The timing of photographer Al Applerose was a good as Lucas Matthysse's, as he sends Mike Dallas to the mat, stat.
Around 7 a.m. the drizzle wasn’t much as we headed to Starbucks to grab a large cup of coffee. After an hour or so of making calls and checking phone mail I returned back to the hotel to begin checking out. We grabbed some breakfast at the South Point Hotel and Casino.
Most fight cards begin at 4 p.m. or later, but the Golden Boy Promotions fight card was stacked with prospects and a total of 80 scheduled rounds of bouts meant an early 2 p.m. start. We arrived around 1 p.m. because you never know what can go wrong, especially with press credentials.
Sure enough we discover that neither Al nor I are on the list despite two e-mails requesting we be put on the list. No problem, the Golden Boy crew fixes the problem and we’re handed our badges. We still have some time to kill so we head to the sports book and watch the UCLA vs. Arizona State basketball game. I’m a UCLA alum so of course I want the Bruins to win. They don’t. That large seven-foot center from Arizona State has his way against the Wear brothers who obviously were never taught how to block out someone on rebounds. He grabs every missed basket.
At 2 p.m. sharp we head into The Joint where the fights are going to be held. We each look for our designated spots. I find mine and start hooking up my computer laptop. A waitress comes by to ask if I need anything? I request a 7-Up.
Just minutes later the first bout is announced and two fighters begin walking into the ring. A kid named Herb Begay from New Mexico and Will Sands from Australia open up the show. Though few people are in the audience the pair of middleweights are slinging bombs. Each guy is rocked and the fight goes back and forth. After four rounds the fight is ruled a draw.
Another Australian, Chad Bennett, enters the ring and has Ghana’s Ben Ankrah across the ring. The taller Aussie is conservative at first but it’s obvious he has some power. The Ghana boxer who has 28 pro bouts of experience tries some of his moves to stay out of range. A right uppercut by Bennett drops Ankrah. He survives. In round three Ankrah is not so lucky. A right hook finishes Ankrah in 59 seconds. It’s Bennett’s 22nd KO in 38 pro fights.
The crowds begin to filter into the Joint as Houston’s Jermall Charlo enters the arena to fight Joshua Williams. Charlo has a twin who will be fighting later on. Both are trained by Ronnie Shields and managed by Al Haymon. One or both are expected to reach the contender level. First, Jermall pounds away at Williams with some landing perfectly on the chin. But Williams has a pretty good shock absorber and withstands the blows. The bad thing is he doesn’t have enough firepower or speed to command respect from Charlo. After five rounds of one-sided pounding Williams’ corner throws in the towel.
A few more media guys and girls show up. Las Vegas has some good journalists from web sites and the local daily newspaper. Steve Carp is one of the best sportswriters in the country and writes for the Las Vegas Review Journal. He’s always on top of it, especially covering boxing in Las Vegas. The web writers in the area are also very good. They arrive early to cover the card. Like me, they want to cover all of the card if possible. Some writers only feel obligated to cover the main events or those televised. But it’s the prospects that interest me. That’s where you can discover who is good early in their career. It’s also where you can find out who is tough, who has skills, who has speed and who can take a punch.
The next fight is a good example of evaluating prospects when Julian Ramirez of L.A. fights San Bernardino’s Juan Sandoval. Though Sandoval has 12 losses he gives everyone he fights a difficult time. Some of his losses came via errant judging. If an opponent takes him lightly, he will take that guy out. I once saw him knock out a vaunted Puerto Rican national champion. He’s a little awkward but has a good chin and knows how to punch when another guy is punching. It’s something that not all fighters know how to do. On this night, however, Ramirez jumps on Sandoval and fights mostly inside. He pushes and charges forward not allowing Sandoval to take advantage of his long arms. After six rough and tumble rounds, Ramirez takes a unanimous decision.
Junior middleweights are next on the list as Philadelphia’s Julian Williams takes on Jeremiah Wiggins of Virginia. Both have 10 wins with Williams undefeated and Wiggins only one loss. On this night Williams shows a tight defense and more accuracy in his punching. Wiggins is knocked for a loop and is held up by the ropes forcing referee Robert Byrd to call it a knockdown and give an eight count. Wiggins starts to take a pounding and in round seven someone from his corner tosses a white towel. The fight is stopped with Wiggins complaining to his corner about the stoppage.
A long intermission took place so I walked around the arena to see who was in attendance. First I spoke to James Pena who trains Melinda Cooper. She was supposed to attend the fight card but bowed out. Pena was there and we spoke about some of the fights that had already happened. Though he’s in his early 40s he’s been training fighters or training himself for more than 25 years. Boxing is in his blood.
Next I bumped into Jorge Linares, the talented former champion from Venezuela. He was there with his team enjoying the fights. We talked a bit and departed soon after. Linares is a real friendly guy with impeccable manners. He’s also a very good prizefighter.
I spotted Paul Malignaggi but he’s surrounded by autograph seekers and fans wishing to converse with the world champion from Brooklyn. I also see former judge Chuck Giampa sitting with his wife Lisa Giampa. We greet each other and I walk toward the upper aisles. I talk to some good friends and while conversing Al Bernstein stops by. A few minutes later, Malignaggi calls out to me to say hello.
Zab Judah is in the crowd but is swarmed by fans. I also see Jackie Kallen, who manages Mike Dallas Jr. She seems nervous. I returned to my seat once they began to play music.
Before the semi-main event one of the public relations guys tells me Chris Pearson is available for an interview. I said sure. Pearson is one of those kids that I’m sure is going to win a world title very soon. Pearson says he wants a title before next year comes around. The kid can really box. I saw him fight for the L.A. Matadors in the boxing league two years ago. He was impressive. Pearson is set to fight on Saturday Nov. 2, at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Don’t miss this guy.
The other half of the Charlo brothers Jermell enters the ring to fight Harry Joe Yorgey. On paper it looks like an even fight with Charlo sporting 19 wins and zero losses. Yorgey has 25 wins and only one loss. That lone defeat came against Alfredo “Perro” Angulo who is sitting in the audience. The fight begins and it’s clear that Charlo has the advantage. He pops Yorgey continuously with the right cross. Yorgey is eventually knocked out in the eighth round by a right hand. Charlo looked good and confident. If he can gather convincing wins against fellow contenders he could find himself matched with someone like Angulo.
Ironically, while I’m writing up the fight that just transpired, Angulo walks up to my table and taps me on the shoulder. He’s an old friend and someone that doesn’t have an ego problem. I greet the slugger from Mexicali. I first met Angulo when I saw him sparring with Antonio Margarito when the Tijuana Tornado was preparing for a fight. He was giving Margarito hell so I asked one of the trainers in the gym who he was. They said Perro. They didn’t know his name. I kept an eye on him and when he was put on a Gary Shaw fight card at Chumash Casino I made it a point to travel the nearly 200 miles to watch him fight. He won by knockout that night and I remember how happy he was to win in front of his mother. He just kept knocking people out and vaulted to notoriety as someone to look out for. Despite the lightning fame Angulo is always the gentleman.
The semi-main event was beginning with Mexico’s Jesus Soto Karass entering the ring as a distinct underdog against Turkey’s Selcuk Aydin. Everyone expected a terrifc fight for as long as it lasted, but few felt Soto Karass could handle the Turk.
Soto Karass is one of those go-for-broke fighters. He’s there to fight and not simply to survive. It’s the main reason he was signed by Golden Boy after Top Rank let him go. Aydin had that look of supreme confidence until Soto Karass nailed him with some body shots in the second round. From then on Aydin did not want to fight inside. That was the difference in the fight.
“I expected a different kind of fight from him,” said Soto Karass who trains in Los Angeles. “In the second round I knew I would beat him.”
Aydin was content to land one big blow then scamper away. Meanwhile Soto Karass was firing combinations and was simply the busier puncher. Two judges scored it for Soto Karass, one judge had it a draw. The crowd was made ecstatic by the Mexican fighter’s win. Angulo was ringside cheering on his old stable mate.
Now the main event was about to take place. Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse was a heavy 33 to 1 favorite against Mike Dallas Jr., who despite a speed and height advantage was going to face a very heavy puncher. The bell rang with Dallas circling around while shooting jabs. Matthysse was pressuring more than usual for the first round. In the past he would use the first round to discover what his opponent was going to do and to feel out his power. Not this time.
Before long the two exchanged and Matthysse clipped Dallas with a right hand. It wasn’t a solid blow but enough to make Dallas move the heck out of there. He tried to throw a left that Matthysse ducked under and instantly was caught with an overhand right. Two more punches did follow but were unnecessary. Dallas was headed to the canvas like a fallen tree. Dallas was out.
The place erupted. Fans were everywhere and the media was in a frenzy to get quotes and send their stories and photos out. Matthysse came to the press tables and explained how he was waiting for Dallas to throw the left. He did and that was that.
Matthysse has now knocked out five consecutive opponents since losing a disputed decision to Devon Alexander in 2011. Everyone knows he hits like he has concrete in his gloves, but that’s not the secret of his success. The real secret is that he has phenomenal footwork. I once saw him in a workout with fellow Argentine Sergio Martinez. Everybody knows Martinez has great agility and footwork, but few know that Matthysse does too. That day they worked on footwork for hours and Matthysse proved as nimble as Martinez. Most pressure fighters forget to work on their footwork so they look terrible against movers like Dallas. Not Matthysse. Whether they’re moving or not, he knows how to catch them and has the tools to do it.
After I wrote the story we ran into Chris Ben, who used to train former world champions Vaia Zaganas and Elena “Baby Doll” Reid. Now he’s working with Ana Julaton in Las Vegas. Julaton was at the fights with her advisor and co-trainer Angelo Reyes. We talked a little bit but we had to meet some people who were waiting for me.
After meeting our friends we headed to dinner in the Chinatown area. We stopped at a sushi place with trainer James Pena and talked about boxing. Following dinner we headed back home to Southern California. It was foggy in Las Vegas, but once we passed the South Point Hotel it was clear riding for most of the drive. We hit another fog bank 200 miles later in Fontana but we took our time driving through it.
One thing I learned about this trip is which prospects to watch out for. Another thing I learned is that Matthysse just might be the new Mike Tyson or Kostya Tszyu.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV