Robert Hawkins and “Fast” Eddie Chambers touched gloves and immediately fell into a clinch at the start of the 12th round, an unfortunate way for a night of good, clean boxing to end.
The heavyweights in the main event were tired, but after the entertaining scraps that had preceded them at this tidy, five-fight card at Philadelphia’s Blue Horizon on September 9, it was a badly chosen gesture to send the fans home with.
The show at the Blue Horizon was organized and uncomplicated, consisting of a knowledgeable fight crowd; a stripped down arena absent of the usual clutter associated with boxing; and a female promoter in Vernoca L. Michael who, in addition to handing out tickets, also sold T-shirts, manned the concession stand and cleaned the bathrooms when she couldn’t take it anymore.
This was boxing at its humblest. Even the celebrities in attendance – Hasim Rahman and cruiserweight Steve Cunningham – were dressed in regular street clothes instead of flashy outfits.
Chambers, a young heavyweight from Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, who has fought at the Blue Horizon in all but nine of his fights, won a workmanlike unanimous decision over the 35-year-old Hawkins (20-4, 7 KOs). When the decision was announced, Chambers (24-0, 13 KOs) reacted to three scores of 115-112 by dropping his head in shame. Not even flooring Hawkins with a body shot in the eighth round could make Chambers feel good about his performance.
“I gave up too many rounds at the end of the fight,” he said as he draped the IBU and Pennsylvania State heavyweight belts over his shoulder. “I know now that I have to work a lot harder if I want to look better. I can learn a lot from this fight.”
If there was a theme for the night, it was that boxers were plying their trade and moving on. The Blue Horizon is like a finishing school for young fighters trying to climb the ladder of success. Chambers, with his fast hands and pleasing style, is trying to become a viable heavyweight in a lackluster division. He has already beaten some of the familiar trial horses in Ross Puritty, Louis Monaco and Craig Tomlinson, and it may be time for Michael, one of the few female promoters in the sport, who has poured $3.5 million into the building that houses the Blue Horizon, which she bought in 1994, to check the 23-year-old against some of the division’s gatekeepers, whoever that may be.
In the first bout of the night, Adbou Adboubacar, a 34-year-old heavyweight from Brooklyn, was knocked out by Mark “Oaktree” Brown in his pro debut. Brown landed a wild right-hand, which he dialed in from a different area code, and the referee stopped the fight at 1:10 of the last round of the scheduled four-round bout when Adboubacar struggled to get up.
Brown (2-0, 1 KO) flexed his muscles for the crowd and yelled into the balcony at a vocal cheering section who followed him from his hometown of Dover, Delaware.
At the age of 37, Brown reacted as if he had just won a heavyweight championship. After years of thinking about becoming a boxer, Brown had the look of a man who had just discovered that he could be.
“I’m a baby in this game,” he guffawed to the reporters after the fight. “But I’m taking baby steps. I just made my pro debut two weeks ago. This is always what I dreamed boxing would be. Now my dreams are coming true. Give me some time and I can do something in this game. With my power, I can knock anyone out.”
As Brown pressed the flesh in a hallway leading to his dressing room, Adboubacar was getting a tongue-lashing from his trainer, Roosevelt Farrell, as another fighter, Larry Brothers, warmed up with his back turned. Adboubacar spent most of the fight backing up and absorbing punishment along the ropes, and Farrell, a no-nonsense trainer who scoffs at excuses and speaks bluntly, was unhappy with what transpired.
“Al Gavin had a theory why fighters back up,” Farrell said, referencing the celebrated cutman who died last year. “It’s because they want to get out of the ring. He just wasn’t aggressive in there, and his defense wasn’t there. He wanted to throw one punch at a time. This is a fight he should have won.”
After the show, Adboubacar, 34, dressed in a yellow and blue sweat suit, was waiting with Farrell to speak to Michael about a discrepancy in what they were paid.
Apparently, Adboubacar was erroneously deducted $40 from his paycheck for his physical, and they were reimbursed for the mix-up later. Instead of staying in a hotel that night, they drove back to Brooklyn, slowly wading through the sparse highway traffic. The conversation was slow and downbeat, but Farrell didn’t like the idea of staying in a hotel where he would have been unable to sleep.
“I know we weren’t going to win a decision,” Farrell said. “Did you see all the fans he brought down? I told Adbou after the third round that we needed a knockout to win since we had lost every round, but he came out like did the previous three rounds, laying on the ropes instead of moving around and boxing him. There’s a saying: Desire is what brings you into the gym, but a lack of desire is what can take you out. He didn’t want it that night.”
Farrell has been down this road before. He has made the drive down the New Jersey Turnpike to the Blue Horizon three times this year, often coming in as the opponent.
“It was a long drive home,” he said by telephone the next day. “I was up all night thinking about the fight. He should have beaten this guy. This guy who he fought was the kind of fighter where you just wind him up and send him forward throwing punches. He didn’t have any real boxing ability. He wasn’t a devastating puncher.”
The episode was particularly disconcerting because Adboubacar claimed to have over a hundred amateur fights in Niger, West Africa, where he is from, and the journey to his first fight was a long one. Adboubacar arrived in Brooklyn seven years ago to start fighting professionally, but his medical examination from the New York State Athletic Commission revealed that he had Hepatitis B. He then spent nearly a decade locating a doctor and a remedy for the illness. Seeing him languish in the gym, Farrell, a trainer at Gleason’s, took him under his wing and found a doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in upper Manhattan where Adboubacar was treated and given a clean bill of health by the NYSAC last year.
“We knew we weren’t going to win a decision,” he said. “Not with the crowd the other guy brought in.”
In the best and most controversial fight of the night, Ricardo Rosa, a stubborn, fireplug from New Jersey was stopped by Steven Chambers Upshur, Eddie’s brother, at 1:27 of the second round of a lightweight six round bout. Chambers was knocked down by a left-right combination midway through the first round, but Upshur (10-1-1, 4 KOs) rallied to end the round.
Before the second round began, a fan leaned over and told his friend within earshot of press row: “If Rosa gets in trouble they’re going to stop the fight. The other guy is the house fighter.” Seconds later the bout was stopped when Rosa was trapped in the corner absorbing punches. It was apparent to almost everyone that the referee didn’t give Rosa (2-2, 1 KO) enough time to fire back. After the fight, the show’s matchmaker, Don Elbaum, went to Rosa’s dressing room and told him that he had basically been fleeced.
For Rosa’s manager, Jose Rosario, it was the second time that night that one of his fighters had been the victim of questionable decision. William “Bobcat” Boggs, a welterweight from Philadelphia, was awarded a majority decision over Eberto Medina (1-1, 1 KO) in Boggs’ debut. The crowd booed the decision and serenaded Medina with cheers as he left the ring. Rosa, their manager, was pragmatic about the ending of both bouts.
“I understand that this is a business,” he said. “But he (Rosa) wasn’t hurt. If the referee should have stopped the fight it should have been in the first round when the other guy was taking a lot of shots. It was a hometown decision. I don’t know if I want to come back here again. I’m going to have to think about twice about coming here next time.”
About his fight, Rosa said: “He didn’t hurt me. I felt fine. I was just waiting for him to stop punching, so I could come back with something. I feel bad, angry right now with what happened.”
Edward Lee Cullmer, a middleweight from Philadelphia, also had cause to be angry after he thoroughly out-boxed Larry Brothers only to have the bout end in a no-contest at 31 seconds of the second round. The ringside physician ruled that an angry cut on Brothers’ forehead was too serious to continue, and the bout ended unceremoniously with Brothers (6-15-3, 4 KOs) turning his back on Cullmer in the middle of the round and walking to his corner. The doctor, in violation of the rules, allowed Brothers’ corner to work on the cut during a stop in the action in the first round, but Cullmer was diplomatic about seeing his record remain at 6-1 (3 KOs).
“It is what it is,” Cullmer said. “There was no question that I was getting the better of the fight, but I don’t think the headbutts were intentional. We were both coming in to throw punches. I’m just upset that the referee let his corner work on the cut. They’re not supposed to be allowed to do that.”
Cullmer was fighting for the second time since his original trainer, Monte Carter from the James Schuler Memorial Gym in Philadelphia, died from heart complications January of last year.
“That was tough,” he said. “I know fighters change trainers like underwear, but when he died, just stepping back into the ring wasn’t easy.”