NEW YORK – Repeat these words carefully after me: Carlos Baldomir is the welterweight champion of the world.
Baldomir might have been a career-long journeyman with 9 losses (and 6 draws) on his record, but when the bell rang at the Madison Square Garden Theatre Saturday night, he was the one who’d come to fight.
Zab Judah, the hometown headliner on Don King’s ‘Undisputed’ card, must have left his ‘A’ game in the gym, because on this night he was outboxed, outfoxed, but, mostly, outhustled, and when Baldomir was proclaimed the winner after twelve rounds of boxing, even the members of Zab’s exuberant posse barely offered a whimper of protest.
It was an uncharacteristically lackluster – indeed, timid – performance by a guy whose name had been starting to turn up on some people’s pound-for-pound lists, and a shocking upset for the 34-year-old pug from Santa Fe, Argentina, who’d unexpectedly found himself in his first world title bout in his 57th fight.
Virtually from the opening bell it was evident that New York was not going to see the best of Judah on this night. Apparently content with trying to make Baldomir look silly, he offered occasional single punches but disdained combinations, looking like a man who wanted to avoid mixing it up lest he spoil his face for the post-fight party.
Unimpressive though he might have been, for the better part of six rounds Judah looked as if he were going to get his hand raised anyway. The symbolic moment of this stage of the bout probably came in the fourth, when Baldomir charged at Judah, who stepped back like a matador and let his opponent tumble headlong across the ring. Although Arthur Mercante Jr. signaled ‘slip’ even before Carlos stopped rolling, it had to be an embarrassing moment.
And although Baldomir had earned marks for grit and determination, when the bout reached its midpoint he trailed by 4, 3, and 2 points on the cards of the ringside judges.
The challenger turned the fight around in the pivotal seventh. After taking a Judah jab to the jaw early in the round, he mockingly pointed to his own chin as he pressed toward the champion. Then he waded in and delivered a solid left-right combination that clearly hurt Judah, who immediately tried to clinch.
When Baldomir worked his way free he smacked Judah with a right that wobbled him and nearly sent him down, and got in another right that nearly dropped him again later in the round. Although Judah wasn’t officially knocked down, all three judges scored the stanza 10-8 for Baldomir – in part, no doubt, because after Judah was hurt the second time, he didn’t just backpedal out of trouble, he turned around and literally ran away from his opponent.
Baldomir, in any case, went on to win five of the last six rounds on all three official cards.
Fighting in his opponent’s hometown before an overwhelmingly pro-Judah crowd, Baldomir won on the cards of all three judges by scores of 115-112 (Melvina Lathan), 115-113 (Guido Cavallieri) and 114-113 (Julie Lederman). (TheSweetScience.com had it 114-113 for Baldomir.)
Speaking of the judges, the introduction of the officials made it seem as though Showtime had some sort of proscription against uttering the name “Lederman” on its airwaves, as ring announcer Jimmy Lennon appeared to announce the third judge as “Judy… uh… Julie” before moving on to identify the referee. Although Lennon did stumble over her first name, he actually got her surname right, but it was lost to a malfunctioning microphone.
When Lennon went through the scorecards, Baldomir was still understandably nervous.
“I thought I’d done enough to win, but I was a little bit worried when they were announcing the decision,” admitted the Argentine.
Lennon’s recital of the narrow scores didn’t do much to alleviate his anxiety. Baldomir doesn’t speak much English, but he hung on every word until he heard “…and new…”
“This is beautiful!” proclaimed Baldomir. “I said before this would be better than a Cinderella story, and now I am the Cinderella Man.”
Baldomir dedicated his win to his late countryman, the great middleweight champion Carlos Monzon, who had died in an automobile accident exactly ten years earlier.
Judah fell to 34-3 and lost all three of his belts, but more importantly, fell out of contention for an anticipated April date against Floyd Mayweather that might have earned him millions.
Since Baldomir was unranked by the other organizations, he won only the WBC belt from Judah’s collection. The WBA and IBF titles became immediately vacant, and unless we badly miss our guess, we’ll see Zab fighting for one of them before summer.
Kicking off the 20th season of its ‘Championship Boxing’ series and inaugurating 2006 with the year’s first major card, Showtime managed to come up with one major upset and one minor one in Saturday night’s doubleheader, as Jean-Marc Mormeck joined Judah on the roster of ex-champions when he was relieved of his WBA and WBC belts by Atlanta’s O’Neil Bell.
As for the co-feature, well, it could be that Bell isn’t quite as bad as we supposed he was, and it could be that Mormeck isn’t quite as good as we thought he was. But more likely we had it right in the first place back when we just assumed that cruiserweights suck. (If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be cruiserweights.)
Mormeck looked like the guy who was going to bring respect to the in-between division when he bested Wayne Braithwaite in Worcester last spring, but in New York on the first Saturday night of 2006 he looked like, well, just another cruiserweight.
Lennon introduced Mormeck as something like “the man who is known far and wide as ‘The Marksman,’” at which point the Agence France Presse reporter in the adjacent seat elbowed me and asked “Excuse me. What is a ‘marksman’?”
Bell was the aggressor from the outset, which didn’t seem to much bother Mormeck, who prefers to assume the counterpuncher’s role, but apart from a few well-placed body shots in the early going, on this night a marksman he was not. And having withstood Mormeck’s best shots in the early rounds appeared to embolden Bell as the fight wore on.
Although Mormeck was landing the heavier artillery when he did manage to connect, Bell’s nonstop attack kept him no worse than even over the first half of the fight.
The Jamaican did draw a warning from Wayne Kelly in the fourth when he drove into Mormeck’s jaw with his left shoulder, and a more serious talking-to a round later, when he caught Mormeck with what looked like a right uppercut to the scrotum.
Although Mormeck sank to his haunches after the low blow (the most dangerous punch of the fight by either fighter to that point), he was up within seconds and didn’t require the extra rest he might have been allotted, suggesting that the blow was less lethal than it appeared.
Bell pulled in front by winning the 7th, 8th, and 9th rounds on all three cards, and then in the tenth he hurt Mormeck with a big right hand and then moved in on his wounded quarry. Although it was a left that actually put Mormeck on the canvas, Bell had landed four straight unanswered right hands beforehand. Mormeck was floundering about, his glazed eyes fixed on the ceiling, when Kelly halted his count at ‘4’ and, waving the fight off, summoned medical assistance.
Mormeck lay on the canvas for at least a full minute before being hoisted onto a stool, but once he recovered the Frenchman smiled and congratulated the winner.
“I am obviously upset and very disappointed that I lost my belts,” he said through an interpreter, “but I am all right.
“I don’t know what changed things, but I do know that at a certain point I realized that he was winning,” added Mormeck.
Realizing that Bell was winning the fight put Le Grenouille Sauvage one up on one of the judges, Tom Shreck, who had the Frenchman ahead 86-85 at the time of the knockout. Tom Kaczmerek and Steve Weisfeld had Bell head by scores of 87-84 and 86-84, respectively. The SweetScience.com had Bell a point ahead at 86-85.
“He never hurt me,” said the newly undisputed champion. “I can’t take anything away from him, but he hit me with some great body shots and I didn’t even feel them.”
Mormeck, who has spent most of the last year promoting his line of sportswear, said “I have been very busy with my business, but it is not an excuse.”
In adding Mormeck’s WBA and WBC titles to the IBF version he already owned, the Jamaican-born Bell improved his career mark to 26-1-1, while Mormeck fell to 31-3.
“I have lost a battle, but not the war,” said Mormeck. “Since he is the champion it would be up to him whether we fight a rematch. But I would love one.”
It’s unclear that the rest of the world is that eager.
Fighting almost half the bout with a nasty cut above his right eye that poured blood into his face, Mexican challenger Ulises Solis (20-1-1) upset champion Will Grigsby (18-3-1) to capture the IBF junior flyweight title. Cut in the seventh, Solis survived his biggest scare a round later when referee Gary Rosato halted action and invited the ringside physician to inspect the wound.
The doctor allowed the fight to continue and although Solis sprang another leak in the final round, giving his face a ghastly appearance, he hung on to win handily on all three cards. Judge Wynn Kintz had it 118-110, Frank Adams 117-110, and Don Ackerman 116-112 for the new champion.
In what was billed as an IBF welterweight eliminator, Californian Mark Suarez (25-2) solidified his claim on the No. 1 spot with a 44-second stoppage of previously unbeaten James “Spider” Webb (18-1) of Columbia, Tenn. Suarez hurt Webb early with a solid left hook and then battered him to the canvas. Webb appeared prepared to take a knee to ride out the 8-count, only to have referee Steve Willis intervened to wave the fight off.
Dominican-born New York featherweight Elio Rojas (15-0) also scored quick victory, knocking down Long Islander Priest “Tiger” Smalls twice on the way to a first-round KO. Smalls stayed down after the second knockdown and was counted out at 2:05 of the round.
Philadelphia cruiserweight Steve Cunningham remained unbeaten at 19-0 when he registered a 5th-round TKO over veteran Lloyd Bryan (21-12), while former WBA middleweight champion William Joppy (36-4-1), who weighed in as a 170-pound light-heavyweight, scored another 5th-round stoppage in his bout against Tennessean Erik Howard (11-10-1).
A pair of heavyweight prelims saw Owen Beck (25-2) outpoint Darnell Wilson (18-3-3) over eight rounds and Canadian Bermane Stiverne (5-0) stop Missouri journeyman John Turlington (5-8-1) at 2:23 of the first.
In another prelim, Josiah “Gorilla” Judah, another of the former welterweight champion’s somewhat larger brothers, scored a unanimous decision over North Carolinian Franklin Armstrong (3-8-3). Judges Dick Flaherty and Steve Epstein scored it a shutout for Judah (5-0), while Bob Gilson had gave Armstrong a round on his 39-37 card.
“UNDISPUTED”/MADISON SQUARE GARDEN THEATRE/NEW YORK/JAN. 7, 2006
Carlos Baldomir, 146¼, Santa Fe, Argentina dec. Zab Judah, 146¾, Brooklyn, NY (12) (Wins WBC title.)
Mark Suarez, 146 ¼, Riverside, Calif. TKO’d James Webb, 146, Columbia, Tenn. (1)
O’Neil Bell, 199½, Atlanta TKO’d Jean-Marc Mormeck, 197¾, Pointe-a-Pitre, France (10) (Wins WBC and WBA titles; retains IBF title)
Steve Cunningham, 189¼, Philadelphia TKO’d Lloyd Bryan, 185½, Memphis, Tenn. (5)
Ulises Solis, 108, Guadalajara, Mexico dec. Will Grigsby, 107, St. Paul, Minn. (12) (Wins IBF title)
Owen Beck, 246, Nashville, Tenn. dec. Darnell Wilson, 210, Middleton, Md. (8)
Bermane Stiverne, 241, Laval, Quebec TKO’d John Turlington, 213, Sullivan, Mo. (1)
William Joppy, 170, Washington, DC TKO’d Erik Howard, 168½, Crossville, Tenn. (5)
Josiah Judah, 160, Brooklyn dec. Franklin Armstrong, 164½, Winston-Salem, NC (4)
Elio Rojas, 127½, Brooklyn KO’d Priest “Tiger” Smalls, 126, San Diego, Calif. (1)
Who Should Floyd Mayweather fight next: