Thursday, November 16, 2017

Showdown in the Light Heavyweight Division

Every now and then, a boxing division brims with a collection of impressive talents, featuring not just one or two potentially great fighters, but handfuls of hopefuls. This rare phenomenon is currently occurring in the 115-lb. division, where the likes of Inoue, Gonzalez, Srisaket, Estrada, Cuadras, Yafai, Ancajas and others are starting to battle for supremacy. 2018 promises to have a number of exciting fights within this grouping and boxing fans, and the industry as a whole, have started to take notice of a division usually reserved for deep undercard placements and off-TV fights in foreign lands. Suddenly, and almost without precedent, the boxing scene is looking forward with rapt attention to this assemblage of 115-lb. talents. 

Yes, the secret's out with the super flyweights, but perhaps by this time next year, the boxing world will feel similarly about another beleaguered weight class: the light heavyweight division. Unlike the super flyweights, the best at 175 lbs. have never had a problem gaining wide exposure in the sport, but there has been a generational issue with the lack of depth in the division. In the 20 years since Roy Jones won his first light heavyweight title, there have seldom been more than two top-tier talents fighting in the division at the same time. A quick glance at some of the names over the past two decades yields some impressive talents: Jones, Michalczewski (if you are so inclined) Tarver, Hopkins, Dawson, Kovalev and Ward. However, there's little depth behind that. I might like Montell Griffin or Glen Johnson as much as the next guy, but no one has ever confused either one with a great fighter. 

With Andre Ward's retirement earlier this year, the light heavyweight division (as well as his three title belts) has been opened up to an impressive collection of contenders. In similar scenarios – like what is happening in the junior welterweight division as a result of Terence Crawford moving up to welterweight – often the belts will wind up being disseminated to significantly lesser talents. But in the light heavyweight division, there are a number of intriguing candidates who could emerge as the alpha dog. Perhaps more importantly, the process of finding out who will be the number one guy will be loads of fun. In addition, these light heavyweights aren't just cuties; almost all are certified bangers. Boxing fans should be in for quite a treat if these talents meet in the ring. 

Before we fully start to salivate over the potentialities in the division, now should be the time for the obligatory reminder about the politics of boxing, promotional turfs, network difficulties and uncooperative fighters that often can deprive the sport of the best matches in a given weight class. (Adonis Stevenson somehow encapsulates or has represented all of these issues, what a guy.) But for now, let's speculate; let's dream. Let's discuss who could possibly emerge as the best light heavyweight.

It's July of 2018 and the World Boxing Super Series has just completed its successful inaugural set of tournaments, crowning Oleksandr Usyk and Chris Eubank Jr. as the winners of the Muhammad Ali Trophy. A newsflash comes across the boxing wires: the light heavyweight division will be selected for the 2017-2018 tournament; boxing fans rejoice and immediately start to speculate on whom will enter. 

What follows below are the eight fighters whom I would want in that tournament. Yes, it's certainly possible that not all will enter, so I'll include a couple of alternates. 

The Top Four Seeds: 

1. Sergey Kovalev
2. Adonis Stevenson
3. Dmitry Bivol
4. Artur Beterbiev

The Next Four 

Badou Jack
Oleksandr Gvozdyk
Sullivan Barrera
Eleider Alvarez

Alternates

Marcus Browne
Joe Smith Jr. 

Let me make a quick note on the seeding. It's clear from how the WBSS ranked the super middleweight division that current champions were seeded higher than non-title holders, regardless of potential or quality. Thus, Bivol and Beterbiev, who currently hold belts, will most likely be seeded in the top-four, irrespective of talent. 

As you can see, just the first round of this hypothetical tournament provides mouth-watering possibilities. Let's say the initial fights are as follows: Kovalev-Alvarez, Stevenson-Barrera, Bivol-Jack and Beterbiev-Gvozdyk (the top four seeds get to pick their opponents). Already, in just the opening matchups, we'll see fireworks a plenty. 

However, for the rest of this article, I'm not interested in predicting the outcomes of hypothetical matchups but I want to provide some additional depth on these fighters. A few in this group are household names to fight fans (Kovalev, Stevenson) while others are just starting to get known (Gvozdyk and Bivol). Below I'll list for each fighter some biographical information, descriptions of their style and strengths and weaknesses. 

Sergey Kovalev 
Record: 30-2-1 (26 KOs)
Age: 34
Country: Russia
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None
Next Fight: Nov. 25 against Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (for the vacant WBO title)
Style: A come-forward stalker with one of the best one-two's in the sport. 
Strengths: Straight right hand, jab.
Weaknesses: Mental temperament, out-of-the ring issues, conditioning.

Kovalev, a former unified champ in the division, lost his last two fights to Andre Ward; both featured their share of controversy. A clear majority of fight fans believed that Kovalev won their first fight. He earned a knockdown early in the match and controlled most of the bout's first half. The second fight was ruled a knockout for Ward despite Andre landing several low blows in the concluding salvo. With a more sympathetic ref, perhaps Kovalev gets time to recover in the ring and is allowed to keep fighting. Nevertheless, Kovalev was getting smacked around late in the fight and his conditioning was poor. 

Kovalev will have the opportunity to reclaim one of his former belts later this month against Shabranskyy, and he certainly should win that fight. Despite Kovalev's conditioning flaws and perhaps a lack of creativity, he is still one of the best knockout punchers in the sport and is capable of stopping anyone in the division. However, Kovalev hasn't lived a Spartan lifestyle out of the ring and he's in the middle of a trainer switch. If he's right, he's still a threat to anyone in the division and would probably be the favorite to win the tournament among this pool of fighters (keep in mind that bookies and gamblers often like known quantities). But can he recover from his losses? Will he acknowledge that he still has a lot to learn in the sport? Or will his arrogance and a desire to cut corners be his downfall?

Adonis Stevenson
Record: 29-1 (24 KOs)
Age: 40
Country: Canada by way of Haiti
Stance: Southpaw
Current Title: WBC, lineal king of the division
Next Fight: N/A
Style: An athletic, aggressive southpaw with one of the best left hands in boxing.  
Strengths: Straight left hand, left hook, jab, hand speed. 
Weaknesses: Chin, age, out-of-the-ring temperament.

Adonis Stevenson has been the WBC light heavyweight champion for over four years and has somehow found a way not to fight the two best talents in the division during that time frame, Kovalev and Ward. He's even avoided his mandatory challenger, Eleider Alvarez, for well over a year. Stevenson's victim list does include credible fighters like Andrzej Fonfara and Tony Bellew, but it's also composed of lesser talents like Dmitry Sukhotsky and Tommy Karpency. In truth, it would be a wild stretch to assume that Stevenson would enter a tournament like this one. He's already turned down significant offers and chances to prove his greatness. 

But let's say that Stevenson by some stroke of fancy decides to put it on the line. He's still a formidable fighter. His left hand can end anyone. In the ring, he appears to be a frontrunner. If one of the bangers from this group can survive the early rounds, Stevenson could be in real trouble. In addition, age has to catch up with Stevenson at some point. Very few fighters are major factors in their 40s. Can Stevenson put together three strong performances in a row at such an advanced age? 

Dmitry Bivol
Record: 12-0 (10 KOs)
Age: 26
Country: Russia by way Kyrgyzstan
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: WBA
Next Fight: N/A
Style: Power puncher with excellent balance and punch technique.
Strengths: Multiple power punches, footwork, balance, punch placement. 
Weaknesses: Lack of professional rounds, weak competition.

A Russian amateur champion with an astounding record of 268-15 before turning pro, Bivol has recently emerged on the world level. He features ferocious punching power. His sterling boxing technique belies his 12 professional fights. With Bivol there's no wasted motion. Every punch has a purpose and he moves with a singular focus. He seemingly can knock people out without even landing his hardest shots. 

Despite Bivol's auspicious start in the pro ranks, there are still a number of unanswered questions regarding his ascension in light heavyweight division. What happens when someone can take his punch? Can he go 12 rounds? What is his defense like? As of now, much of this is speculation but Bivol certainly possesses the power and fundamentals to capture the imagination of the boxing public.

Artur Beterbiev
Record: 12-0 (12 KOs)
Age: 32
Country: Canada by way of Russia
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: IBF
Next Fight: N/A
Style: A power puncher with a huge right hand. Not necessarily a top athlete but he is very good at applying pressure and cutting off the ring. 
Strengths: Punching power, right hand.
Weaknesses: Lack of professional rounds and experience, out-of-the-ring promotional problems.

Because of injuries and promotional issues, Beterbiev has only fought three times in the past 18 months. At 32, much of his prime has been wasted. Beterbiev turned in a listless performance against Enrico Koelling last Saturday. He threw very few combinations, didn't apply his customary pressure and displayed a curious lack of urgency. Although he won practically every round before stopping Koelling in the 12th, it was perhaps his worst outing as a professional. Beterbiev is embroiled in a lawsuit against his promoter, Yvon Michel. It's certainly possible that the out-of-the-ring drama played a role in his sub-optimal performance. There's also no sense of when he might fight next. We'll know more after his legal proceedings are complete. 

At his best, Beterbiev, a decorated amateur, obliterates opponents with his menacing right hand. However, like Bivol, he hasn't had the competition or experience with those at the top of the division. He's not the most athletic in this group and could struggle with boxers and movers. His punch will keep him in every fight but he doesn't seem to have the same fluidity of Bivol at this point in their respective careers. 

Badou Jack
Record: 22-1-2 (13 KOs)
Age: 34
Country: USA by way of Sweden
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None, although recently had a lesser WBA belt
Next Fight: N/A
Style: An aggressive banger who comes on later in fights. Jack applies tremendous pressure and wears down opponents in the second half.  
Strengths: Physicality, toughness, self-belief, inside fighting, body punching.
Weaknesses: Slow-starter, straight-line fighter, can be outworked early.

A little more than three years ago, Jack was an afterthought at the top levels of boxing. Having been iced be unheralded Derek Edwards in the first round, Jack was dismissed as a Mayweather Promotions hypejob. Well, Jack has proved his doubters wrong. He became a super middleweight champ and defeated George Groves in a notable fight. Earlier this year he fought to a spirited draw against fellow titleholder James DeGale. He subsequently moved up to light heavyweight and knocked out former champ Nathan Cleverly.

Jack appears to be at his ideal weight at light heavyweight. Although he's not the biggest puncher in this group, he certainly possesses the heavy artillery to threaten opponents. Jack's relentless dedication to body punching pays dividends as fights progress and few boxers are capable of mixing it up with him on the inside. Jack can be outworked on the outside and he can drop early rounds. Still, he's no one's idea of a picnic.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk
Record: 14-0 (12 KOs)
Age: 30
Country: Ukraine
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None
Next Fight: N/A
Style: An athletic boxer-puncher with great feet and rhythm in the ring. He's very tricky to time and throws unconventional combinations.  
Strengths: Athleticism, movement, punch variety, intelligence.
Weaknesses: Can be caught coming in and out. Takes a lot of risks in the ring. 

Gvozdyk announced himself on the world stage with impressive stoppages of Isaac Chilemba and Yunieski Gonzalez. A former Olympic medalist, Gvozdyk has a strong amateur pedigree and a unique pro-style. His legs make him very tricky to time and his ring generalship separates him from others in this pool of fighters. He can get a tad overconfident in the ring and he has learned to respect his opponents better. He moves so much in-and-out that he can leave himself vulnerable to long or sweeping shots. Still, his athleticism and unique ring style will present problems for the top fighters in the division. 

Sullivan Barrera
Record: 20-1 (14 KOs)
Age: 35
Country: USA by way of Cuba
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None
Next Fight: Nov. 25 against Felix Valera
Style: A boxer-puncher who is physical, crafty and also a little chinny. 
Strengths: Jab, right hand, physicality.
Weaknesses: Chin, defense during exchanges.

Barrera is an exciting fighter who has won a war against Shabranskyy (Kovalev's next opponent) and got off the canvas to defeat Joe Smith Jr. Last year he was overmatched against Andre Ward but against mere mortals, he has looked threatening. Barrera has good fundamentals. He features a nice double jab and a sneaky right hand. He can go to the body and he can display a good uppercut. Barrera likes to trade a little bit too much for his own good. Although he has the requisite toughness of a champion, his chin might not be at the same level. Expect him to engage in a few more shootouts against the better talent in the division. He could KO or get himself KO'ed against any top fighter. 

Eleider Alvarez
Record: 23-0 (11 KOs)
Age: 33
Country: Canada by way of Colombia
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None
Next Fight: N/A
Style: A boxer with tons of talent, athleticism and tools who can sleepwalk through portions of a fight.  
Strengths: Jab, left hook, combination punching, poise.
Weaknesses: Fights at one speed, can display a lack of urgency and focus. 

In any given round, Alvarez can look like an elite fighter. His jab can be a piston. He throws pinpoint combinations. His defense is sharp. He can hit opponents at will. However, keep watching. Suddenly, listlessness sets in. His punch volume drops. Guys he was comprehensively beating suddenly get off with their punches. He can be a maddening fighter. 

If you look at Alvarez's record, you'll already see two majority decisions that wound up going in his favor. Stuck in limbo as Adonis Stevenson's mandatory, Alvarez hasn't had many opportunities to face top fighters. There's a sense that he fights up or down to the level of his competition. If that's the case, then he can be a dark horse in this hypothetical tournament. But perhaps a more pressing problem for him is putting 12 consistent rounds together. 

Alternates:

Marcus Browne
Record: 20-0 (15 KOs)
Age: 27
Country: USA
Stance: Southpaw
Current Title: None
Next Fight: N/A
Style: An athletic, aggressive boxer-puncher who can be undisciplined in the ring, leaving himself open for counters 
Strengths: Straight left hand, hand speed, offensive temperament
Weaknesses: Defensive flaws, can be caught admiring his work, doesn't get out of the pocket fast enough. 

In Browne's most notable fight, he was lucky to score a victory against Radivoje Kalajdzic. In truth, he should've lost but sympathetic officials helped preserve his undefeated record. He rebounded nicely from that performance by knocking out Thomas Williams Jr. and Seanie Monaghan. Browne possesses the hand speed and power to trouble fighters in the upper echelon of the division. However, he also will give them opportunities. He tries to draw every fight into a shoot-out. He throws punches from wide angles and can be countered fairly easily. He also doesn't seem to have a high Ring IQ. When he needed a Plan B against Kalajdzic, one wasn't readily available. 

Joe Smith Jr.
Record: 23-2 (19 KOs)
Age: 28
Country: USA
Stance: Orthodox
Current Title: None
Next Fight: N/A
Style: A heavy-handed puncher who can be very basic in the ring.  
Strengths: Right hand, toughness, understands his strengths and weaknesses as a fighter.
Weaknesses: Athleticism, lack of creativity in the ring. 

Smith had memorable knockouts of Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins in 2016. However, the party ended in 2017 against Sullivan Barrera. After knocking down Barrera in the first round, Smith struggled throughout the rest of the fight and wound up having his jaw broken. Smith possesses a strong right hand and he understands rudimentary boxing fundamentals. However, he's not a natural fighter. His hand speed is average and his offensive forays can be predictable. Still, his right hand is a real weapon. An opponent has to neutralize that punch to beat him. 

*

Ultimately, this light heavyweight tournament would bring excitement to the sport. Unlike the current WBSS contests, American TV networks most likely would jump to televise this pool of fighters. With the exception of Alvarez, all of the boxers mentioned have knockout ratios of over 50%. The tournament would promise ferocious power punching and memorable knockouts. In the real world, it's unlikely that all eight of the featured fighters would accept this invitation. But suppose all except Stevenson do? Even if only five or six of the top eight participate, that's still an exceptional tournament. 

It's possible that a full light heavyweight tournament fails to materialize. However, even if matches are kept in-house, that still could provide excitement. Imagine Kovalev-Bivol on HBO, Stevenson-Jack on Showtime or Beterbiev-Gvozdyk on ESPN. Those are all must-see fights. Essentially, even with minimal cooperation between networks and promoters, some great fights could happen with relative ease. 

But let's hope for the best. Here's wishing that the powers that be in boxing realize the depth and talent in the division. If everyone decided to play nice with each other, something truly special could happen. Yes, often we wear our skeptical hats as we follow the sport. It protects us from the cynicism and falsehoods which are all too common in boxing. But let's remove our caps for just a brief instance and imagine how exciting such a tournament could be. We're on the precipice of a golden age in the light heavyweight division. For today, let's luxuriate on those possibilities before the cold realities of the sport attempt to interfere.

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Radio featured a lot of Anthony Joshua-Deontay Wilder talk. Will it happen in 2018? If so, who wins? What other heavyweights might they fight next year? We also spent some time talking about Shawn Porter. Will he actually get a big fight in 2018? Brandon and I also previewed the ESPN and HBO cards for this weekend. We talked a lot about Saturday's Jacobs-Arias fight and the light heavyweight division, which has quickly become one of the more intriguing weight classes in the sport.

Click below on the links to listen.




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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Anthony Joshua: At the Threshold

It's not hyperbole to suggest that Anthony Joshua has already established himself as the most exciting heavyweight of this generation. At 20-0 and with all of his victories coming by way of knockout, Joshua has captured the imagination of the boxing public. Already he's a megastar in his native Britain. His fights sell out stadiums and every outing of his is a pay per view in his home market. He's a natural with the microphone as well, projecting confidence, determination and humility in perfect proportions. 

Joshua's emergence has led to the symbolic end of the prior heavyweight era, one characterized by robotic and often overly cautious Eastern European champions, typified by the Klitschko brothers. He has reminded boxing audiences that heavyweights can be fluid athletes and needn't shy away from hostilities in the ring. On paper Joshua has it all: two heavyweight belts, an adoring fanbase, a savvy promoter, network support, a first-rate trainer, matinee looks and natural affability. 

Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

However, Joshua has already come to a crucial precipice in his career. Sure, right now he could consider himself the best heavyweight in the world and the claim would be legitimate. But will he become the rightful heir to the greats in the sport's glamour division, or will he remain just the best current heavyweight of a rather mediocre division? Will Joshua take the steps in his career needed to become one of the immortals?

Last Saturday Joshua knocked out Carlos Takam, a late replacement opponent, in the 10th round. Joshua won a virtual shutout on the cards prior to the stoppage although it should be said that Takam had his best moments of the match in the latter rounds. Despite the win, Joshua's performance wasn't among his best as a professional. 

At a career-high 254 lbs., Joshua moved more ponderously in the ring than he had in his more recent outings. He fired mostly single shots instead of combinations and he loaded up early in the fight on seemingly every punch, trying to knock out Takam in short order. Still, Joshua won the early rounds fairly easily. In the 4th, he connected with a sweet counter left hook that forced Takam's glove to touch the canvas – a clear knockdown. 

However, as the rounds progressed Takam got more adventurous. Finding safe haven on the inside, Takam did a fair amount of grappling, which reduced Joshua's clean connects. He fired off a number of left hooks to the body without receiving anything significant in return from Joshua. He also landed a number of clean lead and counter right hands. 

Even though Takam had moments where he did good work, Joshua was still taking every round. And on a night where Joshua was far from his best, he managed to defeat a capable opponent without needing to go into a higher gear. 

Off nights routinely happen in boxing and it would be unfair to penalize Joshua for not necessarily firing on all cylinders against Takam. Joshua remains truly formidable in the division and it will take an excellent fighter to beat him.

Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

At 28, Joshua is in his athletic prime and although he's had a wildly successful start to his career, remember that he's had only 20 professional fights; there are still areas where he can improve. Perhaps most importantly, he and his team, which includes head trainer Rob McCracken, need to find an ideal ring weight. 254 was too big for him. He didn't use the ring like he could have and he didn't move with the same agility that he has in previous fights. Joshua's physicality and size will always be advantages for him but he shouldn't be curtailing his mobility and flexibility. 

Strategically, Joshua needs to understand what makes him such a singular presence in the heavyweight division – his combination punching. Joshua isn't the best puncher in the division. He's not the fastest guy. But he has a large punch arsenal and the coordination and technique to put several power punches together in rapid succession. When Joshua can land his right cross, left hook, jab and uppercut, opponents can't defend against his variety. Conversely, when Joshua was just trying to drop Takam with right hands early in the fight on Saturday, Takam survived quite easily. 

Knockouts are special. They electrify audiences. It's not that Joshua should forego KO's in favor of clever boxing, but he needs to remember that his knockouts come from multiple hard punches. He's not Deontay Wilder, who can end the night of any heavyweight with just his right hand. Joshua needs to set up his shots. Keeping his body loose and limber will help put him in position to land his best power punches. Joshua shouldn't be aiming to win pinup contests; he's there to dispatch opponents. 

Technically, Joshua still needs to work on his jab. In the Takam fight, Joshua returned his left to his waist after throwing the jab, leaving his left side completely open for a counter shot. This tendency could become quite problematic for him. Hopefully McCracken can help iron out that bad habit. 

If this sounds like I'm nitpicking Joshua's performance, perhaps there's some truth there. But these aspects are what Joshua must improve upon if he wants to get to the next level. Perfecting these areas will allow him to have a run of dominance at the top level of the sport. 

Joshua stands on the threshold of greatness but there's no guarantee that he reaches that lofty perch. Many fighters have succumbed to the trappings of success, the infatuation with their headlines, overconfidence or complacency. For Joshua, his biggest enemy in achieving boxing immortality may be himself. He'll be favored against fellow titleholders Joseph Parker and Wilder and perhaps only by allowing himself to be at a level beneath his best, will opponents defeat him; however, these scenarios happen all the time in boxing. Keep your left hand down against Carlos Takam and you'll be fine. Do that against Wilder and it could be career-altering. 

Earlier in the year, Joshua engaged in a Fight of the Year contender against Wladimir Klitschko where both fighters hit the canvas. Joshua demonstrated confidence, resolve and poise to climb his way back into that fight after being so badly hurt. But let's remember, that bout also showed that Joshua's defense can be penetrated. No matter how euphoric the praise may be for Joshua in some quarters, he has proven to be vulnerable. That's not a fighter who should be overconfident and making some textbook defensive mistakes. 

It's up to Joshua's to decide how good he wants to become. If he's self-satisfied, then his current level is certainly sufficient to compete against the best in the division. However, if he wants a truly memorable reign atop the heavyweights, and by implication, the sport of boxing, now is where he needs to tighten up these potential holes. With improvement in his Ring IQ – understanding what type of fighter he truly is – he will become even more formidable. Getting himself in optimal boxing shape, not body sculpting, will enable him to go 12 hard rounds and fire off his best weapons: combinations. And finally, he needs to remember that he can be hurt. Joshua didn't defend his body well on Saturday and left himself too open for counters. There smacked faint whiffs of overconfidence in the ring.

Joshua possesses the physical and technical attributes to become a great heavyweight but very little is given in this sport. Joshua must seize the moment. Like many fans, I'm captivated by his potential. Will he slip up? Will the next ten years be the Joshua Decade? More than anything else, it seems as if Joshua himself holds these answers. Will he play his cards for greater reward, or will he cash in his winnings, content to call it an evening? 

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Opinions and Observations: The Junior Middleweights

Once upon a time in the not too distant past, Jermell Charlo was one of the flavors of the month. A young kid with a good amateur pedigree but not much of a fan base, Charlo was given slot after slot on Showtime, often against less-than-worthy competitors. It was as if he was being foisted upon us by power broker Al Haymon and Showtime boxing; there was little demand from the boxing community for his services.  

Through his development fights, Charlo had proven to be a competent boxer but not exactly a sizzling talent. He had a fantastic jab, good footwork and was generally well coached. However, he seemed to be missing an "X-Factor." Sure, he had some skills, but why should we care? And why was he always on TV?

Courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime Boxing
Flash forward to Saturday night, where a top amateur prospect, one with even more hype than Charlo had, was getting his first title shot on a Showtime undercard. Erickson Lubin, just 22, had been considered one of the best American amateur boxing products before turning pro. In his brief time in the professional ranks, he had amassed a record of 18-0 with 13 knockouts. Despite not having faced legitimate tests as a pro, his team and handlers determined that it was his time to get the glory. The only issue: he had to go through Jermell Charlo first. 

Within moments after the start of the fight, Lubin twitched on the canvas, unable to move his upper body after a pinpoint uppercut from close range. And just like that, a young prospect turned to dust.  

During his post-fight interview, Charlo, accompanied by his brother, Jermall (a former junior middleweight titlist who now campaigns at middleweight), was downright surly. Aggrieved by what he perceived as the wheels of the boxing business trying to roll over him, Charlo was unable to provide a note of grace. His anger seethed to the forefront. Unlike many current champions, Charlo had had a long gestation process in his ascension up the ranks. Before he received his first title shot, Charlo had faced notable fighters such as Denis Douglin, Demetrius Hopkins, Gabriel Rosado and Vanes Martirosyan. These were credible B-level boxers who had helped Charlo refine his craft and improve in the ring. When Charlo finally fought for his first title in 2016, he felt like he had earned his opportunity. 

Lubin's resume included none of the types of fighters that Charlo had faced on his way up. He was on an expedited journey to the top, competition be damned. However, there are very few fighters in the sport who can prosper while taking shortcuts at the highest level of boxing. Yes, there are extraordinary talents that can make it to the top without traditional development, but they are a rare breed. Errol Spence made such a leap this year when he defeated Kell Brook in England. But at least he had faced a recent titleholder in Chris Algieri prior to his shot. He also had international Olympic experience and unlike Lubin was already 27 years old, far farther along in his maturity and development. 

Gervonta Davis was another fighter who had made a similar leap this year by winning a title over Jose Pedraza, but already those early signs of promise have started to look like misplaced optimism. Davis missed weight last fight, giving up his title belt on the scales. He also got hit a ton in that fight against a guy who was brought in to get KO'ed spectacularly. Davis, like Lubin, is 22 and already faces an early precipice in his career. Are these examples of too much too soon?

There is no science in developing fighters. No one gets it right 100% of the time. Even the best make mistakes. However, giving a hot prospect paltry opposition does no one any good. The fighter gets shortchanged. His trainer doesn't get enough of an opportunity to iron out issues in the gym. His handlers don't know exactly what they have in front of them. 

And although it's true that anyone can get knocked cold by a shot, the specific events of Saturday night's fight suggest that the knockout wasn't some type of fluke accident or serendipitous punch, but rather it was an instance of one fighter prepared for the moment, and the other one not.

Charlo fired off a basic double jab. At that point, Lubin ducked his head down and to the right to avoid the shots, losing eye contact with his opponent. Charlo came back with a right uppercut that Lubin never saw. And that was that. Again, this all manifested from a basic set up that one sees at the gym every day. The fight had not gotten ragged and the knockout couldn't be attributed to fighter fatigue or the attrition that so often happens in boxing. That moment was a fighter making a glaring mistake from an ordinary boxing move. Lubin wasn't able to defend himself from a simple double jab. He gave Charlo a free shot. 

Lubin and his team could have observed these problems against an easier opponent, rectified them in the gym and prepared better for the next level. Development bouts exist to minimize the defensive issues that Saturday's fight so easily exposed. Yes, it's nice to create shiny records on the way up, but the real point of development fights is to get better, to hone and to perfect one's craft. 

I don't really understand the inner workings of Haymon Boxing. Some fighters get pushed early for a title (Broner, Jacobs, Davis, Lubin), while others have more traditional development tracks (Thurman, Danny Garcia, the Charlos). What's clear to me is that there is no consistent plan by the organization for development. Although every fighter possesses unique attributes, there should at least be some sort of standard building block process, which can be augmented or changed if needed. Taking young talent and throwing them at a dartboard might lead to some bullseyes, but more often that approach will miss the mark. Fighters have enough to worry about in the ring without being shortchanged in their development. They need to be put in the best position to get the most out of their talent and abilities; Lubin was not. 

On another note, it's no accident that Charlo has started to ascend in the sport after going to a different trainer. Jermell has gained confidence in the ring. He no longer believes that he's the brother who can't punch. With Derrick James, who also trains Spence, Jermell is sitting down on his shots a lot better than he did while under Ronnie Shields (who still trains Jermall). Jermell is also more comfortable in the pocket now, confident that his chin and punch can protect him. These are noted advancements. 

Over the last year, the Charlo brothers have turned into belligerent heels, which is fine by me. At its core, boxing is built on combat. Not everyone needs to be or should be loved. Villains are necessary for the sport to prosper. Juxtapose the Charlos lashing out at the world against the queasy image from Saturday's broadcast that featured rival titlists Keith Thurman and Errol Spence sitting next to each other watching the fights like two business colleagues. They could have been sharing a late cup of tea. Yes, there should be sportsmanship and civility in boxing but the Charlos (perhaps rightly) feel that they have been marginalized in the sport, and perhaps by some in their management. They have grievances and instead of letting their anger manifest in unproductive manners outside the ring, they have channeled their resentments and used them to help make them even better fighters, a valuable lesson for fighters. If their collective anger continues to lead to devastating knockouts, that's wonderful for them – and the sport.  

It's been a rapid transition for the Charlos. After years of toiling on undercards, they are now must-watch TV. Although some may object to their belligerence during interviews, they can be ignored no longer.  They now matter.

***

I made a list of good vs. bad attributes that Jarrett Hurd exhibited in his fight against Austin Trout on Saturday. 

Good Hurd:

Stamina, self-confidence, athleticism, right hand 

Bad Hurd:

Footwork, limited arsenal, walking in without throwing punches, inconsistent jab, defense, glove positioning, punch technique with his left hand, finishing instincts 

To be kind to Hurd, I could've kept going on the "bad" list but I think that my point should suffice. He did so many things wrong against Trout, yet he scored the best win of his career, and did so emphatically. He essentially beat Trout with just a short right hand. Make no mistake: it's a pulverizing punch, but that's all he had. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Trout seemed to dig his own grave in the sixth round. Boxing beautifully early in the fight, Trout got greedy in the sixth, standing in the pocket trading with Hurd for far too long. I nudged my girlfriend and shouted out to no one in particular, "What's he doing? He can't stay in there!" Barely could I finish that sentence before Hurd connected with a powerful right hand that sent Trout staggering back to the ropes. In the final moments of the round, Hurd connected with another powerful right that I thought had really hurt Trout. To me, Trout was never the same in the fight. 

In the eighth round, Trout looked like he was ready to go. With wobbly legs and a sharp reduction in his offensive output, Trout was still in the ring only on account of his intestinal fortitude – and Hurd's inability to finish. Hurd didn't have the resources to put punches together that could lead to a knockout. He neglected the body. Throwing in combination was an afterthought. He just marched in and waited for another opportunity to land a right hand. Trout was able to survive the eighth and even made it through the tenth before the fight was stopped in the corner. He had taken a serious beating. 

Hurd's performance reminded me of the recent efforts of lightweight champion Robert Easter. On two occasions Easter had an opponent ready to be stopped and yet he lacked the strategic and technical abilities to finish them. It almost costed him a win against Richard Commey. A 114-113 card gave him a split decision victory. 

Hurd has come back from behind to notch knockouts in his last two fights. However, not all fighters will wither from his right hand. At this point, he's getting by on physicality, athleticism and a right cross. However, that won't be enough for the other top guys at 154. At 27, Hurd is in his physical prime. There won't be much additional physical development left ahead. What he needs is a crash course in boxing fundamentals and technique. I'm sure that his current trainer, Ernesto Rodriguez, is a swell chap but it's time for Hurd to go to finishing school.

With another trainer Hurd might need to take a step back in order to go two steps forward; however, it's warranted. I hope that his team or his handlers realize that they are in a pivotal inflection point in his career. Should they continue on their current path, he will get soundly beaten by the Charlos and Laras of the world. But if he can spend a good six-to-twelve months with one of the sport's better teachers (someone like John David Jackson comes to mind), then he would put himself in position to make the most out of his boxing career. Hurd's rise in boxing has been rapid, as it has been unexpected, but a plateau is coming unless he perfects his craft. Switching trainers isn't going to be a comfortable decision for Hurd – there are loyalties and histories involved – but it's the right step for where he is in his career. 

***

Erislandy Lara soundly dominated an overmatched Terrell Gausha on Saturday in a fight that was nominally the headliner but in actuality served as the walkout bout for the evening. Lara did his thing: reducing an opponent's output, sharpshooting with left hands and draining sustained action from the fight. To be fair to Lara, he didn't run like he has in some of his past bouts. He mostly stayed in the pocket and tried to win every round. 

Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Gausha, somehow once an Olympian, didn't offer much of anything. Whatever success he had as an amateur hasn't translated in the professional ranks. He's not fluid in the ring, he's chinny (knocked down again on Saturday) and he doesn't possess notable power. And he's already 30. 

Essentially, Lara was Gausha's cash out fight. His handlers gave him $200k and a title shot, with little thought that he would actually win. As far as they were concerned, they had done their job. Unlike Lubin or Gervonta Davis, there was no time for additional development. Perhaps Gausha would've had an easier time with another of the titleholders at 154, but that's neither here nor there; he was never a threat at the top level. 

At 34, Lara has been on the world level since his Carlos Molina fight in 2011. By now, boxing fans have had ample time to evaluate what he brings to the table. And with that knowledge many of them voted with their feet by leaving the arena on Saturday during his fight. 

Lara might be the most representative example of the Cuban school in professional boxing: cautious, great footwork, ability to control the ring, fantastic rear hand, low punch volume and cerebral. He's not a joy to fight or watch but his talents are considerable. He has two losses and two draws in his career, all of which are debatable, but with the exception of a passionate few, it's a debate that very few are eager to have. 

Lara engenders a lot of "so what" in boxing. He's a factor. He exists. He has to be dealt with by someone. And the overwhelming majority of boxing fans probably hope that he gets dealt with sooner than later – and dealt with for good. But that person wasn't Gausha, and it won't be anyone other than a truly special fighter. 

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