Sunday, January 19, 2020

Opinions and Observations: Williams-Rosario

You could hear the thud. 

Jeison Rosario's shots echoed through the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on Saturday. His opponent, Julian "J-Rock" Williams, had the pedigree, the shiny belts and a great performance in his last fight against champ Jarrett Hurd, but all of that proved to be inconsequential when the two fighters stepped into the ring. By the end of the second round, Rosario had established with a number of counter right hands that he had the power advantage in the fight. As the bout continued, Rosario unleashed more of his arsenal, and was able to hurt Williams in the fourth round. 

Rosario (left) commanding the center of the ring
Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

By the fifth, Williams, the hometown fighter and proud champion, was in bad shape. Rosario peppered the champ with power punches and with Williams badly hurt against the ropes, ref Benjy Esteves stopped the fight. In one night Rosario went from a relatively anonymous fighter from the Dominican Republic to the unified champ at 154 lbs. Overall it was a stunning upset, but it was one that was well deserved.  

J-Rock had a solid first round, where he quickly showed the timing and punch variety that led to his championship effort against Hurd. He landed a number of eye-catching counter right hands and used his jab to good effect. Rosario announced his presence in the fight with those menacing counter rights at the end of the second round. Those shots helped open up a cut, which would trouble the champ at periods of the fight. Rosario also featured an impressive arsenal of punches. He had success with jabs, right crosses (both lead and counter), right uppercuts and left hooks. 

In speaking with Williams prior to the fight, he wasn't taking Rosario lightly. He knew that Rosario had impressive victories as the B-side against Justin DeLoach and Jamontay Clark. He had watched tape on Rosario and knew that he had legitimate pop in his punches. Saturday's fight wasn't the case of the champ failing to take a challenger seriously; sometimes it's the challenger's day.  

Rosario didn't necessarily dazzle with hand speed or athleticism. But what he did well illustrated a central truth about boxing successfully at the highest levels: he threw the right punch at the right time. He countered Williams's jab with the straight right hand. When Williams missed with two lead uppercuts from distance, Rosario made him pay with two crushing right hands. Sensing his power advantage as the fight progressed, Rosario hooked when Williams hooked, and Rosario got the better of those exchanges. After Williams was hurt in the fifth round, he started to lean forward, and Rosario pulverized him with a right uppercut. And it was that punch that truly was the beginning of the end for Williams.

Having the perfect combination of preparation, technical ability and self-belief to pull off the victory, Rosario's win was well-earned. Many fighters would be over-awed coming into a champ's hometown. However, Rosario outwardly displayed few nerves or signs of hesitancy. He fought as if he had a right to be in that ring. In addition, he didn't let the high-profile opportunity take him out of his game plan. He didn't try to force the action or make daring forays that could lead to mistakes. He stayed within himself and stuck to his strengths. And furthermore, he understood where he would have chances to land his best shots. Williams likes to sit in the pocket and he's not one to necessarily get in and get out, which does allow an opponent to return fire. 

The trajectory of Saturday's fight changed quickly. Williams was up either 3-0 or 2-1 after three rounds. He was able to land some excellent straight right hands. But when Rosario connected, the challenger's punches seemed to have more of an effect. There were few opportunities for Williams to change course. By the end of the fourth, he had already eaten several big shots. 

Maybe at that moment, entering the fifth, Williams and trainer Stephen "Breadman" Edwards had their one chance to make an adjustment. By that point it had become clear that in the pocket Rosario was the more successful fighter. Perhaps Williams needed to be told to stay out of mid-range – either be in or out. Or even in a more drastic measure, he should take a round off, regroup. 

But I also don't want to come off as sounding too harsh; by the end of the fourth Rosario had assumed a foothold in the fight. It would have been a strong admission to concede the pocket to Rosario. Certainly Edwards and Williams didn't plan on that happening. And maybe a delaying tactic would only have worked for a round or two; plus, there was still a ton of fight left. Let's just chalk these potential adjustments to "Who knows?" 

The new champ after winning the title
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

After the fight Williams was gracious in defeat, admitting, and with no excuses, that Rosario was the better fighter on the night. Williams also announced that he had a rematch clause and was interested in executing it. And despite Rosario's success on Saturday, there is no guarantee that a second fight would play out similarly to the first one. Edwards is a masterful strategist and he will have all the tape he needs to implement changes. 

This is now Williams's second knockout loss in his career, but I don't believe that Saturday's result was necessarily similar to his defeat to Jermall Charlo. Against Charlo I don't think that Williams's legs looked right. Everyone remembers the massive right uppercut that Charlo landed in the fight, but few recall that Williams was hurt from a jab even earlier in the bout. He wasn't responding well to shots even before the big thunder arrived. On Saturday, Williams seemed to be in fine shape and had good moments. The only "mistake" he made per se was an unwillingness to go to a "Plan B" a little sooner. I think that Saturday had less to do with his chin and more to do with a slight stubbornness about changing tactics. And those types of things can be corrected moving forward.

Ultimately Rosario displayed a perfect performance by an "away" fighter. He seized his opportunity and ensured that the judges played no role in the match. In addition, he announced that there was a new player in the hypercompetitive junior middleweight division. He has power in two hands, is well-schooled and has copious amounts of self-belief. There's no telling in a division where the top guys could win or lose on any given night if Rosario will emerge as the best, but he's now earned his seat at the big boys' table. 

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

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Punch 2 the Face Radio

This week's Punch 2 the Face Radio was our annual crystal ball edition, where Brandon and I look ahead to 2020 and predict what we think will be the major trends and storylines in the sport. We also gave our picks for fighters to rise and fall over the next 12 months. In addition, we handed out our awards for an eventful 2019 of boxing. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:

Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:

Stitcher link:
Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio, Award and 2020 Preview Show


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

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The 2019 Saturday Night Boxing Awards

With another eventful boxing year coming to an end, it's time to hand out some hardware. Below you will find the 2019 Saturday Night Boxing Awards, featuring the year's best for fighter, fight, knockout, round, upset, trainer, promoter, network and referee. Here are the 2019 awards:

Fighter of the Year: Saul "Canelo" Alvarez

Canelo defended his middleweight title this year in a close fight against top contender Daniel Jacobs and then moved up two divisions where he knocked out light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev in the 11th round. Let's start at the top. Canelo's performance against Jacobs was just good enough. He controlled a number of rounds with his jab and he certainly won the ring generalship battle. Jacobs threw every trick imaginable at the champ, constantly switching stances, trying to win at all different ranges, and using every punch in his arsenal. In the end, Canelo was more consistent on a round-by-round basis. It wasn't necessarily his most scintillating effort, but he was able to beat a more athletic and bigger opponent with fundamental boxing. 

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott

Canelo's signature performance of the year was the Kovalev fight. Here, instead of trying to control the action in the center of the ring, Canelo assumed the role of stalker. Inching forward, attempting to cut off the ring, Canelo's patient pressure was successful in eventually wearing down the taller opponent with the longer reach. Kovalev did win his fair share of rounds in the fight. Utilizing a flicking jab and lots of movement, he minimized exchanges. But in the 11th, Canelo had perhaps the defining stretch of his career. With a three punch combination – an overhand right, a left hook and a straight right – he ended the fight. His final combination was so fierce that Kovalev was spun around 180 degrees, hit the ropes face-first and dropped to the canvas with his lights turned out. 

Collectively, no fighter had better wins in 2019 than Canelo. And thankfully neither of his victories had the air of controversy, which had been an issue with many of the best wins of his career. He is the deserved winner of the 2019 SNB Fighter of the Year. 

Previous SNB Fighters of the Year:
2018: Oleksandr Usyk
2017: Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
2016: Carl Frampton
2015: Floyd Mayweather
2014: Naoya Inoue
2013: Adonis Stevenson
2012: Nonito Donaire
2011: Andre Ward 

Fight of the Year: Naoya Inoue-Nonito Donaire

More than a few expected the bantamweight World Boxing Super Series final between Naoya "Monster" Inoue and grizzled veteran Nonito Donaire to be a walkover. After all, Donaire was 36, which might as well be 80 years old in the lower weight classes. Furthermore, Donaire had moved down to 118 lbs. for the tournament, where in recent years he had campaigned at 122 and even 126 lb. The recent history of fighters moving down in weight later in their careers has not been positive. In addition, Donaire had lost two of three fights coming into the tournament. And Donaire didn't even have a clean run to the WBSS finals. A back injury led to champ Ryan Burnett retiring on his stool during their first-round matchup. For the semifinals, instead of facing longtime titlist Zolani Tete, Donaire knocked out late-replacement fighter Stephon Young (see the Knockout of the Year section for more). 

Photo Courtesy of Naoki Fukuda

Meanwhile, Inoue continued his wave of destruction in the tournament's first two rounds, obliterating former champ Juan Carlos Payano in the first round (the SNB Knockout of the Year for 2018) of his opening fight and current titleholder Emmanuel Rodriguez in the second round of the semifinal match. Inoue entered the Donaire bout as one of the top fighters in the world. Surely he would have far too much for a fighter years-removed from his best days. 

Well, as the boxing cliché goes, "that's why they fight the fights." In a turn-back-the-clock performance, Donaire looked as good as he had in years, hurting Inoue several times during the fight. In the second round he detonated his patented left hook from hell and that punch would wind up breaking Inoue's orbital bone. It was an unexpected surprise to see Inoue, one of boxing's terrorizers, forced to the ropes after feeling the impact of the hook, marshaling all of his remaining resources to stay in the fight. 

But Inoue would recover and work his way into the match, landing blistering counter right hands to the head and lead and counter left hooks to the body. He had Donaire hurt badly for the first time in the fifth, but the challenger was able to survive the round. As the match progressed, the fight featured numerous thrilling exchanges, but Inoue continued to get the better of the action. 

Donaire needed something big to turn the tide, and in the eighth he landed a thudding right hand, which made Inoue's eye leak blood all over the ring. He was badly hurt. Donaire followed up with another solid ninth round and perhaps an enormous upset was on the table. 

In the 10th, however, Inoue cemented his mark on the fight. With a fusillade of power punches, he caused major damage forcing Donaire into survival mode to finish out the round. Early in the 11th Inoue landed a sickening left hook to the body, which, after a delayed reaction, forced Donaire to the canvas. What followed was some of the most thrilling action of the year with Inoue selling out for the stoppage win and Donaire using all of his veteran tricks to stay on his feet. He somehow made it to the end of the round and would finish the fight. 

Ultimately Inoue won by unanimous decision, but he had never been tested to that degree in his professional career. Fighting with a broken orbital bone and against a determined foe with one of the best knockout weapons in the sport, Inoue demonstrated his elite pedigree. His performance in the championship rounds left no doubt as to the rightful winner. As for Donaire, he reminded boxing fans of what made him one of the best fighters in the world earlier in the decade. Working with trainer Kenny Adams, he rediscovered his right hand and gave one of the best boxers in the world his toughest fight. 

Previous SNB Fights of the Year:
2018: Chisora-Takam
2017: Joshua-Klitschko
2016: Vargas-Salido
2015: Miura-Vargas
2014: Coyle-Brizuela
2013: Bradley-Provodnikov
2012: Pacquiao-Marquez IV
2011: Rios-Acosta   

Knockout of the Year: Nonito Donaire KO 6 Stephon Young

For all of those who forgot about Donaire's destructive power, his concussive left hook in this fight was a reminder. Prior to the knockout, the little-known Young was competing. Boxing off his back foot out of the southpaw stance, Young, a late-replacement for Zolani Tete, had a solid game plan against the heavily-favored Donaire. He may not have been winning the fight through five rounds, but he was making the veteran work.



But in the sixth, Donaire showcased his pedigree. He threw a grazing right hand to the body, which led to Young dropping his hands. In rhythm, Donaire followed up with a textbook left hook that detonated on Young's exposed chin. And that was all she wrote. The fight was immediately stopped. Young remained on the canvas for several minutes; he never saw the final punch coming. Even at 36, Donaire demonstrated that his left hook was still one of the premier punches in the sport. 

Previous SNB Knockouts of the Year:
2018: Naoya Inoue KO 1 Juan Carlos Payano
2017: Zolani Tete KO 1 Siboniso Gonya
2016: Hassan N'Dam KO 1 Alfonso Blanco
2015: Yenifel Vincente KO 3 Juan Dominguez
2014: Andy Lee KO 5 John Jackson
2013: Stephen Smith KO 5 Gary Buckland
2012: Juan Manuel Marquez KO 6 Manny Pacquiao
2011: Takashi Uchiyama TKO 11 Jorge Solis 

Round of the Year: Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz, Round 3


We've all seen this round many times by now, where Joshua drops Ruiz with a right uppercut-left hook and then Ruiz, the heavy underdog, storms back with two knockdowns of his own. This is certainly the signature moment of boxing in 2019, but I'd like to highlight some additional aspects of the round. 



Re-watching the third again in preparation for this article, I was amazed at the brazenness of Joshua's attack. Joshua starts the initial action with a lunging lead right hand (a shot that could easily be countered). Then at close range he lands the uppercut/hook combo that drops Ruiz. Already Joshua is playing with fire and fighting in such a way where he doesn't seem to respect what Ruiz could offer (Joshua certainly sung a different tune in winning December's rematch with a much more cautious approach). 

After the initial knockdown, Joshua steps in with another powerful right from the outside and then the two fighters start grappling. 
Again, the theme of Joshua's recklessness manifests. Ruiz then stuns Joshua with a short right and then hurts him with a left hook. Joshua hits the canvas shortly after. 

Upon beating the count, Joshua immediately attempts another huge right hand from the outside. Although badly hurt, Joshua only clinches three or four times the rest of the round. He fires a few more risky right hands from the outside and then wisely takes some steam off with a few jabs to the body. Ultimately, Joshua spent most of the round after getting hurt trying to knock Ruiz out instead of giving himself ample time to recover. 

By the end of the round, Joshua is depleted, much due to Ruiz, but some on account of his attempt to land massive haymakers. Ruiz, avoiding the big shots, inches closer to his wounded prey. With a few seconds left in the round, he literally leaves his feet and lands a jumping left hook, which further staggers Joshua. Ruiz then throws a series of power punches and Joshua hits the canvas for the second time. Joshua bets the count, but never fully recovers in the fight. What a wild three minutes!

While much has been made about Ruiz's recuperative powers earlier in the round, he also deserves credit for his creativity at the end of the third. Joshua wasn't expecting a leaping, lead left hook, a shot that he hadn't seen previously the fight. Ruiz took a big risk with that particular punch. If he missed, he would be completely out of position to be countered. But Ruiz assessed his opponent and he decided that it was a chance worth taking. He understood how little Joshua had at that point. Sure the image of Ruiz plodding forward and offering little in the rematch still leaves a bad taste, but it's worth remembering that he did some wonderful things in their first fight, exhibiting a large punch arsenal, calm under duress and creative/improvisatory power shots. It was thrilling stuff. 

Previous SNB Rounds of the Year:
2018: Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury Round 12
2017: Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko Round 5
2016: Edwin Rodriguez-Thomas Williams Jr. Round 2
2015: Edwin Rodriguez-Michael Seals Round 1
2014: Thomas Williams Jr.-Cornelius White Round 1
2013: Tim Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov Round 12 
2012: Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Round 12
2011: Hernan Marquez-Luis Concepcion I Round 1

Upset of the Year: Andy Ruiz TKO 7 Anthony Joshua

Since I just wrote about this fight for the Saturday Night Boxing Decade Awards within the last week, allow me to share those comments here: 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

"Andy Ruiz wasn't even supposed to be the opponent to face Joshua, the reigning heavyweight champ from the U.K., who was making his American debut at Madison Square Garden. Jarrell Miller was the original foe, but he fell out after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. As for Ruiz, he had a solid showing in his previous title shot in 2016 against Joseph Parker, a close loss. But Ruiz's career, on account of indifference, inactivity and a lack of professionalism had lost all of its momentum. His weight continued to be a problem. He switched trainers. Top Rank even granted him a release from their contract. Before facing Joshua, he had only fought 3 times in 30 months. 

All went according to plan early in the fight for Joshua as he landed a blistering left hook in the third round that dropped Ruiz for the first time in his professional career. However, he got greedy in the aftermath and started to trade with Ruiz on the inside, a range where Andy could assert himself. Ruiz soon landed his own left hook that knocked down Joshua. And of the two fighters, it was Joshua who was the one that was more damaged. Ruiz soon scored a second knockdown later in the round.

Ruiz spent the next few rounds wisely investing to the body, attempting to take more starch out of Joshua. And in the seventh, Ruiz again won a battle of left hooks and sent Joshua to the canvas for the third time in the fight. Ruiz was now ready to go for the stoppage and he trapped Joshua against the corner, pounding away at him with his best power shots. Joshua went down again. To his credit, he beat the count, but he was in no condition to continue. 

In the aftermath, boxing fans will remember Ruiz jumping up and down in the center of the ring, one of the most unlikely heavyweight champions that the sport has seen. Eventually, he would go on to lose December's rematch, but with his stunning upset he forever etched his name into boxing history." 

Previous SNB Upsets of the Year:
2018: Rob Brant UD Ryota Murata
2017: Caleb Truax MD James DeGale
2016: Joe Smith Jr. KO 1 Andrzej Fonfara
2015: Tyson Fury UD Wladimir Klitschko
2014: (tie) James de la Rosa UD Alfredo Angulo and Tommy Karpency SD Chad Dawson
2013: Jhonny Gonzalez KO 1 Abner Mares
2012: Sonny Boy Jaro TKO 6 Pongsaklek Wongjongkam

Trainer of the Year: Eddy Reynoso

Reynoso, the lead trainer for Canelo Alvarez, has helped to create one of the most versatile fighters in boxing. Canelo can lead or counter. He can pressure, sit in the pocket, or fight with his back on the ropes. He has some of the prettiest combination punching in the sport. He cuts off the ring, goes to the body and has excellent footwork. In addition, Reynoso has become a wonderful strategist and tactician. After admitting that he and his fighter were a little out of their depth earlier in their respective careers against Floyd Mayweather, both have worked to become among the best at their given profession. 

Reynoso and Canelo
Photo Courtesy of Saul Alvarez

Canelo fought in two completely disparate styles this year in victories over Daniel Jacobs and Sergey Kovalev. Against Jacobs he controlled the center of the ring and stuck with fundamental boxing: stay behind the jab, throw combinations when they are available and don't force anything. Reynoso didn't needlessly complicate the game plan, and Canelo picked up the win without ever needed to go into third or fourth gear. Against Kovalev, Canelo was on the front foot the entire match, poking and probing Kovalev with his jab and short power shots, attempting to force Kovalev to move or trade. Ultimately the game plan worked to perfection as Canelo was able to get Kovalev to tire and stop moving. He landed a final combination with Kovalev trapped against the ropes. After the fight Reynoso admitted that the fight may have taken a round or two longer than they had anticipated, but it essentially went according to plan. That's the sound of a confident trainer. 

As Reynoso has succeeded at the world-level, other top fighters have entered his stable. He now trains former featherweight champ Oscar Valdez, hot prospect Ryan Garcia and flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez. None of his major fighters took a loss in 2019. 

Previous SNB Trainers of the Year:
2018: Anatoly Lomachenko
2017: Derrick James
2016: Shane McGuigan
2015: Peter Fury
2014: Freddie Roach
2013: Kenny Porter
2012: Robert McCracken
2011: Robert Garcia

Promoter of the Year: Matchroom Sport

During the first full year of their partnership with DAZN, Matchroom Sport featured several of the biggest and most entertaining fights of the year. Here are a few examples: Roman-Doheny, Sor Rungvisai-Estrada II, Joshua-Ruiz I and II, Golovkin-Derevyanchenko and Hooker-Ramirez. The company also promoted a number of wildly entertaining smaller fights this year, including Hunter-Povetkin, Chisora-Price, Sulecki-Rosado, Rios-Soto, Martinez-Rosales and Vargas-Soto.

Matchroom Sport Managing Director Eddie Hearn
Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

On the business side, Matchroom signed pivotal fighters such as Gennadiy Golovkin, Oleksandr Usyk (two of the top-ten fighters in the sport), and Devin Haney, one of boxing's premier young talents. The company has also invested heavily in a number of top international prospects, which should bear fruit in years to come. There was stiff competition for this award in 2019, but Matchroom gets the nod. 

Previous SNB Promoters of the Year:
2018: Premier Boxing Champions
2017: K2 Promotions
2016: Matchroom Sport
2015: Golden Boy Promotions
2014: Matchroom Sport
2013: (tie) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Promotions
2012: Golden Boy Promotions
2011: Top Rank Promotions

Network of the Year: DAZN

In its first full year on the boxing scene, no outlet had better fights in 2019. They had my fight of the year (Inoue-Donaire), the upset and round of the year (Ruiz-Joshua I), my knockout of the year (Donaire-Young), and both bouts for my fighter of the year (Canelo-Jacobs and Canelo Kovalev). In addition to several of the top fights of the year, which were named in the Promoter of the Year section above, DAZN also broadcasted the World Boxing Super Series, which contained a number of excellent bouts, including Prograis-Taylor and Taylor-Baranchyk. Also, DAZN started to televise Golden Boy's Thursday night prospect series, which has featured a number of entertaining fight cards. DAZN broadcasts practically their entire cards as well, providing boxing fans with an opportunity to familiarize themselves with numerous top prospects in the sport.

Although DAZN has gotten so much right about acquiring programming and providing value for its boxing subscribers, there are still areas for improvement. It would behoove them to make even further changes to its disjointed broadcast. They need a better play-by-play voice and a more consistent fighter analyst. In addition, their over-reliance on overhead camera angles during their fights deflates the drama of the action in the ring. Hopefully, they will work out some of these kinks moving forward. Overall, it was a great start for the streaming service.

Previous SNB Networks of the Year:
2018: Showtime
2017: Showtime
2016: Sky Sports
2015: No award given
2014: ESPN
2013: Showtime
2012: BoxNation

Referee of the Year: No Award Given

Previous SNB Referees of the Year:
2018: Jack Reiss
2017: David Fields
2016: Raul Caiz Sr.
2015: David Fields
2014: Steve Smoger
2013: Tony Weeks
2012: Eddie Claudio

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