Sunday, November 17, 2013

Boxing is bustling in Bethlehem

On a night when the UFC was celebrating their 20 year anniversary and pound for pound contender Andre Ward was doing his thing in California, a busy night of boxing was being had in the new hotbed for boxing on the east coast, Bethlehem, PA. You did not read it wrong as this old steel town an hour north of Philadelphia and less than two hours from Atlantic City is slowly, but surely, becoming the place to be for fights. To put it mildly, boxing is bustling in Bethlehem.

The main event featured the man who is pretty much responsible for this explosion of fisticuffs in The Christmas City, welterweight contender and Bethlehem native Ronald Cruz (20-2, 15 KO's). Cruz (pictured above with trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez), who lives less than a mile from The Sands Event Center where the fight took place, took on rugged Hector 'El Hurricane' Munoz (22-12, 14 KO's) from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cruz came into the bout riding a two fight win streak, both via knockout, while Munoz was coming off a huge decision win over former contender Hector Camacho, Jr.

A notorious slow starter who likes to feel out his opponents, Cruz was content to let Munoz come at him aggressively early while he felt his power and slowly began working his game. After two rounds he had felt enough as he caught Munoz with a beautiful over hand right in the third that dropped him where he stood. To Munoz's credit he got up, but with over two minutes left in the round, he left Cruz with too much time to attack. After a couple more power shots, a brutal left hook to the body knocked Munoz down again.

I thought for sure that one had finished him, but somehow he beat the count of 10 and although he was clearly wobbled, referee Steve Smoger let it go on. All Cruz needed was one more clear shot to the head to drop Munoz a third time and force Smoger to finally call a halt. The time was (1:43) of the third round.

In his dressing room afterwards, a jubilant Team Cruz was happy as they discussed with me what their impressions were. I said to Cruz that from press row he looked to be more relaxed than usual in there. His manager Jimmy Deoria told me, "Composed, that's what he was; more composed than ever." Ronald Cruz then said, "I truly believe the experience of 22 fights is now starting to kick in. I could feel it as I was in there."

On the undercard, a battle straight off the Garden State Parkway that took the wrong exit as Camden, New Jersey's Jason Sosa (11-1-3, 7 KO's) took on fellow New Jerseyian Bryne Green (7-8-1, 3 KO's) of Vineland in a six round lightweight tilt. After a few workmanlike rounds, Sosa, who I've seen in the past finish opponents with body shots, did it again as he dropped Green with a left to the ribs that had him down for the full count of 10 and then some; the official time was (2:34) of the fourth round. Though he's from Jersey, Sosa is becoming a fan favorite here in Bethlehem with the large Puerto Rican community.

Cruz's stablemate, junior welterweight Jerome Rodriguez (6-0-2, 2 KO's) of Allentown PA is quickly making his own mark as a fighter to watch out for in the Lehigh Valley. Rodriguez, a slick southpaw with fast hands, used that speed and agility to effectively box with a tough Darnell Jiles (9-3-1, 3 KO's) from Rochester, NY over six rounds. Staying on the outside and using the entire ring to pick his shots, Rodriguez threw punches in bunches with pinpoint accuracy, much to the delight of the hometown crowd. However, Jiles had his moments as well in between and in the end all three judges had it with identical scores of 57-57 for a draw.

After the fight I spoke with Rodriguez who acknowledged it was a close one, but felt he had clearly won a decision. In a display of pure class though, before the decision was read Rodriguez had his four year old daughter hand Jiles a gift bag as a gesture of true sportsmanship. In an equal display of class, Jiles then proceeded to hug the young girl and hoisted her on his shoulder as he walked her around the ring.

Knockout of the night goes to another local favorite, welterweight Arturo 'Tully' Trujillo of Easton, PA, as he upped his record to (4-0, 2 KO's)in quick fashion. It took him all of (1:48) to finish Pablo Sanchez (1-1, 1 KO) of Indianapolis, Indiana. Trujillo caught Sanchez with a straight left that dropped him dead in his tracks and although Sanchez was able to get back to his feet, it was the beginning of the end. Trujillo jumped on his hurt opponent with a barrage of punches that inevitably caused Sanchez to fall again, prompting the referee to wave his hands and stop the fight.

The opening bout featured yet another teammate of Cruz's making his pro debut, Ismael 'Speedy' Serrano also from Bethlehem. In an entertaining four round junior welterweight bout, Serrano battled it out with 19 year old Jean Hernandez from The Bronx, NY, also making his pro debut. While both fighters had their moments throughout, exhibiting good boxing skills, in the end the maturity of the 26 year old Serrano proved too much for the youthful Hernandez as he won a well earned unanimous decision.

Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz of Peltz Promotions in Philadelphia appears to have found a niche and created a nice buzz here in The Christmas City. With frequent entertaining cards at The Sands Casino that feature a mixture of up and coming local talent, sprinkled with top notch contenders, it's safe to say boxing is bustling in Bethlehem.

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