I think a lot about retirement. I’m not yet of an age that anyone other than my teenagers would consider “old,” but it occurs to me now and then that I’m closer to the end than to the beginning. I get tired. Most days, I possess neither the optimal levels of energy nor give-a-shit. The piss and vinegar of youth have been replaced with a sludge-like elixir resembling expired Mellow Yellow. The end of my working life, I’m certain, would be a godsend to my health: more gym time, less stress, more walks outdoors, fewer fast-food lunches. I’ve been told I wouldn’t know what to do with all that time, that I’d get bored. My response: Just give me that chance.
And yet it is time — that ticking clock — that nags at me. There are things I’d still like to do, and I’m not talking about zip-lining in Mexico or hiking through the Himalayas. I think about wasted moments and missed opportunities. I worry about whether I’ve done enough, and if not, whether I have it in me to finish the job in the time I have left. I’m no different than anyone else, I suppose: I want to know that my work matters. We all meet our end, eventually. But death isn’t so bad. It’s irrelevance that’s the real kick in the cookies.
I was thinking again about endings and impermanence as I watched Chris Arreola, Jean Pascal, and Curtis Stevens in separate fights Saturday night, bringing to bear a collective 45 years of professional prizefighting experience at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Each a former champion or contender on the other side of his physical peak, these fighters were included on Premier Boxing Champions’ Fox broadcast not to reclaim past glories — not according to anyone’s narrative but their own — but to burnish the shine on some other fighter’s future acclaim. They weren’t exactly brought in to lose, but, hey … if you wouldn’t mind landing face-first right here before it’s all over, it sure would be swell for the cameraman’s angle.
The case was slightly different for Stevens (30-7, 22 KO), who, at 34, was the youngest of the three name fighters at the top of the Barclays bill — and, as a Brownsville resident and native, the only natural fit among them. Against Wale Omotoso (28-4, 22 KO), Stevens faced a man of identical age and similar standing in the game. And although Omotoso isn’t on the way up, this was the first bout at 154 pounds for Stevens, a career middleweight whose chin, after a quick consultation of my periodic table, checks in closer to tin pan than Teflon. It was a virtual 50/50 fight, and with PBC, you don’t look decent matchmaking in the mouth.
In retrospect, maybe Al Haymon’s people knew something we didn’t. It took only half a round for Omotoso to pop a power jab and set up a cuffing right hand that sent Stevens pitching to the floor. It was an attention-grabber, not an earth-shaker, but it set the tone for the rest of the fight. In Round 2, an Omotoso left hook caught Stevens lunging, again dropping him without quite dazing him — less demolition than slow deconstruction. A classic union job.
Stevens’ best moments came after those knockdowns. In the third, he walked down and cornered Omotoso, launching some two-dozen virtually unanswered blows — including a vicious short right cross to the Nigerian’s jaw — and seemed capable, however briefly, of turning the fight. But in the time it took to check Stevens’ BoxRec page to be certain he’d lost to Jesse Brinkley and once been stopped by Marcos Primera, Omotoso wrested back control, landing a three-punch combination — hard jab, placeholder uppercut, and a gargantuan overhand right — to send Stevens careening into the ropes and onto his ass. Old habit assisted Stevens back to his feet — the bitter reward for learning how to take a punch — but referee Johnny Callas was unconvinced, calling the fight at 1:28 in the third. Whether what we saw was Stevens aging before our eyes or just our expectations continuing their appropriate regression to the mean, his ceiling is settled science. Here’s hoping he isn’t a retirement denier.
Pascal (34-6-1, 20 KO) was next, and the betting money — as well as the first few rounds against Marcus Browne (23-1, 16 KO) — suggested he and Stevens would meet a similar end. Browne’s length and quickness gave Pascal, the light heavyweight lineal champ for a hot minute almost a decade ago, more trouble than he appeared capable of handling. Pascal was being out landed at a roughly 2-to-1 rate when, in Round 4, he found an opening. Browne, a southpaw, took the outside foot and dropped low to deliver a power shot that might have rocked Pascal had he not blocked it. But then Browne, 28, whose signature win was a January decision over Badou Jack, proved the time-honored adage: sometimes kids do dumb stuff. By overextending on his right foot and leaving his left hand down on his follow-up, he left himself utterly exposed to a short right hand from Pascal, who put Browne down with it.
Swinging wildly again in the seventh, Browne whiffed on a left hand that left him squared up and standing tall in the center of the ring — but only for as long as it took Pascal to paint his chin with a sharp right hook. Browne fell backward, banged a glove on the canvas in disgust, stumbled (too quickly) to his feet and into the ropes. He was grinning, but Pascal had him — and Browne likely knew it. When the action resumed, Browne was buying time, but wound up with his back on the ropes and a glancing left hand upside the head that had him clumsily clutching at Pascal before falling to his knees. A round later, a clash of heads opened a bloody gash over Browne’s left eye and, in an instant, it was over. Despite Browne’s early scoring, the knockdowns and Pascal’s half a round of work in the eighth sent Browne to his first loss and an interim belt to the former champ.
The result felt like karma, or some gutter-bucket form of it. Browne, who last year was charged with a third domestic incident — the latest an alleged assault of the mother of his child — was mocked in the pre-fight promotion by Pascal, who broke out a wig and taunted Browne as a “woman-beater.” The basic sentiment from the Haitian-born Canadian might have been appreciated, even if his gallantry took a Dudley Do-Right turn. Pascal bought himself a few more swings in the salt mines, but that’s a mixed bag for a fighter entering his late 30s — don’t be surprised if Browne takes him apart in a rematch. Boxing isn’t known for nailing the details of its parables.
That was borne out in the main event, with Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KO) making his final(?) stand against Polish prospect/contender Adam Kownacki (20-0, 15 KO). In a just world, Arreola, the original heavyweight Good Time Cholo, would have been his generation’s Andy Ruiz. He’s a fun guy with a head as hard as his right hand, and enough ability to have earned three shots at a heavyweight title. Arreola’s motivation and conditioning levels have fluctuated throughout his career, but he was the lighter fighter at Friday’s weigh-in (244 pounds to Kownacki’s career-high 266) and seemed invigorated after a camp with trainer Joe Goossen.
Look, Kownacki-Arreola still fits squarely in the annals of Fat Guys Fighting, but for a surprising number of rounds — if you squinted hard enough — you might have mistaken them for a couple of prime flyweights in a sanctioned underwater bout. What the fight lacked in speed and technical wizardry, it made up for in astonishing work rate and undulating love handles. Kownacki and Arreola set records for combined punches thrown (2,172) and landed (667) in a heavyweight fight — with Kownacki getting the better of the banging overall and, most materially, round by round.
Arreola, throwing nothing but power, bloodied Kownacki’s nose in an early exchange, but he was also very much there to be hit. Kownacki landed 47 percent of his power shots (324 all told), and the 30-year-old Pole seemed to wobble his man ever so slightly in Round 3. Arreola breaking his left hand in the fifth removed the vaguest threat of the jab, and left him further outgunned. The pace slowed in the fight’s second half, but it was a dandy watch even as Kownacki rolled to a 117-111 (twice), 118-110 decision.
Arreola had promised to walk away from fighting in the event of a defeat. Predictably, he was less certain in the immediate aftermath. There are families to talk to, teams to be consulted, souls to be searched. Kownacki, for one, believes Arreola has more to give. “I hope he won’t retire, because with a fight like that, I’m sure the fans would want to see him again.”
For better or worse, that’s often all it takes.
(Photo by Stephanie Trapp/Trappfotos)