Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Contender: Episode 6 Review

Troy Ross (Gold) 17-1-0 vs Lawrence Tauasa (Blue) 30-5-1

“You got caught, baby. You got caught. That’s it.”

Of the six bouts on the show so far, the one I would have least expected to end in a stoppage was this one. These were two experienced veteran fighters, each with a very realistic chance of going to the final.

If you watch this sport long enough though, you realize to expect the unexpected. A fight might look one way on paper, but in the ring, where it’s decided, anything can happen. The right punch in the right spot can stop anyone. It doesn’t matter who the fighter is, he may have never been down in his life, but he’s still vulnerable.

Hino’s win (and by the way, much to my surprise, he chose to fight his teammate Deon Elam in round two) last week meant the ball was still in the Gold Team’s court. With Rico Hoye’s elbow a little sore, and Tim Flamos also nursing an injury, two-time Canadian Olympian Troy Ross (pictured) stepped up to take the fight. Troy had been feeling good and ready to go since the show started. Now he’d get his chance.

Troy’s choice of opponent came as a bit of surprise. He selected the battle tested Samoan, now fighting out of Sydney Australia, Lawrence Tauasa.

As he does each week, host Tony Danza (in my opinion, the best host the show’s had so far) asked the matchmaker to explain his choice.

“Both Lawrence and I have a lot of experience,” said Troy. “And we wanted to make it fair across the board.” His response seemed to indicate that with two teammates still to go, it wouldn’t have been right to leave one of them with the toughest fight.

Lawrence looked delighted when his name was called and said he was just looking forward to the challenge. A sense of mutual respect was evident as the two fighters, who had become good friends since the start of the show, warmly shook hands.

Blue Team trainer John Bray summed up the match by saying fans could look forward to seeing two very polished, very educated fighters. “It’s going to be very technical, and for boxing enthusiasts, you’re in for a treat.”

Meanwhile Gold Team trainer Tommy Brooks had plenty of praise for the two fighters when he found them sitting together chatting at the kitchen table. “See, this is what I never see. This is true professionalism. This is true professionalism right here!”

There was no talk of making weight, or any other struggles this week. Both fighters appeared ready and confident.

The game plan for Troy was to use his jab, and if something opens up, take advantage of it. Plus, with a height and reach advantage over his shorter more compact opponent, Tommy advised Troy to stay off the ropes, “Not like the rest of these knuckleheads.”

For Lawrence, the strategy was to close the distance, not let Troy get comfortable, slip the jab and look to counter with power. John said simply, “When you make him miss, make him pay.”

Both fighters came out cautiously early in what was very much a feeling out type of round. Troy, fighting out of a southpaw stance, circled from the outside while probing from distance with his right jab, while Lawrence effectively slipped and looked to counter. Aware of the threat Lawrence posed, Troy made sure to keep himself at a safe range, although by doing so, he was really too far outside to be landing his jab.

With John yelling, “You got to get busy!” Lawrence slowly managed to get a little closer, and when Troy stuck out the jab, he found a few spots to score with counters which likely grabbed him the round on the scorecards.

After Troy’s tentative first round showing, Tommy had a little advice waiting in the corner. “This guy is walking in on you with his hands down. Straight 1-2. Right down the pipe. You can’t miss him, because he’s squared up. You can’t miss him.” Troy nodded calmly.

In the other corner, John told Lawrence that Troy had felt his power and would be a little more cautious about jumping in. “That means what you got to do is not wait for the counter.”

Following his corner’s advice, Lawrence came out a little more aggressively, looking to initiate the action. With Lawrence coming to him, Troy looked a little more comfortable than he had in the first round, and he found chances to snap home the 1-2 combos that Tommy had asked for.

Then came the shocker.

As Lawrence pressed forward with his hands a little too low, he was caught with a lead right hook.

It landed high on the temple. With his equilibrium suddenly askew, Lawrence stumbled forward, falling face first into the ropes.

It looked for a moment like he might not beat the count, but he managed to get up at 7. The ref yelled for him to put his gloves up, and while Lawrence responded to the order, he did so in such a manner that indicated the cobwebs hadn’t cleared. The ref decided to give him a chance anyway.

Troy pounced, and ripped hard combos to the head and body. Lawrence, with his back to the ropes, covered up without throwing back. As he helplessly drifted into a corner, the ref jumped in to save him. Just like that, it was over.

“You got caught, baby. You got caught." John said as he tried to console his fighter in the locker room.

"I got caught with a good shot."

"That's it."

Before leaving the arena, Lawrence said in his post fight interview, “This is the very first time this has ever happened to me. Being stopped. Being dropped. Being knocked down. It’s hard to take in… that after a sixteen year career, this has happened.”

Lawrence goes home, and Troy moves on, and of the six winners so far, he appears to be the most polished well rounded fighter. I think I might make him the favourite right now.

With only four fighters not to see action yet, next week will be a double header to close out the first round. I’ll be back then to recap all the action.

By Andrew Fruman e-mail