Photos: Ed Mulholland
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It has been 37 years since the last HBO Boxing broadcast from the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it heavyweight beatdown in which the up and coming Gerry Cooney assaulted the bloated ribcage of faded veteran Ron Lyle and knocked him out of the ring before the first round was over. Anything is possible, of course, but none of the three fights being broadcast on Saturday’s return to the venerable, and recently refurbished, Long Island venue (HBO, 10 p.m. ET/PT) appear to be even remotely as one-sided.
They do, however — at least if the pre-fight bombast is anything to go by — promise to be lively affairs.
Local junior welterweight Cletus “The Hebrew Hammer” Seldin acknowledged that his opponent Roberto Ortiz was “a tough Mexican fighter” but insisted that, “I’m going to wear him down and take him out in five rounds.” (Ortiz, frankly, was probably just relieved that Seldin made weight on Friday. The Mexican had previously been scheduled to face Antonio Orozco on September 23, but Orozco was so heavy he didn’t even bother to show up for the weigh-in.)
“This will be a brutal fight. There will be a lot of blood,” said Marius Wach of his heavyweight contest with Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller.
Already a pound-for-pound champion at prefight verbiage, Miller gave the impression that the most brutal element of the whole thing had been staying away from fatty foods during training camp.
“I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in two months,” he declared, before pounding the podium in mock-frustration. And it showed, sort of: having measured a remarkable 298 ¾ pounds for his previous contest, a win over Gerald Washington, he was a positively svelte 283 pounds on Friday. “But I guarantee you, I’m going to stop Wach. Wach gonna get his behind wached. Seems like a nice guy, though. His face is kinda cute.”
Luis Arias, who challenges Daniel Jacobs in a middleweight bout in the main event, was in a less charitable mood. Apparently, he said, some of his brash comments in the build-up to the fight had rubbed people the wrong way. He had even, he noted, been accused of being disrespectful.
“But how am I being disrespectful?’ he asked rhetorically. “Everything I’ve said, I’ve backed it up with a fact.”
Fact! Shouted an Arias acolyte in the audience in response.
“Did he or did he not get knocked out? He did. Has he or has he not been dropped? He has. Multiple people have put him down.”
Put him down!
“I’m physically ready, I’m mentally ready, and I’m ready to shock the world.”
Jacobs, in contrast, is rarely one to deliver explicit trash talk at any point in his career, and initially actually thanked Arias for “talking enough for the both of us.” But even he felt compelled to deliver a brushback pitch. “Talking back and forth is one thing, but you guys are going to find out that there’s levels to this thing inside the ring,” he said. He turned and looked down at Arias. “I’m going to make you work for everything you get. Know that.”
Fact! shouted his friend and fellow Brooklynite Miller from the podium, with a smile.
For Jacobs, this is the first fight under a new contract with Matchroom USA, the opening bout of a new deal with HBO. “But I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “This is not my first rodeo.”
Fact! shouted Miller again.
Six men will step into the ring over the course of Saturday’s broadcast, and each of them has something to prove. For Ortiz and Wach, non-native-English-speakers who have inevitably been somewhat overshadowed by the fast-talking showmen around them, Saturday will be an opportunity to prove that they are more than a supporting cast, that they are world-class boxers and that it is upon them, and not their more voluble opponents, that the spotlight should shine.
For Seldin, whose journey to this point has been both the longest – in that he is making his HBO debut at age 31 – and the shortest (the bulk of his professional bouts have been contested at The Paramount in Huntington, a mere 20 or so miles away from Saturday’s venue), this is his chance to take a step forward, to consolidate his place as an exciting presence on a premium network and at the upper echelons of his division.
Miller has already generated a buzz, as much through his charisma and charm as his boxing skills. He has shown he can talk the talk, and then some; now he must demonstrate that he can walk the walk.
Arias was hand-picked for this assignment. Although he leaped at the chance, the fact that Team Jacobs selected him as the ideal showcase opponent clearly rankles. His name is not widely known save for the hardest of hardcore boxing fans. He desperately wants his first instance of widespread exposure to result in his being celebrated for scoring a significant upset, not for being another opponent whose bark proved worse than his bite.
And Jacobs? His new promoter Eddie Hearn referred to him at Thursday’s press conference as “Jacobs 2.0”, but really this is Part Three of the story of Daniel Jacobs, Prizefighter. The first part took him from prospect to contender, until he suffered his first professional loss and then was diagnosed with a cancer that threatened his life, let alone his career. The second episode covered his improbable recovery and return to the ring, all the way up to his brave but ultimately losing effort against Gennady Golovkin last March. And now he needs to prove that he can take that final step, from being the man who isn’t quite good enough to defeat The Man to being the one to beat in an increasingly-stacked middleweight division.
Embracing the spirit of the event, he jawed at Arias as they faced off after Thursday’s press conference, and he did so again at Friday’s weigh in. But, as Hearn noted, soon it will be time for words to yield to actions.
“The great thing about boxing is, once they get in the ring, the talking is over,” he said. “Two guys, in a ring, come together to fight. This is what we love about the sport of boxing. It’s the rawest, purest sport ever. And with all the hype, all the build up, it’s settled on Saturday night.”
Weights from Uniondale
Daniel Jacobs: 159.6 pounds
Luis Arias: 160.0 pounds
Jarrell Miller: 283.4 pounds
Mariusz Wach: 268.0 pounds
Cletus Seldin: 141.2 pounds
Roberto Ortiz: 141.2 pounds