On Jan. 22, Roy Jones Jr., and Square Ring Promotions put out a boxing card at the Hilton Hotel billed as “Three Rivers Warbash.”
By now, Jones’ rags-to-riches-by-way-of-boxing story is as familiar to most as are the eight world championships that launched him into mega- stardom. His fiercely competitive spirit and determination are the stuff of legend, and the path to his many victories.
|SWEET HOMECOMING— Roy Jones Jr. raises the arm of Rayco “War” Saunders after he won the WBF All Americas light-heavyweight title Jan. 22 over Demetrius Davis of Washington, D.C.
Jones has spent 25 years torching, torturing and utterly embarrassing almost every one of his opponents. Just as he has generated success in multiple businesses, the multi-tasking Jones plans to build on his success as a boxing promoter.
Among those at ringside were Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin and his wife, Kiya, former featherweight champion Verquan “The Show” Kimbrough, Andy “Kid” DePaul, Jimmy Cvetic, Alphonso “Soldier” Williams, former world champion Monty Meza Clay, Steeler cornerback Deshea Townsend, author Randy Tantlinger, Curtis Aiken, former Perry and Pitt star Rod Rutherford and Chuck Sanders. The national anthem was sung by Tommy Doswell.
The main event featured Rayco “War” Saunders who fought in Pittsburgh for the first time in five years. He entered the ring wearing a T-shirt with “I don’t chase dreams I catch ’em,” emblazoned across his back.
Saunders was hatched from some of the roughest neighborhoods in Pittsburgh—Northview Heights and Beltzhoover—and grew up without most of the things the children of the suburbs take for granted.
He was stabbed in the back at age 15 and shot in the chest at 21. He was arrested six times between 1994-97, and was incarcerated at Graterford State Prison; the same jail that former undisputed middleweight champion, Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins served out his sentence.
He wasn’t supposed to become a success story.
“What impressed me about Rayco was how hard he worked without any help or backing,” said Jones. “Rayco is dedicated and he is one of the best sparring partners I ever had.”
“War” Saunders usually throws bombs from the opening bell, but he got off to a very slow start. He didn’t begin to dominate the fight until after the third round and won the World Boxing Foundation’s All America’s light-heavyweight title on a split decision over Demetrius Davis of Washington, D.C.
“I was signed to fight Patrick Perez who is a come forward, let’s get-it-on fighter like me,” said Saunders. “But at the last minute they named Demetrius Davis as my opponent. He is a crafty fighter who likes to hit and run, so it took me a few rounds to figure him out.”
Saunders was able to hurt Davis in the seventh round when he put him on the canvas with a body shot.
“I heard my sparring partner Roy Jones Jr., yell ‘hook to the head, hook to the body,’ and it’s a combination that we worked on in training,” said Saunders. “I threw the combination and dropped him. Once he got up he ran the rest of the fight.”
Saunders is a mental warrior and he’s out for pure vengeance after fighters has ducked him for years. He effectively served notice that he was now a top dog in the light heavyweight division and ready to take on all comers.
Last year Rayco was watching the Steelers win a world championship and this year Coach Tomlin watched “War” bring a world title to “Sixburgh.”
“A lot of football players today are using many boxing training principles to get into top physical condition,” said Tomlin. “It’s an individual thing. I have great respect for all the arts and disciplines. My sons are wrestling and playing basketball and all kind of different sports. They haven’t picked up boxing yet, but I would support them in any sport they choose.”
The night began with two outstanding amateur boxers.
Jaque Lutz easily walked over Scott Alfer to score a unanimous decision and Sammy “The Bull” Vasquez, of Monessen knocked out Joe Luketich. Vasquez is ranked No. 2 welterweight in the nation. His natural talent—a blend of hand speed, mobility and punching power—is his grace in the ring.
“I got into boxing at the age of nine, because I was being picked on,” said Vasquez. “My dad told me to take up boxing and I fell in love with it right away.”
The glass chin award went to David Warren Huffman of Milwaukee who was knocked out by undefeated super featherweight Ronnell Green of Wheeling, W.V. Green landed hard shots in the second round to Huffman’s head and body. He put Huffman down with an overhand right to the head. Huffman was flopping like a fish on a dock, forcing the referee to pull the hook out of his mouth and toss him in the cooler.
Jesse James must have been judging the fight between John “The Windmill” Farley of Pittsburgh, and undefeated super middleweight Isaac Salter of Pensacola, Fla., because the decision was highway robbery.
Both fighters went toe-to-toe for four rounds, but it was Farley’s body shots that continued to do damage to Salter’s hips, kidneys and stomach before losing a highly disputed decision.
The upset of the night went to Rasool Shakoor of Jackson, Mich.
Featherweight Kieyon Bussey is from Roy Jones Jr.’s, hometown of Pensacola, Fla., and he fights like Jones minus his hand speed, punching power, reflexes, talent and athletic ability. Bussey flew into the Greater Pittsburgh Airport sporting a 6-0 record and he flew back to Disneyland beaten and battered at 6-1. Shakoor easily won a six- round decision over the overrated Bussey.
Johnstown’s Andres “Taylor Made” Taylor (12-1), the loop’s cruiserweight All Americas belt-holder, banged out a sixth round unanimous decision over William Bailey of Chesapeake, Va. Taylor replaced undefeated Munhall welterweight Jesse Lubash, who pulled out due to a back injury.
Taylor, who is built like Mike Tyson, opened up a nasty cut above Bailey’s right eye and dropped him with a devastating body shot in the sixth round that pleased his trainer, Tommy Yankello.
“I was very pleased with Andres,” said Yankello. “We took the fight on short notice and the guy he fought had over 30 fights.”
Super lightweight Rod Salka (10-0), of Bunola is one of pro boxing’s fastest-rising stars. He earned a decision over Mario “Hard-Hittin” Hayes of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Salka knocked Hayes down in the third round, but Hayes got up swinging. Salka and Hayes went toe-to-toe in a very fast-paced, action-filled and thrilling bout. A point was taking away from Hayes in the sixth round when he nailed Salka with a low blow.
“It still hurts right now”, said Salka. “I could have taken up to five minutes to recover, but I didn’t want to disappoint the crowd, so I fought through it.”
Las Vegas holds the title of being the capital of the boxing world. The city has been the host site of some of the most memorable showdowns, however, it has never had the distinction of calling a world champion one of their own.
Thanks to Square Ring Promotions, George F. Matta II and the Rivers Casino, Troy and Tammy Ridgley and TNT Sports Promotions, Pittsburgh may see native sons Jesse Lubash and Rod Salka, joining Clay, Kimbrough, Paul Spadafora and Saunders as world champions.