Local pro boxing cards where I come from are a chance to watch young fighters hone their craft and gain valuable experience in the hopes of one day seeing them perform on the big stage. Since recently returning to America from abroad I couldn’t wait for the chance to catch a local pro-card and that hunger for some live fisticuffs led me to make the one hour drive from my new home in Raleigh, North Carolina to Greensboro to catch the Saturday Night KO Fights card. Thankfully my girlfriend accompanied me, though I don’t think attending a local boxing show is her idea of a romantic date.
Greensboro, North Carolina is not a place I would necessarily recommend as a terrific vacation destination, but beggars can’t be choosers and these fights were listed as being in the WNBA’s Greensboro Coliseum Complex. In fact, the venue was located next door to the Coliseum but regardless the venue was big enough for both the local fans and a full-sized boxing ring. When we arrived we searched for the table supporting the fighter we’d come to see, Michael “150%” Williams Jr.
I had previously bought our tickets using a code from Williams’ Instagram account which, as I later found out, was actually a link to the promoters web page. Later I would learn Mr. William Jr.’s opponent apparently came in too light and the fight had to be pulled from the card. This result saw Williams and his team return to Fayetteville well before I arrived. Such is boxing.
After a bit of confusion with the ticket attendants I was able to obtain our missing tickets from the call order box outside and we proceeded to find our seats. Now I’ve been to many professional boxing shows but I wouldn’t call the handling of these shows necessarily “professional.” I had ordered and paid extra for so-called “VIP” seats only to learn no one knew where the VIP section was. You would think VIP seating would be easy to set up but I learned it is not. After another ridiculous amount of confusion, my companion and I finally took our seats and waited for the show to begin and soon enough two gentlemen plopped down next to me. Their shirts read “Hit Hard Boxing,” and I sized them up to be local boxing coaches. Little did I know both had worked together in the fight game for over 20 years and are now situated in Washington D.C. with the one and only Headbangers boxing gym.
The pair work hand-in-hand with Patrice Harris and Barry Hunter, two legends in the sport, and are working together with the Bell brothers. I only mention this because for me, personally, I have had a desire to train at Headbangers and am a big fan of both Coach Harris and Coach Hunter. You can imagine my delight to have learned this as I began to chat with the gentlemen and learn of their backgrounds within the sport.
Around 8:30, the show finally began. Stephon McIntyre entered the ring with a record listed as 3-10 with 2 KO’s. I later discovered from Dave, one of the Hit Hard Boxing coaches, that McIntyre’s record was mislabled. McIntyre is really 3-40 with 2 KO’s. His opponent a short, stout boxer fighting out of Philadelphia by way of Tajikastan was Anvar Yunosov. Anvar did not seem like anything special and, as I later realized, he was not. After a short introduction of both fighters the first bell rang and the show was underway.
McIntyre is athletic but I hope he has a regular day job. He is a paid opponent and the sport of boxing has a respectable place for these men, however he is too athletic to just stand and take this type of abuse. I firmly believe that with the right backing this young man has the potential to go on and be a respectable contender; sadly he has chosen his path, whether voluntarily or out of necessity.
Anvar began pumping jabs at McIntyre but soon started firing power shots in hopes of a one punch knockout. Realizing McIntyre was too quick for his offense he redirected his strategy to chasing McIntyre and unleashing combinations, loading up on each punch. McIntyre would retaliate now and then, but this young man seems to have learned how to box solely by taking punches. The bout turned into more of a sparring session as Anvar pummeled the young journeyman for six rounds and upped his record to 3-0.
The next bout was Henry Mercer vs Elvin Ganbarov. This ended quickly as Elvin Gabarov is cut from the same cloth as Gennady Golovkin. The former Soviet bloc is putting out top tier levels of young fighting talent and Elvin resembled a combination of a bodybuilder with a hint of Ivan Drago and just by looking at this young prospect you could tell he was itching for battle. He quickly dismantled his journeyman opponent, imposing his much greater strength on the smaller Mercer.
While these less than riveting bouts were happening the two coaches next to me offered practical advice to the fighters in the ring through some voluble backseat coaching.
“Come on baby, it’s THUMP TIME!” Dave would shout, “Slip and up the middle man! You can’t just stand there!”
“Shoot that right hand over that jab and that’ll be all she wrote!”
While their advice was sound, I did have to do a bit of decoding as the words they used were of their own lexical categorizing. At the same time, they also offered their opinions on the matches.
“Lord, I couldn’t imagine just getting paid to get whooped like this weekend after weekend. No sir.”
The next bout on the card was entertaining as a veteran journeyman named Marcos Primera (Venezuela) took on upcoming Dushane Crooks (New York). Crooks resembled a late 1990’s Jeff Lacey while Marcos Primera resembled what he is: an aged fighter due for retirement. I hoped that Primera, with a record of 25-30, might prove a hidden gem like that of Emmanuel Augustus but sadly my hopes were dashed. One could see glimpses of defense and fight in Primera but not enough to secure a victory; it was however enough to give fans a fun bout.
Crooks seems to still be young to the sport (10-1) from what I observed. Dave and companion shouted much-needed advice to the short thick juggernaut but he only seemed to play patty cake with Primera’s gloves instead of investing in Primera’s open body.
“Eat those ribs baby! One good thud and he’ll go down!”
In the final two rounds Primera seemed to have a reinvigorated youth about him. He took the fight to Crooks and even showboated a bit. He never turned over his punches with authority but his head movement was tricky for the younger prospect to find an answer for. The last round was exciting as Marcos pushed the pace and made a final rally even if it was merely for entertainment. The judges unanimously scored in favor of Crooks and he left the ring with an 11-1 record.
Next, Greg Clark entered the ring dancing, exhibiting Adrien Broner style finesse while draped in a bit too much sequin for my taste but he was definitely entertaining enough to keep our attention. As the light reflected off Clark and blinded fans, his opponent, Carlos Monroe, entered with a certain poise about him. Not, unfortunately the poise of a fighter ready to do battle, but more that of a nervous child on their first day of school. With a record of 5-0 with five knockouts I assumed his body language belied his true skill.
Monroe began the bout carefully sizing up Clark. He would shoot off jabs to gauge his range while Clark responded by simply slipping the punches. Clark must be a student of Dodgeball: An Underdog Story as his defense was dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge. Hands down and in a position that appeared uncomfortable, Clark was quick to move out of range of Monroe’s attack, his style reminding me of Pernell Whitaker. This sequence continued for the first half of the bout.
In the latter half Clark looked more the aggressor as Monroe would use fast footwork to avoid the “Sweet Pea” copycat’s attack. The Hit Hard Boxing coaches began discussing with a fan in front of us, who clearly came with Monroe, what they believed Monroe should do. All agreed Monroe should not have hopped on his bike and avoided Clark but pressed forward as his passive defense would not garner the judge’s approval.
During rounds five and six, Monroe continued his retreating tactics but when he chose to do so he would fire of fast combinations. Many punches went unanswered but the counter-punching effort Monroe did exhibit was sure to catch the judges’ attention. Within the last thirty seconds Clark stepped on the gas and stormed Monroe. With Monroe on the ropes Clark crowded to the point of getting tied up with Monroe resulting in a less than climactic ending. The decision went to Monroe and he remains undefeated.
After a ten minute intermission the heavyweight bout began. Hassan Lee, a journeyman with record of 8-6 jogged into the ring. Tall and thin, he threw a less-than-affirmative jab as he warmed up. His opponent, galvanized by the ring announcer and wearing a sequin tuxedo jacket, entered to thunderous applause. Dave leaned over to me and said they had worked with this heavyweight before. He also told me to watch out for his left hook which, during the time they trained him, was a solid punch.
The first three rounds were less than exciting as both did more dancing around the ring than boxing and left fans hungry for a single punch. “Why don’t you hold him and slow dance!” shouted a spectator. By the fourth I believe Haynesworth was beginning to take the advice from the two coaches next to me. They would burst out orders like it was their fighter in the ring, “Test the big man’s body. I wanna see it jiggle.” or “Let’s see that left to the body!” Don would start to invest in punches to Lee’s midsection and those dividends paid big. By the fifth Lee was gassed and simply trying to avoid Haynesworth. Don pressured Lee to the ropes and from what I could see he unleashed a sequence of punches forcing the referee to step in and end the bout. After the winner was announced the Hard Hit Boxing coaches bid me farewell.
The next bout featured a very young and promising prospect. Nikita Miroshnichenko, 9-0, boxing out of Russia is being guided by Mike Kozlowski. Kozlowski, after some internet digging, is a well decorated former Soviet Union boxing coach who trained Yuri Foreman and has now relocated to New York City. Mike seems like he stepped out of a time machine from 1989. Rocking a mullet and a fanny pack, the NYC based trainer says few words if any but his fighters are well trained in Eastern European style boxing.
Nikita was quick to dispatch his less than prepared opponent with his hard and accurate punches. I think Nikita could have finished him in the first round but intentionally prolonged the kill until the second. After the second knockdown Nikita sprung to the neutral corner, looking as if he was begging his opponent to return to his feet. When the fight was waved off Nikita looked disappointed, almost like a child receiving socks for Christmas.
The next bout was definitely created to augment a rising star’s Boxrec record as Greensboro’s Joseph Jackson feasted on Marcus Brooks. My first thought when Brooks stepped in the ring was “Where did they find this guy? In the bathroom?” He didn’t resemble a boxer but looked more like Colin Kaepernick’s homeless twin brother. There was nothing this man could do to avoid his fate as he was stopped in the second. Jackson is now 11-0.
Before the next match began two men entered the ring. One I believe said they were from “that Jungle place you read about,” clearly referencing Africa. The performance which followed was as terrible as watching your children perform a hip hop dance after two days of rehearsal without that warm feeling of “That’s my kid,” as the consolation prize. Being booed out of the ring by the promoter and crowd the next fight was set to begin.
Ike Ezeji entered the ring. Boxing out of South Carolina by way of Ghana, Ezeji looks like he lifts more than he boxes and hits leg days about as often as I go to church. He is a bit older, but as I would find out, has a bit of an underdog in him. He was set to face Maynard Allison, the local hometown hero. Both Hit Hard boxing coaches spoke well of Allison and said he could “thump.”
Maynard looked like he wanted to dance for the crowd. He tried to display some Lomachenko-style moves with different angles and using that glove-slap-punch technique but it was all for show. He was definitely the aggressor for the first half, providing little to no openings for Ike to take advantage of, but he could not put the much older opponent away. I found myself rooting for Ike by the second half and wanting to give him more substantial advice than the old man shouting “1,2,1,2” from his corner.
Ike must have had a fire lit under his ass in the fourth because nothing was putting him down as he chased Maynard. Any punch Maynard threw with conviction had little effect while Ike began tagging Allison’s torso, adding in some uppercuts for good measure. None of these seemed to have any effect on Maynard but it was a change of pace compared to the first couple of rounds. But by this stage the damage done to Ike at the beginning of the bout was clearly visible. Ezeji was becoming less accurate and his unfocused eyes appeared bloodshot.
The closing rounds showed a glorious underdog in Ike pushing the pace well beyond his body’s limit. Chasing and throwing punch after punch at Allison, Ezeji continued this onslaught for three rounds straight up to the final bell. Unfortunately the valiant effort on Ike’s end was only met with Maynard taking the bout by unanimous decision. Ike left the ring with his head low but in this ringside viewer’s opinion he showed uncommon courage.
Little did I know but Maynard was the main event and within minutes there were maybe 30 people left in the stands. Those remaining, aside from those working the event, must have been related to the fighters. Noel Echeverria and Jairo Vargas were the walk-out match and I hadn’t planned on staying, seeing that I had a 90 minute drive ahead of me, but the first two rounds of the match were more than enough to convince me to stay and watch.
This bout was scheduled to be the longest of the evening at eight rounds but I had my doubts Vargas or Noel would see the final bell, such was the ferocity of the combat. Vargas chased Noel for most of the first half and I questioned his cardio when he began to fade after a couple of well placed pot shots from Noel. The two small men exchanged heavily, both refusing to take a backwards step, as if doing so would be a knock against their masculinity.
Noel showboated way beyond his 13-6 record allowed but did display solid boxing acumen and ring generalship. Observing Vargas’s thin build and boyish features I think his punches were equivalent to pillows being thrown at you by a child judging by the way Noel walked through them with impunity to land his own harder shots.
During round four Vargas found a home for his right hand and he attempted to switch hit but when he did he would open himself up for punishment which then led to him being off balance, only to then endure more blows from Noel. Vargas began back-stepping in rounds five and six but this tactic just gave the advantage to Noel. Comfortable with Vargas and not threatened by anything Vargas had in his arsenal, he found his range and began shooting off straight lefts. He forced Vargas to the ropes punishing the smaller man with a barrage of blows.
A fan not very pleased with Vargas’s tactics made it clear to all with his abrupt shouting towards Vargas’s corner: “You suck! Stop running! This isn’t track practice!”
Vargas focused on his coach during round seven hopefully did not hear the drunkard but we all can assume he did. The man was quite loud. During the final round Jairo came out looking to KO Noel.
In the final round Jairo was looking for the knockout. Noel flashed and danced around the smaller Vargas, sticking his tongue out at him, as well as looking into the crowd to laugh at a joke a spectator shouted. He did receive a few glancing blows from Vargas that reminded him this was not a sparring match. Settling into the last minute of the bout Vargas pushed to trade with Noel as he likely knew he was trailing on the judges’ cards. But when he threw a right hook in a last ditch effort to topple Noel, he was beaten to the punch and a right hand landed square on his chin. Jairo’s legs collapsed under him and he hit the floor, lifeless. The referee instinctively shoved Echeverria to a neutral corner and began the count but two seconds in he waved his arms over the unconscious Vargas.
I stayed long enough to see Vargas being attended to and lifted to a chair. It had been a noble effort on Vargas’ part and you could see whatever frustration his trainer had over the outcome was gone. He was simply relieved his fighter was conscious and didn’t need an ambulance.
As we left the show I remembered that I had missed the big ESPN card that night. That then led me to recall A.J. Liebling’s thoughts regarding the introduction of television and its likely impact: “Television, if unchecked, may carry us back to a pre-tribal state of social development, when the family was the largest conversational unit.”
I understand the resentment. I went to this show and was able to chat with veterans of the sport and soak up the atmosphere of a real, live fight card, watch the trainers work in the corners, see all the fighters enter and leave the ring. I would not have had anything close to the same experience sitting at home with my dog while watching the ESPN card.
But I would disagree with Liebling or anyone else who claims television is ruining the sport of boxing. I frequently support fighters through the money I’ve pumped into PPV shows, typically those associated with HBO or Showtime. Without television I could not otherwise view such enormous bouts like GGG and Canelo’s rematch as tickets start at $700 a seat. If Liebling were here today he might just be thankful for that horrible invention, the television.
Regardless, I don’t believe Liebling would have been impressed with this local talent. The card was riddled with over-matched opponents and only had two contests that could be regarded as true “boxing matches.” This was a local showcase of talent and my expectations were met. And if given the chance, I will likely make the journey to go to Greensboro again. After all, as long as there are men willing to step through the ropes for pennies there will be those willing to pay and cheer for them.
Or, put another way: “…the desire to punch other boys in the nose will survive in our culture… [Boxing] is an art of the people, like making love.” –A.J. Liebling
— Jeff Fuss