Andy Ruiz Jr. Is My Hero, and He Should Be Yours, Too

This past Saturday I tuned into the fight card at Madison Square Garden on DAZN (which was uncharacteristically functional).  There were a couple of very decent undercards, with Ireland’s Katie Taylor struggling against a very tough opponent, and coming away with what was probably a gift decision.  Then, Callum Smith did what everyone expected to poor Hassan N’dam, who will likely retire after the loss.

Smith is, for whatever reason, considered a potential opponent for Alvarez.   While Alvarez did take a fight and win a title at 168 over Rocky Fielding, and by knockout no less, Smith is a large, talented super middleweight, at 6-foot-3 with a 78″ reach.  That’s a 7-inch height advantage and an 8-inch reach advantage.  Rocky Fielding was a big guy but probably nowhere near as talented or as physically challenging as Smith.  The win over Jacobs, a large middleweight, was a real accomplishment for Alvarez (who started as a welterweight) but is no indicator that Alvarez should be jumping across divisions when he has plenty of marketable opposition in his own.  That said, the suggestion did provide my fellow spectator and I with some good conversation.  It would be a hell of a fight for Canelo.

Gearing up for the main event, my friend and I ordered Chinese food, expecting the fight to be wrapping up by the time it arrived 45 minutes later.  The biggest mass of muscle in boxing, Anthony Joshua, at 6-foot-6 and about 250 pounds, was taking on the relatively unknown Andy Ruiz Jr., who stood 6-foot-2, 260 pounds with nothing like his opponent’s chiseled physique.  It was a temporary distraction from the biggest fights to be made with fellow champions Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, but if the fight was entertaining, then the distraction could be forgiven.

If Joshua were inexperienced or incompetent the physical disparity between the two fighters could be discounted, but in this case, the result was certain.  Ruiz looked to be the most out-of-shape professional fighter I had ever seen, including Butterbean.  Having won his most challenging matches with a practiced holding-and-hitting technique, Joshua hadn’t inspired any loyalty in us, but we were excited to see another knockout.  And we expected it to be brutal.  Ruiz acted incredibly confident coming into the fight, completely unconcerned, but that wasn’t surprising.  Most opponents for top heavyweights behave that way until they get into the ring and their attitude makes an abrupt shift (see David Haye).

So much of boxing is subjective and amorphous, but certain aspects are immutable.  Everybody can get hit, nobody’s perfect.  Even more certain, though–as fundamental as any element of the sport–is that the stronger, more skilled, smarter fighter always wins.  If the opponent is superior in any one of those areas, the fighter has to compensate.  Conditioning and size are two of those cut-and-dried areas.  In the amateurs, no matter what your corner tells you and no matter how hard you’ve trained–if the bell rings and the guy across the ring has a couple inches of muscle and a couple inches of reach on you–you’re gonna be concerned.  It stands to reason, then, that a top-tier athlete who defeated the best of the previous decade would be an overwhelming force against a small, out of shape nobody.  Hence, anticipation was low.

The fight began and the food arrived.  We were ahead of schedule, and thought we might be cleaning up by the time Joshua got his knockout, but we were already satisfied with the quality of the card.  The knockout, we hoped, would prove as satisfying as the General Tso’s we had just consumed.  With fights like these, the majority of the excitement often comes from speculation about the winner’s next bout, so we were already talking Fury and Wilder and the winner of the big three when the first knockdown came in the third round.

It was a hell of a combo–a quick right uppercut (he only held a little) and a vicious left hook not so different from the punches that felled the great Klitschko–that put Ruiz where we expected to see him all night.  Ruiz popped right back up and looked steadier on his feet than he should have been, but Joshua closed in with aggressive combinations.  Ruiz threw competent counterpunches that seemed to push Joshua back, but surely the next flush punch would settle the dispute.  Except the next flush shots all came from Ruiz, who fired back through a tidal pool of flab, rippling out in waves of power that first buckled the leviathan’s knees and then sent him sprawling.

Joshua got back up and assumed a defensive posture, though began firing back with powerful combinations.  The third round was ending–with only ten seconds to go–Joshua was stabilizing, and the fluke of momentum had run its course, or so we thought.  The defensive posture turned into what looked like an escape attempt, with every punch from Ruiz finding some part of Joshua and pushing him back noticeably.  At the triple tap signifying the final ten seconds, my eyes flicked down to the corner of the screen to see the countdown fading out with only seconds to go.  For the moment my eyes were away from Ruiz, he was launching a final assault as if he knew time was short.  Just as the bell for the end of the round was to be rung, Joshua went down again.  Shaky but coherent, Joshua the Giant righted himself and Roly-Poly Ruiz waddled back to his own corner, looking no more winded than his opponent.

Grateful to have witnessed such an outrageous twist, my friend and I exchanged high-fives and fantastical scenarios in which absurdly obese superheros took over Marvel and DC comics.  When Round 4 started, we didn’t know what to expect, but we figured Ruiz would soon show his true colors.  He did, but only in the sense that he continued to do what he had done in the previous three rounds.  His punches were more accurate than Joshua’s (which were never all that wild) and clearly (impossibly) more effective.  Joshua didn’t exactly stagger, but he was knocked off balance at least once, and consistently moved backward from the fat little Mexican in front of him.

By Round 5, Joshua seemed to be increasing his output and his accuracy.  Every jab looked like it could put Ruiz through the ropes, and it seemed like Joshua’s uppercut-hook combo was just around the corner.  I don’t know if that formidable combination would have ended the night for Ruiz because Joshua never threw it.  Every time he tried to get aggressive, Ruiz fought like a Mexican.  Most closely resembling Cris Arreola, Ruiz used the same approach seen from Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. to Antonio Margarito.  But for once, the Mexican–fat and with a size disadvantage–who stood to trade punches with an elite-level fighter, came out on the better side. The punches that had previously pushed Joshua back were now landing flush as Joshua swung desperately with his own shots.  None seemed particularly effective, and finally, in Round 7, Ruiz put him down again.  This time Joshua looked truly hurt, and not just dazed.  He went down a fourth time almost immediately after, looking so helpless I actually expected the referee to call it without a count.

Joshua survived the count, barely, and got to his feet, saying he was ready.  When the referee questioned him, however, Joshua’s response was less than convincing.  The fight was called with minimal objections from Joshua’s corner, and the man across the ring celebrated with about the same enthusiasm any amateur fighter displays after a win.  He had just won 7 heavyweight titles.  The laws of physics had been violated, at least four times, it seemed.

I had to watch the fight a second time to make my brain believe my eyes when the little fat man pushed that giant monster back, made him look helpless.  I don’t have any delusions that Superman will have a beer gut in the next DC franchise film, nor that Ruiz will run through the division and unify the belts.  In fact, I very much expect Joshua to come back and win the rematch by unanimous decision, if not by stoppage or knockout.

In that sense, Ruiz’s miracle really was a fluke.  But it’s the exception that proves the rule.  Boxing is a sweet science.  Just like a chemical combination, when any part of the pugilistic mixture is out of balance, you’re likely to see variation in the result.  In this case, there were many things out of balance.  You could point to Joshua’s overconfident approach, Ruiz’s deceptive form, or any number of other conditions as the cause for the surprising upset.  Only when examined together can the threads be strung into a coherent narrative and given meaning.  To reduce the fight to a single aphorism is an injustice, but if forced, it could be said that Ruiz “just wanted it more.”

As an amateur, I spent a lot of sleepless nights worrying about how big, how experienced and how strong the guy standing across the ring would be.  My reach is two inches below the average for my height and I’ve never been any kind of athlete, much less a runner.  I’ve gotten concussions from bigger guys and from smaller guys, but there was one thing that kept me going back to the gym to train for the next fight, as scared as I was: I wanted it more.  I didn’t want it more than everybody, and I didn’t want it enough to win every fight, but I trained harder and had better results than most.  There are a lot of aspiring athletes out there who have suffered similarly, and Andy Ruiz Jr. is now our Patron Saint of Redemption.  He wanted it more.  Never before has there been so striking an example.

Image result for andy ruiz jr

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Harold Lederman

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Update: Jacobs Fined, Violated Weight-Check

An interesting wrinkle has been added to the story of the Alvarez-Jacobs showdown, with Jacobs coming into his second major fight in a row unable to make the pre-fight weight check.  Alvarez insisted on a weight check separate from the official weigh-in, at which the fighter must make the 160-lb limit, but has time to rehydrate his body safely before the bell rings.  The weight check corresponds to a contractual agreement which penalizes either fighter for exceeding 170 pounds.

Unsurprisingly, Alvarez, who fought for years at 154, made the limit.  According to ESPN, Jacobs didn’t even attempt the agreed upon weight check for his 2017 title fight with Golovkin.  In that fight, he exceeded expectations and, on some scorecards, even won the match.  The repeated pattern with Alvarez probably doesn’t mean much, but it could mean that Jacobs knows he’s not meant for 160, and he’s going to use every advantage those extra ounces can give him.  Even if that’s the case, Alvarez doesn’t have to worry.  Every advantage size provides can be negated by skill, and that’s where Alvarez was always going to shine.  Watch for Jacobs to look for a knockout, capitalizing on any staggering better than he did against Golovkin.  This development leads me to believe Jacobs can’t win without it.

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Patience Makes Perfect

Tonight Saul Alvarez takes on Danny Jacobs in what is probably the best fight to be made in boxing.  Alvarez has all but secured a place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and Jacobs has proven himself to be one of the most talented, capable middleweights of the last ten years.  Each has had a fight with Golovkin–who was for so long the Wladimir Klitschko of the middleweight division–and each has lost one (Canelo won his second).  They’re even both in their primes, which happens so rarely with the mega-talents.

It’s going to be a great fight, there isn’t much more to say than that, but as always, it’s interesting to explore the possible outcomes compared with the expected result.  In this case, almost everybody has Canelo winning the fight.  Most of them by decision, because Jacobs is decidedly tough to knock down, and even tougher to keep down.  If boxing promoters want to keep streaming network subscriptions and PPV numbers up, they have to at least pretend it’s competitive, so there’s a lot out there suggesting that it will be.  For the most part, the suggestion that we might see an epic battle is justified.

Alvarez has superior technical ability, and far greater defensive skill, but he’s naturally smaller than Jacobs.  Jacobs is actually somewhat large for a middleweight, standing almost 6 feet tall with a 73-inch reach.  Alvarez, who has good reach for his height, stands 5’8″, with 70.5″ reach.  If he’s not careful with his counterpunching, Jacobs could gain an advantage just by using straight, accurate punches and staying out of Canelo’s range.

Alvarez has a solid jaw, but so does Jacobs.  Before fighting Golovkin, Jacobs’ only loss came by knockout in his first big step up in competition, against Dmitry Pirog.  Still undefeated, Pirog was a formidable opponent, but has one of the lowest knockout ratios of any boxer.  This would suggest that Alvarez has a shot at knocking Jacobs down and/or out, even with his size disadvantage.  Jacobs also like to trade punches and values aggression over pacing, so the chances get even better.  Alvarez has been knocked down, but never from a punch that looked like a glancing blow.  He has the choice between his two major styles: circling and counter punching, or bully-fighter.  If Alvarez sticks to one or the other throughout the fight, I think he’ll have more trouble than if he blends the two to adapt in different rounds.  The bully strategy won’t work as well against Jacobs as it did Golovkin, but I think it’s necessary to get Jacobs’ respect.  The circle and counter strategy will work well, but if he underestimates Jacobs’ reach and determination, he could get knocked down, or even out completely.

Alvarez needs to use a good strategy tonight, but there’s a reason he’s so universally favored.  The real difference, I think, will be in who can keep a cool head, observe the mistakes their opponent is making, and then capitalize.  Both fighters are too good to make many mistakes, and both fighters are too good to come in less than physically prepared.  If history is any indicator, Alvarez will be the one to keep the cool head, to put the pedal down when he needs to–to avoid a late-round stoppage caused by underestimating his opponent (as Jacobs did with Pirog).  I expect a unanimous decision for Alvarez.

On the undercard tonight we’ll get to see Artur Beterbiev putting his talent on display, gradually moving up the ranks.  Expect an early, brutal knockout in this one.

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You’re Kill-ering Me, Kubrat


“There ain’t no motive for this crime
Jenny was a friend of mine
So come on, oh come on, oh come on”…

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Priced Out

This past weekend Errol Spence Jr. dominated Mikey Garcia in the first ever Fox network pay-per-view.  The undercard fights were insignificant and uninteresting, and the price was predictably high.  On a night when boxing fans had the choice of two other broadcasts, one on DAZN and one on Facebook, the Spence fight was rather unappealing.  While the pay-per-view event boasted the more well-known fighters, the other two events–which could be seen for a combined price of $5–probably offered equal if not greater entertainment value (Gary O’Sullivan’s mustache alone). The “Facebook Fight Night” card was accessible from Flogging Molly’s Facebook page for some reason, which made it hard to find, and the audio quality was terrible, but the commentary and the fights themselves were just as good as anything you’d see on television.

Promoters are only getting more greedy, so we can’t hope for fights like this to be offered for free any time soon.  We can, however, expect Errol Spence to start fighting legitimate opponents.  Garcia is a great lightweight and a valid entrant on the pound-for-pound list, but he’s a lightweight.  Now Spence is “calling out” Manny Pacquiao, who was at one time a formidable welterweight, but at 40 years old only vaguely resembles his former self.  Spence is undefeated in 25 fights; he’s at the top of the rankings in what might be the most competitive division in the sport, but his biggest opponents so far are Kell Brook and Chris Algieri.  Until he starts making legitimate defenses of his title, I remain extremely skeptical that Spence belongs in the ranks with Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, and least of all, Terence Crawford.

The Pacquiao fight would be a repeat of the Garcia farce, pairing Spence against a safe opponent for a meaningless, boring result.  If that fight is made I would recommend checking punk bands’ Facebook pages to see if they might be broadcasting a fight–it’d probably be better than Spence-Pacquiao.


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Tomorrow night Mikey Garcia jumps up two weightclasses to face Errol Spence Jr. for his IBF welterweight title.  Should he earn a victory, Spence will move on to face other champions in the division like Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter and Terence Crawford.  He’s expected to win, and he should, because Garcia’s last fight was at 130 pounds.  Tall for a lightweight, he’ll look more comfortable at welter than he actually is.  Garcia’s undefeated in 39 fights, and he’s fought the best of his division (except Lomachenko), so it’s understandable he’s looking for a challenge.  Why he decided to skip over the formidable competition at 140–before ever facing Lomachenko in his own division–is beyond me, but we can expect a good effort on his part.  That said, Garcia’s fighting style will be more difficult for Spence than, say, a Chris Algieri.  Garcia should win a few early rounds, and if he’s smart, stay competitive in the middle, or even late rounds.

For Spence’s part, he’ll use his size and power to push Garcia around and discourage his combinations.  By the later rounds, we’ll probably see Garcia staggered, and it’ll be an accomplishment if he stays on his feet.  Next, we can hope for each of them to go back to fighting the opponents we should be watching them with tomorrow.  Garcia will likely stay on top, while I doubt Spence will prove equal to the other great champions in his competitive division.

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Median Middleweights

Saul Alvarez changed the middleweight landscape with his (second) defeat of the 160-lb class’ long-time ruler, Gennady Golovkin.  While many think the first fight may have been best ruled a win for Golovkin rather than a draw, it’s hard to argue that both should go to Golovkin.  After signing a lucrative deal with DAZN to be the star of a growing stable of impressive talent, Alvarez had the option of completing the trilogy with Golovkin, or looking for a lesser talent.  Instead, he chose to gamble on a fight with Daniel Jacobs, who may be just as dangerous as Golovkin.

Undefeated prior to his second match with Alvarez, Golovkin has finished almost all of his 40 fights (85%) by knockout.  One in which he was unable to do so was a match against Daniel Jacobs.  Scores were close on all three cards, and ringside analysts were split, slightly favoring Golovkin.  Had Jacobs’ performance matched his usual intensity, there may have been a different result.  He started the fight uncharacteristically slow, but won the early rounds (so maybe it was the right choice), and he finished the last round with very few punches, as if he assumed victory was assured.

It’s hard to predict how he’ll perform against the incredibly adaptive Alvarez.  He was easily dismantled by the formidable Dmitry Pirog, but so was just about everyone else.  He got a late-round stoppage against gatekeeper Caleb Truax, and went on to destroy Peter Quillin and Sergio Mora (twice), but faded against Golovkin.  He’s won all his fights and looked good doing it since then, but hasn’t managed a knockout or a stoppage.  Alvarez showed in his last fight that he knows how to build a strategy on inside fighting, but against Jacobs, it seems more likely that he’ll look for timing, distance and counterpunching opportunities.  With Alvarez employing a measured strategy, Jacobs will fail if he tries to overwhelm his opponent as he did with Quillin.  He may even struggle to win rounds, given Canelo’s unequaled defensive abilities at middleweight.

Usually, Jacobs wins rounds by backing his opponent up and showing the judges that his punches hurt more, but even if he manages that in the ring, the stoic Alvarez is likely to disguise his discomfort well.  If I were in his corner, I would tell Jacobs to employ neither strategy and go for the middle path: start cutting the ring off with intense offensive pressure and keep moving forward through the third minute of round 12–then you’ve got a shot.  But he won’t.  Jacobs has shown stamina problems in the past, and would have to be better than the best we’ve ever seen him to compete with the version of Alvarez we’ve seen in the last few fights.

That said, it should be an interesting one.  Canelo has trouble adjusting to fighters who can adjust.  He’d rather take on the monstrous Gennady Golovkin–who moves one speed and one direction at all times–than the unconventional Erislandy Lara.  If Jacobs can disrupt Canelo’s plod-and-pummel rhythm, he might be able to surprise him with a combination good enough to push him back, or even hand him the first legitimate knockdown of his career.  I see it for Alvarez by close unanimous decision.

Luis Ortiz was successful this past weekend in defeating the unimpressive Christian Hammer.  He now claims to be ready for a rematch with Wilder or a fight with another top heavyweight.  I’d assert that he’s the gatekeeper who’s yet to be proven unfit for such competition.  With very few exceptions, guys who can’t lose their guts for championship fights don’t win, and their careers don’t last long.  I’d venture to guess both are true for King Kong.  If the fight(s) were made: Wilder by KO, Fury by KO, Joshua by KO.  For now, though, he gives us another exciting heavyweight to watch on undercards.

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Kovalev-Alvarez II

Sergey Kovalev managed an upset in his rematch with Eleider Alvarez this past Saturday for the WBO Light Heavyweight title.  After two punishing losses to Andre Ward, Kovalev’s confidence was shaken.  In late 2017 and early 2018, his performances were adequate but nowhere near the way he looked before Ward.  Alvarez has advantages in age and reach, but an inferior skill set.  He was losing on all three judges’ scorecards when he rallied against a fatigued Kovalev in round 7 of their first fight.  The win will buoy his career for the time being, and allow Alvarez to explore matches with other stars from whom he would otherwise draw no interest.

Kovalev, on the other hand, has a second chance at a championship run.  His perceived vulnerability will make it easier for him to sign an opponent, and at his age–his peak performances are likely behind him–he has no time to lose.  His potential opponents don’t offer much for Kovalev in the way of a learning curve.  Dmitry Bivol might be his best bet for a warm-up, less likely to physically overwhelm Kovalev than Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who is recently responsible for the brutal conclusion of Adonis Stevenson’s career.  Gvozdyk is at least less experienced against high level competition, whereas Bivol has thoroughly beaten gatekeepers Joe Smith Jr. and Jean Pascal, and knocked out Sullivan Barrera (a feat that Andre Ward failed to accomplish).  Kovalev may find the alternative even less appealing.  Artur Beterbiev is very young and inexperienced, and his technique shows it, but he’s been on my Fighters to Watch radar for years now.  His best competition yet may have been an aging Tavoris Cloud, but he dispatched him with the same brevity with which he’s disposed of all 12 other opponents–by early knockout.  He’s as likely as any other champion to take Kovalev out of the running, and probably end his career.  If I had to guess, I’d say someone’s likely to do it sooner rather than later.

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Spurious Speculation

The two biggest fights on the horizon boast marquee fighters, but offer surprisingly little competition. The hype surrounding these promotions is meant to keep boxing in business and give fans an illusion of excitement, but it’s a transparent effort.

The first will be this coming weekend when the aging Manny Pacquiao takes on Adrien Broner. Pacquiao’s recent comeback has been impressive, and Broner’s predictable defeats were less one-sided than we might have expected, but that still doesn’t make this a good fight. Broner’s popularity has suffered from the moment he stepped up in competition and showed his total lack of ability–buoyed only by his clearly absurd self-aggrandizement. The fighters who’ve beaten him (Maidana, Porter and Garcia) are talented, but many fighters retire after three or four losses, and he’s still clinging to the hope of some unrecognized greatness.

Pacquiao, a legend in his own time, is coming off a big win over the younger Lucas Matthysse. He has every right to expect us to tune in after seven losses. We might not expect much of a future for him, but he’s still showing enough grit to get through the likes of Adrien Broner with very little difficulty. Don’t buy in to the hype–this one’s a safe bet.

The recently announced fight between Terence Crawford and Amir Khan has been in the works for some time, but has only increased in its obsolescence. Khan has proven that he’s unwilling to take on competitors who are risky to his record and who don’t provide a huge financial windfall. He’s also proven that he’s too undisciplined to be competitive at even the sub-elite level. Still holding out on the one relevant opponent, Kell Brook, who could make a good fight, Khan seems to be wringing every cent he can out of his losses.

Crawford’s recent performances have only reinforced my opinion that he’s the most special of a uniquely talented group–distancing himself from slightly lesser standout Errol Spence Jr. Aside from stalwarts Viktor Postol, Raymundo Beltran and Ricky Burns–Crawford has knocked out just about everybody he’s fought. You can see him thinking in the ring, and, I’d argue that he’s still developing and learning from his fights. And not because he’s carefully selecting opponents. On the contrary–Crawford is the one being avoided. His combination of technical prowess and raw power make Crawford one of the most unbeatable fighters around, and Khan has no such qualities. Two stepping-stone fights for fighters at two very different stages of their careers, but two you can reliably read about the next day without missing much.

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