Boxing from the bottom up

BY Robert Cassidy Jr. ON January 18, 2006
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Monticello, New York – This is where it starts. It is in venues like this, with promoters like these, and a room full of fans like the ones who cheered very loudly for what was taking place inside the ring here.

It’s not Madison Square Garden, or Wembley Stadium or Caesars Palace.

This is boxing at the Monticello Raceway. The only sign of a world champion are the celebrities in the crowd. So far.

I say so far, because who knows what is to come? Who knows what is to become of the 12 fighters who traded punches tonight, before 11,000 fans who loved every minute of the action?

Who knows if there is a world champion among them? Their fate doesn’t matter right now, boxing is immediate. You can’t go any further than the man standing in front of you. And since that man is throwing punches at you, you take care of business now and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.

This is the club level, where Rocky Balboa pounds Spider Rico. This is where it starts for all of them. It’s where great fighters pay their dues, where they sit amongst the fans after their fights, bloodied and bruised, because they have yet to realize they are great. And because neither have the fans.

The ring here is situated in the track’s grandstand in front of the betting windows. The horses aren’t running but you can walk over to the simulcast window and bet a race from out of town or you can walk down the stairs and play the slots in the brand new casino. In boxing, there is always a gambling angle.

Here’s the boxing angle, and this comes from the men who make up Ring Promotions. Stage competitive fights. Bob Duffy, Tony Mazzarella, Charley Capone and Pete Brodsky each have more than 20 years in the sport. They are in the business of putting on competitive fights.

It is a service to boxing that the kids they bring in fight the way they do. Which is this way: hard.

I won’t say that no one took a backward step in that ring, but if someone had, it wasn’t willingly. These kids fight hard because they have everything to gain. When it’s over, it’s back to places like Washington Heights, Brooklyn, Rochester and Coram. These are the nights they get one step closer to leaving those places.

In two shows at Monticello, there hasn’t been a single bum. At least, not in the ring. Sometimes, you take these fights and these fighters for granted. But I assure you, that Zab Judah once fought like this too. When you sit in the press section, and stare too long into the glare of superstardom, you lose sight of nights like this one. But it’s nights like this that keeps boxing alive.

The show consists of four four-round bouts and two eight-round bouts. It starts with middleweights. Rochester’s Esteban Cordova is 3-3 and Manhattan’s Jose Rodriguez is 3-0. Rodriguez is the more talented man and he knows it. Perhaps Cordova knows it too. That is why he fights with urgency. But urgency rarely upsets talent and the flashy Rodriguez, a southpaw in silver trunks, punches out a unanimous decision.

The next bout is in the heavyweight division. Carlos Sanchez is 2-0 with two knockouts from Washington Heights. Ouafa Jindyeh is making his pro debut straight from Brooklyn. At two minutes of the second round, Jindyeh goes down from a left hook to the body and is counted out. Over two shows, encompassing 12 bouts that Ring Promotions has staged in Monticello, there have been only three knockouts. One of them was a TKO stoppage in the final round. That’s proper matchmaking.

Now come the junior middleweights and Mike Ruiz, 0-1, comes into the ring with a mask from the “Halloween” movies covering his face. He meets Dwayne Hall, also 0-1. Both of these guys are fighting as if their next meal depends on that first win. Hall, a tricky southpaw, is a little bit faster than Ruiz, but no more game. The speed will ultimately be the difference. As is common when southpaws fight orthodox fighters, their feet tangle on occasion and their heads touch more than they should. Ruiz gets staggered in the fourth round but fights back, imploring Hall to hit him again. It’s one of those fights, with one of those efforts, to which you say, “Too bad someone has to lose.” But this is boxing, not Disney. So Ruiz goes back to Long Island, 0-2, and Hall goes back to Rochester – over fours hours away by car – the proud owner of a victory in a professional prize ring.

We’re still in the junior middleweight division and now we have Adam Czacher, all the way from Coram, Long Island. He fought on Monticello’s first card and gave his blood, plenty of it, for the entertainment of those in attendance. In that bout, which was nonstop action, he fought to a draw. He bled from two cuts, but never stopped banging. The draw left him with a 0-1-1 record. His manager and trainer, Dwight Yard, booked him again at Monticello. This time against Geovany Diaz, whose hair was braided and was making his pro debut out of the Bronx.

Czacher issues a “welcome to pro boxing” moment by dropping Diaz in the first round. Czacher can now taste his first win and unloads an array of punches in the hopes of finishing the job. He was relentless, following Diaz from corner to corner, hoping to remove his fate from the judges. Somehow, Diaz remains standing, an impressive display of composure, if not athleticism, for a first-time pro.

After Czacher empties his revolver, the press section wonders if he has anything left to finish the job? Diaz, sensing he may have a shot, applies some pressure and makes the fourth round interesting. Czacher responds the only way he knows how, by fighting back. He doesn’t stop punching until the bell and until he has his first win.

“I was a little overanxious,” Czacher said. He went on to explain that in his pro debut, he fought someone who was a bit awkward and, “I kind of froze. In my second pro fight, I thought I won, but they called it a draw. So in the first round, here, I wanted to make a statement.”

He did. This was his statement – This is how hard I will fight to win.

Promoters should take note of that statement. That he makes anywhere from $400 to $600 for bleeding and  sweating and making other people bleed and sweat and fall to the ground, tells you that it’s not about the money. It’s about the dream. The dream, yes, that’s about the money, the cars and the title belts. But right now, it’s about fighting your way to the dream.

Czacher, who is 24, works as a plumber in his brother’s plumbing company. He thought it was important for the advancement of his career that “I showed that I could keep going for the 4 rounds, even thought I was winded.”

He’s right. This is his dream, as he explained it to me. “I really want to keep busy, hopefully get another five to six fights and hopefully catch a promoter’s eye, maybe get some time off from work and get a salary so I can train fulltime.”

Now we move up to middleweights and eight round fights and guys a little bit closer to the dream.

Pawel Wolak brought an 8-0 record with five knockouts all the way from Rockaway, New Jersey. Clarence Taylor, who never had an amateur fight, brought his 9-6-2 record with four knockouts all the way from Wilmington, Delaware. This fight is as close a one-sided fight as you will ever see. Wolak wins seven of the eight rounds but Taylor fights him tooth and nail for possession of each round.

Wolak makes the fight. He marches forward in a crouch and throws short, hard punches much the way Joe Frazier did in his prime. This is how his game works. His only defense is his offense. This is why he wins. His will is stronger than that of his opponent. He gladly accepts their punches with the complete confidence that his punches will wear them down first. So far, he hasn’t met the man who can prove him wrong.

Taylor is not Ali to Wolak’s Frazier, but he is here to win. That is an important distinction to make at club fights. Most often, the out-of-town opponents come for the paycheck and a quick beating. Taylor’s beating lasts eight rounds, clearly not a man looking for the easy way out. He stands up to an alarming number of power-punches and lands enough right hands to open a small cut beneath Wolak’s right eye.

“I give myself a C-minus,” said Wolak, sitting in an empty dressing room after the fight. The cut is held together with a butterfly stitch and his face is decorated with red and purple welts.

“Not having an amateur background, I think I did pretty swell,” says Taylor, who is smiling and holding an icepack to his forehead. And yes, he actually did use the word swell. “I didn’t know I’d be fighting a guy so schooled. I take my hat off to him and I’d like to do it again.”

The rematch won’t happen. It’s not that Wolak wouldn’t fight Taylor again. It’s just that on the march to title contention, there is little time to waste on steppingstones that have already served their purpose. “This guy was tough, he took a good shot,” said Wolak. “For me, it’s just back to the gym and keep working hard. I want to fight as often as possible.”

The main event arrives and Freddy Soto, of the Bronx, comes into the ring with a New York Golden Gloves title to his credit and belt that proclaims him lightweight champion of the great state of New York. Jose Cruz, of Rochester via Colombia, comes into the ring knowing that he does not want to go back to Colombia until he has his own belt.

Sometimes this is what happens with more experienced fighters. The pace slows down. There is no rushing. They are more professional. That is exactly what happened when Soto fought Cruz. After five fights, the crowd is asked to watch a chess match. The fight lacks the sustained action of the previous bouts. The intensity never wanes, but the punches come in spurts as each man tries to figure the other out.

Here is what I figured out. There is one thing that can make a four-hour drive seem like it takes about 20 minutes. A right hand. It was Cruz’s right that scored in every round against Soto. It was Cruz’s right that never allowed Soto to find his rhythm. It was Cruz’s right that punished the kid who came here with Golden Gloves and a tough reputation from the Bronx.

Three fighters climbed into a car that was heading west to Rochester. Two of them won. Not a bad night for a ride.

Or a fight.

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