The Travelin’ Man goes to Brooklyn, NY: Part Two

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Saturday, March 2 (continued): In Part One, I stated that the fighters have the final say in terms of the result, but that’s not true in the strictest sense. No matter how the fight unfolds inside the ring and no matter how the public perceives the action, the three judges seated just outside the ring hold the real power should a fight go the distance. In the case of the draw between WBA “world” super welterweight titlist Brian Castano and challenger Erislandy Lara, only one jurist cemented the final result. While Kevin Morgan scored the fight 115-113 for Castano and John McKaie saw Lara a 115-113 winner, it was Julie Lederman’s 114-114 score that turned this bout into a draw.                                                                                                                               

The headline to Joe Santoliquito’s story described the result as “an agreeable draw.” Santoliquito told me immediately after the announcement that he scored it that way and Showtime’s unofficial scorer, Hall of Famer Steve Farhood, saw it 115-113 for Lara. Conversely, ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael saw Castano ahead 115-113 and Showtime’s Spanish-language analyst Raul Marquez (who was seated to my immediate left) believed Castano to be a 116-112 winner.

The raw numbers certainly indicated a Castano victory as he out-landed Lara 195-130 overall and 181-103 in power punches while the Cuban prevailed 27-14 in landed jabs. Castano also was the more accurate hitter overall (23%-16%) and in jabs (7%-5%) but Lara – long heralded for his precise power hitting – prevailed 34%-27% in power accuracy, a factor that may have helped him win some of the swing rounds. 

The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of overall connects – relevant because clean punching is a primary factor in scoring rounds – had Castano ahead 7-3-2, with Castano cementing that advantage in the final two rounds by out-landing Lara 44-24 overall and 43-16 power while averaging 103 punches per round to Lara’s 72. All three officials scored rounds 10-12 for Castano, which resulted in the draw that allowed the Argentine to retain his belt. 

While both combatants agreed it was a visually pleasing contest, they thought their mutual “D’s” should have been “W’s.”

“It was a good fight; a clash of styles” Castano said. “He’s an elusive boxer. I knew that, I prepared for that. I think it was a good fight, but I won. I know I won. I landed more punches.”

“It was a great fight, but I saw myself winning eight rounds tonight,” Lara countered. “My punches were much more effective. He did have pressure but I was dominating the pressure. I was definitely expecting that pressure because he waited a long time for this fight. Again, I demonstrated I’m not old. I’m still fine-tuned.”

Lara certainly worked much harder for this result than in any of the 22 fights tracked by CompuBox dating back to his fourth round TKO win over Edwin Vazquez in May 2009. His 825 attempted punches against Castano smashed his previous personal best of 609 (set in June 2015 against Delvin Rodriguez) and dwarfed the 572 punches he unleashed in his 12-round split decision loss against Hurd. The hot pace he was forced to maintain was proof that the bout was waged on Castano’s high-octane terms (he averaged 77.9 punches per round in his previous five tracked fights and averaged 71.9 against Lara), which one can interpret as an indication of better ring generalship. 

Photo by Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME

It is interesting to note, however, that five of the 12 rounds were determined by three or fewer connects, with two of them (rounds two and five) being even. In the three remaining rounds that featured a connect edge, Lara was ahead in all of them (8-7 in round one, 15-12 in round seven and 16-13 in round 10). Castano, on the other hand, won his rounds more decisively as he led by 15 connects in the third (20-5), 13 in the fourth (19-6), 14 in the sixth (25-11), five in the eighth and ninth (16-11 and 17-12), nine in the 11th (21-12) and 11 in the 12th (23-12). So, if one is to give Lara the three rounds in which he prevailed in total connects as well as the two drawn rounds, then the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown is close to Morgan’s 115-113 score for Castano. 

So why was there such a large gap in total connects? My answer: Castano’s high guard, which, in the five fights he waged before facing Lara, allowed a Lara-like 15% overall, 6% jabs and 21% power to get through and was similarly effective in this fight. While maintaining tight focus on Castano’s guard (Lara’s target area), I saw that many of Lara’s blows – including a majority of his straight lefts – were being blocked or deflected, and because Lara was punching at the target instead of through the target, other punches also fell a bit short of the Argentine’s chin. That’s why Lara wasn’t nearly as accurate here as he was in his last five fights where he landed a sky-high 49.1% of his power punches and that, combined with Castano’s superior activity (he out-threw Lara in seven of the 12 rounds, including three of the last four), caused the Argentine to steadily extend his lead in the raw count. 

Did I disagree with the final verdict? At first, I did. Was it a robbery? No, especially when compared to results such as Lewis-Holyfield I, Williams-Lara, Dorsey-Paez I and Toney-Tiberi. But no matter how one interprets Castano-Lara I, most will agree that the first fight provided a great preamble for a possible rematch. And, because of the eroded version of Lara I saw tonight – and because he will be that much older entering the rematch – I think Castano will get his first official win over the dean of the “Cuban Boxing School.” 

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Luis Ortiz is rightly called “King Kong” for his enormous two-fisted power, but the foundation for his success is as deeply rooted in fundamentals and ring science as that of his countryman Lara. The proof: Entering his fight with Christian Hammer, jabs made up 64% of his total output in his last five fights – far higher than the heavyweight average of 46%. 

In decisively outpointing Hammer (100-90 twice, 99-91), the jab represented a massive 73.8% of his output, and the 450 jabs he recorded are a new personal best in the 12 fights recorded by CompuBox. While Ortiz’s jab wasn’t accurate (14%), it still was good enough to allow him to control distance and to give him time to properly target his power shots, which landed at an impressive 49% clip (79 of 160). Another technical aspect of Ortiz’s game is his defense, which permitted only 21% of Hammer’s total punches, 12% of his jabs and 27% of his power punches to get through. Yes, Hammer landed several solid counter rights, but, over the long haul, Ortiz’s defensive instincts just 27 days of his 40th birthday remain above average. 

On offense, an underrated part of his success is his body punching. In the five fights before meeting Hammer, body shots made up 31.3% of his total connects. Against Hammer, they comprised 33.6% of his total connects (45 of 140) and helped him build leads of 140-84 overall and 79-64 power. 

Hammer, for his part, fought with a spirit he didn’t show in his previous step-up fights against Tyson Fury and Alexander Povetkin. Yes, his 40.3 punches per round didn’t set the world ablaze, but that total is much better than the 24.9 per round he averaged against Fury and the 20 he logged in losing to Povetkin. He also displayed a solid chin and a willingness to engage that I didn’t see in previous videos. It was clear that Hammer was intent on proving something against Ortiz, and, in some ways, he did. For that he deserves credit, especially since I said in Part One that I’d be surprised if the fight went past five rounds, a sentiment that wasn’t exclusive to me among ringsiders. 

*

My pre-fight assessment of the opening fight between featherweights Eduardo Ramirez and Bryan De Gracia for something called the WBA “gold” title proved correct, but I ended up predicting the wrong winner because I invested too much trust in a pro-De Gracia factor (his one-punch right-hand KO over Sergio Perales, who, like Ramirez, is a southpaw) and not enough trust in a pro-Ramirez trait (his well-documented second-half surges against Leduan Barthelemy and Lee Selby in non-winning fights). A massive, out-of-the-blue right uppercut stopped De Gracia in his tracks and his dizzying follow-up flurry of power punches prompted referee Bengy Esteves Jr. to intervene at the 2:10 mark of round nine. So, in this year of narrative-shattering results, the man who had the better KO ratio (20 in 26 fights) ended up being stopped by a fighter with nine inside-the-distance victories in 26 previous bouts. 

Wow.

Entering the ninth, Ramirez was ahead 4-3-1 in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects but was behind not only on two scorecards (77-75 to offset a 76-76 score) but also in the punch stats as De Gracia led 121-118 in total connects and 100-88 in landed power punches, mostly because De Gracia had thrown so many more punches (732 to 492 overall and 346-263 in power punches). The eighth round offered no indicator of what was to happen just moments later as De Gracia was 21 of 117 (the latter number being a fight-high total) and Ramirez was 24 of 71 (the first number being a fight-best figure). But in the ninth, Ramirez landed 36 of his 78 total punches to De Gracia’s 5 of 61 and connected on 34 of his 54 power punches (63%) to De Gracia’s meager 2 of 28 (7%). That explosion vaulted Ramirez to final leads of 154-126 overall, 32-24 jabs and 122-102 power as well as percentage gaps of 27%-16% overall, 13%-6% jabs and 38%-27% power. 

Before the fight, it was mentioned that the winner of this WBA “gold” title fight would be slated to meet “world” titlist Can Xu next. Does that mean that the “gold” title is third in the now four-belt WBA championship ladder? And now that the WBA has a “gold” belt to go along with the WBC’s “silver” title, will the IBF or WBO respond by creating a “bronze” belt to complete the set? When it comes to subordinate titles, boxing has created quite the Olympic-sized mess. 

*

I just missed boarding the first Showtime shuttle van back to the hotel, and Andy, in a move typical of him, voluntarily gave up his seat inside that van so that Marquez could return to the hotel in a timely manner. A few minutes later, a driver told us he would be driving the second van back, but after Andy and I took our seats, production manager Angie Sztejn told us that the van would not be leaving for the hotel for quite some time because other members of the crew were still disassembling and packing their equipment. Angie advised us to summon a cab and even pointed out the most likely street to try for one.

It took Andy seconds to spot an unoccupied cab, and, just like that, we were on our way back. After saying our goodbyes, I asked the staffer at the registration desk two questions: First, if a took a taxi to LaGuardia on a Sunday morning, how much time should I allow? Second, where could I find a vending machine to get a diet soda? She replied that (1) I should allow between 45 minutes to an hour for the trip to the airport (which was in direct opposition to the 20 minutes I was told by another staffer earlier in the day but still persuaded me to push up my wake-up time by 30 minutes) and (2) there were machines on alternating floors starting with the ninth. The one on floor nine required exact change I didn’t have while the one on the 11th was sold out of diet drinks. Reluctantly, I opted for the so-called “hard stuff,” which I had not consumed in several years. 

Once I returned to my room, I spent the next hour inputting data from the six fights Andy and I counted. At 2:45 a.m., I turned out the lights and attempted to get a few hours of shuteye.

Sunday, March 3: It took a while for me to fall asleep – the adrenaline from working the event and the bottle of caloric Pepsi didn’t help – but fall asleep I did. I awakened at 7:15 a.m. with the intent of packing at 8 and getting on the road by 8:15 to account for the possible hour-long cab ride. Upon checking out, a hotel employee asked if I needed a taxi or if I wanted to take a hotel car to LaGuardia for a $35 flat fee. Because the hotel car was right there – and because the bill was considerably less than what I paid for the taxi Friday afternoon – I decided to go that route.

Photo by Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME

The driver, who, like my cabbie on Friday, was from India (though he didn’t wear a turban or a beard), told me he had been in the United States for 40 years and that it didn’t take him long to become fluent in English, one of the more difficult languages to learn because of our many homonyms and exceptions in terms of spelling rules. That shouldn’t have been a surprise because he said he also was fluent in three languages used in his native land – Urdu, Hindi and Sindhi.  I’ve always had a fascination with languages other than my own, but although I bought language books as a kid, I didn’t invest the time or energy to pick up any more than a few words (though, somewhat fittingly given my current job with CompuBox, I did a better job learning the numbers). 

I arrived at the airport just 20 minutes after leaving the hotel, and, after passing through security, I had more than two hours to kill at the gate. Writing has always been the best way for me to melt away time because of the interest it still holds for me and because (at least for me) it requires the kind of intense focus that compresses one’s perception of time. Before I knew it, it was nearly time to board, and when I reached a good stopping point, I saved my work, stowed my laptop and waited for my group (Main Cabin 1) to be called. 

Minutes after settling into my window seat in row 11, my seatmate, a bespectacled twenty-something sandy blonde named Nadine, took her place to my right. She had recently returned from an extended stay in Australia, which, as longtime readers may know, is the one place on Earth I most would like to go someday. She worked as a bartender while Down Under, and the locals were fascinated by her American accent, which, to my ears, had no geographical “tell.” 

“They would kind of tease me by asking me to say certain words, then laugh when I said them,” she said, citing “banana” as one such word. Although my own accent is said to be neutral for a West Virginian, I’m sure the Aussies would derive similar entertainment from me. 

Although we boarded in a timely manner, the aircraft departed 48 minutes later than scheduled but landed in Pittsburgh only six minutes later than advertised. The reason: The usually one-hour flight was assigned a completion window of one hour and 50 minutes by the airline. 

Today’s forecast called for several inches of snow, most of which was to arrive during the evening hours, but the first flurries were already falling by the time I began walking to my car. Although my vehicle had a dusting of the white stuff, it was the mushy kind that was cleared within moments. 

The snow continued to fall throughout the drive home, but, luckily for everyone, the highways were merely wet and not slippery. In fact, my only issue getting home took place in New Martinsville, where we motorists were delayed 10 minutes by a train. 

My drive up the notoriously curvy Friendly Hill was flawless and my driveway was clear of snow and ice as I arrived home shortly before 5 p.m., completing my sixth trip of 2019, compared to just four by this point last year. Unless something changes in the interim, I will remain at home for the next month, for I am slated to return to Las Vegas for an April 5 ShoBox telecast. Although I love to travel, I am looking forward to the extended time at home so I can dig into the mountain of research that awaits my attention. To some, assembling statistical packages, writing analyses and conducting punch counts may sound like drudgery, but, to me, it’s great fun. And because it’s great fun, I’m certain that April will arrive, at least for me, with stunning speed.

Until next time, happy trails!

*

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 16 writing honors, including two first-place awards in 2011 and 2013. 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” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves  use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.

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