Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man returns to Verona – Part II

Love-vs-Biosse_Casino

Click here for part I

Friday, Feb. 28 (continued): The card was billed as “Graduation Day,” but instead of pomp and circumstance it was trouble in paradise.

As originally conceived, the ShoBox quadrupleheader was to showcase the Mayweather Promotions quartet of J’Leon Love, Badou Jack, Mickey Bey Jr. and Chris Pearson in final preparatory bouts before bumping up their level of competition. It was intended to be a “Money Team” infomercial but it turned out to be anything but. The well-laid plans began to unravel two days before the fight when lightweight Bey, who was supposed to face the 32-5-1 (21) Alan Herrera, fell ill and was forced to withdraw. Inside the ring, the struggles continued for the house fighters.

Pearson owned nearly every conceivable advantage over Lanardo Tyner. At 5-foot-10 he towered over his 5-6 rival and at 23 he was a full 15 years younger. He owned the quicker hands, the bigger punch and was, by far, the more natural junior middleweight. At 154, Tyner was eight pounds heavier than he was just 49 days ago when he stopped Angel Hernandez in 10 rounds but after winning six straight fights (five by KO) over limited opposition he at least entered the ring with a positive mindset.

That Tyner performed well was no surprise because he consistently gives all he has no matter who stands across the ring from him. That Tyner performed this well was a surprise.

The raw statistics hardly reflected the competitiveness of a fight that went to a split decision. Pearson out-landed Tyner 155-83 and led 78-73 on two scorecards but his numerical lead was built entirely on his 73-3 lead in connected jabs, which, given his height and reach advantages, was expected. But Pearson led only 82-80 in landed power shots and while the prospect connected far more accurately (46%-31% overall, 41%-7% jabs, 51%-35% power) Tyner got plenty of business done and pushed the prospect to places he had never seen.

One of those places Pearson had seen before was the canvas (thanks to a first-round knockdown suffered against Christian Nava in August 2012), and Tyner put him there for the second time in his career near the end of the sixth thanks to an explosive flurry capped by an arcing hook. Pearson’s 17-9 edge in total connects during that round was washed away with that single burst, which turned a 10-9 Pearson round into a 10-8 one for Tyner.

The rest of the fight was a hammer-and-tong struggle as Pearson led only 18-17 overall but trailed 17-10 in power connects in the seventh while Tyner nailed the youngster with another hook in the final round.

While Tyner lost the fight, he gained a gig. Mayweather reached up to shake hands with Tyner following the announcement of the scorecards and Tyner later told Aris that the handshake was accompanied by an invitation to be one of “Money’s” sparring partners for the Marcos Maidana fight.

Before the fight card began, I scanned the bout sheet with Aris, the timekeeper seated to my immediate left and RingTV.com’s Corey Erdman. I declared that if any of the fights were to go the distance, it would be Badou Jack vs. Derek Edwards. I later chuckled at Erdman’s ringside report that referenced “my ringside observers” and “scouting reports” regarding the Jack-Edwards fight because I was the one who fed him that info  – and I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In what would be the shortest fight of the evening, Jack was dropped and stopped in just 61 seconds by a man who had gone 1-3-1 with two KO losses in his last five fights. A beautifully timed and compactly delivered right cross over Jack’s jab connected with crushing force and effectively ended the fight. Jack, who was penciled in for a WBC super middleweight title eliminator against James DeGale (who won his fight the next day), managed to get to his feet but two more blows caused him to crash face-first on the canvas. Again he arose, but his wobbly legs and faraway look persuaded referee Charlie Fitch to wave off the match.

As I wrapped my mind around the astonishing scene, my mind floated back to a previous conversation with Matt Korobov’s trainer Charles Mooney, who said that Edwards was a dangerous character who knew how to spring upsets. Mooney was proved right when he hurt Korobov late in round one and gave his man several more anxious moments before being put away early in the ninth. Nearly three months later, Edwards vaulted himself from being troublesome to becoming triumphant.

Like Pearson-Tyner, the main event between Love and Biosse was one whose action inside the ring belied the overwhelming statistics in one fighter’s favor. Not only did Love dominate the connect totals (263-99 overall, 39-14 jabs, 224-85 power) and the connect percentages (42%-22% overall, 20%-9% jabs, 53%-30% power), he assembled those gulfs round in and round out. Of a possible 30 rounds that can be gained (10 rounds each for total punches, jabs and power shots), Love led in 27 while Biosse prevailed only once (a 2-1 jab connect edge in round five) and tied twice (0-0 in landed jabs in round four, 9-9 in power connects in round one).

But one look at Love’s face was enough to prove how hard a fight it had been. From the fourth round on Love sported a horrible gash above his left eye to match those Biosse sported over and under his right orb. To his credit, he kept coming and never stopped. In rounds five through eight his connect percentages were 41%, 55%, 45% and 55% overall and 45%, 60%, 61% and 58% in power shots. He also recorded his highest connect totals overall (43) and power (41) in round six.

Offensively Love performed impressively and his previously problematic defensive numbers have improved substantially. The only red flag is the scar tissue above his eyes, which will probably be an issue for the remainder of his career. That said, he’s ready to graduate to the next level.

Some undercard notes:

  • The theme of the night – big stats hiding trouble inside the ring – continued during the Luis Arias-Dashon Johnson bout, which Arias won by majority decision. Arias out-landed Johnson 172-110 overall, 21-9 jabs and 151-101 power and was more accurate overall (36%-30%) and in power shots (50%-32%) but Johnson, one of the most dangerous gate-keepers in boxing, produced dangerous bursts that forced Arias to tap deeper resources. The crowd booed the verdict and the disappointed Johnson registered his displeasure but the stats showed Arias was the more consistent and successful worker.
  • Ronald Gavril’s savage body attack led to a third round TKO over journeyman Cameron Allen, raising the former’s mark to 8-0 (6) and the latter’s to 5-15 (3). Gavril’s meaty body bombs to both sides made Allen wince and the punch-counters to emit involuntary “oohs” and “aahs.” Following round two, a round that saw 16 of Gavril’s 33 power connects target the flanks, Aris, who sparred plenty during his younger days in New Bedford, Mass., turned to me and said, “I’ve made that face, and it’s not fun.” Having been the victim of a liver shot myself, I could sympathize.
  • Aris and I normally watch every fight on the undercard – call us fight rats if you will – but during the first two fights our focus was directed elsewhere for a very good reason. Showtime analyst Steve Farhood walked by our work station a few minutes before the opening bout and once we got going it was impossible to stop. After Steve walked away the first time and took his seat 20 feet to our left, a question came up that required his input. So during the second fight Aris approached Steve and the conversation picked up again. Seeing them going back and forth piqued my curiosity to the point that I had to go over myself. Once I did, the ball really got going and had it not been for a stage manager telling us he needed Steve we’d probably still be talking.

I started to pack my stuff the moment the end credits began rolling. Aris and I hung around ringside for a few minutes, he to observe the mob scene surrounding Mayweather and I to chat with ring announcer Thomas Trieber. When we finished our respective businesses, we headed back to the production truck to fill up on pizza and soda and recap the night’s action with Barry Tompkins, Farhood, executive producer Richard Gaughan and others.

*

Live long enough and you’ll learn this lesson: Life has an infinite assortment of junkballs at its disposal. Worse yet, you won’t know you’ve taken one until it’s already past you.

Today’s pitch was thrown the moment I tried to open my hotel room door with my electronic key. Instead of the green light I got red and yellow ones. OK, fine. I’ve had problems with one of my two keys ever since I checked in, so I simply assumed I had grabbed the one wrong. Thing was, I got the same thing when I slid the second key into the slot. I tried again and again only to see the same lights tauntingly blink back at me. I tried other methods such as turning the door handle as I slid the key in but nothing I tried worked.

Sighing, I got on the elevator and trudged back to the front desk to have my keys re-magnetized.

“You should be all set now, Mr. Groves,” I was told. “If you have any trouble with these keys, use the house phone to call the front desk and we’ll send someone up to fix it.”

Good thing I remembered that instruction, because both new keys failed to work. In all my years of traveling I had never had freshly-minted keys malfunction so quickly. The house phone was located about 30 feet from my room and within a minute a maintenance man with a “skeleton” electronic key had arrived.

Unbelievably, his keys didn’t work either. One part of me was laughing inside while the other was thoroughly confused. He surmised that the battery within the lock had died.

The maintenance man then called a superior, who arrived moments later. I knew he was a superior because his jacket sported tassels on each shoulder. Before sliding in his key he tugged hard and twisted the door handle. The door unlocked on the first attempt. I wouldn’t have dared try such strong-arm tactics on a door that I don’t own, much less one that is located within a high-end hotel. Better him than me.

Now safe within my sanctuary, I opted to get in some writing before turning in at 2 a.m.

Saturday, March 1: I stirred awake after six-and-a-half restful hours and at 9:15 I headed down to the lobby to check out and to pick up Aris, who had asked me to drive him back to the bus station. To my pleasant surprise, Aris was already waiting for me.

“You beat the early bird!” I exclaimed.

“I know, it’s usually the other way around,” he replied.

I noticed he was standing with Erdman, a mutual friend. Just before I headed to the registration desk to check out, Aris had a request.

“Would you mind driving Corey back to his hotel?” he asked. “He’s staying at the Microtel nearby.”

“Sure,” I said. “I have plenty of time before I have to catch my flight. Just tell me where it is and I’ll be glad to take him there.”

“I really appreciate this,” Corey said. “I was told that the wait time for a cab is an hour, and this is for a place just down the street.”

After dropping off Corey, Aris and I hit the New York State Thruway – also known as I-90. Approximately 10 minutes later my cell phone rang. It was Showtime production coordinator Nikki Ferry, who had her own request.

“One of the crew members really needs a ride to the airport and you’re the last rental car out,” she said. “If it’s not too much trouble, can you pick him up?”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll get off at the next exit and swing by the valet parking area in front of the Turning Stone.”

“Great,” she said with relief in her voice. “I’ll give him your number and he’ll call you back.”

About a minute before I reached that exit the phone rang again. It was Nikki, who told me the crew member had already taken a taxi to the airport and not to bother turning around. Just as well.

Following a bit of squirrely navigation on my part, I dropped Aris off at the bus station, drove to the airport, dropped off the rental car and passed through security with little trouble since the lines were small and the line behind me was non-existent. That made unpacking and packing my two laptops far less stressful.

My Delta flight from Syracuse to Detroit left later than expected because of de-icing made necessary by the plane’s last trip. The same dynamic applied for the last flight from Detroit to Pittsburgh, the majority of which I spent resting my tired eyes.

I perked up when I heard that the meal service was about to begin. A trick of the trade: Order a somewhat less popular soda, such as Coke Zero, and you may end up getting the whole can instead of just a small plastic cup.

The plane landed shortly after 5 p.m. and by 5:30 I had reached my car. Though the sky was overcast the 47 degree temperature made the long walk a bit more pleasant. The drive home took a bit longer than usual – 2 hours 45 minutes – because I filled my gas tank and stopped at a drive-through to eat my first full meal of the day. When I pulled into the driveway at 8:15 I knew I had a pile of work left to do. The saving grace: My next trip – an NBC Sports Network televised fight in Bethlehem, Pa. topped by Tomasz Adamek-Vyacheslav Glazkov – wouldn’t be for another two weeks.

Until next time, happy trails.

*

Photo / 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 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