The Travelin’ Man goes to Mulvane, Kansas: Part Two

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Please click here to read Part One.

 

Friday, February 15 (continued): For those of us who like to analyze, we often ask ourselves the following question after watching certain fights: Is good ring generalship enough to overcome ineffective aggression? Sometimes the answer is yes and the most famous “yes” was the nimble Sugar Ray Leonard’s earthshaking split decision upset over aging stalker Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April 1987. Sometimes the answer is no, as Lennox Lewis wrenchingly found out in March 1999 when his dominant long-range boxing against Evander Holyfield produced a scandalous draw instead of the resounding unanimous decision his efforts merited.

In the case of Shohjahon Ergashev’s unanimous decision victory over Mykal Fox tonight in Mulvane, Kansas, eye-catching aggression won out over thoughtful but less compelling boxing skill. Judges Jeff Sinnett and Karen Holderfield agreed that Ergashev’s constant forward movement, powerful (but inaccurate) swings and more aggressive punch selection (225 power punches to 104 jabs to Fox’s 280 jabs and 153 power punches) were worthy of 98-92 scores or, put another way, a resounding eight rounds-to-two victory. Showtime analyst Steve Farhood agreed as he saw the fight 97-93 for Ergashev and the announcement of the scores didn’t draw any fire, either from the live audience or from the media at large. Meanwhile fellow analyst Raul Marquez perceived a much closer contest as he saw it 96-94 for Ergashev (the same score submitted by judge David Sutherland). Although I was busy recording Ergashev’s hits and misses, my feeling at ringside was that the 98-92 scores favoring the “Descendant of Tamerlane” were wider than the reality I saw, which was closer to that of Marquez and Sutherland. In fact, I can make a case that Fox could have – and maybe should have – walked out with the victory.

First, one scoring criteria is clean punching. In that regard, Fox, by CompuBox’s rendering at least, led 93-68 in total connects and landed more punches than Ergashev in eight of the 10 rounds (Ergashev prevailed 16-9 in round one and 11-4 in round 10 with Fox sweeping rounds 2-9). Moreover Fox out-landed Ergashev by four or more punches in six of those rounds, which suggests a degree of control, if not dominance.

A second aspect of judging is ring generalship or, as I prefer to call it, strategic control: Who is making the other man do what he wants more of the time? Statistically speaking, Fox was that man. Fox, thanks to his movement and frequent jabbing (28 per round to Ergashev’s 10.4), limited Ergashev to a meager 32.9 punches per round, well below his four-fight average of 51.7 and considerably less than the 65.3 he averaged in stopping Jumwa Waswa. Meanwhile the 43.3 punches per round Fox averaged was closer to the 54 he averaged in outpointing DeMarcus Corley, which make the case that the flow was better for him that it was for Ergashev.

Shohjahon Ergashev (left) connects with a left cross against Mykal Fox. Photo by Rosie Cohe/SHOWTIME

Shohjahon Ergashev (left) connects with a left cross against Mykal Fox. Photo by Rosie Cohe/SHOWTIME

The third aspect of judging fights is defense and here it was a virtual wash. The pair tied at 21%, in terms of overall accuracy, while Ergashev prevailed 29%-27% in power precision. That said, Fox was able to neutralize Ergashev’s power punching much better than the Uzbek’s previous opponents. Sonny Fredrickson tasted 59% of Ergashev’s power shots during his TKO loss, while Juma Waswa was struck by 51% and Zack Ramsey by 40%. Zhimin Wang, who was in shutdown mode the entire fight, felt 25% of them.

The biggest point of separation was the jab, both in terms of raw connects (52-2) and in accuracy (19% for Fox, 2% for Ergashev). Fox did his best jabbing in rounds three through five, in which he landed eight jabs in each round to Ergashev’s zero. In fact, Ergashev landed no jabs in eight of the 10 rounds.

So why did Fox lose despite his numerical and strategic superiority? In a word: Optics. By being in constant retreat and by landing with such little force in comparison to Ergashev, Fox failed to project an air of command and confidence. Instead he looked like a man who was fighting for survival and even though Ergashev was missing – sometimes wildly – the Uzbek fought with a menace and a purpose that Fox lacked. Although I disagreed with the margin of victory, the last two sentences illustrate why I didn’t think the result was a “robbery.” Rather it was a fight that could have been interpreted in different ways but unfortunately for Fox, because this is professional boxing instead of amateur boxing, most of those ways end up with an Ergashev victory.

One method Fox could have used to overcome this negative imagery was to hit through the target instead of at it and another would have been to strike with more accuracy than 21% overall, 19% jabs and 27% power. But to advise him to do that would be, in effect, asking him to stray from his nature, which is embodied by his nickname of “The Professor.” Unlike older brother Alantez, who sometimes veers away from orthodoxy by slugging it out with his opponents, Mykal stays in his lane and doesn’t dare leave it. Given this result, it might behoove Mykal not to careen wildly into another lane but to widen his current lane enough to add elements to his personal highway. At age 23, there’s still time to tinker with his game.

As for the 27-year-old Ergashev, he is close to the age where major changes will be difficult to execute. As said by the “ShoBox” commentators, Ergashev tends to square up to his opponents and he invests full power and energy on virtually every punch, as opposed to sprinkling it here and there to heighten the element of surprise. Against better opponents, his current approach may result in late-round fades at best and late-round defeats at worst. Still, he is a crowd-pleaser who feeds off a crowd’s electric energy and, given a more agreeable style and a friendlier venue, Ergashev will provide excitement for some time to come.

 

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If Fox wants lessons on how to be a crowd-pleasing (and judge-pleasing) points boxer, he should watch the video of Thomas Patrick Ward’s scintillating 10-round decision victory over Jesse Angel Hernandez. It was, in a word, brilliant. While remaining within his scientific envelope, Ward was just aggressive enough to dart inside Hernandez’s longer reach, drive in scorching body shots and get out before Hernandez could respond. He executed this formula time and again, round after round and, in the end, he emerged with his undefeated record intact, his cut-prone eyes devoid of injury and his reputation – especially in U.S. circles – greatly enhanced.

“He is the best fighter I’ve seen on ShoBox in a very long time,” CompuBox colleague Andy Kasprzak told me. “If he doesn’t win a world title, it will only be the result of mismanagement or injury. What a pleasure it was to see him fight.” I agree.

The Ward I saw here was not the Ward I counted on video against Sean Davis and Alvaro Rodriguez, hence my prediction of a Hernandez win. While that fighter was good, this one was a couple of levels better.

Thomas Patrick Ward (left) vs. Jesse Angel Hernandez

Thomas Patrick Ward (left) vs. Jesse Angel Hernandez

Like Fox, Ward’s movement and ring skills slowed the fight to a more comfortable level. In three previous CompuBox-tracked fights, Hernandez averaged 80.8 punches per round but against Ward, he logged nearly half that (44.4). However the major difference between Ward and Fox was that Ward injected dynamic elements into his game that enhanced his boxing-oriented template. The first element was elevated work rate; Ward, who averaged a modest 48.6 punches per round against Rodriguez and Davis, increased his average output to 58.9 against Hernandez. The second was improved accuracy, while still limiting his opponent’s success; Ward created resounding accuracy gaps of 46%-22% overall, 32%-11% jabs and 52%-30% power. The third was robust body punching, as Ward led 57-47 in body connects, compared to Fox’s trailing Ergashev 31-24 in that department. The fourth was improving his jabbing game, as he rose from 4.1 connects per round against Rodriguez and Davis to 6.1 against Hernandez. Finally Ward was courageous enough to invest extra power into his connects without sacrificing his defensive envelope and that was best epitomized by what he did in scoring the fight’s only knockdown in round four: With his guard still up around his face, Ward shifted a few inches to his left and fired a concise but coiled hook that struck his target with speed and precision. Upon impact, Hernandez’s body reacted as if he had stepped into a six-inch hole while walking in the dark; the punch itself might not have been the most forceful in terms of raw power but, because Hernandez didn’t see it coming, it still had the same effect.

Unlike the main event, the CompuBox numbers illustrated the degree of Ward’s command: Connect leads of 268-97 overall, 61-21 jabs and 207-76 power, 30 or more total connects in five of the final six rounds (peaking at 39 in round nine), a work rate that rose from a modest 43 in the first four rounds to a healthy 69.5 in the final six (the raw round-by-round numbers were incredibly consistent, as they ranged from 68 to 71) and power accuracy that exceeded 50% seven times (topping off at 62% in round nine).

As for Hernandez, he was mired in single-digit connects in each of the first eight rounds and was limited to 30% or below power accuracy in eight of the 10 rounds. To Hernandez’s credit, he upped his activity and success after being told by referee Bill Clancy that he was thinking of stopping the fight in round nine. After averaging 38.4 punches per round in the first eight, Hernandez went 25 of 62 in the ninth and 18 of 75 in the 10th. The 43 connects in the final two rounds represented 44.3% of his total connects in the fight. Hernandez tried his best to turn the tide but Ward, at least on this night, was unstoppable.

 

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After sending the final stats to the Showtime PR team and packing my belongings, I stopped by the production office for some post-card pizza, then walked to my room to enter the night’s numbers into the master database. Because the four fights required the maximum 36 rounds, it took me nearly an hour to complete this task.

Since I was supposed to meet stage manager (and ride to the airport) JT Townsend in the lobby at 4:45 a.m. – now a little more than four hours away – I had a decision to make: Get a jump on the writing and stay awake for the duration or try to get a few hours of rest so I’ll feel better for the long trip home. Though tempted to try the former, I opted for the latter and set my “mental alarm” for 3:45 a.m.

 

Saturday, February 16: Mission accomplished – my eyes popped open at 3:15 a.m. and I spent the next half-hour gearing up to get up, so to speak. By the time I finished the morning routines, I regained enough of my energy to feel as if I were off to a good start.

I arrived in the lobby at 4:30 a.m. to check out of my room and JT, a fellow early bird, showed up moments later along with our other ride-mate, replay guy Dave Lilling. Steve Farhood and Raul Marquez, who was set to ride with Barry Tompkins, also were there and when Barry came through the door, he said he was unable to get into his rental vehicle because his door lock was frozen. Because I had the same trouble three weeks earlier with my own vehicle, I had a container of lock de-icer in my laptop bag and offered it to him. Problem solved.

Getting to the airport was the primary task but, before doing that, JT had to find a gas station to top off the rental’s tank and avoid Avis’ $9-per-gallon refill charge. That wasn’t the easiest thing to do; with JT’s GPS (whose address was set for the airport) constantly recalculating and commanding him to “turn right at such-and-such street,” then, as he whizzed past that street, to “turn right at this-and-that street, then turn left,” we finally found an open station. A nice bonus: The price was just $1.95 a gallon.

While JT was filling up, I couldn’t help but notice the character seated in front of the entrance: A heavily bearded man with ragged clothing, rocking back and forth on his makeshift seat with a vacant expression. Smartly JT opted to pay at the pump.

Despite the detours, we arrived at the airport shortly before 5:30 a.m. and I reached my gate 25 minutes before boarding. Not only were JT and I booked on the same flight, we were also to be in First Class, so he had a definite interest in terms of getting us to the airport in a timely manner.

Although it’s great to be seated in the First Class cabin, the worst place to be while there is in the very front row because regulations require such passengers to store all luggage in the overhead bins. While I was the sixth passenger to board, the available bin space had already shrunk considerably and, because of that, I felt fortunate to find enough room to stow my two bags. My window seat colleague and I began on a moderately sour note – he mistakenly thought I was in his seat – but after we straightened out that minor detail, we began exchanging professional life stories. Regular readers know mine already (https://www.ringtv.com/488554-my-road-to-the-ring/ and the second half of https://www.ringtv.com/485968-travelin-man-returns-cincinnatiagain-part-two/) but his was similar in that he completed a mid-life career change from sales work in computer companies to piloting small planes. We agreed that it is exceedingly rare for someone to even try changing one’s professional fate after age 40, much less complete it. It is just another reason I feel so fortunate to be doing what I’m doing.

The back-and-forth made the flight seem shorter than it was and we landed in Dallas well before the advertised time. That didn’t matter nearly as much as was the case on Thursday because, according to the itinerary, my layover in Dallas was scheduled to last more than three hours.

With every advancing minute, the bleariness in my eyes grew more intense but I feared that if I drifted off, I would end up oversleeping and missing my flight. I tried to pass the time by writing but soon my desire to sleep proved stronger than my willingness to write. At that point, I arose from my seat, walked about 100 yards to a small sandwich outlet and brought breakfast, even though I didn’t feel hungry. It proved to be the wisest move I could have made; my energy returned seconds after taking my first bite and, from there, I was fine.

Still, I chose to rest my eyes for the most of the two-and-a-half-hour flight from Dallas to Pittsburgh and that rest was sorely needed. By the start of the final descent, I had regained full alertness and thus was able to complete the seven-minute walk to my car and the 118-mile drive home. I pulled into the driveway at 5:30 p.m., which brought my back-to-back-to-back weeks on the road to an end.

As much as I love being on the go and being at ringside, I am looking forward to the next two weeks at home because that will give me a chance to do research on myriad March fight cards and to catch up on editing and burning my latest sports DVDs. For the record, the next trip will take me to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, where “Showtime Championship Boxing” will air a tripleheader pitting junior lightweights Ricardo Nunez and Edner Cherry, heavyweights Luis Ortiz and Christian Hammer and, in the main event, junior middleweight contenders Brian Castano and Erislandy Lara.

Until then, happy trails!

 

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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 awards, including 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” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of the newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.

 

 

 

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