By: Saul Lelchuk, ringside
Saturday was a night full of both excitement and surprise at Madison Square Garden, where the judges awarded Vernon “The Viper” Forrest a controversial win over Ike “Bazooka” Quartey and gave Kassim “The Dream” Ouma a not-so-controversial victory over Sechew Powell in back-to-back junior middleweight bouts that both went the ten-round distance.
The night, promoted as “Now Or Never,” was an important if not crucial one for both Forrest (37-2, 28 KO’s) and Quartey (37-2-1, 31 KO’s). Each an ex-champ coming off a hiatus, both are looking to shoulder their way back into the royal circle of boxing’s elite, and Saturday was seen as a crucial test of whether that was a real possibility. The fight didn’t start off at a breakneck speed, with both fighters a bit cautious but still trying to land punches. By the second and third round, Quartey was controlling the pace of the fight more, and had the taller Forrest backing up. Quartey started throwing that famous searing jab of his that earned him the nickname “Bazooka,” while Forrest landed a pretty clean uppercut in the third round. The fourth round seemed fairly even and kept up the status quo of Quartey advancing and both trading punches. Much of the fight consisted of this: Quartey moving forward steadily and throwing punches, and Forrest moving back while hitting and using his superior reach to hit Quartey with some shots. Some of Forrest’s punches were quite hard; his apparently lanky frame belies a significant strength, and when he twists his whole body into a sudden looping uppercut it has a lot of power behind it. For his part, Quartey is fast, but occasionally, when he wants to be, he can be very fast. His lack of height and thus reach can be deceiving: when he darts forward and throws a punch, his outstretched arm and lunging body can suddenly eat up the distance between him and his opponent almost before it registers.
In the ninth round Forrest hit Quartey with a low blow that lost him a point and seemed to put Quartey in a good deal of pain, but he continued fighting unimpeded. By that point it seemed to me (and judging from the crowd most others as well) that Quartey was decisively ahead on points and knew this, and the last thing he intended to do was a let a low blow cheat him of his approaching glory. As the last bell rang the woman seated next to me, who throughout each fight had gamely called on her favorite to “let the tiger out” asked who I thought had won. I replied that Quartey certainly had, as he set the pace throughout the fight and generally threw more punches when they did trade blows. Looking at the ring seemed to back this up – Quartey was celebrating as though he had already won, while Forrest looked unhappy and resigned to defeat. Just as I finished speaking the announcement came that Forrest was the winner by unanimous decision, which caused the entire room to erupt in cries of outrage. Almost no one had expected this – not the shocked and disbelieving Quartey, not the crowd, not the HBO team, and apparently not even Forrest himself. As Emanuel Steward pointed out, the decision was made all the more surprising (though more than one person used a harsher word than “surprise” to describe it) by the point taken away from Forrest for his low blows in the ninth round.
The co-feature was another good fight with Brooklyn’s Powell (20-0) putting up a respectable defense to Kassim Ouma (24-2). Ouma came out very aggressively and stayed that way, as is his tendency (CompuBox numbers showed by the tenth round he had thrown over a thousand punches). Powell looked stronger to me, but if he was it didn’t show during the fight. I thought Powell did better in the second and third round, hitting Ouma with some hard punches as he moved back. It reminded me a bit of World War I trench warfare – Ouma would gain ground, but would pay dearly for doing so, with each advancement contested. The only problem was that if Ouma paid at all he didn’t show it. In addition to his speed and aggression he seemed to have a chin like a rock. Powell is a tough fighter who hit him with some very solid shots throughout the fight, but none seemed to faze Ouma in the slightest and almost none even slowed him down. In the third or fourth round Ouma took a clean punch to the jaw; his feet stopped moving forward for perhaps a half second. As the fight went on Ouma became increasingly dominant, getting Powell on the ropes at several points and landing some hard shots, especially in the first minute of the ninth round, the only time it looked like Powell might go down. But he stayed up and for the most part returned fire. Undefeated until last night, he had fought some good talent but no one of Ouma’s caliber, and I’d imagine the experience was a valuable one for him – even worth losing his undefeated record for. He was a bit outclassed but comported himself well – he did not get knocked down and gave a good fight, refusing to cower on the ropes or retreat without fighting back.
Undefeated welterweight Andre Berto (13-0), a 2004 Olympian, looked very good during the two and half minutes that he fought Roberto Valenzuela (37-42-2). Within several seconds it was very clear who would win, as the ‘fight’ turned into a cat-and-mouse game, with Berto stalking and throwing out a hard jab (Quartey had the most famous jab of the night, but Berto’s is certainly nothing to complain about). He finished off the hapless Valenzuela with a few combos just before the end of the first round. Valenzuela went down without too much of a struggle and probably some relief. In my opinion he could have gotten up if he had really wanted to, but as he surely thought ‘why prolong the inevitable.’ It was too bad, because I had seen Berto work out earlier in the week and wouldn’t have minded seeing him get to open up a little. As it was, Berto’s performance was like watching a sports car cruise at fifty miles an hour – he looked good enough so that one wished to see him perform at a faster pace. I think Berto will go places – he is very fast and strong for a welterweight, and after this fight is 14-0. I’d say it’s about time to give him some real fights.
Super middleweight Queens’s Jaidon Codrington beat Carl Daniels in a six-round decision by being stronger, more aggressive, and working the body quite well throughout the fight. Bronx fighter Pat Nwamu TKO’d John Battle in the third round for the IBA super cruiserweight belt and looked good doing it, throwing lots of hard punches and slipping the majority of his opponent’s power shots. Noriko Kariya beat Michelle Herron in a four-round female bantamweight bout, and Arturo Brambilla suffered a first-round knockout at the hands of the Bronx’s Darling Jimenez in a junior welterweight match.