Lee Groves

The Travelin’ Man returns to Verona…again-part II

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Click here for part one

 

It was as if the good folks at “ShoBox” were trying to stuff 200 episodes worth of action into a single show.

At three hours and 19 minutes, it was the longest broadcast in series history in terms of airtime for three reasons. First, 33 of the scheduled 34 rounds in the quadruple-header were waged. Second, a bizarre three-minute,18-second blackout delayed the start of the main event between middleweights Antoine Douglas and Michel Soro. Then, with 43 seconds remaining in round four, referee Benjy Esteves Jr.’s sharp eyes picked up a small tear in Soro’s left glove, a development that stopped action for another four minutes, 25 seconds.

Two other strange twists occurred during the main event. First, after the darkness was broken by the house lights (which provided about 50 percent of the previous illumination), the TV lights suddenly came to life – and then some. The retina-exploding burst was the result of technicians bypassing the dimmer controls in order to get the lights to work at all. Second, the vivacious Annette Douglas, the mother of Antoine, graced viewers with a raspy-voiced monologue that ended with an “I love you” and a hug from Steve Farhood.

Despite all the weirdness swirling around it, the landmark episode was a success because each of the four fights embodied certain traits of the series:

* Wanzell Ellison became the 121st undefeated fighter to lose his perfect record when he dropped an eight-round decision to Canadian veteran Tony Luis, clearly his best opponent to date considering Ellison’s last five opponents had a combined .300 winning percentage.

* Luis, in turn, returned to ShoBox for the second consecutive fight after losing a competitive 10-round decision to Ivan Redkach in January and he repaid the kindness with an impressive bounce-back effort.

* Maryland welterweight Cecil McCalla navigated the eight-round distance for the first time and showed he could remain strong from first bell to last against a foe who refused to yield while Oscar Godoy, who was a late sub for South African Chris Van Heerden, tenaciously absorbed all of McCalla’s thunder and continued to fight on despite realizing from the very start that he lacked the weaponry to slow McCalla’s attack.

* The super middleweight clash between Jerry Odom and Vilier Quinonez was the 76th meeting between undefeated fighters and their blood-soaked, back-and-forth war forced each to dig deeper than ever before. Odom showed he could rebound from a difficult start by scoring a fourth round knockdown, then overcoming a cut over the left eye to score the fight-ending knockdown in the seventh. Quinonez’s southpaw style and boxing wiles presented puzzles for Odom to solve and moments after suffering his first knockdown, he managed to rock his rival with a solid left. He, like Odom, sustained a cut near his eye and proved the laceration alone wouldn’t be enough to deter him. Finally, the physical and emotional toll of victory could be seen on Odom’s crimson-streaked face. As he sat on the canvas, Odom’s fusion of triumph and relief flashed back to Ebo Elder’s signature moment following his remarkable KO win over Courtney Burton while Quinonez became the second fighter of the televised quadruple-header (and the 122nd in series history) to shed his loss-column “0.”

* Like Odom and McCalla, Douglas was forced to fight more rounds than previously asked of him (his ShoBox bout with Marquis Davis was his only contest lasting longer than six) and he didn’t exit the ring unscathed as he and Soro fought to a majority draw that inflicted the first blemish of Douglas’ record (14-0-1, 9 KOs) and the second of Soro’s (23-1-1, 13 KOs). Moreover, a fight that had the look of a mild route-going test careened into far more perilous territory when Douglas was badly stunned and nearly dropped in the eighth. Douglas’ troubles continued throughout the ninth and 10th rounds but instead of folding, he fought back hard enough to make it to the final bell.

Not only did each fight tell riveting stories optically, they also did so statistically. The general consensus that Douglas-Soro was a tale of two five-round fights is confirmed by the CompuBox numbers that showed Douglas outlanding Soro 125-64 overall and 87-37 power in rounds one through five while Soro prevailed 105-59 overall and 65-34 power in rounds six through 10. Soro’s dominance was most pronounced in rounds eight through 10, when the margins were 71-26 overall and 50-18 power and the effects of his connects were more dramatic than Douglas’ when he dominated. For that reason, many believed the draw verdict was justified.

The ruggedness and closeness of Odom-Quinonez was reflected in Odom’s leads of 163-151 overall and 138-113 power, which negated Quinonez’s 58-25 lead in landed jabs. Early on, the American was a punching machine as he unleashed a fight-high 109 punches in round one and averaged 98 over the first four. Quinonez, though he was less active (63.3 per round through four), hung in by being more accurate (33%-26%). He turned the fight on its head in rounds five and six as he outlanded Odom in both rounds (17-14 and 35-17 overall, 14-12 and 23-14 power) before Odom’s final flourish in the seventh (30-16 overall, 24-11 power) ended matters.

McCalla’s physical dominance was beyond question as was his numerical command. Averaging 62.1 punches per round to Godoy’s 48.2, McCalla pounded out canyon-esque connect advantages across the board (221-75 overall, 53-18 jabs, 168-57 power) but the most impressive aspect of the Maryland fighter’s performance was his supreme accuracy – 44% overall, 27% jabs and 56% power, all above the welterweight averages of 32%, 23% and 39%, respectively. McCalla’s exceptional offense also accounts for his outstanding defensive numbers, for Godoy managed to land only 19% of his total punches, 20% of his jabs and 19% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Moreover, McCalla grew stronger and more accurate as the fight went on. In the first four rounds, McCalla averaged 58 per round and led 105-42 overall while in rounds five through eight, his pace accelerated (66.3 per round) and his connect gaps grew (116-33 overall). McCalla’s modest KO percentage (six knockouts in 19 fights) may account for part of Godoy’s ability to survive the onslaught but the Californian’s toughness in the face of fire also merits a large share of the credit.

Luis’ overwhelming optical victory was somewhat obscured statistically (151-130 overall, 124-88 power) for two reasons. First, Ellison led 42-27 in landed jabs, which cut into Luis’ margin. Second, Ellison threw more punches in every category (602-538 overall, 248-193 jabs, 354-345 power). The key to Luis’ victory, besides his consistent aggression, was his body punching, which accounted for 51 of his 124 power connects. From ringside, his hooks and right-handed swings produced a thwacking thud that reverberated throughout the area while Ellison’s blows didn’t come close to creating the same volume. But Ellison’s loss wasn’t caused by a lack of trying; he out-threw Luis in every round except for round one (56-46) and the thrilling seventh (102-100) and he topped 70 in each of the last five rounds.

Once the show finally got off the air, Andy Kasprzak decided to return to his room to get some much-needed sleep while I joined the others in the production office for some post-fight pizza. As we munched away, we took time to relive the night’s weird and wonderful moments as well as swapped stories about past ShoBox adventures. I would have hung out even longer but a glance at my cell phone’s clock forced me to confront the reality that the hour had grown late – very late.

I re-entered my room at 1:52 a.m. – more than 12 hours after I left it. Since I needed to be out and about in less than six-and-a-half hours’ time, I knew I had to skip the usual winding-down process and turn out the lights as quickly as possible.

Saturday, July 26: Miracle of miracles, I not only fell asleep quickly but I also managed to get five-and-a-half hours of quality rest. After briefly checking emails and surfing the web, I checked out of the hotel, found my car in the parking garage and drove to the airport in Syracuse amid bright sunshine and temperatures in the low-70s. With time being of the essence, I utilized my customary I-90 route, nominal $1.45 toll and all.

Once I hit the road, my first duty was to fill the rental car’s gas tank. Because of my numerous treks to the IBHOF induction weekend, I knew of the Chittenango rest stop with a Sunoco station on the property. Just before approaching the gas tanks, I popped the button that opened the lid covering the gas cap and looked out the side windows to see which side opened up. That allowed me to move smoothly into position.

When I exited the car, I couldn’t help but notice the dozens of seagulls that either flew in tight circles around the building or roosted on the roof. I also took note of the stench from their entrails. The employee behind the counter told me the birds’ arrival was a fairly recent phenomenon and that he expected them to leave once the wisp of autumn arrives, which, in upper New York State, is not as far away as one might think.

I expected some walking-on-eggshells moments as far as finding the rental car drop-off area since I was told two days earlier that the location had changed. But the airport’s excellent signage ensured that even directionally challenged Travelin’ Men like me had no problems finding the correct area. I breezed through the screening process and once I settled into the gate area, I was blessed with a surprise.

Directly behind me, I heard a familiar tenor ask, “Small world, isn’t it?” I turned around and saw the ever-smiling face of ring announcer Thomas Treiber, whose gate was approximately 100 feet from mine and whose flight was set to take off 30 minutes earlier than my bird to Philly. We spent the next hour conducting the interview whose quotes appear in part one and our conversation was so absorbing that Treiber waited until nearly the last moment to board his plane.

My flight departed Syracuse amid sunny skies but landed in Philadelphia under stone-gray conditions and steady rain. The connection window was relatively narrow – 66 minutes between landing and departure but 36 minutes between landing and scheduled boarding – but I made it easily despite having to take the F-terminal bus because reaching my connecting gate required less than a two-minute walk. As was the case for flight one on Thursday, flight two on Saturday saw a bump up to the first-class cabin.

After landing in Pittsburgh and taking care of a time-sensitive, work-related task, I walked to the car – thankfully the sun was shining in the “Steel City” – and started the two-and-a-half hour drive home. As usual, I listened to classic rock FM and sports-talk AM while picking up dinner at a drive-through. I pulled into the driveway five minutes earlier than anticipated, thanks to lighter-than-expected traffic and spent the remainder of the evening either re-recording fights stored on the genie onto my hard-drive recorder or watching and recording live cards. The smorgasbord of boxing action caused me to stay awake until nearly 3 a.m. Life is good.

As of this writing – and I don’t anticipate any changes – the Travelin’ Man’s next trip represents a return to Bethlehem, Pa., where, on August 9, the NBC Sports Network will air a tripleheader featuring heavyweights Joseph Parker and Keith Thompson, an international light heavyweight bout between Russian Vasily Lepikhin and New Zealander Robert Berridge as well as the main event between heavyweights Vyacheslav Glazkov and Derric Rossy.

Until next time, 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 12 writing awards, including nine in the last four years and two first-place awards since 2011. 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 email the author at l.groves@frontier.com to arrange for autographed copies.

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