Sharkie’s Machine: The Sandman, Panchito and a little bit of Thunder

26.01.04 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Sharkie’s Machine: Boxing is not like other sports where you have this thing called parity. In boxing, one guys always going to be better than his opponent, who might be considered a better fighter. Boxing has many divisions where only few have more than four really dominant fighters. Boxing is full of stacked decks and unfair decisions but through it all, sometimes we just get a great fight. This week, we had a couple of notables play out. This was the best week in Boxing so far this year. There was Sheika vs. Pemberton, Bojado vs. Clottey and Gatti vs. Branco. All competitive match ups. Here’s a look at them in that order.

Scott Pemberton vs. Omar Sheika

The rematch between Scott “The Sandman” Pemberton and Omar Sheika scored a point for the argument that good boxing skills can win over power-punching brawlers. The rematch was shaping up to be a carbon copy of the first fight, which Pemberton won by decision.

The first round saw Pemberton just barely outbox Sheika though it could have been scored either way. By the second round, Pemberton was sent to the canvas--just like in their first fight, when Scott went down in the second round. This time The Sandman got up and won the next three rounds (on my card).

Pemberton was given a standing eight count in the sixth round after being raked into the ropes by a Sheika onslaught. Pemberton was wobbled, and referee Gary Rosato made that call in a fight that posted ‘No Standing Eight Count’ as rules for the bout. Strange but true.

These guys are ‘Blue-Collar’ fighters, working class fighters who have to work real hard for everything and get paid little compared to the brand name fighters who often do so little. Sheika has been a contender who fought and lost to WBO Champion, Joe Calzaghe. On Sheika’s bright side, he’s got a lot of heart and some pop in his punch. The problem with Sheika is his lack of defense. He does not do well combining offense and defense. His fundamental skills are fair at best. It proved to be a real shortcoming against rival Scott Pemberton.

Pemberton is the kind of fighter that has respectable boxing prowess and can accumulate enough punches in spots to knock guys out. He does not have the best chin though. It took some doing and a trip to the canvas along the way but Scott got the job done against Omar Sheika.

This being his third loss in a row, Sheika‘s career is taking a downward turn. But he’s a brave warrior and always game so I’m sure he’ll get plenty of work, but only for limited rewards.

Pemberton’s fortunes look to be going up. He says he wants to fight for the big purse so he can buy his family a house. He deserves it. Pemberton is a crowd-pleasing fighter who demonstrates the complete drama of a boxing match in his fights. He gets knocked down--but gets back up and gives his all. He’s inspirational. He’s like that little train that thinks he can.

I look forward to seeing Pemberton return to face the likes of Charles “The Hatchet” Brewer, who beat “The Sandman” by TKO 6 in their August 2002 meeting. Couple the redemption factor with the way both guys fight, it would be a great addition to any major fight card in the near future. At 37 years old, Scott doesn’t have the luxury of taking his time if he wants to contend for a major title. He may never win one but he’s fun to watch try. He needs to stay active and that million-dollar payday may find him yet.

* * *

Francisco Bojado vs. Emanuel Clottey

Bojado has had the luxury of a lot of press attention and being crowned the future of boxing before he ever even beat a real contender. He looked fantastic fighting the stiffs his handlers would find for him to build his record on until one day he ran into Juan Carlos Rubio in February of 2002. Rubio was another ‘made to order’ fighter for Bojado to feast on but something happened that night in Uncasville Connecticut that changed the parameters.

That same night, Jeff Lacy, the Super Middleweight Prospect and stable mate of Bojado had just finished winning a fight by KO over Glenn Thomas, a fighter who clearly took a dive. Lacy threw a grazing shot to Thomas’ midsection and Thomas went down and it was over. The Gaming commission of the Mohegan Sun decided that Lacy’s opponent didn’t deserve to be paid for dishonoring their venue by obviously throwing the fight. Rubio saw this and knew he better put up a good fight or risk losing his payday. He did. He also ended up winning a 10 round decision over the super-hyped Francisco Bojado.

To Bojado’s credit, in November of 2003, he beat Rubio convincingly in a rematch (by UD 10). That win still didn’t convince me that Bojado was all he was hyped up to be. To me, this fight against Emanuel Clottey would be Panchito Bojado’s first ‘real’ test as a pro fighter.

Emanuel Clottey is a solid boxing technician, he’s built like a rock, can take a big punch and is best known for his TKO win over the swarming and maniacal Mohammad Abdulaev, who was unbeaten until he met up with Clottey. There was a pinch of controversy over the way Abdulaev was counted out after suffering a knockdown at the hands of Clottey. There was some confusion over his corner telling him to either get up or take a knee. But either way, if he wasn’t on the canvas in the first place, there’d have been no problem for him since he was winning the fight up to that point. All he had to do was stay on his feet and the fight was his. It didn’t work out that way.

Boxing is a fickle sport where the anything can happen.

To my surprise, Bojado was able to outbox and out hustle Clottey in most of the rounds and won a decision over a respectable Boxer. It was a close fight in my view. Clottey just didn’t do enough offensively to knock Bojado out. Somehow, I had the impression Clottey didn’t try hard enough. And the way the HBO announce team were talking Bojado up, it seemed the only way Bojado would lose would have to be by knockout. HBO’s Harold Lederman seemed mighty partial towards Bojado in his scoring. I scored it a 96-95 win for Bojado. The Official Judges had it 97-93, 97-93 and 99-92 all in favor of Bojado. No surprises there.

Clottey might have won had he been more motivated. He seemed to allow Bojado to win the last round as he did very little in the way of offense. But I do credit Bojado with a good win over what I considered a quality opponent.

Mohammad Abdulaev would be an excellent future opponent for Bojado. I’d also love to see Bojado against Juan Valenzuela or Miguel Cotto but we’ll see what Shelley the Finkel comes up with for him next.

* * *

Arturo Gatti vs. Gianluca Branco

It was great to see Mickey Ward there supporting Gatti. After their trilogy of battles, (all considered ‘fight of the year’) they must have one hell of a bond in friendship. Guys like Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward, in my estimation, are the closest thing to heroes today’s Boxing game has. After three fights, we were all going to see how Gatti fared against someone not named Mickey Ward.

Gianluca Branco, the Italian Super Lightweight Champion came to Atlantic City New Jersey an undefeated fighter. He won’t be leaving that way. In his fight with American Fan favorite, Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, he showed that he was not going to be some stiff European that couldn’t compete with a brawling American (Gatti was born in Italy and later moved and became Canadian, he now lives in Jersey City, New Jersey).

For those looking for a slugfest, Gatti showed that he’s not just a brawler anymore. He can box. Gatti used his jab and superior footwork to out box and out hustle a very respectable Gianluca Branco.

Nobody on this side of the world has really seen Branco fight. His record is littered with names of guys no one here ever heard of and a lot of Six Round fights, including his last fight against one Michel Raynaud (5-8-1 record) where Branco won by points. Expectations were not high. But, Boxing is a fickle sport where strange things happen.

With Buddy McGirt in his corner, Arturo Gatti has developed some good footwork, which has improved his defense considerably. Gatti used to block with his face. Not anymore. He still gets hit a lot but he also does a lot of hitting and has a vicious left hook. I want to give a round by round coverage for this fight since to my own surprise, I had Gatti losing this fight by one round on my scorecard.

Round 1

Gatti came out boxing. Branco showed some good skills both defensive and offensive but was outworked by Gatti in a ‘getting to know you round.’ 10-9 Gatti

Round 2

Branco showed he can score accurately when he applies himself but he didn’t do enough to win over Gatti who scored fairly well himself and was more aggressive in taking the fight to the more patient Branco. 10-9 Gatti

Round 3

Both were settling into the fight, which was establishing itself as a boxing match and not a slugfest at all. On two occasions, slugfests broke out outside of the ring, in the audience. There was a sense of distraction in and out of the ring. Both fighters did their best to pay attention to each other and not succumb to the distraction, but it was there. Gatti was the aggressor and Branco scored some nice counter punches. Branco’s technique is pretty sharp and both hold their own in this round. Neither out did the other. I scored this round even.

Round 4

Gatti’s left eye began to swell from Branco right hands. Gatti pressed the action but Branco was more effective with his patient approach to scoring, sitting back and only throwing when his target was right there. His accuracy was high though many times his output was low. He scored better than Gatti in this round. 10-9 Branco

Round 5

Branco started to figure Gatti out, timing his shots well and scoring. Gatti missed too many punches that are blocked by the gloves of Branco. But whenever Gatti threw a punch, the crowd roared, whether he hit or missed his target. 10-9 Branco

Round 6

Gatti put the pressure on and forced the action. Branco scored some nice clean shots but not enough of them. Gatti boxed real nice, using his left well to jab and hook. With superior ring-generalship, he wins this round. 10-9 Gatti

Round 7

Gatti hurt his right hand throwing a body shot that landed on Branco’s hip. Gatti grimaced in pain as they clinched. Gatti established a good range for his lead left hand and at that point, was a one handed fighter. Branco capitalized on Gatti’s limitation and used his polished skills to score well enough to win the round. Branco was warned a few times by referee Rudy Battle for rabbit punching. 10-9 Branco

Round 8

Branco took advantage of Gatti not being able to follow up with right hands as much by landing a few good rights of his own. Branco was subtly controlling this round with clean punching and defense as again, Gatti missed more than he connected. Gatti came on strong as the round ended, scoring a big left hook but it was not enough to steal the round. Branco 10-9

Round 9

Gatti was aggressive but not entirely effective. Branco was accurate and scored well again in spite of being out worked by Gatti. A big right hand by Branco rocked Gatti, who woke up the brawler within and scored a big shot himself during an exchange, but it was too little too late. Branco 10-9

Round 10

Gatti still pressures Branco, disregarding the pain in his right hand. Branco’s defense is good. They exchanged at center ring and Gatti caught Branco with a perfectly timed left hook that sent Branco to the canvas. Branco got up and was a bit shaky but survived the last few seconds of the round. Gatti 10-8

Round 11

Gatti and Branco raised the intensity as Gatti tried to finish what he started in the 10th, while Branco tried to regain his composure and carefully box his way back. Branco rocked Gatti with a big shot and the battle moved into the ropes as Gatti clinched. Against the ropes, Branco looked to intentionally bang his head into Gatti’s. The ref separated them and warned them both to ‘keep it clean’. They touched gloves and Gatti danced around Branco, scoring with left jabs. You could hear McGirt yelling, “Box, box!” which I thought was the wrong strategy at that moment. Gatti should have been trying to finish Branco off, make it a slugfest while Branco was still recovering from that knockdown in the 10th round. Instead, Branco scored some good shots from his preferred range and kept Gatti far enough away to regain his control of the tempo.

Branco 10-9.

Round 12

A boxing match turns into a bit of a brawl as both score some big shots. Gatti’s left eye was closed, Branco’s left eye was closed. Gatti head butts Branco (unintentionally), both give their all and both do well. I had to score that round even.

* * *

In spite of the knockdown Gatti scored, he was missing often and paying for it in too many rounds. Branco fought a solid, smart fight, his punches didn’t have as much pop as Gatti’s but he did land many telling shots that snapped Gatti’s head back when they landed. Branco’s defensive skills were impressive and he conceded nothing. Gatti fought a good fight too but even he admitted during the post fight interview that he felt less than at his best, in spite of how hard he trained. He credited Branco for his abilities and toughness. Had Branco been more aggressive, a better argument could be made for his winning. I had it 115-114 for Branco. My friend, who also scored the fight along side me had it the reverse, 115-114 for Gatti. It was a great fight and it was very close.

The official Judges scores were:

Judge Cavallieri of Italy scored: 115-112 for Gatti

Judge Tom Kaczmarek of the USA scored: 116-111 for Gatti

Judge Anek Hongkongtam of Thailand scored it: 116-111 for Gatti.

The only surprise there was the Italian Judge giving it to Gatti by three rounds. I thought 116-111 was a bit exaggerated by the other two Judges but no surprise there. I can’t think of a fight that Judge Hongkongtam scored that I ever agreed with. They must have been giving Gatti credit for hitting Branco’s arms and gloves so often.

I thought Branco scored at a higher connect percent and defended well enough against most of Gatti’s punches. There were some tough rounds to score but I tried to score them as impartially as I could. I’m a huge Arturo Gatti fan, and I was screaming when he put Branco down in the tenth round but overall, I honestly felt he lost this fight by one point.

* * *

Arturo Gatti is now the proud owner of the WBC’s version of the Super Lightweight Title (A title that was recently vacated by ‘Unified’ Champion, Kostya Tszyu). Gianluca Branco made a good showing and deserves consideration for a rematch with Gatti. Next time on Italian soil. Hey, what’s fair is fair.

Outside of a rematch with Branco, I’d like to see Arturo take on Ricky Hatton of Manchester England, which would be a hell of a battle. Gatti is no spring chicken though and can’t really afford to revert to his brawling style or he’s not going to last more than another year in the sport. He has evolved into a boxer/puncher under McGirt and has shown some fundamental improvements. With his refined boxing skills and blending in his tendency to slug it out, he can still entertain us with some great fights in the future. I don’t know how well he’d fare against Kostya Tszyu or Zab Judah but no one really does. Speculation is never more than just...speculation. That’s why they fight the fights. Let’s just hope they do.

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Article posted on 26.01.2004

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