Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pound-for-Pound Update

There are two changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list this month. With Terence Crawford's dominant win over fellow junior welterweight titleholder Viktor Postol, he rockets up the Rankings, moving from #16 all the way to #5. Crawford has now become the top fighter in two different divisions. Also, Carl Frampton enters the Rankings at #19. Beating fellow junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg earlier in the year and 126-lb. champ Leo Santa Cruz last month, Frampton will be a strong candidate for 2016 Fighter of the Year honors. With Frampton's promotion, Shinsuke Yamanaka exits the Rankings.

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for Pound-list.
  1. Roman Gonzalez
  2. Manny Pacquiao
  3. Andre Ward
  4. Sergey Kovalev
  5. Terence Crawford
  6. Juan Estrada
  7. Gennady Golovkin
  8. Saul Alvarez
  9. Tim Bradley
  10. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  11. Naoya Inoue
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Tyson Fury
  14. Wladimir Klitschko
  15. Miguel Cotto
  16. Danny Garcia
  17. Donnie Nietes
  18. Vasyl Lomachenko
  19. Carl Frampton
  20. Keith Thurman
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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Monday, August 1, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Frampton and Stevenson

Shortly after Carl Frampton's fantastic performance in his majority decision victory over Leo Santa Cruz, I was at a bar talking to a boxing friend of mine, Dave (otherwise known as @buflo_dolla on Twitter). While we were recapping the fight, he made a comment that perfectly encapsulated Frampton's wonderful 2016 campaign, which also includes beating fellow junior featherweight titlist Scott Quigg. I was expressing my disappointment in Santa Cruz's tactics and Quigg's punch output when Dave stopped me and said, "That's Frampton. That's what he does!"

Thinking about that comment a little more, it occurred to me that I had been underrating Frampton's versatility and numerous attributes that he brings to the table. Frampton made a tough fighter refuse to throw punches for seven rounds earlier this year. He convinced one of the best pressure fighters in the sport to try to outbox him. Great boxers not only exploit mistakes but they force their opponents to make more of them, whether they are physical errors in the ring or strategic miscalculations made during training camp.

Frampton's talent forced bad decision making. He convinced Joe Gallagher, an excellent trainer, to be overly cautious with his game plan for Quigg. He made Jose Santa Cruz, another solid cornerman, insist that his son should fight on the outside. This is what talent does; it forces mistakes. 

Now I'm not ready to say that Frampton is one of the five or so top talents in the sport but his status in boxing is ascending. He beat a vicious inside body puncher and one of boxing's premier pressure fighters. He's controlled range, brawled when he had to, broken a jaw, evaded lots of shots, countered beautifully and displayed an array of offensive weapons. 

It should also be stated that Frampton didn't dominate either fight. He won seven or eight rounds in both. It's not as if he's invincible in the ring. Saturday's victory wasn't nearly as comprehensive as Terence Crawford's was a week prior when he virtually shut out the top threat in his division. However, Frampton showed a multitude of skills and intangibles that led to his wins. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't beat himself in either fight. When Quigg came on in the second half of their bout, Frampton had a huge 12th round to seal the victory. And as Santa Cruz stepped on the gas in the final third of the match, Frampton not only matched his effort, but bested him in the championship rounds. These finishes speak highly of Frampton's psychological makeup. 

Even with Frampton's victory on Saturday, he still has quite a bit of business to take care of before he can be called the top featherweight in boxing. Fellow titleholders Gary Russell Jr. and Lee Selby loom as legitimate threats. Hard punching Oscar Valdez, who just won a title last week, has one of the best left hooks in boxing. Even Jesus Cuellar has the type of power that could trouble most in the division. 

Although there's no guarantee that Frampton remains unbeaten at this point next year, he's truly arrived as a top fighter in the sport. In additional to the laudable goal of facing tough challengers, he's also continuing to get better. And the 24 rounds he's had against Quigg and Santa Cruz will be crucial in his continued development. 

For Santa Cruz, all is not lost. He wasn't embarrassed on Saturday. He certainly belonged in that ring. With judges sympathetic to his style, he could have escaped Saturday with a draw or even a narrow victory. (Scoring it at the arena, I had Frampton winning 115-113 but there were a number of swing rounds). 

Saturday's fight illustrated a couple of truths regarding Santa Cruz: his punches aren't accurate or hard enough to win with just single shots. He needs volume and he has to swarm an opponent. Even though he eclipsed 1,000 punches against Frampton, there were many points in the fight where he tried to box off the back foot, attempting to win rounds with finesse. And that approach just won't work well against sharpshooters. Santa Cruz's punches can be very wide and easily countered. He doesn't have one-punch knockout power. When he hurts opponents, it's from an accumulation of blows, not a single shot. 

As Showtime's Al Bernstein pointed on during the telecast, there was disagreement between Santa Cruz and his father regarding the tactics for the fight. The elder wanted more distance and the son favored aggression. Ultimately, the fighter didn't truly commit to either approach. I think that Leo's plan would've been the better option. At range, he couldn't consistently overcome Frampton's counter left or straight right during exchanges; those punches won rounds. But when the action became more ragged or when Santa Cruz really pressed the fight, he found opportunities to pick up points. 

I'll end with something I said to Dave. After watching the fight, it was clear to me that Santa Cruz didn't have the best approach to beating Frampton. In my belief, only with more pressure could Santa Cruz have won. I told Dave, "He needed to Margarito his ass. And he didn't do that." Dave nodded his head. 

That's Frampton. 

***

Light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson and Thomas Williams Jr. waged an epic war on Friday night in Quebec City. The end result, Stevenson KO 4, was not surprising, and to be honest, the fight itself followed the script – but what a beautiful script it was! Stevenson sent Williams down with a short left hand at the end of the first round. However, instead of capitulating, as many of Stevenson's opponents do, Williams rallied in the second and landed a couple of huge right hooks as well as a handful of punishing combinations. This was now a fight! 

No longer was this bout another one of Stevenson's generic title defenses against listless opponents. The guy in front of him was real and coming to win. And as many top fighters do, Stevenson found another gear. Ripping body shots in the third and fourth rounds, Stevenson nullified Williams' success and turned the tide of the fight. At the end of the fourth, he connected with a short left hand as Williams was caught trying to throw a wide punch from too close. Fight. Over. 

It was thrilling stuff! An old-school shootout. The O.K. Corral transplanted to The Great White North.

Stevenson puts on quite a show. But unfortunately, he's been more comfortable being the star of the B-movie than fronting a Hollywood blockbuster. To keep the Western theme, he's more Joel McCrea than John Wayne. During his title reign, he's had opportunities to face Sergey Kovalev, Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins and didn't make those fights. 

At 38, it's not clear how many good years he has left. He makes enough mistakes whereby once his reflexes show signs of slippage, he could deteriorate very quickly (think Sergio Martinez). Stevenson could lose at any time now. He gets hit a lot and he doesn't always control range. He often holds his right hand too low and doesn't return his hands quickly enough to a defensively responsible position.  

Stevenson is essentially a one-handed puncher but he does do so many great things with the left. He can lead and counter with straight, concussive blows. His uppercut is a thing of beauty. He also goes to the body with punishing force. His left hand remains one of the best erasers in boxing.

But he's vulnerable – and beatable. His prodigious power and litany of flaws make him can't-miss TV. In a perfect world, he'd get a really big fight before the prime of his career sunsets but he's not victimless in the lack of big names on his ledger. For now, he continues to be a top fighter in the sport and an enjoyable entertainment. Enjoy it while it lasts. 

As for Williams, he can take solace knowing that he has become one of the best television fighters in the sport. In four bouts – against Cornelius White, Umberto Savigne, Edwin Rodriguez and Stevenson – Williams has produced fantastic television. He's a true gunslinger. And maybe his brand of fighting won't permit him to have a record-breaking run like "Gunsmoke." Perhaps he's more comparable to “Deadwood," which was excellent during its few seasons. But both are still remembered today. 

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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Ruckus Podcast

I appeared on The Ruckus podcast this week to preview Santa Cruz-Frampton, Stevenson-Williams, Mikey Garcia and the rest of a jam-packed weekend of fights. Jose Benavidez and his father/trainer, Jose Sr., also appeared on the podcast, hosted by RB and Jae. To listen to the podcast, click here.

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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Crawford-Postol

In the first round of Saturday's Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol fight, HBO's Roy Jones opined that it could be very dangerous for Crawford to switch to southpaw because of Postol's straight right hand. Max Kellerman provided some context for Crawford's decision by correctly pointing out that the switch to lefty could help to neutralize Postol's jab. This was the essential question of the fight for Crawford and his team: would they rather make themselves more vulnerable to the straight right hand or the jab?

The final result of the bout, with Crawford winning a wide unanimous decision, scoring two knockdowns and thoroughly dominating Postol, demonstrated that Team Crawford made a wise choice. Led by head trainer Brian McIntyre, Team Crawford did its homework. They realized that as good as Postol could be, almost everything flowed from his jab. Without that punch, he wasn't nearly as effective at initiating offense. They also believed that Crawford's athleticism, power and accuracy would enable him to minimize the threat of Postol's right hand; Crawford could beat Postol's straight right to the punch. And everything played out according to plan. 

However, it wasn't just the southpaw stance that neutralized Postol's offense. Crawford's purposeful lateral movement played a large role as well. Throughout the fight, he circled away from the jab towards the direction of Postol's right hand. Usually a fighter will move away from an opponent's power hand but Crawford kept going to his left and Postol was mostly ineffective. 

In another impressive strategic move, Crawford stayed out of range for most of the fight. He'd dart in for quick shots and combos and then would get out. Postol couldn't land his jab because he was too far away. Crawford's positioning in the ring made Postol take chances to get closer. He lunged in with shots, jabbed from too close once he got there and often paid a big price from Crawford's power shots. 

It was an altogether fantastic game plan from McIntyre & Co. They thoroughly studied their opponent and rendered him inoperable. In the other corner, Freddie Roach didn't seem to have a Plan B, or one that could be effectively implemented by Postol. 

On offense, Crawford used his improvisational gifts to find openings. He knocked Postol down at the beginning of the fifth round with a right hook high on the side of the head. He landed that same shot at a number of other points throughout the fight, often at the start of a round or after a break. Postol never made an adjustment. In other instances, Crawford noticed too wide of a space between Postol's gloves and landed quick lead and counter left hands. These were openings that Crawford spotted in the ring and he exploited them. He most likely didn't practice the "circle right and throw a lead left hook high on the head to start a round" in camp but he noticed a deficiency in Postol's defensive set-up and took advantage of it. 

Other offensive moves were more practiced. I loved the way that he jabbed on the move, which limited Postol's countershots. Also, he rarely stayed in front of Postol. His offense usually started from an angle. All of these maneuvers were used to minimize the effectiveness of an opponent who needed to set his feet to be effective. 

Crawford demonstrated what an elite talent looks like. Dominating the second-best fighter in the junior welterweight division, Crawford made it look like easy work. Employing boxing, movement, perfectly timed countershots, power and a high Ring IQ, Crawford displayed all his dimensions in the ring. Could he have taken more chances offensively? Perhaps. But it wasn't as if he stunk out the joint. He hurt Postol on a number of occasions, especially with the second knockdown in the fifth round. 

At just 28, Crawford has already become the top fighter in two divisions. With a number of prime years left, the boxing world is seemingly his oyster. Many of the best American boxers currently patrol the welterweight division just seven pounds north of where Crawford plies his trade and it wouldn't be difficult to see him going after big fights at that weight. The thaw between Top Rank, his promoter, and Al Haymon could produce a number of fascinating matchups. A fight against Keith Thurman would be spectacular. How about a Crawford-Spence bout later in 2017? 

Crawford will be in the running for Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent but I'd be pleasantly surprised if Top Rank and Roach let Pacquiao take that fight. In the interim, Crawford needs to stay on his current path. However, don't be surprised if Crawford's next truly meaningful fight isn't until 2018. There's no rush for any top welterweight to fight him and Crawford doesn't yet bring real money to the table. He's on the path to superstardom but he'll need the right opponents for that to happen. Lacking some natural magnetism, Crawford will need to build his fan base against top opposition. Eventually, someone notable will get brave.  

Hopefully, HBO Boxing, which has faced some budgetary pressures this year, will provide enough financial backing to lure worthy opponents into the ring with Crawford. It was a minor travesty that Saturday's fight was on pay per view in the U.S. Many boxing fans missed out on a truly sublime performance. Crawford isn't yet a pay per view fighter and he still needs more exposure on HBO's World Championship Boxing platform. In the past, the HBO-Top Rank partnership has done a wonderful job of turning elite fighters into superstars. Let's hope that they still have the magic formula. Crawford is worthy of it.  

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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com