by Fox Doucette
When is a victory not a victory? There was one potential and one definitive answer to the question between the two fights on ESPN2 at the Paramount Theatre in Huntington, NY on Friday night. Cletus Seldin (16-0, 13 KOs) drew derision from some in the social media audience for being a dirty fighter, but the punches that did the real damage were as clean as you like as Seldin wiped out hand-picked opponent Johnny Garcia (19-3-1, 11 KOs) in the fifth round of their junior welterweight minor-trinket-at-stake main event.
On the other hand, Ray Serrano (21-2, 9 KOs) showed that he’s essentially finished as a contender even as he defeated Jeremy Bryan (17-6, 7 KOs) by majority decision over the course of ten rounds. By suffering a knockdown, and by having his best clean shots do only minor damage except for one stretch where he put Bryan on the floor, Serrano raised more questions than he answered—more on this in a minute.
First off, the main event. Cletus Seldin was in against a guy who has been knocked out twice now and who had been on the floor at other points in his career; in other words, against a guy with a suspect chin who’d be vulnerable to the power Seldin’s displayed in knocking out over 80 percent of his opponents.
Lo and behold, it came to be. What is there to write about a fight that goes absolutely according to how everyone who set the fight up said that it would? Seldin took a couple of rounds to find his feet and find his range, but once he did, he was able to tee off on a guy who was simply not on his level. Seldin hits like a car. He also uses a “turtle” defense that is nowhere near as good as that same style was when Ken Norton used it to defeat Muhammad Ali, and he is real easy to find if he’s got a skilled opponent in front of him, something Johnny Garcia is not.
Seldin also benefited from a referee in Tony Chiarantano who was reminiscent of Arthur Mercante Jr. in the “how did they give this guy a ref’s license?” sort of way. Not only did Chiarantano miss a knockdown in the first round that would have given Garcia a 10-8 round and changed the timbre of the fight, but he also allowed Garcia to absorb way too much punishment and way too many clean shots long past the point where it was obvious that Johnny Garcia needed to be protected from himself.
The fight was finally called at 2:29 of the fifth round after a barrage by Seldin left the result in no doubt. Seldin had his win, blah, blah, blah…
Look. Oscar Diaz recently passed away, a guy who was beaten up so badly on ESPN2’s air by Delvin Rodriguez seven years ago that Diaz was never the same man; it was those injuries in the ring that ultimately ended his life, a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice to this so-often-brutal sport. In that fight, Diaz’s cornermen failed him. Referee Robert Gonzalez failed him. His own heart failed him by refusing to quit because that’s simply not what a true warrior does even as he’s going out on his shield in a very literal way.
It was hard not to think of that tonight. Tony Chiarantano was doing his level best to be an accessory to murder in there with the way he handled that action in the ring. Sadly, such disregard for fighters’ safety is rampant in New York, where the commission seems stuck in 1927 when it comes to referees making smart decisions on when to stop it. Sure, it makes for action fights, since fighters can take it to the limit. It’s when it goes way past the limit that it becomes damaging not only to the fighters, but to the sport. An inquiry needs to be launched across the entire state commission to see if the Sweet Science needs to be reformed in one of its ancestral homelands as far as the pro game goes. Tonight’s stoppage came too late, and it’s just fortunate for all involved that Johnny Garcia didn’t end up like Oscar Diaz or Magomed Abdusalamov or Bee Scottland or any of the dozens of fighters who give too much and truly leave it in the ring.
Off the soapbox (phew!), let’s look at the co-feature, because it was a Pyrrhic victory. In the preview, your columnist hinted at just what a litmus test this opponent would be for Ray Serrano. Serrano, for his part, got knocked down once, took way too many clean shots where the only reason he stood up to them is because Jeremy Bryan can’t punch against anyone with a chin, and was unable to stop a guy who’d been stopped three times, and who as Teddy Atlas pointed out had been on the floor against a guy who was 9-36-2 (Damon Antoine, another of those great professional losers we’ll get to in a Southpaw column down the road.)
Serrano didn’t win this fight. Matchmaking won this fight. Jeremy Bryan’s limitations lost this fight. Your columnist had it 95-93; the judges brought it in at 97-91, 96-92, 94-94. Serrano needed a victory to convince people that he could be the same fighter that he was before he got starched nearly into retirement by Karim Mayfield and Emmanuel Taylor. If Serrano fought a guy who can punch like those two guys, he’d get slaughtered. There is no reason to believe we will ever see Ray Serrano fight at the level he once reached. This was a victory worse than defeat. Ray Serrano is done.
There was a swing fight, and it was a television debut for the ages for Daniel Gonzalez (8-0-1, 3 KOs), as he beat the snot out of Ken Alvarez (6-1-2, 3 KOs) in a fight that went the six-round distance but didn’t stand a chance of going past the seventh if it had been scheduled that far.
Gonzalez is a sharpshooter. Sure, Ken Alvarez has major defensive and structural flaws, but this is the ninth pro fight for the guy who held his hands up in victory. Gonzalez has fast hands, he knows how to get them straight on the target when his opponent leaves an opening or pulls straight back, and he even showed some know-how when it comes to what to do with a downed fighter.
When Gonzalez dropped Alvarez in the fourth, where was the first place he went with his punches? Not headhunting. He threw several shots to the body, forcing Alvarez to drop his guard out of pure survival mode. Once that was done, the kid went right back to sharpshooting, fighting his fight, not taking any unnecessary risks, but not letting his opponent breathe until the bell rang and Alvarez got back to his corner.
In the sixth, Gonzalez dropped Alvarez again, and when Alvarez beat the count, he flat-out ignored referee Shada Murdaugh’s instruction to walk forward with his hands up after the eight count. Any ref who is even minimally competent knows that this is the sign a fighter has quit and refuses to continue, and Murdaugh should have waved the fight off right then and there, never mind that there were only about eight seconds left in the last round. Gonzalez won a knockout without winning a knockout; as previously mentioned, if there was a seventh round, it is hard to imagine Alvarez surviving it.
This was an awesome display for a guy on his ninth fight professionally who is not an Olympian or otherwise a king of the amateurs. Here’s hoping we see Daniel Gonzalez again; after winning by scores of 59-53, 58-54 (twice), with your columnist scoring it 59-53 and Teddy Atlas giving the third round even to make it 60-53, it’s time to give him more air on TV.
Next week, Barky the Wonder Dog makes an appearance, as Antwone Smith (23-5-1, 12 KOs), he of the Monica Seles scream with every punch, gets offered up as a sacrificial lamb for prospect Tony Harrison (19-0, 16 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Smith hasn’t fought since Jermall Charlo smashed him in two rounds in August of 2013. He’s going to have to shake that ring rust off quick if he’s to live to see the final bell next week.
As always, we’ll have full coverage of the show, including a preview on Wednesday and full recap after the broadcast. Stay tuned; we’re the worldwide leader in covering the Worldwide Leader.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune and writes the weekly What If alternate-history series for this publication. His opinion column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and your picks for the worst referee-assisted attempted murders in boxing history can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.