By Jason Pribila: Ringside in Bethlehem: On Saturday Night the Sands Events Center in Bethlehem hosted a seven bout card promoted by Iron Mike Promotions. The card was the first in what the promoter hoped will become a monthly series of events highlighting the prospects in the former heavyweight champions stable of fighters.
The inaugural promotion may have been a disappointment in regards to ticket sales, but for those who took in the show they left the arena buzzing about undefeated welterweight Samuel Vasquez (13-0, 9KO), who stole the show when he climbed off the canvas to stop previously undefeated Berlin Abreu (7-1, 5KO).
Vasquez “The Who Can Mexican” entered the ring to the delight of his army of fans who travelled across the state of Pennsylvania to offer their support. Prior to the opening bell there was a slight delay regarding the brace that Abreu was wearing on his right knee. After a discussion between the commission and his corner, the opening bell rang, and leather began to fly.
Vasquez, a southpaw, stared quickly behind a jab that he used to set up body shots and straight left hands. Abreu blocked enough shots and returned enough fire to alert Vasquez and his raucous crowd that he was there to fight.
Things heated up in the second round when Vasquez pinned Abreu against the ropes. Vasquez threw caution into the wind, as well as lefts and rights aimed at Abreu’s head. Abreu landed a counter left that buckled Vasquez. Rather than covering up, Vasquez bit down on his mouthpiece and restarted his attack. That choice almost cost him dearly, as the next left hook he landed sent Vasquez to the canvas.
Referee Steve Smoger took a long look at Vasquez, who beat the count on steady legs.
The minute between rounds was all Vasquez needed to put the knockdown behind him, and he was back on the offensive in round three. He used a more measured approach to control distance and force Abreu to fight flat-footed. A straight left at the bell sent Abreu to the ropes. If there had been any more time left in the round, the knockdowns would have been even at one.
Unfortunately for Abreu, sixty seconds were not enough for him to shake his cobwebs, and before he knew it Vasquez jumped on him. Lefts and rights landed, as Abreu was forced to hang on. Vasquez left his hands go, doing enough damage to force Smoger to waive off the fight at 29 seconds of round four.
This was the first time I saw Vasquez, and it is hard not to be a excited about his fan friendly approach. Hopefully he will focus on defense more after tasting the canvas. While his offense could be his defense in some cases, backing off, and measuring his attack will help with career longevity.
The kid is fearless, and I had this confirmed when I reached out to fellow scribe Derek Gionta, who has met Vasquez several times in Western, PA. He told me that after 7 fights, Vasquez was targeting veterans Paulie Malignaggi and Victor Ortiz. He may not be ready for that level competition, but Saturday night was an important step.
Vasquez hails from Monessen, PA., which is outside of Pittsburgh. His fans rented buses to travel across the state to show their support. That enthusiasm and dedication was reminiscent of what was seen from those in Youngstown, Ohio who used to travel to support Kelly Pavlik, drinking casino’s dry in the aftermath.
The final bout of the night felt more like a walk-out bout than a main event. Two-time Dominican Republic Olympian Juan Carlos Payano (15-0, 8KO) remained undefeated by out-pointing German Meraz (46-29-1, 25KO) by scores of 80-71, 80-71, and 79-72.
It was hard to get a real read on Payano because Meraz has an awkward style that would seem to make it difficult for anyone to look good against. Payano scored a knockdown in the second round. He used precise punching and tight defense leaving Meraz to be off-balance literally and figuratively.
Payano possesses high cheek-bones, which led to him suffering a cut midway through the fight. It did not have an impact on Saturday, but it may cost him on score cards in a close fight if a ringside judge scores blood. Payano is ranked in the top ten by two sanctioning bodies, and he could be in line for a title shot sooner rather than later.
Perhaps the most talented fighter on the card was Claudio “The Matrix” Marrero (15-1, 11KO) who returned to the ring after suffering his first loss to Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar in a bout contested for an interim title in August. Marrero simply toyed with Mexican veteran, Jose Angel Beranza (36-28-2, 28KO).
Marrero is a defensive specialist who showed off his skills by often standing inside the pocket and making Beranza miss. Marrero seemed bored and avoided punches despite often times not even looking in Beranza’s direction. Skills are great, but frustrating fans is not the best way to gain a following.
Iron Mike Promotions made a splash when they signed Erickson “The Hammer” Lubin (4-0, 4KO) in October. Lubin was considered by some as Team USA’s top prospect for the 2016 Olympics, before deciding to turn pro on his 18th birthday.
Lubin displayed his offensive arsenal over the first two frames against Tirobio Ball (4-2-1, 1KO). In round three Lubin trapped Ball in the corner where he unleashed 6 unanswered shots that forced referee Smoger to wave off the bout at 2:01 of round three.
The performance got Promoter Tyson to enter the ring where he offered post fight congratulations and admitted that his charge is making it difficult for him to find opponents willing to face him.
In other bouts:
Humberto “El Don” Savigne (12-1, 9KO)scored a one punch knockout against Maxell Taylor (18-7-1, 8KO) at 1:11 of round two.
Alexi Collado (18-0, 16 KO) UD8 Edgar Riovalle (36-17-2, 25KO); super featherweight
Farid Aghayev (1-0-1) D4 Lanny Dardar (1-0-1); middleweight
I was very curious about what to expect when I entered the Sands Events Center on Saturday Night. This card was billed as the first in a monthly series of fight cards that would be promoted by Mike Tyson. On Friday, I was told that the Sands staff was reduced because of a disappointing amount of tickets sold. Actual tickets were under 100. The Casino purchased 300 tickets to pass out as comps, and the remainder of the tickets were given to fighters to sell. Other than Samuel Vasquez, I did not notice any ticket sellers.
These numbers were disappointing even though the arena is only three weeks away from hosting its best card to date. Bethlehem’s own Ronald Cruz will face Kermit Cintron for area bragging rights, and world ranked heavyweight Tomasz Adamek will bring bus-loads of his Polish Army from Jersey City, NJ.
Tickets for the show were priced at $50, $75, $125, and $200. In contract, the March 15 show has tickets priced at $55, $80, and $105. That show also has the muscle of Main Events “Fight Night” series that has been proven to be a critical and financial success since it made its debut two years ago.
The biggest question mark on the future of fight cards in Bethlehem is whether or not folks will come out when one of their own aren’t on the card. Peltz Boxing and Main Events have included fighters from Philadelphia and New York on their cards. Bethlehem is a little over an hour drive from either of those cities, so I think their cards have a leg-up on other promotions who are relying on prospects from the national scene.
Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney were also ringside. The two old friends have been working together calling fight cards for local telecasts and internet feeds. Philadelphia Eagles running back Lesean “Shady” McCoy was also announced. McCoy was a featured guest for a post-fight party at the arena’s Vision Night Club.
Just a typical Saturday Night in Bethlehem, PA.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at email@example.com and followed on twitter.com @PribsBoxing.