By Justin Gimse
The hits just keep coming from the Battle at the Boat series at the Emerald Queen Casino. After three-and-a-half years of covering the fights at the EQC, I’m still wondering when a fight card is going to let me down. Sure, there have been some ho-hum fights over the years, but each night of action has always come through with a few gems to leave the fans satisfied, if not ready for more.
On Saturday, Sept. 9, the 112th edition of Battle at the Boat was easily one of the best I have witnessed. Out of six bouts on the bill, each one offered up some exceptional action. It was a clean split between the six fights, with three fights going the distance, while the other three ended by technical knockouts.
Throw in some local, rising talent and it was no wonder that the EQC crowd was jazzed and electrified from the opening bell, to the closing of the show.
Kicking off the night was a 170-pound contest between Tommy Turner and Cole “Samurai” Milani. As fights go, it was a quick and tasty appetizer, as Turner came out firing on Milani with a constant barrage of shots. Milani certainly looked game and ready to throw down but the onslaught from the get-go was just too much for him to keep up with. Once the floodgates opened on him in the corner, with head and body shots raining down, it was a done deal for Turner. The fight lasted 31 seconds, and Turner threw more punches than many fighters throw in a single round.
Up next was the rematch that was bound to happen. Newcomer Shae Green had outpointed the more experienced Niko McFarland at the last Battle at the Boat for a unanimous decision. While the lightning-quick Green certainly turned heads that night, McFarland was able to put together a very strong outing, nearly matching Green in the speed category. It was the sort of fight that needed to happen again and Battle at the Boat matchmaker Andy Nance didn’t hesitate getting it together quickly.
The accelerator seemed stuck to the floor for this 140-pound four-round bout, and the fans were buckled in and loving it. When the referee brought them together in the center of the ring prior to the opening bell, the heat coming out of the two boxers’ eyes was noticeable. It was clear that both fighters were ready to lay it all on the line and each wanted this win badly.
While Green had some bigger shots in the first round, McFarland connected with more punches. The second round saw the tables turn for Green a little, as the youngster began dishing out some impressive combinations that found their mark. The third round was another barn burner and it was difficult to pick a better side for the three minutes. Green came out in a flurry to open the fourth round, but McFarland kept returning fire with equal vigor. In the end, the fight was judged a split-draw. Most crowds have shown much disdain for draws over the years, but the fans genuinely appreciated the work that Green and McFarland put in. A third bout would be amazing to see, especially if it were a six-rounder.
The third bout of the night would pit Jesse “Grizzly” Barich against Jorge Linares in a 145-pound affair. Barich was looking for his first win, while Linares was making his professional debut. From the outset, it appeared that this fight was going to fall well short of going the distance, as Barich came out throwing wild haymakers, while Linares tried to keep his bearings and weather the storm. At one point, Barich muscled Linares almost entirely through the ropes and onto the apron table surrounding the ring. By the early second round, Linares had found his groove and began to pummel Barich, forcing a stoppage just one minute into the round. It was a good debut.
Up next was the first of two semi main event bouts. Veterans Marco Cardenas and Ricardo Maldonado have all put in solid work over the years at the EQC, and it was high time that the two fighters squared off against each other. The fight reminded me of the countless bouts I used to see on television between top-notch Latino fighters where it was just non-stop action in the center of the ring. It was like watching two surgeons going at it, with neither professional giving way to the other. This was the sort of bout that should be on every fight bill. Maldonado would earn a unanimous decision in the five-rounder, but the fight was about as equal as you could hope for, while awarding a winner in the end.
The fifth bout of the night had some hometown flavor to it. Tacoma’s Andre Keys entered the ring to face Andres Reyes from Yakima for a 145-pound contest. Reyes had knocked out his last two opponents, while Keys was still a bit of a mystery. Now with five rounds to put in work, the crowd got a better idea of just how good Keys is, and could be. The former Tacoma Golden Gloves champion was quicker than Reyes, and seemed to find every opening he was looking for. Meanwhile, Reyes looked a bit more out of control than his usual self. What resulted was a five-round unanimous decision for Keys, and it felt as though the kid from Tacoma had earned a few more fans on the night.
It was now time for the main event, and to be honest, I was a little nervous for Tacoma’s Mike Gavronski. The kid from Tacoma’s Hilltop would be facing a grizzled veteran in Bryan Vera, who had 16 knockouts to go along with his 26-11-0 record. Gavronski entered the bout with a fantastic 23-2-1 mark, and had been surging in the boxing rankings of late. A dangerous foe like Vera could quickly derail Gavronski’s momentum.
Both fighters came to dish out the lumber, and big shots found their marks for both men. Vera suffered a cut just to the right of his eye after clashing heads with Gavronski. The blood would clearly bother him for the remainder of his time in the ring, but it also seemed to stoke his fire. After eating several punches in the fifth round, a bloodied Vera smiled back at Gavronski. It felt as though this battle was just getting started.
With his left glove smeared red from landing blows to the side of Vera’s face, Gavronski stepped up his attack in the sixth round, but Vera was able to get some hard shots in as well. A big left hook sent Vera into the ropes, and he looked as though he was surprised by the punch and didn’t see it coming. Vera would sink to the canvas and the referee called the fight. The hometown crowd erupted in delight, and as usual, Gavronski would get on the microphone to thank his fans and then asked everyone to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to a loved one. It seemed a little goofy, but to my amazement, the crowd delivered. Fight fans around here love this guy.
Boxing will return to the EQC on Saturday, Nov. 18, with Battle at the Boat 113.