while Philadelphia heavyweight Mark Rideout was fortunate to pull out a draw against Pittsburgh’s Fred Latham after being out-landed 70-39 overall and 47-27 in power shots. The most surprising result was the night’s third bout saw previously undefeated light heavyweight Ilshat “The Sheriff” Khusnulgatin (10-1, 6) suffer a vicious 129-second knockout loss to Roberto Acevedo (8-1, 5). The presence of WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev signified Khusnulgatin’s potential star status but Acevedo paid that no mind and proceeded to empty all the bullets in his chamber.

Stevens’ pyrotechnics brought an early end to the work night and after having a final meal at the employee cafeteria I returned to the room and prepared for yet another busy day.

Saturday, Jan. 25: My five-and-a-half hour slumber ended just after 8 a.m. and I spent the majority of the morning catching up on the writing I didn’t feel like doing the night before. Thanks to my scheduled 1:47 p.m. flight from Philly to Pittsburgh I had some extra time to whittle down my “to-do” list. I was a bit concerned about the scheduled noon departure time for the airport listed on the production memo, but I trusted that, even with the wintry conditions predicted for Philly, that I’d get there in time.

At 11:30, I texted the driver to confirm that all the logistics remained in place.  Moments later my cell phone rang. It was the driver, who informed me that there was a change of plans and that the other driver, his older brother, not only would be picking me up but was also waiting in the lobby. Happy that I’d have an earlier departure time, I immediately packed my things and checked out of the hotel.

With great speed and efficiency, I arrived at the airport at 12:55, just 18 minutes before our scheduled boarding time. My first-class upgrade gave me access to the shortest queue and, after sailing through security, I arrived at my gate with room to spare. While I waited to board, I talked with an attractive dark-haired woman who told me she was headed to Pittsburgh for Sunday’s WWE Royal Rumble, mentioning that she was scheduled to dine with Kevin Nash, among others. I also learned that my work responsibilities for the day were nowhere near over.

I logged onto the airport’s wireless service and in popped e-mails from HBO and my boss at CompuBox. The HBO request: Do you have any information on Tiburcio Garcia, who was to work Juan Carlos Burgos’ corner instead of the usual trainer (I did: He was the trainer for Jorge Arce, Jose Luis Castillo and Salvador Sanchez II, among others, and he was an assistant trainer for Erik Morales). That information was stored on my trusty flash drive that literally has my work life stored on it.

Good news: Just like two days earlier I received a first-class upgrade. Bad news: Just like two days earlier weather issues kept the plane on the ground an extra 45 minutes. Worse news: The snowfall from the polar vortex left several inches of snow on my car, which I spent 10 minutes brushing off in the parking lot amidst temperatures in the mid-teens. Worst news: The snow continued to fall and the mercury continued to plunge, both of which created treacherous driving conditions.

The intense focus required for punch-counting came through for me here, because for the next three hours I was forced to concentrate on safe navigation and nothing else. Because the salt trucks had not yet treated any roads, the only clear path on the otherwise snow-covered interstates was the tire tracks left by other cars. Staying within those narrow parameters was a mentally tiring process and I received a mild scare in the final moments when my car slipped and slid up the driveway. My head felt as if it weighed two dozen pounds and my eyes burned with fatigue as I entered the house shortly after 8 p.m. but following a one-hour warm-down I felt good enough to tackle some of the tasks Bob addressed in his e-mail.

As of this writing I’m not entirely sure where or when my next trip will be. A ShoBox double-header featuring Angelo Santana-Mark Davis and Amir Imam-Jared Robinson was originally scheduled for Feb. 7 in Biloxi only to be moved to Feb. 14 in Cincinnati, then Feb. 21 in Cleveland. If the latter location holds, the Travelin’ Man will experience a rarity of sorts – an airplane-free trip.

Until then, happy trails.

*

Photos / Sylwek Wosko

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 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.

Around the web