At around 5:30 PM EDT, while most of the Sands Casino Resort arena was still empty, Bryant "BY" Jennings and BJ Flores recorded their breakdown of Ronald Cruz vs Antwone Smith "Inside the Ring." What appeared so seamlessly in the televised broadcast actually took a lot of takes. Flores often coughed while the cameras weren't recording. Yet, when I watched the NBC broadcast later Flores didn't appear sick to me. Anyways, after previewing Cruz-Smith, BJ and BY then broke down Gabriel Rosado vs Charles Whittaker, which wrapped up much quicker. Finally the "In the Ring" filming segment finished with BY profiling himself. Jennings is scheduled to fight on NBC Sports airways again Dec. 8th.
Besides a few press, setup workers / behind the scenes television people, promoters, matchmakers, broadcasters, so on and so forth, the arena was pretty empty (dark too) around the time all this pre-fight footage was taken. No one could be found sitting in the public seating sections by 5:30, apart from HBO's unofficial judge Harold Lederman. Harold travels to as many semi-local boxing events as he can while he's not working and I often see him at cards that aren't televised at all. He's a true fan of the sport. I doubt he remembers me but I smile and say hello every time I see him.
[ Related: NBC Sports TV Recap ]
Although most of the audience was still unaccounted for, the untelevised portion of the show started promptly at 7:15 PM. A brief recap follows:
Alex Sanchez KO2 Fitzgerald Johnson
"Too Strong" Sanchez appeared easily that in the opening bout of the evening when Johnson found himself down for the count in the 2nd round from a right hook, which also dropped him earlier in the round. While the 1st knockdown appeared legit, the final one was quite suspect. The punch was partially blocked and honestly didn't look that severe, yet Johnson didn't even attempt to get up until well after the full count was administered.
Jerome Rodriguez UD4 Kywayne Hill
Although a dominant shutout performance by Rodriguez, he actually could have done more. Had he stepped into his shots and fully committed, Hill probably would have been stopped. Rodriguez, a member of team Ronald Cruz, is a southpaw with a good jab who changes levels well. Bryant Jennings assisted trainer Fred Jenkins in the corner trying to motivate Hill to let his hands go, but he either didn't have the stamina or was simply too out classed to do so.
William Miranda UD6 Pedro Martinez
In the most thrilling untelevised undercard bout of the night, two overweight yet undersized heavyweights went to war in a phone booth. Although the bout severely lacked jabs, I believe it was the first punch Miranda threw and it actually dropped Martinez! It was rather shocking to see such a weak punch put a 240+lb man down, especially considering he stood up to the rest of the bombs for the remainder of the fight. Martinez was shocked himself, and protested as if it was a slip. Overall I felt Pedro had the better footwork, displayed the better boxing skills in the bout, and easily could have only lost the 1st round by a single point as the rest of the round was arguably in his favor. In fact judge George Hill did score the round 10-9 Miranda. Unfortunately for Martinez the only round Hill scored for him was the 4th, tallying his final score 59-55 Miranda. Judge Dave Greer agreed with Hill on rounds but scored the 1st 10-8, leaving his final score at 59-54 Miranda. While judge Pierre Benoist agreed with the 10-8 1st round, he did give Martinez the 3rd and 4th rounds, bringing his card to 58-55 Miranda. Personally I felt Martinez made a case for himself winning rounds 3 through 6, but it wasn't a robbery by any means. Miranda was cut in the 3rd and very bothered by it in the 4th but his corner got him together well enough to close the fight on pretty even terms.
Jason Sosa MD4 Esteban Rodriguez
If anyone was robbed this evening, it was Esteban Rodriguez. His fight with Jason Sosa should have been a draw. Sosa won the 1st and 4th rounds as Rodriguez pretty much gave them away by not throwing punches. The 2nd and 3rd rounds, however, were a different story entirely. The body work from Rodriguez in rounds 2 and 3 lead to Team Sosa holding their man's legs up during the between-round breaks. Sosa took a beating. To make matters worse, had judge George Hill not changed his scores in the 2nd round, the fight actually would have ended in the appropriate draw.
More on Hill's incompetence later... For now just absorb that between Hill and judge Kevin Morgan, at least one of them had Sosa winning every round. Only judge Dave Braslow had it as those at my press table did, 38-38 even. Hill and Morgan had it 39-37 for Sosa, but disagreed on the 2nd and 3rd rounds.
If you've read any of my fight recaps in the past, they've previously all been on cards that weren't televised. Reading my opinion is as much most non-participants are ever going to know about those events. I value that privilege. I however don't much care for summarizing what most boxing fans saw on TV. You have eyes. You should make up your own mind. If you care about my opinion anyways, thanks. I just don't plan to write about it. However, for Ronald Cruz vs Antwone Smith I made an exception. Even still, I won't focus on what you could see on TV. Let's discuss what you didn't see.
Antwone Smith SD10 Ronald Cruz
Freddie Roach, who ultimately scored the fight for Cruz, lost credibility as a judge in my eyes in the very 1st round upon viewing the NBC footage. The only comments Roach made in the 1st round were praising Cruz's "good" body work, which was sparse at best. Smith pretty much dominated the round with his jab (and I had him winning every round where he pumped it consistently). The feeling at my press table and the one behind me was that Smith clearly won the 1st round. Every official judge also scored the round for Smith. Hell, Cruz himself said he lost the first 3 rounds in his NBC post-fight interview. Yet, somehow, Roach could find nothing good to say about Smith in the entire round. BJ Flores at least acknowledged Smith did good work in the round, but was praising Cruz just as much. Lead broadcaster Kenny Rice began the next round stating, "Good start from both fighters in round 1," then shortly afterward asked Roach and Flores how they scored the round. Roach just couldn't bring himself to lie on paper any more than what already came out of his mouth and scored the round even. Flores, to my surprise, actually gave the round the Cruz. I can't begin to tell you how delusional those opinions are if they were being honest. And I remember exactly where the broadcasters were sitting. Their view was fine and not too different from my own. This was sheer incompetence by a biased team. But hey, maybe they just had an off night. Furthermore you can thank them for the way this piece was constructed, analyzing the differences between what fans saw on TV and what it was like at the Arena. Ultimately I had to watch the NBC broadcast to make proper comparisons, something I never would have done if I didn't hear how horrendously the fight was called.
And then there was round 2. The 2nd round, which I felt Smith won, was clearly at least competitive. Judge Dave Greer actually scored the round for Cruz, 1 of the 2 judges that ultimately gave Smith the victory. Cruz clearly did better in the 2nd round. That much is certain. Yet, somehow, someway, BJ Flores felt it was a big round for Smith. Roach scored it for Smith as well. At this point my initial hope that Flores was merely biased gave way to a feeling that he simply has no idea how to score a fight, which is saying a lot considering we scored the round the same. But then I said to myself, wait a minute, these broadcasters get CompuBox updates live don't they? So I go online to check what CompuBox recorded round by round and it all became very clear to me. Compubox had identical punches landed for Cruz and Smith in the 1st round and a 6 punch advantage for Smith in the 2nd round. So maybe the broadcast team's awful reasoning had nothing to do with their unassisted, scoring prowess. Commentary is not easy and it takes talent to multitask. Maybe they simply didn't bother to put much effort into coming up with their own opinions. CompuBox usually gets it right, right? Unfortunately for them, this was not one of those nights. I'm not going to waste my time breaking down how poor of a job CompuBox did in every round. Let's just review the 1st. Compubox actually had Cruz landing more jabs in round 1. Moving on...
By the 3rd round Freddie Roach finally broke away from CompuBox, which had Cruz out landing Smith by 9 punches, and scored the round for Smith. We both agree it was a close round that Smith won. Flores on the other hand gave the round to Cruz, but took nothing away from Freddie's score. Judge Dave Braslow, who ultimately scored the fight for Smith, also scored the 3rd round for Cruz. I can respect all opinions from judges and broadcasters this round, but CompuBox was still misguided suggesting Cruz landed nearly half his punches while Smith couldn't even land 1/5th. CompuBox, Roach, and Flores however all appeared to be on the money in round 4, where Smith was shaken twice. I wasn't surprised they all had Cruz winning his best round of the fight. What did surprise me however was the fact that judges Greer and Braslow actually scored the round for Smith. I mean, that in itself didn't shock me as if you didn't factor the damage punches did in the 4th round, it was tight and could go either way. It's possible that the judges missed Smith being hurt. Fans at home had to miss Smith walking back to his corner on unsteady legs as NBC cut to commercial break. Maybe the judges also stopped paying attention as soon as the round ended. But still, they should have noticed it was Cruz's best round regardless. So, depressingly, even though I had the fight 97-93 Smith while judge George Hill had it 96-94 Cruz, I agree with Hill more than any other judge in round 4. But hey, maybe Greer and Braslow were just making up for a gift they gave Cruz earlier. Surely they wouldn't bungle any more rounds...
Low and behold Cruz had another big round and easily took the 5th. This time, finally, everyone got it right. But as I have no official outside the ring to criticize, I'll take the time to critique referee Gary Rosato. Not once was Cruz warned throughout the fight for hooking Smith around the middle while punching with the free hand. It's illegal, easy to spot, and happened constantly. Anyways, round 6 was big for Smith and almost everyone got it right except CompuBox. Though, to be fair, CompuBox at least had the 6th close and whoever operated it may have felt Smith deserved to win on better punches...even though he had Cruz dominating in "power punches." And then there was the 7th round, where I felt Smith not only won, but hurt Cruz to the body in the process. Smith, who defended nicely with his Philly shell, pretty much gave Cruz a boxing lesson in the 7th round. Unfortunately the only official judge that gave the 7th to Smith was Braslow. Even CompuBox had Smith ahead in the 7th round! BJ Flores was so impressed with Smith in the 7th that he compared him to future hall of famer James Toney! Freddie Roach actually "agreed with [him] 100%." But then Freddie scored the round for Cruz...
Fortunately for my sanity things got back on track in the 8th round, which Smith pretty much took off and recorded his lowest output of the fight. No one gave the 8th to Smith, and rightly so. That however was the last round that I scored for Cruz. In round 9 Smith clearly landed the biggest and most effective shots, one of which hurt and staggered Cruz. All judges gave the round to Smith. But CompuBox, Flores, and Roach still managed to blow it and scored the 9th for Cruz, probably their worst collective performance since the 1st. The 10th round I will concede is a tossup and I have no qualm with how anyone scored it. Although Flores and Roach didn't announce their score for the last round, Roach announced he had Cruz the overall winner by a point while Flores had him ahead by a round. The only way to mathematically produce such a result is if they both scored the last round for Smith. Their scorecards and my own should look like this:
Only 1 of the official judges scored the last round for Smith, Dave Greer. Had Greer scored the last round like his peers the fight would have resulted in a split draw. Even I debated giving the 10th round to Cruz. But I'm glad Greer didn't and I hope you are too. If not, well, you sure made it a long ways reading a piece you didn't like...
Sergey Kovalev TKO3 Lionell Thompson
For this fight and the main event if you're looking for a technical recap see what Scott Christ wrote about them on fight night. All I have to say about Kovalev-Thompson is that referee Gary Rosato had back to back poor performances maintaining control of a fight, a view shared by my press table. I'm sure many fans enjoy his lack of rule enforcement, but it's not good for the sport and only gives political detractors ammunition to ban it. After Thompson was dropped for the 1st time in the 2nd round with less than 10 seconds to go, Rosato administered an 8 count, told Thompson to come forward, cleaned his gloves off an resumed the action. As soon as action resumed the bell rang to end the round, yet Kovalev charged and got in one last good punch to put Thompson down again. It was clearly a late shot, but Kovalev was not penalized and Thompson was not given extra time to recover. Instead Thompson was given another 8 count! But assuming the round wasn't over and the punch was legit, then Thompson should have been disqualified for his corner coming into the ring "before" the round ended. Instead, none of this happened and Thompson was sent out a minute later for round 3. Quite frankly it was disgraceful.
Gabriel Rosado TKO10 Charles Whittaker
First I'd like to relate how much Charles Whittaker impressed me in this main event. Whittaker was resilient, slick, and extremely clever against a top, independently ranked contender 12 years his junior. I expected Whittaker to get completely dominated. In 52 prior fights Billy Lyell was arguably Whittaker's 3rd best opponent and his best ever win. Instead Whitaker made a solid case for himself in most of the rounds he wasn't dropped. Ken Hissner of Doghouse Boxing, who sat to my right, actually had Whittaker ahead through 9 rounds.
I felt Whittaker won rounds 1, 3, 8, and 9, although they were all close apart from the 1st. The official judges scored the fight 89-80, 90-79, and 88-81, all for Rosado. I can't understand the card that had it a shutout, but the rest are reasonable. Rosado, self admittedly when I questioned him afterward, fell in love with his power. He did more posturing than punches in several rounds, often walked in without coming behind the jab, and ultimately just made the fight a lot harder on himself than it had to be. It was general consensus among press row that Whittaker was the smarter fighter and some felt he could have won if he wasn't old. That said I wouldn't judge Rosado by this boxing performance alone. I've seen him box much better in the past. Game plans adjust for different opponents and team Rosado correctly predicted that Whittaker would eventually break down. Rosado scored his 3rd straight KO on NBC Sports, entertained, and looked vulnerable all at the same time. That's a recipe for landing a high profile fight. If you've read my previous piece on Rosado leading into this fight, you already know I hope he gets it.
Ryan Bivins can be contacted thru email at email@example.com or on Twitter via @sweetboxing