Doomed


I knew I wasn’t going to like the analysis of this past weekend’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse, but I’m still disappointed.  I have to admit, I could have been a little biased against the fight because of the ESPN+ app’s complete incompetence (had to use 3 devices to finally get the live fight).  No hard feelings against commentators Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley, who were as insightful and as enjoyable as ever–but as for my general ESPN experience, I want my five bucks back.

Since I’m on the topic, (and no one reading this cares much about coherence anyway) ESPN+ really sucks.  They promise boxing fans a big archive of fights from ESPN Classic.  Wow!  I thought, 5 bucks a month and you get live fights too, what a deal!  It’s not, it’s really not at all.  Sure, I got to see a fight for 5 dollars, but it was a big hassle to get it to load correctly and process my new subscription.  Then, because my SmartTV’s version of the ESPN app doesn’t offer the ESPN+ service, I had to watch the fight on a damn laptop.  There were distracting audio and video issues not caused by my equipment, and the quality of the broadcast in general was just very low for a subscription service.  The classic fight “archive” is basically the Ali-Frazier trilogy, a few clips from Ali’s other big fights, and a Mike Tyson the-early-years knockout reel.  There are are few recent ESPN fights included, but hardly enough to constitute an “archive” (at least not one worth paying for). But enough about that, the fight sucked too.

In the ESPN analysis of Pacquiao’s performance, writer Nick Parkinson claims the fight “silenced arguments that he is on the slide after losing to Jeff Horn a year ago.”   You know who else had a team rally around them to claim a new beginning after a big loss?  Ironically it was another fighter trained by Freddie Roach, Miguel Cotto.  Even moreso, his unexpectedly dominant performance also came against an aging Argentine, Sergio Martinez.  For years, Martinez had been consistently able to compete at the highest level of the sport, just like Matthysse, and suddenly–all at once–he wasn’t even close.

The same thing happened this past weekend with Pacquiao.  The disparity between the fighters was so great that I’m actually skeptical of the fight’s authenticity.  I doubt any corruption was responsible for the result of Cotto-Martinez, but certainly the post-fight analysis is the same with Pacquiao-Matthysse.

Parkinson isn’t the only sycophant singing Pacquiao’s praises.  Fellow ESPN writer Noel Zarate claims Matthysse was “doomed” from the beginning: “Once those fighters survive the first round, they usually have a different perspective on Pacquiao’s speed and power.”  I’d argue that looking at Pacquiao would tell you very little about the fight when compared with watching Matthysse.

From the first round, the formerly strong, healthy-looking Argentine seemed like he was suffering from severe arthritis. Or some exotic flu.  He couldn’t move laterally, his hands were slow and hesitant, and he shuffled his feet nervously as if he expected to be knocked out early.  The referee’s reaction is its own mystery.  But there was only person who came to mind in watching Matthysse’s inexplicable transformation: Sergio Martinez.

Neither Martinez nor Matthysse was a young man when these incidents occurred (at least not for a prize fighter) but the contrast between their defeats and their previous performances is too extreme to accept without some analysis.  When Cotto fought Martinez in June of 2014, he was coming off losses to the pound-for-pound champion, Mayweather, and a lesser but still formidable Austin Trout, who was fighting just below the elite level.  He easily beat a low-level journeyman in his next fight, securing his comeback and drawing a lot of attention.  Then, after his destruction of Martinez, this new Miguel Cotto was hailed as the second coming–a better, stronger, wiser Cotto.  Bullshit, I thought, he didn’t find a fountain of youth, he was in the ring with an invalid.  But the critics praised him as having found his inner strength, adjusted his training and his style to be more exciting.

And what happened?  He took one more warmup fight against a  journeyman, and won.  Yet another affirmation for the delusional analysts imagining he was somehow better than he was 10 years and 5000 punches ago.  Then he went after Saul Alvarez, and refused to even stay in the ring to accept the announcement of the obvious result.  Another two fights, and he’s losing to the journeymen he had built his comeback on just three years earlier.

Enter Jeff Horn.  He wasn’t shy about using his head or forearms to get an advantage, and the bloody mess that resulted in his match against Pacquiao showed both that Horn’s talent was very limited, and that Pacquiao was fading.  Yes, Horn was physically much bigger than Pacquiao, but also at a totally different skill level.  Everyone agrees Pacquiao should have been given more rounds on the scorecards, but we should also agree that he should have performed a lot better against a fighter like Horn.  In case there’s any confusion, yes; Jeff Horn probably would have beaten Matthysse this past Saturday, too.

It was naive to think, even with an outstanding performance, Matthysse could have taken a decision in that situation.  The crowd in Kuala Lumpur gave a standing ovation every time Pacquiao wiped sweat from his forehead.  But I’m confident that I can read Pacquiao’s performance (along with his history) just as well as I did Cotto’s.  A lot of the similarities are coincidence, but taken all together, the result is inevitable.  Pacquiao got lucky, either through dishonest business practices or by pure chance (or some combination of the two), fighting an ebbing shadow of the fighter we expected to see as his opponent.  He gets a boost in confidence and popularity, but his ability remains the same.  He’s obviously still got some spark left, but the consequences of so much punishment from so many wars are inevitable.

The excitement generated by his “knockdowns” will get him set for another big payday in the next year or two, and then he’ll retire, because he’ll be utterly defeated by someone not much better than Jeff Horn.  If he’s smart, he’ll stop talking about a fight with Terence Crawford, and set his sights on something achievable.  If he does, we’ll get to watch an entertaining conclusion to a great career.  If not, he’s the one who’s doomed.

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Pacquiao-Matthysse


Two of boxing’s most entertaining athletes will be in the ring tonight (technically tomorrow) in an attempt to prove their place in the division.  Both Pacquiao and Matthysse are getting a little long-in-the-tooth for fighters, Pacquiao having a few more wrinkles and scars than his opponent–but they can both still punch.  While those characteristics from lesser fighters typically would not send you running to schedule a recording on your DVR, this is match that fight fans have wanted to see for years.  There will be some complaints, of course, that that’s when the fight should have happened–years ago.  But in this case, I would argue that the timing of this fight might be ideal.

A couple of years ago, Pacquiao was still going strong, notching another win over inexplicable rival Tim Bradley, coming off his loss to Mayweather.  Though Pac was already slowing down, he was still considered very much at the elite level, whereas Matthysse at his best was never really in that group.  On the contrary, two years ago Matthysse was coming off a bruising loss to Viktor Postol and did not fight at all in 2016.  His next two wins came over questionable competition.  So why is this a “good time” to fight someone like Pacquiao?  Two words: Jeff Horn.

Pacquiao’s loss to Jeff Horn is probably not legitimate.  The judges probably should have given it to him.  But the fact that I had to qualify those statements with the word “probably” is a huge red flag.

As a matter of course, fighters coming off a big victory (especially if they’ve never fought anyone of substance before) talk like they knew they would win and everyone else did too.  It’s similar to the bravado you see at the weigh-in, where clearly less talented, less fit athletes communicate superiority and intimidation through comically absurd rituals.  That’s exactly what Jeff Horn did after his win over Pacquiao.  He talked himself up as if everyone just hadn’t noticed how talented he was all this time, and finally they were taking notice.  He made those claims enthusiastically and repeatedly, right up until his next fight, when he took on Terence Crawford.  Crawford is very definitely an opponent of substance, to put it lightly, and dealt with Horn accordingly via 9th round KO.

That result tells us that Pacquiao was not just “robbed” in Australia, he also put on a substandard performance.  Excuses became a part of the Pacquiao strategy years ago, but the technique really started to show after Mayweather with the shoulder claim.  Since then, Pacquaio has shed his former long-time trainer Freddie Roach and seems to think the responsibility for the loss to Horn falls on everybody but himself.

Unfortunately for him, the years weigh heavier on the battle-scarred, and while Matthysse never had the talent that Pacquiao did, he also never went through the wars he did.   Think about it, Pacquiao has fought a laundry list of the hardest-hitting, most punishing boxers of his era: Brandon Rios, Tim Bradley (x3), Erik Morales (x3), Juan Manuel Marquez (x4), Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, and Miguel Cotto.  That last name being the only one in the list who could even compare his career of punishment to Manny’s.  Oh yeah, and Cotto lost his final fight, then retired.

I don’t begrudge Pacquiao another high-level fight, but it’s a good thing he kept his sights low and went for Matthysse, an aging puncher, rather than the rumored bid for Crawford, who might put him in an Larry Holmes-Muhammad Ali situation.  I would always expect a good fight from these guys, but the stars may have just aligned to make this a great one.

 

State-side we’ve got a great matchup taking place right now at UNO campus in New Orleans.  Hometown hero Regis Prograis continues his campaign to the top of the junior welter ranks against Juan Velasco after his impressive win over Julius Indongo.  He’s on a collision course with one of boxing’s other biggest stars, Terence Crawford, but for now we can enjoy watching him develop.  Good luck to Rougarou, and great love to all the athletes and fans down there in NOLA, and especially to Mike and FNF Gym where I got my ring experience.  Here’s to unlicensed Freret Street keg parties!

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Obligatory


Tonight Errol Spence Jr. will get the mandatory challenger for his 147-pound title “out of the way,” as he puts it.  Facing the nearly anonymous Carlos Ocampo, Spence will probably have an easy night.  Much like what we saw in last week’s fight between Crawford and Horn (for another 147-pound belt), this fight will be a showcase for one fighter’s superiority.  Unlike last week’s fight, though, tonight’s winner will already have his place in the division carved out for him.  Spence said in an interview after his victory over Kell Brook that he didn’t know who Ocampo was, but looked forward to getting him out of the way as his mandatory.  While the concept is the same, it might be more helpful for fans to call the opponent in fights like this an “obligatory”, since he’s more ornamental than anything else.

Having been too long away from the game, I missed the larger context for last week’s title fight between Terence Crawford and Jeff Horn.  What I didn’t realize was that Crawford’s win marked his move from 140 to 147, where he now resides with much more robust competition.  The downside here is that Regis Prograis-Terence Crawford could be further down the road than we thought.  The silver lining, though, is that his move means a lot of talent has been concentrated into the 147-pound division.

It might be frustrating for us to see Spence in the ring with a nobody at such an important part of his career, but just like Crawford-Horn, tonight’s fight is a necessary speedbump.  Not too long from now we should see Crawford and Spence in the ring together, and it’s probably best for everyone if Spence doesn’t try to unify the belts before his 25th fight.  We can’t help but wonder if it will be worth the wait after the ultimate disappointment of Mayweather-Pacquiao, but I have a feeling it will be.

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The Rule of Rankings


Tonight Terence Crawford will take on Jeff Horn in his first match since becoming undisputed junior welterweight champion.  Quite a step down, you might say, except that he vacated that title just 11 days after winning it.  To be fair, he had already beaten everyone significant in the division, and the rankings still show him at the top.  But who are the champions at 140?  Currently, there are two official champions, and believe it or not, they are Kiryl Relikh and Jose Ramirez.

Jeff Horn gained notoriety for his ugly, improperly scored brawl with Pacquiao in July of last year.  While it was impressive for someone so obviously lacking in talent to survive such a fight, his performance inspired no delusions in the discerning fan.  Though undefeated, Horn has won all his fights in Australia, his biggest opponents being Ali Funega and Randall Bailey.  Horn’s team is adorably effusive, claiming that they think Crawford has “made a mistake” in choosing their fighter for his next opponent.

It’s true that Horn is the naturally larger fighter, and that he did enough to get a reasonably fair points decision over Pacquiao, but that’s the best he has going for him.  Crawford has been confronted with dirty fighters in the past, and has either matched with his own (more effective) dirty tactics, or has simply negated the effects with his vastly superior talent.  While the fight against Indongo was competitive, Crawford was still well within the limits of his abilities.  Horn was clearly at or near his limit with Pacquiao, and may not have won that fight.  In Crawford, he’ll face a harder punching, younger, fitter, in-his-prime opponent.  The suggestion that Horn has a shot because he’s physically larger is laughable, but should not surprise us.  It’s the same routine they pull out for every mismatch when they need to keep squeezing revenue out of a fighter who chooses lame opponents, or who has no other choice.

Right now, Crawford is first in the rankings for his division, but holds no titles.  Second-ranked is the very deserving Regis Prograis, probably the only legitimate challenge for Crawford at this point.  One titlist, ranked third according to ESPN, won the vacant WBC belt in his biggest bout to date from Amir Imam.  Who?  Exactly.  As is so often the case, there are really only two or three guys in the “top ten” who matter at all.  One or two others might stick with it and earn journeyman status, but many of the rest have peaked already, far below the elite level.  Viktor Postol (rated last) can be expected to continue fighting just below the top of the division, or even make another bid for supremacy, similar to what Amir Khan did a couple of divisions higher.  While Ricky Burns is probably finished with elite competition, he still represents the next highest level of talent.  Then you have Barthelemy and Lipinets, neither of whom I’m interested in ever seeing box again, ranked 9th and 7th, respectively.

You can’t trust the rankings, you can’t trust the titles, and you certainly can’t trust fight promoters, but you can trust in talent.  Crawford has that to spare, and so does the next-in-line and only opponent worth watching: Prograis.  Granted, the next division up is much deeper with talent, but I’d like to see Crawford hang at 140 to give fans a full appreciation for his talent before moving on to “bigger” things.  If we can’t have Prograis-Crawford next, maybe they’d grant us Crawford-Pacquiao.

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Asterisk


This past Saturday Anthony Joshua took on Joseph Parker in a heavyweight title unification match.  Both men had already established impressive professional records, with Joshua being billed as the star, known for knockouts.  In past fights Parker has come in fairly heavy, showing lackluster conditioning, but for the fight against Joshua he was in top physical form, nearly as chiseled as his statuesque opponent.  His performance followed suit, demonstrating superior fighting technique, effective aggression and formidable power.  The fight had all the makings of a classic.

Unfortunately, the contest descended into the kind of chaotic spectacle you expect from MMA or professional wrestling.  The way the fight was conducted, not to mention how it was judged, was shameful.  The complete lack of regulation obscured both fighters’ abilities.  Parker’s skill was partially negated by the referee’s incompetence.  Some of the most notoriously bad performances by referees in all of boxing were better than his.  He interfered and disrupted action, yet he didn’t pay attention to fouls; he over-officiated and yet lacked any semblance of control.

Joshua’s signature win and career triumph (2017’s fight of the year) was brought about by what appeared to be a frantic exchange that ended in an unintentionally illegal blow (holding and hitting).  After an epic struggle that forced both men to perform at their best, flailing arms resulted in Wladimir Klitschko’s head being pushed down while Joshua threw a devastating uppercut.  Klitschko was one of the most successful heavyweights in the history of the sport, performing near his best, and probably would not have lost by knockout had he not been hit illegally.  Realistically, there probably isn’t anyone in boxing who could go through 11 rounds like that, and then get back up after Anthony Joshua holds them down and lands a huge uppercut.

That fight was judged and officiated fairly.  The holding looked unintentional and the damage was done.  This past Saturday’s fight, however, was more challenging to control, and the referee was completely unprepared.  Joshua leaned and held much about as any heavyweight would, but as the fight progressed, it became clear that he also consistently managed to make contact with his head and forearm.  The referee never issued a warning.

Even more unbelievably, after a few rounds of brawling, Joshua began brazenly setting up the illegal shot that ended the fight against Klitschko.  Over and over he looked for an opportunity to push down on the shorter fighter’s neck, step back, and throw a big uppercut.  The second, even the third time he did it, I’m sure a lot of viewers thought it was still a coincidence, but by the end it was clear.  Holding and hitting was part of Joshua’s game plan that night.

Having been an ardent supporter of Joshua for years now, I’m extremely disappointed in his behavior–especially given the self-righteous, wholesome image he projects.  It’s not Margarito-level cheating, but a man Joshua’s size making illegal punches part of his strategy is criminal.  Or it should be.

The fight ended the way many expected, a win for Joshua.  There were times in the fight that Parker probably should have thrown more punches to keep the cards closer, but the final scores were far from fair.  While the commentators from Showtime, on their unofficial scorecard, may have given more rounds to Parker than I would have, they showed a very close fight at the end of 12 rounds.  That’s an accurate description of the fight I saw, close and exciting with Joshua taking a few more rounds.

Instead, all three judges handed in blowouts for Joshua: 119-109, 118-110, 118-110.  True, Parker lost the fight pretty decisively, but who’s to say how it would have gone without the illegal blows and incompetent referee?  All things considered, Anthony Joshua’s two biggest wins–and in turn, his identity–should now be marked with asterisks: Anthony Joshua, Boxer* (And part-time MMA/street fighter).

Deontay Wilder is the logical next step, though no one is expecting it to happen right away.  The Brits would have you think Joshua is at a different level in terms of skill.  Wilder does gets sloppy in every fight, and he struggled in his most recent bout against Luis Ortiz, who was probably a lesser challenge than Joseph Parker would have been, but I judge any disparity between Wilder and Joshua to be negligible.  What Wilder lacks in skill, he more than makes up for in athleticism and heart.  I would have predicted a win for Wilder in that fight even before the revealing display from this past Saturday, but now I’d say luck and muscle are more responsible than talent for Joshua’s success.  Wilder is strong enough to withstand Joshua’s legal punches and large enough to have a chance to prevent him from using the tactics he used against Parker.

I really don’t want to see Joshua fight Tyson Fury, but even that would be interesting.  Joshua has never fought a powerful heavyweight with any mobility, so either Fury or Wilder would be a challenge.  The big showdown between Wilder and Joshua looms even larger than Joshua-Klitschko, given the difference in age in that fight.  Nobody wants to see Joshua fight Povetkin or Dillian Whyte, but that’s probably what we’ll get in the mean time.  Let’s just hope it’s not David Haye.

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Younger, Not Better


This past Saturday Deontay Wilder, the top American heavyweight, took on Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz.  Their first fight was canceled due to Ortiz failing a drug test, but this time the event went on, bringing two of boxing’s biggest punchers together for the WBC title.  The fight started slowly, and as predicted, Wilder showed better movement than Ortiz but less precision and far less activity.  While Ortiz managed a slight reach advantage, Wilder is three inches taller, and made no use of his height (except to cheat).  In the end, , Wilder claimed he was just working on his inside punching and showing what he could do because he’s known as an outside puncher.  It’s not really true, but it’s plausible enough.

There’s been so much hype recently about the showdown between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder (with so little else to talk about)  that you would expect Wilder to be looking like a man at the top his sport, but he didn’t look that way for most of the fight on Saturday.  I was immediately disappointed in Wilder’s volume and accuracy, and simultaneously impressed by his opponents’ demonstration of skill in those areas.  Ortiz was measured with his punches, using good straights to work inside, and then landing effective shots.  About halfway through the fight, Wilder started to look fatigued and desperate, winging shots as if he were trying to live up to his surname.  Ortiz took some punishment for having his hands too low, but was generally able to handle the onslaught and land a couple of much more effective counter shots.

At 38, Ortiz is nearing the end of his run in the sport, whereas Wilder, a former Olympian, is only 32 and has plenty of time to make his megafight and, if he wins, enjoy his reign.  That might explain why, when given the opportunity to prove himself ready for an Anthony Joshua–or even a Tyson Fury, Wilder treated it like another tune-up fight.  After about two rounds of taking multiple counter punches for every punch he landed, Wilder got wobbly and was unable to return fire.  Using all of his skill, he managed to lean, hold and push enough to get the ref to give him a knockdown in round 5, but by round 7 it was clear Ortiz was the stronger of the two in every way.  Had that round lasted a few seconds longer, or had the timekeeper let the round go a little long (as so often is the case), Ortiz would be the new WBC champion and Wilder would be on the defensive, trying to pick up the pieces of his once-lucrative career prospects.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  Everyone besides the referee was on their job, and the round ended.

Admittedly, Ortiz did not pursue the knockout enough in round 8 to make a convincing attempt, but there was enough in round 7 to call the fight for him or at least give his opponent a couple of standing eights.  Two standing 8 counts would have considerably changed the momentum and the scoring of the fight, but instead, Wilder was given extra time in his corner between rounds to recover.  Then, in round 9, his leaning and holding got him a few good shots as Ortiz began to tire.  In round 10, Wilder’s ability to manipulate the rules peaked when he held his opponent’s head down as he landed an uppercut equal only to the one Joshua used to fell Elder Klitschko.  Similarly, Ortiz made a valiant recovery but was unable to regain his balance completely.  Knockout for Wilder.

There’s no arguing that Ortiz was too hurt by the illegal punches and too exhausted from holding up 215 pounds of dead weight for 10 rounds to continue any further, but the ref could have prevented the fight from getting there.  If he had only resisted Wilder’s increasingly brazen attempts to flout the rules, the momentum would have stayed with the more skilled fighter.  It could even have held true despite the referee’s conduct, given Wilder’s condition, if Ortiz weren’t approaching 40.  His performance up until that point was impressive enough, but to expect him to pull out another stoppage-worthy round would have been unrealistic.

I would say this is a repeat of Joshua-Klitschko, except that I think Joshua would win the rematch.  I think Klitschko really was done, and probably got lucky to do as well as he did, even though he was actually beaten by an (accidental) illegal blow.  I’m not 100% sure Wilder’s shot was unintentional, and I’m not convinced he fought competitively enough to be compared to Joshua’s performance against Klitschko.

 

In the undercard, an overmatched Andre Direll finally lost without being bludgeoned after the bell.  It may be the beginning of the end for him, or at least, part of the process, which was probably initiated by the notoriously underhanded Arthur Abraham.

 

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Risk, Reward and Real Boxing


This weekend boxing fans will be witness to the conclusion of another exercise in delaying the inevitable.  Lamont Peterson will be challenging (if you can call it that) former Olympian Errol Spence Jr.  Spence has been rolling through opponent after opponent since his pro debut in 2012.  Admittedly, his early opponents were low risk by any standard, but when he decided to make the transition to legacy-making fights, he jumped right into the deep end, taking on Kell Brook.  In that fight, Brook was thoroughly dominated for his second consecutive fight.  His only previous loss, however, was a fight in which he moved up two weight classes and fought one of the best in the sport, Gennady Golovkin.  Spence had always looked good, but it was the fight against Brook that really made him shine.  It was a showcase both for Spence’s talent and his limitations, but it was clear that his future held big things.

One of those things arrives this weekend in the form of the perfect opponent.  Lamont Peterson has enjoyed extreme devotion from his hometown fans, enough that their loyalty and enthusiasm swung the judges’ favor his way when he fought Amir Khan.  He would likely have lost a rematch.  I have always been a fan of his, and not just because of his boxing ability.  He’s a classy, admirable guy outside the ring, and he just so happens to be a hell of an athlete who’s fun to watch.  Lately, though, his ambition seems to have left him, and he’s got a list of excuses for everything that goes wrong in a fight.  He’s always fallen well short of the mark against big opponents (Danny Garcia, Lucas Mathysse, Tim Bradley), but some of his less noteworthy challengers have given him trouble as well.  In his two past fights he’s struggled against David Avenesyan and Felix Diaz Jr.  Neither one is likely to hold a title any time soon, and while the record shows that Peterson won those fights, you wouldn’t know it to watch them.

One of the biggest reasons to see Lamont Peterson fight has always been his incredible stamina, but recently he’s seemed lazy and sluggish, and has chosen to fight less frequently.  I sat in a stadium full of Lamont Peterson fans the night he fought Felix Diaz Jr., and all of us expected the decision to go against him.  We all actually wanted him to lose that night, not because we weren’t fans of his, but because that’s what his performance deserved.  His most recent win was more convincing but similarly disappointing.  When he meets Spence this Saturday, he’ll have fought only three times since 2015.  Let’s hope he got the rest he needed, because stepping back up in competition so suddenly against someone so young and talented is a good way to end your career.  Lamont will come up with his formidable jab and hold Spence off for the first couple rounds, and he might move his hands enough to win one or both.  If he’s in good form, he’ll throw consistently for two or three rounds and defend well, but then he’ll slow down and stop throwing.  Once Spence feels comfortable letting his hands go, he’ll push Lamont to the ropes and they’ll call it.

In the heavies there’s been a lot of hubbub surrounding the showdown between Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker.  Mostly because Parker has a big mouth.  It’s become a real trend in boxing for untalented, uneducated Brits to essentially rant their way to a contract.  I’m fine with Sky Sports using their airtime to broadcast David Haye-Tony Bellew 5, but let’s not pretend these exhibitions have anything to do with boxing.  Haye, Bellew, Chisora, Fury–none of them were ever relevant, yet they felt comfortable claiming they were going to easily defeat opponents with much greater experience, even threatening to kill them, then shamelessly taking the easy way out once in the ring.  Reminds me of Trump, actually.  Haye-Bellew?  That’s fake news.  Fake boxing.  It cheapens the efforts of the real athletes to allow guys like that to Paris-Hilton their way to a televised title shot.  (Sure, Fury beat Klitschko, but we’ll never know how the rematch would’ve gone.)

We spent so many years suffering through a total drought in the heavyweight division (save for the Klitschkos) that it’s now possible to become a known entity with very little experience.  In fact, it worked both ways, in that when we had no one else to compare them to, many fans were even critical of the Klitschkos.  Tyson Fury was a sideshow when he started his campaign to get a fight with Wladimir, the biggest win on his resume over Dereck Chisora, but suddenly he was a name.  The same thing has happened with Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua, their considerable reputations preceding their success and being met with a stubborn but well-founded skepticism.  Joseph Parker is yet another, possibly even more extreme example of the phenomenon.  The difference being that Wilder and Joshua actually have proven themselves.

How Parker was chosen as the opponent, I can’t imagine.  Aside from a unanimous decision over Joshua’s last opponent (who Joshua knocked out), and a much closer one over Hughie Fury, he has no credentials that would justify his selection.  I guess height is now considered a talent supplement in the heavyweight division (Parker is 6’4″).  Actually, that does show that we’re learning–we’ll never have to sit through another Klitschko-Haye, but I have a feeling the talent deficit for Parker will be similar.  There’s no doubt that Parker is an impressive athlete, but it’s unlikely he’ll dethrone one of the best British heavyweights of all time.  It’ll be a good learning experience for Joshua and should be entertaining to watch, but merely a formality.  There’ll be several more to come, I’m sure, before we get what we’re really waiting to see: Wilder-Joshua.  Given that both of them are young and the division is relatively vacant, their meeting seems inevitable.  I’d be surprised if both don’t end up carving out a place in the history books.

In March a fight will be held to determine the mandatory challenger for Sergey Lipinets.  More tantalizing is the co-feature, a bout between Viktor Postol (KO over Mathysse) and Regis Prograis.  Both are up-and-coming talents looking to establish their place on the ladder.  Plus, Prograis wears a werewolf mask to the ring.  While neither fighter has managed a career-defining win, Postol has taken on Terence Crawford, and a win here would go a long way to getting him back to the top of the division.  Expect real entertainment from this one.

 

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Easy Pickins


HBO presented a series of some of the year’s most exciting fights this past weekend, and certainly the most satisfying card in recent months.  The first of the trilogy featured Cletus Seldin and Yves Ulysse Jr., two fighters trying to break into the same level of their division, but with vastly disparate skill sets.  Ulysse had an extensive amateur career and relied on his impressive speed and accuracy.  Seldin hoped to either land a big punch right away, or wear his opponent down, and land a big punch later.  Neither scenario came to pass.  Seldin was put in his place and fans got an exciting new talent to watch at 140.  Ulysse was facing a tailor-made opponent, to be sure, but he moved around Seldin with such playful agility and pinpoint accuracy that any fighter would have had trouble with him that night.

The second and third fights showcased aspiring middleweights, all of whom were at or around the gatekeeper level before their respective fights.  Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan, of Ireland, faced the up-and-coming Antoine Douglas.  While Douglas had only lost a single fight, he came into the bout as the less experienced fighter, his previous two opponents having a combined record of 52 wins and 22 losses.  O’Sullivan had lost two fights where his opponent had only lost one, but against much stronger opposition.  Most recently, O’Sullivan lost to American Chris Eubank Jr., and before taking fights in the U.S., he played stepping-stone for one of the night’s main event fighters, Billy Joe Saunders.  Both Saunders and Eubank are high-level competitors, so it should have come as no surprise that O’Sullivan handled the heat better than Douglas.  Douglas was sharper and smarter with his output than O’Sullivan, but no more competent in his defense.  Hailing from a town just minutes from where I went for undergrad, I had hoped he would perform better.  He landed some early combinations and evaded the worst of O’Sullivan’s offense, but was unable to cope with his opponent’s output.  As the rounds progressed, he took increasingly took big shots and failed to land his own.  O’Sullivan’s power won’t win him any belts, but his volume of punches was enough for a stoppage.

The main event was meant to be a set-up for a fight with one of the two men currently running the middleweight division (Golovkin or Alvarez).  In a classic style matchup, Billy Joe Saunders, a lanky but powerful boxer, took on David Lemieux, an extremely dangerous and energetic puncher.

Like most boxing fans, I love watching Lemieux in the ring (and think his hair is stupid).  At any moment, he could unleash a punch or two capable of changing the fight, if not rendering his opponent unconscious.  His defense is adequate, his conditioning is very impressive, and his movement is effective.  His reach isn’t great, but it’s not bad, however, you wouldn’t know it to watch him.  Lemieux is one of those guys with the physique and the talent to stay right below the top of his division for the rest of his career, like an Arturo Gatti or a Micky Ward.

His first loss came after steamrolling more than two dozen opponents, most of whom had little experience.  His ambitions then brought him to the biggest fight of his career, against Marco Antonio Rubio.  Having lost 5 fights, Rubio presented an appealing opportunity.  After all, Lemieux had just defeated Hector Comacho Jr., whose similar record and superior reputation made him seem a bigger threat than Rubio.  While most of Rubio’s first five losses were to relative unknowns, his fifth was a decision loss to Kelly Pavlik.  The fact that he survived ten rounds with Pavlik should have meant something to Team Lemieux.  Specifically, that a one-dimensional power puncher would have trouble with Rubio.  And trouble Lemieux had.  Like Seldin against Ulysse, Lemieux threw to the head almost exclusively in desperate pursuit of a knockdown, and was himself knocked down in the 7th round.  He just couldn’t handle the complexities of a competent boxer with a chin.

Billy Joe Saunders was Rubio but worse.  He could take a punch, if not as well as Rubio, then at least adequately.  He could box, and he was faster than Rubio ever had been.  He could move, which Rubio rarely did, and he had the reach.  Lemieux made an effort to go to the body, but still ended up whiffing big haymakers to the head fairly frequently, leaving him exhausted in the late rounds.  The CompuBox scores may have made it look as if the fight was your average loss for the puncher, but I would bet that on closer inspection you would find Lemieux’s accuracy relative to head shots unsually low.  It became more apparent as the fight wore on, but even by round 5, Lemieux (never a big fan of straight punches) was missing almost every shot he threw to the head.  He needed to commit to maximizing his range to have any hope of landing a big shot, and against Billy Joe Saunders, a big shot was his only chance.

Many fans, including me, thought Lemieux would’ve made good competition against Golovkin.  That loss wasn’t so surprising, and I guess this one isn’t either, but it gives us a new perspective on his potential in the division.  Having been exposed as a one-dimensional+ fighter, he’ll likely assume the role of opponent for the elites and up-and-comers who are looking to pad their records.  Just based on his deficiency in understanding range, he should be a target for lanky fighters with half his talent.  Saunders, on the other hand, will be offered up to Alvarez and Golovkin.  Whoever wants the fight will get a safe opponent, who will bring name recognition (and therefore money) as well as worthy competition.  I don’t think there’s any chance Saunders gives either man much of a challenge.  Golovkin has proven his athleticism and ring IQ more than make up for any lack of boxing ability, and Alvarez has shown recently that the only part of his game that isn’t polished is his ability to capitalize at critical moments.  There won’t be many of those against Saunders.  For either of the middleweight kings, much like the most probable result of the match itself, choosing Saunders for their next opponent is an easy decision.

 

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Revisionism


writing desk

Boxing is a sport that encourages reivisionist history in its participants as well as its spectators.  Sometimes this tendency is more prominent than others, like whenever anyone made predictions about the last few years of Bernard Hopkins career.  While the temptation is there to re-write, I have to admit I had no idea the second Ward-Kovalev fight would go the way it did.  At the same time, this post is literally a revision of the post I intended for the night of June 17th.  I never posted it, and I’m glad now, because everything in it was pretty far off base.

To be fair, I don’t think anybody expected such a one-sided fight, given the hype and subsequent television ratings.  And I’ll continue my effort to remain accurate in the account by emphasizing that I do think it was one-sided.  Many analysts and commentators apparently had the fight close to even before the stoppage.  I had Ward winning every single round.

I watched the fight a second time, just to be sure, but even trying to skew the cards to Kovalev, I couldn’t give him more than one round.   His entire promotional agenda for the rematch had been that he had over-trained for the first fight, and hadn’t been “the Krusher.”  This time, “you will see Krusher,” he assured us.  Turns out, not so much.  He looked hesitant and scared to be hit from the first round.  He looked less accurate, less coordinated, and seemed to have less stamina.  He certainly didn’t show any sign of the killer instinct that has earned him his moniker.  By some twist of fate, Ward has recently announced his retirement, while Kovalev has a fight coming up in November against a guy whose name you couldn’t pronounce without coaching and probably won’t need to ever again.

By contrast, the recent performances by Omar Figueroa, Vasyl Lomachenko, Jorge Linares, Luke Campbell and Claressa Shields were anything but oversold.  All turned in fantastic performances against substantial competition.  Major networks, actually, all networks, still hestitate to take up any of their precious broadcast with the lowly womenfolk, but Shields proved these fights are marketable and every bit as exciting, if not moreso, than their male counterparts.  I still say the showdown between Golovkin and Alvarez was far from epic.  It was a “great fight” in the same way Mayweather-Pacquiao was a great fight: two insanely talented athletes doing what makes them look best without risking a knockout.  Speaking of revisionist history, I plan on re-watching and scoring that fight (oughta get at least a couple views for 80 bucks).  I’ll post comments when I do.

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Business as Usual


Golovkin-Alvarez was an important fight for so many reasons.  Most notably, the complete set of four middleweight titles on the line.  Leading up to the fight, the talent, strength and condition of both fighters was so exceptional that the fight was hailed as the next Hagler-Hearns.  The promotional theme was 1930’s-era fashion and dramatic noir-lighting, reporters in bow-ties clamoring for a shot of the ring with their flashbulbs.  An effective campaign, no doubt, but did the implication fit the event?  The idea was obviously an attempt to evoke historic fights like Hagler-Hearns, but with an atmosphere most closely resembling that of what could be considered the greatest boxing series ever, between Jake Lamotta and Ray Robinson.  Aside from the weight division, I certainly see no resemblance.

I’ve watched a lot of Alvarez fights biting my nails and condemning him for throwing away his career on risky fights with low reward.  Erislandy Lara and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. come to mind.  And then there was Mayweather.  This fight may not have been as much of a miscalculation for Canelo’s team as Mayweather was, but it wasn’t too impressive.  Alvarez was criticized heavily for giving up a middleweight title in 2015.  After winning it from Miguel Cotto, he forfeited the “lineal” championship in favor of scheduling other fights between first, before his meeting with Golovkin.  It was a good idea for Alvarez at the time, and as Teddy Atlas was quick to point out, Golovkin would probably have knocked him out if he had accepted the challenge back then.  Since then he’s earned some impressive decisions against larger fighters, but none anywhere near Golovkin’s level.  His team ranted incessantly about how much bigger and stronger he was getting, how it was his time, and how his skill had grown to match his size.  By all accounts, most of that is true.  It just wasn’t enough to match the ability of a larger, highly skilled fighter.

The judges’ scorecards, or to be more precise, judge’s scorecard, is the source of the controversy over this fight, and I’m as upset as anyone else when a blatantly clueless judge influences a major fight.  Anyone who knows me or reads this blog, however, also knows that I’m an intensely loyal Alvarez fan.  So much so, that I went against my better instincts when making my prediction.  I said I thought Alvarez could take a decision, but I really thought Golovkin was too strong and too good.  He was.  In my eyes, he won that fight.  A friend of mine pointed out an important insight into the sport, though, when he said that boxing is a subjective sport; it’s judged by three people specifically because one or more of them might make mistakes in their scoring.  Therefore, based on the nature of the sport, the best outcome for any fight is good action and a fair decision.  A fair decision, as opposed to the one you think is correct.  After all, your judgment may be as skewed as that of any official. Especially from thousands of miles away, behind a tv screen with a few beers in your belly.

That’s absolutely true and it addresses at least half of what I was upset about after that fight ended.  The two people I was watching with, both of whom know and understand the sport, were fairly happy with what they had seen.  They were quite satisfied, if not with the result, then at least with the performance.  I was not.

I’m glad the final decision was fair.  A draw is always fair, if the two fighters are competitive throughout and the rounds are close for a majority of the event.  The aberration, however, is reminiscent of the scorecard CJ Ross turned in for Alvarez after his showdown with Mayweather.  Almost everyone watching saw Mayweather dominate his opponent in twelve of the most one-sided rounds ever fought, but Ross scored the fight a draw.  At the time, there was no bigger fight in boxing, and no clearer winner, and yet one of the officials whose job it was to evalute the action was confused.  I understand the feeling.  I was so excited for the dawning of the Alvarez era that I rushed home the day after my wedding, actively ignoring tv, radio and the internet, in order to see the fight unspoiled.  Finally, I thought, someone with the skill and the ability to stop Mayweather’s reign.  If anything, the performance only further solidified Mayweather’s dominance in the sport and his status as an iconic athlete.  But hey, at least Mayweather put on an epic performance.  I wasn’t quite that disappointed in this past Saturday’s showdown.  Instead of being completely heartbroken for one fighter, I was just mildly aggravated by both.  Strike that, mildly aggravated by both fighters’ performances, and then crestfallen in response to the robbery which denied this contest between two great athletes any dignity.  I wanted Mayweather to lose that fight to Alvarez as much as I wanted Alvarez to win, but if the scores CJ Ross submitted contributed to a loss for Mayweather, or even a draw, that would have been a travesty.

When an athlete works hard enough to be the best in the world at what he or she does: it’s important that he or she trains and competes safely, but it’s almost as important that his or her performance is evaluated fairly.  A historic performance is deserving of at least that much respect.  I was disappointed that the fabled knockout artist Golovkin couldn’t seem to hurt Alvarez, I was even more disappointed that Canelo’s improved skill and body mass weren’t enough to so much as budge Golovkin during the fight, but I was really pissed off when I heard the decision.  Again, not just because the ultimate result was a draw.  That was bad enough, but it was so bad because one judge turned in a score so wrong it was professionally criminal, and another turned in a score that seems plausible, but only “fair” if bribes of some kind counted for points in Canelo’s favor.  De la Hoya touted this fight as the “real” boxing match, in contrast to the carnival presented by Mayweather and McGregor just a couple of weeks previous, but was it?  In the sense of traditional boxing, it was, but he also claimed the two fighters were going to give an epic performance worthy of the names evoked by the highly stylized promotional campaign.  Neither fighter lived up to that description.  Atlas described it well when he said Alvarez “fought in spots, to survive.”  In other words, he didn’t moderate his aggression and activity to deliver the best possible performance, he did what he thought would keep him out of trouble and give him the best chance of benefitting from an unfortunate scorecard or two like the ones we saw.  It worked.

Some people felt the first fight between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev should have been scored more in favor of Ward.  Others felt it was a fair decision, much like the response to this fight.  Still, there was no question (for most fans) that Kovalev did, in fact, take some of the rounds decisively.  For Alvarez against Golovkin, that was not the case.  People still talk about whether McGregor was stopped early against Mayweather, and if a rematch would be worth watching.  But why is anyone clamoring to see this one again?  The draw for Alvarez against Mayweather was absurd, sure, but that was 6 rounds misdiagnosed.  The disparity in the fight between Alvarez and Golovkin, on the other hand, was arguably 8 rounds.  When half the rounds could go either way, that’s one thing; it’s something entirely different when there are only a few rounds that could go either way, and all the rest clearly go to one person.

Alvarez had the chance to prove himself great, but failed utterly.  Golovkin had the opportunity to show himself to be special, but he also failed.  Given the styles of the two fighters (styles make fights) it was the worst possible scenario for action that we could have seen.  Neither fighter has fought a significantly more conservative fight in recent years.  Both are known for walking opponents down and imposing their strength.  In this fight, it didn’t look like either one was fighting to secure a legacy.  It was no epic confrontation between two men battling for a place in history.  It looked like they were fighting to secure a rematch and millions of dollars.  The judges scores looked like they had been written to ensure that potential revenue stream as well.  Instead of a raw, unrestrained fight for the ages, it looked like business as usual.

 

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