By Lindy Lindell
Photos: Bob Ryder
Toledo, Ohio—The Grand Plaza Hotel rocked last night. In an evening of boxing promoted by Purgatory Fight Series (Joe Bridenbaugh, Fred Vallejo, Marty McManus) that began with few folks in the peanut gallery (“No one is here,” remarked one ringsider), ended with fans standing and yelling with an almost deafening hubbub: local super-middle Nune Molina fans cheered on their man with a fervor of college football loyalists.
Canton, Michigan’s Lane Staal spoiled the party. In one of the more skillful displays of the manly art by a area boxer, Staal frustrated, outsped, and outwitted his determined but slower foe and swept through the first seven rounds of their eight-rounder.
Staal took the eighth round off. “I was beat,” he told me after the fight. “I had nothing left.” Staal was there to make it through to the finish in a contest he dominated so convincingly for those first seven rounds that my partner and I began to worry about one of those hometown decisions. One of the two Ohio judges thought Molina won. Richard Navarre scored the fight 77-75 for Molina while the other Ohio judge, Ben Rochester, had it correct, 79-73. Michigan judge Rose Gross had it a shutout 80-72.
After the fight, Navarre wanted to know how I scored it. “Are you kidding?” I said. “Staal won the first seven rounds—easy.” Navarre: “I had the other guy winning.” I got into Navarre’s face, “You’d better change those glasses,” I said. Navarre’s glasses were halfway down his nose, pince-nez fashion. The end of the fight had occasioned ecstatic celebration in Staal’s corner. I turned to one of Staal’s celebrants (Staal had trained at the Detroit-area Empire Gym for the fight), and yelled, “Don’t celebrate yet” to Johnny Cassar, who runs the gym. Cassar bent over, as if I had hit him with a Mickey Ward left hook to the liver. “Not me!” I yelled. I pointed to Navarre, who seemed flustered. He packed up his stuff and made himself scarce as the announcer intoned, “We have a split decision!” This stopped the celebrating in the suddenly catatonic Staal corner.
But when the third score was read, Staal and his cornermen and enthusiastic (smaller-than-Molina’s) contingent of well-wishers resumed their celebration. The 32-year-old Staal advanced to 10-0 while Molina dropped to 6-1. Staal’s performance was special.
He had a side-to-side, backwards technique that completely befuddled the determined, always onrushing Molina. Staal told me that he had worked on this technique diligently (“My trainers emphasized that I couldn’t go straight back.”), and that his training was interrupted by a strength-sapping illness the week before. Staal said that he was surprised that Molina took his best shots a couple of time without seeming effect and that “he hits hard.” A typical forward-thrust would have the wild-swinging Molina hitting gloves or air as Staal parried, dodged, and returned fire, frequently with combinations, mostly to the head (Molina’s eyes were rimmed with puffiness by evening’s end), but also to the body. Molina was a broken record in his attack, having lost the Teddy Atlas Chapter of Offensive Boxing that says, “You gotta jab your way in.”
On the way out of the venue, Lane Staal’s father said that he was worried that his son would take too many head blows. Well, he could be rematched with Molina and that wouldn’t be a worry—unless getting hit six times to the noggin in eight rounds was a concern.
In a lively undercard of four-rounders, In a contest of pro-debuters, Carlos Suarez, 115, Lima, OH, KO’d Joseph Bush, 115, Toledo, in two; Bush hit the deck seven times, with just one knockdown counted. Paul Parker, 4-0, 187, Toledo, staggered James Shorter, 4-2, Elkhart, IN, in the first and had to rally to gain a split verdict. Andrew Morais, 1-1, of nearby Monroe, MI, bested Desmond Jackson of Indianapolis in four in a super-middleweight contest; Wesley Tucker, Toledo, 1-0, stopped Michael Picket, 1-3, South Bend, IN, in a junior-middle scrap; Antonio Urista, 154, Detroit, made his pro-debut a winning one, but couldn’t drop the determined Anthony Kelly, 151.25, Toledo, 0-7-2; and in a surprisingly good and well-matched heavyweight fight, Thad Berkhousen, 2-0, 205, won a hotly-contested match with Steve Cotterman, 223, 0-1, Toledo.