Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Monday, June 20, 2022
I wonder if there was a sign in the red corner's dressing room on Saturday: The best performance of the night gets an extra $50,000. And as if it were a contest, each winner on Saturday tried his hardest to claim that fictional bonus. What we saw was excellence – hungry fighters, going for it, putting markers down, showing the world their absolute best.
At the top of the card Artur Beterbiev revealed further evidence of his greatness by destroying Joe Smith in two rounds to win his third light heavyweight belt. And as impressive as that performance was, Saturday was also much more than the main event. It was Robeisy Ramirez showing the boxing community that he's finally ready to take his career to the next level. Bruce Carrington let everyone know that he can quickly become a force. Jahi Tucker at 19 demonstrated that he already has several top-shelf skills. And Troy Isley, facing by far his most difficult opponent, displayed not just impressive power and speed, but also a sharp boxing mind. Each of these winners mastered his opponent and it was a thrilling display of talent at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater.
|Beterbiev celebrates after his win|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
That Beterbiev knocked out Smith was not a shock, but the new wrinkles he displayed at 37 demonstrated that he's far more than brute force. Beterbiev immediately started the fight with lateral movement, not letting Smith have a straight line of attack. And from the jump, he was in counterpunch mode, which is not an attribute that is usually associated with him. He threw counter right hands that punished Smith's robotic offensive forays. At the end of the first round, he beat Smith to the punch with a right-hand temple shot that dropped Smith as he was coming in.
Beterbiev featured several high-level boxing facets to go along with the howitzers in his gloves. He demonstrated surprising hand and foot speed. His counters were sharp and quick. He also showed a sharp boxing mind, figuring out Smith's offensive setup in lightning-quick fashion. Beterbiev realized that as soon as Smith cocked his right hand, he could beat Smith to the punch with a shorter right hand. This pattern recognition led to three knockdowns in the first two rounds. And in a veteran move, after Beterbiev hurt Smith, he didn't allow his opponent time to recuperate. He pressed forward with two fight-ending uppercuts. Beterbiev's power is of course scary; he has yet to go the distance in 18 fights. But as he demonstrated on Saturday, there's much more to his game than a big punch.
Robeisy Ramirez was a highly touted two-time Olympic gold medal winner when he was signed by Top Rank. He then proceeded to lose his debut in a listless performance against Adan Gonzales, a Colorado club fighter. I was at that fight in Philly and Ramirez didn't look prepared for Gonzales' pressure. Ramirez fought like he expected to win just because he had shown up in the arena.
Ramirez eventually linked up with noted trainer Ismael Salas, but even with this new pairing he still failed to impress on a consistent basis. He would flash moments of high-level skill and then show an utter lack of urgency. He often seemed happy to squeak by in rounds, even if his opponents were far beneath his skill level.
On Saturday Ramirez showed that he has finally turned the corner. Facing the best opponent of his career in Abraham Nova, Ramirez fought on Saturday as if his career depended on it, and maybe it did. He punished Nova with his left hand. Refreshingly, he didn't just lie back waiting to counterpunch. In the third round he beat up Nova with cracking power shots. In the fifth he ended the fight with a two-punch combination. The lead right hook missed, but Nova never saw the straight left coming, and suddenly he was on the canvas under the ropes.
|Ramirez's straight left was his money punch|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Ramirez appears to have learned that professional boxing is not just about winning. It's also about creating demand, instilling fear, dominating those beneath you, handling your business, and not resting on your laurels. There will always be room for improvement. The history of boxing is filled with great amateurs who were unsuccessful at the top pro level; Ramirez fought on Saturday as if he didn't want to be anywhere near that list.
Bruce Carrington might be Top Rank's best prospect (there is a healthy competition for that designation at the moment). However, he's not young (25) and turned pro relatively late. Even after Saturday's stoppage win, he only has four pro fights. But in his short pro career he has already demonstrated that he can become a factor in the sport, and quickly. Similar to fellow Top Rank prospect Keyshawn Davis and even a young Errol Spence, Carrington displays a preternatural level of poise that is uncommon in prospects, even in top ones.
Let me expound on his poise for a minute. Carrington is not only comfortable at all ranges, he can excel in each one. Many top American prospects aren't adept at inside fighting and shy away from it. Yet Carrington loves going to work in the kitchen. More impressively, he's not spooked by incoming fire. He's also not opposed to trading, knowing that his skills and defense will lead to him winning an exchange.
Carrington has a Roy Jones-like ability to double and triple the same power punch in a sequence while still remaining defensively responsible. He had a sequence on Saturday where he landed a triple left hook on Adrian Leyva. He did the same with several consecutive right hands to the body later in the fight.
Carrington has every punch in his toolkit, as well as hand speed and power. We still need to find out if he can take a real punch, but the early signals in his professional career scream FULL STEAM AHEAD!
Top Rank has a stellar pipeline of prospects at the moment and it's tough to keep track of all of them. So many names. So much "talent." But which fighters will be able to distinguish themselves above the "solid prospect" level? Who could be something more? Consider Jahi Tucker. Tucker was a junior national amateur champ and decided to turn pro early. At 19, he's already 8-0 with five knockouts. He's an aggressive fighter with solid technique and power. On Saturday, he repeatedly bested D'Andre Smith with quick one-two's or a double jab followed by the right hand. He marches forward consistently and responsibly. He has a solid boxing foundation and is highly disciplined in the ring for someone of his age.
Tucker still needs to add several facets to his game. Tucker's jab and right hand are far better than his other punches at this point in time. He also doesn't have to get in and out as much. In time he may learn that he can stay in the pocket a little longer and continue to do damage (Carrington does this very well). What Tucker does at this point, he does very well, but we need to see if he has an improvisational gene. How does he make adjustments?
Overall, there's a lot to like with Tucker, who has a fan-friendly aggressive temperament to go along with his considerable skill level. He fights like he's not interested in going rounds, but he does so behind a solid defense. The early signs are very positive.
Olympian Troy Isley faced Donte Stubbs on Saturday. Stubbs has become a favorite of Top Rank, with Saturday's fight being his fourth on a Top Rank card. Stubbs had shown a solid chin, an ability to go rounds and a lack of intimidation against guys with more pedigree. Stubbs started Saturday's fight throwing every punch with knockout intentions, with the correct understanding that he had little chance of outboxing Isley.
|Isley (right) lands a right hand on Stubbs|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
This type of opponent was exactly what Isley needed. Stubbs forced him to be defensively responsible. Too often top prospects get by in their early developmental fights with hand speed or power, but they make a lot of mistakes in doing so. However, if Isley decided to back straight up against Stubbs, he would've gotten crushed by a winging left hook, and if he was lazy in returning his hands to a solid defensive position, he would've been cracked by counter rights.
So, Isley passed the first test. A guy was coming in with the sole intention of knocking him out, and Isley remained poised. And if Isley had just boxed his way to a cautious victory against that kind of opponent, it would have been a great learning opportunity for him. But Isley not only nullified Stubbs, he punished him. Isley capitalized on Stubbs' wide shots and scored two knockdowns in the fight, the last one icing him in the sixth.
Isley is now 6-0 with four KOs. This was the performance that he needed. Throughout his early professional fights he had done nothing to dampen his prospect sheen, but he also wasn't making many waves; he was just progressing. This type of highlight reel KO was important to build his buzz.
Isley is certainly one to watch, as were all of these winners on Saturday's card. They all performed, entertained and made boxing fans want to see more. And that's what it's about. Create the demand. Keep building.
Thursday, June 16, 2022
"Here in Canastota, you can feel the heart of boxing."
-- 2022 IBHOF Inductee Regina Halmich
Nestled in the northern fringes of the Alleghany Plateau about 25 minutes east of Syracuse, Canastota is a bucolic village of 4,800 people that epitomizes the beauty and serenity of large portions of Upstate New York. On the drive into town there's green as far as the eye can see, with hills and mountains not too far in the distance. The main street has no more than a couple of traffic lights. The homes are modest, but well-maintained. It's an unusual yet stirring setting to honor boxing, a sport that's associated more with urban travails than rustic pleasures.
Canastota was home to Carmen Basilio, the great welterweight and middleweight of the 1950s, and that is the village's prime connection to boxing, other than Ed Brophy's quest to honor the sport with the brick-and-mortar museum that was erected in the 1990s. And yet towns like Canastota have played a huge role in boxing. Several towns in New York's Catskill Mountains were famous training locations for many top fighters. A couple hours south of Canastota rests the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, where Muhammad Ali would often hold training camp. These serene locations have frequently been utilized by boxers to refresh, focus and prepare for their biggest nights in the ring.
|Photo by Adam Abramowitz|
The International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) museum itself is modest, and perhaps a tad disappointing for those who have visited other halls of fame, such as baseball's, just over an hour away in Cooperstown. The IBHOF museum has lots of interesting items and pieces of memorabilia. You can find the old Madison Square Garden ring, tons of fight robes, gloves, plaques for all of the inductees, famous fights shown on loop on the monitors, tickets, programs, and other ephemera. There also is a refreshing nod to today's boxers, with memorabilia from fighters such as Spence, Fury and Lomachenko on display. But the IBHOF surely has far more memorabilia than its three rooms can showcase. And I hope that the museum can eventually expand to display more of its collection.
The museum itself only played a small role in the weekend's festivities. Brophy and his team at the IBHOF pulled out all the stops. Leading up to induction day, events were held at a huge outdoor stage. Bernard Hopkins and Ring Magazine Editor Douglass Fischer held a great Q&A session. There was also a wonderful referee roundtable that featured luminaries such as Tony Weeks, Jack Reiss, Kenny Bayless, Mark Nelson, Benjy Esteves and others.
Hundreds watched these sessions in seats facing the stage. Hundreds more stood and lined the perimeter. Fighters signed autographs in tents beyond the stage area. And fans jumped on these opportunities. They didn't care if they were 80th in line to get a Roy Jones autograph; that's the reason why they came to Canastota, to interact with their heroes. IBHOF merchandise flew off the shelves in the museum shop. Boxing dignitaries, fans, media members and those involved in the sport floated around the grounds, stopping for conversations, pictures, handshakes and hugs.
The Hall of Fame annual boxing memorabilia show was on Saturday about half a mile away from the museum at the high school. Vendors from across the nation displayed their treasures (and some trash) to boxing's hardcore. It was almost impossible not to part with some money. Signed pictures, autographed gloves, old magazine covers, boxing artwork, books, figurines, newspapers from yesteryear – in its own way it was a paradise. I bought a really interesting book on Philadelphia boxing history. The stage in the gymnasium featured a table for boxing dignitaries. 2022 Hall of Fame Inductee James Toney was signing autographs and the line was over 150 deep.
This year's induction ceremony covered three years – 2020, 2021 and 2022 – and included huge talents such as Mayweather, Hopkins, Marquez, Ward, Cotto, Jones, Toney, Mosley and many more. The unique opportunity to see all of these legends on the same stage compelled thousands of boxing fans to make the pilgrimage for Hall of Fame Weekend. Because of outsized demand, the induction ceremony was moved from the Hall of Fame to the Turning Stone Events Center.
Throughout the weekend in Canastota, in the lobby and bars of the host hotel (Turning Stone Resort Casino), at the ShoBox card on Friday night, at the banquet on Saturday night, and during the induction ceremony on Sunday, boxing was everywhere. And for those accustomed to following the sport in relative isolation, here was a centralized locus for like-minded people. There were old friends to catch up with, boxing fans to meet, and opportunities to bump into the scores who work in boxing in one capacity or another. It was wonderful! And as Halmich said in the quote above, you could feel the heart of boxing. Here, boxing felt vibrant, present and real.
"Without family, you don't have anything."
-- 2022 IBHOF Inductee Bill Caplan
Although boxing is often viewed as the ultimate solitary sport, a fighter alone in the ring trying to conquer his or her opponent, a key takeaway from Induction Weekend was the importance of family, and this extended to blood relatives, surrogate families and even the boxing community as a whole. 2021 Hall of Fame inductee Shane Mosley credited his accomplishments to his father, Jack. Floyd Mayweather referred to his father as a genius and a great man. Mayweather was joined by over 50 friends, family members, colleagues and business associates to help celebrate the weekend. Bernard Hopkins called two people up to the stage for his induction speech, his son and Rudy Battle, a mentor and former boxing referee from Philadelphia. Kathy Duva, who had lost her husband Dan decades ago, was delighted that her three children could attend the ceremony. An adopted child, Duva was able to locate members of her birth family in the downtime during the pandemic, and she was exuberant that many of them were able to attend the induction ceremony.
|Bernard Hopkins on Saturday|
Photo by Adam Abramowitz
Sportswriter Bernard Fernandez, a great scribe from Philadelphia, couldn't attend the ceremony in person as he has been tending to his ailing wife, but Hopkins and Fernandez's fellow Philly writer and friend Joe Santoliquito called him live from the stage during the ceremony, and Hopkins, whom Fernandez covered intimately during his professional career, inducted him.
Marian Trimiar, a female boxing trailblazer from the '70s and '80s, thanked dozens who had helped her during and after her boxing career, including her live-in medical orderly, whom she regarded as her "sister."
The ceremony was also filled with children, grandchildren and other relatives on hand to accept awards on behalf of inductees who had passed away.
The induction ceremony encompassed whole ranges of emotions. There was bliss. There was laughter. There was loss. You could feel the inductees' love, joy, hardships and sacrifices. It was raw and at times cathartic.
III. Victory...but at a cost
"People ask me who was the biggest puncher, who was the toughest opponent. It was the sport of boxing."
-- 2021 IBHOF Inductee Andre Ward
As wonderful as boxing can be, Induction Weekend was a reminder of the dark side of the sport. James Toney, the preeminent trash talker of his day, spoke for no longer than a minute as words no longer come easily for him, at least not in a public setting. Ward admitted that the draw of coming back to the ring has been strong, but every day that he didn't fight meant that he had beaten the sport of boxing. You could still feel Mayweather's antipathy towards those who doubted his ability to become a star or believed that he would squander all of his money. Lou DiBella talked about how hard it has been for him to smell the roses during his time in boxing. Throughout the weekend there were a couple of older ex-fighters making the rounds who walked with visible discomfort, reinforcing the physical toll of the sport.
Even in the ring on Friday night during the ShoBox card, there was a reminder that the dark side of boxing remains present. Heavyweight George Arias won a split decision over Alante Green as a last-minute replacement. But Arias was only on TV because Elvis Garcia had failed a performance enhancing drug (PED) test. 2021 IBHOF Inductee Dr. Margaret Goodman revealed that she had left the Nevada Athletic Commission as a ringside physician because she didn't believe that the commission was doing enough to clean up the sport. In her speech Goodman beseeched the audience to do more to get PEDs out of boxing. And I'm sure the irony wasn't lost on her that on the very same stage where she was being honored for helping to clean up the sport, there were a couple of fighters, now Hall of Famers, who had failed PED tests.
Many of the female fighters who were inducted during the ceremony reminded those in attendance about the limited opportunities that they had at the time. They didn't necessarily want to be trailblazers; they just wanted to fight, and they didn't have the options or the financial possibilities that many of their male counterparts did. It was great to see Ann Wolfe and Christy Martin and Holly Holm onstage, but if they were fighting now their financial prospects would have been exponentially higher.
"Boxing is the most relatable sport. Everyone knows how it feels to be knocked down in life and that you have to pick yourself back up. It's universal."
-- 2020 IBHOF Inductee Lou DiBella
As many legends of boxing were honored over the weekend, the next generation was also present. Welterweight champion Terence Crawford was around all weekend, so was his last opponent, the recently retired Shawn Porter. Junior middleweight contender Sebastian Fundora was also there. Oh, there was also a fun fight card.
Bakhodir Jalolov, the Tokyo Olympics super heavyweight gold medalist, headlined the card and fought into the eighth round for the first time in his professional career. The power in Jalolov's left hand is real and he does different things with it. He walks opponents into it, he can go upstairs or downstairs, and he throws a mean uppercut. He shares some similarities with fellow southpaws Oleksandr Usyk and Zhanibek Alimkhanuly in that his back hand is more than just his dominant power hand; he can use it creatively.
|Jalolov before Friday's fight|
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
Jalolov is now 11-0 with 11 stoppages. With his power, amateur pedigree and the fact that he's in the heavyweight division, he will get significant opportunities sooner rather than later. But he still has a lot to work on. His right hook is more of a concept than an actual punch at this point. He also is a little too impressed with his power. On Friday he repeatedly hit Jack Mulowayi with his biggest punch, but stood there in almost disbelief as Mulowayi remained upright. Instead of following up a big shot with subsequent power punches, Jalolov did a lot of posing, admiring his work. He will need to understand that knockouts often come by putting punches together instead of just landing single shots in a vacuum. But that is all for another day. He still has more than enough time to refine his skill set and he is one of the top heavyweight prospects in the sport.
And it wouldn't be ShoBox without some obscure guy impressing as the "opponent." Chann Thonson is a 30-year-old lightweight from Quebec who fights out of Toronto. Although he's been a pro for almost six years, he only had ten fights coming into Friday's match, where he squared off against undefeated prospect Ty Tomlin, a DiBella fighter.
After tasting some serious leather in the first round, Thonson figured out that Tomlin was left-hook happy. He realized that if he moved to Tomlin's right side, he wouldn't face the same amount of danger. Having solved problem #1, Thonson proceeded to crack Tomlin with sharp combinations. When Tomlin would rush in irresponsibly, Thonson would make him pay. Thonson's clean punching continued to have more and more of an effect as the fight progressed and he was able to open up a huge cut on Tomlin. Eventually the fight was stopped in the fifth round because of the cut and no one protested the stoppage. It was a solid, clean TKO victory for Thonson, who could be fighting a lightweight of note really soon.
Overall, there's much more I could say about Induction Weekend, but I'm sure we can agree that this article has gone on long enough. So, let me end with this: If you have never been to Induction Weekend, you must put it on your list. If you love boxing, you will walk around all weekend with a huge smile on your face. The experience will enhance your connection to the sport and to those who love it like you do. It was unforgettable.
Thursday, June 9, 2022
Has it ever taken years for a concept to sink in? It could be a quote, a poem, a piece of advice, or even a comment on your performance review. Maybe you understood something on a basic level and then a while later a light bulb finally flicked on for you, one of those "a-ha" moments where you now have a vastly different perspective. This happened to me recently regarding Freddie Roach's comments after Wilder-Fury 1.
If you remember, Roach was assisting Ben Davison in Fury's corner. After that memorable fight, which had the indelible image of Fury rising from a devastating knockdown in the 12th, only to earn a disputed draw, Roach was asked for his opinion on the match. He mentioned that he had wanted Fury, who had dominated most of the fight from distance, to take it to Wilder on the inside.
|Fury (right) slipping a Wilder punch|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
At the time I dismissed Roach's comment, believing it had come from a trainer stuck in his ways, who only believed in one approach to winning. Roach loves his offensive fighters and particularly ones who go right at their opponents. To me, it seemed ridiculous at the time. Fury easily won eight or nine rounds by expertly boxing Wilder. Why change something that's not broken?
Of course, for the second Wilder-Fury fight, Fury went right after Wilder on the inside with new trainer SugarHill Steward and won by stoppage. Fury believed that he had specific advantages with his physicality, punch variety and weight that would reduce Wilder's effectiveness. Getting inside would also take away Wilder's lead right from distance, his best punch and perhaps one of the most impressive punches in all of boxing.
So, it's simple, right? Freddie wanted Fury to go on the inside. Fury went on the inside for the second fight, won convincingly, and that was that. But yet, I don't believe that Freddie meant Fury should go on the inside just for strategic or tactical reasons. What I think Freddie really was talking about was taking Wilder's will to fight away from him.
The most impressive form of domination is when an opponent submits. He quits. This happened for Roach's most famous pupil, Manny Pacquaio, when Erik Morales in their third match and Oscar de la Hoya refused to fight any more. Pacquaio had so completely dominated those two future Hall of Famers that they waved the white flag, admitting that there was nothing they could do to beat Manny on that night.
I believe this is what Roach was shooting for in Wilder-Fury 1. Fury had dominated Wilder during the first eight rounds, but yet Wilder didn't lose his will to fight. He was still there, still looking to land his right hand, still believing that he could win. Roach wanted Fury to take the fight out of Wilder. It wasn't enough to beat him dancing around on the outside; he wanted Wilder to know that there was nothing he could do on that given night, that Fury could beat him at any range.
Now I don't believe that Wilder would have quit. Even after taking a beating in the second fight, Wilder came back valiantly to give Fury an incredible match in their third outing. But I don't read their second fight as Fury taking the fight out of Wilder. I think Wilder believed that he had lost the battle of strategy and tactics and if he had another shot at Fury, he could do a lot better – and in their third match he did.
But Roach realized that Fury squandered an opportunity in the first Wilder fight. Had Fury roughed up Wilder on the inside, perhaps he never would have hit the canvas twice, and maybe there never would need to have been fights two and three. Maybe the public wouldn't have demanded it. Maybe Wilder wouldn't have had a case to make for it.
All of this clicked in my mind after watching Shakur Stevenson, Stephen Fulton and Devin Haney in their most recent outings. All three fighters won by impressive margins in their last fights, but Stevenson and Fulton put a hurting on their opponents, while Haney was content to box his way to victory from the outside, even though there were opportunities to cause more damage.
I believe that Freddie was talking about a vital concept at the top level of boxing. That you have to, whenever possible, take away the will of an opponent. You need to defang him. You need to have him realize that he can't win. That is the ultimate mastery over an opponent. It's more impressive than 120-108 or a one-punch knockout. It's a world-class fighter saying I don't want any more. A top opponent who still thinks he can win remains a dangerous opponent. This is what Freddie was getting after, and I don't know why it took me so long to understand this vital point. Yes, Roach has made outlandish statements over the years, but that doesn't mean he lacks vital insight into sport. For Roach, the best can annihilate. They can bludgeon. They can embarrass an opponent. They can get a world-class fighter to submit. That is the ultimate victory. And that is what he believed Tyson Fury should have done.
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Devin Haney and Stephen Fulton turned in exceptional performances on Saturday. Featuring excellent defense, great lead left hands and smart movement, both fighters illustrated that are among the best in the sport. And a theme for me in both performances was the influence of Floyd Mayweather Jr., but more on that in a minute.
In a number of respects, Haney had the more difficult assignment. Traveling to Australia, fighting in front of 40,000 hostile fans and not knowing if his father/head trainer would be with him until 24 hours before the bout (visa issue), there would have been a number of justifiable reasons for Haney not to have performed to the best of his abilities. Yet, Haney boxed his way to a comfortable victory and didn't allow unified champion George Kambosos to have sustained success; the crowd was eerily quiet throughout much of the fight.
|Haney's left hand dominated the action|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Haney won the fight mostly with his left hand. His jab and his length troubled Kambosos throughout the fight. Kambosos tried the same approach versus Haney that he did in his title-winning performance against Teofimo Lopez: punch in between Haney's shots and get through with quick power punches. But Haney had an extra 2.5 inches of reach compared to Lopez and made every inch of his length count. Kambosos fell short far more often than not. And he failed to land his best power punches throughout most of the fight.
Haney, as Fulton would also do on Saturday, demonstrated how an educated lead hand can be devastating. He jabbed, double jabbed, and landed lead and counter hooks; Kambosos didn't know which shot would be coming. Haney did feature his right hand more as the fight progressed, especially in the second half of the fight, but his left was the star of the show.
Fulton faced a better opponent on Saturday, or at least one with a more coherent plan. Danny Roman understood exactly what the task was in front of him. He tried to be clever, give Fulton different looks, and whenever he got inside, he kept hammering away until Fulton tied up or was able to evade him. Yet for all of the intermittent success that Roman had, and he did land several excellent shots, he was routinely beaten to the punch by Fulton, who demonstrated an array of top-shelf boxing moves to keep Roman from winning rounds.
Watching Fulton pot-shot Roman with single left hands, I was immediately reminded of how Mayweather used to dominate opponents. Featuring jabs, lead and counter hooks, spins, turns and sublime lateral movement, Fulton kept Roman guessing throughout the match. But more than technical mastery, he had a doggedness in his performance that wouldn't allow Roman to get the upper hand. When Roman had a strong seventh backing up Fulton to the ropes, Fulton found another gear and cracked him with a straight left out of the southpaw stance, in what might have been his best punch of the night. This was very much the theme of the fight. Fulton would land great stuff, but when Roman would have periods of success, Fulton would double down on his determination and retake control of the fight.
|Fulton (left) with a counter left hook|
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey
And later in the bout, Fulton, like Mayweather used to do, decided to punish his opponent. Fulton's left hook parade in the 11th round was thrilling stuff. These weren't merely scoring punches; they were hurtful shots and let Roman know that he would now pay a price for coming forward.
To me, that was the one thing missing from Haney's performance. The opportunity was there for Haney to do even more damage. Haney never took the fight away from Kambosos, who was dogged throughout the match, even if mostly ineffective. As the fight progressed, Kambosos started to load up with his left hook and would drop his hand, waiting for the opportunity to throw. Haney had already proven in the ninth round that he could get through with devastating one-twos, but why not feint the jab and just go with some lead rights? The opening was there. As stellar as Haney was on Saturday, he may have left a little food on the table.
Haney is only 23 and with his victory on Saturday he has become the undisputed lightweight champion, so I don't want to sound too critical. He already has achieved a special accomplishment. However, I do believe that he has another level to get to. Similar to what Shakur Stevenson demonstrated in his last two fights, Haney now must realize that it's not enough to beat a guy; you have to discourage him too. There's a danger in letting opponents continue to feel feisty late in fights. Weird things can happen in boxing, for instance last-minute knockdowns/knockouts, dodgy scorecards, or even injuries.
Floyd Mayweather didn't have fight-ending power at welterweight, but he had enough spite to discourage opponents by the end of 12 rounds. He dominated the last half of fights. He often made opponents doubt themselves, where many seemed to be relieved by the end of the fight. Haney, who spent many of his formative years in Mayweather's gym, still must incorporate this lesson into the ring. The back half is when a fighter needs to step on the gas, even if he's winning. He needs to leave no questions after 12 rounds as to who was the rightful victor. Haney still has to add a little more ruthlessness to his overall game.
Fulton did just that in the championship rounds against Roman. And he did it in the right way. In his previous two fights, Fulton won vicious close-range battles against Angelo Leo and Brandon Figueroa. While Fulton deserves credit for his impressive displays of fortitude, he didn't necessarily fight to his strengths. He has better speed and a faster trigger than probably anyone in the junior featherweight division, so why did he fight in phone booth wars giving his opponents more of a chance? I think that Saturday's performance was Fulton's signature win, where he finally understood how to employ his manifold gifts. The expert fighter knows when to make it easy for himself and when to take it to an opponent. And on Saturday the light bulb turned fully on for Fulton. He incorporated all of his skills with the proper ring intelligence to author a complete performance.
Similar to Mayweather, Haney and Fulton are proof that power can be overrated in the sport. Fulton is already a great fighter and Haney is right there, just behind him. They might not knock you out, but they sure can have you swinging at air. Perhaps their largest threats in the future could be of their own making: boredom or overconfidence. Dialed in and hungry, they will require greatness to beat them, or a perfect shot. That's their level.