By Bernard Fernandez
PHILADELPHIA – Whether you’re sitting on a bus-stop bench in the Deep South or in a half-filled, club-show-type boxing venue in a big city in the Northeast, the words of wisdom uttered by Forrest Gump’s mom apparently are true.
Life really is like a box of chocolates in that you never know what you’re going to get.
At the tail end of a long night’s journey into early-morning day, lightweights Thomas Mattice and Isaac Cruz engaged in a dandy fight that bore a very slight resemblance to a historical matchup of all-time greats that took place in Madison Square Garden almost 49 years earlier.
Didn’t the taller (5-foot-9 to 5-4½), leaner, quicker Mattice resemble an imitation Muhammad Ali as he flitted about the ring at the 2300 Arena here, flicking jabs and unfurling combinations at Isaac Cruz, a relentless, squatty, left-hooking pursuer who seemingly was channeling his inner Joe Frazier? Did anyone else in the estimated turnout of 800 to 1,000 feel that they were watching a pugilistic version of Olivier and Gielgud doing Hamlet at the Old Vic in London, but with part-time actors with regular jobs staging the classic play at a dinner-show production off-off-Broadway?
When the last punch was thrown, at 12:52 a.m. – nearly six hours after the seven-bout, ShoBox: The New Generation-televised card began – the 10-round majority decision went to faux Smokin’ Joe, uh, Cruz (19-1-1, 14 KOs). Scores were 96-94 for Cruz (twice) and 95-95.
“We were going for the knockout, but it didn’t come up so we’ll take the decision,” said Cruz, the IBF’s No. 7-rated lightweight from Mexico City who out-landed Mattice in total punches, 205-117, and in power shots, 171-87. “I thought I won all 10 rounds. I don’t know what the judges were watching. Round one to Round 10 I dominated and I was never hurt.”
Mattice came reasonably close to salvaging a draw, and would have had he been only one point behind instead of three on the scorecards of judges Steve Weisfeld and Adam Friscia entering the 10th round. But Mattice (16-2-1, 11 KOs), the Cleveland resident who was making his sixth appearance on ShoBox, won the last round on all three cards, which only served to narrow the gap between himself and Cruz. The gracious loser said he had no reason to feel he had been victimized by pencil.
“I have no excuses,” he said. “(Cruz) was the better man tonight. He could hit a little bit. I started out a little slow, trying to see what he had, and he jumped out to an early lead.”
The other three televised fights were a mixed bag of hits and misses, made notable mostly by the appearance of a super lightweight named Love on Valentine’s Day. It seemed eerily appropriate that Montana Love (13-0-1, 6 KOs), of Cleveland, got his own box of figurative chocolates in scoring a close but unanimous eight-round decision over Jerrico Walton (16-1, 7 KOs), of New Orleans. A southpaw, Love extricated himself from numerous clinches often enough to outland Walton, 103-56, thus nailing down the nod by margins of 78-74 and 77-75 (twice).
“I give my performance a C-plus,” said Love, a tough self-grader. “I could have been more active in there. But I didn’t get hit a lot, and I felt good. I hurt him a few times, but I let him off the hook.”
Walton, whose chief second was the accomplished Ronnie Shields, wasn’t as willing as Mattice to go quietly into that good night.
“I think the fight was closer than it was scored,” complained Walton, who wore black-and-gold gloves and trunks in obvious tribute to his hometown New Orleans Saints. “I think it was at least a draw. I’m very disappointed.”
Super bantamweight Ra’eese “The Beast” Aleem (16-0, 10 KOs), of Las Vegas by way of Muskegon, Mich., had no reason to feel disappointed as he registered what went into the books as a fourth-round stoppage of San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (19-4-3, 9 KOs). Aleem was pretty much having his way with Lopez when Lopez’s corner waved a towel in the traditional signal of surrender.
“I didn’t see any film of the guy, but I knew he was a tough Mexican,” Aleem said. “Once we got in there I could see speed difference. I rushed some punches and made some mistakes, but I kept my hands up and my speed and movement were good. And I’m glad I stopped him. I didn’t want it to go to a decision.”
In the first of the four televised bouts, also an eight-rounder, super welterweight Joseph “Action” Jackson (16-0, 12 KOs), of Greensboro, N.C., gave a Valentine of sorts to the 40 or so fans who traveled to Philly to cheer him on in his first career appearance out of his home state, a unanimous decision over Derrick Coleman Jr. (11-1, 8 KOs), of Detroit.
“We just dug deep and got the job done,” Jackson said. “I’d give my performance an 8 out of 10, but I know I can show better.”
Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME
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