|Andre Ward and Goossen Tutor Give St. Lucia Boxing Fans a Night to Remember
By Gabriel Montoya at ringside (Nov 19, 2007) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Tom Casino/SHOWTIME)
When a boxing card needs only one of six sets of scorecards to determine a winner it’s safe to say it was a great night at the fights. When you add to the mix a tropical island, an outdoor venue, and an audience of nearly 5000 locals, the night goes from the sublime to the magical. Friday night’s “Boxing in Paradise,” promoted by Goossen Tutor Promotions and televised on Showtime’s Shobox: The New Generation, marked the first time a major fight card had been televised on the island of St. Lucia. If promoter Dan Goossen and Minister of Tourism Allen Chastanet have it their way, it will not be the last.
For most fight fans and scribes, a Shobox card, which is designed to showcase prospective contenders, is something you can see live in the States on any given weekend. For the St. Lucians, this was a rare opportunity to be a part of boxing on a level they had never seen while sharing with the world the beauty of this Caribbean gem.
All through the week the island was teeming with anticipation. Everywhere I went “You going to the fight?” was the question most asked. And believe me, I went a lot of places. From the resort where I stayed to the outskirts of Gros Islet I visited by horseback, all talk centered on the fights. The Goosen team built that excitement the old school way putting fliers in all possible locations and getting out among the locals. It was a personal level of promotion that is rarely seen anymore and it worked to perfection. “I’ll have to change my shift,” one man told me. “I love boxing but I’ve never seen a fight live,” smiling at a flier like a child getting his birthday gifts early.
It was a typically warm night on Friday as I headed to the stadium; every car, hitchhiker and pedestrian seemingly headed in the same direction. Roads easily traveled during the week became jammed. Music played at impromptu street parties. A man jumped for joy as he made his way in the direction of the stadium. As we turned the corner towards the parking lot, I saw two men play boxing each other on the corner with giant smiles across their faces. Even a couple stray dogs
appeared on their way to the fights.
The crowd inside the Beausejour Stadium was electric. It was like being at a Ricky Hatton fight with a great Caribbean band playing in the background. Pounding drums rumbled and alternated with a DJ who would keep the crowd grooving in anticipation of the evening’s bouts.
The opening fight of the night featured Lennox Allen (9-0 with 5KO’s), a 6’1 southpaw junior middleweight from Guyana against Jonathon Nelson (16-19 with 15KO’s) of Oklahoma. Allen came out fast, jabbing to Nelson’s body. The 5’9 Nelson, who relies on his hard punch and brawling style, seemed a bit confused by the rangy and aggressive southpaw circling and jabbing him. Allen tore into him quickly with a right hook that dropped Nelson to a knee. Getting up quickly and seemingly clear headed, Nelson headed back into action. After landing a straight left lead, Allen let his hands go in a flurry that ended with a right hook downstairs to Nelson’s ribs and the Oklahoma fighter crumpled to his knees. He would rise at 8 but the ref mercifully called the action off. “I wanted to go more rounds,” Allen would tell me afterwards,” But the opening was there so I had to take it.” He hopes to return to the ring soon in Guyana with a US debut happening next year.
Hector Camacho, Jr. (43-3 with 25 KO’s) vs. Joshua Smith (17-36-1) was up next and honestly from the look of Camacho’s conditioning I wasn’t sure how far this one would go. From the outset, Camacho displayed the skills that made him a much talked about second-generation fighter. Camacho, jr. fired two fast right hooks right off the bat while Smith dug to his body. It was clear in round two that Camacho, Jr. was looking to get Smith out as soon as possible perhaps in part due to his conditioning. About a minute into this round, the marriage of St. Lucia and professional boxing was to be consummated as a tropical downpour broke the heat and sent press row scurrying under the canopy covering the ring.
For a moment as I got my bearings, I wondered if this was going to ruin the perfect start to the card. I quickly learned how wrong I was as I turned back from the action to face the crowd. Beneath umbrellas or plastic chairs held over their heads, the St. Lucians smiled; eyes fixated on the action behind me. The rain was simply a respite from the heat and not even close to being a deterrent from this special night. All in a St. Lucian night, I suppose. The drums kept playing and the chants and cheers continued, as I turned back with a smile of my own to see Camacho, Jr. wail away at Smith en route to scoring a TKO in Round 6.
The rainfall having subsided, I returned to press row and settled in just in time to watch Ashley ”Hot Boy” Theophane (19-2 with 5 KO’s) vs. Mike Dobbs (10-18 with 8KO’s). Theophane, the #1 British 140 lb. contender, has been training in New York City with the likes of Joan Guzman and Dmitriy Salita in preparation for what he hopes is a shot at the big names of the Junior Welterweight division. “I’m looking to make a statement,” he would tell me at the weigh in. He would do just that as he slid around the ring in a relaxed and easy manner, popping his jab and driving in his right hand behind it. Theophane displayed excellent boxing skills to go with his rangy frame and fast hands. Dobbs helped Theophane prove his toughness as he caught “Hot Boy” with a hard left hook to the body left to the head combination that the Brit took very well. Round three saw Theophane really warming up as he began letting his hands to the head and body of Dobbs. The only down pour in the stadium now was the steady flow of leather raining down on Dobbs as Theophane landed a crushing uppercut followed by a left hook. Dobbs’ corner would mercifully leap onto the ring apron, prompting referee Roberto Ramirez to halt the bout at 1:11 of the third round.
The final non-televised bout was between former middleweight champion William Joppy (39-4-1 with 30KO’s) and Etienne Whitaker (32-28-2 with 21 KO’s). Joppy came out faster than usual and took the fight to Whitaker. Less than two minutes in, Joppy’s fast start would pay off as he landed a homerun shot that sent Whitaker flying into and under the ropes. He valiantly tried to rise but referee Steve Smoger wisely halted the bout at 1:58 of the first.
With the televised part of the card beginning at midnight for U.S. broadcast purposes, I wondered if the Lucians would last through the night. Six fights is a lot to take in for your first time but the infectious energy never wavered as we headed to the other side of midnight and beyond.
The co-feature bout between Roger “Never Can Tell” Cantrell and 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward represented a big step for both men. For Ward, this would be his first ten round fight as well as his first time being part of a main event. For Cantrell, this fight represented a shot at redemption. The young Washington State native lost in the Olympic trials of 2004 and has been looking for that breakthrough win ever since. Now with all eyes and TV cameras on them, it was make or break time for both men.
Everything in the air changed as both men stepped into the ring. Electricity gave way to poised stillness. The music slow and intense, the crowd tight, waiting for that first bell to let it all hang out. I had the sense that everyone in the building knew what was at stake for these two young men and for the first time all night the crowd gave into the gravity of the moment.
After an intense stare down, the bell sounded and Ward came out guns blazing, firing a left hook at Cantrell who fell back into the ropes before gathering himself. “I wanted to let him know what was up right off the bat,” Ward would later say. “ I was a little tight early but as the fight went on I relaxed into it.”
Cantrell seemed a bit tight himself as he gauged the speed of Ward. He leapt in off balance with a left and a right but Ward was one step ahead of him and glided away. By rounds end, Ward would display a strong jab and left hook up and downstairs, opening a cut under Cantrell’s eye and sending him back to his corner searching for answers.
Round Two saw Ward get his jab going in rapid succession and snapping Cantrell’s head back. “Never Can Tell” was clearly having trouble with Ward’s fast hands and faster footwork. Every time Ward seemed in range for a Cantrell punch, he’d dance away and then pop back with a hard punch of his own. By round’s end, hard left hooks, chopping over hand rights, and a debilitating body attack began to take its toll on Cantrell. Just as Ward seemed to reach a new plateau, he would take his game to even higher levels; keeping Cantrell constantly in search of answers.
Cantrell seemed to find his rhythm in the third and the combatants traded jabs. After a hard shot from Ward, Cantrell waved his foe in. The crowd erupted at the display of heart by the young man. He may have been losing the fight but at the very least he gained the respect of everyone present.
In the fourth stanza, they began to trade bombs as Ward landed two hard hooks and Cantrell answered with a right. Ward worked beautifully up and downstairs, the months of training showing through with every punch, side step, and counter. A big left hook from Ward had Cantrell in trouble for the first time and the Olympian capitalized by landing a right that sent Cantrell to the ropes. It now appeared a matter of time and how much of a beating Cantrell and his corner were willing to take.
As the bell sounded for round five, the end did not appear far off. Ward began to finish off Cantrell with a beautifully efficient series of uppercuts and hooks, and referee Jose H. Rivera stepped in and saved the protesting Cantrell from any more punishment at 1:56 of the fifth.
Far and away this was Ward at his very best. He’s come a long way from some shaky moments early in his career. Now the stage is set for this young contender to enter the championship hunt. Under the tutelage of trainer/Godfather Virgil Hunter and promoter Dan Goossen, improvements both in the ring and in the rankings appear limitless. “I felt great tonight. I’m just going to take it one fight at a time,” said Ward. “I’m just going to enjoy this moment and then prepare for the next.”
The final bout of the evening featured Teke “The African Prince” Oruh (14-1 with 6 KO’s) of Nigeria vs. last minute replacement Joey “ Minnesota Ice” Abell (18-1 with 17 KO’s). “Minnesota Ice” probed more than able as he frustrated the favored Oruh all bout long with his fast hands and feet. “I hadn’t seen him before, said Oruh afterwards. “He was very fast with his feet. I couldn’t catch him. I couldn’t set up.”
The fight itself was tense but uneventful early on as Abell moved constantly, darting away from the more flat-footed Oruh and pumping his jab. Each round was a replay of the last with Abell using his faster hands and feet to full effect, never allowing Oruh to get off and find his range. For a last minute replacement Abell didn’t fight like it. The Minnesota slugger was giving Oruh all he could handle and more as he took control early and kept it going each round.
However Oruh would rally in the middle rounds as the pace Abell had set clearly had him tired. “The African Prince” capitalized and was able to land hard right hands and jabs to the body as Abell backpedaled and looked to counter.
In the final two rounds, the fight was on the table and the crowd was on it’s feet urging both fighters on. Abell let his hands go and Oruh made him pay for it by landing a huge right hand that instantly turned the tissue around Abell’s left eye black and blue.
As they came down the stretch of the final round, the fight was on the table and the momentum had shifted clearly to Oruh. They traded brutal shots to the head and body with Abell getting off in rapid succession and Oruh digging downstairs to Abell’s ribs. The crowd was on its feet and the fighters left everything in the ring as the final bell sounded. I scored the bout 96-95 Abell. Judge Nelson Vazquez had it 98-92 Abell. Judge Cesar Ramos saw it 96-94 Abell and Judge Roberto Ramirez scored it 95-95. Judging by the crowd reaction, they saw it for Abell as well.
As my taxi made it’s way home through the crowded city streets, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky I was to have been a part of this newly born event. The looks of pure joy on the faces of every member of the crowd, every person involved, will forever be etched in my mind. My driver Winnie offered to take me down to get some nearby food. Starving, I happily agreed. Pulling into a crowded side street in Gros Islet, we came upon a block after-party complete with outdoor BBQ (hands down the best I’ve ever eaten) and Piton beer (a delicious local brand). As I overheard members of the crowd retelling the tale of the fights to those unlucky enough to miss it, I thought back to the words of Allen Chastanet at this past summer’s press conference announcing the fight. “It normally seats about 15000,” Chastanet said of Beausejour Cricket Stadium. “But with the help of Showtime, we will convert it to about 5000.” Judging from the faces of those who didn’t attend, I have a feeling that come next November, 5000 seats won’t be nearly enough.