Final Pressers/Saturday Night Picks: Garcia vs. Peterson, Lee vs. Quillin

By Adam Berlin on April 9, 2015
Final Pressers/Saturday Night Picks: Garcia vs. Peterson, Lee vs. Quillin
At least three of the main-event fighters have the kind of blue-collar personas I admire.

Final press conferences give reporters one last opportunity to gauge the fighters—how strong or drained do they look, how confident or hesitant do they sound…

Final press conferences have become rote-ly choreographed affairs. 

Training camps are done. The fighters are restless, waiting for the bell to ring. They’re pre-fight hungry, a day away from weigh-ins, so pre-fight testy. And for the bigger fights, where publicity circuits sometimes stretch thousands of miles, there’s press-fatigue—having talked enough, having reached their Q&A saturation points, fighters keep their final moments at the dais short, if not sweet. They thank those they’re supposed to thank. They predict hard-fought victories. They state they’re in the best shape of their lives—I’m still waiting for a fighter to stray from the standard pre-fight script and admit he’s not quite as fight-ready as he should be or used to be. Then (and here’s where the choreography becomes really forced) the fighters assume stare-down positions as photographers shoot and reporters secretly hope for a push here, a sucker punch there, material for a pre-fight article. When this most-unnatural part of the program is done, fighters talk to reporters away from the dais, answering questions they’ve answered too many times, and finally, finally, the table of free-food demolished, the boxing clichés exhausted, everyone exits the building.

Today’s building was The Edison Ballroom on West 47th Street in Manhattan. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center may be housing Saturday’s well-stocked card, but advertising is best done in the borough of Madison Avenue. The Edison isn’t quite The Plaza, but the room, dance-hall tacky, elevator music filling the space, served its needs. At least three of the four main-event fighters have the kind of blue-collar personas I admire—they show themselves off on the job—and as long as the ring is the proper dimensions, the surroundings, especially pre- and post-fight, don’t matter to them. 

The presser went according to plan. 

After promoter Lou DiBella welcomed everyone, apologizing for the late start because of a fire in Brooklyn that delayed the Escalades, he introduced the NBC spokesman, who not only called Al Haymon’s card spectacular, but historic because of the three “venerable” sportscasters calling the fight, united for the first time—Al Michaels, Marv Albert and Bob Costas. The color commentators will be Sugar Ray Leonard, Laila Ali and B.J. Flores. That’s a lot of talking heads; thankfully this promises to be a competitive card, which should transcend all chatter. DiBella asked the prelim fighters to stand and take their quick bows, and then it was time for the headliners to address the press. 

Up first was Andy Lee, dressed in a black sweat suit, looking fight-ready. “I’m eager to fight. I’m ready to fight. I’m feeling very dangerous right now. I’ll see you on Saturday.”  Lee is always articulate, but this afternoon his focus was on punching, not talking.

Peter Quillin spoke next. The only main-eventer wearing a sport coat, Quillin looked more ready for business-business than fight-business and, like a sharp negotiator, he countered Lee’s words. “I want to thank my team for making me dangerous all the time. We’re going to do more than try to take that belt. I’m going to take that belt.”

As he spoke, Andy Lee, chin in hand, eyes confident and amused, smiled.

Then it was Lamont Peterson’s turn. Peterson sports a beard in many of his fights, but the one he was sporting today was sage-like long. “I had a long camp. I’m happy to be part of this NBC show, which will put a big spotlight on boxing. Y’all know what it’s gonna be. It’s fight week. I’m fight-ready. So I’ll see you on Saturday night.”

Last up was Danny Garcia, who’s looking more and more like his showman dad. “I love fighting here at Barclays. I’m 3 and 0 here. On Saturday I’ll be 4 and 0. I didn’t take no shortcuts. I’m mentally ready. I’m physically ready. And for all the new guys around the world, you’re going to see Danny Garcia at his best.” 

Perhaps the 8:30 start time, instead of the prohibitively late start times for too many HBO and Showtime shows, will indeed bring in new fans.

Then came the requisite stare-downs. Lee faced off with Quillin. Lee smiled. Quillin stayed serious. The height difference in Lee’s favor was clear. Garcia, not only looking like his father but jawing like his father, started talking to Peterson as soon as they faced each other. The veteran Peterson, wise as his beard, wasn’t fazed.

The formal proceedings done, the four main-eventers walked across the ballroom and sat on couches in the back for one-on-ones. I decided to hear what Lee and Quillin had to say. In smaller circles, fighters are usually more expansive, more comfortable answering questions than delivering prepared words.

Peter Quillin on his year off from boxing: “I needed a rest. The break I took is the best thing I ever did for myself. My family, my pride, where I want to go in boxing, it put things in perspective.”

On the upcoming fight: “It will be a chess match. But if he comes out swinging, that will be a mistake.”

On Lee: “This is the second time I’ve been a challenger to a champion. I’d be very disrespectful if I was to be disrespectful to a champion.” Quillin, often cocky, was toning it down. Perhaps his year away has matured Kid Chocolate into a man.

Andy Lee on his recent fights—where he came back strong after getting hurt: “It strengthens you. You realize and it makes you believe that anytime you fight, you have a chance.”

Lee on Quillin: “He might be careful, he might be tentative for a while, but eventually he’ll exchange.” Lee well knows that in a twelve-round fight, exchange is inevitable. And when men exchange with Lee, they often get hurt, especially when Lee is feeling dangerous.

On Saturday’s fight: “I’ll risk everything to win.” 

Final press conferences give reporters one last opportunity to gauge the fighters—how strong or drained do they look, how confident or hesitant do they sound. I admit to looking for easy, pop-psychology tells in their demeanor. While I know better, while I’ve seen enough fights to understand, completely, that nothing really matters until the bell rings and the fighters are isolated in that squared circle of truth, I can’t help speculating. And my speculations are often biased. While press row etiquette calls for impartiality, I root for the fighters I like best, sometimes not so quietly. And while I feel I know boxing well enough to put away subjectivity and make objective assessments and predictions, I’m a boxing fan first. I have my favorites and my objective eyes are sometimes clouded. With that caveat, not an excuse but a statement (I’m being honest here, not feinting), I’m taking what I know about the four main-event fighters, adding what I think I saw at the press conference, and predicting two upsets on Saturday night. 

The second main event (the first that will be fought) pits two fighters with Michigan connections and fight histories in NYC.  Andy Lee, from Limerick, Ireland, cut his teeth under Emanuel Steward’s tutelage at Detroit’s Kronk Gym. He’s taking on Brooklyn resident (by way of Grand Rapids) Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin. The odds are around 2:1 for Quillin and the odds makers are usually right; they’re in the number-crunching business, after all. But my gut tells me Lee will beat the odds because he’s been gut-checked the way Quillin hasn’t. I saw Kid Chocolate fight a number of times, live, early in his career when he used to throw candy to the crowd. One fight, his fourth, stays with me. Quillin was in easy against an opponent imported from Phoenix, a fighter with a 2-3-2 record named Tomas Padron. Padron tapped the then 3-0 (3 KOs) Quillin with a couple of decent shots in the first round, and Quillin melted. He had the superior skills and a major advantage in the height/reach department, but Kid Chocolate dealt with adversity by holding on for too much of the fight, breathing heavy from stress, his head a worried mess. In the nine years since, Quillin has maintained his undefeated record while beating some tough men along the way, and he’s certainly gained confidence and skill, but I’ve never believed a man can truly change—I subscribe to Popeye’s sailor-smart philosophy of I yam what I yam. Peter Quillin, not hard-wired to deal with adversity, not graceful under pressure (Hemingway’s ideal), will have to face adversity in the form of Andy Lee’s often-devastating power.

On the flipside, Andy Lee had faced adversity and hung tough. Against bomber John Jackson, the fighter they call “Irish” was down and almost out; still on shaky legs, Lee remained composed enough (graceful enough) to throw a crushing right to Jackson’s jaw, knocking the knockout-puncher cold. In his only un-avenged loss, his 2012 fight against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Lee fought bravely. In that fight, Lee looked like a middleweight (which he was) next to a light heavyweight (which Chavez might have been), but Lee stuck around for seven long rounds despite a rough beating. Lee has the amateur pedigree. He has the Kronk seasoning. He has 3 inches in height and 2 inches in reach. He has the stronger will. My gut says Lee stops Quillin.

My gut’s a little less sure about the main-main event, which features undefeated champ Danny Garcia (favored at odds closer to 3:1) against Lamont Peterson. But I’m sticking with my gut. I believe underdog Peterson has teeth sharp enough and long enough to bite the champ, who’s recognized as the champ by the Transnational Boxing Rankings, which means he’s the real champ. Champion Garcia has looked less-than-invincible in three of his last four fights. In his second-to-last fight Garcia struggled against Mauricio Herrera, but was gifted a decision (poor Mauricio has been robbed too many times). Against old Zab Judah (so old Paulie Malignaggi dominated him one fight later), Garcia faded in the late rounds and took plenty of punishment from Brooklyn’s own. Garcia’s most recent win was a meaningless second-round KO against ridiculously overmatched Rod Salka. Garcia’s lone impressive performance in the last two years was a close but unanimous decision against daunting Lucas Matthysse. If common opponents tell a story, and they sometimes do, logic says Garcia (who beat Matthysse) defeats Peterson (who was TKO’d by Matthysse). There’s the rub to my gut feeling. 

But styles also make fights.  Danny Garcia is not great in any one area—he’s a solid fighter in all areas. Whenever I see him in person, the tough kid from Philadelphia looks like an athlete, but not necessarily a boxer. He’s square and compact and flat-necked strong and that’s how he fights. His punches are compact. He works well in the pocket. He’s not fleet of foot as his ring name Swift might suggest, but he moves fairly well. Lamont Peterson does look like a boxer. He’s leaner and longer with a 3½-inch reach advantage. He knows how to gauge distance and has a strong, straight jab. And he’s a smart fighter, hopefully smart enough to stay on the outside this Saturday night, especially during the early rounds. Both men are inching up a few pounds to a catch-weight of 143, which favors the heavier-handed Garcia, but Peterson’s grit and mental toughness will keep him in the fight early on. It’s later on where I see the fight shifting to Peterson. Peterson has a vicious body attack. He’s one of those long-armed fighters whose whipping hooks seem effortless, but as they soar through air they gain devastating momentum, enough to make elite fighters wince. When he follows that hook to the body with a right to the body, damage happens—breaths become labored, legs become heavy. If Peterson invests in body work early, Garcia will tire late, worse than he tired against Judah’s speed, worse than he tired against Herrera’s body attack. I see Danny Garcia slumping on his stool between rounds from the eighth round on. I see his father, Angel Garcia, losing his cool for real in the corner—not just doing a performance piece the way he usually does to help hype his quieter son, but really unraveling, gracelessly. I see Peterson going into assassin mode for the fight’s last four rounds, sharp-shooting his way to a decision win.

My gut has been wrong before. Bias has tainted my vision. But Saturday’s fights are interesting enough to create pick-em predictions, even if the odds makers say otherwise.

The last person I saw before exiting The Edison Ballroom was Marcus Browne, the undefeated light-heavy Olympian who will be fighting his fourteenth fight. No one was talking to him, but he seemed content. A few more wins and he’ll get his place at the dais. Then I was outside on 47th Street. To my right, the lights of Times Square were flashing. The crowds were out. The Broadway stages would soon fill with actors. I doubted anyone walking past The Edison, those non-fight-fan pedestrians, was thinking about the boxing show in Brooklyn, two days away. But if they were, maybe they recognized—caught up in the bustle, in the frenzy of possibility that makes New York New York, a city built on odds defied—that going with your gut sometimes has merit.

Adam Berlin is the author of the recently published boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas Review Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize). His other novels are The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil), Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of The Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award) and Headlock (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). His stories and poetry have appeared in numerous journals. He teaches writing at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and co-edits J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit adamberlin.com.

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  1. Clarence George 08:17pm, 04/09/2015

    I don’t care for Quillin and am rooting for Lee.  I don’t think he’ll win, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he did.  I’d actually be more surprised if Peterson beat Garcia.

  2. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 07:44pm, 04/09/2015

    Lamont will do just fine as long as he doesn’t get caught with one of Danny’s “no look” hooks. Korobov was doing just fine as well, until he literally walked into Lee’s right hook. Quillin will be forewarned and being naturally sneaky anyway, will be ever vigilant about getting caught with that punch…..probably the only way Lee catches him is in a redux of the Jackson scenario where Quillin might get a little too frisky for the kill. This one is a BS match up anyway….Quillin didn’t want GGG or even Korobov and doesn’t want Jacobs but he’s fine with Lee because he thinks he can catch him with something and KO him.

  3. nicolas 07:37pm, 04/09/2015

    I would be most shocked if Lee wins, and a little shocked if Peterson wins.

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