Sunday, July 24, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Crawford-Postol

In the first round of Saturday's Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol fight, HBO's Roy Jones opined that it could be very dangerous for Crawford to switch to southpaw because of Postol's straight right hand. Max Kellerman provided some context for Crawford's decision by correctly pointing out that the switch to lefty could help to neutralize Postol's jab. This was the essential question of the fight for Crawford and his team: would they rather make themselves more vulnerable to the straight right hand or the jab?

The final result of the bout, with Crawford winning a wide unanimous decision, scoring two knockdowns and thoroughly dominating Postol, demonstrated that Team Crawford made a wise choice. Led by head trainer Brian McIntyre, Team Crawford did its homework. They realized that as good as Postol could be, almost everything flowed from his jab. Without that punch, he wasn't nearly as effective at initiating offense. They also believed that Crawford's athleticism, power and accuracy would enable him to minimize the threat of Postol's right hand; Crawford could beat Postol's straight right to the punch. And everything played out according to plan. 

However, it wasn't just the southpaw stance that neutralized Postol's offense. Crawford's purposeful lateral movement played a large role as well. Throughout the fight, he circled away from the jab towards the direction of Postol's right hand. Usually a fighter will move away from an opponent's power hand but Crawford kept going to his left and Postol was mostly ineffective. 

In another impressive strategic move, Crawford stayed out of range for most of the fight. He'd dart in for quick shots and combos and then would get out. Postol couldn't land his jab because he was too far away. Crawford's positioning in the ring made Postol take chances to get closer. He lunged in with shots, jabbed from too close once he got there and often paid a big price from Crawford's power shots. 

It was an altogether fantastic game plan from McIntyre & Co. They thoroughly studied their opponent and rendered him inoperable. In the other corner, Freddie Roach didn't seem to have a Plan B, or one that could be effectively implemented by Postol. 

On offense, Crawford used his improvisational gifts to find openings. He knocked Postol down at the beginning of the fifth round with a right hook high on the side of the head. He landed that same shot at a number of other points throughout the fight, often at the start of a round or after a break. Postol never made an adjustment. In other instances, Crawford noticed too wide of a space between Postol's gloves and landed quick lead and counter left hands. These were openings that Crawford spotted in the ring and he exploited them. He most likely didn't practice the "circle right and throw a lead left hook high on the head to start a round" in camp but he noticed a deficiency in Postol's defensive set-up and took advantage of it. 

Other offensive moves were more practiced. I loved the way that he jabbed on the move, which limited Postol's countershots. Also, he rarely stayed in front of Postol. His offense usually started from an angle. All of these maneuvers were used to minimize the effectiveness of an opponent who needed to set his feet to be effective. 

Crawford demonstrated what an elite talent looks like. Dominating the second-best fighter in the junior welterweight division, Crawford made it look like easy work. Employing boxing, movement, perfectly timed countershots, power and a high Ring IQ, Crawford displayed all his dimensions in the ring. Could he have taken more chances offensively? Perhaps. But it wasn't as if he stunk out the joint. He hurt Postol on a number of occasions, especially with the second knockdown in the fifth round. 

At just 28, Crawford has already become the top fighter in two divisions. With a number of prime years left, the boxing world is seemingly his oyster. Many of the best American boxers currently patrol the welterweight division just seven pounds north of where Crawford plies his trade and it wouldn't be difficult to see him going after big fights at that weight. The thaw between Top Rank, his promoter, and Al Haymon could produce a number of fascinating matchups. A fight against Keith Thurman would be spectacular. How about a Crawford-Spence bout later in 2017? 

Crawford will be in the running for Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent but I'd be pleasantly surprised if Top Rank and Roach let Pacquiao take that fight. In the interim, Crawford needs to stay on his current path. However, don't be surprised if Crawford's next truly meaningful fight isn't until 2018. There's no rush for any top welterweight to fight him and Crawford doesn't yet bring real money to the table. He's on the path to superstardom but he'll need the right opponents for that to happen. Lacking some natural magnetism, Crawford will need to build his fan base against top opposition. Eventually, someone notable will get brave.  

Hopefully, HBO Boxing, which has faced some budgetary pressures this year, will provide enough financial backing to lure worthy opponents into the ring with Crawford. It was a minor travesty that Saturday's fight was on pay per view in the U.S. Many boxing fans missed out on a truly sublime performance. Crawford isn't yet a pay per view fighter and he still needs more exposure on HBO's World Championship Boxing platform. In the past, the HBO-Top Rank partnership has done a wonderful job of turning elite fighters into superstars. Let's hope that they still have the magic formula. Crawford is worthy of it.  

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 19, 2016

Crawford-Postol: Keys to the Fight

The battle for 140-lb. supremacy unfolds on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas as undefeated fighters Terence Crawford (28-0, 20 KOs) and Viktor Postol (28-0, 12 KOs) square off in one of 2016's most anticipated matchups. In the last few years, Crawford has emerged as one of the sport's finest practitioners. An athletic, cerebral switch-hitter, Crawford has been a puzzle for his opponents. Featuring full arsenals from either stance, Crawford has the boxing prowess to win rounds and the finishing ability to end fights early. Postol displays a punishing jab and has deceptive power. Working with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, Postol has continued to patiently break down his opponents and there's been some significant improvement under Roach's tutelage in the effectiveness of his power shots.  

Overall, Crawford-Postol is a tantalizing title unification match between prime junior welterweights. The winner should be in store for even bigger things in the near future but first things first: Saturday's difficult assignment. Below are my keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Postol's jab

At 5'11" and featuring a 73.5'' reach, Postol has imposing size for the division. And unlike many tall and long fighters, Postol uses these attributes to get the better of his opposition. His jab is strong and constant, often having the effect of a power punch. He also double jabs well and throws the punch sharply; his jab isn't easily countered. 

Against Crawford, Postol will have advantages of three inches in height and three-and-a-half inches in reach. Working off his jab, Postol usually establishes the punch from the opening round and gradually incorporates power shots into his attack as fights progress. In slower moments, he'll continue to throw his jab, scoring points while his opponents wait for openings. Postol's size and how he utilizes his jab are significant advantages against any fighter at 140 lbs.  

2. Crawford turning southpaw

In a number of his fights, Crawford has turned southpaw for large chunks of time – it could be minutes or even multiple rounds. Many fighters find it more difficult to jab as well against southpaws as they do when they face orthodox boxers. With Postol's significant advantages with the jab, Crawford will want to do everything in his power to reduce that punch's effectiveness. By turning southpaw, Crawford provides a more challenging angle for Postol to land his jab. 

If Crawford spends a significant amount of time as a southpaw, Postol will be forced to adjust his offensive attack somewhat. He'll need to lead with his straight right hand at points and figure out a way to penetrate Crawford's tricky defense. 

In my opinion, Crawford is more defensively responsible as a southpaw. As an orthodox fighter, he's more explosive offensively but also more vulnerable to return fire. In his bout against Ricky Burns, he fought a majority of rounds out of the southpaw stance and cruised to a fairly comfortable victory. However, when he faced Thomas Dulorme, a fighter who had been susceptible to Hank Lundy's switch-hitting, Crawford stayed in the conventional stance, dropped a few rounds and then scored a knockout. There was hardly any resemblance between the bouts. It will be fascinating to see which choices Crawford makes against Postol.  

3. How fast does Crawford get started?

Two elite fighters of recent vintage, Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins, often gave up early rounds to an opponent. They used the first quarter of the fight to figure out what a foe had in the ring and how he could best be exploited. Eventually, they would open up offensively and turn the bout in their favor. Crawford often utilizes a similar style. He dropped early rounds to Hank Lundy and Dulorme. As those fights progressed, he capitalized on defensive mistakes and scored knockout victories. 

However, facing a higher caliber opponent in Postol, and one who has a pretty tight defense in his own right, Crawford can't afford to let too many rounds slip away before he opens up offensively. Postol will continue to jab and put rounds in the bank until Crawford decides to take offensive chances. Crawford will want to be patient – and he should be to a point – but he needs to win rounds. Upping his offensive output in the third round should be fine but starting in the fifth will leave him with little margin for error.

4. Postol's deceptive power

Glancing at Postol's record, the 12 knockouts are an unimpressive number. However, the right uppercut that knocked out Selcuk Aydin and the right hands that ended Lucas Matthysse's night were punishing shots. Postol isn't a typical one-shot knockout artist (despite the Aydin punch) but he hits much harder than his record would suggest. 

Opponents become so conscious of his jab that openings are created for his power shots. All of Postol's punches are short and effective. He's also fairly accurate with his power shots. In exchanges, Postol should, at a minimum, hold his own with Crawford. And if Crawford takes too many risks (which happened against Yuriorkis Gamboa), Postol certainly has enough power to send Crawford to the canvas. 

5. Athleticism 

Crawford has a tremendous advantage over Postol in foot speed and overall athleticism. He's more coordinated, probably has quicker hands and can better use the ring to his advantage. Another approach to taking away a jab is to leave the pocket. Crawford can force Postol to follow him around the ring. Potshotting Postol with jabs, single power shots or quick one-two's, Crawford can neutralize or severely minimize Postol's effectiveness with the jab. Furthermore, he can ensure that the fight doesn't wind up at mid-range too often, which is Postol's preferred ring geography. 

To combat Crawford's athleticism, Postol will have to cut the ring off effectively. In addition, he must use his body to keep Crawford in front of him, especially as the action gets closer to the ropes. Postol can be a tad lumbering in the ring but he's a very smart fighter. I'm sure that he and Roach have worked on a variety of techniques to keep Crawford in punching range. However, will he be able to execute them against a supremely athletic talent? If Postol can somehow reduce Crawford's athletic advantages, he will have a much easier path to victory. 

Prediction:

After four rounds, I expect the fight to be very close, with the score tied or Postol up 3-1. Postol will start the bout pumping single jabs and scoring points while Crawford patiently circles and looks for opportunities to land counters. I expect a lot of staring early in the fight. Postol's punch volume and the effectiveness of his jab will be the difference in these initial rounds. 

Eventually, Crawford will find success by countering with right hooks out of the southpaw stance or straight rights in the orthodox position. The match will open up somewhat with each fighter gradually incorporating more power shots into his offensive attack. I don't expect the fight to be an all-action war but it should be a fascinating tactical battle as Crawford increasingly lands with his power shots while Postol scores with enough jabs to make the rounds close. I think that the bout will feature an overall low punch volume. In this context, every landed shot will be vital and every miss could lead to a crucial opening. 

I'm banking on Crawford's ring IQ to be a determining factor in the fight. Eventually, he will see an opportunity (or opportunities) and exploit it. The best fighters force opponents into making mistakes. I believe that Crawford will goad Postol into making himself vulnerable (such as lunging in with his shots or giving up his reach to land more effectively); he'll set traps that will pay off in the second half of the match. 

Ultimately, I think that Crawford's versatility, intelligence and athleticism will be enough to carry the fight. He'll maneuver his body around the ring to find angles for his punches to land, scoring with his fair share of power shots. I believe that Crawford's clean, effective punching and ring generalship will give him enough rounds to win a highly competitive fight. 

Terence Crawford defeats Viktor Postol 116-112. 

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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

It Is Called "Prizefighting"

Boxing promoters wear many hats. They sign and develop fighters; negotiate with networks, venues and sponsors; generate publicity for their boxers and events; and sell tickets. All of these functions are vital for boxing promoters but let's not forget their most important one; they run businesses. 

Like all industrialists, boxing promoters attempt to maximize revenues. Their paramount task is to create the largest pool of money for their events. The bigger the fight, the more revenue there is, and not just for the promoters themselves but for the boxing industry as a whole: fighters, managers, trainers and networks. For promoters in particular, huge boxing events are essential in sustaining and growing their businesses. The profits from mega-fights become working capital to spend on young prospects and boxers who aren't yet financially self-sustaining. Promoters will often take losses on emerging fighters in the hopes that they'll become revenue generators later in their career. Big events provide opportunities for promoters to cover these losses (or, to put it another way, investments). In short, mega-fights are the oxygen for boxing promoters, the lifeblood of a company. Without them, it's extremely difficult to nourish a healthy stable of fighters. 

(For the purposes of this article, I'm referring to traditional boxing promoters. Let's ignore the PBC promotional model for the time being). 

In this context – the necessity of big fights – the announced September bout in London between Gennady Golovkin and Kell Brook is a major triumph for Matchroom Sport and K2 Promotions, the promoters involved in the matchup. Instead of a Golovkin defense against Chris Eubank, Jr. and a Brook unification fight with Jessie Vargas, the two promoters have created a mega-event in boxing-mad England that is guaranteed to be a box office and pay per view success in that market.  

Golovkin-Brook represents the essence of prizefighting. Golovkin, the number-one middleweight in the world, will receive a huge payday to face a top welterweight. Brook will easily make the biggest purse of his career and has the opportunity to chase greatness. 

For K2, which primarily promotes in Germany and America, this event provides Golovkin with additional international visibility in one of the best boxing markets in the world. For Matchroom Sport and the Hearn family, the fight is a huge coup. Having difficulty getting Brook opportunities against the premier welterweight attractions in the sport, they now will give him the chance to become a bona fide star. In addition, they'll be bringing over one of the biggest names in boxing to England, assuring significant media coverage and fan interest. 

Of course, there's more to this matchup than revenues and the size of the event. Hardcore boxing fans have wanted to see Golovkin against the best in the sport for many years. Through no fault of his own, Golovkin hasn't been able to land a top middleweight opponent. The best potential opponents in his division have avoided him (Martinez, Cotto, Alvarez, Quillin, Jacobs, Sturm, etc.).

Golovkin has become one of the true superstars in the sport but his resume is still lacking big names. His 160-lb. title defenses have been mostly one-sided affairs against B- and C- level fighters. In addition, Golovkin, to this point in his career, has refused to move up in weight to test himself against talented super middleweights. Interesting matchups against the likes of Andre Ward (who until recently was the top guy at 168 lbs.) or James DeGale have failed to materialize.

For many boxing fans, Golovkin's predicament has created a level of frustration. Yes, Golovkin has been one of the true killers in the sport but it's certainly easier to look dominant against lesser fighters. Boxing enthusiasts want him to face the best possible challengers. They are eager to see just how good he really is. In short, they want to know if he possesses greatness. 

Brook most likely won't be the one to challenge Golovkin. Yes, he's among the top fighters at welterweight. However, it's not just that he has unfinished business at 147; in fact, he's hardly conducted any meaningful business at the weight whatsoever. Throughout his career, he has amassed just one meaningful win, against Shawn Porter, and that fight was very competitive. He hasn't faced other top welterweights like Tim Bradley, Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao or anyone besides Porter who could potentially lay a claim to the top guy in the division. 

In 2012, Brook was lucky to survive the 12th round against unheralded Carson Jones. Hurt badly by a series of right hands, Brook somehow stayed on his feet to earn a majority decision victory. Since that time, Brook has looked much better in the ring. He stopped Jones in their rematch (the fight was far above the welterweight limit) and was sharp and poised in the face of Porter's aggression. His title defenses against Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier were dominant but those performances were certainly against lesser foes.

It's possible that the first Jones bout was just a blip on the radar. And looking for silver linings, that night did demonstrate Brook's ability to navigate a boxing ring while hurt and under duress – important lessons for all fighters to learn. However, Golovkin is one of the hardest hitters and best finishers in the sport. It's unlikely that if Golovkin hurts Brook, that he'll let Brook off the hook like Jones did. 

Brook is a very talented fighter. Featuring an impressive arsenal of punches and, particularly, an excellent left hand, Brook's accuracy and creative offensive output should at least make the opening rounds interesting against Golovkin. But does he have the power to hurt Golovkin, who has never been knocked down as an amateur or a pro? Can he take Golovkin's best shot? And doesn't his style, which consists of remaining in the pocket at mid-range, play right into Golovkin's hands? Brook isn't known for being particularly evasive in the ring and his foot speed is just functional; Golovkin will be able to find him. 

Eddie Hearn deserves no blame for offering Golovkin to Brook. The fighter, trainer and/or manager (if that person is different than the promoter – in some jurisdictions, a promoter can also double as a manager) are chiefly responsible for making prudent decisions regarding safety and the risk-reward calculus. Brook (and his team) has accepted the fight knowing that significant injury could occur.

Golovkin-Brook could be interpreted as a cynical calculation on Hearn's part. It's certainly possible that Brook might be unavailable for a period after the fight. Hearn is banking that the revenue from this bout will be greater than Brook's next few title defenses if he hadn't fought Golovkin. (Boxing promoters make these types of calculations all the time.) But before preparing the tar-and-feather for Mr. Heartless Hearn, remember, he is providing Brook with the opportunity to sink-or-swim against one of the top fighters in the world, and significant remuneration for that privilege. Golovkin is Brook's best available risk/reward proposition in the sport. 

On paper, Golovkin-Brook doesn't appear to be a competitive matchup. However, professional prizefighting is often about so much more than fair fights. Although hardcore boxing fans want the best to be challenged, there are other factors to be considered. In the U.K., Golovkin-Brook will draw legions of casual sports fans to boxing. The media will provide heightened attention to the sport. Buckets of money will be made for all parties. 

Those who like competition would've certainly preferred fights like Brook-Bradley or Golovkin-Andrade instead of this matchup, but big fights make the sport go round. It's hard to argue against the financial case for Golovkin-Brook. When two fighters can make career-high paydays, the powers-that-be behind them have done their jobs. This is the essence of prizefighting. In terms of wanting a great fight, we might not like this matchup whatsoever. However, it's always important to reacquaint ourselves with the realities of the sport. 

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pound-for-Pound Update 6-30-16

The results of June's fight action have brought a number of changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List. Earlier in the month, Vasyl Lomachenko scored an impressive knockout over Roman Martinez. Lomachenko has now won titles in two divisions and has defeated quality opponents such as Gary Russell Jr. and Martinez. He debuts in the Rankings at #18. By current form, he could be ranked much higher but his overall resume still trails several fighters who place above him on the list. 

Last weekend, Keith Thurman won a close decision over Shawn Porter, which was the most notable victory of his career. The undefeated Thurman has been building a solid resume at welterweight, with wins over Porter, Diego Chaves, Robert Guerrero and Luis Collazo. He enters the Rankings at #19. Falling out of the pound-for-pound list are Nicholas Walters and Leo Santa Cruz. With a win over Carl Frampton next month, Santa Cruz should find his way back into the Rankings in short order. 

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