By Lindy Lindell
Photos: Bob Ryder
Two of the better co-main events in recent years provided Detroiters with slam-bang action as Motowners Vernon Paris and Cornelius Lock fought off “challengers” Manuel Perez and Lonnie Smith in a ballroom-packed, roaring crowd that sent no one home feeling cheated.
The Mellennium Events/Greg Ahrens co-promotion (matchmakers Carlos Llinas and Jack Crider) was televised by ESPN, and the monies thereof largely responsible for the quality of the two main (televised bouts).
Locals Paris, now a welterweight, and Lock, now a lightweight, held off the determined advances of what in the trade is known as “great” opponents. Manuel Perez and Lonnie Smith (not the former champion) were the determined aggressors as they busted forward against Paris and Lock respectively, always chugging, always firing off, both rarely taking a back step. Had longtime booking agent Johnny Bos been there to comment, he would have said (he’s not dead, folks, just mostly inactive) of either Perez or Smith something akin to “He comes to fight. He comes to win. But he don’t beat your guy.”
For Paris, it was a kind of redemption of a sort. These 14 months since his humiliation at the hands of Zab Judah, a falling away of his then management, have produced a calmer, more realistic fighter (and a heavier one as well) who seemed comfortable in his home base (Vernon, those shenanigans in the Judah lair in Brooklyn were embarrassing). That comfort was sometimes registered with looks into the crowd while clinching. He’s back with trainer Dave Lester, and he seems to work well with Lester. At one point, Lester yelled out, “Hit him with your right—around his glove,” and Paris promptly responded.
Perez didn’t really get cranking until the third and pulled ahead on my card after four rounds; he did not overly exert himself at the beginning, as he has in the past—and then had to hold on, sometimes literally, to win squeaker, hometown decisions.
Paris, the bigger puncher, found himself in the counterpunching mode in the face of the mostly onrushing Perez. In his attempt to topple the local fighter, Perez, who has just four knockouts in his 29 fights, battled Paris on equal terms through seven rounds (on my card). But when the homestretch rush came, Paris was ready for his man, and he had enough in the tank to hold off Perez’ rushes in rounds eight and nine, and in the tenth he treated locals to one of his signature flurries. Perez, 19-9-1, bled through his nose through the second half of the fight, perhaps preventing him from going full bore in those last rounds and his eyes noticeably puffed. Paris, 28-1, was unmarked. The scoring was 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94, all for Paris. Fightnews had it 97-95. For Paris, it was a kind of redemption, but also his performance reiterated what close observers have been saying for years: his crisp punching will befuddle the better fighters at times, but he cannot really damage them (moving up in weight doesn’t improve that problem), and his defense, while dazzling at mid-ring, falls apart when he backs against the ropes.
As for, Cornelius Lock, who has also recently moved up in weight, he is largely in the same position, though a decade further down the road. Both he and Paris are graduates of the Detroit School of Amateur Hard Knocks. Unlike, Paris, Lock never really had the full weight of local backing behind him, as did Paris, who fought almost exclusively in Michigan, and while he was well paid during his association with the now-defunct Guilty Boxing of Las Vegas, he found himself fighting out of town save for two token appearances until last night. To employ a variant of the famous Marlon Brando line, he “coulda been a champeen.” The skills were there, and he had enough power for the 122-pound weight classification, but the direction that a local promoter (with juice) would have afforded him was absent, and so he found himself on the wrong end of knockouts three times and six losses before recording his 21st win in a stop-start career that finds him aged 34, coming off a nice win versus Lonnie Smith last night, but goosed up to be a top contender’s opponent, albeit for another decent payday.
We can forget for one night: Cornelius Lock showed freshness, some pop (he stunned Smith and put in into full retreat in the sixth, jarred him at least twice more), and held off charges in the late rounds to win going away by scores of 97-91, 98-92, and 95-92. Fightnews had it 97-91. Smith, who billed himself as the El Negro Mexicano, was the constant aggressor, and while that aggression was largely ineffective, with Lock thwarting him by knocking out his mouthpiece three times, the concatenation of fists to bodies made for one of the more entertaining fights locally in recent years, both flailing away mightily in the final round. Lock’s point margin would have been larger had he not sustained two “knockdowns” in rounds four and five. Neither knockdown was much—with Lock going down after a push in the fourth and after stumbling in the fifth (referee Ansel Stewart blew the call for the latter knockdown, but otherwise did a good job and extracted a point from Smith’s score when his mouthpiece went flying for a third time.).
In a featured bout, Tony Harrison, 13-0 (10), easily stabbed and did away with a shopworn and puffed-up Ruben Galvan, 27-24-4. It was a contest of some anticipation—to see if the normally-tough, but soft-hitting Galvan could stand up to Harrison; Galvan had taken everything Vernon Paris could dish out earlier, but this was an ugly affair that had the mercy of being brief.
Undercard action proceeded deep into the morning and concluded with the debuting Amanda Cooper, Lansing, advancing on Mara Marquez, 1-1, Detroit, causing her corner to throw in the towel in round three. In other action, Willie Fortune, 16-1, Detroit, TKO2 Justin Danforth, Milwaukee, with wilting body shots in a middleweight bout. Also, Ali Mansour, 14-0, 256, Windsor, Ontario, clubbed Brad Johnson, 2-2, 209, Lansing, into submission in three; Afrim Mema, 3-3, 146, Detroit bested Anthony Walls, 0-4, Toledo; Dwayne Williams got the split duke over Covon Graham in a lightheavy bout of local boxers; crowd-pleasing middleweight Alejandro Hernandez, 2-0-1, Detroit, won a majority in four over the winless Delvery Wofford; and Australian Craig Hill, Jr., 9-0, subdued an overmatched Bryan Smith, winless in five, by TKO3.