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Hamed W12 McCullough & Bungu W12 Romero

By Chris Bushnell

Crafty veteran Vuyani Bungu provided the trick and power-punching showman Naseem Hamed provided the treat in a Halloween double header this weekend in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Bungu took on Albuquerque’s Danny Romero in a contest for the IBF Jr. Featherweight title.  Romero, stepping up two weight classes to fight the longtime title-holder, was a prohibitive favorite.  Prohibitive because of the way recent opponents have been able to tag Romero at will while Danny loaded up on bombs, and favorite because, frankly, not a lot of Americans have had a
chance to see Bungu in action. Those of us who know him, however, were not surprised by what we saw tonight:  a crafty veteran who can box all night long, albeit without much power. 

The bout opened with Romero throwing hard and often, bringing the fight to the aging champion.  At first Romero was having his way, but Bungu found Danny easy to counter, and by the end of two rounds, Romero was breathing hard through his mouth.  Romero threw classic one-two’s with some body work for good measure while Bungu began trying to figure him out.  Vuyani showed a good chin in the early going as he took some stiff offerings from Romero.

In the fifth round, the momentum began to shift, as Romero suddenly became a passive participant.  As he stood out at range, Bungu kept snapping the jab, staying more active, and winning points.  The television announcers kept piling up points for Romero, giving him rounds on the basis of his power shots.  Those punches, however, were few and far between, causing for some very close rounds.  The judges gave a fair share of those middle rounds to Bungu, while Harold Lederman used HBO’s on-screen graphics to log a different score.

The final two rounds, when the fight was still very close, Bungu showed another of the attributes he’s known for:  the strong finish.  After winning the 11th on the basis of activity, Bungu came our throwing in the 12th. Romero, apparently believing he was far ahead on the cards, didn’t offer much resistance.  Easy to hit, Bungu popped him for most of the round.  They went
to the cards.

The first score announced was 114-114, a card that matched my own, and the next two cards 115-114 and 117-112 went to Bungu.  Bungu W12, via majority decision.  His 12th consecutive title defense raises his record to 36-2.

I can hear the calls of “robbery” now.  HBO was promoting Romero (33-3) throughout the fight as though he had signed a multi-fight deal with them. Romero, who was very vocal with his displeasure after dropping a L on points to Johnny Tapia, will almost certainly have something to say about the outcome.  Indeed, the only score that stood out, 117-112, was the card of
Lulani Mtya, from Bungu’s home of South Africa.  

But a win is a win is a win, and Bungu’s long reign continues.  Rematch?   Why not....

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In the main event, Prince Naseem Hamed took on gutsy, iron jawed Wayne McCullough in McCullough’s first fight at 126.  The boxing community had labeled this fight a mismatch because of Hamed’s power.  Apparently Hamed did too, coming into the ring looking slightly less chiseled than he did in the full page ads running in most major magazines this week.

Hamed began the fight attacking McCullough from the get go with an assortment of freakish punches from bizarre angles.  McCullough fired back, but caught nothing but air as Hamed’s defense was exceptional.  One part Pernell Whitaker, one part Muhammad Ali, and one part amateur foolishness, Hamed’s elusiveness tonight was most impressive.  Switching from southpaw to conventional and back, Hamed danced, clowned, and attacked McCullough all with his hands at his waist. 

But McCullough kept coming.  No matter what Hamed hit him with, the gutsy Irishman never stopped pressing Hamed, his hands guarding his chin from punches that seemed to come from nowhere.  Taking some vicious shots, McCullough’s pressure allowed him to land some good blows of his own.  Almost all of these shots were the result of Hamed’s unique defense (or lack
thereof), and each time the Prince got tagged, his head snapped. 

In the middle rounds, Hamed backed off his attack, opting to frustrate McCullough with defense.  Throwing only when he had to, Hamed made McCullough miss repeatedly.   His failure to follow up suggested a possible hand injury. Hamed had delayed a June fight with Kennedy McKinney because of hand excuse most assumed was a story to allow Hamed to attend the birth of his first child.  After tonight’s performance, his original story might require re-examination.

Hamed showboated in the 7th round especially, with Ali shuffles, taunts to his opponent, punches thrown while looking into the crowd, and a fair amount of scoring thrown in to win the round.  Hamed’s trainer, Brendan Ingle, was particularly vocal before the 8th round, imploring his champion to stop the games and get to work.  Hamed didn’t listen.  In fact, he didn’t listen to
much Ingle had to say.  Hamed rarely looked at his trainer, openly mocked his advice with a sarcastic tone of voice, and insisted on standing before the final round, pushing Ingle away as the trainer asked him to sit.  Ingle and Hamed have been on the outs since Ingle criticized Hamed in a recent book. Despite comments before the fight that hinted at a reunion, there was no lack of tension between them during the bout.

Whether it was because his hands were aching, because he didn’t train hard enough, or just because Wayne McCullough’s jaw is made of granite, Hamed put the fight into coast, and eased his way to a wide unanimous decision over 12 rounds.  McCullough never stopped trying to land the combination that would turn the fight around, pressing Hamed up until the final bell, but it couldn’t be done.

The HBO team was expecting a knockout as much as the Hamed fans who tuned in tonight, and they were no less disappointed.  They bellyached about Hamed having to go the full 12, all while missing what Hamed had accomplished:  a
thorough beating of a game opponent.  Not only was Hamed’s offense impressive, but his defense was simultaneously amazing and improbable.  In fact, the only thing that Hamed continues to lack is any semblance of a body attack.  Hamed did land two thudding body shots in the 5th round.  Both of them came from the same bizarre angles as Hamed’s headhunting shots, and both of them made McCullough grunt in pain.   If Hamed could have done more of that tonight, he might have gotten the kayo HBO wanted. Hamed W12, by scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112.

-The entrance.  Hamed took less time than usual to get to the ring, but on the way put on his most elaborate entrance to date.  First appearing in a Grim Reaper’s cloak and playing a Halloween tune on an organ, Hamed later danced around a prop-filled stage of skeletons, headstones, and ghosts.  As pyrotechnics fired sparks, smoke and flame around him, Hamed came towards the ring as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” pumped through the p.a.  Halfway down the path, Hamed quickly ducked under some cables, and ran through the crowd, on a different path than planned, to enter the ring with his customary flip.

-HBO:  Make up your mind about the WBO.  HBO boxing honcho Lou DiBella has been one of the more vocal critics of the alphabet-groups that have diluted the title picture.   But HBO has been promoting WBO title fights as “championship” fights, while turning around and dumping on the WBO in their commentary.  Tonight’s example made clear the hypocrisy:  After announcing that Marco Antonio Barrera had defeated Richie Wenton on the undercard, Larry Merchant snidely added that the fight “was for some type of belt.”   The belt that Barrera won was the WBO 122 lb. title...the exact same title that Barrera
held when HBO had previously promoted him as a champion.  Not to mention that Hamed’s own belt was a WBO trinket.  Make up your mind HBO:  the WBO counts or it doesn’t.

-Speaking of Barrera, his name was being bandied about by Frank Warren as Hamed’s next opponent.  Barrera regained the title he lost to Junior Jones (which was vacated by Kennedy McKinney, Jones’ conqueror) by dropping Richie Wenton twice with vicious left hooks to the body.  While Barrera is smaller than Hamed, it will be interesting to see him land those same shots on Hamed when the Prince leans back. 

-Quote of the night:  “Not since before my third marriage!”  -Jim Lampley answering Larry Merchant’s question “When was the last time you heard a trainer predicting KO1 for his own guy?”

Hamed Beats McCullough, Bungu Outpoints Romero
By Francis Walker

On Halloween night, October 31, in front of an electric crowd of 8,100 at the Atlantic City Convention Center, England's "Prince Naseem Hamed, in only his second professional fight in America, won a decisive 12-round decision over former WBC 118-pound titlist Wayne McCullough of Ireland. Aside from former world champions Manuel Medina, Tom Johnson, Kevin Kelley, and WilfredoVazquez, who were all kayo victims of Naz,   McCullough (22-2, 14KOs) was the first fighter to have gone the distance with Hamed (31-0, 28KOs).

The fight card, entitled "Fright Night," was promoted by Cedric Kushner Promotions and televised live on HBO "World Championship Boxing."

The three jugdes scored the bout 116-112, 117-111, and 118-110 in Hamed's favor. Afterward, many in attendance thought Hamed lost. According to punch stat numbers, Hamed threw as many punches (742-740), but landed twice as much (340-170) as McCullough. In the power department, Hamed landed at a higher percentage (55%-34%), as well as outjabbing McCullough miserably (227-127) by 100. Nevertheless, it was a competitive fight many felt Hamed lost.

At age 24, Hamed, Sheffield, England, fighting with his chin up and his hands down, immediately rushed McCullough, 28, Belfast, Ireland, with two left-uppercuts to his chin. McCullough, a straight-up, come forward, pressure fighter, found it extremely difficult to land his single left-jabs. Hamed, smiling at what he felt were McCullough's laughable tactics so confidently,
barely counter-punched. Hamed kept moving his head back with his chin up, hands down, grinning.

The atmosphere was electric, as McCullough began to step-up his attack. Having caught Hamed with a straight-left going back, McCullough willingly exchanged punches with the awkward southpaw. To everyone's surprise and delight, McCullough appeared to get Hamed's attention, finishing strongly with left and right-hooks.

Hamed may have not thrown his punches in bunches, but they had enough impact to turn McCullough's skin complexion from white to red. Hamed's punches had so much force behind them, that for each straight punch he connected, McCullough's footing would be off. Tired and breathing through his mouth, McCullough kept coming forward.

Midway through the fight, Hamed added movement and began doubling-up on his punches. Meanwhile, McCullough kept swinging wildly and missing with the overhand right. Despite the fact McCullough kept moving forward, Hamed  was in
control. Hamed's punches (particularly his left-uppercut) did more damage and forced McCullough to pause and reset.

In the seventh, Hamed danced, clowned, and show-boated the entire round. Whether it was the Ali shuffle or a jog in the park, Hamed did it in circles across the ring behind his single, yet speedy right-jabs. McCullough, again, maintained the pressure by moving forward behing his left-jabs and straight-rights. However in the eighth, Hamed buckled McCullough's knees with a left-
right hand barrage. McCullough regained his balance and kept fighting back.

By lasting the distance, McCullough has won the hearts and respect of fans and writers in attendance. Despite the fact that Hamed did a lot of running, his right-jab found the mark everytime it landed. Also, there were times when McCullough's legs barely stayed underneath him. Hamed dictated the pace and paused McCullough's attack with his deadly punching power.

In the televised co-feature: IBF junior featherweight sensation Vuyani Bungu(36-2, 18KOs) won a 12-round majority decision against former two-time champ Danny Romero (33-3, 29KOs). It was Bungu's 12th defense of the International Boxing Federation 122-pound belt he won from Kennedy McKinney (W 12) four years ago.

Romero, 24, Albuquerque, New Mexico, having won division crowns in the 112 and 115-pound classes, jumped up two weight-classes to pursue his third division title. Romero felt he would be a lot stronger and that his power would carry over
since he was accustomed walking around at 140 pounds. Fighting a guy like Bungu, 31, East London, South Africa, that proved to be a big mistake.

With the bout just about even past the eighth, Romero looked a lot slower and more sluggish than Bungu. Romero lunged more with his shots, as Bungu was able to land his left-jabs with regularity. Romero was aggressive, but did not dominate the later rounds.

At the end of the contest, two judges scored the bout 115-114 and 117-112 for Bungu - with one score of 114-114 even!

During his lengthy title reign, Bungu has defeated some of the finest fighters in his class: Felix Camacho (W 12), Enrique Jupiter (W 12), Jesus Salud (W12), McKinney (W 12) twice, and now Romero, a fighter whom many feel has not been the same since losing to hometown rival Johnny Tapia (L 12) last year.

In other bouts: "The Mexican Assassin" Marco Antonio Barerra (47-2, 35KOs), in his fourth consecutive appearance since losing twice to former world champ Junior Jones, punished Richie Wenton (22-4, 9KOs) of Liverpool, England. The bout was called to a halt when Wenton quit on his stool, following two vicious knockdowns in the third. Barrera's victory over Wenton, the only fighter to defeat Mark Johnson (W 4), puts himself in line for a lucrative payday against Bungu or Hamed.

English middleweight Robert McCracken (32-0, 19KOs) defeated Napoleon Pitt (14-9-1, 8KOs) to stay in line for a possible shot at World Boxing Council 160-pound titlist Hassine Cherifi of France.

Super middleweight prospect Omar Sheika (15-1, 10KOs) knocked out Ray Domenge (23-10, 14KOs) 2:30 seconds into the second round.

Featherweight contender Angel Vazquez (16-0, 14KOs) remained undefeated with a dull, yet decisive fifth round TKO of Edgar Garcia (8-8-1, 4KOs) at the time of 1:31.

Lastly, Junior welterweight Richard Hatton (9-0, 6KOs) scored a first round kayo of Kevin Carter.

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