New York – The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden was less than electric on Saturday night for James Toney’s unanimous decision win over WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz.
Ruiz fought better in defeat than he had in many of his victories, and it was released to the media early Sunday morning that he announced his retirement in the dressing room after the bout. He was game throughout the fight – throughout his career – but Toney’s sharp right hands were the deciding factor over the course of 12 rounds. There were times when many of the 9,169 in the Garden booed the action, which is not unusual for a Ruiz fight, but not always anticipated when boxing returns to the Mecca.
The doors opened at 6 p.m., which made for a long evening, but the two title fights in the middle of the card made the time worthwhile. This is one time you can thank Don King for importing these fighters.
Little Men, Big Show
The WBA super featherweight title fight between Thai champion Yodsanan Nanthachai (3-K Battery) and Panama’s Vicente Mosquera was a thrilling affair. Mosquera copped the title with a unanimous decision in a bout that certainly ranks as a Fight of the Year candidate. There were four knockdowns in all – Nanthachai hitting the deck three times – and the battle was waged toe-to-toe throughout most of the 12 rounds.
Nanthachai goes by the name 3-K Battery because it is customary in Thailand to take the name of your manager or sponsor. The great Khaosai Galaxy, a Hall of Famer, adopted the name of the nightclub owned by his manager.
Nanthachai had not lost a fight since 1994, winning 37 straight, before making his Madison Square Garden debut. A strong and stalking southpaw, he was reminiscent of Galaxy. Even after getting dropped in the first round, he was always on the attack, always moving forward. He felled Mosquera in the third, but the game Panamanian rose and floored the champion at the close of the round.
“The plan was to knock him out, but I got caught and knocked down in the first round and it changed everything,” said Nanthachai, who has scored 36 knockouts in 44 wins. “I thought I was going to knock him out after I knocked him down in the third round. I wasn't expecting him to recover that quickly.”
The action sagged in the middle rounds, but the phone booth warfare would resume in the last third of the bout. While Mosquera offered a bit more movement late in the fight, both fighters dug in at ring center and traded blows. A left hook dropped the champion in round 10, but he pressed on until the final bell.
When Mosquera (20-1-1) was announced the winner and new champion, he dropped to his knees and began sobbing in the ring.
“It means a lot to me to win this fight because my father always thought I would be a world champion,” he said, and explained that he was overcome with emotion because his father passed away two years ago.
In the second title fight, IBF super flyweight champion Luis Perez put on a clinic in dismantling the game veteran Luis Bolano.
Perez, of Nicaragua, dropped Bolano in the second and fifth rounds before stopping him with a vicious left to the body at the center of the ring. Bolano was down long past the 10-count.
While it is far too early to make such comparisons, there were moments during his poised, patient attack that Perez resembled Nicaragua’s Alexis Arguello. Promoter Don King was the first to bring future Hall of Famer Ricardo Lopez to the Garden and perhaps this was a glimpse at another of boxing’s little giants.
“I am very happy to have successfully defended my title,” said Perez. “I now expect more fights from Don King. I like fighting in America because it's rewarding to win new fans.”
Bolano entered the fight 38-2 and was also stopped in a world title bout last year by Mark Johnson.
Father and Son
Arthur Mercante Sr. and Jr. were on hand, each officiating in separate title fights. Arthur Sr. was a judge in the Perez-Bolano bout and Junior refereed the Nanthachai-Mosquera contest. At the final bell, Arthur Jr. collapsed to the canvas as if he had been nailed with a punch. He wasn’t. He tore a calf muscle but stuck it out for the rest of the card, watching from ringside.
Mercante Sr. announced his retirement from refereeing at the Garden after he worked the Ricardo Lopez-Zolani Pethelo title fight on September 29, 2001. Incidentally, that was also Lopez’s last fight. Mercante Sr. is already enshrined in Canastota and Lopez becomes eligible next year.
Two interesting observers of the Toney-Ruiz fight were Roy Jones Jr. and IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd.
Jones, who has defeated both Ruiz and Toney, picked Toney for the win, although he said he was concerned by Toney’s weight (233 pounds). He said Toney’s speed would be the difference, much the way his (Jones’) speed was the difference when he beat Ruiz two years ago.
Byrd felt that Ruiz didn’t fight the right fight. He was surprised that the champion was backing up and letting “a small fat guy dictate the fight.” He insisted that had Ruiz fought his typical fight, jab, clutch, maul, it would have helped wear Toney down.
“John was fighting for the fans,” he said. “He was afraid of looking bad. That cost him.”
Byrd said he welcomes a unification match against Toney. And while the IBF champion said the loves the Garden, “the fans, the atmosphere, the tradition,” he feels that since both men are from Michigan – about 40 miles separate Flint from Ann Arbor – he suggested the fight take place in The Palace at Auburn Hills.
Time will tell.