The CyberBoxingZone News

Jones-Harding Tops Night of Boring Fights

Chris Bushnell
Jones-Harding tops night of boring fights
Derrick Gainer given title belt by bonehead ref

There aren't a lot of optimists left in boxing.  After the Roy Jones-Eric Harding pay-per-view card, there are even fewer.  It is expected that between 30,000 and 50,000 boxing fans had not yet reached a level of pessimism high enough to resist purchasing this most mediocre of TVKO events.  Perhaps the Norwood-Gainer fight (the closest thing to a pick 'em for miles) would be interesting, they figured.  Barrera-Valbuena?  When was the last time two Latin surnames combined for a dull contest?  Surely Jones would put on enough of a show to make the evening worthwhile... right?   Wrong!

Jones-Harding was a stinker, Barrera-Valbuena was devoid of drama, and Norwood-Gainer brought not only a sloppy, boring, and foul-filled contest, but also the single most overt display of incompetent officiating in title fight history.  What a night.

The $34.95 telecast (ten times more than an equally effective bottle of Tylenol PM) kicked off with the only contest that could go either way.  Roy Jones' little buddy Derrick "Smoke" Gainer found himself the beneficiary of Jones' influence yet again.  Despite being knocked out by Diego Corrales in a failed title bid less than six months prior, Gainer was announced as the WBA's #1 featherweight contender.  This despite having only two fights below his regular 130 in four years (both vs. Kevin Kelley).  Gainer's track record in big fights didn't bode well for him, but Freddie Norwood's erratic behavior had boosted the challenger's chances.

For the second time in his career, Freddie Norwood lost his title on the scales.  At the official weigh-in, Norwood initially weighed in at 127 3/4 pounds.  Given two hours to lose 28 ounces, Norwood defiantly gulped water instead, weighing in at 129 1/2 on a second attempt. He was immediately stripped of his championship.  If he won the fight, the title would remain vacant, and if he lost Gainer would claim the championship.  That didn't stop Norwood from walking to the ring carrying both of his WBA featherweight title belts, neither of which he lost in the ring.

It took only 30 seconds for the boos to emanate from the sparse crowd.  Norwood marched to center ring to open the fight and then just stood there.  Like a statue, he held his hands up high and didn't move a muscle as the taller Gainer studied him.  The challenger was hypnotized by Norwood's stillness, and offered no punches.  This went on for three full minutes.  Gainer slapped a couple of perfunctory jabs into Norwood's gloves, and the champion attempted a wild left hook at one point, but beyond that absolutely nothing was happening in the ring.

The posing continued into the second. Neither man threw a punch.  The two southpaws simply stared in amazement at each other.  Finally, Gainer fired a one-two down the pike and Norwood was down on his back.  Grinning and hopping to his feet, Norwood easily beat the count, and the two men continued their passive gazing.  Already it was a stinker.

Norwood started to get rough in the third round.  In two fights with Antonio Cermeno and a scrap with Juan Manuel Marquez, Norwood had earned a reputation as a grappler.  Now he grabbed Gainer around the waist, half-lifted him, and crashed across the ring into a turnbuckle.  When Gainer's infrequent jab touched Norwood's face a few times, the champion blatantly fired consecutive
shots to Gainer's cup.  Referee Paul Sita was not firm with his warnings, and soon lost control of the bout.

Gainer began rapidly circling Norwood in the fourth round.  Not offering any offense, Gainer simply shuffled right, then eventually shuffled left.  Occasionally Freddie would charge, the fighters would clinch, and then Norwood would shove Gainer through the ropes, into a corner, or to the floor.  With mere seconds left in the round, Norwood dipped his head and charged Gainer like a bull.  Gainer was tackled and he grabbed onto Norwood to bring him down also.  But as Gainer fell straight back, Norwood fell forward, head first, and somersaulted head over heels before landing on his own back.  Gainer quickly hopped up, but Norwood lay on the canvas with his eyes closed, feigning unconsciousness.  Perhaps he felt that with less than four full in the books, the fight might be called no contest, and he might get another chance to make weight in a rematch.

The referee leaned over Norwood and said "c'mon get up" then added "are you all right?"  Then, inexplicably, he began counting.  Hearing the count, Norwood opened his eyes and began lifting himself off the canvas.  He held the back of his head and used the ropes to pull himself up at 9.  Standing, but with knees dipped, the ref reached the count of 10...and then counted off 11!  Before he could get to 12, the referee asked Norwood if he was all right a second time.  Norwood, still holding his head and wincing in pain, didn't appear to answer, and so the referee allowed the round to continue.  The ending bell sounded a moment later, and the referee quickly explained to the judges that he was instituting a 20-count because there was no knockdown.

If there was no knockdown, then why was there a count at all?  And why a 20-count, the count traditionally used only when a punch causes a knockdown that sends a fighter outside the ring.  There is never a count, especially a 20-count, on a fighter falling to the canvas.  And why stop a 20-count at 11?  These lingering questions would soon be forgotten after the ref later used even more creative techniques to apply a set of imaginary rules.

In the fifth round, Derrick Gainer started doing a really bad impression of
Roy Jones Jr.  Forgetting a decent jab and a straight left that had already dropped Norwood once, Gainer now leapt in with lead right hooks thrown from
the waist.  Norwood easily avoided these punches, clinched, and then launched
repeated shots to the groin.  The ref was having an increasingly difficult time breaking up the fighters.  Often he nearly had Norwood in a full-nelson from behind as he tried to pull the fouling champion off the challenger.  There was sporadic punching in the fight, and almost all of it was illegal.  Norwood hit Gainer in the brain stem, in the kidneys, and in the family jewels.  Some champion.

Norwood stole the momentum of the fight after another confusing episode which proved that the referee could not control the fighters.  Gainer swung a wild right hook, which Norwood ducked.  When he came up, his head lodged under Gainer's right armpit, and the referee called repeatedly for a break.  But
Norwood instead through five consecutive hard shots to Gainer's kidneys and the ref wedged his way between the fighters.  Norwood was still swinging his
arms despite a man in between him and his opponent, and a frustrated Gainer potshotted Norwood straight to the cup to make him stop.  Norwood grabbed his package and dropped to the canvas in obvious pain.  No faking this time; Gainer's punch was on target.  Incredibly, Sita sent Gainer to a neutral corner and began another count on Norwood.  As he counted off numbers he said "7... 8... you got until 20... 9... 10..."  Another 20 count?  Why?

Norwood was on his feet, but still in pain, by 8, and the referee this time continued his count until 10, then stopped his count and deducted a point from Gainer.  The boos from the growing crowd were loud.  What was the ref doing?  Where was the five minutes to rest?  What would have happened if he
had reached 20?  Would Gainer's (intentional) foul have earned him a world
title?  These questions would be asked again before the night was out.

Norwood was now upset, and he openly attacked Gainer for the first time in
the bout.  Trapping Gainer along the ropes, a furious Norwood ripped off a
dozen unanswered flush body shots.  These blows weakened the spindly challenger, and shifted the momentum back to the champion.  Gainer's  punches
grew increasingly sloppy, as his jab became a backhand and his straight left
became a wide uppercut that never did any damage.

Gainer now tired, and as his circling slowed to a halt he was caught on the
ropes several times by the (ex)champion, who focused his attack exclusively
to the body.  After the seventh, Gainer's corner sternly warned him against
resting on the ropes, yet he did so to open the eighth and again paid the price by taking vicious body blows from Norwood.  Gainer's thin legs now looked unstable, and instead of fighting he now ran.  His circling for the remainder of the eighth and most of the ninth was full retreat.  Norwood could do nothing but chase, and Gainer did nothing but circle.  No punches.  No action.  No boxing.  And this was for the world title?

In the ninth, Gainer again stopped his circling to rest on the ropes and again Norwood ravaged his ribcage.  But during the flurry, Gainer dropped in a sneak left hook while squared up and the punch dropped Norwood a second time to the canvas.  Again Norwood beat the count, and Gainer didn't feel like following up.  Norwood may have been dazed, but Gainer didn't test him to find out.  Instead he simply coasted out the round to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

In the tenth, the fight had devolved to a chase.  Gainer was on his bike, and
Norwood's pursuit ended in numerous clinches and shoving matches.  Gainer
looked ready to fold in this round, as Norwood's body attack (and numerous
low blows and kidney punches) wore on his thin frame.  His legs didn't look
stable enough to stop running and throw punches.  Where was the much-improved, combination-throwing Gainer we've seen at times?  The three or four times he threw a straight left, he landed a flush shot to Norwood's face, but that punch simply wasn't being thrown.  The fight was a mess on every level.  And then it got 100 times worse.

Referee Paul Sita could not prevent the fouls from Norwood, the holding by Gainer, the wrestling by both men.  This was a dirty fight throughout, and in the eleventh round, things once again got out of control.

Gainer was having a decent round when Norwood again rushed at him head down.  As Gainer pushed down on his head as fighters often do, Norwood threw two gigantic uppercuts into Gainer's crotch.  Both landed hard and Gainer's mouth dropped open as he cried out to the ref.  As he had done ineffectively so many times before, the referee grabbed Norwood's shoulders, and practically hugging him, attempted to pull the champ off the clinch.  Norwood kept throwing his hands, however, and Gainer got mad.  He aimed for Norwood's cup and fired two blatant low blows that landed.  The referee didn't see the blows because he had Norwood in his arms as he pulled.  Norwood collapsed to the canvas again, holding his crotch and wincing in pain.  And again the referee began counting.  He reached 10 and once again kept going.  Norwood was on a knee by 13 and on his feet at 15.  The referee continued his count, but then inexplicably stopped at 18... and waved the fight over.  In the
immortal words of William Shakespeare, "What the fuck was that?"

There is no such thing as a 20-count.  There is no reason to give any count to a fighter down on a low blow, intentional or not.  Gainer's foul, while in retaliation, was absolutely intentional... and he was handed a title because of it.  To make matters worse, Michael Buffer announced that the fight was called off because Norwood was required to make an attempt to stand up before the count of 10... another fictional rule Paul Sita was applying.  In an interview after the fight, Sita made no sense.  He first claimed that the blow was not low but borderline, but then why have a 20 count?  He then watched the tape, which showed him looking away from Gainer's foul, at which point he admitted that he didn't see the punch, but that Norwood told him he did not want to continue (Norwood protested the stoppage immediately). 

And so, after several attempts, Derrick Gainer laid claim to his first world title, and one of the most bogus titles in an entire sport of bogus titles.  Simply put, Gainer looked awful tonight.  Granted, Norwood was fouling and wrestling and looking for a way out all night, but Gainer did nothing.  There was no jab.  There was barely a straight punch.  In fact there were barely any punches.  Gainer (now 36-5/23) spent over half the fighting running away without punching, and looked exhausted and ready to go at several points.  After the bout he had the audacity to call out Morales, Barrera and Hamed.  All three of those men would knock out Gainer in under 3 rounds. 

It should be noted that Gainer was leading on the official cards at the time of the stoppage, 95-92, 96-91, 96-92 (Boxing Chronicle had it 95-92).  He was on his way to a world title if he could survive his own weakening legs.  But the manner in which the belt was handed to him was a disgrace.  There will likely be an investigation.  The WBA should absolutely hold up the title and order a rematch.  Despite Norwood's classless performance, he should not have been halted at this stage of the bout.  The referee was acting upon rules that do no exist.

Several hours later, Roy Jones admitted in his own post-fight interview that he didn't really care about his fight with Eric Harding.  Instead, he said, he was more interested in getting Gainer the title shot he wanted.  Jones' apathy showed.

For 10 excruciatingly stoic rounds, Roy Jones picked off Eric Harding with his quick but powerless punches.  Jones looked flatfooted and disinterested.  After his victory, he admitted that he had barely trained for Harding, that he couldn't get up for the bout, and that his only preparation had been two weeks of running.  Gee, thanks Roy.  Way to lay it on the line for your fans who paid $34.95 to watch you spar. 

Despite the fact that Eric Harding was in over his head, he entered the ring smiling and began the biggest fight his career will ever see with extreme composure.  Many Jones opponents had become unraveled by the magnitude of the event and the challenge, but not Harding.  Looking a full size larger than
Jones, Harding began the fight with his left hand cocked and ready to counter.  Jones, fighting his sixth southpaw in seven fights, merely studied his opponent.  Again the boos rang out. 

The first round was a feel-out round, although neither man felt their adversary's leather.  But in the second round, Harding launched a level lead left hand that hit Jones square in the face.  The punch didn't faze the undisputed champ, but it did serve notice that Harding had come to fight.  Jones opted to study Harding a bit longer, and as a result of doing little more than block punches with crossed wrists, the champ gave away a round on the scorecards.

A flat footed Jones was being extra careful not to get hit by Harding's long but slower punches.  As a result, Harding had the time of his life in the third round by making Jones flinch repeatedly with amateurish feints.  Indeed Jones was off his game, and when Harding followed his feints with a few heavy jabs that landed, he logged another round in his column.  For the first time since the first Montell Griffin fight, and for probably only the second time in his career, Jones now trailed on the scorecards.  But it wouldn't last.

Jones picked up the pace in the fourth round, slapping Harding's side with a left hook and warming up his quick lead right hand.  Harding's defense was especially tight.  As he peeked out between his gloves, he blocked most of
Jones' attempts.  Roy wasn't willing to take chances just yet, and so his attempts to time the challenger came one at a time.  You could practically hear Michael Jordan snoring at ringside. 

In the fifth, Jones focused on Harding's body as he launched repeated jabs and straight rights to Harding's abs.  The punches landed with sharp snapping
sounds.  They were extremely effective punches, but they were thrown infrequently with complete nonchalance, and so the audience's boredom
continued.  Jones retreated to a corner just once, and Harding attacked Jones' body as so many previous opponents had.  Harding must have heavy hands, because Jones never gave him the chance to do it again. 

If the crowd was bored, it may have been because Jones was too.  He spent most of the sixth round firing single lead rights.  Some landed, most didn't, and Harding's defense became the focal point of his game plan.  Although he hadn't been hurt, or even really nailed flush by RJ, Harding was already in survival mode.  Jones turned southpaw for kicks, but didn't land a single punch from the stance.

As the sleep-inducing contest continued into the seventh, the crowd (announced at 18,000 strong but looking to be well below that figure) rained down their boos.  The showman in Jones couldn't resist, and he answered the boos with a brief flurry and the first truly head-snapping punches of the night, including a right hook thrown from the conventional stance that rocked Harding to his toes. 

It seemed that now, perhaps, Jones would at least begin putting on the same type of show he had against equally blase challengers David Telesco and Richard Hall.  Not so.  Instead of dancing, or swinging bolo punches, or
attacking Harding with a combination, Jones instead fought the eighth with an unspectacular, but very effective plan.  He began hitting Harding on the arms.

Perhaps Jones was troubled by the heavy jab that Harding occasionally threw
across the distance.  His straight rights and lefts to the body now focused on Harding's enormous left shoulder, which often rested as a barrier between the two men.  Showing absolutely amazing accuracy, Jones threw punch after punch to Harding's right deltoid muscle.  No matter the angle or the hand, Jones landed again and again in the exact same spot.  Soon Harding couldn't keep his right arm up for defense.  It was an old school tactic made new by Jones' speed and aim.  Harding couldn't defend against it.

Harding was a stranger to the later rounds, and his fatigue became apparent in the ninth.  As a result of Jones battering his arms, Harding's tight defense loosened considerably.  His breathing became more labored, and Jones' pot shots began snapping his head with regularity.  Jones punctuated the round with a crunching right that swiveled Harding's head on an axis.  The end was near.

Jones upped the pace in the tenth round and began looking for the kayo.  Still, his punches were fired one at a time, and Harding's defense halted any assault that might do serious damage.  With time ticking out on the fight, Harding's chances of victory were gone.  He hadn't thrown an effective left hand for many rounds, and now he was eating more Roy Jones leather than ever.  It seemed as though Jones might finally start to put on a showcase in the eleventh... but that round never began.

Harding returned to his corner with a good sized lump imbedded under the skin of his left bicep.  He had torn the muscle several rounds earlier and had complained about the pain to his corner.  Now that Harding was beginning to eat consistent clean punches and could barely keep his injured arm and his pummeled arm up, his corner moved to stop the fight.  Trainer Al Gavin correctly looked out for his man when no one else would.  Gavin had to ask the referee numerous times for a doctor, and even then it took the ring physician awhile to make it to the apron.  Looking at Harding's misshapen bicep, the doctor just stared.  "Don't touch it!" pleaded Harding, who was in pain.  Did the doctor stop the fight?  Nope.  He just stood there.  Eventually Al Gavin, who seemed to have made up his mind to stop the fight but was looking for an official to do it for him, finally said "That's it, he tore his bicep, we should stop it, right?"  The referee and the doctor looked at each other, unsure of what to do, and then after Gavin again said "this should be stopped, right?" they weakly nodded and called the fight off. Some officiating.

The crowd let it's displeasure known with a steady chant of "Bullshit...Bullshit."  After all, they had sat through three excruciatingly boring fights, plus two unintelligible rap performances between the fights, only to have their main event end without any drama, without any fireworks, and without any real display of boxing greatness.  Anyone still awake at this point had to feel disappointed.  It was a trifecta of duds.

Rounding out the three boring fights was the middle bout, a tune-up fight for Marco Antonio Barrera against lightly regarded Jose Luis Valbuena.  Barrera
must have felt Valbuena would fold easily, because he launched one hook at a
time at Valbuena's untucked chin.  Barrera's body shots landed early, but his
speed and his ability to put punches together made for a difficult evening.

Valbuena had almost no power in his punches.  But his handspeed was decent,
his footwork was adequate, and he was unafraid of the Mexican bomber.  For
most of the early rounds, Valbuena peppered an out of shape Barrera with his
pitty pat combinations.  Many rounds were difficult to score.  Valbuena would
often outland Barrera and keep Barrera from throwing with his pesky combinations.  But then Barrera would sink in a hook or a vicious right to the body, and the effect of his few blows would have observers questioning who should win the round.

What made this fight so boring was not the action level.  In fact, compared
to the fights that bookended this one, there was plenty of action.  In the fifth and ninth rounds, the fighters stood toe to toe and let their hands go.  No, what made this fight so painful was watching Barrera try and get his game going on an off-night.  Marco had no bounce in his step, rarely threw his highly underrated jab, and finished most rounds by shaking his head in self-disgust as he returned to his corner.  Barrera's conditioning was suspect; he rarely had any gas left in the last minute of most rounds.  But like a true champion, he pulled the fight out when he needed to.

After eight rounds, the fight was relatively close.  Certainly Valbuena could have even held a lead on some cards due to his high output.  But with a growing urgency in his corner, Barrera finally began throwing two and three punch combos in the ninth, and it paid immediate dividends.  Crunching Valbuena with his hook, Barrera closed out the final four rounds by winning each by an increasing margin.  His assault on Valbuena in the twelfth was unexciting, but completely one sided, and an exhausted Valbuena may have been lucky to finish the fight. 

Escaping with a unanimous decision of 115-113, 116-112, 117-111 (Boxing Chronicle scored for Barrera 117-111), Barrera now set up a 2001 showdown with Prince Naseem Hamed.  Coming through the ropes at 132 lbs., Barrera
should have little problem with the featherweight limit.  But he'll have to regain much of his old form to defeat Hamed.  Barrera remains easy to hit, he drops his hands when he goes to the body, and it remains to be seen how much he left in the ring during his epic war with Erik Morales.  Combined with Morales' mediocre outing a week prior against Kevin Kelley, many may opt to believe that both Morales and Barrera may have left much of their game in the ring that brutal evening.

And so for nearly $40, boxing fans were allowed to question their loyalty to the sport.  Indeed, the best fight of the weekend was the rematch between Bronco McKart and Winky Wright.  The bout aired on HBO for free prior to the Jones event (which overlapped with the Clifford Etienne fight on the west coast, depriving many the chance to see this heavyweight prospect).  In that bout, Wright and McKart traded combo for combo for seven full rounds.  One would jab, the other would jab.  One would dig two to the body and a hook to the head, and the other would repeat in kind.  Each of these first seven rounds could have easily been scored either way.  McKart gave up a couple of rounds by backing up too much at times, and Wright lost a few rounds by letting McKart get in the bigger body blows.  But in the eighth, Winky Wright seized control and never let go.

McKart tired in the eighth, and Wright began a brilliant exhibition of hitting and clinching.  He would pump a jab to McKart, follow with a quick combo, and then tie up before McKart could throw back.  Once this pattern was established, Wright banked four of the final five rounds with his ring generalship.  When he wanted to hit Bronco, he did, and when Bronco wanted to retaliate he was either in a clinch or too tired.    This late rally banked the fight firmly in Wright's column, and there was little surprise when the official cards read 116-113, and 118-110 twice.  (Boxing Chronicle scored for Wright 116-112).  Wright improves to 40-3/24 and barring the need for a rematch, seems to be the obvious challenger for the winner of Trinidad-Vargas.  Wright proved in his fight with Fernando Vargas that he belongs among the division's elite.  With a convincing decision over McKart, Wright simply must settle the score with Vargas if the Oxnard native is victorious.  For McKart, it's back to local club shows.  He has a long road ahead to rebuild his status.

This was not one of boxing's finest weekends.  Despite a sportsmanlike and technically sound boxing display with Wright-McKart II, there was not a single fight worthy of a second viewing.  There were no highlight reel clips (except for Norwood's fouls) and no reason to think that $34.95 ended up being a worthwhile investment.  Roy Jones admitted that he didn't give his all, Derrick Gainer picked up a title via a referee's incompetence, Marco Antonio Barrera struggled in a tedious tune-up, and Winky Wright won a no-frills decision. There have been worse weekends of fights, but few as uninteresting.

.....Chris Bushnell

Upcoming Fights

Current Champions

Boxing Journal

On-line Encyclopedia


Main Page

[Return to Top]