|Tapia defeated in Vegas; Ayala takes title in Fight of the Year Candidate
Tonight in Las Vegas, the Mandalay Bay Hotel hosted a pay-per-view extravaganza that
provided a little bit of everything: One of the year's most boring fights and
undoubtedly one of the year's most exciting with a little bit of boxing sideshow in
In the main event, Johnny Tapia was drawn into an inside fight by the southpaw style of
Paulie Ayala and lost his title in a unanimous, albeit close, decision. For twelve
full rounds, the two men stood face to face and traded vicious blows in a fight that was
frenetic from opening to closing bell.
Before that opening bell rang, however, Johnny Tapia was already having problems
controlling his legendary temper. Tapia, his adrenaline pumping as he entered the
ring to a cheering crowd, crossed the canvas and shoved Paulie Ayala during his ring
introduction. The men were separated quickly by security and Joe Cortez issued a
formidable warning of disqualification during the final instructions.
Both men started fast in the first round and never looked back. Tapia's footwork had
him coasting across the canvas in the first and digging to the body with his trademark
left hook. Ayala wasted no time himself, pumping out a huge jab and establishing his
own penchant for working the ribcage. It was a close round in a night of extremely close
rounds, with Tapia edging Ayala on my card.
But in the second and third rounds, Paulie Ayala established himself as more than a worthy
challenger. Drawing Tapia in close, Ayala would dig to both sides of the body and
batter Tapia with well timed straight lefts. Tapia
answered each combination with one of his own...to his credit because Ayala's punching
suggested that he was the bigger stronger fighter, but to his detriment because Tapia, in
an effort to get respect back, was drawn into
In the third, the pace was increased yet again, and both men had venom on every punch.
Tapia stood in with Ayala for most of the round as each man would flurry at close
range and land most of the punches. Tapia took a great deal of punishment in this
round despite dishing back as often as he could. Ayala's straight left drilled into
Tapia's face more than once, and the challenger began and ended each combination with
thudding body shots.
In the fourth, Tapia began back on his feet, alternating a jab with a lead right hand and
attempting to set up a rhythm that would benefit his style. When he came in, scored, and
got out, Tapia was on his way. But again, when Ayala drew Tapia in, he controlled
the inside. Ayala's left uppercut was thrown in perpetuity on the inside, and
although Tapia's chin took it, it was doing some damage.
What can be said about rounds five through eleven though? They were nearly all dead
even. For much of the fight, the two men stood at close range mirroring each other's
actions. Ayala would fire a five punch combination
upstairs and down and then Tapia would unleash a similar flurry back at him. Tapia
would snap Ayala's head with a stunning double lead right and Ayala would answer back with
a lead left of his own.
The Las Vegas crowd was on it's feet at the end of the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth,and
tenth rounds as each of these rounds ended with the final minute spent in toe to toe
ferocious exchanges. At times, Johnny Tapia seemed to have the upper hand, as his
speed allowed him to throw more often and back Ayala up. At other times, Ayala's
hard punching would stop Tapia in his tracks. The fight's momentum shifted multiple
times each round,
providing difficult decisions for anyone choosing to score this fight.
After eleven rounds, my scorecard had the fight dead even. Having resisted scoring
any round 10-10, despite the fact that many rounds could easily be scored even , I
relented in the eleventh as both men dealt out identical
punishment and seemed to be saving just a bit for the final round.
It all came down to the twelfth round, with the fight far too close to predict how three
judges would decide. Neither fighter disappointed. As they had for most of the
bout, Tapia and Ayala stood head to head and fired
punches upstairs and down. Ayala fought with more urgency, perhaps sensing a
decision for the "house fighter", and landed crisp blows throughout. It
was clear that neither man planned on leaving anything in the ring, and at the final bell,
the furious action ceased, both men raised their hands, and Ayala fell to the canvas in a
mixture of elation and exhaustion. It was, to date, the fight of the year.
As the official scores were tabulated, the tension built up. A split decision would
not have been a surprise, nor would a draw have invited protest. When Jimmy Lennon
Jr. announced a unanimous decision, the crowd
grew silent. Despite the seemingly even fight, the fighters themselves seemed to
sense what was about to happen. Ayala was all smiles while Tapia's face showed
concern. 115-114 and 116-113 twice for the.......new WBA bantamweight champion
Overtaken with emotion, Ayala (28-1/12) was understandably beside himself. Having
lost a bid at a world title last year when headbutts forced an early reading of the cards,
Ayala had just upset the division's biggest money maker and notched the only loss of
Tapia's resume. Clutching his new WBA diadem, Ayala stood proud in the ring.
This outstanding performance throws his name to the top of the division's rankings
and will no doubt give Danny Romero much to think about before he comes back down to 118.
Tapia (46-1-2/25) was gracious in his first defeat, although he made some not-so-veiled
accusations that perhaps the decision had been worked against him. Implying that Top
Rank had rigged the judges against him and boldly declaring that it was his last fight
with Bob Arum, Tapia was no doubt stung not only by this loss, but what will almost
certainly be an indefinite postponement of any catchweight showdown with Naseem Hamed.
This exciting, action packed fight was the perfect topper to a night of otherwise
Prior to the main event, WBC lightweight champion Stevie Johnston kept his title on a
baffling decision in one of the most excruciating boxing matches in a long time.
For 12 rounds, Argentinean challenger Aldo Rios circled the ring and threw his light
fisted combinations while Johnston simply watched him. The chorus of boos began 30
seconds into the fight as both men chose to look at each other instead of throw punches,
and continued throughout the night. After the fourth round especially, the boos so
overwhelmingly filled the 12,000 seat arena that both fighters had to be disconcerted.
No wonder they booed: Rios could not land a clean punch to save his life, as
Johnston bobbed and weaved and made him miss most of his attempts. Not that a
connect might have changed things, as Rios had only scored 4 knockouts over his 20-0
career. Johnston, however, did nothing after each of Rios' misses and was
inexplicably catatonic even when Rios would mockingly drop his hands. In the fifth
round, neither fighter landed more than 10 punches, and neither threw much more than that.
Usually such a boring contest comes down to what you like: the fighter moving forward or
the fighter throwing more punches. Certainly Rios' pitty pat assaults and ever
moving footwork were not pretty to watch, but when compared to Johnston's inactivity and
visible frustration, it seemed to win him round after round. In a fight such as
this, the temptation again is to score a number of rounds 10-10, but for much different
reasons that Tapia-Ayala. With neither man offering enough offense to deserve to win
the round, picking who to give the ten to was often a laborious chore. Yet my
scorecard tallied round after round for Rios, who was at least moving his hands, even if
neither man was landing cleanly at any point.
And then came the scores: 116-112, 117-112, and 118-110 all for Stevie Johnston.
While a Johnston win was not a surprise, the margin of victory was. Winning
by 4, 5, and 8 points hardly seems like an appropriate score
for a champion who could simply not get himself to throw more than one punch every 30
seconds. Johnston's victory was supposed to be the final hurdle to set up a
September showdown with Angel Manfredy on HBO....but this performance might have dulled
the network's interest, it not convinced Johnston that more gym work is needed before
stepping in with a dangerous fighter like Manfredy.
Also on the card was the cult favorite Butterbean squaring off in a four round bout with
walking trivia answer Peter McNeeley. Many felt that Butterbean would lose to the
more experienced McNeeley, but it was not to
be. After parodying Naseem Hamed by hilariously shadow boxing in silhouette behind a
white screen, Butterbean entered the ring to "Sweet Home Alabama" and battered
McNeeley for 3 full minutes before Jay Nady mercifully stopped the bout.
Although still just a big guy with gloves on, Butterbean has actually picked up a few
skills recently. His one-two has straightened out and looks more like it belongs in
a prize fight instead of a bar brawl, and at one point in
this short contest, Butterbean actually bobbed and weaved. Give him credit for
McNeeley did what he could, which was not much. Like he did versus Tyson, McNeeley
rushed at the Bean early and tried to attack. Despite weighing in at a good 212,
McNeeley's build was noticeably smaller than when he had challenged Iron Mike, especially
his skinny legs, which deserve credit for holding him up as long as they did.
After eating a few McNeeley haymakers, Butterbean found range with a couple of heavy jabs
and then began unloading clubbing left hook after clubbing left hook to McNeeley's skull.
With 30 seconds left in the round, one of these left hooks temporarily rolled
McNeeley's eyes back into his head and had him out on his feet. The Hurricane
covered up on the ropes, Butterbean let his hands go as fast as he could, and referee Jay
Nady stepped in. The stoppage came with less than ten seconds in the round, but was
appropriate. Stunned, not throwing, and eating shots, McNeeley was a helpless on the
ropes. Butterbean KO1.
After the fight, McNeeley's cornermen loudly complained that they had been ripped off and
McNeeley was caught on camera complaining to Ron Borges about jet lag from all the flights
he had taken in promotion for the bout. For his part, the smiling Butterbean dropped
his usual etiquette long enough to challenge Mike Tyson, calling him "too stupid to
beat me". We'll see.
Also on the card, Yory Boy Campas (73-3/63) bettered Ronald Weaver (23-5/18) to a wide ten
round unanimous decision. Campas' usual body attack was again the story as the steel
jawed veteran simply waded in and attacked Weaver's midsection with reckless abandon.
The body shots took Weaver off his toes after several rounds, but Weaver kept it
exciting when nearly every round he would sustain brutal punishment and then out of
nowhere turn the attack on the easy-to-hit Campas...especially in the second, seventh, and
Weaver's inspired hail-mary punches brought the crowd to it's feet.
Finally, Mia St. John continued her quest to send women's boxing back into obscurity by
once again embarrassing herself and the sport by fighting suspect competition and looking
less than stellar in the process. St. John's upcoming Playboy magazine appearance
might win her some fans, but her continued presence on pay-per-view cards is becoming a
"People don't want to see boxing....boxing is boring." -Butterbean in a
Classic In Vegas: Ayala
By Thomas Gerbasi
With all the negativity that
usually surrounds The Sweet Science, it is always a pleasant surprise when two fighters
leave it all in the ring, fighting their hearts out for every minute of every round. That
was the case last night in Las Vegas when Paulie Ayala (28-1, 12 ko's) wrested the WBA
bantamweight crown from pound for pound entrant Johnny Tapia (46-1-2(25 ko's) in a minor
The decision for Ayala was
unanimous ( 115-114, 116-113 twice), but could have easily been called a draw, or could
have been scored in Tapia's favor (this reporter scored it 116-114 for Tapia). These days,
superlatives get thrown around freely and without just cause. But in the case of
Ayala-Tapia, any praise would be more than justified.
Tapia was his usual emotional
self before the fight, even going so far as to push Ayala during the introductions.
Security had to keep the combatants separated during referee Joe Cortez's instructions,
and the fireworks continued immediately after the bell rang to begin the fight. A couple
of patterns soon emerged which would dictate the outcome of the fight. Tapia was the
faster fighter, and Ayala the stronger fighter. Tapia's advantage would be from long
range, while Ayala would hold the edge on the inside. Unfortunately for Johnny, but
fortunately for us, Tapia chose to go toe to toe with Ayala.
Ayala landed more solid punches
on Tapia than I had ever seen, yet the champion was unmoved, as he retaliated with vicious
bodyshots and combinations. Each round was packed with furious exchanges and the ebb and
flow which epitomizes the best in boxing.
As the seventh round ended, Ayala
was landing the cleaner and harder blows, and I had him ahead on my scorecard 68-67. But
from rounds eight to eleven, Tapia's experience and conditioning started to pay dividends,
as he took advantage of a tiring, but still battling challenger. The twelfth round was
another slugfest, with Ayala taking the round, and ultimately the fight. All the bad blood
between the two evaporated after the final bell, with Ayala gracious in victory, and Tapia
accepting his first loss with the dignity of a champion.
If I ever had to thank two
fighters for a great fight, this was it. A rematch may be too much to ask for, but I'm
asking anyway. Forget Lewis-Holyfield II, I want to see Ayala-Tapia II in November.
In undercard action at Las Vegas'
Mandalay Bay Resort...
Stevie Johnston (27-1) defended
his WBC lightweight title with a unanimous decision over Argentina's Aldo Rios (20-1).
This fight, in which I use the term "fight" loosely, could be used to cure
insomniacs worldwide. Johnston, who was actually being mentioned as a threat to
"Sugar" Shane Mosley, has never looked worse, as he blindly chased the Carl
Lewis-esqe Rios around the ring for 36 excruciating minutes. There was barely a hint of
action in the contest, with the only excitement being the SET broadcasters' one liners
about the quality of the bout. Johnston was declared the winner by scores of 116-112,
117-112, 118-110, which seem out of whack with the reality of the bout, which was much
closer, though not compelling in the least.
Yory Boy Campas (73-3) made his
first start since last December's loss to Fernando Vargas with a unanimous 10 round
decision over a courageous, but outgunned Ronald Weaver (23-5). There were no knockdowns
in the fight.
The King of the Four Rounders,
Butterbean (45-1-1), solidified his hold on his title with a first round TKO over former
Pizza Hut pitchman "Hurricane" Peter McNeeley (45-5).
Mia St.John (12-0) continued to
drag women's boxing back to the days of catfights and "foxy" boxing, with a
unanimous four round decision over Mary Ann Haik (5-6). What amazes me is that with
quality female fighters out there, like Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin, Sumya Anani, and
Melissa Salamone, Bob Arum continues to hoist this obviously unskilled Playboy bunny on
the boxing public. The novelty has definitely worn off Miss Mia, whose skills seem to
erode with each fight. But she's laughing all the way to the bank.