The Fight – December 4th 2009
By: Laura Zink
It was boxing. All of it: the promise, the grit, the terror, and the chaos. It was a night that no one saw coming.
The fight last night at the Target Center was more than anybody thought it would be… and for reasons that they never thought it could be. But it was, for everything that it was, a night of boxing that will be remembered in Minnesota boxing history forever.
Everything started out normal enough. The show began in a junior middleweight warm-up kick-started by a furious advance from a debuting fighter, Jacob Dobbe, who lost steam after the first round and was soundly out-boxed by a fighter, Saverino Garcia, who already had a pro fight under his belt.
Next, an enormous “Russian Giant,” Boris Shichporenok(6-1), grappled and socked an MMA fighter, Will Gillette (pro debut), as Gillette tried to barrel through the enormous reach, height, and 48 pound weight advantage of his competitor.
“He got 2 bowls of cereal and you only got one!” Gillette’s corner screamed during round one. “Move! Move! You got to make him work…but throw punches, too!”
And though Gillette moved, the “Giant” caught him with two lumbering head shots which sent Gillette flat on his stomach in 57 seconds of round 2. He got up and walked over to his corner, and much to Gillette’s surprise, the ref called the fight….and the crowd thunderously booed in disagreement.
“It’s time to switch the ref!” one member screamed. “The fight ain’t over!”
Then things began to get even more…unexpected.
The much awaited pro debut of decorated amateur fighter Tony Lee began with a surprise for Lee which would only be heard from his corner. There was something his trainer did not tell Lee about his opponent, Hector Orozco (1-3).
I didn’t know that he was a southpaw coming into the fight,” Lee said after the fight. “Before the bell rung, I said, ‘He’s a f**king southpaw.’ Excuse my language. I am sorry. I said, ‘Otis, he’s a southpaw.’ And he just said, ‘Use your jab and do what you do.’ Otis knew that he was a southpaw, but he doesn’t want me thinking about it. Otis wants me to fight my fight. He knows that I think too much when I fight southpaws. And before the bell rung I said, ‘He’s a southpaw.’ He said, ‘Do what you do. Do Tony. Do Tony Lee.’ And after the fight, after the bell rung, I was mad as heck at Otis, and he knew it. I said ‘You didn’t say…’ and he was like ‘Hey man! We do what we do. That’s why I didn’t tell you. It’s because we do what we do. People need to adjust to you. It is a one man show…and tonight was your night. Now you know. You can do what you want.’ It was a good fight. He was tough. He was a southpaw. I hate southpaws. He has way more experience than me. It was his 5th fight and it was my 1st fight. He beat a guy who was 6 and 0. So I did good.”
His trainer’s surprise worked to Lee’s advantage. Using his remarkable speed and reflexes, Lee soundly out-boxed Orozco, and with a countering quick flash of rights, he even got Orozco down on his knee in the beginning of the fight.
“The first round he threw a wild right hand and I dipped under and hit him with a short right and a right cross and clipped him. It was a flash knock down. I didn’t even feel it go through my arm, but it was enough to put him down. That was a highlight for tonight. The second and third round I threw a few jabs that stung his head pretty good. The fourth round I felt like my hand was hurting. He hit me with a punch that hit my glove, so my hand started dropping, so I kind of gave it to him…I didn’t pick up the steam, but, all in all I dictated the fight and I controlled it.”
And a few more fights in, Gary Eyer (6-0-1) got a surprise of his own when he entered the ring for the battle of the undefeated against Levi Cortez (3-0). Eyer admitted to having no idea that Cortez’s pressure would be so constant…and so challenging.
“I really didn’t think that he was going to be like that,” Eyer said after the bout. “I thought that he was going to be a little bit easier. I thought that I was going to be able to use my reach and that he wasn’t going to be kind of awkward a little bit…I didn’t use all my arsenal…kinda made it hard. He’s good but he was holding a lot. Every time I got close to him, he grabbed me…and I was just trying to score little points, you know, to show that I was doing my best to try to win.”
And did Eyer ever have to work for it. The first two rounds were filled will looping overhand rights from Cortez and barreling tangles which tied Eyer up.
“I was waiting for him to get tired,” Eyer said. “That’s what I thought. I thought that he was going to get tired in a 6 round fight. I thought, ‘he’s just gonna get tired eventually and then I’ll get him.’”
But Cortez didn’t get tired, so Eyer had to use sheer force of will to get through the pressure and the tangles so he could set up and unleash some of his shots. He found his chance in round 3 and shot a left hook through the furious advance of Cortez which sent Cortez to the canvas. But Cortez was not the kind of fighter who would let one knock down count him out, and as Eyer went in for the kill, Cortez tossed overhand shots and barreled in like a torpedo sending the two tumbling to the canvas and wrestling on the floor.
“The left hook, I don’t know how that one happened,” Eyer commented about the first knockdown. “I just threw a hook and it landed good.”
But round 4 was clearly a struggle. Cortez landed a big 1,2 at the beginning of the round which sent Eyer’s head flying back.
“Dance, Gary! Dance!” trainer, Chuck Horton, screamed from Eyer’s corner.
And as Eyer moved, he began to try to time Cortez, but the consistent furious advance sent the timing into a time warp, stifling blows before they could even register. But then, Eyer landed again. In round 5, Eyer gave Cortez a taste of his own overhand right, sending Cortez to the canvas again.
“The second one, I was just like, ‘Ok. I’m not moving my head. I am not fighting as good as I should. This is gonna suck,’ And I just kinda said, ‘Eff it,’ and I said, ‘I’m just gonna time his overhand right with one of my overhand rights and I’m gonna get him.’ And…thank God. And you know, the first time I got him…it took forever to get back in there. It was like waiting, waiting, waiting. I woulda had him out….The second one, I definitely felt, yeah, that ‘you could’ve went down there.’ The first one? I don’t know how that happened.”
And for the sixth round, Cortez, bleeding from a split upper lip and a broken nose, and Eyer, bleeding from the mouth, clashed again and socked it out, Cortez with his overhands and tangling, and Eyer now fighting his way into and out of every advance. With the scent of blood in the air both fighters slammed at each other at 10 seconds out, pounding each other on the ropes until the final bell. And when the unanimous decision was called in his favor, Eyer, let out a sigh of relief, not due to the decision, but because he knew that he had just fought the hardest won fight in his entire career.
“This fight was hard and I just…I’m definitely not cocky but, I will just say that it definitely humbled me,” Eyer commented. “Um…I’m just gonna train harder, and uh…I wouldn’t mind fighting him again.”
“But don’t tell him that I will be throwing two or three punch combos at him the whole time…instead of just one shot….don’t tell him that,” Eyer joked. “I know how to fight him now.”
And then, after the joy and the glory and the fights rolled on, the crowd got a shock that few predicted or were even prepared for. When fans bought tickets to this fight, surely they did not expect to see the end of an era. But in the co-main event, it happened…and all due to the furious hands of Larry “The Razor” Sharpe (23-7). After a seven year pro boxing career, 29 professional fights, and a star-power which inspired a new era in Duluth boxing, Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters retired from boxing after being knocked down and then knocked out in 56 seconds of round one.
“I didn’t think that it was going to happen that fast,” Sharpe said after the fight. “In my mind I expected that I would bang to the body and apply the pressure and I would stop in about the fourth…that was my game plan. I thought that after I went to the body for the first few rounds that his hands would come down and I’d land some clean up top.”
“I knew that he was a good boxer so I planned to come forward and apply pressure,” Sharpe continued. “I’ve gone 10, 12 rounds the last few years, so going 8 rounds, I wasn’t worried about my gas tank. I just put the gas on early and my plan was actually to go to the body more early on, but he stood in front of me a lot longer than I thought he was gonna and he was there for me to hit so…in training I was practicing going up with my shots because I knew he was a taller fighter…and they were landing. They were landing, and I could tell that he was hurt so I just went in for the kill.”
And if that weren’t enough shock for the fans to stomach, the main event threw everyone into a state of complete and utter confusion. In the first heavyweight Minnesota State Title fight in 32 years, the fight was ruled out after round 1 due to disqualification. (It was changed to No Contest) After Raphael Butler got soundly rocked by Joey Abell in round one, something truly terrible happened. Just as Butler was pulling away from Abell and dropping his hands at the end of the round, Abell moved in and threw an uppercut and two shots to the head which made Butler go stiff and fall backwards onto the canvas. Dan O’Conner leaped into the ring and began pushing Abell and screaming at him. Ron Lyke jumped into the ring to defend his fighter as cornermen from all sides began storming the ring. Abell, stunned, did his best to try and break up the pile of battling cornermen. And Butler, as he began to awake from the knockout, lifted his head to see the dogpile tumbling out of control at his feet as he still lay on the canvas. And as everyone fell over each other and the fight began to peter out, it became clear that Abell didn’t know that he threw those final devastating punches after the bell. As Butler was getting up, Abell could be seen in his corner mouthing, ‘I didn’t hear it. I didn’t hear it.’ Butler, realizing that Abell clearly did not intend to hit him after the bell, took the mike and put his arm around Joey and telling the crowd, “It was an accident. We are going to do it again.” And the crowd, shocked by the events that had just taken place, resolutely booed and even broke out into a couple of fights of their own. But after the earthquake and the aftershocks in the crowd subsided, almost everyone, from the fans, to the fighters, to the commissioners, and even the employees at the Target Center stood there for a moment with mouths agape, dumbstruck at the events which has just transpired. It was a fight finish which was truly surreal.
But for all that last night was, the fight at the Target Center will not soon be forgotten. For many in attendance last night, that fight showed boxing for what it is: blood and guts. Equally critical in all its circumstances, be they high or be they low, boxing shows us what life looks like when it is stripped down to its most crucial characteristics. Be it greatest glory, the toughest challenge, the deepest upset, or the most unpredictable chaos, boxing makes us focus on life’s biggest moments, and in the most brutal detail, it shows us the things we want to see, the things we don’t…and the things that we just can’t look away from. And that fight at the Target Center last night had it all.