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The Turnaround

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)


This past Saturday night, Showtime’s bantamweight tournament final took place at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas between IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares. Honestly, this was a fight that belonged in Los Angeles but as the original date of this bout was moved from April 23rd to August 13th, there were no available venues in Southern California. So the quartet of Gabe Montoya, my colleague at Maxboxing, Ernie Gabion of Boxingscene.com and Everlast, and Noe Montoya, boxing fan extraordinaire, decided that we would go up to Vegas on Saturday and come back that very same night.
 
Hey, we all have to live within a budget and no matter how badly “Sin City” struggles, you wouldn’t know it by the room rates they charge the media for many of these cards. So it was decided we would split a rental car and gas, which came out to $25 a person and make a quick turnaround back home.
 
Here’s a detailed timeline of our travels:
 
7:17 AM: I wake up and I had gotten a decent amount of sleep but the first thing I say to myself is, “Geez, why couldn’t this fight be at the Home Depot Center?”

8:25 AM: I swing by Gabe’s place (he literally lives about two blocks from me in Koreatown) and we make the drive over to Ernie’s casa in Montebello. As we pick up Ernie, it’s decided we’d take my car over to Noe’s house in Azusa but as we get in, Ernie is nearly left there as I start driving away before he’s fully tucked in. He says, “Well, my backpack would’ve made it to the fight tonight.” Hey, what can I tell you? I can’t wait to get to Las Vegas.
 
9:21 AM: We’re now at Noe’s and we get a ride from his wife over to the local Enterprise to pick up our car. During this short trek, we get caught up on the latest on “Jersey Shore.” Seriously, “The Situation” has really fallen for the lil’ “Snookster”? It can’t be! Can it? Gabe has no idea what the hell we’re talking about (or won’t admit it).
 
We get to the Enterprise and like a few other people, we are kept waiting for a spell. Why? Because they have no cars available which is odd, considering that we had a reservation and, well, this is a car rental place. This is bizarre, something I have never seen, and after about 20 minutes of waiting around, we are then driven to another Enterprise nearby and there a car is waiting for us. It’s explained that these companies often sell these vehicles after awhile and with that, every once in a while, there is a short fall of automobiles. You learn something new every day.
 
Soon, we are on the road. It’s not like I haven’t done a same day turnaround before. I remember waaaaay back in 1998 when a friend of mine, Hugo, and me went to go see Floyd Mayweather win his first world title against Genaro Hernandez at the Hilton in Las Vegas and drove back that same night. Mayweather was spectacular that night; his hand speed was unreal. You knew this guy was going places for beyond just being a beltholder throughout his career. Also, during Maxboxing.com’s infancy, Doug Fischer and I did the same thing when Shane Mosley blew out Shannan Taylor in 2001.
 
As we hit the 15, Trinere is blasting on the radio. “Noe D” (Noe resembles “Jersey Shore’s” DJ Pauly D) has loaded up his iPod with some great freestyle music. We start discussing who is the best in this genre of music and it’s decided that it would have to be a class that includes Stevie B, Expose, Cover Girls and Trinere. Lisa Lisa is also in the mix but she could also be considered “pop.” Hey, I’m a big fan of hers, regardless.
 
11:16 AM: I’m not sure if Barstow is really the halfway point between LA and LV but I’ve always considered it that. One of the things I missed about flying to Las Vegas recently is hitting the Del Taco in Barstow. Seriously, it’s the best fast food place I have ever had and is truly the Mecca of all Del Tacos. I’m told it’s actually the hub outlet and that new dishes are actually tried out there and you can see the history of the franchise and the stages of its remodeling history on their walls indoors. I have the “Macho Nachos” and three tacos.
 
This Del Taco is truly one of my traditions in covering boxing.
 
Soon as we hit the road again, I’m out like a light. It’s like clockwork; eat in Barstow and then fall asleep like Rip Van Winkle till we hit Nevada.
 
1:45 PM: We have hit Las Vegas and despite the delays at Enterprise, we made good time. The card doesn’t start till about 3:30 so we have some time to unwind and relax. We head over to the center bar at the Hard Rock and we start hitting the Goose and soda. I used to be all about beer but I was told that vodka is much more “gut-friendly.” Yeah, at first, this tastes like Pennzoil but after awhile, you do get acclimated to it. If you want to step out a bit, try fruit punch and vodka. Trust me; they go together like Montana-to-Rice.
 
3:32 PM: First fight of this card, which looks like it will have a lot of delays between bouts, is a fight between Carlos Molina and Juan Manuel Montiel. It’s Molina’s first bout of 2011, which has been beset by injuries and illness. Molina is held to a draw by Montiel and quite frankly, it feels like a loss. It’s very simple; at anything above 135, Molina is very ineffective. He weighed in at 143 for this bout and he looked much more like a suspect than a prospect.
 
4:10 PM: Next is a bout between Angelo Santana, a southpaw out of Miami, Florida, and Ramzan Adaev, who must train in Los Angeles because I see some familiar faces in his corner. Santana impressively halts Adaev in two rounds to move to 11-0.
 
Shortly after this fight, I speak with Alan Hopper, director of PR for Don King, who explains to me that his boss couldn’t make it out for this fight. He informs me that it looks like Tavoris Cloud, their IBF light heavyweight beltholder, will most likely fight on October 15th at the Seminole Hard Rock in Florida as part of a celebration of King’s 80th birthday that will be carried on EPIX. Hey, it may not be a big fight for Cloud but he is a fighter that is starving for activity in recent times.
 
Later, I run into Eric Gomez, matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions, who lets me know that Richard Schaefer is in England meeting with Frank Warren to make a fight between WBO 130-pound beltholder Ricky Burns and Adrian Broner for a November “Boxing After Dark” show, with Peter Quillen possibly opening the broadcast. He also informs me that the Golden Boy debut of WBA bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno will take place most likely in November- maybe against Mares, should he win later tonight.
 
4:47 PM: Honestly, I have no desire to see Eric Morel, so the four of us head over to the “Pink Taco”- which admittedly sounds like a strip club in Tijuana. We get a quick bite to eat and we head back. It turns out Morel wasn’t his usual cautious self and he stopped Daniel Quevedo in four heats. Now the problem is that with fights ending early and still another couple of hours before Showtime goes live, we are going to have one of these customarily long delays before another fight comes on. If there’s one thing boxing has to work on across the board, it’s improving the undercards and the pacing of these shows before the television lights come on. They really are shortchanging the paying public in this regard.
 
We decide to head over to the sports book and watch some pre-season football.
 
5:25 PM: I head over to the Hard Rock sports book with Noe and we order a few more drinks. On one of the big screens is Green Bay and Cleveland and it’s Graham Harrell versus Seneca Wallace in a quarterback duel. Honestly, it’s not bad for a game in early August; both teams actually move the ball fairly well. NFL Network does live cut-ins of other games and I see a few clips of Cam Newton making some things happen. Soon, Ernie joins and later on, Gabe, who says that the heavyweight bout between Eric Molina and Warren Browning, won by Molina in three, was actually a very entertaining affair.
 
7:08 PM: We decide to head back over to the fights. In essence, we have made the eight-hour round trip to really see one fight. If I was in charge of things, every HBO or Showtime card would have to feature at least two fights on the telecast…but nobody ever listens to me.
 
7:19 PM: By this time, Agbeko and Mares are in the ring and ready to go. The small theater at the Hard Rock has filled in nicely and it’s clearly a pro-Mares crowd inside this place.
 
7:26 PM: First bell and away we go...
 
8:18 PM: After a spirited 12-round bout, Mares is crowned the new IBF champion by the scores of 113-113 and two scores of 115-111. But this night will forever be marred by referee Russell Mora, who seemed to bend over backward for Mares all night. Now, I’m not going to rehash this whole fight for you; I’m sure you guys have read plenty about it but I’ll say this, many of the early shots that strayed low were in part, caused by Agbeko pulling Mares’ head down. Also, many of the shots seemed to be borderline on the belt but you have to wonder; just how many warnings does it take for a point to be deducted from a particular fighter? In this case, nine strikes and you weren’t out.
 
But how Mora missed the most clear and flagrant low blow in the 11th is among the most egregious mistakes I have ever seen in sports. This was one of the clear instances when Mares’ head was not pulled down and the blow was clearly in an area where every male just winces just by seeing it. It changed the whole fight because at that point, Mares held a slim, one-point lead on one card; Agbeko was up by one on the other and the third judge had Mares by three at that point. Up until that missed call, it seemed to be an Agbeko round. So by going from 10-9, Agbeko to 10-8, Mares, that is a four-point swing.
 
You can understand why Agbeko went after Mora and had to be restrained by his handlers after the final bell. I think it’ll be a long time before Mora works another high-profile event in Nevada. As far as I’m concerned, gimme Kenny Bayless for all the big fights here and I’m good.
 
It’s a shame because it marred a very good little fight. Personally, I wasn’t going to be influenced by Mora’s error and scored it 10-9 for Agbeko (hey, my scorecard isn’t in any way official or important. I can take these liberties) and I had it the fight a draw at 114-114. I think the fight could’ve gone either way- which is probably lost in all the hysteria over Mora’s performance.
 
8:42 PM: By this time we’re all at the Muse Hall, which is adjacent to the arena. Various members of the media like Kevin Iole and Andreas Hale debate what we just witnessed. Just about everyone had Mares winning the fight but the question is- with different officiating, does the fight turn out differently? It’s hard to argue that it wouldn’t but even that is speculative.
 
Finally, the press conference officially kicks off with Hopper, speaking on behalf of DKP and Agbeko, calling this a "dark moment" in Nevada boxing history. Hopper also spoke of how umpire Jim Joyce came clean about his missed call last year that cost a Tigers hurler a perfect game last year. Usually, Hopper is among the most jovial, carefree individuals in the sport. In this moment, he was dead serious and spoke with clarity and passion about what had taken place with their fighter. He made his point without being over the top, striking the perfect balance. Honestly, if King were here, we might still be in Vegas waiting for him to finish up.
 
An obviously dejected Agbeko spoke of the injustice he just suffered and I asked Hopper if they would be filing for an immediate rematch with the IBF, which he confirmed to the media that they would.
 
9:24 PM: Mares and his team walk in and to them, it was just a hard-fought victory, one that they won’t let anyone tarnish and take away. However, some will label Mares a dirty fighter but honestly, in knowing him a bit and just judging by the way he fights, I don’t think that’s a fair description. From this point forward, you can bet that the issue of who will referee his fights and what is considered a low blow will be hotly debated before every fight.
 
If there is any fairness in this sport (yeah, I know; it’s boxing), the IBF will order a rematch between the two and this might be Agbeko’s only recourse because judging by some of the gloating on Golden Boy’s side (where they made some rather forgettable statements on Twitter in the aftermath of the fight), you get the sense that Mares-Agbeko II will not happen unless GBP is mandated to make such a fight.
 
(Quite frankly, we’ll see how much sway King has with the IBF nowadays.)
 
9:57 PM: We are out the door and headed home. It’s decided that we hit the pavement and get a quick bite to eat after filling up. McDonald’s is our choice (only because the Carl’s Jr. is closed). For some reason, I’m really hungry again and I get a Quarter Pounder and a Big Mac. Hey, every once in awhile, Mickey D’s hits the spot. Can’t lie.
 
Soon we are back on the road and the subject matter is old-school WWF from the ‘80s, of which I’m a big fan of. We start joking that the only thing missing tonight was a manager like “Classy” Freddie Blassie or Bobby “The Brain” Heenan prowling around ringside (For the record, Frank Espinoza, who handles Mares, was seated in his ringside seat and never moved during the fight). We got quite a kick out of recalling the likes of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, the British Bulldogs, the Ultimate Warrior, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Special Delivery Jones, Rocky Johnson, Bob Backlund, Sgt. Slaughter, The Iron Sheik, The Killer Bees, Big John Studd, Andre the Giant and, of course, Hulk Hogan. I vividly remember WrestleMania II, being there live at the L.A. Sports Arena seeing Hogan beat King Kong Bundy in a steel cage match. If I recall correctly, that show took place in three separate venues.
 
But my all-time favorite was “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who was just a great heel and instigator. “Pipers Pit” was just pure gold in every way, with trusty ol’ “Ace,” Cowboy Bob Orton looking along to make sure nothing got out of hand. I even have the special tribute CD collection produced by the WWE in his honor.
 
We got to wondering, though; why in pro “rasslin’,” did only the heels have managers like “The Grand Wizard” and Jimmy Hart? And what percentage did they take and did they have to sign contracts in front of the state commission like they do in boxing? Hey, when you’re trying to stay awake during a late night drive, you’ll talk about anything to not fall asleep. Noe started fading a bit and as Gabe and I were dozing off, Ernie came in out of the bullpen around Yermo (I’m told) to take over the wheel.
 
1:48 AM: We’re back at Noe’s house. Yeah, we did it but for the remaining three, our journey isn’t quite over. As we ride back to Montebello, we laugh about how we basically did all this for essentially one 12-round fight. But y’ know what? I’d do it all over again because what happened earlier was something that will be talked about for a long time and you need to be out on the scene, covering stuff up close and personal. What did Andy Warhol once say about the importance of just showing up sometimes? And besides, we four nut jobs had a great time together, talking, drinking, watching a good bout and creating some memories. We’re boxing guys; this is the type of crazy stuff we do to feed our passion and hunger for the sport.
 
Hey, this beats working a real gig. Trust me.
 
2:28 AM: I have dropped off both Ernie and Gabe off and I’m back home. Dead tired but I still have enough energy to at least begin watching the “Top Rank Live” broadcast that took place on Saturday night. I get through the first bout featuring Karl Dargan, who looks much improved from when I last saw him. And then it’s on to the Teon Kennedy fight...ZZZZZZZ
 
 
FINAL FLURRIES
 
So even after his victory over Antwone Smith on Friday night, is Kermit Cintron still a viable option for any type of marquee bout? The consensus seems to be hell no...Just wondering if Teon Kennedy and his handlers ever thought that Alejandro Lopez would go out there and basically outbox and outmaneuver their guy the way he did...Best “Pipers Pit” moment had to be when he took the coconut to Jimmy Snuka’s head. That moment for me is right up there with Steve Garvey’s home run off of Lee Smith in Game Four of the ‘84 NLCS and Eric Dickerson surpassing OJ Simpson for most yards in a season against the Houston Oilers in 1984...Not saying that Tiger Woods was bad in this last tournament but I heard Carlos Zambrano cleaned out his locker for him...Don’t forget to check out our new Maxboxing/YouTube videos, courtesy of our outstanding videographer Brian Harty and on-air ace Radio Rahim. They feature Bernard Hopkins on Chad Dawson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kin_HlUiSUI), Dawson on Hopkins (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvkfFBJnuLs) and the press conference touting their upcoming fight on October 15 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cpc2CudCzM)...I can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.


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