A Night at the Bar with Vargas and Mosley

By Karl E. H. Seigfried
February 26, 2006

I arrived at Chaser’s out in Niles at exactly 8:00 pm for the beginning of the Vargas-Mosley pay-per-view broadcast. Back when I was looking for a place to see Hopkins-Taylor I, Chaser’s was the only place in Chicagoland I could find that still showed the big fights in the old-fashioned, pay-at-the-door, closed-circuit kind of way, so I head out there whenever there’s a fight on and I’m off the road for a minute. Donovan “Da Bomb” George carded me at the door.

I saw George knock out Kansas City’s Ed Humes in the first round of a middleweight fight at the Aragon Ballroom in February 2005, when George was still a free agent fighting on 8-Count Productions cards in Chicago, making his ring entrance to the Gap Band’s “You Dropped a Bomb on Me.” The owner of 8-Count used to make his own ring entrances to the same tune years ago, when he was fighting in the amateurs as Dominic “Da Bomb” Pesoli. George has now moved up to prospect status, signed to Cestus Management, and is fighting out of Las Vegas. He looks a lot stronger and more solidly built than he did a year ago. Last time I was at Chaser’s, for Castillo-Corrales II, he was at a table in the big room, watching the fights with his boys, but this time he was guarding the door, talking to customers and waitstaff, his eyes continually wandering up to the smaller screens high on the wall.

Like a minor event in the Olympics, the undercard bout between Joel Julio and Wilmer Mejia was shown by tape-delay between the first and second fights of the broadcast. Poor skinny Mejia was knocked down in both the first and second round and subsequently quit on his stool, complaining of hand pain, handing Julio a nice little TKO victory. Maybe not as dramatic as the recent quits of Tszyu, Tyson, Gatti, and the other superstars, or as heart-breaking as the hand of modern medical care forcing Wayne McCulloch to remain seated, but we can add it to the strange and growing list of fighters losing professional fights between rounds. At Don King’s last production in Chicago, three of the fights ended when one fighter refused to get off his stool at the start of the round. Officially, they’re called technical knockouts in the first second of the following round, but they sure aren’t going to end up on any knockout DVD collections.

The first live fight of the broadcast from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas was a ten-round heavyweight bout between Calvin Brock, 27-0 (21) going into the fight, and Zuri Lawrence, 20-10-4 (0). This one was a little hard for the commentators to talk up: the undefeated “Boxing Banker” who tap-dances to stay in shape versus the former football player who has never, in thirty-four professional fights, knocked anyone out. Even worse, the fighters are old friends from back when they were both sparring partners for Kirk Johnson. I suddenly had a horrible flashback to the Rahman-Barrett heavyweight “fight” here in Chicago last year, when the two buddies walked around each other for twelve long rounds as the crowd called for someone, anyone, to do something that resembled throwing a punch. As the fight in Vegas began, any camera angle that showed more than the ringside seats in the background revealed a completely empty hall, which didn’t do much to up the mood. Neither did the fact that both fighters came out exhibiting very similar styles, as if they were members of the same boxing studio who learned from the same book.

In the first round, Brock, wearing light blue trunks and a goatee, moved more. Two minutes in, a left hook to the head seemed to put Lawrence, wearing camouflage, into a daze for a brief second. Brock continued connecting to the head in the second round, but, by this point, the fight had settled into a lot of close in-fighting, with the two fighters leaning heavily on each other. Referee Jay Nady briefly called time out when Lawrence lost his mouthpiece. Brock delivered a solid one-two directly on Lawrence’s chin, and the round finished with a pair of nice rights by Lawrence. Both fighters were busy in the third round in very close quarters, at times making it look more like a vertical wrestling match than a boxing one. Brock launched some wide misses, and I scored this as Lawrence’s only round of the fight, simply for more good connects. In the end, his connect percentages were well behind Brock’s: 19% versus 25% in punch connects, 22% versus 34% in power punch connects. Brock re-established control in the fourth round, connecting much more with short punches at close range. As he returned to his stool, Lawrence was bleeding from his nostrils. Nady continued to tell Brock to watch his elbows in the fifth round, but didn’t actually step in as Brock used them throughout the fight to keep Lawrence off at close quarters. Both fighters winged wide misses over each others’ heads during this round, and, with thirty-eight seconds left, Brock swung such a big miss that he lost his balance and fell back into the ropes. Not a dominant round for Brock, but I gave it to him for connecting more on the inside.

In round six, everything went wrong for Zuri Lawrence. Thirty seconds in, Nady called a time out when he noticed Lawrence was missing his mouthpiece. The boxer had forgotten to put it in when he left his corner at the bell. Not a good sign. The opening moments saw the fighters keeping more of a distance between them, but they soon returned to the telephone booth as the round alternated between bouts of wrestling and at-distance posing and feinting. With only five seconds left on the clock, Brock landed a beautiful left-hook to Lawrence’s head that replays showed knocked him completely out of time as soon as it connected. He was out on his feet even before he started to fall to the canvas, where he ended up spread-eagled flat on his back. Nady waved him out as he was falling and quickly had the medics up in the ring to strap an oxygen mask onto the face of the unconscious fighter. The official time of the knockout was 2:58 of the sixth round. After the fight, Brock looked fresh and mostly unmarked, except for a couple of light little mice under his eyes.

The co-featured bout was originally supposed to be a defense of Jhonny Gonzales’ WBO Bantamweight belt, but, when challenger Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson showed up a little dull and a little over the 118-pound limit, the fight was downgraded into a “Special Attraction,” and Johnson had to take a hit to his paycheck. While Gonzales, whose strange first name supposedly came from a dyslexic clerk at his birth registration, arrived at the weigh-in at 117 and was 128 on fight night, Johnson came in first at 119 ½ and then at 132, struggling to get down from a confessed 150 pounds. It was kind of like the weight drama of Corrales-Castillo II, but much smaller and with nobody really caring much about it.

The first round consisted mainly of the fighters feeling each other out, paying respect, feinting, and probing jabs at each other. One minute into the second round, Johnson (in red) knocked Gonzales (in black) a little off balance, but didn’t follow up. A minute later, Gonzales staggered Johnson with a straight right hand, and subsequently hit him with a good left counter to the head. By round three, the tactical nature of the fight and lack of action drew boos from the audience. Neither fighter threw much at all, but Johnson seemed a bit more aggressive. Gonzales started backing Johnson up in the fourth round and knocked him down with a series of left hooks to the head about a minute in. Both fighters started to become more active at this point. With less than a minute to go, Johnson struck a low blow, and the two actually began to get into some trading in the last thirty seconds.

Johnson went on the attack at the opening of the fifth round and landed a good right on Gonzales’ chin a minute into it. Johnson seemed to be waking up at this point, switching back and forth between his southpaw stance and traditional, bobbing and weaving, and generally fighting tricky. He continued his aggression immediately after the bell for the start of round six, a round which saw plenty of back-and-forth action. Gonzales tagged Johnson with a good uppercut two minutes in, but was now himself being walked down and backed up. Round seven began with trading from the get-go and saw some good body shots by Gonzales. As in the earlier rounds, Johnson was again fighting while pedaling backwards, and he returned to his corner with a bit of blood coming from his nose. Between rounds, resting on his stool, Johnson looked a full generation older than Gonzales, with gray hairs in his beard, like a miniature Marvin Hagler trying to make one last comeback against one of the kids.

The comeback didn’t happen. In round eight, a series of strong body and head punches by Gonzales drove Johnson to his knees, where he looked sadly at his corner as referee Kenny Bayless gave him the count, finally standing up at ten as the fight was waved over by KO at 1:08. The stats said it all. Gonzales landed a total of 101 punches, 74 of them power shots, while Johnson only landed 40, with 26 power shots. Gonzales said after the fight that he wants big fights now, including one with recognized Bantamweight World Champion Rafael Marquez. Johnson talked about one final farewell fight for his fans in Washington, D.C., and said, “I had a great career.”

In their pre-fight interviews, both Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley seemed strangely calm and tranquil. Vargas was quiet and sullen, Mosley was quiet and smilingly peaceful. What drama there was happened at the pre-fight press conference, gleefully replayed by Telefutura during Friday’s Solo Boxeo broadcast. Vargas publicly pressured Mosley into a $100,000 side bet on who would knock out whom, talking tough about playground pride while Mosley just sat and smiled and agreed to whatever he said, looking like a guidance counselor humoring an angry teen. Vargas repeated his speech almost verbatim during the fight night interview, but didn’t seem to have enough energy to even appear indignant. The fight had been written up and promoted as a last chance at glory for two former champions, but neither seemed particularly on fire. Maybe they were just resigned. Mosley, 41-4-0 (35) going in to the fight, is a former champion at lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Vargas, “the Aztec Warrior,” with a record of 26-2-0 (22), was twice the junior middleweight champion.

Whatever their pre-fight demeanor, both boxers went determinedly at it right at the start of the first round and began trading immediately. Mosley (in blue) landed a big left to the head of Vargas (in brown) with 1:20 left in the round, and got off first throughout. Thankfully, both fighters exceeded pre-fight expectations. How many fans were worried about seeing a slow Mosley and a Vargas on the defensive? Right away, Mosley was fast, and Vargas was aggressive. Round two started with immediate big exchanges. Mosley threw repeated body shots as the crowd began chants of “Mosley! Mosley!” With 1:45 left, Vargas landed a good jab to Mosley’s face and started to rough him up inside on the clinches. Mosley landed some nice combinations to the face and began targeting the swelling that had appeared over Vargas’ left eye, a tactic he would keep up throughout the fight. Mosley said after the bout that Vargas hit him so hard in the right ear early on that it was ringing both during and after the fight.

By round three, the swelling over Vargas’ eye had grown into a big ol’ mouse, and promoter Oscar De La Hoya was looking very somber out in the audience at ringside. Mosley tagged Vargas with a big body shot one minute into the round and followed up by throwing combinations to the head. With 1:14 left in the round, referee Joe Cortez called time and warned a frustrated Vargas to keep his punches up. In the last minute, Mosley rattled Vargas with a head shot, and the last few seconds were filled with fierce trading. Vargas’ mouse continued to grow in the fourth round. “El Feroz” came out with a big swing and a miss in the first few seconds, and he continued to lean into his shots and miss big. Mosley landed more nice combinations to the head, but they didn’t seem to have much power behind them. Between rounds, both fighters looked tired and concerned.

Round five opened with energetic exchanges. Vargas continually strayed low with his body shots – or at least stayed right on the belt-line. Mosley’s pitty-pat jabs went straight through Vargas’ guard, but had no apparent effect. In the last minute, Vargas had Mosley on the ropes and leaned on him, pounding away. On his stool after the round, Mosley was now marked up for the first time (on his forehead and under his eyes), and he was breathing hard. He came out strong at the start of round six, however, until eating a big right counter by Vargas at the one-minute mark. A minute later, both missed big with rights. Vargas again backed Mosley up and got him on the ropes until Mosley released a furious flurry in the final seconds.

The seventh round began with Mosley pounding on Vargas. Vargas retaliated by leaning on Mosley, punching and pushing him back as he landed big head shots. Mosley tried to repeat his flurry off the ropes in the last ten seconds but was smothered by his swarming opponent. By round eight, Vargas’ mouse had become a huge goose egg. Mosley let go with a torrent of big body shots a minute into the round and followed up a minute later with some strong rights to the head. With one minute to go, he ended up back on the ropes but fought his way off to land more good rights to the head in the last thirty seconds. Although Vargas said after the bout that he had no idea the ref was thinking of stopping the fight, Cortez clearly warned him in his corner after this round that he might do so. The fighter’s left eye seemed, by this time, completely closed, but he claimed afterwards that he could still see out of it.

In the ninth round, Mosley’s jabs continued to go straight through Vargas’ defense as the crowd again started up the chant. Mosley landed repeated body shots and a series of jabs as Vargas’ eye-swell turned an unhealthy purple. With twenty seconds left, Vargas managed to land a good head shot, then a right and a left to the head with a body shot in between. Between rounds, the director of the boxing commission, the ring physician, and the referee quietly conferred about the state of Vargas’ face. They let it continue, but only until Mosley began pounding Vargas’s head a minute into the tenth round, causing Cortez to wave it off at 1:22 and award Mosley the TKO.

Aside from the blood blister covering a quarter of Vargas’ face (!), the fight was very close. I had it at 87-84 Mosley, and the three judges had it even closer. Mosley landed 147 total punches and 127 power shots, for percentages of 30 and 42, while Vargas was not far behind with 139 (32%) and 114 (33%). After the match, both fighters spoke of taking time off with their families. Mosley said that Mayweather is his first choice of opponent, and that the Pretty Boy is “the only guy out there to beat at welterweight.” Vargas was noncommittal after the fight about continuing his boxing career. Maybe, after all, it will play out like expected; the winner will get at least one more big payday, and the loser will go off into retirement.

When I was leaving after the broadcast was over, I talked again to Donovan George, who hipped me to some boxing websites, gave me some insights on fighters and gyms in Chicago, talked about where he’s fought and who he wants to fight, and shook my right hand with his left. I thought at first that this might be some cool new boxing insider handshake, then remembered the small scars on the back of his right from hand surgery. I hope he heals up right and can get back in the ring soon to drop some more bombs.