Thursday, June 22, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

We had a jam-packed and entertaining edition of Punch 2 the Face Radio this week. Brandon and I talked about Ward-Kovalev II, the Rigondeaux stoppage, Mayweather-McGregor and the Top Rank/ESPN deal. I also had a couple of epic rants about Bob Bennett and the Nevada State Athletic Commission (32- and 38-minute marks). I hope you enjoy it. (And please note, there were some technical difficulties in the first two minutes of the show.)


Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Ward-Kovalev II, Rigondeaux-Flores

Saturday's Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev pay per view featured controversy in the two major fights of the telecast. Ward knocked out Kovalev in the eighth round from a series of body shots, at least one of which was an obvious low blow. In the co-feature, Guillermo Rigondeaux committed a number of fouls before landing a left hand on Moises Flores well after the bell, yet he was awarded a first-round knockout victory. Although both fights illustrated shoddy refereeing, their respective conclusions should be viewed differently: Ward-Kovalev II highlighted a bad performance from referee Tony Weeks while Rigondeaux-Flores provided yet another example of why Vic Drakulich should no longer be a professional referee. 

Let's unpack the two endings. In the eighth of the Ward-Kovalev rematch, Ward landed a huge right hand that staggered Kovalev. Sensing an opportunity to go for the finish, Ward unloaded a series of shots on Kovalev's body near the ropes. There were three blows in particular that were all borderline or illegally low. After the second shot, Kovalev bent over from the waist. Ward landed a third left hook and Kovalev dropped down even further. At this point, Kovalev wasn't throwing anything back or protecting himself in the ring. Ward had free shots, obviously a point where the referee must take decisive action. Weeks had two options: he could momentarily stop the ring action because of the low blows, whereby he could then further warn Ward or even deduct a point, or he could wave off the fight because Kovalev couldn't properly defend himself. 

Weeks did not have the option of calling a knockdown at this juncture. There aren't standing eight counts in professional boxing (in the amateurs, a ref can employ this rule to protect a hurt fighter who's still on his feet). In addition, the ropes weren't holding Kovalev up from going to the canvas (a situation where a ref could initiate a count). Weeks wound up waving the fight off, and a highly competitive match was stopped, perhaps unsatisfactorily. 

Context matters and to add additional perspective into Weeks' decision making let's also include the following: Ward had landed a handful of low blows prior to the final exchange (leading to at least one clear warning from Weeks) and Kovalev, in Weeks' estimation, was also embellishing his reactions to perceived illegal low shots. Two times in particular Weeks had determined that Kovalev's protestations of low blows were unfounded. 

And let's be frank: Ward's body shots were taking a toll on Kovalev, who was visibly shaken from them as early as the fifth round. Gradually, Ward was breaking Kovalev down (even though the fight was close entering the eighth round). 

Here's something I wrote in my preview article leading up to Ward-Kovalev II: "[I]f I'm Andre Ward, I'm ecstatic with Tony Weeks reffing Saturday's fight. Weeks is slow to break up clinches and he'll let Ward get some good work done on the inside."

One of Weeks' defining characteristics as a referee is his laissez-faire approach to officiating action in close quarters. This can be both a blessing and a curse. He was rightfully lauded for his work in the first Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo match, a fight often regarded as the best of this young century. There, Weeks lay back as the two combatants pulverized each other on the inside. 

Whenever he can, Weeks lets fighters work out of clinches and if there's a free hand in a tie-up, he'll let action continue. However, Weeks' hands-off approach marred the ending to Saturday's fight. He either was out-of-position to see Ward's low blows or reluctant to stop the action to discipline Ward. While in real time, those final three blows were tough to determine where they actually landed, at least one of the punches was obviously below the beltline. Although it can be difficult to get those split-second decisions correct, that's why there are trained professionals to make the proper judgments. 

Because Weeks didn't correctly rule on the low blows in the final exchange, he was forced to end the fight. Stopping the bout may have been the right call at that juncture but the events immediately leading up to it warranted a break in the action. 

As stated, Weeks didn't get everything right. This happens in boxing. Stoppages like Ward-Kovalev II aren't all that uncommon in boxing. A ref can miss an illegal shot that leads to a knockout. Weeks certainly didn't have a good night, but his errors somehow even seem slight compared to those made by his colleague, Vic Drakulich, in the preceding bout. 

At the end of the first round of Rigondeaux-Flores, Rigondeaux used his right glove to cuff Flores behind the head as he landed three punishing uppercuts with his left. These were all illegal blows. In shorthand it's called "holding-and-hitting," and this was a textbook example of the infraction.

Then, the bell rang and Rigondeaux kept firing. He landed a huge overhand left that sent Flores to the canvas. Flores didn't get up and at that point the fight was waved off. 

Initially while still in the ring, Drakulich indicated that the bout would result in a disqualification for Rigondeaux. In Drakulich's estimation, the final shot was an intentional one thrown after the bell. However, Drakulich insisted on waiting to talk to the Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), Bob Bennett, before making an official decision. Then things got really weird. Drakulich left the ring and put on a head set at a ringside table. He watched several replays of the final exchange. Drakulich then started to indicate that a "no-contest" would be in order. After consultation with Bennett, who was also communicating with the HBO production team, Drakulich then changed his opinion a second time and stated that the fight would result in a knockout for Rigondeaux. He then returned to the ring and announced Rigondeaux as the winner.

In an interview after the fight with the HBO commentators, Bennett insisted that Rigondeaux's shot was before the bell – he also tried to unload responsibility for his determination onto the HBO production team and Drakulich. Bennett's contention was demonstrably false and to the credit of HBO broadcasters Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman, they refused to let Bennett's canard remain unchallenged. They were able to get Bennett to admit that in the aftermath of the fight, if it was clear that the blow was after the bell, that the commission would consider changing the official verdict of the fight. 

But let's return to Drakulich for a second. His initial impulse was correct. Rigondeaux's final shot was an illegal one. Drakulich then had two potential options that could be correct under the unified boxing rules: he could disqualify Rigondeaux for an intentional illegal blow or, if he believed that the concluding action was unintentionally malicious and part of a typical end-of-a-round skirmish, he could rule the fight a "no-contest." (Personally, I believed that a disqualification was in order but I can understand the no-contest line of thinking.) Instead, Drakulich eventually decided on a third option, the Rigondeaux KO win, which couldn't be allowed based on the blow happening well after the bell.

Ultimately, Drakulich went against his original judgement because he lacked the confidence of his initial beliefs. The available video evidence didn't contradict his original call yet somehow he was persuaded (or he persuaded himself) that a Rigondeaux knockout would be the best outcome for the fight. (Let's remember that Rigondeaux was the bigger name of the two fighters and a boxer affiliated with the lead promoter for the event.)

The word I used on social media to describe Drakulich's performance was "gutless." It's certainly harsh, and I'm not looking for reasons to disparage the official, but it's an apt description. A professional boxing judge's two jobs are to protect the fighters and enforce the rules. Drakulich did neither of those things on Saturday. He let Rigondeaux fire off an enormous shot well after the bell had sounded. In addition, once that infraction happened, he failed to apply the rules correctly for such an occurrence; Drakulich failed on multiple levels. 

Drakulich has been a professional referee for almost 30 years and he's now at the point where he lacks the incisive decision making needed to officiate the demands of a professional boxing match. He's mucked up countless fights over the past half-decade (the Brandon Rios-Diego Chaves fight is another recent example). 

Tellingly, the officials at the state commission know about Drakulich's shortcomings. Drakulich hasn't reffed the biggest fights in Nevada for years – those are assigned to Weeks, Robert Byrd and Kenny Bayless. Nevada currently has a shortage of professional boxing referees and the commission has hoped that its ref B-team (Drakulich, Jay Nady and Russell Mora) doesn't mess up lesser or preliminary bouts while it assigns its highest-profile matches to the A-squad mentioned above. Yes, Drakulich and Mora don't mess up every fight but their errors are too frequent and they have marred many matches due to bad decision making and the inability to enforce rules consistently. 

Saturday put the finishing touches on an embarrassing week for the NSAC. Earlier in the week, they had somehow decided to sanction a boxing match between Floyd Mayweather, who recently retired as the best fighter in the sport, and Conor McGregor, a mixed martial arts fighter, who has never participated in a sanctioned boxing match in his life. 

Obviously that decision was a money grab by the commission and it's a clear demonstration of their priorities. Mayweather-McGregor stands to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for Nevada businesses and millions for the state's coffers. Bob Bennett and company decided that the revenue was far more important than the safety of a fighter. Remove the names for a second. If a 49-0 elite fighter wanted to face a boxer making his debut, do you think that the NSAC would sanction that bout under normal circumstances? Consider me highly skeptical. 

The NSAC has been a poorly performing organization for a long time. Their strict residency requirements limit outside referees from working in the state (there have been occasional exceptions). That policy is workable when their local referees are competent. However I'd rate 50% of its current roster as "below average." And although Nevada is instituting a program to train new referees, this initiative has been far too delayed to have its desired impact. Drakulich shouldn't be reffing anymore. Mora should have been fired after his performances in Donaire-Montiel and Mares-Agbeko I back in 2011. The lack of quality referees in Nevada has been a problem for over half a decade and yet only now is the NSAC starting to address the issue. Bennett is a political appointee and he is secure in his role as long as his masters in Carson City see fit. However, with a few more nights like Saturday, he might not be long for his current position. 

***

Let me conclude with a couple of notes about Ward-Kovalev II. To me, the effectiveness of Ward's right hand was a startling difference in Saturday's rematch. During Ward's lengthy hiatus from 2013-15, Ward had a series of procedures and surgeries on his right shoulder. Since returning to the ring, he often appeared to be a one-handed fighter. The right hand lacked power and he didn't believe in it as a weapon. He'd throw it as part of a sequence or to set up other shots but the right hand wasn't part of his Plan A or B to defeat opponents. However, on Saturday, Ward's right was blistering. He landed several big ones early in the fight and his shot in the eighth eventually led to Kovalev's demise. 

It's true that Ward isn't the athlete he once was. He surely isn't as quick as he used to be and his reflexes, especially on defense, have slowed somewhat. However, for the first time in years, it appeared to me that Ward was a two-handed fighter again. He had finally regained confidence in his right shoulder. The power in Ward's right surprised Kovalev, who wasn't hurt by Ward's right to any similar degree in their first bout. 

Overall, Ward-Kovalev II was a strange fight to score. Kovalev, the supposed power puncher, had his best success as a jabber while Ward's shots, including those to the body, were more impactful. Kovalev was essentially a two-punch fighter with the jab and the right hand. His left hooks routinely sailed over Ward's head and he might not have landed three uppercuts. Ward's jab was an intermittent weapon but he certainly didn't have the best jab in the fight. As in the first fight, most of the rounds were close and difficult to score.  

Kovalev's body language was bad in the final rounds of Saturday's contest and yet he was ahead on most cards on social media prior to the eighth. I had him up by one point. Several boxing observers whom I respect had him in front more significantly. Kovalev was essentially beating Ward with his jab and punch volume, but his right hand didn't have nearly the same impact that it did in their first meeting. 

Kovalev had changed strength-and-conditioning coaches prior to Saturday's fight yet his stamina appeared far worse in the rematch than it did in November. Kovalev didn't respond well to Ward's body shots and he often looked to the referee in hopes of getting a break in the action. Unfortunately, Kovalev may have fallen victim to the "boy who cried wolf." He was complaining so much about Ward's low blows (many of which were legal or borderline) that when the time came for the referee to assert himself, Tony Weeks had already been numbed by Kovalev's demonstrations. 

As for Ward, Saturday's performance will be remembered as another highpoint in his Hall of Fame career. Ward has one of the premier resumes of his generation, having beaten excellent titleholders such as Kovalev, Chad Dawson, Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. He also has several notable wins over tough guys like Arthur Abraham, Sakio Bika and Edwin Rodriguez. Ward might not be everyone's cup of tea. His personality rubs many the wrong way. His fights certainly are not aesthetic marvels. Superstardom and its commensurate spoils of big money and adulation might not be in his cards. However, there's no denying his talent, resume or determination in the ring. Ward may not have provided boxing fans with much in the way of glamour but he will be remembered and respected for his ruthless effectiveness.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ward-Kovalev II: Keys to the Fight

The eagerly awaited rematch of last year's controversial Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev fight unfolds on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. In their November meeting, Kovalev established an early lead in the fight and recorded a knockdown in the second round. After being behind early, Ward was able to regain his footing in the second half of the bout. Many of the latter rounds of the match were closely contested and although Ward performed better than he had earlier in the fight, were his efforts actually enough to win? Many didn't think so. Fortunately for Ward, all three judges had him winning by a point. Informal polls among writers and those on social media showed a majority believed that Kovalev was the rightful victor. 

Although seven months have passed between fights, the bad blood between the combatants certainly hasn't. Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) has launched a series of profane grenades towards Ward's camp while Ward's people have insisted that Kovalev's trainer, John David Jackson, wanted to switch sides for the rematch. Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) blew off a promotional appearance for HBO early in the fight's promotion and Kovalev exited Thursday's final press conference as soon as Ward arrived. Neither fighter has been overly enthused about participating in the pre-fight formalities. 

Unfortunately, Ward-Kovalev II has been overshadowed by a boxing calendar filled with special events. The months leading up to Saturday's fight included excellent matches such as Joshua-Klitschko and Brook-Spence, as well as the circus known as Canelo-Chavez. Fight fans are also looking ahead to the epic Canelo-Golovkin showdown and the Mayweather-McGregor Mega-Sideshow™.

Nevertheless, Ward-Kovalev II is still an excellent matchup. The winner cements himself as the pre-eminent light heavyweight of this era (spare me any Adonis Stevenson talk). In addition, Saturday's victor also remains one of the top boxers in the sport. However, even more than rankings and pound-for-pound placements, both Ward and Kovalev are eager to assert their dominance over the other. 

Will it be Kovalev's Krusher bombs that lead to victory or will Ward's craft and boxing IQ rule the day? Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. What have they learned from the first fight?

Both fighters may have underestimated each other in November. It's clear that Ward was caught off guard by Kovalev's boxing skills. He certainly wasn't expecting the beautiful counter right hand that sent him to the canvas. Kovalev's shot was a perfectly placed and executed punch. 

In addition, Kovalev's jab was the dominant weapon early in the fight. The punch kept Ward at bay and also set up Kovalev's power shots. Although Ward is an excellent defensive fighter, he was tagged repeatedly by Kovalev's jab early in the fight. It took Ward four or five rounds to perfect the range needed to confront Kovalev. Ward found out that he needed to be in close or out of the pocket to have his best chance of winning. At mid-range, Kovalev had most of the advantages.

Kovalev most likely expected Ward to wilt after the knockdown. Even at this advanced stage of his career, Kovalev has only gone the distance on six occasions and has fought 10 or more rounds just three times. Kovalev hasn't had many competitive fights in his career and that void manifested against Ward. In many of the latter rounds, Kovalev seemed to tire or run out of ideas. It wasn't that Ward was dominating the action but Kovalev lost much of his aggression as the fight progressed. With the exception of the 10th round, it's difficult to find a round in the second half of the fight that was a definitive one for Kovalev. 

In the rematch, hopefully Kovalev has learned that his intensity and vigor needs to last for 12 rounds. Yes, he may land his best right hand and/or score a knockdown but that scenario doesn't guarantee victory. Kovalev has to keep putting rounds in the bank. The scorecards very well may be needed and three or four big rounds might not be enough; some fights resemble a marathon more than a sprint. 

2. Who can establish the jab?

Kovalev dominated the first four rounds of their fight and his jab played a large role in obtaining an early lead. Kovalev's jab helped establish range and kept Ward on the end of his right hands early in the fight. Eventually Ward made adjustments. To help neutralize Kovalev, he used his jab in a variety of ways. He led with it, used it as a counter and fired off single shots before leaving the pocket. Ward's jab was a key difference maker in the back half of the fight. 

Even though Kovalev's right hand and Ward's left hook are flashier shots, the most important punch in Saturday's fight will be the jab. The fighter who can consistently land the shot will be in position to dictate action in the match. Kovalev must stay committed to the punch throughout the fight; at points in the second half of the match in November, it remained holstered. For Ward, he has to find the proper time to use it; he can't engage in firefights at range. It may mean landing single shots or using the jab as a way to get in close.

3. Can Kovalev finish the deal?

Ward was hurt badly in the second round in November; there's no need to dance around the issue. He had to survive to make it out of the round. He held, grappled and used the ring to buy time. Naturally, this was an opportunity squandered for Kovalev. 

In the rematch, Kovalev can't afford to let Ward off the hook. However, Kovalev needs to set up a potential finishing blow. Because he loaded up on big shots after the knockdown, Kovalev, in part, let Ward survive. He went looking for big right hands, and they never came. If and when Kovalev hurts Ward on Saturday, Sergey must return to his boxing fundamentals to get the knockout. That means going to the body, using his jab and incorporating his entire arsenal. Kovalev has enough natural power to knock out anyone at 175, but his brains will be just as important as his brawn if he wants to stop Ward. 

4. Inside fighting.

As conventional wisdom suggested, Ward had considerable success on the inside against Kovalev, who doesn't throw many short punches. Often Kovalev tied up instead trying to best Ward in close quarters. Ward can throw all of his punches from close – jab, right hand, left hook, uppercuts – whereas Kovalev likes to extend his arms to land his best shots. 

Kovalev must make some adjustments in the second fight. Ward is vulnerable to uppercuts to the body on the inside (a punch that Kovalev rarely throws). In addition, Kovalev doesn't consistently use his left hook, another potential weapon in tight spaces. Hopefully, Kovalev and his team have practiced how to execute in these areas. However, if Kovalev doesn't feature any new wrinkles on the inside on Saturday, he's going to find himself losing large stretches of rounds where Ward will be the busier and more effective fighter.

5. Kovalev's conditioning.

Kovalev's punches didn't have the same sting in the back half of the fight as they did in the initial rounds. He also seemed to push his punches a lot as the rounds progressed. Similarly, his footwork wasn't as sharp as it had been at the beginning of the fight. In short, Kovalev didn't look like a 12-round fighter in November (with that, he still may have won the bout). 

Hopefully Kovalev and his team have prepared a variety of game plans for the rematch. One of them has to be to win a decision on the scorecards. In this scenario, Kovalev needs to win at least seven rounds (or perhaps fewer, if there are knockdowns) to come out victorious. Thus, Kovalev must be in a position to win rounds later in the fight. 

Kovalev has bragged about the long-distance running he has incorporated into his training for Saturday's fight. That certainly could be one aspect which helps him in the rematch. But another key component could be harder to change. Kovalev burns off a lot of nervous energy in the ring. Constantly whirling his hands and sometime moving unnecessarily in the early rounds of a fight, Kovalev can have difficulty settling down into a rhythm. In addition, in the first Jean Pascal and Ward fights, Kovalev demonstrated that he can lose focus and become slack defensively after his early aggressive forays. Can Kovalev go full tilt for 12 rounds? If he paces himself a little better, does he lose his edge early in fights? Is seven months enough time to change certain unproductive habits? 

6. Who are the officials?

If I'm Andre Ward, I'm ecstatic with Tony Weeks reffing Saturday's fight. Weeks is slow to break up clinches and he'll let Ward get some good work done on the inside. In addition, if Ward does get knocked down or hurt, Weeks is very deliberate in stopping a fight. He'll give Ward every opportunity to recover or see himself out of a round. 

As far as the judges, the Nevada State Athletic Commission picked a very distinguished panel for this fight. Glenn Feldman and Steve Weisfeld are two East Coast-based judges who are solid officials. Prior to this year, I would've said that Weisfeld could be the single best high-profile judge working in the U.S. However, Weisfeld has had some strange scorecards in 2017. He was overly generous to Adrien Broner against Adrian Granados and he gave too much support to Travis Kauffman (the promoter's son) against Amir Mansour. In addition, he had Klitschko leading against Joshua going into the 11th round. It's tough to find a pattern there, except a mildly erratic streak. 

Feldman is a judge who really rewards clean punching. He did pick Srisaket Sor Rungvisai over Roman Gonzalez earlier in the year. Perhaps Srisaket's left hands and right hooks were easier to see than Gonzalez's inside work. Despite that card, I haven't found a doozy of a score in Feldman's recent work. 

Dave Moretti (from Nevada) has a slight bias for Vegas-based fighters and "stars." However, I don't expect either of those scenarios to come into play on Saturday. Both Ward and Kovalev reside outside the jurisdiction and neither represents big business interests in Vegas. Overall, I think it's a fair group of judges. We'll see how they do on Saturday. 

Prediction: 

I think that Kovalev will be at his best early in the fight. Racing out of his corner with energy and anger, Kovalev will look to get Ward out early in the fight. His jabs, deceptively fast hand speed and power shots will present problems for Ward. I expect Kovalev to be up after the first four rounds. 

However, unlike the first fight, I don't think that Ward will get caught with the same type of shot that knocked him down in November. Ward is known for making great adjustments and it will be unlikely that he'll try to engage as much early in the fight as he did in their first bout. I expect him to try to neutralize Kovalev in the fight's first third, smothering and reducing the overall punch volume. This may not win him rounds but it will be successful in frustrating Kovalev and thwarting any sustained momentum. 

Eventually, Ward will reduce Kovalev's activity and Sergey's quality shots will become fewer and fewer. As the fight progresses, Ward will establish control of the bout with his left hand, specifically his jab and left hook. Although I expect some tense moments and brief skirmishes, I don't think that there'll be a lot of sustained action in the latter portion of the fight. Ward will win a number of late rounds based on clean, landed punches and ring generalship. Once the final bell rings, he'll have done enough to win a competitive but clear decision on the scorecards. 

Andre Ward UD Sergey Kovalev

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Ten from Sheffield

One of the indelible highlights from my recent vacation to England was the welterweight title fight in Sheffield between Kell Brook and Errol Spence. The match turned out to be excellent with Spence asserting himself in the fight's second half, eventually forcing Brook to yield in the 11th round. Unfortunately, my travel schedule didn't allow for me to write an immediate post-fight column. However, I wanted to share with you my thoughts and impressions from a memorable night in Sheffield.

What follows are some notes and observations about the event – everything from the arena, to the crowd, to the promotion and most importantly, the combatants. 

Even though I had been to a number of big fights across America, that night in Sheffield was a singular experience. I marveled at the intensity, the emotion and the euphoria that swept through the crowd during the evening's festivities. I'd compare it to the intensity right before the opening bell of a Pacquiao fight or maybe the exultation in the San Antonio crowd after Marcos Maidana defeated Adrien Broner. However, this Sheffield crowd engaged in revelry for hours, not for an instant here or there. 

Experiencing a big-fight atmosphere in the U.K. had ranked towards the top of my boxing bucket list for some time, and Brook-Spence certainly delivered the goods. It was an unforgettable evening and I felt lucky to have witnessed it. Here are some items that I took away from the night. 

1. The drinking.

Except in particular places in the U.S., drinking outside on street corners is usually frowned upon. Yet, walking around Sheffield, huge crowds assembled outside of the pubs and everyone was drinking. And there seemed to be a pub every block-and-a-half. Also, it wasn't let's have a drink or two before the fight; there was serious consumption going on. 

And the imbibing wasn't reserved for just pre-game festivities. Picture this scene: Between fights, everyone rushes out to the concourse. That part is fairly universal. However, what I saw in Sheffield is a real difference between U.S. and English fight fans. Trying to find a restroom, I saw a huge line of about 200 people and said to myself, aw fuck. Momentarily disappointed, I soon realized that the line was actually for beer. The bathrooms were to the side. I walked right in and came right out, no line for the ladies room either. This might seem like a rather small point. However, it was a noticeable difference. 

Perhaps more tellingly, everyone in the beer line seemed affable. The Brits waited in an endless line, but they did so patiently. It was all so respectable. They probably were going to miss the beginning of the Groves-Chudinov co-feature, but they didn't seem to care. Those two watered-down pints were the priorities and if fans had to spend a considerable part of their night in line, they weren't particularly bothered by that fact. 

While drinking with some friends after the fight, what struck me was not that a few in my group had 10-12 beers throughout the night. No, I had certainly seen that before. What was unique is that they had 10-12 beers and were perfectly fine. They seemed unfazed by that amount of liquor. Now I can usually hold my own when drinking but I realized that I was completely out of my league here. To them, their consumption may have just been called "Saturday" – nothing seemed particularly out-of-the-ordinary. If I had 12 drinks (granted, I usually drink whiskey), I'd be out of commission for quite some time. 

2. The singing.

British boxing fans sure love to sing. Whether it's "Sweet Caroline," the riff to "Seven Nation Army," "God Save the Queen," football chants or various other cheers that emanated at points throughout the crowd, this was one full-throated collection of boxing fans. I've watched dozens of Matchroom Sport's promotions before and I had always noted the fervor in the crowd, but to experience it live was something altogether different. The stadium was rocking. At certain points, you couldn't even hear Michael Buffer on stage, and his mic was working perfectly fine. 

3. The clothes.  

It had been almost unseasonably warm in the days leading up to Brook-Spence. In London, it was in the mid-80s (feel free to do your own Celsius conversion). By nightfall in Sheffield, the temperature was probably in the high 50s and dropping. Yet, groups of English lads walked around in tee shirts and shorts. More stylish men adorned their blue blazers, skinny jeans and sneakers (a trend that hasn't fully caught on in the U.S).  

I've seen a number of fights in Las Vegas and Atlantic City and I've seen my fair share of fight-night slutware, but let me say, a number of English women didn't disappoint on this front. They held their own. There were onesies and butt cheeks galore. Seemingly every third woman had an upper thigh tattoo. In general, I'd say that the average number of tattoos per person in my section was 16. Body art seems to be quite the rage among English boxing fans. 

4. The Saturday Night Boxing fans meet. 

It's a strange phenomenon of social media that you develop relationships with people that you don't actually ever meet. Boxing, a niche sport in many parts of the world, is a perfect representation of this reality, in that for many of us, we often don't get an opportunity to talk about the sport in our "real" lives. Thus, we've migrated to Twitter and corners of the web to get our boxing fix. 

I've had a Facebook boxing group since 2011. At its peak before it was hacked, it numbered over 75,000 people. In 2015, I reconstituted the group and SN Boxing remains a place where many of my favorite boxing people go to opine on the sport. Many people in the current group have been there since the beginning. Over the years, several have become good friends. As I stated earlier, it's a strange phenomenon, but if you're taking time to read a boxing blog entry such as this, you probably understand it. 

So it was quite a thrill to finally meet Ian (from Sheffield), Danny (from Birmingham, U.K.) and Brad (from Canada) and sit next to Nic (from Bristol, U.K.) and Arvin (from New York by way of London). When Ian, Danny and Brad had told me that they had spent most of the day drinking together, I felt like a proud parent. They had never met before and yet were ripping on each other like old friends. And in many ways, they were.   

5. Football.

Football is inescapable in England. It's the national currency as much as the pound is. I've caught the fever over the last few years and try to watch as many Arsenal games as I can. As an aside, later in the week in England, walking down a treacherous peak in the Lake District, we (my girlfriend and I) met an experienced hiker from Preston who was a big Everton supporter. I spent 30 minutes with him commiserating about our disappointing Premier League seasons (yes, Everton improved its status this campaign but the hiker was a long-time Evertonian who remembered when they were a legitimate threat to be a top-four team in the league). Football created an immediate bond.

Sheffield is a fascinating English football battleground. The city of 550,000 has two major teams, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, and each team's supporters loathe those who root for the other one. Ian, who is a die-hard Wednesday supporter and travels the country supporting them, couldn't even utter the name of the grounds on Saturday where the fight was being staged. When writing about the arena (Bramall Lane), he referred to it as $*@^(&&  &*@%. He was also not alone in using this designation. 

To provide further perspective, these teams aren't even in the top division in British football. Wednesday is a second-division club and United was in the third division last season. Yet, these demarcations are real and fierce. I also found out that everyone in Sheffield seems to hate Leeds and its football team, Leeds United. Walking into the arena, we saw an older, drunken gentleman with an enormous gash of blood oozing down his forehead. He kept yelling Leeds! Obviously, he had been picking a fight, and got his wish. 

6. The moment of silence.

England had been rocked by the Manchester bombing in the week leading up to Brook-Spence. The devastating attack targeted children and their parents and that explosion seemed to touch a piece of everyone in the Sheffield crowd. As Michael Buffer tried to initiate a moment of silence, impromptu Manchester United cheers broke out in several sections. Once the crowd had finally quieted, the silence was serene and poignant. The atmosphere, which had been rocking all night, embraced solidarity with those who had been killed and the families personally affected by the terrorist attack. When the silence finally ended, the crowd let out a deafening roar. Manchester, only 30 or so miles away, was very much in the hearts and prayers of all of those in attendance. 

7. Groves finally a champion.

I was surprised by the rapt reception for George Groves from the Sheffield crowd. In 2013-14, Groves waged two epic battles with Carl Froch. The first one ended controversially as Groves was ahead in the fight upon it being stopped by Howard Foster. In the rematch, in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, Groves fought Froch on even terms before being obliterated by a three-punch combination in the eighth round. After that fight, Groves came up short in another title bout against Badou Jack and had a handful of lower-profile wins.

Groves, a Londoner, wasn't a native son by any stretch in Sheffield, but his ring wars had certainly made their impact among English boxing fans. Facing Fedor Chudinov from Russia, Groves was fighting for a title shot for perhaps the final time; the crowd was behind him 100%.

Groves started off with a risky strategy. Planting himself along the ropes, he let Chudinov tee off on him at close range. Although Groves countered here and there, he was getting the worst of the action in the early rounds. By the fifth, his counter right hands started to land with more frequency. In the sixth, he landed a series of hard rights that hurt Chudinov. Although Chudinov never went down, the succession of Groves' huge punches forced referee Steve Gray to stop the fight. Perhaps the stoppage was a little early, but Groves had done real damage. 

Immediately following the victory, there was elation throughout the grounds. Groves was practically speechless in the first part of his post-fight interview. The crowd was raucous with its approval, providing Groves with a fitting coronation. Even though Groves' best days may be behind him, he will always have a championship belt. He's a blue-collar fighter, one whom nothing was given to. He's had to overcome self-doubt and criticism about his emotional fragility in the ring to get to the mountaintop, and finally, he had made it. The moment was his. 

8. Brook's hand speed. 

I had seen numerous Kell Brook fights before, including one in person against Luis Galarza in 2011 in Atlantic City. At that point, Brook was still very much a one-handed fighter, with his left dominating the proceedings. As Brook has developed into a top welterweight, he has worked to make his straight right hand a weapon in its own right. 

In my mind, I had always attributed Brook's success to his accuracy and punch placement rather than speed. However, his performance against Errol Spence made me rethink my internal calculus. 

Spence had good hand speed, but Brook's hands seemed to move like lightning in the early rounds of the fight. Landing quick one-twos, he successfully flurried at many points in the first half of the fight, especially in the sixth round. Although many of the rounds were close, when Brook let his hands go, good things happened. After the fight, Spence admitted that he had lacked sharpness. Sure, his inactivity had played a role in that, but Brook's superior hand speed was also a significant factor in Spence's cautious start. Brook's hand speed was a real advantage. 

9. Spence's body punching. 

Spence's body work has always been his calling card. When he threw his left uppercut to the body, you could immediately see Brook's discomfort. Spence's shots were like thudding bricks. In the rounds where he went to the body consistently, he won them. After a few frames of headhunting in the middle portion of the bout, Spence returned to a committed body attack in the ninth, and in many ways, the punishment that he dished out in that round, foreshadowed the end of the fight. 

10. A round befitting of two champions. 

By the 10th round, Brook's left eye started to become a real hindrance. Spence was landing more cleanly than he had earlier in the fight and with more frequency. In the beginning of the 10th, Spence trapped Brook along the ropes and landed a devastating three-punch combination that sent Brook to the canvas. There was still a lot of time left in the round and in that moment Spence had completely seized control of what had been a very competitive fight. Yet, upon rising, Brook made a heroic last stand. Emptying his arsenal with big right hands and left hooks, Brook tried his best to end the fight. Spence countered with straight lefts to the head and body shots. As the round concluded, the two fighters engaged in a vicious war of attrition. Brook flurried with everything that he had and Spence attempt to keep pace. The crowd rose to its feet in appreciation of the spectacle. 

After the round, I watched both go to their respective corners. Spence had taken some good shots in the 10th, but he took them well. Brook, well, he seemed defeated. I said to the people I was sitting with that Brook won't make it out of 11th; he just couldn't absorb much more punishment. And sure enough, as Spence approached Brook in the beginning stages of the round, Brook took a knee and let Howard Foster count him out. 

In the aftermath of the fight, Brook received criticism from some corners of boxing fandom for "quitting." Brook wound up suffering another broken orbital bone (he had received a similar injury to his other eye in his previous fight) and had gone to war in hopes of achieving victory. Yes, his last move was a protective measure, one for the rest of his career, and quite honestly for the rest of his life. I applaud his effort in the fight. He acquitted himself to the best of his ability; however on this night, Spence had too much firepower. Brook, physically and emotionally, had been defeated. 

The majority of the crowd streamed out of the arena as soon as the fight ended; they didn't even stick around for the post-fight interviews. Spence had successfully established the beginning of his era in professional boxing while Brook was unable to give his hometown fans the victory that they had so craved. And if some of Brook's fans were angered by the final moments of the fight, they realized that Spence had earned the victory. The fight was conclusive. 

Although there had been momentary sadness in the crowd, within a half hour from the final ten-count, the pubs were packed again. Spirits, both literally and figuratively, were being raised. Back at my hotel, I had a few drinks and talked boxing with my friends until three in the morning. I went to bed a satisfied customer. What a night!

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
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