Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Davis-Martin

Frank Martin had an excellent opening five rounds against Gervonta Davis. Flashing quick combinations and solid movement, he routinely beat Davis to the punch. By the end of the fifth round, he had a good case for winning three or four of them. 

But in the sixth round, Martin, who had been on the move throughout most of the fight, suddenly started to languish on the ropes. "Uh oh" I thought. This could be the beginning of the end for him. And it turned out to be. 

Tank Davis (left) and Errol Spence after the fight
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC

Martin didn't make it out of the eighth round. Once he stopped moving, he started to get some bad ideas. How about I trade with Gervonta Davis with my back against the ropes? Maybe I can potshot him because my hands can get there quicker. Why don't I let him tee off on me because then I could slip in a perfect counter shot? 

I'm sure that Martin and trainer Derrick James didn't want any of those scenarios playing out prior to the fight. But the thing about great fighters is, they often force their opponents into making mistakes. Although "Tank" Davis wasn't winning the early rounds, his constant pressure took a toll on Martin. By the middle rounds of the fight, Martin just didn't have the gas tank to continue to evade Davis. It's not that Martin wasn't in shape, but Tank's pressure led to Martin burning himself out in the ring. 

And as good as Martin was on offense early in the fight, once he started getting tagged with regularity, he didn't know what to do on defense. He either stayed in front of Davis absorbing shots, or literally ran around the ring in avoidance – leading to burning off even more energy. 

Tank ended the fight with a beautiful three-punch combination, a throwaway right hook, a pulverizing left uppercut, and a straight left. But the moments leading up to the conclusion were even more devastating. Martin, stuck in the corner, let Davis attempt four straight left haymakers. And might I remind everyone that Davis has some of the best power in the sport. Why didn't Martin hold? Why didn't he grapple? He wound up looking helpless prior to the knockout; Martin had physically and mentally checked out by the end of the fight.  

Martin hit my radar in 2021 when he knocked out the unbeaten Jerry Perez in seven rounds. A late starter in the sport and a fighter who didn't have much hype in his developmental bouts, Martin blindsided me with his skill set. Here was an athlete with a wide variety of punches, great footwork, and power. He also had a great team around him. I thought, this is a guy who can win a world title. 

But why I didn't pick Martin coming into his fight with Davis was his lack of experience against top opposition and his inability to make quick adjustments. Yes, he had a nice win over Michel Rivera but that's probably the only guy on his ledger who had a chance to sniff the top-15 at lightweight prior to Saturday's fight. In his prior bout, against Artem Harutyunyan, Martin was caught by surprise by Harutyunyan's hand speed, aggression and tricky angles. Martin eventually did make adjustments, but it took far too long for them to come. He escaped with a close decision victory. 

Against Tank on Saturday, he never recovered after getting tagged with solid shots in the sixth. There was never a moment where he regathered himself or was able to retake control of the fight. He just didn't know what to do. It looked like he fell apart. 

I wouldn't say that the future has to bleak for Martin, but Tank at this point in his career was a bridge too far. This fight was really about levels. Tank knows how to operate at the highest reaches of the sport. He can pace a fight. He understands when to get aggressive and when to lay back and pick his moments. He's developed a tremendous ring IQ that has helped him become a premier finisher in the sport. He knows when a fighter is ready to go. And if he had been reluctant in letting his hands go at earlier portions of a fight, when he has someone on the ropes, either figuratively or in this case literally, he knows how to go for it, to end things. Martin let the pace of the fight get away from him. Despite winning rounds, he was not the fighter dictating the terms of the action. He was frenetic with his movement. 

Martin (left) throwing a right hand
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC

Also, it's worth pointing out that Tank weighed in at 133.5 lbs., his lightest since 2020. I thought that he looked terrific in the ring. Spry on his feet, Davis fought on Saturday as the aggressor, the hunter. Often, he has been the savvy counterpuncher in the ring, the one who lays traps for an overeager opponent, but on Saturday he never stopped applying pressure. He and coach Calvin Ford correctly figured out pre-fight that Martin did not have the clarity of thought to last 12 rounds under duress. And Davis was prepared for such a fight. Even when he wasn't letting his hands go, he was moving around the ring with Martin all fight, refusing to let Martin take breathers or gain a psychological edge. Although Martin was winning rounds, he had to work hard for everything. 

Throughout the entire fight week, Davis displayed a relaxed confidence that hasn't always been there throughout his career. He now seems perfectly comfortable in his own skin, as a star attraction and a top boxer. He no longer is trying to get somewhere; he's there, and he knows it. He has the added confidence that he now knows how to be a professional fighter out of the ring. He makes weight. He doesn't look sluggish in the ring. He understands that physical fitness can make his job so much easier on fight night. He has come into his own. 

Tank has always had skills and power, but it has taken him time to understand that the secret ingredient to greatness isn't often about those things. Lots of guys have skills; many have power. It's about being in the position to be your best on fight night. It's about being in a good place. It's about peace of mind. 

At 29 and with a sterling record of 30-0 with 28 knockouts, Tank is now in the best place that he's been in his career. He has a list of exciting potential opponents at lightweight or junior welterweight. Although his ride hasn't always been smooth, (his past problems have been well documented), I think that he has fully arrived as an all-around great fighter. The Tank who fought on Saturday is a nightmare matchup for anyone. And if he really has conquered his toughest opponent (himself) then there are very few guys in the world who stand a chance with him.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook  

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The BWAA Annual Awards Dinner

What struck me about last week's BWAA Annual Awards Dinner was how much it mattered to the honorees. It was significant enough for Naoya Inoue to take the around-the-world flight to accept the Fighter of the Year award, becoming the first Japanese fighter in the history of the BWAA to win the honor. It was enough for Bill Haney to fly in from Las Vegas to receive the Manager of the Year award, for Brian McIntyre to leave a training camp to come to New York to accept the Trainer of the Year award. 

That it was so meaningful to the honorees surprised me. Listen, every media outlet hands out awards of one kind or another (including this one) and does receiving an award from a group of writers still move the needle? In that this was my first BWAA Awards dinner (having recently been admitted into the association), I didn't exactly know what to expect. But the answer to the above question was an emphatic yes. There was little jadedness from the stars and dignitaries in the room. They were very excited to be there. And the ceremony itself packed an emotional wallop far deeper than I anticipated. The night wasn't one of going through the motions for each honoree; it was the culmination of a life's work. 

Inoue giving his acceptance speech
Photo by Adam Abramowitz

The great boxing photographer Ed Mulholland was honored for his fight against cancer. Also honored was Lisa McClellan, the sister of Gerald McClellan, the former middleweight champion who was severely injured in a fight against Nigel Benn in 1995. Lisa has been Gerald's primary caretaker for almost three decades. 

And there was Gordon Hall, the executive producer from the great ShoBox series, who was honored for his service to the sport. As grateful as Hall was for the recognition, his acknowledgment of the end of Showtime Boxing cast a brief pall over the room. One of the bright lights of American boxing had now gone dark. 

McIntyre choked up when talking about his journey to the top of the sport as a trainer. With his wife in the audience, he acknowledged the sacrifices needed to become the best. "I never stopped working on my craft," he said. And that had led to days, weeks, and months at a time of not being home. There was much joy and humor in his speech too, but his remarks were a reminder that boxing does not involve too many ordinary professions. 

Bill Haney spoke about overcoming the criticism that he received during his son Devin's developmental fights. The Haneys were determined to do it their own way. They were promoting shows in out-of-the-way places in front of few fans, but they believed in their mission. They wanted to be able to call their shots when the time was right. And they did, with Devin becoming an undisputed champion at lightweight and making millions upon millions in the sport. But it wasn't easy. It rarely is. 

One of the key players in the evening was Bob Arum, who sat at the table nearest the stage. Although he was not technically an honoree, his name was mentioned throughout the evening. McIntyre thanked him for taking a chance on Terence Crawford and him (this is despite an ongoing lawsuit between Crawford and Top Rank). Tim Bradley, who was honored for his achievement in broadcasting, thanked Arum for promoting him when he was a fighter and giving him a chance as a broadcaster. Bradley felt that he wasn't particularly good when he started behind the mic, but he credits his work ethic for success in both phases of his career. 

And sitting directly next to Arum during the dinner was Inoue. Arum raved about Inoue to me earlier in the evening, calling him a great kid. He loved his fighting ability. He loved his desire to be great. He loved his manners. 

Inoue was clearly the star of the show. With a group of 30 or so people traveling with him from Japan, (many were journalists and media members), whenever Inoue moved around the room, a crowd followed him. Other top fighters at the dinner, like Teofimo Lopez and Amanda Serrano (who was honored as Female Fighter of the Year), all wanted to have their picture taken with him. Jorge Linares and Inoue exchanged pleasantries in Japanese (Linares spent several years in Japan). 

During his speech, Inoue spoke about his gratitude for winning the award, and admitted how challenging his fights against Stephen Fulton and Marlon Tapales were. But he believed that those opponents helped push him to even greater heights. 

Inoue fought in America in 2017, 2020 and 2021 and while he won all three fights by stoppage, he returned to Japan for bigger opportunities. Although Inoue was certainly appreciated during his time in America, he has now become a much bigger deal. There was an excitement whenever he circulated around the room. An entourage followed his every step. At least in boxing circles, there is no doubt that he has become a genuine star, not just a great fighter. 

The evening also contained elements of the expected. There was a good steak. The booze was hit and miss. Lots of lawyers and fighters and girlfriends and sanctioning body henchmen filled the tables. There were those looking for opportunities and those whose opportunities in the sport had passed. There were dreamers, opportunists, functionaries, and old-timers. But among all the attendees, the boxing people who make up this crazy and ridiculous and beautiful sport, there was joy. There was warmth. It surprised me. And I loved it.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Notes from the 5x5 Card

Daniel Dubois faced significant adversity in Saturday's fight against Filip Hrgovic. In the early rounds of the match, he repeatedly was rocked by Hrgovic's right hand. And these were not love taps; Hrgovic was launching missiles at Dubois' head. But unlike his performance against Oleksandr Usyk, Dubois refused to yield on Saturday. He kept firing. As the fight progressed, it was Dubois' right hand that caused the real damage. He opened cuts over both of Hrgovic's eyes. And the fight was eventually stopped due to the cuts in the eighth round, giving Dubois an impressive come-from-behind stoppage.  

Perhaps no fighter elevated his stock in the Riyadh Season cards more than Dubois. He scored stoppage wins against the durable Jarrell Miller in a firefight and now against Hrgovic. Not long ago Dubois was thought to be pretty close to a never-was. Although he had always possessed heavyweight power and had an ideal physical build for the division, he was missing self-belief and the ability to handle adversity. 

Dubois (right) taking the fight to Hrgovic
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson/Matchroom Sport

Dubois now knows that he has the tools and power to turn around a fight. This self-belief has been a welcome development in his career. His defense is still so poor that one wonders how long his chin will hold up, but as long as it does, he will be a legitimate threat in the heavyweight division, and a possible titleholder depending on future matchups.  

As for Hrgovic, he turned in a poor performance on multiple levels. In his 2022 shootout with Zhilei Zhang, Hrgovic moved all around the ring to stave off Zhang's threat. But against Dubois, Hrgovic felt no need to use his legs. He was hitting Dubois so easily and with such thunder that he fought like he expected Dubois to drop at any minute. As a result, Hrgovic stayed in range and saw no reason to use any evasive tactics against Dubois. Consequently, he took several huge bombs that led to the cuts.  

Furthermore, Hrgovic was so content to land the right hand that he felt little need to incorporate other aspects of his offensive arsenal. He didn't realize that Dubois was taking the shots without too many problems and had adjusted to their power. Hrgovic threw few combinations and there were scant left hooks or uppercuts at any time. There is a school of thought that says don't change if something is working, but Dubois was increasingly gaining confidence and having his own success. By the time the seventh round had ended, Hrgovic looked like a truck had hit him. He fought like he didn't respect Dubois' abilities in the ring, but the last laugh was on him.  

*** 

Years from now, it's possible that Hamzah Sheeraz's 11th-round TKO victory over Austin Williams will be a mere footnote in an illustrious career. Sheeraz certainly looks like he has the ability to do great things in the sport. But make no mistake; Sheeraz faced a lot of challenges in this fight, and he overcame them with aplomb. Williams tried to bomb Sheeraz from distance early in the fight and landed a terrific straight left hand in the first round that shook Sheeraz. Later in the fight, Williams tried to rough up Sheeraz on the inside and had periods of success with this approach.   

Despite Williams having several good moments in the fight, Sheeraz ultimately picked him apart at every range. Using his sledgehammer jab and his massive reach, Sheeraz controlled Williams from the outside. On the inside, Sheeraz landed blistering uppercuts that made Williams reconsider his decision to come forward. On numerous occasions, Sheeraz tagged Williams with hard right-hand counters as Williams was trying to get out of the pocket. Sheeraz also displayed a nasty straight right hand that had pinpoint accuracy.  

Sheeraz looks to be a good bet to win a title at middleweight. And with his 6'3" frame, he might have success in multiple weight classes before his career is done. I still think that there are some holes in his defense, especially in tracking shots from long range, but if he uses his height and reach well, he can minimize that issue as he progresses in the sport. I think that a fighter like Wladimir Klitschko had a similar issue. But Wlad would also become one of the longest-reigning champions in the division's history. Sheeraz is an offensive juggernaut. And if he sticks to his strengths and continues to master fighting tall, he could have a wonderful future in the sport. But be aware of long-range bombers. There aren't many out there, but they lurk.   

*** 

In a fight where little happened in the first four rounds, the fifth round between Deontay Wilder and Zhilei Zhang was certainly consequential. Wilder started to unleash menacing right hands, the types of punches that have knocked out dozens of opponents.  

But in a matter of seconds all of that ended. As Wilder threw a right, Zhang countered with a lightning-quick right hook that spun Wilder around. Seizing the moment, Zhang delivered a Howitzer of a right hook as Wilder was defenseless, sending him down for a hard knockdown. Although Wilder beat the count, referee Kieran McCann saw how damaged Wilder was and waved off the fight. 

Zhang dropping Wilder with his right hook
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

As Riyadh Season has been great for Dubois, it's been terrible for Wilder, who in his previous fight lost a wide decision against Joseph Parker. His performance was so poor in that fight that many boxing observers (and Wilder himself!) questioned if he still had the fire and drive needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Saturday showed further signs of aging for Wilder. There were so many moments where he pawed Zhang with his jab and had him perfectly lined up for a right hand, but he wouldn't pull the trigger. When he finally did in the fifth round, he was beaten to the punch by a 41-year-old opponent.  

Riyadh Season was a mixed bag for Zhang. Although he knocked down Parker in his last fight twice, he threw few punches throughout large stretches of the bout. He wouldn't let his hands go with regularity and was simply outworked. Against Wilder, he was marginally busier. And when he did have his moment, he pounced on it, which hasn't always been the case in his career. 

Zhang remains a huge threat to any heavyweight who wants to stand in front of him. However, the blueprint to beating him is out there. He lacks the foot speed and stamina to go hard for 12 rounds. But if a fighter wants to slug it out, he'd like his chances against anyone. 

*** 

Coming off a memorable 12th-round stoppage victory over Otabek Kholmatov in a Fight of the Year contender, featherweight champion Raymond Ford started Saturday's fight with little of the fire he displayed in his previous bout. He was repeatedly beaten to the punch by Nick Ball early in the fight. And although Ford seemingly possessed an advantage in athleticism, he declined to use it. Instead, he decided to trade with Ball in the pocket.  

Now there are two possible explanations for Ford's sluggish start. He had previously talked about moving up to 130 lbs., yet he stayed at 126 for this fight because of the opportunity. And he certainly fought like a guy who didn't have a great training camp. But I also believe that there is another explanation for his early-round performance: he fell in love with his power. Ford didn't jab much early in the fight. Instead, he tried to bomb Ball out of the fight with left hands. Now Ford is many things in the ring, but he's not really a knockout puncher (just 8 knockouts in 16 fights). Unfortunately for Ford, Ball has a terrific chin AND he wanted to work much more than Ford did. With Ford tethered to the pocket, Ball landed all sorts of eye-catching power shots. 

Ball's (left) aggression gave Ford problems
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing


In the second half of the fight, Ford found a perfect synthesis for success. Using his legs more to create angles but continuing to focus on power shots, he pasted Ball frequently with crushing single shots and combinations. Ford demonstrated how advanced he is with his left hand, pulverizing Ball with straight lefts to the head and body and lighting him up with several breathtaking uppercuts.  

The 12th round was one to savor as both went at it with full fire. Although Ball had dropped most of the latter rounds of the fight, he gave everything he had in the final frame and scored with some terrific sequences of power punches. And yet Ford had his own spectacular moments in the round, landing crushing uppercuts and straight lefts. 

Ultimately, Ball won a split decision with two of the judges giving him seven rounds while Ford won seven rounds on the other card. It was a tale of two halves, with a couple of swing rounds that made the judges' scorecards defensible. Ball is now a world champion and although Ford left a lot to be desired in the first half of the fight, he demonstrated his world-class ability in the latter rounds. He has a real chance to win a title at 130 lbs.  

*** 

It's unusual to see a 33-year-old undefeated champion add a lot to his repertoire at such a late stage of his career. Yet Dmitry Bivol took the opportunity of a tune-up fight with Malik Zinad to feature several new additions in his toolbox. We are so used to seeing Bivol use lateral movement and quick feet to be evasive, but Bivol fought Zinad as a walk-down pressure fighter. 

Bivol almost never stopped coming forward. When Zinad unloaded with power punches, Bivol didn't take a quick step back as has usually been his custom throughout his career. No, he held his ground and took most of the punches off his arms or gloves. This was not Bivol's traditional defense, and yet he was having a lot of success with it. At one point, Zinad had landed only 14% of his punches, a very low percentage, and in line with most of Bivol's opponents.  

I kept thinking when watching Bivol fight on Saturday that he had been studying an opponent whom he had recently beaten: Canelo, who may be among the best in the sport in taking shots on his arms while refusing to give up ground on his way in. I wouldn't put it past Bivol. He's a student of the sport. What's even more interesting is that it's unlikely that Bivol would want to fight in this style against his next opponent, unified light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev, who is one of the best come-forward fighters in the sport. So, let's just chalk up Saturday's performance to Bivol working on new things, and somehow also showing a mastery of them. Oh, by the way, he won by sixth round stoppage (also not a traditional Bivol thing!).  

*** 

Saturday's card began with an English light heavyweight showdown between Willy Hutchinson and Craig Richards, who performed well in a loss to Bivol in 2021. Hutchinson didn't have Richards' resume, but he had self-belief, youth, and an aggressive style. Throughout the first half of the fight, Hutchinson dominated with power and craft. Switching stances frequently, Hutchinson hit Richards with everything in his arsenal.  

It wasn't truly a fight until the last half. Hutchinson started to tire and Richards, as often his custom, belatedly let his hands go. Although Richards wound up not winning many rounds in the fight, he did land several bombs in the late rounds. Hutchinson, who had never been past seven as a pro prior to Saturday, had to deal with fatigue, an opponent who could take his punches, and navigating through some scary moments in the ring.  

But he did. By the 12th Hutchinson had steadied the ship and he wound up winning a wide unanimous decision. Hutchinson doesn't yet look like a 12-round fighter to me, but he's still just 25 and this experience should do him a world of good. Like many power punchers, he never really had to learn to pace himself because he was blowing opponents out in the early rounds. But if he wants to complete his matriculation in boxing, that will be his crucial final step in being a serious contender at light heavyweight. Despite his gas tank issue, it was a solid performance. He took advantage of the global stage and announced that he's a player in the division. He has fire in both hands and he's ready to go!  

And now we are as well.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Fury-Usyk

In a thrilling fight full of twists and turns, Oleksandr Usyk made a vital adjustment in the eighth round that directly led to his victory over Tyson Fury: throwing his right hook. 

Usyk started the fight well, landing a series of left hands from different angles. In particular, Fury had a lot of problems tracking Usyk's overhand left. But as the great fighters do, Fury made adjustments. He wisely decided to get off the ropes, which allowed for more mobility defensively and better angles to land his counters. In the middle rounds, Fury's varied offensive attack was too much for Usyk's one-handed display. By the end of the sixth, Fury was dominating the action. He had solved Usyk's initial puzzle earlier in the bout and was now controlling the fight.

Usyk (left) landing a straight left
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank


But in the eighth, Usyk brought out the hook. His adjustment from one shot at a time to combinations gave Fury defensive fits. By the end of the eighth, Fury's nose was smashed up and the momentum had returned to Usyk; Fury would never fully recover. In the pivotal ninth round, Usyk landed a series of hard shots with Fury against the ropes. During that flurry of punches, Usyk connected with two crushing right hooks that were essentially free shots. Fury didn't see them coming and had no defense for them. 

I'm sure that you've heard the phrase "battered from pillar to post" before. This is literally what happened in the ninth. Usyk's onslaught caused Fury to stumble from one corner of the ring to the other. Usyk smacked him into the ropes multiple times before referee Mark Nelson called a knockdown toward the end of the round (more on this later). 

Usyk didn't step on the gas in the 10th or the 11th, but he controlled Fury and still battered him with a few big left hands in each round. The 12th was more competitive. I thought that Usyk had the better moments, but all three judges gave it to Fury. 

The judges' scores were 114-113 and 115-112 for Usyk and 114-113 for Fury (I had it 116-111 for Usyk). Each scorecard was defensible in my opinion. I thought that there were up to four rounds, specifically the 1st, 2nd, 7th, and 12th, that could have gone either way. In the first and seventh, Fury had seemingly won the round, with the exception of a couple of big shots that Usyk landed. Those rounds are the definition of "what you like" for a judge: Fury's volume and consistency or Usyk's more telling blows. 

Although I believe that Fury had a case for winning, I don't think that he got his tactics right at the beginning of the fight. He spent the first two rounds trying to counter off the ropes. And these were mostly voluntary choices by him. This led to Usyk having moments of early success with his left hand. Fury could have started off the match in all sorts of ways – for instance, on his front foot or circling – but I think that the decision to hang by the ropes gave Usyk early confidence that he could get to Fury. 

Fury was at his best in rounds 4, 5 and 6. More often in the center of the ring, he used his quick, short counters to beat Usyk in exchanges. He wisely decided to take some of the sting off his shots, and he quickly realized that throwing his punches at 70% or 80% force could still do more than enough damage. In the fifth round, Fury crushed Usyk with a short uppercut that badly wobbled the Ukrainian. 

But it wasn't just one punch from Fury. During this passage of the fight he displayed his entire arsenal, connecting with straight rights to the body, pinpoint left hooks, and quick combinations. He was so dominant after the sixth round that it looked like the fight was only going to go his way. 

***

What has made Usyk so special throughout his career is his ability to beat back danger on his way to winning. He has an unusual skill of performing at his highest level after experiencing duress, and not the duress of being down a round or two, but the duress of having his chin cracked or his body pulverized by a big shot. 

Usyk can somehow remove himself from the present danger, to disregard it, to nullify it even though it is happening to him. It's like he flicks a switch. It's binary. He's hurt or he's losing; now he's not! This pattern played out in the two Anthony Joshua fights, the Tony Bellew fight, the Michael Hunter fight, and even against Daniel Dubois, where at the very least he was badly hurt by a shot that was ruled a low blow. 

It is when he appears to be at his lowest point in the fight where suddenly he regathers himself and becomes unbeatable. He seems to draw a mental line in the sand where he says, "no more." 

Fury getting through with a right hook
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I don't remember a successful combination from Fury in the last five rounds of Saturday's fight. Fury was so spooked in the final rounds that he stopped jabbing with conviction (the southpaw right hook can come right over the orthodox jab). 

Usyk doesn't waste punches. He also doesn't show everything in his arsenal unless he needs to. He can win with an economical punch selection or can be more expansive if the fight requires it. He starts with his left and only when he needs more from his bag of tricks does he go to them. His approach maximizes the element of surprise. Late in the fight, Fury had no idea how to defend the right hook. He hadn't seen it yet. He didn't know the angles for the shot or Usyk's facility for throwing and landing it. 

One quick note on referee Mark Nelson: In the ninth, Nelson made a series of decisions that upset many boxing fans. Let's innumerate them: 

  1. He could have called a knockdown on Fury earlier in the round than when he did. 
  2. He could have stopped the fight instead of calling a knockdown.
  3. He gave Fury too much recovery time after the knockdown. 

I think that fans have a right to be upset with Nelson regarding points 1 and 3. Fury had hit the ropes from a punch multiple times in the round. Only when it looked like a finishing blow could potentially happen did Nelson call the knockdown. And Nelson was certainly generous with giving Fury a few extra seconds after the knockdown. 

But for point number 2, I'm glad that Nelson didn't stop the fight. His job after the knockdown was to evaluate whether Fury had the ability to protect himself and if he was in the condition to continue. I'm sure that Nelson realized that the end of the round was near and I'm also positive that the ref fully understood Fury's recuperative powers in previous fights when he had been hurt.  

Although I don't think that Nelson bathed himself in 100% glory during the ninth, I think that his decision to let the fight continue was the correct call. Fury was never badly hurt throughout the rest of the fight or in serious danger of hitting the canvas again. Ultimately, Nelson played a major role in letting the fighters decide the outcome of the bout, which is what I think a ref should do whenever he or she can. Yes, many referees would have stopped Saturday's fight in the ninth, and they would have been able to defend their actions, but the conclusion to Saturday's fight was much more satisfying because Nelson allowed the fight to continue.  

*** 

Fury-Usyk was a wonderful addition to the heavyweight annals. Both boxers displayed an ability to fight in different styles and make pivotal adjustments. Both were hurt and found a way to stay on their feet. There was tension and excitement throughout; it was riveting stuff.  

Was it a perfect fight? No. I think that both fighters were a little too comfortable in the championship rounds. Neither really stepped on the gas. Fury was trying to regather himself and didn't make a concerted effort to win the 10th or 11th; Usyk was happy to bank rounds without expending more energy than he needed to. The fight didn't have the relentlessness and desperation found in Ali-Frazier 3 or Fury-Wilder 3, where there was a feeling that both guys in the ring were fighting for their life. Saturday's fight didn't transcend the sport, becoming something more epic or primal, but it was a great advertisement for what boxing can offer at the highest level. 

Usyk, undisputed, celebrating the victory
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I've heard too many boxing fans complain that they don't make heavyweight fights like they used to, but this era has produced Fights of the Year like Joshua-Klitschko and Fury-Wilder 3 and Rounds of the Year in Joshua-Klitschko, Joshua-Ruiz 1 and Fury-Wilder 1. I've also really enjoyed Hrgovic-Zhang, Parker-Joyce, Wilder-Ortiz 1, and Ruiz-Ortiz.  

Today's heavyweight division features terrific personal stories as well. Fury's comeback from depression and other mental health challenges inspired many. Ruiz becoming the first Mexican-heritage heavyweight champion after coming in as a last-minute replacement was the stuff of cinema and legend. How about Joseph Parker's talents in comedy or Joe Joyce's prowess in art? The ferocious power displays from Anthony Joshua, Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder have been thrilling.  

This heavyweight era will now be defined by Usyk, a complicated character who can be menacing or the biggest joker on the stage. He's a dancer, a prankster and devoutly religious. Beating everyone on their home turf or in neutral settings, Usyk is the sport's supreme road warrior. Think about the mental strength it takes to win fight after fight without home support, and almost always as the B-side. He just goes from place to place knocking off champions and challengers. 

He has now become undisputed champion at cruiserweight and heavyweight. He has never received a gift from the judges. All of his victories have been earned, a number of them after being hurt or behind in the fight.  

In the last few years, Usyk has had to deal with the devastating consequences of the war in his homeland. Over the last two years, Usyk has spent nights in bomb shelters. He's experienced missile attacks and bombs. He's seen death, the destruction of nearby residential buildings, and the ending of a previous way of life. And he has had to compartmentalize that anguish and despair and prepare for the guy in front of him in the ring who wants to batter him and take his world title.  

Since the war started, Usyk has defeated two of the bigger punchers in the division (Joshua and Dubois) and one of the craftiest fighters in modern heavyweight history (Fury). These performances have demonstrated Usyk's deep psychological and emotional reservoirs of strength. He has refused to wilt or yield. He has beaten opponents who are much bigger and hit harder. He has not let any of those disadvantages stand in his way. At his core, he has a will that cannot be broken. He will persevere. He will beat back what's in front of him. He will find a way. He will win.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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