Sunday, November 11, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Usyk-Bellew

It's unusual that one of the defining characteristics of a fighter with an 80% knockout ratio is patience. However, when considering undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, the unconventional often applies. Despite Usyk's size and physicality, he is essentially a mover, forever searching for angles and ways to penetrate a defense. However, he's not moving to skirt trouble; he's trying to initiate some for his opponent. He probes and pokes, always looking for a way in. As many elite fighters do, he will take a few rounds to see what he is up against before making adjustments. He doesn't even mind if he falls behind. With his superior conditioning and work rate, he will eventually discover his opening.

None of this makes Usyk out to be a killer in the ring, and perhaps he's not. He's no search-and-destroy knockout artist. But as the great ones do, he finds a way to win, and he dishes out his fair share of hurt in the process. Whether it's the jab, such as in the Murat Gassiev fight, the work rate versus Mairis Briedis or the slinging left hand that he found in the eighth round against Tony Bellew on Saturday, he employs an enormous tool chest with which to work. And by the end of a fight, even the opponents that have made it to the final bell have been psychologically demoralized or physically beaten down (with Briedis being the one, notable exception). 

Photo Courtesy of Simon Stacpoole

Bellew fought very well on Saturday. Winning a minimum of three of the first seven rounds, he consistently countered with hard right hands to the head and body. Even though Bellew was the significant underdog, he didn't let external pre-conceived notions cloud his performance in the fight; he was there to win. And with the Manchester crowd rapturously behind him, he fought valiantly and courageously, with the fans and fighter feeding off each other every time a solid right landed. 

Unlike many classic boxers, Usyk doesn't have elite defensive reflexes. He can be countered by a determined foe, as Briedis demonstrated earlier in 2018 and Bellew showed on Saturday. Usyk compensates for this deficiency in three ways: 

1. He uses his body to find angles where an opponent can't land his best shot;
2.  He increases his work rate;   
3.  He relies on his chin. 

Bellew had the right game plan on Saturday. His best opportunity was to counter Usyk with something hard. And throughout the first six rounds of the fight, he had pockets of success, sometimes even more than that. In rounds two and three, his counter right hands were clearly the best punches of those frames. 

But as the rounds continued, a problem developed. Bellew's right hands weren't enough to discourage Usyk. Furthermore, as Usyk circled more and more to his right, Bellew's right hand became far less of a factor. In addition, Usyk's constant offensive pressure led to Bellew exerting signs of fatigue. Whereas Usyk's jab was essentially a non-factor in the first six rounds of the fight, suddenly it started to land. And in the final exchange of the fight in the eighth round, Usyk blinded Bellew with a right jab and then finished it off with a left hook. When interviewed after the fight, Bellew didn't even know what the final punch was; he never saw it. 

Let's back up a second though. Usyk's memorable final combination of the fight didn't occur in a vacuum. In fact, Usyk had landed a series of left hands in the eighth round prior to the finale. Bellew was still feeling the effects of one right before the final combination. In a clever bit of improvisation during the round, Usyk lowered the angle from where he threw his left hand. Instead of a direct, straight shot which makes a perpendicular angle to the rest of the body, he started to sling his left hand off to more of the side. In this position, he could use his hand for a cross or a hook. And Bellew wasn't physically or mentally agile enough at this point of the fight to defend Usyk's adjustment.  

After the fight, Bellew indicated that he will be retiring from boxing. Having given it his all on Saturday against one of the best fighters in the sport, there's no sense of disappointment or of an opportunity squandered. Bellew's emotionalism and salt-of-the-earth disposition endeared him to his fans and created a special bond. He was one of them. Not blessed with speed or superior technique, Bellew maximized his talent with self-belief and a willingness to take instruction. After losing to Nathan Cleverly in their first fight in 2011, Bellew didn't appear to be anything more than a tough domestic fighter. But he continued to improve and he didn't let his losses define him. 

He was determined enough to fight through the defensive riddle of Isaac Chilemba to essentially even terms through two bouts (officially, he received a draw and a victory). He avenged his loss to Cleverly at cruiserweight, even after being down significantly early in the fight. He would go on to defeat credible cruiserweight contenders such as Mateusz Masternak and Ilunga Makabu (winning a belt in the process). Perhaps most notably, he beat David Haye twice at heavyweight when nobody but himself and perhaps his most die-hard fans thought he had in chance in their first fight. He retires with a record of 30-3-1, a champion and a recipient of multiple seven-figure paydays. Not too shabby. 

As for Usyk, boxing fans are licking their lips with anticipation for his entree into the heavyweight division. Now aligned with promoter Eddie Hearn, Usyk should be fast-tracked to a big opportunity in his next few fights. With his high work rate, superior footwork and conditioning, he should be a handful in the division. 

And while it will be a fun parlor game to envision how Usyk matches up with the best at heavyweight, let's not forget what he has accomplished in the first phase of his career. An undisputed champion, which is a rarity in modern boxing, he has fought for and defended his titles in six countries, never having a home defense in Ukraine. In short, he's been a bona fide world champion, a throwback to a bygone era where top fighters consistently sought the toughest challenges. Usyk's cruiserweight reign epitomizes the notion of prizefighting, and stands out in this current era of super promoters and boxers-as businessmen. Usyk, like other top fighters, will make his millions, but his money has arrived not through connections or hype, but from earning it – a strange and almost quaint concept in contemporary boxing. 

Let's also remember that Usyk has defeated a knockout artist like Gassiev, bangers like Glowacki, Bellew and Huck, superior athletes like Mchunu and Hunter and technical fighters like Briedis. He has dropped rounds. He has been beaten to the punch, but he has always found a way to win. In just a few short years he has proven that he is one of the best that boxing has to offer. And there's a sense that his story offers several intriguing chapters to come.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, we welcomed 122-lb. champ Danny Roman to the show. Roman recounted his last 18 months where he went from a virtually unknown club fighter to a world titleholder. Roman also talked about what's next for his career. Also on the podcast, Brandon and I looked back at last weekend's World Boxing Super Series action that included the Taylor-Martin and Burnett-Donaire fights. In addition, we gave our picks and predictions for Saturday's Usyk-Bellew clash.

Click on the links below to listen to the podcast:

Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link: 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pound-for-Pound Update 11-05-18

There have been a number of changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings since the last update. Oleksandr Usyk dominated fellow titleholder Murat Gassiev, winning by virtual shutout to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion. With his victory he moves up from #12 to #4. 

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez won a disputed majority decision over Gennady Golovkin. Although most ringside observers didn't have Alvarez winning the fight, the bout was close enough that the official verdict should be recognized as legitimate. With the victory, Alvarez maintains his position at #7 while Golovkin drops from #4 to #8. 

Sergey Kovalev was knocked out by Eleider Alvarez. He has now been stopped by his last two notable opponents. Kovalev now drops out of the Rankings. He was previously #8. 

Kosei Tanaka enters the Rankings at #15 after beating flyweight titlist Sho Kimura by majority decision. Tanaka, only 23, has now won belts in three divisions and continues to impress on the world stage. 

Below is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list: 
  1. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  2. Terence Crawford
  3. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  4. Oleksandr Usyk
  5. Naoya Inoue
  6. Mikey Garcia
  7. Saul Alvarez
  8. Gennady Golovkin
  9. Juan Estrada
  10. Errol Spence
  11. Anthony Joshua
  12. Jarrett Hurd
  13. Donnie Nietes
  14. Manny Pacquiao
  15. Kosei Tanaka
  16. Adonis Stevenson
  17. Leo Santa Cruz
  18. Roman Gonzalez
  19. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  20. Carl Frampton

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

SNB Stock Report 10-28-18

After another busy weekend of boxing, with notable fights in Bulgaria, England, New Orleans and New York City, it's time for another edition of the SNB Stock Report. Whose stock rose (+), whose fell (-) and whose remained unchanged after the fight action (NC)?  Find out below: 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Ivan Baranchyk (+) Baranchyk seems to be one of those fighters who splits opinion among boxing enthusiasts. His detractors would say that his punches are often way too wide, he loads up on almost every shot and his defense is more theoretical than actual. Baranchyk's supporters could point out that he hits like a mule, is well-conditioned and has positive intangibles like self-belief and a desire to improve. I tend to view him positively. Yes, a good technical fighter can beat him, but Baranchyk won't be an easy day at the office for anyone. In fact, Baranchyk's opponent on Saturday, Anthony Yigit, a decorated amateur and 2012 Olympian, was supposed to be such a fighter – crafty, good feet and stellar punch placement. Well, evidently no one told Baranchyk that he should struggle with that style; he went through Yigit like a human buzz saw, grinding him down with ferocious power shots and relentless pressure. By the seventh round, Yigit's left eye had completely closed and the fight was wisely stopped. Although still crude technically, Baranchyk has improved under trainer Pedro Diaz, incorporating more combinations into his offense and varying his attack to the head and body. 

Sergiy Derevyanchenko (NC) Derevyanchenko put forth a commendable effort in a split decision loss to Daniel Jacobs on Saturday. He was knocked down early in the fight and was trailing (perhaps substantially) at the halfway mark of the bout, yet he closed the match strongly. Derevyanchenko spent much of the fight on the front foot and there were many stretches of the bout where he seemingly trapped Jacobs along the ropes. But from my perspective, Derevyanchenko wasn't consistently effective with his aggression and he let Jacobs get away with too many cute things along the ropes. Nevertheless, he provided Jacobs, his stablemate and frequent sparring partner, with a spirited challenge. Derevyanchenko remains a contender at middleweight, but as it stands now, he seems to lack that little bit of extra skill or flash to beat the top fighters in the division.

Terry Flanagan (-) Although Terry Flanagan was a former champion at 135 pounds, since moving up to junior welterweight he hasn't demonstrated that he has the power to be a factor in the division. In June he lost an attempt at a vacant belt, dropping a split decision to Maurice Hooker. On Saturday he was thoroughly outclassed by Regis Prograis, losing a wide unanimous decision. Flanagan hit the deck in the eighth round and never posed a threat throughout the fight. Although he can handle himself in the ring and is well-schooled, he lacks the physical attributes to be among the best at 140. I'm not sure where he goes from here. 

Hughie Fury (-) Just over a year ago, Fury was robbed in a title shot against Joseph Parker. Fury back-footed Parker expertly and although the fight wasn't scintillating to watch, Fury used his hand and foot speed to get the better of the action. On Saturday, Fury had another opportunity to establish his presence in the upper echelon of the heavyweight division against former title challenger Kubrat Pulev in Bulgaria. Instead of seizing his opportunity, Fury turned in a plodding, listless performance and dropped a wide unanimous decision. Fury featured none of the athleticism that manifested against Parker and seemed gun shy throughout the fight. A nasty cut, which opened up over his eye in the second round, certainly didn't help matters, but Fury fought with little ambition or resolve. Overall, it was a disappointing performance. 

Daniel Jacobs (+) Jacobs won a split decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Saturday. He knocked down his opponent in the first round with a menacing overhand right. He also featured strong power shots to the body and an impressive array of defensive moves. Over the years, Jacobs has learned to relax better in the ring, which has helped him on offensive to pick his punches better and on defense to avoid getting caught with big shots, which had been a problem earlier in his career. All of those positive attributes were on display on Saturday. But Jacobs did seem to lose focus towards the end of the fight and didn't match Derevyanchenko's energy or punch volume, allowing some rounds to slip away. With Saturday's win Jacobs confirmed that he is among the best fighters at 160, but he has yet to put together 12 consistent rounds against a good opponent. At age 31 and with 37 professional fights, I still don't have a great read on him. Depending on the night, he could probably win or lose against any of the top fighters in the division. If that sounds like I don't have a lot of confidence in him, that's true; I don't.  

Alberto Machado (+) Machado established himself in 2017 with an upset victory over junior lighweight titleholder Jezreel Corrales. Machado was dropped in the fight and Corrales dominated stretches of the action, but Machado, packing some serious weaponry in both hands, was able to turn the tide and win by knockout. Earlier this year Machado dominated overmatched challenger Rafael Mensah. On Saturday, Machado barely had time to break a sweat, knocking down Yuandale Evans three times in the first round to pick up a KO 1. Machado has continued to improve under trainer Freddie Roach, adding to his punch variety and becoming a solid combination puncher. He finds himself in an exciting division at the moment with no dominant fighter, but several intriguing candidates to be the top dog. Here's hoping that Machado gets a meaningful fight in 2019; I think he will mix in nicely with the best in the division. 

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/WBSS

Regis Prograis (+) Although it wasn't his flashiest performance, Prograis's dominant decision victory over Terry Flanagan may have been his most impressive as a pro. Tightening up on his defense and reducing the wild swings that often left him vulnerable to counters, Prograis fought intelligently in the pocket and consistently got the better of the action. A beauty of a straight left hand sent Flanagan down in the eighth and although Prograis wasn't able to get the stoppage, he asserted his dominance throughout the fight. Saturday's contained performance was an important sign of maturation and an indication that Prograis can be much more than a go-for-broke knockout artist. He'll fight Kiryl Relikh in the next round of the World Boxing Super Series 140-lb. tournament in what should be an intriguing style matchup. 

Kubrat Pulev (+) At 37 and with more than 18 months out of the ring, it was certainly possible that Pulev would begin to see a rapid decline in his physical skills. But fighting Hughie Fury at home in Bulgaria on Saturday, Pulev, beat back Father Time and demonstrated that he can still be a factor in the heavyweight division. Although there was nothing Pulev did that was overly flashy, his consistent effort, physicality, and short, sharp punches were more than enough to earn a wide decision victory. Pulev had to drop out of an Anthony Joshua fight last year due to injury and it's possible that he could face the heavyweight titleholder next year. It's hard to envision a scenario where Pulev beats Joshua, but with wins over Dereck Chisora and Fury, he certainly has earned the opportunity to fight for another title shot (he lost to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014). 

John Ryder (NC) In one of the stranger fights of 2018, John Ryder was getting summarily outboxed by Andrey Sirotkin for six rounds, and then Sirotkin suddenly hit a wall. Sirotkin's frenetic movement subsided in the seventh and Ryder took advantage of the opportunity, unloading pulverizing body shots. Late in the round a beautiful right hook to the body sent Sirotkin to the canvas and he didn't want any more. Ryder remains a fringe contender at super middleweight. He has some pop but is fairly vanilla in the ring. I imagine with Eddie Hearn as his promoter that he will get another opportunity for a big fight. He wouldn't be favored against the best in the division, but he certainly would have a puncher's chance.

Anthony Yigit (-) On paper Anthony Yigit possessed many advantages over Ivan Baranchyk – hand speed, athleticism, coordination, and a larger punch arsenal – but he used none of them in the ring on Saturday. For some strange reason, Yigit decided to slug it out with Baranchyk instead of attempting to box him. Yigit paid the price for that decision, eating some enormous shots throughout the contest. His left eye completely closed from Baranchyk's punishing right hands and after the seventh round, the doctor and referee stopped the fight. Yigit, a former amateur star, is not without talent, but he demonstrated a poor ring IQ on Saturday and will be out of action for an extended period of time as his body heals from Saturday's beating.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.