The CBZ Newswire

Windy City Fight Night 7: Day of Reckoning Undercard Showcases Warrior Spirit

by on Nov.09, 2009, under Boxing News, CBZ Columnists

By Kerstin Broockmann
Photos by Juan C. Ayllon
Referee Celestino Ruiz looks on as Russell Fiore (right) devastates Jose Hernandez with a smashing left hook to the chin

Referee Celestino Ruiz looks on as Russell Fiore (right) devastates Jose Hernandez with a smashing left hook to the chin

CHICAGO — With the media-hyped Fedor Emilianenko vs. Brett Rogers UFC show being held in Hoffman Estates the next day, the UIC Pavilion was not filled to capacity this night. However, the spectators who attended last evening’s Windy City Fight Night 7: Day of Reckoning were treated to an evening of gutsy performances that gave testimony to the heart required to enter the ring. While some of the fighters on the card are still honing their skills, they all came to fight.

After appearing together on the same card on May 29 of this year, also at the UIC Pavilion, 28-year-old Chicagoan Russell Fiore (133 lbs.,  2-0-0, 2KO) faced off against 22-year-old Puerto Rico native Jose Hernandez (132 lbs., 0-1-0) in the opening lightweight bout, scheduled for four rounds.

In the first round, Fiore quickly established himself as the more well-rounded fighter, while Hernandez pushed the action with occasionally wild but definitely punishing blows. Fiore initially countered his opponent with long range shots to the body while showing off some solid defensive skills until he found his comfort zone. Meanwhile, Hernandez’s aggression paid off early on when he landed some wide but crushing combinations. In the middle of the round, Fiore started finding his way up the center as he began countering Hernandez’s wide shots with several straight combinations to Hernandez’s face.  Hernandez became frustrated with his inability to land shots, as well as the sharp blows to the head and body that he was taking and resorted to holding whenever Fiore closed.  On several occasions, Hernandez found a way to trap an incoming arm and muscle his opponent into the ropes, occasionally using his position to land some inside shots. This did not escape the notice of referee Celestino Ruiz, who warned Hernandez to stop holding.  This only increased Hernandez’s frustration, as it seemed he thought his opponent (who had taken to counter-holding) deserved a similar warning. As the action continued, Fiore began pushing Hernandez into the ropes every time Hernandez tried holding. By the end of the non-stop round, both fighters were showing some wear and tear, as well as frustration, though Fiore had used his superior defense and straight punches to establish a lead.

Hernandez (left) opens up with both fists

Hernandez (left) opens up with both fists

The second round appeared to promise more of the same, though Jose Hernandez added an uppercut to his repertoire, which would have done some harm had his opponent borne the brunt of it. However, Fiore once again showed his defensive reflexes and avoided Hernandez’s initial flurry.  The fight came to an end when Fiore bobbed under a wide right thrown by Hernandez and came up with a left hook that sent Hernandez to the canvas. Hernandez had every intention of continuing, but clearly was unable to do so and the Ruiz waved off the fight at :28 of the second round.

Referee Celestino Ruiz raises Fiore's hand, as Fiore's trainer  looks on

Referee Celestino Ruiz raises Fiore's hand, as Fiore's trainer looks on

Speaking to the announcer after the fight, Fiore gave respect to the skills of his opponent who also came in with an impressive amateur resume in addition to his slim professional experience, and gave praise for his hard punching power.  As to the knockout, Fiore simply stated, “I caught him with a hook.” Fiore announced his intention to be back in the ring soon, and back in the gym immediately. He quoted his trainer, “To rest is to rust.” Based on the action this evening, Fiore’s work is paying off.  As to Hernandez, he clearly has the heart and the power, and hopefully he will be back in action soon as well.

Figueroa (left) finds herself in the unfamiliar position of being down on the canvas

Figueroa (left) finds herself in the unfamiliar position of being down on the canvas

In the second bout, and the co-main event, local favorite Rita “La Guera” Figueroa (140 lbs., 10-1-1) squared off again Kita Watkins (139 lbs.) in a hard fought battle that would go the six-round distance. While Watkins came into the fight with a less than impressive 3-5-0 record, she had proven herself a game fighter who did not shy away from some tough competition, having already taken on the experienced and up and coming Molly McConnell, as well as some tough women with a wealth of amateur experience in Nicole Woods and Tiffany Junot.  Taller and younger than Figueroa, she entered the fight determined to balance the numbers in her record.  Figueroa, coming off her first professional loss on June 26, hoped to get back to her winning ways. For both women, this truly was a Day of Reckoning.

Figueroa (left) and Watkins mix it up in a corner

Figueroa (left) and Watkins mix it up in a corner

As the first round began, both women took some time to feel each other out, sticking to the jab as they faced off in the middle of the ring.  It was Figueroa who began forcing the action, throwing multiple jabs and following with combinations as she forced Watkins into a corner and landed a painful right on her nose. The expression on Watkins’s face looked as though she was a bit worried about what she had agreed to. Watkins began working her way around the perimeter of the ring, blocking jabs as Figueroa tried once again to find a way inside, while countering with solid shots to the body. As Watkins continued to revolve around the center of the ring, Figueroa would occasionally cut her off, usually controlling the action with multiple body shots followed by a hook or straight punch before she left Watkins to continue her journey. As the round progressed, this pattern was broken by Watkins, as she started countering Rita’s attacks with hooks to the body and head. However, toward the end of the round, she once again found herself in the corner, taking several straight punches and an uppercut. 

Figueroa (left) storms back...

Figueroa (left) storms back...

Watkins (right) surges off the ropes, and their heads slam together unintentionally.  This is arguably where Figueroa got hurt, as spectators -- and Kerstin Broockman -- said that Rita didn't look the same after this clash of heads.

Watkins (right) surges off the ropes, and their heads slam together unintentionally. This is arguably where Figueroa got hurt, as spectators -- and Kerstin Broockman -- said that Rita didn't look the same after this clash of heads.

The second round looked to mirror the action of the first, though both boxers seemed more confident about their abilities and the action was non-stop from the start. Again, Figueroa pursued the mobile Watkins, who started finding her own range early and countering with effective jabs that made it harder for Figueroa to close the distance on her taller opponent. Watkins also started following up with some effective, though sometimes wide, hooks and a heavy cross that Figueroa was occasionally unable to avoid. Toward the end of the round, it was one of these rights that resulted in Figueroa, already off-balanced by her efforts to pursue Watkins, being unable to recover her footing as she fell backwards to the canvas. She seemed to sustain little damage in the exchange and engaged with Watkins immediately after the mandatory eight count ended, landing a powerful right of her own.  In an apparent effort to maintain her own equilibrium and counter this assault, Watkins fell forward, resulting in probably the worst of several accidental head butts. Figueroa may have appeared shaky, because referee Geno Rodriguez briefly checked in with her before letting the action continue without stopping. Shortly after, the bell rang to signal the end of the round.

In the third round, it was Figueroa who appeared tentative at the start of the round. She worked outside, trying to set up power shots with multiple jabs. Watkins appeared to be more confident in this round, using her reach to minimize the damage that Figueroa may have done with her higher work rate. Watkins continued to use her jab to buy time, still fighting by skirting the edge of the ring, but keeping her feet solidly beneath her and firing off punishing rights. On occasion, she felt comfortable loading up for power punches and winding up hooks that Figueroa was not dodging as effectively as she had earlier.  The action slowed a bit in the middle of the round, both women seeming to tire a bit from their war. Towards the end of the round, Figueroa again tried a full throttle attack, driving Watkins into the ropes and landing multiple body shots that did not seem to faze her opponent. Watkins added an effective uppercut to her repertoire and finished with a strong 1-2 combination.

The fourth round saw Figueroa making a comeback. The beginning of the round found both women working on the outside again, apparently feeling out each other’s condition with their jabs, before Figueroa launched her assault. The action somewhat resembled round one, though Figueroa needed to use more head movement to avoid the much more confident Watkins. However, she was again able to force the action while Watkins retreated. Both women inflicted some punishing blows, Figueroa preferring to work Watkins’s body on the inside and following up with straight punches as Watkins moved away. Watkins countered with the distance-establishing jab followed by fully-loaded rights and hooks from both sides. In the last fourth of the round, Figueroa landed her own heavy right to Watkins’s face, again forcing her into a corner, where she delivered a barrage of body shots before Watkins managed to extricate herself with several short punches to the head.

Round five could be best characterized as a brawl. Figueroa continued to press forward with her jab to get inside, where the two boxers would fire away. Figueroa again favored the body shots followed by hooks, and the occasional uppercut, which, however, Watkins effectively smothered or countered with her own hooks. Watkins seemed determined not to spend as much time on the ropes and started using more lateral movement, as well her own uppercut.  She started to find openings for punishing combinations of crosses and long-range, powerful hooks. Figueroa’s aggression began to be a liability as she was not able to sit on her punches as a result of her constant movement, while Watkins grounded herself to counter. Figueroa seemed rocked by a couple of hooks thrown in succession, but recovered after a brief stumble to once again drive Watkins into a corner, where the two proceeded to end the round in a slugfest of body and headshots, both women landing effective blows.

Rita Figueroa (left) joins referee Genaro Rodriguez in raising Kita Watkins' hands in victory (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

Rita Figueroa (left) joins referee Genaro Rodriguez in raising Kita Watkins' hands in victory (photo by Juan C. Ayllon)

The sixth and final round picked up where the last round left off, both women engaging immediately and aggressively, working both head and body shots. Watkins landed the more effective punches early in the round, including a clearly devastating barrage of right and left hooks to the head, most of which landed on Figueroa’s gloves, but still seemed to cause some damage. Figueroa backed off and once again engaged behind her jab.  Most of the round saw back and forth action as first Figueroa, then Watkins, found a way to put her opponent at a disadvantage.  Toward the end of the round, Figueroa managed to push Watkins into the corner for one final flurry, which Watkins eluded, but both women seemed content to try to outbox each other for bulk of the round. Despite the action that had come before, both women continued to fight with great heart and determination to the final bell.

The judges’ scorecards were unanimous, 57-56, with the hard-earned win going to the challenger Kita Watkins, who had scored the only knockdown of the fight, while landing a slightly higher percentage of power shots.  Both women showed true warrior spirit and recognized this in each other as the bout ended.

Unfortunately, sometime in the course of the action, Figueroa had incurred a small tear in a vein on the outside of her brain, which caused blood to put pressure on her brain. After she complained of a headache and vision problems, her corner team insisted that she be rushed to the hospital, where she underwent surgery to repair the vein and drain the fluid building inside her skull.  Due to the quick action of Team Guera and her doctors, Figueroa is expected to make a full recovery. Watkins was extremely upset at this outcome and wishes her opponent a speedy recovery.

Smedick (right) drops an agonized Marts to the canvas with a right to the solar plexus

Smedick (right) drops an agonized Marts to the canvas with a right to the solar plexus

The third bout of the evening was a super lightweight bout between Chicagoan Ryan “the Red Rhino” Smedick (139.5 lbs., 3-0-1, 1 KO) and Ohuma, Iowa-based Jeremy Lee Marts (140.5 lbs., 5-8-0, 3KO’s). The difference in the fighter’s styles could be read in their choice of ring attire. Smedick entered in matching red and gold trunks and robe, while the shorter, slightly paunchy Marts entered in black and white camouflage trunks topped by a Blood, Sweat and Tears t-shirt which he removed to reveal a skull tattoo on his arm.  As the round began, Marts charged in throwing slightly wide combinations. Smedick initially seemed to have some difficulty with the tough southpaw, and stumbled slightly to avoid a couple of sharp left punches.  As the round continued, Smedick found his footing and began using solid defensive footwork and head movement to avoid Marts’ onslaughts, which seemed to frustrate his opponent. Smedick began to find openings as his opponent charged in, slipping punches and using his reach to land single, but accurate sharp punches to Marts’ body and face. Toward the end of the round, it was one of these punches, a right hand to the body that knocked Marts off his feet. Clearly hurt, Marts beat the count, but seemed a bit shaky as he weathered the rest of the round.

The second round saw a more tentative Marts trying to keep Smedick out of range while establishing his own with a probing right hand. Still seeking to continue his pursuit of Smedick, Marts seemed tentative in his attacks and was frequently off balance as Smedick slid out of reach and countered with body shots which clearly worried Marts.  In the last third of the round, Smedick forced his opponent into the corner with body shots and a powerful right hand, though Marts managed to counter with a sharp right-left combination to escape as the bell rang. The round clearly belonged to the more comfortable and effective Smedick.

Marts came out in the third round looking to make up for lost time, throwing bombs that Smedick managed to avoid for the most part, but which made an impact on those occasions when they landed. Smedick continued to counterattack Marts’ body and head, having clearly found his range and picking his shots well, as well as putting together more combinations. As Marts began to tire from the effort he expended at the beginning of the round, he became less inclined to take Smedicks’ incoming punches, being particularly wary of the body shots. He began trapping and holding off Smedick’s attacks, attempting to wrestle his way into a better position. As he grew more tired, he resorted more frequently to this strategy, and referee Celestino Ruiz cautioned him to desist. In the final half minute of the round Smedick landed a jarring right on Marts’ chin, causing Marts to come in for a final clinch. Marts looked as though he was running out of energy at the end of the round, while Ryan seemed to know that he had overcome any initial difficulties his aggressive and left-handed opponent presented.

Round four started a bit slower, with both boxers looking a bit tired. However, while Marts found himself backpedaling and occasionally off-balance as he looked to avoid Smedick’s reach, Smedick was rock solid and deliberate in his attacks. The game Marts continued to look for openings, occasionally landing wide shots over Smedick’s straight punches or finding a way inside his reach, but he soon began resorting to holding again, as his efforts tired him further.  On several occasions he trapped Smedick’s arms and drove him into the ropes to gain a better punching position, but frequently he was not able to exploit the advantage he had gained.  Smedick also began finding ways to elude this technique, either throwing long range, quick punches from the outside, and, on one occasion, turning Marts’ body and the tables as they approached the ropes, extricating himself to throw a hook to the body followed by a right cross.  Nearing the end of the round, Marts again tried to subdue his opponent after getting caught with a powerful right cross, and the two fighters toppled to the canvas. Referee Ruiz decided not to call a foul, simply standing up the fighters and wiping off their gloves before allowing the action to continue.

As the final bell rang, Marts gave what looked to be an incredulous grin, aware that the decision would not go his way, as he had never managed to recover from the unanticipated first round knockdown which had turned the bout decisively in Smedick’s favor. Marts certainly continued to battle to the final bell, but the judges’ scorecards recognized the more polished technique and effectiveness off Smedick in awarding him a shut-out 40-35 decision. 

Trainer Freddie Cuevas (far left) looks on as referee Celestino Ruiz raises the hand of Ryan Smedick for the camera

Trainer Freddie Cuevas (far left) looks on as referee Celestino Ruiz raises the hand of Ryan Smedick for the camera

In speaking to the announcer afterwards, who commented on Smedick’s vociferous cheering section, Smedick acknowledged them with a grin and said it was “not bad.” He admitted that he had initially been thrown by the fact that his opponent was a southpaw, but had used what he had been working on with trainer Freddy Cuevas to overcome his discomfort, using his reach and jab, as well working the body. Saying he had not been hurt by any punches in the fight, though he had been caught with a few wide shots, Smedick expressed interested in returning to the ring as soon as possible.

Avila (left) and Gonzalez slug away with wanton abandon

Avila (left) and Gonzalez slug away with wanton abandon

The fourth bout of the evening was a Lightweight bout between Antonio “El Torero” Avila (131 lbs., 1-0-0) and Juan Antonio Gonzalez (136 lbs., 0-1-1), an entertaining boxer-brawler matchup that featured non-stop action.  The course of the fight was established from the opening bell, with the hard-punching Gonzalez looking to slug it out, while Avila dodged and countered with more precise punches. Gonzalez tried everything he could, including holding and forcing Avila into the ropes to get Avila to engage on his terms, but Avila would have none of it. However, it was close round and difficult to tell who landed the most punches, the busier but less accurate Gonzalez or the more defensive Avila. Throughout the round Gonzalez threw a great volume of fast, hard punches from the outside, while Avila avoided contact as much as possible and countered with single or double straight punches.

The second round saw more of the same, though Avila seemed to get more comfortable and let Gonzalez come a little closer only to counter with hooks from either hand.  This strategy occasionally enabled Gonzalez to get inside and throw short hooks and uppercuts, which he clearly favored. He also continued his roughhousing, forcing Avila to the ropes before firing combinations. Toward the end of the round, Antonio managed to land an effective body-head combo that got him more space to fire off another straight punch combination to end the round.

The third round was marked by an increase in punching, with Gonzalez loading up his right hand and throwing wild hooks in large enough quantities that he forced Avila to limit himself to mostly single punches, not wanting to risk getting caught with what would have been a painful dose of leather.  Despite this, both fighters continued to move around the entire ring, both landing effective punches.

Gonzalez started strong in the fourth, landing a sharp left hook. Avila managed to recover and throw a left-right combination that connected with his opponents face. Avila continued to show defensive acumen as he moved to avoid Gonzalez’s bombs, and Gonzalez resorted to holding again to keep Avila where he wanted him. This pattern repeated itself numerous times, Gonzalez’s rough tactics getting rougher the more Avila dodged his punches. Avila’s supporters shouted at him to throw combinations as he continued to pepper Gonzalez with lone straight punches. The action was close but Avila’s movement proved too elusive for the somewhat frustrated Gonzalez.

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The final scores awarded the boxer the majority decision, with scores of 38-38, 39-37, and 39-37, giving Avila his second win and dropping Gonzalez to 0-2-0.  Avila demonstrated some solid defense and an ability to stay calm in a firestorm that will serve him well as he continues in his career, while Gonzalez’s workrate and power show great promise, though it appears that his emotions can undermine his ability to direct these assets as effectively as he could. Both fighters fought their hearts out in a crowd-pleasing battle.

Kerstin Broockmann, who serves as Assistant News Editor for the CBZ Newswire, smiles for the camera at ringside next to outspoken boxing journalist Coyote Duran (left)

Kerstin Broockmann, who serves as Assistant News Editor for the CBZ Newswire, smiles for the camera at ringside next to outspoken boxing journalist Coyote Duran (left)

 

Promoter:  8 Count Productions

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