If middleweight Sam “King” Soliman became a staple on ShoBox, I wouldn’t mind one bit. And that’s saying something, considering I’m a nut for KO artists. I have countless worn-out VHS tapes of spliced-together knockouts. It may be ghoulish, but there it is.
Yet every now and then a fighter comes along who can’t break a smoke ring, but manages to become one of my favorites. Of course, it’s requisite that he brings excitement, that he’s a showman. (Whereas a puncher is allowed to be boring as long as he eventually brings a big hit—Lennox Lewis or Antonio Tarver, anyone?). Soliman is one of these guys (Emanuel Augustus probably tops my list). Among his 33 wins, only 13 have come by knockout.
I don’t know who taught this Egyptian, who fights out of Melbourne, Australia, how to box? He makes a chimpanzee look like it’s on barbiturates. Despite the fact he moves in one direction—straight ahead—he’s still a non-linear, whirling dervish. He looks off-balance, like he’s fighting on a greased floor. But he’s so athletic and ballsy I bet he could walk across a four-story-high tightrope without a net. You wanna talk about good chins, his is one of the best in the game—or is it just how he roles with punches like he MFA at James Toney University?
What I really relish about him is his attitude. Always smiling, loose, happy, as if there’s no other place he rather be on earth but in the squared circle, performing in front of paying customers. He’s both puckish and pit-bull-aggressive. He gives maximum effort every time out, throwing an average of 100 punches/round. Last December, he did to Winky Wright what no one does; took him off his game-plan and forced the maestro to adapt to his awkward style, not the other way around. Name another fighter whose tank holds more high-octane fuel. Juan Diaz and Kassim Ouma might come close, but they don’t waste as much energy as he does. They don’t bounce and leap and shove, in addition to punching, for 12 rounds.
Soliman fought Enrique Ornelas at the Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, CA. Ornelas is the younger brother of Librado Andrade, but clearly the lesser of the two. He is not a bad fighter. He’s steady, can counter punch, and has nice size for a middleweight; he spent his entire career at super middle, and decided to drop down this year. He doesn’t take a good punch, having been dropped several times and stopped by Christian Cruz.
Surely, Enrique had never encountered anyone like Sam before. But in the early going he had success. He was controlled, creating distance that served his four and a half inch advantage in height, and was countered Soliman with ease in the first three frames. Between rounds his able cornerman was the “Pocket Rocket” Wayne McCullough, who knows something about frenetic punchers like Soliman, who lack big pop but balance it with a Kevlar beard.
Soliman never quits, is seemingly never deterred, and by the fourth was mugging Ornelas. Soliman often led with his head and caused a bad cut (ruled an accidental headbutt) to Ornelas’ left eye.
Later in the round, Soliman was knocked down with a clubbing shot behind the head. Upon review, Soliman had gotten the better of the exchange and the shot that felled him was more of a push. But it was still a 10-8 round for Ornelas.
But from that round on, I saw Soliman pressure breaking Ornelas spirit and easily taking rounds five through seven. Commentator Steve Farhood made the perceptive observation that Soliman doesn’t break you down with his fist but with his will. Yes, the punches never cease. But it’s his basic implacability that has opponents feeling sorry for themselves by the late middle rounds.
Ornelas, who fell to never quit and landed plenty of hard flush shots to Soliman’s body and head. But “King” wouldn’t be denied. I had him taking the fight 97-93, as did Steve Farhood. But the judges saw it differently. A paper-thin majority decision was awarded to Soliman by scores of 95-94 twice (Raul Caiz and Marty Denkin) and 95-95 (Lou Filippo).
Initially, I could not fathom these close scores. When I played with all the permutations, however, I saw how if you gave Ornelas the first three rounds (which I could possibly see) and then the 10-8 in the fourth, Ornelas would be up five going into the fifth. But a draw? No way.
The televised co-feature featured Travis Walker and Jason “Big Six” Estrada, who is sort of the antithesis of Sam Soliman. Estrada, it seems, does not want to be a fighter. It may be the thing he does best and, clearly, he has ability. He made the US squad for the 2004 Olympics in Sydney. But after he lost in the prelims, he made the most maddening post-fight remarks I’d ever heard from a supposed competitor (and made them to Teddy Atlas no less!) . Paraphrased it sounded something like this: “Yeah, you know. It ain’t no big thang. Shit happens.”
I guess it does, “Big Six.” (The moniker most definitely isn’t a reference to his abs.) Sort of like the way you added 30 pounds of blubber to your amorphous waist between the time you made the team and took the plane to the Games. He was castigated for those comments, and his pitiful shape, but I wonder how much he learned from the experience. He weighed in at 257 for his ShoBox debut, his highest amount ever. And he’s no more than 6-ft.
In an unmemorable eight-rounder, Estrada dropped a majority decision to Walker (scores were 78-74, 77-75, 76-76). He is now 7-1 (1). In all fairness, Walker has been much busier as a pro, improving to 22-0-1 (17), even though they turned pro less than five months apart.
Hard-punching super middle prospect Anthony Dirrell remained undefeated (now 11-0, 10 KOs), stopping James North in four of a scheduled six. The TKO stoppage occurred at 1:18 into the round. It’s hard to tell who will ultimately become the better fighter, Anthony of his older brother of two years, the gifted switch-hitting Andre.
Super middle big bro Andre, who picked got a bronze medal for the US at the 2004 Olympics in Sydney, AUS, TKO’d James Sundin at 2:33 of the second. Now 9-0 (6).
Heavyweight Malcolm Tann stopped Joe Stofle in four.
Franciso Santana, 151.5, won a UD over Daniel Stanisavljevic in a four-rounder.