Thursday, February 7, 2019

Philly Special Card

I'll be broadcasting Friday's Philly Special card with Michael Woods from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. The seven-fight card will be headlined by undefeated bantamweight prospect Christian Carto (17-0, 11 KOs) against Victor Ruiz (22-10, 15 KOs). Also featured on the card will be undefeated heavyweight Darmani Rock (13-0, 8 KOs) and the debut of heavyweight Sonny Conto, signed to Top Rank Promotions. The card starts at 7:30 EST and is presented by Raging Babe Promotions. FightNight Live will be broadcasting the card via its Facebook platform and can be accessed at this link: 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Kovalev Chronicles

During his bout on Saturday night an unexpected message was disseminated to Sergey Kovalev. Buddy McGirt, Kovalev's third trainer in less than two years, kept repeating the same mantra: "Just box 'em baby." And perhaps in an even more surprising development, Kovalev did just that. Kovalev used his boxing skills and punch activity to win a wide unanimous decision over Eleider Alvarez, who had knocked him out last August. With the victory, he reclaimed his light heavyweight title. 

Over the last half-dozen years, Kovalev embodied his "Krusher" moniker; he set out to destroy opponents. Since bursting onto the world-level, Kovalev had blasted out champions, contenders and pretenders, such as Cleverly, Campillo, Sillah, Pascal, and a handful of other fighters who will soon be forgotten. Bernard Hopkins and Isaac Chilemba may have achieved moral victories against Kovalev – they actually made it to final bell – but they never came close to winning. Kovalev was that dominant.

Kovalev has often been referred to as a bully in the ring, but that's not really an apt description. He actually doesn't like inside fighting and isn't one who enjoys wrestling or grappling with an opponent. He does his best work from range with a power jab and a straight right hand. 

When Kovalev was in true "Krusher" mode, he could more accurately be described as a sadist. He wanted to hurt people, to inflict serious damage. Carrying a large chip on his shoulder, he loved his knockouts, but he wasn't one who was in a hurry for the stoppage; he had nothing against loosening up an opponent more. He seemingly took as much delight from popping Hopkins's head back like a Pez dispenser for 12 rounds and carrying a finished Pascal into the seventh round in their rematch than he did the quick stoppages against over-matched foes like Blake Caparello and Cedric Agnew. 

An angry fighter, Kovalev held grudges before, during and after fights; he was always looking for slights. He could be classless in his victories and didn't respect his opponents. (He made a number of unfortunate statements about his foes, often on racial lines.) 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Coming into Saturday's fight, Kovalev had lost three of his last five fights – two of them controversially. He had dropped a pair of contests to Andre Ward. In each of those fights Kovalev had legitimate complaints regarding the final verdict. Most observers (but not the three judges) felt that Kovalev had done enough to beat Ward in their first bout. Kovalev scored a second-round knockdown and badgered Ward in the first half of the bout. Ward eventually came back into the fight. Scores for the match depended on how much credit Ward was given for neutralizing Kovalev's action instead of initiating his own. 

In the second bout, Kovalev was boxing well until the seventh round, when Ward started to land some vicious right hands. In the eighth, Ward went repeatedly to the body. Some of his shots were low, including a few in the final exchanges. Referee Tony Weeks should have stopped the action to give Kovalev time to recuperate from the fouls, but didn't. Kovalev succumbed later in the round. 

After both of those fights, Kovalev was essentially in denial. He didn't believe that he deserved to lose either. Again, it's true that Kovalev had some legitimate grievances, but he also failed to accept his part of the blame for the defeats. Ward's superior conditioning enabled him to be the fresher fighter in the back half of the match. And why didn't Kovalev hold when he was hurt or come back with his own fouls in the second fight? Not every bout will be officiated properly. Boxers have to protect themselves and when the ref won't do his job, a fighter needs to administer his own brand of rough justice. During the second Ward fight, Kovalev transformed from sadist into capitulator. 

After his knockout loss to Eleider Alvarez in August, Kovalev was fresh out of excuses. He wasn't beaten by a grand conspiracy or a personal vendetta from an official; he was bested by a boxing move. Alvarez landed a pulverizing overhand right in the seventh round to start the damage. Kovalev got up twice from knockdowns, but he couldn't recover. That night Kovalev was bettered by a superior boxer. 


Although Kovalev has a well-earned reputation as a knockout artist, consider some of the trainers that he has worked with during his time in America: Don Turner, perhaps one of the best of the old-school technical teachers; Abel Sanchez, a superior offensive-oriented coach; and John David Jackson, a trainer adept at teaching distance, movement and the value of a large offensive arsenal. Thus, even though Kovalev was knocking guys out with ferocity and regularity, he also was acquiring vital nuggets of boxing knowledge. (Let's put a pin in that for later.)

Following a three-fight sojourn working with Abror Tursunpulatov (which ended with the defeat to Alvarez), Kovalev selected Buddy McGirt to train him for the Alvarez rematch, a choice that didn't necessarily resonate within the boxing industry. Why did he choose McGirt, who hadn't worked with many high-profile fighters in the last decade? Was Kovalev just playing out the string? 

McGirt has never had the reputation as a taskmaster. He doesn't run his camp like it's a quasi-military outpost. He's not moving in with fighters, or cooking for them. With Buddy, a fighter puts his time in the gym, does a professional job and goes home. For Kovalev, a fighter who has admitted to lax training in earlier periods of his career, McGirt didn't seem like a natural fit to get the best out of him. 

Nevertheless, McGirt does have his virtues. Unlike many trainers, he works well with veteran fighters, those who were formed by others, and even boxers considered reclamation projects. He also understands his strengths and weaknesses. He's not there to break boxers down to their essence so they can be remade in his visage; he's a tweaker. He doesn't seem to live and die with boxing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but there's value in that too. Who has time to create an assembly line of boxing robots? He takes what he has and works with it. Having success with talents as different as Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver and Paulie Malignaggi, there's no such thing as a "Buddy McGirt fighter." He assesses what he has and makes a suggestion here or there. McGirt's relaxed personal demeanor is a big reason why he clicks with a fighter, and also why others choose not to work with him. He's there to calm, to instill confidence, and to focus on only the essentials. 

The Kovalev and McGirt pairing was not one that I expected to work. Kovalev had given countless interviews prior to the first Alvarez fight regarding how happy he was with Tursunpulatov. Finally, Kovalev exclaimed, he had found a trainer who spoke Russian, and that shared heritage provided him with comfort. In addition, Kovalev already had the reputation of preferring loose training camps. Back when he was with Jackson, Kovalev at times would ready himself for the first part of training camp and then Jackson would work with him for just a few weeks. Abel Sanchez didn't think that Kovalev had the required dedication needed and that partnership quickly dissolved. Thus, Kovalev and McGirt seemed like a doubling down on some of Kovalev’s worst tendencies.  

For good or for bad Buddy McGirt sees boxing differently than other trainers. Where many trainers were infatuated with Kovalev's ability to knock opponents out, McGirt saw a fighter with significant boxing skills. Perhaps all that was needed was a reorientation of Kovalev's priorities in the ring. Instead of expending maximum effort to beat guys, McGirt insisted that less is more. He understood that Kovalev had enough power that even when he touched an opponent, it would be enough to hurt his foe, or at least keep him honest. 

The final part of the equation was Kovalev himself. Unlike earlier in his boxing career where he often had adversarial relationships with his trainers, Kovalev decided to buy into McGirt's system. Instead of running 15-20 miles at a time (he used to do this with a former strength and conditioning coach), the regimen was significantly curtailed. Whereas he used to spar hundreds of rounds, now he was doing a fraction of that. Before, he would go into a fight guns blazing, now he was there to touch and tap. 

Kovalev had to accept significant changes for the relationship with McGirt to bear fruit. He needed to believe that McGirt's approach could work for him. He had to buy in to less is more. He also had to trust that Buddy's approach might have him make it to the final round against a determined foe, and better yet, have the strength to win the championship rounds. For a former sadist, what was required was a paradigm shift. Kovalev would no longer be the baddest hombre of boxing, the Krusher. Now, his main goal was to stay on his feet, to win, to keep his career viable. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

All of this isn't meant to glorify Kovalev the person, who it should be noted was arrested last year for assault and faces legal proceedings later this year. There is no way of knowing whether Kovalev has matured, as he has claimed, or if these charges will be affirmed by the court system (he has denied them). These issues should not be sugar-coated or downplayed. 

After the Alvarez loss last August, Kovalev had to swallow some bitter medicine. He was no longer invincible. He was bettered in the ring. His punching power couldn't always save him. Ultimately, he found an unlikely partner to help him, and through one fight they far exceeded expectations.

With Kovalev, it's anyone's guess as to whether he will remain content professionally. He's not one who has easily accepted authority and has pointed fingers when the going has gotten tough. But for now, in today's issue of the Kovalev Chronicles, all is well. There is peace. Tomorrow could bring a knockout loss to one of the other champions at light heavyweight, or even imprisonment. But now is not the time to dwell on such unpleasantries. For Kovalev, today is a day worth savoring. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

What to make of Keith Thurman's return? On this week's Punch 2 the Face Radio, Brandon and I look back at the good and bad of his performance. How would Thurman do against Manny Pacquiao? Brandon and I also talked about the riveting Munguia-Inoue fight. In addition, we previewed this upcoming weekend's massive Top Rank card headlined by the Eleider Alvarez-Sergey Kovalev rematch. Brandon and I also talked about the Top-5 U.S. boxing prospects. Finally, we paid our respects to former super middleweight champion George Groves, who announced his retirement this week. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:

Blog Talk Radio link:

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 

snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

SNB Stock Report 1-27-19

It's time for another edition of the SNB Stock Report. After a fun-filled fight weekend, whose stock has gone up (+), whose has gone down (-) and whose remains unchanged (NC)?

Keith Thurman (+) Thurman returned to boxing after a 22-month layoff on Saturday and defeated the good version of Josesito Lopez by a majority decision. On the plus side of the ledger, Thurman looked to be in excellent shape. His athleticism remained stellar, he landed his fair share of hard shots and his chin held up nicely even after he was pounded from pillar-to-post in the seventh round. He scored a knockdown in the second round with a beautiful short counter left hook. 

Photo Courtesy of Stephanie Trapp/PBC

However, there were some troubling signs in the fight. No, it's not that big of a deal that Thurman got hit or even hurt; those things happen in boxing. But what was of genuine concern occurred in that seventh round. Instead of holding or slowing the pace of the fight after he got hurt, Thurman continued to run around the ring like a chicken with his head cut off. Or, to use a boxing comparison, he looked like Amir Khan. Instead of relying on his brains, he burned off a lot of energy, invited more trouble and assumed that his athleticism would enable him to survive. Yes, Thurman was able to regroup, but can those tactics work against bigger punchers and better fighters? I have my doubts. 

Overall, Thurman successfully shook off some cobwebs and fought very well at points in the match, but his questionable ring instincts could get him into a lot of trouble against the elite at welterweight.

Josesito Lopez (+) By all accounts Lopez had a successful training camp for his fight with Thurman and it showed in the ring on Saturday. He went 12 tough rounds with one of the best welterweights in the world, displaying solid conditioning, desire and self-belief. Lopez was perhaps just seconds away from ending the fight in the seventh, but couldn't come up with the finishing blow. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging performance. Despite the loss, he was able to impose his will on one of trickiest opponents in the division, one who had far more athleticism and punching power than he did. Furthermore, Lopez may not have even won a round in the first half of the fight, yet he persevered. Lopez's lively performance and his positive intangibles should help him secure another meaningful fight later in the year. 

Jaime Munguia (NC) Ignore the scorecards for this one, which officially show a wide unanimous decision victory for Munguia. Yes, Munguia won the fight and retained his junior middleweight title, but he had to engage in a brutal war to do so. Munguia landed sparkling power punches throughout the fight; however, Inoue, the much smaller guy, kept coming forward and tried to bully the bully. There were many rounds in the fight where Munguia landed the types of blows that would put away less-determined foes, but Inoue was no ordinary opponent. 

Despite a number of positives in his performance, Munguia still has several areas that he needs to improve. His defense remains a concern. He made no adjustments to Inoue's looping right hands and he doesn't seem to be making a concerted effort to improve his defensive technique. In addition, perhaps if Munguia was in better conditioning, he wouldn't have spent so much time along the ropes, where he was often target practice. 

To my eyes, Munguia looks like a middleweight trying to shrink down to 154 lbs. He might be able to get away with it for another fight or two, but this approach usually ends in one of two ways: he loses his title belt on the scales or he comes into the fight dead at the weight and gets knocked out. Yes, the 160 lb. division has some elite talents in the division, but it's better to lose to Canelo than to the 12th-ranked contender in the WBO at 154 lbs. Jaime, the choice is yours.

Takeshi Inoue (+) Inoue entered Saturday's fight as a relatively obscure opponent without much of a pedigree – 13-0 with 7 KOs, facing no one that would be confused with a contender. But no one told Inoue that he was the "opponent." Despite absorbing thunderous blows throughout the fight, he relentlessly charged forward and had periods of sustained success with looping and overhand rights. The final scores were essentially academic; Inoue wasn't going to win that type of fight on the cards, nor did he deserve to. But Inoue placed himself squarely on the boxing map on Saturday. He'll now be deemed as an acceptable opponent for any of the top guys at 154 and stands to make more money for his efforts going forward. Altogether, that's a successful outing. 

Adam Kownacki (+) Kownacki blitzed through former title contender Gerald Washington in two rounds and further demonstrated that looks can be deceiving in boxing. Kownacki has a terrible boxing body. He's overweight and has no mobility, but he can really punch! In a magnanimous gesture, Washington decided to stand and trade with Kownacki in the first round and Adam was the winner of that shootout. Shortly into the second round, Kownacki scored with a punishing right hand and Washington was on the canvas. Although he beat the count, Washington was done and the referee called the fight off after Kownacki continued his onslaught. 

Of course Kownacki has some flaws that could stop him from beating the truly best at heavyweight, but he entertains in the ring, packs a punch and fights with a lot of self-belief. Boxing would be a lot more enjoyable if there was a Kownacki in every division.  

Gerald Washington (-) In early 2017 Washington had some good moments against heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder. Washington demonstrated in the first four rounds of that fight that he could box and had athleticism. Ultimately, he didn't survive against Wilder, or against Jarrell Miller, and that was again the case on Saturday against Kownacki. Perhaps most perplexing is that Washington didn't try to use any of his superior attributes on Saturday. Instead of boxing or using his legs, he engaged in a slugfest. It was perhaps the worst game plan in boxing since Jose Pedraza decided to charge at Gervonta Davis with reckless abandon. Sometimes fighters make baffling decisions. 

Tugstsogt Nyambayar (NC) King Tug faced the hardest challenge of his career on Saturday against the capable southpaw Claudio Marrero. In an excellent fight with numerous ebbs and flows, Nyambayar won a competitive unanimous decision. Although Nyambayar entered the fight with nine knockouts in his ten fights, it doesn't appear that his power is elite. Furthermore, Tug demonstrated that he doesn't yet have the conditioning to impose himself over 12 rounds. (In his defense he hadn't needed to reach for those reserves prior to Saturday.) Nevertheless, he is still a work in progress. Supposedly with his win he will be in line for a title opportunity against Gary Russell Jr. To be blunt, he isn't ready for that fight and hopefully his team pulls back the reins a little bit. Tug has power and good boxing skills, but he needs more professional seasoning.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.