Slump Season


A drought has set in over the summer of 2021. The wildfires of oblivion have waited patiently for an opportunity to rush in and consume the few remaining structures supporting potentially meaningful boxing matches, with Canelo struggling to finalize a deal with Plant, Fury unable to make a deal with Joshua, and then the pandemic-related delays to Teofimo Lopez-George Kambosos and Fury-Wilder III. It’s left fans with a barren, charred landscape for their sport in the remainder of this season. I hope you’re all fans of Olympic-style competition, because it’s the best we’re going to see for a while.

That being said, Keyshawn Davis is proving to be a prospect worth watching as one of the first professional boxers to make a big impact in the Games. Fighting out of Nofolk, VA, Davis obviously has my support as a native Virginian. The problem for me, as a viewer, is that boxing is rarely featured on a prime time broadcast slot (or at all), so I’m relegated to the vast database of streaming events, which makes it very difficult to locate a specific fight. They are usually bloated to several hours long with lengthy sections of dead air between fights, and very little meaningful commentary (not to mention watching the same commercial for the 17th time during every break between rounds). If you’re able to click the progress bar and find an action-packed fight segment, you’ve just won the lottery–it doesn’t happen often.

On top of these obstacles to entertainment, some of the fights currently on the schedule are nothing more than promotional scams perpetrated by fringe celebrities and former athletes. In September, Oscar De La Hoya will be facing an ostensibly worthy opponent in former UFC star Vitor Belfort. Again, my appreciation for UFC competition has increased since watching the collection of “greatest fights” released on Hulu (along with Anderson Silva’s dominant performance over JCC Jr.), but it’s also given me an idea of the limits to these athletes’ abilities in boxing. Granted, Silva is a far sight from Ben Askren, but the upcoming bout between De La Hoya and Belfort is specious at best. Belfort’s career has been very successful in MMA in terms of wins and losses, but there have been multiple interruptions, last-minute opponent substitutions, and a hell of a lot of weight fluctuation. He’s the larger man in the fight, but the last time he tried to compete at the UFC middleweight designation (up 185 pounds, the same limit set for this bout) he fainted and then had seizures from his unhealthy weight-cutting practices.

This is yet another example that demonstrates the incompatibility or at least the incongruence of UFC and boxing career records. Boxing, even with the precipitous ascent in UFCs popularity over the last 20 years, is such a better established sport with such a longer, richer history and superior metrics for determining champions, that the two are almost impossible to compare. Without getting into specifics again, this disparity makes it difficult to judge not only the outcome of some of these fights, but their significance in the sport as well. Silva looked incredible against the consistently lazy, undisciplined JCC Jr., but will Oscar De La Hoya put in a similar performance? If we’re judging by conditioning and age (four years his opponent’s senior), there’s a strong possibility he will perform just as abysmally as his Mexican compatriot.

Oscar is coming in thirty pounds heavier than he did in his fight against Mayweather, forty pounds heavier than his dehydrated fight weight (for which he blamed his loss) against Pacquiao. That, combined with his age, ought to mean that no legitimate athlete (with a two inch height–and presumably similar reach–advantage) trained in boxing could lose to De La Hoya. As we’ve already seen, though, MMA fighters in boxing are harder to predict than normal fighters. They don’t stick as closely to technique and their conditioning is never close to their boxing counterparts. They all seem to have the idea that eventually they’ll have an opportunity for a takedown or that their opponent will become so winded, there will be a gap in their defenses big enough for an easy knockout. Neither of those situations should arise in this fight, but Oscar’s physical condition makes anything possible.

Of all the fighters to return to the ring for these social media fueled affairs, Oscar seems the least sincere about the effort. Roy Jones Jr. was basically an active fighter until 5 years ago, Tyson was in good condition and took his time returning to the ring. Mayweather has lost several steps, but has stayed active enough to be more than adequate for the amateurs he’s made matches with recently. De La Hoya’s reign came after Tyson and Jones debuted, but he wasn’t far behind either of them, and while they stayed relatively close to fighting shape in between training for fights, Oscar has had nothing like their recent ring activity. It’s just been announced that the fight will be a sanctioned boxing match rather than an exhibition, but it’s hard to know what to expect other than a flabby shell of the former Golden Boy. One thing is for sure (or as close as you can get in boxing), which is that this will not be a “good fight.” There will be no supreme talent or athletic ability on display, and we have to hope neither of these old guys is pushed to prove his heart.

Hopefully, this firestorm of frivolous fights will burn out the dead wood boxing fans have been subjected to for too long. There are at least three unusually competitive and exciting divisions in the sport right now, but we’re not getting any of the benefits; none of the fights are being made. While pandemic restrictions account for some of the delays, the sport’s promoters and matchmakers have shown desperation in their attempt to capitalize on every opportunity, from WWE soap-opera crossovers to fake celebrity YouTube “stars” and former MMA competitors with nearly as many losses as wins. As the dust settles, perhaps fans will be treated to a new generation of green, untested fighters, some of whom might rise from the ashes like a phoenix from the ruins of our former monoliths. This time, we hope, they’ll be comprised of fighters who want to practice the art of boxing, rather than athletes who want to make some money and increase their Twitter following by fighting on TV.

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Overcard


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you’re not a boxing fan if you only watch the “big fights.” Especially now, in an age when YouTube stars, retired boxers and MMA fighters command the highest purses and the biggest audiences–who could say with a straight face that Mayweather-Paul was even worth watching based on the performances we saw in the ring, much less worth the price tag? I watched Paul enact his farcical fight with Mayweather at a Buffalo Wild Wing, surrounded by kids barely old enough to drink (some not old enough) who booed and cheered the “action” as if anything of consequence were happening, as if anything (even an official win) were on the line. Last night’s undercard on ESPN, and later, the main event on Fox, exemplified this seemingly oxymoronic inconsistency.

Before going any further, I should update my recent commentary on MMA fighters in general, and UFC fighters and MMA fighters in boxing, specifically. The most recent pay-per-view sham perpetrated against boxing fans featured Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., the most consistently disappointing, lazy fighter in the sport, fighting former MMA legend Anderson Silva. Though I was familiar with his reputation, the only experience I had had actually watching Silva compete was when he snapped his tibia and fibula fighting Chris Weidman in one of the strangest, most severe injuries I’ve ever seen in fight sports. This bizarre event should not, of course, have influenced my somewhat arbitrary dismissal of the fighter competing in boxing. That being said, he had competed professionally in the sport twice before (at a much younger age) with unimpressive results.

Yet, the opponent’s spotty background does nothing to reduce the error of expecting Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to perform like a professional. He came in overweight again, even at a relaxed catchweight of 182 (there’s no such weight class), and looked inexplicably amateurish in his technique. In the past, when Chavez was clearly undisciplined in his conditioning and his technique, you could at least see the underlying talent and natural athleticism that had carried him that far in his career. In this match, Silva looked like a trained, natural boxer, where Chavez looked like he had learned a few combinations but wasn’t sure how he had gotten himself into that situation. An impressive win for Silva and an indication that not all MMA fighters are as inept as Ben Askren.

Getting back to less hyped boxing broadcasts, a quick glance at the events of this past weekend is all that should be needed to support my case. The biggest events were on Saturday, of course, with Gervonta Davis moving up two weight classes to impressively dominate Mario Barrios, and Vasiliy Lomachenko returning from his loss to Lopez to completely destroy the formerly formidable Masayoshi Nakatani. No doubt, these cards included some action and some surprisingly competitive rounds, but the main events themselves were dismal affairs showing fans more of the same inconsequential exercises they’ve seen these fighters in already. No significant tides have shifted and neither headliner’s career will take a new direction because of these results.

By contrast, on Sunday night’s unheralded lineup there were at least four upsets and two spectacular knockouts, not to mention an absolute barn burner between two undefeated Cruiserweights in Brandon Glanton and Efetobor Apochi. In that bout, both men came out with disparate styles and the intent as well as an expectation that they would punish their opponent. The action went back and forth with big exchanges, but in the end, the right man won the decision. This one was expected to produce some action, as the fight was billed a co-main event (albeit on a Sunday night card), yet the real standout for me was the main event on the undercard broadcast between Nathaniel Gallimore and Leon Lawson III. In this ostensibly unremarkable matchup, we had a guy in Gallimore with an ambitious, impressive history of opponents with whom he’d had mixed success, plus an outrageous haircut. In Lawson, fans are seeing a six-foot five technically sound boxer fighting at 154 pounds. The physical disparity alone is enough to hold your attention.

As the fight wore on, the oldest and most important maxim of the sport showed its influence: styles make fights. The incredibly long and ungainly Lawson became distraught at the damage he was taking inside, so resorted to wrestling tactics and holding to discourage Gallimore, who began retaliating with punches behind the head and even headbutts when both his arms were pinned by his opponent. At times it looked as if the shorter man would succumb to the enormous reach advantage of his opponent, at others, it appeared that Gallimore was too tenacious for Lawson. The fight was exciting and the cards were close, but in the end, once again, the right man won.

All of this was capped off with a wonderfully satisfying, if somewhat brief, main event in David Morrell vs. Mario Cazares. Both fighters are expected to do big things in the sport, but the coming out party ended up being decidedly oriented toward Morrell, who managed to stun his opponent with a setup shot about 2 and half minutes into the first round, followed shortly thereafter by a single, devastating knockout punch that should be among the nominees for knockout of the year. Unfortunately for Morrell, he’s currently campaigning in the same division as Canelo and Caleb Plant, and if he wants to move up, he’ll be facing Beterbiev, Bivol and Joe Smith Jr. The prospects for him aren’t great in either case, but there’s always the chance he can outlast Canelo or move down instead.

Looming in the distance is the final showdown between the heavyweight giants Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, rendered something of a caricature by Wilder’s “BOMB SQU-A-AD” routine. Two of the largest, most powerful men in the sport, they’ll also generate the most interest for any (legitimate) fight of the year, the result of which is admittedly difficult to predict. Aside from that, we’ll have to hope that promoters don’t get too enamored with the new trend of matching MMA fighters, social media stars, and nearly geriatric boxers to clean up the schedule for the fall.

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SideShow


Showtime is presenting tomorrow (Sunday) night’s exhibition between Jake Paul and Floyd Mayweather. The size disparity is supposed to make this fight interesting between a YouTube star and one of the best boxer’s in history, but if you recall the result of the McGregor mismatch, you should know what to expect here. Even if Mayweather struggles in the fight, it will mean nothing for Paul’s boxing career and nothing about Mayweather’s place in history. The more likely scenario is what we saw against McGregor, with Mayweather taking time to get comfortable with his opponent’s size and then getting a stoppage in the middle rounds.

For some reason, after crippling the best boxing broadcast in history on HBO, Showtime has been gradually fading out in terms of relevant fights. This summer’s lineup may be the best example yet, with tomorrow night’s farce featuring only one legitimate bout, between Badou Jack and Dervin Colina. Jack is on the decline after losing to a couple of gatekeepers, while Colina has never faced a significant opponent. The undercard features former football player Ochocinco in a four-round exhibition. Later this month we’ll see one of the Charlos taking on another anonymous opponent and then Showtime will be hang a pay-per-view price tag on a Gervonta Davis title attempt in late June. Having finally defeated a name opponent (though one clearly past his prime) in Leo Santa Cruz, Davis apparently now expects to get superstar status without any significant wins.

July 3rd, Showtime will be perpetrating Chris Colbert vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa, and then in late July the other Charlo will be facing yet another soft touch in Brian Castano, whose best contest came to a draw against Erislandy Lara. In a similarly pointless match, August 14 will see Guillermo Rigondeaux dusted off for a fight with John Riel Casimero. While Rigondeaux might very well be a legitimate talent in the division, he hasn’t had a significant fight since losing to Lomachenko in 2017. Best of all, in late August, Showtime will present yet another pay-per-view, this time headlined by Jake Paul and Tyron Woodley. But they’re still not done with us. Before the end of September, they’ll show two more wastes of airtime with David Benavidez vs. Jose Uzcategui and Stephen Fulton vs. Brandon Figueroa.

Just to be clear, I subscribe to every other service that provides boxing content, but I am completely comfortable ignoring the provider that will be showing the majority of fights this season. Their analysts are acceptable at best, with Al Bernstein and Jim Gray being the standouts, whereas HBO was littered with brilliant talent like Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, Harold Lederman, Roy Jones Jr., and Max Kellerman. Insightful analysis from guys like that is the reason I fell in love with this sport and committed so fully to it when I had no experience with it whatsoever. People who truly love the sport and understand it show the rest of us how to love it, but Showtime doesn’t do that. Shobox sucks.

Next week, ESPN will present Shakur Stevenson as he returns with another irrelevant opponent. He’s been showing more developed technique in recent fights but has yet to face a legitimate name. The following week we’ll be treated to Naoya Inoue and Mikaela Mayer defending their titles. In late June, in another welcome change of pace, we get Lomachenko-Nakatani, which should be both entertaining and competitive, but there’s nothing else on ESPN’s schedule for the rest of the summer, and there will likely be very few additions.

Thankfully, there are two semi-competitive fights slated for the remainder of the year and we can still expect Canelo to come through with a unification fight against Caleb Plant, if for no other reason than because he seems to have hit his peak performance and frequency of fights. His current reign might be the best single reason to follow the sport as it stands. Save for his single loss to Mayweather, his dominance and continuous progression are unrivaled by all but the best fighters in history. The two interesting fights on the schedule differ significantly in terms of weight class but not much with regard to status. On August 21st, Manny Pacquiao will be taking on Errol Spence in an ill-advised last stand, with this fight either catapulting him with finality to legendary status, or further bolstering the career of Spence, whose resume is otherwise somewhat thin. Best of all will be July 24th, when Tyson Fury will finish his trilogy with Deontay Wilder, who was expected to lead the division until he was dethroned and embarrassed by Fury in their first two fights. Fury looks better than ever, seemingly having taken great care in developing himself since his fight (declared a draw) with Wilder in 2018, so I don’t think Wilder has much of a chance. The speculation from boxing analysts purports that Wilder will come into the ring ready to box and use technique better than we’ve ever seen, but I’m skeptical. Wilder has fought his entire career as if he were trying to live up to his own name, and it’s unlikely that he can successfully complete such a dramatic turnaround so late in his career, especially after having settled into a sense of dominance before the loss to Fury, and having had no other opponents since being stopped in February of 2020.

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Internecine


The next two weekends kick off what should be an action-packed summer for the sport. Saturday, on pay-per-view, a fight card featuring prominent Mexican fighters will culminate in the (perhaps overdue) showdown between Andy Ruiz Jr. and Chris Arreola. Both have lost a significant amount of weight and improved their physiques since their previous bouts, most notably Andy Ruiz, who has lost something like 30 pounds since his embarrassingly corpulent attempt at a title defense in December of 2019 against Anthony Joshua. Ruiz is the younger, more technically sound fighter, and even though his last fight was a one-sided loss, he did make it through the duration, which Arreola likely would not have.

In contrast, Arreola made his campaign to transform his body over a decade ago and he’s been less successful ever since. He still comes into the ring flabby, but with an improved physique comparatively. He’s lost every time he’s approached elite level opponents, and even, at times, when he’s been confronted with the B+ fighters like Adam Kownacki. Ruiz shocked the world with his dominant win over the physically flawless Anthony Joshua, but the rematch looked a lot more like what we expected. Obese men have never been able to compete at the highest levels of any sport, even heavyweight boxing. The fact that Arreola, Kownacki and Ruiz have had as much success as they have is a testament to their technical ability and an indictment of that of their opponents. Bermane Stiverne is an important exception in some ways, but the fact that Arreola was competitive against him in two fights goes a long way to explaining why Stiverne never reached the pinnacle of the division. Of all three, Arreola is the oldest, the most physically worn, and the least technically skilled (especially defensively).

That being said, as of April 2021, Arreola absolutely looks the best of the three in terms of physique. Is it possible he’s settled into his new body in a way that Ruiz has not had time for? Could his fierce determination carry him through one more crucial gateway fight? Chris Arreola has never been short on heart or courage when facing almost insurmountable obstacles like Vitali Klitschko and Deontay Wilder. The fight is guaranteed to produce fireworks, and Ruiz will have to be both strategic and brave to weather his opponent’s onslaught. If he blinks first, if Arreola smells blood and goes about finishing Ruiz the way he used to finish his opponents–with the tenacity of a shark in a feeding frenzy–there could be a huge upset. Of course, it really would be huge, which is why the betting odds are so drastically skewed for Ruiz. I would love to see Arreola have one last triumph, and I wouldn’t even necessarily discount him fighting for a championship, but historically, he’s struggled with technically sound fighters. Ruiz is skilled and fast enough that I don’t expect any surprises.

The following weekend features what may end up being the most important fight of the year. Saul Alvarez will be making his attempt to unify the super middleweight titles against the final remaining belt-holder, Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders is an undefeated, well-built, capable fighter. Unfortunately, his opposition thus far in his career has been easy enough to carry him to a title a little sooner than he probably should have been. He won the middleweight championship by majority decision from the notorious underperformer Andy Lee, then went on to a showdown with fellow 160-pound brawler David Lemieux. Having won these fights convincingly (though with very few stoppages and knockouts, even as a larger fighter) Saunders moved up to super middleweight and claimed a vacant title in a fight against Shefat Asufi. He’s had one subsequent fight with an equally anonymous opponent, and one legitimate win over the aging Martin Murray. The fates have forsaken Saunders now, though, as he’s faced with the unstoppable force of Canelo Alvarez who has dominated every significant fighter in every division between welterweight and light heavy over the past decade.

No speculation necessary here. He doesn’t have the power to stop Alvarez, but he’s a competent enough opponent to make the fight interesting for a few rounds. Look for a mid-fight knockout as Canelo’s power becomes apparent with each precise shot. Saunders is less accurate and unimpressive defensively. If he can use his weight and height advantages in the early rounds to tire Alvarez, he may be able to get past round 6, otherwise it’ll be an early celebration for yet another milestone in Canelo’s career.

Michael Conlan fights tomorrow night. I always support the Irish fighters, but like former Saunders opponents Gary O’Sullivan and Andy Lee, there’s often a disparity between heart and technical ability that renders their trajectory into a bell curve. At fight number 15 in his pro career, this is where we’ll start to see if the fighter is developing and learning to perfect his craft the way legends like Alvarez have, or if he’s yet another star burning too bright to avoid an inevitable descent. The following month we’ll be treated to Teofimo Lopez and Evander Holyfield on the same card, and then Mayweather’s next farcical exhibition. Though less important, these fights will undoubtedly bring new viewers to the sport.

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Crossover Complacency


UFC legend Frank Mir beaten by ex-boxing champion Steve Cunningham on Jake  Paul vs Ben Askren undercard
Steve Cunningham dominating flabby-Frank Mir

I’ve taken opportunities in the past to trivialize UFC competition, but after all these years and with the recent trend of crossover fights, I realized I really ought to settle down and do some heavy-duty hating. I’ve tried to keep an objective view of my own ignorance on the subject and steered clear of direct comparisons, but since getting into the JRE podcast and finding UFC events on Hulu, I’ve managed to watch almost all of the UFC’s greatest fights of the past 25 years (because that’s how long UFC has existed) and they’re really not that impressive.

First thing’s first, let’s get it outta the way–yes, MMA fights are more like street fights than boxing matches. Are they exactly like a street fight? Not at all. Let’s quickly go through the major holes in this commonly held misconception. MMA competition in general, and the UFC specifically, is touted by many of its fans for being “like a real fight” because the gloves are smaller and kicks and wrestling/submission moves are allowed. I would argue, though, that you don’t stand back and kick someone’s hamstring in a street fight. It’s one of the most common moves in MMA, but it doesn’t exist outside dojos and martial arts competitions. Beyond that major strategic discrepancy, there are plenty of procedural ones: there are no official breaks or rest periods in real fights and, in a real fight, if you lose consciousness while someone sits on your chest punching you in the face, nobody rushes in to pull them off of you.

Now that that’s settled, let’s address another aspect of the perception that MMA is more “real”: Points. Boxing has ’em, MMA has ’em. Boxing is widely criticized for the subjectivity of its judgments, whereas the UFC suffers from less controversy over scores. This is probably because boxing commentators spend a lot more time dissecting the rules and particulars that lead to those decisions. They closely review the basics for the viewers and discuss finer points amongst themselves. In closely watching about two dozen UFC fights, not once has anyone I’ve seen mentioned scoring criteria or how punch stats are tallied. I have heard, however, different commentators at the end of multiple fights declare “I have no idea who won!” That’s not a good thing when the scores are less reliable than the viewers’ impressions.

The UFC also seems to have avoided the sanctioning-body-boondoggle that has led the entire sport of boxing into an exercise in eye-rolling whenever a mandatory challenger is announced. Some of these organizations have special champions, champions-in-recess, Super champions, and even gemstone-themed champions to pad lackluster fight cards and add to their coffers with sanctioning fees. Hats off to the UFC on dodging that one. That being said, boxing’s rigidity in officiating has resulted in some positive outcomes. For example, while some boxers may pad their record for a period of years, it’s always clear the level of competition they’ve faced past a certain point, and the (win/loss/knockout) numbers actually mean something. The man hailed as the current best in boxing (retired) is 49-0 (plus Conor McGregor) whereas Ronda Rousey was being called the greatest female fighter in history (of any sport) after 12 wins, which is still her total. That was in August of 2015. By November of that year, she’d taken her first loss, and after another loss over a year later, she retired. Since Ronda, the UFC has touted two or three other women as the greatest of all time. There’s plenty of debate in boxing, but at least we’ve got numbers and consistent names in the discussion. It all speaks to a deeper, more substantive legacy for boxing, and a well-timed money-grab for Dana White and the UFC, whose fans would have you believe that their youth and reliance on technology make them more objective in their choice of sports. On the contrary, I would speculate that a bunch of kids who’ve never been in a fight or done any real athletic training and who have their eyes glued to Pokemon Go! are in the least objective position to judge these competitions and their value.

Jake Paul earns first-round knockout victory over Ben Askren - Sportsnet.ca
YouTube star dominating UFC “legend” Ben Askren

Even though I’ve gained some respect for and interest in MMA fights, I’m not adjusting my stance as being firmly on the side (or in the corner) of boxing as the superior athletic competition, the better form of entertainment and the sport with the most significant history. One of the primary factors I would point to is consistency of conditioning. Conor McGregor is one of the few UFC fighters in the history of the sport who looks, even during fights and at weigh-ins, like he’s a professional athlete. Most of the fighters in the UFC, even now, are nowhere near the kind of conditioning of a top player in professional sports like football, basketball, tennis, soccer, and boxing. Legends of the cage like Dan Severn or Chuck Liddell were only ever in decent shape compared with the true physical peaks of athletes in other sports. If the recent crossover fights are any indication (Frank Mir and Ben Askren), MMA fighters are less concerned with conditioning overall, but they suffer from the delusions of grandeur imposed on them by their sport. This is the physical manifestation of misplaced confidence and complacency.

Where I’m not impressed is that Ben Askren should be ashamed of himself. He walked in there looking like a fat slob, I’m serious. He looked like somebody’s grandparent. I mean, it was pathetic. It really, really was…See, I don’t hold that against a heavyweight…but there was no excuse for Ben Askren to walk into the ring looking like that. — Stephen A. Smith, ESPN

UFC rounds are longer than boxing rounds–five minutes to boxing’s three–but from what I’ve seen, nobody in the UFC can actually finish five minutes at anything close to full capacity. It’s really laughable; in almost every one of the top-25 greatest UFC fights of all time that went the distance, the fighters were barely able to stand by the end of the contest. By contrast, most boxing matches that go 10 or 12 rounds don’t leave the competitors unable to move around effectively or at least show flashes of their original technique (Bowe-Holyfield fights being exceptions). Professionals in other sports are expected to play near peak performance for the entirety of the game, not just for the first quarter or the first period.

All of this is relevant right now because of the recent trend of crossover fights, especially of UFC stars trying their hands at boxing. Neither sport has been exceedingly successful in crossing over to the other–and that could change with Claressa Shields’ upcoming MMA debut–but with fighters like Oscar De La Hoya and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. making these matches, they’re hard to ignore. That brings up another misconception MMA fans like to perpetuate, the myth that a mixed martial arts athlete masters many disciplines, while a boxer masters only one. That’s not true at all. A truly great boxer masters most of the art and science of boxing; what passes for a great UFC star might have a rudimentary understanding of punching, but not boxing, and never has any of them mastered it.

The clearest example of this discrepancy between the two disciplines is probably Floyd’s fight against Conor McGregor, in which Floyd seemed to be concerned about the power and reach of his opponent for much of the duration, but in the end dominated McGregor to the point of absurdity. McGregor is a very athletic and capable puncher, but he was inaccurate, off-balance, and unable to measure out his stamina. As much contact as he was able to make that night, he couldn’t land anything truly significant because he doesn’t know how to punch all that well, much less embrace the art of boxing. He resorted to back hands and arm punches, and he was often uncomfortable when warned about his technique (because in the UFC, you can pretty much hit your opponent anywhere).

None of this is to say that there aren’t glaring exceptions on both sides. There are boxers who aren’t in great shape even at their peaks (Andy Ruiz), whose stamina leaves something to be desired even though they’re highly ranked (Amir Khan), and there are UFC stars who are and have always been in very impressive shape, who might last through an entire fight looking like they can still walk back to the dressing room unassisted.

All joking aside, though, I do see a substantial difference in the fans’ and analysts’ abilities to break down the sport and infer motives and causes for confusing exchanges. Maybe this is simply the result of one sport existing for well over a century, televised and analyzed on multiple networks, while the other has existed for far less time, with its greatest exposure all coming from one network. All I know is that there are a lot of strange explanations for fighters’ behavior coming from all the commentators I’ve heard on UFC. Whether it’s a low blow, a smile, a taunt or a stagger, analysts consistently mangle the details (Rogan included) that a boxing commentator like Joe Tessitore or Teddy Atlas, Sergio Mora or Andre Ward would unravel like a knot in their shoelaces.

Fans of the UFC and MMA can enjoy the increasing momentum of their sport’s popularity, as well as the perception that it’s more modern and real than boxing, but they shouldn’t expect to see success for any of their athletes crossing over, just like boxing fans won’t expect it from ours. Claressa Shields, though, might defy those odds.

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In His Own Words


Oscar De La Hoya has officially announced his return to competition for July 3rd. Promoters describe the return as targeting a “big name” in the UFC and they say that Oscar, in his own words, is “stronger and better than ever.” I’m sure he does make that claim. Don’t all fighters who get back in the gym say that at some point? While strength might be a subjective or more mutable term, Oscar De La Hoya is most assuredly not better than ever. I was completely unaware that he was planning on fighting someone with little to no experience as a professional boxer, but that’s the word on his opponent. He’s following in the trendy footsteps of fresher fighters, like Mayweather, and superior athletes, like Bernard Hopkins or Mike Tyson, hoping to merge the two pathways into some kind of marketable cross-promotion that would ostensibly paint De La Hoya as an aging legend, when he might otherwise reach his denouement simply as a once-great. He probably sees the wisdom in Mayweather’s selection of an MMA opponent, in whom the UFC had invested a huge amount of confidence and promotional hype, but who would be relatively inexperienced as a boxer. Maybe if he wins, Oscar will move on to YouTube stars for his next bout. Then again, it would make more sense to adopt that strategy in the event of a loss. Not that rational thought has a lot to do with any of it.

Andy “Flash-in-the-Pan” Ruiz is back in action on May 1st against fellow endomorph Chris Arreola. The once-formidable fatty challenged for the heavyweight title on multiple occasions but always fell just short of glory, whereas it was always a mystery how Andy Ruiz Jr. got his shot at a complacent Anthony Joshua, and even more of a mystery how he won the first fight. That being said, the man who has been called “The Nightmare,” is likely to encounter some surreal and unpleasant experiences of his own in this match. Arreola has been something approaching washed-up since his campaign to become a more traditional heavyweight in terms of his physique–rather than rolling and sloshing back and forth across the ring with his tidal waves of corpulence–back around 2011, when Sports Illustrated reported on his “dramatic weight loss.” That year, Arreola got in the ring 5 times (and basically won all his fights) in an unusual streak of activity for a seasoned pro. Unfortunately, the changes in physique and activity did not equate to better performance, as Arreola has only won 5 of his 12 fights since the beginning of 2012. This weight loss was Arreola’s response to losing his position as a challenger for the top heavyweights in the sport, but if anything, the change seemed to detract from the stylistic and strategic elements that had made him such a formidable fighter to begin with, while his overall stamina seemed the same. 10 years later, I’m not going to be naive about his chances. Just like this past weekend, when Alexander Povetkin came in looking flabby and deflated, Arreola looks worse than he has in the past and he’s older than he was when he was losing against the top heavies, so it’s just not realistic to expect him to pull a David Price and reignite his bid for a belt. Some guys are inconsistent, and while Ruiz is almost as inconsistent as Povetkin or Arreola, he’s younger by about a decade. As with Whyte’s domination over Povetkin, look for Arreola to receive another push towards retirement in this fight.

On the other side of the spectrum, in terms of consistency, is Saul Alvarez, who takes on Billy Joe Saunders on May 8th. Saunders is a solid fighter, but has never shown any flashes of greatness, so it’s an easy prediction to make. Alvarez will get a chance to showcase his talent once again, this time against a worthy opponent. Tune in and watch him tune up on DAZN, May 8th.

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The Mayweather Masquerade


For years now since his retirement, Floyd Mayweather has made money not only as a promoter, but as a headline-maker in his social media posts and general commentary on the sport. He’s put on fights against seemingly random opponents who were able to draw crowds and promotions big enough to suit his financial appetite, the best of which was his dominant performance against UFC star Connor McGregor, who had never been in a boxing match. Now, he’s set to face a YouTube star whose professional record is 0-1, having fought only once against another inexperienced social media trendsetter. As absurd as that sounds, it’s not as bad as the most recent suggestion, this time coming from the fighter who would like to face Mayweather.

It’s nobody any real boxing fan would expect or want to see, but it’s an opponent Mayweather has faced before, in 2007, when he managed a decision over one of the previous decade’s biggest stars, Oscar De La Hoya. That fight was the first pay-per-view I ever watched, having only recently gotten into boxing enough to consider paying $60 for a televised fight. At the time, knowing Mayweather’s reputation and seeing De La Hoya’s impressive speed and ability to take his opponent’s punches, I thought the decision was a robbery. Going back and watching the fight again with more experience and a better understanding of the sport, I don’t know how anybody made that fight controversial. It was a one-sided, classic Mayweather fight. He threw fast, unimpressive combinations and moved around the ring more than his opponent, but was never hit cleanly and landed plenty of his own solid, if ineffective, shots.

14 years later, Oscar is 48 years old and has settled into his promotional physique, often looking bloated and gin-blossomed during his press conferences. He hasn’t had any competition since, and admits to only recently getting back in the gym to spar. If there were to be a rematch, it would be the greatest travesty Mayweather has yet perpetrated on the sport, but luckily for fans, there probably isn’t enough money or risk to draw the all-time great welterweight. It should be acknowledged that Oscar is probably the least competitive of all the semi-active former Mayweather opponents, save possibly for Ricky Hatton, who seems to have no plans to get back in the ring again. Now and for the record, there’s no age at which Mayweather loses to Oscar, unless he’s badly injured or ill, because he’ll never stop training. There’s no way the fight would even be competitive, in any universe. The YouTube fight will be another embarrassment to the sport that will further marginalize it while making UFC and MMA appear more legitimate, but hopefully, it’ll be the lowest point for this once-truly-great pugilist. Now that Pacquiao is back at it and winning titles, why has there been no talk of the greatest, most lucrative possible rematch being made? Probably because for Mayweather it’s always been and now, more than ever, is a balance of risk and reward, reputation and reality, mask and masquerade.

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Son of the Hitman, Povetkin-Whyte II


Ricky Hatton’s son, Campbell Hatton will make his debut this Saturday on the undercard of Povetkin’s rematch with Dillian Whyte. Though the opponent has yet to be announced, the name of man opposite Hatton will be less significant, in any case. Years after Ricky Hatton’s disheartening attempt to return to boxing, his son will be a well-supported and highly anticipated fighter. Though a little shorter, Campbell resembles his father very closely in his appearance and physique. Fans of the former welterweight titlist will enjoy seeing him in the ring and comparing styles as he (hopefully) works his way through the ranks. Long term, we’ll all be hoping to see him make it to the pinnacle of the sport and get a shot at redemption, to wipe the slate from his father’s two devastating losses to Pacquiao and Mayweather, who were probably the best welterweights of the past 25 years.

Dillian Whyte has an interesting challenge of his own in his second attempt at Alexander Povetkin. Odds favor Whyte in the rematch, as well as a knockout, because he managed two knockdowns in the first fight before being dropped himself by a perfect uppercut in August of 2020 for the knockout of the year. Both men are primarily stationary targets who like to use their power, and while Povetkin’s technique is inarguably superior (the uppercut being a good example), Whyte is the naturally larger fighter. In last year’s fight, Povetkin was careless with his defense–even more than usual–and Whyte took advantage. If Povetkin isn’t both more careful and more aggressive in this fight, then he may be knocked out early. That being said, if Whyte hasn’t focused on his accuracy and movement, the result may closely resemble the one we saw in 2020. Regardless of each fighter’s performance (and even if they break the mold and focus on defense), the rematch will undoubtedly prove to be one of the better heavyweight contests of the year, worth the ticket price for DAZN. Unfortunately for the winner, the result of their victory will theoretically be a title shot against Tyson Fury, in which neither fighter would be competitive.

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Upcoming and Foregone Conclusions


As expected, Saul Alvarez and Claressa Shields dominated their competition in matches against Yildirim and Decaire, respectively. While Shields’ fight did go the distance, it was a lopsided decision that made the pay-per-view price tag less justifiable.

On the bright side, we’ve got Artur Beterbiev and Adam Deines finally getting in the ring March 20th, then just a couple months away is the highly anticipated showdown between Canelo and Billy Joe Saunders. I expect both fights to be well worth watching, especially with Beterbiev on ESPN, but Saunders may surprise people and give Alvarez a challenge. He’s a well-rounded fighter whose stamina or technique sometimes flag at times during his fights. In recent bouts, though, he’s tended to be more consistent. After Saunders, Alvarez is expected to take yet another fight in 2021 to unify the titles against Caleb Plant. I give Plant and Saunders equal chances to make exciting fights, but don’t see any big upsets coming against the fighter who now defines the post-Mayweather era. Tyson Fury insists that he’ll be fighting twice this year, so we should hear announcements about those soon as well. Update: on the Deniz Ilbay-Lewis Crocker broadcast, analysts spoke with Tyson Fury about his upcoming fights. He looks absolutely transformed, clearly in better shape than he’s ever been, making his claims that the next match with Deontay Wilder will be a lopsided knockout even more convincing.

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10-Round Epic a Treat for Fans


The junior lightweight title bout this past weekend was hailed as a guaranteed thriller. Oscar Valdez and Miguel Berchelt did not disappoint, both coming out strong with measured offenses in the early rounds. Berchelt’s increasingly intimidating physique was even more pronounced than in his previous fights, reported as rehydrating a full 16 pounds after the 130-lb weigh-in, with plans to move up to lightweight in the near future. Valdez was, like his opponent, undefeated, but looked more like the size fighter you expect to see in that class.

Valdez took three rounds to gauge Berchelt’s reach and accuracy before beginning to target well-timed counter shots. There were two exchanges in the fourth round that rattled Berchelt when Valdez chose to stand and swing, the second resulting in a seismic collision from which Berchelt never fully recovered. The fight continued on for another six rounds, with Valdez being forced to back off and measure his aggression at times, but by the time the fight was stopped, Berchelt had been staggering around the ring, holding himself up with the ropes on multiple exchanges. Only the reputation of the fighters and the importance of the title contest gave the referee an excuse for continuing the assault. The final knockout punch rendered Berchelt unconscious long before his body fully hit the ground, luckily folding in front of him in stages which served to cushion the impact on his head. He remained motionless for the longest period of time I’ve seen since fights like Marquez-Pacquiao IV and Pacquiao-Hatton.

The way Berchelt looks–like an intensely muscular super middleweight–I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a positive result on a drug test at some point in the near future. That said, the way Valdez fought–like he had enough energy to put every punch and step where they needed to be for every minute of every round–I could say the same of him. Whether they do pop for PEDs or not, the result was a real treat for real boxing fans, who tuned in based on the hype this fight has received as well as the exposure Berchelt has gotten in recent months.

Highly anticipated upcoming fights include Saul Alvarez taking a mandatory fight against someone whose name I’ve never heard, Claressa Shields taking on Marie-Eve Dicaire, whose impressive record gives no indication of her lacking conditioning and dearth of stoppage wins. In mid-March, Juan Estrada takes on Chocolatito, but I can’t imagine why you’d pay to see any of those fights. Joseph Parker will be fighting on the same night as Canelo, also on DAZN, if that helps at all. The one I’m waiting for is March 20th, Beterbiev-Deines. Comment if you have thoughts.

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