Sunday, October 6, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin-Derevyanchenko

When Gennadiy Golovkin ruled the middleweight division, he controlled the center of the ring. Using his power jab to dictate the flow of action, stalking forward with purposeful footwork, Golovkin intimidated opponents with his offensive firepower and relentless aggression. Even when facing a come-forward foe, such as David Lemieux, Golovkin more often than not held his ground, or even would mix in some lateral footwork to create punching angles. During his prime it would have been almost inconceivable for him to take a backward step. 

However, that time has passed. Facing a determined and capable opponent in Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Saturday, Golovkin was the fighter most often in retreat. Despite a quick start where he scored a knockdown in the first and opened up a cut in the second, Golovkin by the fourth and fifth rounds was often on his back foot trying to evade Derevyanchenko's punishing offensive forays. 

Golovkin at his best was one of boxing's elite fighters, but not one of its most versatile. He's not a natural counterpuncher and doesn't possess the stick-and-move skillset needed to get the best of opponents when in retreat. In short, when he's moving back, he's not winning. 


Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland


Derevyanchenko got to Golovkin's 37-year-old body with numerous straight rights and left uppercuts. GGG, who looked far from his physical best, uncharacteristically displayed discomfort during those periods of the fight. Derevyanchenko was getting the better of the inside action, and he knew it. 

Ultimately what cemented the win for Golovkin was his performance in the championship rounds, where he remained the fresher fighter. Derevyanchenko, similar to his fight against Daniel Jacobs, did an admirable job of coming back from an early knockdown and imposing his style, but he withered a bit in the final two frames, content to clinch as much as throw. His late-round performances in his two title shots (Jacobs and Golovkin) illustrate that he lacks a special intangible quality that the truly elite possess. With the win on the table, he evinced a slight sense of yielding.

Golovkin would squeak by on the cards via a unanimous decision, with scores of 114-113, 115-112 and 115-112 (I had him winning 114-113), but his performance was far from convincing. He wasn't sharp throughout most of the fight. His jab was inconsistent. His right hands sailed over Derevyanchenko's head repeatedly; he had done just enough. 

There's a lot to unpack from Golovkin's performance. At 37 Father Time decided to make an appearance. Saturday was also Golovkin's first real test with new trainer Jonathon Banks, a far more passive presence than the knockout-happy Abel Sanchez. In addition, there were widely circulating reports that Golovkin was ill in the lead up to the fight. 


Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland


Banks displayed his customary lack of urgency in the corner on Saturday. In a fight that was up for grabs throughout the back half of the match, Banks was asking for no more than double jabs. Only until the last round did he rouse himself and convey a sense that the win could be in jeopardy. Banks may have been Emanuel Steward's protégé, but he lacks his mentor's fire and ability to perceive the tenor of the action. I still remember him asking Wlad Klitschko to double jab Tyson Fury to the body and the head, when Wlad might have thrown five body shots in the history of his career. It's not clear if Banks truly understands the talent that he's cornering on fight night. Golovkin is an aggressor, a killer. Without that mentality he quickly becomes ordinary.

The lead trainer in the other corner was Andre Rozier, who is now 0-3 against Golovkin, losing winnable bouts with Jacobs and now Derevyanchenko. In both of those contests his fighters dropped valuable points at the end of the match. Rozier can certainly motivate in the corner and can put together successful game plans. But something was lacking in Sergiy's performance in the championship rounds, which also happened when Jacobs fought Golovkin. And if a trainer deserves praise when he wins, then he should be assigned some blame after the losses as well. Rozier had the right approach for Derevyanchenko on Saturday, but in the crucial moments his fighter didn't close with necessary urgency. Rozier has been around the block long enough to understand the fight game. There's no guarantee that the "opponent" will be the one who receives the benefit of the doubt in close fights, as was the case on Saturday. 


Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland


Ultimately, there wasn't much to split between the two fighters and it led to a fantastic bout. Golovkin, far from his elite run in the sport, pulled out a close one by overcoming inconsistency in the ring and physical deterioration, both before and during the fight. And Derevyanchenko reminded boxing audiences that no one has wanted to give him a voluntary shot at a title. He's not an easy night for any middleweight. 

Golovkin-Derevyanchenko proved to be a well-matched fight between an ex-great on the slide and a tough customer lacking just that final bit of quality. And while Derevyanchenko certainly had a case for winning, as he did in the Jacobs fight, it was not an altogether convincing one. The opportunity was there for him, but in the moment of truth there was no extra gear. 

However, it may only be a matter of time until Golovkin is forced off the road. His vehicle flashes numerous warning lights. GGG has provided us with many wonderful nights of boxing, and Saturday was one more special fight, even if he was far from his best. Certainly we would love to see one last hurrah, one final great performance from the future Hall of Famer, but we all know that the realities of the sport are unforgiving. And his end could be fast approaching.  

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

50 Years of Peltz Boxing Card

I will be calling Friday's "Blood, Sweat and 50 Years" boxing card in Philadelphia with Michael Woods. Undefeated DiBella Promotions prospect Victor Padilla will be headlining the nine-fight card, which will be celebrating Russell Peltz's 50 years in the sport. The card will be available via the Fight Night Live page on Facebook and will take place at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. The first fight starts at 7:30. The card is promoted by Raging Babe Promotions.
 
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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Porter

Errol Spence fought every minute of Saturday's welterweight unification bout as if he expected to knock out Shawn Porter. With every shot thrown with maximum effort, taking punches to land his own, and abandoning the considerable boxing skills he displayed against Mikey Garcia earlier this year, Spence anticipated that Porter would wilt down the stretch. Yet Porter kept coming. Taking hellacious body shots that would make lesser fighters yield, Porter wouldn't be denied. He pressed the action relentlessly and landed his fair share of impressive power shots in close quarters. Even after being dropped in the 11th round from an unexpected rear-hand hook, Porter refused to back down.

Overall it was a fantastic fight with both boxers displaying their championship mettle. In the end Spence was declared the victor via split decision with scores of 116-111, 116-111 and 112-115. To my eyes he was the deserved winner (I scored it for him 115-112), but the margin between victory and defeat was paper thin.  


Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey


What puzzled me about Spence's performance was his lack of adaptation in the ring. Spence had ample opportunity to change the flow of the fight, perhaps making it easier on himself with his height and reach advantages, but he was determined to beat Porter at his own game. When there were spots to clinch and reset the action, he seldom decided to do so. In addition, Spence's right hand (especially his jab) was rarely a factor. Ultimately, the scores validated the effectiveness of Spence's performance, but I believe that he underestimated just how good Porter can be at infighting. 

Make no mistake; Porter fought to the best of his capabilities. Unlike some of his recent bouts, he didn't take breaks. He never was caught in between styles. He followed the game plan to the letter. Porter flashed surprising hand speed throughout the fight. He landed several of his best power punches from unusual angles. Using his feet expertly, he consistently broke the pocket and was able to get into areas where he could do the most damage. 

It's an open question as to whether Saturday's performance raised or lowered Spence's stock. On the plus side, he was able to win a dogfight, a type of bout that he had never had to endure as a pro. He showed a great chin and didn't seem to be hurt by Porter's best punches. Spence also displayed a ruthlessness that the best in boxing possess. Under intense pressure, he didn't fold. His conditioning was excellent and he maintained his strength and power throughout the fight. Despite Porter's constant aggression, Spence was the one who scored the knockdown in the championship rounds. 

However, there are some interesting questions to ask about Spence and his trainer, Derrick James. Why were there so few adjustments in the fight? If you believe that they underestimated Porter to a degree (and I do), why did they? It shouldn't have been surprising that Porter wanted to make it a dogfight. Perhaps it's a question of seeing a fighter on tape versus experiencing it in the ring. It's one thing to anticipate pressure, it's another to FEEL it. But there were adjustments that James and Spence could have made to alleviate some of that pressure, and they didn't make any.

Despite these criticisms, I don't believe that Spence demonstrated any fatal flaws in the fight. Whatever was lacking in his performance on Saturday are the types of attributes that can be corrected for future fights. Spence shouldn't abandon his jab. He also must rely more on his legs. Even though Porter had the quicker feet, there were many instances in the fight where Spence accepted the action in close quarters; he invited the pressure instead of maneuvering around the ring. 

Perhaps most importantly I hope that Spence and James have now realized that on the world level there are few gimme fights. Spence, whom many have regarded as one of the faces of boxing, has a big target on his head. Determined foes will fight hard for that scalp. It's not always a question of skills or talent. Those who are unwilling to go quietly will battle to the bitter end. Spence and James need to come into fights with a "Plan B"; the best fighters sometimes have to win in unexpected ways, whether it's Ray Leonard walking down Tommy Hearns or Floyd Mayweather outgunning Marcos Maidana in a shootout. It would behoove Spence and James to arrive at this realization.


Over the years Shawn Porter has faced significant criticism on account of his rugged style. Segments of boxing fans have been turned off by the supposed unaesthetic nature of his fights (his fights are ugly!). Now there is a lot to unpack regarding these critiques, but I think it mostly boils down to a portion of boxing fans not appreciating the art of infighting, or at least that type of infighting by an African American fighter. 

There are inherited biases in the sport, and that will be news to absolutely no one who follows boxing. Some fans, pundits and those in the industry don't enjoy fighters from the smaller weight classes. Others are nationalistic in their rooting interests. Fans often prefer one style to another. But for some reason Mexican and Hispanic fighters are allowed to fight toe-to-toe in the trenches and are applauded for it, but those from other races or ethnic backgrounds aren't afforded the same latitude; their considerable talents are often dismissed. 


Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey


In a related, but slightly different bias, a significant segment of boxing fandom rejects infighters as a class, decrying these fighters' "lack of skills." I can't even tell you how many times I had to defend Orlando Salido from those who would mock or dismiss his style in the ring. There's a "purist" snobbery from certain boxing fans, and it can be from all races or ethnicities. To them, boxing is mostly about hitting and not getting hit, the sweet science, etc. 

Porter was a decorated U.S. amateur boxer and has considerable ring craft. Yet to many his pro style is somehow "beneath" that of the elite in the sport. Yes, not everyone has to like a certain fighter or style, but the snobbery aspect of what a boxer "should look like" is often appalling. Boxing can be a rough, rough sport. Past African American champions like Hagler, Pryor and Holyfield mastered the art of inside fighting. Generations later these fighters have been placed on pedestals by boxing fans. But has the ugliness of some of their fights been forgotten? Why are their rugged ring styles fondly remembered and yet Porter's is often dismissed? 

I think another bias is of a generational nature. For boxing fans beyond a certain age, infighting was common in the sport and considered a basic requirement for all fighters, irrespective of a boxer's preferred style. But in the last 30 years the biggest stars in boxing, whether it was de la Hoya, Jones, Mayweather or Pacquiao, rarely chose to fight in the trenches. As a result, whole generations of fight fans haven't associated greatness or superstardom with inside fighting. 

There are few current top fighters who excel at infighting. As a result, newer boxer fans have seldom seen just how successful that style can be at the elite level. I understand that infighting is not in vogue at the moment or that it might not be someone's cup of tea. But to reject infighting as a legitimate avenue for boxing greatness seems wrongheaded to me, and ignores crucial aspects of the history of the sport.

*

Spence-Porter was a thrilling fight that demonstrated the talent level of two of the best welterweights in the world. A number of boxing fans voiced indifference toward the bout when it was announced because Porter was not Terence Crawford, the perceived greatest threat and rival to Spence at 147. Don't get me wrong; I certainly would love to see Spence-Crawford and I hope it happens next. But I've never been one to dismiss a unification bout. 

Fights are won in the ring not in our conjectures among friends and colleagues. Yes, Spence was victorious on Saturday, as almost all thought he would be. But in the aftermath of the fight, it was Porter, the challenger, the "loser," who most impressed. He pushed Spence to the absolute brink. And even though Porter had won two championship belts in the past, Saturday's fight etched his name in the consciousness of boxing fans for a generation to come. 

Let's not forget that creating indelible memories, as Spence-Porter did, is paramount to the health of prizefighting. It's what makes fans come back; it grows the sport. Spence-Porter was legitimately a great fight. We have no idea how Spence-Crawford will play out in the ring. It's certainly an important fight and an attractive one, but it's unknown whether it will outstrip Saturday's action. 

Parlor games and mythical matchmaking are not a replacement for the enjoyment we receive when watching two high-level fighters give it their all in the ring. These games can certainly enhance the sport. They give us something to talk about during down times in the boxing calendar. But ultimately, they are just games. Saturday was the real deal, not a chat post or a tweet, and a wonderful reminder that nothing is guaranteed in the sport. Victories aren't on paper or settled by a collection of prognosticators chopping it up on a lazy Sunday.

Finally, I'd like to make a quick note about the judging from Saturday's fight. Before the final scores were announced, I was curious to see how the judges would evaluate Spence's body punching. Body shots are often harder to score for judges because the officials can be blocked by the action based on their vantage point. It certainly is easier to make an accurate visual account of what head shots successfully landed. 

Considering these factors, I applaud judges Steve Weisfeld and Ray Denseco for their 116-111 scorecards for Errol Spence. Not only did they give Spence commensurate credit for his body attack, but they were also able to distinguish the relative success of Porter's aggression; sometimes it was effective and other times it wasn't. Porter certainly had a case for winning the fight, but to my eyes, too often the guy coming forward gets the victory from the judges. Remember, "coming forward" is not a scoring criterion; effective aggression is. 

We certainly spend enough time criticizing officials in the sport (often justifiably so), but we should also acknowledge displays of professionalism to the highest degree. Spence-Porter was not an easy fight to score or officiate, but in aggregate, the officials – judges and ref – performed ably. And that is all we can ask.

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Thompson Boxing Way

Los Angeles and its immediate vicinity have been synonymous with boxing greatness for generations. With bright lights, big money, TV broadcasts, celebrities and legendary gyms, L.A. is the place where careers have been made. Even the mere mention of arenas such as The Forum, Staples Center and Stub Hub Center (now Dignity Health Sports Park) conjures instant memories of great fights and unforgettable moments from the sport. 

But head east out of Los Angeles, on I-10, Route 60, or I-210, and suddenly the imposing and magnificent visages of capitalism give way to a far different area. Forty miles or so will bring you to Ontario, and the beginning of the vast Inland Empire part of California. The Inland Empire is a densely-packed (over four million people) pocket of California surrounded by natural boundaries. It's due south of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains. To the southwest is the Cleveland National Forest.  In between the ranges and the forests, you'll find lots of boxing fans in the Inland Empire's cities, towns and outposts. You've probably heard of a number of these places: Riverside, Covina, Ontario, San Bernardino and Corona. Big Bear Mountain, perhaps one of the most famous remote training camp locations in the U.S, is just to the north off Route 18. Continuing further east on I-10, Joshua Tree National Park creates another northern boundary while the San Jacinto Mountains block off the south. Now you're in the desert, the Coachella Valley, home to Palm Springs and Indio. 

These areas of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are the heart of Thompson Boxing Promotions, which has become one of the most successful local promoters in U.S. boxing over the past 20 years. From the DoubleTree Hotel in Ontario to the Omega Products International in Corona, Thompson has not just built up a successful fight series in the Inland Empire, but they have created world champions and title contenders such as Tim Bradley, Yonnhy Perez, Josesito Lopez, Carlos Bojorquez, Juan Carlos Burgos, Mauricio Herrera, Jhonatan Romero and Daniel Roman. 


Alex Camponovo and Ken Thompson
Photo Courtesy of Thompson Boxing Promotions


Thompson Boxing started in 2000, almost as a lark. Wanting to help a friend raise money for his gym, Ken Thompson and Alex Camponovo decided to put on a boxing card. Although both were avid fans of the sport, neither had ever promoted a fight. And while that first card, which featured Bojorquez, brought in a lot of fans, the behind-the-scenes drama was something of a nightmare.
 
Yet they had fun. After that initial fight card Thompson and Camponovo decided to get into boxing for real. They would learn local boxing from the ground up and would take full responsibility for their cards – ticket selling, promotion, state licensing, fighter negotiations, procuring facilities and handling all of the finances. 

And unlike most startup boxing promoters, they decided to be patient. For four years they didn't sign fighters. Sure, they held cards, scouted the local talent, forged professional relationships and started to grow a consistent customer base, but they wanted enough time to study what worked. They needed to learn the ins and outs of matchmaking, which fighters would resonate with the crowd, and how to be prudent with their financial resources. The Inland Empire fight scene would in essence serve as their laboratory.

By 2004 they were ready to ink their first fighter, Palm Springs' Tim Bradley. Later that year Riverside's Josesito Lopez would become their second. Thompson (president) and Camponovo (matchmaker and general manager) displayed a keen eye for signing and developing talent even in the beginning. 

But ultimately what kept Thompson Boxing in business were the fans. And here Camponovo paints a clear picture of what the expectations are for Thompson Boxing and their loyal customers:

"Trying to do the best fights possible is our number-one thing, especially in the area where we do fights, the Inland Empire. I've seen other fights in the Orange County area [not Thompson Boxing's] and the fighters were just duking it out in the ring and showed not an ounce of boxing ability, just throwing an enormous amount of punches. The crowd would get rowdy and throw money in the ring. That doesn't happen here...

"If fighters are not capable, people start booing. We have a different type of crowd. First of all, we try to entertain everybody with competitive fights. We want people to fall in love with certain fighters. And they see them on a consistent basis. That's the key. They follow their progression. They see them in four-rounders, six-rounders, eight-rounders and finally headlining the main event. Then they're fighting for a regional title. Boom, now they're on ESPN, Showtime, DAZN. I think our crowd really likes to see the story of the fighters moving along the way."

Camponovo’s approach to matchmaking differs from others in the industry. Primarily he's in the boxing entertainment business; The Inland Empire fans need to leave satisfied. The crowd's desire to see competitive action dovetails with his philosophy of signing, matching and developing fighters. For him, the goal is to challenge fighters each step of the way, and not create untested boxers with inflated records. He wants to know what his fighters are made of and how they respond to adversity.   

"I can’t do anything with a guy who is 20-0 with 19 knockouts who is just blowing people away in the first round," he said. "I believe in toughing up the guys, as tough as they can handle. And that makes sense for the fans. That makes sense for us. We know what we have. We know the guys are developing. We see what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. Having one-round knockouts doesn’t help anything. It doesn’t help the fighter. It doesn’t help their management or us as promoters. I think the consistency of having tough challenges for our guys – I’m not saying 100% of the time – but most of the time, makes a big difference."

Although Thompson Boxing doesn't have the ability to hand out enormous signing bonuses for untested talent, Camponovo follows a simple motto for fighters whom they do develop: You do everything you can for us in the ring and we'll do everything we can for you outside of it. For Thompson this often means partnering with other promoters to provide additional opportunities for their fighters, whether it was Gary Shaw for Tim Bradley, Matchroom Sport for Danny Roman or Banner Promotions for Michael Dutchover and Ruben Villa, two highly regarded prospects who will be appearing on ShoBox on Sept 20. 

For Camponovo, the big-time opportunities only come to those who put in the work in the gym, who are always available to fight, and who make the most of their talent: "I've always said give me a less-talented guy, but a guy who is in the gym 24-7. I’ll take that guy any day of the week. I know that he’s going to go farther. He might not be a world champion right away, but I know he’s going to go much farther than a talented guy who spars twice a week, handles everybody in the gym and thinks that because he is gifted, that’s all he needs to do. The greatest athletes in the history of the world – I don’t care what sport it is – are that way because they are working the hardest. They do have talent, but they have to work on that talent." 

Dutchover and Villa, two fighters who according to Camponovo have put in the work, have impressed in their developmental fights and are starting to receive national attention. If all goes well they could be fighting world-level opposition by the end of 2020, but Camponovo won't guarantee that – he has made sure that they are facing significant threats this weekend.  

Business is good for Thompson Boxing these days. With a unified world champion (Daniel Roman), several prospects starting to appear on U.S. TV and a healthy pipeline of younger fighters (Camponovo particularly likes undefeated welterweight prospect Angel Ruiz), Thompson has carved out a solid niche in the industry. Yet, despite their burgeoning national success, they have no plans to abandon their annual six-card series in the Inland Empire; they believe that the series has been crucial to their success and survival.

Just like their fighters, most of whom were once beneath the radar of the big promoters, Thompson Boxing retains their humility and knows that they have to work harder to succeed. They've been able to get a foothold into boxing, but they don't believe in shortcuts or resting on their laurels – not for their fighters or for themselves. Thompson's success can be attributed to discipline, loyalty, consistency, competence and professionalism. Ultimately the Thompson Boxing Way may not be the sexiest, it may not necessarily be the blueprint for certain aspiring fighters or promoters, but there can be no argument that it has borne fruit.
  
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.