Boxing

Pemberton stops Sheika in 10

24.01.04 - By Paul Ruby: Oh, baby! There were some fireworks at Foxwoods last night. In a highly anticipated rematch of their July, 2003 fight, Scotty ‘The Sandman’ Pemberton faced off against Omar Sheika. In their first fight, Sheika dropped Pemberton twice, but it was Pemberton who primarily controlled the action otherwise on his way to a split-decision victory. ESPN named it their 2003 ‘Fight of the Year,’ although that really does not do the fight justice considering the caliber of the fights ESPN has allowed to grace its airwaves of late. Nonetheless, the first fight was a good ebb-and-flow battle, and the last nights fight was even more of the same. It was like an exaggerated version of the first fight, and again Pemberton prevailed.

I’ll be honest and say that I thought Sheika would emerge victorious last night. I thought his performance in the first fight may have been the result of less-than-stellar preparation and a lingering hand injury. I was wrong. Sheika is a good fighter, but perhaps not as good as he once was. He is now 4-5 in the last three years, and his majority decision win over the tough-luck kid, Glencoffe Johnson, could easily have gone the other way. Sheika is a fighter who, perhaps like Fernando Vargas, peaked young and has a lot of miles on his 26 year-old body. He’s now lost four fights in a row. These were all things I should have considered before making my prediction. I also ignored the part of this match that turned out to be, in my opinion, the greatest single factor in the result- Scott Pemberton’s hunger and desire to leave the ring with a victory.

In some ways Sheika exhibited some Arturo Gatti’s weaker qualities as a fighter last night. He started out disciplined, but too quickly turned to brawling when he didn’t need to. In doing so, he made the fight more difficult for himself than it needed to be; a Gatti trademark. Another mistake Sheika made that the ESPN commentators noted was his lack of a first gear. In other words, Sheika was either going full steam ahead and bringing the fight to Pemberton or he was idling and allowing himself to be worked over pretty well to both the body and the head by the Sandman. He could never find a happy balance between complete defense and complete attack, and the product of this was that he’d run out of gas by the 9th round. Now, I’d like to clarify that I’m not trying to be overly critical of Omar Sheika. I’m simply voicing my opinion that he was the less disciplined fighter in the ring despite being slightly more talented than Pemberton and that is primarily what caused him to lose the fight.

At the same time, all the respect in the world goes to Scotty Pemberton for this one. He made some mistakes early in the fight and paid for them, hitting the canvas once and receiving what appeared to be a bizarre standing 8-count that was not in the rules (don’t worry- I’ll explain this later). Still, he found his range pretty well and used his lanky frame to his advantage. I was also impressed with how straight his punches came off throughout the fight. There were a number of times when the more compact Sheika launched a looping punch at the same time as the Sandman, and Scotty’s got to its target first. This speaks to discipline and the fine job being done by Shawn Raysor, Pemberton’s young trainer. In the past, Scott has perhaps relied too heavily on his powerful right hand. Raysor convinced Scott to buy into a new game-plan. Scotty worked the head well and the body very consistently in this fight. His work to the body slowed Sheika and helped neutralize his great left hook—by far his best punch—after about the 3rd round. Credit also goes to Raysor’s work in the corner. After being knocked down in the 2nd, Raysor told Pemberton something like, ‘Don’t worry, you’re still gonna knock this guy out. It just may take a while.’ Pemberton confidence in himself never wavered. He knew Sheika was a sturdy fighter with a world-class chin and a one-punch knockout was unlikely. So he kept on trucking and eventually got the result he wanted. Pemberton’s chin was also criticized before and during this fight, and rightly so. He doesn’t take a punch terribly well, but he is definitely one tough dude. That said, I think its possible Sheika overestimated how weak Scotty’s chin was last night. I think Sheika was thinking knockout much of the fight because he found Scotty’s weakness when he knocked him down four minutes into their first fight. Scott Pemberton took a more comprehensive approach than Sheika and appeared poised to go the distance and win a decision, which I believe he was on his way to doing.

Anyway, enough of that. Let’s talk specifics… Rounds one and two were good for Sheika. He kept his punches compact and straight. Round one was pretty clearly won by him at 10-9 clip. In the 2nd, a counter left hook dropped Pemberton about a minute and a half into the round. Pemberton was doing well in the round up until that point and had started to land his sneaky righ, but things changed quickly. After the knockdown, Pemberton did a great job of clinching and holding on while he got his act back together. He lost the round 10-8, but was clearly still in the fight. Sheika looked pretty good early in this fight, and I thought my prediction was looking pretty strong, but things changed. Two things contributed to Sheika’s early success, in my opinion. One, Pemberton had not really found his range. This is of tremendous importance for a lanky fighter with a big right hand. Early on, Scotty was either too far away to land his punches or in close making himself vulnerable to Sheika’s good inside game. Additionally, Sheika was doing the Evander early on this fight. In rounds one and two, he was consistently throwing a good left hook to the body and a then following it up by going to the head with another one. Pemberton was unable to figure this tactic out throughout the fight, but Sheika got winded and lost much of the mustard on his punches.

Round three was a pretty even one and could have gone either way, but round four was one for the ages. It went back and forth so many times I was getting dizzy. Pemberton landed good rights, but it was Sheika who won the round by landing a huge right that was the best punch of the fight to that point. I don’t know how Scotty kept standing, but he did. Round six went to Sheika, and that’s where the bizarre quasi-standing eight count occurred. Sheika was comboing well and had stunned Pemberton who was backpeddling and moving laterally in an attempt to avoid more of the charging Sheika’s power shots. At that point, the ref inexplicably started to give Pemberton a standing eight-count. A standing eight, of course, was not part of the rules and everyone, myself especially, was confused as hell. We later found out that the referee was completely within his discretion and made the right call. It was clear on the replay that Scott was going to hit the floor for the second time of the fight, but managed to save himself by slightly catching himself on the rope with his right glove. The ref, we later found out, ruled it a technical knockdown. It actually turned out to be in Scott’s favor and provided just the respite he needed. He charged out and controlled the rest of the round. Nonetheless, I gave it to Sheika by a 10-8 count; I’m a stickler for 10-8 rounds when there’s a knockdown, but I can understand anyone who scored it at 10-9.

After the sixth round, Pemberton’s desire to win the fight took over. It sometimes got him into hairy situations of trading with the steel-chinned Sheika; not a good idea. Still, he managed to stay focused most of the time and use his height. In rounds 7 and 8, Sheika’s tendency to fight either way too aggressively or sit there totally inactive became even more apparent. By this time, he also appeared to be tiring. Pemberton, on the other hand, was getting stronger and appeared recover very well from the shots he’d taken earlier. By the 9th round, Pemberton was landing combinations against a defenseless Sheika who was not fighting back. I gave Scotty a 10-8 round there, because I honestly thought the fight would and should have been stopped in the waning moments of the round. The start of the 10th showed an Omar Sheika who had not recovered very much from the flush shots he’d taken in the 9th. The guy just got hit with everything but the kitchen sink and still hadn’t gone down. It was amazing to see how rigid he was just absorbing those kind of shots to the head; I would compare to Vassily Jirov in the closing moments of his fight with James Toney last year before hitting the canvas. Less than a minute into the round, Pemberton was landing flush and the hometown crowd was going nuts for the New Bedford, Massachusetts native. Sheika then caught a pair of nicely telegraphed left hooks from the Sandman and hit the floor. He beat the count, but as Scott landed a big right it became painfully obvious that Sheika was no longer able to continue because he simply could not defend himself anymore. The referee, Gary Rosato, mercifully and correctly called a halt to the action about half way through the round.

At the time of the stoppage, I had the bout tied at 84-84. Rounds 1,2,4, and 6 to Omar Sheika with 10-8’s in the 2nd and 6th. Rounds 3,5,7,8,9 to Pemberton with a 10-8 in the 8th. Despite the even scoring, this is a fight that Scott ‘The Sandman’ Pemberton clearly won. He got up from the floor, and was the better conditioned fighter last night. Both men absorbed a great deal of punishment, but it was Pemberton’s disciplined and consistent attack as well his desire to win that earned him a victory. Sheika kept it close and made it interesting due to the great heart he showed. Still, he arrived at Foxwoods looking for a knockout and was not fully prepared to win rounds and win a decision. Prior to the fight, a confident Sheika spoke about his conditioning and predicted the fight would end in a knock-out. Well, his prediction was correct. Unfortunately, he was on the wrong end of that knockout.

Article posted on 24.01.2004



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