By Jake Donovan
For most, a trip to Cozumel represents the vacation of a lifetime, the ultimate getaway for the average traveler in desperate need of a break from reality.
There are no such memories for super middleweight contender Librado Andrade. His own visit to the Mexican island was strictly a business trip, though a business in which he generally gains much pleasure as there’s nothing he enjoys more than the opportunity to step between the ropes and try his damnest to beat the living hell out of whatever fighter shares the ring with him.
This business trip would end in grave disappointment. There was no pleasure to be found since he was never given the chance to beat down his scheduled opponent, Donovan George. The only business conducted last Saturday evening at Frolain Lopez Baseball Field was when Andrade was asked to clock out well before his shift was scheduled to end, since there was no work available for him.
“This was definitely a first for me,” Andrade (30-4, 22KO) said of the fight that never was. “I was in my dressing room and they told me it was raining outside. The first thing that came to mind was, ‘Cool, I never fought in the rain before. It will be an interesting experience.’
“The next thing I know, they’re telling me way before the fight to pack my gear, and that we were going home. I didn’t understand what they were telling me at first, why I had to go home.”
The struggle in comprehension had nothing to do at all with Andrade not properly understanding; the Mexican is fluent – and in fact, quite articulate - in both Spanish and English.
What he failed to grasp was why in the world he had to leave hours before he was set to square off against George in a bout with a mandatory title shot at stake.
The decision came hours before, when George and his team – upon arriving at the venue – noticed the ring size was far smaller than the contracted limit. Initial ringside reports cited a difference of three feet between the contractually agreed upon size and the specs to which the ring was actually set on fight night.
Later revelations from his promoter pointed out an even greater disparity, one to which most following the situation expressed sympathy with the decision made.
“There’s no reasonable standard under which a 15’ x 15’ ring is accepted,” Leon Margoules, George’s promoter, insisted to Boxingscene.com early Monday morning. “That’s not anything other than a sparring ring. When you have a contract from Golden Boy that says a 20’ x 20’ ring, you expect that to be the case when you show up to the venue.
“If it was an 18’ ring, I’d have been disappointed, but would’ve still stood by and let the fight happen. But to say a 15’ ring is the only one available when you trained for and expected a 20’ ring - what can I do but to protect my fighter?”
Andrade understands the promoter’s position. He’s had his own handlers try to talk him out of fights before, where unexpected situations proved to be less than desirable.
What Andrade emphasizes, though, is on the part where they tried to talk him out of going through with a fight where the deck was believed to be stacked against him. With that in mind, the memory of another fighter telling him a fight is off just doesn’t sit well – not on the night it occurred, and not in the aftermath.
“George came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry, but my guys don’t want me to fight.’ He told me his people are upset with the ring size and think it’s too dangerous. I said, ‘Yeah it’s dangerous. We fight, we get paid to beat each other up. It’s a dangerous sport.’ It didn’t make sense to me to not fight.”
The insistence from the George camp was that he was asked against his own will to pull out of the fight. As a fighter, Andrade has a hard time wrapping his head around that statement. His belief is that the manager and promoter works for the fighter, not the other way around.
“I asked why he would let them not fight. He said he wanted to fight, but they (his handlers) were looking out in his best interest. I didn’t get the sense that he truly wanted it. In reality, the fighter has the last word. I speak from my own experiences that I have the final say in whether or not I fight.”
Andrade recalls two instances in particular – both occurring within six months of each other, and in the very same venue – where he had the chance to get righteous and stand up for what he believed in rather than fight under less than desirable circumstances.
Pulling out of either fight would’ve denied him the opportunity to fight for a world title – which, winning one is his burning desire. He instead chose on both occasions to play the hand he was dealt. The reward was two more title shots and continued respect throughout the industry.
“I still remember leading up to the first fight with Lucian Bute for the IBF world title, I waited and waited in my dressing room for my gloves to arrive,” Andrade recalls. “Finally, it couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes to go before the fight, they throw down a pair of gloves – not even the ones I chose but another pair.
“I told my trainer Howard (Grant) these aren’t my gloves. He looked into it, came back and told me they were playing games; that I don’t have to put up with this. He told me that I didn’t have to fight… unless I wanted to. I told him that I want to, I’m here and I want to fight.”
Andrade fought that night – well enough to unofficially knock out Bute in the final round, only for overzealous referee Marlon B. Wright to interrupt his count and demand that the fighter remain pinned to the neutral corner.
Bute managed to make it up on his feet during the commotion, and in likelihood would’ve barely beaten the original eight count had it not been interrupted. Either way, the fight ended Bute out on his feet – but up on his feet, nevertheless, which was enough for the fight to go to the scorecards, where Andrade dropped a unanimous decision.
The fight was second failed bid at a world title shot, having fallen way short against Mikkel Kessler more than 18 months prior for his first career loss.
Being the consummate fighter, Andrade refused to accept defeat as his one and only shot at alphabet glory. Three straight knockout wins led to the aforementioned Bute fight, which in turn was followed up by another title eliminator and his second dance with the politics of the sport.
Andrade was popular enough with the Canada boxing public and boxing-cheap enough to serve as a viable undercard attraction to a planned 140 lb unification bout between American titlists Tim Bradley and Kendall Holt. The fight was brought to the Bell Centre in Montreal – the same venue that hosted Andrade’s near come-from-behind knockout of Bute six months prior.
Ticket sales were an issue, which is where Andrade came into the picture. A title eliminator with Vitali Tsypko was added as an enhancement for the Showtime-televised card, with local promoter Choko Boxing promising to foot the bill for Andrade’s services.
Drama surfaced when Choko reneged on its promise and pulled out of the show altogether. Once again, Andrade was faced with a dilemma and the opportunity to walk away, even with nothing to show for it.
Not the ending he had in mind.
“Choko was supposed to pay me a certain amount for the elimination bout with Tsypko. When they pulled out, that payday didn’t happen. Interbox stepped in and saved the show. However, what they were able to offer me was less than half of what I was promised when first asked to be on the show.
“My team didn’t think I should take the fight. I asked them what would happen if I went home. They told me that Tsypko would probably fight for the title by default and I’d have to wait. That didn’t make any sense to me. So I took what was offered and fought Tsypko, because that was my job to do so.”
Andrade did his job well, scoring a rare unanimous decision win, his first distance victory in nearly five years. The rematch with Bute didn’t go quite as well, coming out to a strong start but ultimately succumbing by way of a fourth-round body shot knockout, the only time he has ever been stopped in a career 12-years and running.
Still, Andrade is nothing if not persistent. Humble and stunningly optimistic, especially at age 33 and with three failed title bids under his belt, yet it’s his in-ring persistence that continues to define him. It’s why he remains in the title hunt to this day, even after suffering a stunning decision loss to Aaron Pryor Jr earlier this year.
He has since bounced back with a tune-up win over Matt O’Brien. The evening was less about the win itself than it was having the opportunity to share a bill in Mexico with his brother Enrique Ornelas. The two have fought on the same card before, but never in their birth country (Andrade and his family moved to California when he was 10 years old).
Last Saturday’s show in Cozumel would’ve been the second straight occasion they would’ve appeared together south of the border. Instead, he was left to watch his brother score a first round knockout in a tune-up fight that lasted all of a minute, while he went home empty-handed – and without the opportunity to do anything with his hands that night.
They went out and celebrated by having dinner afterward. Even in experiencing the joy of watching Ornelas – a struggling journeyman who pales in comparison to his older brother – rack up his third straight win, Andrade still struggled with the thought of not going through with a fight, especially with so much at stake.
The moment spent at dinner with his brother was Andrade’s last during his stay in his birth country. He has since traveled back to his California home, while ironically George remained behind in Mexico on extended vacation.
Meanwhile, a ruling will be made by the IBF in the coming days as to where Andrade goes from here. It’s possible he goes straight to a third fight with Bute, since he was the willing party in the fight that wasn’t. There’s the possibility that – due to the violation of what was stated in the original contract – he’s forced to go through the entire dance again, and hope that an actual fight comes of it in the end.
There’s also the possibility of looking towards boxing’s latest unified titlist. More so than two belts around his waist, Andre Ward is now rightfully recognized as the lineal super middleweight king on the strength of his Super Six finals win over Carl Froch.
Whatever decisions are made is irrelevant to Andrade. His only concern is the bottom line.
“My goal in all of this is not Donovan George; it’s to become a world champion,” Andrade clarifies. “He was an obstacle in the way of that, which is why I wanted that fight.”
What he wants now is assurance that the next set of negotiations – no matter with whom - translates into an actual fight. The vibe he got from whatever time was spent around George during fight week was that his camp was never interested in fighting there, an experience he’d rather avoid if it will only result in further delaying his path towards another title shot.
“I feel like I should be allowed to move on. I don’t want the same thing to happen if we’re ordered to fight again. I just want to fight. I don’t wish anything negative to anyone in or out of the ring. I just ask for the chance to kick your ass. If you sign a contract to fight, you fight. I’d rather go home with a black eye and beat up, than to have not fought at all.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]