THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Punchy: Yes, Virginia, there's boxing here
There were no furs, no jewels and only one tuxedo. But while Jay-Z didn't show up to watch the fights at the Lynchburg Armory last weekend, what the 800-plus attendees lacked in glamour, they made up for in enthusiasm. While the Armory is no Madison Square Garden, it would be a mistake to discount what happened there.
April 11 marked the first professional fight in Lynchburg in 27 years. Do you know who fought in that last bout? If not, don't worry; no one does. Most people aren't aware that Virginia's Golden Gloves Championship took place in March, and that Hector Camacho Jr. fought in Richmond on Monday. Why? Fight promoter Joe Hensley knows the answer: "Virginia is a racing state. It's NASCAR. Richmond can't even keep a baseball team."
Hensley isn't far off the mark. The crowd at the fights on Saturday told the story. The majority of fans were at the armory to see a local boy make good. It was easy to locate the true fans– they weren't wearing "Cujo" t-shirts. They also had some idea of what constitutes good boxing.
The best bout of the evening was the least hyped. The press release didn't mention David Hopkins, a Roanoke welterweight fighting professionally for only the second time, but the 140-pound 24-year-old delivered the night's only actual knockout in the third round, even with a cut over his right eye.
While the KO pleased the crowd, how Hopkins achieved it went largely unnoticed. Despite questionable footwork and an initial hesitation to engage, Hopkins rather elegantly managed to turn his opponent. When I asked Hopkins whether he knew his punch was a knockout, he said, "It was the angle, not the punch. I knew I had turned him, so whatever I threw would knock him out."
Still, a knockout is a knockout, and Hopkins left the ring with a much larger fan base than he entered with.
The cruiserweight fight was an anticlimax; the most interesting aspect was the card girl's newfound confidence. "El Guerro" and his opponent, William "The Storm" Bailey, moved like a couple of 13-year-olds at a middle school dance. Waltzing at arm's length around the center of the ring for six rounds prompted shouts of "body shots!" and "somebody do something!" from the crowd.
The main event was almost good. Hometown hero Scott "Cujo" Sigmon successfully tricked the crowd into thinking he was a better boxer than his opponent, Toris Brewer. Brewer was the superior fighter, but his strategy failed him. In an eight-round fight, there's no time for the rope-a-dope, a fact Brewer learned too late. He took to the ropes early, and neither Cujo nor the crowd recognized the ploy. By the second round, Cujo was obviously fatigued and throwing punches from the hip, not the shoulder. With no energy for jabs, he turned to what some would call hooks but were actually roundhouse punches.
By the fourth, Cujo was slapping at Brewer with the back of his gloves and moving in slow motion. But the crowd missed it. As long as Brewer stayed on the ropes, the fans shouted their confidence in Cujo's superiority. No matter that Sigmon was swimming the English Channel. If Brewer had changed his strategy, he could have laid Cujo on the mat and won the match.
Saturday night's fights may not seem like much, but the grim reality of boxing in Virginia is that filling the Lynchburg Armory is no small feat. As a matter of fact, it's a coup of the highest order.
The last time anything related to boxing in Virginia made headlines was in 2000, when C. Douglas Beavers, longtime chairman of the IBF ratings committee (and ousted Virginia boxing commissioner), turned FBI informant to testify that IBF rankings were stacked to favor or penalize boxers based on payoffs from promoters and managers. The last boxing champion from Virginia was Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker, who, despite being named the 10th best fighter of the last 80 years, had his last great fight in 1995.
For Joe Hensley, David Hopkins and hundreds of fans, Saturday night's fights were an unqualified success. One small step for man, one might say. Can a giant leap be far behind?