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Thurman vs Lopez: Ringside report from Brooklyn

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It was another big night at the fights in Brooklyn this past Saturday.

Keith Thurman v Josesito Lopez Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Damn it, doors at 3 pm ET? Not gonna make it.

3:30 pm ET start? Yes, that’s ambitious. And bless the planners of the Saturday, Jan. 26 boxing event at Barclays Center, that’s giving a good bang for the buck for ticket buyers. But for folks looking to have some work-life balance, doing that math, it’s a harder sell.

If I leave the house at 2:30, it is possible that I will be out and not getting home ‘til maybe 1 am or so. That’s a looooong shift. And if you are union worker and piling up OT, it makes some sense. But if you ain’t, and if you are a “journalist” or “reporter” chances are great you ain’t, then all those hours expended, the time to hourly wage ratio, that isn’t so stellar.

So, that preamble aside, I tell the fam I will look to head out at around 4 pm; I see there are 13 bouts on the card, so maybe I miss three or so. I don’t like to miss them, I’m a completist, basically, and like to be there for the whole thing. But I also realize now better than I used to that it is wise to really choose how to spend my time. Maybe these pressers aren’t always going to be a wise choice to attend. It’s not like there aren’t 10 people taping the whole thing.

Anyway, the arena in Prospect Heights is close to my residence in Park Slope, so I take the bus over. I usually go to a convenience store next to the arena to buy gum, so as to try and remove one potential area that I might be offending someone.

OK, got the gum, now walk to the side entrance, where I gain entry to the building.

The metal detectors and magic wand allow me in, and I see a videographer I know. “Woods, I’m in auxiliary, what up with that?” I recommend he talk to someone in the media relations department, who has input into who sits where, and he respectfully convey his desire to be closer to the action. Show the quality of your work and it should work, I tell him.

Then it’s into the media room, in the lower level of the building. There is a good buffet set up, which we the media appreciate. It will be a long night, so this gives sustenance which allows one to not have to remove attention from the fights to quiet the belly. I chow and chat; I sit next to Ryan Songalia of RING and Joe Santoliquito, the BWAA President, who is knee deep in receiving death threats from overheated Philly Eagles fans, who took offense at his reporting that QB Carson Wentz is not universally popular at work. I offer to do a video Q and A with Joe, to let him have his say, say his peace, but he declines. Authorities have advised him to lay low, let the brouhaha blow over. Makes sense.

Songalia is editing for RING, and has posted some updates on some of the fights I missed. Among them, Deontay Wilder’s lil’ bro Marsellos got dropped and stopped. I looked for footage, but it was off TV, and if you search on YouTube, you will find aces yapping about it, but their video is of themselves in their basement playing analyst, so you will have to use your imagination. I’d imagine Marsellos is cursing fate, and wondering why there isn’t a more direct link between genetics and success. Ah, but this isn’t about genetics, it’s about time spent working on craft. Deontay took up boxing late, but not as late as big bro, who is 29, and turned pro in 2018. Message: Good on him for trying, and it’s not for any of us to say if he should or shouldn’t soldier on. This game is more often savage than sweet, even when your bro is the champ.

To the live action: Chordale Booker and Chris Colbert do their thing, look in shape and on message in going to 14-0 and 10-0, respectively. I see Keith Connolly in the ring before the Booker fight. His kid Adam Kownacki fights a bit later. If he wins, Connolly will be on cloud 9 1/2. His guy Marcus Browne snagged a 175 crown, right after his guy Danny Jacobs, the middleweight, grabbed a Canelo lotto ticket. Oh, and his guy Luis Collazo, a welter, latched on to Top Rank, too. Guy is picking good horses and seeing them run good races. If the BWAA didn’t have something against managers, maybe we’d vote him an award.

Gary Antuanne Russell also looks solid, but the ending of his fight isn’t seen by me, as I had to test the building’s plumbing. Solid plumbing, I see.

I stroll around, see who’s where. Over on the other side from the press, they set more of the hoi polloi. I never try to slide into that area, no need to deal with gatekeeping more than I have to. Oh, hello Mark Breland and son, a tall teen. Breland is a favorite; he exudes a gentle decency that is infectious to my soul. I ask him what he thinks the Thurman fight will look like. He says he thinks Thurman gets a stoppage win, that “they” know why Josesito has been invited to the party. And in round two, it’s looking like he will be right. But in round three, Thurman doesn’t look to continue the momentum and Lopez is invited back into the fight, and he gives Thurman hell in round seven, almost has him drowned. So, the call of trainer Naazim Richardson, on site to corner the quite capable Stephen Fulton, is better than the one from me and Breland. He thinks rust will be a factor. It was, as Thurman admitted in a quite entertaining and revealing post-fight presser session.

The Tug vs Marrero fight has solid pockets, but never gets into a place where it gets liftoff and stays there. Both men are too respectful of the other’s skill set, and so not as many chances are taken as one might’ve expected, especially in the 10-0 (9 KO) Mongolian. But he fought smarter, not to please Average Joe fan, but to get that IBO belt.

And then the building’s energy popped. My to the right seat buddy Songalia cracked that you knew it wasn’t main event time, because the weed waftage wasn’t in effect. We digressed and wondered amongst ourselves how buildings handle it when weed gets legal. You won’t be able to just spark wherever you want, right? I mean, if and when they start selling it on site, then maybe it gets to a place where you can spark without having to be a bit furtive.

Adam Kownacki is in the ring, so the joint is rattling now, more so. He said he sold 1,500 tix, Poles wanting to see if their heavyweight hopeful can progress another step. Oh but he does. The dad bod banger takes out Gerald Washington with efficiency. AK is an amiable assassin, does it with no malice. It’s a job and he knows the smartest way for him to do the job is with a mellow intensity. Punches in bunches, and desires to end the show with an exclamation. Let others do a skills pay the bills exercise, let others use round after round to collect data — he’s punching his card in and looking to punch out right quick, because why not? His shift pay is set and he gets no OT bonus.

I can’t hear what he says in the ring to Heidi Androl after his whack job on the Cali boxer with the body beautiful but the chin checked. Is it me, or is the audio in the arena not up to snuff? Why would it be any different on this night than another? I can usually hear better what is said after fights. Hmm, that is a question best lodged not rhetorically but to the building’s sound crew.

It turns out AK says he and the wife are expecting their first baby. He tells me when here.

Now to the main event. Rust, that is the summed up topic surrounding this fight. How much will be coated on Thurman? Will it be an issue or naw? And it isn’t — until it is.

Round two signals a return to 2013 form. Round three signals a return to 2015 form. And we get to the final bell, which, c’mon, how many of us saw that coming? So good time to give props to the matchmaker. This was a solid scrap to take in, and it leaves me wondering: how deliberate was that? I’m guessing not so much. A return to “One Time” aura best serves the PBC planners in their handling of the Floridian.

A sampling of responses from the smarts after seeing Keith is boiled down mostly to: Pacman beats this Thurman.

Now, some are less harsh and give him leeway because of his hiatus. That is reasonable. And it is also not unreasonable for some to want and expect more from the comebacker in this effort. Why, you say? As my friend Jab Hook pointed out, it does feel outside looking in that the fighter is, at 30, in a zone where’s he’s searching for some stylistic set points that might help him have less eventful fights. OK, one thing: clinching can be a marvelous addition. Instead of getting on that bike, and using the legs to deliver you from danger, play octopus. It’s easier on the lungs, and would leave KT with more in the tank, maybe, in the those deep water rounds. Or not, because using the clinch tactic presupposes that you are comfortable with intimacy. I’m not being fully flippant here. What I mean is, when you clinch, you are thisclose to the foe. And a Thurman doesn’t dig that. He digs distance. His comfort zone isn’t face-to-face. He wants to get off and get out, slide and glide and stick and then jet. That’s his MO, that’s his identity as a fighter. And it isn’t all that easy to snap the fingers and change your identity.

Which is what the man said, bless his cerebral soul, at the post fight presser. “I told you, you won’t see the best Keith Thurman but you will see a world class performance,” he said. You saw nicks and puffing under the eye and you noted that yep, this was no easy task.

”I wanna thank God, my team, Al, Fox, this is a great night of boxing. And I like I said previously, Keith Thurman will make boxing great again.”

And check it out, this is why I enjoy Thurman so much. He’s cerebral, and he is like most of us in that he second guesses himself. One moment he’ll feel on top of the world, and can be thinking he will be “making boxing great again.” And next, he’ll admit that he found himself during the fight wondering why he wasn’t doing more, taking more risks.

“There was one round where I was positively shooken up,” he said, but he thinks Lopez won two more rounds apart from that one, which yes, was a clear 10-8 round for the Cali boxer. He touched on the rust factor.

“There was a little insecurity in taking risk,” he said.

Yeah, the man doesn’t offer up more typical fare, which is easier to package in the soundbites to build fights.

“I possibly did underestimate him a little bit,” he allowed.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael asked him abut almost scoring a KO. The winner said that he thought he’d come back in round three and maybe close the show, but the knockdown made Lopez smarter. And then a bit later he started riffing, on his fighting philosophy. He realized not that long ago that Floyd Mayweather might not be TBE — but he is TBE to an extent. In winning 7 of 12 rounds, Floyd was the master. I meant to ask him if he was in that mode, that “winning 7 of 12” mode in this fight, but he was shepherded out of the building after taking questions for about a half hour.

He said he might be wanting to “take a little more risk on the battle field” moving forward, because why not press to close the show, why let a foe hang around and maybe make things difficult for him late?

Thurman is interesting to cover and to watch. He is a thinker, he sometimes takes a pause before he answers, and isn’t a blurter. Like when Chris Glover asked about his next, and when he wants to come back to A-side vs A-side fights. He paused, and then offered a lengthy answer which could be parsed and dissected.

Maybe the most interesting portion of the presser came when NYFights’ John Gatling asked him how he managed to keep staying enthused and intent on trying to be the best, after dealing with so many injuries and such. Thurman zigged; he brought up a quote from Malcolm X. That said, basically, if you don’t have critics zinging you, you ain’t doing much. That coincided with his sharing that he understands that Mayweather “is the best seven round fighter ever.”

Another Thurman observation: he will give you a more in-depth answer than you might expect, such as when he was asked really, truly what was going on in round seven, when Lopez was rocking him. He thought he could have moved his hands more, to help convince the ref that he was OK, he could continue.

“There was a moment where at least it could have been one punch away from a knockdown.”

And, another tidbit that deserves more attention: “The name ‘One Time’ isn’t something that I can do to them, it’s something they can do to me,” he said, and I had to run that back at home and try to dissect it.

You should check out the Q and A; Thurman always makes me think, ponder, and re-ponder. In fact, he was willing to talk more, and got back into Malcolm X, but the plug was pulled on him. He offered that he likes to live a “one love” sort of existence but that Malcolm X wasn’t adverse to living with an eye for an eye mentality. And then a handler looked to usher Thurman to the exit.

“Love destroys hate, hate will never get rid of hate,” he said, and then the hook came out, a bit after he spoke of X’s lack of love for “the white man.” That left us wanting more, and that was a bit of a letdown, considering this fighter has been out of sight for almost two years.

More observing: I confess I do miss the presence of promoter Lou DiBella, who wasn’t on the after-fight presser dais, and helping set a tone that is more so maybe informal, less strict, more fun, more freewheeling. We seem to be in a new space with outings like this, where it’s more structured. I am not sure why, exactly. I’d think you’d want more of an atmosphere where press feels relaxed, because that encourages more back and forth, where we can find out more about the athletes, what makes them tick.

Also, a DiBella is enjoyable to listen to, to hear him riff. He’s got three decades in the business, and has anecdotes and insights which can only come from having such a tenure. I’d love to hear what the thinking is on the shift, but it feels like this is sort of a properietary business decision, and therefore not something I think would be readily furnished to me. Yes, media sometimes and maybe arguably more so than ever is on a need to know basis, and often it’s decided that many topics are “need to no” more than “need to know.”

Also, bigger picture: media as a whole is shifting. Every month, we still see more layoffs in big league media outlets. More and more, boxing media attending these events are comprised of indie outfits, small websites, videography personnel who don’t have major media backing, so they have to be more cognizant of “playing nice” than maybe was the case in decades past. Also, a PBC has their own site, and journos which file to them, so PBC doesn’t “need” the coverage from other outlets as much.

This is a natural offshoot of the new age we are in, where everyone can be a content provider and the cost to be a publishing platform is minute. I think it is incumbent on we the media and the public at large to recognize these shifts, and by no means am I just talking about within the boxing sphere. People should be aware of changing norms; the White House now rarely does press briefings, which used to occur on a daily basis for decades upon decades. Now, rulemakers say that briefings will be done an “as needed” basis. OK, “as needed” according to whom?

And, by the way, you can understand why organizations are tempted to seek to control narrative more. The stakes are high as hell. The deals are immense and so the desire to make sure that success occurs, and positive momentum happens, informs all facets of an organization such as PBC. And it is true, media often does more to derail momentum than foster it, because negativity gets hits and attention and so press is more at the ready to nitpick and snipe than be in a commending mode.

So after 12:30, we jetted the building. Me and Gatling walked up Fifth Avenue, and we decided to eat at Miti Miti. We ate wings and tacos and talked the fight game until way later than I had intended. We touched on all of it, and theorized a bunch about what’s next for Pacquaio, and pondered whether there is bad blood between him and Top Rank, after Manny exited Arumville and was welcomed by the inhabitants of Haymonville. Yes, theater of the unexpected is boxing, in and out of the ring.

Go Pats, me and Gatling said upon parting, and I grabbed a cab. Oh wait, two other dudes snagged it. I thought I had it first, but rule No. 34 in NYC is “don’t get into squabbles with strangers over cabs.” So I didn’t. But guess what? The driver opened up the passenger window and asked if I wanted to get in and share the ride with the two guys. I hopped into the front seat, and asked the guys in back if they’d been to the fights. Nah, they said, who was fighting? They said they thought Spence was a badass, and also shared that there’d been fighting at the club they were at. It got sorted they said, and went silent.

“But everyone was OK,” I asked, meaning no severe wounds or anything. “Yes,” they said, everyone was OK. Good, I said, and then they got out. The ride another few blocks cost me $3 or so. The driver was from Bangladesh and has been here a few decades. He was making more money around ‘97 and thereafter, but now, costs are higher, rent is nastier, he said, and it is what it is. It is what it is.

I mulled on how things now are different than what they were, for worse, and even some for better, keyed the door, and walked up the stairs to my place.

The dog greeted me; it was after 2 am, even the cats were asleep. I snagged a melatonin/immune support envelope, whisked it into water, slugged it back, and hit the computer for a last round of publishing. I had written up the Adam Kownacki fight for RING and so I needed to post a Kownacki piece for NYFights. Done. Then, teeth got brushed and to the pillow.

I knew I’d be awakened earlier than I’d like. The kids do that, they seem to like me quite a bit and like to interact with me, so I knew I’d do well to not tiptoe around Twitter’s tulips for more than a couple minutes, because they’d be jostling me awake shortly.

All in all, I’d say it was an interesting evening, big picture and smaller, too. Kownacki’s humility and everyman amiability stole the show for me. Thurman is a pleasure to cover, because he is classy and makes me think. And the sport, as always, is comprised of characters, from stem to stern, tip to top.

With phone tucked under pillow, snoring, I’d bet, commenced quickly. Sleep tight, fight fans.

---Michael Woods, a Park Slope, Brooklyn resident, was a staff writer at NY Newsday, before joining ESPN The Magazne (2003-2014). He edited TheSweetScience.com (2007-20015), now publishes NYFights.com, calls fights for Facebook Fightnight Live, which has drawn over 4 million views over a span of 26 events, and does the “Talkbox” podcast for Everlast. Mike Tyson was a recent guest on the pod.