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Boxing Odds and Ends: Roiman Villa’s Remarkable Rally and More

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  • Boxing Odds and Ends: Roiman Villa’s Remarkable Rally and More

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    By Arne K. Lang

    Through the first 15 rounds of Saturday’s Showtime pay-per-view, the “A-side” had won every round. Demetrious Andrade pitched a shutout over Demond Nicholson in the 10-round opener and the second match of the quadruple header, pitting Rashidi Ellis against Roiman Villa, was following the same tack. Ellis, who seemingly had too much class for Villa, won the first five rounds on all three scorecards without breaking much of a sweat. “He’s on cruise control,” said a blogger on social media.

    Had the Ellis-Villa fight continued along this path, the first three fights would have resulted in monotonous shutouts (Boots Ennis defeated his uninspired opponent by three identical 120-108 scores) and there would have been considerable wailing about what a rip-off Showtime was feeding fight fans at a suggested list price of $79. But Villa kept plugging away and his pertinacity paid dividends, producing high drama and getting the matchmaker off the hook.

    Although he won rounds 9, 10, 11 on all three cards, Villa still needed a big finish to pull off the upset and he finished with a flourish, knocking the previously undefeated Ellis down twice to cop a majority decision.

    The noted boxing scribe Cliff Rold drew a parallel between Villa’s comeback and that of Jorge Paez in his 1988 match with previously undefeated Calvin Grove. Paez knocked Grove down three times in the 15th round to eke out a majority decision and snatch away Groves’ IBF featherweight title. The match was televised live on a Thursday night from a Mexicali bullring on the old USA Boxing network.

    This reporter was reminded of a more famous fight, the first meeting between Julio Cesar Chavez and Meldrick Taylor at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1990. To be certain, it’s an imperfect comparison. Entering the final round, Chavez had a higher hill to climb than did Villa against Ellis who managed to make it to the final bell whereas Taylor did not, falling shy by 2 seconds. Also, Taylor suffered considerably more damage than Ellis – he had to be hospitalized and was never the same – whereas it appears that Ellis may be able to rebound from this mishap and fight his way back into a position of prominence in the welterweight division. He would likely be a small favorite over Villa in a rematch.

    Roiman Villa, who was born in Venezuela and has Colombian citizenship, brought an impressive record into Saturday’s fight: 25-1 with 24 knockouts. But aside from one fight in Panama, all but two of his fights were in South America against suspect opposition and he was extended the distance when venturing outside this region, losing a 12-round split decision to a Mexican in Los Mochis, Mexico, and winning an 8-round decision over a Detroiter of Puerto Rican descent in Atlantic City.

    The rap on him remains – he’s heavy-handed, but a one-dimensional grinder – but he set himself up for some nice paydays with his hard-earned triumph over Rashidi Ellis and reminded us of Yogi’s saying that it’s never over until it’s over.

    ---

    The Showtime event was a bonanza from the standpoint of the live gate. When it comes to packing an arena, no one moves the needle quite like Gervonta “Tank” Davis who performed as expected in the main event, defeating Hector Luis Garcia who was all in after eight rounds.

    In each of his last four fights – at NBA arenas in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and now Washington, DC – there was nary an empty seat. An announced crowd of 19,371 -- heavily dappled with stars from the sports and music worlds -- attended Saturday’s show at Capitol One Arena, this coming on the heels of setting a Barclays Center record for a boxing match with an announced crowd of 18,970 for his match with Rolly Romero. And keep in mind that Gervonta was a heavy favorite in all four of those fights.

    The promoters would be wise to park his forthcoming bout with Ryan Garcia (likely in April) at LA’s SoFi Stadium, the site of last year’s Super Bowl and tonight’s national title game in college football. A sellout is assured.

    ---

    The first notable member of the boxing fraternity to pass away in 2023 was trainer Hector Roca, a fixture at the iconic Gleason’s Gym going back to the days when it was located on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Roca suffered a fatal heart attack on Jan. 2 while a patient at a Brooklyn hospital. He was 82 years old.

    A native of Panama where he was a world-class bicycle racer, Roca moved to New York in 1975. One day, while working as an apprentice cutter in the garment district, he wandered into Gleason’s at its third incarnation near Madison Square Garden and never looked back. Over the years, he helped train 21 boxers who captured world titles including Arturo Gatti, Buddy McGirt, and Iran Barkley.

    Roca’s main claim to fame was that he trained Hilary Swank for her role as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald opposite director Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman in the 2004 award-willing film “Million Dollar Baby.” Swank gave a shoutout to Roca and the legendary gym on national television during her acceptance speeches after winning “Best Actress” at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

    Roca went west to finish his training for Swank, residing in a house that Swank rented for him in the hip LA suburb of Venice Beach. Swank often cooked his meals and according to Roca she was one helluva cook.

    Among the many tributes to Roca on social media was this heart-warming missive from Heather Hardy: “Today I lost my coach, my dad, my mentor and the only man in the world that I trust.”

    May he rest in peace.

    Photo credit: Ryan Hafey / Premier Boxing Champions


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