Sometimes I wonder if anyone in the world ever actually knows what they are doing, or if everyone is just skating along on instinct, bullshit, and blind luck. I know that I’m doing that quite often, and I still find myself amazed that others are even more clueless than I.
For example, I showed up nice and early to the Tropicana Casino Resort in Atlantic City to get my press pass so I could eat a leisurely dinner without worrying about time before the Star Boxing card headlined by David Tua and Monte Barrett began. Also, I wanted to splash some chips around on the tables for a while, as I am wont to do. For once, I had no issues getting my press pass (which in this case was a blue wristband with stars, like you’d get at a bar with a cover – nothing but the best for the boxing press). However, when I arrived for the start of the card a few minutes before 8:00, a Tropicana employee that didn’t seem to understand how the media works asked me, “Who are you the press for? The casino or the promoter?” I tried explaining that her question was nonsense (in friendlier terms, I assure you), that I wrote for a blog and was covering the fight, but she just didn’t seem to get it. She kept asking me that same question over and over, occasionally pointing at other members of the press walking by with the same silly wristband and asking, “Do you work with him?” It was a little surreal. Finally, I told her, “I don’t work for your casino or your promoter. I work for the fans. I work for the people.” With that, she let me pass.
OK, so all that is true except the, “I work for the people,” line, which I came up with when I sat down and started typing. It would have been a good line, though. Like, “The jerk store called, and they ran out of you.” Actually, she just let me go without resolving the question at hand. Regardless, I thought she inadvertently asked a somewhat ominous question, given the shady nature of some boxing coverage. Based on some of the things I glimpsed on press row, some members of the boxing press are engaging in nothing more than public relations disguised as journalism.
(Imagine if George Costanza had been Top Rank’s Assistant to the Traveling Secretary)
Confounding conversations with hotel employees and ringside “press” giving standing ovations to their fighters were not the highlights of the night, however. A fight sheet that looked like a showcase for Tua and a slew of local fighters instead provided sustained, sometimes stunning action with almost universally unpredictable results. For the second time in two weeks, my expectations for a fight card were exceeded by the action in the ring. For the second time in two weeks, smart, diligent matchmaking and attention to the live fan experience produced standout cards. For the second time in two weeks, I went to an overachieving, fan-friendly card and it was not promoted by either of the big two of Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions. Just saying.
8:05 – The card started with Khedafi Djelkhir and Jorge Cordero in featherweight action. Djelkhir was one of two French fighters on the card, so I assume Glen Beck was ranting and raving somewhere. Actually, Glen Beck is always ranting and raving somewhere. Djelkhir and Cordero eschewed verbal histrionics in favor of fistic histrionics, as they engaged in a brief, wild battle. After a fiery early exchange, Djelkhir dropped Cordero. Cordero shook it off and then, literally on the next punch thrown in the fight, he dropped Djelkhir to even the knockdown score. In a wild exchange, Djelkhir came back to once again drop Cordero with a monster left hook. Cordero tried to rise but had no legs, and the wild and woolly fight was stopped at 2:27 of the very 1st round.
8:15 – As quickly as Djelkhir and Cordero could exit the ring, junior welterweights Bayan “The Mongolian Mongoose” Jargal and James Hope took the stage. Jargal started very slowly, while Hope came out of the gate determined. Hope, the huge underdog, worked tirelessly in the early rounds to build himself a lead on the scorecards, landing a variety of combinations, while Jargal threw one punch at a time and generally seemed tentative. I gave Hope the first three rounds on my scorecard, but the Mongolian Mongoose awoke in the second half of the fight, landing stinging hooks to the body and stiff jabs. Hope continued to have his moments, though he seemed to tire over the final two rounds. In the first of many unexpected turns during the card, the judges actually gave the opponent, Hope, credit for his early work and activity, as all three judges scored the bout a draw. Hope looks like the kind of nondescript journeyman that can provide a real test for a young prospect, making him an invaluable resource in the sport. Jargal, meanwhile, has the physical tools and some boxing skills as well, but he needs to sharpen his technique and get out of the gate much quicker.
8:55 – In a battle of crooked records (to paraphrase a baseball cliché), Anthony Mezaache and Carlos Vinan squared off next in lightweight action. Two points, before we get to the action: 1) Mezaache was announced as being ranked #2 by the IBF (with an 18-5-3 record, four knockouts, exactly zero notable wins, and about as much name recognition with the public as I have), which would have been laughable were it not so expected, and 2) Vinan, from Newark, NJ, got the loudest ovation I’ve ever heard for a 9-8-4 fighter. Mezaache was the boxer and Vinan was the stalker, and they engaged in a wild give and take battle, where each guy had his moments when the style of the fight suited their strengths. When Vinan pressed Mezaache to the ropes, he was successful; when Mezaache boxed in the middle of the ring, he controlled the action. It looked as though Mezaache had started to take control of the fight in the second half until the 8th round, when Vinan came out with furious fire, reigning blows until Mezzache fell within seconds of the start of the round. When Mezzache rose in a heavy fog, Vinan resumed his onslaught, forcing the corner of the Frenchman to throw in the towel in a huge upset victory for Vinan that elated his supporters and continued the trend of unexpected results.
So far, in three fights, we had a thrilling one-round slugfest with traded knockdowns and a brutal knockout, a hard-fought draw between a 15-0-2 fighter and a 6-5 fighter, and a stunning final-round knockout by a 9-8-4 fighter (with a whopping one career knockout coming in) over a 18-5-3 fighter. At this point, I wrote this in my notes: “This was apparently not the night to pick favorites, given the last 2 fights. Any danger for Tua? ….Nah” Miss Cleo I am not.
9:30 – Next up was the prospect I was most interested in seeing coming in, Philadelphia welterweight Raymond “Tito” Serrano, who squared off with Ayi Bruce in the co-feature. Of course, this was the one fight that failed to deliver any real drama, at least until the final round. Serrano was solid but not spectacular, winning rounds comfortably with his jab and straight right and mixing in some body shots. Bruce was too inactive in the early rounds, though he began to land some effective hooks as the fight wore on. In the 8th, Bruce suddenly unleashed a sustained attack, resulting in the best action of the fight as Serrano tried to match Bruce punch for punch. Serrano earned a majority decision, but as far as Philadelphia welterweight prospects go, he’s no Mike Jones.
10:10 – Before the main event, we got a swing bout with light heavyweights Sean Monaghan and Dennis Penelton in a four-rounder. As soon as Monoghan strode down to the ring, the crowd transformed into a St. Patrick’s Day parade, with a huge round of applause for the Long Island Irishman from loud pockets of Kelly green-clad fans. Penelton was one of the most bizarre fighters I’ve ever seen. I’d say his technique was bad if he had any. The best description for his jab that I can come up with is that he looked like he was trying to close the lid of a garbage can that was over his head. Monaghan lands a big body shot and it’s over. Maybe the John Duddy bandwagon refugees have found a new horse.
10: 20 – Immediately after the swing bout ended, with no intermission, endless announcements, or other annoyances that drag down numerous cards, Monte Barrett and David Tua made their way to the ring for the heavyweight main event. I immediately thought that Tua looked to be in very good shape physically. Barrett came out with the right strategy, using his height and jab and trying to tie up when Tua got inside. In the 2nd, the vaunted Tua left hook made its first significant connection, though Barrett took it well. Tua also worked the body well. Tua continued to control the action in the 3rd, landing a right hand that caught Barrett flush and a few more destructive left hooks, including a couple to the body. The onslaught was amped up even more in the 4th, with Barrett showing a completely different chin than the guy who was stopped by Odlanier Solis in two rounds two fights prior. The middle rounds followed this pattern, with Tua landing incredibly forceful power punches and Barrett surviving and trying to fight his fight from the outside. By the 6th, I was afraid for Barrett’s health, as Tua pounded away with both hands.
However, in the 8th round, Barrett seemed to find a second wind, along with a home for his right hand, and the tenor of the fight shifted. Tua got back to business in the 9th, bludgeoning Barrett in the corner. In the 10th, Barrett landed a big right hand that seemed to shake Tua, and he began to throw combinations that landed with greater and greater accuracy. A big right hook rocked Tua and brought the crowd to their feet. In the 11th, Tua regained control yet again, landing thunderous punches with determination. Barrett, displaying incredible resiliency and determination in what he says will be his final fight, survived everything Tua threw at him and continued to fight back.
In the 12th and final round, a round only Barrett and his team could have ever imagined seeing in this fight, Tua came out looking to close the show. Tua landed a monster left hook, his bread and butter, and Barrett shook it off and fought back. Then Tua, by this point clearly frustrated, took a clinching Barrett and hip tossed him to the canvas, drawing a pivotal point deduction. Soon after, as Tua followed up on yet another left hook, the fighters engaged in a furious exchange against the ropes, and suddenly Tua crumbled from a beautiful right hook from Barrett. Tua was badly hurt and rose on shaky legs as the crowd roared its approval. Barrett definitely should have pounced on his damaged foe in the closing seconds, but he chose to raise his hands and bask in the crowd, which was treated to a shocking, thrilling conclusion to an outstanding, unexpected fight.
The crowd booed the decision, a majority draw with scorecards of 115-111 for Tua and 113-113 twice. I had the fight 114-112 for Tua, as did a writer in front of me. The photographer next to me had the fight for Barrett. I thought the disparity between the power of the fighters’ shots was clear, especially at ringside, yet Barrett scored the only knockdown of the fight, so perhaps I underrated his effectiveness. No matter what, the main event was a riveting heavyweight fight, an unexpected gem that I look forward to watching again.
While the performance will likely result in doubt about his relevance, I don’t think Tua should take too big a hit for his performance. I thought he looked very good, moving well, throwing punches in combination, and landing big shots. I just happen to think that the Monte Barrett who showed up at the Tropicana on Saturday was a more motivated, more driven Monte Barrett than we have seen in a long time. I think he wanted to go out on a high note, and he did. Still, he needed a knockdown and a point deduction in the 12th to earn a draw.
I would be interested in seeing Tua against several big name heavyweights, including Tomasz Adamek, David Haye, Chris Arreola, and even Alexander Povetkin. I think he could make exciting, entertaining, and meaningful fights with any of them, despite the unexpectedly disappointing result on Saturday night.