|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY January 19, 2012||
The Hall of Fame Room at the Wells Fargo center was like a morgue. The occasion was the final pre-fight press conference for the Main Events-promoted, Peltz-matched and NBC Sports Network-televised fight card scheduled for the Asylum Arena on Saturday night. You could feel the stress and the fatigue in the room. Clearly the people who put this boxing show together had suffered a very difficult week, and the wear and tear was palpable.
Last Friday the news trickled out that the show's scheduled headliner, Philly's Fast Eddie Chambers was injured and could not fight his anticipated bout with former WBO champ Sergei Liakhovich. The ten-rounder had the air of a big-time battle of heavyweight contenders, and Main Events and the fledgling NBC Sports Network were clearly hanging their hats on the bout as the showcase for the event. So much anticipation and weight had been placed on this show to really deliver and to prove to a major network that the sport of boxing is not dead, that the sudden fallout of Chambers came like a dagger through the heart, or maybe the back.
Chambers' reputation has taken a real hit in the past seven days. There was no question that Eddie was really hurt. X-rays showed that he had suffered two rib displacement fractures, and clearly could not fight. The problem was that apparently "Fast Eddie" was slow to report the injury to the powers that be, holding out hope that he could perhaps go on with the show. But alas, the injury report surfaced just last Friday, less than eight days before the "event that could save boxing". And that's when, for one week, the roof fell in on Main Events, Russell Peltz and NBC.
But everyone just kept swinging.
For a few days all involved hustled to find a replacement for Chambers, someone to face the cross-roads Liakhovich in the televised main event. A few fighters were offered the chance, but no match could be made.
"We have had one hellacious week but I think the boxing Gods have smiled on us. The boxing Gods and Russell Peltz, and they are going to give us an unbelievable match on Saturday night," said Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events.
Instead of doing the obvious - elevating Gabriel Rosado's terrific match-up with Mexican thorn Jesus Soto Karass into the main event slot and back-filling the rest of the way down the line up, Main Events and Peltz went searching for a completely new spotlight fight. A tall task to pull off in a few days.
At the press conference, Peltz recapped the various milestones he hit in making a suitable match.
"It's not that there aren't any good fighters around today. It's that there aren't any good managers around today. You have to know when opportunity knocks," Peltz said.
He went on to describe the fighters and mangers that were just too blind to seize the golden opportunity laid before them.
Luckily for boxing fans, none of those guys bothered to take this fight, but Bryant Jennings and Maurice Byarm, two young Philly heavyweights with something to prove, grabbed the chance to fight each other in the nationally televised feature bout.
At first glance, the new main event might look like a step down from the original, just a shoddy trade of two world-ranked contenders for a pair of unbeaten and generally unknown young heavyweights. You might even be hard-pressed to call these two guys, Jennings (11-0 / 5 KOs) and Byarm (13-0-1 / 9 KOs), prospects - at least not yet. But where the new match may be trailing the old one in divisional significance, it may actually have the lead when you size its potential as a fight.
There is little chance that Eddie Chambers and Sergei Liakhovich, both on the comeback trail, could deliver a fight that could be more exciting and meaningful than two young, talented, and driven Philly fighters on the rise. Not in 2012. The ghosts of their past losses and the importance of their next win, probably meant that Chambers and Liakhovich would have fought far too cautiously to produce anything more than a tactical and overly safe chess match. It's just a hunch, but the fight might have proven something about Chambers and Liakhovich without delivering something memorable for the fans.
I admit it. I'm a sucker for this type of drama, but I think Jennings-Byarm, at this point in their careers, and in this rare set of circumstances, has a far better chance of producing what we all look for in a fight.
"We don't really have what we used to have back in the day," Jennings said to the press. "Nowadays we have guys running around calling themselves tough, but they are not really proving themselves. I think this is the opportunity for both of us to prove ourselves", he added.
Byarm said, "I think in this fight we are going to bring out the best in each other. We got this fight on a week's notice and we are both fighting for the pride of Philadelphia."
So it's North Philly (Jennings) versus South Philly (Byarm) in Saturday's main event. Another late twist for this contest is that it has been sanctioned as a fight for the Pennsylvania Heavyweight Title.
Both fighters seem ready and full of drive. So it will all come down to what they have to offer in the ring. Neither one is a known commodity. Jennings looks promising but is raw, like any late-to-boxing athlete tends to look. Byarm has never fought in Philly, so he's a bit of an enigma to us. Plus he's a southpaw. Given their willingness to step up and take a risk, both guys deserve to win. But only one will. However, chances are they will both be better off for taking the fight and testing themselves. That's what boxing is all about.
If all this wasn't enough, the "Co-Feature" bout is a fight that would easily headline any other show. Some even felt that it was the "true main event" of the original card.
North Philly's Gabriel Rosado faces LA-based Mexican Jesus Soto Karass in a ten-round junior middleweight showdown. Karass was the tough gate-keeper of the welterweight division that gave Mike Jones the fight of his life a little more than a year ago. He's moved up one division to face Rosado, one of the very best of the current crop of Philly fighters.
It is an important match for "King" Gabriel. He has struggled to learn on the job since his professional debut in 2006, after a modest amateur career. Fight after fight, he's steadily improved his craft. He's hit a few bumps in the road, but has come away from every setback stronger than before. His 18-5 / 10 KO record is deceiving to many. But the hard road has made Rosado a real fighter and somewhat of a throwback. The level of his opposition has been very strong, and he has more than held his own in bouts often matched for the other guy. At the press conference, Peltz described him as a "warrior".
"If a Russian fighter calls and the fight is in Kiev, Gaby will be there. If a French fighter calls and the fight is in Paris, Gaby will be there. Gaby Rosado will fight any fighter anywhere", Peltz said.
Even though his fight has been set for months now, the theme of opportunity-seizing was not lost on Rosado.
"I want to make a statement. I know what Soto Karass brings to the table and he is going to bring the best out in me. I am up for the challenge. This is a statement fight for me. I want to show the world and everyone in the hometown what I am all about", Rosado said.
Following Rosado's career has been full of surprising ups and heartbreaking downs. But the heartbreaks have been mild because there has always been a sense that he was going somewhere in boxing, and every setback truly felt more like a well-earned lesson.
This fight with Soto Karass feels like the perfect match for him at this moment in his career. And I must admit, the face-off between the two fighters only strengthened that feeling. Rosado, big for a 154-pounder, looked massive next to the former welterweight. But Karass, 24-6-3 with 16 KOs, brings plenty into the fight, and should prove to be a real challenge.
Almost lost in the shuffle is Philly welterweight, "The New" Ray Robinson, a southpaw who takes on the tough, upset-minded Doel Carrasquillo in a very intriguing eight-round fight. Robinson has the boxing ability to dance circles around his opponent, but Carrasquillo has the punch to end a fight in an instant. It should be an interesting affair.
The pall that had blanketed the press conference at its start had obviously lifted by the end. The act of gathering the new cast of characters and each of them having their say about Saturday's show, put a whole new perspective on the card. One by one, the promoters and the fighters took the podium and did their best to control the damage, talk up the fights, and find the hope that had been lost the week before. They did a great job. By the end, the frayed edges had been mended and there was a surprising buzz in the room that had everyone looking forward to Saturday.
It seems that everyone has seized this opportunity, not just the fighters. The entire event was made better in the wake of turmoil, and that can only be accomplished by those willing to seize an opportunity, no matter how unlikely it may seem.
Sometimes the fighters are not just the guys wearing shorts.