By Phil Doherty at ringside
Photos: Ralph Notaro
Former world heavyweight title contender Davarryl “Touch of Sleep” Williamson (27-7, 23 KOs) intended to use Saturday’s championship bout against Tony “TNT” Grano (20-2-1, 16 KOs) as a “checkup” of his career. Fighting for the vacant NABF heavyweight crown against a man twelve years his junior, the forty-three year old Williamson wanted to see how his reflexes felt; judging his boxing future on a case-by case basis. Williamson told Fightnews during Wednesday’s press conference he intended to create separation during the twelve-round main event of the Viva Don King II card from Hollywood’s Seminole Hard Rock Live. Unfortunately, Grano was the man completing that task, separating Williamson from his senses with a punishing combination at 2:27 of the fourth round and “touching” Davarryl with a type of sleep particular to pugilism.
After landing the only meaningful blow in the feel-out first round, Grano absorbed a painful overhand right from Williamson that he later admitted “caught” him. Grano could have caught a lot more in the round when he tried to correct a wardrobe malfunction involving his trunks during the action.
Grano came out strong to start the third, firing a barrage of overhand rights which forced Williamson to clinch. Another overhand right left Williamson looking dazed and his eyes glazed, holding on for dear life. Grano pressed the attack with a right to the body, left hook, right hand, left hook combination to wobble Williamson before the bell momentarily reprieved him.
Sensing the advantage, “TNT” exploded in the fourth with continued lead rights to the body and head, backing Williamson to the ropes. Another crushing right hand scored upstairs for Grano and he followed it up with a left, right, left hook flourish that sent Williamson falling face-first towards the floor. Referee Telis Assimenios wisely and rightly stopped the assault, sparing the distinguished veteran further damage.
An ebullient Grano, who recently became a proud father, thanked Williamson for the opportunity and class extended throughout the promotion. He added: “I was the underdog in this fight, a lot of people didn’t believe in me so I gotta prove myself. I don’t have a problem with that.”
In the ten-round co-main event, local fan darling Joey “Twinkle Fingers” Hernandez (23-1-1, 13 KOs) broke the aggression and eventually the will of opponent Brandon “The Business” Baue (12-7, 10 KOs) of Missouri. Baue bulled forward in the first, getting inside long enough to throw “Twinkle Fingers” into the ring ropes. Hernandez countered the aggression sharply in the second with double jabs and a solid straight left that immediately drew blood from Baue’s nose. Another three-punch combo from Hernandez yielded some swelling from Baue’s right eye and he began to circle away from Hernandez’s left. Bowed, but not yet broken, “The Business” returned fire, scoring a clean left hook before the bell.
Baue’s right eye began the third round nearly completely shut, which Hernandez exploited behind repeated one-two combinations. Following a right hook, straight left score from Hernandez, a defiant Baue began to showboat; sticking out his tongue at the advancing southpaw. The antics seem to grant Baue some temporary energy and he came out in the fourth with some heavy leather, landing a thudding left hook to briefly stun “Twinkle Fingers” along the ropes. Once again, Hernandez manipulated his opponents’ recklessness to his advantage, returning fire at the off-balance Baue and scoring the fight’s first knockdown.
Referee Frank Gentile administered a standing eight count to Baue, which only briefly delayed Hernandez giving the “business” end of a barrage of left hands to force the TKO stoppage at 1:11 of the round. “Twinkle Fingers” now holds the #14 WBC ranking (#11 IBF and #12 WBO) but wants to move up quickly, expressing a desire to face the winner of the Cornelius Bundrage-Corey Spinks rematch scheduled for June 30th in California.
Hernandez confided: “I felt flat coming into the ring. I only had about thirty minutes to get warmed up. I got here at about eight o’clock, so I didn’t have much warm-up but after the second or third round I started to get my groove. I took everything he had and I felt he was just trying to survive so I said f*** it I’m gonna take him out.”
On paper, the scheduled ten-round lightweight bout between undefeated Cuban southpaw Angelo “La Cobra” Santana (13-0, 10 KOs) and Justin “Le Vodou” Savi (26-2, 18 KOs) looked like the consensus pick for fight of the night. However, the high hopes were quite literally dashed due to a series of unfortunate headbutts, the first of which occurred just seconds into the first round. The collision left Savi with a nasty cut over his right eye. Despite the handicap, the African veteran scored a left hook to the body and one-two combination.
Savi scored another left hook in the second which left him exposed just long enough to eat a counter left from Santana that deposited him to the canvas. Another clash of heads left Savi’s left eye hideously swelling shut yet the brave man from Benin scored his own clean left which appeared to force Santana’s glove to brush the canvas. Referee Gentile didn’t see it that way and the action continued to the bell.
Savi came out in the third behind two straight lead rights which Santana weathered, returning fire with body shots, one of which Gentile warned for being low. “La Cobra” took seized the moment to strike Savi with a sizzling right hook counter that wobbled the African. Santana followed this up with more of a shove than a punch, which Gentile did rule a knockdown. Smelling and seeing blood from his opponent, Santana finished his man with a furious flurry to force the inevitable stoppage at 1:51 of the round.
Light middleweight Omar “Oh!” Henry (12-0-1, 9 KOs) of Chicago found a much tougher-than-expected challenge from last-minute replacement Tyrone “Soulja Black” Selders (8-6, 3 KOs) of Baton Rouge. Henry looked like a bat out of hell to start the action, obviously looking to make a point. Having had four previous opponents duck out of the challenge, Henry intended to demonstrate his displeasure with a dominant and potentially quick finish.
Launching punches with such ferocity he ended up losing his mouthpiece twice in the bout, Henry came on like an offensive juggernaut against the taller Selders. Yet it became apparent Selders had been training and he gladly gobbled up the relentless attack, earning himself the right to face another round repeatedly throughout the fight. Selders lived up to the “Warrior at Heart” lettering on his trunks to deliver some solid right hands in the middle rounds.
However Henry wisely turned up the action in the last ten seconds of each round to possibly prevent another Pacquiao-Bradley type scoring controversy. The strategy paid off as judges awarded him the unanimous decision with scores of 100-88 and 100-90 (twice). Henry stated: “The guy was tough, he’s been training. I’m glad it went that long because people didn’t know if I could go more than one or four rounds because I usually score early knockouts. But I showed I still have my speed over ten rounds and can still be dominant.”
If the main course satisfied, the appetizer delighted as the undercards’ first three bouts all ended in dramatic fashion with first-round knockouts. Welterweight Esai Estimar (1-0, 1 KO) made the most of his professional debut against fellow debut performer Puerto Rican Xavier “X Man” Lugo (0-1). Estimar settled things with a crashing right hand at 2:22 of the first round.
Twenty–two year old heavyweight Trevor “The Dream” Howard (4-0, 3 KOs) took things a step further with a brutal clean knockout of Hector “Ready For War” Hodge (1-1). Hodge slipped a straight right from Howard but didn’t see the screaming left hook behind it that reduced him to putty just 34 seconds into the action. Ringside physicians attended to Hodge for several minutes following his lapse of consciousness.
Fellow Albany prospect, light welterweight Amir “The Young Master” Imam (5-0, 4 KOs) displayed remarkable defense and punching power for such a young fighter, who trainer Stacey McKinley compares to lightweight legend “The Old Master” Joe Gans. Imam weathered the first round attack from Kelvin Williams (1-2,1 KO) and responded with an unmerciful lesson in the “sweet science” which dropped Willaims three times in the round, halting action at 2:59. A jubilant Imam beamed on his way back to the dressing room, stating: “It was fun, I love boxing, I love it man.”
WBA #15-ranked super flyweight Thomas “The Franchise” Snow (16-1, 10 KOs) earned the biggest applause during the early going as the ring card girls finally made their first appearance of the evening at the end of his first round against Ernie “The Gladiator” Marquez (9-11-2, 3 KOs). Snow, whose persona fits the “superfly” weight division perfectly, dominated the overmatched Marquez from the opening bell with crisp combination punching. Head clashes marred the action somewhat in the third, leaving Marquez’s right eye a bloody mess. Snow followed this up in the fourth behind a big left to the body and right hook upstairs that put Marquez down. He bravely tried to beat the count but referee Frank Gentile wasn’t buying it, waving it off at 46 seconds of the fourth round.
The quintessentially quotable “Franchise” explained matter-of-factly: “He’s a little guy. Little guys don’t want to get hit by big guys.”
Other notable “big guys” joining the festivities at ringside to help celebrate Don King’s 80th birthday were former heavyweight champs Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes. Newly-crowned IBF welterweight champion Randall Bailey joined Corey Spinks and WBA cruiserweight champ Guillermo Jones at ringside as well.
With his rising stable of young guns and “never surrender” attitude, one hopes “Viva Don King” turns into a legitimate challenge to the current promotional logjam preventing the very best fights available to the boxing consumer.