PHILLY BOXING HISTORY                                                                        January 28, 2011


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A local hoard of hardcore boxing fans braved the cold snowy conditions Friday night to see the first Philadelphia fight card in months, the reopening of the National Guard Armory as a boxing venue, and an old-school battle of area warhorses. What they got was two out of three, and this time, two out of three was bad. A handful of tepid matches did go off, but the show was marked with three last minute cancellations - including the much hyped "West Oak Lane Rumble" between Tommie Speller and Jameel Wilson. One week prior, Wilson and Speller went at it during a "meet and greet" event. Little did we know this was the closest the two would come to an actual fight.

Fans did get to see "Big Poppa" and "Black Gold" in the ring Friday night, but they were fully dressed in street clothes and sharing a microphone. That's a nightmare scenario even for this hardcore fan. Speller took the microphone first to apologize to the fans and explain that the fight would not happen. He offered no explanation as to why the fight was cancelled. Wilson spoke next and only said that he had come that night "ready to fight", which apparently focused the blame on Speller. Tommie grabbed the mic again and announced that he hoped the two would eventually meet in the ring for real.

Later the PA Commission confirmed the circulating story that Speller had arrived at the fight with his mandatory medical tests incomplete. Two more scheduled bouts were scratched the day of the fight for similar reasons.  

Five fights did happen. However, only one of them had a dash of drama. All five bouts were settled by wide-margin unanimous decision. And there's nothing more boring than that. Wait; to be fair, it could have been worse. We could have seen five draws. 

Main eventer and the Power Productions fighter of the moment, Coy Evans did not disappoint. He showed up for his six-round bout against his most experienced foe to date, Felipe Almanza and displayed a boat-load of skill. Running his record to 10-0-1 with a shutout 60-54 victory, Evans impressed if he did not inspire. It was a workmanlike performance - solid but safe. Evans didn't put himself out, satisfied to simply pile up points all the way through the bout. And he looked good doing it. At the very end, he hurt his opponent, but it was too late to capitalize. Almanza, now 18-20-4, looked more like a fighter than most boxers with similar records, but he had nothing to offer against Evans. He was sturdy and able, but never came close to winning a round.

On a night stripped to just five bouts scheduled for just 24 total rounds, the one bright spot is the promise of an early evening. But this card didn't even deliver that. Delays and intermissions helped to cruelly drag the night out. So hours before Evans won his fight, the evening began. The 7:30 start time slipped to 8:00, and then almost to 8:30.

When the action finally got underway, Ukraine-born but Shuler Gym product Georgiy Guralnik opened the show with his professional debut. The heavyweight won a shutout over four rounds against Michael Davis. Davis who put up no fight whatsoever, could have easily been disqualified for his lack of combativeness. But referee Steve Smoger showed some patience and the fight lasted the scheduled route. All three judges gave every round to Guralnik, and one of them scored round one 10-8 (for a 40-35 final tally). Davis' record slipped to 0-7.

Next, light-heavyweight Amir Shabazz made his professional debut a successful one with his own four round shutout. Part of the excellent Bozy Ennis stable, many eyes are on Shabazz see if he can grow into a real player in that talent-rich and successful team that includes featherweight Coy Evans, USBA jr. middleweight champion Derek Ennis, NABF super middle-weight champion Farah Evans, and others. Shabazz beat Phillip Hannah with speedy lunges, constant jabs and many uppercuts. Hannah hung in there but did little more than clinch. All three judges scored the fight 40-36. Hannah dropped to 0-5.

The third fight was one of those out-of-town-transplants that finds it's way onto a show, thanks to some side deal struck by a manager merely in search for a work date for his boxer. Enter Jamaican southpaw Venroy July who fights out of Maryland. He faced Billings, Montana's Joe Broken Rope. July cruised to an easy four-round shutout on all cards. He controlled every minute of the action and rattled his opponent repeatedly. At times it seemed Broken Rope might fall, but he managed to last until the final bell. July improved to 6-0-1 with 2 KOs; broken Rope slipped to 2-1.

After Speller and Wilson did their mea culpa, Tim Witherspoon Jr. entered the ring for his fight with fellow Philadelphian Kywame Hill. This scheduled four-rounder was beefed up to six rounds to help fill the void left by the numerous cancellations. The lightweight contest turned out to be the only competitive fight of the night. Witherspoon, the son of the two-time heavyweight champ, cruised through the first round. But in the second Witherspoon suffered a cut from an accidental head butt and began to struggle. 

Philly fans haven't seen Witherspoon since his first two pro bouts. Since then he's been on the road fighting twice in Ohio and three times in the UK. In those early local starts, Witherspoon looked talented but seemed a little fragile once the going got rough. But that was years ago. However, back in Philly against Kywame, Witherspoon again appeared vulnerable. He sagged a bit after the head butt and Kywame took the round. Hill picked it up in round three. He roughed Witherspoon up along the ropes and in the corners. Witherspoon seemed ready to go down, but then turned into a tiger. He fired a volley of hard blows at Hill that proved almost lethal. It was a great round. Hill rallied, only to be topped by Witherspoon in overall activity and effective power. Finally the evening had some real boxing action.

Witherspoon won the third and the fourth, as the club fighter mentality of the 1-6 Hill set in. He faded and accepted what must have felt like another inevitable loss. Things slowed down in the fifth with both fighters looking winded. A few sparks happened in the sixth that reminded fans of the thrilling third, but it was mostly Witherspoon.

The official scores were all for Witherspoon. Steve Weisfeld had it 60-54. Richard Hopkins scored it 59-55 (as did I), and George Hill saw it 59-54. Hill apparently gave Tim Jr. a 10-8 in the third. Witherspoon improved his record to 6-1 (1 KO). Hill went home 1-7 (1 KO).

The fight was promoted by Greg Robinson's Power Productions. The same three judges scored every bout. The alternating referees were Steve Smoger and Hurley McCall. Approximately 900 fans were in attendance for the shabby show. Next up for Power Productions is another Armory show on March 4th. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the event is better and that the fans are forgiving.




John DiSanto - Northeast Philly - January 28, 2011