Author Archives: GentlemanJeff

About GentlemanJeff

I am an enthusiastic boxing fan and a former participant in amateur boxing through Friday Night Fights Gym in New Orleans and USA Boxing.

The Big Re-Ward


After a flurry of fantastic fights, it would be easy to miss the context of the upcoming rematch between two of the sports biggest icons, Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward.  This weekend will cap off a series of exciting matches that have changed the rankings in almost every major division since the beginning of May.  Not long ago we saw Terence Crawford somewhat cruelly dismantle Felix Diaz.  Both fighters showed that they have long, successful careers ahead, but at distinctly different levels of the sport.  Being so dominant against an opponent of that level, Crawford eliminated any remaining doubt that he is now at the elite level for welterweight.

More recently, Errol Spence Jr. and Kell Brook squared off in an unlikely matchup between top prospects that neither fighter was obligated to take.  Brook had previously acquitted himself well against moving up in weight to face Golovkin, but understandably came away with his first loss.  Against Spence, I thought he was winning the majority of the rounds with superior speed, accuracy and ring generalship.  Spence seemed stronger and better at putting combinations together, but also frustrated at Brook’s speed and use of angles.  While I’m sure Golovkin-Brook was incredibly lucrative for Brook and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for exposure, the legacy of the fight could end up being a career-altering injury.  Early in the fight against Spence, Brook started to swell from glancing blows.  In the later rounds, Brook began throwing less, and when he did throw, he looked gun-shy.  By round 11, both eyes were swollen with one suddenly almost completely shut.  He took a knee about a minute into the round without taking much punishment.  At that point, he could probably tell he wasn’t going to be competitive.  Hopefully, Brook will take enough time to truly make a full recovery, so he doesn’t end up with problems in every fight the way the Plastered Bastard did.  Certainly, he has a lot more to lose than Antonio Margarito ever did.

Since then, Brandon Rios has come out of retirement, Regis Prograis has put up another dominant win, and then, out of the blue, Mayweather-McGregor was officially announced (I’ll have to get to that another time).

With the dust still settling from all this upheaval, there’s hardly been time to get ready for the second (and, if possible, even more tantalizing) showdown between Ward and Kovalev.  Historically, the technical fighter getting a rematch after a close fight with a brawler could only mean good things for him: think Mayweather-Maidana II, Rios-Alvarado II, Ali-Frazier II.  In this case, I wouldn’t jump to any conclusions.  Kovalev can make a stand here and solidify his position at the top of the sport, while Ward has been comfortably reclining in the luxury of stardom for years.  The motivational factor can’t be dismissed.  Even more significant might be that Ward was inactive during much of that time, negotiating a messy split with former Top Rank exec Dan Goosen.  Of course, the inactivity didn’t stop Ward from putting on an epic performance in the first fight, and that could mean a bigger discrepancy between his abilities and Kovalev’s in the rematch.  Part of the reason the inactivity didn’t affect the fight against Kovalev is that Ward had been consistently taking fights again for over a year at that point, and had fought twice already in 2016.  I still call attention to his “inactivity” and comfort because these fights were against a series of off-brand tomato cans.  The first, timid return came against Paul Smith, 35-5, who had just lost two consecutive fights to Arthur Abraham leading up to their contest.  The next two opponents weren’t much more impressive, so, in short, Ward hasn’t fought anyone like Kovalev since the Super Six tournament (except, of course, Kovalev).

If Ward’s inactivity doesn’t catch up with him, and he hasn’t underestimated Kovalev as much as he makes it seem, it could be a one-sided affair.  One of those classic matchups between a great fighter and a legendary one.  Roy Jones Jr. is probably more familiar with the concept than any other single fighter, having humiliated greats and legends alike in his early, more athletic years.  Ward has been quoted saying that he didn’t have “enough fun” in the first fight.  In taking on the larger Chad Dawson five years ago, Ward certainly did look like he was having fun, scoring one of the most dominant and yet exciting knockouts I’ve ever seen.  He may have worked out Kovalev’s habits enough to play puppet master the way he did with Chad Dawson, but don’t expect Kovalev to wilt under the pressure.  If Ward pushes himself harder than he has the capacity for, Kovalev will seize the opportunity.  Ward can take his punches all night as long as he can move effectively to take the impact off, but if he tires, is unable to clinch, and starts taking real punishment, Kovalev could pull the upset.

Key to both fighters will be the jab, with even more urgency for Kovalev, who had great success with it in the first fight.  Next most important for both will be movement.  If Kovalev can improve his footwork, or if Ward falters with his own, Ward’s advantage will be significantly diminished.  Finally, the winner of the fight will be the one who was most active, either by taking punches while giving them or by throwing during every lull in the action.

We can get up our hopes for an epic conclusion or a worthy precursor to the final chapter.  Some fans feel Kovalev fought well enough to win the first time, but even if he didn’t, with 12 rounds of experience, maybe he really can beat Ward convincingly.  In that case, Kovalev would take the belts, have two unforgettable performances on his resume and he would have begun what would probably one of the great boxing trilogies.  Then again, with practice, maybe Ward can shut him out the way he has with other would-be conquerors (like Froch), solidifying his legacy and elevating him to supreme status.  Whoever wins receives possibly the greatest reward in the sport: an undeniable reign.

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Piece of Resistance


This Saturday Kell Brook takes on Errol Spence Jr. for the IBF welterweight title, just one fight removed from his first defeat, moving up in weight to fight Gennady Golovkin.  Clearly, Spence is less of a physical force than Golovkin, but likely no less of a challenge.  Having dominated all his previous opponents, Spence convinced fans and analysts that he’s ready for the next level of competition, and Kell Brook fits the bill.  The only real name on his resume so far is Chris Algieri, who, admittedly, has only lost to Pacquiao and Khan, but is otherwise unaccomplished in his professional career (except for his defeat of Provodnikov).  Brook is similarly undistinguished in his record save for his victory over Shawn Porter, elevating him to the higher level of competition which granted him this match against a fighter who may be the next face of the sport.

Anyone watching the end of HBO’s broadcast of Crawford-Diaz this past weekend is likely to remember Max Kellerman’s effusive veneration of Spence in comparing his skill level, along with Crawford, to the greats in the history of the sport.  Kellerman suspects, he says, that Spence is special.  His choice of words for this statement was particularly appropriate, as Brook refers to himself as the Special One.  The fight is, indeed, a battle to prove who will be seen as the Special welterweight, and potentially the most marketable fighter behind Saul Alvarez.  Worldwide, Brook is probably better known than Spence because of the fight with Golovkin, but in America (where the money is), Spence has the advantage of being an Olympian.  Fighters featured in the Games have always enjoyed an automatic bump in popularity in the States.  He was the standout representative from our lackluster 2012 team, and has acquitted himself well since turning pro, but didn’t have enough to get the gold that year.  Of course, scoring in Olympic boxing over the past decade has been notoriously corrupt and inaccurate.  The question remains until this Saturday, who really is the next star of the division?  Who can be charismatic, talented and powerful enough to be the poster child?  It reminds me a bit of the plot line from The Lego Movie, where Chris Pratt plays the most ordinary lego-guy on the planet, but everyone around him keeps calling him “the special.”  He doesn’t believe it until the very end, but the viewer harbors a deep suspicion that he may well be more important than he realizes.

“Because the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster but it’s true.” – The Lego Movie

Brook clearly believes himself to be that special.  He puts it on his boxing trunks.  It’s probably on his pajamas.  But Spence has been disappointed in the past when a lot of other people had faith in him.  Has his professional success buoyed his spirits to the point that he can overcome the force of skill commanded by Kell Brook?  He has a two-inch read advantage, which will go a long way, and he’s a few years younger, which never hurts.  Brook is more experienced, but still hasn’t faced anyone in his division at such a high level.  Golovkin, of course, is arguably just as talented and what he lacks in talent he makes up for in size and power.  It showed a lot of courage, confidence and amibition for Brook to face him.  That being said, Golovkin knocked Brook out in five rounds.

The fight for the “Special” crown will be exciting in terms of the future of the sport, but may not be quite as exciting to watch.  Both being slick fighters, Brook and Spence will probably spend a large part of the early rounds circling and jabbing, holding when their opponent gets too close.  For Brook, that period of hesitation should be encouragement to establish his range and then stay there.  Spence could conceivably stay on the outside for the whole fight and score enough points to win a decision.  At the same time, both fighters are willing to trade at times, and are more than capable of putting together devastating combinations.  Look for thrilling exchanges in the middle rounds, with one of the two (Spence, I’m guessing) getting ahead on points and then playing it safe for the last two to three rounds.  Both men are dangerous enough to command the respect of the other, and both will have a bright future beyond a loss in this fight.  If either of them has been avoided (and they’ll tell you they have), a loss will serve to bring them more lucrative and interesting opponents, while the winner will be set for marquee fights with the division’s biggest names.

All the champions at welterweight right now are marketable, some more so than others, but I could also see any of them being usurped at any given time.  Manny Pacquiao still holds the WBO belt, but is getting older and seems to be taking fights on a whim.  Keith Thurman holds both the WBA and the WBC belts, but showed himself to be fallible against Danny Garcia and also in previous fights.  Lamont Peterson even still holds a titular WBA belt, and Brook holds the last of the group.  With so much talent in the division it’s hard to believe a couple of those names won’t change by the end of the year, if not more than once.  The question is whether one of them will set themselves apart as being different, whether someone can clearly show themselves to be special.  It might not be this one, but at some point, after the dust has settled, the mandatories have been satisfied and the controversies cleared, the matchmakers will give us that epic fight between the best and the second best: the piece of resistance.

 

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Bitter Gripes


I have to say I think it’s dandy that Chavez Sr. is disappointed in his son for his performance against Saul Alvarez on May 6th.  This is exactly what senior set himself up for the moment he made his son’s career more about himself than about junior.  Anyone who’s paid attention is aware that Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. possessed some impressive talent at one time, but was gifted much of his professional advancement.  He made his early career on soft competition by any standards, and took championships from mediocre champions.  He demonstrated a lack of dedication several times in his career when failing to make weight, but that’s just an indicator of the overall deficit in his training, his technique and his mentality.

While he looked impressive against guys like Peter Manfredo, Bryan Vera and John Duddy, their styles are exceedingly one-dimensional and their pacing conducive to a Chavez victory.  Those fights were really his peak, anyway, despite what advocates might claim.  Before those fights, his greatest challenges took the form of Andy Lee and Matt Vanda, who, while formidable in their own right, are nowhere near being considered for elite-level fights.  He wasn’t even ready for Matt Vanda until his 38th professional fight.  To put that in perspective, Floyd Mayweather Jr., in his 38th fight, took the WBC welterweight title from Oscar de la Hoya.

Chavez Jr.’s obsession with being worthy of his name was the entirety of his ambition.  That’s why he didn’t care about boxing as a sport.  For him, boxing was just the vehicle for his assumption of his father’s throne.  At the very least, he thought he was destined for greatness.  It’s like you could see it on his face every time he came to the ring, “thanks everybody, yeah, I look like my dad, right?”

Maybe that’s what all the rivalry hype was about in the lead-up to Alvarez-Chavez.  Maybe Alvarez wanted to prove that he was the one who would achieve greatness, not because of his lineage or because he looked like or even fought like the Mexican warrior archetype.  Alvarez showed he would achieve greatness, least of all because he was destined for it, but instead because he earned it through decades of hard work.  If Chavez Sr. is disappointed in his son, he should be disappointed in himself for projecting the idea of boxing as a commodity.  It’s more than that, especially for those less naturally gifted.  Unfortunately, senior pushed his son too far, one time too many.  It’s clear where junior falls in the line of greats, and the successor to this throne won’t be a Chavez.

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A Full Card


It’s hard not to speculate wildly when there are so many great fights just around the corner.  Two reasons these fights are even more interesting now: Alvarez-Chavez is out of the way, and Joshua-Klitschko surpassed all our expectations.  It’s hard to see past such momentous fights before the dust settles, but now that we’ve gotten a satisfying conclusion to the Klitschko reign, and a stamp of approval for Canelo’s run at middleweight, we can sit back and appreciate this year’s bountiful spring and summer offerings.

Tomorrow, Delvin Rodriguez will be working to regain his place in the junior middleweight division after taking a series of unwinnable fights against division mainstays like Cotto, Lara and Trout.  He was the warm-up for these three superior fighters, all on their way to lucrative losses to Canelo.  The soft-touch contest against Courtney Pennington (10-4-1) in Connecticut won’t be televised, but we can guess how it’ll end.

This coming Saturday, May 13th, AWE will broadcast a WBA junior bantamweight title fight.  It’ll likely be as thrilling as most junior bantamweight fights, so nothing to set your DVR for.  Also that night, in Michigan, James Toney will be fighting.  Fortunately, it won’t be televised.

While not a thrilling prospect, it’s always interesting to see Diego de la Hoya in the ring, and he’ll be headlining the ESPN card on Thursday May 18th, building his record against relative unknown Erik Ruiz.  The following Saturday begins a big weekend for boxing with a heaping helping of interesting fights, some not so interesting.  The most tantalizing prospect coming from HBO, we’ll be treated to Terence Crawford-Felix Diaz for Crawford’s WBO and WBC titles.

I watched Diaz, the 2008 gold medal winner from Dominican Republic, lose his last major match in October 2015 when he took on hometown favorite Lamont Peterson.  This was the main event of the same card as the tragic final bout of Prichard Colon’s career.  The whole crowd in attendance was puzzled by Lamont’s inactive offense and ineffective defense, at times booing his performance.  Those who stayed for the end the fight were even more shocked when the scores were announced in favor of Peterson.  May 20th will be the night for Diaz to redeem himself in dramatic fashion, but going up against a force like Terence Crawford, it’s unlikely he’ll get the victory needs.

The same night (May 20th) on Showtime, we’ll get three Gary Russells including the famous Jr., plus Rances Barthelemy and Andre Dirrell all taking on unknowns for transitional fights, and top top it all off, Gervonta Davis and Liam Walsh in the main event.  It’s unlikely anyone will do well against Davis at this stage of his career, but Liam Walsh will be a legitimate test.  If we’re still hungry for more, FS1 will be serving up a few tomato cans to clang around the ring too.

May 27th we get Kell Brook and Errol Spence Jr. just a week removed from Terence Crawford’s next stepping stone fight.  Hopefully, the winner of the more highly celebrated Brook-Spence contest will be facing Crawford soon.  All three are names with enough longevity to take boxing fans into the next era, but two in particular, Crawford and Spence, seem to have the most potential.

June 3rd we get Adonis Stevenson-Andrzej Fonfara.  This should be an exciting fight with a lot of good exchanges, settling any unanswered questions from their first close fight.  Fonfara is talented and his style matches up well against Stevenson, but it’s likely Stevenson will adapt better the second time around and close up any gaps.  Also that night, Fres Oquendo, whose last fight was a loss to Chagaev in 2014, will “fight” Shannon Briggs.  Appropriately, the fight will take place in Hollywood.  Briggs has fought steadily but met his last significant opponent, Vitali Klitschko, seven years ago.

June 16 Claressa Shields will be in the ring again, but of course, it won’t be televised.  To be fair, most of Shields’ fights are painfully one-sided.  Still, there are other exciting female boxers and these fights can’t draw any viewers if they aren’t accessible.

The following night on June 17 we’re already set for the rematch between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward, with the undercard featuring Guillermo Rigondeaux.  While no one is likely to disturb Rigondeaux’s reign, his opponent is undefeated and could provide some resistance.  Fans are hard set on their picks for the Kovalev-Ward rematch, as they were for the first fight.  It’s a rational argument either way, and I would still make the case that Kovalev could easily have taken the cards in that match.  If past evidence is any indicator (think Cotto-Margarito II, Mayweather-Maidana II, Rios-Alvarado II), the fighter who relies more on mental agility, ring IQ and technique will refine his strategy and come away with the win.  Ward has been so smart in all his fights in the past that he’s not only undefeated, he even managed to win landslide decisions against fighters who specialized in making slick fighters look clumsy.  Kovalev is a force, to be sure, but he doesn’t seem to have many dimensions to his style.  If something isn’t working, he works harder at what he does well and usually something gives.  In this case, that won’t cut it.  He’ll have to find a weakness in Ward’s game, or he’ll have to sure up one of his own, so that he can keep the offensive points from going to his opponent.  We know Ward will best him in defensive technique, but if Kovalev can hurt Ward or keep him from working actively, we could see a trilogy in the making.  Ward will likely take the win by decision, but Kovalev will make it very interesting.

The crown jewel in the summer lineup will be the epic clash between Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.  There’s enough to speculate about with that fight to fill a book, so for this post we’ll just acknowledge that the biggest treat of all still awaits us, ready to offer solace for the bittersweet arrival of fall.

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I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing


I’ll never be so happy to be so wrong in my all life.  This joke of a fight turned out to be harmless for Canelo’s career.  In fact, it should provide a good boost for his popularity, given that his opponent had a functional 10 to 15 pound weight advantage.  One bit of trivia I was unaware of until after the fight was the fact that the Alvarez-Chavez showdown actually has been in the works for years.  At least six years, from the looks of it.

That means two things.  First, it means there was a reason for the fight to happen.  They had been planning to fight each other since a time when Alvarez wasn’t the undisputed king of the junior welters, and when Chavez was lighter.  Had this fight taken place 6 years ago, it all would’ve made a lot more sense!  And I think the result would’ve been the same.  Second, it means that the thought process behind choosing Canelo’s opponents might not be so flawed.  Alvarez so thoroughly dominated the fight that when it came time for the announcement of the score cards,  and he treated it like the Coming Attractions screen at the movies, it didn’t even seem that unnatural.

He transitioned abruptly to a very staged delivery of his announcement of his next opponent.  For once, it’s both a fight that makes sense and the fight that everyone wants.  I’m not even sure that Golovkin is such a bad opponent for Alvarez anymore.  Clearly, stronger and rangier fighters don’t bother him much, and Golovkin’s willingness to square-up and trade could work to Canelo’s advantage.  This will mean good things for boxing and the middleweight division in particular.  There are so many good fights to be seen with Alvarez at 160, even if he can’t handle Golovkin.  I’d most like to see him tested against Lemieux, Quillin, or Jacobs, but for now, triple G will do just fine.

For his part, Chavez Jr. should stay away from everyone at middleweight and above.  He’s always looked undisciplined and untalented, but this past Saturday he looked absolutely helpless.  Could be the effects of cutting weight explain his performance, but he looked unfocused and unmotivated from the first round, so it doesn’t seem like fatigue could explain his behavior.  It wasn’t because of immobility or injury, and it wasn’t out of fear of his opponent’s power, he just seemed beaten before the bell ever rang.  He’s more irrelevant now than ever and it doesn’t really matter why he fought the way he did.

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Squandered Skill


Our 2017 Cinco de Mayo fight is here, but there isn’t much to say about this classically flawed matchup.  On paper, it sounded like an important fight–two famous Mexican fighters, one at the top of his division, fighting for status as their nation’s warrior–but after last week’s spectacular display between Klitschko and Joshua, the reality of the fight is looking somewhat more bleak.  There isn’t much heated debate between fans on either side about who will win or why.  That’s because there isn’t that much at stake unless you’re an old-school Mexican fight fan.  Not that there aren’t enough of those out there to generate some impressive ratings for the pay-per-view, but will the result of this fight be significant to any boxing fans who aren’t Mexican?  Chavez is clearly the one with more invested in the idea of being known as the genuine Mexican warrior, but will his machismo draw Alvarez into a career-altering mistake?

Breaking down what each athlete is trying to achieve gives us a clearer idea of what’s at stake.  Chavez is trying to prove he really is great by beating a smaller, better fighter, after years of wallowing in apathy and mediocrity.  Alvarez, by all accounts, is trying to show that he can take detours on his predestined route to greatness.  If Alvarez lost by knockout, we might think that middleweight was just too big for him.  But we would’ve known that after his first fight at 160 anyway.  If he won but got beaten up, or lost but came close to a win, then the ultimate result is the same but his ability and skill-level are called into question.  In the most extreme scenario, if Alvarez dominates the fight completely, all we get is an indication that he’s ready for middle, which again would’ve been evident in his first fight at that weight.  None of these scenarios tell us anything about the middleweight division as it currently stands (where Alvarez claims to be headed).  We still won’t know if Alvarez will be able to handle a top 160-pound fighter and we still won’t know if a fight with Gennady Golovkin will be made.  Most of all, we still won’t give a shit about what Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. does with himself, because he hasn’t been a middleweight in years and has never held an elite position in any division.

Those scenarios aside, we’re left with the purely negative possibilities for the result of the fight.  By contrast, these consequences could significantly affect the middleweight and/or junior middleweight divisions.  If by some calamity Chavez were to dominate the fight against Alvarez, the rankings for junior middleweight would be entirely upset, and the showdown between the top junior middleweight and the top middleweight would be summarily neutered.  Lastly and least desirably, we must accept the possibility of a draw.  If some cosmic aberration causes the fight to be declared a draw, the reputations of both fighters will suffer, and their fans’ devotion will be diminished, as will the revenue involving either fighter in the future.  This result would lock one of the sport’s top attractions into a messy negotiation for a rematch that very few outside of Mexico would be likely to watch.  Even if negotiations were uncharacteristically efficient and brief, Alvarez would spend at least months, and possibly years, at the peak of his career, negotiating, promoting, training for and recovering from the rematch.  Chavez would soak up all the money he could and proceed with an uneventful denouement to his career.

That brings me to a point I’ve made before, and I’ll try to make it my last lambast about this.  Alvarez has developed a pattern of struggling to make smooth transitions from one stage of his career to another.  Suddenly shifting from junior middleweight opponents to a light heavyweight opponent for this fight shows an unsettling lack of perspective from his camp.  It’s eerily reminiscent of the decision to jump from opponents like Alfonso Gomez, Kermit Cintron, Josesito Lopez and Austin Trout, to Floyd Mayweather.  He’s jumping two weight classes ostensibly to test his abilities for a fight against Golovkin, but the opponent he chooses isn’t a popular middleweight, a highly skilled middleweight, or even a middleweight at all.  Instead, he chose for his opponent a lazy, unrefined non-entity, who typically comes in 10-15 pounds heavier than Golovkin does.  Yes, these fights make Alvarez more money and afford him more recognition than almost any other could, but in terms of his reputation, they’re risks without reward.  Mayweather is still looking for number 50, and had Canelo stayed undefeated through Mayweather’s retirement, a return for the reigning junior middleweight champion would be very attractive.

Alvarez has already racked up more wins at age 26 (two more wins to surpass Mayweather) than most fighters do in a career.  He could’ve made his legacy secure simply by staying active and fighting legitimate opponents, but he wasn’t content.  It would be great if that discontent translated into big fights against gatekeeper middleweights or stay-busy fights against everyone of importance at junior middle, but instead we get this third option.

In an interview with ESPN, Alvarez said making history in his career was important to him, but what kind of history is he writing?  The dominant junior middleweight who never passed up an opportunity to overreach?  The tiny middleweight who refused to take fights at 160?  Or does he expect us to see him as the Mexican warrior who took on all challengers?  The majority of fans won’t see him that way, I can tell you, regardless of the result of this fight.  For one thing, Alvarez has clearly been strategically avoiding Golovkin, and for another, fight fans who haven’t spent a lot of time on the Mexican history of the sport don’t care who beats Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at welter, middle or any other weight.

Names with the resonance of “Chavez” are few and far between.  Chavez senior set standards for the whole sport with the level of competition he faced, his longevity, and the excitement of his fights.  Alvarez, on the other hand, is building his history on names that won’t stand the test of time, and for reasons that are less and less compelling.  The fight against Amir Khan made sense because it was hard to imagine Alvarez losing, even on points, and because it’s satisfying to watch loudmouth pretenders like Khan put in their place.  Of course, it would’ve made just as much or more sense before the fight with Mayweather.  Liam Smith was undefeated and large for junior middleweight, so that made some sense, but because no one had ever heard of him, the result was just more padding on Canelo’s record.

These factors have conspired to constrict the potential of one of the greatest fighters of our time.  In this context, when you start to look at the names and numbers on his record, the biggest accomplishments for Alvarez start to look thin.  While he already had a lot of experience at that age, he was very young when he handled Kermit Cintron so easily.  Pretty good.  In his very next fight, he handled an aging Shane Mosley impressively.  Very good.  Then, he dismantled two oversized welterweights and lost every moment of every round to Mayweather.  Not so good.  Three more upper-level guys crossed off the list after that.  Not bad.  Then, in possibly his greatest performance, Alvarez showed us new levels of talent in an impeccable fight against the shopworn Miguel Cotto.   Truly great–except that it was probably the last fight of Cotto’s career.  It was probably the most beaten up, worn down version of Cotto (who is probably one of the most beaten up fighters of all time) ever to enter the ring, and that’s the version Saul Alvarez built his middleweight reputation on.  It was no more legitimate that Cotto’s coup of the middleweight title from the all-but-absent Sergio Martinez.

So Canelo’s greatest professional achievement is asterisked.  His second greatest accomplishment, also necessary to qualify.  The more general accomplishments of gaining experience and compiling an impressive record, now compromised by puzzling decisions and an utter defeat.  If Alvarez wins tonight, will he finally feel secure in his status as a Mexican legend?  Will that release him from his obligation to take fights that don’t further his career?  Maybe then he could sign a fight against a real middleweight, or more appropriately, a large junior middleweight with real talent, like Kell Brook.  Or will the prospect of fighting David Lemieux, Martin Murray, and Daniel Jacobs scare his team into signing more set-up fights?  If so, what will his team do when fans and analysts are clamoring for the fight with Golovkin and questioning Canelo’s courage even more than before?

I guess the best possible scenario is that Canelo will win convincingly and immediately take the fight with Golovkin.  At least then, his reputation will be restored and rankings will remain intact until he faces the guy who will likely be his beginning of the end.  Maybe.

Or maybe not.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to write up a prediction for this fight yet because I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s going to be the culmination of too many bad decisions.  There’s some metaphor there about trying to be the cock of the walk and chickens coming home to roost, but I don’t know what it is.  The only way I can think to put this in writing is to painstakingly (and it will be painful) go through individual elements of each fighter’s style and compare.  I know it won’t be fun to read, but since I’m the only one paying attention…Hopefully, I’ll feel differently at the end than I do now.

Speed:  Alvarez has the edge in speed though he’s not known for slick defense or fast combinations. Chavez can be sluggish but puts massive, fluid combos together when his opponent opens his defense.

Diagnosis: Non-factor.  Chavez is sturdy enough to handle sustained counter punching, Alvarez is smart enough to avoid 12-punch combinations if he’s not already badly hurt.

Size:  Chavez has the advantage in height, reach and weight.  If Alvarez can’t fight an active, powerful, precisely measured match, he loses either by points or by KO.

Diagnosis: Could be the deciding factor for Chavez.

Stamina:  Alvarez doesn’t seem to take rounds off toward the end of a fight, but doesn’t often reassert himself late either.  Chavez takes rounds off, but tends to hit a rhythm with high output that is rarely matched.

Diagnosis: Chavez has a bigger gas tank and a diesel engine, but if he needs much maneuverability he’ll end up in a fiery wreck.

Output and Activity:  Chavez has always had a high punch output in later rounds, but Alvarez is good at controlling distance and forward momentum throughout the fight.  Chavez leaves big openings when he’s being lethargic, but both fighters start slow.

Diagnosis: Whoever asserts this skill has a distinct advantage, whoever fails to prevent his opponent from applying this skill is vulnerable.  If someone starts faster than usual, his opponent will lose the early rounds and take some punishment.

Power:  Alvarez has the ability to apply enough power at the right time and in the right place for junior middleweights, but his record belies a more musclebound and less accomplished knockout artist.  Chavez has no sense of how to use the power he does have, and he hasn’t worked very hard at being powerful.  That said, he’s bigger and stronger and relies on volume and power in the later rounds for his wins.

Diagnosis: Chavez will demonstrate superior power even as he displays a superior chin.  In combination with volume, power could be Canelo’s undoing.

Chin:  Chavez takes a punch as well as anyone in boxing, and he’s larger than his opponent but doesn’t have a lot of power, and Alvarez is no slouch himself.

Diagnosis: Non-factor.  If Alvarez is getting hit enough for his chin to matter, the fight is already over.

Heart:  Alvarez has pushed through some tough moments in ways that we haven’t seen Chavez attempt, but neither one of them has had so little to gain in a fight against an opponent with such a size advantage.

Diagnosis: Chavez won’t have the fortitude (cojones) that Alvarez has, but he may not need it.

Footwork and Angles:  Alvarez can be impressive with his footwork and use of angles in both offense and defense, but he’s so much smaller he’ll have to use every bit of skill just to keep pace.  Chavez doesn’t do much with angles but he can move when he needs to, especially to cut off the ring, and he’s no more flat-footed than his opponent.

Diagnosis: If Alvarez isn’t at his best, all his tools will be negated by size.

Resistance to Damage:  Neither fighter has a history of stoppages for cuts or swelling, but Alvarez might have it a little better with his youth and resilience.

Diagnosis: Chavez could lose the fight on cuts or swelling.

Accuracy:  Precision punching and slipping is the only area where Chavez is helpless.  If Alvarez can build on what we’ve seen in the past and be in top form against someone this big, he could book himself for an extended stay in the elite ranks.

Diagnosis: Alvarez will probably outshine Chavez in every exchange, but if he doesn’t, there may be no chance.

Ring IQ:  Alvarez will be the smarter puncher all night long, but if he doesn’t hit the gas at the right moment he could easily lose a decision.  Chavez Jr. has Senior in his corner to pick up the slack.

Diagnosis: Chavez won’t evolve any brilliant strategies, but with a little luck and the help of Chavez senior he could adjust at the right moments and keep Alvarez from taking crucial rounds.

 

Okay.  I do feel a bit better.  Chavez could lose on cuts, swelling, sheer stupidity or inability to adapt.  Even so, and as much as it pains me to do this, I have to post my prediction now, and I have to guess that the larger guy, the one with deeper fan loyalty who’s more likely to get a close decision,  will take the win.  With any luck, tomorrow I’ll repenting for my lack of faith.  I’d be more than happy to admit my error.

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Keepers


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Tonight we’ll see two of the most highly skilled gatekeepers in the sport.  Andre Berto, whose inexplicable progression through the ranks largely went unimpeded by his mediocrity, will take on Shawn Porter, who was rushed to the top of the division after avenging a draw with Julio Diaz.  I saw Porter summarily extinguish Pauli Malignaggi’s attempt at a return in 2014.  He certainly looked impressive in that fight, but he had a few elements of chance working in his favor.  For one, he had a 7-year age advantage, but more importantly, Malignaggi’s style was perfect for him.  Porter handed Devon Alexander his second loss, and most recently, triumphantly defeated the boorish Adrien Broner.  All these fighters should be counted as significant victories for anyone, but they’re also all clearly below the elite level.  The two shots Porter has had at the top of the division, against Keith Thurman and Kell Brook, were just short of disastrous.  While Porter adapted to Brook’s style well, the disparity in skill was unmistakable, and even more so with Thurman.

Andre Berto, on the other hand, never really had any significant wins to compare to Porter’s.  He’s solidly stuck between the middle and the top, and yet not quite at the level of other gatekeepers.  If I went by memory, I’d have been tempted to say Porter and Berto are at equal skill levels, but taking a look at Berto’s BoxRec stats puts things in perspective.  He was thrust into tough competition after ostensibly proving himself by beating a group of opponents beginning with David Estrada.  That group of four known fighters, upon which Berto built his reputation, all share a common pattern in their careers.  Estrada, Luis Collazo, Juan Urango and Carlos Quintana were all hot prospects at the time and seemed to be progressing quickly in the highly competitive welterweight division until they came up against a skilled opponent.  Before they ever fought Berto, all these fighters were hot prospects who had flown too close to the sun.  Estrada had been incinerated by Shane Mosley, Collazo by Mosley and Ricky Hatton, Urango also by Hatton, and Quintana by Paul Williams and Miguel Cotto.  After three losses to middling opponents at best (Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass) Berto managed a win, albeit a big one, over Josesito Lopez, and suddenly he’s signing a fight with Floyd Mayweather?  Granted, it was a good pick for Mayweather for a stay-busy opponent, but what a mismatch.  It was the only Mayweather pay-per-view I ever skipped without any trepidation (though if they sign Mayweather-McGregor, that’ll make two).  Since then, the only fight Berto’s had (already a full year ago) was when he avenged his loss to Victor Ortiz.  Great that he can beat an aging Ortiz, but why he’s still getting in there with upper-level competition is beyond me, especially with these long layovers between fights.

We can expect Berto to start out strong and look sharp with his punches, possibly even pushing Porter back as they feel each other out and establish a rhythm.  Likely, though, by round three, the skill disparity will be evident.  Berto will begin throwing wide, looping shots and leaving his hands down after throwing.  Porter will be obliged to throw straighter punches, and he’ll connect more frequently than Berto.  Porter’s defense will be stronger, though he’ll probably stand and trade more than he should, a behavior Berto tends to elicit from his opponents.  I think that’s because they’re so shocked at the audacity of an opponent to come forward square, flat-footed, throwing looping shots like a scene from Road House.  Whatever the reason, we’re likely to see the two sluggers trade at some point in the fight, and that may make the whole thing worthwhile.  It ought to be a showcase for Porter, and a good name to put on Berto’s resume even though it’ll probably have an ‘L’ in front of it.  It might seem more filler than killer, but after this transition fight we’ll have a better idea of where Porter sits in the division.  If he dominates Berto, he may be in line for a rematch with Brook or even Thurman (if Thurman’s feeling unambitious), a shot at Danny Garcia, or any of the other top welters.

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Giants of the Times


Image result for nikolai valuev

A lot has been made in the past week of Tyson Fury’s return to Trump-style communication, that is, harassing people on Twitter without using factual statements.  He used this strategy before with Klitschko, and it worked.  He got his shot at the title, and the big lazy manic-depressive actually pulled it off somehow.  He won.

Hey, it shocked me too–but now people who claim to know boxing are making a big deal about Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder avoiding Fury.  They treat a potential rematch between Klitschko and Fury as a foregone conclusion, that Klitschko will lose.  I’m pretty puzzled as to why anyone would feel that way.  Have you not been following heavyweights for the last 11-14 years?  Because that’s how long the Klitschko name has adorned the top of the division.  Sure, it was a lackluster era for the heavies, but the same was said about Floyd Mayweather before he started fighting Cottos and Pacquiaos.  While the first fight between Fury and Klitschko was one-sided, the sheer absurdity of the circumstances (Fury sang “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” after his victory) made it clear that a rematch would be worth seeing.  Joshua-Klitschko will undoubtedly be less exciting to watch than that fever dream was, but it brings gravity and competition back to the division.

We have to keep in mind that Wladimir Klitschko turned 41 a few weeks ago while Tyson Fury is still only 28.  The older Klitschko gets, the less he’ll be able to compete with any young, large, skilled opponent, and the more likely it becomes that his successor will be just another pudgy Russian or technical Slavic fighter whose name will fade as quickly as it appeared (we’re looking at you, Ibragimov).  Remember Nikolay Valuev?  Do you remember how big he was?  A 7-foot tall 330-pound monster with enough chest hair to weave a bathroom mat.   He lost to David Haye (a man with a 100 pound weight disadvantage) 8 years ago.  Haye went on to fight Klistchko just 6 years ago, and was humiliated, unable to compete on any level.  In other words: just because you’re the biggest, or have the biggest mouth, doesn’t mean you’re competitive.

Fury is slightly less bound by his lumbering physique than Valuev, but no more talented.  It should come as a shock to everyone if he manages another win over Klitschko, and an even greater shock if he gets a match and can even compete with the other two, younger, more talented, more physically impressive champions.  Joshua probably isn’t as skilled as Wilder, but both are so far beyond Fury physically that skill won’t be as much of a factor, if they ever meet him in the ring.  It’s certainly impressive that Fury managed a win over a Klitschko, at any age, and he did it while suffering from mental illness.  I’m not saying Fury got lucky, but there’s a reason no one expected the fight to go the way it did.  Just as it was for Lennox Lewis-Oliver McCall II, the rematch is a clean slate for the more talented, and more physically and mentally fit fighter.

That being said, Joshua and Wilder are no small potatoes themselves.  I would expect either of them to handle everyone in the heavyweight division easily, except each other and Klitschko.  There are others on the periphery; Luis Ortiz comes to mind, but then so do the allegations of doping and use of banned substances.  As far as I’m concerned, however well it was concealed, there’s as much likelihood that Fury was using PEDs leading up to Klitschko as there is that Marquez did leading up to the last fight with Pacquiao.  As far as Helenius and Price, the behemoths seemed to have a better shelf life than Fury, but have faded out of the picture so completely that it’s not worth speculating about the reasons why.

When Klitschko and Joshua meet this Saturday, expect a real test of Klistchko’s viability and his skill.  If he can get past Joshua or even put up a convincing fight, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him solidly defeat Fury in a rematch at some point in the future.  If not, and they never meet, it’s very likely that Wilder and Joshua, in that order, will lead the division head and shoulders (no pun intended) above everyone else.

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Are We Not Entertained?


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ESPN’s follow up on Prichard Colon.

The futility of the search for someone to blame here is the real story.  There never was, and never will be anyone to blame because no one knew.

I saw this fight live last October, and even though I’ve had first-hand experience with boxing and brain trauma, nobody in the crowd–and I’d venture to guess no one in the ring either–knew what was happening.  People get the impression that boxing is some kind of primitive ritual to determine who can hurt who the most.  It’s not.  It’s an art and a science, and we’ve focused so much on the artistry that we haven’t worked out the science enough to keep our athletes safe.  All the cliches about not knowing the “meaning of quit” and “the heart of a warrior” are just decoration for people putting their lives on the line for a sport they love.  It’s no different from football, horse racing and many other sports.  We can’t reduce it to a special situation where we ignore the dangers because it’s a “contact sport” or a “combat sport.”  The AIBA is moving in the right direction–they removed the requirement for headgear in the games, rejecting the conventional wisdom that headgear prevents brain injuries–but it’s not enough.  Everyone involved in the sport has to shift their perspective.

The problem in this one incident was that no one did anything to stop the damage and get help, but the larger tragedy is that no one (other than Colon himself) could have done anything.  There’s nothing in the regulations that would have allowed, or even suggested an official way to end the fight based on injury.  Nothing to point to that would show that the doctor should have stopped the fight, that the corner should have taken the complaints more seriously, or that the referee should have noticed indicators that something was wrong.

The most frightening part of this incident is that it has happened before.  There are dozens of similar stories are scattered throughout boxing history, but even now, nothing has changed.  An old-school boxing fan might say that the rules are this way to preserve the dignity of the sport and of the fighters.  It’s true, pride and stoicism are a big part of boxing.  But does anyone really believe that an entire generation of young athletes would reject the sport if they’re told “we might have to stop the fight even if if you feel okay, because sometimes you don’t know until it’s too late”?  They wouldn’t, because it would be a simple reality of the sport, like a rain delay in baseball.  But ask that same old-school fan if Colon should have told his corner, or the referee, that he wanted to quit?  A pretty resounding “no,” would be your answer.  Any boxer or trainer will tell you that the willingness to fight through pain is what makes a fighter a fighter.  It’s ingrained in you as fundamental to the sport from the moment you put on the gloves.  This means that there were no options that would have resulted in the end of this fight at a time early enough to diagnose and treat Colon.  None of the individuals with the authority to stop the fight had any official means to do so available to them.

The only solution is a change in the sport itself.  What might that look like?  There are much smarter people than me to answer that question, but at the lowest levels, maybe that would mean we stop telling these kids to suck it up if they feel shaky after getting hit.  Maybe officials at amateur contests would remind the fighters and the referee that the fight can and should be stopped if someone feels dizzy or off-balance.  Maybe one day we could even hear Michael Buffer, before invoking his signature line, reminding spectators before a big fight that we want both men to come out of the ring safely.  Some might think of it as a concession to modern sensibilities, but, in reality, it would be an evolution.  An advance in the science of sport.  Sure, it’ll change the way we look at wins and losses.  “Somebody’s ‘o’ has got to go” might be a phrase we hear less often and take less seriously.  But there are a lot of people out there who would be grateful for it.  There are a lot of human beings out there wearing boxing gloves right now who would rather someone tell them “it’s okay to lose, I’m calling this one,” than listen to a doctor explain the odds of them ever walking again.  If that sounds too melodramatic, then think about it in practical terms: this fight was stopped on a technicality when the corner of one fighter thought the fight had ended and began removing his gloves.  Would fans really prefer the fight to be stopped for something like that, than for the safety of one of the competitors?

Trainers, fighters–fathers, sons–mothers, daughters–remember Prichard Colon.  Have compassion when you’re getting ready, or helping someone you love get ready for their next fight.  Use your imagination when you’re picturing what boxing should look like when you or someone you love gets under those bright lights and hears the roar of the crowd.  These men and women are not gladiators for our entertainment, they’re our friends, our family.  They’re us.

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Excitement Returns with a Price Tag


After a fairly unremarkable winter, spring 2017 could be expensive for boxing fans, whether through pay-per-view or premium cable channels.  Most recently announced was the superfight rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev.  Their first, highly anticipated contest did not disappoint us, except possibly those hoping for the cards to go Kovalev’s way.  I can see giving that fight to Ward, though I had it going to Kovalev.  The level of competition makes the second fight tantalizing, especially because they’re getting right back in the ring rather than waiting years handling other challengers, during which time factors like age and total number of fights can diminish the potential of a rematch.

Though not everyone is looking forward to it, the May 6th bout between the sport’s best junior middleweight and a never-relevant light heavyweight will be big for boxing.  I’ve been disappointed in Canelo’s choice of opponents for years now.  I can’t help but reiterate how unfortunate it was to waste the opportunities earned by this massive talent, previously managed so impeccably.  Most importantly, the timing of his fight with Mayweather was incredibly ill-advised.  It’s possible he could have made more money, and certain that he would’ve fought a less youthful Mayweather, had he waited until after the Pacquiao showdown.  Even the warm-up fight against Austin Trout was unnecessarily risky.  Then, less than a year later after a tune-up against Angulo, he’s fighting Erislandy Lara, ostensibly to silence some group of critics.  Most boxing fans will tell you that that group mainly consisted of Lara himself.  He knew his place in the division was so dubious (due to his boring style) that regardless of his unbeaten record and his obvious talent, only a Tony-Bellew-level campaign of harassment would get him a lucrative fight.  He was right, and he got it.

Finally, a little over a year after the Lara fight, fans got to see Alvarez in the ring with the venerated Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto.  The fight lived up to all expectations and further illustrated the skill of both fighters.  For some reason, this prompted the junior middleweight Alvarez to take a fight with a popular junior welterweight, Khan, who had recently moved up to 147.  After the inevitable knockout, Alvarez felt inspired to decree his notorious “we don’t fuck around” challenge, implying (if not saying explicitly) that he would fight middleweight star Gennady Golovkin any time.  Turns out, he was smart enough not to do so right away.  His reasoning?  Golovkin is too big at 160.  Fair enough.

He took a tune-up with another junior middleweight next.  We’re all thinking, “Golovkin now…?”  Nope.  Instead of fighting the middleweight who was too big last time, he signed a fight with a light heavyweight, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a man with no legitimate wins over any significant fighters.  I guess Canelo’s rationale is, “If I can beat a huge, sloppy son-of-a-legend, maybe I can beat the smaller, competent fighter.”  Aside from giving up millions of dollars and a shot at making history, that sounds reasonable.  Reasonable, that is until you consider the alternative.  If he doesn’t win, Canelo’s record will be irrevocably stained in a way that no number of losses to the likes of Floyd Mayweather ever could cause.  In that case, he’ll double the number of losses on his record, and in doing so show the world that a lazy never-was could beat a once-great smaller man.  That’s not to mention the physical damage he could sustain that might cause a severe setback, either long-term or in his immediate future.

Okay—frustration vented, moving on…

Just a few weeks from now, at the end of this month, we’ll be treated to one of the top two potential matches in the heavyweight division.  Not only will we see the most dominant heavyweight of the last decade back in the ring, but he’s fighting one of the two boxers who could take his place in the next ten years.  Anthony Joshua has proven himself to be more than just a sturdy slugger with wins over Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina, and 100% of his wins coming by knockout.  His size, power, youth and skill make him a formidable opponent, even for the likes of Wladimir Klitschko.  So far, there hasn’t been lot of evidence to measure Joshua by, but we can expect to see him exposed one way or the other.  He’ll be seen as the legitimate successor to the division, or as a flawed behemoth who was unable to cope with the meticulous technique of his opponent.

And in mid-May we’ll see Terence Crawford back in the ring against Felix Diaz.  I saw Diaz take on Lamont Peterson at the DC Armory; the decision was taken away from Diaz by the hometown judges.  Everyone around me in the crowd was not only disappointed in Lamont’s performance, but also thought he was losing the fight overall.  Some even left before the end of the match, catching me in the parking lot to find out, to their dismay, that Peterson got the decision (even though we were initially rooting for him).  Diaz is a legitimate opponent, though I don’t know if wins over Adrian Granados and Gabriel Bracero necessarily warrant a match against Crawford.  It’s likely this will be another padding-the-record fight for Crawford, who is biding time until the demand is high enough for the big fight against Errol Spence Jr.  That fight would’ve been the highlight of a great series this year, but given what we’ve had to work with so far, we’ll take what we can get.

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