The Travelin’ Man goes to Rochester: Part Two

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Will Madera throws a right hand at Thomas Mattice in their co-featured fight. Photo by Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME

Friday, February 1 (continued): Back in the era of two-sided vinyl records, music executives and artists decided which songs deserved the strongest promotional push and which ones should serve as secondary, “flip-side” offerings. That’s where the terms “A-side” and “B-side” come from, and while they no longer apply to the music business, they continue to resonate strongly in the boxing business. 

But, every so often, an overlooked song overcomes the odds and becomes an enormous hit. Did you know that Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was the B-side to “Don’t Be Cruel?” I didn’t. I also didn’t know – until I read an article on ultimateclassicrock.com – that other B-side classics include Queen’s “We Will Rock You” (the flip side of “We Are the Champions”); Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” (paired with “Reason to Believe”) and Bill Haley and the Comets’ signature “Rock Around the Clock”, which was coupled with “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town).” These surprise moneymakers prove that record executives can be wrong about what music will strike the public’s fancy. Similarly, the results of tonight’s “ShoBox: The New Generation” fights, boxing writers like me can miss the mark about the fate of presumed “B-siders.” 

Coming into tonight’s telecast, Ronald Ellis and Thomas Mattice were presented as the “A-side” fighters thanks to their three previous ShoBox appearances as well as for the zeroes in their loss columns (15-0-2 for Ellis, 13-0-1 for Mattice) while DeAndre Wade (12-1-2) and ShoBox debutante Will Madera (12-0-2) were portrayed as competitive, but less heralded, counterparts. But after Wade beat Ellis by majority decision and Madera swept the scorecards against Mattice, they earned the right to be featured on the left side of the promo screen next time they fight on TV, to enter the ring last, and to be introduced second by the ring announcer. 

Madera’s performance against Mattice illustrates the risks of judging a fighter off a single performance (as well as off a single interview). As stated in Part One, Madera’s six-round draw against Wesley Ferrer in December 2017 was a cautious affair in which Madera used slickness to induce a slow-paced, defensive affair, an extension of an interview where Madera stated he preferred to beat opponents with his brain rather than by his brawn. But against Mattice, Madera proved himself more versatile than I gave him credit for being. Borrowing heavily from Zhora Hamazaryan’s playbook, Madera picked up his work rate considerably (from 35.4 punches per round against Ferrer to 66.5 versus Mattice), injected an effective body attack (he led 61-29 in body connects while leading Ferrer 48-21) and invested far more physicality and aggression than he showed against Ferrer. That formula earned Madera statistical leads of 150-124 overall and 122-59 power in terms of raw connects, accuracy gaps of 28%-20% overall and 33%-26% power, and a 6-2 lead in the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects, which mirrored the judges’ scores of 78-74 and 77-75 (twice). 

Despite losing to Madera, I believe Mattice’s effort here was the most consistent of his four ShoBox appearances. Against Rolando Chinea, he was soundly outperformed for six rounds before a thunderous, out-of-the-blue power shot flipped the script while I felt he had soundly lost the two Hamazaryan fights. Here, Mattice’s work rate was excellent from start to finish (he averaged a robust 76.1 punches per round, far more than the 48.3 he averaged in his three previous ShoBox appearances), his jabbing was prolific and effective (47.4 attempts and 8.1 connects per round against Madera compared to 23.1 attempts and 5.2 connects per round in his previous three), and limited Madera’s jab to 20.1 attempts and 3.5 connects per round as opposed to 25.7 attempts and 5.9 connects per round by his previous three opponents. Moreover, Mattice recorded several personal bests – 92 attempted punches in round four, 57 jab attempts in round five, 46 power attempts in round seven, 609 total punches thrown, 379 attempted jabs and 65 landed jabs. For these reasons, Mattice deserves another chance to show his wares on ShoBox’s air. If that happens, however, he’ll probably have to do so as a “B-sider.” 

As for Ware, he proved his sterling but losing performance against Cem Kilic last September was no fluke, and, like Madera, he used pressure and heavier hitting to produce the upset victory. Against a higher grade of opponent in Ellis, Ware was a dogged pursuer, the harder shot-for-shot puncher and the man with the more dynamic shot selection as power punches comprised 60.7% of his total output compared to just 37.5% for Ellis. The 31-year-old Toledo firefighter more than showed his mettle by firing back with heavier artillery every time Ellis mounted a surge.

“I controlled the fight,” Ware said. “The whole fight I was landing the harder shots. I finally had a chance to get in shape and have a full camp, and we were able to show what we really have. I applied the pressure. He was just flicking the jab and it wasn’t doing anything.”

Perhaps so. But, like Mattice, Ellis fought well in defeat – well enough to not be placed on the ShoBox scrap heap. Seen other way, jabs made up 62.5% of Ellis’ total output (480 of 768 punches), and the reason was revealed after the fight: His oft-injured right hand was injured again. He seldom fired the right with any significant force, and he did his best to compensate by upping his work rate to 76.8 punches per round – well above the 60.7 he averaged in four previous CompuBox-tracked fights. While he trailed 174-150 overall and 105-78 power while leading just 72-69 in landed jabs, the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects was a 5-5 tie, which may explain why the scorecards were so close (96-94 twice for Ware, 95-95). Even more telling: Despite the injury and the accompanying pain, Ellis tried hard to pull out the win in the final three rounds as he upped his work rate to 83.3 per round to Ware’s 77 and out-landed him 56-54 as well as 26-19 jabs. His effort was valiant, but it ultimately fell short of the mark.

“He was pressuring the whole fight but he didn’t land anything clean,” Ellis said. “I hurt my hand a little in the third, but I was still able to triple-jab him and keep him on the outside. I would do a rematch in a second.”

I don’t know if Team Ware will go for a second go, but, if they do, I hope I’ll be there to see it – and to count it. 

*

Andy drove us back to the crew hotel with his customary dispatch, telling me he planned to get a couple of hours of rest before starting the long drive home to Massachusetts. Meanwhile, I still had work to do as I needed to input the night’s numbers into the master database. With only 19 rounds to record, the job was completed in a little more than 30 minutes. But with a 6:30 a.m. wake up time in order to catch the 7:30 a.m. hotel shuttle to the airport, I skipped my usual winding-down process and turned out the lights as soon as possible, in this case a little past 1 a.m.

Saturday, February 2: At best, my “sleep” was fitful, but I awakened 15 minutes before my goal time, completed the morning routines, finished packing at 7:10 a.m., and settled the bill five minutes later. I was soon joined by Steve Farhood, Raul Marquez and several other Showtime personnel, and when they learned I had arranged for a van to go to the airport they scuttled their plans to summon an Uber and rode with me. 

As we neared the airport, all seemed well: I had reached a good stopping point in my writing, my bags were packed, my belongings were in order and I was ready to begin another typical travel day. 

Except it didn’t turn out so typical.

The ride to the airport was uneventful, as was the security screening. But after getting the thumbs-up from the TSA, I dug into my laptop bag to retrieve my cell phone, my wallet and my keys, which I removed from my pockets just minutes earlier. 

But while I successfully found the first two items, I couldn’t find the third. 

Uh-oh. 

In nearly 14 years of traveling, losing my keys has never been an issue. That’s because I am almost fanatical about checking my pockets for my phone, keys and wallet before moving from place to place, and every item is always in its assigned pocket. The habit has become so ingrained that I go through the drill almost unconsciously. However, I knew just before entering the checkpoint that all my belongings were in their usual places. And not only did I have my items in the same place on my person, I put these items in the same place in my laptop bag before going through security – the front flap – and I remove them in the same order. That’s why I was so flummoxed by this twist of fate.

I checked the front flap. Nothing. I went through it again, this time emptying the contents onto a table. Nothing again. I recalled that some items have floated from the front part of the double-laptop bag to the back through the bottom, so I sifted that area. Nothing still. I asked the TSA agent if my keys had registered in the x-ray. They had not.

Hall of Famer Steve Farhood, who was just ahead of me in the security line, acted like the friend he is by sticking around and offering suggestions. 

His plan was the same as mine: Call the hotel and see if my keys had somehow fallen out of my pocket inside the shuttle van, or if they might still be in my room – both unlikely possibilities given my habits. Luckily for me, one of my other routines before my trips is printing out the Showtime production memo, which includes the phone number of the crew hotel. 

After navigating through a rather complicated automated tree, I finally reached the front desk and described the situation. Once I gave her my name and room number, she instantly remembered who I was thanks to my storytelling while waiting for the van to depart. After describing the identifying characteristics of my keys, she said she would call housekeeping to inspect the room and promised to talk to the shuttle driver – who I had just tipped – about searching his vehicle. 

Before I proceed, let me emphasize that I had a set of backup keys – house and car – in my luggage. Therefore, this was not an emergency, all-is-lost situation. I just wanted to solve the mystery of what happened with my keys. 

That mystery was solved moments after I hung up with the front desk. On a whim – just one last time – I searched my laptop bag. I stuffed my hand inside the flap where I normally keep my receipts — and it was there that I found my keys. 

What a relief. 

Moments after promising Steve I would text him with the results of my search, I was able to call out “I found them!” I called the hotel back and informed them that all was well in my world once again. 

After settling into my gate (and typing many of the words you’ve just read), I noticed that my gate for the flight to Washington was next to the gate Farhood and the Gang was using for their first flight of the day. So, once I put away my laptop, I moseyed over and joined the conversation, which, interestingly, was about the NBA and LeBron James’ place among the all-time greats as well as Bill Belichick’s place among the best NFL coaches and Tom Brady’s place among the quarterbacks (of course, the opinions were divided, and one member of the crew had been coached by Belichick’s daughter). We soon were joined by Barry Tompkins, who was to be on the same flight I was (only a few rows closer to the front), and by a veteran TV man who started his career with ABC in 1976. Lots of stories were swapped, but those that most piqued my interest were those about the Olympics.

“Trivia question,” the TV vet began. “What was the biggest story about the U.S. team entering the 1980 Winter Games at Lake Placid?”

“Eric Heiden,” I immediately said.

“Very good,” he replied. “Nobody expected the hockey team to do anything, but everyone expected Heiden not only to win, but to become the first man to win all five individual speed skating events.” That he did, and no one in the 39 years since has duplicated his feat. 

Barry, as it turned out, covered alpine skiing at the 1976 games, including Franz Klammer’s legendary gold-medal run in the men’s downhill. The memories continued to flow forth, and it is conversations such as these that I love the most. 

The space inside the aircraft taking us to D.C. was cramped in every way and I, as a Group 4 passenger, felt lucky that enough overhead space remained to squeeze in my laptop bag. 

Once I departed the aircraft, the journey to the connecting gate at Washington Dulles International Airport took me through a maze of hallways, escalators and trains, but I arrived at my destination in plenty of time. Thankfully, the plane to Pittsburgh was much more spacious and the company much more pleasant as I chatted with a stately and statuesque woman who didn’t look nearly old enough to have two college-age offspring. Although she projected a regal bearing with her manner, posture and speech, a few other wrinkles emerged during our conversation: She was a native of Connecticut, a special education instructor, a yoga enthusiast (it helped her with her scoliosis) and a devoted fan of the Grateful Dead. An interesting coincidence: After I mentioned that Fleetwood Mac was one of my favorite bands, she mentioned that Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” happened to be playing in her earpiece. 

As is often the case with me, we ended up talking for the entire one-hour flight. 

As was predicted, the weather in Pittsburgh was far better than it was two days earlier as the thermometer broke through the 40-degree barrier. The snow that fell on my car while I was gone had nearly melted and the vastly improved conditions served to boost my spirits even more. The drive home was pleasingly uneventful, and the four inches of snow that had fallen on Friendly Hill in my absence was largely gone. Once home, I spent the evening watching the entirety of the Eleider Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev show, first on ESPN+, then on ESPN, then back on ESPN+. With Kovalev’s decision victory, he joins Marvin Johnson and Dennis Andries as the only men to have won light heavyweight belts on three occasions. 

This trip to Rochester is only the first of three consecutive weeks of travel. God willing, part two of this stretch will begin Friday morning, and, thankfully, the destination will be much more temperate – Carson, Calif. There, at the newly named Dignity Health Sports Park (the arena formerly known as StubHub), Dennis Allen and I will compile numbers for a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader topped by WBA “super” junior lightweight titleholder Gervonta Davis’ title defense against late-sub Hugo Ruiz. 

Until then, 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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