Monday, September 26, 2016

The SNB Interview -- Brian McIntyre

Brian McIntyre, head trainer for junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford, has seen his status in the sport ascend as his star pupil has become one of the best talents in boxing. From Omaha, a speck of flyover country previously ignored by the boxing world, McIntyre has helped to shape one of the more improbably journeys to the top of the sport. 

Stressing family, community, teamwork, preparation, consistency and work ethic, McIntyre, through trial-and-error, has fashioned a complete fighter who has the skills and Ring IQ to take on all comers. Working with Crawford since the amateurs, McIntyre and his fighter have a bond that's inseparable. Together, along with assistant trainer Esau Dieguez and Red Spikes, Team Crawford has forced the boxing world to take notice of Nebraska boxing. Through their efforts, HBO has made annual pilgrimages to Omaha. Resulting from Crawford's success, other Nebraska fighters have also signed with big promotional companies. 

McIntyre has immersed himself in the Omaha community. He has helped to revitalize Nebraska's amateur boxing program and has cultivated the B&B Boxing Academy, which has taken scores of kids off the streets and put them in a nurturing, positive environment. 

Intelligent, profane, wonkish, sensitive, practical, combative, jocular, prideful and selfless, McIntyre wields a bevy of characteristics that cuts a unique figure in the boxing landscape. As a journeyman fighter in his own boxing career, he has imparted some valuable lessons onto his prodigy. Without a guidebook or a how-to manual, he, along with members of Team Crawford, has helped to create a terrific fighter and a point of pride for the Omaha sporting scene.

In the following interview, McIntyre talks about the key moments of Crawford's masterful performance from earlier this year against junior welterweight champ Viktor Postol. Through expertly studying Postol's tendencies, Team Crawford was able to neutralize a significant threat. With some choice words for Postol's trainer, Freddie Roach, McIntyre provides no quarter for the vanquished foe or his team. McIntyre also looks back at the big matches in Crawford's career, recounting the challenges and triumphs in the Yuriorkis Gamboa, Andrey Klimov, Hank Lundy, Thomas Dulorme, Ricky Burns and Breidis Prescott fights.

Not content to rest on his laurels, McIntyre believes that Crawford can still improve. In his opinion, the final step in Crawford's evolution as a fighter isn't physical or technical, but one of confidence. In addition, McIntyre hopes to find the next boxing champion from Omaha, working with several undefeated professional fighters as well as dozens of amateurs. Even though he has become one of the top trainers in the sport, McIntyre knows that his work, his life's mission, is far from complete.

Interview by Adam Abramowitz:

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Brian, Congratulations on the victory over Postol. Looking back on the fight, how would you assess Terence’s performance? 

From 1 to 10, I give him maybe an 8. He should have let his hands go a little bit more but we were being a little cautious because of Postol’s reach, his range.

From looking at clips at Postol, what was the main strategy for the fight?

The main thing was don’t let Postol set his feet. Keep him moving east-to-west instead of north-and-south. We looked at some of his fights and if you make him move to his right he won’t throw many punches. He can punch really well going forward and going backwards. So don’t let him come forward. If he moves forward, you got to move to the side. Don’t move towards him. We worked on circling him, keeping him turning where he couldn’t set his feet. But if he can set his feet, he’ll throw a lazy jab, like of a rangefinder jab, and then he’ll throw a right hand under or over-the-top of a guy’s jab. That’s how he stopped his last two opponents.

In your opinion, why was it important for Terence to fight Postol mostly as a southpaw?

We knew that Postol hadn’t really seen any southpaws. I figured it would be easier for Terence to move him to his right in a southpaw stance. That way he could keep his lead foot outside of Postol’s.

Was that also a strategy to neutralize his jab?

Oh yeah. Definitely that. Keep him turning.

I wanted to talk about some earlier fights in Crawford’s career. Perhaps the first time that he caught the general boxing public’s consciousness was when he moved up to 140 lbs. to face Breidis Prescott as a last-minute replacement. What was your advice to him about whether he should take that fight?

We jumped at it right away. We knew that Terence was a hell of a fighter. We were just waiting for our chance. We had seen Prescott before on film. We had seen that style in the amateurs. It wasn’t anything we were scared of. We were just waiting for our opportunities to come.

I know that there were some differences of opinion between your team, Top Rank and some of the management. How did taking that fight ultimately get decided?

From Top Rank’s perspective, I think they dialed [manager] Cameron Dunkin for his perspective and when they called me and Terence, we jumped at it right away.  So, going into the fight, Cameron made it known that he didn’t like the fight. I just told him, “Listen to us. Don’t worry. We got it.” We had been with him since day one but he wasn’t really familiar with us because we had never prepared for a big fight like that. But he had confidence in our camp and we had confidence in Terence. He just wanted a little more time before we had our chance on the big stage.

When facing an opponent like Andrey Klimov, who is mostly trying to survive and is not making a real effort to win, what advice do you give Terence in the corner?

At that time of his career, with Klimov, it was still a learning process in every way. TV. Big-time fights. More money. Our main thing was just win the fight. Don’t try to go for the knockout or don’t try to look pretty. Just do what we worked on in camp. Get the job done.

After the fight, people said we should have done more. Well, we should have, but we beat him. It was a learning process. Every step is a learning process.
  
In the Yuriorkis Gamboa fight, Terence got hit with a number of big punches. How concerned were you in the corner with Gamboa’s offense and how Terence was taking the shots?

That’s a good question because we knew he was fast. We tried to prepare for his hand speed, especially how he fights off-balanced. He’ll throw a jab and then a right hand over the top and then he’ll be gone. We didn’t really think about his foot speed but what we did work on was him jumping in and jumping out.

Sometimes he likes to throw that right hand just to throw it, so he could come back with that hook. Just for a rangefinder. And I said to Terence what are you going to do when you he does that. And sure enough, he hit him with it. And first thing Terence said after he got hit was, “I’m going to do this,” which is a split-second reaction. Boom. We worked on that in camp. We worked on his right hook – and Gamboa going in and going out, going in and going out, going in and going out. We just kept repeating that. And thank God we worked on that because that right hook changed the fight. It was spectacular. And after he caught him, the fight went his way.

Was it difficult finding sparring partners for a style as unconventional as Gamboa’s?

Definitely. It was hard. Very hard. It was so fucking hard. We used some guys up in Fort Carson, Colorado; they were amateurs. The W-Cap team, the elite team in the United States, is there. So they had some smaller guys there. But to try to and find a professional fighter like that, it was hard as hell.

Was Terence ever hurt in that fight or did he just take a couple of shots?

In the 9th or 10th round, Terence got hit with a good shot. I think he got buzzed a little bit because he got careless. But he was all right after that. He recovered really well. He got the stinky leg thing but the first thing he did was get low, the same size as Gamboa. He grabbed him, turned him, and walked him backwards. We worked on that – if he ever got hurt. Get down low. Keep your hands up high. Try to grab him as soon as possible. Turn him and get the other guy off his rhythm. But once he recovered, he was cool after that.

Let’s talk about the Ricky Burns fight. It was the first time that you had gone overseas for a bout and it was a title shot. What was the feeling like during camp and the final week in the U.K. as you were getting ready for that fight?

We had a damn good camp. We did have a little problem with the weight. We had to pick up the running. We were running at night. That fight was in February so we had to train in the snow and shit. But all-in-all, it was a very good camp. We had some very good strength and conditioning trainers. We had to train a certain way for Ricky Burns. We had to make sure that everything in Terence’s arsenal was really sharp. We knew Burns had a good jab so we wanted to take away the jab. When he threw the jab, we wanted to throw our jab, to go underneath his, to catch him. He [Burns] threw his jab like Ali used to throw his jab. He didn’t have the bounce in his feet like Ali did but he would throw the jab and streak out with it. It’s almost like he got an extra two or three inches on it.

But we worked really hard on just staying sharp. It was hard to find sparring partners for that type of style too. Ricky Burns was way better than Viktor Postol. Everyone is like, “Oh no, fuck that.” Yes he was. Ricky Burns was a way better fighter. He was tough.

Was there any concern in that week in Scotland?

No, we got a lot of threats and shit. I kept my eyes open but nothing happened to us. Overall, everybody was pretty nice to us. Some members of his team got mad at me because I didn’t give him any credit afterward – I think I compared him to a third-place Golden Gloves winner.

But going back to the last question: Burns is way better than Postol. That would be a good fight. Burns-Postol. I bet Burns would beat him.

One thing that Ricky Burns has shown throughout his career is that he doesn’t quit if he’s behind and I think that Postol was a little checked out in the second half of that fight.

Yeah, Postol didn’t know what to do, him or Freddie Roach. They didn’t have a fucking clue what to do. They didn’t have a game plan.

In your opinion, what has been Terrence’s best performance as a pro?

Every fight he gets better and better. They’ve all been really good. I liked the way he knocked [Dierry] Jean out. I liked the way he knocked [Hank] Lundy out. All of them have a different style and you have to be able to beat that style. So I don’t know. That’s a good question. The Prescott performance was actually a pretty good performance. He could have knocked him out but I kept telling him to play it safe and don’t get careless. The Gamboa fight was great too.

I’ve always told him that sometimes you got to box and sometimes you got to fight. Sometimes you can box the shit out of a motherfucker but sometimes you won’t be able to box. You got to bite down and fight, like you’re fighting in the street.

How would you assess the differences between Crawford as an orthodox and as a southpaw?

If you look at it, Terence is a way better boxer when he’s southpaw than when he’s orthodox, going in for the fucking kill. He’ll hurt a guy in southpaw and as soon as he has time, he’ll turn around to orthodox.

I’ve always thought that Terence is a little bit more defensively responsible as a southpaw. Is that something you’ve noticed?

I don’t really look at it like that. He’s a little more cautious.

From my perspective, he doesn’t seem to get hit as cleanly as a southpaw.

He doesn’t. When you look at him in orthodox, he does get caught because he’s trying to land that big punch.

What does Terence still need to do to improve?

If you look at the Postol fight, we hit Postol clean with the right hook. One of the things we worked on in camp was the right hand. We worked on pushing Postol to his right because he drops his left hand a lot. When he goes to his right he won’t throw a lot of punches. So that’s like a free shot. Terence wouldn’t really commit with the jab but he needed Postol to come towards him so he could hit him with the right hand.  So I told Terence you have to trust in your speed, your power and your ability. And he was like, “You’re right. You’re right. You’re right.”

So it’s about developing trust in himself. In the Klimov fight, I said throw the left hand around. Push him to his right so he can run into your overhand left. He said, “I see it, I see it, but…” And he didn’t throw it.  He needs to trust in his ability to do the things he wants to do. But I understand where he’s coming from because he’s the one out there fighting. I told him to take a look at it another way. Don’t let it fall by the wayside. Think of another way that you can do it, whether it’s a feint or beating him to a spot. Think of another way
.
Does he always know when he has an opponent hurt?

Yeah. Pretty much.

I noticed that there were times in the Lundy and Dulorme fights where Terence hurt them but then he backed off a little bit. Was this a strategic move or was it a case of not knowing when a guy is hurt?

Most of the time, he’s just taking his time. Just setting it up. We don’t like to rush or anything like that.

What have you taken from your own professional career that you have been able to impart upon Terence?

Just being a boxer period. I’ve seen a lot of styles out there and you got to know your boxer’s style. I always tell kids you got to understand your style. One thing I noticed as a fighter and a trainer, I can pick a fighter apart. I look at demeanor. How to carry yourself the week of the fight…at a press conference.

I knew Lundy was all mouth. Whenever you go somewhere, he was the loudest one in the room. He’s like one of those guys in the movies who’s always running his mouth. But he does have heart. He’s a fighter and if you fight at his pace, you will make him look fucking good. But if you push Lundy, he can’t do anything. He can’t fight past his pace. He gasses out.

And with Dulorme, his manager, his trainer and his promoter did more shit talking than he did. So that tells you right there that he didn’t want that – that he wasn’t ready for a fight like that.

With Postol, they were so confident. They were arrogant – his trainer, his manager. They were so fucking arrogant. Postol was walking with his chest out like he was the shit. I watch demeanor. When I’m coaching, I say to them. Watch them. I try to split everything down the middle. If we’re walking through the hallway, we’re not moving aside for them. They move for us. It’s just a psychological thing that plays out during the course of the week. At the end of the day, most of the guys don’t want that kind of [psychological] fight.

How has the Omaha fight scene changed since Terence started having success?

We have more fights here, way more amateur fights here than we did before. I made a note to myself that I was going to change the way boxing was here. Put more shows on. Get more kids in the gym, a little at a time. And other coaches started grasping onto that. I told the other coaches to come over to our gym. Watch how we train. Ask for advice. Before, the other coaches just used to bicker back at each other.

Recently, I was talking to the president of the board here. I said, “Before, when we were at a national tournament and the other guys found out they were fighting a Nebraska guy, those motherfuckers started jumping all around the fucking joint because they knew they were about to get a win.” That’s because we were taking bullshit to the tournament.

We still have to get better. Now we have a board that is passionate about boxing. You know…not stealing money from the kids, kids not getting their per diems. It ain’t like that anymore. Kids get their per diems. Coaches get a little bit of gas money.  Things are looking up now.

I counted today. We had 42 fighters in the gym. Eighteen of them were either in the second week or their first week. With the advanced kids, they work by themselves in one corner of the gym and on the other side of the gym, we work with the beginners. It’s coming along.

Who are some other fighters that we should know about coming out of Omaha?

Look at Steven Nelson. He’s a 168-lber. I’m managing him and I train him during camp. Steven was the 2012 Olympic alternate. Look for him. I have Treven Coleman. He was a fucking good amateur. Kevin Ventura was a national Golden Gloves runner up. All of those guys are undefeated. With Kevin and Treven, we’re moving them slowly, one step at a time and they’ve fought more locally. Steven was on the World Series of Boxing team and fought all over the world. He fights mostly on Top Rank cards.

It seems like you and your team are having a lot of fun. Would you say that’s true?

We are. We understand that it’s not going to last forever. With Terence, the key thing is that we keep doing what got us here. We train in Colorado Springs. No distractions. We’re still working hard. I told our guys, the other members of our team, don’t go out and buy a bunch of bullshit that you don’t need. Save your money because there will be some dry months. Prepare yourself for the next fight. Also, stay in the gym and work with the amateurs. They are your future. You want more champions? There are your champions right there. And just soak it all in. Have fun and be yourself.

Who’s a boxing trainer that you’ve looked up to or means a lot to you?

You know, I haven’t been around a lot of trainers because I’m in the Midwest. So, everything that we do now has been a result of trial-and-error. And I never really had a lot of advice. It was just trial-and-error.

But I always looked up to Emanuel Steward because when I watched him, he always had his fighters with him. When we were at a national tournament, they were all around him. He was their trainer, their manager, their uncle, their father. You can’t get any better than that. He used to always take his fighters around with him. It didn’t matter if they were 4-0 or 5-0. Like a guy like Andy Lee. Or amateurs, when they were 16 or 17 – they were always around him and I respected that. I never got a chance to pick his brain but I watched him all the time.

A lot of fans are fascinated by potential matchups for Crawford at 147 lbs. Who do you see, if anybody, as a potential threat in that division?

I don’t see anybody who's a potential threat in that division. One thing I’m going to do is make sure my guy is well prepared before he steps in the ring for any style, whether that’s Garcia, Thurman, Porter, the young kid – Spence. Whoever. I will make sure that my guy is prepared. Anything that someone else can bring to the table I want to make sure that Terence has seen it and worked on it in camp.

One thing about Terence is yes, he loves to box and he loves to fight, but he understands that it’s his job. He knows that people depend on him. If Terence fights on a Saturday, he’s right back in the gym on a Wednesday or Thursday, doing some shadow boxing or whatever. The good part about it is that Terence understands what it takes to be a champion, what it takes to defend your title.

We talked about this just the other day. He said he wants one more fight in the junior welterweight division and then he’ll move up to 147. And when he gets tired of that, he’ll retire. And I want what’s best for him. I’ve known him since he was little. He’s like a little cousin that way… For me, if something hurts Terence, it hurts me too, like a parent. I start coaching with my heart... Listen, I don't want to see him get hurt. I want to see him make as much as he can. Enjoy his life. Enjoy the money that he makes. Watch his kids grow old. That’s what I want for him.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at: 
saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Canelo-Smith PPV Farce

"We have subscribers who are heavily engaged in boxing who believe they deserve a quality product...for us, success is always defined as 'What does the viewer get out of the product, not what we think we’re putting into it.'"

– Peter Nelson, Executive VP of HBO Sports, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2016

Let's talk about a disconnect. The head of HBO Sports understands that its boxing viewers demand quality content. Yet, in the four fights that composed Saturday's Saul "Canelo" Alvarez-Liam Smith pay per view broadcast, the underdogs might have won a combined three rounds total. And this eventuality wasn't unanticipated or shocking. Two of the matches were showcases for emerging Golden Boy fighters, Joseph Diaz and Diego de la Hoya. Willie Monroe Jr.-Gabe Rosado was an absolutely dreadful affair (Monroe was the favorite and if he did prevail, the fight was expected to play out exactly as Saturday's did). The main event saw Smith, the untested "champion," dropped three times and unable to take a single round. 

I submit the following to Nelson: Would you classify this card as a "quality product?" Was Canelo-Smith worth $70? Did this card improve the HBO PPV or HBO Boxing brands? 

And although it's true that a network doesn't exert the same type of influence in determining who fights on a pay per view undercard that it does on its network offerings, still, some semblance of quality control needs to be effectuated. Typically, when a pay per view main event could fail to deliver quality, promoters and networks try to build a strong undercard; that certainly wasn't the case for Canelo-Smith.

But let's not leave Golden Boy Boxing out of this Smorgasbord of Shit. When Oscar de la Hoya dissolved his working relationships with former Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer and power broker Al Haymon, he seemed to find religion, proclaiming that the rechristened Golden Boy Promotions would put its fighters in tough and make the type of matches that would embolden the sport. Through much of 2015, de la Hoya followed through on that pledge. However, Saturday was certainly an unwelcome reversion to business-as-usual in boxing, exploiting Canelo's rabid fanbase to program a truly uninspiring event. 

And it wasn't just in the ring where the action disappointed. Canelo-Smith typified everything that is wrong with contemporary boxing broadcasting. Comparing untested young fighters to future hall of famers, absolving stars for not facing a chief rival, failing to point out gross mismatches, glossing over inadequacies in young boxers who are getting promotional pushes, it was a cynical broadcast that repeatedly mocked the intelligence of its viewers. 

Everyone seemed to be in on the fleecing. Despite Diaz exhibiting dreadful footwork, the opposite stance and a complete lack of power, Jim Lampley somehow compared him to legendary Mexican fighter Marco Antonio Barrera. Roy Jones praised Alvarez for not being dictated to by other parties, which was a strange comment to make. However, Jones strayed from the network's narrative on Saturday, which posited that de la Hoya, Alvarez's promoter, was chiefly to blame for Canelo failing to fight Gennady Golovkin. During Alvarez's post-fight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman, the broadcaster absolved Canelo of any culpability in the ordeal. Instead, he directed his criticism to de la Hoya, who was standing only inches behind Canelo, smiling like a used car owner who successfully unloaded a lemon to a gullible buyer. The interview was just theater. 

If fighters are praised for taking tough assignments, why are they suddenly exonerated when they refuse them? In truth, they aren't. This was just an example of Kellerman and HBO pulling punches. De la Hoya was more than happy to wear the black hat so that the cash cow of his company and one of HBO's biggest stars didn't have to experience any vitriol. It was perhaps the most cynical moment of boxing in 2016, and that's quite an accomplishment for a sport rife with problems in the American market.

Through almost three-quarters of the year, HBO has had only two of its main events turn out to be competitive (Vargas-Salido and Gonzalez-Cuadras) and one pay per view that was passably so (Pacquiao-Bradley III). Again, this isn't an example of unanticipated outcomes; for instance, no one expected Kovalev-Pascal II or Ward-Brand to be competitive. Canelo-Khan and Golovkin-Brook were abject mismatches disguised as big events. HBO's boxing ratings have been down in 2016 and the fights haven't been memorable. According to numerous reports, HBO Boxing's budget has been slashed and with a record like the one above, it's no wonder why the Time Warner and HBO suits have given Nelson fewer resources. How much confidence could you have in the current regime?

"More with less" might be one of most odious phrases of corporate jargon. However, the concept is well understood. During times of retrenchment, organizations must focus on what they do best. By sticking to their core competencies and succeeding on a more limited level, organic growth can eventually happen. (At least, this is the theory.) 

However, Nelson & Co., and throw Golden Boy Promotions into this mix as well, have put forth "less with less," a strategy that doesn't portend well for either organization moving forward. Canelo is Golden Boy's lone attraction in a sport dependent on them. Their roster remains devoid of future stars or even fighters that could possess that potential. HBO has fewer true headliners than they once did but instead of demanding better fights with its reduced resources, the network has continued to broadcast mismatches, fights that were non-competitive the moment they were announced. Let me be even blunter: "Less with less" is what happens to organizations when they are failing. 

HBO Boxing was the gold standard of boxing for generations and it's painful to see the network descend into mediocrity. Yes, no other entity has filled the void for consistent, quality boxing programming but that's more a reflection on the self-immolating American boxing industry than it is a vote of confidence for "The Network of Champions." Luckily for HBO, its competitors remain stuck in quicksand. 

Showtime has had an inconsistent boxing calendar. Despite having some quality fights, there's little coherence regarding which boxers will be appearing on its network and when that might happen. Is Deontay Wilder a Showtime fighter? Is Demetrius Andrade? Is Danny Garcia? This is a problem of brand building for Showtime Boxing. What exactly is it at the moment? Mostly, the network has been broadcasting high-priced cards with Al Haymon boxers; however, as of now, Showtime doesn't have a single championship fight in America scheduled for the remainder of 2016. Showtime Sports head Stephen Espinoza has been reluctant to counterprogram college football, and understandably so, but the result of his strategy has created a network that isn't a year-round destination for boxing or its fans. The sport has become almost a seasonal pursuit for them.

Al Haymon's PBC series also has failed to deliver a consistent or coherent product. Some fine fights have occurred on Spike and FS1 but activity for his star attractions and quality control remain significant issues for the organization. Despite managing or advising many of the top fighters in boxing, he's been having trouble getting them in the ring. The PBC basically killed boxing on ESPN (and its summer series on the network was terrible this year) and its NBC shows have lacked consistency. (There's also wide speculation about the PBC doing some financial belt tightening of its own.)

Perhaps the American boxing market will right its ship but Canelo-Smith indicates that there are still needed lessons to be learned. With the exception of the Cotto-Canelo pay per view at the end of last year, after Mayweather-Pacquiao, the American PPV market has cratered. Broadcasters and promoters are loath to even release pay per view numbers, surely not a sign of an industry in good health. Yet, business-as-usual remains. And so on and so on. Crawford-Postol was a pay per view failure, Pacquiao-Bradley III has already been forgotten and Saturday's card will garner only a fraction of Alvarez's best numbers. This is not a positive trajectory. 

On a final note, Canelo-Smith was the first major boxing pay per view that I refused to purchase in over five years of covering the sport. I watch almost every card on American TV. I attend and pay for tickets to see live fights. I support the industry and want it to do well. Ultimately, I root for boxing to succeed and have never had a problem with outlaying money for pay per views, monthly cable premiums or tickets. However, with Alvarez-Smith, a precipice was crossed. I couldn't put up with the cynicism any longer. Saturday wasn't a quality product and didn't even approach its $70 suggested retail price. I streamed the fight on my computer. And if this becomes the "new normal," it wasn't a bad experience at all.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at: 
saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Monday, September 12, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin and Gonzalez

Throughout Gennady Golovkin's meteoric rise to the top of the boxing food chain, he's dispatched his opponents with a unique combination of power shots and textbook punch technique. Armed with a ferocious style in the ring and a natural ebullience when not fighting, Golovkin's popularity in the sport has spread like wildfire. He has amassed legions of fans and he has become one of the top attractions in the sport. However, his career has been lacking in one crucial aspect: quality opponents. Golovkin's resume is rife with B- and C-level talents. And on account of this overmatched opposition, it's been difficult to gauge just how good he really is. Certainly, knocking out Saul Alvarez or roughing up Andre Ward would mean much more than stopping Gabe Rosado or Willie Monroe, capable fighters, sure, but no threat to march up anyone's pound-for-pound list.  

It should be stated that Golovkin has been a victim of his own success. A who’s who of middleweights has consistently avoided fighting him over the last four years. So, Golovkin continues to seek out meaningful fights to add to his legacy, but without viable middleweights agreeing to fight him, he's found himself biding his time until a top 160-lb. fighter gets brave.

On Saturday, Golovkin took his Big Drama Show to London to fight Kell Brook, one of the top welterweights in the world, but a boxer who had never even competed among elite junior middleweights, let alone the best at 160 lbs. The fight was a big-money opportunity for Golovkin, who was expected to roll through Brook. And in the most important sense, he did just that, forcing Brook's trainer, Dominic Ingle to stop the fight in the fifth round. But Brook had his moments and probably won two of the first four rounds of the fight. 

Boxing fans haven't been accustomed to seeing Golovkin struggle. Watching Brook tag him with right uppercuts and straight right hand counters was certainly an unusual sight. To be fair to Golovkin, he was facing a truly excellent sharpshooter, one of the best in the sport at "make him miss and make him pay." When Golovkin went wide with his left hook, Brook landed sharp counters. During stretches of the fight where GGG refused to come in behind a jab, Brook pasted him with solid combinations. 

Although Brook was winning a number of battles in the ring during the first four rounds, he was losing the greater war. Golovkin repeatedly connected with enormous left hands to the body and head. By the end of the first, Brook looked like he was ready to fall over after a left hook to the liver. During the second round, his right eye was cut and it was quickly becoming a problem. In the fifth, Brook stopped moving and could no longer defend himself against Golovkin's artillery. Ultimately, it was a humane stoppage by Ingle – an unpopular move in some corners of boxing fandom – but the right one. After the fight, Brook was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken eye socket.

From one perspective, stopping Brook in the fifth round was certainly a successful, if not altogether expected, endeavor for Golovkin. However, in assessing Golovkin by his previous lofty standards, his performance was wanting in a few areas. (In the post-fight interview, Golovkin graded himself a "3 or 4" out of 10.) He was far too knockout-happy in the fight, abandoning his boxing fundamentals to seek a quick knockout. He threw a number of wide left hooks from way out of position, providing Brook with an opportunity to counter them. In addition, he kept his jab holstered throughout the fight, a decision that resulted in getting hit with more shots than necessary. Yes, Golovkin had the chin to withstand Brook's power, but that's not an approach which will work against bigger punchers. And taking more shots than needed is never a good strategy.

Nevertheless, Golovkin's footwork was still exemplary. Expertly cutting off the ring, he was successful in forcing Brook to the ropes at many points in the fight. Brook couldn't rest as Golovkin pushed the pace.

Even though GGG did look bad when he missed a number of wide left hooks, he landed enough of them to help secure the victory. It's clear that his trainer, Abel Sanchez, saw something on film that indicated the lead left hook could be a weapon for his fighter. Yes, Golovkin was at times crude with the punch and fired it from out of range but ultimately he successfully followed the plan. Golovkin's body shots helped to take away Brook's legs as well. In just five rounds, Golovkin had outmaneuvered Brook in the ring, both physically and mentally. Brook was left with his arms down against the ropes, pretending that he was unfazed by Golovkin's punishment and ferocious pace. No one was buying Brook's story, least of all his trainer.

Brook didn't last 15 minutes. 

*** 

In one of the best fights of the year, pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez moved up to junior bantamweight to defeat longtime champion Carlos Cuadras, claiming a world title in his fourth division. Coming into the fight, Gonzalez was 45-0 with 38 knockouts and hadn't had a competitive distance fight in almost four years. Cuadras also entered the matchup as an undefeated boxer with a lofty knockout rate (35-0-1, 27 KOs). Despite being a champion for over two years at 115-lbs., Cuadras was a relatively unknown quantity to a majority of U.S. boxing fans. Most of his fights had occurred in Mexico and Japan and they received scant coverage outside of those markets. However, boxing aficionados were certainly enthusiastic about the matchup, with Cuadras possessing the athleticism, chin, hand speed and self-belief to give Gonzalez problems.  

Although I believed that Gonzalez would win a close unanimous decision against Cuadras, which he ultimately did (115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 – the last one being off the mark), the fight played out far differently than I had anticipated. Instead of gradually working his way into the fight, Gonzalez practically ran at Cuadras with pressure. Displaying perhaps the best foot speed of his career, Gonzalez frenetically charged after Cuadras, slipping jabs, closing the distance and landing straight right hands, left hooks and uppercuts. Cuadras was having some moments early in the fight but it took him a few rounds to adjust to Gonzalez's intensity and pressure. 

In a similar vein, conventional wisdom said that Cuadras would start off well early in the bout but gradually succumb to Gonzalez's superior skills, accuracy and offensive creativity; yet that didn't happen as Cuadras was the fresher (and better) boxer throughout much of the second half. Cuadras held his ground more in the fight's latter rounds and had sustained success with quick flurries on the inside and single shots (mostly left hooks and straight rights) from the outside.

To my eyes, the fight ended in a standstill. (But I wasn't exactly...standing still. I was up off my couch shouting like a lunatic during the thrilling final round.) I scored the bout 114-114. From my vantage point, neither fighter truly imposed his will on the other. Cuadras, although less marked up than Gonzalez, spent a lot of the fight in retreat and ate a ton of Gonzalez's combinations. Gonzalez was visibly distressed at points in the bout and was certainly hurt two or three times. As the fight wore on, Cuadras often got the better of their exchanges but Gonzalez was more consistent and had the better work rate in many rounds. And I thought that there were at least four swing rounds that could have gone either way. It was a difficult fight to score and much of that can be attributed to the quality work that was done by both boxers. 

After the fight, Cuadras believed that he had won the fight and that he wasn't given enough credit from the judges. However, Saturday wasn't Cuadras' first rodeo. If you're going to be fighting off the back foot in many of the rounds, you better win them big. When rounds are close, judges will often side with the aggressor, irrespective of how effective he was. But Gonzalez wasn't just flailing away and missing shots, he WAS landing with excellent punches. That they didn't hurt Cuadras is secondary; they were scoring with the judges. Gonzalez was the one pushing the fight and connecting more frequently — these things matter. Ultimately, Cuadras didn't do enough to take it out of the judges’ hands, either by knockout or by winning rounds so clearly that it would be obvious to whoever was scoring. So Cuadras has a case for a draw or even a close victory, but it's just a case. He wasn't definitively the better fighter on Saturday. 

Gonzalez shouldn't be marked off for his performance. Yes, his punches didn't seem to have the same effect that they had at 112 lbs. and he lacked some of his offensive dynamism of past fights but much of that can be attributed to Cuadras. Gonzalez faced the most difficult opponent of his career. That he didn't entirely separate himself from a top-two fighter in a bigger division isn't a knock against him; it's an illustration of just how good Gonzalez is. Without having the punching power or speed advantages that he enjoyed in most of his fights throughout his career, he still found a way to win the fight on the judges' scorecards. Yes, it's possible that more of his fights will continue to be competitive at 115 lbs. but isn't that we want to see? One-sided showcases are fun every once in a while but I'd always choose a great fight over a mismatch. And if Gonzalez now happens to be in more competitive bouts at the higher weights, we win. 

***

In the 12th round of Robert Easter, Jr.'s match against Richard Commey on Friday, a pivotal moment transpired that showed how much the young lightweight from Ohio still has to learn in the boxing ring. Cracking Commey with a huge right hand at the start of the round, Easter had an opportunity to end the nip-and-tuck bout. Commey, trapped along the ropes, bending over in anguish and barely throwing back, somehow managed to survive the round. 

Easter started off doing the right things after Commey was hurt. He placed his shots well and didn't neglect the body. However, as the 12th continued to progress, his technique deteriorated, allowing Commey to remain in the fight. By failing to maintain appropriate distance, Easter enabled Commey to tie him up with relative ease. He also began to smother his own work by fighting too close to Commey, which took the sting off of a lot of his shots. Commey deserves credit for hanging on like a pro but he was there to be finished – and Easter left him off the hook.  

Ultimately, Easter would win a split decision, which was a fair verdict (115-112, 114-113 and 113-114). The 12th round secured the victory for him. However, he was one measly point away from losing the fight and that's too thin a margin to be letting wounded prey stick around. 

Easter, at 25 years old, has amassed a record of 18-0 in less than four years as a professional boxer. He's now won a title at lightweight but he's far from a finished product. Yes, he has the size, power, punch arsenal and chin to be a factor against anyone in the division. However, as we've seen repeatedly in boxing, it takes more than skills at the top level of the sport. Easter's lack of composure in finishing Friday's fight could be an opportunity for a learning experience. Young fighters do go through growing pains and their maturation isn't always in a straight line. However, Friday's performance could suggest that Easter has a low Ring IQ. All fighters practice putting guys away in the gym. It's a fundamental part of a boxer's training. Yet, when Easter needed to execute on Friday against a severely diminished opponent, he looked levels beneath a top fighter.

Lightweight has become an excellent division with fighters such as Linares, Crolla, Zlaticanin, Flanagan, and most likely Mikey Garcia, patrolling its top end. These are experienced talents with high Ring IQs; they don't beat themselves (well, Linares' skin sometimes betrays him, but that's a physical ailment not germane to this point). Perhaps I'm making too much of Easter's 12th round but I saw some potential warning signs. I think that he needs a few more developmental fights before he tries to unify titles. So, congratulations to him on the win. He is now a world champion. But without rapid improvements, he won't be long for the top rungs of the lightweight division. Yes, He's finally graduated but the real world can be hard and unforgiving.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at: 
saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

Monday, September 5, 2016

SNB Scouting Report -- Carlos Cuadras

Who: Carlos Cuadras
Age: 28
Height: 5'4"
Country: Mexico
Record: 35-0-1 (27 KOs)
Division: Junior bantamweight (115 lbs.)
Titles: The WBC 115-lb. champion
Stance: Orthodox
Trainer: Rudy Hernandez, although he's had many
Promoter: Teiken Promotions
Next fight: Roman Gonzalez – Sept. 10, 2016

Style in a nutshell: Cuadras is an aggressive fighter who features a high work rate and excellent lateral movement. Comfortable on the front or back foot, Cuadras is a rhythm fighter with good hand speed and accuracy, but he lacks true one-punch power (don't let his 75% KO rate fool you). When initiating exchanges, Cuadras bends down and protects his chin very well. Usually working off the jab, he specializes in quick two- and three-punch combinations before getting out of range. Even though he likes close combat at times, he never smothers himself and always leaves room to punch. As he gets more comfortable, he incorporates longer-sequence exchanges. There, he'll often square himself to opponents, weave in uppercuts and throw straight left hands, an unusual punch for an orthodox fighter. Cuadras is also excellent at cutting off the ring against mobile opponents.

Cuadras is almost always on the move and uses his legs to reduce his opponents' punch output. He'll take breaks during rounds by staying out of range. His chin appears to be strong, although he hasn't necessarily fought a slew of big punchers in his career. Once hit with something strong (which isn't often), he gets out of the pocket. He transitions very smoothly from defense to offense and vice versa. 

He mostly aims for the head, although he'll mix in body shots (most often single jabs) to keep opponents honest. However, Cuadras is not necessarily consistent with his body punching. He can also be a hot dog and a showman. He'll play to the crowd and look to embarrass opponents not just technically, but also psychologically. 

Stylistic quirks: Cuadras throws two types of left hooks. The first one either starts an exchange or is his initial counter shot. More slung then turned over, it's a wide shot than can be accurate, although the punch doesn't land with a lot of force. This hook is usually employed to set up another shot. Along those lines, Cuadras will often intentionally miss with a wide, throw-away left hook so he can come back with a straight right hand. During longer punch sequences, Cuadras has a much more compact left hook. It's a pinpoint shot, perhaps his best weapon. He throws it in rhythm and almost always in the middle or end of a combination. 

When coming forward, Cuadras has a number of idiosyncrasies. If initiating offense, he ducks down, getting below eye level of his opponent. Bringing his gloves down with him, his chin becomes a very hard target to hit. Often, he explodes on offense from a stance that nearly resembles a crouch. On the front foot, he sometimes lunges in behind right hands, making head butts common in his fights. 

He often throws his right uppercut off-balanced or off the wrong foot. These are home run-type shots that are intended to cause maximum damage. He might land the punch 10% of the time during a combination and it is more effective as a counter. His left uppercut does exist but he uses it sparingly (only during combinations). It's not particularly effective or a real weapon. Occasionally, he'll throw some unusual combinations like straight right hand/right uppercut or counter right uppercut/left uppercut/left hook. 

He's very adept at ducking punches getting out of range. When hurt, he'll use his legs to evade danger more often than tie up. 

When Cuadras is at his best: I actually prefer his work when he fights on the back foot. He'll use a counter left hook as his primary weapon. He can arc the shot, loop it or throw a more concise "check" left hook. Then, he'll mix in one or two more punches before getting out of danger. He moves very well to either side and his reflexes and athleticism make it very tough for opponents to land combinations on him. 

Cuadras can expertly switch from working one side of the body to the other. During these stretches, his opponents aren't sure of where the next punch is coming from. He can be very creative offensively, especially as he gets more comfortable with an opponent. 

He also turns his foes very well and uses his legs to dictate when and where action takes place. Although his movement is often unorthodox, he is an excellent athlete. An opponent has to be in elite-level condition to even attempt to outpoint him. 

When Cuadras is vulnerable: Cuadras protects his chin very well and he keeps his gloves a touch lower than other boxers do. This allows for areas high on his head to be exposed. He can get tagged by left hooks to the side of his head or straight right hands to the temple. He also gives an opponent his body and he rarely lowers his gloves to protect downstairs. 

In addition, an opponent can punch with him. During longer exchanges, he'll throw several quick shots and he often doesn't return his hands to a defensively responsible position. If an opponent is willing to stand his ground and take punches, he can land one good shot before Cuadras leaves the pocket (the best option is usually a left hook).

Cuadras can also be susceptible to a counter uppercut. When initiating offense, he lunges in and at times he leaves too much space between his gloves. During these moments, he is completely vulnerable to a punch from underneath. Uppercuts to the body could be especially effective against him. 

How Cuadras could trouble Gonzalez: Facing perhaps the best fighter in the sport is a very tall order but Cuadras has several attributes that could be effective against Gonzalez. Cuadras has the athleticism and the ability to fight on the back foot to stink out the match. He can use his legs to significantly reduce Gonzalez's punch output. Cuadras stands a much better chance if Gonzalez is throwing 50 punches a round instead of 100. If this type of fight materializes, Cuadras could flurry quickly with counter shots and then escape the pocket. By winning quick salvos, he could pick up points in a less-than-scintillating style. He could probably beat Gonzalez in a pure track meet. I don't think that Cuadras will run for 12 rounds – he's very prideful and wants the crowd to like him – but he could certainly engage in this style for significant portions of the fight.

Cuadras has tricky movements and can be very tough to time. He'll have an advantage early in the fight as Gonzalez attempts to figure out his unorthodox style. Utilizing his multiple left hooks and changing up fighting on the front and back foot, Cuadras can dictate the action until Gonzalez is able to make the appropriate adjustments. It's very possible that Cuadras will be ahead or tied after the first six rounds. 

He also needs to check Gonzalez's chin early in the fight with a straight right hand. Gonzalez punches so much that he's susceptible to counter shots. Cuadras must land his Sunday punch to see if Gonzalez can take a solid shot at 115. A big shot can also dissuade Gonzalez from being more aggressive in the fight. Yes, Cuadras should dance, flurry and shoeshine his way to winning rounds, but landing something hard, early, is also an imperative; it might be another way to neutralize Gonzalez in the ring. Gonzalez has been stunned before in fights at lower weights and a big punch from a real junior bantamweight could do far more than temporarily daze him.

How Gonzalez could trouble Cuadras: Gonzalez needs to start working the body from the opening bell. Anything that can reduce Cuadras' movement in the fight is an imperative. Cuadras will let an opponent have the body; Gonzalez must seize that opportunity. He should hit him downstairs with whatever punch is available – left hook, jab, uppercut or straight right hand. 

The counter left hook will likely be Gonzalez's most effective punch to the head. Gonzalez needs to be patient, set traps and wait for Cuadras to drop his right low enough for the counter – it will happen. Gonzalez might have to eat some punches but he should load up on that shot. He most likely won't be able to land three- and four-punch combos on Cuadras, but the one big shot is available. Gonzalez certainly has enough power and accuracy to cause damage in these moments and once Cuadras gets hit hard, he stops throwing. These counters can change the tenor of the fight. They will also be extremely eye-catching to the judges. 

In addition, Gonzalez can win the fight on punch volume. Even though he has pinpoint accuracy, it's not easy to land on Cuadras. Throwing shots that hit arms and elbows could be enough to win close rounds. Cuadras doesn't want to work three minutes every round. By applying consistent and intelligent pressure, Gonzalez can make Cuadras fight more than he wants to. As bouts progress, Cuadras' work rate can drop. In these moments, Gonzalez must seize the initiative. He might not be able to land the type of sizzling blows that his fans are accustomed to seeing but he could certainly outpoint Cuadras on volume and activity. Hey, it might not be sexy, but a win's a win.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com