Tonight in San Antonio, Texas, America Presents and TVKO presented a four fight pay-per-view event from the Alamodome. All four fights featured former champions on the comeback trail. Unfortunately, the most exciting bout was first...and each successive bout was less exciting than the previous.
Starting off the card was Tracy Harris Patterson vs. Goyo Vargas in a bout for the meaningless IBA junior lightweight title. The bout began with both fighters attempting to establish their jabs as they felt out the smaller 18' ring. The close round went to Patterson, whose right hand popped Vargas with authority a few times.
In the second round, Vargas came out quickly, and once he landed cleanly on Patterson, it was obvious who the stronger fighter was. Vargas hunted Patterson down in the second, landing crisp and compact combinations that staggered Tracy across the ring. Vargas ripped into Patterson with vicious 4 and 5 punch flurries that landed cleanly. After landing a particularly wicked combo, the referee stepped in and called the doctor to the ring apron. Patterson had sustained a nasty cut....on his lip. In a weird scene, the doctor took a look at the cut and mumbled "It's pretty bad.". Patterson stood there for a few seconds, wondering if the fight was being stopped. Unable to get an answer from the referee, Patterson walked out to center ring, yelling at the ref "C'mon, let's go!" When the referee didn't answer, Patterson walked back to him, and again told him to get moving. The referee brought Patterson back to the doctor, who now with a flashlight got an even better look at the cut, again mumbled something ("It's a vertical cut") and made no decision. Eventually, the ref began the round again....but by this point, there were only 30 seconds remaining in the round. Patterson had gotten a bit of a rest, and when the fighters met at center ring, Patterson popped Vargas with a clean right hand...just to let him know that the fight wasn't over.
Despite having hurt Patterson in the second, Vargas came out slowly in the third, and allowed Patterson to re-establish his jab-right cross rhythm. The confidence Patterson surely found in this round did not serve him well. Admiring his work, Patterson began to get into exchanges with Vargas. Instead of stepping back, Patterson was taking well-timed counters from Vargas, who also clearly had the heavier hands.
After taking the fourth round on the basis of his power, Goyo Vargas let his hands go in the fifth. Patterson, who was slowing from Vargas' perfectly timed body attack, took an awesome beating for these three minutes. By round's end, his left eye had gone from zero to slammed shut, his nose was bleeding, and the deep gash on his lip was again flowing. As he slumped into his stool before the sixth, the announcers accurately noted that "Patterson looks like he's lost the desire to keep fighting". As his corner attended to him, the ring physician stood back, far away from the left eye. Patterson's team assured the doc that the eye was fine, and it was never checked on. The television cameras got much closer than the doctor to the eye...and it was obvious that Patterson could not see anything out of it. He was allowed to begin the sixth round.
Patterson showed no urgency, however, and calmly jabbed Vargas from the outside. For some unknown reason, Vargas let him. Vargas threw a couple of overhand rights into Patterson's eye, and Patterson didn't see a single one coming. As the fighters turned, the referee got a good look at Tracy's closed eye, and stepped in to stop the bout. Vargas TKO6. Patterson lightly protested, but he was a mess. The victim of a thorough beating, Patterson seemed to realize that his career had come to an end.
Oddly, Sean O'Grady interviewed Patterson on the air, and not Vargas. Odder still, O'Grady interviewed Patterson with the house microphone, so that the subdued Patterson's comments about his loss could be heard echoing throughout the arena. And oddest of all, after O'Grady had gotten the answer to his last question...he looked at Patterson and said into the microphone "Wow, you probably need to go put some ice on your left eye, which is swollen shut, and your right eye, which is nearly swollen shut, and your mouth, which is really messed up." What an unceremonious end to the career of a fine champion.
Next up, Gabe Ruelas took on Troy Dorsey. Although Ruelas has some fine boxing skills, they weren't needed tonight. After the opening bell, both men met in center ring, leaned their heads into each other, and began a frantic display of infighting. For six action packed rounds, Ruelas and Dorsey stood in a phone booth and whacked each other repeatedly. Both men backed up and/or stunned their opponent a number of times throughout the bout, and both men took their lumps. For his part, Ruelas was able to land his uppercut at will, and his left hook almost as often. Dorsey was again his durable self, surprising the crowd on several occasions with winging combinations that landed flush. This was a true battle of attrition.
After six rounds of this punishing style, Troy Dorsey's face gave out on him, like it had so many times before. Dorsey was acquitting himself nicely in this bout, until his face began to swell. First the swelling began over his left eye, and by the start of the sixth, his right eye was just as closed as Tracy Patterson's left was in the preceding bout. Dorsey, however, was allowed to fight on...until Ruelas opened a cut on the swollen shut right eyelid of Dorsey. As the ref took him to the doctor, the blood streamed down his face. The decision was easy. The fight was stopped. Ruelas TKO6. Dorsey's winning percentage has dropped to .500 (15-11-4), and he should consider retiring. Too tough for his own good, Dorsey again took an unusual amount of punishment...punishment he would have been willing to take for even more rounds if his skin tissue didn't constantly betray him. Ruelas improved to 45-4 and offered up a polite 'callout' to Arturo Gatti for a rematch.
Miguel Angel Gonzalez was next in a tuneup bout against unheralded Alex Perez that should have opened the card. Gonzalez dropped Perez in the opening round, and then went easy on him for a few rounds so that he could get some work in. Although Perez was trying his best, this was no more than a gym workout for Gonzalez, and it lost the momentum of the card. Gonzalez laid a number of combinations on Perez over the next few rounds, until the fifth, when an unstoppable shower of consecutive left hooks necessitated a mercy stopping by the referee. Gonzalez TKO5.
Next up was a revealing clip of a fight from earlier in the card. In that bout, Hector Camacho, Jr. was dropped hard in the sixth and final round of his prelim bout. He got up in very bad shape, but was able to run out the remaining 30 seconds of the bout to earn a decision victory. Although only the 5th and 6th rounds were shown, the Junior Macho Man showed that he fights much like his father. He's a powerless southpaw with an annoying jab and a decent right hook. After being dropped by his less-than-stellar competition, one has to assume that his career will also mirror his fathers: all hype. We'll see....
Finally, the main event began. The aging Azumah Nelson met rival Jesse James Leija for the fourth time. Although it was hyped as a tie-breaker (both fighters held one victory over the other, with a draw between them), once the bout began it was anything but an exciting bout. Nelson put on a performance similar to the one he turned in against Genaro Hernandez last time out....one in which the aging fighter can't seem to pull the trigger when he needs to. Nelson began the fight pawing with a weak jab, and throwing a lazy right hand at Leija. Although his punches would carry some weight later in the bout, Nelson showed some serious ring rust in the first several rounds.
The crowd began a chorus of boos in the second round, a round in which the inactivity of both fighters otherwise lulled the crowd to sleep. (The boo's would return at several points throughout this bout) Nelson danced and bounced, switched from southpaw to conventional, and did everything he could to establish a rhythm...except throw punches. Perhaps hypnotized by his opponent, Leija followed him around the ring with equal passivity. Eventually, Leija remembered his game plan: to stick and move his way to victory, as he had in the pair's second meeting. Once he began this formula, he cruised to victory.
Yes, Nelson had his moments. Several punches in the fourth showed that he still had some power, and he looked alive for the first half of the sixth round after his corner frankly told him that he was blowing the fight. But overall, the Professor looked old. He looked unable to capitalize on the openings he saw, and unwilling to stand toe-to-toe with Leija. His performance reminded me of Julio Cesar Chavez's recent outing against Gonzalez: Occasionally he would land a solid punch that shook his opponent, and for a brief moment the viewer imagines that he's seeing the once great champion from 10 years ago. But the vision is shattered as that one heavy punch isn't followed up because the fighter can't make his body perform like he used to.
In the second half of the bout, Leija used excellent footwork to step in, pop Nelson with a quick combo, and then step out to avoid the counter...if it came at all. Leija's face did take some abuse, and by fight's end he had two golf-ball sized lumps on his forehead to go with a headbutt induced cut, but he was never in danger of losing. Even in the 12th, when Nelson landed enough clean punches to win the round, Leija looked the clear winner. The pay-per-view team nearly blew it, as a conversation with John Saraceno of USA Today and a series of clips ran over Michael Buffer's announcement of the judges scores. The broadcast cut to Buffer just in time for him to announce the winner's name. For the record, those scorecards were 119-110 and 116-112 (twice).
Nelson refused to announce his retirement after the bout, but it's unclear what other options he has. Unable to beat Leija, he'll have almost no chance of getting a title shot now. Leija picked up the meaningless IBA lightweight title, and his winning streak continued...but his lack of power and speed make him an easy defense for any of the current 135 lb. titlists.
Overall this was a highly entertaining card, although the excitement was confined to the first two bouts of the card. America Presents announced another upcoming pay-per-view event....a double main event card which would determine which two fighters will eventually vie for the long-vacant WBC 140 lb. title. Kostya Tszyu will face Rafael Ruelas and Miguel Angel Gonzalez will square off against John John Molina. Interestingly, this card was announced before Gonzalez had won his bout.
-This was the first ever pay-per-view event from America Presents. They pulled out all the stops. Covering the fight was no less than six announcers. The telecast host was Yankee's announcer Al Trautwig, with commentary by USA Today Boxing columnist John Saraceno, roving reporting by TNF's Sean O'Grady, and calling the fights was Barry Tompkins, Rich Marotta and Mills Lane. They also featured a beautiful Martin Scorcese influenced camera angle: An overhead shot of the ring that slowly lowers on a sweeping crane-shot until it ends at ring ropes level.
-Sean O'Grady wasted no time in tonight's broadcast before putting his foot in his mouth. Commenting on the excitement of the lightweight division, O'Grady noted that "many fighters began their careers at 135 including Sugar Ray Robinson....Roberto Duran.....and Sean O'Grady." What a trifecta.....
-Mills Lane made his boxing announcer debut on this card. Despite the fact that Lane had contributed some excellent pre-fight analysis at the top of the show, the announcers rarely returned to him. Lane routinely scored the rounds along with an onscreen graphic, but his comments were limited to "I gave that round 10-9 to [blank]". Lane certainly knows the fight game, and if he's to appear on future telecasts, the broadcasting team would do well to utilize his presence and knowledge more.
-Although Nelson couldn't pull the trigger tonight, Leija's corner certainly did. After Michael Buffer announced his name, a member of Leija's entourage (dressed in full cowboy gear) fired blanks from his revolver into the air. I'm no anti-gun lobbier, nor do I particularly feel that guns should be kept off television....but does anyone else think that a man firing a gun in the air is not the sort of thing to do at a well attended live sporting event? Well, not counting track and field, that is...