Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pound-for-Pound Update 10-22-14

With a number of top fighters in action over the past month, there were some significant changes to the Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list. Two boxers in the lower portion of my top-20 lost (Anselmo Moreno and Nonito Donaire) and I considered four fighters to fill the open slots: Sergey Kovalev, Terence Crawford, Nicholas Walters and Shinsuke Yamanaka. After reviewing their respective bodies of work, I favored Kovalev and Yamanaka for placement in the Rankings.

Also, a note on Andre Ward: As of November 16th, Ward will have gone a year without a fight. This dubious milestone is often when a boxer gets removed from a rankings system. For the SNB Top-20 Fighters list, I will not be dropping him at this time. I reacted similarly to Floyd Mayweather's last "break" of 16 months prior to his return against Victor Ortiz. Ward, embroiled in promotional problems, has not retired and plans to fight again. For now, he remains. I will revisit Ward's status in the future; obviously, he doesn't warrant a position in perpetuity.

For the following fighters, their current position will be in bold and their previous ranking will be in parenthesis (NR stands for "not ranked"):

Anselmo Moreno NR (16): The longtime bantamweight king dropped a technical decision to Juan Carlos Payano. The fight was stopped after six rounds because of a cut on Payano and Moreno trailed on all three scorecards. Moreno had a nice run at 118, defending his title 12 times. However, the loss to the unheralded Payano was a significant step back. He drops out of the Rankings.

Nonito Donaire NR (17): Donaire suffered the first knockout loss of his career against Nicholas Walters. Dropped in the third round and stopped in the sixth, Donaire couldn't withstand Walters' power. A few years ago, Donaire was one of the top talents in boxing, but in his last four fights he is only 2-2; even in those two wins he had failed to impress. He falls out of the SNB pound-for-pound list.

Shinsuke Yamanaka 18 (NR): Yamanaka, the undefeated bantamweight titlist from Japan (22-0-2, 16 KOs), returns to the Rankings after a three-month hiatus. Yamanaka defeated Thailand's Suriyan Sor Rungvisai this month, scoring three knockdowns to extend his title defense streak to seven. He has stopped five of his seven title challengers.

Sergey Kovalev 20 (NR): Amassing a 25-0-1 record with 23 stoppages, the Russian KO artist and light heavyweight titleholder has made a name for himself by dominating past champion Gabriel Campillo and then-titleholder Nathan Cleverly. Kovalev can shoot up the Rankings even further if he defeats Bernard Hopkins next month:

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list: 
  1. Floyd Mayweather
  2. Andre Ward
  3. Roman Gonzalez
  4. Wladimir Klitschko
  5. Manny Pacquiao
  6. Juan Manuel Marquez
  7. Tim Bradley
  8. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  9. Carl Froch
  10. Bernard Hopkins
  11. Juan Estrada
  12. Adonis Stevenson
  13. Miguel Cotto
  14. Danny Garcia
  15. Gennady Golovkin
  16. Saul Alvarez
  17. Takashi Uchiyama
  18. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  19. Mikey Garcia
  20. Sergey Kovalev
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
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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Donaire-Walters: Keys to the Fight

One of the most intriguing fights of 2014 takes place on Saturday in Carson, California, the featherweight showdown between four-division champ Nonito Donaire (33-2, 21 KOs) and undefeated knockout artist Nicholas Walters (24-0, 20 KOs). The bout is the chief support to Golovkin-Rubio but it could be significantly more compelling than the main event. 

Prior to facing Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013, Donaire was one of the top boxers in the sport. However, he had few answers for the Cuban whiz and was summarily outclassed. Since that defeat, Donaire has earned two victories but he failed to resemble his former pound-for-pound self in those outings. Over the last year, Donaire (originally from the Philippines but raised in the U.S.) has spoken about having lost his motivation for training and his hunger for the sport. On Saturday, he looks to erase the ghosts of his most recent performances and regain his foothold in the top echelon of boxing.

Walters, from Jamaica, was virtually unknown two years ago. Fighting mostly out of Panama, Walters' power caught the attention of Top Rank Promotions and he impressed earlier this year by knocking out Vic Darchinyan in the fifth round (Donaire has knocked out Darchinyan twice but struggled before stopping him in 2013). Walters enters Saturday's fight having stopped 10 of his last 11 opponents and has guaranteed a knockout victory.

In a loaded featherweight division, the winner of Saturday's fight will have a number of very attractive opportunities for 2014, including potential matchups against fellow titleholders Vasyl Lomachenko, Evgeny Gradovich and Jhonny Gonzalez, while the loser might face a long road back to the top of the featherweight division. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Chins.

Walters, known as the Axe Man, sure hits hard. With three knockout weapons – right hand, left hook and right uppercut – he loads up ferociously on his power punches. Donaire's chin has been rock solid throughout his career but there are some caveats for Saturday's fight. He certainly was hurt in the final round against Rigondeaux, and that was at a smaller weight class. Although Donaire stayed on his feet, he was clearly affected by Rigondeaux's power. In addition, Donaire has yet to face a real puncher at featherweight. Darchinyan was probably most powerful at junior bantamweight (three divisions below featherweight) and Simpiwe Vetyeka was only a moderate puncher at 126 lbs. It will be fascinating to see if Donaire can take Walters' best punch. 

As a professional, Walters has been down twice according to boxrec.com. One time was against Alejandro Corrales (5-3-1) in 2008 and the other was while facing Carlos Manuel Reyes (12-0) in 2009. There are a number of observations that could be drawn from these facts but let's not jump to unnecessary conclusions. First, these fights aren't available online; I haven't seen them and I don't know anyone who has. Were the knockdowns legitimate? Were they flash knockdowns? Was Walters badly hurt?

On the flip side, Walters won both of those fights and dominated on the scorecards. That obviously shows perseverance and some recuperative powers. Yes, it troubles me when a fighter is knocked down by a 5-3-1 boxer, but that match was also six years ago. So much could have changed since then. Maybe Walters trains better and/or he has made improvements with nutrition. Perhaps he just walked into a stupid shot and he is now better prepared in the ring. So, let's acknowledge that he's been down twice many years ago but I don't know if this is ancient history; these knockdowns might have absolutely no bearing on Saturday's action.

Make no mistake: both fighters will get hit on Saturday. Donaire's defense has deteriorated over the years and he is more than willing to eat a shot or two in order to land his counter left hook. Walters isn't a defensive specialist either. He takes a lot of risks offensively and is open to counter shots. Whoever's chin is in better shape throughout Saturday will be in the driver's seat, because the power shots will be coming.

2. Donaire's motivation and conditioning.

Donaire's lack of focus, both inside and outside of the ring, has contributed to a number of lackluster performances over the past three years. Although even at his best he would occasionally abandon his boxing technique to go for spectacular knockouts, now, he just waits and waits, hoping to land his left hook, not really bothering to set it up with anything. His punch volume has become pedestrian. He has admitted to skimping on training in the past and before his previous fight he acknowledged his wavering commitment to the sport.

An unfocused Donaire could lead to a number of different outcomes on Saturday. Maybe he gets easily outpointed by a fighter who has a greater desire to win. Perhaps he walks carelessly into a shot. It's possible that he could get bored with trying to win rounds and instead he waits in vain for a knockout, letting the fight slip away.

Absent a spectacular one-punch shot, Donaire will need to be in good shape to beat Walters, who features a high punch output and can dazzle with eye-catching power shots. Although Donaire has the experience advantage over his opponent, if he's not prepared or focused for 12 rounds, he will struggle to win the fight on the cards.

3. Walters' defensive flaws.

If you were to draw up a fighter who would be susceptible to a counter left hook, Walters could very well be your guy. He stands very tall, he holds his hands far away from his body, he can get wildly out-of-position after firing his power shots and he is slow to return his hands to a defensively responsible position after throwing. In short, the opportunities for Donaire's number-one weapon will be there.

In addition, Walters separates his hands too far apart on defense, providing ample room for straight right hands and uppercuts. Although Donaire is known for his hook, his lead right has been a weapon in past fights, most recently against Toshiaki Nishioka in 2012. 

Walters is very athletic and he does avoid shots using his legs and upper body movement, but he can get hit during exchanges. If Walters hasn't tightened up some of his defensive shortcomings prior to Saturday, he will get tagged very hard by Donaire, leading to very bad dreams about left hooks.

4. Is Donaire anything more than a one-trick pony at this point?

Donaire was once a well-rounded boxer who had a jab and a fairly large arsenal of punches. At his best, he used his legs to get into position to land shots and also to avoid trouble. In recent outings, he has scarcely resembled that fighter, becoming stagnant, knockout-happy and predictable on offense.

It's clear that Donaire still has his left hook. That punch led to the Darchinyan stoppage last year and sent Vetyeka to the canvas in May. But is there anything else? He seems to move in cement these days and his other punchers are often thrown half-heartedly.

Walters will be coming into the fight fully cognizant of Donaire's left hook. There are ways to neutralize a fighter who loads up on one shot. If Walters is well-prepared on Saturday, he will force Donaire to beat him with another punch. He'll move to his left, pump the jab and fight in close – Donaire needs distance for his hook; it's not compact. Donaire must keep Walters honest throughout the fight. If Walters doesn't have anything else to worry about other than the left hook, he will innocuously circle to his left all night, away from Donaire's money punch. That will not be a formula for Donaire to win the fight.

5. Punch output.

Here may be the secret to winning the match. Both fighters are counting on knocking the other one out. Neither Donaire nor Walters is much of a jabber these days (although they possess solid ones) and both fighters will be spending a lot time looking for opportunities to land their thunder. The key to this bout may very well be who waits less. There will be dead stretches in the fight. The boxer who can capitalize on these lulls by throwing an extra five or ten punches a round may very well take the match, especially if both fighters' chins hold up.

In theory, a higher punch output favors Walters' ring style. He is aggressive, active and likes to throw multi-punch power combinations. However, there have been many fighters who have been spooked by Donaire's power; they feel a left hook and suddenly they are on retreat and/or too afraid to open up offensively.  

But if Donaire is just looking and posing while he waits to land his big left hook, it will be easy for judges to give rounds to Walters. The busier fighter may wind up stealing the fight on the scorecards.

Prediction:

I'm going with a slightly unconventional pick but let me walk you through my process. I'm not convinced that Donaire has enough power to knock out a full-fledged featherweight. Yes, he dropped Vetyeka but he seemed to recover decently enough from the shot in an abbreviated fight. However, I'm also not sold on the quality of Walters' opposition. His best win was Darchinyan, who had just been knocked out, was past his prime and above his optimal fighting weight. Walters has an impressive 80% KO percentage but has he ever faced anyone of the caliber of Donaire? Has he ever been able to drop someone who has a rock of a chin?

The more that I look at this fight, the more likely that I think that it goes to the cards. And if it does, I believe that Walters is best positioned to win the bout. I don't question his determination or conditioning coming into Saturday. He knows that this is his opportunity to make a big name for himself in the sport. Donaire may have had more talent than Walters will ever possess, but we are no longer witnessing the peak version of the fighter. The Donaire of recent vintage has been lethargic, not to mention extremely hittable. I'm also not convinced that he still has the will to pull out a grueling, 12-round fight. I predict that he will get his big knockdown on Saturday but that it won't be enough to win.

Nicholas Walters survives a knockdown to defeat Nonito Donaire 116-111.

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
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Al Haymon

News Item:  Deontay Wilder rejects a multi-fight agreement from Jay-Z's Roc Nation company, which would have paid him $2M in his first fight against heavyweight titleholder Bermane Stiverne. 

News Item: Middleweight titlist Peter Quillin relinquishes his belt and turns down $1.4M from Roc Nation instead of facing mandatory challenger Matt Korobov.

As reported by ESPN's Dan Rafael, Wilder was forced to reject Roc Nation's aggressive bid (10 times his highest purse to date) because his adviser, Al Haymon, refused to bless the agreement. Similarly, Quillin turned down a career-high payday earlier this year because Haymon wouldn't sanction it. 

Haymon instructed his fighters to refuse these offers without even giving them an immediate, face-saving opportunity. It wasn't as if Quillin was guaranteed a purse of $1.1 M to face another live body as a make-good gesture. No, Wilder and Quillin lost their biggest paydays and had to swallow that awful medicine on their own, resulting in money out the door, derision and a loss of respect within the boxing community. I believe that the lack of a face-saving maneuver on Haymon's part is an indictment of how he conducts business. Isn't the job of a manager or an adviser to maximize his fighter's worth? How is making a boxer an object of mockery helping his future earning potential?

These specific moves by Haymon were clearly designed to block Roc Nation's entrance into boxing promotion. With a huge bankroll, Jay-Z has been looking to make a splash in the sport. (It also has been widely speculated that there is some personal bad blood between Haymon and Jay-Z going back to Haymon's days in the R&B concert promotion business.) Haymon was wary of letting his boxers ply their trade under a well-heeled, new promotional shingle, one that might encroach upon his future plans in the sport. Give Wilder multi-millions for a fight and suddenly he might not be so amenable to the status quo under Haymon.

But let's examine these events in a broader context. Ultimately, a fighter signs with a manger so that he can have an advocate who maximizes his opportunities and earning potential while protecting his career. Whatever else a manager or an adviser does, money and fighter protection are his chief responsibilities. 

In both news items listed above, Haymon implored his boxers to reject life-altering financial opportunities for no apparent net gain to the boxers themselves. Remember, fighters have no pension plan after they retire. They face significant physical and mental risks in the sport. Boxers have a notoriously short life span; the need to maximize earnings at their peak is paramount. The sport is hard enough as it is but now these two fighters have to turn down life-changing money because of Haymon's personal pique? That doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

As Haymon has amassed an impressive roster of clients – including Floyd Mayweather, Adrien Broner, Danny Garcia, Keith Thurman, Amir Khan and many others – he has steadily shied away from matching his best against those whom he doesn't control. Thus, for Maidana and Matthysse to get big opportunities, they had to sign with him. Even a former titleholder like Khan, who has generated a lot of money without Haymon's support, felt obligated to align himself with Haymon to receive a realistic shot at Mayweather. 

The fruits of Haymon’s labor have produced a stellar bloc of exciting fighters – mostly between 140 and 154 lbs. – who have several world title belts and a network (Showtime) eating out of Haymon's hand to televise them. In fact, Haymon has generated so much leverage with Showtime that he has successfully earned dates from the network for unappetizing matchups like Danny Garcia-Rod Salka, Lamont Peterson-Edgar Santana and Keith Thurman-Julio Diaz. 

But these are not the only criticisms of Haymon, who has been in boxing for over a decade. Perhaps the most damning one is that he has yet to produce a bona fide superstar on his own. True, he has been instrumental in taking Floyd Mayweather from a pound-for-pound titlist to the highest earner in sports, but Mayweather was carefully developed into a champion under Top Rank's eye. 

Removing Mayweather from the equation, Haymon has exhibited a pattern of failing to develop his most prized fighters. Andre Berto's welterweight reign was ended by the first puncher that he faced. Haymon marched Adrien Broner from lightweight to welterweight and put him in with one of the division's most feared sluggers in just his second fight at the new weight (Maidana). Haymon secured a title shot for Gary Russell Jr. (who was completely untested in his development) and he was summarily beat down by one of the most accomplished amateur boxers of the modern era (Vasyl Lomachenko). Leo Santa Cruz has won two belts without meeting a top fighter. Who knows how good he really is? (Haymon had him turn down a fight against fellow titleholder Scott Quigg.) Now, Deontay Wilder has been set to fight for a title shot with scarcely beating a top-ten fighter. 

All of these boxers have not made it past the titleholder level and many have wilted when facing top opposition. They are not among the truly elite fighters in the sport even if they possess elite skills. The (lack of) development under Haymon can help explain why their careers have stalled out at the highest level of the sport. These are Olympians, prized amateurs and top prospects, yet they haven't reached the sport's pinnacle.

Haymon rushes specific fighters towards title shots while others he treats with indifference. Danny Garcia was thrown to the wolves early in his career; he was supposed to lose to both Erik Morales and Amir Khan. Only after he started upsetting bigger names did Haymon seem to take an active interest in his career. Keith Thurman is one of boxing's most exciting young fighters and yet he has done nothing more than take on Julio Diaz in 2014. Lucas Matthysse is a truly ferocious puncher who galvanizes boxing fans yet he still appears on undercards. (He has been one of the few Haymon fighters who has been publicly critical of the way that he has been handled.) 

2014 has been a lost year for many of Haymon's fighters; in a number of instances Haymon is at fault. Broner has taken the year to consolidate his skills in a lower weight class. Thurman had a meaningless fight and then was on the shelf with an injury. According to him, he has received a clean bill of health and yet his next bout has not been scheduled. Garcia took a step back with an ineffectual performance against Mauricio Herrera and wasted time against an undeserving Rod Salka. Shawn Porter lost in the second defense of his title. Russell Jr. went down to Lomachenko and Haymon has nothing set up for him in the aftermath of the defeat. Matthysse has been marking time again B-level guys at 140. Guerrero had one outing against a semi-decent guy from Japan. Santa Cruz hasn't fought anyone live all year. Quillin's opponent was a joke.

Surely, a reason why many of these fighters haven't had impact bouts this year can be explained by the restrictions of Showtime, both in terms of available dates and dollars. With Haymon having so many television-friendly fighters and with only one place to put them (HBO kicked him off its network last year), there just hasn't been enough room in Showtime's schedule and budget to accommodate everyone. 

A further complication for Haymon and his stable this year has been the legal problems surrounding Golden Boy Promotions. After CEO Richard Schaefer "resigned," it remained unclear which fighters were actually promoted by Golden Boy and which were promotional free agents. Under the revamped Golden Boy, President Oscar de la Hoya has been loath to give featured A-side spots to boxers who don't have valid Golden Boy contracts (a reasonable position). Thus, many of Haymon's fighters are in holding patterns until the Golden Boy-Schaefer split is finalized. In short, Haymon needs more dates for his fighters. 

Reportedly, Haymon has been working on this problem by trying to set up a deal with NBC Sports Network. From Haymon's perspective, it makes sense not to lose any additional assets until the new agreement is in place. An undefeated heavyweight like Deontay Wilder has a lot of value to a network like NBC Sports; whereas, if he loses or if Haymon loses the power to control him, that star wattage is gone. 

All of this is fine and dandy but let it not obscure the essential point: a boxing manager is supposed to work for the fighter. He or she should not stand in the way of a career, and Haymon has been blocking opportunities for his fighters, a cardinal sin for a boxing manager. 

He has potential stars in Thurman, Garcia, Matthysse and Wilder but in 2014 he has refused to put them in contests worthy of their talent and stature. Not only do these fighters miss out on bigger paydays by appearing in lesser matchups, but they have also seen their respective statuses in the sport stall out. Haymon's actions have reduced demand for these fighters, as well as many others in his stable, ultimately suppressing their earnings – again, the number-one thing that a manager should not do. 

To date, with the exception of Mayweather or anyone who fights him, not one of Haymon's fighters is getting the really big money. Many are making comfortable six-figure purses for each fight (a few crack seven), but who else has been allowed to reach for the stars? Why wasn't Danny Garcia put in a huge fight to capitalize off of his Matthysse win? Why hasn't Thurman gotten a title shot? Why have Wilder and Matthysse been fighting on undercards? Are any of these fighters really maximizing their earning potential?

Right now Haymon is having his moment, but if enough fighters are forced to give up millions, his current modus operandi will be unsustainable. Someone will come along who offers more money, better guidance and more enticing opportunities. Don King generated billions in boxing and yet he was unable to maintain his stable as more equitable players came into the sport. As of now, Haymon has all the fighters he could ever hope for, but how many of them are truly happy with their careers?


This article has been updated to reflect the purse bid process. Language was removed that mischaracterized a certain feature of purse bids.  


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
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

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Monday, September 29, 2014

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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
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

www.facebook.com/SaturdayNightBoxing