By John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
Photos courtesy of Chris Toney Sr.
Leading up to the fight, about half of the boxing fans in the Philadelphia area thought that Naim Nelson wasn’t quite ready for his anticipated fight with popular local warrior Victor Vasquez, who had more than three times the number of fights than he did. However, the other half of the fans had the feeling that Nelson could bring his obvious ring skills and size in against Vasquez, and handle the famously tough battler. It was this second group that got the prediction right. However, no one could have imagined how composed under pressure he’d be and how well he’d rise to the occasion against Vasquez. Nelson did both, and came home with a big win, the PA State Lightweight Championship, and a serious career boost.
The fight itself was an excellent non-stop punch out. It went the full ten rounds and was loaded with two way exchanges and gutsy action. But surprisingly, Nelson was in control much of the way.
The bout began with Nelson looking fast and big. His jab was like a rifle shot, streaking straight at Vasquez’ face. It thumped home easily. Vasquez opened carefully with his guard high and his attacks infrequent.
In round two the pattern continued, but the action heated up quickly. Suddenly Nelson’s face was covered with blood from a large gash above his right eyebrow. I didn’t see a butt of heads, however the wound sure looked like the type that usually comes from a clash of heads. Quickly the stakes were high, and Nelson fans began to panic. This was the type of experience the 22 year old fighter had never tasted, and was right up Victor’s alley. Nelson’s test was coming early.
A moment later, Vasquez threw an uppercut that thudded against Nelson’s chin and staggered him backwards. The two tangled feet immediately after the punch and Nelson fell to the canvas. Referee Shawn Clark called the slip a knockdown and began counting. Nelson got right up, but more panic blanketed his fan base, but Nelson himself did not seem to panic.
He returned to the action and resumed jabbing and punching his pressing foe. He was living in the Victor Vasquez wheelhouse and approached his moment of truth. Clearly this was the scenario that a newbie 7-0 fighter wouldn’t be able to handle, so the anti-Nelson theory went. Many thought that Vasquez was just too comfortable with the art of ring war, and with him closing the distance so early in the fight, Nelson was unlikely to survive. But they were dead wrong.
Nelson survived the harrowing second round. He walked back to his corner looking concerned but intense. Cut man Jim Williams tried to close the wound, but it bled all night long.
In the third, it was more Vasquez. Nelson continued to land and box, but it was becoming Victor’s fight. He was up in Nelson’s face, and working an inside fight. Vasquez seemed to be right where he had hoped, and after just three rounds. But Naim Nelson the fighter was growing up right before our eyes.
Still bleeding but suddenly refocused, Nelson returned to work in round four. He fired up the jab and began spearing Vasquez with long, quick rights. Nelson punched, and punched, and punched. And he punched his way back into control. It was workmanlike, but he did it with style.
The punches went back and forth between the two, and the crowd loved it. This was an entertaining battle. Victor was pressing, but Nelson was handling the pressure and out-landing Vasquez.
Surprisingly absent from Vasquez’ assault was a sustained body attack, a tactic everyone thought would be his staple in the fight. It might have been the mistake that let the fight slip away. Maybe the tone of the early rounds, the speed with which the fight turned into a war, gave Vasquez the impression that he could take Nelson out without breaking him down. It was a miscalculation.
Nelson kept out punching Vasquez, but Victor kept it close. Many of the rounds were almost even, but Nelson usually did enough to bank them, despite Vasquez’ tendency to be punching at the bell.
Vasquez surged in round six, winning the session with some rough inside work and hard punches upstairs. His victory in the round pulled the score even on my card – three rounds apiece. I did not give Vasquez a two-point edge in the second, but who knows what the judges did? Perhaps Vasquez had the lead at this point.
They exchanged low blows in the seventh, Nelson landed a showy and brutal right hand near the close of the eighth, More low blows in round nine, and final standoff in the tenth, highlighted the stretch rounds. However, as good as the action was between rounds seven and ten, Nelson won each of those rounds and brought the victory home.
All three official judges scored the fight for Nelson. Alan Rubenstein saw it 96-93, Dave Braslow scored 97-92, and Pierre Benoist had it 98-91. My card read 97-93, or 7-3 in rounds.
It was a mature performance by Nelson, and one that sent the message that there is much more to come from him. Vasquez fought hard and made the fight close and memorable, but he was outboxed and came up short. Many felt that this fight was a “must win” for Victor, but the truth is he will continue to attract fans for as long as he keeps fighting. It may have been a setback to his career momentum, but the ballroom will again be filled when he fights again. His record stands at 15-7-1, 7 KOs.
For Nelson, now 8-0 with 1 KO, the win was a career jolt. It was the first time he’d ever been scheduled past six rounds, and he passed the test with flying colors. He still has some growing to do, but clearly his future is bright. I can already think of a couple excellent local matches to make but doubt the other fighters want any part of him now.
Six other bouts supported the main event.
The evening opened with a 4-round junior middleweight fight between two guys making their professional debut. Edson Soto, a southpaw from Hackensack, got the win by 1st round TKO over Joshua Rivera of Philadelphia. Soto dropped Rivera and then swarmed him until referee Shawn Clark stopped the fight after 2:52. After he left the ring, Rivera was approached by a young woman, probably his wife or girlfriend, who asked him, ” What happened? You didn’t even fight back.” Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down.
In the second fight of the night, Philly heavyweight Mark Rideout remained undefeated, 2-0, by winning a 4-round majority decision over Baltimore’s Lonnie Kornegay, 1-7-2. Judge Alan Rubenstein called the fight even, 38-38, while Pierre Benoist and Dave Braslow both gave all four rounds to Rideout, 40-36. I gave Kornegay the last round and scored the bout 39-37.
Next up, local star Jesse “Hard Work” Hart won his third straight professional bout by KO with a one-punch rout of Lekan Byfield. Hart, the son of local legend Cyclone Hart, landed a hard right hand that floored Byfield. He tried to get up, but was clearly to dazed to do it. The entire fight lasted just 28 seconds. Not such hard work on this night. Hart, 3-0 (3 KO) needs 16 more KOs to match his father’s 19-bout knockout streak. It’s a tossup whether he’ll match that streak, but expectations are high for Hart to make it to boxing’s big time. Byfield fell to 2-2-1.
Shuler Gym junior featherweight Alex Barbosa beat Arthur Parker by majority decision over four rounds. Judge Dave Braslow scored the bout even, 38-38, but Rubenstein and Benoist overruled with tallies of 39-37 each. My score agreed with the latter two. Barbosa rises to 4-0 (1 KO) and Parker slides to 1-8 (1 KO).
Philly light heavyweight Todd Unthank-May met cruiserweight Taneal Goyco in the middle and pounded out a tough 4-round decision to improve his record to 5-0 (2 KO). Goyco evened out his record to 4-4-1 (2 KO). It was a good learning experience for Unthank-May who swept all the rounds but had to work to do it. All three judges scored the bout a 40-36 shutout.
Millville, NJ’s Julio DeJesus beat Philly’s Gabriel Diaz by 4-round majority decision. In a rather ugly fight, Diaz did enough to win on my card, but it wasn’t pretty. He moved and danced away from the fight while DeJesus pressed the action and tried to find the fight. Julio swung for the fences and landed a couple hard cracks, which clearly impressed the official judges, but Diaz landed more punches overall, even if they were light as feathers. Judge Braslow scored it 38-38, even. Rubenstein had it 39-37 for DeJesus, and Benoist gave Julio all four rounds for a 40-36 score.
The card was extremely entertaining, and the main event lived up to its pre-fight expectations nicely. Joey Eye and David Feldman have been plugging away at the promotion business at Harrah’s in Chester, and their shows keep getting better and better. A solid crowd nearly filled the Harrah’s ballroom, and was just a few fans short of a sellout. A delayed tape of the show is expected to be broadcast by Comcast on October 20th & 21st.
For more on the Philly fight scene – past and present – go to www.phillyboxinghistory.com.