by David P. Greisman
My boxing weekend began at a Friday night card that provided quite the contrast with the show that followed 24 hours later — when a famous fighter named Canelo Alvarez would meet well-known opponent Alfredo Angulo in a bout airing globally, sold on pay-per-view and taking place in front of more than 14,000 people at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
On the night before Alvarez-Angulo, I was one of hundreds in a building at Rosecroft Raceway in Ft. Washington, Md., a faded track that in recent years has seen far more simulcasting of races elsewhere than actual horses live. It is a venue in a poorer county that is surrounded by 11 of this country’s 25 wealthiest counties. The main event featured junior-welterweight prospect Mike Reed, a 21-year-old still early in his pro career but who brought with him some legitimate amateur credentials.
Reed fought a hard-looking 31-year-old man named Bilal Mahasin, whose face seemed to convey intensity akin to if he had just seen his wife in flagrante with his opponent. Mahasin is a convicted felon who returned to the ring last year after his release from a decade-long prison sentence, notching his fourth pro win nearly 11 and a half years after earning his third.
On the undercard that night, a 4-3-1 fighter named Kevin Womack Jr. lost a third-round technical knockout in his rematch with Yurii Polischuk, and the 25-year-old from Baltimore reacted to the referee’s stoppage with an extended tantrum that nearly caused a brawl with Polischuk’s corner, ended with his own team members holding him down on a stool in his corner, and led to his post-fight medical exam taking place in the men’s room while a local police officer stood nearby.
We act and react to life through the lens of events and what their results may mean.
We also make our decisions in life through the lens of our experience and education.
On May 7, 2005, Tony Weeks stood in a ring at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas as Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo participated in one of the most vicious exchanges of sanctioned violence in recent memory. He watched as Corrales crumpled from a left hook early in the 10th round, rose at the count of eight, toppled backward for a second time within half a minute of the first knockdown, got back up at the count of nine, and then proceeded to beat Castillo in what was, without hyperbole, one of the most dramatic and sensational conclusions ever.
Four months later, on Sept. 17, 2005 at the MGM Grand, Weeks was the referee for another lightweight title fight, this one between Jesus Chavez and Leavander Johnson. Chavez was landing clean, hard and often and was winning handily on the scorecards, though Johnson was still putting up an effort, however futile, and with little effect.
“You know, legally and properly, the referee can’t stop this fight,” Emanuel Steward, the late HBO commentator and Hall of Fame trainer working the broadcast, said as the 10th round was winding down. “But it’s one that if there’s any way possible, I would like to [see] the fight stopped. But you can’t when he’s fighting back and he still is the champion.”
Responded HBO’s Jim Lampley: “What it means, though, is that Leavander Johnson is in all likelihood going to take six more minutes of the kind of punishment we’ve watched him take for 10 rounds, and that’s not good.”
Johnson’s corner told him before the 11th round to “suck it up,” and that he needed a knockout. The bell rang, and Chavez punched away at Johnson for 38 seconds until Weeks stepped in. Johnson — who had taken plenty of punishment over the course of his career, and who at 35 had, just three months earlier, finally won a world title on his third try — appeared to be unhappy at the stoppage.
HBO’s announcers had wondered about the danger of the accumulating damage, and wished that Johnson’s corner had thrown in the towel earlier. They were thankful for Weeks’ decision, though Johnson soon collapsed in the back and then died days later.
It is understandable, then, that Weeks — who in the years since has continued to be seen as one of the best referees in the sport — would keep those bouts and others in mind, archiving a night in which a fighter took seemingly as much punishment as humanly possible and then came back, as well as a night in which a fighter took more punishment than he should have and never returned.
It is understandable that Weeks would stop this past weekend’s fight between Canelo Alvarez and Alfredo Angulo, even if it seemed abrupt and imperfect, with the moment not as obvious as has been in other cases.
It is understandable that Angulo responded to his technical knockout loss with disbelief and complaint. Just as Mahasin desperately wanted a win over Reed as he continued to rebuild his life, just as Womack couldn’t contain himself because of the consequences of his latest defeat, victory was the only desirable outcome for Angulo.
He is a proud man who is all too willing to sacrifice himself in the short-term of a round for the long-term goal of winning the fight— and all too willing to sacrifice his long-term health for short-term success.
It is a lifestyle chosen by his style, which is one of aggression and power, of absorbing blows for the sake of delivering them.
It is why, after going to the scorecards for three of his first four fights, he won by knockout or technical knockout for his next 17 victories.
It is why Kermit Cintron turned to boxing to beat Angulo in 2009, why James Kirkland had to come off the canvas and withstand an onslaught before turning the tide on Angulo in 2011, and why Erislandy Lara was dragged into a battle and had to overcome a pair of knockdowns before finally landing the fight-ending blow that injured Angulo’s eye in 2013.
And it is why Canelo came out the way he did against Angulo, landing a hard, flush left hook to his jaw in the opening seconds, forcing him backward, strafing him with hard hooks and crosses and blocking Angulo’s return fire with relative ease.
The pay-per-view was titled “Toe to Toe,” though others noted that the appropriate phrase in Spanish was “ mano a mano ,” or hand-to-hand. Either way, this fight was to be decided man to man. After all, Angulo is the type of fighter who can only be deterred by force or by movement. And while Alvarez has shown some patience in past fights, he is by and large the type of fighter who seeks to score with hard single shots and combinations.
This was the first bout back for Alvarez since he had taken a tremendous step up in class last September to face Floyd Mayweather, an exemplary boxer who at times made Alvarez look ordinary and limited. Against Angulo, Alvarez was better able to use the skills he’d refined against a slate of smaller and older foes, and the relative hand speed and power he’d shown against Austin Trout a year ago. Though still just 23 years old, Alvarez had turned pro at 15 and had accumulated eight years of poise and experience.
He’d need it. Angulo kept coming.
This is how Angulo’s pressure was supposed to work: If he couldn’t get Alvarez early, he could get him late, when Alvarez would be tiring, when Angulo would be landing more and presumably getting hit less.
Angulo did begin to land more, but never often enough nor hard enough. Alvarez did begin to show some signs of tiring, particularly in the eighth round, when he went to the ropes on more than one occasion and was also drawn into exchanges. Yet the pressure wasn’t breaking Canelo down; Angulo wasn’t hurting Alvarez or even getting the better of him.
Alvarez was still landing frequently — CompuBox credited him with landing 58 percent of his punches on the night, including a whopping 64 percent of his power shots. And while he wasn’t staggering Angulo, it was clear that Alvarez had plenty of force on his shots, which were cracking into Angulo’s skull more often than they were being blocked or dodged.
It was clear enough to Angulo’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, that he warned his fighter before the 10th round began, “I’m not going to let this happen to you, son.”
And it was clear enough to Weeks that he began to move closer to Angulo about 20 seconds into the round, after Alvarez landed a right cross. Angulo kept coming. Then, about 24 seconds later, Alvarez feinted with his right hand and threw a left uppercut that bobbled Angulo’s head and sent him back a few steps. Weeks jumped in, waving his right arm and then wrapping it around Angulo, who pulled himself from Weeks’ grasp as the boos — and, later, other items — rained down from the crowd.
Minutes afterward, Angulo spoke with Weeks, expressing his displeasure with the referee’s decision.
“All I see is the punishment,” Weeks replied at one point. “I’m just glad you’re OK,” he said at another.
Alvarez’s final punch and Angulo’s response did not appear to be similar to other telltale moments that lead a referee to halt a fight. But Angulo’s health had been on Weeks’ mind for much of the bout. Weeks had spoken to Angulo’s corner after the third round about all of the punches he was taking. And after the ninth, Hunter had told Weeks that he was considering stopping the bout himself if Alvarez landed in combination again.
Weeks had also been consulting with a ringside physician during the bout, according to Francisco Aguilar, chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who spoke to Showtime’s Jim Gray after the bout.
Gray also spoke with Angulo, who said his plan was to get at Alvarez in the later rounds.
Said Hunter: “Everyone knows that he was closing this fight, that he was coming on stronger.”
Through nine, Angulo had won just one round on the scorecards of judges Craig Metcalfe and Dave Moretti — both of whom awarded him the eighth — and two rounds on the card of Jerry Roth, who gave Angulo rounds seven and eight. Alvarez had swept the ninth, though, and was winning the first minute of the 10th.
Angulo’s plan is one thing. What he was actually capable of doing is another.
It’s understandable that Angulo, his team and some fans would be upset. There are two rarities that stick most with boxing fans. One is the dramatic, the Hail Mary come-from-behind victory that we saw in 2005 with Corrales-Castillo, that we saw in 1990 with Julio Cesar Chavez’s first win over Meldrick Taylor, and that we saw last year with John Molina’s win over Mickey Bey.
We want to see fighters achieve the impossible, for warriors to become legends in the manner that Arturo Gatti did.
But alongside the dramatic is the tragic, the deaths and catastrophic injuries suffered in the ring. Thanks to his power, Angulo had more of a chance of coming back against Alvarez than Leavander Johnson did against Jesus Chavez. Then again, Alvarez’s power punches were landing with accuracy and frequency, and when combined with Angulo’s sturdy chin, that can be a formula for traumatic brain injury.
Such a tragedy may never have happened on Saturday night. Or it might have. Yet the sport is still reeling from the death late last year of junior featherweight Frankie Leal and the hospitalization of heavyweight Magomed Abdusalamov.
We act and react through the lens of events and what they mean. We decide through the lens of experience and what we’ve learned.
What we’ve learned is that it is better to debate whether a one-sided fight was stopped too soon than it is to know that a one-sided fight was stopped too late.
The 10 Count
1. It will be interesting to see how Canelo Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo did in terms of the pay-per-view buy rate. I’m not expecting anything approaching the numbers done by Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, but I want to see if the show did well enough to suggest that Alvarez could become a significant pay-per-view attraction in the future.
Mayweather’s first pay-per-views prior to his bout with Oscar De La Hoya had buy rates in the 300,000s. Pacquiao, too, was in that range early on and didn’t become a huge attraction until he defeated De La Hoya.
Technically, this was Canelo’s second pay-per-view main event in the United States, but it was his first without Mayweather.
2. Can we get over trusting the word of promoters who are touting sellouts or massive ticket sales?
Last week brought the news that “more than 14,700” tickets had already been sold for the May 3 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana, bringing in more than $12 million in revenue. Of course, it’s been said before that those involved and acquainted with the promotion and staging of the fight are allowed to get batches of these tickets and place them immediately onto the secondary market, earning a healthy profit.
As of early Sunday evening, TicketsNow had 475 tickets available, including a fair number of floor seats — originally priced no higher than $1,500 — now selling for between $5,173 and $13,500. The cheapest seats higher up in the arena, originally priced at $350, are now a minimum of $695.
StubHub had 849 tickets available. On the floor, there were 47 seats available, and those tickets with a face value of $1,500 were now listed for prices ranging from $5,446.70 per ticket up to $33,003.90. Rather sit up top? Those $350 tickets will now run you a minimum of $883.90.
And of course, smart businesspeople won’t flood the market at the outset, but will instead hold out and make more tickets available as we get closer to the bout and as people become more willing to pay more.
All of this goes on while depriving the “regular” fans from being able to see big-time boxing — they’re taking already expensive high prices and making them exponentially exorbitant.
But hey, we get to celebrate another big-revenue fight for our sport of boxing.
3. Speaking of promoters touting sellouts…
- March 3, 2014: I reported here in The 10 Count that the upcoming fight between Danny Garcia and Mauricio Herrera, set to take place this coming weekend in an arena in Puerto Rico that will be set up to seat more than 10,000 people, had more than 7,000 tickets still available for purchase on the primary market via Ticket Center PR.
- March 5, 2014: Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions, speaking on a media conference call, said tickets for Garcia-Herrera “are selling extremely fast,” and he predicted a sellout.
As of early in the evening on March 9, by my highly unofficial but highly intensive count, 3,926 tickets had been sold for Garcia-Herrera, and 6,499 seats were still available.
They must be hoping for walkup traffic for the cheap seats, of which there are many. Only 1,393 of those tickets, which are selling for less than $30, had been sold. That means 5,607 of those 7,000 cheap seats were still unsold. One section remains completely unsold. Another section had just 16 of 1,000 tickets sold, a third had just 42 of 1,000 tickets sold, a fourth had just 91 of 1,000 tickets sold, and a fifth had 145 of 1,000 tickets sold. The best-selling sections of cheap seats had 412 of 1000 and 687 of 1,000 tickets sold.
The lower, more expensive sections were doing better. The east side had 850 of 1,119 tickets sold. The north side had 556 of 632 tickets sold. The south side had 381 of 608 tickets sold. And the west side had 746 of 1,066 tickets sold.
4. And so you can understand my skepticism after reading that Richard Schaefer told BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno that a fight between Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara is a possibility.
Lara’s been kept far away from Canelo for seemingly forever. I don’t see that fight being at the top of Golden Boy’s list of potential bouts for Alvarez.
Heck, Lara, who just outpointed Austin Trout in December, is about to have a second straight match-up that could be aesthetically displeasing: a defense against former titleholder Ishe Smith on May 2.
Beyond that, there’s a question of whether Alvarez, who had to pay Alfredo Angulo extra in order to raise the weight limit to 155 pounds, will still be able to make the junior-middleweight limit, or if he’ll begin to move bit by bit toward the 160-pound division.
Then again, I doubt that Lara would care; he’d probably take a non-title fight over the limit against Alvarez just to finally get in the ring with Canelo.
If that fight ever happens, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
5. It’ll be interesting to see whether featherweights Vasyl Lomachenko and Gary Russell Jr. end up facing each other. Lomachenko just lost to Orlando Salido on March 1, but the WBO belt is vacant due to now-former titleholder Salido failing to make weight.
Lomachenko’s promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, told Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times that the WBO is willing to have Lomachenko fight for the belt again. Last year, the WBO named Russell as the mandatory challenger for the title.
Russell works with Golden Boy; typically a bout with a Top Rank fighter wouldn’t happen due to the longstanding feud between the companies. I believe that the last time Golden Boy and Top Rank co-promoted was in September 2011, when Yuriorkis Gamboa (then a featherweight with Top Rank) defended his belt against Daniel Ponce De Leon (who’s with Golden Boy).
But mandatory fights can go to purse bid, with the winning bid getting the promoter the rights to put on the bout — which we saw when junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan (then with Top Rank) met Erislandy Lara (who’s with Golden Boy) in an elimination bout on a November 2012 card promoted by Top Rank.
And as the belt is vacant, both camps could be more willing to fight each other, due to the purse split. Under WBO regulations, if the fight were between a titleholder and his mandatory challenger, the split would be either 75/25 or 80/20, depending on whether the bout was held in the titleholder’s home country. But with the vacant belt, the split would be 50/50, unless the bout is held in the United States, in which case Lomachenko would get 60 percent and Russell would get 40 percent.
6. Boxers Behaving Badly: Missing from the pay-per-view this past Saturday night was junior middleweight titleholder Carlos Molina, who was arrested in Las Vegas five days before his bout against Jermall Charlo on a pair of years-old warrants out of the state of Wisconsin, according to a report by Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports.
Wisconsin online court records note that Molina allegedly failed to register as a sex offender, a felony that dates back to July 2006, with the warrant filed six months later. A misdemeanor disorderly conduct accusation dates back to May 2005, with the warrant issued in September 2005.
Molina remains in custody in Nevada, with a hearing scheduled for this morning (March 10), according to the Clark County Detention Center’s online records.
In 2002, Molina pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree sexual assault of a child. Though I have not acquired a copy of the original case, a look at Wisconsin statutes reveal more about what that charge entails.
Wisconsin criminal statute 948.02(2) is for someone who “has sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who has not attained the age of 16 years.” The difference between second-degree and first-degree sexual assault of a child is that the victim in a second-degree case is between the ages of 13 and 15, and the contact did not come as a result of “use or threat of force or violence.”
Molina was 18 at the time. He is now 30. He won the IBF world title in September with a win over Ishe Smith and is 22-5-2 with 6 knockouts.
7. After news of Carlos Molina’s arrest, some wondered why the arrest came now, of all times. As in, what brought these open warrants to the attention of Nevada police? They noted that Molina had appeared on ESPN2 and HBO cards in recent years.
(As an aside, I covered a local card this past Friday in which one fighter had spent 10 years in prison on an armed robbery charge after being seen on ESPN, fighting under an alias.)
But my real question is whether Molina’s team and promoter knew about this. I can’t get a job without submitting all sorts of information to my employer. Lots of fighters have criminal cases in their backgrounds, and that should not necessarily be a disqualifier. Yet this was an open case involving a fighter on a pay-per-view undercard. Perhaps criminal background checks should become part of the matchmaking process…
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part one: We now know more about the charges that led to Antonio Tarver’s arrest earlier this month in Florida on an open warrant out of Nevada.
According to TMZ, Tarver had taken out three gambling markets totaling $200,000 over the course of four days in July 2012, and then allegedly never paid the Wynn Las Vegas casino back.
This wasn’t his first time running out on gambling debts. Tarver had been loaned $100,000 by the MGM Grand and $50,000 by the Bellagio in 2009, only paying them back 10 percent of each of those debts, according to TMZ.
“They sued, and according to court records, both casinos got their money back two years later,” the article said.
Tarver is now free after apparently having his debt covered by boxing adviser Al Haymon.
“I’m gonna pay him back by becoming the next heavyweight champion,” the faded 45-year-old former light heavyweight champ was quoted as saying.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part two: Former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik pleaded guilty late last month to one count of disorderly conduct in a case stemming from a September incident. Pavlik had allegedly refused to pay a taxi driver $25 after a ride home from an Ohio bar, according to the Youngstown (Ohio) Vindicator.
He had been facing one count of theft of less than $1,000.
Pavlik was fined $300.
He also has a pretrial hearing scheduled for March 17 in a separate case, one in which he’s accused of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, according to online court records.
The 31-year-old retired last year after a planned fight with Andre Ward was postponed due to Ward suffering an injury in training camp. His last bout was in July 2012, a decision win over Will Rosinsky. That brought his record to 40-2 with 34 knockouts.
10. Yes, on a night that Pavlik took a cab home from the bar instead of driving back, he allegedly stiffed the cabbie on the fare.
Yes, because he allegedly refused to pay the driver $25, Pavlik ended up having to pay $300 in fines.
Yes, a few months after that incident, Pavlik allegedly drove drunk.
And yes, rather coincidentally, Pavlik’s next court hearing on drunk driving charges is on St. Patrick’s Day….
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org