Madison Square Garden Theater, New York, NY, January 23, 2010
As often as practically and financially possible, I will attend fights around my New Jersey base and write about them for you, Humble TQBR Reader, in the Jersey Fight Journal.
For the inaugural edition of the JFJ, I will hop on the train at the Morristown Train Station with my buddy Scott for the Top Rank featherweight doubleheader at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Headlining the card is Juan Manuel Lopez, the anointed “next great Puerto Rican superstar,” against Steven Luevano and Cuban sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa against the man who nearly knocked out Lopez in a Fight of the Year candidate last year, Rogers Mtagwa. The following is an uncensored, unauthorized account of all the action from a very solid, often spectacular fight card.
7:15 – After catching the 5:34 train into the city and grabbing a quick dinner across the street from the Garden at Nathan’s, we arrive at our seats (section 301 — we didn’t exactly splurge for this fight but we have a pretty solid view of the action) in time to hear a unanimous decision victory announced for welterweight Tommy Rainone over Gerardo Cesar Prieto. Turns out, we also missed cruiserweight Carlos Negron winning a six-round decision over Garrett Wilson. I guess I was a little unprofessional to miss part of the undercard but I’m not a professional (unless someone has been stealing my checks) so I have a built-in excuse.
7:20 – Will Rosinsky, a fighter with a large, supportive local following whom I have seen on a couple fight cards before, fights Markus Gonzales in a four-round light heavyweight fight. Rosinsky gets a very warm reception and opens the fight with straighter, more accurate punches than Gonzales. Both guys fire punches at an impressive rate throughout the first but Rosinsky dominates the exchanges. Gonzales already looks bloody by the end of the round but they continue where they left off in the second round, standing toe-to-toe in the center of the ring firing punches. Rosinsky works the body very effectively. Uppercuts snap Gonzales’ head back. Gonzales replies by throwing slow, looping punches that Rosinsky counters. Great action continues in the third as Rosinsky lands at will but Gonzales just. Keeps. Coming. If you ever wondered what a zombie would look like in a boxing ring, try to dig up footage of Gonzales against Rosinsky. The action finally slows a bit in the 4th round, although Rosinsky periodically lands impressive combos.
All three judges score the bout a shutout for Rosinsky and one judge gave him a 10-8 round to boot. He earned every point in an entertaining though lopsided fight filled with action from the first bell to the last. If Gonzales were half as skilled as he is tough he would have elite potential.
7:40 – The theater is impressively full considering how early it is. The crowd is loud and lively as junior featherweight Jorge Diaz steps in to fight Tommy Atencio. Diaz has shown the most promise of the fighters on the undercard (including a win over Gamboa’s former Olympic teammate, Yan Barthelemy) so I am looking forward to this one. Diaz starts patiently, working behind his jab. A lightning straight and Atencio crumbles, seemingly in slow motion. Wow. Atencio somehow manages to rise to his feet. Diaz resumes the attack, landing a huge left hook to the body that leaves Atencio in a heap of pain. The fight is over. Atencio is in some pain but is seemingly okay. Diaz celebrates a very impressive knockout victory at 1:27 in the 1st round.
7:55 – I love the pace of this card so far. The ring is barely clear of the previous participants before junior welterweights Chris Algieri and James Hope are ready to square off. Algieri is the local fighter and gets a warm reception from the crowd, which is now near capacity. They start slow with Hope being the aggressor. Hope lands a few combos and I give him the edge in a close 1st round. The action picks up in the 2nd round. Hope lands a big uppercut and Algieri is cut, seemingly over his left eye. Another round for Hope, at least on my highly unofficial, 300-section card. Algieri adjusts in the 3rd round, landing a huge right hand that tilts the balance a bit and he follows with effective combinations.
Algieri also takes the 4th round, though I must admit I am a little distracted. An extraordinarily loud Algieri supporter a few rows back seems to know about four English words/phrases and repeats them ad nauseum at an earsplitting decibel. Some version of this guy has been at every fight I have ever been to. It’s like I’m in that cheesy Denzel Washington movie “Fallen,” except instead of singing “Time Is on My Side” the devil just says “Work the BODY!” and “You got him NOW!” in an obnoxious voice.
Rant over, back to the action. Good exchanges early in round 5 before Algieri takes over, landing a straight right and a lead left hook that hurt Hope. Best round of the fight for Algieri. He maintains control in the 6th, landing a big left hook to punctuate the fight. The fight was not as action-packed as the Rosinsky fight but it was far more competitive. Two judges scored the bout 58-56 and the other scored it 59-55, all for Algieri. Hope put forth a good effort and Algieri showed some guts to overcome early adversity.
8:20 – While I dig the pace of the card, I lament the lack of ring card girls. The list grows, Mr. Arum. Pawel Wolak is set to square off with Ishmail Arvin in a junior middleweight fight. If you have ever seen Wolak fight, you probably don’t need to read much further. Wolak presses the action and works the body, though Arvin works in some counters. Wolak’s work rate and pressure take the 1st round and hold up in the 2nd, as Arvin is just not a good enough boxer to fend off Wolak. The rounds quickly fall into a pattern: Wolak presses forward and works the body, following with shots to the head, then adjusts his feet and repeats. Arvin lands a few punches in between but is unable to keep Wolak at bay. Arvin is able to bounce back slightly in the 4th, perhaps due to advice from the Macy Gray clone in his corner. He lands more counters and manages to create some distance in spots but it still might not be enough to take the round. The 5th is shaping up to be the best round of the fight, as Arvin gains confidence and lands more in exchanges. A right stuns Wolak near the end of the round. Wolak regains his form in the 6th, landing a nice combo early in the round that seems to deflate Arvin. Wolak is relentless, while Arvin relents. Wolak dominates the 6th and the 7th. Finally, in the 8th round, a “Polska” chant! It’s a pretty diverse crowd – Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, even some Tanzanians, with all the local supporters and degenerate fight freaks (like me) mixed in – so I’m glad some of the Polish fans who light up the Prudential Center made it to the Garden tonight.
Wolak earns the unanimous decision by a wide margin, with one judge scoring a shutout and the other two giving Arvin just one round (likely the 5th). Wolak did what he does and showed that many fighters are just unable to handle his relentlessness. He isn’t always pretty but he’s pretty effective. I have been banging the drum for him to fight Duddy, who fights next. Duddy could be too big for Wolak but I think it would be a great action fight that would draw a good crowd.
8:55 – We take a break from the action to introduce some of the fighters in attendance. Yuri Foreman gets a big intro and a nice reception. Tito Trinidad is introduced to a roar. As Dan Rafael noted in his chat on Friday, he looks like he is in good shape. Miguel Cotto is introduced next to another great reception.
9:05 – After the national anthems, middleweight John Duddy comes to the ring and receives a tremendous reception. A crowd of Irish fans does the things you expect from a crowd of Irish fans – drinking, wearing Irish flags as capes, wearing silly leprechaun hats, and generally having a grand old time. Other than Duddy, they are not fighting, so it is only positive stereotypes tonight. Tonight Duddy squares off against Juan Astorga. Duddy opens under control and looks to be the sharper puncher, landing a combination. A right hand lands and Astorga does a delayed buckle, prompting Duddy to pounce. Duddy drops a monster left hook on Astorga’s body and the ref waves off the fight. A sudden and violent ending that elates the crowd. Duddy earns the first-round knockout at 1:55 of the 1st round. Duddy addresses the crowd, saying that he will fight again in March (presumably on the Pacquiao-Clottey undercard) and a bunch of other things I can’t understand. The crowd loves him though; he is incredibly popular at the Garden.
9:10 – INTERMISSION
9:30 – Yup, it’s still intermission. They are having some technical difficulties with the scoreboard above the ring that displays the round and time and keep lowering and raising it. Otherwise, a whole lotta nothing to the tune of crappy Girl Talk mash-ups.
9:45 – Zzzzzzz.
9:55 – I wipe the crust from my eyes as the forty-five minutes of nothing end and Rogers Mtagwa finally makes his way to the ring. Mtagwa gets booed, which is kind of stupid considering his performance in this building last October. Yuriorkis Gamboa gets a really big pop from the crowd and seems to have generated considerable buzz from the fans sitting around us. From the first punch, Gamboa’s speed astonishes me. As fast as he looks on television, in person his speed is superhuman. Lead left hooks rock Mtagwa. Gamboa is fighting under control and every punch is crisp and powerful. Mtagwa is ineffective as Gamboa’s hand speed dominates. A hook as Mtagwa stumbles in leads to a knockdown that looked like it could have been a slip. Replay after the round shows that ref Steve Smoger ruled correctly. Gamboa dominated the 1st round. The first ring card girl of the night gets a very warm welcome from the fans. Gamboa unleashes a furious onslaught in round 2. Mtagwa has a world-class beard to take some of these shots. Gamboa makes Mtagwa stumble with a huge straight right. A blazing combination floors Mtagwa. Mtagwa gets up but he’s on very shaky legs. A flurry from Gamboa and Mtagwa falls again. Smoger waves the fight off to give Gamboa a spectacular knockout win. Unbelievable. The best performance of Gamboa’s young career and the type of electric performance that generates buzz. Gamboa wins by eye-opening knockout at 2:35 in the 2nd round.
10:20 – Juan Manuel Lopez walks down the aisle to try to upstage Gamboa, if that is at all possible. He enters the ring to challenge Stevie Luevano for his featherweight trinket. After watching Gamboa dominate a fighter who so troubled Lopez last October, I am eager to see how Lopez looks at his new weight. First, a memorial ten-count for Miguel Cotto, Sr. Lopez looks sharp at the onset, landing the first significant punch of the fight and following with a sharp one-two. Lopez controls the opening frame as Luevano struggles to get off his punches. Lopez lands a thudding body shot that echoes throughout the arena in the 2nd. Lopez looks sharp and Luevano looks a little lost. Lopez lands a nice combination to conclude another one-sided round. A left hand hurts Luevano in the 3rd round and Luevano holds on. Lopez is clearly the much heavier-handed fighter. Three rounds in the books for Lopez with Luevano unable to adjust thus far. A tremendous straight left hand in the 4th again forces Luevano to hold. Luevano has a reputation for inconsistency and tonight looks like the bad Luevano showed up, though Lopez has a lot to do with that. The action slows in the 5th round, giving Luevano a much-needed breather. Lopez amps up the offense again in the 6th as Luevano wears down. Relentless pressure from Lopez in the 6th and Luevano shows an excellent chin. Early in the 7th round and Lopez attacks. A crushing uppercut, a violent combination and Luevano crumbles. He regains his feet but is unable to continue. Outstanding win for Lopez — the best performance of his career considering his opposition. Lopez wins by decisive knockout at 0:44 in the 7th round.
While there was not a Fight of the Year-caliber fight like Lopez-Mtagwa, this was a very satisfying fight card. Two young superstars stepped onto the big stage and walked away with career-best wins. The undercard was filled with impressive performances, especially by Duddy and Diaz. Other than the interminable intermission and the lack of ring card girls for the preliminary fights (yeah, I’m going to harp on that), this was a very satisfying night at the fights.