Sunday, November 22, 2009

Truax Shatters Hope, Kayongo Tops Todd

Mark Connor
© Copyright 2009, Mark Connor

Caleb Truax shut down a brave bid by Kerry Hope of Wales to break his winning streak for the vacant World Boxing Foundation (WBF) International Super Middleweight title at the St. Paul Armory last Friday night, November 20, while Mohammed Kayongo may have resurrected his career with a 4th round knockout of Welshman James Todd for the WBF Intercontinental Welterweight title. Although the Truax-Hope contest was much more competitive, both victors were dominant throughout their respective contests.

Hope pressed the fight immediately in the first round, and although it was close and Truax was competently composed while moving around the ring in an attempt to establish his rhythm, I thought Hope won the round 10-9 because of his effective punching and aggression. Truax took control of the fight from there, though, and I had him winning every round except the 10th. I had the chance to speak briefly with judge Denny Nelson after the fight, and he told me he scored the first seven rounds for Truax, but the 8th, 9th, and 10th for Hope as Truax got tired. I scored the 9th for Hope because Truax appeared to be taking that round off after building such a huge lead, but thought Truax did enough to take the 10th. My unofficial card was 98-92 for Truax, but the official cards were unanimous at 97-93 for Truax. Strategically speaking, it was a near perfect performance for Truax, who handled Hope’s southpaw stance with the kind of precision necessary to succeed as a professional.

Hope fought more on the outside than he has in previous losses when he demonstrated a tendency to give up his natural reach advantage by smothering his power on the inside. He concentrated on keeping his distance and punching behind his right jab from full range in this fight, but Truax was too fast and too elusive for him to dominate. Also, Truax threw a strong left jab over the top of Hope’s lead whenever he was able to step outside Hope’s right foot. More often than not Truax concentrated on the right hand, though, and just when it seemed he was headhunting he’d land a significant shot to the body before coming back upstairs to land a clear shot to the chin. It took until the 4th round for him to cleanly land the left hook after the right hand, but once he did he was able to return to that shot at various critical periods throughout the night. By the 7th round he was moving well throughout the ring and picking his spots to effectively land significant shots. Due to a continued clash of heads in the opening rounds Truax suffered a cut in the corner of his right eye and Hope was cut on the side of his head, but neither injury significantly inhibited either fighter. Hope’s brave and competitive performance justifies his prefight confidence, but his evaluation of Truax’s credentials proved particularly flawed.

“Yeah, his record suggests he can punch,” Hope said the previous night after the weigh-ins, “but he’s fought tin cans if you ask me.”

That was an interesting statement, given that Truax entered the fight with a record of 13-0, 9 KOs, against a list of opponents whose combined win-loss record is 143 wins, 123 losses, and 15 draws, whereas Hope’s previous opponents have a combined record of 126 wins, 467 losses, and 29 draws.

“It’s their job to fight every week,” Hope said of his opponents with hundreds of losses, explaining that they were experienced enough to go the distance with good boxers but that he believed Truax’s previous opponents were not. Nevertheless, Hope has only scored one knockout in his entire 15 fight career, and he must go back to the drawing board after this loss. Perhaps he could climb back to this level with some more work, because he was obviously formidable for Truax, but “Golden” Caleb has taken a big step with this victory and appears poised to improve if he steadily increases his level of competition with the conservative approach that will enable him to continue his progress.

Kayongo opened his welterweight bout with immediate aggression against Todd, loading up with his punches. He jabbed well, but put most of his effort into right uppercuts and left hooks as he continuously moved around the ring bouncing punches off the advancing Todd, who had no idea what to do with him. Todd was cut with a mouse under his left eye by the 2nd round, when he was knocked down for the first time. At 2.35 of the 4th round Kayongo landed a combination that put Todd down for an immediate stoppage, referee Mark Nelson neglecting to count over the fallen fighter. Kayongo improves his record to 15-2-1, 11 KOs. This is Kayongo’s third win in a row since being TKO’d by José Leo Moreno in June 2005. He knocked out Eberto Medina, 2-2-0 in round 4 on April 25, 2007 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, and won a 6 round Unanimous decision over Alex Perez, 23-30-4 on October 3, 2008 at the Ho Chunk Casino in Lynwood, IL. Todd’s rookie record falls from 2-1-1 to 2-2-1. It remains to be seen if Kayongo, the “African Assassin” can climb back to the level of challenging himself against experienced quality competition to the degree he did before falling to “The Lion Hearted” José Leo Marino.

In preliminary action Light Heavyweight Michael Faulk of St. Paul won a Unanimous decision—38-36, 39-37, 39-37—over Ryan Soft of New Town, ND. Faulk landed cleaner shots in the 1st and 2nd but got caught a bit near the end of the 2nd as Soft came on in the 3rd. Soft feigned pain from alleged low blows in both the 1st and the 4th, but it’s unclear whether anyone in the building saw Faulk land any low blows against him. Soft was able to catch Faulk with plenty of punches but many of his right hands were a little too looping to land flush and do damage, and he also lifted his right foot off the ground at critical moments while punching, throwing himself off balance and many times smothering his power. Faulk, a Southpaw, landed many effective combinations but squared himself off way too much and unnecessarily opened himself up for damage he would have best avoided. Faulk climbs to 2-0 while Soft falls to a perfectly balanced 1-1-1.

Featherweight prospect Willshaun Boxley boxed a very entertaining exhibition to open the night. He was faster, punched harder, and outmoved his opponent while making him miss throughout the fight, although he carried his chin curiously high during his performance. Hopefully he'll be in competitive action again soon so local fans can see how fast he's developing.

There were three Mixed Martial Arts matches between the Faulk-Soft match and the Kayongo-Todd match. While I was interested in them as I watched, I could have just as easily skipped the experience. They were competitive athletes, though, and very strong and tough. They deserve credit for their efforts. In the first bout Derk Abram TKO’d Gabe Wllbridge, in the second Isaiah Mahto won by submission over Jedidiah Jones, and in the third Marcus LeVessuer defeated Bruce Johnson. LeVessuer is particularly impressive.

There are two reasons I would rather not see MMA matches included on boxing cards. One is that MMA fighters are regularly paid in a manner different than boxers, wherein a participant will get a couple of hundred or a few hundred dollars to fight (or many thousands or greater in big promotions), then additional payment of the same amount if he wins. In other words the winner between two competitors on the same level makes double the loser, when in fact the fight couldn't happen without both and the loser may even be the bigger draw. I for one would hate to see any attempt to introduce this type of pay system into boxing. The other reason is that the inclusion of an MMA match necessarily means the exclusion of a boxing match. Seconds Out Promotions impresses me as a sound operation and I believe it to be a positive presence in Minnesota boxing. I understand that prmoting is necessarily a financial risk every time it's done, and I admire anyone who can organize such an event successfully. I just firmly belive the cards are always a higher quality when they are exclusive to boxing, and I worry that inclusion of MMA matches can become a crutch to fill up a card with less expensive competition. The counter to this argument, of course, is that promoters concentrating solely on boxing also must fill the cards with quality matches, and sometimes that is very challenging. More opportunity to explore this issue will present itself as the nature of boxing promotion evolves in the next decade.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hope Optomistic Against Truax

Mark Connor
© Copyright Mark Connor 2009

Welshman Kerry Hope, 12-2, 1 KO, weighed in at Brits Pub in Minneapolis last night at 168 pounds for his fight tonight against Osseo’s Caleb Truax, 13-0, 9 KOs at the St. Paul Armory for the World Boxing Federation (WBF) International Super Middleweight title. Truax also weighed 168 pounds.

Hope is a step down from Truax’s original opponent, Carl Daniels, 50-18, 32 KOs. Daniels is a 21 year professional who’s first fight was at 140 pounds, but has recently campaigned at Light Heavyweight. He has failed to go the distance three times in a seven fight losing streak that began with a 7th round Technical Decision loss to Minnesota’s Zach Walters on February 23, 2008. He also lost a 10 round unanimous decision to Anthony Bonsante on September 20, 2008. While he’s been fighting at Light Heavyweight, his recent presence in Minnesota obviously familiarizes him not only with local fans, but also Truax’s trainer and his promoter. Hope, on the other hand, is a newer appearance on the radar screen, but he should certainly be less of a challenge than the ruggedly experienced Daniels. Hope poses little threat in punching power, and although the southpaw stance may be an adjustment for Truax, Hope has had a tendency to diminish his reach advantage by ignoring the jab and slugging inside. In that respect he seems to be tailor made for Truax. After the weigh-in Hope spoke briefly about his past and his first look at Truax when they crossed paths at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.

Truax had been sent to training camp this fall in Big Bear, California, followed by some days of training and sparring at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. Hope was there too, saying he watched Truax spar and he believes he can beat him. He also said fans should not be fooled by his lack of knockouts in the past and that since moving from Wales to California in June he’s greatly improved, adding confidently that he will win tonight. The region he’s from is mountainous, he said, and he has great endurance from running steep hills. While Hope won his last fight via 6 round unanimous decision, he lost the previous two, getting stopped in the 4th round of a 10 round battle in February for the Welsh Area Light Middleweight title, and TKO’d in the 8th of an 8 round fight at 156 ½ pounds in March, 2008.

A full report on the fight and the undercard will appear here in the coming days.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vanda dominates as Hilario pushes through in Hinckley

Vanda dominates as Hilario pushes through in Hinckley
Mark Connor
© Copyright 2009, Mark Connor

Matt Vanda dominated his Super Middleweight fight against Phil Williams last Friday, November 13, at the Grand Casino in Hinckley, MN. From the opening bell Williams appeared hesitant as Vanda found his range, out jabbed his taller and heavier opponent, and landed just enough punches at critical stages of each round to win the majority of them in a convincing fashion. In the co-main event IBA Americas Super Featherweight Champion Wilton Hilario, of St. Louis Park, MN won a unanimous decision over Leon Bobo of St. Louis, MO. While Hilario began the fight explosively his momentum was shut down and all possibilities of a knockout were prevented by the highly skilled Bobo, who with a record falling to 18-4-1 proved too weak to effectively fight Hilario but too experienced to suffer serious damage or be knocked out. There were four preliminary fights on the card.

By the third round it was evident that Vanda had taken full control of the fight, landing good uppercuts and hooks to the body and head and easily out jabbing Williams. In the fourth Williams’ movement and punches slowed Vanda progress a bit, but couldn't stop it. In the fifth Vanda began mockingly copying Williams’ style and landed shots plentifully, and Williams seemed clueless about how to neutralize him. Williams finally started better in the sixth round, but he lost his momentum to Vanda’s efforts in the second half of it. I scored the seventh and ninth rounds even, but gave the rest of the fight to Vanda easily. However, I was not seated at ringside and know the judges always have the best view in the house. The seventh and ninth could have easily gone to Williams, and a couple of other rounds could have too. I found many of them to be close and believed that Vanda’s extra efforts near the end of them resulted in more clear and effective punching and ring generalship, allowing him to win otherwise competitive rounds. If I would have given the seventh and ninth to Williams my unofficial score would have been 98-94 rather than 100-92. Denny Nelson’s score was 97-93 in favor of Vanda, and I can’t argue with it. Nelson is the most experienced and also the most accurate judge in Minnesota. He has judged and refereed a large number of World Championship fights, and his score should serve as a good indicator that many of the rounds were close but Vanda was in control and decisively victorious. Vanda won by 10 round Split Decision.

Hilario showed the vulnerability inherent in his slugger’s style when he occasionally got caught with stunning left hands from the taller Southpaw, Bobo. The St. Louis fighter did not keep his distance though, mainly because Hilario was too strong and too relentless for him to do so. Hilario was just too strong for Bobo to pose a threat. He was also too light of a puncher (his only two career stoppages came in a TKO for his pro debut against an 0-9 fighter in 2003 and a KO of a 7-12 fighter in 2007) to pose any threat to Hilario. Hopefully the “Pretty Warrior” will learn from this fight, make adjustments for southpaws he may face in the future, and learn to gage his distance better so as not to have his power smothered or avoided by clinching, rolling and slipping masters of defense.

Cerresso “Wu Wu” Fort of St. Paul remained undefeated with a six round unanimous decision over former amateur nemesis Lamar “The Prince of Pain” Harris of St. Louis. He was quite fortunate in his victory, however, given how difficult he made the fight. He caught Harris with a heavy right hand in the first round and could have easily knocked him out before the card girl readily held the number 2, but he blotted strategy from his mind and became a headhunter for most of the night. A round or two later he did the same thing again, hurting Harris with the natural power in his right hand but ignored the body and battered the glove’s Harris used for protection while backing into the corner. Then Harris decided to smash a couple of shots into Fort’s body, landed a left hook and right hand to his head, and spun him onto the ropes and went on the attack. Yes, Fort won the fight, but he made the rounds close and expended more energy and took more punishment than a fighter wishing to challenge on the world class level and exit the sport without permanent injury can afford. He is obviously one of the strongest and hardest punchers to come out of Minnesota in the last decade, but at Middleweight and Super Middleweight he hardly compares at this point to the local legends of Dan Shcommer, who out boxed Chris Eubank for 12 rounds in the 1990s before losing a controversial WBO Super Middleweight title shot, or Doug Demmings, who went 15 rounds with Sugar Ray Seals, 10 rounds with Alan Minter, and gave Marvin Hagler all he could handle in the 1970s. Fort is in dire need of quality coaching and must stop relying on the long, looping overhand right that will get him hurt against higher quality competition. Also, for the sake of his career, he must avoid illegitimate competition like Bobby Kliewer, his teammate from St. Paul’s Rice Street Gym whom he stopped at the Target Center in Minneapolis last April 18.

Tim Taggert of Hinckley and Sam Morales of St. Paul fought to a 4 round majority draw in the opening bout. Taggert displayed an obvious preponderance of skill in the beginning, but he was evidently not conditioned well enough to handle Morales’ admirable determination. Neither one was the pinnacle of athletic prowess, but Morales had enough strength to keep himself in the fight and make it close. A few more miles of roadwork is all Taggert would have needed to outbox him and win.

Don Tierney showed the results of inactivity in his 4 round majority decision loss to Zach Schumach, whom he defeated in a mutual pro debut last April 18 at the Minneapolis Target Center. Schumach earned a draw in June and got knocked out in July, but the activity apparently sharpened him enough for this fight. I thought Tierney’s defense, which he no doubt learned from the wise instruction of former World Title challenger Mike Evgen who’s joined his corner, was enough to win the fight. I thought he was scoring more solid punches as he made Schumach chase him around the ring. However, as I said earlier, the judges have the best view in the house and Schumach got the decision. Tierney was lucky to fight a shorter man who could barely hit him, because he kept his chin in the air all night as if his life depended on it. These two are a good match because their skills are roughly even, but I’d hate to watch either one make the foolhardy mistake of fighting a skilled, serious boxer.