Monday, January 14, 2019

Inside Boxing Live

I joined this week's "Inside Boxing Live," hosted by Dan Canobbio, to preview Pacquiao-Broner and talk about Gennady Golovkin's next move in his career. Freddie Roach and Keith Thurman also appeared on the show. To watch (YouTube) or listen (iTunes) to the show, click on the links below.

iTunes link:
YouTube link:


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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Devin Haney: His Way to the Top

Tijuana, Mexico isn't the typical locale for a top American amateur to make his pro debut. But so little about Devin Haney (20-0, 13 KOs) passes for ordinary. A seven-time national junior champion and the youngest member of the USA Junior National Boxing Team, Haney took the unusual step of turning pro at 16. U.S. boxing jurisdictions wouldn't license Haney at that precocious age so he went to Mexico for his first four fights. At 17, the Nevada State Athletic Commission granted him a special waiver so he could fight on a Manny Pacquiao undercard. 

But Haney was just getting started. Rejecting advances from the big-moneyed promoters in the sport, Haney decided to hang his own shingle: he started Devin Haney Promotions and is now the youngest boxing promoter in America. And his company isn't merely set up for tax purposes; he's signing fighters and planning out his next steps as a promoter. 


Photo Courtesy of Rosie Cohe/Showtime



Haney provided an interesting perspective on why he decided to go at it alone: "I feel like a lot of fighters promote themselves already using social media and word of mouth," he said. "But the people who they're signed to, their promoters, are taking credit for it. I was built in the amateurs and I didn't go to the Olympics. I went on You Tube and social media. I always felt like I promoted myself, so why not take it all the way? I want to inspire people – that you can be your own promoter."

And while most 20-year-old prospects are still plying their trade deep on undercards or on small club shows, Haney will be headlining his third ShoBox card on Friday, where he faces undefeated South African Xolisani Ndongeni (25-0, 13 KOs).

So where does Haney's moxie come from? That answer can be found in the gyms of Las Vegas and Oakland, where he's been mentored by boxing royalty over the past 12 years and has sparred with many of the best fighters in the sport. Floyd Mayweather Sr. was a former trainer of his. So was Roy Jones. When he returns to his boyhood home of Oakland, he trains at Andre Ward's gym.

"I've sparred world champions," he said, "Floyd Mayweather, Shawn Porter, Zab Judah, Jessie Vargas, and the list goes on. That's why I feel like I'm seasoned. On paper, it doesn't show that, but being in the ring, I have the experience. That's why I feel like I'm on a whole different level."

He's also sparred with some of the top young American prospects on the scene, including Shakur Stevenson, Teofimo Lopez and Gervonta Davis. Although Haney didn't want to go into details regarding those sessions, he did mention that he fought Ryan Garcia six times in the amateurs, where they each won three bouts. Haney finished his amateur career with a sterling 130-8 record. 

Last year was a pivotal one for Haney. He appeared on Showtime twice and looked impressive in a stoppage win over Mason Menard and a wide decision victory against Juan Carlos Burgos. Both of those opponents were experienced pros with notable names on their resumes. Yet neither was a match for Haney. 

"Those fights just brought more confidence to me, knowing that I could compete with top guys," he said. "When I fought Mason Menard, a lot of people were telling me that it was a huge step up, that they didn't know if I was ready. You know, he was a knockout artist...this and that. But I showed myself and I showed the world who Devin Haney is." 

Haney has a lot of respect for Friday's opponent, Ndongeni, 28, who was a highly regarded prospect in South Africa and has also been ranked in the Top-15 by sanctioning organizations. Ndongeni can be slick and cagey; Haney is ready for the challenge. 

After 12 years in boxing, Haney is close to a title shot. He feels it and it motivates him. He understands that without being affiliated with a big promoter, he's going to have to play the rankings game with the sanctioning bodies to get a title shot. He also knows that he will have to beat talented fighters to win a belt. 

"It feels great being close to that goal. All the work that you put in is paying off. It's making me even hungrier to be where I want to be...I'm ranked in the Top 10 and eventually I'm going to be the mandatory to fight the top guys. And if they don't fight me, they're going to have to vacate. I'm not worried."

And Devin's not worried. He posts many of his sparring sessions online, something that very few fighters do. He isn't concerned that potential opponents could spot flaws. He's more interested in building his following and bringing the sport closer to the fans. 

In the ring Haney is a hybrid-style fighter. Comfortable on the inside or at range, Haney has fast hands and throws pinpoint combinations, but what separates him from many other top prospects is his attention to detail on the defensive end. Although he doesn't shy away from contact, he's certainly not the type to take a shot to land one. He certainly believes in the principle of "hit and not get hit in return."  

Perhaps his experiences in Mexico helped to crystalize the importance of defense. "When I was fighting in Tijuana, fights were tough because when you go there, you're on enemy territory. If a guy barely misses you with a punch, the crowd goes wild...You never know if they're going to stop the fight because of cuts, or for whatever reason. So you have to be on your "A" game every time."  

Like all fighters, Haney understands that there is room for improvement. His father Bill, his head trainer, has been working with him to emphasize more body punching and also to make quicker adjustments in the ring. Devin believes that while he may be gifted, he also knows that his mentors, Mayweather and Ward, for example, always kept working to improve. 

Similar to those two, Devin wants to be considered as one of the best in boxing. But he's in no rush to follow well-worn paths to get there. He wants to fight the big names and to receive the glory that comes from being on top, but on his terms. He's calling his shots.  

And Haney's unique career path begs several questions: Is Haney right in that top promoters are extraneous? Is he being naive? Will business demands divert his attention from reaching his apex as a fighter? 

Should Haney keep on winning, he could create a new paradigm for young fighters. But if he fails to reach his potential, he has already provided fodder for potential second-guessing. It's a fascinating series of decisions that he has undertaken.

Haney's precocious talent will be on display on Friday. Although he's still young and there is ample time for improvement, his skills and pedigree have moved him beyond showcase fights. At this stage of his career, every opponent will be expecting to win. And this is what Haney signed up for; this is why he demanded to start his pro career early. He wanted to test himself against the best. Haney's trial by fire is about to begin. And one gets the feeling that he wouldn't want it any other way. He believes his time is now. 

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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I handed out the awards for 2018, honoring the best performances of the year and throwing shade on those who had a 2018 to forget. We also made our bold predictions for 2019. Which champions will lose? Who will unify titles? What big fights will we see? Who will emerge as a top fighter? To listen to the podcast click on the links below:


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

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The 2018 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

For many reasons 2018 may be remembered more for what happened out of the ring than inside the squared circle. The year's biggest boxing story was the influx of new capital into the sport, with DAZN and Fox making aggregate investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. In addition, ESPN and Showtime increased their financial commitment to boxing. But not all of 2018's boxing business stories were about the sport's expansion. After 45 years, HBO, the gold standard in American boxing broadcasting, left the sport. Although HBO's final years represented the afterglow of a long-burning flame, the network and its contribution to the sport will be missed. 

And it wouldn't be boxing without big fights not being made. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder seemingly circled each other the entire year, but were unable to finalize a deal despite months of negotiations. There's also a minor tragedy brewing at welterweight and lightweight, where two of the best fights that could be made in the sport (Spence-Crawford and Lomachenko-Garcia) won't be happening any time soon because of promotional roadblocks.

However, there was lots of good stuff in the ring during 2018, with a number of wonderful heavyweight fights, a new undisputed cruiserweight champ, a 12th round for the ages, the successful first season of the World Boxing Super Series, and fantastic displays of skill, power and athleticism. 

Without further ado, here are the eighth annual Saturday Night Boxing Awards. Similar to past years, awards have been given for Fighter, Fight, Knockout, Round, Upset, Trainer, Promoter, Network and Referee of the Year. 

Fighter of the Year: Oleksandr Usyk


Oleksandr Usyk Sends Tony Bellew to the Canvas
Photo Courtesy of Simon Stacpoole



The World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) cruiserweight tournament presented a fantastic opportunity for the winner. The four major title belts were in play for the competition and the victor would walk away with all of them, becoming the undisputed cruiserweight champ. And Oleksandr Usyk didn't just win the tournament; he dominated Murat Gassiev in the finals. Furthermore, he then defended his titles against former cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew, winning with an impressive eighth-round knockout. 

Usyk faced an array of styles in 2018, from Mairis Briedis's technical craftsmanship to Gassiev's direct power punching to Bellew's cagey countering. And although Briedis was competitive against Usyk and Bellew won a number of the early rounds, there was little doubt that Usyk was the deserved victor in all three matches. In addition, Usyk fought each of his 2018 bouts on the road, picking up victories in Latvia, Russia and England. Usyk had an exemplary year and is the deserving Saturday Night Boxing Fighter of 2018. 

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2017: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
2016: Carl Frampton
2015: Floyd Mayweather
2014: Naoya Inoue
2013: Adonis Stevenson
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward

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Fight of the Year: Dereck Chisora-Carlos Takam:



Chisora Lands the Finishing Blow on Takam
Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Lustig



This heavyweight fight was vicious inside combat from the moment the opening bell sounded. Much of the action in the bout took place along the ropes. Takam was on the front foot unloading with power shots while Chisora, seemingly trapped, countered with exquisite skill. During these exchanges Takam certainly landed his fair share of big shots, but Chisora also parried or rode with many of them. He also countered with menacing blows, often hooks to the body or short uppercuts. The action was breathtaking and the fight was a genuine war of attrition for the two former title challengers. In the eighth round Chisora unleashed a cracking overhand right, and Takam was done. It was a spectacular shot and a career-best win for Chisora. 

Although there were a number of excellent fights throughout 2018, Chisora-Takam was the one where I was constantly out of my seat jumping up and down like a madman. Both fighters took an ungodly number of big shots, but they also mixed in clever bits of skill, especially with how Chisora fought off the ropes and how Takam used his punch variety and spacing so he wouldn't smother his work. It was exemplary inside fighting, but it was much more than that. It was thrilling from start to finish. There were no rounds off; there weren't breathers, just two proud veterans pounding each other in closer quarters, seeing who would give first.    

Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2017: Joshua-Klitschko
2016: Vargas-Salido
2015: Miura-Vargas
2014: Coyle-Brizuela
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta

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Knockout of the Year: Naoya Inoue KO 1 Juan Carlos Payano



Inoue Celebrates after Dropping Payano
Photo Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series



In just under a minute, Naoya Inoue demonstrated why he is one of the most destructive forces in boxing. Inoue feinted and circled his lead left hand to find an advantageous angle; once found, he ended Juan Carlos Payano's night with his first two landed punches. Despite Payano's reputation as a crafty defensive boxer, Inoue connected with the perfect one-two. He blinded Payano, a southpaw, with a stinging jab and then unleashed a ferocious right hand. Payano went down, and stayed down. And then stayed down some more. 

Inoue, the 2014 SNB Fighter of the Year, certainly is an offensive dynamo, but the fight-ending sequence against Payano illustrated that he is far more than just a sheer power puncher. Finding the perfect angle for his combination, Inoue was playing high-stakes chess. He was plotting a number of moves ahead of his opponent. As soon as he saw his opening, he went for the kill with two shots. Inoue's mixture of power, athleticism and a high ring IQ is a rare combination in the sport; there's a big reason why he's been skyrocketing pound-for-pound lists over the last few years. He's one of the elites. 

Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2017: Zolani Tete KO 1 Siboniso Gonya
2016: Hassan N'Dam KO 1 Alfonso Blanco
2015: Yenifel Vincente KO 3 Juan Dominguez
2014: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson
2013: Stephen Smith KO 5 Gary Buckland
2012: Juan Manuel Marquez KO 6 Manny Pacquiao
2011: Takashi Uchiyama TKO 11 Jorge Solis 

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Round of the Year: Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury Round 12



Wilder Moving to a Neutral Corner after Dropping Fury
Photo Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime



Perhaps 2018's defining moment in the ring occurred in the final round of the heavyweight title fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. Fury had seemingly established a commanding lead in the bout despite suffering a ninth-round knockdown. Although he had been second best throughout most of the match, Wilder never stopped trying to win. And in the beginning of the 12th round, Wilder landed the emphatic shots that he had been searching for all fight: a crushing straight right and a follow up left hook. Fury hit the canvas hard and everyone watching assumed that the fight was over. 

But boxing has earned its reputation as the "Theater of the Unexpected." Miraculously, Fury rose to his feet and beat the count. Following referee Jack Reiss's instructions, Fury convinced Reiss that he was ready to continue. And somehow, after absorbing two cracking shots from perhaps the biggest puncher in the sport, Fury proceeded to win the rest of the round. In an almost unbelievable display, Fury attacked Wilder and imprinted a final stamp on the memorable heavyweight battle. Unfortunately a poor scorecard somewhat marred the final result; the fight wound up being a split draw. However, no boxing fan will forget Wilder's devastating combination and Fury's heroic effort in the final moments of the match. 

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:
2017: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Round 5
2016: Edwin Rodriguez-Thomas Williams Jr. Round 2
2015: Edwin Rodriguez-Michael Seals Round 1
2014: Thomas Williams Jr.-Cornelius White Round 1
2013: Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov Round 12 
2012: Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Round 12
2011: Hernan Marquez-Luis Concepcion I Round 1

__________

Upset of the Year: Rob Brant UD Ryota Murata



Ryota Murata and Rob Brant at their Weigh-in
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank



In 2017 Rob Brant made a calculated gamble to join the super middleweight World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament. Brant had previously been a middleweight and had also lacked world-class experience to that point in his career. Facing Juergen Braehmer in the WBSS, Brant was summarily outclassed, losing a wide unanimous decision. After the defeat Brant decided to move back to middleweight and won a stay-busy fight against unheralded Colby Courter. Somehow, that led to an opportunity to fight secondary beltholder Ryota Murata. Brant was a sizable underdog coming into the bout, as much as 8-1. Yet no one told Brant or his trainer, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, that he was supposed to lose to Murata, who was widely reported to be in the running for a fight with Gennady Golovkin should he beat Brant. 

Muhammad and Brant executed a perfect game plan against Murata. Featuring constant volume and movement, Brant threw upwards of 90 punches a round throughout the fight and gave Murata few chances to plant his feet and land his best right hand. By the end of the fight, Brant had illustrated that he was a world-class middleweight. His performance also exposed Murata as a one-dimensional fighter; Murata seemed to lack ideas when an opponent wasn't sitting right in front of him. It was a tremendous display from Brant, who would wind up signing a co-promotional deal with Top Rank after his impressive display against Murata.   

Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:
2017: Caleb Truax MD James DeGale
2016: Joe Smith Jr. KO 1 Andrzej Fonfara
2015: Tyson Fury UD Wladimir Klitschko
2014: (tie) James de la Rosa UD Alfredo Angulo and Tommy Karpency SD Chad Dawson
2013: Jhonny Gonzalez KO 1 Abner Mares
2012: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO 6 Pongsaklek Wongjongkam

__________

Trainer of the Year: Anatoly Lomachenko

Lomachenko worked with two of the five best fighters in boxing in 2018. First, his son, Vasiliy, had a big year, moving to lightweight to challenge titlist Jorge Linares. Although Vasiliy suffered the first knockdown of his professional career in the bout, he would win the fight in the 10th round with a fantastic left hook to the liver. Later on the year Lomachenko would unify lightweight titles, scoring two knockdowns and beating Jose Pedraza by a comfortable unanimous decision. 

In addition, Anatoly Lomachenko helped train Oleksandr Usyk for his WBSS championship match against Murat Gassiev. There, Usyk turned in the defining performance of his career. Featuring a blistering jab and almost constant movement, Usyk rendered Gassiev useless. Usyk pitched a virtual shutout in the fight and established himself as one of the best fighters in the sport. It's clear from observing Vasiliy and Usyk, that Anatoly's emphasis on movement, angles and volume has helped shape two of the best fighters in the sport. Both boxers have exceptional footwork, high Ring IQs and endurance. It was a pleasure to watch Anatoly's boxing philosophies in action during 2018. 

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2017: Derrick James
2016: Shane McGuigan
2015: Peter Fury
2014: Freddie Roach
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia

__________

Promoter of the Year: Premier Boxing Champions

I don't want to get into an argument regarding legalistic definitions. I'm not accusing Al Haymon of violating the Ali Act by acting as promoter and manager for his fighters. But I also know what my eyes tell me. The PBC (the entity as a whole, not a specific individual) operates as a promotional entity. The organization spends millions on advertising, has exclusive deals with networks, employs PR firms, negotiates directly for fighters’ purses and programs their boxers on television. Essentially, the PBC acts like promoters. I'm not here to address any moral or legal implications in this space; I'm here to say that the PBC had an excellent year in 2018.

Featuring memorable fights such as Wilder-Ortiz, Wilder-Fury, Lara-Hurd, Garcia-Porter, Stevenson-Jack, Garcia-Lipinets, Russell-Diaz and many others, the PBC had an exceptional year. No, not every main event was a success, but the PBC exhibited a consistency in 2018 that had been lacking in their previous years. For the much-criticized organization, it was a job well done.  

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2017: K2 Promotions
2016: Matchroom Sport
2015: Golden Boy Promotions
2014: Matchroom Sport
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank Promotions

__________

Network of the Year: Showtime

Every single fight listed above in the Promoter of the Year Award was televised by Showtime. As Showtime's longtime rival HBO left boxing and new entities (ESPN and DAZN) were still getting their bearings, Showtime found itself in the sweet spot in 2018. Credit must be given to Stephen Espinoza and his team for exhibiting quality control over their broadcasts. Insisting on high-level matches, Espinoza worked with the PBC to produce a memorable year of boxing. The playing field will almost certainly look different in 2019, but Showtime has been the class of the boxing scene over the last two years. 

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2017: Showtime
2016: Sky Sports
2015: No award given
2014: ESPN
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation

__________

Referee of the Year: Jack Reiss


Jack Reiss Administers the Count for Tyson Fury
Photo Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime




When Tyson Fury hit the canvas after that hellacious combo in the 12th round, it is my opinion that many referees (if not most) would have stopped the fight at that very instant. Instead, ref Jack Reiss patiently administered the count. By the count of five, Fury was lucid; by nine, he was up on his feet. Reiss then gave Fury a series of commands. And when Fury responded convincingly, Reiss allowed the fight to continue. 

What followed was the stuff of lore. Despite being a second away from getting knocked out, Fury came back to win the rest of the round. Although the match was ruled a draw (most thought that Fury had done enough to win), that the fight even went to the cards had much to do with Reiss's professionalism. Instead of panicking or taking the easy way out, Reiss opened himself up to criticism by letting the bout continue. Ultimately, it was the right decision, and helped to provide boxing with one of its indelible moments of the year. I had an opportunity to interview Reiss after Wilder-Fury. You can read more about the fight from his perspective here. Reiss's performance was a credit to his profession.  

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2017: David Fields
2016: Raul Caiz Sr.
2015: David Fields
2014: Steve Smoger
2013: Tony Weeks
2012: Eddie Claudio

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