By Jason Pribila: It is often said that no one steps inside a boxing ring if they have another choice. The sport is filled with stories of troubled youths who found the boxing gym as an alternative to life on the street. The sport has served as a vehicle for which many have hitched a ride out of the projects; while their peers are often lead down a different path in the back of a police cruiser or hearse.
Boxing is like any business. From the CEO to janitor, each employee wants to make the most amount of money possible. Often times that money will only multiply if a fighter continues to win. A fighter has already proven to be more courageous than most just by stepping into the ring. He needs to know that he could rely on his team to recognize when a battle is lost, and that they will have the courage to say the words long since removed from a warrior’s vocabulary. He needs to know that his long term health is more important than a promoter’s mission statement.
Antoine Douglas is the latest of a long line of boxers who have overcome unthinkable odds as a child to become an inspiration.
When his mother’s drug addiction overcame her ability to raise her children, Antoine found himself in a foster home. Fights in school led him to fighting in a boxing gym. That is where he learned the discipline and dedication needed to climb the ranks as an amateur. By the time he turned pro he found those willing to invest in his future.
Mature beyond his years, it was then when Douglas sought out his mother and decided that it was time for him to be the son that she needed, even though she failed at a time when he needed her to be his mother.
Heading into his March 5 bout, Douglas was also serving as the poster boy for GH3 Promotions grass roots promoting.
"I am so proud of Antoine and the job he has done", said GH3 Promotions CEO Vito Mielnicki. "When I started this company, I wanted to sign very good fighters with solid amateur backgrounds. Antoine was someone I coveted and I saw this vision for him and now the fight on Saturday is the perfect next step for him.
Mielnicki continued, "This is all a product of moving our guys fast, and right, and by not babying them on the way up. When he wins on Saturday I feel he will be ready for a big opportunity."
Boxing writer Steve Kim reported that the word was that a Douglas win would have led to him becoming the latest member of the Al Haymon stable of boxers.
Douglas was originally supposed to fight former middleweight titlist Sam Soliman. When Soliman was forced to withdraw, Team Douglas chose to move forward with the best possible replacement. When Khurtsidze got the assignment, many felt that this was more of an upgrade than a replacement.
Prior to the fight Douglas was ranked in the top ten by two sanctioning bodies, and number eleven in a third. As long as Douglas continued to win, he would be rewarded with a title shot by the end of the year, or early 2017.
I was able to attend the final press conference held at the Sands on Thursday afternoon. What stood out to me was at its core, this was a fight between man vs boy. Douglas is 23, but he looks like a baby. Khurtsidze, 35, looks like he was not only the veteran of 36 prize fights, but he also looked like he could have been cast as the muscle in a Guy Richie crime story. If they were meeting in any type of unsanctioned fight, Khurtsidze would have been an overwhelming favorite.
However, when they stood face to face, I could see where Team Douglas was banking on the fact that their fighter had the height-reach and just about every other measurable advantage needed to succeed in a boxing match.
On Saturday night at the Sands Casino and Resort in Bethlehem, USA Avtandil Khurtsidze and Antoine Douglas went to war for six thrilling rounds in what was shaping up to be an early contender for, “Fight of the Year”. Unfortunately for Douglas there were still four more scheduled rounds.
When the bout started, Khurtsidze was able to get inside where his 5’4” frame was in position to do damage. He was able to pound away at Douglas, ripping hooks to the head and body. He also landed an uppercut that would have made the fighter he emulates, Mike Tyson, proud.
After three rounds, Douglas was cut for the second time of his career, and he was dropped for the first time as a pro. If styles make fights, after three frames it was clear that Khurtsidze’s style was all wrong for Douglas.
To his credit, Douglas seemed to right the ship in rounds four and five. He was suddenly able to time Khurtsidze on his way in. He was landing big hooks upstairs, and moving before Khurtsidze could retaliate. I soon found myself concerned for Khurtsidze’s health. He was being hit flush by a younger fighter who was throwing his punches downhill.
The fighters traded in a memorable sixth round. It appeared that Douglas was getting the better of the brutal action, but it turned out that the trading sapped Douglas of the last of his energy.
Lightning struck at the beginning of round seven in the form of a Khurtsidze left hook. Douglas was again on the canvas, but this time he was visibly shaken. He beat the count, but he was unable to keep Khurtsidze off of him. Khurtsidze unleashed a cartoonish flurry with the hopes of having referee Benji Estevez step in to wave off the bout.
No such luck for Khurtsidze or Douglas.
When Douglas returned to his corner he was greeted by his cornermen Dennis Porter and Ronald Simms where he was told, “You need to protect yourself.”
Khurtsidze’s pace was understandably slower in round eight. However, Douglas was unable to muster any offense of his own. His corner had to know that at this point a decision was out of the question, so if Douglas was unable to hurt Khurtsidze when he was fresh, then what was the point of letting this fight continue?
Although the fight had ended after the sixth round, the assault was allowed to continue. Khurtsidze had his energy back and he unloaded on a stationary target for most of the round. He was not only punishing Douglas, but for the first time he was yelling at him as he was doing it. When the bell rang, Douglas was bleeding from his mouth and he appeared to have survived a car crash and not merely a three minute round of boxing.
At this point I had already given up on Douglas’ corner, and was solely disappointed in the referee. Benji Estevez is a well-respected referee, but it needs to be mentioned that he was the third man in the ring on November 20, 2009 when the Teon Kennedy – Francisco Rodriguez battle turned tragic.
I was ringside that night at the Blue Horizon, and the unfortunate fate of Rodriguez was due to a perfect storm of factors that resulted in the Chicago fighter collapsing in his corner after the fight was stopped.
That fight was contested at super bantamweight, and for all of Kennedy’s boxing skills he was not a big puncher. Rodriguez was also clearly in the fight. I gave him several rounds including the ninth, before he was stopped in the tenth.
The death of Rodriguez was tragic, but it was an example of the very real risk that a fighter takes when they step between the ropes. Rodriguez was on my mind on Saturday night, and I’m disappointed that he did not seem to also be on Estevez’ mind.
At this point Douglas was sitting on a stool that was brought over to him where the fight was waved off. He was conscious, but a member of his team was pouring water over his head. I felt that he should have been immediately taken for observation.
Rather than receiving medical attention, Douglas was instead interviewed by Showtime’s Steve Farhood. I’m not sure whose call it was to seek an interview at that point, but I think that even Jim Gray might have passed on the assignment.
What exactly was Farhood thinking? This kid had the fight, and maybe his career beaten out of him. He had yet to even attempt to stand up from his stool. Yet, rather than speaking to the underdog who just had a career best win, Farhood takes a knee and asks Douglas, “How are you feeling?”
This question should have been asked by a doctor at St. Luke’s hospital, not a boxing writer with a microphone.
Pennsylvania Athletic Commissioner, Greg Sirb, has also seen better night’s at ringside. Sirb was seated on Douglas’ side of the ring, and he should have been able to see that Douglas had the look of a beaten fighter. I’ve seen Sirb alert referee’s to stop fights in the past, yet on this night he allowed the fight to go on.
There is a line in singer/song-writer Colin Hay’s “Beautiful World” that reads, “Leave the party early, at least with no regrets.”
The end of round seven was the time for Team Douglas to leave the party on Saturday night. If Dennis Porter and Ronald Simms were too emotionally attached to throw in the towel, then they need to be replaced by someone who will.
Once it became clear that his corner was too brave for his own good, Estevez or Sirb should have stepped in. Wearing a black arm band after a tragedy is pointless if that tragedy could be avoided.
I read that Douglas was released from the hospital on Sunday morning after being observed overnight. He should not be allowed to partake in any boxing activities for at least six months. Hopefully that will give him enough time to look at the people on his payroll and decide if in fact his long term health is in fact Team Douglas’ mission statement moving forward.
Jason Pribila is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He could be reached for questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. He could also be followed on twitter.com @PribsBoxing.