Gervonta Davis has been on my list of most overhyped fighters for years now. His win last night over Hector Luis Garcia was completely meaningless, despite the attention he’s getting for it, further cementing his place on the list. Hector Garcia had 15 wins going into this fight, but they were against opponents like Chris Colbert and Isaac Avelar–good journeymen but not much more. Davis, on the other hand, is mired in legal battles right now for beating the hell out of “the mother of his baby,” twice in about 5 years, the most recent of which he’s minimized somehow by reporting as an “open-handed type slap.” He also left the scene of a hit-and-run a few years ago, for which he’s expected to serve some time, but probably he’ll end up just paying fines. In any case, he’s been the biggest advocate of his own talent for some time, but now clearly has many analysts believing in him.
Davis’ decision to jump up in class to take on Ryan Garcia is delightfully absurd. Sure, they both have lots of knockouts and Davis does have the slight edge in that category, but it’s probably the only one. Aside from his 6-inch height advantage, Ryan Garcia is so much more talented than any opponent Davis has yet fought, we’ll all be seeing Davis show his cards for the first time. There’s a perceived speed advantage for Davis, but once they’re both in the ring, I’m guessing the biggest difference will be that Garcia doesn’t throw compact combinations the way Davis does just because he’s so much longer. Garcia’s hand speed is formidable, along with his power, accuracy and footwork. Granted, Davis is far above the talent level of the guys Garcia has fought, as well, but Garcia has earned two recent knockouts over Luke Campbell and Javier Fortuna, both of whom you could argue are superior to every fighter Davis has fought. Nothing else is going on in the sport, and I’m just glad I managed to resist paying 75$ for that terrible fight card during this dearth of boxing, so that’s all I’ll say about it. Garcia by UD, probably over Davis’ hysterical objections.
You know things are bad when an ESPN headline for one of the few marquee fights in 2022 (not involving retired athletes or social media stars) is an explicit appeal to reassure fans that the fight isn’t pointless. The title of the article is comically conservative in its hype:
The sport has been trending toward this type of disappointment for some time now, with fans being forced to swallow rematches between fighters who have already clearly established the pecking order between them: Haney-Kambosos II, Canelo-Golovkin III, and now Fury-Chisora III. If any of these matchups deserves the award for Guaranteed Disappointment, it might be Fury-Chisora. While the outcome of Haney-Kambosos was all but certain, the underdog at least gave a good accounting of himself and demonstrated his commitment to a new strategy. Canelo is becoming known for his money-grab-masquerading-as-fight spectacles, and the third fight with Golovkin is the best example of this. The difference there was that both fighters were near their primes, during which they were two of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Only one of the fighters involved in Fury-Chisora is anywhere near his prime, but that’s not the worst of it.
Given Tyson Fury’s psychological instability following his win over Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, it isn’t a total surprise that the emotionally fraught process of retirement has been unpredictable for him. He claimed he would walk away from the spotlight after a sensational win over Dillian Whyte, and like so many fighters before him, insisted he would be retiring to enjoy his money, his health and his family. Very shortly after his announcement, about three months later–a quick turnaround, even for a professional boxer–Fury began calling out opponents with less than realistic expectations for the promotion. First, in July, he wanted Anthony Joshua to get back in the ring almost immediately after his second loss to Oleksandr Usyk, which would have been unlikely even if he had been victorious in that fight. Ostensibly as an incentive to get the fight made and assurance that he was serious, Fury offered to participate in the fight for free–meaning he would make no money from it. Given the huge, multi-million dollar paydays he had been commanding only months earlier, it seems bizarre that he would make such a suggestion rather than just accepting compromises as they came during the negotiation.
Next, Fury decided he would fight Chisora, who is almost 40 years old and first stepped into the ring with Fury more than a decade ago. After his 2011 loss to Fury, the first of his career, Chisora tried to revive his career with a series of challenging fights against Robert Helenius, Vitali Klitschko and (last and also least) David Haye. He lost all three of those fights. Next, Chisora went through a series of stay-busy fights against unknowns, and he won. Then, he fought fury again and lost. Repeat. The next loss comes to Kubrat Pulev, after which his record becomes less consistent. Almost alternating wins and losses, Chisora lost 5 of the next 14 matches. Now we should be interested in seeing him in a third fight with the well-established best heavyweight in the sport?
When the proposition came from a fighter, Usyk, who would actually make sense to match against the presumed best, Fury demurred further, saying he wasn’t interested (why!?) again. Then, he set a stipulation. He would take the fight if he were paid half a billion dollars. He didn’t say he wanted twice his previous purse, or just generally state that he would need an exorbitant fee. Instead, he threw out an absurdly large number using slang to communicate the number through a social media account: “half a billi” is how he phrased it. Applying that kind of strange colloquialism to a serious business proposal makes you wonder whether he was being facetious. Fury is not exactly known for being careful with his words, but in this case, the choice may have been very deliberate.
In any case, Fury demanded the fight be held in December. The two-month turnaround, regardless of Usyk’s success in his rematch against Joshua, is unheard of for champions in modern boxing. Back when Robinson-Lamotta VI was being promoted, that kind of announcement wouldn’t have been so unusual, but in this case, it belies Fury’s true intentions about making the fight. He never intended the fight to go through, he just wanted to increase his reputation as the Gypsy King in the eyes of the most naive fans. When Usyk declined the slapdash promotion, Fury moved on to calling out Joshua, again for December. Fury set a seemingly arbitrary “deadline” for this fight less than four weeks after calling out his prospective opponent. When that date came and went, he claimed the fight was off for certain and he would move on to other options. None of these potential fights, of course, could take place in December when beginning negotiations so late in the year, yet fighting Joshua was now out of the question. Just 2 weeks after that circus act, Fury confirmed he would be fighting Derek Chisora, the least relevant heavyweight of all the opponents he’s discussed.
Things have been going in this direction since retired fighters started taking freakshow fights against social media stars and MMA athletes years ago, but this is a new low for the sport. The triumphant, admirable exit of boxing’s best heavyweight has been tarnished by this shameful display of insecurity. Our pound-for-pound cash cow, Canelo, has started a trajectory of disappointment after a loss to Bivol (which he also unrealistically claimed he would avenge immediately) and a lackluster, redundant performance against Golovkin.
There just isn’t much on the horizon right now. As a boxing fan I’m used to these doldrums, but it’s scary to think about the number of young, potential fans being discouraged from tuning in to the fights. But we can’t blame the viewers, they (often) know good entertainment and good competition when they see it. Right now, boxing isn’t where they’ll find it.
There was almost no build-up at all to the third fight between Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. The lack of fanfare was appropriate given what was to come, but in the days immediately before the fight, promoters did their best to cast it as an important match. I saw the signs in the two fighters’ behavior between their second and third fights–I even said it explicitly in my last post–but for some reason I paid $65 for a fight I knew neither man would take big risks to win. Was I ever right.
The third contest between Alvarez and Golovkin was incredibly disappointing from every angle. Yes, of course the judges turned in atrociously shameful scorecards that contrasted with the action in the fight. Yes, of course Golovkin looked old. But Alvarez also tried to coast to a victory, again.
Alvarez looked so comfortable in his loss to Bivol (and he actually claimed to have thought he won) that it’s hard to reconcile his recent performances with his claims about dedication to legacy and greatness. He lost almost every round in that fight, yet he doesn’t miss a beat in telling everyone that he’s great and fought well. He’s since claimed that he had a badly injured hand in both of those fights, but if he was favoring one hand over the other, it wasn’t apparent to me.
Despite my love for Canelo, I have to say it. What seems a lot more likely than his conviction that he’s great and the judges (and fans) are wrong, is that a large welterweight gradually maxed out his physique to the point that he sacrificed some mobility and began to rely heavily on power for his victories. That process always results in deemphasizing technique (see Roy Jones Jr.). He’s finally starting to age (he won his first championship so young, it looked like he would be improving indefinitely) and as with every fighter, great or not, it’s starting to show. This process manifests differently depending on the size of the fighter and the severity of the battles they’ve endured, but it’s still recognizable.
If nothing else, the hubris of assuming he can continue to fight anyone at light heavyweight is an indicator that he’s lost perspective. I’ll repeat myself in the hopes that the mismatch is never perpetrated on paying viewers–Alvarez has no business in the ring with Beterbiev. None. It’s not a matter of timing or age or strategy, that’s a bad fight for him to take.
Alvarez is still talking about a rematch with Bivol, but I honestly believe (not to denigrate his courage as a fighter in any way) that he’s doing that just to keep up with his prior claims. That rematch is so hopeless and ill-advised, the only fight that compares in its tragedian inevitability is the rematch between poor George Kambosos, so empowered by his win over the falsely inflated Teofimo Lopez, and the previously unproven Devin Haney. That fight is so tragic, and Kambosos so clearly believes he can do something different, that I wouldn’t hestitate to watch even if it were a pay-per-view.
One thing we can be sure of is that the decline of Saul Alvarez will be spectacular, in the truest sense of the word. His pride will almost certainly push him far past his prime and against opponents that other fighters wisely avoid. If we ever do see the Mexican great laid out–or however his career comes to an end inside the ring–it will be both heartbreaking and historic.
I’m returning to posting here despite the dismally stagnant fight schedule because of last night’s bout between Michael Conlan and Miguel Marriaga. Not that it was a good fight–don’t get me wrong–but it assured me of one thing that I thought might be worth mentioning now, before the time for prediction passes and the temptation to claim foresight becomes irresistible.
Conlan is already 30 years old and his technique has evolved very little since his time in the 2016 Olympics. The are two reasons he’s had the success he has so far: his competition has been light, and he’s young and healthy enough to compensate for his bad technique. Michael Conlan’s downfall will be swift and severe when it does occur, and it will probably come sooner than we expect.
I referenced the deficient quality of last night’s bout, so lest I risk being accused of spurious denigration, here’s a quick rundown. Marriaga started the bout so submissively that it looked like Conlan might steamroll him, but the Irishman’s pawing jab and occasional off-balance power shots to the body had little effect on his 5’8″, 119-lb opponent. That is, until about the 4th round, when, after something like a dozen bouts in the ring that evening, the glossy logos on the ring canvas became so slippery that Marriaga began falling down repeatedly. It wasn’t until the 7th that the referee started just calling them knockdowns, and Conlan was only too grateful for the points he got while landing low blows and punches behind the head. He went on to “win” by unanimous decision.
The Irish featherweight’s abilities have been questionable ever since he began his career, displaying the twitchy volume punching boxing fans expect from experienced amateurs who turn professional. Having just completed his 18th fight at the age of 30, Michael Conlan is well into his career and most likely already completed his fight schedule for 2022, yet his repertoire inside the ring differs little from what we saw in 2017.
I support the Irish and Irish-American fighters to the last when they make an attempt, despite or maybe even because of their flaws. I loved John Duddy’s fights right to the end, and you’ll never find a bigger Jerry Quarry or Micky Ward fan. Conlan isn’t even trying.
He leads with power shots that leave him vulnerable early in the fight. He punches across his body and lifts his heel as he leans in for overreaching distance punches. He frequently strays low or to the back of the head because his offense is as careless as his approach to the sport. When crowded, Conlan–a southpaw–rarely throws a left hand, instead opting to crouch and hold awkwardly, pawing with a jab, at most. He works hard on foot placement and turning his opponent using angles because he doesn’t understand how to create offense going forward unless his opponent is exhausted, much less when he’s on his heels.
All of it comes from his foundation. His legs are too far apart to have good leverage on outside shots, so he relies on frantically jumping in and out of range. That desperation is the reason he ended up being knocked through the ropes in round 10 of his previous fight. You read it here: when Conlan’s career collapses, it’s going to happen fast.
That being said, no reason to end on a sour note. The recently released movie Prizefighter, about the life of youngest ever champion Jem Belcher, features great performances by talented actors including Russell Crowe (relegated to elder since his standout role in Cinderella Man), and it’s my pick for boxing film of the year.
Boxing as a sport–a science and an art–is one of the most profound and powerful spectacles in the world; boxing as a business has never been particularly unimpeachable. Saul Alvarez is making his personal feelings about Gennady Golovkin well-known during the lead-up to their third fight. Having unexpectedly lost his most recent bid for greatness at light-heavyweight (only his second career loss), Alvarez is at a critical juncture where he can either elevate his legacy or drag it down by continuing to take the biggest fights available, irrespective of his opponents’ abilities. Golovkin is a great form of cover for Canelo’s commitment to his legacy because Golovkin was a big part of the pound-for-pound conversation just a few years ago and because he gave the naturally smaller Alvarez great competition in the ring. That’s not to say that the results of those first two fights were ambiguous, though the first was closer than the second. Despite widespread reports that the fights could have gone either way, the truth is that Alvarez stylistically and technically beat Golovkin both times, without question. ‘Close’ can sway a judge’s scorecard one way or the other, thereby affecting 1/3 of final decision, but sometimes a round or two doesn’t really make a difference. That was the case in their first and second matches.
The third match is being sensationalized as personal to Alvarez, which was the same marketing strategy used for the first two (something to do with using profanity around Alvarez’s wife) with little success. This melodramatic sleight of hand should do nothing to distract discerning viewers from the larger context of the decision to reprise this fight (a matchup no one but Golovkin was demanding). In the recent defeat, Alvarez was comprehensively disarmed and outboxed by the larger Dmitry Bivol. This shocked the boxing world more than it did me, but in any case–probably because of Canelo’s reputation coming into the fight–analysts have elevated Bivol to nearly-unbeatable status despite his lack of experience with top competition. This temporary deformation of the landscape makes no account for the undefeated Artur Beterbiev, who, aside from possessing formidable technical ability, has faced much stronger competition than Bivol (including Joe Smith Jr.) and knocked out every single opponent with unmatched ferocity.
Don’t buy what they’re selling–literally, read the recap of Canelo’s victory that Sunday rather than paying the absurd PPV price for a foregone conclusion. This is a calculated move to stay relevant and preserve a faltering legacy while earning a large purse in the process; it has nothing to do with hierarchy of the weightclasses or the fighters themselves. Think about it: Canelo wins — still best pound-for-pound, Golovkin seen as completely past his prime; Golovkin wins — Canelo still best pound-for-pound, Golovkin extends his relevance for a short period until he loses a fourth fight or gets beaten by another challenger. There’s nothing personal here, except maybe Canelo’s ego. It’s just business.
Artur Beterbiev accomplished exactly what fans and analysts expected with his one-sided domination of the unfortunate Joe Smith Jr., who is a formidable talent in his own right. I knew he would put up a good fight before ultimately losing, and I honestly thought he might even survive to the decision. I was right, to the extent that Smith looked good before he got hurt, so, for about 90 seconds of the contest.
For whatever reason, knowledgeable commentators are still predicting a real struggle against Dmitry Bivol, who everyone expected to be well-matched against Saul Alvarez. Reality check: Bivol’s style is what beat Canelo, just like Mayweather’s did in 2013, but as demonstrated by the less one-sided result of the recent light-heavyweight bout, Bivol is no Mayweather. When they meet in the ring, everyone who’s unaware will find out that he’s no Beterbiev, either. Like any timing-dependent precision puncher, Bivol requires adequate distance and moderate pacing to perform at his best. He managed it against Alvarez because Canelo has remarkably bad footwork and difficulty cutting off the ring. He has consistently had trouble resisting the urge to follow his opponent rather than cutting off the ring to finish the fight throughout his career, which is why Bivol had a chance to shine for 12 rounds. Beterbiev won’t indulge any such aimless impulses.
I’m excited to see another over-hyped fighter exposed, but disappointed that this distraction will draw attention away from the larger conversation about the best fighter in the weight class as well as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Devin Haney was recently dropped from the pound-for-pound list to make way for Beterbiev, which isn’t entirely inappropriate because I believe Haney will be exposed eventually, as well. More importantly, the two best welterweights, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. (#s 1 and 3 respectively, pound-for-pound), are reportedly working on an agreement for a superfight. If Crawford gets a chance to really perform at the highest level against an opponent like Spence, we’re going to see a truly historic event. The summer still holds some potential with the upcoming Usyk-Joshua and Garcia-Fortuna fights, but look for the big announcement on Crawford-Spence to make 2022 an important year in boxing.
Saul Alvarez recently suffered his first loss since he was dismantled by Mayweather in 2013. Overwhelmed by the size and technical ability of 175-pound champion Dmitry Bivol, Alvarez vowed to invoke the rematch clause of their contract and return later this year to settle the score. As of this week, he has recanted this statement.
Though his record already featured a blemish, Canelo’s was the most fashionable beauty mark in boxing because of who delivered the loss, namely, the best fighter in the sport for several years before and ever since, Floyd Mayweather Jr. Now, however, the Canelo brand is dealing with a spotty record for the first time in a sport where a low number (usually three or fewer) in the loss column is crucial to an athlete’s star potential and reputation. Not only does the Mexican fighter have this new stigma to overcome, but he shows no indication that he can solve the technical puzzle presented by his opponent’s offense. Similar to the way a rematch never materialized against Mayweather despite fertile financial conditions, there’s no reason why Canelo should risk another fight against Bivol. In reality, there isn’t much market for it with the fans, either.
I was worried for Alvarez when he fought Mayweather that he was taking too much too soon, and I worried every time he stepped up in weight. He proved me wrong time and time again, but at some point, the combination of talent and size was going to catch up with him. It finally did, in the form of Dmitry Bivol.
Bivol knew Canelo’s style and planned for the arm-punching that the Mexican fighter uses to drop the hands of his larger opponents. Red marks were clearly visible on his left bicep at the end of the fight where Canelo had attempted and failed to utilize this strategy. Canelo repeatedly taunted Bivol during one-sided stretches of the fight to encourage a reckless exchange in which he might gain the advantage over his larger opponent, but there was never a time in the fight when Bivol looked uncomfortable. Granted, Canelo never looked as helpless and as near to a knockout as he did against Mayweather, but I was pretty shocked to hear him say he wanted to exercise the rematch clause.
As of this week, the light of day has clarified things for the pound-for-pound great, and he’s revised his plans to a less ambitious trilogy fight with Gennady Golovkin. To be fair, Alvarez had indicated that his was his plan for the next fight already, but that’s because he had taken his win over Bivol for granted. That’s part of the reason his loss makes so much sense, overconfidence. The desire for a rematch never made any sense, but being as stoic and aggressive as he’s known to be, we probably should have expected Canelo to make the statement he did.
Personally, I’m not interested in the third fight between those two. They’re all close fights, but I think Alvarez did enough to win the first two and I don’t think it’ll change anything if Golovkin somehow figures out a way to tip the scales in his favor for the third–especially after Canelo was proven mortal against Bivol. Then what, a fourth fight? A fifth? How far do fans really want to go with the measured mayhem delivered by the Canelo-Golovkin institution? As great as both of them are, we should be able to admit that these guys aren’t willing to put on a Bowe-Holyfield level war for the spectators. It’s just a fact. Alvarez didn’t push himself to the limit against Bivol, and he’s sure not going to against Golovkin. The living legend is still planning his legacy, I’m sure, but he might be mistaken in thinking that this is a step in the direction of maintaining what he had. It may, in fact, be a step backward.
On the other side of the aisle, Dmitry Bivol is now being touted as a super-talent, when fans and spectators were skeptical that his power would carry him and that his chin would hold up before the Alvarez fight. The particulars haven’t changed, but for some reason, Bivol is now favored over the true light-heavy champion, and the guy appropriately avoided until last for everyone in the division: Artur Beterbiev. This guy has been at the top of my to-watch list for years now, and for good reason. I had no idea Alvarez would be trying to compete in his division when I first started watching, but then and now, I’ll tell you, Canelo shouldn’t be anywhere near this guy. Neither should Bivol. Don’t believe the hype.
If Beterbiev gets in the ring with Bivol, he’ll march through the jabs and straight rights and eventually pummel Bivol into submission. Alvarez laid on the ropes and waited for counter punching opportunities, but Beterbiev will test the perimeter until he grows impatient and bashes his way through his opponent’s defenses. If this fight happens and the betting odds stay the way they are, do yourself a favor and take the underdog.
Tyson Fury recently put a bow on a stellar career with his one-punch destruction of challenger Dillian Whyte as they faced off in front of nearly 100,000 fans at Wembley Stadium. There are so many things to love about afternoon fights in outdoor arenas: the additional environmental variables of shifting sunlight, temperature, and the possibility of rain–not to mention the sheer spectacle. When the crowd erupted into the traditional verses of “Sweet Caroline,” it was hard not to feel the power of the moment.
The undercard fights for this particular pay-per-view were less than remarkable, but all that was compensated by the outlandish display created for the two headliners’ entrances. Whyte’s “Back in Black” arrival was dramatic enough, but when Fury’s team arrived garbed in full Templar knight regalia, it was a true spectacle. There were literal fireworks to go along with Fury’s chosen mashup tune, then he assumed a golden throne while singing along to the suggestive lyrics. He completed his entertaining ring walk by running down the ramp, which may have been as much a choice to maintain body temperature in the quickly cooling London air as any attempt at drama.
The fight began with some unexpected strategy, with Whyte coming out southpaw and Fury attempting to respond with similarly surprising tactics. Early on, Fury landed a couple of punches behind the head in a clinch, as often happens in his fights, but this was after an accidental headbutt caused Whyte to bleed from the corner of his right eye. Feeling the impact of these less-than-sporting techniques, Whyte felt the need to retaliate with his own punches behind the head and a forearm to the throat, which he used repeatedly, much to the chagrin of the referee who was nearly forced to stop the fight when the uncontrolled aggression threatened to descend into chaos.
Fortunately, the competition resumed its intended form, and both fighters were effective at landing some punches from the outside. Fury was more effective and nearly caught Whyte with his signature shuffle-and-stab straight right on more than one occasion. His output was accumulating points, but if he wanted to again fulfill his prediction that the fight wouldn’t go beyond the middle rounds, he needed to make a move. It wasn’t until the last 15 seconds of round 6 that Fury resorted to further distancing himself from whyte, then shooting a lightning fast, well-formed right uppercut straight through the middle of Whyte’s guard. By reflex, a moment later, Fury pushed Whyte. In this case, the defensive maneuver was unnecessary, as the punch landed flush, and Whyte was badly staggered. Ferociously determined, Whyte managed to stand and put up his gloves, but his wobbly legs gave him away as the ref called off the fight with Whyte staggering into the ropes.
After the fight, Fury treated the crowd to his special rendition of “American Pie,” only adding to the spectacle he’s delivered in every fight since his unexpected win over Wladimir Klitschko. In the leadup to the heavyweight title fight, Fury repeatedly mentioned retiring after one more, based on a promise he made to his wife. Though he never directly answered the questions about this posed by sports correspondents, he did nod in the affirmative to indicate that he plans to “retire,” at least temporarily, from the sport. In much bigger news, however, he also suggested that negotiations may have already begun for a huge crossover fight between himself and Francis Ngannou, a champion MMA fighter with an almost supernatural physique whose size matches Fury’s. Were this fight to happen, especially under MMA rules with smaller, fingerless gloves, it’s a good bet that Fury would lose in a potentially violent knockout or submission. Whether he returns to the boxing ring to (hopefully) resolve the questions surrounding Anthony Joshua, or only moves forward with this final, ultimate spectacle, Tyson Fury has forged and now elevated an already unforgettable career.
Just a week ago, welterweight king Errol Spence and Pacquiao-vanquisher Yordenis Ugas met for a unification fight. Spence, as predicted, walked away with all the belts, a unified champion. This honor should be reserved for the absolute best in the sport. With Spence’s record and recent performances, the unacquainted fan might be incredulous that he hasn’t proven himself to be just that, but a close analysis of the Ugas fight tells a different story. Spence’s competition so far has been less than elite, and he’s struggled in moments with many of his recent opponents. It’s only the Olympic pedigree and reputation preceding the fighter that pre-emptively accords his performances so much praise. Ugas actually legitimately knocked down Errol Spence, but because the referee didn’t call it when Spence fell into the ropes, the fight continued and the judges were obliged to score the round differently. An interruption of Spence’s momentum and an acknowledgement of Ugas’ performance would have completely changed the tenor, if not the result of the fight.
This kind of minor injustice is afforded both to fighters who are riding a wave of popularity, as well as those destined for greatness. Saul Alvarez has multiple wins I can’t deny were assisted by a little affection from the judges, but who’s to argue his accomplishments now? The same could be true if Spence proves himself exceptional in the future, but as I’ve been saying for a while now, I don’t think he will. A showdown with Terence Crawford would absolutely be the end of his inflated status.
As is probably clear from this entry (if not the date at the top), I’m brushing off a significant amount amount of ring rust, coming back to this blog after a long layoff. Maybe no longer in my prime, but still loving the sport and eager to get into the mix, gloves up. Thanks for reading. Leave a comment if you have thoughts–and here’s to the tradition of un-retirement.
There’s no compulsion to editorialize on this one. A fight card this great speaks for itself, and for once, the $80 price tag was well deserved. The Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder trilogy is now rightfully being compared to the greatest heavyweight rivalries in the history of the sport: Ali-Frazier, Bowe-Holyfield.
The night began with an incredible undercard worthy of headlining most events. Julian J-Roc Williams showed his true colors yet again, turning in a disappointing performance against Vladimir Hernandez, who poses a significantly smaller threat than previous opponents Jeison Rosario and Jermall Charlo, both of whom defeated Williams. Edgar Berlanga looked similarly careless in his fight against Marcelo Coceres–who managed to knock down the young brawler in a disturbingly vulnerable moment of distraction–but Berlanga got the decision. Coceres has little reputation and no hype surrounding him after this third loss, but it’s worth noting that his first loss came from none other than recent-Canelo-challenger Billy Joe Saunders. The scores were close, and I would have given at least one more round to Coceres, which could easily have resulted in a momentum-breaking draw for Berlanga.
The main card was the icing on the cake of that extremely satisfying undercard. The first course served up Efe Ajagba taking on Cuban stalwart Frank Sanchez, who managed to derail Ajagba with a poorly timed shot to the head after Ajagba had already been knocked down. Ajagba finished the fight, but was unable to recover enough to even the score cards.
In what could be called the co-feature, Robert Helenius met Adam Kownacki for the second time. Though Helenius did not appear as well conditioned as he did in the first fight, Kownacki, by contrast, was in significantly better shape than in their first meeting. These two alterations in the formula contributed to another competitive fight between two solid heavies. Helenius stuck to his improved technique, though, and managed a second dominant win with a 6th round stoppage. Analysts commented that both men are too far below the elite level to challenge for a title, but I think that’s a premature judgment until we see them against Anthony Joshua (or Andy Ruiz Jr.).
You’ve already read the result and/or seen the highlights of the epic third battle between Wilder and Fury, who headlined the pay-per-view event. If anything, journalists undersold the drama. In the lead-up to the fight, Wilder outrageously claimed that Fury had loaded his gloves to win the second fight, this after using the excuse that his (Wilder’s) stamina was sapped wearing a heavy costume to the ring. For his part, Fury refused to deny the accusation, and, in a moment of rare poise, seemed the more level-headed of the two. Both men came to the ring heavier than previous fights, especially Wilder, who still looked chiseled from stone, whereas Fury looked almost as flabby as he did before his transformation. Despite the extra pounds, Fury fought an impressive, consistent fight and earned his win. Wilder, despite fierce determination and a slightly greater emphasis on technique, was able to mount neither a comprehensive defense nor an overwhelming offense. Both men are skilled enough at this point in their careers that their obvious flaws only make them more entertaining to watch, hence the multiple knockdowns for each fighter. From here, both have good options based on their stellar performances. Let’s hope we get to enjoy more of this level of performance from both athletes.
The weigh-in for the Saul Alvarez super-middleweight unification fight is still weeks away, but the action got started early at a news conference today. ESPN reported on the incident with a telling clip that shows Alvarez shoving Plant, then standing still while Plant composes himself and throws a big left hook, which Alvarez was only able to narrowly avoid because of his superhuman reflexes and unsurpassed training discipline. Boxers often stage fake displays of aggression at weigh-ins and news conferences to arouse some interest in less consequential events. Alvarez-Plant is hardly in need of any promotional push given the historic nature of Canelo’s challenge, his pound-for-pound status and his incredibly large and loyal fanbase. Even Caleb Plant has a modest following and generates interest whenever he performs. In this case, I doubt promoters, trainers or anyone on Canelo’s team had anything to do with the stunt.
It’s possible that Plant conceived of and executed this farce completely under his own auspices, but that begs the question, was this incident a farce? In the sense that most pre-fight public altercations between contracted boxers are fake, I would speculate that this was not a stunt, but instead a rare, genuine attempt at attacking an opponent. As the ESPN article reports, Canelo and his team have been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs in the past, which Plant has taken up as a battle cry recently to bludgeon his opponent’s team with slander. While it’s certainly impossible to accurately judge an athlete’s use of PEDs from his or her physical appearance, guys like Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez showed visible muscle growth and even skeletal changes between fights around the time of public suspicion about their use of PEDs, whereas Alvarez has had the same sturdy, stocky frame since his early days as a pro, 16 years ago. On the contrary, this accusation seems conspicuously timed to affect the outcome of the fight. Even more conspicuous are the details of the incident itself. As familiar as fans are with pre-fight promotional antics involving shoving at press conferences, you have to believe champion boxers are even more familiar. Certainly, enough to know that shoving is primarily symbolic and doesn’t imply any actual threat. Why, then, did Plant take a moment to compose himself before throwing a measured punch directly at Canelo’s eye after being shoved only once?
Plant is an experienced professional fighter and probably has some idea of the threat Canelo poses, despite his team’s efforts to shield him from that reality. He’s probably well aware that mind games will have little effect on such a seasoned fighter (especially one who is innocent of the alleged crime), but he knows what major delays can do to a fighter’s composure and momentum. Plant knows that if the fight were delayed, he could use the time between to launch a social media campaign casting doubts on Canelo’s integrity in regard to banned substances and his courage in response to the fight’s postponement. How better to achieve such an effect than to inflict a fight-stopping injury on your opponent? A quick hook on an ungloved fist would do the trick, for sure. So, is it really a coincidence that Plant can be clearly seen to incite the scuffle verbally, then calmly compose himself to prepare for the punch? This was no wild haymaker, like the ones you see at so many heavyweight press conferences and weigh-ins. This was a carefully released, fast hook meant to land directly on his opponent’s eye, where he was most likely to open a cut that would directly impact the fight.
Ironically, in all of the posturing and theater involved in pre-fight promotional events, this false flag incident might be the most real of them all. For once, the fighter actually meant to hurt his opponent and delay the multi-million dollar event for which he had signed a contract. There’s only one possible explanation for that: fear. Plant is finally facing the enormity of the legendary figure in front of him, and he’s cowed. He’s scared. He’ll do anything–even going so far as to endanger the event itself, not to mention his subsequent earnings–to avoid the exposure he knows is coming when the two of them get in the ring. While I previously predicted that Plant would provide an impressive performance, pushing Canelo to his limit, I must now revise that estimate. Given Plant’s pre-fight accusations and lack of poise, the mental aspects of the game might be enough to overwhelm this ordinary athlete when confronted with the uncanny abilities of Saul Alvarez. Hopefully, we’ll get to see Canelo bat him around for a few minutes before he brings the fight to a close. Of course, Plant could take a page from Bernard Hopkins’ book and try letting Canelo work him on the ropes so he can leap outside the ring and get a no decision. Somehow, though, I don’t think this mediocre actor has the chops for that kind of role. He’d tap his understudy on the shoulder, if he had one. When the players do take the stage, be ready–there’ll be no encore for this performance.
10 years of training, writing, and watchingSeptember 3, 2021
Ten years and a lotta blood, sweat and tears. Thank you to everyone who ever read or commented, thank you to the athletes and their teams who continue to inspire me and make boxing an art and a science, and something I don't want to quit thinking about any time soon.