Remember “back in the day” when the UFC used to title their Pay-Per Views with some witty verbiage like Seek and Destroy or—my personal favorite—UFC 84: Ill Will? Well Pinnacle Boxing Championships (Yes, BOXING) maybe should’ve followed suit with that, and, perhaps, should’ve called it The Blueprint, because the event was a perfect outline for a perfect card. Maybe it’s because Matt Leyshock is the backbone of the local fight scene and knows a thing or two about how to run a show, but whatever percentage you’d like to apply to that, a sizeable other portion would fall heavily on the bouts and their fighters.
When I first caught wind that Pinnacle was looking to venture out into the local boxing scene I was more than excited. Previous Pinnacle MMA events set the standard around here, and now Pinnacle Boxing has raised the bar. A sold out crowd piled into an intimate setting in the Teamsters Hall in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, PA. The hall didn’t allow for a bad seat on the floor, stage, or in the balcony; and the fight card was just as reluctant to give the crowd a boring fight. The night had three amateur bouts and four professional.
The amateurs got started off with two scrappy youngsters in Cameron “The Southside Kid” Donnelley and Sylvio Cercone deciding to would be the 125-pound High School King of Pittsburgh for the weekend. Donnelley mentioned to me earlier in the night that he and Cercone were actually friends and former training partners and were both looking forward to a little “brotherly love” in the ring. From the first bell these two set the tone for the night by throwing leather and doing their damndest to (excuse me) fight-the-shit out of the fight. Both guys put on a heck of a performance that would make any gym proud, but when it went to the judges’ scorecards, Cercone was the guy that got the nod his hand raised in victory.
“Pretty” Richie Cantolina and Cortlant Woodard were up next. If you’ve been paying attention to social media in the local fight scene, then you’d already know that this fight might have happened—sooner or later—in, or out, of a ring. Coming off the heels of (what some may call) a controversial decision, these two young men have been looking to settle the score. Cantolina told me in the locker room that he didn’t feel any bad way toward Woodard, be he just wanted him to respect him after the fight; hinting to the fact that he wanted to beat it out of him. (Cue the bell) Both guys came out looking to knock the other’s head clean off. Cantolina established himself as the more-skilled boxer early on, and continued to showcase himself in that light by way of great footwork, eluding Woodard’s shots, and landing his own. Cantolina undisputedly controlled the second round and forced Woodard to go for broke in the third. But ultimately, Woodard wasn’t able to mount enough offense against Cantolina’s motivated game to steal the win. Cantolina took the decision and only surpassed his amazing performance inside of the ring by his victory speech next to his cancer-fighting father, Rick.
Fan favorite—and all-around awesome dude—Gregg “The Lumberjack” Rudolph and John “The Convict” Jaquay were the icing on the cake of a stellar amateur offering. My announcing counterpart of the evening, Ed Latimore, wondered if Jaquay got that nickname the hard way, or nah; but one thing was for sure, he wanted a piece of Rudolph in what was another local grudge match. Rudolph mentioned that he wasn’t sure of where the static came from (and really didn’t know who Jaquay was) but that after an MMA fight of his, Jaquay kept saying that he wanted a piece of him and he was happy to answer the call. Rudolph wanted to shed the reputation of being a brawler and demonstrate his boxing skills and he did just that. From the opening bell Rudolph set the pace and took direction from his corner very well. I’ve personally seen Rudolph fight before, and this was a very new, polished, and beardless (sad face) Gregg Rudolph. He picked his shots, landed what he threw, and put Jaquay on his heels for the majority of the fight. Jaquay did mount some offense, though; but it wasn’t enough to sway the judges away from giving the decision win to the Lumberjack.
The professional bouts opened up with Wellington “W.A.R.” Romero finding his way to Pittsburgh from the Dominican Republic to take on Carlos “El Guerrero” Velasquez who was also a long way from his home in Managua, Nicaragua.(I’m not sure if that nickname was a nod to the famous professional wrestling family or not, but I think it should be. I tried to ask him but my limited Spanish just got me a free roll of medical tape and not an answer to my stupid question.) The real nod to this fight, though, goes to the Pinnacle match makers for getting some international love on the card. Romero didn’t burn any daylight here as he opened up the first round landing heavy shots. Velasquex looked as if he wanted to feel the first round out, but Romero had other plans—which apparently must’ve started shortly after the first round because he dropped Velasquex with brutal body shots in the first that were capped off with a liver shot that ended it for Velasquex. Romero walked away with the first round TKO and, probably, wasn’t late for where ever he was going next.
Justin “The Hawk” Steve and Henry Mercer were up next in line a night full of incredibly exciting fights. “The Hawk” was basically fighting in his living room—by proximity to his hometown and the number of family members surrounding the ring; including his cousin, Monty Meza-Clay who was in his corner for the fight. Mercer made the drive up to the Steel City from Tarboro, North Carolina and must’ve felt the waves of intimidation because “The Hawk” stalked him across the ring, landing punch after punch throughout most (but one could argue “all of”) the first and second rounds. I have to make it a point here to tell you about the intensity Justin Steve had upon him at this stage of the bout. I’ve seen Steve fight a few times before, and he’s always had great hands, but the will of determination that took him over in the third round was one of those rare precious moments in the fight game where confidence, preparation, and skill all flirt in a cocktail that spelled disaster for Mercer. Steve smelled blood in the water after the first knockdown and continued to beat his opponent relentlessly with blow after blow that had the crowd on its feet. The combo-cocktail took the heat out of Mercer’s hot sauce and left him on the canvas and gave Steve the “W” via TKO in the third round.
The professional debut of Gerald “G5” Sherrell was the next fight as he welcomed Turner Williams to Pittsburgh from Beckly, West Virginia. Sherrell’s amateur career may be one of the best anyone can remember; this kid oozes talent (and is a super-polite, nice kid). Sherrell told me he didn’t want to waste time and that he wanted to come out very aggressive, the complete opposite of Williams’s intent to feel out the first two rounds, and then go for the finish in the third. From the opening bell it was clear that both guys meant to stick to that game plan. Sherrell pushed the pace that turned out to be too much for Williams to keep up with. “G5” came in as advertised and scored a first round knock out against Williams in, what turned out to be, a very scary moment. Williams hit the deck hard and had a lot of trouble getting his bearings back which resulted in Williams being taken out on a stretcher. (He was later released from UPMC Presbyterian and our thoughts, prayers, and thanks go out to Williams and his family.) Sherrell is surly a young talent to keep your eye on.
The Main Event was a scheduled next between “The Gentleman” Eric Palmer and Bill “Hutch” Hutchinson. Normally, someone—like Palmer—from a town like Fairchance, PA wouldn’t get boos or be considered an outsider in a fight in Pittsburgh, unless he’s fighting Bill Hutchinson. “Hutch” is more than a fan favorite; the kid is a living, breathing, embodiment of all things Burgh—down to the black and gold shorts he sports. Hutchinson mentioned to me that this fight was going to be his “coming out party. You’re going to see a very different me.” By that he meant he wanted to let everyone know that he’s been developing his skills and he’s not just some tough kid brawler-type fighter that gets lucky with the one-hitter-quitter. It was noticeable during our pre-fight conversation that Hutchinson was very determined to do well, which transferred over between the ropes as he demonstrated his style on a very awkward Palmer. Palmer is awkward in the sense that he’s not as refined of a fighter as other professionals that it’s problematic to predict his movement. “Hutch” didn’t let that ruin his main event debut, though, as he unloaded an assault on Palmer round after round. Palmer wasn’t able to mount any offense due to the volume of punches that Hutchinson put in his face—both literally and figuratively. We did—in fact—see a very different Bill Hutchinson in that he looked so elegant out there and shed the brawler image. He moved across the canvas like a true professional with his footwork, body position, and head movement that were all a testament to how much work he had put in since his last fight. “Hutch” basically put on a clinic for all six rounds and took the decision win. I truly could talk about how great he looked in every round for paragraph after paragraph, but the fact is this: there’s a new Bill Hutchinson in town and if you’re considering taking the next fight with him, to put it in his words, you’d be “in the wrong place.”