Saturday, September 22, 2012
Murphy's Law rears its ugly head in Bethlehem
Murphy's Law simply stated means, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." On Friday night, one can argue that Murphy's Law was in effect in Bethlehem, PA as the shining 'Star of Bethlehem' welterweight Ronald Cruz (pictured @ left) was just not aligned with the other stars of the galaxy. Cruz (17-1, 12 KO's) suffered his first defeat in a tough split decision loss to veteran Antwone 'The Truth' Smith (22-4, 12 KO's).
However, before we get to the fight, we have to go to the day before the fight when early signs of Murphy's Law should have been noticed. On Thursday afternoon, the weigh-ins for the Friday night NBC Sports Network fight card were slightly delayed in getting started. While I have no confirmation, word was spreading that Cruz was busy shedding some last minute weight. Whether he was or not, to his credit when it came time to weigh-in, he tipped the scale at 146 lbs.; one pound under the 147 lb. welterweight limit. His opponent Smith, whose last fight was fought at junior middleweight (154 lbs.), stepped on the scale at 150 lbs; a whopping three pounds over the limit.
Thus, what was originally scheduled as a 12 round fight for Cruz's WBC Continental Americas title belt automatically became a 10 round non-title fight. As you will see, I believe those extra two rounds would prove extremely critical in the outcome of the fight. Nonetheless, after negotiations between the two camps, the fight is agreed to go on.
Before I get into the fight and how I viewed it, let me preface this by saying that in 1987 I am one of those that had Sugar Ray Leonard defeating Marvin Hagler in what was billed as 'The Super Fight'. Many argue that Hagler should have won the decision based on aggression and constantly pursing Leonard. I argue that while Leonard was not the aggressor, he clearly out boxed Hagler, thus out pointing him in the long run to earn the decision. Such appeared to be the case on Friday night, except that Cruz was not the aggressor that Hagler was or that he usually is.
This in itself was a huge surprise because Ronald Cruz has built his career to this point on always being the aggressor in his fights; one who walks down his opponents, especially boxers, and breaks them down with a punishing and relentless body attack. Early on and throughout I noticed that was not the case Friday night. Before the fight, his trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez told the NBC Sports cameras, "Tonight you will see a different Ronald Cruz." Unfortunately he was right, but for all the wrong reasons.
As the fight started and progressed, I immediately noticed Smith was firing off a piston like jab and peppering Cruz with one-two combinations. Though Cruz implemented a perfect (what I like to call) chicken wing defense, where he kept his hands up and elbows in, thus protecting his head and body, he was not throwing any punches. After the first three rounds I immediately asked myself, "What is Ronald waiting for?" In his post fight interview in the ring, Cruz himself said, "I got off to a late start; I knew I gave away the first three rounds."
Finally in the fourth, Cruz began to open up; using his patented style of stalking his opponent and unleashing powerful punches to the body and head; but it wasn't sustained throughout. It came in spurts and was far and few in between. Therefore, the middle rounds, though Cruz was winning were relatively close. While he may have won the power punch output, he never really hurt Smith at any point. Anytime Smith would get caught, he stepped back, gathered himself and came right back with his jab.
After the final two rounds it was a toss up. I had the fight even with both fighters winning five rounds apiece, but I quickly shook my head and told those around me, "I don't know, its close." The bottom line was Cruz, in my estimation, just didn't let his hands go enough while Smith remained busy throughout. Just like Hagler vs. Leonard the question was, will the judges support the boxer or the puncher? Unfortunately for Cruz, two out of three judges supported the boxer giving Smith the decision; just like Leonard over Hagler.
After the fight, many of the hometown fights argued that Cruz was robbed. I, putting my personal feelings aside, responded by saying, "This was not a robbery; I'm not saying Cruz lost, but he did not clearly win either." The judge's scorecards reflected that as the scores were 96-94 on all three cards; unfortunately for the hometown kid and fans, two of them were for Smith. I truly beileve with two more "championship" rounds, Cruz would have pulled out a different outcome.
On Thursday after the weigh-ins and before the fight, I asked Cruz's manager Jimmy Deoria, assuming everything goes right, what is the plan moving forward? Deoria told me, "Our plan all along was to get Ronald four fights this year; this will be his third. Thus, we would like to get him back in the ring sometime in December, whether it is here in Bethlehem, Atlantic City or Philadelphia." With this loss, I don't know if that alters the plan at all, but knowing Cruz the way I do, I will not be surprised if he is in the gym on Monday because I know he can't wait to get back in there to break Murphy's Law.
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