13,964 fans were at Barclays Center on April 21 to witness what might someday be looked upon as a step toward boxing’s changing of the guard.
Three fights – Gervonta Davis vs. Jesus Cuellar, Jermall Charlo vs. Hugo Centeno, and Adrien Broner vs. Jesse Vargas – headlined the show.
Davis age 23, has a wealth of talent. He briefly held the IBF 130-pound belt before surrendering it on the scales just prior to his last outing. Cuellar, a 7-to-1 underdog whose previous losses were by decision to Oscar Escandon and Abner Mares, was moving up in weight from 126 pounds.
Gervonta (pictured) has quick hands and good power. He started fast on Saturday night, dropping Cuellar with a straight left to the body in round two and a brutal body shot in round three. Then he pummeled Jesus some more while referee Benjy Esteves waited for an unnecessary third knockdown before stopping the slaughter at 2:45 of the third stanza. The fight had the feel of target practice with a Magnum .357.
Jermall Charlo won an IBF 154-pound belt with a 2015 stoppage of 42-year-old Cornelius Bundradge. He relinquished his title last year to campaign at 160 pounds but fought only once in 2017 (a victory over Jorge Sebastian Heiland, who came into the bout with a damaged left knee).
Like the Klitschko brothers in the early years of their career, Jermall and his twin brother, Jermell, have suffered in terms of their marketability because there are two of them. Jermall’s response has been to say, “Twin power is better. If you don’t like the Charlos, stay out of our lane and keep the hate down.”
Centeno is the sort of opponent one expects to find as the non-threatening adversary for a house fighter doing battle for a WBC “interim” middleweight championship.
In the build-up to the fight, Charlo expended as much energy on his fellow headliners as on Centeno.
In a March 24 Instagram video, Jermall declared, “Y’all mother******* coming to see me fight. Ain’t nobody coming to see Adrien Broner fight. I didn’t want to be on that f******. You think I wanted to be on that f****** card? No. I’m being real. I didn’t want to be on Adrien Broner’s card again. Every time I’m on his f****** card, he lose. Then its Hispanic vs. Black, and I fight a Hispanic. I still do what I gotta do, but this motherf***** don’t do what he gotta do. The main event look like sh**. The event don’t get no recognition. No, I don’t want to be on f****** Adrien Broner’s card. I’m sorry, I’m just speaking facts.”
Then Charlo turned his attention to Davis, proclaiming, “Tank, that little nigga ain’t fought nobody. He with Mayweather and ain’t fought nobody. This little fat Tank mother******, he think he Mayweather. I read the tweets and the comments [from Gervonta]. He’s mad because they moved me to the card. I’m sorry, nigga, that my opponent got a broken rib. I gotta fight him on your card, so that means your TV time is cut short. Stop playing with me, nigga, because every time I see you, you ain’t really about that sh**, you dumb slow stuttering motherf*****.”
Charlo was a 20-to-1 favorite over Centeno. The fight didn’t last long. Round one saw Jermall stalking his man while Centano stayed as far away as possible and held when Charlo got in close. Then, forty seconds into round two, Jermall landed a punishing right hand as the opening salvo in a four-punch combination that ended with a vicious left hook to the jaw that dropped Hugo for the count and then some. It’s unclear why referee Steve Willis bothered to count since Centano had zero chance of getting up.
That set the stage for Broner-Vargas.
Broner has prodigious talent that has been undermined by a notable lack of discipline in and out of the ring. He has stepped up in class to fight a world-class opponent on three occasions. Each time (against Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter, and Mikey Garcia), he lost.
It has been said that trouble follows Broner wherever he goes. An equally valid hypothesis might be that Broner follows trouble.
TMZ reports that Broner has fathered seven children with six different women which, to Adrien’s way of thinking, might evince a commitment of sorts to one of the women.
In addition to a string of juvenile arrests, Broner has been charged with robbery, aggravated robbery, felonious assault, battery, illegal possession of a weapon, domestic violence, and intimidation of a witness. On February 13 of this year, he added to his rap sheet with a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery after a woman accused him of groping her in an Atlanta shopping mall. The woman, Kaila Crews, is now suing him in a civil lawsuit for sexual battery.
Originally, Broner was slated to fight Omar Figueroa at Barclays Center to determine a mandatory challenger for the WBC 140-pound title. But Figueroa fell out after being arrested on a charge of driving while intoxicated, Vargas was substituted, and the bout was changed to a catchweight of 144 pounds.
At the final pre-fight press conference on April 19, Broner called Vargas a “puto” (Spanish for whore) and Leonard Ellerbe (CEO of Mayweather Promotions, which was co-promoting the fight card) a “bitch-ass nigger.” But by then, it was clear that Adrien’s insults might lead to consequences more serious than discord within the promotion.
More specifically, Broner and Tekashi69 were engaged in a social media dispute that began when the rapper called Adrien a “clown” on Instagram. That led Broner to respond, “Ey 6ix9ine, don’t be commenting no f*** sh*** under my pictures, boy. Talkin’ bout clown, nigga. I’m about to pull up on you, nigga. I ain’t one of these rap niggas you be trollin’ with, nigga, quit playin’ with me, nigga.”
Tekashi69 then countered by calling Broner a “pussy” before suggesting in solid capital letters, “CHECK IN WHEN YOU GET TO BROOKLYN TOO. KING OF MY CITY.”
Thereafter, an April 18 open media workout was canceled as a security precaution and the final pre-fight press conference (previously scheduled for the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan) was moved to Barclays Center, where there was heightened security. It was also decreed that the Friday weigh-in would be closed to the public. At the weigh-in, Broner floated the idea of asking Tekashi69 to walk him to the ring on fight night. But that was quickly vetoed by the promotion.
When fight night came, there was a heavy police presence at Barclays Center: uniformed cops, plainclothes cops, gang units. Even then, a temporary lockdown was necessary when a gun was fired in the building.
Details are vague at the present time. But it appears as though there has been bad blood between Tekaski69 and Brooklyn rapper Casanova. On fight night, the two men and their associates confronted each other in a hallway near a VIP lounge in Barclays Center. A shot was fired and the perpetrator ran from the building. TMZ later reported that a .32 caliber shell casing was recovered by the police. It’s unclear how a man with a gun was able to evade what were supposed to be heightened security precautions.
As for the fight; Broner had been listed as an 11-to-10 favorite over Vargas, but the odds flipped during fight week. Adrien was the more physically-gifted fighter. However, as always, there were questions as to where his head was at. Jessie had lost by decision decision to Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao. But he was a credible opponent with a ninth-round knockout of Sadam Ali to his credit.
After a cautious first round with little aggression from either man, Vargas began throwing with both hands in the second stanza, mixing punches well to the head and body. The action continued in round three with Broner stepping up his own effort and going low often enough that it didn’t seem accidental.
At the midway point, Vargas had a substantial lead on the judges’ scorecards but appeared to be tiring. Then Broner began landing sharp effective punches. By round nine, Adrien was unloading and it seemed clear that he could hurt Jessie more than Jessie could hurt him.
But Broner, for all his talk, is a safety-first fighter. He’s more effective when fighting aggressively but rarely wants to take that risk. Despite being in control of the fight in the late rounds, he never put his foot to the pedal in an effort to knock Vargas out. Then, in an act of foolishness, Adrien took round twelve off.
That cost Broner the fight. Judge Julie Lederman gave the nod to Adrien by a 115-113 margin. But she was overruled by Eric Marlinski and Kevin Morgan, each of whom scored the bout a 114-114 draw.
In the ring after the fight, Broner confronted Vargas while Jessie was being interviewed by Showtime’s Jim Gray. Their exchange unfolded as follows:
Broner: Hey man, f*** all that. Let me see the mic. I beat your ass. Look at his face. It looks like I beat him with what they beat Martin Luther King with [it’s likely that Broner meant Rodney King].
Vargas: I’m gonna be honest. I’m an honest man. We went at it for twelve rounds.
Broner: We didn’t go at it. That’s gay.
Vargas: We can do it again.
Broner: I beat your ass like you stole something. I beat your ass like you were suspended from school. I beat your ass like you stole my bicycle, nigga.
Vargas: You can get some more if you want.
Broner: You’re bruised up.
Vargas: I’m ready to fight right now, fool.
Broner: C’mon man. You need peroxide and alcohol.
Vargas: You need to settle down.
Broner then turned his attention to Gray and asked, “Was you watching? You got cataracts? Are your eyes all f***** up? Did you see?”
Broner is more bark than bite. The expectation is that he will continue to fall short of what he might have been as a fighter.
Meanwhile, Gervonta Davis and Jermall Charlo attack like pitbulls. The open issue on each man’s resume is that neither has fought a world-class opponent. But that could change.
Davis says he wants to fight Vasyl Lomachenko next. Whether he really wants to is probably irrelevant because Top Rank (Lomachenko’s promoter) is likely to say that Gervonta isn’t a big enough draw yet and the fight needs more time to “marinate.” Davis versus Mikey Garcia would also be an attractive offering.
Charlo says he wants to fight Gennady Golovkin and seems to mean it. But after Golovkin disposes of Vanes Martirosyan on May 5, he’d like to pursue fights against Canelo Alvarez, Billy Joe Saunders, Danny Jacobs, and Sergiy Derevyanchenko before going anywhere near Charlo.
That will create an interesting scenario because Jermall is now the WBC’s “interim” middleweight champion and Golovkin’s next “mandatory” challenger. Look for the WBC to jump through hoops in an effort to maximize sanctioning fees in this situation.
* * *
Barclays Center was teeming with law enforcement personnel on Saturday night. But that didn’t keep a robbery from taking place. A young woman named Iranda Paola Torres was robbed. Thousands of New Yorkers witnessed the event.
Torres, like many Mexicans, journeyed to the United States in search of a better way of life. She was here to fight Heather Hardy, the Brooklyn native whose 21-0 ring record doesn’t reflect the times that opponents have been robbed in the past.
Torres entered the ring with a 12-2-1 ledger, but those numbers were deceiving. Her last six wins were against women who have a composite ring record of 3 wins and 29 losses.
Thus, Iranda was considered a “safe” opponent for Hardy. But the way Heather has been fighting lately, no opponent is safe. Hardy looked out of shape. She tired early, got hit a lot, and ran for most of the night. When the judges’ scores were announced (79-73, 78-74, and 78-74), they seemed to be on the mark. Then Heather was proclaimed as the winner.
The pro-Hardy crowd vociferously booed the decision, which brought to mind an email that I received from a reader years ago after an egregious decision went in favor of a Top Rank fighter.
“Did Bob Arum supply girls for the judges,” the reader inquired, “or did he perform the favors himself?”
Hardy bears responsibility for her poor performance. But the atrocious scoring isn’t her fault. The blame for that falls squarely on the New York State Athletic Commission.
The NYSAC needs to train a new generation of judges and other commission personnel. But it’s so mired in petty politics that incompetence and worse have become the accepted standard.
* * *
Too often, undercard fights fail to give fans their money’s worth. But the opening bout on Saturday night’s card at Barclays Center took things to a new level. Heavyweights George Arias and Tyrell Wright fought a sluggish eight rounds with Arias winning a close decision. However, the fight started before the arena was open to the public. That meant anyone who bought a ticket in the hope of seeing Arias vs. Wright couldn’t see the fight. So much for respecting the ticket-buying public.
* * *
A word of remembrance regarding Bill Nack, who died on April 13 at age 77 after a battle with lung cancer.
Nack is best known for his literary output during a 23-year sojourn at Sports Illustrated and a 1975 book that remains the definitive study of Secretariat, horse racing’s greatest champion.
The horses were Nack’s first love. But he was a talented wordsmith who could write well about anything. He didn’t turn his attention to boxing often. But when he did, it was worth reading.
Among the articles Nack wrote about the sweet science (collected in a 2003 book entitled My Turf) were a portrait of “Young Cassius” that celebrated Muhammad Ali’s fiftieth birthday; a ground-breaking exploration of the dark side of Rocky Marciano; a study of the lasting enmity that Joe Frazier felt for Ali (written on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Ali-Frazier I); an insightful look back at the Dempsey-Tunney “long count” fight; and a piece that humanized Sonny Liston.
Nack’s work was always well-researched and beautifully written. He was a good writer and a nice man.
Photo credit: Janer Bigio / Mayweather Promotions
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel