Sunday, March 5, 2017
I grew up just as boxing was exiting from the mainstream sports scene, hurt by corruption and a confusing array of sanctioning organizations. Even now, there are four such associations each of which can have a champion at 17 different weight categories. It is simply too difficult for the average sports fan to follow all of these, so you only hear about the top boxers, such as Floyd Mayweather, who retired as an undefeated professional in 2015, leaving the World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight title vacant from November of that year. In January 2016, Philadelphia's Danny Garcia beat Robert Guerrero to capture the championship.
Mayweather also held the World Boxing Association welterweight belt at that time, and that was stripped in 2016 due to his retirement. Keith Thurman from Orlando, the interim champion, was promoted and defended the title against Shawn Porter in June at Barclays Center in a bout that was broadcast in prime time on CBS, the first fight accorded such a privilege since Ali-Spinks in 1978.
With both Garcia (33-0) and Thurman (27-0) sporting undefeated records, a title unification bout was inevitable and that was set for March 4, again at Barclays Center. My buddy Eddie, a serious boxing fan, told me that this was one of the biggest fights of the year, and with tickets in the upper bowl just $57, I decided to attend. For those who care, floor seats were $757, while lower bowl seats ranged $157-500 or so. With binoculars, the upper bowl seats were certainly the most cost-effective, though it is difficult to tell from the photo above.
There were eight other bouts on the card, and I arrived as the third fight, a super lightweight encounter between Sergey Lipinets (#7 in the world) and Clarence Booth (#144, all rankings from BoxRec.com), was getting underway. As you would expect from such a mismatch, Lipinets won by TKO in the 7th round. This was followed by a welterweight bout as Richardson Hitchins, a Brooklyn native who represented Haiti in the Olympics, won his professional debut in just 90 seconds over Mexican Mario Perez. That led us to the televised portion of the evening, which consisted of two bouts. Before the main event, a super welterweight fight between Erickson Lubin (#15) and Jorge Cota (#102) resulted in Lubin knocking down Cota in the fourth round. During the TV interview, Lubin boasted "I landed that overhand and it was night-night", which received a lot of laughs from the fans.
With the first fight finishing so quickly, we had to wait about 30 minutes for the main event, which began around 10 pm. Thurman (#2 in the world behind Manny Pacquiao) entered with somebody next to him singing "My Way" (above) and Garcia (#3) followed shortly thereafter, wearing a mask (below). Those were the only "hype" moments of the evening; for a sport that relies on pre-match promotion, the actual event is very quick and relatively quiet.
The fight was scheduled for 12 rounds, and Thurman (#2 in the world, in red below) was the aggressor early, particularly in a highly entertaining first round. Boxing rounds are scored with the winner getting 10 points and the loser getting 9, unless he is knocked down, when he will get 8 or possibly 7. After six rounds it was 58-56 Thurman according to the judge I was following online, meaning Thurman had a 4-2 lead in rounds. Thurman continued to win rounds and had a 97-93 lead after 10, suggesting that Garcia had to knock him out to win the match. But Thurman did not engage for those final two rounds, resulting in a cascade of boos from the fans as he backpedaled the whole time. With twelve rounds completed and both fighters still standing, we went to the scorecards. When the winner was announced, it was a surprising split decision with Thurman winning 116-112 and 115-113 on two cards, while Garcia took the other 115-113. Both fighters were interviewed and Garcia was polite in the loss, though the believed that he had won the fight. A rematch is possible.
With the main event done, about 16,000 of the 16,553 fans fled for the exits, but there were three more bouts on the card. I moved down to the lower level and watched a super lightweight contest with Mario Barrios (#28, in black below) defeating Yardley Suarez (#169) in a sixth round TKO. Look for the 21-year-old Barrios to move up the rankings over the next few years.
The final two matches were for true boxing fans only. First, another super lightweight bout saw 21-year old Thomas Velasquez (#262) knock out 32-year-old James Lester (#602). Lester lay face down for a few minutes before being helped out of the ring, I hope he retires for his own sake. The final bout saw a couple of 30-year-old featherweights with Pablo Cruz (#216) dominating Rickey Lopez (#102) only to lose on a split decision. I can't find any stats on the fight, but Lopez seemed to be backing up through the entire thing so I don't know how he won. The evening finished at 12:30, fully six hours after it started, a good deal if you got the cheap seats.
Overall, this was a good introduction to boxing and how it operates. A couple of high-profile bouts with several more of the second or third-tier variety. New York has several major fight nights a year, and I might try go again once or twice, but I wasn't convinced that boxing is a sport that is worth following regularly.
I expected a lot of celebs in attendance, but only Boomer Esaison and Phil Simms were announced on the big screen.
If you are going to a boxing match, floor seats are not that good because you are looking up through the ropes. The best seats are midway up the lower bowl in the section looking straight at the ring.