If there was any takeaway from the fight card at Turning Stone Resort and Casino in Verona Saturday night it must have been that, in boxing, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The Event Center, more often the setting for big name entertainment, like at other casino venues, has proven to be ideal turf for boxing: endemic risk-taking calls to the faithful, the illusion of fortune rends the air, rowdy throngs gather to participate in a brutal reality show.
This one, which featured four ranked fighters and a title match, was televised live on HBO. By contrast to previous fight cards at the Oneida Indian Nation facility, most of which featured local and regional combatants, the cable network and Banner Promotions brought their own retinue, who occupied the ringside area to the detriment of local journalists, who were banished to a far corner of the arena, remote and dark enough to make writing virtually impossible while providing a marginal view that was obstructed by an immobile cameraman affixed to the ring apron. It took a surreptitious relocation to a more favorable spot to remedy the situation. No computer hookup there, either.
Alongside the HBO infrastructure at ringside, there to air the co-features live on Boxing After Dark, a TV crew from Poland set up shop to cover the main event, which featured the Polish challenger Grzegorz Proksa against the middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Boxing events routinely attract celebrities, former champs and prospects, and in the house to watch his countryman vie for a title was the heavyweight contender Mariusz “The Viking” Wach. At 6-feet-7½ inches and 27-0, Wach is an imposing edifice, towering over the Polish TV interviewer. He is scheduled to fight the heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko in November.
Also catching the action was Chris Burns, the nephew of Syracuse boxing trainer Ray Rinaldi. Burns’ dedication to boxing is etched into the skin on his right arm and leg, which feature tattoos of the iconic fighters Rocky Marciano, Jersey Joe Wolcott, John L. Sullivan, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward, as well as the address (507 Pond St.) of their North Side training center.
If the Russian Klitschko is the consensus heavyweight title holder, recognized by all the major sanctioning organizations (WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO and Fight News), the middleweight picture is typically confused. While Golovkin, who hails from Kazakhstan, is listed as champ by the WBA (World Boxing Association) and IBO (International Boxing Organization), he is not mentioned by the others. Proksa, the European champion, is ranked No. 3 by the WBA and No. 6 by the WBO. Given the spate of options a consensus champion is an anomaly these days. Take your choice.
Taken together the main event and the co-feature, a match-up of the Puerto Rican prospect Jonathan “Mantequilla” (Butter) Gonzalez (15-0, No. 12 WBA) and the Ukrainian Sergiy “The Razor” Dzinziruk (36-1, WBO junior middleweight champion) gave the card a distinctly international flavor. The days when slick American fighters monopolized the sweet science, when European fighters stood cadaver stiff and lurched around the ring like B-movie robots, are relegated to Youtube videos and dusty gloves at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in nearby Canastota. The only American prospect on the eight-bout card, the light heavyweight Ryon McKenzie, who lives in Canastota and trains in Syracuse, is originally from the Bahamas.
While the names in boxing have changed, the character of the events has not. Clinging to tradition, this fight night was a tumultuous event; death metal and rap rattled the arena from overhead speakers at the threshold of pain, spent popcorn cups flew from floor to bleachers and back like beach balls, fans stomped their feet and chanted their heroes’ names, the national banners of Poland, Ukraine and Kazakhstan sprouted in partisan clusters, a sweaty drama gripped the place.
McKenzie’s ring entrance was accompanied by a modest swell of crowd recognition, heralding the first bout of the evening. Fighting out of the red corner, an auspicious location as it turned out, the lanky McKenzie (10-0) loomed over the shorter Borngood (pronounced “Borngod” by the ring announcer) Washington with a decided reach advantage. To his credit, Borngood was unimpressed and promptly put McKenzie on the floor with a looping right. Fight managers regularly pit prospects against journeymen in order to inflate the prospect’s record, and this fight was no exception. After five rounds of chasing McKenzie, Washington ran into a hard right hand in the sixth and suffered his 12th loss in 15 fights. Let’s hope he got paid. The two remaining prelims ended similarly with the red corner fighters, Tony “Lightning” Luis and Taureano Johnson, scoring dramatic KOs over opponents with less than memorable records.
Due to broadcast necessities the co-feature went on at 9:45, exactly as scheduled. A confrontation between an undefeated, heavy-handed prospect and a crafty, established veteran, the puncher Gonzalez met the boxer Dzinziruk. “A boxer always beats a puncher,” Dzinziruk’s co-promoter Art Pellulo had confidently offered. Well, almost. The problem was that Gonzalez proved to be more skilled as a boxer than Pellulo anticipated and made Dzinziruk’s task difficult by landing some decisive shots. Dzinziruk, however, rose to the task with superior ring finesse and savvy, slipping out of trouble and keeping Gonzalez off balance, diluting his power.
After 12 close rounds it was called a draw, much to the crowd’s displeasure, which they voiced emphatically. The main event offered more drama and less doubt with the champion Golovkin proving he was just too much for the over-matched Proksa. While employing an awkward elusiveness effectively, Proksa, who had trained at Rindali’s gym, fought respectably but could not neutralize the straight-ahead power of Golovkin, who had an amateur record of 245-5, and went down in the fifth round, suffering his first pro KO.Three more undercard bouts remained, all featuring blue corner fighters with losing records. It wasn’t a hopeful outlook. The red corner hadn’t lost a fight all night.