Sunday, September 12, 2021

Tim Bradley's Time

Tim Bradley had a great night on Friday. The ESPN commentator and former world champ provided a clinic in how a sharp boxing analyst can enlighten a broadcast. At the top of the show, Bradley pulled no punches when it came to discussing Oscar Valdez's failed PED test. In an emotional monologue, Bradley was adamant in how allowing Valdez to continue to fight despite the failed test helped erode the credibility of boxing and he condemned the powers that be in their failure to regulate the sport properly.  

And this theme was repeated throughout the extraordinary broadcast. Far too often we see boxing commentators and networks gently push unpleasantries aside. How often do we hear announcers nebulously refer to damaging behavior as "out-of-the ring difficulties" and just leave it at that, a mere footnote before the action commences? But ESPN and Bradley in particular went all in. Bradley didn't allow Valdez any wiggle room. To him a fighter was responsible for any substance he or she may use or ingest. And for proponents of a clean sport, Bradley was singing the perfect tune. 

ESPN Boxing Analyst Tim Bradley
Photo Courtesy of ESPN

Friday's broadcast was unusual in another aspect: ESPN was biting the hand that feeds it. ESPN has an exclusive contract with Top Rank to provide boxing content. And yet it was Top Rank that helped lead the charge to clear Valdez. However, Bradley, Andre Ward and Bernardo Osuna didn't succumb to those political considerations. In their mind, a wrong was committed, an egregious one, and it was more important to them to draw a line in the sand and stake a position on the clean side of the drug testing issue than to play nice with their corporate partners. 

In short, ESPN's commentators were being advocates for the sport, a position that HBO often held during its heyday, as well as former ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas. To the ESPN broadcast crew, boxing's health and legitimacy were far more important than the transactional nature of broadcasting an Oscar Valdez fight or towing the Valdez/Top Rank company line for the reason for the failed drug test. It was refreshing to say the least. 

But it wasn't just the drug issue where Bradley shined on Friday. Throughout the broadcast he provided incisive commentary. During Gabe Flores' bout, where the young prospect was dismantled by Luis Alberto Lopez, Bradley shed light on a personality issue of Flores' that was contributing to his difficulty during the fight. Bradley relayed that he had asked Flores in Thursday's fighter meeting if he was going to work on keeping his left hand up more. To which, in Bradley's telling, Flores responded that he's going to be himself in the ring. In that answer from Flores, there was a hint of stubbornness, a refusal to examine criticism. After the fight, Flores, beaten up and demoralized, blamed himself for the loss saying that his dad provided him with the right instruction in the corner, but he had refused to listen. 

Bradley also pointed out additional aspects of Flores' style that he had failed to develop in his young career. While Flores maintained that he was getting more comfortable holding his feet and fighting on the inside, Bradley astutely pointed out that Flores resorted to backing up against the pressure fighter repeatedly, which invited even more aggression from Lopez. 

In the Xander Zayas fight, where the undefeated prospect was facing the toughest test of his young career against Jose Luis Sanchez, Bradley immediately saw that Sanchez could have success with his right hand over the top because of Xander's poor glove positioning with his left hand. And although Sanchez didn't win the fight, he repeatedly landed those right hands throughout the contest. It was a gut check fight for Zayas and he came through it well, but Bradley and Ward didn't act as a Greek Chorus marveling at the young fighter, as many broadcasters do. The commentators saw real issues and pointed them out. The final scores of the bout, which were a shutout for Zayas, didn't convey the competitiveness of the fight or the issues that Zayas still has to address. And it wasn't all negative. Bradley praised Zayas' skills, power and heart at points in the fight, but it was mixed with the type of reality check that he often gives as part of his commentary. 

The main event between Oscar Valdez and Robson Conceicao saw all three judges and the ESPN crew having Valdez at the victor, but many scoring at home thought that Conceicao had done enough to win. After a fast start from Conceicao, Valdez had more success in the back half of the fight. And as the rounds progressed, the number of authoritative punches from Conceicao started to drop. Yet Conceicao was dancing in the ring, holding his arms up, showboating. Bradley and Ward correctly pointed out that the judges may not respond well to that kind of display when the fighter isn't doing enough offensively to warrant it. There can be room for showboating in boxing, but it only works when one fighter is dominating the other. For Conceicao, he was playing with his food too much instead of putting more punches together, the kinds that can sway judges. 

It was no surprise to Bradley and Ward that the judges scored it for Valdez. And whether you agree with Bradley on who should have won the fight, the fact that he and his team pointed out that professional judges might not take kindly to a fighter (especially a challenger) who engages in those antics, and they were proven correct, is a point in their favor. They were right about how this behavior in the ring would be perceived, and that is what an astute analyst does – illuminate the action at hand. 

Tim Bradley is still growing into his role as a boxing commentator. Sometimes he can be overly negative on young fighters, wanting them to do things that are beyond their capabilities. Other times he, and his team at ESPN, can engage in too much hyping of a network favorite son. 

But he sees the action well. He's not afraid to be bold and he wants to matter in his position. Bradley understands that he has an ability to affect the sport and how it's perceived, and he takes that responsibility seriously. His performance of Friday was another sign that he possesses special qualities. I hope he continues to be bold and incisive. The sport has enough empty suits. 

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

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Ugas

This is what an end of an era looks like. On Saturday Manny Pacquiao could hardly land his signature straight left hand on Yordenis Ugas. Pacquiao's vaunted head movement and elusiveness were only to be found in reminiscences of yesteryear. Ugas seemed to connect with everything that he threw: jabs, left hooks to the body, counter right hooks. By CompuBox measures, he landed almost 60% of his power punches, a statistic that would normally suggest a rout. But Saturday's fight wasn't quite that. Manny competed and he kept throwing and throwing. Little got through, but he had moments where his combination punching got the best of Ugas. In the end, Ugas rightfully was declared the winner with scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112. 

The only thing from his halcyon days that Manny retained on Saturday was his indomitable spirit. He threw over 800 punches, a remarkable number for a 42-year-old and essentially twice as many as Ugas attempted. For as solid as Ugas looked in the ring, especially as a late-replacement opponent, he should be thankful that he had three competent judges who didn't credit Manny's mostly unsuccessful volume and weren't overly sympathetic to Pacquiao's towering legacy in the sport. 

Ugas (left) connecting with a stiff jab
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

Ugas succeeded in playing a dangerous game. By throwing fewer than 40 punches a round, a low number for the welterweight division, he left a lot of dead moments in the ring for Pacquiao to fill in the gaps. Yes, Ugas' defense in the pocket was terrific, and he put on a clinic of how to defend without giving up one's position, but he ran the risk that many counterpunchers do. The eye naturally gravitates to the one who's putting in the work, who's trying to force the action of the fight. If Manny would have been awarded the victory on Saturday (and I'm glad that he wasn't; he didn't deserve it), there would have been far worse robberies that occur in boxing on a regular basis. 

But what couldn't be ignored was Ugas' counter right hook, a shot that not only helped to neutralize Pacquiao's straight left, but also wouldn't allow him to escape the pocket unscathed. As a result, Pac didn't dart in and out throughout most of the fight. He mostly stayed in front of Ugas or just off to the side. Those dynamics made it much easier for Ugas to find Manny and to defend Pac's incoming shots. I can't emphasize this point any more clearly: without Manny Pacquiao's ability to rush in and out in unpredictable rhythms, he becomes a much more ordinary fighter. Ugas didn't have to worry too much about whether the straight left would be coming to the head or body, because there weren't many of those straight lefts from distance. Instead, Manny was mostly stationary, and mortal. 

When Manny did have success it was from short combination punches on the inside. Those instances (especially early in the fight) still highlighted his abundance of skills. But he didn't have the hammer, the punch that an opponent couldn't see. He got some work done, but little of it was causing damage or forcing caution from Ugas.  

There will be additional time to reflect upon Pacquiao's career if and when he announces his retirement. But needless to say, they broke the mold with him. From abject poverty to untold riches, he epitomized the dream that every kid has who laces up the gloves. But even more than the financial rewards, he was a genuine icon in a sport with few remaining. Along with Floyd Mayweather, he carried boxing on his back for well over a decade and his fight nights were can't-miss affairs. He provided joy for millions of fans and helped grow the sport, teaching aspiring fighters the world over that boxing can be a force for good. It can lift fighters, families, communities and even nations.

Ugas celebrates his victory
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

As for Ugas, Saturday was very much the product of good fortune, but he is not an undeserving recipient. If Ugas had faced the Pacquiao of years ago the result most likely would have been different; however, Ugas had put himself in position to be at the right place at the right time. Similar to a number of instances in his recent run, he was called in as a last-minute replacement. When the phone rang, he said yes, a valuable lesson for fighters in this era, where too many of them need a Goldilocks scenario to get in the ring. Ugas never complained about the lack of preparation or a full camp, he just beat who was put in front of him. He's a talented fighter who had been released by a previous promoter, retired in frustration with the sport and rededicated himself to boxing upon his return. And at 35, no spring chicken either, he achieved a defining moment. No longer just a tough contender or a rugged "opponent," Ugas is now rightfully a champion. 

Pacquaio-Ugas was not a fight for the ages. It didn't give me much pleasure when watching. Ugas was better. He deserved to win, but it was more that he was good enough than truly dominant. I hope that he gets additional opportunities to fight top welterweights. But the story was truly about Manny, his fall from the top-level of the sport and a reminder that even the greatest fairy tales have a final page and come to an end. 

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

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I previewed Pacquiao-Ugas. We welcomed noted cutman Mike Rodriguez to the show. Mike will be working Pacquiao's corner this weekend and has worked multiple Ugas corners. We also recapped a huge boxing weekend. We cover who impressed and who disappointed. To listen to the podcast click on the links below: 

Apple podcast link:

Spotify link:

I heart radio link:

Stitcher link:

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

Monday, August 16, 2021

Catching My Eye: Ortiz, Rigo, Franco, Buatsi

If Golden Boy envisioned an ideal scenario for how the Vergil Ortiz-Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas fight would play out, Saturday's match would have been exactly that. Ortiz faced real fire in the second round and was stunned by Mean Machine's combination punching on the inside. But Ortiz rallied and scored a knockdown in the third round and ended the fight in the eighth with four additional knockdowns. Ultimately, it was "Mission Accomplished" for Ortiz, but despite the conclusiveness of his victory, he was in a real fight; all went according to plan.  

Ortiz is now 18-0, with all of his victories coming by stoppage, but he's not a one-shot knockout artist. He features a large punch arsenal and attains his stoppages more by punch placement and fluidity of his combinations rather than sheer power. Make no mistake, he landed a vicious left hook for one of his knockdowns in the eighth round that could topple any welterweight, but I think that his first two knockdowns of the fight – landing a picture-perfect three-punch combination for the first, and the second with a cleverly disguised jab to the body – are more characteristic of his offensive gifts. 

Ortiz looking at his fallen foe
Photo courtesy of Stacey M. Snyder


For a guy who likes to mix it up in the trenches, Ortiz has one aspect of his offensive profile that is highly underrated, and it's a significant one: his hand speed. Ortiz is one of those fighters with much faster hands than feet. His footwork is purposeful and he gets in position to land his shots, but opponents often don't see his punches coming. He may not have the flash of Ryan Garcia's hands, but Ortiz's shots get their quickly. This can also be explained by his stellar punching technique. There's very little wasted motion in his punches and he has an acute understanding of positioning. It's unusual to see him wildly miss or load up with punches. He knows that he possesses power, but more importantly, by landing in combinations he realizes that he can open up an opponent without worrying about landing a home run.  

Mean Machine and Maurice Hooker both had success early in their respective fights against Ortiz. It's almost as if Ortiz needs to get hit flush before he kicks in to high gear. On one hand, he has shown a great ability to make adjustments. The uppercuts that Mean Machine landed in the second weren't a factor later in the match. But it does appear that Ortiz could be vulnerable, especially early in fights. It's one thing to lose a low-intensity round or two to start a fight; however, it's an entirely different proposition to be tagged with an opponent's best. Hooker and Mean Machine may not have had the ability to put Ortiz away, but perhaps a better boxer could. This is an issue that must be addressed by Ortiz and his team. Giving top opponents free shots is not a recipe for long-term success; that's how a fighter can get iced. 

But let's not make this sound too negative. Ortiz remains one of the top young boxers in the sport. And perhaps even more importantly, he's a great television fighter. And if he can iron out his defensive issues early in fights, the sky might be the limit. But the fights won't be getting easier. 

***

I have a minimum threshold of offense that a fighter must surpass (absent any knockdowns) to have a legitimate case for winning. That number is 20 punches a round. I think I instituted that rule during some of the late-period Bernard Hopkins fights, where he wouldn't let his hands go, but would dance and grapple his way into believing that he had actually won.

This brings me to Saturday's John Riel Casimero-Guillermo Rigondeaux "fight," where we witnessed something far removed from what boxing is supposed to be. Instead of boxing, we watched an interminable game of "catch me if you can." Rigondeaux would run around the ring and Casimero would follow, and that was the pattern for all 12 rounds. Rigondeaux wouldn't throw punches and Casimero couldn't land them. How bad was it? Rigondeaux averaged 19 punches a round and Casimero missed five out of every six shots he threw. Casimero was marginally busier, throwing almost 24 punches a round (still horrible), and Rigo landed at 20%, not good either. And this was a bantamweight title fight too!

Casimero, missing; Rigondeaux, dancing
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp

Scoring the fight, I had Rigondeaux winning, in that when no meaningful punches were landing I gave him credit for ring generalship and defense. After all, that was a Rigo fight in extremis. Casimero surely didn't want to be in a track meet. Nevertheless, Casimero won by split decision and somehow won nine rounds from Robert Hoyle (not my favorite judge). 

Both fighters were awful. But I at least thought that Rigo was awful in intended ways, so I did give him credit for that. Casimero entered the fight on a hot streak, yet he seemed completely flummoxed through large portions of the bout. However, he did hit hard and it's worth noting that Rigo was not remotely interested in trading. He was contact-avoidant. I understand "hit and don't get hit," but that boxing aphorism involves "hitting" first. And Rigo did little of that. 

So, while I believe that Rigo should have won a fight where not much happened, let me revert to my original rule: He didn't do enough. His case isn't worth arguing. He didn't meet a minimum threshold of action. If he had found sympathetic judges for his anti-contact performance, then hurrah for him, but some officials just won't tolerate a certain level of inaction. For whatever case Rigo may have had for winning on Saturday, he made his own bed. One can't feel too sympathetic for a guy who was so unwilling to take risks. And if the judges wanted to take a moral stand by not rewarding that behavior, so be it. 

***

Let's praise three boxing judges: Karen Holderfield, Mike Ross and David Sutherland. They turned in identical 116-112 scorecards for the Joshua Franco-Andrew Moloney fight on Saturday. And I think that their scores were right on the money. But in many ways, this third fight in the Franco-Moloney series was a difficult bout to score. For one, both junior bantamweights were very active, each averaging over 60 punches thrown per round. And much of the action was at mid-range and closer, where it can be difficult to determine which punches actually land. But these three judges saw the fight correctly. Although Moloney was throwing a lot, he sure wasn't landing. CompuBox had him connecting at less than 15%, which is a terrible percentage. Now keep in mind, the judges don't have access to these stats during a fight. They had to see every punch and their effect (if any) in real time. And they got it right. They didn't mistake Moloney's activity for achievement. 

Franco won the first fight of the series in June of 2021, but Moloney had a rematch clause. Their second fight in November ended in controversy. Franco's eye started to close in the first round and by the second, the fight was stopped. Referee Russell Mora believed that the eye closed due to a head butt and thus the fight was ruled a no-contest. But even with a lengthy video review, no one seemed quite sure of where and when that head butt actually occurred. But what was plain to see was Moloney's left hand landing at will directly on that eye. 

Both fighters celebrate, but Franco (center) wins
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank


Saturday's fight was certainly not a continuation of their second bout. For whatever reason, Moloney didn't commit to the jab like he had in November. He was either throwing the punch and already starting to move out of the pocket, or he was shooting it as a first punch in a pre-planned, multi-punch combination. He was so concerned about other aspects of the fight that he neglected his bread-and-butter punch. Franco does deserve credit for defending the jab much better in this fight and countering Moloney effectively, but Andrew made specific points of emphasis independent of Franco, and those decisions helped lead to his defeat.  

Franco was the better fighter on Saturday. He was more accurate. He had more answers at mid-range and on the inside. Franco connected with every punch in his arsenal and in particular he threw excellent straight rights and left hooks to the body. It was a competitive fight and Franco was the deserving winner.

Finally, let's give credit to referee Jack Reiss, who initially ruled a knockdown in the seventh round when Franco dropped to the ground. Immediately Reiss gave the count, but then also said that he would utilize replay between rounds. Video replay clearly showed that the two fighters banged into each other without a clean punch landing. And within a minute, a potential controversial moment was wiped away. I wish more referees had the confidence to admit that they need assistance, and that more jurisdictions would make replay available; it was used expertly in this situation. Overall, the fight was a good advertisement for boxing: quality action, the officials did their jobs and no controversy. 

***

Light heavyweight contender Joshua Buatsi defeated tough gatekeeper Ricards Bolotniks in the 11th round on Saturday, scoring two knockdowns in the fight. If I were to end the description of the fight there, nothing would sound out of the ordinary. Buatsi, known for his power, is supposed to knock guys out and Bolotniks really shouldn't be defeating top fighters at 175 pounds. 

However, there was a lot to digest in this fight. For one, Buatsi experienced what it was like for a fighter to take his best punch and keep on coming. Buatsi landed a stinging left hook for a knockdown in the sixth and then went for the kill later in the round, emptying his holster. But Bolotniks survived the round. And then things got interesting. After taking huge power punches throughout the fight, Bolotniks started to have his best moments in the contest. Buatsi was too spent to press forward and was content to fight in spurts. Meanwhile, Bolotniks was firing off scoring combinations and gaining confidence.

Buatsi salutes the crowd after winning
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Normal business was restored toward the end of the tenth round where Buatsi started letting his hands go again with menace. In the 11th he fired off a right hand as Bolotniks was moving away. That punch probably wasn't among the 20 best shots Buatsi landed in the fight, but Bolotniks was off-balance and found himself on the canvas. Bolotniks was hurt and spent; he was unable to continue. 

Buatsi has been a hyped fighter since winning the bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics. His power is real, and so are certain defensive shortcomings to go along with conditioning issues. Buatsi doesn't return his left hand high enough after jabbing and it makes him a sitting duck to be countered by a right hand, which Bolotniks did a number of times early in the fight. His glove positioning can also get a little sloppy and there is ample room to land in between his hands. 

Saturday was Buatsi's first time going past seven rounds and it showed. Now with trainer Virgil Hunter, I'm sure that they will work on fixing some of Buatsi's technical defensive issues, but if his conditioning doesn't improve, he's going to be at a massive disadvantage against top light heavyweights. And at 28, his clock is ticking. 

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

Friday, August 6, 2021

The Frampton-Santa Cruz Fights Revisited

I was happy to contribute to Joshua Isard’s look back at the memorable Frampton-Santa Cruz fights for The Fight City. To read the piece, click here: 


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