UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Montell Griffin, who was 0-for-2 lifetime in title fights at Connecticut casinos going into Friday night’s fight, might have overcome that personal jinx with his runaway win over Norman Jones at the Mohegan Sun, but let’s put things in perspective.
This one was for a USBA title, not a world championship, it was on ESPN2, not HBO, and this time he wasn’t facing one of the world’s great light-heavyweights. Griffin’s two losses in title fights at Foxwoods came at the hands of Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver, but by any measure we can devise, Stormin’ Norman was only the third-best Jones (after Roy Jr. and George Khalid) Montell has faced in his career.
But the onetime WBC light-heavyweight champion showed that he could still be a force to be reckoned with. Idle since dropping a technical decision to Julio Gonzalez ten months ago (after Gonzo was cut, allegedly by a headbutt, the issue went to the scorecards, and Griffin trailed on two of them after six rounds), Griffin left little to chance in this one, hammering out a one-sided win despite having apparently left his right hand back in Chicago.
If the crowd must have felt as if they were watching “Groundhog Day” as the rounds unfolded, consider for a moment how poor Norman Jones must have felt. Round after round after round he’d come out of his corner only to find himself on the business end of Griffin’s jabs. Over the course of 12 rounds, in fact, Griffin landed more jabs – 192 – than Jones did punches (183), and in addition to out-jabbing his foe 192-65, he did it with an almost monotonous regularity. CompuBox’s Joe Carnicelli reported after the fight that Griffin had landed between 21 and 26 punches in each of the 12 rounds, and in the latter half of the bout, Jones’ face was increasingly puffy and his left eye beginning to close.
Griffin was such a one-handed fighter on this night that we briefly wondered whether he might have injured the other, but he disabused us of that after the fight.
“It was just that he was compact and crouching down and it was like trying to hit a ball,” said Griffin. “I landed one right hand and caught him right on the top of the head. I didn’t hurt my hand, but I didn’t want to hurt my hand, so I basically stopped using it. Besides, I was landing my jab, so why not just keep throwing it? I thought I won every round anyway.”
Close, anyway, in the estimate of the judges, one of whom, Clark Sammartino, gave Jones just a round at 119-109, while Glenn Feldman and Steve Weisfeld each gave Griffin 10 of the 12 rounds at 118-110.
Griffin, who remains the only man alive to own two wins over James Toney, improved his career record to 48-6 with the win, while Jones dropped to 28-15-3.
“He was a little tougher than I thought,” said Griffin afterward. “You look at his record, but sometimes these guys fight at a different level when they’re up against a top boxer – not that I’m saying I’m the top of the top.”
Griffin briefly held the WBC title when Roy Jones was disqualified for cold-cocking him after he had taken a knee in their first fight eight years ago. (Roy avenged that one with a first-round KO in the rematch at Foxwoods.) And two years ago at Mashantucket, Griffin was hopelessly outclassed in a fight with Tarver for the vacant WBC and IBF titles.
Could one more crack at a championship be in the cards for the polite and soft-spoken Griffin at the age of 35? Don’t rule it out. God knows there are enough of them around.
Promoter Joe DiGuardia’s abbreviated four-bout undercard saw two unpopular decisions and one unpopular fight. The sluggish Kevin Johnson-Robert Hawkins heavyweight co-feature had the crowd voicing its displeasure for the last five rounds. Fortunately for Johnson, he was facing an opponent even more ponderous than himself, and he carried the night, pitching an 80-72 shutout on the cards of Weisfeld and George Smith, while Feldman had him ahead 79-73. Johnson remained unbeaten at 9-0-1 in a yawn-producing performance, while Hawkins fell to 21-6.
New Haven’s Elvin Ayala, who had reeled off 12 straight wins as a middleweight, forayed into the light-heavyweight ranks against New Jersey journeyman Will Gill (3-7), and had to work to earn a unanimous decision. There were no knockdowns, but referee Dan Schiavone did have to halt action twice to retrieve Gill’s mouthpiece and again – with two seconds left in the final round – to allow Gill to recover from a low blow from Ayala. (Once action resumed, the combatants barely had time to touch gloves before the bell rang to end the fight.) Weisfeld and Frank Lombardi both scored it 59-55, while Sammartino had it 58-56, all for Ayala, now 13-0.
In the opening bout of the evening, Syracuse junior middleweight Ron Lewis (0-2) fought gamely, but was unable to win a round against Brooklyn’s Wesley Hobbs (3-0), as Feldman, Smith and Don Trella all returned 40-36 verdicts.
All five fights went the distance, and it wasn’t until the walkout bout that the crowd was treated to its first knockdown. Matt Remillard, the undefeated (8-0) junior lightweight from nearby Manchester, Conn. floored Edward Valdez (3-4-2) in each of the first two rounds – in the first with a fight hand, in the second with a barrage of punches, the last of them a left hook – on the way to another unanimous decision, with Weisberg and Sammartino favoring Remillard 60-51, while Trella had it 59-52. If the scores seem abnormally lopsided, it’s because Schaivone deducted a point from Valdez for holding in the sixth.
FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
MOHEGAN SUN ARENA
March 31, 2006
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Montell Griffin, 175, Chicago dec. Norman Jones, 174, Savannah, Ga. (12) (Wins vacant USBA title)
Elvin Ayala, 168¾, New Haven, Conn. dec. William Gill, 174¼, Toms River, NJ (6)
HEAVYWEIGHTS: Kevin Johnson, 237½, Asbury Park, NJ dec. Robert Hawkins, 260¼, Philadelphia (8)
JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHTS: Wesley Hobbs, 151¾, Brooklyn, NY dec. Ron Lewis, 152¼, Syracuse, NY (4)
JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHTS: Matt Remillard, 127½, Manchester, Conn. dec. Edward Valdez, 128, New York (6)