January 23, 2017

Ringside at the Worcester Palladium — A Mostly Entertaining Sockfest

The Future starts now
By Jeffrey Freeman

For the (not so) United States of America, the future started last Friday with the inauguration of newly elected President Donald J. Trump. For the lame duck New England boxing scene, that future started the night before the inauguration in Worcester, Massachusetts with a Rivera Promotions Entertainment fight card (billed as New England’s Future) set before a sellout crowd of 2,100 fight fans at the famed Palladium, a small but energized downtown entertainment venue better known for extreme music than professional pugilism.

Did promoter and former Worcester-based WBA welterweight champion Jose Antonio Rivera make boxing in Worcester, Mass great again with his first attempt at promotion after retiring from active competition in 2011? Not exactly but the ten bouts did successfully entertain the overwhelmingly Latino crowd by featuring their assorted countrymen in various winning situations in the ring.

"We scheduled this Thursday show a day before the Inauguration so we wouldn’t bump heads with that," Rivera told me while working out some final issues with seating and sound a few hours before opening bell. I asked Rivera about his journey. "Being a new promoter and bringing boxing back to Worcester, it brings work for people in the area. It’s good for the local economy and I’m proud to be able to give back," Rivera told me. "We start with what we’re doing tonight by making good exciting fights and a fun night for the crowd."

If Trump and Rivera are ultimately successful, we all win.

Irvin Gonzalez attacks Israel Rojas
In the featherweight Main Event, 2015 New England Golden Gloves Champion Irvin Gonzalez, 5-0 (5), Worcester, MA., brutalized Israel Rojas, 9-15 (3), Sonora, Mexico, for a second round TKO at 1:28 of the frame.

Gonzalez scored a knockdown in the first round and kept up his attack in the second, scoring another brutal knockdown before compassionate USA Boxing referee Steve Clark decided he’d seen enough and stopped the mismatch before the too tough for his own good Rojas got seriously hurt.

In the super middleweight co-feature, Ray Graceski, 5-0 (3), Springfield, MA., cut the tall Ralph Johnson, 2-9 (1), Worcester, MA., down to size with three knockdowns in the first round for the TKO at 1:32. Felled from a body shot early, Johnson rose bravely only to fall back under heavy attack. His corner attempted to throw in the towel, but the third man in the ring refused to accept it. When Johnson went down for a third time, reluctant referee Kevin "Never Give Up" Hope waved it off with Johnson down from punches.

On the undercard:

Light heavyweight Brandon Montella, 6-0 (5), Saugus, MA., defeated trial horse Roberto Valenzuela, 69-74-2 (56), Sonora, Mexico by second round TKO when a very un-Mexican looking white towel came flying in at :58 of the round from the Valenzuela corner. The physically fit Montella, a United States Marine Corps Veteran, maintained his undefeated record on the strength of a dedicated body attack. His 43 year-old opponent was sliced open on the cheek and nearly stayed on his stool after the first round.

In a "farewell bout" fought for his late father John Shearns, 49-year-old junior middleweight Chuck Shearns, 3-1 (2), Auburn, MA., defeated Shavonte Dixon, 0-2, Philadelphia, PA., by first round TKO when the white towel came into the ring from Dixon’s corner at 2:19. With the crowd chanting "Chucky!! Chucky!!" at the opening bell, Dixon actually stunned Shearns with a left hook early on but then went into a curious defensive shell--meekly turning his back--whenever he was hit back by the old man. 

Pagan (L) got hit but got the win
Wilfredo "El Sucaro" Pagan, 1-0, Southbridge, MA., got all he could handle in his pro debut from super tough Alexander Picot, 1-2-1, Puerto Rico, in a 145 pound catchweight fight of the night that went the four round distance. Both fighters traded hard shots at will throughout this bruising affair, warranting a standing ovation from a very satisfied crowd at the final bell.

Pagan won a majority decision, 38-38, and 39-37 twice.

Haitian heavyweight Jean Pierre Augustin, 219, 8-0-1 (3), Lawrence, MA., decisioned Jose Humberto Corral, 214, 19-23 (12), Sonora, Mexico, over a tedious six round distance. Augustin, an aspiring movie actor, played boxing champion Gilbert Dele in the recent Vinny Pazienza biopic Bleed For This. How about that? According to Augustin, he is also slated to appear on screen soon in a film portrayal of former heavyweight champion Big John Tate. 

"Thank God that’s over," said referee Steve Clark at the final bell; echoing the sentiments of the crowd and the Nation. 

All three judges scored the fight 60-54 for the colorful winner, coming soon to a theater near you.

JJ Perez (L) looked like Macho Camacho
Junior featherweight Jonathan Perez, 2-1-1, Lowell, MA., took his first loss as a pro against debuting Ranse Andino, 1-0, Worcester, MA. The fight was competitive for two rounds but in the third, a lot of blood appeared on the scalp of Perez, the result of an accidental head butt. Blinded by the messy flow, the Puerto Rican was an easy target for Andino in the second half of the fight and he got peppered by the home towner. Official scores in favor of the winner were 40-36 and 39-37 twice. Very heavy heavyweight Bobby Favors, 0-4, Cincinnati, OH., and debuting big man Felix Martinez, 1-0 (1) Worcester, MA., battered each other around the ring like it was a bar room tough-man contest until the spectacle was stopped after just one round was completed. How heavy was the night’s biggest loser? Favors was 393 pounds. Nope, that’s not a typo.

2016 New England Golden Gloves champion Anthony Laureano, 2-0 (1), defeated Rafael Francis, 0-9, Dorchester, MA., in a mismatched welterweight bout. Laureano attacked like a seasoned pro and Francis didn’t know what to do after a first round shellacking so he hugged Santiago in the corner at the bell. In the second round, Francis went down from a body shot and that was that for him at :24.

Popeye the Boxing Man
In a 185-pound catchweight bout, popular 2016 Rocky Marciano tournament champion Richard "Popeye The Sailor Man" Rivera, 1-0 (1), Hartford, CT., stopped Davonte Hopkins, 0-3, Philadelphia, PA., in his successful pro debut.

Unofficial matchmaking cornerman Chris Traetti tossed in the white towel at 2:48 of the second round. Rivera, not an actual sailor man, brought a pipe to and from the ring.

By Jeffrey Freeman, originally published on The Sweet Science 
Ringside Photographs courtesy of Pattee Mak, Boxing Northeast