MASHANTUCKET, Conn. — The Foxwoods Resort and Casino is an abomination that rises incongruously from the empty woods in Connecticut as if to challenge all accepted notions of urban planning, and, indeed, logic. It also has good fights.
And you have to really want to see a fight at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, because it's a drive of several hours to get there, unless you happen to be a Pequot Indian. New England boxing people talking about Micky Ward's early fights in Lowell, New York boxing people feeling superior, Jersey boxing mongoloids, the usual awful casino crowd — it was an even more repulsive boxing crowd than usual. (Those of us who write about boxing are our own special category of scumbag.) But you had to give it to every last one of us awful, repulsive douchebags in the MGM Grand theater: we wanted to be there, goddamn it. We drove past the crashed bus on the side of the highway that had its top sheared off the morning before to get there. We were not easily dissuaded. We were enthusiastic.
We were Irish. Well, some of us, the ones who'd come for the "Celtic War," were Irish. Or Scottish. We were also Argentine, turning out to see Sergio Martinez, the greatest fighter that country has ever produced. And not a few of us were Greek, or Puerto Rican, or Dominican, each with some representative on the undercard that night. We were a veritable UN of enthusiastic, insufferable boxing awfulness.
Andrew Jones looked fairly decent in the first round, better than his 0-3 record would indicate. Then Abraham Lopez, his long-armed opponent from Oxnard, started hitting him, and Andrew Jones stood there and took it, his hands too low to fend off head shots. He just took those head shots almost willingly, then moved around, backed himself into a corner, and took a few more head shots; he'd take three or four to the head and then spin out, as if to say, "Well, I've eaten these punches, I guess my work here is done." He's now 0-4, understandably.
Seanie Monaghan, an Irish kid out of Long Island, spent four rounds just pounding on a hapless out-of-town opponent, as is his way. Seanie likes to hold his left jab on his opponent for a moment, a very deliberate measuring stick, and then whistle in a hard right hand to the top of the head. If you cover up to avoid it, he just goes underneath with left hooks to your ribs, just as deliberately; when you turn to avoid those, he starts with the right hooks to the ribs on the other side. Seanie Monaghan is very content to take what you give him. He'll hit you wherever. Very workmanlike and unassuming, while beating on people. (Later on that evening, a drunk guy walked up to me in the lobby, squinting at the press pass around my neck, and reached out to give me a pound. "Ohh, did you win your fight tonight, big man? Did you win?" Meanwhile, Seanie Monaghan walked through the lobby just behind us in a blue hoodie, unnoticed.)
A heavyweight women's boxing match is a treat to watch. There is no mistaking what is going on: a boxing match, between women, who are heavyweights. Tanzee Daniel out of Brooklyn is bald, squat, and enormous. Sonya "The Scholar" Lamanokis, fighting out of Brooklyn by way of Massachusetts by way of Greece, was slightly smaller, but still grand; she defiantly wore a sparkly pink shirt and striped pink and black socks — big, pink, and nothing sweet. The two fought head to head, inside, nose to nose for six rounds, like two bulls with horns locked. Daniel would sometimes mix in moments of wildly unlikely hands-down, dip-and-dodge-and-stick movement, a bit of showiness she pulled off with great skill and aplomb considering she weighs 250 pounds. But Lamanokis was busier, and fought with a bit more urgency, and kept her guard tighter on the inside, and therefore landed a greater number of those inside short hooks to the head. In the last round she got pushed all the way through the ropes and barely reached up and snagged the top rope with her glove before going entirely out of the ring; she hung there for a moment, waiting patiently for the ref to pull her back in. Then she continued on to a unanimous victory. Her fans sported attractive blue t-shirts with "The Scholar" emblazoned on them, which could look good in any number of social settings. She has a future.
Also having a future: Thomas Dulorme, a 21 year-old Puerto Rican welterweight whom I'd never heard of before. Neither, apparently, had Guillermo Valdes, his 38-year-old opponent, who could do nothing but stare wide-eyed as Dulorme's double jab, always accompanied by that "sh-sh" sound that signals incoming doom, blinded him repeatedly, just long enough for Delorme's cracking left hooks to stagger him again and again. The kindly looking old ref stopped the fight in the second round for humanitarian reasons, and Valdes, looking like a man who had just leaped off the tracks one second before the freight train whizzed by, raised no objections. The assholes in crowd booed lustily, though. They're only watching boxing until we legalize gladiator combat again.
Derrick Wilson is a fast lightweight. Which means he's freaky fast, because lightweight professional boxers are, as a rule, much faster than you are, unless you're a bantamweight professional boxer. Wilson fights exactly like fellow Floridian Andre Berto: an ethereal straight right that flies in in an eyeblink, and an astonishing left hook that he can spin flat-footed so fast that his shoulder seems to be double-jointed. The main difference is that Andre Berto has power, whereas Derrick Wilson does not. Still, Wilson has a naturally smiley countenance— a smile not of cockiness, or of false bravado, but one that comes from always, everywhere, being more talented than the person in the ring with you. One could even argue that he was more talented than his opponent this night, Javier Fortuna (he's the one on the right in the to photo). But if Fortuna had only 90 percent of Wilson's speed, he had 200 percent of his power. Had Wilson been more of a combo puncher, he would have stood a chance; but he preferred to wait and pick spots for one or two punches, which didn't add up to enough cumulative force to knock Fortuna's brain against his skull. The two would face each other, both totally tensed, using their lead gloves like rapiers, each waiting for the other to make a move, both knowing that they had so much combined speed that whoever punched first would start a rapid chain reaction of flurries back and forth that could barely be followed in real time. Wilson went down in the third, and again in the sixth, and then in the eighth Fortuna caught him with a slicing underhanded left full in the face that sent sweat exploding off Wilson's head in all directions and knocked him out cold and violently and sent the ring doctor running in at full speed. As Wilson lay unconscious on the canvas, surrounded by his cornermen and doctors and trainers gently trying to coax him back to life, one of the two spray-tanned, unhealthily skinny, blonde-highlighted Jersey ring card girls teetered over on her 5-inch heels, leaned under the bottom rope, and snapped a picture of the concussed young man on her iPhone. Awful, awful people. The woman wasn't even in press row. Only professional journalists are allowed to be that voyeuristic.
It won't surprise any true Celts to learn that the "Celtic War" between Irishman Andy Lee and Scotsman Craig McEwan was an exceptionally rousing contest featuring lots of hard punches to the respective heads. It's practically a replay of both nations' history. McEwan waltzed into the ring in what looked like basketball shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap, trailed by a teenager holding up a Scottish flag. Lee came in slowly, regally, swaddled in a plush red robe, with a full entourage and hundreds of screaming Irish fans backing him. Lee, with his pale skin, skinny legs, long everything, and extra-short trunks, would have looked right at home losing to Roberto Duran 40 years ago. Some guys fight with their hands high and tight, and other guys fight with their hands low and flick punches from the bottom; but Lee, a southpaw, fights with his lead right hand cocked in an L shape, held straight out in front of him, as if he had a cast on his arm that he needed to keep parallel to the ground at all times. It looks odd, but it allows him to simply turn that hand over and twist his hip to throw a very short right hook, which is exactly what he did several times in the first round, catching McEwan on the back of the head each time. This posture took Lee's right hand away from his face, which made his defense vulnerable; but with his long arms, he could just keep turning over that little lead hook and then circling around behind it, staying out of harm's way.
It took McEwan (also a southpaw) about a round and a half of getting hit to figure out that he could duck inside of Lee's cocked arm and hit him with his own right hook. Which he did, with success. McEwan was a better combo puncher on the inside; Lee had heavier hands, and tended to be more watchful, picking his shots. Both landed many tremendous blows to each other's heads. In the fourth round, there was a brief period in which the men faced each other, simultaneously leaned to opposite sides, and then both threw hooks that hit each other at the same time; then they just leaned over and did it again. It was all very Celtic.
McEwan won all the middle rounds, and Lee was looking spent; still, his punches were noticeably harder, and precise. In the ninth, Lee finally put McEwan on his ass with the old one-two. In the 10th, with McEwan hurt, Lee smashed a mighty overhand left to the Scotsman's temple and dropped him for good, sparking a repeat of the ring doctor sprinting in at top speed, but this time with more cheering Irishmen in the background. Heart is nice, but heavy hands win.
There was simply no following the REAL CELTIC WAR. Just give it up. The green isles were exploding with whiskey bombs at that very moment, or so I liked to imagine. But there was still the main event: Sergio Martinez, who is somewhere between the second- and fourth-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now (really, fourth), against just some dude, also known as Sergiy Dzinziruk, out of Hamburg. Nothing against Dzinziruk — he was 37-0, for fuck's sake — but he amounted to a stay-busy fight for Martinez, who was coming off the Official Knockout of the Year over Paul Williams last November, a knockout that came on a lucky punch. Martinez wasn't even looking at Williams when he caught him with a crazy overhand left. It's worth noting, at least.
Martinez was just fucking around for the first several rounds. He likes to bend forward at the waist, staying very low, and just jab jab jab right up the middle, again and again. Jab jab jab. Just because he could. He also likes to drop his hands all the way to his knees, stick his face forward, and just move his head up and down like a chicken to dodge his opponent's punches, which can be enormously frustrating if you're the other guy. Martinez is not blindingly fast, but he's very quick; he's hittable, but he has a good chin; and he's very, visibly strong. The combination of strength and quickness together is what makes him dangerous. Once he got warmed up, his jabs had both the popping echo and head-bouncing effect of an average southpaw's powerful straight left hand. He was fucking Dzinziruk up with jabs, right up the middle, just because he could. Dzinziruk was hitting him back, but Sergio was like, "Whatever." He started throwing more powerful looping left hands, which were terrifying to behold for their sheer latent power, around the fifth round. In the eight he stepped inside and caught Dzinziruk with a very short left directly to the chin, which crumpled the guy to his knees. He got back up and was knocked down again; managed to make it back to his feet and then more or less just fell over on his own, at which point the fight was stopped. Martinez had TKO'd this 37-0 fighter easily, without really trying very hard, and without putting his hands up, and while throwing nothing but jabs for more than half the fight. He's still just the fourth-best pound-for-pound fighter. But he hits harder than the other three guys. A decent consolation prize.
Heavy hands win.