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

Friday, June 24, 2016

Thurman-Porter: Keys to the Fight

One of the best potential fights in the welterweight division takes place on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as undefeated titlist Keith Thurman (26-0, 22 KOs) faces former champion Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KOs). The match was originally scheduled for earlier in the year but was pushed back because Thurman was involved in a minor car accident. Thurman and Porter have known one another since their amateur days and they sparred together earlier in their careers. Each should be familiar with what the other brings to the table. Both enter the ring coming off of long layoffs; Porter last fought in June, Thurman in July. The winner of Saturday's bout becomes a top-three fighter in the division and is certainly poised to graduate to even bigger potential opponents in the near future. Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Thurman's training camp

As a result of his car accident, Thurman didn't start sparring until mid-May (at least, that's what has been reported). It's anyone's guess as to what type of shape he was in when he returned to camp following the accident. Thurman's camp has been kept under wraps so it's difficult to know about his conditioning or his current state of mind.

With Dan Birmingham, Thurman has one of the best trainers in the business. Birmingham gets his fighters in shape and doesn't accept excuses. But it's a legitimate question to ask if Thurman's heart is truly into this fight. The bout took longer than expected to be finalized and Porter was the one who seemed more eager for it to happen. Will Thurman be at his best physically and mentally? Will he have the stamina and desire to go 12 hard rounds? Porter's known for being a gym rat and if Thurman isn't in top shape or supremely focused on the task at hand, Porter will have a huge edge in the fight. 

2. Effective aggression from Porter, not just aggression

Over the last three years, Porter has become one of the premier pressure fighters in the sport. He digs to the body mercilessly and has the athleticism to cut off the ring against athletic opponents. However, his transition to an inside fighter hasn't always been seamless. In his only loss as a professional, to Kell Brook, Porter exhibited some flaws that could be exploited by Thurman. Too often, Porter smothered his work on the inside, lessening the impact of his punches and allowing Brook to tie him up with ease. In addition, Brook capitalized on Porter's overzealousness coming in; he pasted Porter with a number of big shots throughout the match, specifically, straight right hands. Although Porter was competitive in the fight, these deficiencies, and Brook's ability to exploit them, allowed for Brook to win the decision. 

Against Adrien Broner last year, Porter had corrected some of these flaws. He came in behind punches more often and was more successful in determining when to apply pressure. Using his jab regularly and giving himself enough room to work on the inside, he was a better fighter than the one who had lost to Brook. Still, Broner was able to time Porter with some big shots and landed a hard knockdown in the bout's final round. 

Porter certainly wants to work on the inside against Thurman, who has significant height and reach advantages in the fight. Thurman was hurt to the body in his last bout against Luis Collazo and may be vulnerable at close range. But Porter needs to come in behind punches and use his footwork to contain the athletically gifted Thurman. Cutting off the ring will be an imperative. 

In addition, Thurman has the power to significantly harm Porter. Thurman can hurt him from the outside with straight right hands and he also possesses a devastating right uppercut that can be used in tighter quarters. Porter must work in close range but he has to remain attentive and intelligent. 

Also, Porter has to stay active during clinches, using his free hand to deliver shots and/or refusing to get completely tied up. He needn't be dirty but he has to keep working until the ref officially halts action. He should never be the one who initiates a clinch. 

3. Thurman's (lack of) accuracy

Thurman has three knockout weapons: his straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut. However, all of these shots are long and take time to develop. Once he unfurls these punches, he exhibits plenty of hand speed, but mechanically, his shots have a lot of moving parts. Thurman can also be a wild swinger, finding himself out of position after missing, which gives his opponents opportunities to counter. 

Thurman's accuracy will be essential on Saturday. If his jab and straight right hand continue to hit their mark, he will be far more successful at keeping Porter on the outside. There, Thurman can score with eye-catching shots and neutralize Porter's inside game. However, if Thurman gets knockout-happy or is off with his timing, Porter will have a much easier time coming in. In addition, if Thurman swings wildly and misses, Porter can strike with two or three quick shots before Thurman returns to a defensively responsible position. Perhaps Thurman's best play in the fight will be to ensure that he connects from the outside. Sacrificing a little power for some accuracy should behoove him during the bout. He still has enough natural thump to hurt any opponent at welterweight but the increased accuracy will keep him out of harm's way more regularly. 

4. Consistency

Against higher-level opposition, neither fighter has put together a truly complete performance. Thurman has had fights where he's gotten tagged early (Diego Chaves, Jesus Soto Karass and Collazo) and another where he faded late (Robert Guerrero). Porter takes break during fights, letting Devon Alexander back into their bout after dominating him early and featuring a paltry work rate at various points against Broner. 

Both fighters have lacked focus during fights, whether it has been momentary defensive lapses that lead to harm (Thurman) or bewildering periods of low activity (Porter). Can either fighter break his bad habits? Which one can put together 12 consistent rounds? The answers to these questions will most likely tell us who will be raising his hand at the end of the evening. 

5. "Plan B"

Thurman and Porter have exhibited a range of styles as professionals. Thurman started his career as a knockout artist and has morphed into a boxer-puncher while Porter has transformed from a boxer-puncher into a pressure fighter. It will be fascinating to see the adjustments from each side during the fight. Thurman is the more intuitive and improvisatory boxer in the ring and can better make his own changes while Porter is more disciplined and better equipped to take instruction. 

Both fighters have top cornermen, with Thurman employing the aforementioned Birmingham and Porter working with his father, Kenny. Birmingham is more seasoned at the top levels of the sport but the elder Porter has displayed an impressive boxing acumen.

I awarded Porter my 2013 Trainer of the Year award for his brilliant corner work during the Julio Diaz rematch and the Devon Alexander fight. In the Alexander bout, Shawn's bull rush attack was the major difference in the fight. (Previously, Porter had rarely exhibited the characteristics of a pressure fighter.) However, I believe that Kenny Porter was wildly out-coached in the Brook match. The needed adjustments didn't come and Porter might not have sensed that his son was behind in the bout, which is a cardinal sin for a trainer. 

Thurman will present Kenny Porter with a host of issues and he'll have to think on the fly and clearly communicate those adjustments to his son. In addition, Birmingham will have his hands full if Porter can consistently get on the inside. The battle of the corners will be one of the more intriguing aspects of the fight. 

Prediction:

I believe that Thurman is the better talent. He has superior athleticism, significant physical advantages and a big edge in punching power. If there is a knockout blow in the fight, he would be the more likely candidate to have landed it. However, boxing is often about intangibles. In recent fights, Porter has had the superior work rate. He continues to improve as a fighter and he's always in the gym. Might he be the hungrier one as well? 

I think that Thurman-Porter will be a highly competitive fight. Both boxers will take turns imposing themselves on the other but they will also take breaks, which will provide opportunities for the opponent. Although I do think that Porter's aggression (whether it is actually effective is another story) and work rate will keep him in the fight, ultimately I believe that Thurman's clean power punching will be enough to carry the day. Finally, it's worth noting that two of the judges, Waleska Roldan (who really likes house fighters) and Steve Weisfeld (who appreciates defense and clean punching), may be more inclined to shade competitive rounds to Thurman. In a close fight, that could be a huge factor in determining the winner.

Keith Thurman defeats Shawn Porter by split decision.

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Errol Spence Dilemma

Jermain Taylor. Andre Berto. Paul Williams. Adrien Broner. These fighters have a number of commonalities. All were managed and/or advised by influential power broker Al Haymon. They received a big push by premium cable prior to winning their first titles. Initially, all four had relatively inexperienced head trainers in pro boxing (Pat Burns, Tony Morgan, George Peterson and Mike Stafford, respectively). And all didn't fully live up to their respective hype. This isn't to say that they were failures in boxing. All had their moments, but, to be candid, more was expected from them. None met their initial expectations.

Williams lost in his first defense to unheralded Carlos Quintana. Berto couldn't overcome Victor Ortiz's power punching. Broner bit off more than he could chew at welterweight against Marcos Maidana and from my vantage point Taylor shouldn't have even won his title (I had him losing both fights to Bernard Hopkins and dropping a decision in his next fight to Winky Wright.) He would soon lose to Kelly Pavlik. 

This recent history is instructive because Haymon now represents another fighter, Errol Spence, who is on the cusp of stardom in the sport. And important questions need to be asked, especially when considering the shortcomings of the fighters listed above: Has Spence been developed enough? Is he ready to win a belt and even if so, is he prepared to have a dominant title run? 

Spence, 26, is 20-0 and has 17 knockouts in the welterweight division. In his last outing, he thoroughly dominated former 140-lb. titleholder Chris Algieri in the first big headlining slot of his career. He is next scheduled to fight in an IBF eliminator, likely against light-hitting Leonard Bundu, a 41-year-old who didn't win a single second against Keith Thurman in 2014. Should Spence beat Bundu, he's in line to fight for Kell Brook's title. 

There's a lot to like about Spence. A southpaw, he has a devastating right hook to the body and is an impressive power puncher. He works off his jab beautifully. His poise in the ring far belies his professional experience. A 2012 Olympian for the United States, he was viewed as having the best pro style from that team and to this point he has passed his initial tests with flying colors. 

However, all of the fighters above looked like elite talents prior to their first title runs. Taylor had one of the best jabs in the sport and a punishing right hand. Berto was an imposing boxer-puncher. Williams had a unique combination of size, reach and punch volume. Broner's mixture of punch placement, athleticism and defense drew comparisons to Floyd Mayweather. Yet, once they become titleholders, many of these plusses faded away in the ring. Taylor proved to be gun shy in the late rounds and had endurance issues. Berto stopped boxing and loaded up on big shots. Williams never seemed to have a Plan B in the ring and was perplexed by movement. Broner's punch volume dropped significantly against better opposition and his defense proved to be far more porous than previously thought. 

At this point, it's instructive to remember that Haymon has a manager's background in boxing and not that of a promoter. His job is to get his fighters title shots and seven-figure paydays. Whereas, good promoters look at their boxers just a little differently. Their goal is to maximize assets. They want their signed fighters to be as good as possible for as long as possible. Often paying their boxers significant minimum fees, they want to see returns on their investments. In order to create the most eyeballs for their product, they need their top fighters to keep winning against a high level of opposition, and to look good in the process. 

There's always a push-pull between promoters and managers. A respected manager, like Cameron Dunkin, understands the long game of boxing development. He has the experience to know that there's nothing more important than carefully cultivating his fighters' development. Working with experienced outfits such as Top Rank, Dunkin appreciates the often laborious process of growing his fighters to the point where they can get the best out of their abilities. That doesn't mean that a Dunkin will always agree with a Bob Arum per se, but they've had a very productive working relationship. 

Haymon has cut out the role of the promoter. He has a band of promoters that he uses for specific fights (Lou DiBella, Leon Margules, etc.) but very few of his top fighters have long-term promotional agreements. And while I'm sure that DiBella and many others with strong industry knowledge are consulted on the development of Haymon's fighters, the lack of a strong, experienced promoter who has veto power over a manager can harm a fighter's career path. No promoter has final say over Haymon. No one other than Haymon can put the brakes on a prospect that isn't quite ready for the bright lights. Even a step down, there are no Bruce Tramplers, Brad Goodmans (both from Top Rank) or Robert Diazes (from Golden Boy), all expert matchmakers, working with Haymon. These matchmakers are responsible at their respective companies for ensuring that their fighters see a mixture of styles during their development. 

Spence could very well fight Brook without ever having faced even a moderate puncher in the ring. Shouldn't Haymon want to know if his young gun can take a shot? Wouldn't that information be very important in steering Spence's subsequent career? 

This isn't to say that Haymon has failed to develop any of his fighters. Keith Thurman certainly surpassed expectations on his way to becoming a titleholder. More than a few influential boxing writers laughed at Haymon when he initially put Thurman on HBO yet Thurman to this point has thrived in his career and demonstrated significant star power. Danny Garcia faced a number of credible fighters before his first title shot. Sammy Vasquez has been moved very well as he climbs the ladder in the welterweight division. Robert Easter Jr. is moving up the lightweight ranks pretty quickly but is taking on good opposition. 

However, the developmental track records of others in the Haymon stable have been spottier. Gary Russell Jr. was thrown into a title shot against Vasyl Lomachenko without having any tough opponents earlier in his career. Deontay Wilder and Rau'shee Warren have the same story. 

Developing fighters is an art not a science. One really never knows when a fighter is prepared to face the best in the sport. Andre Ward fought a very weak slate of opposition prior to taking on Mikkel Kessler. However, Ward dominated that fight and has proved to be one of the best in the sport. Kell Brook's development was poor and yet he successfully dispatched Shawn Porter to win a title (it's still unclear if Brook will be hurt by his poor opposition). Kelly Pavlik wasn't a heralded prospect but when the time came to fight hard-hitting Edison Miranda, he prevailed and had a decent run at middleweight. 

There are often intangible factors that separate good fighters from great ones. It could be work-ethic, self-belief, intelligence or ring IQ. These attributes might not manifest until they are needed in the ring against good opposition. In addition, a fighter's team can help a young fighter pull out a victory over a tough foe. I'm sure that having Dan Birmingham in his corner has helped Thurman's poise and confidence in the ring. 

Derrick James, Spence's trainer, is another relatively inexperienced professional coach at the top levels of the sport. That is not necessarily a negative for Spence. Virgil Hunter didn't have a professional pedigree prior to Andre Ward. Angel Garcia has proven to be a very adept cornerman. And all trainers have to start somewhere. However, are they the exceptions? What else has Morgan, Burns and Peterson done as professional trainers? Mike Stafford seems to have a budding stable of impressive fighters but he hasn't yet gotten any of them to the truly elite level. Even going back to Pavlik, Jack Loew seemed completely outclassed by Bernard Hopkins and his team and had a woefully underprepared corner against Sergio Martinez (their cutman may have lost them the fight). We haven't heard much from Loew recently, have we?

Who knows if Spence (and his team) possesses the intangibles to rise to the top level? But even more fundamentally, do we even know enough about Spence's defense or recuperative powers?  Spence may yet become one of the top talents in the sport. He could be a truly special. However, from my vantage point, not enough has been done in his development to start answering some of these questions. Perhaps he's the next Ward and his greatness will fully manifest against other top foes. But there's a weigh station full of fighters in Spence's stable that failed to make a similar leap. Were they fully prepared to win and defend a title? Had they faced enough duress in their development? Were their teams professional enough to run strong training camps and make incisive decisions in the corner? 

Most likely, Haymon will get Spence his title shot within the year. He wants his fighter to start making real money. And all boxers want the title and its accompanying remunerations. But with over a decade in the sport, Haymon has yet to develop a strong record at building elite fighters. He's great at getting title shots, working the sanctioning bodies and putting his best on TV but that next step has more often than not eluded him in the sport. Perhaps this isn't his main concern. When Spence gets his million dollar check, he won't be too concerned with whether he faced the right opponents on his way up. 

Spence's scenario is a real dilemma in the sport. His prime is now. 26-year-olds win titles all the time. He isn't too raw for world-level fighters. I'm sure that many boxing enthusiasts would like to see him pushed to the top rungs of the welterweight division. However, for those most interested in greatness in the ring, will Spence's weak opposition hurt him as he starts to face better fighters? Would he be better off getting two or three more bouts before his title shot? Does he still need to mature in the ring? 

Unfortunately, there's no right answer. Great fighters come from all backgrounds and levels of experience. Some had shiny amateur careers. Many had shaky outings early in their development. Others needed to lose before they learned what it took to become elite. A few had a straight line to greatness once they laced up their gloves. There's no one resume for greatness. Nobody knows with 100% certainly when to pull the trigger on a prized young prospect. But in this instance, it would be more comforting to know that the people holding the gun were noted marksmen.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Morning Punch-in Show

I joined this week's Morning Punch-in Show with RB & Jae to recap Saturday's fights. We talked about Lomachenko's dominance, Verdejo's development, Molina-Provodnikov, Andrade and more. We also looked ahead to a potential Lomachenko-Salido rematch. One additional note, Hall of Fame promoter J. Russell Peltz also joined the broadcast to talk about this year's IBHOF induction ceremony.  Click here to listen to the show:  

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