J. R. Jowett reporting from ringside: Boxing is booming at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY, near Syracuse, with Art Pelullo’s Banner Promotions taking over and ESPN in the house. Greg Cohen co-promoted, and matchmaker Eric Bottjer put on a crowd-pleasing show. An estimated 2500 was the reported attendance. But perhaps best of all was the Oneida Nation’s refusal to bend over to the arrogance of TV, which regularly thinks nothing of ruining the show for live fans, with obstructed views, long dead zones, late hours, and whatever else they fancy. No bout after eleven, ruled the local commission. They wanted the fans in the casino.
The main event was a doozie, scheduled 10, between former “Contender” Bryan Vera, 160, Austin, TX, 23-6 (14), and limo driver Donatas Bondorovas, 159, a Lithuanian fighting out of Chi., 16-4-1 (5). The contest was a close, hard-fought, at times grim struggle that had relatively few pyrotechnic moments yet never lacked for drama. Overall, Vera set the pace, “made” the fight and used his jab, while “Bondas”, as he’s known for short, boxed in reverse but hung tough always, especially with sneak right leads that often caught the advancing Vera flush. The ever-present scar on Bondas’ nose was reddening conspicuously in the first, and would soon become a factor. There was little to choose between them in the first three, other than the blood on Bondorovas and the fact that Vera was backing him up. In the fourth, Vera settled into a zone, relentlessly walking him down despite some pesky right counters, and appeared to be softening the tough Lithuanian. Not so! Round five found Bondas right back in it, with Vera finishing strong but walking into another solid right to spoil the momentum.
Vera had another good round in the sixth, now cutting Donatas’ left eye to go with the damaged nose. Bondorovas was becoming a bloody mess, and action was interrupted briefly for the doctor. Nevertheless, Bondas was still very much in the fight. Round seven was especially punishing, with a determined rally by Bondorovas bringing up the fans. Bryan had been boxing a loose, disdainful fight all along, regularly smiling, and this coupled with Donatas’ game effort in spite of the visible damage had won the crowd to the latter’s side. The fans were about to get a shock. The fight was over. Referee Charlie Fitch checked Bondas’ corner between rounds and signaled a TKO. Several minutes of confusion and booing ensued before various complaining parties were put to rest.
The dispute continued into the press conference, however. Bondas had to go for medical attention, a fact not lost on Vera’s supporters, who taunted Bondas’ manager, Bobby Hitz, as he took the stand for his fighter. Hitz claimed the stoppage was no more than a linguistic mixup. Bondorovas, not adept at English, thought the referee said “can” (as in “you feel you can continue?”) when he had said “can’t”, and the fighter answered “yes”. Hitz asserted that Donatas was on his way to victory and was waylaid. Not exactly true. All cards had Vera ahead, albeit close. Don Ackerman and John McKaie had 67-66 while Glen Feldman tallied 68-65. Nonetheless, if anyone was in the driver’s seat, it was Bryan. Hitz called for a rematch, in Chicago, to which Vera responded that Bondas was a ruined fighter, and Bobby countered that it was little more than a nick. The winner admitted that his mocking style may have hurt him. “I got too complacent. I got too relaxed,” he averred. “I played around too much. I learned from it. I learned my lesson.”
In the co-feature 10, this wasn’t supposed to happen! Jackson Junior Dos Santos, 175, came in from Sao Paulo at a glitzy 14-0 (12). Tough Cuban Umberto Savigne, 175, Miami, now 11-1 (8), was there to make him look good. He made him look bad! For starters, the muscular Savigne seemed a division bigger. Nothing much happened until Dos Santos decided to rally late in the second. He looped his punches and pulled himself off balance. That was all Umberto needed. It took only a couple glancing counters to have Jackson reeling and then stumbling to the canvas. They then took turns picking their shots in the third, but Savigne had the authority. Early in the fourth, Umberto threw a lazy left hook, then stepped in behind it with a push-punch right that knocked over Jackson for another knockdown. Dos Santos tried to make up for this embarrassment with a spirited rally. But again, he swung wild, lunged off balance, and crashed into Savigne’s fists. Before long, he was unraveling, until a right finally dropped him again. When Jackson folded a third time in the round, along the ropes, referee Mark Nelson waved a TKO, at 2:17.
This one was the equal opposite of the main event. Where Vera-Bondorovas was a relentless struggle that never let up but maintained a level field, the semi was all fireworks and surprises. Manager Henry Rivalta explained that they were all ready for Jackson. “They were in Miami…Jackson and his team. They were looking for sparring…and it just coincidentally ended up…that we got the call, would you guys fight Jackson Junior Dos Santos? Well, we had just sparred with him…We knew he was going to throw wild punches from the sparring session.” Savigne is trained by Herman Caicedo and Micky Ward.
Despite a unanimous shutout, Ryon McKenzie, 173, Canastota/Syracuse, 14-0 (11), was relatively unimpressive against non-committal Steve Tyner, 174, Albany, 3-10-2 (2), in an uninspiring six. Tyner inched forward, but threw only occasional probing punches and put nothing together. McKenzie tended to lean and flail, but had a strong volley to end round two, landed a reflexive counter left hook and followed with a jarring right to open the fourth, pulled out a hard-fought fifth, and scored a jolting long right to open the sixth.
In a hard-fought, all-action four, fireplug Evgenii “Happy Gilmore” Chuprakov, 131, Ekaterinburg, Russia, 5-0 (2), was too strong and too busy, but got a good fight out of Micah Branch, 131, Cinc., 1-4-1. “Happy” buckled Micah’s knees with a right late in a punishing round two, but Branch continued to fight back gamely through two more heated sessions of constant short-range trading. All scores 40-36.
Touted Taras Shelestyuk, 152, Sumy, Ukraine, got little but a number out of a debut win over also-debuting Kamal Muhammad, 153, NYC, scheduled four. Muhammad went down twice with little recourse under a vigorous southpaw assault, and ref Dick Pakozdi stopped it, at 1:39 of round one.
In a rugged and withering four, Antoine Douglas, 161 ¾, DC, 5-0 (3), clobbered his way unceremoniously to a unanimous shutout over John Worthy, 159, LA, 3-6 (1). The contest consisted of grappling at close range while banging with the free hand, Douglas hesitating to make Worthy commit and then beating him to the punch, or Antoine simply coming straight in behind a bomb. Worthy put up good opposition and made the prospect work hard for the win.
Lavisas Williams, 143, Rochester, 1-0-1 (1), was held to a majority draw by cagy Calvin Pritchard, 143, Toledo, 2-6-3, in a nicely boxed four. The southpaw Williams set the pace and seemed to open it up with a stronger final round. But only Feldman saw it that way, 39-37. Ackerman and Wynn Kintz had 38-38. At least it wasn’t a homer.
March 29, 2013