Oklahoma City ‘Thunder’ indeed
It may or may not be the 2018 “Fight of the Year” but Alex Saucedo’s riveting bloodbath against Lenny Zappavigna, in which he survived a shellacking in the fourth round, and then found a way to steady himself to stop the game Aussie in seven heart-stopping rounds, was the type of bout that will never be forgotten.
Boxing’s next great action star was born, as was a true regional draw in the “Sooner State.”
On this night at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, after the fight was mercifully waved off (as Zappavigna was wearing a crimson mask and hemorrhaging blood for several rounds), one of the first people to congratulate “Cholo” was Top Rank’s Vice President of Boxing Operations Carl Moretti, whose white shirt was splashed in blood (more on that later).
For years, Moretti was the matchmaker for Main Events, when Arturo Gatti was one of the game’s brightest stars. With his hell-bent-for-leather style, he carried Atlantic City and became a franchise fighter.
When Moretti is asked if Saucedo just had his “Wilson Rodriguez moment,” he answered, “Well, in an ironic note, he walked out to “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC, which was Gatti’s theme song. But I’m not ever going to compare someone to Arturo and what he did and, ever since his death, I don’t like to do it.
“But I will say you can draw some comparisons being a 140-pounder fighting in front of a hometown crowd and breaking out with that type of must-see action fight. In future fights, there’s no question that, given what he did last night, people are going to want to see him again and I don’t expect him to turn into Pernell Whitaker the next time he’s in the ring. So that being said, Alex Saucedo clearly made a mark on, ‘When is he fighting again?’ and ‘Who is he fighting?’ No question.”
From the reaction of the crowd, it was clear that more than a few new fans of Saucedo (who hails from Oklahoma) – if not boxing – were made after this opening bout on ESPN, this past weekend. Moretti says, “There was no question that people were buzzing for a long time afterwards, regardless of who it was, and Oklahoma City, or any place out there, is going to fall in love and double and triple what we saw last night with a little over 5,000.”
In all reality, Saucedo was the real main event on this card.
“But I kinda said, ‘Oh my God; we got two more fights (on ESPN). This is the opening fight and for (Robson) Conceicao and (WBO super middleweight titlist) Gilberto Ramirez, I said, ‘Talk about being in a tough position’ because they could’ve had a great fight and I don’t know if people would’ve cared or whatever because of what they just seen with the local kid.”
Saucedo is now in line to face newly-crowned WBO 140-pound beltholder Maurice Hooker, who hails from Dallas, Texas. So yeah, this has a Longhorns-Sooners feel to it. As for where this showdown could take place, Moretti, an avid college football fan stated, “Knowing me, I’d like to put it on at halftime of Texas-Oklahoma at the ‘Red River Rivalry,’ and, given that those two teams can’t play defense either, this would be a perfect fit.”
(Yeah, this comment will go over real well with Big 12 fans.)
Saucedo is now a bankable commodity, no doubt. As for him as a fighter, too many battles like this past weekend will ensure he has a short shelf life. Boxers of that style generally do. The question for the 24-year old is, can he evolve – not change, mind you – into a more well-rounded prizefighter who will ensure that every one of his contests doesn’t becomes a demolition derby?
Gatti had a late career renaissance, as he hooked up with trainer Buddy McGirt, who got him to focus on getting back to basics (foremost the jab) and not be so reliant on winning firefights. At heart, he was what he was but he was able to extend his career by being more technically sound and strategically sane. On the flipside, Brandon Rios, another perennially fan-friendly fighter never added extra dimensions and became less disciplined as his career went on and had a swift descent.
Trainer Abel Sanchez’s job is to at least get Saucedo to utilize his jab as a shield and understand distance and spacing. The bottom line is he’ll never have great head movement and that will have to be mitigated by having his hands in proper position on a consistent basis. Unlike Gatti, who had a one-punch eraser with his left hook, Saucedo is more of a volume puncher. On his behalf, however, is a personal life that is much less tumultuous and he has a greater since of discipline.
Boxing needs attractions and crowd-pleasing performers – the personable Saucedo is both.
The question is, how long will this ride last?
But strap in; it should be fun, regardless.
OK, I watched Saucedo-Lenny Z on my ESPN+ app, on my phone, while waiting to call the Thompson Boxing Promotions card, from the Omega Products International in Sacramento (this card didn’t start till around 8 pm, PT), while we inside the offices to insulate ourselves from the near 100-degree temps.
As I got back to the hotel later (much later, in fact), I wanted to see this fight – especially the memorable fourth stanza again – but, when I punched up ESPN+ on my laptop, I had problems finding the archived version of the telecast anywhere on the site. Finally out of desperation I asked Twitter if they had any luck in finding it and luckily this individual, @91ReasonsU_Lose, came to my rescue and advised me:
You have to click schedule>then change from live to replay>then change from all sports to boxing>then you might even have to change the date back to 6/30. But after all that it should come up.
— Jeremy 🇺🇸 🥊 🥅 🏒 🐶 (@91ReasonsU_Lose) July 1, 2018
Now I know this isn’t Top Rank’s call but I have a suggestion: Can’t events like this just be put under the “boxing” category or indexed in the “Top Rank” boxing section?
After I eventually found this card, I enjoyed the stream, with a few late night beers in my room, with Dean Familton, the co-trainer of Ruben Villa.
Now that’s getting my $4.99 worth.
So what will Moretti do with his now blood-stained shirt?
— Carl Moretti (@CarlMoretti) July 1, 2018
He says he got both fighters to autograph it and he’ll probably get it framed.
It’s time for Top Rank to get “Zurdo” Ramirez some live opposition; otherwise his bouts versus over-matched, nondescript foes gets very monotonous…Matt “Swider-Man” of “The Soapbox” fame texted me this on Saturday evening during the ESPN show: “Walked by a bar in ATL (Atlanta) just now. 65% of the TVs have the fight on.”…Speaking of Villa, he looked very sharp in halting Ricardo “Not Finito” Lopez in five rounds…Michael Conlan remained undefeated as he decisioned Adeilson Dos Santos in Ireland…Mikaela Meyer can fight…So the Lakers got this certain guy from Cleveland, huh? They are now relevant again with LeBron James; the question now is who else do they get alongside him? And do they keep Julius Randle (who I like a ton)…”Marlon” on NBC is hilarious. It’s really found its stride in its second season…Good weekend for OKC, they got to see Saucedo-Zappavigna and the Thunder retained Paul George…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.