Monday, March 23, 2015

Pound-for-Pound Update 3-23-15

Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin continue their ascent up the Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list with stoppage victories over top-ten contenders in their respective divisions. Kovalev notched an eighth-round TKO over the tricky Jean Pascal, a former lineal champ at light heavyweight who had never been stopped or even knocked down in his professional career; Kovalev accomplished both of those tasks earlier this month. Golovkin dominated durable middleweight contender Martin Murray for an 11th-round TKO. Golovkin scored three knockdowns in the bout and referee Luis Pabon could have called the fight off several rounds sooner than he did. 

Finding the appropriate placement for these two fighters is challenging. I moved Kovalev up from ninth to seventh, leapfrogging Carl Froch and Guillermo Rigondeaux. Kovalev has laid waste to his light heavyweight opponents while Froch recently had some very tough fights against George Groves. I also think that Kovalev's body of work is now superior to that of Rigondeaux's, which isn't the same as saying that Kovalev is necessarily the better fighter of the two. Rigondeaux's position in the Rankings was earned from his one big victory over Nonito Donaire. However, he hasn't been able to build off of that win by beating other solid opponents (some of this is not his fault). Meanwhile, Kovalev has beaten multiple top-ten contenders in his division. Picking between the two fighters is a close call but for now I'm siding with Kovalev.

It's also possible that I'm being too conservative with Kovalev. He hasn't struggled with his top competition the way that Tim Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez have in recent fights. However, because of the quality of their recent losses, (Pacquiao and Bradley, respectively), I will continue to keep those two fighters ahead of Kovalev for the time being. 

I moved Golovkin from 15th to 13th, jumping him over Danny Garcia and Miguel Cotto. Over the last 20 months, Garcia won a tough fight against Lucas Matthysse, should have lost to Mauricio Herrera and dominated Rod Salka, who was woefully overmatched. Comparing Golovkin's and Garcia's bodies of work, I like GGG's a tad bit better, although I do acknowledge that Garcia's wins over Amir Khan and Matthysse are better than anything on Golovkin's resume. Ultimately, recent form matters and Garcia's listless performance against Herrera sticks with me. 

As for Cotto, this is another situation like light heavyweight, where the lineal fighter (Adonis Stevenson) is not ranked as highly as another titleholder in the division (Kovalev). Cotto's win over Sergio Martinez catapulted him back into the pound-for-pound rankings but his only other victory in his current run is over Delvin Rodriguez, not exactly a top fighter. Looking at Cotto's previous fights before those two wins, he suffered back-to-back defeats to Austin Trout and Floyd Mayweather. I feel comfortable placing Golovkin, who is undefeated and riding a 19-fight KO streak, over him.

Here is the updated Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list:
  1. Floyd Mayweather
  2. Roman Gonzalez
  3. Wladimir Klitschko
  4. Manny Pacquiao
  5. Juan Manuel Marquez
  6. Tim Bradley
  7. Sergey Kovalev
  8. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  9. Carl Froch
  10. Juan Estrada
  11. Naoya Inoue
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Gennady Golovkin
  14. Miguel Cotto
  15. Danny Garcia
  16. Saul Alvarez
  17. Takashi Uchiyama
  18. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  19. Terence Crawford
  20. Donnie Nietes
Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Kovalev and Berto

As boxing fans, we crave for the fights to give us that rush of excitement that will carry us through the slog of the work week. To us, boxing provides that high, that fix we need. And this weekend's fights, starting with an impressive three-fight card on Spike TV and carrying over to HBO's main event, delivered thrilling action. So for a little while, we boxing junkies felt a startling sensation, the euphoria of being completely satiated. 

On Saturday, the pulse quickened and the heart started to beat more rapidly during the fifth round of the Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal fight. Through the first four, Kovalev dominated Pascal with enormous right hands, some crafty left hooks and a constant barrage of hard jabs to the body. A right hand sent Pascal through the ropes at the end of the third and Pascal looked completely finished. By some miracle, he survived the shot and continued to fight on. By the fifth, he had recovered well enough and started to impose himself on Kovalev. He connected with a number of sweeping right hands that landed flush. In subsequent bursts, he scored with wide left hooks. Suddenly, the fight was in the balance and the crowd roared with its approval. Now it was Kovalev whose sweat was flying after absorbing big shots. In the sixth, Pascal continued his rally and landed a pulverizing right hand body shot that halted Kovalev's aggression. Kovalev, usually looking unstoppable, was finally revealed to be a mortal. 

Ultimately, Kovalev showed his mettle. After eating some big punches, he went back to basics in the seventh, working behind his jab and being more patient with his power shots. Hurting Pascal at the end of the round, he teed off on him to begin the eighth and the fight was shortly stopped thereafter (it could have been an early stoppage but Pascal was in bad shape). Kovalev had withstood Pascal's rally and changed the tenor of the fight with not just his brawn but also his brains. It was one of his best performances as a professional and a further demonstration that he is far more than just a power puncher. 

We learned quite a bit about Kovalev in the fight. First, his chin is pretty damn good. Pascal landed some huge power shots and although they affected Kovalev, they didn't derail him physically or psychologically. He exhibited fairly good recuperative powers and the back-and-forth didn't materially change his demeanor in the ring. Second, we saw Kovalev make some key adjustments during the fight. In the seventh, he went back to the jab to the body, hammering Pascal with multiple sequences of jabs. This once again opened up his power shots and led to his victory. During the broadcast, Bernard Hopkins (guest commentator for the night) pointed out why Kovalev started to get hit – he was walking in without throwing punches. By reestablishing his jab, Kovalev was able to tighten up his defense and find better angles to throw.

Pascal's success in the fifth and sixth rounds shouldn't be read as an indictment of Kovalev's ultimate ceiling. Pascal is a damn good opponent and very tricky. He lands on everyone, even defensively sound fighters such as Hopkins and Chad Dawson. It's tough to find sparring partners that can mimic Pascal's idiosyncratic movements and punch angles. He has a very unique style, which gives him inherent advantages over a new opponent. What's important to take from Kovalev's performance is that he made the adjustments. He took Pascal's best, recalibrated and then dominated. Kovalev showed on Saturday that he is not an automaton; he is a thinking, breathing fighter – and a fantastic one too. 

Already a top talent in the sport, Kovalev can still develop further. Over the last two years, he has improved his footwork, spacing, jab and Ring IQ. To my eyes, there is an opportunity for him to expand his offensive arsenal. Right now, he is a three-punch fighter with his jab, straight right hand and the occasional left hook. Now, he does a lot of different things with his jab and right hand but still, an opponent only has to look for a few types of shots; there is no uppercut and he doesn't always commit to throw his hook to the body. Imagine what he could do if he closed a combination with a right uppercut or two or a left hook downstairs. Kovalev has already had tremendous success at the top levels of the sport but with a more well-rounded arsenal, he could beat opponents with even more ease than he's been doing – a truly scary thought.

As for Pascal, his comeback spoke highly of his mental fortitude and fighting spirit. Most opponents would've crumbled after that shot in the third, but not Pascal. He wasn't just there to survive or extend Kovalev through evasive tactics; he had designs on winning the fight. After absorbing savage punishment in the early rounds, during the fifth and sixth he was the one getting the better of the action. 

His memorable effort on Saturday guarantees that he will be back in big fights soon. I'm sure that HBO was impressed with his effort. Yes, there aren't many moral victories in boxing and certainly Pascal wasn't happy with how the fight was stopped, but he has cemented his status as a must-see boxer in the division. He's now a more attractive figure to the networks than he was before the fight. In that way, Pascal had a definitive victory. 

***

The second Al Haymon Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) card was held on Friday with far less fanfare than the series debut had. On a secondary cable network (Spike) with fewer stars in the ring and in the announcing crew, the card nevertheless far surpassed the initial PBC outing on NBC. With an announce team of Scott Hanson, Jimmy Smith and Antonio Tarver, the broadcast featured the right mix of enthusiasm, comfort and expertise. Smith, whose usual gig is calling MMA fights, displayed enough familiarity with boxing to make cogent points. His insights about fighter mentality and strategy were consistent benefits to the broadcast. Hanson, who normally covers football for NFL Network, found the right tone throughout the telecast and called the action with excitement and professionalism. Tarver, who was replaced two years ago on Showtime by Paulie Malignaggi, returned to the broadcast booth like he hadn't missed a beat. 

Haymon has designs on expanding the sport well beyond premium cable in the U.S. market. Obviously, exposing a larger pool of viewers to quality fights is the first step to achieving sustainable growth and Haymon has achieved the first part of this objective by putting the sport in front of a lot of new eyeballs. In addition, having announcers who can enhance the viewing experience will be key to enlarging the sport's audience. On Friday, Spike's three broadcasters helped to do their part. They didn't view their boxing assignment as just another gig and they seemed genuinely happy to be there. That enthusiasm manifested throughout the broadcast, augmenting the quality of the fight card. 

As boxing continues to expand on multiple channels, the lack of quality broadcasting talent and broadcast continuity issues have become serious problems. Fox Sports 1 has relied on a patchwork collection of announcers with mixed results. ESPN has rotated its longtime play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore with Todd Grisham (both have their proponents and detractors) and its main analyst (Teddy Atlas) remains a controversial figure. The NBC crew with Marv Albert and Sugar Ray Leonard wasn't well received in its initial broadcast. Showtime went through a series of announcers before settling on Mauro Ranallo as its lead play-by-play voice. Even HBO's crew has slipped from its top days of Lampley, Merchant and Steward.  

Exceptional announcers and announce teams will help create a new generation of fans while mediocre ones can kill the momentum of a boxing series and also fail to accurately capture the sublime moments in the sport. Right now, there isn't enough quality broadcast talent in boxing, making it more difficult to attract and retain new viewers. The best broadcasters help to build relationships with viewers and their calls are essential to how audiences perceive the sport. A poor broadcast creates a wedge between the viewer and positive associations with the sport. 

It's clear from the first two PBC shows that Haymon felt that changes were needed regarding how boxing was being presented on television. Yes, he invested a lot in the music, ring walks and the in-arena experience but he also brought in new announce teams (certainly he had input with the respective networks). He wasn't interested in recycling boxing's usual suspects of broadcasters. 

On first blush, it appears that he and Spike have found a winning broadcast crew. Featuring a mix of MMA and other combat sports, Spike could be a very valuable platform to increase boxing's reach in the U.S and if a first-rate announce crew can appeal to the station's desirable demographics, the sport could make inroads among a subset of viewers who had previously considered boxing their father or grandfather's sport; this would be a considerable advance.

***

As for the PBC fights themselves, the most memorable battle on Friday was the truly epic eight-round heavyweight battle between the overweight Chris Arreola and the journeyman Curtis Harper (not particularly svelte himself). I'm sure that you could surmise from that description that the fight didn't win any awards for aesthetics or skill, but the two combatants certainly left it all in the ring. 

Arreola almost ended the thing in the first round with a right-left combination that sent Harper across the ring. Perhaps a more in-shape Arreola, who weighed in at 263, could have finished the job at that moment, but Harper was able to survive. In the early rounds, the fight seemed like a formality, with an out-of-shape Arreola getting his work in and going through the motions in a stay-busy fight (the match was a swing bout and most likely wouldn't have aired on TV had the Shawn Porter fight gone the distance). Arreola had previously fought for titles and eliminators and here he was against a 12-3 guy not giving a shit. He was doing enough early to hurt Harper and I'm sure that Arreola expected Friday to be a short night's work. 

But by the third, Harper started to have success with some right hands from against the ropes. Mixing in a few left hooks and uppercuts, he was landing squarely on Arreola and the tide of the fight started to turn. The fourth featured more impressive work for Harper and the lumbering "no-hoper" somehow was getting the best of a two-time title challenger. 

Arreola was laboring. Harper hit him with some huge shots and his face quickly got marked up. Arreola looked like he had hurt his right arm and wasn't throwing it fluidly in the middle rounds.

But whatever criticism that Arreola deserves for his conditioning and habits outside of the ring, between the ropes, he has always acted like a real fighter. Refusing to let his arm injury deter him, he continued to throw it, even though he would wince in pain on more than a few occasions after connecting. He also went back to work by the fifth round and hurt Harper several times in the closing frames. He wound go on to win a unanimous decision. On one hand, Arreola looked like shit – he was struggling against a mediocre fighter and looked to be a far removed from his former perch as a top-ranked heavyweight. However, he also responded in the ring as 100% fighter. He overcame adversity and dug down to get a win. 

Yes, the fight resembled a bar room brawl but it was an absolutely thrilling one. The crowd was on its feet throughout much of the fight, an important fact that shouldn't be diminished. 

Arreola's days as a genuine threat to the heavyweight division may now be long gone but he has tremendous value as a television fighter. Match him correctly and fans and viewers will get their money's worth. Not every fighter can be elite but not every fighter can entertain either. Arreola could have a nice second career as the A-side on TV undercards. If he can somehow keep himself in at least decent shape, he could have a nice four- or five-year run ahead of him.

*** 

Welterweight Shawn Porter scored a fifth-round KO over late replacement Erick Bone, who took the fight on one day's notice. Despite Bone fighting mostly at 140-lbs. throughout his career and being unprepared for Porter, he was a surprisingly game opponent. The tall, lanky fighter slipped in some nice counter right hands and showed impressive fluidity and ring generalship. Ultimately, he couldn't overcome Porter's power and aggression.

Porter attacked Bone unrelentingly throughout the bout. Bouncing around his opponent to find angles for attack, Porter practically dispensed with defense throughout the duration of the fight. He didn't respect Bone's power and was more than willing to trade whenever possible. Going to the body unmercifully, Porter landed a thudding right hand to the body in the fifth that ultimately spelled the beginning of the end for Bone. A few moments later, he landed a devastating two-punch combination that sent Bone to the canvas for a second time in the round; Bone couldn't beat the count. 

In evaluating Porter's performance, there were a number of positive takeaways. Many fighters have struggled with late replacements, especially when the substitute presents a style that is markedly different from that of the original opponent. Porter was supposed to face Roberto Garcia, a straight-line banger with a fairly basic style, whereas Bone was a tall, counterpunching cutie who could really use his legs to navigate around the ring. However, Porter seemed unaffected by the opponent switch, which speaks very highly of his psychological makeup. In addition, Porter fought like he had a bug up his ass, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. He clearly wanted to make a massive statement with the fight, showing that he still belongs at the top level of the welterweight division. His exciting knockout guarantees that he will remain a player at 147 and one who is friendly to TV networks. 

On the negative side, Porter's defense has deteriorated since he has switched to his most recent style in the ring. Throughout his last four fights, he has evinced a pressure-fighting approach to his opponents that is far removed from the boxer-puncher style that he displayed in his ascension up the prospect ranks. Now, he fights like a less-controlled version of early Tim Bradley. Like Bradley did, he makes opponents feel uncomfortable with frequent periods of grappling and wrestling mixed in with his boxing. But unlike vintage Bradley, Porter's hands are often out-of-position and he remains fairly easy to pick off with accurate counters – that’s how Kell Brook took his title.

With his small arms, lack of height, muscular frame and fast feet, a pressure style makes a lot of sense for Porter. However, forsaking basic defensive principles will continue to leave him exposed against top fighters. I submit that if he toned down his aggression maybe 10% or so and remained a little more disciplined about coming in behind shots (instead of marching in without throwing), he could reap substantial rewards. 

Nevertheless, Porter has become a very entertaining fighter in the ring, something rarely said about him during his development. To beat him, an opponent must be very accurate and keep ultimate concentration for 12 rounds. In short, he remains a handful for anyone out there, win or lose.

***

The main event of the Spike broadcast featured a rousing comeback by Andre Berto. After losing the first four rounds of the fight, he wound up knocking out Josesito Lopez in the sixth. Early in the bout, Lopez outhustled Berto, beating him to the punch and letting his hands go more frequently. In the opening rounds, Berto's timing and accuracy were way off. He was more than a step slow with his counters and he landed far more frequently on Lopez's gloves than he did on the fighter himself. It seemed that Berto wasn't really committing to his shots early. He threw his counters, like he was supposed to, but they weren't punches designed to do damage; they were formalities.

Slowly Berto worked his way into the fight and he seemed to get more comfortable as the rounds progressed. (It should be noted that this was only Berto's second fight in 18 months. He was recovering from shoulder surgery through a lot of his time off.) During an exchange in the sixth, Berto found Lopez out-of-position and crushed him with a short right hand. Lopez beat the count but Berto immediately sent him down with the next punch he threw, a lead right from distance.

At this point, Raul Caiz Jr. waved off the fight without even administering a count; it was a controversial stoppage. On one hand, Lopez was certainly lucid after the second knockdown and he had demonstrated significant recuperative powers throughout his career. However, Lopez had also been involved in a number of wars and his punch resistance didn't look very good on Friday. As he attempted to get up, he did appear very shaky. Ultimately, I think that Caiz's decision could be validly debated either way. (In the opening fight of the card, Jack Reiss gave Bone an opportunity to rise from a second knockdown from a shot that was far worse than the one that Berto landed on Lopez.) If it were up to me, I would've given Lopez the ten seconds to see if he could clear his head but as bad stoppages go, that one didn't even register – just settle in for one of those lengthy British cards; you'll see one or two truly awful ones, guaranteed. 

***

The Kremlinology of Al Haymon and his associates is a fun parlor game, one in which I have certainly participated. Is Haymon good for the sport? Will his new ventures on network TV benefit boxing? In five years, will he dominate the sport or will he be an outcast? Among many boxing fans, he has been the subject of florid antipathy, vitriol and epithets that wouldn't be used in front of mom. But one thing's for certain, his fighters sure do like him. 

A defining characteristic of Haymon's tenure in boxing is the two-way loyalty between him and his fighters. Not only has he gotten many of them paid well but he has stood with his boxers through thick and thin. His fighters feel properly supported and they repay him with their continued consent of his representation. Friday's Spike card was a prime example why Haymon engenders such loyalty

When Shawn Porter was left without a dance partner for his fight on 24-hours’ notice, many promoters would have scrapped the fight or kicked it off the televised portion of the card with a much lesser opponent. (I know that Haymon is technically an advisor or manager but we know that he is the de facto promoter for the PBC series, title or not.) But Haymon didn't just fly in one capable fighter as a replacement; he brought in a second just in case. If Erick Bone didn't make weight, Karim Mayfield was there to step in.

Not only did Haymon wind up making a good bout with one day to work with but he helped multiple fighters. He saved a fight and a training camp for Porter. In addition, Haymon kept him on TV in a featured slot. Furthermore, Haymon was able to use this opportunity to showcase Bone's skills (another one of his fighters) and now Bone should get attractive opportunities at 140 lbs. Mayfield didn't get to fight but I'm sure that he got paid to take a plane down to Southern California and appreciated the consideration.

The main event featured another instance of why Haymon's fighters are devoutly loyal to him. Many promoters/managers would have left Andre Berto for dead by now. Coming into the fight, he had lost three of his last five, one of which by a crushing knockout to Jesus Soto Karass. In addition, it wasn't as if Berto had the boxing public behind him or much support at the TV networks. Nevertheless, Haymon put Berto on as his headliner for the first PBC card on Spike, clearly a signifier of how important Berto is to him. Nevermind that Porter remains a more relevant fighter in the welterweight division, Berto had been a long-standing fighter of Haymon's and he was rewarded for that. Berto will now get a bigger opportunity because of Haymon's continued belief in him. You can bet that he won't be switching managers anytime soon. 

Friday night was an excellent one for Haymon. It's easy to be suspicious or critical of his undertakings in the sport and as one who wields so much power, he warrants a high level of scrutiny. However, let's give the man his due. He has made significant inroads in the sport for a reason and Friday perfectly encapsulated why this has occurred.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Thurman-Guerrero

Robert Guerrero didn't give himself a very good chance to beat Keith Thurman on Saturday. Fighting the first three quarters of the bout from distance, he couldn't get the better of the stronger and faster Thurman from that range. Thurman picked him off throughout most of the fight with hard right hands, body shots and uppercuts. By staying in the pocket, Guerrero was unable to corral Thurman's movement, which essentially let Thurman dictate the terms of the bout. Guerrero did find some intermittent success in landing counters but without a real welterweight punch, he couldn't do enough damage to dissuade Thurman from his game plan. 

In the early moments of the opening round, Thurman landed some crushing right hands. I don't know if these shots were the reason why Guerrero was reluctant to come forward or if the plan all along was to try and beat Thurman in the pocket, but by remaining at distance, Guerrero hastened his defeat. At mid-range, he couldn't win. Thurman won the ring geography battle and for Saturday's fight this meant everything. 

When watching Thurman, the first attribute of his that catches the eye is concussive power. Landing thudding blow after thudding blow, Thurman galvanized the audience with pulverizing shots. 

However, what really impressed me about Thurman on Saturday was his athleticism, specifically his lateral movement. On numerous occasions, Thurman would start the process of throwing his right hand and then Guerrero would step back to try and get out of range. In a fluid motion, Thurman would step with Guerrero and continue the shot from a different angle. In at least three instances, Guerrero stepped back one way and then moved immediately in another direction, and each time Thurman was there and landed a right hand. Thurman wound up having to reset himself three times to land one punch in these sequences and yet he succeeded. I don't know of too many other fighters in boxing who could accomplish this. The effect of Thurman's athleticism was that even when Guerrero thought that he was at a safe distance, he was rarely out of range. 

Thurman has a number of tendencies that would not be taught to a fledgling boxer. After landing a quick right hand, he often violently bursts out of the pocket (usually to the left side) to avoid getting countered. In these instances, he isn't protecting himself with his gloves or even facing his opponent. For now, in his athletic prime, he can get away with these types of moves. But we have seen what happens when athletic marvels such as Roy Jones, Sergio Martinez or Jean Pascal lose a step – suddenly, they become far less elusive. 

In addition, when Thurman throws a lead right hand, more often than not, he lunges with his body to land the shot. During these lunges, his chin is completely exposed to be countered, especially by an uppercut or hook. 

But these idiosyncrasies help to create the enticing package that is Keith Thurman. He's an offensive force with size, power and speed yet he displays enough vulnerabilities to make for excellent swings of action.

However, against Guerrero, Thurman had things well under control. Thurman won a minimum of ten rounds and scored a scintillating knockdown in the ninth with a right uppercut. Guerrero finally became aggressive in the fight's final third but to my eyes, Thurman still got the better of the action in the closing frames; however, the championship rounds were certainly more competitive than the rest of the fight. 

Guerrero turned in a strange performance. On one hand, he deserves credit for taking all the shots that he did and refusing to lie down. Sitting on the canvas in the ninth, I don't think that anyone would've questioned his effort if he didn't get up or even if he had the fight stopped after the round; he had absorbed a hell of a beating. But Guerrero actually was most active after the knockdown. That type of perseverance commands respect.  

However, he didn't really sell out early in the fight to try and get the win. He's not a knockout puncher at 147 and had little realistic chance of outboxing Thurman. Even if his game plan was to best Thurman in the pocket, it was obvious by the third round that the strategy wasn't working. Yet, Guerrero refused to go inside, the one place in the ring that could've given him his best chance for success. 

It was almost as if Guerrero was bargaining with himself throughout the fight. OK, I will show my guts by taking all of these huge shots but I'm not willing to eat punches to get inside. Does that still make me macho?

In the 10th, he finally went for broke and battled Thurman along the ropes. I also think that there was an element of defense to this adjustment. The uppercut that sent him down opened up a huge cut over his left eye. By getting in close and grappling, it may have been a way to protect the eye (I understand that this might be speculative). It's possible that he couldn't see the shots well from distance anymore. (Against Andre Berto, Guerrero also was cut and fought in that scenario along the ropes.)

Guerrero's last three rounds were at least evidence that he still has some offensive moxie but his performance in the first nine rounds was disconcerting. Was his poor showing a strategic miscalculation or was it evidence that he no longer has the desire to go to war for 12 rounds? Perhaps more simply, did Thurman just have his number?

As for Thurman, it will take a very special fighter to beat him. In thinking about next opponents, I keep coming back to a potential matchup with titleholder Kell Brook, who's a very patient pocket fighter and a hell of a counterpuncher. Certainly, that matchup will be difficult to make but there aren't many other compelling options out there for Thurman. I doubt that he'll get Mayweather this year. Perhaps it will be Shawn Porter. Whoever it may be, I hope that Thurman remains active and continues to grow. He brings excitement to the sport and whether he knows it or not, he may be the most important young American fighter at the moment.

On the undercard, Adrien Broner boxed to a unanimous decision over John Molina and I'm not sure that he even broke a sweat. Let me start by praising Broner for what he didn't do: There was no clowning and he didn't lose focus or give away rounds. He stayed intelligent all night. 

Broner understood what he had in front of him on Saturday, a limited fighter with a big right hand. Broner tasted two or three huge rights in the third round and they were probably enough to keep him disciplined for the rest of the fight. Broner might not have wowed audiences but he fought with focus and passion; he didn't bullshit his way to a victory or take an unnecessary loss. His jab was fantastic. He mixed in his power punches well, never succumbing to obvious patterns. In addition, he kept his combinations short. He didn't stand in front of Molina unloading four- and five-punch combinations – those eventually could be timed and countered. Instead, it was mostly twos and threes. 

Broner's class was evident from the fight's outset. Molina needed to land something wild or have Broner get careless. When those two things didn't happen, he was left swinging at a lot of air and eating punches. However, I won't necessarily write off Molina in future fights. Broner was two levels above him on Saturday and when Molina meets fighters closer to his true talent range, he'll continue to make for exciting action – but the less technical opponents the better.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Previews: Thurman-Guerrero, Broner-Molina

The Premier Boxing Champions series begins this weekend with a bang, featuring two attractive matchups and a lot of star power. The main event pits rising welterweight Keith Thurman (24-0, 21 KOs) against former multi-divisional titlist Robert Guerrero (32-2-1, 18 KOs). The chief supporting bout matches the flamboyant Adrien Broner (29-1, 22 KOs) with the heavy-handed John Molina (27-5, 22 KOs). Both fights feature intriguing style differences and all four boxers are looking to make a definitive statement in front of a national audience on NBC. 

Below, I'll go over the keys to both fights and also provide my predictions, starting with the main event. 

Thurman-Guerrero

1. Who blinks first? 

Thurman is the one-punch knockout artist in this bout; Guerrero is the face-first brawler – at least he has been since moving up to welterweight. Guerrero will look to apply constant pressure and wear down Thurman with his infighting skills whereas Thurman is best in the pocket. Thurman's three knockout weapons (straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut) are all maximum-effort punches and he needs space for them to land.

However, both fighters have displayed different dimensions throughout their careers. In his last fight against unheralded Leonard Bundu, Thurman boxed and used his legs to earn a wide decision victory. He also has demonstrated more patient approaches against Diego Chaves and Jan Zaveck. His performances against Bundu and Zaveck weren't particularly pleasing to boxing audiences but they were effective. 

Guerrero started his career as a high-volume boxer-puncher, using a large arsenal of punches and combinations to best opponents. Only in the last few fights has he morphed into a hyper-aggressive brawler. It remains to be seen whether Guerrero still has the desire to box but he certainly has that skill set should he choose to go in that direction. 

Both fighters will have their preferred "Plan A" but which one will say "uncle" and resort to a more technical style in order to win or, perhaps, protect himself? Which boxer's "Plan B" could lead to a better chance of victory? Does Guerrero still have the legs to chase Thurman around the ring? Can Thurman defend himself properly if Guerrero throws 70-80 punches a round? Or, will someone's "Plan A" – an early Thurman KO, for example – might just be good enough? 

2. Guerrero's (lack of) defense.

As Guerrero has transitioned to a brawler, he has practically forsaken any semblance of defense. Although he has displayed impressive infighting skills against Andre Berto and, at times, Yoshihiro Kamegai, he has been easy to find in return. Never a defensively gifted fighter to begin with, Guerrero at least used to bring his hands back to a proper defensive position and go through the motions of occasionally picking off or eluding shots. Lately, he's become target practice. 

Thurman will be the hardest hitter that Guerrero has faced at welterweight. Guerrero can't absorb 150 of Thurman's power shots and expect to win; Thurman's blows are eye-catching and damaging. Although Guerrero's chin has been fairly good throughout his career, he's never had to withstand power on a scale of Thurman's. If Guerrero continues to ignore defense, as he has in his last few fights, he will be in a lot of trouble come Saturday. 

3. Thurman's patience. 

One of Thurman's virtues is his desire to be a superstar. He's looking to end things viciously. This often leads to highlight-reel knockouts, which is certainly pleasing for fight fans. However, in gunning for KOs, Thurman's technique can get very sloppy. He wings ultra-wide shots and often finds himself off balance and out-of-position. For a high-volume boxer like Guerrero, Thurman will provide a lot of openings to slip in punches. In addition, if Thurman sticks with a diet of long power shots, he will give Guerrero opportunities to get into close range and do damage on the inside. 

Thurman's mindset will be a key question for this fight. If he's looking to end things early with huge shots, Guerrero could capitalize with his shorter punches. However, if Thurman keeps his shots more compact, he could make it a lot tougher for Guerrero to get inside. How Thurman approaches Guerrero will tell us a lot about his maturity in the ring. In this fight, patience, for Thurman, could very well be a virtue. 

4. Guerrero and cuts. 

Guerrero has a lengthy history of cuts. From having a fight stopped against Daud Yordan to his face turning different colors in the Berto and Kamegai bouts, Guerrero's skin will be a real issue in the bout. As mentioned earlier, Guerrero and defensive responsibility haven't gone hand-in-hand recently. In addition to protecting his chin, he's going to have to ensure that his skin doesn't open up. It's regarding this last point where I don't feel confident about Guerrero's chances on Saturday. 

He might have the chin to absorb Thurman's bombs but I remain skeptical that his face holds up. I think that Guerrero's propensity to cut will be the ultimate determinant in the fight. 

Prediction:

Thurman TKO 9 Guerrero (fight stopped on cuts)

***

Broner-Molina

1. Can Molina land his best right hand?

Let's face it: Broner is far more skilled than Molina is. He has faster hands, better athleticism, a more diverse repertoire of punches and better footwork. Molina has one advantage – power. However, Molina is essentially a one-trick pony. He's pretty much right hand or bust. Yes, Molina will occasionally throw his jab and miss with his left hook but his right hand has taken him to this point in his career. 

Molina will be Broner's first power puncher since facing Marcos Maidana. In that fight, he hit the canvas twice. Now, pound-for-pound, Molina may be a harder puncher at 140 than Maidana is at 147 but some caveats do apply. What essentially did Broner in during the Maidana fight was not the power per se, but Maidana's new-found deception. Maidana was successful in jabbing to the body early. This brought Broner's hands down. Maidana then feinted the jab to the body and came upstairs with the left hook, finding Broner's face completely exposed. This bit of craftiness was unexpected and led to Maidana's success. 

Molina is an even more limited fighter than Maidana is. However, he is back working with trainer Joe Goossen, who could certainly add a wrinkle or two to his game. If Goossen can help Molina incorporate some feints or find a way to better deliver the right hand, then Molina might have more success than anticipated. Make no mistake: Broner will be prepared for Molina's right and it will be up to Molina to figure out how to land his Sunday best. 

2. Broner's focus.

This fight has the potential to be a fairly easy one for Broner. Using his boxing skills and movement, he could make it very difficult for Molina to be in range to land his power punches. And quite frankly, it's not particularly challenging to look good against Molina, who lumbers more than moves and has a very basic offensive style. In addition, Molina's defense is more of a concept than a reality. He'll be there to be hit all night. 

But if you examine Molina's record, you'll see two late-round KOs in fights where he was well behind. Both Hank Lundy and Mickey Bey got complacent and/or overconfident in the ring against Molina. They were winning big and stopped respecting his power; both paid a heavy price. 

Broner needs to remain focused throughout the duration of the fight. If he gets lazy with his defense, Molina could hurt him at any time. Yes, Broner wants to look good and make a splash on network TV but unnecessary risk may not be the best course of action in this fight. By sticking to his game plan, he'll hit Molina at will and start to bust him up. However, if he gets too cocky or recklessly goes for the knockout, he could come to regret that decision. 

My gut tells me that Broner and his team will be well aware of the risks in the fight. With Broner's skill set, he'll dazzle and dominate in the ring. Molina will be swinging for home runs but he'll be doing a lot of striking out. 

Prediction:

Broner defeats Molina by a wide unanimous decision. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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