Sunday, July 14, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Ennis-Avanesyan

Like many sports, boxing involves the combination of offense and defense. Although both elements are necessary for victory, they need not be equally distributed to win. Think about the times that a team or an individual has so much offensive firepower that the opposition just can't match them. And it works the other way too. Defensive masters can be so adept that they can neutralize whatever the opponent brings. 

Jaron "Boots" Ennis is to the left of the offense/defense continuum in boxing. His offense is so advanced, so fluid and so spiteful that it more than covers up for his defensive shortcomings. To this point in his career, he is 32-0 with 29 KOs. But his dominance is even more comprehensive than that; he barely loses rounds. Contrast Ennis with Terence Crawford, a fighter to whom Ennis is frequently compared. Crawford has lost his fair share of rounds in fights. He doesn't mind giving an opponent a couple of early rounds while he figures out the openings. He's had to come up with knockouts in close fights. 

Boots goes about his business differently. He attacks opponents from the opening bell. Featuring a much higher volume than Crawford and a willingness to mix it up, Boots welcomes a firefight. He's not trying to defuse a conflagration. He wants the proceedings to get a little ragged and nasty. He knows that few can compete with his blistering offensive arsenal. 

Boots Ennis (left) in full flow
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom Boxing

But Boots gets hit in a way that is concerning. Whether it's Thomas Dulorme, Sergey Lipinets or now David Avanesyan, Boots has given his opponents the type of free shots that create a degree of peril in his performances. Make no mistake: it's not that he gets hit; everyone gets hit. It's how he gets hit. 

Throughout portions of the fourth and fifth rounds in Saturday's fight, Boots was slugging it out with Avanesyan in close range, landing spectacular combinations and power shots. Yet after throwing, his hands were nowhere near his head, leaving himself unguarded for Avanesyan's return counters. And Avanesyan connected with some impressive straight rights and left hooks. Boots took them all and took them well. And it should be noted that Avanesyan is not some light-hitting foe. But it wasn't a stray shot or two for Avanesyan during the fight. He landed his best shots at an unprotected target.

To this point in his career, Boots has relied on his chin during firefights instead of defensive technique. He has already taken some big bombs in his career, but they haven't dissuaded him from continuing his offensive onslaughts. However, I can't say it's the best long-term strategy. 

But let's also offer up the possibility that Boots may happen to have a great beard. We've seen several fighters with immovable chins. Gennadiy Golovkin could take anyone's punches. Canelo can as well (not that he is in the business of giving away free shots). Maybe Boots will fit into this category.

Let's return to Crawford, who more closely resembles Ennis than do Golovkin or Canelo. Terence has had his own defensive issues in some of his fights. I wouldn't call him a defensive savant, especially when in the orthodox position, but it's worth pointing out that Crawford has yet to lose a fight. What I'm getting at here is that a potential weakness is not the same as a real weakness. So, I think it's important to note the obvious, that Boots' can be gotten to, but it's not necessarily a tragic flaw at this long as he can take the shots. 

However, let's also not lose the forest through the trees. The offensive display that Boots put forward on Saturday was majestic. By the second round, he had already dominated Avanesyan with his jab from the orthodox stance and violent right hooks out of the southpaw stance. By the end of the second, Avanesyan's left flank was already reddened by the hooks to the body. In addition, a significant knot arose on Avanesyan's face, more evidence of Boots' power punching success. 

Boots with his belt after the victory
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom Boxing

So many fighters are programmed with their combinations. How about a left hook to the body and right hand to the head? How about the jab, straight right and the left hook? These sequences have been drilled into fighters since they were kids, and they throw them like they have mastered a particular test. 

But Boots isn't playing that game. His combinations come from a sort of improvisatory genius that combines athletic mastery, sterling punch technique, creativity, supreme speed, and opportunism. I doubt that Boots knows what he's going to throw until the second he unleashes a combo. I don't think he says to himself "left hook, left hook." He sees an opening and then unfurls a combination that could incorporate any of his punches at a given time. He always has everything in his arsenal ready to go. 

And he's not burdened by orthodoxy. How about a double rear uppercut followed by a rear hook? How about a rear uppercut followed by a looping back hand (this was the combination that floored Avanesyan in the fifth)? How about a straight right hand, a left uppercut to the head and a left hook to the body? A Boots opponent has no idea what's coming and consequently can't get his defense aligned to stop the oncoming foray. 

Saturday's crowd in Philadelphia literally oohed and aahed multiple times a round during Boots' combinations. And Philadelphia boxing fans are not easily impressed. They have seen champions and talents of all stripes. Yet there Boots was putting together combinations of beauty and wonder. He had them eating out of the palm of his hand; they were enraptured.

The fight was stopped after the fifth round as Avanesyan sustained damage to his jaw and had gotten beaten up to the body. Ennis retained his welterweight title, but Avanesyan played his role well. After the fight, Boots admitted that he was a little rusty and wasn't pleased with all aspects of his performance. Avanesyan gave Boots things to think about, to realize that his performance was insufficient, and there haven't been too many of Boots' opponents where that has been the case. 

The Boots train is now in full swing. Armed with a new promotional deal with Matchroom, a division at welterweight that sees few legitimate threats, and now a loyal home following that can generate real box office, Boots can continue to mow down willing opponents in front of a big home crowds for good money. He's in the sweet spot. 

But the risks are there. And although I have mentioned a couple of outliers, the fighters who can remain at the elite level while giving away free shots are few. In the end, Boots' offense might be so good that my concerns may be moot. Or maybe not. But I know one thing: we'll all be watching to find out. The Boots Ennis Show is unmissable. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
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  

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Boots Ennis Feature for Ring Magazine

I wrote a feature on uber-talent Jaron "Boots" Ennis for Ring Magazine. Ennis takes on David Avanesyan on Saturday, making the first defense of his welterweight title. It will be a homecoming fight for Ennis, his first bout in Philadelphia in over five years. To read the article, click here.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
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, June 30, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Estrada-Rodriguez

We all know what utilizing angles in boxing means, or, at least we think we do. This is often defined as not coming straight in against an opponent, entering the pocket off a little bit to the side. A fighter who can do this on a consistent basis can have significant advantages over more stationary opponents. 

However, there is an even more advanced level to using angles, the ability to create additional punching opportunities at close range with subtle movement. This is far more than being clever on the way in. This is mastering body positioning while in an opponent's firing range. And there is no better fighter in boxing today than Jesse "Bam" Rodriguez with this skill. 

At just 24, Rodriguez has now beaten a Hall of Famer in Juan Francisco Estrada, an excellent champion in Sunny Edwards, and decorated former champions Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. More than his youth or power or boxing fundamentals, Bam's X-Factor is this mastery of angles in close quarters. Simply put, he can do things at an expert level that even great fighters can't do. 

Estrada (right) on his way to the canvas
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom

So, when watching Rodriguez against Estrada, who himself had some of the best movement in the sport over the last decade, I was immediately struck by Bam's quick pivots, subtle weight shifts, and resets in the pocket. In these instances, he created angles to land and executed on his punches before Estrada could defend them. More than anything else, this was the clear skill gap to me between the two. And Estrada was a fighter who sat comfortably on the sport's pound-for-pound list for many years; Bam was often dominating an elite opponent. 

It's worth mentioning that Bam had sparred with Roman Gonzalez in preparation for this fight. The great Chocolatito had a legendary three-fight series with Estrada. And Gonzalez had a similar advantage over Estrada with his ability in close quarters. Bam has picked up a lot from Chocolatito over the years and as fluid as Chocalitito was in close range, I don't think that he had Bam's athleticism. So, while Chocalitito understood all the angles and body positioning, he couldn't move as fast as Bam. Bam gets where he needs to go faster.  

Estrada-Rodriguez will be remembered for the three knockdowns in the fight, a perfect three-punch combination by Bam in the 4th, Estrada with his own three-punch combo in the sixth, and Bam with the uppercut to the body detonation in the seventh. It was a fight that had indelible moments. But in addition to those sequences, I will remember Bam bossing Estrada in the pocket, dominating many of the exchanges and hurting Estrada often with punches that Estrada couldn't see coming or didn't have the ability to react to them. 

After the fight, Estrada spoke about exercising his rematch clause. He repeatedly beat himself up about mistakes he made during the fight. I'm sure that there was a large dose of pride in his sentiments; it can be tough to admit a fighter's best is now in the past and to concede that an opponent is simply better. 

I will grant Estrada this, however: I think that he did fall victim to his success toward the end of the fight. The beginning of the sixth round was masterful stuff from the old warrior. Poking and prodding with one-twos, you could see Estrada gaining confidence with his ability to land. 

And then, he changed the sequence. He threw a double jab, one to the head and one below Bam's right arm, and then followed up with a straight right hand. The jab to body threw off Bam's defense, leaving an opening up top. In that sequence, Estrada showed Bam and the boxing world at large that he could still get one over on the young phenom. 

But then consider where Estrada was at the conclusion of the fight...losing an exchange of bombs at close range. Essentially, Estrada got sucked into Bam's fight. He was playing hero ball instead of conceding that his opponent had superior power at that range. It was a battle of machismo that Estrada lost. 

Rodriguez raises his hands after the final knockdown
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Matchroom

At his best Estrada had always mixed in significant stretches of movement outside the pocket to go along with his power punching. Now it's possible at 34 that he can't move like he once did, but he didn't even really use his legs in the fight. He was either so shook by Bam's power early in the fight that it took him out of his game plan, or he stayed in close trying to prove a point. That Estrada referenced his "mistakes" so often in the post-fight interview indicates that he believes that he could have boxed more intelligently. Maybe so. 

I wouldn't like Estrada' chances in a rematch. He will only have gotten older. Historically, 34 is ancient for the 115-lb. division, recent exceptions aside. And Bam most likely will continue to get better. 

As terrific as Bam's performance was, I hope that the sequence that led to him getting knocked down will be a point of emphasis for his next camp with trainer Robert Garcia. It's not that Bam got hit with a shot, that happens of course, but that sequence showed that he was outthought, that he was too exuberant. With one subtle change by Estrada, Bam lost defensive responsibility. And that's not a trivial matter. Estrada didn't land something outlandish for the knockdown. It was a simple double jab/right hand, the kind of combination that Bam has seen thousands of times before. But yet, in that moment, under the bright lights, with all the adrenaline flowing, Bam lost his defense.  

To the positive, Bam recovered very well after getting dropped. He continued to press Estrada and connect with his power punches. His final left uppercut in the seventh round might become the signature moment of his career highlight reel. 

If I'm being completely honest, I think that Bam's biggest weakness right now might also be one of his strengths. He's almost always around his opponent ready to pounce. This constant aggression makes him a beast to deal with, but it does make him hittable. Estrada is a solid puncher, with a respectable knockout percentage, but he's not a lights-out, one-shot guy. Bam is fortunate that he wasn't dropped by a harder hitter. 

Bam fights in a way that gives opponents opportunities. I think that a final step in his development will be to learn when to back off, to pace a fight a little better, to win slow rounds. He doesn't need to be full throttle as much as he is. His current style makes for truly captivating television, but he needs to exert a little bit more control. He has the aptitude, physical dimensions and technical skills to win rounds at all ranges.  

For the moment, the boxing world is Bam's oyster. Despite fighting at 115 lbs., he has already become a legitimate attraction in the U.S. boxing market. His fights are easy on the eyes and boxing fans don't need to be sold on his talent; it's obvious for everyone to see. 

Let's hope that he enjoys the ride and continues to make strides in the ring. The physical tools are all there. His boxing skills are sublime, but it's that final part of his development that needs a bit more refining. Brawls are fun, but dominating an opponent mentally, not just physically, is the final step. Estrada still fancies his chances in a rematch. He had enough success to believe that the rematch could be different. Bam left a little too much of himself on the table. He didn't remove hope. If he can reach that next precipice, there could be no stopping him. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
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  

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
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
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