Thursday, April 18, 2019

Pound-for-Pound Update 4-18-19

It's been a long time since the last Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound update. How long? Six months in fact and much has happened in the boxing world since then. Perhaps the biggest fight in terms of pound-for-pound relevance since the last update was the clash between Errol Spence and Mikey Garcia, a matchup between two of the best boxers in the sport. Moving up to welterweight, Garcia was rendered ineffective by Spence's work rate, movement and power punches. As a result, Spence moves up the list from #10 to #8 and Mikey Garcia slides from #6 to #9. 

Two Asian boxers continue their impressive climbs up the pound-for-pound list. Donnie Nietes, from the Philippines, won a squeaker against former multi-division titlist Kazuto Ioka on New Year's Eve. Nietes, now campaigning at junior bantamweight, has won titles in four divisions. He moves up to #10 from #13. Japan's Kosei Tanaka continues his meteoric ascent in boxing. At just 23 and with only 13 professional fights, Tanaka, a flyweight champion, added to his resume earlier this year by defeating former 108-lb. champion Ryoichi Taguchi in an impressive performance. He moves up to #11 from #15.  

Elsewhere in the rankings, three fighters make their debut. Josh Warrington, Miguel Berchelt and Wanheng Menayothin enter the pound-for-pounds list at #18, #19 and #20, respectively. Warrington had an excellent 2018, defeating a current featherweight champ (Lee Selby) and a recent one (Carl Frampton), who had been #20 in the SNB Rankings prior to the fight. Miguel Berchelt is in the midst of an impressive run at junior lightweight, defeating three action warriors in Francisco Vargas, Takashi Miura and Miguel Roman. Menayothin, of Thailand, has defended his minimumweight title 11 times. To this point Menayothin (52-0) hasn't faced a Murderer's Row of opponents, but he is starting to build a solid resume. 

With his eighth-round knockout over Tony Bellew, undisputed cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk moves from #4 to #3. 

In addition to Frampton, two other fighters dropped out of the rankings. Adonis Stevenson was knocked out by Oleksandr Gvozdyk and it's unlikely that the 41-year-old will ever fight again. Guillermo Rigondeaux also leaves the rankings. Rigondeaux hasn't had a notable win in years, and his inactivity and quality of opposition leave a lot to be desired. 

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List:
  1. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  2. Terence Crawford
  3. Oleksandr Usyk
  4. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  5. Naoya Inoue
  6. Saul Alvarez
  7. Gennady Golovkin
  8. Errol Spence
  9. Mikey Garcia
  10. Donnie Nietes
  11. Kosei Tanaka
  12. Juan Estrada
  13. Anthony Joshua
  14. Jarrett Hurd
  15. Manny Pacquiao
  16. Leo Santa Cruz
  17. Roman Gonzalez
  18. Josh Warrington
  19. Miguel Berchelt
  20. Wanheng Menayothin
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Roman-Doheny: The Party Crashers' Moment

Most of the articles you will read about boxers are about the money fighters, the stars, the ballyhooed prospects, the anointed ones. These boxers are the ones who make the sport go round. They bring hype and considerable media attention, to say nothing of seven-figure signing bonuses and the backing of the sport's promotional machinery. But this isn't one of those articles. 

This piece highlights the gate crashers, two fighters who weren't supposed to garner attention. But it's not a sob story about the plight of the journeyman or the thanklessness of the cruelest sport. No, this is about Daniel Roman (26-2-1, 10 KOs) and TJ Doheny (21-0, 15 KOs), two unlikely junior featherweight titleholders who fight for one of the big prizes in boxing on April 26th, a unified championship. And although they are relatively unknowns in the sport, make no mistake: they are both damn good fighters. 


Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Where to begin? Let's describe unlikely rises to the top. As a young fighter Daniel Roman signs with Thompson Boxing, as good as a regional promoter (Southern California) as you will find in American boxing. However, after a pedestrian start to his career, Roman gets released from his contract with Thompson. What makes this story strange is what happens next. Roman rededicates himself to boxing and through hard work in the gym and in the ring he convinces Thompson to re-sign him. 

A key point in Roman's career was a ShoBox date in January of 2017 where he faced undefeated prospect Adam Lopez. For Roman, this was the biggest opportunity of his career. Finally, he was receiving national exposure after more than six years as a professional boxer (there's something to be said for Roman's persistence, which is a recurring theme of his, both in and out of the ring). And even though Roman was not known for his power, he knocked down Lopez twice and forced a corner stoppage after the ninth round. 

But Roman was just getting started. In his next fight he travels to Japan for a junior featherweight title opportunity against undefeated Shun Kubo. Roman dominates every second of the fight and earns a ninth-round stoppage. Then, the American tempts fate by traveling back to Japan for his first title defense against Ryo Matsumoto in Tokyo's fabled Korakuen Hall, one of the most famous boxing arenas in the world. It's no secret that it can be tough for a foreign opponent to win a decision in Japan, but Roman defeats Matsumoto with ease, winning at least ten rounds on each card. 

Returning to America, Roman now starts to generate a little buzz. And after another comprehensive victory over Moises Flores, Roman signs a co-promotional agreement with Eddie Hearn to fight on DAZN. His first fight under the new arrangement is viewed by many as a difficult assignment, Gavin McDonnell, an English fighter (and brother of former champion Jamie) with a great motor and a sturdy chin. McDonnell puts forth a spirited effort, but in the end Roman makes mincemeat of him, bloodying and bullying him over 10 rounds to get the stoppage. 

Doheny's story may be even more obscure. Originally from Ireland, Doheny failed to make the Irish Olympic team for the 2012 games. After that setback he decided to move to Australia because of the country's bustling economy. He eventually turns pro at the age of 25 (how many 25-year-old debutants become world champions in the smaller weights?). In his 12th pro fight he's still fighting an opponent with a 1-8-1 record. He's not making much headway. He's this close to quitting the sport for good. Frustrated with the direction of his career, he moves half way around the world again to train in Boston under the watchful eye of Hector Bermudez. But almost 30, he's still fighting eight-rounders. 

One day the phone rings and he has an opportunity to fight in Thailand for an eliminator. He escapes with a split decision and within a year he's off to Japan for his own title shot. And like Daniel Roman before him, Doheny was able to win a decision in Japan, a grueling fight against Ryosuke Iwasa. 

Doheny was a nobody in boxing. Too old to ever be a prospect, with few notable opponents to attract attention on his way up, Doheny, nevertheless, through a desire to improve and a willingness to make unconventional choices, was now a champion. And in his 30s the spoils suddenly started to roll in. He signed with the well-funded MTK Global for his management. In addition, he also aligned with Matchroom Boxing and Hearn. 

Roman-Doheny not only provides a rare unification bout in the sport, but the possibility of a wonderfully entertaining brawl. Yes, Roman is a come-forward boxer, but it would be inaccurate to describe him as a face-first pressure fighter. Roman exhibits a lot of craft in the trenches. And unlike garden-variety brawlers, Roman features a full arsenal of punches. He digs to the body with both hands. He has a fantastic right uppercut. A very good combination puncher, he'll crush the body and then startle opponents with a deceptively quick and accurate right hand to the head. On defense, he doesn't get hit as much as you would think. He uses his gloves and subtle upper body movement to evade a lot of incoming fire. Not fast or a superlative athlete, Roman though is quick. With good footwork and a strong understanding of what he needs to do to succeed, he gets to the spots in the ring where he can be most effective. 

Doheny is an unusual fighter stylistically in that he has much faster hands than feet. He doesn't move around the ring much, but he gets out of the pocket with subtle turns and spins. A southpaw, Doheny's best combination is the right hook/straight left hand. His jab is not a factor at all, but he can make opponents think twice about coming forward with lead left uppercuts. With sharp power punches, Doheny can hurt opponents from distance, mid-range and in the trenches. 

Roman-Doheny has the makings for a great action bout, as long as cuts don't hinder the fight. Doheny has gotten cut and marked up often in his career and Roman likes to come inside often, and from different angles. 

Doheny should have the advantage from the outside, but that will only manifest if he keeps a high work rate. And without a jab, there will be gaps for Roman to come inside. Very few fighters are equipped to handle Roman's combination of work rate, pressure and accuracy, but Doheny's left uppercut and right hook could be significant weapons against Roman in the trenches. 

Roman-Doheny is the co-feature to the mouth-watering rematch between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Estrada. In part due to the strength of this card, no other boxing network or platform will be counter-programming it (a seemingly rare event in the busy boxing calendar – not that I'm complaining). For one night, Roman and Doheny will have the eyes of the boxing world on them, a moment to shine. The winner will become one of the few unified champs in the sport, joining the likes of bold print names such as Vasiliy Lomachenko, Canelo Alvarez and Anthony Joshua. And while it's unlikely that Roman or Doheny join those fighters as major never draws in the sport, remember that "unlikely" might be their calling cards.

I don't like a lot of aphorisms associated with boxing, but one that has always resonated with me is "that's why they fight the fights." Neither Roman nor Doheny was supposed to arrive at this juncture in professional boxing. There were greater talents out there, bigger names, more impressive resumes, better promoted fighters, yet here they are, two unassuming boxers who believed in themselves when few did and made the most of their opportunities. And while Roman and Doheny are late to the party, they have fought and toiled to get past that velvet rope, the place where the beautiful people congregate. And they're not about to leave. 

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. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Gvozdyk, Mean Machine-Robinson

Let's start with the most interesting fight from Saturday's card in Philadelphia, the welterweight co-feature between Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas and Ray Robinson. From an entertainment perspective, the fight wasn't particularly memorable, but in terms of strategy, tactics and applying the criteria for judging rounds, the bout offered a number of intriguing aspects to consider. The fight was a classic style matchup between the come-forward aggressor (Mean Machine) and the crafty boxer (Robinson). 

Leading up to the bout, a friend of mine in England asked me if Robinson was worth a bet as a 14-1 underdog. He had read my pre-fight profile on Ray and after further considering the relative strengths of the two boxers, he thought that those odds seemed a little too wide. I agreed. I told him that I wouldn't favor Robinson, but he certainly had a path to victory: a lot of lateral movement, fighting off the back foot, limiting exchanges; it was worth a shot at such long odds. 



Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank



And Robinson fought his fight on Saturday. Circling the perimeter of the ring, reducing Mean Machine's output, keeping action to a minimum, to my eyes he certainly won the ring generalship battle. He was the far more successful boxer at imposing his will on the fight. 

He did stink the fight out though; make no mistake about it, but I'm not here to pass judgment on that strategy. It was his best chance of winning. He pot-shotted from the outside, landed a few notable jabs and counter right hooks and kept on moving. It wasn't riveting to watch, but one had to admire his execution. Mean Machine certainly hit harder and clearly had more confidence in his chin. Robinson fought the way he did out of necessity. 

Stinking a fight out is not why we turn on the television set on a Saturday night or go attend live boxing. It's a negative style. But there's nothing illegal about it. In fact, I think it's a strategy that more fighters should employ in the right set of circumstances. At a minimum, boxers should at least prepare to face that type of style during training camp, and Mean Machine looked ill-equipped. 

Inching along the outside of the ring, not running, Robinson continuously moved to his left (interestingly, towards Kavaliauskas's power hand) and Mean Machine made no adjustments throughout the fight. Kavaliauskas couldn't cut the ring off and looked befuddled for large portions of the bout. This was supposed to be Mean Machine's opportunity to make a big statement in the welterweight division, that he was a worthy future opponent for Terence Crawford. Instead, he spent much of the night flummoxed in the ring.

When they did exchange, or when Mean Machine got off first, he had a noticeable advantage in power. Mean Machine did connect with a few memorable lead right hands and a couple of left hooks, but he was essentially nullified throughout much of the fight. 

But Robinson essentially nullified himself as well, so infrequently letting his hands go. The sport is called "boxing" and not "make your opponent look like shit." To my eyes, Robinson just wasn't offensively oriented enough to win the fight. In too many rounds he didn't cross a minimum threshold for me in terms of activity. I can enjoy counterpunchers, movers and/or boxers, but he just wasn't doing enough offensively.

I scored the fight for Kavaliauskas 97-93. The official scores were 97-93 (for Robinson) and two scores of 95-95: thus a majority draw. Many whom I spoke with on press row also had Mean Machine winning, but others I talked to in the arena didn't see it the same way (it's worth remembering that Robinson was fighting at home in Philly). Carl Moretti from Top Rank believed that the draw was appropriate. Legendary Philly promoter Russell Peltz thought it was a draw or a slight Robinson victory (he wasn't scoring it round by round). Former junior welterweight champion Chris Algieri, who was calling the international broadcast of the fight, had Robinson winning by two rounds. 

In talking with Algieri after the fight, I referenced his bout with Ruslan Provodnikov, where he won by a split decision (114-112 twice and 109-117). Remember in that fight that Algieri was knocked down twice. So, essentially two judges had him winning eight rounds while the third judge only had him winning one round. In that particular fight, I don't think that any of the three turned in a bad card. But how can scores so disparate be valid?

Algieri referenced his fight with Provodnikov and Robinson's effort with Mean Machine with the same phrase: commanding the ring. He believed that he imposed his style on the fight with Provodnikov. Similarly, he thought that Robinson was the one who dictated the terms of the bout. Robinson had effectively neutralized Mean Machine's power shots and when evaluating each round, it was clear that Robinson was more content with how the action was unfolding. But doesn't a boxer have to move his hands enough to win rounds? This is where Algieri thought the comparison between fights wasn't 100% apt, because he believed that he was significantly more active than Robinson was. Nevertheless, he thought that Robinson had done enough, but he also understood that the fight could lead to legitimate differences of opinion.

In talking with Robinson after the fight, he was pleased with his performance. He thought that he should have won. He believed that the game plan put together by trainer Derrick "Bozy" Ennis was perfect. One aspect worth noting was the decision to move to his left. That was Robinson's decision in the ring. He didn't think that Mean Machine had prepared for it and realized quickly that it was working. 

Ultimately, credit must be given to Robinson and Ennis for effectively utilizing a style that helped them against a heavily-favored opponent, but let's also acknowledge how the sport functions. Although, Robinson averted a loss, he also didn't create additional demand. Few opponents are going to want to get into the ring with him voluntarily; there's little upside. He doesn't have a significant fan base, he's not necessarily great television and his physical dimensions (tall southpaw) aren't particularly desirable for those trying to move their careers ahead. Instead, Robinson will have to wait on the generosity of the rankings organizations to get notable fights. But at his age (33), it's all about getting that opportunity for the belt, and if he needs to stink out a fight to get there, so be it. But I hope he understands that there is a reason why certain fighters are B-sides. 

As for Mean Machine, he has clearly plateaued. Once upon a time he was a highly regarded Top Rank prospect and considered a serious contender in the welterweight division. But he turned in a listless performance against Juan Carlos Abreu last year and another sub-par effort on Saturday night. Robinson completely took away his jab and Mean Machine struggled, both technically and psychologically. There was very little strategy or craft in his attack. He certainly had a case for winning, but shed no tears for him; that was far from a world-class performance.

We won't soon have an answer to how much ring generalship should be awarded during fights. There's no percentage basis where ring generalship should be given 20%, etc. In some respects this lack of universality in scoring creates frustration, but it also leads to a certain appeal. There isn't one template to winning a fight. Disparate strategies can be employed for victory. A fighter can win moving forward or going backwards, leading or countering. This range of options helps level the playing field. Robinson wasn't going to win a mano-a-mano battle against Kavaliauskas, and the rules of the sport don't require him to do so. Boxing isn't a tough-man competition. As Saturday illustrated, brains can sometimes hold brawn to a standstill.

*** 

I've seen Oleksandr Gvozdyk fight live four times (against Isaac Chilemba, Yunieski Gonzalez, Craig Baker and now Doudou Ngumbu) and each time he has fought in a different style. I've seen him stalk, dart in and out with power shots, bide his time patiently in the pocket and fight cautiously. He has a cerebral approach to boxing and he has top-shelf athleticism. Bob Arum has called him one of the most intelligent fighters that he's ever promoted.

Gvozdyk won Saturday's fight against Ngumbu in an unusual circumstance. In the fifth round Ngumbu appeared to pull a calf muscle (shout out to more #CalfTalk!) and after a significant delay couldn't continue. Officially Gvozdyk won by a technical knockout. 

Leading up the conclusion of the bout, Gvozdyk was certainly ahead in the bout, but he wasn't razor sharp. Although he fought energetically, he wasn't able to consistently connect with his power shots. Ngumbu didn't offer all that much, but he did land a couple of clean counter left hooks that reminded me of an instance earlier in Gvozdyk's career when the unheralded Tommy Karpency was able to drop him. 


Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank


In Gvozdyk previous fight, against lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, he turned in one of the most disciplined performances of his career and avoided most of Stevenson's left-hand lasers. So far, Gvozdyk's best performances have come against top competition. Unfortunately, he seems to turn on and off his focus depending on how he perceives the quality of his opposition. 

Gvozdyk is one of the elite talents at 175 and he certainly has a chance to emerge as the best among the current crop within the division, but it's also worth remembering that he can be vulnerable. Like his friend and compatriot Vasiliy Lomachenko, his biggest flaw could be underestimating opponents. It may not be the Bivols or Beterbievs or Kovalevs who do him in, but perhaps a significant underdog who lands the right punch. 

This is not meant to berate or minimize Gvozdyk's considerable talents in the ring. But if he doesn't respect each and every opponent he faces, his reign as a champion might turn out to be shorter than he expects.  

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, March 28, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast featured our spring boxing preview. Brandon and I highlighted the best fights in the next three months, some intriguing matchups that are under the radar and a couple of big-name fighters who are in jeopardy of losing. We also looked back at last week's excellent Peterson-Lipinets fight and previewed this weekend's boxing action, headlined by Gvozdyk's first title defense. 


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. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.