There is a lot more separating the heavyweight division from the middleweight division than some 40 pounds. It's called talent.
On paper, Saturday night's bash at Madison Square Garden should have been one of the sport's biggest nights of the year. On paper, the heavyweight matchup between undefeated heavyweights Bryant Jennings (18-0) and Mike Perez (20-0-1), looked to be a phenomenal one. On paper, the matchup in a middleweight title fight between WBO champ Gennady Golovkin and former IBF champ Daniel Geale also looked to be a splendid matchup. Only the middleweight fight turned out to be a thriller, albeit a short one.
Going into Saturday night and on paper, both of the above fights looked like “Can't miss” events. But fights take place in the ring, not on paper.
The Jennings-Perez match was supposed to be part of the rejuvenation of the heavyweight division. That same day, 3,300 miles away, in England, another heavyweight match was supposed to begin the rejuvenation: Tyson Fury vs Dereck Chisora II.
Then came last Monday. Chisora allegedly broke a hand during his last sparring session. We say “allegedly” because we were never shown an x-ray with his name on the film of the break. Bad break for Chisora. Bad break for the heavyweight division.
Some news of salvation of sorts for the heavyweight division followed. Alexander Ustinov–all 6' 8½” and 305 pounds of him, along with his 29-1 (21 KO’s) record, would step in to replace Chisora.
All looked good until a day before the fight, when Tyson Fury's uncle and former trainer–Hughie–was rushed to the hospital in serious condition. With that on his mind, Tyson pulled out of the fight.
While the heavyweight division still had lost a Tyson Fury fight, it was still getting the Jennings-Perez bout. It was a scheduled 12-rounder and billed as a title eliminator. The loser would go home, lick his wounds and regroup. The winner would go home and party. His next fight would be a promised title shot. Against who? Wladimir Klitschko? Bermane Stiverne? Klitschko, the IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight Champion is in heavy training for a September 6 defense against Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev. Stiverne is closing in on announcing a late Fall date for a defense against 31-0 (31) Deontay Wilder.
Mike Perez is the same Mike Perez who faced Magomed Abdusalamov last November 2 in New York's Madison Square Garden. This was Perez' second outing since that tragic night, a night which has left Abdusalamov with brain damage and in a Westchester, New York, rehab center. A few months after the fight, Perez fought to a draw against Carlos Takam. He looked listless in the fight. It often happens to fighters coming off tragic endings in their prior bout. Sometimes, the fire never rekindles in their fighting spirit. It was wondered if it would rekindle in Perez. It doesn't look that way. He was 20 pounds above his prime fighting weight and wore the weight around his middle.
Still, fans anticipated a slugfest between the two unbeaten, Jennings and Perez. The only problem is, neither heavyweight came to act like a heavyweight. Neither man was willing to throw punches with, as Mike Tyson used to say, “Bad Intentions.” Jennings and Perez were more desirous to hold, maul, head butt, move and pose than they were to fight like heavyweights, the biggest, strongest, hardest-hitting men in our sport. Jennings-Perez was this years' “Wladimir Klitschko-Alexander Povetkin fight…12 rounds of little action. Klitschko-Povetkin made Mike Tyson-Bonecrusher Smith–another clinch-filled heavyweight 12-rounder–look like a slugfest. During the course of the bout, the crowd—an announced 8,572—was so quiet and still that they looked like a watercolor painting. A cheer went up when ring announcer Michael Buffer’s voice boomed over the MSG P.A. system, “THIS is the 12th and final round.”
In that final round, referee Harvey Dock took a point away from Perez for continuing to punch after his command of “Stop!” The one-point loss was crucial to the outcome of the fight. Judge Tom Schreck had it 114-113 for Perez. Judge Joe Pasquale had it 115-112 for Jennings. Judge Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Jennings, but it would have been 114-114 on his card without the point deduction, making the fight a draw instead of a split decision win for Jennings.
Don't blame Dock for taking a point from Perez as the reason for Perez losing, however. Perez lost because his fire is gone, perhaps and probably extinguished forever.
Following the forgettable heavyweight match came the middleweight title fight and a view of the rapidly-growing-to-legendary-status Gennady “GGG” Golovkin.
I had no doubt GGG would win, but not this fast, not this easily, not this impressively. I thought he'd be tested–even a little bit–by Geale, a world class fighter.
GGG is in a league by himself. With every outing, against every world-class talent he is put in with, you will see it more and more.
On Friday, I spoke to our esteemed Editor, Michael Woods, following the official weigh-in. He noted that, for the first time, GGG was not his usual, jovial self. There was no joking with reporters. There was no posing for the cameras. There was no warm handshake for Geale–just a look of a stone-faced killer.
“Could Golovkin be feeling some nervousness?” I asked Woodsy.
“You never know what's going through a man's mind,” said our Editor. “But I will say this–I have never seen this side of him before. Maybe because, as a pro, Triple G is facing one of his toughest opponents.”
Once the bell rang, you would have never known it.
GGG toyed with Geale. He measured him from the start, felt his power and felt his strength. HE sized up his speed and timing. It didn't take long.
The fight was over 10 minutes and 47 seconds after the opening bell (and that includes the rest periods after the first and second rounds). The undefeated GGG had notched his 30th victory, his 27th knockout, his 17th consecutive knockout and his 11th defense of his WBA Middleweight Championship. In a sport where championships are handed out like hors' doeuvres at a wedding, GGG's title is one which truly means something.
The power-packed 3rd round TKO–which left Geale standing like a drunk outside Madison Square Garden at 3:00 a.m.–also sent the 8,572 fans in attendance out of The Garden talking glowingly about the performance they had just seen.
“This Triple GGG is for (expletive) real,” said a fan who had spent $400 for a ringside seat. “I had to be close. I wanted to feel the power, which I've been told you can, if you're close enough,” said the fan. “So I got close enough.”
So, did he feel the power?
“I absolutely did!” he said. “I absolutely did! The guy is incredible!”
Another fan felt the same way about Golovkin.
“He is the best champion in boxing, bar none!” said the fan as he departed The Garden with a few friends. “Bar none!”
The fans just may be right.
On September 1, 2012, we–the North American boxing fans–got our first look at Golovkin. I had known about him and had seen some videos on him, so was somewhat prepared for what to expect. My friend Charlie Fitch was selected to be the referee for Golovkin's U.S. debut on HBO. His opponent was rugged Gregorz Proksa, from Poland, who brought a 29-1 record into the fight and a reputation as an iron-jawed slugger who had never been dropped. Charlie and I spoke about the fight, which was held at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. He said he knew about the toughness of Proksa and the high skill level of GGG. He said he was ready for anything. He was. He handled GGG's five-round, one-sided shellacking and breakdown of Proksa magnificently, finally waving things off in the fifth round.
Afterwards, Fitch told me, “Maybe it's too early to say this, but I have a feeling I just reffed a guy who is going to go down in history as a great fighter.”
It wasn't too early, Charlie. GGG is indeed a great fighter. The best from him is still yet to come…and it will. Golovkin, who has said he will fight from super welterweight (154 lbs.) to super middleweight (168 lbs.), now has some of boxing's mega-fights to talk about. How about GGG against Carl Froch? Julio Cesar Chavez? Peter Quillin? Then, of course, are fights bigger than any boxing has seen in years: GGG v Andre Ward…against Miguel Cotto…and against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Against Mayweather or Cotto, let's just select Yankee Stadium as the venue. The place will be sold out. Configured for boxing, the capacity would be around 60,000.
So, it was GGG on Saturday night who sent 'em home happy and talking of greatness and of how GGG owned the middleweight division.
Maybe GGG can become a heavyweight. Heaven knows that division could use some lifting up–especially after Saturday.
So, instead of getting two great heavyweight fights on Saturday, we got none. Instead of getting three great fights on the same night–two in New York and one in England–we got one great performance in New York and none in England.
That great performance came from a great fighter–a middleweight named Gennady. He has left us with so many possibilities that it's mind-boggling.
The heavyweight division left us with nothing.
There may be 40 pounds between the middleweight and heavyweight divisions, but it seems like they are 40 years away.
Forty light years!
As I mentioned, don't blame referee Harvey Dock for causing Mike Perez to lose to Bryant Jennings. What you guys don't see is the elaborate pre-fight instructions given to each fighter in his dressing room by the referee. The ref goes over EVERYTHING. At the start of the fight, all you hear, when the fighters are brought to mid-ring, is the ref say, “Gentlemen, we went over the rules in the dressing. I expect you to obey them.” He may add a little something here or there, have the fighters touch gloves (which they do not have to do), send them back to their respective corners, get into the center of the ring, look at one fighter, turn and look at the other fighter, then look at the timekeeper and give the signal to ring the bell. He does NOT have to drop warning upon warning on them in order to take a point away. I hate to see a point taken away in the last round, but I felt the deduction was warranted. Both men knew the rules. Both men understood the rules. Then, why did Perez fall into that 12th round clinch, drive the top of his head into Jenning's face, and punch witth his southpaw left as ref Dock repeatedly was yelling “STOP!”
I know. You're gonna' tell me Perez didn't hear the command. Let me say that I heard it at ringside…and because I have spent much of my career wearing headsets, I don't have the sharpest hearing in the world. If I heard it, Perez heard it. Then why did he head-butt Jennings? Why did he punch with the left after the command–which Dock said a few times–jarring Jenning's mouthpiece loose? Perez didn't lose the fight there. He lost it by his right jab-left cross-head butt and hold tactics throughout the fight. Harvey Dock is a damn good ref. He did a good job in a rough, physical fight. Perez didn't need anybody's help in losing the fight. He did that by himself. We can only hope he rests, searches his soul for some answers, perhaps talks to a guy like Ray Mancini, who lived through his own boxing nightmare, then either continues his boxing career with passion or moves onto another line of work with much success.
Lots of celebs were on hand at MSG on Saturday. Included were actors Tony Danza, Andy Karl and Margo Seibert. Karl and Seibert play the roles of Rocky Balboa and Adrian in the Broadway hit, “Rocky the Musical”…Promoter Lou DiBella has been filming a role in an upcoming movie…Prayers to former cruiserweight champion & now heavyweight contender Steve Cunningham and his wife, Livvy, as they await word–which can come at any moment–on a heart transplant operation for their daughter, Kennedy, who is 9. Kennedy was born with a condition called HLHS, which basically is a malfunctioning left ventricle. She has already undergone two heart surgery operations and now awaits a transplant. When the call comes from the hospital in Pittsburgh that a heart has been found, the Cunninghams have four hours to get Kennedy to the hospital and into surgery. They must then live in Pittsburgh for at least six months, the expected time Kennedy will be in the hospital and in follow-up care. Anyone wishing to make a donation–nothing is too big or too small–can do so by going on the internet to HeartbyFaith.com. Please help young Kennedy in any way you can.
BOOK NOOK: I just got “Friday Night Fighter,” the biography of Gaspar “Indio” Ortega, whose son, Mike, is currently one of the world's top referees. Written Troy Rondinone, the book follows post-WWII boxing on TV, the “Gillette Friday Night Fights” and Ortega, who made so many appearances on those cards that his name was on the lips of every American who watched the show. Published by University of Illinois Press, you can find it in bookstores and at amazon.com. It's a great read and tells us a lot about a great action fighter and a great family man–Gaspar Ortega.
Got a surprise call the other day from one of the most colorful characters in the history of boxing—Bruce “The Mouse” Strauss. Strauss served as an opponent for many promoters. His willingness to fight virtually anybody on a moment’s notice saved a show. His record was 77-53-6, but you can probably add on 20 more fights under assumed names. He fought in main events and undercards, against world-class fighters, future champions and local heros. He was as close to a WWE character as boxing has ever had. One time, he was stopped in Alabama. Three nights later, he was in a ring in Indiana. A reporter, who had been at the Alabama card, was also at the card in Indiana.
“Hey, weren’t you in Alabama the other night?” asked the reporter.
“No!” said Strauss. “I’m the Mouse. You saw my twin brother, Moose.”
The reporter bought it.
Mouse is doing great in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, and wants everyone to know he’s proud of localite Terence Crawford.
Good luck to Sonya Lamonakis, the friendly voice on the phone at Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn, New York, as she'll be fighting Carlette Ewell in the Caribbean this Saturday for the vacant IBO Female Heavyweight Title. The two fought to a draw two years ago in New York…Ring 8 had its yearly Summer BBQ in Glen Cove, L.I., The food was terrific and so was the turnout. Ring 8 is the largest Veteran Boxer's Association in the world….David Berlin looks to be doing a great job in his new position as Executive Director of the New York State Athletic Commission. But have smiles been replaced by frowns. From press row, one of the writers turned and said to me, “Hey, Commish, look at that row of New York State Athletic Commission staffers. They don't look too happy.” One glance at them showed him to be correct. Some looked almost sad. Some looked angry. Some looked indifferent. None looked happy. Smile, guys! It's a fun job! Been there, done that!