By Kurt Wolfheimer at ringside
Boxing seems to be on the resurgence again in Scranton, Pennsylvania as a near capacity crowd filled the Scranton Hilton on Friday night to witness a competitive Pro-Am card promoted by Chris Coyne’s Northeast Boxing Promotions. In the main event of the five bout professional portion of the card, rising middleweight RJ “Black Gold” Sockwell upped his record to 6-2-1, 4 KOs, with a workmanlike six round unanimous decision victory over Antonio Liles (1-2, 1KO). In the six round co-feature of the evening, heavyweight Jason “The Sensation” Gavern (22-15-4, 11 KOs) bounced back onto the winning side of the ledger with a stirring first round stoppage of Robert Dunton (9-9-1, 5 KOs).
Robert “RJ” Stockwell had recently upped his stock with a convincing unanimous decision victory over formerly undefeated Grayson Blake (5-0) and was coming in on a three fight winning streak coming into his first main event on Friday night at the Scranton Hilton. His opponent, Antonio Liles of Charlotte, North Carolina entered the ring with a modest 1-1 record. It was deceiving though as his only loss was by majority decision and he owned a third round stoppage of veteran Journeyman James Denson (5-13) .
Liles came out looking to land a big right hand in the opening stanza and a few actually found their mark. Sockwell was on his game though in the early going as he timed the lunges of Liles and countered with sharp right jabs and a few hard lefts. The counters forced Liles to be a bit more defensive as Sockwell poked away with a few lefts behind good jabs.
Liles seemed befuddled by the southpaw, who kept stepping in and out of the pocket with jabs and the occasional right hand. Neither of the fighters seemed willing to let it all on the line and risk getting hurt and it continued into the third.
The counter punching Sockwell seemed to get more comfortable as he probed Liles defense early in the third with few small combinations, while stepping in and out of the pocket. Liles finally found his mark with a right hand up top. It seemed to anger Sockwell who backed him off with a hard one two combination.
From that point on in the fight, Sockwell seemed in control as he kept Liles at bay with sharp jabs and probing combinations.
Sockwell’s superior hand speed and footwork allowed him to control the fifth round without incurring and real damage.
Ahead on the scorecards, Sockwell looked for the shot that would land solidly to hurt Liles without getting caught with a momentum changing shot. Liles could only land the occasional counter as Sockwell boxed his way to the final bell.
Two judges gave every round to Sockwell by scores of 60-54x 2, while the third saw it 59-55, giving him the workmanlike unanimous decision victory.
RJ Sockwell moves to a respectable 6-2-1, 4 KOs while Antonio Liles falls to 1-2, 1 KO.
Whatever action the main event lacked, Kissimmee, Florida’s Jason “The Sensation” Gavern supplied it in the co-feature of the evening. Gavern a former Scranton, PA Police officer, who was once ranked as high as number twelve in the world, looked to get back on track after losing seven straight to likes of some of the top heavyweights in the world. In his last bout he dropped former world champion Oleg Maskaev before losing by unanimous decision.
Standing in his way this day was journeyman Robert Dunton of Wilmington, Delaware who came in on a three bout losing streak of his own, to fighters with a combined record of 15-0 at the time he had faced them.
Dunton knew he had to establish himself in the early going and tried to open up with a few hard body shots in the opening moments, but Gavern was not bothered as he clinched while smiling to his corner. Dunton tried to continue to push the attack, but Gavern saw an opening and stung him with a snapping body shot of his own, before following it up with a hard right hand up top.
The confidence of Gavern increased and he went on the attack. A hard overhand right that was set up by the big body shots, hurt Dunton and he wobbled across the ring and into the far ropes. Gavern jumped on the opportunity, like a tiger on his prey, unleashing six unanswered shots up top, many of which split the gloves of badly stunned Dunton and snapped his head back. Referee Gary Rosato had seen enough and waved the contest off at 2:22 of the opening round.
“It felt great to get a victory back here in Scranton in front of all my fans, ” said Jason Gavern. “I am so happy to have the great support and sponsorships here.”
“My game plan was to look for openings and I found them, which led to the big right hand that hurt him, but it was the bodywork that set up the right hand, which allowed me stop him.”
Jason Gavern jumps to 22-15-4, 11 KOs, while Robert Dunton evens out at 9-9-1, 6 KOs.
Local junior middleweight Stephon Burgette (2-1-1) moved his record above the five hundred mark at 2-1-1 by capturing a four round unanimous decision victory over Danville, Virginia’s Travis McClaren (0-2) .
Burgette of Scranton, PA took over the fight in the second round by digging heavy shots to the body early. McClaren dropped his hands a bit to cover his ribs and it opened up a hole for a big Burgette right hand up top. McClaren was hurt and covered in the corner, trying to survive as the Scranton native unleashed a wild furry of blows before the bell sounded to end the round.
Burgette had punched himself out and it allowed McClaren to recover early in the third round as both fighters boxed in the center of the ring. That all changed when Burgette got his second wind and hurt the Danville, Virginia native again with a big right hand. Burgette looked close to closing the show with several unanswered blows, before the action was stopped due to a clinch. McClaren regained his composure and landed a big right to keep Burgette honest.
McClaren tried to turned the tide early in the fourth and final round with a hard left and the pushed Burgette to the ropes. It would not be, as Burgette took the shot and battled back with a good uppercut of his own. The fight went to the scorecards with all three officials seeing it in favor of Stephon Burgette by scores of 40-36 x 2, and 39-36 respectively.
Stephon Burgette ups his record to 2-1-1, while Travis McClaren dips to 0-2.
Local cruiserweight Rex Harris (1-0-1) of nearby Wilkes Barre, PA captured his first victory as a professional, by dropping Springfield, Massachusetts’ Jose Torres (1-2, 1KO) once en-route to a four round unanimous decision victory.
Harris, an established professional MMA fighter with a record of 4-1 inside the cage, seemed a bit wary in the opening moments as Torres pressed the attack in the first round. The fight began to change though in the second, as Rex Harris found his mark with good body work and he was winning the exchanges in the center of the ring.
Harris strengthened his lead in the third with a strong right hand that sent Torres to the canvas. Referee Gary Rosato ruled it a knockdown but admonished Rex Harris by giving him a stern warning for pushing Torres’s head down. Torres rose to his feet and was competitive throughout the rest of the fight.
Both fighters wanted to close the bout and went toe-to-toe, banging away at each other during the final fifteen seconds of the fight, which brought the crowd to their feet. Both fighters survived the onslaught and the fight went to the scorecards. All three judges saw the bout in favor of Rex Harris by scores 39-37 x 2 and 38-37 respectively, giving him his first victory inside the squared circle by unanimous decision.
In the opening bout of the evening, Eric “Black Steel” Newell (7-2-1, 5 KOs) of Bethlehem, PA thrilled the raucous crowd by dropping winless Moses Marshall (0-2-1) of Springfield, Massachusetts, three times en-route to s first round KO victory.
Marshall tried to throw a few wide hooks in the opening seconds, but Newell blocked those shot and dug a few thudding body shots. Marshall covered and tried to back away, but Newell unleashed a right hand that landed flush on the temple and sent him to the canvas for the first time. Marshall rose to his feet and tried to survive by retreating along the ropes. It wouldn’t matter though as Newell was like a shark that smelled blood in the water as he put Marshall back to the canvas with a hook underneath the rib cage. Marshall rose to his feet and looked to be in bad shape, but wanted to fight on so the onslaught continued. Newell immediately jumped on him and a short right hand up top which finished the show as Marshall collapsed to the canvas. Referee Gary Rosato knew there was no way he could get up and waved the bout off at 1:56 of the opening round, giving Eric Newell the KO victory.
Promoter Chris Coyne knows the future of professional boxing in the area will come only if the amateur boxing is nurtured and he continued to do just that. It was the second Pro-Am card featuring local fighters pitted against tough regional competition the Northeast Boxing had promoted in Scranton this year which used to be a boxing hot bed.
The matchmaker for the show was none other than “The Boxing Diva” Renee Aiken.