(Jonathan Maicelo, left, Brandon Bennett, right; Joe Tarlecky/King’s Promotions)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Walter E. Washington Convention Center feels like an unlikely place to hold a boxing card. It’s too clean and new. There is an almost antiseptic aura about the place. You walk in and think, “This is where bankers hold a convention. How the hell am I supposed to watch boxing here?”
You take the ridiculously long escalator up to the ballroom, and there in the dead center is a ring. In it, a prospect is pounding the stuffing out of his squat, fat, clearly outclassed opponent, and all is right with the world again. You’ve made it for the beginning of the undercard, and apart from the cleanliness of your surroundings it feels familiar.
No one apart from family and friends Saturday is here to see these early bouts. The largest part of the crowd is here for the Main Event. They have come to see if Brandon Bennett, a native of Cincinnati who trains with Adrien Broner’s trainer Mike Stafford and is signed with Al Haymon, can take the next step up against Peruvian Jonathan Maicelo in a 10 round lightweight bout.
Maicelo is supposed to be a good test for Bennett. He’s fought on ESPN a couple of times, but lost his biggest tests against Rustam Nugaev and Darleys Perez. Bennett has only lost once, and the crowd, as well as Haymon’s talent trawlers, seems to think he’s the clear favorite.
When the bell rings for the first round, Maicelo comes out like a man whose career depends on getting a win. He circles, firing four and five punch combinations while circling gracefully. Bennett seems taken aback, but comes forward behind his Stafford shoulder roll and counters when he has openings. This trend continues through the 4th round; Maicelo circles and steps in with hard combinations to the head and body, Bennett fires back one shot at a time, seemingly unable or unwilling to match Maicelo’s intensity.
It isn’t until the middle rounds that Bennett finally seems comfortable. Maicelo’s activity lags just enough for Bennett to counter with combinations and the crowd goes berserk for anything he does, even though Maicelo is catching many of the punches on his gloves. For every pro-Bennett cheer, there is a response from the Peruvian contingent. There may only be a dozen of them, but they are loud and urge their fighter on with larynx-rupturing screams.
Whether it was the exhortation of his countrymen or he found a second wind, Maicelo regains control of the bout in the final two rounds. Bennett is still landing hurtful counters, but Maicelo is answering with five punches to every two he received. At the final bell, he’s still winging combinations and it’s Bennett who looked deflated. TQBR scored the bout 97-94 for Maicelo (22-2, 12 KO). The judges had it even wider, returning cards of 97-93, 97-93, and 99-91.
Bennett (19-2, 8 KO) fought well, but has now lost in both of his step up bouts, both times by wide margin. It’s not an indictment of him so much as the style he employs. Fighters who train with Stafford all seem to fight the same way: Lead hand down, shoulder up, and rear hand ready to counter. It works okay if your opponent is outmatched, but against anyone who can move or throw with volume, Stafford’s fighters seem incapable of integrating offense and defense. They’re either punching or covering up, and must always wait until their opponent finishes his combination to answer with shots of their own.
Maicelo, who calls himself “The Last Inca,” reportedly was told that a win would get him a managerial/promotional/whatever deal with Haymon. Fans have largely soured on Haymon’s machinations, but to a fighter like Maicelo, it represents a chance to actually make some money, and why else be a fighter if not for the chance to make more money than you could doing anything else?
Light heavyweight Phil Jackson Benson (16-1, 15 KO) bludgeoned hapless Jinner Guerrero (8-5, 6 KO) into submission via 3rd round stoppage. Guerrero, who has now been stopped five times, was saved by his corner after taking an absolute pasting. Benson had lost his previous fight by stoppage to the mercurial Darnell Boone. Benson is fast and can crack with both hands.
Lightweight Jamel Herring (13-0, 8 KO) forced opponent Ariel Vazquez (12-9-2, 8 KO) to quit in the 3rd round after tattooing Vazquez with lightning-quick combinations and body punches that made the crowd wince. Herring dropped Vazquez with a terrific counter uppercut in the 1st round, and I was surprised that Vazquez got up. His bravery only bought him more punishment.
Middleweight Demond Nicholson (14-1, 14 KO) scored the knockout of the evening when he dropped Antonio Baker (7-13, 4 KO) with a perfect right cross that landed just above the ear. Baker fell like he had suddenly been struck with rigor mortis. The ref waived it off only seconds into his count.
Lightweight Robert Easter (15-0, 12 KO) scored an odd stoppage win when opponent Osumanu Akaba (32-9-1, 25 KO) inexplicably quit in the middle of the 6th round. I had scored every round for Akaba up to that point. Boxrec lists Akaba at 5’10” and Easter at 5’11”, but someone’s height is off. Easter was easily 5 inches taller than Akaba. That didn’t matter one bit. Akaba stayed outside Easter’s reach, before moving in and landing in combination. There were times that Akaba’s head movement made Easter look down right foolish. For Akaba to quit after taking only a few solid punches in succession smelled wrong. Make of that what you will.
Welterweight David Grayton (12-0, 9 KO) battered hapless Puerto Rican Jose Valderrama (4-11, 3 KO) for six rounds until referee William Johnson mercifully waived the bout off. Valderrama looked better than his record suggested in the early going. He has good footwork and punches fluidly. Then Grayton landed a thudding body punch just before the end of the 1st round. After that, it was target practice. Grayton was dropped again in the 2nd and 4th, the referee ruling a slip each time. Valderrama is so feather-fisted he makes Paulie Malignaggi look like Ernie Shavers. The fight could have been stopped any time after the first round and no one would have complained.
Welterweight Kareem Martin (6-0-1, 3 KO) won an easy unanimous decision over Anthony Prescott (5-7-2, 2 KO) by scores of 60-54, 60-54, and 59-55. Im not sure which round judge Paul Wallace found to give to Prescott. It was an easy fight to score.
Lightweight Raynell Williams (9-0, 5 KO) stopped Jose Miguel Castro (5-6, 3 KO) in the 2nd round. Williams landed a blistering straight left to the body, right hook combination that dropped Castro. Castro beat the count, but was very wobbly and Williams jumped all over him.
Lightweight Patrick Harris (7-0, 4 KO) scored an easy win over Irving Hernandez (3-12-2, 1 KO), sweeping all three judges cards 60-54. Hernandez spent nearly every moment of the fight trapped in the corner getting beaten up.
Light heavyweight Leo Hall (7-0, KO) battered hapless, hopeless, overweight (182lbs) Edgar Perez (6-15, 3 KO) for six rounds to win a unanimous decision. Perez only appreciable virtue in the ring appears to be his ability to take flush punches. The 36 year old Perez began his career nearly nine years ago just above the junior welterweight limit.
Kazakh junior middleweight Shyngyskhan Tazhibay (2-0, 2 KO) won the opener by stopping Coleman Phelps (0-1), who was making his pro debut.