Monday, April 25, 2016

Pound-for-Pound Update 4-25-16

Since the last Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound update in December, a number of top-20 fighters have been in action. Most significant in the Rankings was Manny Pacquiao's unanimous decision victory over Tim Bradley in their third meeting. Pacquiao scored two knockdowns in the bout and looked impressive in the win. After the match, Pacquiao was non-committal about his future in boxing, stating that he might be retiring but then hinting that he could still fight on. For now, I'm going to keep him in the Rankings until his future plans are more definitive. With his victory, I've moved him up to the number-two spot. 

I've dropped Bradley all the way down to number-eight. Although he had his moments against Pacquiao, I must also consider his other recent performances. He had competitive fights against Jessie Vargas and Diego Chaves, boxers who are certainly on the same level as Gennady Golovkin's recent opponents such as David Lemieux and Martin Murray. Whereas Bradley had some rough moments in those outings, Golovkin destroyed that class of competition. For now, it's my belief that Golovkin is in better form. 

Here is the current Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list:
  1. Roman Gonzalez
  2. Manny Pacquiao
  3. Andre Ward
  4. Sergey Kovalev
  5. Juan Estrada
  6. Saul Alvarez
  7. Gennady Golovkin
  8. Tim Bradley
  9. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  10. Naoya Inoue
  11. Adonis Stevenson
  12. Tyson Fury 
  13. Wladimir Klitschko
  14. Miguel Cotto
  15. Danny Garcia
  16. Takashi Uchiyama
  17. Terence Crawford
  18. Donnie Nietes
  19. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  20. Nicholas Walters
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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Notes from the Provodnikov-Molina Press Conference

Two things not normally associated with a boxing promotion – candor and gratitude – were on display at The Palm in Midtown Manhattan earlier this week. For Ruslan Provodnikov, he was grateful to start his new deal with Showtime. He no longer has to be the B-side and wait fight-to-fight for the blessings of a premium network. The multi-fight deal will maintain his visibility in the sport; it also won't hurt his bank account. At 32 and a veteran of many ring wars, Provodnikov might not have many prime years left but he seemed very excited to take on John Molina. "As soon as they told me that John Molina could be the opponent," he said, "I didn't even think about it. I said yes."

Those comments weren't meant to be offensive to Molina. In fact, Provodnikov praised Molina for his all-action fight style and bravery in the ring. Provodnikov even presented Molina with a Siberian wood carving, a symbol of respect and protection.

During Molina's comments, it became clear that the notion of respect was a two-way street during this fight promotion. He repeatedly referenced how tough Provodnikov was throughout his remarks. He viewed this fight as "two trains colliding."

However, he seemed very appreciative of Provodnikov's come-forward style. For this fight, he wouldn't have to corral an opponent in the ring or worry about a tough slickster. "What makes me a strong fighter in this fight," he told me in an interview later at the press event, "is that I'm not going to have to go find the guy." 

Molina was refreshingly honest regarding his strengths and weaknesses in the ring. "Everyone knows that I have trouble with slick fighters. I would not say Ruslan's a slick fighter. I'd say he's a bulldozer...It's going to be a can't-miss fight, a possible fight of the year."

***

Artie Pelullo, President of Banner Promotions, was the happiest guy in the room. Acting as the master of ceremonies for the press conference, Pelullo relished his time on center stage. He cracked jokes, offered his praises to everyone on the dais and enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow promoters Joe DeGuardia and Lou DiBella (he referred to DiBella as "Louie"). 

And make no mistake: Monday was a big deal for Pelullo. Getting Provodnikov a multi-fight contract with Showtime is a feather in Banner's cap. Banner also co-promotes junior middleweight Demetrius Andrade, who has been given a spot on the televised undercard against Willie Nelson. Should Andrade win, he'll have additional opportunities on Showtime in that the network has almost all of the top fighters in the division.  

For a mid-size promotional company like Banner, getting a premium network to invest in two of its fighters is a significant win. Banner will now have some guaranteed revenue coming in as well as a potential platform to feature additional fighters. Business is open for Banner Promotions at Showtime. And as Showtime's Stephen Espinoza told me, he had been pursuing Provodnikov for well over a year. In this instance, everyone's a winner.

Pelullo worked the room with the best of them, shaking hands, giving hugs and making future plans with others in the boxing industry – plans that involved scotch and a good cigar. His daughters were at the event as well, helping out with taking pictures and assisting the media. A sense of pride emanated from him throughout the event. Here was one day where he didn't have to fight the big boys for a seat at the table; on Monday, the table was his.

***

The last 20 months haven't gone well for former junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade. After dominating Brian Rose on HBO in his first title defense, Andrade didn't return to the ring for well over a year. Fights were turned down and promotional quarrels led to a significant boxing hiatus. A promising young champion wound up becoming an afterthought to the boxing public.   

At the event, Andrade spoke about missed opportunities and he admitted that mistakes were made. However, he was excited about where he now finds his career. Having restored his relationship with co-promoters Banner and Star Boxing, Andrade signed an extension with them, a surprising development in that other, high-profile entities had been looking to sign him. He also started his own promotional company, A-Team Promotions, and he will be a partner in the promotion of his career moving forward.

In addition, he seemed excited about the opportunity to fight on Showtime, the network where most of his peers at the top of the 154-lb. division ply their trade. In an interview at the event he said, "There's a lot of possible fights in the weight class, all tied to Showtime. We're going to see who's going to step up and we're going to see who's going to step down...It's a great time for me to come back, to be seen, to get back to where I need to be. It's up to me from that point to make it or break it."

Andrade next fights Willie Nelson on the June 11th Provodnikov-Molina card. Unlike recent training camps, Andrade will prepare for Nelson in Providence, R.I., his hometown. (He'll also briefly visit SNAC's Bay Area headquarters for some additional training.) Andrade's been aware of Nelson since the amateur days but they've never fought – in the amateurs, Andrade was always in bigger weight classes. Andrade provided a solid scouting report of Nelson: "He's tall, lanky, loves to get in there and put on a show, gives people what they want. He likes to get his motor running early, get inside and do what he does. For me, that's the type of style that I'm going to like."

Andrade fully believes that his various assets in the ring will help him prevail in the fight but he knows that Nelson is a capable professional. During the end of our conversation, he offered an intriguing glimpse into how he views Nelson's power. "We all have power at the end of the day. It's all about can you connect. And the punches you connect with...do they have a lot of steam on them? You're eventually going to get hit but it's always the one you don't want to get hit with. Can he land that one punch that he's looking to land?"   

***

Sitting at a table with Joe DeGuardia (President of Star Boxing), other members of his company and a few writers, the conversation naturally moved to Saturday's Errol Spence-Chris Algieri fight. In another burst of candor during the day, not one member of Star guaranteed a win for their fighter, Algieri. Thankfully, no grandiose pronouncements or predictions were made. However, there was cautious optimism at the table. DeGuardia believes that Algieri has made great progress working with trainer John David Jackson. He was very impressed with how Algieri went to the body during his last fight against Erick Bone. He thinks that Algieri will challenge Spence. He expects the fight to be competitive.

DeGuardia's sentiment seemed to be the conventional wisdom in the room whenever the fight was brought up, which was often. Nobody was predicting a win for Algieri but no one saw the matchup as a walkover for the untested Spence.

***

Promoter Lou DiBella was pulling double duty at the event, standing in for his fighters Willie Nelson and Dejan Zlaticanin, who were unable to attend the press conference. Zlaticanin, an interim lightweight titleholder from Montenegro, will be facing Emiliano Marsili, a longtime European lightweight champ, in the opening bout of the Showtime broadcast.

Talking with DiBella later on in the event, he raved about Zlaticanin: "The guy's an animal." DiBella signed Zlaticanin after he beat former champion Ricky Burns in 2014. In Zlaticanin's last fight, he destroyed undefeated prospect Ivan Redkach. DiBella thinks that Zlaticanin's action style will appeal to American boxing fans given the right exposure.

We started discussing other topics, such as the health of his company. DiBella insisted that everything was going well and bemoaned the lack of curiosity in the boxing media. With over 50 fighters in his stable, DiBella believes that his fighters aren't getting the recognition that a number of lesser boxers are receiving (many of whom are associated with larger promoters). He thinks that his collection of fighters, especially the ones from Russia and Ukraine, is a strong as it's ever been. He's frustrated that reporters want to ask him mostly about his relationship with Al Haymon and the PBC but very few inquire about other fighters in his stable (according to DiBella, Haymon is involved with only eight of his fighters). DiBella challenged me to take a deeper look at his Eastern European fighters and it's a challenge that I accepted. We made plans to talk more in depth about his roster at a later date.


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, April 14, 2016

Q&A Stephen Espinoza

After a transitional year in 2015, where many of its core fighters appeared on other networks as part of the PBC, Showtime has returned with a strong second quarter in 2016. The network's upcoming slate features a number of appealing matchups, such as Wilder-Povetkin, Jack-Bute, Thurman-Porter (produced by Showtime for corporate parent CBS) and a host of battles for supremacy in the junior middleweight division. 

Earlier this week, Showtime added another intriguing fight card to its schedule. Ruslan Provodnikov, who just signed a multi-fight agreement with the network, headlines against John Molina on June 11th at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York. Other featured fights on the broadcast are former junior middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade against Willie Nelson and interim lightweight titleholder Dejan Zlaticanin defending his belt against Emiliano Marsili. 

In the center of all of this activity for the network is Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Showtime Sports and Event Programming. Colloquially, he's the head of Showtime Boxing and a key figure in terms of the sport's presentation in the United States. On Monday, I had an opportunity to interview Espinoza at a media event for the Provodnikov-Molina fight card announcement. In the following Q&A, Espinoza talks about the current state of Showtime boxing, CBS's commitment to the sport, the impetus behind the Provodnikov signing and the growth of Showtime International as a vehicle for broadcasting overseas fights. He also reveals two fighters whom he expects to become featured attractions on the network during the next 12 to 18 months.

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz:
The interview has been edited and condensed.   

I wanted to ask about CBS’s corporate commitment, specifically, where CBS is regarding boxing. Obviously there have been significant changes over the last year with Floyd Mayweather’s retirement. How does that play out for Showtime/CBS’s commitment to the sport?

All of us at Showtime are very fortunate in that our leadership is very committed to the sport, from [Showtime Chairman] Matt Blank, his commitment to the network for 25 years – he’s been here since the Tyson years – all the way up to our CEO, Les Moonves [CEO of CBS], who's a big boxing fan. When you have leadership that understands the value of the sport and respects the sport, it’s a tremendous advantage. I never have to sell our leadership in what this sport does for the network. It’s not just something we do because it’s a tradition and we’ve always done it.  It’s a demographic thing and it’s a tradition that’s very worthwhile for us.

2015 was a year of impressive feats for the network and also a time of transition for Showtime with many of its fighters appearing in other places. It seems that in 2016 the floodgates have been open as far as the quantity of shows that you’ve been able to broadcast this year. What has been the significant change in terms of this year versus last year?

Last year we knew it would be a transition year. The plan was that these guys were going to go out to other networks on an experimental basis to see what happens and then they would come back.

You faced a lot of skepticism when you said that initially.

It seems like a lot of people had forgotten that I said that they would come back and they are coming back, from Quillin to Jacobs to Wilder to others. In terms of scheduling and the volume, there’s another thing that we’ve sort of come to over the last couple of years, and this is a relatively new development. We’re scheduling away from other major sports. So we are, by design, busier during this period of time because October and November, by design, are going to be light. 

If you go back three years, there wasn’t a prime time football game every Saturday night. Now there’s a prime time football game sometimes on two networks, plus ESPN. So boxing’s not at a point where we can afford to go head-to-head with two college football games that are generating 15 million viewers between them. So, it is a little bit of trying to schedule more intelligently.

Have you found the clustering of your events helpful in terms of ratings and brand building for Showtime Boxing?

It absolutely does help. That’s always the goal but there are a lot of other factors – availability of venues, injuries, fighter training schedules – those types of things. It’s sort of like how everyone looks and says why aren’t there more fights in January and February when there’s not a lot going on in the sport. You know, most fighters don’t like to train over Christmas, especially once they get to later in their careers. There are always these extraneous factors which complicate things from what the ideal situation would be.

Showtime’s been very active in the 140- and 147-lb. divisions for years and has featured a lot of the top fighters in those weight classes. Why [the commitment to] Ruslan Provodnikov and why now?

It’s been something we’ve been working on for at least 15, 16 months because Provodnikov, stylistically, matches up with anybody. He’s not afraid to take fights. He’s very entertaining. So we’ve been looking for a way since last year. We bid on Matthysse-Provodnikov but HBO wound up with it [they had first-and-last negotiating rights for the fight]. It’s been a long process He’s one of the few guys that we haven’t had in the rotation here and I think for him he was looking for an entry into the round robin that we have here. He’s a really interesting piece that can match up at either at 140 or 147. I think there’s a lot of value with him. Has he won every one of his fights? No. That’s not critical. What’s really important with Provodnikov is his effort and his style, and he’s always entertaining.

I've really enjoyed the introduction of the Showtime International fights into your network's programming. How did that process come about and what are you looking to do with the series?

One of the things with overseas fights is that they are more expensive to produce. There’s always a cost-benefit analysis, the realities of budgets. With the U.K. fights, there’s a certain amount of ego going on. The kneejerk reaction is, “We produce our fights better than anyone. Let’s send our guys over and do it.” When in reality, Sky Sports does a great job, great announcers. Their production is second-to-none and there’s no reason why we couldn’t expand the number of events by lowering our investment and partnering with Sky. The critical piece of that was accepting that we could put Sky production on our air and no one would have a negative reaction to it, and we could live with it. All of the sudden, it’s very cost-effective and you see a first-class production. We have fights that wouldn’t otherwise happen [on our network].

Also, the boxing world is a lot smaller now and I’m sure you’re thinking that a lot of these fighters could appear on your network down the line.

Obviously, some these fighters already have. Kell Brook is a good example. Carl Frampton is a good example, from CBS to Showtime International and now he could be on our network.

Listen, I won't lie. I was happy I didn’t have to sit in front of my computer for the Anthony Joshua fight. 

Right. And for a big fight like Wilder-Povetkin, I still think there are benefits to actually going out there. And when we get something like that we will do everything we can to go out on-site because there are benefits to being there but everywhere else, I don’t think anyone had any complaints about the Sky coverage.

I know that your schedule is robust over the next few months but I’m sure that you’re always looking ahead. Who are some young fighters that you're excited about? Give me one or two new fighters that might become a big part of Showtime's programming over the next 12 to 18 months?

Julian Williams will be someone really interesting. Between the May 21st show [a Showtime card that features three junior middleweight title fights] and the June 11th show, we got the consensus top-six fighters in the division at junior middleweight. And on top of that, with Julian Williams, you may have the guy who’s outside the top six who’s most interesting. And one thing that we’re proud of with the schedule is that they’re not stand-alone fights. They are fights which expressly lead to other fights, like Jack-DeGale, or they are fights where we know, de facto, like the three super welters, that there are mandatories coming up. We know that the winner of Andrade-Nelson is going to be the mandatory for Charlo.

When we later see Leo Santa Cruz and then Abner Mares, we know in the fall there may be a rematch between the two of them. One of the reasons that we switched the June 24th co-feature is because Abner Mares was looking expressly towards the rematch with Santa Cruz. He wanted to come in with a title too. So instead of fighting Fernando Montiel, he said, "I want a title belt." Even though it’s a much tougher fight [against titleholder Jesus Cuellar], he’ll come into the Santa Cruz fight as an equal.

That’s if he wins.

That’s right. It could be Cuellar.

Julian Williams is a guy who’s been itching to get his shot, and being a mandatory, I think he’ll get there pretty quickly.

It’s not a new name but it’s a name that’s coming back. I think that Mikey Garcia has a lot left. I think he’ll be coming back at junior welter so he’ll be poised to jump into the middle of this round robin.

Vadim Kornilov [Provodnikov's manager] has a number of Eastern European kids. I think Beterbiev, again, not a secret by any means, but there are a lot of these hidden gems…

The real question is now that we’re getting this high-level activity at 126, 140, 147 and the others, is how do we continue to build young talent? And this is largely a promoter’s job but the network has some role in it. I think we’ve done a fairly good job in the welterweight division. We’re now seeing Mayweather and Pacquiao step aside. And you’ve got everyone from Thurman-Porter to Danny Garcia. So you’ve got a number of guys poised there.

I think Gervonta Davis is also another guy. It’s funny. Floyd called me. When Floyd first signed the deal, one of the first times I met him I said here’s my cell phone number. I told him you should have a direct relationship with someone that influences your career and I assume you already have the cell phone number of the guy running HBO sports...I knew he didn’t.

He’s actually only used it three or four times. And one of the times was before the first Maidana fight and he called me Friday after the weigh in, which is a strange time to get a call. So, I had some concerns. He said, “Stephen, how many times have I called you about a fighter.” And I said, zero, none.  

He said, “Gervonta Davis. I’m calling you right now about Gervonta Davis.” I said great, do you want a ShoBox date? He said, "No. Just remember that I called you about Gervonta Davis." 

And I think within a very short time, within a year, Gervonta Davis will be the talk of that division.

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Bradley III

There's a perfect moment, if a little cruel, that represents Tim Bradley's futile effort to beat Manny Pacquiao throughout their fight trilogy. With five seconds left in Saturday's bout and needing a knockout to win, Bradley found his whole upper body lodged helplessly between the ropes. There would be no final foray, no gallant last stand. And that picture tells the entire story of the Pacquiao-Bradley saga. 

However Bradley tried to best Pacquiao, with whatever tactics or strategy he employed, he lacked the athleticism, poise and grace of the Filipino master. It was the bull vs. the matador, Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, Wile E. Coyote running past the Road Runner and over the cliff.  

Sure, Bradley got close. He probably won four rounds on Saturday, as he did in the second fight. Two judges foolishly thought that he had defeated Pacquiao in the first bout, although the public was appropriately apoplectic with that result. Ultimately, Bradley tried and tried. He boxed from the center of the ring, he loaded up on big shots, he went with recklessness, he experimented with caution, he switched trainers. He did whatever he could...but as three fights have proved, it wasn't enough. 

Pacquiao knocked down Bradley twice on Saturday and both sequences started with punches thrown off the wrong foot from unusual angles. It wasn't that these were the most powerful shots that Bradley had ever been hit with but they were examples of Pacquiao's unique combination of athleticism, power, speed and the untraditional. Throughout the trilogy, Bradley lacked the tools to overcome Pacquiao's myriad physical gifts.

However, Pacquiao didn't just better Bradley by being athletically superior. What struck me throughout Saturday's match was how much calmer he was in the ring than Bradley. Pacquiao fought with no wasted energy and didn't display any outward signs of the big moment getting to him. Bradley was twitchy. Using tons of shoulder and head feints as well as quick steps that didn't lead to punches, Bradley seemed to burn off a lot of energy doing things that weren't helping him win the fight. 

Bradley can be a very good rhythm fighter and against many opponents he's the type of boxer who commands the action in the ring. But against Pacquiao, Bradley had to invest too much energy worrying about incoming fire. He fought like he didn't fully trust his chin. At points, he would let his hands go and throw impressive one-shot leads or counters. In other instances, he worked well off his jab and landed quick combinations. However, his positive moments were just quick asides from the larger narrative. Bradley wasn't able to outbox Pacquiao and he couldn't hurt him enough to change a fight.  

Pacquiao-Bradley will not be remembered as an epic trilogy but in its own way it provided a fascinating glimpse of two boxers trying to think their way through fights, and their careers. Pacquiao started off the first fight in vintage seek-and-destroy mode until about the half-way mark. Then, he either decided to show Bradley mercy or he just tired of fighting in that style. In the second encounter, Pacquiao beat Bradley essentially on punch volume. That was the one fight of the series where he never was able to hurt Bradley. There, Pacquiao just dug down and let his hands go when nothing else was really working. 

On Saturday, Pacquiao fought Bradley as if he was the wise grand master who needed to impart one final lesson on his star pupil. I thought that it was Pacquiao’s most complete performance of the trilogy: He was deadly accurate. His hand and foot speed were excellent. The right hooks he sprinkled in did significant damage. He even countered well with single shots. In short, Saturday's performance was a synopsis of Pacquiao’s career. He was saying: this is what brought me to the mountaintop. It was a summation of all he had learned in his lifetime of pugilism.

Bradley wasn't in bad form on Saturday; he was just outgunned. It's clear that he had been influenced by Floyd Mayweather's performance against Pacquiao. On the surface, Bradley has a number of similarities with Floyd. However, those little differences add up against an opponent of Pacquiao's caliber. Bradley lacks Floyd's hand speed and accuracy. Mayweather is also more decisive in the ring. He ties up when he needs to and gets out of the pocket and evades trouble when it's warranted. But Bradley has that junkyard dog attitude; he likes his fights scrappy. He doesn't want anyone bullying him in the ring. Floyd isn't concerned with such displays of machismo. He'll dance, grapple, hold, foul and clinch, but he'll win. He doesn't let ego get the best of him in the ring. Bradley did many things on Saturday that could've beaten top fighters, just not Pacquiao.

And I'm not denigrating Bradley or his performance in the trilogy. Yes, he doesn't have Floyd's gifts but who does? Bradley gave his best effort. He hurt Pacquiao with some big shots early in the second fight and again in the eighth round on Saturday. But his power just wasn't enough and he'll never be the type of fluid boxer that will be able to outpoint a Pacquiao who is near his best.

Ultimately, Pacquiao's performance on Saturday was a present to boxing fans and one that was a surprise to many. After his listless effort against Mayweather, it certainly seemed that Pacquiao was on the slide. But Saturday wasn't a continuation of a fall from grace. Instead, it was a wonderful reminder of Pacquiao's manifold boxing gifts. And frankly, to witness Bradley defeat a damaged Pacquiao would've been a joyless occasion for all but Bradley and his hardcore supporters. We want to see boxing at its highest level and on Saturday the legend demonstrated that he wasn't ready to receive his gold watch just yet.

Also, I'm not always one to bestow a lot of hosannas upon Freddie Roach but he did a remarkable job with Pacquiao for this fight. So many external stressors – such as Manny's potential retirement, his recovery from injury, his senate seat run, Father Time, etc. – could've been used as legitimate excuses for Pacquiao to be in less than fine form on Saturday. Yet, Roach not only had Pacquiao in great shape for the fight, he also devised a brilliant game plan. After the match, Pacquiao was interviewed and said that the plan was to use caution, limit mistakes and not waste punches that could lead to opportunities for Bradley. This strategy was a concession to an aging fighter who could no longer throw 80 punches a round or knock opponents out. It was also a correction of mistakes that Pacquiao and Roach had made in the past. The recklessness was gone. Manny's boxing intelligence replaced youthful exuberance. There was a certain humility that both had to accept in order to arrive at that game plan. It seems as if Team Pacquiao had learned some important lessons. 

Should Pacquiao retire, his legacy is more than secure. He will be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. He galvanized millions of boxing fans throughout his career. Yes, he was respected, as all great champions are, but his impact was much more than that; he was loved, even idolized. He and Floyd defined this era. There were other greats from 2000-2015 but Mayweather and Pacquiao will always be the namesake fighters from this epoch of boxing history. 

Selfishly, I wish we could see more nights like Saturday. If Pacquiao can still dismantle a top welterweight like Bradley, why not continue? Yes, all good things must end but must they end now? 

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