Photos by Anna John for StiffJab.com
by Gautham Nagesh
WASHINGTON, D.C.—More often than not, boxing is an ugly sport.
Paying two men to fight for the amusement of a crowd is inherently exploitative, and has been since the first gladiators were thrown into a pit thousands of years ago. But combat sports persist, and so our societies have adopted a series of measures, starting with the Marquess of Queensberry Rules, designed to bring at least some sense of decency to the proceedings.
Today, primary responsibility for protecting the fighters falls to the state athletic commissions, and the officials they employ. On Saturday night, the D.C. Athletic Commission failed in its duty, allowing several one-sided match-ups to take place with no objection. Fortunately, referee Malik Waleed was on hand to ensure no one got seriously hurt. The early endings made for a quick evening from Top Flight Productions, but the fans that showed up seemed satisfied by the stoppage wins from Brandon Quarles, Greg Newby and Alexander Johnson (above), among others.
Accoceek, Md. middleweight Jarrett “Swift” Hurd (above left) got the evening started with a third-round stoppage of Issa Coulibaly (right) of D.C. Hurd kept Coulibaly at bay early with his jab, before getting the best of an exchange of hard left hooks. Hurd then pressured Issa throughout the first round, while Issa tried to move laterally and create distance between the fighters while going to Hurd’s body. A patient and well-schooled fighter, Hurd closed that distance with his jab, followed by a right to the body.
Issa kept retreating in the 2nd round, but Hurd began cutting off the ring and backing Coulibaly into the corner. Hurd followed with a left hook-right hand combination that momentarily forced Coulibaly to hold. Hurd kept up the pressure through the round, punishing Issa to the body while mixing in head shots. Coulibaly was content to retreat, while occasionally firing back with wide shots.
To his credit, Coulibaly tried to fight back, and at one point forced Hurd into the ropes to land a hard shot. Issa’s heart was not enough though, and he was a ripe target for a short right hand counter from Hurd, which put him down late in the round. Coulibaly rose at the count of nine and held on, barely, to survive the round.
Hurd came out jabbing and firing his right again in the 3rd, while Coulibaly remained at a distance. Hurd landed a left hook, then a right hand, followed by another counter right; Coulibaly continued to back up, but merely ate another punch as his corner urged him to move his head. It was too late; Hurd continued to smash Coulibaly with power shots until a final barrage punctuated by a hard left hook sent Issa down to the mat. He remained there for a while after the bell, before finally rising to the crowd’s appreciation.
Hurd is a good fighter but this bout against the now 1-5 (1 KO) Coulibaly didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. Still, the rounds will serve him well, and Coulibaly deserves credit for showing heart, especially compared to what came after him.
The next bout matched local favorite Joshua Moe Parker against debutante Luis Nestor Rodriguez of Miami at lightweight. Rodriguez entered the ring sporting Cuban flag trunks and some sort of jheri curl pompadour, but he came to fight from the opening bell. Parker got his footing soon and started unloading a bit, as his brother and local welterweight Harold “Sweet Lee” Parker screamed from his place at ringside.
Rodriguez came back to land a hard left hook, then another solid combination. An unknown Cuban from Miami is not typically the best choice for a soft opponent, and at least one observer predicted an upset, if Parker wasn’t careful. They were almost right. It was definitely the best fight of the night, with both fighters landing big shots for almost the entire four rounds.
Parker scored with a good flurry in the 2nd, then beat Rodriguez to the punch with a jab, followed by a hard right hand. Rodriguez tied up to recover, then on the re-start landed a hard right of his own. The pace of the fight settled a bit, as both men showed each other more respect as round 2 wore on. The main difference between them was Rodriguez’s occasional tendency to cover up against the ropes, which left Parker free to come after him.
By the 3rd round Parker looked tired but focused, while Rodriguez remained very game. Rodriguez appeared to do more in the 3rd, landing his jab, and coming forward the whole round. Parker was slightly less active, trying to place his jab but waiting too much. Rodriguez landed a pair of chopping right hands, but not cleanly, a theme of his style. Still, the Cuban’s greater activity inside helped him pull ahead on our card, and left Parker in a precarious position heading into the final round.
Rodriguez stayed active in the 4th, while Parker tried to land a risky right uppercut from the outside. The two traded right hands against the ropes, then Parker landed a great left hook that brought the crowd to their feet. Rodriguez held on a bit after that shot, while Parker began timing his right over Rodriguez’s jab. Rodriguez mounted a final attack near the end of the round but Parker appeared to edge it, squaring our card and rendering the fight a draw. One judge agreed, but other two handed the majority decision to Parker with scores of 39-37.
The most egregious mismatch of the evening pitted Headbangers junior welterweight Antonio Magruder (above) against debutante Anthony Dave of Canton, Ohio. All it took was two vicious left hooks from Magruder and Dave went down hard. He rose, but referee Malik Waleed shook his head and ended it, rightfully realizing that Dave had no business in the ring against the young but capable Magruder.
Waleed no doubt explained just that to Dave’s corner after the fight when they demanded an explanation, rather than thanking the ref for saving their fighter a lot of punishment. A cocky young man with a wiry frame, Magruder may be someone to watch. He certainly got the fans out of their seats with his 35-second stoppage. I saw him stroll out of the arena afterward with trainer Barry Hunter and he beamed like he hadn’t even been in a fight, which truthfully, he hadn’t.
Next up was Stiff Jab favorite Greg Newby, an unbeaten light heavyweight from around the corner at Lime Lite Boxing. His opponent James Jones truthfully looked older than Newby’s father Tony Simmons, who was manning his son’s corner as always for the six-round bout. Jones defended well for most of the first round, and even scored with a few shots of his own.
But Newby found a home for his right hand toward the end of the round a couple times, including one perfect straight right to the body that forced Jones to take a knee.
"Suck it up," Jones’ corner ordered, as he rose at the count of nine, and survived to the bell.
The fight grew more physical in the 2nd, with Jones doing whatever he could to stay in it. Newby stalked Jones and tried to land power shots, but looked to be pressing a little too hard for the knockout. That allowed Jones to land a series of solid punches in response. Another hard body shot from Newby forced Jones’ gloves to the mat for what should have been the second knockdown, but the ref bailed Jones out by ruling it a slip.
Newby was unperturbed, following Jones to the ropes and punishing him with left hooks to the body. Jones finally succumbed and went down for the third time, the second official knockdown, and stayed there. Newby improved to 9-0 (5 KOs), with an official stoppage time of 2:40 of the 2nd round.
Another Headbangers product, middleweight Demond Nicholson, (above)was similarly dominant against the now 0-4 Teron Walker of Danvile, Va. Nicholson began the bout by punishing the shorter man’s body, especially against the ropes. Walker was overmatched, and soon covering up while trying to escape. Unfortunately for him, he had nothing to keep Nicholson off him.
Demond kept unloading right hands and left hooks to the body, until referee Waleed was once again forced to step in and end the one-sided demolition. The official result was a first-round stoppage for Nicholson, who drew a loud ovation from the sizable Headbangers cheering section. Walker sat on his stool afterward, clutching the right side of his torso in apparent discomfort.
Next up was the scheduled main event, featuring Alexandria, Va. junior middleweight Brandon Quarles. Quarles was fighting for the first time since a close loss on ShoBox in January to unbeaten prospect DaQuan Arnett; North Boston tomato can Jimmy LeBlanc was chosen for his return. The fight started out well enough, with LeBlanc opening aggressively and trading with Quarles before bouncing away.
But Quarles quickly scored a pair of knockdowns, one on a right hand and the second with a left hook to the body. LeBlanc rose twice, only to be trapped in the corner and floored a third time soon after. He rose and said a few words to the ref, which appeared to indicate his resignation. The ref waved it off, while the crowd erupted in a mixture of boos and cheers.
That set the stage for the final bout, between D.C. light heavyweight Alexander Johnson and Simon Ruvalcaba, a squat, rotund bullet of a fighter from Lake Tahoe. Someone in the front row mockingly referred to Ruvalcaba as “Butterbean”, which seemed apt. In contrast, Johnson boasted a sculpted physique as per usual, and a patient approach.
Johnson stalked his smaller foe and feinted a lot in the first round, while Simon flinched almost every time. Firmly in control, the southpaw Johnson landed a right uppercut, then began unloading with right hooks to his opponent’s soft midsection. Before long, the result looked beyond doubt to the armchair pundits seated at ringside.
"Check his pockets and let’s go," exclaimed one impatient fan, convinced of Ruvalcaba’s mortality.
He was proven right, but not right away. First came a couple hard right hooks in the 2nd to back up Ruvalcaba, who was at a loss against Johnson’s huge reach advantage. Johnson’s size meant he was able to land the right hook without taking any risk, allowing him to bully Ruvalcaba into the corner and punish him methodically.
Another flurry in the corner from Johnson and Ruvalcaba finally tumbled to the mat. He gamely rose, but for his bravery was tagged with another uppercut, then a right hook. Johnson followed with another vicious right hook to the gut, and Ruvalcaba dropped like a stone. Again Simon rose, and insisted he could continue. The admirable spirit shown by Ruvalcaba was only rewarded with a steady stream of right hooks to the body from Johnson, which lasted the rest of the round.
Johnson went right after Ruvalcaba again in the 3rd, while Simon kept backing up and getting hit. He was simply too short, always within Johnson’s range, and unable to reach his opponent to respond. A final right hook to Ruvalcaba’s head was enough for referee Waleed. He ended the fight, correctly recognizing that the the smaller man could no longer defend himself.
This was not the first show from Top Flight Productions, helmed by local lightweight Ty Barnett and his sister April Hairston, but the first where Barnett himself was not the headliner. More care could have gone to the matchmaking, as the bouts featuring Magruder and Quarles were especially one-sided. Prospects are expected to get a soft touch or two, but some of these guys have no business in a prize fighting ring.
Barnett himself was particularly unhappy with LeBlanc’s performance, and expressed disgust at the Bostonian’s decision to quit while he was seemingly still able to fight. He said LeBlanc had failed to live up to his contract and hadn’t earned his full $3,000 paycheck. However, Barnett expressed confidence that he and LeBlanc would be able to come to some sort of agreement without involving the Commission.
Meanwhile, matchmaker Brian Dillon was vocally unhappy with how the night had gone, and told us he thought LeBlanc had fought and tried. Dillon called his involvement in the evening’s show a low point in his boxing career, criticized the treatment of the out-of-town opponents, and reserved some of his harshest words for the D.C. Boxing Commission, which he said had failed in its duty.
When things go wrong in boxing there is always plenty of blame to go around. Hopefully there were also some lessons learned, and future D.C. fights will include real scrutiny of exactly who will be fighting. Watching some defenseless kid get knocked out by a top prospect isn’t exactly our idea of a fun evening. That description only applied to a couple fights on this card, but they were tough to watch.
The next time a fight is approved between an established prospect and someone with no professional experience, we’ll be going directly to the Commission to request an explanation. If D.C. is really going to become a fight town again, the people in charge are going to have to do a better job.