Chicago Fight Night at the Hanging Gardens Banquets this past Friday was one of the most dynamic and exhilarating professional Boxing Cards I’ve ever attended.
It was the very first Pro Card independently produced by Cynthia Tolaymat of Chicago Fight Clubs Promotion. I spoke with Cynthia at the Chicago Golden Gloves. She was very excited and a bit overwhelmed by all the work that goes into having five titles at stake on one card; juggling negotiations with the IBF and IBO while keeping the fans in mind.
“I tried my best to make the match up’s really even, where it’s gonna be a hard fight for everybody and entertaining for all of the fans.”
By the time the card was locked in it had turned some heads at Showtime’s Showbox series. The buzz is, if Cynthia can consistently produce cards of this same caliber, she may soon be inking a TV deal.
There was a dark pool of bad blood beneath the USBO title match between Angel “El Toro” Hernandez and Joey “Twinkle Fingers” Hernandez. The rivalry had started funny enough, where else but that revolution stoking forum Facebook.
After the match up was announced via Chicago Boxing News’s Facebook page George Hernandez (Head trainer at Garfield Park) posted a friendly “Very easy fight for Toro”.
This instantly ruffled feathers and Twinkle Fingers got those fingers twinkling over his key board posting that among other things Angel was a ‘human punching bag’. The online antics escalated into a series of video posts where Angel’s head trainer Fernando Hernandez emulated Joey’s dancing little digits in and flamboyantly feminine rendition.
So going into last Thursday night’s weigh-ins the anticipation for something colorful from the three feuding Hernandi was high, and they did not disappoint. During the classic face off pose after the fighters were weighed, words were exchanged. Allegedly Angel turned and told Joey’s mother to “Fuck Off”. Seeing as Joey’s entire family and several friends were in toe from Miami, you can imagine the room instantly ignited. During the Melee Angel reportedly sumo-smacked Joey across the face and sent him tumbling.
The comedic aspects of the build up to this bout were countered by Angel’s string of two taxing losses at the hands of Peter Manfredo Jr. by late round stoppage and Osumanu Adama by unanimous decision; two of the more decisive defeats in Angel’s long, legendary and war-torn career.
There was yet another stirring pre-fight development that Thursday, top rated contender ‘King’ David Estrada pulled out of his IBO title eliminator bout with Lanardo Tyner due to injury. That afternoon rising star Adrian Granados (7-1, 5KO’s) was at Chicago Fight Club in Bridgeport having an open media work out for his upcoming April 1st fight on the undercard of Donovan Georges USBA title bout at the UIC Pavilion. When an opportunity was dropped in his lap, to take a humongous step up in class and fight Tyner. Lanardo Tyner (24-4 15KO’s) is known as a cagy journeymen/contender whose been televised multiple times, and gone the distance with Lamont Peterson and Saul Alvarez. More recently Tyner KO’d the highly touted rising star Antwone Smith.
For a hot prospect like Adrian, taking a chance like this (on one day notice) is unheard of. I’d have to go back to the early career of Angel Hernandez to find a comparable example, when Angel stepped up and took on world-title-contender Wilfredo Rivera in just his 14th bout. After Angel’s big step up, even though it was in a losing effort, he became an instant contender.
It takes a certain type of blind-courage and belief in one’s self to forgo the long sustained build up most prospect have on the road to the title and just jump straight into the mix with a world class fighter.
“It was a spur of the moment, take it or leave it deal. So I seen it as an opportunity, my promoter Dominic Pesoli said if the commission approves me for the fight then I can have it. I know it’s a huge leap in competition for me but I’m ready to make a statement and I’m up for the test.” said the 21 year old Granados Thursday night. “My mind set is always the same going into every fight…Which is to go into that ring focused and ready to fight hard and do whatever it takes to win.”
I’ve known Adrian since he was 13. We got our start much in the same way at St. Josephs High school under the tutelage of a tough Christian Brother named Brother Peter. Though Adrian quickly eclipsed my boxing career and became a National Golden Gloves Champion as a junior and continued that success into the Men’s division getting ranked in the top 5 in the Nation. Even with his amateur pedigree, this was an incredibly hazardous decision.
Although one title had been subtracted from the card on many levels the stakes had found a way rise heading into to Friday Night.
The card opened with the tattoo-clad, MMA veteran Antonio “Aztec God of War” Canas decimating Andrew Hartley inside of one round. Canas assaulted Hartley with a stunning barrage of body shots that ripped into uppercuts. But the lack of footwork on Hartley’s part, his quick inward crumble and a glance at his record revealed a career opponent, something boxing could definitely do without. After the bout his license was immediately temporarily suspended in Illinois (as is protocol for KO victims). Though Hartley will surely appear some card a State or two over in the next couple months and be KO’d in the first round once again. Hartley is a classic example of the type of Opponent who inevitably suffer permanent brain damage and at times die as result of injuries sustained in the ring. And the blame for the existence of this type of career opponents rests on the shoulders of the fractured institutions of Boxing itself. Prospects need numerous opponents to stay busy, promoters at times have to take what they can get. One sanctioning body with rigid rules governing and overseeing these opponent-prospect match-ups is the only hope I see to ending this epidemic. Otherwise the Hartley’s of the Boxing world will continue to be damaged and killed for six to eight hundred bucks a pop.
The second bout of the night saw Chicago’s Eric Estrada (8-1), battle James Lester (9-4) in a highly competitive bout. Lester’s close range bombs gave Estrada trouble early and swelled his eye nearly shut. Though Estrada pulled away in the late rounds and galloped to a unanimous decision victory.
Next up was local fan favorite Mike “Hollywood” Jimenez (3-0, 3Kos). There comes a time in every prospects career where they get a test, where the talent gap isn’t so wide and they need to dig deep into their well of courage, adjust and overcome adversity.
Jimenez seemed to be looking to follow in his stable mate Donovan George’s footsteps with similar flashy good looks and an exciting style. Though Jimenez hadn’t been tested to date, we had yet to get a look at exactly what he was made of. Jimenez’s opponent Cameron Allen was big and strong and came out head hunting with heavy hands-battering Jimenez early and proving to be the physically stronger man. In the second round Jimenez was hit with an unintentional head-butt which opened a two inch vertical gash above his lip.
At this point Jimenez was frustrated, busted-up, bloody and red faced; the crowd began chanting “Hollywood… Hollywood… Hollywood…” though Jimenez was just not looking the part. Then something clicked, Jimenez began to find his range, peppering Allen with right crosses and left hooks, even finding a spot for his clubbing body shots.
During the final rounds Jimenez gathered hold of the reigns and had Allen wallowing-delirious, nearly stopping him before the last bell. By the time Jimenez got his hand raised in front of the uproarious crowd at Hanging Gardens; his face cut, swelled and welted up, Chicago had a much stronger notion of just what type of a rugged, gritty, prospect we have on our hands.
The female bout between Brooke Dierdorff and Ashleigh Curry was highly competitive and ended in a draw.
I slipped back to the curtained dressing rooms at the rear of the hall and peaked in to wish Adrian Granados luck a few minutes before his bout. I was heartened to see the young prospect composed and focused.
As I stepped up to the apron to begin shooting I passed Former WBC Champion David Diaz who had a visible concern stretched across his brow. Then I stepped past former top ranked contender Rita Figueroa-hunched over in her ringside seat and biting her fingernails. Everyone knew this was the type of fight that could lift or demolish a young prospect, and the odds were stacked heavily against our hometown kid.
Round one was quiet; Adrian initiated the action and out-scored Tyner with ease. Though there was a sense in Tyner’s subdued, deliberate, low-crouched-pawing that he was luring Granados into a trap.
Early in the second round Granados landed a razor sharp lead right that stumbled Tyner in the center of the ring.
Granados leapt on him ripping shots with bad intentions though Tyner toughened.
With Granados engaging at close-range Tyner suddenly dipped and caught Granados flush on the jaw with a deadening left hook which froze him momentarily. Later Tyner unloaded a long combination that pedaled Granados into the ropes before the round ended.
The territory of the bout had been established, with Granados having his way on the outside with his height and crisp range and Tyner with his stout, low-built leverage laying claim to the interior.
Granados’ hometown crowd was silenced in the third, as he encroached into Tyner’s layer again and was dealt several loaded up hooks that had Granados stunned and looking out-classed as he began to wilt under Tyner’s thundering onslaught.
Yet Granados found his way out of several bad spots with some slick head-rolls and smart foot-work as a determined sneer settled in on his lips.
Before the fourth Granados regrouped in his corner and began to box with authority, cracking Tyner easily with combinations and lead right-hands.
After the 4th many in the crowd believe the score cards were tied up at two apiece. In the 5th there was a definitive shift, Granados seemed to inhale a long deep breath and relax-ferociously composed.
He then began to come forward, landing in combination and digging shots to the body.
By the sixth Adrian was trespassing onto Tyner’s real-estate and managing to get the best of the exchanges in close quarters, landing two and three to Tyner’s one, while still maintaining dominance at range.
And I found myself wondering where Adrain’d found that spark and if what was unfolding before us in that brightly lit ring was the dawn of something much larger.
With four rounds in the bank for Granados the fearful, familiar-faces in the crowd began to ease. Rita gave a confident nod and David Diaz was convinced, Tyner’s only chance at a victory now was a Knock Out or at least a knock-down. In the final rounds there was a tense anticipation in the air that Tyner was playing possum again, luring Granados into another trap.
But the ambush was never sprung and at the final bell I was compelled; Adrian Granados had pulled off the impossible and defeated a world class fighter in just his 9th professional bout-6 rounds to 2. The entire packed-house seemed sure of it as well, as they roared their approval at ‘El Tigre’, Adrian was all smiles in the corner as they undid his gloves.
When the bout was announced a Draw there was a shocked, hushed-shutter that rippled through the room, then a long searing chorus of boo’s bloomed up; those boo’s only confirmed my inkling at what we’d all just witnessed. A bright new star emerged in Chicago last Friday Night by the name of Adrian ‘El Tigre’ Granados.
Joey ‘Twinkle Fingers’ Hernandez’s ring entrance from his segregated dressing room on the far side of the hall was raucous; surrounded by a horde of Dade County most wanted petty-criminals, with some gravely hip-hop blasting over their taunts. After the entrance, the Entourage fractured into several smaller cells, three ended up just down the aisle from me. One particularly portly thug in a black hoody with a pale shaved scalp began flicking off the entire room; a retarded sneer plastered on his mug as Joey was announced to uproarious boo’s.
The first round began slow Joey tagged Angel with a few crisp left hands that had Angel’s knee’s a little wobbly though Angel continued to press.
Baldy (down the aisle) sustained his taunts as a group of Mexicans began retaliate from across the way.
Chicago-based Heavyweight contender Mike Mollo happened to walk up to say hello. I’d first met Mollo ten years back at the Windy City Gym. He’d just gotten released from Cook County jail on charges that he was jumping up and down on a guy’s head during a huge brawl. Mike was indignant as he told me, ‘It wasn’t me! I weigh 230lbs, if I was jumping on somebody’s head they’d be Dead, Man!’.
I pointed out the finger-happy Miamian down the way and told Mollo what he’d been up to.
“This is Chicago!” Mollo said. “That guy’ll get fucked up.”
Mollo sat with me for a moment watching the taunting Baldy then rose, walked over to him and sat down just adjacent to the three and began silently watching.
At the close of round 2, Angel pinned Joey against the ropes leaned in and unleashed a cracking combination, drilling hooks through Joey’s guard. As the bell rang, Joey suddenly snapped a right hook and Angel hit the canvas with a hard thud.
I hopped up then glanced at Mollo who stood, an awestruck-malice drawn on his face. Behind him Baldy was hooting and hopping around. Mollo and I locked eyes and made a silent pact, that if Toro didn’t beat the count, Mollo was gonna unleash some mayhem on Baldy and I’d be diving in right behind him.
Angel beat the count and Fernando doused him with water as he plopped on the stool.
Security must have taken noticed of the scalding tensions as our aisle was suddenly inundated with the entire staff comprised of giant-bulky-blacks. Then one big Polish, Tommy Zibikowski look-alike started mediating with Baldy.
The sparks continued in round 3 several toe to toe exchanges lit the room. The final of this series of thunderous barrages was an eight punch battering dealt out by Angel with Joey biting down on his mouth guard deflecting what he could.
Joey then got out his track shoes and began circling the ring swiftly, occasionally stopping and pot-shoting.
The Boss had been established and it was Toro.
At the beginning of round five the police came and escorted Baldy out of the ballroom. Mollo disappeared soon after and I could only hope he was outside in the parking lot leaping up and down on Baldy’s round-head until it crumpled flat. I was considering taking a peek outside as Angel continued to stalk his quick footed adversary.
The Rounds began to stack like this, some of those pot-shots were having their effects on Angel’s legs.
In round 7 Angel, twisted his knee, and with that his hopes of ever catching Joey seemed vanquished. There was a rising joyous vocal melody of a Ghanaian hymn pouring soothingly from Adama’s dressing room where he readied for his bout, as Angel was coming to the end of the road.
Later a clash of heads opened a bubbling, red, gash along Angel’s right brow.
Cut deeply; down on the score cards, Angel started scrounging through his bag of old-school tricks. He hit on the break, hit Joey after the bell and when none of it goaded Joey to engage again toe-to-toe; Angel dipped way down and dug a womping uppercut dead-center to Joey’s athletic supporter. O’Brian ruled it low and took a point giving Joey as much time as he needed to recover.
Angel stepped to the near-neutral-corner, rested his back against the turnbuckle and his arms along the top ropes, dark red blood cascading from his eye; watching Joey in his wincing agony. Then Angel looked out into the crowd at a few friendly faces, gave us a wide-naughty-grin and popped his eye brows up twice. If he couldn’t catch-up with Joey’s youthful wheels, he was at the least gonna make it exciting.
After he recovered, Joey continued to incessantly glide laterally, and after the bell Angel’d had enough. He took a wide swing that glanced Joey, and O’Brian lunged in-between them disqualifying Angel with a high, wide-swing of his white gloved hand. Joey howled in victory, ran to the far neutral corner, leapt up and straddled the bottom turnbuckle, raising arms into a wall of boo’s and lifted middle fingers.
Angel suddenly darted over and swung a high overhand right that smashed into the back of Joey’s head and as you may have expected, the room went up like a day room at Cook County Corrections. Entourages and onlookers poured in from both sides, it began to churn into a nasty, fist-flying squabble until suddenly Boban Simic (this giant-headed dreadlocked, heavyweight MMA-fighter) dove in head first through the ropes and landed in a thundering, calamitous arms-spread belly-flop on the plush-red-canvas. He then sprung into the heated chaotic core of it-splitting the two sides instantaneously. It simpered down, Angel and company left the ring before the result was announced. The Security guards were earning their buck out in the crowd as the Miami-clan all headed for their segregated dressing room.
Last up was Osumanu Adama verse Marcus Upshaw for the IBO intercontinental and the USBA middleweight title. Adama came in with his huge singing Ghanaian entourage. All of them bright eyed new immigrants, their hopes and dreams replenished by Adama’s recent exhilarating rise. I’d predicted Adama to win by short route but was impressed to see Upshaw giving the Ghanaian difficulty with his 6’3” range and decent pop. Though in the third Adama settled and began with his constricting body attack, which seemed to hint at a late-round stoppage. Then in the 4th an Adama left-hook deadened Upshaw and he folded inward and collapsed delirious. Adama watched shocked as Upshaw struggled to rise but at the count of 8, Adama himself fell to his knees in the neutral corner, squealing in delight as Upshaw was counted out. It was the first time Chicago’d witnessed one-punch power out of the Ghanaian. As Adama had that USBA title-belt strapped around his waist, his entire twenty person Ghanaian chorus encircled him inside the ring and began singing in their jubilant-merriment and bouncing on their toes.
That was about the time I realized that I’d just enjoyed the best boxing card I’d ever had the honor to attend. And with all great drama, there’s an element of the tragic. Angel’s huge heart thrilled us once again but we may have seen the end of his days at this level of competition.
Angel ‘El Toro’ Hernandez has been hauling more than his share of the crackling-fire in the middleweight division for the past 15 years. I feel the torch has been passed to the next generation. Angel’s courageous will, his instinct to draw out excitement, his ability to turn exchanges into sweat-spouting, bursts of lightning, it’s here in Granados and Adama, and Donovan George. His job’s done.
A new generation of Chicagoan Pugilists is stampeding into the National spotlight; so tune in, or buy yourself a front-row seat because with these wild eyed contenders you’ll want to witness every pulsing millisecond.
See you Friday.