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Marooned in the Islander Ballroom, Observations from the Mandalay Bay
Leading up to, During, and Following Rahman-Lewis II
By Josh Gross
LAS VEGAS, Nov. 17 -- Thanks to the good people at CyberBoxingZone.com, as well as my MaxFighting.com editor and CBZ contributor Tom Gerbasi, I was given the opportunity to play boxing writer at the Hasim Rahman-Lennox Lewis rematch Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay. It marked my first departure from the familiar trappings of a relatively new sport, mixed martial arts -- maybe you know it as Ultimate Fighting -- to the history-rich sport of boxing we all know and love. Anyhow, this was really my first chance to cover professional boxing, and I couldn't think of a better way to indoctrinate myself than a heavyweight championship fight in Vegas. Could you?
Following a longer than remembered drive from San Diego Thursday night, I picked up my credential first thing Friday morning. Soon, I found myself meandering through the bowels of the hotel in search of the media center.
Once inside the a Islander Ballroom, which served as home for the post-fight press conference and 600-plus credentialed journalists covering Don King's latest circus, I began to feel the part. There was little going on because the start of the undercard was a few hours away, so I decided to cruise through the hotel and soak up the atmosphere surrounding a heavyweight championship fight.
Sadly though, I didn't sense much energy from the throngs putting mortgage payments on the roll of the dice, and save a few gents sporting British flags/capes, the Lewis' contingent seemed less rowdy than anticipated. Not that I was hoping for some thuggery mind you, but the Brits can be passionate about their fighters and I was hoping to witness it firsthand.
Eventually, I figured I'd best head back to the media center for the early-afternoon start to the nine-bout card. Then, in a moment I had secretly been waiting for, I heard the booming, boisterous voice of the one and only Don King. I think he was yelling something about Puerto Rico and 'Tito' Trinidad, but that could have been leftover ramblings from September' s middleweight unification hype ringing in my head.
King truly was a sight to see. He sported a sequined red, white and blue denim jacket, and, of course, his hair gave the impression of a man that had just stuck his tongue in a light socket -- only in America. To top his festive ensemble off, he waved a scaled-down version of Old Glory to passers-by as he made his way to the mostly-empty media center. I've seen King on television thousands of times but, without sounding ridiculous, he seemed, well, cartoon-like in person.
If there was ever a person that loved the limelight it's King, and, not surprisingly the dynamic promoter attracted the camera's eye as he delivered several more pre-fight interviews. Soon (in all honesty much faster than I thought would have been possible) the novelty wore off, and it was time to watch some boxing.
I'm used to fight cards in which every bout is closely watched by both fans and media-types. I quickly learned boxing is not the same way, as it became clear just how main-event-driven boxing actually is. The media center felt like a ghost town when Venezuelan Yober Ortega landed a sweeping right hand to the jaw of Jose "Cheo" Rojas 36-seconds into the fourth round of the first fight of the night. With the KO, Ortega, now 32-3-1 (22), picked up the vacant WBA super bantamweight championship.
No one seemed to care.
A little more than half an hour later I was part of a small group that saw Wayne Braithwaite KO Louis "The Lion" Azille 2:09 of round three. Braithwaite, who moved his record to 17-0, is now in line for a mandatory shot at the WBC cruiserweight title.
Again, it seemed like no one cared.
Two fights, two KO's.little more than two people in the room. Two more matches followed -- decision victories for Jose Quintana over Terrell Hargrove, and Rhoshii "Mongoose" Wells
over Kenny Ellis -- and something interesting happened. Like a pack of jackals to a dead carcass, the writers came out in droves once the crafts service people laid out a delectable spread of hotdogs, nacho cheese sauce, chips and chili -- and you wonder why there aren't more size 30 waists amongst the best and brightest of today's boxing writers.
Now, before I get ostracized from ever covering a major boxing event again, I have to say that I met some really great people -- most of which weren't slobs. Seriously though, I want to thank everyone that took time out to speak with the kid wearing glasses, sitting next to his silver laptop for six hours.
As time for the start of the pay-per-view drew close, the energy in the room picked up. Yet, despite being on most of the 10 or so televisions and projection screens set up throughout the press area, Oliver McCall's battle with Henry Akinwande did little to sway attention from the piping-hot nacho cheese sauce.
Down big on the three judges' cards heading into the final round, McCall needed to finish the fight if he was going to win. With time running out he scored a huge right straight that dropped Akinwande to the canvas, and, for the first time all evening, the volume level of the media center quaked. Officially, McCall won at the 2:13 mark of round ten, and, fittingly, he cried. But it was joys of tears, not insanity so I didn't feel bad for cracking a smile.
Finally, six o'clock rolled around and the images I had been watching on TV the past three hours were now available to the tens of thousands pay-per-view patrons sitting at home. I was waiting for a spike in action, people running in and out of the press area and all sorts of over controlled mayhem -- instead I got 'The Coal Miner's Daughter.' Actually, that's unfair of me. Christy Martin, 44-2-2 (31), thoroughly out boxed opponent Lisa Holewyne en route to a unanimous decision victory and the so-called women's pound-for-pound championship.
With only two fights left until the main event, the media room was basically clean of any journalists. There were some poor shmucks like me that were stuck in back, but, really, what did I have to complain about? I just like to whine. Go ahead ask Gerbasi if you don't believe me. Anyhow, at the very least I was saving 50 bucks so I was a happy camper.
Back to the action: last seen amputating Felix Trinidad's gloves from his skull, William Joppy faced Howard Eastman for the WBA middleweight crown. Yes, that's right, middleweight title. Months earlier, Joppy had been act one for Trinidad in Don King's middleweight unification tournament. In the end Bernard Hopkins walked away with all three belts, and the 160-pound start was dubbed as "super champion" by the WBA. Evidently, once you're "super" the WBA says you can't keep the belt that made you "super", so the vacant title was on the line again. Kinda like a retarded form of kryptonite if you ask me.
Joppy controlled the early rounds, as the D.C. native seemed to enjoy the fact that he could get hit without fear of losing his head. For his part, Eastman never backed down, as his straight-ahead style proved effective in the mid-to-late rounds. In the 12th and final round, Eastman made Joppy take a knee in the last 10 seconds; however, it was too little too late for the Brit. Judges Bill Graham and Robert Watson scored it 115-112 and 114-112 respectively, and judge Chuck Giampa had it at an even 113-113. The majority decision earned Joppy his third WBA middleweight championship, and upped his record to 33-2-1 (24) while Eastman suffered his first defeat in 33-career bouts.
Excitement in the media center was steadily picking up. Between fights, the live television broadcast showed Rahman outside Lewis' dressing room demanding firsthand inspection of his tape job. He was denied, and the momentary comic relief got a chuckle from those in the room. Only one more fight to go before the rematch, and my adrenaline was starting to flow.
We'd have to wait a bit as Friday "The 13th" Ahunanya faced Sergei Liakhovich for the NABA heavyweight title. Liakhovich used his strength and mean streak in the ring to control and pound on Ahunanya for the majority of the 12-round contest. When it was all said and done, Liakhovich's hand was raised thanks to a unanimous decision and Friday "The 13th" looked about as scary as Tuesday the 20th.
Finally! It was time for the big money, smack-talking, hype-driven heavyweight title rematch everyone had been waiting for. I moved from the desk that my computer sat on, to a seat in front of the giant projection screen to the left of the dais. After all, a larger-than-life fight deserved a larger-than-life view. Lewis looked ready, and determined as he made his way to the ring. Rahman looked distracted, and he seemed more concerned with the status of his belt than anything else.
The fight was entertaining, albeit one-sided. With each passing second, the South African version of Lennox Lewis that came in sluggish and unmotivated vanished from the collective memories of everyone in the Mandalay Bay Events Center as he executed a beautifully effective and simple game plan to perfection.
Rahman could do little but appear awkward, as Lewis double-upped on stiff jabs, which aided the Brit in reducing "The Rock" into the one-hit wonder he sadly turned out to be. I say 'sadly' because I enjoy watching and listening to Rahman. He's intelligent, funny and most importantly he worked his ass off to avoid possible Buster Douglas comparisons.
Unfortunately for him, the real Lennox Lewis came to fight and it was going to take more than one solid right hand to the chin to finish him. Gaining confidence in each of the first three rounds, Lewis finished Rahman with a huge left hook-right cross combination that instantly floored the short-lived champ. Officially, the fight ended 1:29 of round four, but at the post-fight press conference Lewis, and trainer Emmanuel Steward, made it sound like the fight was over before it started. Lewis did dominate, and the win firmly placed him back on the track he was before the derailment in Johannesburg last April.
I'm not quite sure how to end this. The experience was great, and I'm better for it. I was surprised by the lack of energy in both the building and press room leading up to the main event, however, during the post-fight press conference most of the "old-school" boxing writers, that can be so jaded at times, seemed to have a little kick in their step. Call me corny, but I tried to envision myself in the same spot 30 years from now and it seemed plausible. Regardless, it was a damn cool evening if you ask me.
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