Sunday, December 2, 2007

Three Up, Three Down at Foxwoods Tripleheader

WBC 154-pound titlist, Vernon "The Viper" Forrest, right, tees off on Italian challenger Michele Piccirillo at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut.

MASHANTUCKET, CONNECTICUT - It was an evening of knockouts last night in the Bingo Hall at Foxwoods Resort and Casino as Antonio Tarver, Vernon Forrest and Nonito Donaire called the numbers of their opponents with emphatic stoppage wins.

The story of the night, of course, was the resurgent Vernon Forrest. “The Viper” will turn 37 years old next month and he was away from boxing for a two-year stretch from 2003-2005 during which time he had several surgeries to repair various arm ailments.

The promoter of last night’s show, Gary Shaw, put it best when he said that Vernon was away from boxing with a “bad wing.” However, Forrest demonstrated to all in the first defense of his WBC Super Welterweight title that he is getting back to form and is ready to take flight against the best there is.

Forrest, 153, Atlanta, Georgia who is now 40-2 (29) KO’s turned back a tougher than expected challenge from the game former welterweight titlist, Michele Piccirillo, 152, from Puglia, Italy who drops to 48-4 (30) KO’s with the loss.

The end came at 2:21 of the eleventh round for Piccirillo who showed unbelievable guts as well as the ability to absorb tremendous amounts of punishment only to annoyingly strike back with stubborn, yet light punches.

With Forrest, however, Piccirillo was simply in with a fighter who had superior skills as well as the ability to execute his gameplan and impose his will.

Forrest was way up on the cards of the three official judges by identical scores of 98-90 when the end came. Piccirillo was knocked down in rounds six and nine before staying down for good in the eleventh when his right leg folded awkwardly underneath him as he was driven to the canvas.

The rumor at ringside was that Piccirillo might have broken his leg just above the ankle when he was knocked down, but that was not confirmed. The Italian was taken to a local hospital for further examination and observation and obviously did not make it to the post fight presser.

“He took some God-awful shots,” said Gary Shaw of Piccirillo. “That kid even surprised me. He is a game kid, he is skilled. He’s more than everybody thought that Piccirillo was,” continued Shaw. “You’ve got to give credit to fighters like that who really come to fight.”

For his part, Forrest says he feels great and is happy to be back and healthy. He wants what he terms “big name fights” and he brought up the names of Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Ricardo Mayorga and the winner of Mayweather versus Hatton as potential future opponents. He says, however, that they would all have to come to 154 pounds to see him. Of Mayorga, Forrest said, “He will always be on my radar because he’s the only guy I’ve lost to.”

Forrest had an all star cast in his corner last night with long-time trainer Al Mitchell, Buddy McGirt and Jimmy Glenn who all helped him take care of business. Forrest looks much thicker and stronger at 154 than he did when he was a 147-pound welterweight and his body has matured. With that maturity has come heavier punches all of which were on display last night.

Mitchell’s voice could be heard from the corner cutting through the roar of the crowd as he yelled instructions to his dutiful student. Forrest did a masterful job of mixing his shots and working effectively to the head and body. Forrest landed some hellacious shots to the head but he made Piccirillo feel it to the slats as well. On a few occasions the Italian grunted and moaned when Forrest landed heavy shots to the ribs.

Forrest said that he is now a better fighter than he was when he was a younger champion. “Once you’ve had to sit on the sidelines and you can’t get in the game and you’re forced to watch stuff - then I had to step back and watch what was going on,” said Forrest. “I came back and revamped everything. It’s like with Tiger Woods when he says he breaks his swing down and then rebuilds it and makes it even better. What I did, is I broke my style down and rebuilt it even better.”

"The Filipino Flash" Nonito Donaire, left, fires an uppercut at outgunned challenger Luis Maldonado during hand-to-hand combat for the IBF Flyweight title.

The IBF Flyweight titlist, Nonito Donaire, 111 pounds, from General Santos City, The Philippines, ran his record to 19-1 (12) KO’s after eight rounds of battering Luis Maldonado, also 111 pounds from Mexicali, Mexico, who dropped to 37-2-1 (28) KO’s with the loss.

His nickname is “The Filipino Flash” and Donaire, who speaks remarkably clear English, said that he showed again last night that his knockout win over Vic Darchinyan back in July to win the title proved, “That I’m no one-hit wonder, I’m here, I’m no flash in the pan.”

The referee in the Donaire vs. Maldonado fight was Charlie Dwyer and he gave Maldonado every opportunity to show him something - especially at the end. Maldonado absorbed a colossal bombardment of incoming shots throughout the night and his was face was a grotesque mass of blood from the first round on. Maldonado bled for the entire night from cuts over both eyes and his face was as purple as a grape as he tried to solve the puzzle that was Nonito Donaire.

Donaire was way ahead on the cards of the three official judges by scores of 70-62, 70-62 and 69-63 when the end came for Maldonado at 1:16 of the eighth. Before the bloodthirsty Charlie Dwyer finally decided that he had seen enough, some fans in the crowd were yelling and pleading with Dwyer to “Stop the fight!” It was only several seconds (but it seemed like an eternity) before Dwyer finally pulled the trigger on his sensitivity and saved Maldonado from further crushing.

Donaire was hit with a few flush shots along the way by the extremely determined Maldonado, but Nonito’s quicker hands and faster reflexes proved to be the real difference in the fight. At age 25, Donaire's greater one punch power, especially with the right hand to the head, was also a big factor.

A few things that I noticed about Donaire is that he does telegraph his shots and he does have a real tendency to try and load up with one big shot instead of setting things up with his left jab. His facial expression changes when he gets ready to throw a big power punch and on more than a few occasions the experienced Maldonado picked up on that and wisely moved out of the way. Also, Donaire does not close his hand when he throws his left as a jab and this takes a lot of pop off what would otherwise be a more powerful shot. However, at age 25, the sky is the limit for Donaire and he does seem to have a capable trainer in his corner who will make further refinements as time goes on.

Donaire said he had to come down from 140 pounds to make 111 for the fight and that he felt sluggish in the ring. He said he didn’t really have his legs at any time during the night, maybe because of the 29-pound weight loss.

Promoter Gary Shaw is high on Donaire and said, “He is real, he’s as real as they come. He fights at 112 pounds; he’s a big 112. We would like to unify the titles if we can. Nonito is a fighter that I believe, and you can write down today’s date, that will be a champion at 112 pounds, he’ll be a world champion at 115 pounds and he’ll be a world champion at 118 pounds – for sure. He’s young, he’s fresh and he can really fight.”

Antonio "The Magic Man" Tarver,left, unloads another shot on Danny Santiago. The fight was stopped by referee Steve Smoger in the fourth round.

The main event featured a battle for bragging rights of the “Sunshine State” as Antonio Tarver, 175, Orlando, Florida, rose to 26-4 (19) KO’s versus Danny Santiago, 174, Ocala, Florida, who dropped to a still anonymous 29-4-1 (19) KO’s.

This fight was panned by many of the critics (that would be boxing writers) and it basically turned out like everybody said it would as the end came for the hapless and helpless Santiago at 2:53 of the fourth round.

The 39 year-old Tarver, a southpaw who still looks vibrant and healthy after all of these years in the fight racket, said he was first introduced to boxing in 1979 as a “snot-nosed kid.” Tarver showed much greater class and a higher level of skills in taking apart an eager Santiago in just under twelve minutes. Referee Steve Smoger called it off when Santiago went down from an accumulation of increasingly heavier shots thrown by Tarver, who took a little while to warm up.

The fight was fought at a slow pace in the early going and there were a fair amount of boos from a Connecticut crowd still thirsty for blood after having digested an appetizing feast of "Maldonado and Piccirillo" during the prelim menu.

Antonio did miss quite a few of his measured shots as Santiago, at only 5’9 ½” tall, ducked under the sweeping punches of the 6’2” tall Tarver. Santiago attempted to make a fight of it, he came forward and he did throw punches that had hurt written on them, but he was never able to deliver the envelopes. Santiago did manage to catch Tarver to the body a few times and he landed a few thudding kidney punches that Tarver had to have felt.

Tarver showed all of his experience and appeared to be in great shape and he fought the fight at a pace that he dictated. He showed some feints, moved around Santiago’s lunges and alternated between easy right jabs and harder straight lefts. Tarver also softened up Danny with a few shots to the body. One thing about Tarver is that his facial expression rarely changes and this fools his opponents, as they never know when the big punch is coming.

Indeed, Santiago never knew when the big punch was on its way and neither did his trainer Pat Burns. At 34, it’s tough to say where Santiago could possibly go from here, as at his age he will never be a force on the world stage.

At the post fight presser, Tarver’s wife Denise and their young daughter Taylor joined Antonio on the dais. Denise is a woman with striking good looks and she was dressed in a red satin dress that matched perfectly to Tarver’s boxing trunks and warm up suit. The pair faced the assembled press as a unified team and Mrs. Tarver seems quite protective of her husband.

Some hecklers in the crowd were chanting, “Stop ducking Dawson!” in reference to undefeated WBC 175-pound titlist Chad Dawson, who hails from down the road in New Haven, Connecticut. Dawson was in attendance. But Gary Shaw put a stop to the shenanigans and threatened to have the chanters removed from the premises. They then shut up immediately. In fact, they were quiet as church mice the rest of the evening.

Dawson was dressed in an oversized, maroon, fur vest and some sort of camouflage jumpsuit. The outfit was reminiscent of something not seen since the Joe Frazier and George Foreman wardrobes of the early 1970’s and it was certainly attention grabbing all on its own. Dawson never challenged Tarver verbally, or otherwise, but his presence loomed over the proceedings and clouded Tarver’s spotlight just a little bit.

Promoter and emcee Shaw said that Tarver “is not ducking Dawson” and that the best thing for this potential match is just to let the fight build into a bigger event. Shaw is Dawson’s promoter of record and he is angling to work with Tarver in the future and it is certainly a fight that could be built into a pay-per view show with the help of the Connecticut casinos and a television network. It was Tarver’s second straight fight in Dawson’s backyard and there was a healthy crowd in the bingo hall last night at Foxwoods, so the fight does seem to be simmering, albeit on the back burner.

As for Tarver, he is looking forward to 2008 and he was happy to be on a fight card again with Vernon Forrest. The previous time the two appeared together on the same card was over five years ago in 2002, at Indianapolis, when Forrest beat Shane Mosley a second time and Tarver gained revenge on Eric Harding.

Tarver alluded to that night and he seems eager to fight on the same card with Forrest again in the future. “We’re two and o’ baby on the same card!” said the jubilant Tarver as he turned to Forrest. “If we keep it together baby we could ride this thing until the wheels come off! Ha! ha! ha!”

And with that the hour was approaching one o’clock in the morning. After having spent the night in press row seated next to veteran fight scribe George Kimball, who is still smoking his Lucky Strike cigarettes without the filters, I decided to head for a warm hotel room on what was a dark, cold and blustery night in the Connecticut woods.

At ringside, December 1, 2007.

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