Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pound for Pound Update 3-18-18

As the first quarter of 2018 winds to a close, it's time to update the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List, where a number of fighters made significant leaps in the Rankings, notably Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Mikey Garcia, Errol Spence, Oleksandr Usyk, and Donnie Nietes. The major updates to Rankings are as follows: 

We have a new number-one in the SNB Pound-for-Pound List, as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai won via majority decision over Juan Estrada in FebruaryDuring the last 12 months Srisaket has beaten the then-top fighter in the Rankings (Roman Gonzalez) and the number-nine boxer (Juan Estrada). No one else under consideration for the top spot in the Rankings has wins over that level of competition. Srisaket is ranked in various positions in the top-10 by different ratings organizations. The divergence of opinion regarding his placement most likely depends on whether his majority decision victory over Gonzalez in their first fight was viewed as a legitimate result. In my estimation, that fight was close enough where I thought that the official result was defensible; others may disagree. With the win over Estrada, Srisaket moves from #3 to #1 in the Rankings. Estrada remains at #9. 

Mikey Garcia continues to impress as he now has won a title in his fourth division. Earlier this month he defeated junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets via unanimous decision. Garcia currently holds belts at both 135 and 140 lbs. Perhaps most notably, in his title fights that have gone to a decision, Garcia's closest margin of victory on any scorecard has been a four-point victory. Through this point in his career, not only is he beating solid fighters, but he's winning convincingly. He rises to #5 from #8. 

Errol Spence earned a seventh-round stoppage over Lamont Peterson in January. Spence dominated a legitimate top-ten contender in the division. He continues to rise in the Rankings, moving up to #11 from #17. 

Oleksandr Usyk is now a unified titleholder in the cruiserweight division after squeaking by with a majority decision win over Mairis Briedis. Perhaps the scores were a little closer than they should have been (the fight was on Briedis's home turf) but Usyk was a deserved winner in my estimation. Usyk rises to #12 from #19 with the victory and has a chance to ascend even higher in the Rankings later this year when he takes on titleholder Murat Gassiev in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series   

Donnie Nietes shined last month during his HBO debut by knocking out the rugged Juan Carlos Reveco in a flyweight title defense. Nietes, a three-division champion, continues to impress even at the advanced age of 35. He moves up two places to #13. 

With the retirement of Kazuto Ioka, Badou Jack enters the Rankings at #20. Jack had already proven to be one of the elites at super middleweight and looked sensational in knocking out former light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly last summer. 

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List: 

1.   Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
2.   Terence Crawford
3.   Vasyl Lomachenko
4.   Gennady Golovkin
5.   Mikey Garcia
6.   Saul Alvarez
7.   Sergey Kovalev
8.   Naoya Inoue
9.   Juan Estrada
10. Keith Thurman
11. Errol Spence
12. Oleksandr Usyk
13. Donnie Nietes
14. Manny Pacquiao
15. Adonis Stevenson
16. Roman Gonzalez
17. Guillermo Rigondeaux
18. Leo Santa Cruz
19. Carl Frampton 
20. Badou Jack

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, March 4, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Wilder-Ortiz

For many years Deontay Wilder has been regarded as a one-trick pony in the heavyweight division. His defense was horrible. He lunged and over-committed with shots. Putting combinations together seemed exceedingly difficult for him. His footwork could get sloppy or cumbersome. Sometimes he would sleepwalk through portions of a fight. 

But he had that right hand. 

It's not as if conventional wisdom regarding Wilder was all wrong, maybe off by 20%-25%. But Saturday's thrilling 10th-round knockout victory over Luis Ortiz demonstrated that Wilder brings more to the table than just a straight right. He scored three knockdowns in the fight, each with a different punch: right hand, left hook and right uppercut. When he was hurt badly in the seventh round, he found a way to buy time, either by using the ropes or tying up. His jab was effective at points. And while Ortiz certainly had success landing his power shots, Wilder's positioning and defensive posture led to Ortiz being cautious with his offense; Ortiz had a couple of very good rounds in the fight, but it wasn't if he was teeing off on Wilder.

Courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime

Wilder-Ortiz eventually turned on a few pivotal exchanges in the fight. After four rounds where Ortiz successfully established his pace and rhythm, Wilder connected with a right hand temple shot in the fifth. He followed up with another right, sending Ortiz to the canvas. In the seventh, Wilder rushed in with a big right hand. Ortiz countered the shot perfectly with a right hook. Ortiz then connected with a punishing straight left and another right hook, forcing Wilder to hang on for dear life to make it out of the round. 

In the 10th it was Wilder who landed a perfect counter, a short right hand while Ortiz was out of position. He then poured it on, scoring with a right hand/left hook/right hand/left hook four-punch combination, leading to his second knockdown. He finished the fight with a number of right hands, finally ending matters with a pulverizing right uppercut – perhaps the first uppercut that he had landed all fight. 

Was there more to the fight than that? Yes, a little. Early in the match, Ortiz kept Wilder at bay with some beautiful counter left hands. Ortiz essentially forced the early rounds into an offensive stalemate, which, credit to him, illustrates his supreme ring generalship and sublime countering ability. 

In the eighth round, Ortiz went for the kill during the first minute and then gradually reduced his offensive output. Did he punch himself out? Was he fatigued? Was he overconfident? In the beginning of the ninth, Ortiz might have thrown two punches in the first 45 seconds, surely not a way to attack wounded prey. 

Similar to last year's wonderful Joshua-Klitschko fight, there were opportunities missed by the older fighter. Wilder showed mettle by absorbing punishment, finding a way to recover and then regaining control of the fight. Overall, it was a thrilling bout and it sets up a potential superfight later in the year against English heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. 


And now it's time to take a break in the action for an aphorism from Confucius: "Better to be a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." 

A few years ago I had a Twitter exchange with my friend Ryan Bivins. This was probably in late 2013 or early 2014, before Wilder had become a headliner on premium cable. Through that point in his career, Wilder had amassed several early-round knockouts but often looked terrible in doing so. Bemoaning Wilder's myriad technical flaws, I kept harping on all the things he couldn't do. Ryan retorted: That right hand could knock anyone out in the division. Right now. 

I thought about that exchange with Ryan after watching Wilder-Ortiz. Yes, Wilder has slowly improved in a number of fundamental areas. He's not as raw as he was when he was battering the Matthew Greers and the Nichola Firthas of the world. But during his development, that straight right hand has brought Wilder all the way from prospect to contender to champ. 

In baseball, they use a scouting system to evaluate players' skills based on the 20-80 scale. "Fifty" is an average score for a major league skill. Each 10 points on the scale represents one standard deviation above or below the norm. For instance, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge would rate an "80" on the power scale while Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton would score an "80" for speed. The top score is reserved only for the elite of the elite for a given skill; there might be only three or four players who grade at an "80" in any particular category. 

Well Wilder's right hand is an "80" in the power category – and that includes boxers from every division. It's such an elite punch that it can excuse other mistakes. Are other heavyweights more coordinated? Could we find a dozen heavyweights who have a better jab? Are there those with better hooks, lateral movement or defense?  The answer to all of those questions would be yes. However, there may not be a heavyweight that grades at an "80" in any specific skill besides Wilder. Maybe Joshua's right uppercut would be a "70", but that's still one standard deviation below Wilder's right hand. (When thinking about standard deviations, think about exponential differences, not linear. A difference of 10 on this scale is several magnitudes greater in reality, not just 10 points higher.) Wilder's right hand is a diamond. Yes, he contains several flaws and warts in the ring, but he still possesses a diamond, one that no one else does in the division. 

Now, on to other matters: it's time to remove the one-dimensional talk from Wilder. Let's bury it, say a prayer, give it a proper remembrance and move on with our lives. Wilder's conditioning and heart allowed him to hang in against Ortiz during the seventh and eighth rounds. Only because of these factors was he able to then land his power shots in the ninth and tenth. Without his conditioning and heart, there isn't a knockout on Saturday. If he was just a one-trick pony, he would have been knocked out. If he didn't take his training seriously, he would cease to be threat later in fights. Yes, he can still be ponderous at times on his feet, but don't mistake that for a lack of athleticism or a blasé attitude about his career; he has a desire for greatness. He doesn't want to settle for being a novelty act with a freak right hand.  

Here's another old saying: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  

Wilder produces memorable knockouts. And he stops guys at any skill level, and at any time in the fight. When watching Wilder, there's a realistic chance of seeing a special and dramatic ending. If and when those moments happen, they create an indelible imprint on boxing fans; those moments are shown a bazillion times on sports highlight shows and create a buzz for the sport.

Sure, we can always focus on what Wilder is not; I know that I've made that mistake in the past. But let's remember what he is: a highlight reel American knockout artist – certainly not the worst thing in the world to be. He's never out of a fight, he's not a frontrunner and he can end a bout in a blink of an eye. Slowly, he has incorporated additional technical elements into his game. Remarkably, at 40-0 and at age 32, he still may not have hit his ceiling.

All of this doesn't mean Wilder is the best heavyweight in the world or that he will become the top guy in the foreseeable future. But he has made himself into an attraction. The greater American sporting world has started to take notice; all of these are positive signs and great for boxing as a whole.

Other than Wilder, perhaps nobody had a better night on Saturday than Deontay's financial planner. With that performance, Wilder added millions to his side of the ledger in a potential megafight with Joshua. Recent generations of boxing fans aren't used to seeing a captivating heavyweight division. But now, with Joshua and Wilder, there are two champions in their respective primes who are knockout artists and bona fide attractions. The pair has single-handedly elevated the division from its previous somnambulant state. Joshua has brought millions of new boxing fans into the fold in England and hopefully Wilder will start to grow the sport in his home market. Joshua-Wilder could be absolutely huge if the fight is promoted correctly. Hopefully the powers that be don't fuck it up.

But for now, let's rejoice in the pleasures of the sport and remind ourselves of how wonderful it can be. For the moment, let's brush the unpleasantness of boxing politics off to the side. We've seen two unforgettable heavyweight fights in the last year. In what decade was the last time we could say that? And we may not be done yet.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, March 1, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast previews Saturday's big fights: Wilder-Ortiz, Kovalev-Mikhalkin and Bivol-Barrera. Brandon and I also recapped the wildly entertaining Superfly 2 card. We also discussed the trend of fighters moving from the PBC to Top Rank. We covered it all and it was a great show.

Click on the links below to listen.

Blog Talk Radio Link:
iTunes link:
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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: 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Sor Rungvisai-Estrada

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai throws only two punches: a right hook and a straight left hand. His opponents needn't concern themselves with defending against a jab or an uppercut: there are just those two shots. Thus, facing a foe with such a limited offensive arsenal, Juan Estrada, one of the best counterpunchers in the sport and a supreme boxing technician, was the bookies' favorite and the pick of many boxing writers (including this one) to be victorious over Srisaket on Saturday. 

In his past efforts against top opposition, Estrada has featured an impressive punch variety, offensive creativity, pinpoint accuracy and the ability to come on late in fights – the types of characteristics that could help nullify Srisaket's powerful but straight-line attack. However, by the end of the fight on Saturday, Srisaket was the one with his hands raised, winning a deserved majority decision over Estrada and retaining his junior bantamweight title. What explained his success?

Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Let's go back to those two punches for a moment. What differentiates Srisaket from other fighters with a paltry offensive arsenal is his ability to use his limited shots in unpredictable ways. To initiate an exchange he can throw either the right hook or the straight left to any part of the body: the stomach, oblique, chest, shoulder, chin, or temple. In addition, he's always thinking in combinations. Often the first shot is a throwaway punch, not meant to land, but the second will hit pay dirt. He also varies the speed, power and trajectory of his shots, especially the hooks. Thus, even a well-schooled defensive fighter like Estrada had difficulty in anticipating where and how Srisaket would initiate offense. 

In addition, Srisaket featured new wrinkles on Saturday. He wasn't the crude banger we saw against Roman Gonzalez. No, the slugger incorporated new-found elements of craft into his attack. Deftly using feints, both with his hands and upper body, Srisaket upset Estrada's ability to time him. Yes, he still attacked in a straight line, but his added layers of deception flummoxed Estrada throughout many portions of the fight. Furthermore, he didn't over-commit with his shots, as he had sometimes done against Gonzalez. Srisaket was patient and poised with his offense, which further minimized opportunities for Estrada. 

Andre Ward, who provided enlightening commentary throughout the main event on HBO, quickly realized that Estrada needed to make tactical adjustments in the fight. If Estrada couldn't find sustained success from countering, then he needed to lead. Furthermore, why was Estrada insistent on fighting at range, where Rungvisai's straight left would be most damaging?

Yes, there were points where Estrada took the initiative in the fight. On the front foot, he had success. In addition, he was able to counter Srisaket deftly at times. He landed his share of impressive shots, but often he was crawling his way back into the round, or trying to steal it in the last 30 seconds. He allowed Srisaket to force the action, establish the flow, come forward and win the ring generalship battle.

Ward made another prescient observation about Estrada that stuck with me after the fight. Sometimes, an excellent boxer is going to have to fight. The very best do whatever it takes to win. Think about Ward taking the fight to Kovalev in the latter half of their first bout and then in the rematch. Or consider how Mayweather engaged in a shootout against Maidana to win their first match. These adjustments weren't necessarily their preferred choices, but the fights demanded that they make the switch. They put aside ego and were eventually victorious. Estrada didn't; unlike them afterward he cried foul. 

Estrada needed to get in close against Srisaket, which would have disrupted his rhythm and perhaps nullified his straight left. But he wasn't willing to engage in that type of battle consistently. Sure he could tell himself that he won the match, but he fought in such a style that the judges were more than justified in selecting Srisaket's work in several close rounds. 

As I pointed out in my column from the first Superfly card in September, Estrada, who had been out of the ring for long stretches of the past two years, didn't have the same type of mobility that he had featured earlier in his career. On Saturday, again, Estrada displayed very little lateral movement. Although he would turn Srisaket at points in the fight, more often he would try to use his gloves, arms and reflexes, instead of his legs, to evade shots. With Srisaket's ability to change the trajectories of his punches, a stationary target played into his hands. 

Although Estrada is only 27, to my eyes he is an old 27. While many comparisons are made between him and Juan Manuel Marquez, those comparisons apply to the late-career version of Marquez – the one who sat in the pocket and countered, not the one who would use his legs and the ring to box. 

Estrada is still an excellent fighter, perhaps top-ten in the sport. However, as Ward pointed out, he wasn't willing to do what was needed to win against Srisaket. If he's already in decline physically (which I think he is) and he lacks the intestinal fortitude to win at all costs, perhaps a rapid decline could be forthcoming. I'm not ready to write him off yet, but if he hopes to maintain his status in the sport, more, not less, will be needed from him in future fights. Super flyweight/junior bantamweight is a minefield of world-class boxers; it's probably the best division in the sport. If Estrada has designs on recapturing a championship belt, he's going to have to fight a certified badass to get it – not an easy task, and one which will require more than he was willing to provide on Saturday.

I certainly wouldn't be opposed to a rematch, but I also would understand if Srisaket wants to go in another direction. With three high-profile road fights in succession, I'm sure he'd love to make a home title defense in front of his burgeoning Thai fan base. There are also other exciting matchups in the division, including those against Jerwin Ancajas, Naoya Inoue (if he doesn't move to bantamweight) Kal Yafai, or even Donnie Nietes, the current flyweight champ who might move up to 115 lbs. for a bigger opportunity (Nietes had an impressive knockout win on Saturday's undercard).

Opportunities now abound for Srisaket. HBO would love to get him back on their airwaves as soon as possible. Offers for big fights could arrive from Thailand, the U.S., England and Japan. It will be fascinating to see if the former garbage man, who used to eat rats in order to survive, will fall prey to self-satisfaction. His $250,000 purse represents big money in Thailand. He could go the Marcos Maidana route and blow up to 200 lbs. Of course, he could also be one of those self-driven, high-performing athletes who won't be distracted by money or publicity. 

Srisaket lost three out of his first five professional fights. He was thrown to the wolves. He was just another expendable Thai boxer. But nine years later, he's headlining halfway around the world, making good money and kicking some serious ass. Nothing was expected of him, yet he never accepted that narrative. He continues to improve, refine his craft and slay dragons. Just two years ago he wasn't even a boxing afterthought; he was irrelevant. Now he might just be among the best fighters in the world. 

It's a wonderful sport.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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.