Tuesday, May 21, 2013

10 From Atlantic City

Instead of a more traditional analytical article about this weekend's fight action, I wanted to give a different type of perspective, on what makes live fight weekends so much fun. Of course, I'll cover Lucas Matthysse's rousing TKO win over Lamont Peterson, but I'll also provide a flavor of what happens during a boxing weekend in Atlantic City, my favorite place to watch and cover a fight.

1. Getting There

In many respects, Atlantic City, New Jersey is perfectly situated between New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., cities all within 200 miles of the seaside resort town. However, there are some major logistical challenges in getting there. From the north, travelers must deal with the Garden State Parkway, a roadway that cuts through some of the most densely populated regions of the U.S. On summer weekends, portions of the Parkway resemble a parking lot. From the west, drivers must negotiate the bottlenecks of coming out of Philadelphia and merging enough times to somehow wind up on the Atlantic City Expressway. From the south, fight fans have to figure out how to avoid D.C. traffic and the strange backups in Delaware along Interstate 95. By mileage, the trip isn't arduous but because of crowded roads, bad engineering and metropolitan sprawl, driving to A.C. can be an ordeal.

At least drivers have options. Fight fans trying to get to Atlantic City by air have other sorts of challenges. There is a small airport about 15 miles from the Boardwalk that is used commercially by Spirit Airlines, the budget of budget-conscious airlines. Spirit flies to a dozen or so places in the East and Midwest from Atlantic City and it’s not a realistic option for fans from greater distances or those who want to travel with any type of comfort (it's not true that Spirit charges passengers a fee for oxygen access, but I'm sure that a few of their bean counters have already done a cost-benefit analysis).

By air, most fight fans fly into Philadelphia, about 60 miles away, and then rent a car to drive to Atlantic City. In theory, it's a pretty straight shot once you get your bags, but as anyone who uses Philadelphia International Airport frequently could tell you, it's not exactly known for its efficiency. 

For my trip this weekend, I was coming from a conference at the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut. Driving on a Friday, the GPS indicated that the trip should have taken five hours, but as the George Washington Bridge traffic was at a standstill (leaving New York to get to New Jersey), the GPS should have told me "you're fucked." Unwilling to let my Friday afternoon drift into the evening, I took a meandering journey through four of the five New York City boroughs and umpteen bridges named after Presidents, mayors, ward leaders, and who knows, an influential pushcart vendor? But persevere I did and by 6:30 I was at Atlantic City.

2. Old and New Friends

Atlantic City might be the best location in America to experience a fight weekend. Why is that you say? Because, everyone is trapped. Unlike large and expansive cities like Los Angeles or New York, there aren't tons of alternative entertainment options in Atlantic City and there really isn't anywhere else to go. Most people aren't scattering here and there after the fight.

In Atlantic City, the properties are much smaller than they are in Las Vegas. One casino might have a good restaurant or two. The one next store might have an excellent bar. A third has the decent breakfast place. Plus, with the Boardwalk, getting to and from the casinos near Boardwalk Hall (Trump Plaza, Caesars, Bally's) takes seconds. Thus, everyone tends to congregate and it’s easy to find people.  Sure, it doesn't have the wow factor of Vegas, but if boxing is on your mind you will be rewarded the whole weekend.

For me, this means meeting up with some great people affiliated with boxing. Every trip might include a slightly larger or smaller cast of excellent characters, but as a passionate fan of the sport, it's almost impossible not to have a memorable time surrounded by so many boxing lovers.

Although Peterson-Matthysse wasn't a rousing box office success – attendance was announced at slightly more than 4,000 – the fight certainly brought out a large contingent of writers, hardcore fans, boxing aficionados and friends.

Many of my favorites were there, like David Greisman, columnist for Boxingscene.com, Tim Starks, the founder of The Queensberry Rules, Andrew Fruman, contributor to Bad Left Hook, Victor Salazar, founder of The Boxing Voice and Bakari Lee, a lawyer from New Jersey who travels the country for big fights.

I also had a chance to finally meet a number of my favorites from social media. Would James Foley really be as funny in person as he is in 140 characters? Could Scott (last name withheld because of corporate security concerns) really drink everyone under the table? Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed. In addition, I met some new people in the boxing world as well. Great folks like Emory Allen (Mr. Factoid on Twitter) and Matt Swain (Hans Landa) kept me entertained throughout the weekend.

These days, boxing is a niche sport in America. If you were talking around a water cooler at an office or even if you called into a general sports-talk radio show, no one would know who Lucas Matthysse is. But to us, boxing is a huge part of our lives. It's our passion and there's that special, warm feeling of talking boxing all day. Where else do we get to do that in a real interactive setting?

And you learn great things about people. You find out who shares your love of the Allman Brothers or old Spaghetti Westerns. There are employment lawyers, P.R. professionals, national security writers, limousine drivers, money managers, futures traders, doctoral students, school teachers, healthcare consultants and those who are unemployed. But whatever anyone's day job might be, the passion for boxing is the common denominator.

3. Boxing Talk

On Friday Night, I was talking with Starks and Fruman, and none of us knew how Peterson-Matthysse would play out. On Saturday afternoon, in a larger group that included Starks, Fruman, Foley, Eric Raskin of Grantland, Scott and Swain, everyone had essentially the same response. No one knew what was going to happen. There was a lot of "I think," or "it's possible," or "I could see," but all was said with little confidence. This fight was a boxing lover's dream, a matchup of two of the three best in the division where both had many different ways to win.

Over the weekend, we covered other goings on in the sport. Is this or that promoter in trouble? Does Pacquiao or Mayweather have a better legacy? How are the various networks doing and what does it mean for the sport? What fighters impress us and who leaves us with wanting more? What fights are we most looking forward to? Maidana-Lopez was talked about a lot throughout the weekend.

Of course, when boxing writers get together, it often turns into a sewing circle. This writer's a hack. Did you hear who was just hired by the Ring? Have you listened to the new boxing radio show? Why isn't this writer better read, etc.?
In all, it's a festival of all things boxing. There are some great technical boxing conversations and others which are far less printable. Almost all were informative, fun and, at points, utterly hilarious.

4. The Boardwalk

Maybe it's the Jersey in me (raised in South Jersey) but there's always something nostalgic about returning to the Boardwalk. Sure, there are still the kitschy tee shirt shops and arcades, but there's also the smell of the salt water, the call of the sea gulls and, of course, the grime – cigarette butts everywhere, forlorn types walking around in their personal Last Chance Saloons, pseudo "tough guys" and actual, real tough guys. But there are also families, ice cream, the ocean waves and romance. It's the contradictions that make Atlantic City what it is.

5. Boardwalk Hall

For my money, there isn't a better large-fight arena in boxing. The crowds in A.C. will never have the same type of electricity of those at the MGM Grand or Madison Square Garden, but quite honestly, Atlantic City hasn't gotten those types of mega-fights in decades. What Boardwalk Hall has is perfect sightlines in an arena not affected by corporate interference of luxury boxes. If you buy seats in the stands, you are right on top of the action. You don't need binoculars or have to rely on the video board. At practically every seat in the place, (and I've been in a lot of them), you feel like you're involved in the fight.
In addition, the staff at Boardwalk Hall is wonderfully laissez-faire. They aren't too strict about patrons moving to a better seat, row or even section (the floor, of course, excluded). The arena has no frills (although it does have a great candy station). It's not sexy, but it's entirely functional.  

One last note about the crowd at Boardwalk Hall, they are dressed as uniquely as any boxing crowd you will ever see. Veering a little too far on the trashy axis, you'll see lots of upper thigh tattoos, onesies, dress shorts, fuchsia, circa 1970-pimp suits (not in the style of, but actual ones) and lots of six-inch heels. If you ever wanted to attend a boxing match and go home with a prostitute, perhaps no arena in the world makes it as easy as Boardwalk Hall does. Depending on your sensibilities, this is either a strong disincentive to attend a fight there or a pot sweetener. For sheer crowd-watching purposes, Boardwalk Hall is unsurpassed.

6. The Undercard

Saturday's card started at 3:30 local time and had almost a dozen fights. As expected, there were a number of uncompetitive affairs featuring mostly recent Olympians and young fighters from Al Haymon's stable. No, I didn't attend all of the fights on the marathon card, but one in particular grabbed my attention. It was Washington D.C.-area prospect Thomas Williams Jr. (13-0) vs. faded veteran Otis Griffin (24-11-2), a guy who still had a chin and could go rounds. Griffin, who started fighting in 2004, had come into this fight with only one win in his last seven fights, but faced very good opposition in that time, like Karo Murat, Will Rosinsky and Cornelius White. Williams had stopped his last six opponents and the last time he went the distance was a four-rounder.

Williams looked good throughout most of the fight, but he was flummoxed when Griffin wouldn't go down from his power shots. It was clear that the southpaw Williams had all sorts of weapons (right hook, left uppercut, jab, straight left hand) but didn't yet know how to deploy them properly. Although he was winning every round, by the sixth, he seemed to run out of ideas offensively.

Griffin was still cagey and unleashed a few sneaky right hands that left their mark. He also set a successful trap or two along the ropes. Williams wound up winning 79-73 (x2) and 80-72. From a matchmaking perspective, it was a perfect fight for Williams and it provided him with immeasurable experience.

Elsewhere on the undercard, British Olympian Anthony Ogogo won his second professional fight in a six-rounder. Ogogo has fast hands and excellent poise, but his lack of power may be a problem as he progresses in the middleweight division.

Shawn Porter had his first bout of 2013 and successfully moved past last year's disappointing draw against Julio Diaz. Porter beat up an overmatched Phil lo Greco and scored two knockdowns based more on hand speed than power. At 25, and with 22 professional fights, Porter's future is now. He's moved between welterweight and junior middleweight and I'm not sure that Porter knows who he is in the ring yet. He doesn't have real power. He has good, but not exceptional hand speed. He takes breaks during rounds and he may lack a true killer instinct. From afar, he looks like Shane Mosley, but he lacks Shane's power and perhaps his heart. We'll see what happens with Porter but I don't see signs of future greatness.

7. Devon's Will

Let's face it. Devon Alexander wasn't going to lose to late replacement Lee Purdy. Alexander had more skill, experience and a full training camp. However, it was clear from the first round that Alexander hurt his left hand. Instead of succumbing while under duress, as he had done in his lone loss to Tim Bradley, Devon rose to the occasion. Not pitty-patting on his bicycle, Devon engaged Purdy throughout the fight and bested him with impressive right hooks and uppercuts.

In addition, like a pro, he flashed his left hand enough to keep Purdy honest. Devon was fighting at a disadvantage but he did a decent job of disguising it. His hand speed looked excellent, but perhaps the best part of his performance was his willingness to mix it up. Purdy's corner stopped the fight after seven, for their charge had been battered by a one-handed fighter.

8. Matthysse

I have two lasting images of Lucas Matthysse's third-round blitzing of Lamont Peterson. Fixed in my memory is the battle of left hooks early in the third round. Both threw menacing left hooks at the same time. Peterson's landed flush, yet he was the one who met the canvas. The difference in power (and chins) between the two fighters could not have been more evident. Peterson somehow beat the count but that punch sent him sprawled out in an alarming fashion.

A few seconds later, Matthysse knocked Peterson down again. Maybe that was predictable at that point, but what wasn't expected was Steve Smoger, the ref with perhaps the longest leash in the sport, taking a look at Peterson and waving the fight off. Smoger was one of Peterson's best shots to stay in the fight. Peterson had been knocked down early in fights against Bradley, Ortiz and Khan but managed to work his way back into them. With Smoger, he figured to have a ref who would give him every opportunity to survive in the ring. However, when Smoger studied Peterson after being knocked down for the third time, he had seen enough. The fight was over and Matthysse had the most resounding win of his career. What electric punching power! 

9. Scoops

Part of the fun of hanging around during a big fight weekend is the impromptu conversations with boxing figures. In the past, I've had great, spontaneous conversations after weigh-ins, at a breakfast buffet, at bars, on the boardwalk – wherever. This weekend, most of my damage was done after the fight, where I was able to talk to Kevin Cunningham (Devon Alexander's trainer), Mike Stafford (Adrien Broner's trainer and a good friend of Cunningham's) and members of Lee Purdy's team.

Cunningham told me after the fight that the game plan was to meet Purdy at the center of the ring and to dominate with power shots. He was very pleased with Alexander's performance and he was convinced that Devon would have stopped him earlier with the full use of his left hand. In addition, Cunningham liked the way that Alexander fought after being injured. He told me that he kept emphasizing to Devon in the corner that he had to keep Purdy honest with the left hand and that Devon needed to keep throwing it, even if he didn't connect with it.

As for Alexander's next opponents, Cunningham indicated that Amir Khan was a real possibility or, if Devon "gets the lottery ticket," a fight with Floyd Mayweather. Either way, Cunningham thought that Alexander would be out of action for a little while but would be able to return later on in the year.
Stafford was grinning from ear-to-ear when Paulie Malignaggi's name was brought up. He said to "expect something special." He indicated that this will be the first fight that Broner will not be worried about weight. Stafford was excited about Broner fighting at 100% capacity. He wasn't too concerned with what Paulie had to offer offensively.

Purdy's camp (essentially a group interview with his team) was forthright about how much trouble their fighter had in making weight. With only four weeks’ notice, they spent as much time as possible trying to get down to 147. During the match, they were most concerned with getting Purdy to the second half of the fight. They ended the bout because their fighter had taken too many shots and they wanted to preserve Purdy's availability for additional opportunities in the U.K. later on in the year.

10. Toga Bar

Let me set the stage. Toga Bar is a bar/lounge at Caesars right off the casino floor. It has a big oval bar and to the left there is a dance floor and an area with couches. The following groups congregate here during the weekend: boxing personnel (fans/fighters/trainers/promoters/writers), Atlantic City riff-raff, bachelorette parties, groups of middle-aged men, a few normal couples, prostitutes and old timers. On Saturday Nights, scantily clad women dance on elevated platforms by the bar as the DJ spins the dance hits du jour.

I've seen some strange things at this place: projectile vomit that would make fans of The Exorcist squeamish, the best couch dance ever – by a woman who was waiting for her husband to get released by prison (no clothes were removed), Eddie Hearn owning the room dancing with a half-dozen ladies at a time, a 60-something guy wearing all black with Blues Brothers sunglasses and dancing for hours at a time – by himself, a girl being thrown out of the bar for exposing her breast…I could go on and on. With this eclectic mix of different ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds and walks of life, I've never had the same night at the Toga Bar twice. Saturday proved to be no different.

Of course, I’ve also had some great boxing conversations at Toga as well. After the fights it's the place to go for fight personnel, fans and writers to revel in the euphoric aftermath of live boxing and party into the wee hours. On Saturday, our extended boxing crew went about 30-40 people deep. Everyone was in awe of Matthysse's performance. There was beer, scotch, wine, cigars and cigarettes, much laughter and excellent bull shitting.

But things, as they do at Toga, got strange. As a guy was showing his moves on the dance floor (turned out he was a professional dancer), a 22-year-old college girl challenged him to do The Worm. He made her go first, and she just killed it. He couldn't even compete with her. Then, a 70-something man in an all-white linen suit took over the dance floor, bringing an assortment of attractive young women with him. In this group was Lee Purdy's sister, just an absolutely flawless human specimen. In time, all of the various groups at the Toga mixed in on the dance floor (except the hookers, they were working) and it was one of those wonderful nights where guards were let down and the only thing on the menu to order was good times.

The boxingheads really took to the dance floor. You need to see The Boxing Voice's Peter Clarke do his two-step. David Greisman practically has the elevated stage at Toga Bar named after him. I gave it a go myself, trying to hold my own against a brunette whose flexibility could inspire numerous legends and tall tales.

The night rolled on past 4 a.m. and a late night meal was needed. As a final salvo, about a dozen from the boxing crew shot the shit at Trump Plaza's all-night coffee shop for another hour. There were hilarious jokes and one-liners, some fun trash-talk and, as always, more than a hint of bittersweet, knowing that another memorable fight weekend was about to conclude.

Driving back to Philadelphia on Sunday morning, my throat was a little scratchy from the night before, I was tired as all hell and I felt a natural high like you wouldn't believe. That hour drive back felt like 10 minutes.
When's the next fight?

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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  1. Great read Adam! For me it was the first time in AC, and there is know question it was everything you described!

    Thanks for the shout! Can't wait to do it again!

  2. Thank you for sharing another awesome piece of work with us!! The post is precise and shares good info!