Passaic middleweight Glen Tapia was being billed as the fighter who would pack the stands at Boardwalk Hall the way his idol, Arturo Gatti, used to do.
Over half of the approximately 2,000 fans that showed up at Boardwalk Hall's Adrian Phillips Ballroom Saturday night were there to watch the undefeated 23-year-old take on James Kirkland.
Now, his future is in doubt after he endured a brutal, sixth-round TKO loss that resulted in him being taken to a nearby hospital.
Tapia was released from AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center City Campus Sunday morning after undergoing neurological tests. But whether he is ever able to regain the form that made him a top prospect, remains to be seen.
If he's not, the blame rests on his trainer, Alex Devia, ringside physician Blair Bergen and referee Steve Smoger for allowing the fight to go two rounds longer than it should have.
"In hindsight, I think everybody wishes they had stopped it a round or two sooner," Top Rank executive vice-president Carl Moretti said Monday in a phone interview. "You hardly ever see a corner stop a fight and I know Glen wasn't going to say it. The kid has so much heart and wanted to keep going. You normally rely on the doctor and the referee to make the call because they have the best view."
Part of a trainer's job, however, is not only to make sure the fighter is able to protect himself in the ring, but to also protect him against himself in the corner.
Two similar situations unfolded earlier this year in Atlantic City. In both cases, the trainer overruled the fighter.
On Feb. 16, WBC lightweight champion Adrien Broner notched a fifth-round TKO over Gavin Rees. A round earlier, Rees' trainer Gary Lockett, told Rees he was stopping the bout, but Rees talked him out of it. In the fifth, Lockett waved a white towel to prompt referee Earl Brown to halt it.
On May 18, former IBF welterweight champ Devon Alexander stopped Lee Purdy. Referee David Fields stopped the fight after the seventh round on the advice of Purdy's corner, though Purdy broke down in tears.
Devia had two opportunities to step in and declined to do so.
So did Bergen and Smoger.
When the fourth round ended, Tapia walked slowly and unsteadily to his corner. His lower lip was cut. Blood leaked from his nose. His eyes were watery, almost as if he was on the verge of crying. Smoger gestured for Bergen to examine Tapia.
"You're getting hit way too much," Devia told him while HBO had its cameras in the corner. "I need my second air, man. You hear me? G, I need my second air. Explain to this doctor you good, baby. You're gonna go. You're gonna go right now. Tell 'em you're gonna stop this boy right now."
The fifth round was ready to start. Devia and Bergen climbed out of the ring. Tapia rose from his stool and the fight resumed.
Tapia tried to fight back, but his punches were powerless. It wasn't long before Kirkland had forced Tapia back into the ropes and rocked him with left uppercuts and hooks.
The fifth ended. Smoger again summoned Bergen. Again Devia intervened, telling Smoger, "This is a sparring session." The sixth round was ready to start. Smoger called timeout while Bergen asked Tapia a few more questions.
Then they allowed Tapia to continue.
"The doctor told me he was all right to continue (after the fourth round)," Smoger said Saturday night. "I considered stopping it earlier, but I rely on the doctor. (Tapia) was an undefeated fighter, in his hometown (Tapia was fighting in Atlantic City for the eighth time). I wanted to give him every opportunity. I wouldn't have stopped it without consulting the physician. He said, 'The next round, anything of magnitude, that was enough.'"
Kirkland jumped on him again and resumed the beating. According to CompuBox statistics, Kirkland landed 24 of 40 power punches in the last round, including a vicious left just before Smoger stepped in at 38 seconds of the round, and 52 of 106 in the final two rounds.
That was 52 punches too many.
"Thankfully, he's OK," Moretti said. "But we won't really know until he fights again. That's not going to be at least until summer, though. Glen needs a long rest."
And maybe a new trainer.