(Randy Caballero, Manuel Roman; photo credit: Omar Ornelas, The Desert Sun)
Showtime’s prospect-oriented series ShoBox made a good faith attempt Friday to pair young men on the way up this weekend from Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino in Indio, Calif., a veritable hotbed of very solid fighters that seem to sprout up from nowhere in the middle of the blazing desert.
The effort was appreciated, but the results weren’t much to shake a stick at, thus proving that sometimes competitive bouts on paper just don’t add up to much in terms of entertainment in reality.
In the main event, bantamweight Manuel Roman dominated Randy Caballero en route to a high energy, low yield decision win that seemed to define excelling at mediocrity, while Michael Perez and Fidel Maldonado, Jr. briefly bottled some gripping action, leading to a split decision for the former, who hit the deck late.
As is often the case when fighters are unwilling to unhinge the leather, only a handful of 20 rounds were legitimately gripping, but it was a step away from showcasing names who had far outgrown the ShoBox format. And that’s a good thing.
A prideful-looking Caballero spent about as much time banging his gloves together and twitching as he did throwing in the 1st round, but effortlessly took it nonetheless. Roman tried, but he just couldn’t get past the speed advantage. The same went for round 2, but Caballero landed a four-punch combination (with a head butt mixer) that dropped Roman with about 40 seconds left.
The jab worked very well for Caballero all around — to the body, the head, and even in feinting; his leaping shots went unchecked for much of rounds 3 and 4 as Roman looked to gain some momentum with some well-timed body shots. It began to look a bit like a Adrien Broner vs. sub-par guy outing, though. Reaching with right hands and jabs did little to help Roman state his case early in the 5th, though at last he was actually landing somewhat consistently. A “timing vs. speed” battle brewed, and Caballero sported a welt under his left eye that suggested his noggin was easier found than initially thought, though Roman likely remained on the outside looking in.
Finally in the 6th Roman broke through with significant shots as Caballero lingered back-first to the ropes, and a counter right hand from Roman began to find home more and more. It was probably a case of a fighter doing more than he had before, and “doing better” being mistaken for “doing well” as a result. He was still getting beaten to the punch more often than not, and ended the round taking a sweeping right hand.
In round 7, guest commentator Juan Diaz rightly noted that Roman wasn’t showing any sense of real urgency as he plodded forward almost aimlessly. A cracking left from Caballero punctuated the round for him with moments remaining. And there was little change for Roman to begin round 8, which Caballero ate up readily. Caballero took the fight inside a bit before too long, but redundant 1-2’s couldn’t win him sequences, much less rounds. A visible attempt to go downstairs from Roman was admirable, but it just didn’t do a lot.
Technique gave way to sloppier reaching shots and occasional in-fighting for much of the 9th, but Caballero danced away when there was any distance between the two. In the closing moments of the stanza Roman did what he should’ve been doing a solid 20 minutes earlier when he pinned Caballero to the ropes and went upstairs and down with hooks. It was just too late in the round, and didn’t carry much weight. In the 10th Roman let loose about as well as he could, but it added up to basically looking for a one-shot chance that didn’t exist in the first place.
Judges awarded the fight to Randy Caballero by scores of 97-92 twice and 96-93, raising his record to 16-0 (8 KO). Remember that bit about “excelling at mediocrity?” That’s Caballero. Individual puzzle pieces like hand speed, footwork and flash are nice to have, but without any sort of cohesion — or absent some kind of binding agent like grit or tenacity — they’re just pieces. He had a guy in front of him who couldn’t muster a remotely tricky defense or creative offense for most of the night, had him on the floor early on, yet was content to coast, for the most part. It’s one thing to watch that at the higher levels of the game, but down here among the frosh, it doesn’t bode well for his future.
Say what you will about Roman’s limitations, and there are many, or his inability to change gears, but Cabellero didn’t do much of that either, and he has it much easier. Now 15-2-3 (6 KO) and one no contest, Roman probably shouldn’t be getting heaped with praise for his determination or anything himself, but he wasn’t exactly brought in to win.
In the co-feature, Michael Perez, the 2008 National Golden Gloves champ at lightweight, did well to avoid burrowing down in front of Albuquerque-based Fidel Maldonado, Jr. for most of their 10 round bout, but wound up getting a bit more than he likely expected late in the fight.
Playing off of Perez’ offense, the harder-hitting Maldonado basically took what was being offered by the slightly more active guy in the 1st round, snapping some southpaw left hands into the mug of Perez while angling away, and Perez stayed consistent with a jab and right hand. But Maldonado led with left hands in round 2, shoving them forth and looking for follow up right hooks. Both men landed a bit, though, and Perez took control of ring geography by the time the bell sounded. Maldonado’s apparent inexperience with a busier pace had him breathing with his mouth agape by the 3rd, though he fought to land right hooks inside and wound up banging some more lefts home, both to the temple and chest. Body work was plentiful from both, however.
Between rounds it was revealed an accidental headbutt opened up a slit over Maldonado’s right eye, but the flood gates had already been propped open and Maldonado attacked to begin round 4. On cue, Perez seemed to hurt Maldonado to the body and followed up with a ruthless series of shots upstairs and down, often landing a nice counter overhand right to the head. Alas, Maldonado was allowed to survive the stanza, and looked spent in his corner.
Jousting dominated the early goings of round 5, both men appearing to probe with shots more than anything else, but openings were found and heads snapped back with ease courtesy of uppercuts and hooks on both ends. It’s just that Maldonado’s head snapped around a bit more, and his swelling fatigue had him reaching in to get rough inside in the 6th. But referee intervention and crushing body shots stemmed that tide, and though the pace slowed, favoring Maldonado, he couldn’t manage to get a whole lot of effective work done.
A clear push from Maldonado in the 7th walked him into a few left hooks, which hadn’t really been dusted off yet on Perez’ side. But Maldonado jimmied his way forward and managed to brute force some left hands home with Perez on the ropes, likely taking his first round since early in the bout. Some nice left uppercuts and sweeping shots in the 8th forced Perez to open up as his mouth began to bleed, but he was getting hit much, much more often, which only served to egg Maldonado on. A skirmish was in full effect.
Clearly understanding that his battle was of the uphill variety, Maldonado’s aggression manifested early in round 9, but a few heavy (and missed) swings later, and he was back to following a bit much. He resorted to leaning on Perez and looking to drag the fight into an alley, but the last minute had him struggling to land. The back-and-forth in round 10 echoed the previous few, with Maldonado searching and only occasionally finding, but simply not having much effect. Perez’ shots just had more clear geometry to them until the last minute, where Perez looked to be staggered. With only seconds remaining, Maldonado surged and put Perez down with a left-right-left, and “The Artist” just barely beat the final bell.
Scores of 95-94 Maldonado and 97-92, 95-94 for Perez were turned in, handing Perez a relatively hard-fought split decision victory.
It was the type of split decision where neither guy’s stock should’ve taken a huge hit, because both did what they came to do for stretches, while still demonstrating some vulnerability. Now with a record of 17-1-1 (10 KO), Perez shook off a number of cracking shots that may have discouraged other guys, and he may have also shaken off some of the doubt that assuredly came with his stoppage loss to rising star Omar Figueroa earlier this year. More likely than not, it was good for him to notch rounds under his belt and rise from a late knockdown to score the W.
Maldonado, 13-2 (11 KO), battled fatigue from early on in the fight, and always seemed to be another shot or two away from turning the tide. Indeed he wound up catching Perez late, wobbling the Jersey youngster, but ran out of time. Whether or not that had to do with Perez’ chin and toughness or Maldonaldo’s punching power is as of yet unclear, but a dangerous guy who tires minutes in but can bang with minutes remaining? For now, it’s like a low-rent Marcos Maidana. But even a low-rent version could be exciting TV.
We should be willing to sacrifice a show or two for principle, if it’s being compared to Jermain Taylor vs. Caleb Truax stuff. Not that it’s difficult to surpass that sludge, but the sport is in need of a pick-me-up in the new blood department, and there doesn’t seem to be much confidence that the London Olympics will have delivered that Stateside in the next few years.
In the meantime, programs like ShoBox are what we rely on, and they should be dependable — even if only in the most basic sense of what exactly the program is supposed to be about.
Feel free to follow Patrick on Twitter at @Integrital.