Technically, middleweight “Mean” Joe Greene wasn’t in the featured bout at Long Island’s Huntington Town House last Thursday, but he left little doubt as to who was the true main event – or the fighter with the most brilliant future.
The 19-year-old Greene had a hard time locking down an opponent for his sixth professional fight – something that he ought to get used to. But Craig Robinson of Pine Mountain, GA, eventually agreed to make the ill-advised trip up north. (Whatever they paid him for this 6-rounder, it wasn’t enough.) To be fair, Robinson (now 7-2-2, 6 KOs) was a fine opponent, well-conditioned and eager to do battle. He also revealed a massive threshold for pain, the kind that can often lead to serious injuries.
The first round was spectacular as Robinson, a squat and immensely muscular 28-year-old, immediately bulled Greene into the ropes and attempted to pummel him with no respect. A poker-faced Green covered up and looked for openings to exploit. Midway through the round he found a good one, landing a picture-perfect two-punch combo: straight right, left uppercut. The Georgia Peach fell to earth with a loud thud.
Robinson beat the count but struggled to ignore the stars circling round his head. Greene went in for the kill, but showed his maturity, not just trying to decapitate his foe but disembowel him. If he was a heavyweight, you might say his punches have the heaviness of George Foreman’s and the sharpness of Ernie Shavers’. Andre Rozier, Greene’s longtime trainer and the designer of his flashy Havoc ring apparel, yelled, “He don’t want it, Pop! Again! Again!” The boxer complied. But Robinson showed his mettle, every now and then trying to unlock the pit bull clamped down on his neck. Problem was Greene took the few big punches that landed well.
In between rounds one and two, legendary trainer Don Turner, who also works Greene’s corner, urged the boxer to put his punches together more fluidly and not load up too much. I don’t know if Turner was satisfied that his advice was taken, but it’s hard to complain with the results of round two. Still, Robinson miraculously survived it. At 2:44 in the third round, the referee had seen enough, and called off the fight.
Throughout the bout and for several minutes after, there was a buzz in the air reminiscent of when a young Mike Tyson – circa 1985 – was crushing tomato cans. But the crowd was also amazed by Robinson’s nauseating grit. “Guy’s more durable than a f-ing hockey puck,” complimented Greene’s idle cutman.
Greene (6-0, 5 KOs) is a product of the Starrett City Boxing gym in East New York, which is fast becoming what Emanuel Steward’s Detroit-based Kronx Gym was in the ‘70s and ‘80s. These fighters don’t just sweep through the local Golden Gloves but usually do the same on the national level. As pros, they don’t break stride. Jaidon “The Don” Codrington, Curtis “Showtime” Stevens, Gary “Kid” Stark, welterweight belt-holder Luis Collazo, Dmitriy Salita, and standout amateurs Danny Jacobs, Will Rosinsky and Anthony Irons. These are just a few local bad boys that learned their trade and continue to hone it at Starrett City. Local cognoscenti seem to think Codrington is the best prospect of the lot, making him the guy to watch. I’ll go with Mr. Greene, who should make the hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler proud to share the same name.
Greene has been less visible in ‘05 than some of the aforementioned prospects that are promoted by and featured on Lou DiBella’s Broadway Boxing cards. He has opted not to sign with the promoter or anyone else for now, and has yet to have a real homecoming since turning pro; he has fought several times in places like Greensboro, North Carolina. Strong Island may be close to home geographically, but is a million miles away in other respects. This was Sylvester Stallone country; Joe Greene is from the land that spawned 50 Cent. Still, hundreds of fans came out in support of him, wearing black t-shirts with bold green letters worthy of the marketing campaign for “The Hulk.” But whereas the movie may not have lived up to expectations, “Mean” Joe Greene looks like a sure thing.
A 10-round battle between lightweights Freddy Soto and Jaime Palma was billed as the featured bout, but after Greene’s drubbing of Robinson and some other thrilling moments, the crowd had blown its collective engine.
Soto (8-1-2, 5 KOs) is a reckless, wild puncher with a knack for finding the spindly Palma’s chin. That the knockout would come seemed inevitable. With a few seconds left at the end of the first round, Soto dropped his man with a left and right hook upstairs. Palma just barely made the count.
In between rounds, Soto’s corner implored him to calm down. He didn’t. And in the second round, Palma got off his best punch of the night, a discombobulating left hook that gave him hope. The two had fought to a draw back in 2000, and Palma (7-10-1), never seemed to lose confidence in himself … he just became detached from his senses when Soto caught him good. Such was the case at 2:25 of the third round when Soto connected with a left and lunging right hook. The man who dubs himself “The Punisher,” in spite of having just one KO, found himself spread out on the canvas liked an uncooked egg.
Junior middleweight Pawel Wolak (8-0, 5 KOs) was impressive in breaking down Julio Jean, who looked much better than his 7-6-1 record in the opening round. Wolak is a volume punisher whose offense is his defense, but Jean came out aggressive and was able to push the forward-marching Wolak back on his heels, disrupting his rhythm. Jean has fought as heavy as 177 whereas Wolak looks able to drop down to welterweight. Wolak sustained a cut below his right eyebrow in the second round but was undeterred. Jean, on the other hand, looked spent; his punches looked slappy and his legs wobbly.
Wolak is so blue-collar in his approach, he didn’t even bother to wear new shiny boxing shoes for this fight, instead wearing the faded red Adidas that he trains in at Gleason’s Gym. In workmanlike fashion, he systematically destroyed Jean till the ref, on the advice of the ringside physician, stopped the bout at 2:09 of the fifth round.
Wolak doesn’t do any one-thing great and he rarely throws a memorable punch but, somehow, whether it’s at the gym or the real thing, he folds opponents like old money. Although Jean had sustained a cut on his right eye, it was used more as an excuse to halt the lopsided fight. Like Joe Greene’s brave opponent, Jean gave all he had but was helplessly outgunned. My blood-speckled notes are a testament to that.
Making their pro debuts, junior welterweights Juan Carlos Herrera and Duane Hall fought to a majority draw. Scores were 39-37 Herrera, 38-38 twice.
Cruiserweight and three-time New York Golden Glove champ Carlos Sanchez was perpetual motion against Elijah Dickens. The ref halted the bout after the second round. Dickens wasn’t necessarily hurt but he made little attempt to fight back as he was battered against the ropes for six minutes.
Also making their pro debuts, welterweight Mike Ruiz was TKO’d by Jason Thompson at 2:53 of second round. Fans booed the stoppage, as it seemed premature. Then fans booed a surly Ruiz even harder after he flicked off the crowd. Chairman of the New York State Athletic commission, Ron Scott Stevens, prevailed upon Ruiz to apologize to the crowd during the intermission. The fighter’s trainer delivered the message while the fighter stood by with an air of indifference – more boos. It was a rough night for Ruiz, a talented fighter who should remember to keep his chin tucked in the ring but raised high out of it.