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Opinion
What you need to know for 01/22/2017

Boxing appeal runs deeper than boxing

Boxing appeal runs deeper than boxing

It was an interesting night of boxing this past Saturday at the Time Union Center in Albany — intere

It was an interesting night of boxing this past Saturday at the Time Union Center in Albany — interesting not so much for the fights as for the reactions of the fans.

The opening fight was a four-rounder for light heavyweights with both fighters making their professional debut, which was fine. Everyone has to start somewhere. In one corner was a fellow from Brooklyn, Karim Richardson, and in the other a fellow from Albany, Mike Seitz.

Young Richardson did not know how to box at all but could only paw helplessly at the air, and Seitz knocked him out in a hurry. The crowd loved it, absolutely loved it. Local guy demolishes outlander.

Next up was Bryan Abraham, junior welterweight of Schenectady, who in four years of campaigning had compiled a record of five wins, 10 losses, and two draws. I don’t mean to disparage him on account of that modest record — he has fought some tough fighters, not just tomato cans in order to build a record — but obviously he is not a champion.

His opponent was a fellow from Rochester, Darnell Jiles, whom I didn’t get a chance to evaluate, because Abraham knocked him out so quickly. The crowd loved that too.

(The announcer leaned over the ropes and asked me if I had seen the punch, and I had to admit I hadn’t. He hadn’t either.)

Next was a very competent middleweight from Union City, N.J., named Jason “El Monstruo” Escalera, whom I would like to see again, versus an opponent from South Carolina by the name of Marcus Brooks, for whom the label “opponent” applies in the technical sense of a boxer who is expected to lose.

He had lost seven of his last eight fights coming into this one, whereas Escalera was undefeated, with 12 straight victories, so there was no doubt about what was supposed to happen.

Brooks, sure enough, got hammered from ring post to ring post, and the best you could say for him was that every time he got knocked down he picked himself back up, until the referee finally called a merciful halt.

The crowd loved that one too — another hapless fighter getting the stuffing knocked out of him.

Then we had Kevin Rooney Jr., and if you know anything about boxing at all, you know that his father was an accomplished fighter in his own time but more famously was the trainer of Mike Tyson, just down the river in Catskill.

Kevin Sr. is a fixture on the local boxing scene, a man much loved and respected despite a decline in his personal fortunes over the years, and the love and respect carry over to his son.

Never mind that Kevin Jr. became a professional boxer only at the late age of 26, after a mere seven amateur bouts, that he had only three fights coming into this one and had lost one of those. In Albany on Saturday night he was the hometown hero.

I have nothing to say against him. He is an accurate puncher, and he won a well-deserved decision against someone obviously less skilled, somebody who got knocked out in his pro debut and then laid off for two years, but there was nothing, technically, to justify the crowd’s euphoria. Except for the Rooney name, it was just a routine four-rounder between beginners.

And then, finally, we had real boxing, between two guys who knew the science and the art, one of them an Olympic gold medalist from 2004, the other an undefeated muscleman from Tajikstan, out of Moscow, fighting for the first time in the United States in defense of his World Boxing Organization Intercontinental bantamweight title.

Bantamweight is small, but you wouldn’t think small if you saw these guys, Yan Barthelemy, originally from Cuba, and Sahib Usarov out of Russia. Usarov especially looked like he was chiseled out of granite.

And could they box! They jabbed, they hooked, they countered, they moved side to side looking for angles, they kept their balance and their leverage. Watching them for just one round was an education in the sweet science. It was a world of difference from the mismatches and awkwardness we had seen in the earlier fights.

And how did the crowd like it?

The crowd booed, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, booed.

Which was not as incredible as it may seem, since I have suspected for a long time that what boxing crowds like best is blood and mayhem. They would rather see some hapless pug get beaten to a pulp than two skilled contestants countering each other any day.

There are no doubt exceptions, but the people who set the tone at a boxing event as in politics are the vocal ones, and the vocal ones cheer for mismatched beatings and boo contests of skill.

I was planted with my elbows on the ring apron, taking pictures, close enough to Usarov to have to cover my camera when they splashed him off between rounds, and I saw the look of puzzlement on his face and his trainer’s face as they looked out at the crowd, as if asking, “What the hell do you want?”

Here you had an undefeated (17-0) boxer in flawless condition getting the edge over an Olympic gold medalist, with plenty of action, very little stalling or resting in clinches, no staggering or falling on the face, and the crowd was whistling, jeering and booing!

They wanted a madcap knockout. They wanted somebody dropping his guard and getting slapped silly.

I felt so bad that at a couple of points I was tempted to apologize, but my Russian is weak and my Tajiki weaker, so I kept still.

But that’s a fight crowd for you. I had sensed it in other events, but never before was the contrast so dramatic between unskilled batterings early and skilled pugilism later, with one welcomed and the other scorned.

I think it showed that the elemental appeal of boxing is the raw thrill of violence — of one guy smashing the devil out of another — and boxing is a declining business because other businesses, like mixed martial arts and “ultimate fighting,” touch that primitive nerve more directly. That’s my surmise.

The so-called co-main-event turned out to be an anti-climax. It featured two man-mountain types — Joe “The Future” Hanks, from Newark, N.J., standing 6 feet, 4 inches and weighing 250 pounds, vs. Rafael Pedro, from Cuba by way of Louisiana, standing 6 feet, 7 inches and weighing 279 pounds.

If one had started banging the other around in a lopsided manner I’m sure the crowd would have been happy, but alas, early in the second round Pedro grabbed his own shoulder and dropped to his knees in apparent agony, and that was the end of the festivities. He had officially dislocated his shoulder and was unable to continue.

Hanks, I will say, showed ability despite his size, with some accurate punching, and I had the feeling that if the fight had continued he would have prevailed by more respectable means.

I took some photos of these doings. You can see them by clicking HERE.

I get acclaim as a poor man’s theologian but very little as a photographer of fisticuffs, and I’m trying to change that.

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