Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man goes to Atlantic City-Part II

Kovalev gloves-Aris Pina

 

Click here for part one

 

Saturday, March 29 (continued): Everyone in boxing knows Sergey Kovalev can hit. But I can personally attest that he can throw as well.

Moments after knocking out the previously undefeated Cedric Agnew with a jab to the pit of the stomach, Kovalev began to fire sets of miniature gloves bearing his “Krusher” nickname into the audience. One of those gloves bopped me on the top of the head just as I was about to finish writing the final totals on the stat sheets that were to be distributed to the ringside press.

At first, I thought they were thrown from behind but punch-counting colleague Aris Pina, who witnessed the whole episode, assured me that, in a way, I’d just been struck by the hardest-hitting light heavyweight on the planet. The incident drew chuckles from my ringside mates whom included writers David Greisman, Dan Rafael and a Chicago-based scribe who told us everything we ever needed to know about Agnew.

Just after I stuffed the gloves into my laptop bag, Aris asked to snap a photo of the offending objects so he could send out the images over social media. With a wry grin, I consented. As I put them away for a second time, I noticed how stiff the foam-filled gloves actually were. I smiled at the symmetry: Rock-handed fighter, rock-handed mini-gloves.

Kovalev is a walking weapon. His last 12 victories have come by knockout and his eight-fight stoppage streak is the longest of his career. Additionally, his .880 career KO percentage ranks only behind Miguel Cuello’s .909 among all-time major titleholders at 175. After the fight, Kovalev cutman Don Turner favorably compared his man’s power to that of the immortal Bob Foster, who produced chilling one-punch knockouts of Dick Tiger and Mike Quarry during his sensational six-year championship reign.

Not only does Kovalev drill his peers inside the ring, he assaults them verbally – in a second language, no less. When HBO analyst Max Kellerman asked Kovalev’s opinion about RING (and WBC) light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson’s sudden move to Showtime that may have wrecked a potential September unification bout, the “Krusher” unleashed a sharp dose of bluntness: “Adonis Stevenson is a piece of s***.”

That remark not only raised eyebrows throughout the Adrian Phillips Ballroom and created worldwide headlines; it also threw the gauntlet at Stevenson’s feet. When he meets Andrzej Fonfara May 24 at Montreal’s Bell Centre, will Stevenson feel pressured to duplicate Kovalev’s fireworks inside the ring and at the microphone or will he treat the Russian like an “unperson” as described in George Orwell’s “1984” – out of sight, out of mind and someone whose name shouldn’t even be uttered in his presence?

It’s tough to gauge. Given his rough background that includes jail time, one could see Stevenson raging back at Kovalev with all guns blazing. During his exclusive interview with THE RING’s Lem Satterfield, Stevenson fired the first of what may be many verbal bullets.

“I don’t give a f*** what he says,” he replied. “I’m going to make more money in my next fight than Kovalev has ever made and I’m going to make more money in the rest of my fights than he does. This is business.”

Then again, his reluctant response regarding a Kovalev match-up after the Tony Bellew fight (which took place moments after Kovalev flattened Ismayl Sillakh in that same Bell Centre ring) would indicate that he might take the latter approach. After all, Cold Wars seem to be the rage in boxing these days: Top Rank Promotions versus Golden Boy Promotions, HBO versus Showtime and, with Vladimir Putin on the move, Stevenson versus a native of Putin’s Russia.

From a statistical standpoint, one underrated asset of Kovalev’s game is his jab. He threw nearly as many jabs as power shots against Agnew (196 vs. 206) and in the six completed rounds, he averaged 31.5 attempts and 5.5 connects, both above the 22.7 and 5.3 light heavyweight averages. He landed nine in the second round and eight in the fifth, high numbers for any fighter these days much less a lights-out puncher like Kovalev.

This is hardly a first for Kovalev. He landed nine of 25 jabs in the first round against Sillakh before steamrolling him in the second and when he won the WBO title from Nathan Cleverly, he went 17 of 53, eight of 40 and nine of 40 in jabs before wiping the Welshman out in round four. The first two rounds of his three-round TKO of Cornelius White saw Kovalev register nine of 34 and seven of 25 in the jab column and he landed 16 of 46 in the second round against Gabriel Campillo just before he lowered the boom in the third. So while Kovalev is a man of relatively few words, he certainly carries a big stick.

Agnew, the party of the second part, managed to unearth several components of Kovalev’s game despite averaging just 17.3 punches per round to Kovalev’s 63.8. First, Kovalev showed he can land hooks against southpaws as one to the jaw scored a knockdown in the final minute of round two and one to the body scored another in the sixth. Second, Agnew’s Winky Wright-esque high guard challenged Kovalev’s patience. Though he limited the normally accurate Kovalev to 27% overall, 18% jabs and 34% power (as opposed to 39% overall, 33% jabs and 43% power in his six previous CompuBox-tracked fights), the Russian worked the body (20 of his 71 power connects struck the flanks) and fired straight rights that split Agnew’s gloves. Finally, Kovalev stoically fought through cuts over both eyes that were produced by accidental but illegal means (a headbutt in round four and an elbow in round six).

“Once I got the two cuts…I touched the floor and I don’t like it,” Kovalev said. “This was good for me. I was ready for 12 rounds. I saw his open waist and I went to the body.”

Did he ever. It isn’t every day that a jab to the stomach produces a 10-count knockout, much less the additional minutes of recuperation time Agnew needed before leaving the ring. The final figures reflected the lopsided nature of the contest as Kovalev outlanded Agnew 107-31 overall, 36-9 in jabs and 71-22 in power shots. However, Agnew was slightly more accurate overall (28%-27%) and in jabs (29%-18%) but Kovalev’s 34%-28% edge in power percentage proved more than enough. Agnew failed to reach double-digit connects in any round (the seven he landed in round one was his best) while Kovalev’s lowest connect total in the six completed rounds was 11, also in round one.

With Stevenson seemingly out of the picture, there are still attractive options for Kovalev – Jean Pascal, Beibut Shumenov (if he upsets Hopkins) and a slew of super middleweights who may navigate seven pounds north, most notably the involuntarily inactive Andre Ward. Given the current set of circumstances, Kovalev may well be favored to beat all three but will those fights be allowed to happen? After all, the ever-present political briar patch has ripped up better and more lucrative fights than these.

*

The co-feature that saw Thomas Dulorme outpoint the previously undefeated Karim Mayfield was a tense, tepid affair that may not have thrilled the masses but surely heartened Dulorme, who proved he can neutralize a style that previously troubled him.

At his best, Mayfield muscles his opponents with elbows, shoulders and the top of his head while belaboring them with clubbing blows that occasionally carry concussive power. Mayfield’s style is much like the one practiced by Argentine strongman Luis Abregu, who stopped Dulorme in seven rounds in October 2012. This time, when Mayfield tried to impose his bullying tactics, Dulorme caught him coming in with power shots that clearly stung. But as the fight entered the late stages, Dulorme slapped on clinch after clinch to the point where a point penalty might have been considered. Dulorme also dodged a few mathematical bullets after landing two hard low blows in the eighth but referee Steve Smoger, renowned for intervening only when absolutely necessary, opted to issue warnings.

That said, most of the fight was waged at long range where Dulorme’s more classic skills – as well as his height and reach advantages – held sway. Every inch of daylight between the two was a godsend for Dulorme and a nightmare for Mayfield, who was outlanded by small but significant margins (83-61 overall, 34-25 jabs, 49-36 power).

George Benton, who worked often with Kathy Duva’s father Lou, coined the credo “Win and look good the next time.” By winning, Dulorme earned the chance of having a next time, maybe even on a premium cable station.

*

Following the Kovalev-Agnew fight, Aris and I made our way through the waterlogged hallways inside Boardwalk Hall, walked down the non-functioning escalator and reached the TV trucks, which were parked inside an enormous garage dotted with trash buckets placed to collect the constant drips from above. The post-fight meal came from White House Subs, so I got my third taste of their fare in the last 36 hours.

By the time I left the arena with a group including Aris and stage manager Curran Bhatia, the raging storm that had adversely affected HBO’s signal had yielded to thick fog and mildly chilly temperatures. With work still left to do, I opted to say my goodbyes and return to my room instead of basking further in the post-fight glow.

Sunday, March 30: I stirred awake at 7:30 a.m., six hours after reluctantly turning out the lights. After getting ready for the day and getting some writing done, I decided to pack up and check out at 9 a.m. – quite early considering that my flight to Pittsburgh wasn’t scheduled to leave Philadelphia until 1:50 p.m.

Though I’m a night owl in terms of sleeping patterns, I’m an equally enthusiastic early bird when it comes to keeping appointments. If I’m supposed to be somewhere at a certain time, I’m usually there at least five minutes beforehand if not more. My experiences as The Travelin’ Man have only intensified that impulse. Enough weird things have happened to me over the past nine years that every spare minute is a valued minute.

I’m not sure why but I sensed I needed to begin the process of leaving the premises at that moment and not a minute later. One never knows when something unusual, or even unprecedented, might happen.

Guess what? It did.

For all of my troubles navigating highways, I’ve never had issues with parking lots or garages because they have easily distinguishable landmarks. When I pulled into my parking space at Caesars’ two days earlier, I did what I always did: wrote down the level number (five) and the location of the parking space related to my surroundings (10th spot down the right hand side when looking from the doorway) as well as noting the make, model and license plate of my rental car that is usually on the key ring. I believed that was enough information to guide me back to my vehicle but – wouldn’t you know – this time it wasn’t.

My first mistake was taking the wrong elevator to the wrong garage. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I knew I had made an error because the scenery looked nothing like what I had seen before. So I returned to the hotel lobby and asked the clerk if there were any other garages I needed to check. There were and after being told where to proceed, I was on my way.

But when I reached the fifth floor and looked out the door, nothing seemed familiar. I spent the next 15 minutes scouring the area while pressing my key’s remote in the hopes of seeing a telltale flash from the tail lights. My efforts proved futile and it got to the point where I had a decision to make: keep trying or cut my losses and seek help.

Though I still had plenty of time to keep searching, I opted to take the elevator down to the ground floor and ask whoever was manning the garage’s collection booth for further options.

The person manning the booth was actually a woman – an 82-year-old with nary a tooth in her head. But her looks were deceiving; though hard of hearing, she was sharp, professional and helpful. After telling her my story, she called a security guard and then handed the phone to me when she couldn’t hear what was being said. Once the security camera pinpointed my location, I was asked to remain where I was and wait for a car to pick me up.

About 10 minutes later, that car arrived. The driver was a native of India whose name was Metta, as in “Metta World Peace” (or Ron Artest if you prefer) of NBA fame.

“Did you enter the garage from the street?” he asked.

“Yes I did,” I replied.

“Good,” he said. “We’ll start our search there.”

When we arrived, there were two garage entrances and I told Metta I had used the one that bore the words “self-parking.” Though I was certain I had parked on Level 5, he had me scan Level 4 because most patrons don’t possess such precise recall. All the while, he told me to continually press the unlock key on my remote but as I suspected, I saw nothing.

We then swung up to Level 5 and the futility continued for a couple of more minutes. But then I glanced to my right and saw a flash of what I thought was my vehicle. I alerted Metta of this but he instructed me to continue scanning the rest of the row we were searching. When that was done, I alerted him to what I saw and even before we reached the area, I knew our quest had ended. As we swung around the corner, I quickly counted the spaces from the doorway and saw it was 10, the number I had noted two days earlier. The car’s color and body style matched the image I had burned in my mind and the license plate matched what was printed on my keys. I didn’t even have to hit the remote to know we had arrived but I did so to satisfy Metta.

Once I explained to him how I knew what I knew, he said, “You have a great memory.”

“That’s right,” I said, “and that’s why this whole situation was so confusing to me.”

So, in the end, Metta helped restore Peace to my World.

After Metta led me out of the garage I was off to Philly. I stopped by a service center to fill up the gas tank and satisfy Hertz (it only took $6 and 60 seconds to finish), then arrived at the airport with nary a problem.

Because I received a first-class upgrade, I was asked to walk into the security checkpoint’s preferred access line, which was unusually packed. Apparently, the TSA agents in charge of assigning which lane a passenger must enter had mistakenly guided all passengers to the same line and by the time the error was spotted, it was too late to separate the wheat from the chaff. Because only one TSA agent was assigned to check boarding passes, the queue moved very slowly.

One prickly traveler, obviously in a hurry, boldly expressed his displeasure. In a voice loud enough for everyone to hear – including the TSA agent – he said, “That guy is flirting with every guy’s girlfriend.” At that, the agent snapped his head around and flashed an expression that fused perplexity and sheepishness – but curiously not anger — before returning to the business at hand.

Thanks to my frequent flier miles, I was granted a first-class upgrade but because of virtually nonstop turbulence, no beverage service was offered. No matter: I spent most of the one-hour flight to Pittsburgh resting my weary eyes.

I experienced no problems finding my car in the airport parking lot (one row beyond and fourth space past the 13C sign in the extended stay lot) and the majority of the two-and-a-half hour drive was invested into listening to parts of Connecticut’s upset win over Michigan State and Kentucky’s victory over number-two seed Michigan. I pulled into the driveway shortly before 6:15 p.m. and though I was tired, I managed to get some video work done before turning in for the night.

By the time you read this, I’ll have already prepared for my next trip, in five days’ time, and completed my mission. The destination: Philadelphia. The reason: to “work the keys” for the NBC Sports Network card topped by Amir Mansour vs. Steve Cunningham.

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 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.

 

Photo/Aris Pina

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