Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Orlando Salido and the Limits of Judgment

Depending on the particular lens that is used, Orlando Salido could be perceived in vastly different (and appropriate) manners by boxing fans. From one perspective, he has become perhaps the preeminent action fighter of his generation. His memorable battles with Juan Manuel Lopez, Vasyl Lomachenko, Terdsak Kokietgym, Roman Martinez and Francisco Vargas have provided enthusiasts of the sport with many-a-night of satisfaction. 

Through another prism, Salido is a drug cheat, testing positive for a steroid after his 2006 win over Robert Guerrero. And while it's true that Salido is not necessary an outlier as far as using performance enhancing drugs during his era, it's worth remembering that this is boxing and not track & field or baseball. People can die in boxing. This isn't getting an extra jolt while handing off a baton or hitting a baseball 15 more feet. The ramifications of PED use in boxing can lead to grievous bodily injury and it's certainly conceivable that the Guerrero fight wasn't the first or last time that Salido used a prohibitive substance to gain an edge. 

From a different vantage point, Salido is the ultimate throwback fighter, one who will literally get in the ring with anyone, often as a "B-side" and for short money. Whether it's facing a bona fide, first-ballot Hall of Famer (Juan Manuel Marquez), perhaps the best amateur boxer of his time (Lomachenko), preeminent young fighters (Guerrero, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Mikey Garcia) or just garden-variety badasses (Roman Martinez, Robinson Castellanos, Rogers Mtagwa), Salido will fight anybody. And not only will he take on all comers but he'll usually extract his pound of flesh. Even in fights where he's been outgunned by superior talents, he's still had his moments of glory, knocking down Gamboa and coming on strong against Garcia before the fight was stopped. His bouts are often thrilling affairs and during the last six years or so, he has become appointment television. 

Without blinding speed, a jab or any kind of reach, Salido still finds ways to impose himself on opponents. Comparing Salido's skills to those of better talents such as Lomachenko and Lopez, it's practically inconceivable that he earned victories over them. He's been regarded as a gatekeeper, a "live-dog," an inconvenience to his promoters and a spoiler of many dreams. 

Top Rank, who promoted many of Salido's fights, must feel ambivalent towards Salido. On one hand, he provided the company and (mostly) HBO with many thrilling nights of action. However, he also ruined one of their potential stars (Lopez), broke the nose of another (Garcia), dropped a third (Gamboa) and momentarily derailed the hype train of a fourth (Lomachenko). If Salido is a "friend" to Top Rank, who needs enemies?

Yet there's also another reality when considering Salido: he's one of the dirtiest fighters in boxing. Going low repeatedly against Lomachenko and committing a variety of fouls in the Kokietgym fight and the first Martinez bout, Salido is one of the modern masters of boxing's dark arts. Head butts, nut shots, rabbit punching, elbows to the face, forearm grappling, hitting on the break and holding-and-hitting, Salido has done it all. This type of conduct turns off many boxing fans. When facing a faster opponent, he will do all in his power to corral an opponent, whether through legitimate means or by infraction. 

Many boxing fans believe that with a competent referee (not Laurence Cole) Salido would never have gotten away with the incessant fouling that allowed him to build an early lead against Lomachenko. Others object to Salido coming into that fight significantly overweight and that he didn't make a legitimate attempt to lose the weight – certainly not very sporting behavior. 

However, even the controversies surrounding the Lomachenko fight seem unimaginable from the nascent days of his career. Turning pro at 15, the Mexican was immediately thrown to the wolves. After his first nine fights, he was just 5-3-1. In his seventh bout, still at the tender age of 16, he was placed in a ten-rounder, an inconceivable thought for an American-based fighter. He was knocked out five times in his first 15 matches, including by a 9-21 boxer. Yet, somehow he emerged to headline bouts on HBO. His story would be a modern fairy tale if he were a more sympathetic figure. 

Perhaps there isn't a better example of perseverance in modern boxing than Salido's. No promoter coddled him. There wasn't a signing bonus of note to smooth things over early in his professional career. No one cared if he won or lost in his early fights. He was a dime-a-dozen boxer who filled out the bottom rungs of fight cards for meal money. 

By 2001, he made his way to U.S. to start boxing north of the border and he has fought the majority of his bouts since then in America. He obviously learned a lot from his early boxing struggles and wasn't discouraged by his rough start; I'm sure many others would've retired in a similar position. Now, at 35, he's had 61 bouts including multiple world titles at featherweight and has fought in at least 13 championship fights (depending on how you characterize the various sanctioning bodies' machinations). In short, he's had a hell of a career and one that was unexpected from its humble origins. 

Salido didn't become a household name in boxing until around the age of 30, usually when lower-weight fighters start to decline, often precipitously. In the last six years, he's been down 14 times – a truly remarkable number – and yet he's remained a player at the top levels of boxing. Over that time, he's amassed a record of 9-3-2, with losses only to Gamboa, Garcia and Martinez. Often counted out or considered on the slide, he continues to be a major factor at the world-level. 

Despite being overly familiar with the canvas, he's never been knocked out as an "adult" fighter. Like his great countryman Juan Manuel Marquez, Salido has a seemingly never-ending supply of intestinal fortitude. You can hurt him, send him down but he keeps coming back. In the Garcia fight, Salido might as well have been Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees; he looked dead more than once but he kept rising to stalk his prey. More than a few suggested that Garcia and his team decided to end the fight with a big lead instead of dealing with Salido for the championship rounds. 

So what to make of him? How does one get an appropriate gauge on his career and legacy? He's a warrior, a cheater, an overachiever, a champion, a trickster and one of the roughest dudes in the business. Some will never support a fighter who used a PED. Others excuse his steroid intake because he provides thrilling action. Another section abhors his dirty tactics in the ring. Yet so many boxing enthusiasts would never miss one of his fights. 

Boxing fans love to make morality plays. Passing judgment on fighters might even rival our love of boxing itself. This fighter wears the white hat; this boxer represents everything wrong with the sport – heroes and villains, the familiar trope. Everything's so definitive. Yet Salido destroys this dichotomy like it was Juan Manuel Lopez. He provides lessons to young fighters about never giving up but he also put his fellow combatants in serious, life-threatening danger by taking performance enhancing drugs. He's survived poverty, professional neglect and the politics of boxing to truly make something of himself and he has amassed a devoted following. But even many of his supporters in quieter moments would admit a bitter taste in their mouth regarding some of his choices and tactics. 

Salido's legacy epitomizes complication. Not all bad or good. He's a proud warrior but yet one of our nastiest ones. He's also a late-bloomer who bucked the odds and anything standing in his way.

Perhaps Salido is the ultimate Rorschach test. The moralists abhor him. The relativists love him. The humanists root for him while those who want a clean and honorable sport wish he'd simply fade away. He's inconvenient, a problem and someone to take very seriously. And he's also a real fighter, a proud man and has made a definitive impact in the sport. 

In the final analysis, is there no room for gray? Can we not hate the sin but love the sinner? Or are his sins too great for mercy? Can we stomach a middle ground? The limits of judgment become abundantly clear when "Siri" Salido is involved. Can peace be made with that reality?

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

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pound-for-Pound Update

There are two changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list this month. With Terence Crawford's dominant win over fellow junior welterweight titleholder Viktor Postol, he rockets up the Rankings, moving from #16 all the way to #5. Crawford has now become the top fighter in two different divisions. Also, Carl Frampton enters the Rankings at #19. Beating fellow junior featherweight titleholder Scott Quigg earlier in the year and 126-lb. champ Leo Santa Cruz last month, Frampton will be a strong candidate for 2016 Fighter of the Year honors. With Frampton's promotion, Shinsuke Yamanaka exits the Rankings.

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for Pound-list.
  1. Roman Gonzalez
  2. Manny Pacquiao
  3. Andre Ward
  4. Sergey Kovalev
  5. Terence Crawford
  6. Juan Estrada
  7. Gennady Golovkin
  8. Saul Alvarez
  9. Tim Bradley
  10. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  11. Naoya Inoue
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Tyson Fury
  14. Wladimir Klitschko
  15. Miguel Cotto
  16. Danny Garcia
  17. Donnie Nietes
  18. Vasyl Lomachenko
  19. Carl Frampton
  20. Keith Thurman
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, August 1, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Frampton and Stevenson

Shortly after Carl Frampton's fantastic performance in his majority decision victory over Leo Santa Cruz, I was at a bar talking to a boxing friend of mine, Dave (otherwise known as @buflo_dolla on Twitter). While we were recapping the fight, he made a comment that perfectly encapsulated Frampton's wonderful 2016 campaign, which also includes beating fellow junior featherweight titlist Scott Quigg. I was expressing my disappointment in Santa Cruz's tactics and Quigg's punch output when Dave stopped me and said, "That's Frampton. That's what he does!"

Thinking about that comment a little more, it occurred to me that I had been underrating Frampton's versatility and numerous attributes that he brings to the table. Frampton made a tough fighter refuse to throw punches for seven rounds earlier this year. He convinced one of the best pressure fighters in the sport to try to outbox him. Great boxers not only exploit mistakes but they force their opponents to make more of them, whether they are physical errors in the ring or strategic miscalculations made during training camp.

Frampton's talent forced bad decision making. He convinced Joe Gallagher, an excellent trainer, to be overly cautious with his game plan for Quigg. He made Jose Santa Cruz, another solid cornerman, insist that his son should fight on the outside. This is what talent does; it forces mistakes. 

Now I'm not ready to say that Frampton is one of the five or so top talents in the sport but his status in boxing is ascending. He beat a vicious inside body puncher and one of boxing's premier pressure fighters. He's controlled range, brawled when he had to, broken a jaw, evaded lots of shots, countered beautifully and displayed an array of offensive weapons. 

It should also be stated that Frampton didn't dominate either fight. He won seven or eight rounds in both. It's not as if he's invincible in the ring. Saturday's victory wasn't nearly as comprehensive as Terence Crawford's was a week prior when he virtually shut out the top threat in his division. However, Frampton showed a multitude of skills and intangibles that led to his wins. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't beat himself in either fight. When Quigg came on in the second half of their bout, Frampton had a huge 12th round to seal the victory. And as Santa Cruz stepped on the gas in the final third of the match, Frampton not only matched his effort, but bested him in the championship rounds. These finishes speak highly of Frampton's psychological makeup. 

Even with Frampton's victory on Saturday, he still has quite a bit of business to take care of before he can be called the top featherweight in boxing. Fellow titleholders Gary Russell Jr. and Lee Selby loom as legitimate threats. Hard punching Oscar Valdez, who just won a title last week, has one of the best left hooks in boxing. Even Jesus Cuellar has the type of power that could trouble most in the division. 

Although there's no guarantee that Frampton remains unbeaten at this point next year, he's truly arrived as a top fighter in the sport. In additional to the laudable goal of facing tough challengers, he's also continuing to get better. And the 24 rounds he's had against Quigg and Santa Cruz will be crucial in his continued development. 

For Santa Cruz, all is not lost. He wasn't embarrassed on Saturday. He certainly belonged in that ring. With judges sympathetic to his style, he could have escaped Saturday with a draw or even a narrow victory. (Scoring it at the arena, I had Frampton winning 115-113 but there were a number of swing rounds). 

Saturday's fight illustrated a couple of truths regarding Santa Cruz: his punches aren't accurate or hard enough to win with just single shots. He needs volume and he has to swarm an opponent. Even though he eclipsed 1,000 punches against Frampton, there were many points in the fight where he tried to box off the back foot, attempting to win rounds with finesse. And that approach just won't work well against sharpshooters. Santa Cruz's punches can be very wide and easily countered. He doesn't have one-punch knockout power. When he hurts opponents, it's from an accumulation of blows, not a single shot. 

As Showtime's Al Bernstein pointed on during the telecast, there was disagreement between Santa Cruz and his father regarding the tactics for the fight. The elder wanted more distance and the son favored aggression. Ultimately, the fighter didn't truly commit to either approach. I think that Leo's plan would've been the better option. At range, he couldn't consistently overcome Frampton's counter left or straight right during exchanges; those punches won rounds. But when the action became more ragged or when Santa Cruz really pressed the fight, he found opportunities to pick up points. 

I'll end with something I said to Dave. After watching the fight, it was clear to me that Santa Cruz didn't have the best approach to beating Frampton. In my belief, only with more pressure could Santa Cruz have won. I told Dave, "He needed to Margarito his ass. And he didn't do that." Dave nodded his head. 

That's Frampton. 

***

Light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson and Thomas Williams Jr. waged an epic war on Friday night in Quebec City. The end result, Stevenson KO 4, was not surprising, and to be honest, the fight itself followed the script – but what a beautiful script it was! Stevenson sent Williams down with a short left hand at the end of the first round. However, instead of capitulating, as many of Stevenson's opponents do, Williams rallied in the second and landed a couple of huge right hooks as well as a handful of punishing combinations. This was now a fight! 

No longer was this bout another one of Stevenson's generic title defenses against listless opponents. The guy in front of him was real and coming to win. And as many top fighters do, Stevenson found another gear. Ripping body shots in the third and fourth rounds, Stevenson nullified Williams' success and turned the tide of the fight. At the end of the fourth, he connected with a short left hand as Williams was caught trying to throw a wide punch from too close. Fight. Over. 

It was thrilling stuff! An old-school shootout. The O.K. Corral transplanted to The Great White North.

Stevenson puts on quite a show. But unfortunately, he's been more comfortable being the star of the B-movie than fronting a Hollywood blockbuster. To keep the Western theme, he's more Joel McCrea than John Wayne. During his title reign, he's had opportunities to face Sergey Kovalev, Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins and didn't make those fights. 

At 38, it's not clear how many good years he has left. He makes enough mistakes whereby once his reflexes show signs of slippage, he could deteriorate very quickly (think Sergio Martinez). Stevenson could lose at any time now. He gets hit a lot and he doesn't always control range. He often holds his right hand too low and doesn't return his hands quickly enough to a defensively responsible position.  

Stevenson is essentially a one-handed puncher but he does do so many great things with the left. He can lead and counter with straight, concussive blows. His uppercut is a thing of beauty. He also goes to the body with punishing force. His left hand remains one of the best erasers in boxing.

But he's vulnerable – and beatable. His prodigious power and litany of flaws make him can't-miss TV. In a perfect world, he'd get a really big fight before the prime of his career sunsets but he's not victimless in the lack of big names on his ledger. For now, he continues to be a top fighter in the sport and an enjoyable entertainment. Enjoy it while it lasts. 

As for Williams, he can take solace knowing that he has become one of the best television fighters in the sport. In four bouts – against Cornelius White, Umberto Savigne, Edwin Rodriguez and Stevenson – Williams has produced fantastic television. He's a true gunslinger. And maybe his brand of fighting won't permit him to have a record-breaking run like "Gunsmoke." Perhaps he's more comparable to “Deadwood," which was excellent during its few seasons. But both are still remembered today. 

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

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Ruckus Podcast

I appeared on The Ruckus podcast this week to preview Santa Cruz-Frampton, Stevenson-Williams, Mikey Garcia and the rest of a jam-packed weekend of fights. Jose Benavidez and his father/trainer, Jose Sr., also appeared on the podcast, hosted by RB and Jae. To listen to the podcast, click here.

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