Thursday, January 22, 2015

On Mike Alvarado

I have declined to write a straight preview article for Saturday's third matchup between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado. Although their first two meetings were unforgettable wars and their third bout certainly qualifies as a notable event on the boxing calendar, I don’t believe that Saturday will deliver a particularly memorable fight. I'm not knocking HBO for purchasing Saturday's matchup or Top Rank for arranging it. And I will definitely be watching. However, I don't feel very confident about what Alvarado has left in his career.

Consider Alvarado's last bout against Juan Manuel Marquez in April, where he was shockingly tentative throughout large portions of the match. Think about his repeated mentions in the police blotter. I'm not really sure if he’s "all there" as a fighter or an individual at this point.

Alvarado, like Rios, has been in a number of brutal slugfests in the ring. However, he no longer seems to possess the same zest for fighting that Rios does. Over the last few years, he has been knocked out twice, changed his style repeatedly, introduced and swapped out new members of his training staff and had run-ins with the law. The last time that Alvarado fought in Colorado, where Saturday’s fight will take place, he had an awful camp, during which his training staff fought one another and he spent more time being a local Denver celebrity than preparing for a tough opponent. As Alvarado approaches Saturday's fight, almost every single trend line is negative. 

Being a discerning reader, I’m sure that you can tell that I'm not particularly rosy about Alvarado’s prospects this weekend. He needed to be at his best to defeat Rios in their rematch and I believe that Mike Alvarado in January of 2015 is far from that fighter. To be fair, Rios has taken quite a beating as well over the years. And although his reflexes might have slowed down some, he still attacks unmercifully and applies relentless pressure, as long as that fighter isn't an elite guy – a status that has never been bestowed upon Alvarado. 

Let me leave you with a few paragraphs that I wrote about Alvarado after his fight with Marquez:  
"[S]ince his knockout loss to Brandon Rios, he has not demonstrated confidence in his ring performances. Each fight has seen a massive change of his style and various points of indecisiveness. He went from being a straight banger to a boxer-puncher, to a southpaw boxer to...whatever he was on Saturday. He has brought in new assistant trainers, dismissed them and hired new ones...
"On Saturday, Alvarado was a fighter who doubted his own abilities and talents. He didn't revel in combat; he often shied away from it. And unfortunately, Alvarado lacks the technical skills and athleticism to win important fights without engaging in big exchanges...
"Alvarado is in need of some serious recuperation. I'm not sure if he has the fortitude to stay on the straight-and-narrow but the ring is not the place for him right now; he is close to a broken fighter. The old Alvarado would have jumped on a wounded enemy with reckless abandon; this one hoped that his shots were enough for the bully to stay away for a while. Alvarado was spooked. And the ghosts aren't going away any time soon."  
I'd like to be wrong about Alvarado. I hope that I am. I'd like nothing more than to see this third fight live up to the high standards of the first two. I want boxing fans to see something truly memorable. But I just don't see it happening. Ultimately, I think Rios makes him fold. 

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Stiverne-Wilder

Let's start with Deontay Wilder's poise. From the opening bell, Wilder exhibited none of the nervous energy that manifested in many of his previous performances. He moved fluidly around the ring and didn't load up on power shots. When he started to land right hands in the second round, Bermane Stiverne took them relatively well. Wilder, used to seeing opponents sprawled along the canvas from his bombs, didn't panic in this situation and stuck to his game plan.
 
Facing pressure from Stiverne, Wilder maintained his composure throughout the fight. Few opponents had dared to come forward during his developmental fights yet, on Saturday, Wilder shook off Stiverne's advances with relative ease, relying on his footwork, jab and punch arsenal to minimize Stiverne’s effectiveness.
 
Wilder's ability to relax in the ring helped answer questions about his chin. In his 13th professional fight, Wilder had been dropped by Harold Sconiers, a 17-20-2 fighter. Because of that event, many boxing observers continued to hold significant reservations (and deservedly so) about Wilder's whiskers. Throughout his development, he had faced nary a puncher and the thought was that his team had deliberately avoided matching him with anyone who could really bang. Of course, to win a championship belt, Wilder had to fight a puncher (either Wladimir Klitschko or Stiverne). And if Wilder was really glass-chinned, it was certainly possible that he could struggle against a fighter who possessed real firepower.
 
Instead, Wilder took Stiverne's shots without much of a problem. It wasn't that his defense was particularly sharp; Stiverne found him enough. No, Wilder's ring composure allowed him to stay focused and maintain his energy as the rounds progressed. He was expecting to be hit and didn't fall apart the first time that Stiverne connected with something of substance. Wilder's sparring and gym work really came into play during Saturday's fight. He had rarely been hit hard in his pro fights but yet he behaved like a seasoned pro after absorbing Stiverne's power shots.
 
Wilder took some big punches in the fourth, sixth and eighth – rounds that conceivably could have be awarded to Stiverne. To Wilder's credit, each time that Stiverne had success, he responded emphatically and won the ensuing round. This resiliency was another sign of Wilder's maturity and progression in the ring. He had rarely lost rounds as a professional but on Saturday he shrugged that off as just part of boxing. He quashed any notion of a sustained Stiverne rally and came back determined after facing duress.
 
Even though Wilder had never gone past four rounds as a pro, he maintained his conditioning and comportment throughout the 12 rounds. Of course, he was aiming for the quick knockout but that was only part of the plan. The attempt at the early KO didn't supersede winning rounds. It wasn't so much "Plan A" or "Plan B"; the two were actually interwoven. The goal was to dominate the fight. If the knockout came, that would've been ideal but Wilder and his team were certainly prepared, both physically and mentally, to go the distance.
 
Wilder had Stiverne hurt during several occasions in the fight. Wilder's actions in these instances highlighted his poise in the ring. He refused to rush in. Aware that Stiverne's counter left hook was his biggest weapon, Wilder avoided getting too close and continued to respect his opponent's power; he didn't run into too many hard counter shots. After hurting Stiverne, Wilder kept in punching range for follow up shots, not smothering himself or allowing Stiverne to tie him up and stop action. Furthermore, there were a number of times where Wilder stepped back from pressing at all, believing that Stiverne was trying to lure him into traps (he was right). Perhaps most importantly, unlike many young knockout artists, Wilder didn't gas himself going for the stoppage. Wilder may not have "finished" Stiverne but he was able to finish the fight with a new belt. His ability to pace himself for 12 rounds was a big reason why the title changed hands.
 
In the 12th round, when a desperate Stiverne had success in the first minute, Wilder acted like a seasoned pro by using his body to lay on Stiverne against the ropes, neutralizing his power and smothering his work rate. Wilder clearly understood the task at hand. He wasn't worried about giving up the round; he was concerned with minimizing big shots and staying on his feet. Again, this was Wilder's first time in the championship rounds and he performed like a savvy veteran.
 
In short, Wilder's performance was terrific. He won by a wide unanimous decision (120-107, 119-108 and 118-109). Going into the fight, he was a giant question mark. No one knew if his stamina, chin or composure could hold up for a distance fight and he passed these tests with flying colors. Sure, there are still things that he needs to work on – he jumps at too many feints, he lowers his hands too much when an opponent goes to his body, he's doesn't effectively counterpunch and his defensive technique slips when facing combinations – but these are not tragic problems for a relatively inexperienced and young heavyweight (29) to have. There's a lot of good stuff here.
 
Having poise, power and the desire to improve, Wilder has the foundation to be a significant player in the heavyweight division for a long time. What he needs now are more rounds and some fine tuning. I have no doubt that Wilder's trainer, Mark Breland, can further refine the fighter's glove positioning on defense and other related issues; the core skills are there.
 
As for Stiverne, although he couldn't get off enough during the fight, he still had his moments. I'm sure that his power punches and hard combos in rounds four, six and eight would have bested a number of top heavyweights, but Wilder took everything far better than anticipated.
 
Stiverne had trouble establishing his counter left hook and he only attempted a couple of overhand rights (that punch seemed to be there for him). Throwing mostly one punch at a time throughout the fight, he had some limited success with body shots and right crosses. Stiverne, a natural counterpuncher, looked uncomfortable pressuring Wilder and he lacked the footwork or punch activity to trouble him consistently. As I write this, Stiverne is still in the hospital suffering the effects of dehydration; that condition could help explain some aspects of his lowered activity level on Saturday, but only some. Wilder's skills played a much larger part in Stiverne's loss.
 
Far more than a mere knockout artist, Wilder showed that he has a number of dimensions in the ring. He won several rounds on Saturday with just his jab. In addition, he used his left hook expertly to thwart an advancing Stiverne. His movement was also fantastic. He maneuvered the ring beautifully, using quick lateral movement and refusing to stay in the pocket too long. This limited Stiverne's opportunities for success.
 
Although Wilder answered a number of questions with his performance on Saturday, several additional concerns will now come into play. Just as one never knows how a fighter will react to getting hit, one can't be certain how a boxer will respond to being a champion. Will Wilder continue to work hard in the gym? Does he understand that he still needs to get better? Will he remain disciplined?
 
As an American heavyweight titlist (Wlad Klitschko is obviously the champion in the division) and an Olympian, Wilder will have umpteen opportunities and distractions coming his way. If he keeps his head on straight, he could earn some serious money in his career as well as help to grow the sport in America. Numerous special interests have a lot riding on Wilder. There will be significant pressure for him to perform, both in and out of the ring. How Wilder handles his elevated status in the sport will be fascinating. Whether he acknowledges it or not, he is now a star. And with that status comes all of the glory and trappings. For the good of the sport, let's hope that Wilder stays focused in the ring and in his personal life. There is a lot to like here and boxing in America gets only so many opportunities to make an impact in today's competitive sports landscape. Let's hope that Wilder opens up new doors.

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching up with Thomas Williams, Jr.

Light heavyweight Thomas Williams, Jr. (18-1, 12 KOs) had a very eventful 2014. Winning a shootout against Cornelius White in the Saturday Night Boxing Round of the Year, Williams scored a sensational opening-round knockout but also tasted the canvas for the first time in his career. He followed up that performance with a third-round stoppage over the usually durable Enrique Ornelas.

His biggest test of the year occurred in August against former titleholder Gabriel Campillo. The fight was an IBF eliminator. Williams had success in the early rounds but gut cut in the fourth, which significantly affected his performance. After the fifth round, the doctor stopped the contest, resulting in Williams' only loss of his professional career. Williams rebounded later in the year with a wide decision victory over Michael Gbenga.

In 2015, the 27-year-old Maryland native hopes to land a title shot. Advised by powerful boxing broker Al Haymon, Williams looks forward to getting the big fights that could put him at the top echelon of the 175-lb. division.

In the following interview, Williams, discusses the aftermath of his first defeat, his relationship with Al Haymon, his surprise at the death of Dan Goossen (who was the promoter for a number of his fights) and two potential futures opponents. Please note, a portion of my interview with Williams appeared in the 2014 Saturday Night Boxing Awards article, where he talked extensively about his fight with White – that content won't be repeated here but it's certainly worth checking out.

Interview edited and condensed by Adam Abramowitz

Thomas, thank you for your time today. I know that you were recently in a car accident. Is everything OK?

Yeah, I’m OK. It was a very bad collision. I was coming home from my stepdad’s birthday celebration and a drunk driver ran a red light and hit us. I went to the hospital and got checked out – me and my two daughters and my fiancé – but everything’s cool though. We were lucky to walk away with no injuries. 

Well I’m glad to hear that. That's very good news.

I wanted to talk about the Gabriel Campillo fight. It was an IBF eliminator and a step-up fight as he was a former champion. You were doing really well in the first couple of rounds. What was the game plan for Campillo? 

The game plan for Campillo was to stay inside of his chest. I thought that I was controlling the fight beautifully. I thought I controlled every round [early]. In the second or third round, before the cut, he threw a jab. If you were watching the fight, you could tell that something had happened. I went into a different mode. What happened was when he threw a jab – I don’t know if it was intentional or unintentional – the jab caught me with the thumb in the eye and I went blurry. It’s like you're in a pool and you get out of the pool and you have that cloudiness in your eye. That’s what happened in the third round. It was so cloudy I couldn’t even see out of my left eye.

And then, maybe the fourth round, he cut me. Of course, people would say, “Oh he went into a different fight mode.” Of course you’re going to go into a different fight mode. Same thing with the Cornelius White fight when I got dropped. It went from boxing this guy to a fight now, a brawl. When I got cut, of course it’s a different fight now. Now I'm trying to get away from punches. Hopefully this thing would clear up in a couple of rounds so that I could get back to work. But it never cleared up.
  
What was going on in the corner between rounds? Between the fourth and the fifth, there was a lot of work being done on the cut. What was the communication between you and your trainer? What advice were you getting?  

My cutman was on the inside. My trainer was on the outside. He still wanted me to stay on his chest and Mike [Rodriguez] was working on the cut and Rob [Paterson], my trainer, asked me if I could see. I was like, no, I can’t see but just clean my eye and I should be good. And if you look back at the fight I kept saying, “Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye. Wipe my eye.” I was hoping that when my eye was wiped up, it would clear up and I could go back to work but it only got worse after that.

After the round, I came back. He [my trainer] asked if I could see. I said "no." I think he then might have grabbed the doctor. And the doctor came to me and said can you see. On instinct, the first thing I said is that I want to fight. And he said, you can’t see. I’m going to stop the fight. And then he told the referee and the referee stopped the fight.  

You’re a big prospect. You’re coming up in the sport. How tough was that first loss for you? What was that first week like when you returned home? 

Oh man. I’m not even going to lie. It’s not even the first week, the first month maybe. I just kind of moped around the house a little bit. With me, I like to represent my family, my mom, my dad. I felt like I let them down. They kept telling me I didn’t let them down but I felt that's what they're supposed to tell me. I actually didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of my fiancé. I didn’t even want to talk to my mom and my dad or my trainer because I felt like I let them down.

I was real tough on myself. When I got home, I saw my daughters. I kind of got away from boxing. I didn’t really think about it as much. My daughters were in the house and that’s all I could really think about. 

I was just joking with fiancé in the room about an hour ago. I said, this past year, 2014, I was a prospect. Next year, I got to get fights. I’m past a prospect now. 

Have you seen the Campillo fight again? If so, what are your thoughts looking back on it? 

Honestly, I never watched it. I don’t want to watch it. I have it right now on my DVR. I have all my fights saved. When I go out of town, I set up a recorder and record it when I’m gone but that’s the one fight that I haven’t watched.  

You returned to the ring at the end of 2014 with a decision victory against Michael Gbenga. How did that fight go in your opinion? 

It went really good. I had seen him fight Badou Jack. I heard about him fighting Phil Jackson [Benson]. Every time this guy got hit with a body shot, he complained that it’s low and this and that. When Badou Jack hit him with a body shot, he just stayed on the ground and they stopped the fight in the third round I think. Badou Jack got the win. 

So when the referee came to me before the fight, I said when I go to the body he’s going to act like it’s low. Anybody who knows me knows that I’m a big body puncher. So, the first round I punish him to the body. He goes to the referee and the referee says, “Tommy, you got to keep them up.” And I said, I told you before the fight this guy was going to cry. 

Other than that, I think I dropped him twice [it was once]. I hurt him. He hit me with a nice shot, a right hand in the ninth round, but it didn’t put me down or anything. I followed the plan. I went out there, got my rounds in. I boxed him good. I hurt him. The only thing I didn’t get was the knockout victory.  

What are you working on right now in the gym? I know that every fighter wants to add something to his arsenal or work on improving. What are you focusing on right now?

I was actually in the gym right after the fight. I haven’t been in since the accident but I’ll be back in the gym on Monday. What we’re working on now is just staying sharp because my fights are spread apart – three or four months apart. When we take the time off, it’s hard to get back to that mode. Now we’re going right back to the gym after the fight, just trying to stay sharp. So when we come back, we won't feel like we're starting at 50% or 40%. We’re now at 90% or 100%. 

I know that a lot of people in boxing are interested in Al Haymon and that he’s your advisor. What’s the process like in terms of getting a new fight? How does a new fight get set up? 

I don’t know about everybody else but with me personally…after the fight, Al would call me and say this and that – when are you looking to get back in there. After this last fight, one of the people who work for him called me and asked me when I’m looking to get back in and I said I wanted to take Christmas off and I wanted to get back in in February. Usually, they just call me after the fight.  

Dan Goossen was the promoter for some of your fights. What was your relationship like with him and what did his passing mean to you?  

Ah man. I had a big relationship with Dan Goossen. He wasn’t my [contracted] promoter or anything but he promoted my last five fights. We had a real good relationship. He wanted to take me all the way to the light heavyweight championship. It was sad that we couldn’t do it together.
  
When I heard about it, I had just seen him in August, when I fought Campillo, and we had a good conversation. We were talking in the lobby for about 30 minutes. And there wasn’t a sign or anything. So when I heard about it, it was pretty much a shock to me. It hurt me. I tried to go back and think, “Did he show me anything?” No, he seemed good. He seemed healthy. He seemed like the same Dan. It definitely hurt me.  

Another thing I wanted to ask you about it the D.C./Maryland boxing scene. I know that there are a number of young, emerging fighters from the area – Gary Russell Jr., Dusty Hernandez-Harrison, the Peterson brothers. Are you guys close with each other? 

I’m pretty much cool with most all of them, probably 80% of the D.C. fighters. I'm real close with the Petersons. I talk with Lamont [Peterson] pretty frequently. I’m cool with Dusty and Gary. But of course there are those who don’t see eye-to-eye with some people. And that‘s just life. That’s not even boxing. That’s life, period. But for the most part, I’m basically cool with everybody. Some people might have problems with me but that’s because they see me on the tube every time they turn it on.
  
For 2015, what are you hoping to accomplish? If 2015 is a good year, this will happen. What is “this” for you?  

If 2015 is a good year, Thomas Williams will be fighting for a world championship. All it is now is fights. It’s no more building now. When you get to over 15, 16 fights, it’s time to go now. Some guys get a world title before that. I think Rigondeaux fought for a title at 8-0. Lomachenko fought for a title at 1-0. So it’s time to go. There’s no more building me up. 

I know that you’re a big fight fan. Would you like to share any thoughts about the Hopkins-Kovalev fight, two big guns in your division? What did you see in that fight?

Honestly, I was very impressed with Sergey Kovalev. He paced himself because he probably knew that Bernard would be in for the long haul. We didn’t know about Kovalev’s wind because he never went past seven or eight rounds before. He was smart. He dished a little bit here, coasted a little there. I think he saved it all…he closed the show beautifully. He did a number on Bernard in the 12th round.  

If you had a choice about realistic opponents, who are a couple of guys who you would like to fight next? 

Anybody. Anybody in front of me. I’ve always said that. Because if you’re in front of me, I have to beat you so you can get behind me.  

It doesn’t matter. There have been a couple of guys calling me out on the Internet. Blake Caparello. I don’t know much about him. 

Kovalev knocked him out in two rounds last year. 

Yeah, he can get it. I want to fight him. There’s another guy who fought Eleider Alvarez. He's from South Africa, Ryno Liebenberg. I don’t even know these guys but for them to be hitting me up on my twitter page trying to fight me, I must be doing something right. I don’t even know Blake Caparello and he hit me up trying to make a fight. It was between the Ornelas and the Campillo fight. He said why don't you push this other guy to the side. If I don't get the Kovalev fight, let's rock it, me and you.  

They both hit me up. I didn't know them. But after they hit me up, I looked them up. I know that South African guy could take a butt whooping, the one Alvarez beat up. He was beaten to a pulp. His face was all messed up. 

I know that I could give Caparello a boxing lesson. So you can put Blake Caparello and this punching bag [Liebenberg]…you know in all the interviews I do, I never call anybody out, but these two guys have been talking a lot of trash. 

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

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pound-for-Pound Update 1-5-15

The new year has just started but there has already been a significant addition to the Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list. Japan's Naoya Inoue debuts in the Rankings after knocking out Omar Narvaez, who entered their fight as the top junior bantamweight in the world. Earlier in the year, Inoue also stopped the number-one boxer at junior flyweight, Adrian Hernandez. 2014 was a fantastic year for Inoue. He enters the Rankings at #11.
 
2014 has turned into 2015 and yet no new fight has been announced for Andre Ward. I have been patient with the ranking of Ward, who hasn't fought in over a year, but enough is enough. He exits the pound-for-pound list and when he finally returns to the ring, his status will be reconsidered.
 
Going forward, I will use the following policy: After a year of inactivity, I will remove a boxer unless he has a fight scheduled. So for Ward, he goes. And later this month, Mikey Garcia, who hasn't fought since last January, will exit as well if there is no announcement of an upcoming bout.
 
On another note, Tim Bradley was not penalized in the Rankings for his draw with Diego Chaves. Almost all observers had Bradley winning and the official verdict does not reflect a decline in Bradley's skill level or his recent accomplishments in the ring. 
 
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. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  8. Carl Froch
  9. Sergey Kovalev
  10. Juan Estrada
  11. Naoya Inoue
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Miguel Cotto
  14. Danny Garcia
  15. Gennady Golovkin
  16. Saul Alvarez
  17. Takashi Uchiyama
  18. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  19. Mikey Garcia
  20. Terence Crawford
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