By Mitch Abramson
Pawel Wolak fought the second-half of his bout with Delvin Rodriguez nearly blind, with a grotesque hematoma over his right eye. The injury was so obscene- the right side of his head was misshapen- that it evoked memories of Hasim Rahman’s monstrous injury from a head butt against Evander Holyfield. Wolak and Rodriguez battled to a 10-round majority draw at the Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
It was a bout worthy of some end-of-the year honors with both men punishing each other for the full duration of the junior middleweight bout. Wolak’s withering pressure was non-stop. Even after the eighth and ninth rounds when the ringside doctors seemed to be pleading with Wolak to surrender, he kept on going, doling out punishment. And Rodriguez, the victim of a number of dubious decisions in big fights, showed that he was remarkably durable and able to move up in weight. He responded to Wolak’s pressure tactics with clinical precision, landing whipping left hooks and uppercuts that carved up Wolak’s face to hideous proportions. Tom Schreck scored it 97-93 for Rodriguez, while Steve Weisfeld and Julie Lederman both scored it 95-95, 95-95.
“We all know my history with decisions,” Rodriguez said back in his dressing room, sporting some minor lacerations over his face. “I definitely thought I won the fight. It took me a little time to warm up but after the fourth round, I thought I was in control. I kept hitting him with the same left hook. I could see the referee wanted to stop the fight. I could see it in his eyes. He was looking at the doctor, like, ‘C’mon. Stop it already.’”
Even after the fight, Wolak (29-1-1) was hesitant to see a doctor or visit a hospital. He pleaded with Dr. Osric King to let him see his personal physician on Saturday and to sleep on his injury but Dr. King would have none of it, urging him to visit nearby Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan.
“I couldn’t see out of my right eye from like the sixth round on,” Wolak said. “It did affect me. I just couldn’t see. But I wasn’t going to stop. They asked me if I could see and I said yes. I was trying to win the fight. I knew the fight was close and I had to keep pushing. I didn’t want to make excuses. I just wanted to finish.”
Wolak’s style of boxing dictates that he’s going to get hit. He is on top of his opponent from the first round, but Wolak admitted after the fight that his style may need some retooling.
“I have to get better,” he said. “This fight will make me better. Changes have to be made.”
After starting slowly, Rodriguez (25-5-3) made a stand in the seventh round, landing a series of thudding left hooks, and heading back to his corner, Wolak’s right eye appeared grotesquely swollen. Before the start of the eighth, King climbed onto the ring apron to closely examine Wolak’s right eye, asking him if he wanted to continue. Wolak nodded his head and went back out there for more punishment.
A cluster of doctors surrounded Wolak’s corner from the eighth round on, and they all watched Wolak take a serious beating. He fought back valiantly to end the ninth round, but Wolak’s face was by this point completely disfigured. It was the ultimate quandary for the ringside doctors: How do you stop a fight when a fighter who looks like he should be in an emergency room has just landed a dozen un-answered punches to punctuate a round? Again, a ringside physician examined his right eye before the start of the tenth round, and again Wolak was allowed to continue.
“If he had been behind then it would have easier to stop it,” Dr. King said. “But he was in the fight and he was still fighting hard. He said he could see out of the eye, and he wanted to continue. You’re always thinking of trying to protect the fighter. But this is also part of the game.”
Steven Gamache won a unanimous decision against Rogelio Sanchez (0-4) in his first appearance fghting in his hometown of New York City. Gamache’s famous father was in his corner, Joey Gamache, for the four-round junior middleweight bout in which Gamache (2-0) had the tough Sanchez down in the first round with an overhand right. The Judges scores were 40-35, 39-36, 39-36.
“I thought I woke him up,” Gamache said with a smile. “Then I thought he was coming even more.”
Lionel Thompson (8-0) won a four-round cruiserweight bout against Reggie LaCrete (4-1-2) by three scores of 40-36.
In a very good action bout, Raymond Serrano improved his record to 16-0 with eight knockouts with a hard-fought unanimous decision win against the always-game Daniel Sostre, who dropped to 11-4-1 in the eight-round welterweight bout at the Roseland Ballroom. Two judges had it 78-74, 78-74 while a third had it 77-75, all for Philadelphia’s Serrano. While there were no knockdowns, there were numerous momentum shifts with each fighter having their moments. Serrano appeared to have just a little more polish, just a tad better conditioning and seemed to carry the rounds a little better than did Harlem’s Serrano.
Kevin Rooney Jr., son of the famed trainer, Kevin Sr., who guided Mike Tyson to the heavyweight championship, stopped Elmer Vera at the end of the first round with a roundhouse right hand to improve his record to 2-0 in a four-round middleweight bout tonight at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. Rooney Jr. is boxing only after he promised his father, Kevin Sr. that he would honor the sport by taking it seriously and working hard in exchange for his father’s sobriety. Kevin Sr. said he would quit drinking as long as his son puts in the time in addition to working full-time for the promoter Joe DeGuardia.
“I know I could hold up my end of the bargain and so far he’s holding his end up, too,” Kevin Sr. said. “That was the agreement that we worked out. He’s coming along well as a fighter. I liked what I saw tonight.”
Rooney (2-0) was in the peculiar situation of having to pull double duty in his day job as the publicist and event coordinator for DeGuardia’s Star Boxing outfit while also moonlighting as a boxer. And after the fight, as Rooney Jr. descended the ring steps- the official time was three minutes of the first round- DeGuardia pulled him aside, a smile on his face, while he was still shirtless to ask him to solve a minor issue with a photographer who was ringside. Of course, Rooney obliged.
“I know a lot of people see this as just a publicity stunt,” Rooney Jr. said outside his dressing room. “Hopefully, this will show people that I’m for real and that I’m taking this very seriously. I’m in the gym training just as hard as these other fighters. I’m doing the road work. I’m taking this very seriously.”
Rooney, 26, appeared to lose the first half of the first round, absorbing a volume of punches from the fast-starting Vera (0-2) before he stabilized and began fighting back. Rooney Jr. knew Vera well, since Vera had previously fought on a Star Boxing show with Rooney doing the publicity, and Rooney was just too big and strong for the smaller Vera, who couldn’t answer Rooney’s heavy, winging shots. While Vera was inconsolable after the bout, crying as he made his way back to the dressing room, Rooney quickly put on a shirt and tie and transitioned back to his day-job as full-time publicist for DeGuardia. His father, Kevin Sr. was happy with his performance, even offering the greatest compliment by saying that his son’s style has “melded to the Cus D’Amato” style of boxing, which is to move his head while throwing punches.
The Roseland Ballroom show led off with an amateur bout where 21-year-old Bryant Cruz won a four-round decision against Louis Cruz, a 20-year-old from the Bronx at 132 pounds. The fight was notable in that Cruz (no relation) won the bout against a vastly more experienced fighter in Louis, who recently lost in the PAL Nationals and is headed to the Olympic Trials in Mobile, Alabama for the 12-day event that starts on July 28.