Friday, 21 July 2017

Diary Entry (2002) Nevada / California boxing beat.



July of 2001 I took on an assignment for Bragging Rights Corner to cover the boxing activity around Nevada and California. I spent a month traveling the wild, wild west in search of fistical perfection. I scheduled the four weeks around several venues and bouts that would hook me up with a few old friends who were making cameo appearances inside and outside the ropes throughout the duration of my stay.
The selected month was stuffed full of championship action in extremely close proximity, to be honest the trip was an absolute must and looking back it was to have a large part in evaluating one of next month's high profile Heavyweight Championship matches. July 2001 had me sitting at a bar in the Reno Hilton with Alex 'The Destroyer' Stewart, David 'The Dream' Defiagbon, Kevin Kelley, and Dominick Guinn talking big time boxing. The conversations ranged from past fights and opponents to upcoming prospects and battles.
I have never enjoyed such educated Boxing parlay to this day, passing by as we spoke were a 'Who Is Who' of pugilistic players, movers and shakers. Thell Torrence was in the house as trainer of David Defiagbon, Corey 'T-Rex' Sanders had a word or two to say, Sharif Davis was present along with many others from Team Saleem handling T-Rex. In fact if I were to list the people around the sports bar for those two hours you would probably not believe it.
This evening was like an impromptu Canastota; as great a start to my journey as I could have imagined. Andre Purlett, Jimmy Thunder, DaVarryl "Touch of Sleep" Williamson, Mark Breland, Ronnie Shields, David Vedder, Mr. Kushner, Shelley Finkel, not to forget the plethora of losing combatants who played as important a role in the cards action as the victors. This was step one of the tour that would see me Las Vegas based to cover the month's major show at Caesars, featuring Sugar Shane Mosley vs Adrian Stone. Most of the people I encountered in Reno were headed southbound to the Neon Capital to the same venue as me a fortnight later.
I made a call from the Sacramento Bus Station to The Ringside Gym in Vegas to make a connection with my long-time friend Kenny Adams, to assess him of my plans. Kenny told me that he was training a few very good Nigerian heavyweights and was to have them spar at Top Rank for a few days with the very dangerous WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko who was featuring weeks later against local challenger Charles Shufford. Kenny asked if I would like to accompany him and the fighters to the sparring sessions as moral support to the newly imported Nigerians. I jumped at the chance to get a close look at The Giant Russian in the flesh, very close up and personal with Dr. Klitschko, to see if he really had the tools to perform surgery on the heavyweight division's top fighters.
This was to take up my spare time as I waited for the circus to arrive in town and set up center stage at Caesars for Stone vs Mosley and its co-feature attraction, the return of Michael Grant versus a potentially harmless opponent, the usually lively yet unheralded trier by the name of Jameel "Big Time" McCline. The following weeks gave me a chance to examine both Klitschko and McCline closely and therefore have a great insight in December 7th's match-up between 2002's current heavyweight dangermen.
Next thing planned on my heavy schedule was to meet Kenny and drive out to where Samuel Peter and Teke Ohrun were sharing an apartment; near an area called Summerlin by a man made lake surrounded by glorious retirement homes... Kenny asked me to go knock on door 22 and make myself heard to rouse the giant Nigerians. The curtains twitched and a 250 pound Samuel Peter emerged, complete with a melon slice grin and the most furious Afro I have ever seen, closely followed by Teke, a similarly sized heavyweight with a slightly lesser amateur pedigree than Sammy, who was a national champion and Olympic representative in Sydney. Both men knew me from previous meetings and were very comical and jovial on the trip to Camp Klitschko, unaware of what activities lay ahead... This afternoon was to be no laughing matter for either.
Top Rank Gym is placed in an obscure corner of some warehouse-like buildings, slightly off Industrial Road, running southbound parallel to the Strip; a road that is infested with lesser known strip joints and car body shops. As we arrived, Boza Edwards and former Ali entourage member Gene Kilroy met us at the entrance and led the two Nigerians into the training facility that never seemed to change to me. Large and spacious with two championship sized rings and a very wide open area for bag work and warm-ups. Four sparring partners were to be employed that day; former WBA Heavyweight champion Tony Tubbs arrived with his tiny son and a local heavyweight known as Jakarta to make the team complete. Each changed and warm-ups began.
Jakarta looked nervous; chattered constantly looking for reassuring words. I offered some advice, obvious stuff really, just to calm him down but keep his moral high. All of the sparring partners, however, were well traveled and capable of handling themselves and with the big gloves on and headgear in place had to just keep their wits about themselves and handle business.
Has anyone ever said "you never get a second chance to make a first impression?" Well, I was just about to be highly impressed; the doors slammed open and the Gigantic Ukrainian strolled in. He walked purposefully towards us all and introduced himself confidently, shaking every single man's hand solidly.
Wlad was the most muscular Caucasian I have ever seen that close up; he was absolutely ridiculous, yet had grace, fluid movements and was not at all what I expected. Here began my analysis of the most dangerous white heavyweight in several decades. His warm-ups were to take almost an hour, hand wrapping was to take twenty minutes and then the session was to begin.
Teke was first. Klitschko prodded and poked a long stabbing jab at the forehead pad on the Nigerian's headgear; just professional sparring, no head hunting or killer intentions like I had witnessed in raw classless Tyson sessions a decade ago. Klitschko was in it for a pure learning excercise. Teke is tall, about 6'4" yet looked dwarfed by the Ukrainian. He did his best to keep at close range to prevent Wlad from creating space to work; this is when the most curious thing struck me... Klitschko enjoyed his best success at close quarters, it visually surprised Teke and the rest of us, it was revealing and seemed to startle the African who now had a choice to make, get out jabbed at range or get battered by short hooks at close proximity; this was discovery number one.
Session two. Enter Samuel Peter.... Taking into consideration that Sammy was a very well schooled amateur who had great international experience and past Olympic history, he was to find out how unique Wladimir is.
Samuel is quite short in comparison and is in a similar mold of a Tyson or a Lionel Butler only more stocky and solid. He boxed stand up style to try to maintain fake height as a confidence boosting illusion but it was useless and once again Wladimir prodded his long lance-like weaponry into Peters' face; quickly Samuel did a very intelligent thing, he began a regimental side to side slipping motion not unlike a late eighties Tyson.
Once again Klitschko revealed his versatility, he took a half step back and unleashed a stiff uppercut into the pendulum like head of the Nigerian, BINGO!! Timed perfectly, a stern look of unease shot across Samuel's face, he moved towards Wlad and it was even worse; out of the frying pan and into the fire. Wlad's favourite flavour was what Sammy had served up; slipping aside Wladimir slyly dropped a hook onto his partner's head at half force, a gesture that made me respect the Russian 200% more from here on in, many other prima donna heavies would have exploited the opportunity and gone all out to knock Samuel's head clean off, but Wlad knew it was pointless to slaughter the helping hands and a slap was enough to show his superiority. Ding!!! Samuel looked like he had just survived a car crash, Wlad was barely breathing hard as he stood receiving instructions from cornerman Fritz.
This was a very highly tuned, versatile, fluid and powerful monster truck that was only running in first gear. Next session was the youthful Jakarta. Wladimir treated this as a light slap fest, and had 100% control throughout the full three minutes yet to keep moral high he actually allowed the outclassed American some openings to shoot at. I was totally sold, Wladimir Klitschko was the most classy professional heavyweight that I had ever seen in camp. Jakarta came out of the ring gleaming in perspiration and was somehow ecstatic that he was in one piece.
Session four saw squat veteran Tony Tubbs clamber through the ropes muttering something about "I am gonna Ol skool this motha F***ker!"... a comment that seemed to wake Klitschko up and stare blankly through the foolish ex WBA Champ. Tony slipped awkwardly into range and dipped under the blazing jabs of the Russian, who had adopted a longer range approach towards Tubbs cagey style. Then the strangest thing happened, Tubbs threw a right hand and Klitschko seemed to allow it to land as if to draw Tubbs forward, and as Tubbs took the bait and stepped into range, Wladimir swivelled elegantly to Tubbs' right and homed a heavy right uppercut directly onto the American's chest area dropping him painfully and heavily.
Lessons were learned by Tubbs immediately; this cat was not to be trifled with, and the shell shocked Tony Tubbs barely came out of his shell for the remainder of his session. His tiny son was bouncing a B-ball at ringside and slipped to my side whispering, "How is my daddy doing?" "Ok, he is doing just fine little man, just fine"... Just fine my ass, the most horrible porkie pie I had ever told... Tony was getting his ass Ol skooled Royally, and more.
Cutting the story short, each man that stepped in with Wlad was presented with a different fighter, he was a man of many guises and had just manhandled every sparring partner he met with plain simplicity... I spoke to the four men as they were changing into street clothes. It was like discussing Shakespeare with a bunch of dyslexics; they tried hard to explain what they had just endured yet made no sense what so ever, because four men had just sparred with four different Klitschkos.
This is the same multi-faceted principle that Jameel McCline must face next month, and on what I had just seen I don't envy him.