By Juan C. Ayllon at ringside
Photos by Belle Ayllon
CHICAGO, February 24, 2012 – Strains of “The joy of the Lord is my strength” ushered in his entrance before an estimated 4,500 at the UIC Pavilion, but with his tearful raising of hands to heaven from his knees afterwards, he might as well have just witnessed Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 with a couple fishes and loaves. Edner Cherry was sternly tested in what had appeared to be a routine stop en route to another run at a world title.
He had stepped up a weight class in 2008 and went the distance with World Boxing Council junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley (who faces superstar Manny Pacquiao in June). Since then, he’d dispatched his last five opponents inside the distance (the last one, versus Eric Aiken in September, was ruled “no contest” because Cherry hit him after the bell and Aiken couldn’t continue). Now facing him was a relative neophyte with only two knockouts to his resume. He was going to steamroll him.
So much for the script. Bufalo, New York’s Guillermo Sanchez (now 13-4-1 with 2 knockouts, 130 lbs.) kicked off the first with a pair of quick, sharp straight lefts to the head of Cherry. Another lead straight left jarred Cherry, who retreated to rings center and looked to catch this upstart.
“Keep the jab going,” Sanchez’ corner said. “You’re too fast, too fast,” they said. Meanwhile, Cherry stalked him.
Suddenly, a hard left hook sent Cherry flying backwards, landing him onto his haunches. The crowd erupted in cheers.
“Holy cow!” ring announcer Ray Flores gasped.
Unhurt, Cherry rose. The round ended moments later.
Cherry appeared to be laboring to solve Sanchez’ difficult left handed style as the second round unfolded. A hard right snapped Sanchez’ head back. Rebounding from the ropes, Sanchez drilled him with a left to the chin. A right uppercut snapped Sanchez’ head back, but moments later, Cherry appeared unsteady after eating a right-left combination to the chin. Who was this guy, anyways?
The punches landed with loud thuds, as Cherry began battering Sanchez’ midriff with very hard lefts and rights in the third. “Get out of there!” shouted Sanchez’ corner. Cherry buckled Sanchez with a straight right to the head. Sanchez held on with a look of desperation.
A hard right to Sanchez’ head drew a loud, collective “Ooh!” from the crowd. The punches rained down. Sanchez caught him walking in with a hard counter left to the chin. Cherry walked right through it. He was manhandling Sanchez, who wore a look of distress as he took long, deep breaths in between beatings along the ropes.
“Guillermo, get off the ropes!” shouted someone from his corner as the fourth round commenced. Escaping, Sanchez drilled Cherry with a straight left to the head. Getting back to work, Cherry continued to pressure, stalk and batter. At times, Cherry was wide open for counters, but he wasn’t paying for it. At present, Sanchez seemed more focused on surviving the onslaught. At the bell, Sanchez caressed the back of Cherry’s head in appreciation for his work.
Teeing off with lefts and rights in the sixth, Cherry’s head was alarmingly open and caught a few sharp left counters. Clearly, he had little respect for Sanchez’s power and was desperate to knock this guy out. Perhaps he was trying too hard.
A hard left hook to the jaw by Cherry drew a large “Ohhhhh” from the crowd early in the seventh. Try as he might, his efforts were labored, he was tiring as he tried with all his might to rid himself of this pesky opponent, who covered, dodged and slugged back in potent bursts. Attacking with both fists, his head remained largely unguarded.
“Set the trap! Set the trap!” shouted Sanchez’ corner in the eighth round. “You’ve got to pull the trigger!” As Cherry pressed forward, Sanchez speared him with a couple potent lefts. However, like the jabs of a picador on a determined bull, his blows only seemed to energize Cherry’s attack. Ducking under another big left, Cherry unleashed a thumping assault to head and body. The crowd roared. His prey trapped on the ropes, he battered with all his might. Sanchez slugged back, punch for punch. Frenzied blows and cheers, as the two sought to vanquish the other, reached a feverish pitch for the final 15 seconds.
And then the bell rang.
Cheers and applause, then a nervous murmur followed as the judges tallied up their scores. Then Ray Flores’ announcement came: The judges scored the bout 77-74 and 76-75 twice for Edner “Cherry Bomb” Cherry. His gloves removed, a tearful Cherry dropped to his knees and, pressing his hands together, still in hand wraps, over his head, he offered thanks to God.
“He thought he was going to knock me out in the fifth, but he couldn’t put me down,” Sanchez said from ringside. “I’m the one who knocked him down! [But], a decision is a decision.”
Interviewed by Ray Flores at rings center, Cherry said, “We will get to a world title. This is a stepping stone. I just want to thank my wife. My brother, my brother in law – I just want to thank them for coming down and showing me their support. I will be back here!” The crowd cheered.
“It was a lot tougher than it should have been,” laughed Cherry’s co-manager, Pat Doljanin.
As entertaining as Cherry’s fight was, Cicero, Illinois’ Adrian “El Tigre” Granados (now 9-2-1 with 5 knockouts, 143 lbs.) and Franklin Park, Illinois’ Jamie Herrera (7-2, 4 knockouts, 144 lbs.) raised the decibels to another level as they warred for bragging rights.
“I have never heard the crowd so loud before,” my wife marveled afterwards.
Circling, jabbing and boxing carefully while looking to land his vaunted right, sometimes sparring partner of world champion Juan Manuel Marquez, Granados exploded with a series of searing straight rights and lefts to the head of Herrera at about the two-thirds mark of round one. However, rather than shrink from the aggression, Herrera pounded his gloves together and jumped in with both fists. The war was on.
“El Tigre” kicked off the second with a vicious fusillade. “No holding, no holding!” referee Gerald Scott shouted as Herrera grabbed hold to stem the avalanche. However, moments later, he stunned Granados with a pair of rights to the head. The crowd roared. Unsteady, Granados covered up, regrouped and just as soon was on the attack. Pasting Herrera with rights to the head and digging lefts to the waist. Then it was Herrera’s turn. It was raw adrenalin. The crowd was delirious. Granados surged again and moments later at the bell, slammed his right glove with Herrera’s in a fist tap on steroids.
The third round is under way, and Herrera is hurting Granados with a succession or thudding rights and lefts. Granados retreats, then slugs. The crowd erupts with chants of “JIMMY, JIMMY!”
Granados teeters on unsteady legs. He gathers himself and batters Herrera’s face with vicious lefts and rights. He’s backed off with thudding blows but, re-engaging, Granados drills him and dances away. Herrera pursues. A left hook snaps Granados’ head back. Moments later, it’s Granados’ turn, as he fires away with concussive blows one moment and circles out the next. Herrera jumps on him in a corner, ripping to the body, then head. The two swap furious blows. At the conclusion of the round, I spy a small black, green and red object bounce in front of me and come to rest. It’s the mouthpiece of Granados, who stands some 15 feet away.
The pace is dizzying.
Granados bounces a pair of crackling rights off Herrera’s chin. They tie up. Herrera tries to corner him, but Granados darts out, retreats to another corner and pops Herrera’s head up with sharp lefts and rights. Swelling about the face, Herrera gets up in his chest and batters away. A right hook snaps Granados’ head back, but Granados jumps on him with both fists blazing.
“Don’t stand in front of him!” Herrera’s corner shouts.
Shouts of “JIMMY, JIMMY!” and “ADRIAN! ADRIAN!” reverberate throughout the Pavilion. Granados is unloading a steady barrage of lefts and rights to Herrera’s head as the round ends.
Herrera lands three or four blows and and Granados fires back with four or five of his own to kick off the sixth stanza. They take turns battering one another. Granados is winning a war of attrition, battering Herrera’s head and, at one point, forcing him to grab hold of the ropes behind Granados for a moment’s respite.
Faces swollen and bruised in the seventh, they continue to batter each other about the head. After Scott breaks them, Herrera circles behind him for a few extra seconds relief before re-engaging.
In between the seventh and eighth rounds, my wife says her hand is cramping from shooting so many photos.
It’s now the eighth and final round. A right staggers Herrera, who lists to the right. However, Herrera is not dissuaded and jumps back with both fists pumping. Granados retreats, unleashing punches in bunches. Now, it’s Herrera’s turn. He rips the body and head. Granados slugs back with gusto. As if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” Herrera wades back in with thudding blows of his own. However, Granados is not to be denied. He unloads a vicious cascade of punches. Herrera’s skull shudders under the frightful onslaught like a bobble headed doll in the back of an SUV on a bumpy road. He’s taking a frightful head beating – possibly warranting a stoppage – but he soldiers on and fights back in the final moments. The crowd shrieks with bloodlust as the bell rings.
Brain cells everywhere breathe a sigh of relief.
Judges score the war 79-73, 77-75 and 78-74 for Granados, who has won by unanimous decision.
Afterwards, Herrera says from ringside, “He’s a great fighter, he’s a boxer, he knows how to get points. I tip my hat to him.”
Lombard, Illinois’ super middleweight prospect, Paul Littleton (now 2-0, 2 knockouts, 162.5 lbs.), upended opponent number two, South Bend, Indiana’s Cesar Martinez (1-5-1, 161lbs.) inside the distance.
Popping the jab early in round one, Littleton slammed a hard right to the chest and a hook to the head. Stalking carefully behind a high guard, he looked to set him up for a punishing right and was caught by the occasional overhand right, himself. A hook to the head appeared to bother Martinez moments before the bell.
Littleton kicked off round two firing quick bursts of lefts and rights and ate several sneaky counter rights. Settling down, he stalked his senior foe and boxed carefully.
A hard right to the chin drove Martinez into the ropes. A sharp left-right combination dropped Martinez to the canvas. Arising at about six, Martinez retreated to the adjacent ropes with Littleton in hot pursuit. A hard right to the chin dropped Martinez to the canvas. Rolling over onto his back, Martinez was waved off by referee Gerald Scott at 2:33 into round two.
“I was glad to have an opponent who stayed in there a bit longer,” Littleton said. “I knew he was wearing down, so I was looking to wear him down with my right hand, hooks and such.” Asked what’s next by announcer Ray Flores, he said, “Win number three!”
The superior amateur experience of Chicago’s Dimar “Strongman” Ortuz (2-0, 2 KO’s, 195.5 lbs.) over that of Merrillville, Indiana’s strong, but limited Francois Russell (0-2, 194 lbs.), the brother of muscular veteran Indiana slugger Derrick Findley.
The aggressor early in round one, Russell drove Ortuz into the ropes. Derrick Findley shouts from his corner, “Ah, he’s nothing! Just pop that jab.”
Ortuz took control and worked him over in a corner. He was backing him down.
“Pop that jab! Jab, Percy, jab!” Findley exhorted. Ortuz snapped his head back with a hard right jab. A straight left popped his head back along the ropes.
In the second round, Ortuz drove Russell to the ropes with a stiff jab and straight left that snapped his head back before tying up. Ortuz drove him across the ring where he slugged in close. Resuming, Ortuz through hard jabs in earnest. Cornered again, Russell absorbed a flurry of blows from his more experienced foe. Referee Pete Podgorski separated them.
Focusing on his brother’s instructions, Russell pumped the jab repeatedly as round three unfolded, and was tied up for his efforts. Moments after, Ortuz backed him into a corner. A right uppercut snapped Russell’s head back. Lefts and rights followed.
Russell collapsed in the corner.
He rose after a short count. Attacking again, Ortuz banged away with both fists, but Russell escaped. Grimacing like a man possessed, Ortuz stalked and whaled away at him in a corner. A right slammed off Russell’s jaw. However, covering and fighting just enough, he survived to the bell, which rang moments later.
A hard straight right caught Russell in the face after he failed a right of his own at the commencement of round four. Reengaging, he stopped Ortuz in his tracks with a hard right to the chin. “Throw another one!” shouted Findley.
It was no use. Ortuz trapped him in another corner and battered as Russell covered. The momentum carried them to another corner, and then another, with the same results. Sporting a small cut over his right eye, Ortuz was relentless.
Banging away at body and head in Russell’s corner, Ortuz rattled his senses with a right uppercut. Lefts and rights slammed home, batting his head to and fro. Moments later, referee Pete Podgorski waved it off at 2:59 into the fourth round. Ortuz had won by technical knockout with one second remaining.
Asked if he had any comments afterwards, a disappointed Russell said, “Hell, yeah, I want a rematch!”
Ortuz said, “He’s one of the toughest I’ve faced yet. I feel I have what it takes to make it to the top on HBO…I know I can do it!”
Speaking from ringside, Derrick Findley said that he was frustrated, quipping, “He doesn’t listen to what I say.” He also said that his brother turned pro after only some 10 fights as an amateur. Tonight, it showed.
Chicago’s Junior “The Hurricane” Wright (2-0, 2 KO’s, 183 lbs.) vanquished a testy Rogelio Saldana (1-1, 178.5 lbs.) early on.
Saldana lunged in and tagged Wright with a hook in the opening seconds of the bout, drawing an “ooh” from the crowd. Dancing, jabbing and occasionally crossing with Wright in pursuit, Saldana looked to make things interesting.
That came to an abrupt halt when a hard left hook slammed into Saldana’s ribs, doubling him over. Clearly in pain, he sank to his knees, where he was counted out by referee Gerald Scott at 1:14 into round one.
“I wanted to do more rounds, cause rounds are important,” Wright sighed afterwards.
Cicero, Illinois’ Juan Bustamante (3-0,32 KO’s, 130 lbs.) flattened Ryan Strickland (1-4, 1 KO, 125 lbs.) in dramatic fashion.
Ducking under a fusillade early in round one, Bustamante rose and caught Strickland in the chin with his head. Down went Strickland! Resuming, the two exchanged furious blows. Bustamante drew loud cheers as he rocked Strickland repeatedly with jarring blows to the head. A right to the jaw dropped Strickland hard on his side along the ropes. Referee Pet at waved it off immediately, calling a halt to the bout 2:29 into round one.
Afterwards, a humble Bustamante spoke with ring announcer Ray Flores, saying “whatever happens” next in his career is fine with him.
Germantown, Tennessee’s Curtis Tate (4-3,4X KO’s, 258 lbs.) kicked off tonight’s festivities, manhandling Holland, Michigan’s Alejandro Otero (3-12-2, 211 lbs.) in halting him inside the distance.
Standing at about 5′ 5″, Otero looked like he should be fighting at 140, but bulked up to a portly 211, whereas Tate, standing nearly a head taller, looked like a husky corn fed country boy. Wading in, Tate through short bursts of lefts and rights, while Otero sought to catch him with wild, overhand rights. At one point, Tate shoved Otero into the ropes like a grown man might toss a medicine ball. It wasn’t long before he dropped Tate dropped Otero with a winging right. Otero rose and received a standing eight count. Stayed away and throwing a few roundhouse blows, he gave a decent account of himself, knocking out Tate’s mouthpiece with a wide left hook.
In the second, Tate dropped him with a left to the chin, followed by a right. Referee Gerald Scott took a close look and let it resume. After some pedestrian exchanges, Tate dropped him with a left to the ribcage. On the canvas, Otero winced in pain. Referee Gerald Scott waved it off at 1:49 into round two.
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