CHICAGO – It had been such a warm welcome the last time Don King brought a major boxing event to town in May.
More than 20,000 passed through the United Center gates to witness Indiana native Lamon Brewster send local heavyweight Andrew Golota to the canvas three times in the first minute of their World Boxing Organization championship bout. Brief as the fight may have been, the gallery cheered its approval of the technical knockout.
Of course, it may have done nothing more than just give Chicago, once a Mecca of big-time boxing, a hankering for knockouts.
“Chicago, my kind of town, my kind of people,” King said after the May show.
Assuming the love affair was solid after that bout, he teamed up with United Center owner and boxing enthusiast Bill Wirtz for yet another pugilistic extravaganza, slated to overshadow the previous show. With names like Ricardo Mayorga, Monte Barrett and Hasim Rahman capping off a 10-bout card, King wanted to leave an impression.
That impression seemed to be a good one through the first four fights of the undercard. Josiah Judah, brother of Zab, improved his young career record to 4-0 with a split decision over Adam Stewart (2-10-2) in a more thrilling four-rounder than the initial Louis Turner second-round TKO of Chris Patterson.
Volodia Lazebnik, whose original opponent had fallen into a coma during training in a Chicago gym, went two rounds with replacement Mike Middleton before scoring a second-round TKO.
Polish lightweight Matt Zegan (36-1) knocked down Jesus Perez twice in the sixth round before the referee called it at the beginning of the seventh.
Oddly, it was the first of five title fights that soured the United Center crowd.
WBC Continental Americas super welterweight champion Alex Bunema (26-5-2) and challenger Robert Kamya (15-5) incurred the spectators’ wrath with a reserved showing of pokes and prods – which is not hard to imagine when Bunema’s nickname is “The Technician.” The few looping punches that were thrown usually missed their mark. A hard right from Bunema, however, knocked Kamya completely off his feet.
But by that point, the crowd had already turned on the fighters. The announcement of the decision, a majority that crowned Kamya as the new titleholder, was drowned in boos.
Alejandro Garcia’s first title defense since winning the WBA super welterweight interim title in King’s last show at the venue provided a break in the dismay. Garcia (25-1) went toe-to-toe with Italian Luca Messi, and each never passed up the opportunity to taunt one another. But Garcia won his first world title defense with a 12-round unanimous decision.
He gained the edge by planting a right cross squarely on Messi’s chin and dropping him for an eight-count in the seventh round. Messi (29-5-1) wobbled through the rest of the round, but claimed the eighth and twelfth rounds in an effort that earned him a standing ovation as he departed the ring.
Astonishingly, the volume of Garcia’s punches was maintained with a broken left hand.
“I think I broke my left hand in the second round,” Garcia said. “I injured it in the gym and I even had to re-tape my hand after the first time I put the gloves on tonight.
“But as soon as my hand heals I will be ready to go after the best in my division.”
Boos crept in sporadically during lulls in Luis Collazo’s WBA welterweight title defense against Miguel Angel Gonzalez (49-5-1), the former WBC champ.
Collazo (26-1) pounded Gonzalez through the first six rounds, but Gonzalez gave a last-ditch effort in the seventh. However, Collazo’s counters befuddled the Mexican enough that he failed to answer the bell in the eighth.
“My corner and I decided to stop the fight,” Gonzalez said. “Collazo had figured my style and the last rounds would have been the same way.”
King had hoped to give Golota a chance to redeem himself with a fight against rival and countryman Przemyslaw Saleta (42-7) in a heavyweight attraction. But Golota pulled out with an injury, although Saleta speculated there were other reasons.
Choosing 40-year-old Chicago native Oliver McCall (45-8) as Golota’s replacement proved a healthy decision – and all it took to bring the 15,101 to a frenzy they’d yet to exhibit through the night.
“Representing his home town of Chicago,” the announcer said. “Oliver McCall.”
Any labels of McCall being a head case went to the wayside, as McCall knocked the heavier Saleta around the ring in the fourth for a TKO at 2:42 of the round. A solid right uppercut followed by a crushing left hook to Saleta’s head dropped the 247-pounder in a heap.
“This is beautiful,” McCall said. “I was setting him up for the uppercut all along. I let him get comfortable, I could have been hitting him with it but did not want him to start covering up.”
Mayorga (27-5-1), returning to the ring after ten months, not only claimed the vacant WBC super welterweight belt by unanimous decision, he won over the fans with his power punching and dominance of Michele Piccirillo (44-3).
“My corner helped me relax after such a long layoff,” Mayorga said. “All I know is that I was superior and it was good work for me.”
Almost all twelve rounds thrilled the house, but may have been too thrilling as the precursor to the main event.
But it wasn’t just Mayorga’s show that upset the crowd; it was the unexpectedly reserved strategy of Monte Barrett.
“I’m sure they expected something different,” said Rahman, whose points victory earned him a shot at Vitali Klitschko. “All I do is try to come and fight. It was a difficult fight. I’ve never seen Monte fight that way.”
Strategy aside, the introductions foreshadowed enough of the mood.
King, Brewster, Chris Byrd, Zab Judah – and even Jesse Jackson – all received a healthy dose of boo.
Onlookers seemed almost inclined to boo if Santa Claus were sitting ringside.
The action, or lack of it, didn’t help.
Barrett (31-4) and Rahman (41-5) danced around each other, jabbing and connecting with an elbow or glove more than with any fists, but Rahman was effective enough with his right hand to bludgeon, swell and cut Barrett’s left eye.
“I’ve never seen Monte fight that way,” Rahman said. “Styles make fights. There’s nothing I could do.”
And with such a highbrow card, it seemed there’s not much else King could have done, either.