(10/14/04) – Amidst the gaudy chandeliers and brocade-covered walls of the Hanover Marriott in Whippany, NJ, promoter Andre Kut produced a lively evening of fisticuffs with more than its fair share of surprises for a lively and diverse crowd of fight aficionados.  Kut and his KEA Boxing promotional company have established a solid foothold in the most unlikely of boxing venues deep in the Morris County hinterlands with this, their second show here in four months.

It was to be a night of reclamation for two of the fighters on the card, as former WBO jr. featherweight kingpin Agapito Sanchez looked to continue his rebound from his discouraging seventh round stoppage at the hands of Joan Guzman back in February.  “El Ciclon” had scored a recent win over Francisco Mateos and was put in against the earnest but limited Rogers Matagwa on this night.  Former New Jersey amateur great John Molnar, inactive for over two years due to several physical maladies that included the surgical repair of his left shoulder, made his comeback against an either 0-1 or 7-5-3 scrapper by the name of Juan Pablo Escobar. Whether or not you had more faith in BoxRec, Fight Fax or KEA’s record keeping, it looked to be an easy night’s work for the pride of Middletown, NJ.  That assumption would be exploded by night’s end.

Sanchez, 126, came out strong and established a sharp, punishing jab that penetrated the porous defense of Matagwa, who weighed in at125 pounds. A solid Sanchez left hook in round two staggered Matagwa, but Agapito’s puzzling lack of aggression allowed the Tanzanian Bull to clear his head and survive the round. The third session had the crowd roaring as the two men traded vicious combinations throughout and left Sanchez with a messy cut on the bridge of his nose. In the fourth round another gash was opened, this time over Sanchez’ right eye. He complained of a head butt to referee Tony Orlando, but it appeared to be a Matagwa left hand that did the damage. Matagwa dominated the action in the round but lost momentum when one of Sanchez’ shoelaces came loose and was re-tied, albeit very slowly, by his cornerman.

The remainder of the bout saw a number of zesty exchanges between the two men but Matagwa, with his penchant for throwing non-stop, awkward-angle combinations, seemed to have the edge in this one based solely on output and effective aggression.  Of course, the men with the pencils and scorecards saw it a different way.  Judges Paul Venti and Earl Morton had it a slightly wide 97-93 for Sanchez, while George Hill scored it a more plausible 96-96 draw.  Sanchez improves to 35-9-2, 19KO’s, while Matagwa drops to 17-9-2, 13KO’s.

Sanchez looked far older than his 34 years in this one, and far removed from the fighter who gave Manny Pacquiao fits back in their 2001 encounter that ended in an abbreviated technical draw. Matagwa, at 5’-5”, fights like a giant with his guts and energy but shouldn’t have had his way against “El Ciclon” that appears to have lost much of its velocity.

John Molnar, 150, appeared to have brought most of Middletown, NJ with him this night, as a majority of the fans in attendance greeted his appearance with a huge roar of approval. It was Molnar’s first ring appearance in over two and half years, and one could be excused for thinking he was being put in “soft” when Juan Pablo Escobar was penciled in as his opponent. Escobar, 147, fighting out of Philly, was a virtual unknown except for his seventh round TKO loss to Michael Stewart earlier this year. But from the opening bell of the six round co-feature it was apparent that Escobar was going to make the most of fighting his second “name” opponent.

The two fighters came out winging, with Molnar’s superior technical skills allowing him to slip most of Escobar’s offense while landing a series of accurate jabs that reddened the Mexican’s face. Both men went to the body early and often and exhibited a tremendous energy level throughout the first several rounds but it was Escobar who dictated the terms in this one, staying squarely in Molnar’s chest, firing volleys of uppercuts and wild right hands that found their mark more often than not.  An overhand right from Molnar opened up a cut over Escobar’s left eye in the second—which bled freely at times–but did not become a factor in the bout.  Escobar’s face first style prevented Molnar from establishing any real rhythm in the fight and instead turned it into a war of attrition for the fighters. There was an uneasy air of expectation among the Molnar faithful as they awaited ring announcer Henry Hascup’s pronouncement of the scorecards.  In the end, judge George Hill saw it 59-55 for Escobar; Paul Venti went 58-56 for Molnar, and Earl Morton ruled it a 57-57 stalemate.

“He (Escobar) was there the whole fight, so he was tougher than I thought he’d be,” said Molnar after the fight. “I dropped 30 pounds for this fight and my legs got a little weak as the fight went on.”  When asked if he was satisfied with the result of his night’s work, Molnar answered:  “No, I’m not happy.  I should have done whatever I had to do to win the fight.  A lot of rounds I fought his fight.”  He gave his opponent due credit for his willingness to stay in and mix it up, and offered that he wouldn’t necessarily say no to a rematch.  This was music to the ears of Escobar’s brain trust, who were delighted with the evening’s results.  “Pablo did fine, considering this was his first fight with our team,” commented Frank Ward, who was referring to his partners Kevin Yeiser and Daniel Alicea.  “We’ll definitely take a rematch with him (Molnar); only this time it’s gonna have to be across the river in Philly.”

Whether that comes to pass or not is anybody’s guess.  It would seem that Molnar received far more trouble from Escobar than he or his manager Peter Finn had expected, a point that Finn regarded as a necessary evil.

“Given what his following is…and he’s got a good following in New Jersey,  to put him in with anyone less than a real, real rugged guy…would be a detriment to him with the fans, who would see it as an absolute sham,” said the urbane Finn, a boxing manager possessing the best vocabulary since Bill Cayton.  Molnar sees the tie bring his record to 19-2-2, 10KO’s, while Escobar—previous record seemingly unknown—gets a “name” added to it and and garners the respect of the fans at ringside.

On the third co-feature bout Rahway’s Dorian “The Quiet Storm” Beaupierre, 164, took on Philly’s Jake “The Snake” Rodriguez, 163, in a real crowd pleaser.  Beaupierre’s classic boxing skills really shone in this one as he played picador to Rodriguez’ bull. The taller, leaner Beaupierre worked a steady jab into Jake’s mush, followed by some thudding rights that slowed the hyper-aggressive Rodriguez down a bit.  A right uppercut opened up a nasty cut over the left eye of Rodriguez in the fourth and the claret flowed.  But as his blood flowed, so did his adrenaline as Jake pursued Beaupierre wildly around the ring, imploring his foe to stand and fight.  Dorian maintained his poise and thudded home lead right hands into Jake’s face to end the round.  Referee Brian O’Melia brought in the ringside doctor and the bout was halted in Beaupierre’s favor as a 5th round TKO.  Dorian’ s ledger now stands at a decent 12-2-2, 6KO’s, while the well-traveled Rodriguez—always a willing sort—drops to 5-11-0, 4KO’s (according to Boxrec.com).

Southpaw Jonathan Tubbs, 150, of Rochester, NY dominated Philadelphia’s Gary Drayton, 150, en route to a fourth round stoppage. Tubbs, a tall, lanky welter trained by former world jr. welterweight champ Charles Murray, dropped a game but outgunned Drayton in the third round, and used his wicked right hook to good effect throughout the fight.  After being on the receiving end of a barrage of Tubbs’ leather, Drayton was saved from further punishment by referee Tony Orlando, who stepped in to call things to an end after 0:30 of round four had elapsed.  Tubbs goes to 5-0-0, 3KO’s, while Drayton slips to 4-9-1, 4KO’s.

Lightweights Ricardo Rosas, 132, of North Bergen, NJ and Edward Valdes, 133, Queens, NY engaged in a sloppy, mauling affair ending in a majority nod for Rosas.  Rosas goes to 2-1-1, 1KO, while Valdes loses in his pro debut.

Kut has tentatively scheduled a November card for this same venue.  If his KEA Boxing group can continue to offer competitive, entertaining matches and sustain a decent gate, the Hanover Marriott may become the place to go for northern New Jersey boxing fans, much as the even more-remote Great Gorge Playboy Club in McAfee, NJ was in the early 1980’s.