I was in the minority at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, as I had come to New York simply to see a good fight card. The majority of the crowd seemed more interested in asserting tribal dominance than witnessing pugilistic excellence.
Passion among boxing fans can be a beautiful thing. Arturo Gatti’s passionate fans helped fuel him in countless epic performances. Tomasz Adamek’s devoted following transform the Prudential Center into a soccer stadium. Passionate fans are the foundation of the sport, the gleam in the eye of the Top Ranks and Golden Boys of the world, an essential ingredient in the superstar recipe.
When passion gets out of hand, however, things can quickly turn ugly. Chants can evolve from “Hatton Wonderland” and “USA! USA!” to “Paulie’s a pussy” (which, admittedly, my friend found funny) in a heartbeat. Fights in the crowd send security scrambling and distract from the sanctioned fight in the ring. Fans neglect their role to support the fighters (or just the fight) and take to the fight themselves. Driven by nationalism, alcohol, and a healthy dose of ego, these fans forget their role as a supportive element and decide to become the show itself.
Personally, this makes for an unsatisfactory night for someone like me. I came to see the fighters, not the fans. When the fans contribute to the show, the result is often a memorable night of boxing. When fans detract from the show, as they did on Saturday, the outcome is lacking, at least from my perspective.
On that grumpy old note, let’s take a look at the action from Saturday night. The in-ring action was actually relatively strong as a whole, at least it was while my view wasn’t obstructed (which was rare).
7:10 – After taking the 5:30 Midtown Direct from Morristown and grabbing a dirty hot dog outside Penn Station (my second dirty dog dinner in a row, as I went to the Yankee game on Friday night), I arrived at my seat in time to see the start of the second round between Jamie Kavanagh, a touted junior welterweight prospect trained by Freddie Roach making his professional debut, and William Ware. Kavanagh instantly unleashes a furious attack of hooks to the body, mixing in hooks to the head as he stalks Ware. A nasty hook to the body drops Ware, who rises to face the same relentless assault from Kavanagh. After Ware appeared to slip, the referee decides to stop the fight, handing Kavanagh his first pro win by knockout in the 2nd round.
It’s hard to take much away from half a round of seeing the young Irish fighter, but Kavanagh looks like a fun, aggressive prospect. He could probably mix in some straight punches into his attack but he certainly has the right corner to refine his style as he develops. Unfortunately, I also missed middleweight Denis “Da Momma’s Boy” Douglin’s fight against Joshua Onyango before the Kavanagh debut, which Douglin won by TKO in the 2nd round.
7:30 – The other major theme for the night, aside from the antics in the crowd, is the excruciating wait time between some of the fights. It takes a solid 15 minutes between the end of the Kavanagh fight and ring walks for lightweights Breidis Prescott and Jason Davis. I should have brought a book.
Had I brought said book, I probably would have continued reading through most of the bout between Prescott and Davis. Davis brought nothing to the table, dancing away from Prescott and throwing very few punches. A body shot from Prescott mercifully ended the bout in the 3d round as Prescott got back into the win column against an overmatched opponent.
8:15 – Prescott and Davis began their ring walks at 7:30 and engaged in a three-round fight. Tor Hamer and Kelvin Price, heavyweights set to square off in the following fight, begin their ring walks at 8:15. Completely, utterly unacceptable. Forget an ordinary book, I could have read Infinite Jest in this time.
Fortunately, unlike the Prescott bout, “The Price is Right” (Price’s awesome nickname) and Hamer made it worth the wait. Price boasted a significant size advantage and a telephone-pole jab, while Hamer demonstrated his superior athleticism and combination punching. After a close 1st round, Price scored an awkward-looking knockdown in the 2nd round that I couldn’t see well; it may have been a slip but was impossible to tell from my vantage point. I thought Hamer fought well in the 3rd and 4th rounds, putting his punches together and moving to create openings. He also responded well to punches, firing back with his own when he took a shot. Price, however, stubbornly stuck out his jab and largely kept the fight on the outside, where he had the advantage.
Both fighters seemed to realize that the fight was at stake in the 6th and final round, which brought an entertaining end to a very spirited, action-packed heavyweight fight. I thought Hamer earned the edge with his pressure and combinations, but the judges liked Price’s jab and ring generalship, giving him a split decision win. We will see where Hamer and Price, two young American heavyweights looking to move up the ranks, go from here, but a rematch would be welcome.
9:00 – Apparently, the long waits only occur after knockouts, as “The Golden Child” Daniel Jacobs squares off against Juan Astorga. If Astorga was brought in to make Jacobs look good, he should get a bonus. While “The Golden Child” is clearly a gifted middleweight prospect, at times in the past he left me wanting more, as he seemed to fight in a more amateur style without putting conviction behind his punches. That was not the case tonight. Jacobs came out aggressive, landing combos early and scoring a quick knockdown with a left hook to the body. Continuing his assault, Jacobs dropped Astorga for a second time with a right hand before the end of the round. Another left hook to the body in the 2nd round and another knockdown for Jacobs. After a very sweet-looking duck-under move by Jacobs, he scored a fourth and final knockdown with another terrific body shot, winning the fight by 2nd-round knockout and looking as impressive as I have ever seen from him.
9:15 – It’s time for intermission, which, given the discordant nature of the card tonight, is about as necessary as ear plugs at a performance of John Cage’s 4’33”.
10:00 – After the National Anthems (nobody booed, at least) and a very nice speech from Michael Buffer about Arthur Mercante, Nate “The Galaxy Warrior” and “Vicious” Victor Ortiz square off in the co-feature.
Since this is the televised portion of the card, I’m going to forego the descriptions of action round by round. I thought, in equal parts, that Ortiz was very impressive and Campbell was very beatable. Ortiz boxed exceptionally well, landing his sharp, precision punches seemingly at will. His technique, size, strength, and accuracy were simply too much for Nate to handle.
Nate, meanwhile, looked like he couldn’t will himself to punch. He showed his trademark toughness and tried at times to pressure Ortiz but he ultimately looked like the tank might be empty. I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a fight against someone like Julio Diaz on Friday Night Fights, after Diaz’s win over Ngoudjo on Friday, but he’s probably not going to be a player at the top of the excellent junior welterweight division. Meanwhile, Ortiz is an outstanding young talent with lingering questions. This was by far his most impressive performance since the Maidana setback. Wherever Ortiz goes next, the division is littered with legitimate opponents and excellent fights.
10:50 – It’s time for the main event, with both Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi receiving nearly identical very loud, very mixed reactions from the crowd. For all the talk of difficulty selling tickets, the Theater looks packed to me and the fans are making a lot of noise.
And what a crowd it was. I felt like a St. Louis Cardinals fan that went to a Yankees-Red Sox game in a September playoff race expecting an exciting game with a great atmosphere, only to discover myself in a beer-drenched verbal war zone with a disheartening inability to see the game through the chaos. The fiercely partisan crowd boasted no shortage of memorable characters, including the most noteworthy:
(Malignaggi supporters take their fashion cues from their favorite boxer.)
•A pair of Malignaggi supporters straight out of Jersey Shore casting, sporting basketball jerseys with color-coordinated headbands (one jersey was Carmelo, I can’t remember the other), who were dubbed Paulie Haircut and Joey Headband by my friend in attendance with me
•The bald guy in the suit a few rows in front of us who NEVER SAT DOWN as he pathologically tried to impress his girlfriend, the fumes of his desperation nauseating entire sections around him
•The trio in front of me who spent entire rounds holding their cameras aloft, snapping blurry, poorly-framed pictures of the ring, the ref, and sometimes nothing at all, as they obliviously blocked my vision. One of these three bore a passing resemblance to Aziz Ansari and acted the part, convulsing spastically every time Khan landed a punch as if someone had cracked the funniest joke in the world
•The big guy in the Irish hat who stalked past me mumbling to himself no less than four times, with the only decipherable words being, “spilled,” “beer,” and “kill that guy”
•The third-place winner in the Black Crowes lookalike contest and his buddy, The Drunkest Guy In The Crowd, the Palme d’Or winners of this crowd. TDGITC sat in front of us for a few rounds, occasionally turning to slur incoherently about Devon Alexander, I think, before the usher kicked him back to his seat about ten seats over. At the height of the crowd’s insanity, TDGITC was involved in an altercation that left his shirt comically stretched and brought the attention of security over to our section. Fortunately for TDGITC, a full-blown brawl ensued ten rows below us between two big middle-aged guys throwing haymakers, quickly engaging any security personnel in the area. The Black Crowes lookalike and TDGITC, instantly forgotten, watched the rest of the fight undisturbed. The moral: If you ever see a major crime being committed, you might as well commit a lesser crime, as the authorities will be previously occupied
Meanwhile, a fight was presumably going on between Khan and Malignaggi.
From what I saw, I thought Khan looked excellent. His jab was a weapon, his combinations were fast and sharp, and he thoroughly dominated a good, tough, determined fighter.
Questions linger about Khan, as they do with Ortiz. There aren’t many more Malignaggi’s among the junior welterweight elite in terms of punching power, however, so if these fighters want to continue their ascent to the top, they will need to answer those questions sooner or later. Be it against Marcos Maidana, Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander, or another of the tough fighters at 140 pounds, Khan and Ortiz will someday need to prove that their hearts and chins match their skills in the ring. From what I saw on Saturday, they have to tools to do so.
Hopefully, the crowds at those fights will exhibit the passion that electrified the Theater at Madison Square Garden last night, without the venom that dampened the experience.