Sunday, July 19, 2015

Lukie Boxing's Podcast

I had a great, wide-ranging conversation today with Lucas Ketelle on his podcast. Topics covered included Keith Thurman, Al Haymon and PBC, a comparison between Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton, Floyd Mayweather, Virgil Hunter, James Kirkland and much more. Click here to listen.

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 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Keith Thurman: Buy or Sell?

It's no secret that many boxing fans have latched onto Keith Thurman over the last few years. The undefeated welterweight from Florida features a dazzling knockout percentage (81%), exuberance in spades, the desire for greatness and a refreshing honesty in interviews. At 26, Thurman has become one of the jewels of manager Al Haymon's stable. He's on the precipice of becoming a major star in boxing. However, there may be a serious problem: has he plateaued? 

Although Thurman has been elevated to a "full" champion at 147 lbs. by one of the sanctioning bodies, in truth, he hasn't faced the best in the division. Mayweather, Pacquiao, Bradley, Brook and Porter have all proven themselves against better opponents (Amir Khan has faced a similar level of fighter that Thurman has at the weight). Even though Thurman has plied his trade against only the "B-level" at welterweight, he has been stunned numerous times in the ring. Diego Chaves hurt him early in their fight, Jesus Soto Karass rocked him in the first round and on Saturday, Luis Collazo almost knocked him down with a body shot in the fifth round. Although Soto Karass and Chaves are solid-enough punchers, Collazo is no one's definition of a heavy hitter. Certainly, any fighter if hit with the right shot could get dazed or stunned, but Thurman has yet to face a top puncher in the division. This is a cause for concern. 

In another notable trend, Thurman's true "one-punch" power – his nickname is "One Time" – seems to have deserted him as his competition has improved. He's had only one true knockout in his last five fights (two fighters also refused to answer the bell between rounds). In part, this development can be attributed to a stylistic change. Instead of winging power shots with reckless abandon on offense, Thurman is now more reliant on his boxing skills and athleticism. In addition, he seems less inclined to take risks in the ring. He was content against Leonard Bundu and Collazo to circle the ring, box at moments and limit prolonged exchanges. 

However, there are many positives to take from Thurman's development as a fighter. Working with Dan Birmingham, a truly excellent trainer, Thurman has shown a willingness to learn and he has made several technical improvements since his HBO debut in 2012. His footwork and balance have become plusses. He is now far less out-of-position when he throws power shots. Correspondingly, he leaves fewer opportunities to be countered. His right hand has become more compact and he no longer telegraphs the shot. In addition, he has worked on making his jab a real weapon. He also protects his chin much better. These advances are not insignificant. 

But, fans initially fell in love with a crude and fearless slugger, a guy who would take a big shot to land one. Thurman craved knockouts. Now, he seems satisfied with wins of any stripe. Sure, he would like to impress but these days he fights similarly to a favorite would in the early rounds of the NCAA college basketball tournament, "Survive and Advance." Big fights can only come for Thurman if he keeps winning. In Haymon's crowded welterweight stable, a bad loss could stall his momentum for a prolonged period. Maybe Thurman is just executing a smart business strategy as he waits for larger opportunities but what endeared him to boxing fans was that he understood what they wanted; power and vicious stoppages. Boxing fans have seen enough businessmen take over the sport in recent years; they hoped that Thurman was cut from a more entertaining cloth. In his current iteration, Thurman isn't growing his fan base. 

Now, much of the romanticism surrounding his potential is gone. He no longer seems to be a force of nature. Thurman's already proven to be vulnerable in the ring against limited fighters. His opting for caution and intelligence in the ring has deprived fans of seeing the type of devil-may-care attitude that led to his initial support. 

The jury is still out. Since Saturday's fight with Collazo, I've had to recalibrate my opinion on Thurman. I once believed that with his power that he could be a threat to any welterweight in boxing. However, I'm not sure if that version of Thurman still exists. A true knockout puncher needs to stay in the pocket long enough to trade bombs. He has to trust his chin and take the necessary risks to land the big shot. In short, it's possible that Thurman's temperament has changed. And certainly, Thurman's propensity to get hurt could come into play against a rugged body puncher like Porter or a sharpshooter like Brook.   

However, I remain a Thurman enthusiast for one important reason: his character. Certain fighters have intangibles that continually propel them to victory (Bradley is also an example). Thurman's lifestyle and conduct outside of the ring afford him every possible chance of performing at his best in the squared circle. He has never had problems making weight and he has stayed far away from the police blotter. That he has recovered from getting hurt speaks to his conditioning and determination. In addition, it takes a certain amount of humility for a young knockout artist to admit that he doesn't have all the answers and to come back to the ring with additional ones. Thurman's shown a willingness to learn and I believe that his desire to be great has placed him with an ideal mentor in Birmingham. 

For now, it's clear to me that Thurman is caught in between styles. He hopefully will consolidate his considerable offensive skills and meld his power, technique and athleticism to become a consistent, high-level fighter. It's also possible that it never comes together for him. Thurman can be a very cerebral fighter and that attribute in overabundance can lead to hesitation and paralysis-by-analysis. In short, the clock hasn't fully clicked on for Thurman in the ring. He's still figuring out when to engage, when to box, when to go for the kill and how to do so without putting himself in unnecessary danger. 

Thurman won't have too many more fights in which to develop. He'll soon face a tough, world-class welterweight and the stakes will become exponentially higher for him. With a few top wins, he could emerge as one of the true stars of American boxing. However, this sport has also been littered with significant talents who fall short at the elite level.

The next 12 months of Thurman's career will be fascinating to watch as boxing fans will learn what his real ceiling is in the sport. I'm banking on Thurman's character and his desire to be great. His raw tools are there and he has a good team in place. However, it must be pointed out that intangibles aren't always set in stone either. If he understands that there is still a gap from his current form to elite status and that he needs to keep improving, then he will be in good shape to compete against the best at 147. However, if he starts to believe in his own headlines or if he gets a little too comfortable with his money, then all bets are off. Stay tuned. 

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 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tim Bradley and Synthesis

The Hegelian dialectic is a philosophical framework that can help explain history, progress, thought and/or a host of other phenomenon. The central thrust of the dialectic is this: thesis + antithesis = synthesis. Meaning, to arrive at truth, one must resolve a central issue and its antagonistic response before reaching an optimal solution, one which combines elements of the initial two approaches. In evaluating the boxing career of Tim Bradley, I think that a Hegelian analysis provides a meaningful assessment of his transitions as a fighter. 

Part I. Thesis  

During Tim Bradley's ascension from young fighter to top boxing talent, he used a particular style that was very successful. He fought aggressively with a high punch output. He featured a lot of pressure, an abundance of grappling on the inside and very little power. Like an irrepressible gnat, he tormented opponents. Leading with his head was perhaps his most feared weapon. His style wasn't aesthetically pleasing but it got the job done. He won three different versions of the junior welterweight title and defeated unbeaten fighters such as Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander. 

Through 29 fights, Bradley had yet to lose. After dealing with promotional issues earlier in his career, he was now aligned with boxing powerhouse Top Rank and he had become a fixture on HBO. Bradley had also started to climb in the pound-for-pound rankings, an acknowledgement that he was now one of the top fighters in the world. 

In 2012, Bradley was given the opportunity to face Manny Pacquiao, a living legend in the sport and a fighter who was then no worse than the second best talent in boxing. For Bradley, this was his chance at the big time. With the exception of the official decision, the fight didn't go well for Bradley whatsoever. Pacquiao’s superior hand speed, combinations and power troubled him throughout the first half of the fight. In the last few rounds, Bradley had some limited success by being more evasive; however, it's more than possible that Pacquiao took his foot off of the gas thinking that he had a sizable lead. Somehow, two of the judges had Bradley winning seven rounds and he was given the undeserved victory. (It's worth noting that the judges who favored Bradley, C.J. Ross and Duane Ford, no longer judge professional boxing.) 

Bradley was summarily booed after the decision and boxing fans turned against him. With the welterweight title belt around his waist, Bradley was the evening's big loser. Even his promoter called for an investigation of potential malfeasance with the decision (however, it must be said that Pacquiao was Top Rank's ultimate cash cow). In an instant, Bradley had gone from a scrappy champion to a target of ire and derision. Something had to give. 

Part II. Antithesis

"
The first part of his career is now over."
– Bernard Hopkins

Hopkins said this memorable line to Danny Garcia in the tunnel of the Alamodome after Adrien Broner lost to Marcos Maidana, but the quote could certainly be directed towards Bradley after his first fight with Pacquiao. Essentially, whatever had worked for Broner to that point of his career (or, read Bradley here) was no longer enough. Change was needed. After the Pacquiao fight, Bradley faced a problem; his current ring style couldn't beat the best. In addition, he had lost most of whatever fan following that he had; his career was in crisis. 

During Bradley's next four fights – against Ruslan Provodnikov, Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao in the rematch and Diego Chaves – Bradley adopted a new ring style, one that would rely more on power and excitement. Gone was the guy who threw 80 punches a round. He participated in less infighting and the clinching was minimized. More often, he stood at a distance trying to trade hard shots. He learned how to throw looping right hands from distance, punishing left hooks to the body and stinging right uppercuts. This new style produced a fight of the year (against Provodnikov), probably his best career win against Marquez, a competitive decision loss to Pacquiao in the rematch and a draw against Chaves. True, he boxed Marquez for much of the fight but he also fired some enormous shots in its final third, asserting his physical dominance on top of his tactical supremacy. 

However, one could observe these four fights and see some diminishing returns. Although almost all believed that Bradley was robbed with the Chaves decision, this new style certainly allowed Chaves to remain in the fight. Yes, he bettered Chaves in many of the exchanges but he still got hit with some monster shots. In the Pacquiao rematch, Bradley was able to rock him at points but ultimately he got outworked (you could never say that about the old Bradley). While Bradley was looking for one big shot, Pacquiao let his hands go more often and won the decision. Although Bradley was certainly more TV-friendly in this reconstituted style, he went life-and-death with Provodnikov, nobody's definition of an elite fighter. As a reaction to his earlier ring style, Bradley 2.0 was more exciting. However, this newer version faced even more peril in the ring and perhaps additional dangers on the scorecards. 

Part III. Synthesis

In Bradley's fight against Jessie Vargas a few weeks ago, he seemed to turn a corner. Incorporating elements of his original style with aspects of his power-punching antithesis, he produced one of his best performances as a pro. After a three-year hiatus, his pressure and high punch volume had returned. Through sheer will and determination, he outworked Vargas on the inside and got the best of the action. Utilizing what he had developed in his second iteration as a fighter, his looping lead right hand was devastating at points. In addition, he gave himself enough space not to smother his work. There were very few head butts and the action had a great flow to it, something not often said about Bradley's bouts in his initial ring style. 

Yes, he got tagged at the end of the fight and had to survive (the ref, Pat Russell, stopped the bout about seven or eight seconds early) but most believe – as I do – that he would have found a way to stay on his feet until the final bell. I had Bradley winning convincingly, 116-112, against a fighter who did some very effective sharpshooting. Overall, Bradley was awarded his most comfortable decision on the scorecards since prior to the first Pacquiao fight. This third ring version appealed to judges and fans alike. 

I don't know if Bradley's performance against Vargas was a one-fight anomaly or the beginning of a new phase in his career. However, I'm encouraged by what I observed. In my opinion, it was Bradley at his most complete. He boxed, he banged, he pressured, he let his hands go and he displayed some decent power. Against Marquez, I felt that Bradley intentionally stayed away in the first portion of the fight. He picked up points early by boxing conservatively. But facing Vargas, Bradley continued to fight intelligently, but he also exchanged throughout the fight. 

I'm curious to see what's next for Bradley. Excepting Mayweather, I'd make this version of Bradley a favorite over any other welterweight (even against Pacquiao, whom I feel has really slipped). Bradley's synthesis has made him a more well-rounded fighter. Now, he finally has the formula to be his very best in the ring. Here's hoping that he gets the fights. 

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 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pound-For-Pound 6-29-15

When Andre Ward was removed from the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list at the end of 2014, I had him rated as the second-best boxer in the world. In the ring, he was a spectacular talent and had essentially wiped out a generation of fighters in the super middleweight division. However, his inactivity grew as his contract status went through various legal proceedings. Meanwhile, other elite prizefighters were actually...fighting. After a year of inactivity and with nothing scheduled for the immediate future, it was time for Ward to be dropped from the Rankings. 
 
Ward finally returned to the ring earlier this month, his first fight since November of 2013. His opponent was Paul Smith, a former title challenger but a fighter not considered to be a threat for Ward. Dominating the action throughout the match, Ward scored a ninth-round stoppage. He still seemed to be in top form.
 
Now, several questions present themselves regarding Ward and the pound-for-pound list: Does Ward deserve to re-enter the Rankings just off of beating a super middleweight gatekeeper, and one who was wildly out-of-shape? If Ward were to be reinserted, does he still warrant his previous placement? Should there be a deduction for his inactivity? If so, how severe?
 
There are no easy answers here. I certainly believe that Ward's accomplishments from 2009-2013 should continue to be recognized. However, I also realize that other top fighters have faced and beaten worthy opponents while Ward was on the sidelines. Wladimir Klitschko added to his memorable reign as heavyweight champ by defeating contenders Kubrat Pulev and Bryant Jennings. In total, he has made 18 defenses of the title that he won from Chris Byrd in 2006. Roman Gonzalez picked up a belt in his third division, defeating number-one flyweight Akira Yaegashi. The undefeated Gonzalez also made notable defenses against ex-champ Edgar Sosa and contender Rocky Fuentes.
 
In the last Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound update, Gonzalez and Klitschko were my second- and third-ranked boxers, respectively. I think that their ring accomplishments and recent form warrant that they remain in those positions. For me, Ward slips in below those two and above Manny Pacquiao, who won a few rounds against Floyd Mayweather but wasn't particularly competitive in the fight. Pacquiao now drops to number five in the Rankings and Bradley, Kovalev and Rigondeaux all move down a spot.
 
Finally, Carl Froch has been removed from the pound-for-pound list because of inactivity. (He was previously ranked eighth.) Froch's last fight, a rematch win over George Groves, was over a year ago and nothing presently is scheduled for him. It's possible that retirement is his next move. The complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list follows:
  1. Floyd Mayweather
  2. Roman Gonzalez
  3. Wladimir Klitschko
  4. Andre Ward
  5. Manny Pacquiao
  6. Tim Bradley
  7. Sergey Kovalev
  8. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  9. Juan Estrada
  10. Naoya Inoue
  11. Adonis Stevenson
  12. Gennady Golovkin
  13. Miguel Cotto
  14. Danny Garcia
  15. Saul Alvarez
  16. Takashi Uchiyama
  17. Shinsuke Yamanaka
  18. Terence Crawford
  19. Donnie Nietes
  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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com