Briggs-Calloway and the Local Scope
By JD Camacho at ringside (June 1, 2010) Doghouse Boxing  
Before 2010, the Norfolk Scope Arena – one of the oldest indoor venues in Virginia’s greater Tidewater area – had not seen a boxing card since 2002, when all-time great Larry Holmes out-pointed perennial toughman Eric “Butterbean” Esch and retired from the ring. It had now seen two shows this year, both put on by International Championship Boxing. The ICB’s latest card, featuring come-backing heavyweight Shannon Briggs in his second fight in a week’s time, took place last Friday night. Interested in the parade of local talent sure to be there, and fascinated by the local aspect of it all, I made plans to see what Briggs had left – and to see what boxing could still offer the Scope.

I received my press credential (attached via sticker rather than the standard lanyard) close to the entrance and found my way into the Arena. The Scope opened up into an uninviting concrete interior, gray with age. I asked one of the event staff where the press seating was located. While he went to ask a supervisor, I took a look at the rest of the event.

The ICB had cordoned off a large section in front of the ring, reserved for paid VIPs. The area housed several linen-covered circular tables, like a ballroom did for a banquet. The ICB provided the VIPs with a veritable feast to pick and choose from. Sugary frosting shimmered off of stacked cakes. Chips and mounds of pasta flanked the desserts, accompanied themselves by bowls of syrupy salad and glowing cheese-bread. A family at the table closest to the ring sat with an assortment of food before them. The leggy round card girls also sat together a little ways away. Their tabletop was empty.

I spied the local sports media television personality filming a promo near the ring. I recognized him from his trademark mustache. He argued shortly with his cameraman, who twitched a bit at the exchange. The cameraman appeared less polished than his media counterpart. Just as well, I thought. The mustached one was the guy in front of camera anyway.

The gentleman from the event staff then returned and informed me that no one knew exactly where the press area was, and that I could sit wherever I chose. After smiling at this newfound convenience, I thanked the man and located a seat right next to one of the neutral corners.

Above the smatterings of fans around the Scope, paper advertisements draped the walls while a television prompter cycled through various sponsors. Each advertisement highlighted a nearby business I was familiar with: a roadhouse my brother’s band had performed at; a swanky club I had been dragged to; a restaurant that served “the good steak.” A hidden announcer highlighted each of these on occasion, too. I searched for the source whenever I head his voice, but to no avail. The crowd seemed to pay neither any mind.

Unlike larger, nationally televised events, I found very few people seated along the ring apron where doctors and commentators tended to reside. From my ringside seat, I could clearly see the three judges set to score the bouts. An older fellow and lady rested in their chairs on ringsides perpendicular to one another, while the last judge – a darker woman with fireball-like maroon hair – sat across from the male judge. Another mustached man with slick hair and black bowtie hugged the wild-haired woman. I identified the dapper figure as Steve Smoger, one of – if not the – best referee in the business.

After awhile, the master of ceremonies emerged and took center ring. The hidden announcer (an announcer announcing an announcer?) introduced the man as “the first prominent African-American announcer” and mentioned that the man had been trained by none other than Michael Buffer himself. The master of ceremonies addressed the crowd with what I guessed was his trademark phrase: “LET’S GET TO THIS!” Could have been worse, I thought. “IT’S SHOWTIME!” never struck me as very good, either.

A woman named Angelique took center stage then to sing the national anthem. Her ability to strike the right notes stirred the modest crowd, who applauded the talented Angelique after her performance. Her rendition was, by my estimation, at least a bit better than Chris Brown’s was on May 1st in Las Vegas.

Everyone found his or her place before the event started. The VIPs returned from the buffet and from the portable mahogany bar to their circular table. Smoger removed his jacket, stood in the ring corner, and awaited the proceedings. The round card girls walked in a hip-swiveling line to their seats at ringside.

A winless four-match heavyweight named Kareem “The Dream” Wilson entered the ring. His pudgy physique pulsated through his shirt. Decorated amateur Dorsett Barnwell then went through the ropes for his professional debut.

“BRING THAT PAIN!” screamed one spectator.

After the bell rang, Wilson began to retreat. He jiggled and slopped around the ring while a calm Barnwell stalked. Instead of jabbing, Barnwell felt content to load up on his hapless opponent. In-between rounds, I noticed that the first round card girl had a geisha – the traditional Japanese female entertainer – tattooed on her stomach. In the second, Wilson caught Barnwell with a hard jab. The blow appeared to insult Barnwell, who sneered at his opponent. Wilson rabbit punched Barnwell during a clinch, and then proceeded to backpedal.

“C’mon! FIGHT!” said Barnwell through his mouthguard.

Wilson gave him no response.

“HE’S A MARATHON RUNNER!” said one fan seated near me. “HE RUNNIN’ FROM THE POLICE!”

Barnwell rolled his eyes during the third as he walked Wilson down. Then, near a corner, Barnwell connected with a right hook around Wilson’s guard and unleashed a combination. Wilson drowned in the punches and sank. He tried to get up, but fell back to his knees. Smoger waved the fight off.

Cyprian Khumalo, a lightweight making his professional debut, trotted through the far curtains to a bevy of laughs. Khumalo sported Manny Pacquiao brand trunks, complete with flames and the pound-for-pound king’s MP logo. The wannabe phenom waited in his corner while Norfolk native Stephan Alexander made his way out. The 3-2 Alexander had not won a fight since 2008.

There was little contact early. Khumalo failed to do much, and Alexander simply pressed. Near the round’s close, Khumalo put together a dodge-and-weave show akin to the antics of Norfolk legend Pernell Whitaker. Still, this was the punching business. I gave the round to the local boy.

In the next stanza, Alexander opened up a horrible gash across Khumalo’s mug. The cut spurted like a spigot. In between the second and third, Khumalo’s corner did little to close the wound. The cut opened again immediately in the third and Khumalo failed to throw punches back at his opponent. Before the final round, Khumalo’s corner stopped the fight. The now 4-2 (4 KOs) Stephan Alexander reminded me of unified junior welterweight titlist Devon Alexander with his style, but he lacked the St. Louis product’s explosive power and speed. Stephan seemed a little vanilla in there.

During the intermission before the next bout, I engaged a large man, dressed head-to-toe in white attire, in conversation. It didn’t take long until talk turned towards the upcoming Yuri Foreman – Miguel Cotto tilt in Yankee Stadium.

“I’m interested to see what new trainer Manny Steward can do for Cotto,” I said.

The man’s eyes widened when I mentioned Steward’s name. “Steward’s training him? I didn’t know that,” he said. “I grew up in Detroit, you see. My wife used to live a few blocks from Manny Steward’s place.” The white-dressed man told me that Steward’s original Kronk boxing gym, once a factory of champions, was being converted into a museum. “I used to work in a kitchen near there at a place called…Barbarossa’s. At the corner of Gran River. Manny owned it.” He then said Manny changed the menu at some point, and with the change, went the restaurant.

Frankie Filippone fought on the card a short while later. The 3-1 middleweight Filippone challenged a winless fighter named Taurean Edwards. Filippone appeared a little soft to me when I watched the two fighters touch gloves. Edwards took the first round off a big right hand and Filippone’s inactivity. In the second, Filippone connected with a clean power shot and swept away Edwards’ balance. Edwards’ now-imbalance led to a knockdown. Before the third, Edwards’ corner adjusted his waist-level foul protector and took their time. The slight delay tricked Filippone and the audience into a premature victory celebration.

“Who’s that guy? Filippone?” said the white-dressed man at some point in the third. “His balance is bad.”

“Ya, I don’t like his stance from some reason,” I replied. “He seems too open.”

Even if that was true, it didn’t matter because Edwards had an even more permeable defense. A pinpoint left cross sealed the third round for Filippone. In the last, Filippone flurried Edwards into a corner. Content with that effort, Filippone then proceeded to run out the clock. His backpedaling did nothing to sour the crowd, however. Filippone was, after all, another local. Filippone earned a unanimous decision and moved to a 4-1 record.

A hometown musical guest named Sweet Daddy, a seemingly middle-aged man with a tight button-up, styled hair, and designer shades, entered the ring then. The Scope’s poor acoustics made his music difficult to make out. One teenager across from me sat through the performance with a horrified expression. When the music stopped, Sweet Daddy waved to the crowd and walked back behind the curtains.

I saw the local sports television personality interviewing what I assumed were hometown celebrities during the intermission. The faces next to the microphone were unrecognizable to me. I shook my head and waited for the next bout to begin.

A pair of junior middleweights ducked through the ropes after a bit. Both fighters called Virginia Beach their home. Neither fighter’s record was announced, but a little research revealed that Jason Wahr held a 1-4-2 record and John Michael Terry had a 2-16-3 mark. For those keeping score, that was 3 victories in 28 combined outings. Any avid fan of boxing knew, though, that good fights didn’t necessarily need good fighters. The fight featured taunts, blood, sustained exchanges, a knockdown, polarizing styles and a competitive conclusion. In the end, Terry won a split decision to turn their combined victory total to 4.

The following fight – a rubber match between lightweights Ron Boyd and Tyrell Samuel – might have been the most unappealing fight I had ever seen in-person. From the opening bell, the fight became a clutch-fest that continued for all six rounds. Smoger refused to dock points from either fighter for clinching. The crowd applauded when the master of ceremonies announced the final round. Disappointingly (or, perhaps, appropriately), the fight ended in a draw.

“GET THOSE TWO A ROOM!” said the white-dressed man beside me. “Or at least some condoms or something…”

The poise of the subsequent local showcase fighter impressed me. The then 7-2 Bobby Jordan was much faster, smoother, and slicker than his physique (and record) appeared. Neither he nor his opponent, the 4-13-3 Frank Armstrong, came into the ring in the best of shape, both exceeding the announced super middleweight limit by 5 or 6 pounds. Nevertheless, Jordan stopped Armstrong in the fourth.

The white-dressed man got up at that point. “Wife’s callin’ me home,” he said. “Don’t know why everybody else is complaining about her, though. I’m the one who has to live with her.”

I wasn’t aware who was complaining about her in the first place, but I smiled anyway and shook the man’s hand.

Up next was the co-main event: a cruiserweight contest between veteran Daniel Judah of the Fighting Judah Bros. and once-beaten novice Adam Seal. Seal closed in on his fellow southpaw early and outworked the more accurate and faster Judah throughout the first.

“YOU AIN’T ZAB! YOU AIN’T ZAB!” said a spectator, in reference to Daniel Judah’s accomplished sibling. “YOU EMBARASSIN’ YOUR BROTHER OUT THERE!”

In the corner, Judah’s trainer took a position I had never seen before: the trainer took a knee before Judah, and Judah draped his legs around his trainer’s hips. I was unsure what the benefit of this was. It reminded me of Floyd Mayweather, Sr.’s sometime corner treatment of superstar Oscar De La Hoya, where Senior would raise Oscar’s arms above Senior’s own shoulders and rest them in an elevated position.

Seal plugged forward, but he looked to me to be too bulky to be fluid. Still, he was throwing (and landing) punches, while Judah chose his spots perhaps too sparingly. Judah waggled his tongue, shook his head, and smiled at every clean power shot, but did little else in response. Seal won the second in the same fashion he won the first. In the third, Seal started breathing more heavily and yet, continued to push and throw. The fourth round was close, as Judah began to find his mark. At one point in the fifth, Judah appeared to take control and ensnared Seal near a ring post. Judah flowed his punches, and Seal had trouble dipping and diving to avoid the wave.

Then, Seal ripped a right hook out of a weave and caught Judah. Judah paused, the crowd gasped, and Seal pounced. Seal overwhelmed Judah in his own trap, and the older brother of Zabdiel Judah crumpled. Seal had won by TKO in the fifth.

The main event started afterward, with Rob Calloway emerging to Eminem’s “Not Afraid.” Calloway had seen several fighters of varying quality over his 14-year, 80+ fight career, including names such as Ruslan Chagaev, Hasim Rahman, and Jameel McCline. It was worth noting that Calloway also lost in lopsided fashion to all of these notable heavyweights.

The massive, blond dread-locked Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs came out of the hanging black curtain next, accompanied by a hip-hop artist I was unfamiliar with. Briggs’ physique was less defined than I had seen before, but he didn’t seem horribly out-of-shape. Given Briggs’ poor stamina even when in tip-top condition, that was important. Though, I might have expected Briggs to be in better shape considering he had just fought professionally seven days prior to the night.

When the fight began, I noticed that, despite Calloway’s ring walk, he seemed to fight very afraid. Calloway jittered and jingled his body in a way that belied his vast ring experience. Briggs held his mouth closed and breathed through his nose – surprising to me even for the first round, due to Briggs’ past problems with asthma. Briggs continued to throw fast and hard while he shoved toward his opponent. Briggs even scored a knockdown early off of what looked like a punch-shove 1-2 combination. A few dozen seconds later, Briggs connected with a vicious right hook to the body, to which Calloway had a delayed reaction. He first stopped jittering and jingling, and then he collapsed. He rose at the count of 9, and Briggs once again swept in to attack. Briggs clubbed Calloway with a rabbit punch in his first volley and Calloway collapsed again. The referee (someone other than Smoger), either ignoring the foul or seeing the inevitable, halted the bout after the third knockdown and waved it off. Both fighters seemed confused at the outcome, but even Calloway didn’t protest too much. He must have foreseen what the referee might have foreseen.

With that, the local denizens filed out of the Scope. I heard no grumblings or gripes about the night. Over the course of eight fights, only one fight elicited boos – and even that one earned dubious applause when it ended. The fans seemed to enjoy themselves watching boxing in a venue that had rarely seen it in the past decade. They enjoyed the knockouts, and they enjoyed seeing hometown boys do well. No matter how far into the niche boxing became, those aspects provided a kind of elemental enjoyment. That part of it would never go away.

I looked forward to seeing more.

JD at:

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