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Calvin “Silky” Grove IBF Featherweight Champion Remembered!

Image: Calvin “Silky” Grove IBF Featherweight Champion Remembered!

By Ken Hissner: Coatesville, Pennsylvania’s Calvin “Silky Smooth” Grove won his first thirty-two fights earning him a title fight with the IBF Featherweight champion Antonio “Tonito” Rivera, 17-4-1, of Puerto Rico, in January of 1988, in Somme, France, scoring a fourth round stoppage. The referee happened to also be from Pennsylvania, in Rudy Battle.

Grove won twenty-nine of those earlier fights in Atlantic City, NJ, which became his home away from home. His co-trainers were Al “Potato Pie” Bolden and Jesse Reid, and his manager was Bob Spagnola. He was also part of Josephine Abercrombie’s Houston Boxing Association, her promotional group.

Having turned professional in June of 1982 Grove had much success in 1985 scoring wins over future world champion Kelvin Seabrooks, 15-9, Idabeth Rojas, 17-2, southpaw Irving “Sweet” Mitchell, 25-2, for the USBA title, southpaw Paul DeVorce, 22-3, and Dana Roston, 14-2, in a title defense of his USBA belt. Every fight was in Atlantic City with all going the distance.

In 1986 Grove went 4-0 including a stoppage of southpaw Billy White, 14-1-1, in a USBA title defense in Atlantic City. In his previous fight Grove came off the canvas in the tenth and final round in defeating Jose “Pepe” Vazquez, 14-10-2, in Glenn Falls, NY. Grove said, “It made me feel good when in Coatesville people would say “hey Calvin how you doing?”

In Grove’s first defense in May he defeated Philadelphia’s Myron Taylor, 23-6-2, in Atlantic City, NJ, taking a lopsided decision over 15 rounds. When Grove was just starting in boxing under trainer Johnny Traitz he would go to Philadelphia to spar on occasions and one of the more experienced Philly boxers along with his brother Meldrick was Myron who picked on the out of towner. What goes round comes round?

In May Grove was to make his second defense which was to be in the United States but the purse would be much more in Mexico where his opponent would be Jorge “El Maromero” Paez, 27-2-1, of Mexicali, MEX, who was known as the “clown prince of boxing” having worked in the circus.

Grove was taller by several inches but Paez was more muscular. In order to prepare for the heat of Mexico Grove did his training in Texas though the heat couldn’t match what he would find out it was more severe than Pennsylvania. To make matters worse the fight would take place in a bull ring, in Plaza del Toros Calafia, Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. Two of the officials were from the US along with referee Al Rothenberg.

“Paez was used to that kind of heat or as used to it as one could get,” said Grove. He added, “I had trained in Texas, so I figured, how bad could it be? I had no idea. In the ring, with the overhead lights, it was 130 degrees. My goodness,” said Grove. Grove had never fought out of the US and Paez never out of Mexico.

Grove moved throughout the first half of the fight with Paez chasing him Grove was up 5-2 in unofficial rounds. It wasn’t until the eighth round Grove stood his ground taking the first two minutes before Paez got the best of him in the final minute. After fourteen rounds it seemed Grove was up 8-6 in rounds.

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Going into the fifteenth and final round where ring commentator Sean O’Grady’s unofficial scorecard had Grove ahead by 3 points. Grove had complained in the previous round he felt dizzy. At 1:15 into the final round Paez scored the first knockdown over Grove.

Though Grove had Paez in the corner a right uppercut on the chin dropped him for the second knockdown for another 8-count from the referee. What was ruled a third knockdown was more fatigue with Grove ducking several punches from Paez and stepping to the side than forward and down he went more from exhaustion. Grove waved to the referee it was due to water on the canvas in the corner which it appeared to be in reviewing the tape.

None the less it could have made a difference in the scoring. There were approximately forty seconds left in the round. Grove wobbled back to his corner completely dehydrated.

The scores were 142-140 by the Mexican judge and 143-140 and 142-142 by the two US judges. Without the knockdowns Grove wins 8-7 in rounds. Without the one questionable knockdown instead of a majority decision it may have been a split decision or a draw. The heat obviously had the biggest factor going against Grove. It would be one of the last 15 round fights. If it were a 12 as was the rematch Grove would have been the winner. Each fighter had a stoppage win in between both championship fights.

The rematch in March of 1989 unfortunately for Grove was in the same bull ring though not in the heat of the summer. Again, the referee was from the US and two of the judges from the US and one from Mexico.

Grove seemed to take the first two rounds while Paez the third round. In the fourth round Grove was doing well into the final minute when a left hook on the chin from Paez hurt him. He managed to get through the round by holding on. In between rounds Paez got up from the stool showboating from his corner to the neutral corner.

In the fifth round at the halfway point Grove suffered a cut over the right eye beneath the eyebrow. In the final twenty seconds it was Grove landing a left hook on the chin rocking Paez. Grove seemed to even the score after six rounds.

In the seventh Paez continued holding the back of Grove’s neck with his left and hitting with his right hand without warning. In the eighth Grove had a good round, landing rights as Paez did some showboating in the final minute. In the ninth round Grove had a good round with swelling on the right side of Paez’s forehead. Grove complained to the referee about the hold behind his head as the round ended.

In the tenth round Grove’s cut re-opened for the first time since the round it started bleeding in the seventh round. Paez does quite a bit of slapping with his right hand. Backing up Grove was hit with a right on the cut and then dropping him with some 45 seconds left in the round.

What looked like another knockdown from a left from Paez was ruled a slip. In the final seconds a right on the chin dropped Grove in the corner. He managed to beat the count. On a round basis it seemed 6-4 Grove but the knockdowns evened the score.

In the eleventh round Grove came out looking exhausted. He would be stalked by Paez who used a left straight arm lining up rights and it finally landed with Grove going down for the count.

In Grove’s first fight after fighting Paez twice he moved up in weight to capture the USBA Super Featherweight title defeating Anthony English, 20-9-1, who in English’s previous fight stopped Gino Gelormino, 27-1, for the WBC Continental-Americas title. The bout was held in of all places Moscow, Russia. “If I lost I was going to retire,” said Grove.

A year after winning the USBA title Grove would lose to well-known amateur champion who won the Olympic trials in 1980 but the US didn’t participate, Bernard “The B.T. Express“ Taylor, 40-2-2, for Grove’s USBA title, being stopped in the eleventh of a twelve. Grove was up on two scorecards and even on another after ten. The bout was in New York.

It would be almost a year before Grove returned to the ring defeating former WBA world Bantamweight champion Julian Solis, 40-10-1, of Puerto Rico. Grove was down in rounds one and ten while Solis was down in round seven. The fight was held in Philly’s legendary Blue Horizon. It was the first time Groves fought in Philly.

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In Grove’s next two fights he scored stoppages over southpaw Dennis Cruz, 27-3, in Atlantic City and southpaw Felipe Orozco, 24-7, from Colombia, in Cheyney University, in PA. In his last fight in 1991 he was upset by Philly’s Bryant Paden, 14-7-3, being stopped in 3 rounds, back in the Blue Horizon, in his first fight at lightweight.

Five months later Grove made a big win over Regilio “Turbo” Tuur, 28-1-1, of the Netherlands, by split decision for the New York State Featherweight title. Later in late 1992 this win earned Grove a WBC World Super Featherweight title fight with former 2-division world champion and future world champion Ghana’s Azumah “The Professor” Nelson, 34-2-1, losing by decision in Nevada.

In 1993 Grove bounced back at the Blue Horizon defeating former IBF Featherweight champion Troy Dorsey, 12-6-4. In his next two fights he traveled to Australia defeating former 3-division world champion Jeff “Marrickville Mauler” Fenech, 26-1-1, by stoppage in seven while being behind on two scorecards and one even. In the other fight down under he won a split decision over former IBF Super Featherweight champion Lester Ellis, 35-5.

In Grove’s next fight back in the states he won a split decision over Pete Taliaferro, 24-1, in Mississippi. For the first time in ten years he dropped to an 8 rounder scoring a win over Mexico’s Angel Aldama, 25-5-1.

In Grove’s next to fights in 1994 he dropped both. First to Freddie “The Pitbull” Liberatore, 19-3-1, by split decision at the Fernwood Resort, in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania’s Bushkill Falls.

Though he lost he would get a world title fight next moving up to lightweight again for the WBC title held by Mexico’s Angel “El Mago Santa Tokyo” Gonzalez, 34-0, being stopped in the fifth round, in New Mexico.

Grove would return to Atlantic City for the first time in four years in two bouts winning a decision over John “The Eastern Beast” Brown, 12-1, of Atlantic City. Next he would lose to Angel “El Diablo” Manfredy, 12-2-1, being stopped in seven rounds.

In 1996 Grove would return to Australia in a rematch with Lester Ellis, 41-6, stopping him in four rounds. Little did he know it would be his last winning fight. In 1997 he would drop his next two fights coming in at 137 his highest career weight losing to former IBF Super Feather and future WBC Super Lightweight champion Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, 27-1, being stopped in seven rounds in Atlantic City.

In Grove’s next fight which would be his career ending one almost a year later in April of 1998 Grove would return to Australia and be knocked out in the first round by former IBF Light Welterweight and future WBC, WBA and IBF Light Welterweight champion Kostya “Thunder from Down Under” Tszyu, 19-1, at a career high 141 pounds. Back to back losses to boxers with nicknames “thunder” would be his downfall! He was 35 years-old upon retiring. He would eventually be inducted into the PAB HOF and the ACB HOF.

Some comments by fellow boxing people were:

Bob Spagnola, manager of Grove: Calvin Grove was a great friend and fighter. Stablemate and Hall of Fame bantamweight Orlando Canizales said “Silky Smooth had the best jab he ever saw.” Calvin was a fierce competitor, be it in the ring or the daily 6 mile run or at the chessboard. He was a great part of the HBA stable, and competed against a who’s who of his contemporaries. Calvin had nerves of steel as he fought and won all over the world, won the title in France, big wins in Australia, first pro to win the title in Soviet Union. He was an international ambassador of the sport.

Al “Potato Pie” Bolden co-trainer of Grove: said when Calvin came back the way he did in winning the title from Rivera he proved to be a real champion.

Henry Hascup NJB HOF President: There were over 200 world champions that fought in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Calvin Grove had more wins, with 30 (out of 32 fights) than any of them! At last count there were over 4,630 different fighters that fought there and Grove was second all-time ONLY to Young Gene Buffalo who registered 38 wins in his 46 fights.

Bernard Fernandez writer for Sweet Science: Per his article said Groves trained in Texas to adjust to the Mexican heat for the Jorge Paez fights but it was not nearly as hot in his bouts in Mexico that drained him. His management took the fight in Mexico for a larger purse it was assumed.

Jeff Jowett, writer with Seconds Out: He fought in the last scheduled 15 round fight. A high watermark in boxing. Discontinued to fit TV schedules, with the ridiculous cover story that fighters cannot go 15 rounds anymore. A benchmark in the steady decline of boxing from a sport to an entertainment. That said, Grove was a fine technician, came up through the amateurs, fought good opposition, and reached the top of his trade.

Robert Brizel, Real Combat Media: Calvin Grove had one of the most electric starts in the history of the featherweight division in the post Salvatore Sanchez era. Grove’s mistake after the two Paez fights was to go up to super featherweight, but he beat Jeff Fenech at the higher weight. He lost to Azumah Nelson who was a better fighter overall. He ran into four dangerous fighters in the prime of their career, Miguel Angel Gonzalez, Angel Manfredy and Kostya Tszyu. After being stopped by Arturo Gatti in a war there was nothing left.

KEN HISSNER: Did you sometime think that Atlantic City and not Coatesville was your home after winning 30 of your first 32 fights there?

CALVIN GROVE: Atlantic City was my second home. Coatessville is first.

KEN HISSNER: Winning the world title in France wasn’t like being in the US but how big of a thrill was it?

CALVIN GROVE: It was big. Some 20,000 fans were at ringside.

KEN HISSNER: Your first defense was against a fighter he and his brother picked on you when you first went to a Philly gym named Myron Taylor. How pleasing was that beating Myron?

CALVIN GROVE: They were amateurs and they did just that. It was real, though. Roland Cooley was also there.

KEN HISSNER: After losing the title to Paez you moved up to super featherweight coming off the canvas twice, once in the first round to defeat former world champ Julian Solis who also hit the canvas once. Did you think maybe you should have stayed at featherweight?

CALVIN GROVE: There was no way I could keep doing it. I was always coming in over weight at featherweight.

KEN HISSNER: You won your first three fights you had in Australia. How well were you accepted when you had your rematch there with Lester Ellis?

CALVIN GROVE: The fans were awesome. I had no problem.

KEN HISSNER: In your last two fights you lost to Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and “Thunder from Down Under” Kostya Tszyu. Do you sometimes get concerned when it storms and you hear someone say “I hear thunder coming?”

CALVIN GROVE: It never paid me any attention.

KEN HISSNER: I want to thank you for being part of this interview.

CALVIN GROVE: I really appreciated you bringing back all these memories and really doing your homework.

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