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.

Younger, Not Better

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Risk, Reward and Real Boxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Easy Pickins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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writing desk

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

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

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

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

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Business as Usual

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Sports Opera

Image result for mayweather mcgregor

I still haven’t posted anything about the MayGregor circus act because I just haven’t had an idea for anything that hasn’t already been said.  I still don’t, I guess, but I do think I know the best direction for any commentary to go.  At this point, so much hype has been thrown back and forth–starting before the fight was even a realistic possibility– that following one argument or another is just pretentious redundancy.   Rather than pick my poison from the various narratives being asserted by fans, analysts and self-proclaimed sports aficionados, I’m going to treat this as if it were a real boxing match.  It may not provoke arguments or even conversation the way another approach might, but I think it’s the only way to see the spectacle for what it is.

In tonight’s fight we’ll see a 29-year-old UFC fighter taking on a 40-year-old boxer in a boxing match.  That’s one advantage for McGregor (age) and one for Mayweather (experience) already.  McGregor is physically larger, and weighed in heavier than Mayweather ever has.  McGregor claimed Floyd looked out of shape, but in reality, he may have been covering his own disappointment in seeing Floyd look, I think, physically stronger than he has in any previous fight.  The fighters agreed on 8-ounce gloves, as opposed to the more common 10-ounce gloves, and of course, totally different from the 4-ounce gloves used in mixed martial arts.  The size advantage is self-explanatory, but the gloves could go either way.  Certainly, Mayweather has a lot more experience using them, being hit by them, and feeling the difference between 8 and 10 ounces.  For McGregor, on the other hand, this development probably increased his confidence, knowing that he’ll be using gloves that are as close as possible (there are none smaller in boxing) to those he’s competed with in the past.  Any crowd advantage will be McGregor’s, but Floyd is so comfortable in the ring, so accustomed to being cheered against, it shouldn’t matter.

Mayweather has never been a knockout artist or an aggression fighter.  McGregor always has been.  McGregor has never been a defensive specialist, but Mayweather is one of the best in history.  Is Mayweather’s defensive expertise somehow more powerful than McGregor’s mastery of aggression, or is it the other way around?  That’s a nonsense question with no answer.  All this means, no matter who you expect to win, is that both fighters have the chance to completely surprise their opponent with unfamiliar techniques and styles.  Overall, Mayweather has the advantage in this department, because boxing is quite literally his sport.  Let’s be clear about knockouts, though.  Both fighters have predicted a knockout, which we expected from at least McGregor, but neither one has a realistic chance.  Barring some bizarre incident like the last time Mayweather scored a knockout (when Ortiz dropped his hands to apologize for a headbutt), this will be a 12-round fight.

The number of distinct disadvantages and potential pitfalls related to inexperience are numerous for the Irishman, but to be specific: round length, number of rounds, use of balance, use of the ropes, response to verbal and physical cues given by corners and officials, distribution of punishment (only upper body), size of the ring, and defensive technique.  To be fair, though, no one who isn’t a big fan of both sports can reasonably evaluate the advantages for both fighters, and I don’t watch MMA.

It all adds up to a big confusing formula that would be pretty hard to write down on paper, much less solve.  To simplify as only a boxing fan can: McGregor is bigger and younger but doesn’t know how to box at a professional level and may have issues with his chin and endurance–Mayweather does have issues with his chin, he’s older and not likely to win with a single punch, but he’s so much better at it.  It’s an art and a science, that’s what makes it sweet, but there’s only so much influence the art can have on the science.  Both fighters have tried their best to make the entire process surreal, and they’ve successfully blurred the line(s) between reality tv and soap opera and sports, but if the fight isn’t fixed, there are certain physical rules we can trust, and certain advantages we can reasonably favor.

What we’ll probably see, in reality: 36 minutes of seldom-exciting action, the first 6 being the most interesting, Mayweather looking uncomfortable, McGregor looking uncomfortable, both hiding their discomfort with taunts, Mayweather getting caught but staying up, McGregor going all out and getting gassed, and eventually the final bell.  Then?  Then we can get back to real boxing, and the actually really important superfight coming up between Alvarez and Golovkin, two real boxers Click here for full prediction.

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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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