Since it's inception over 3 years ago, HBO's "Boxing After Dark" program has featured exciting pick 'em fights and dramatic toe-to-toe contests in nearly every broadcast. Tonight was an unfortunate exception.
In the main event, WBC 154 lb. champion David Reid took a unanimous, but rather boring, decision over former champion Keith Mullings. On paper, Mullings looked to be a perfect test for the mostly untested Reid: tough chin, good two handed power, and a relentless will that made him dangerous every minute of the fight. Once in the ring, however, Mullings' attack was virtually nil...and nearly matched by the infrequent offerings from Reid.
David Reid's most obvious weapon is his unusual handspeed. Early in the fight, his blinding combinations befuddled Mullings and kept a healthy distance between the two men. Mullings' task was clear: get inside Reid's range and punish back. Only occasionally did Mullings do both.
Reid spent much of the night on his toes, circling his challenger and opting to talk instead of punch. If there is a fine line between good footwork and running from your opponent, Reid crossed over it several times. At his best, Reid would turn Mullings and the unleash a four punch combination before getting out of harm's way. Many times, however, Reid simply shuffled away from Mullings and the fight ground to a halt.
Reid's circling was weaving a hypnotic spell on Keith Mullings. Frustrated by the champion's tactics, yet forced to respect Reid's power when it was uncorked, Mullings' own game was discombobulated. Should he chase? Should he stand still and wait? Should he attack? Mullings was often confused. Worse, when he did get Reid on the ropes, in a corner, or on flat feet, he never offered more than a single punch (usually a slow motion attempt that missed by a mile) before clinching.
The fight threatened the consciousness of even the most caffeinated insomniacs as the second half was even worse than the first. Reid circled, Mullings followed. Reid taunted, Mullings snarled. The two fighters would come together......and nothing happened. Mullings would wave a punch and Reid would slip and hold. It wasn't fun to watch.
At most, the entire fight contained a combined one round of action. It consisted mostly of Reid's right hand, which he wildly swung in the last rounds, and brief flurries by the champion. Mullings landed a few digging body shots and several glancing lead rights, but never once came close to testing Reid's chin.
All three judges gave Reid a unanimous decision by identical scores of 117-111. (Boxing Chronicle scored it an ugly 120-108 for Reid) He improves to 14-0/6 but does little to quiet his growing field of critics. Blessed with rarely seen talent, Reid showed only enough to win. Perhaps he was pacing himself, having fought another 12 round decision only six weeks ago, perhaps he was overly cautious with Mullings, or perhaps it was just an off-night...but it wasn't exciting.
As for Mullings, it's difficult to find a single cause for his performance. Although he looked fit and trim, Mullings might have overtrained. His punches never had much snap and his reputed focus was dented. Or perhaps Reid's power dissuaded him from taking more risks in a fight ripe with opportunities to take control. Keith Mullings drops to 16-6-1/11 and also probably drops out of the top ten in a division that will soon be overcrowded with talent.
"Warming up" the crowd was another less than scintillating bout between heavyweight prospects Monte Barrett and Mount Whitaker. Barrett tried to make it interesting by showing a high energy attack for four rounds before tiring out. Moving his head, going upstairs and down, and doubling up on his left hook, Barrett controlled the limited Whitaker early in the bout.
But Whitaker's size became a huge factor in the middle rounds, as Barrett tired under Whitaker's gigantic body attack. Throwing mostly arm punches, Whitaker didn't find Barrett often, but when he did Barrett felt it. As both men went from tired to exhausted, the fight went from slow to stopped.
Clinching? Yup. Huffing and puffing? You bet. Clean punches? Not in this fight.
Neither man could sustain control. Whitaker would win a round with his big punches only to follow it with a comatose round in which he would let Barrett back in the fight. As this battle of mediocrity neared the final rounds, the biggest intrigue was how the judges might see things.
Having given up his early lead to Whitaker in the middle rounds, Barrett found a second wind in the final two stanzas. Coming alive, he tried his best to turn things around. He won the 11th round and was on his way to also taking the 12th (and perhaps the fight on my card) until, with 5 seconds to go before the final bell, Whitaker launched a GIGANTIC right hand that opened a deep 5 inch gash that began at the bridge of Barrett's nose and curved up his forehead. Blood poured freely from Monte's head and painted his entire face with a thick layer of crimson. Had the fight gone on another 10 seconds, Whitaker may have scored a knockout. As it was, this final punch stole the final round, giving Whitaker a 114-114 draw on my scorecard.
One judge had it 115-113 for Barrett, while the other two somehow came up with tallies of 117-111 and 116-112 for Whitaker. Although Whitaker did enough to get the win in a bout that could have gone either way by a point, the wide margins with which he was credited are laughable. While Whitaker improved to 19-1/16 while Barrett dropped to 20-1/12, it's difficult to see how either man gained anything. Whitaker was winded and breathing very hard after 2 rounds. His arm punches worked against his size advantage and he often moved backward as if gun-shy. Barrett looked good in spurts, but also showed suspect conditioning in a fight that was otherwise his for the taking.
In an evening of two long and unexciting fights that stretched well beyond the witching hour, you could almost hear the collective sigh of boxing fans everywhere: 3 more weeks until DelaHoya-Trinidad.