Monday, April 6, 2020

The Void

Sports, games they are, can seem inconsequential at a time of pandemic. Who beats whom and which athlete said what have fast become relics of a different era. For now, paramount concerns are safety, health, protection, employment status and for many, prayer. There have been untold thousands of deaths and who knows how many more or how long this will last? Our routines, social structures and family units have been uprooted. The virus's damage on our respective communities and economies will be devastating, and the recovery process will not automatically lead our societies to a similar robustness that existed pre-epidemic, where unemployment numbers in the U.S., for example, were at record lows.

A void now exists. And it exists for so many of us in multiple contexts. We can't see our families as we would like to. Our freedom of movement and association has been curtailed. We see our friends through screens. And simple joys that had been seemingly insignificant, like going out to a restaurant or browsing in a store, have been stymied. These are serious times and hopefully we face this crisis with the requisite valor; we all have a job to do to keep our families and communities safe.

During this quarantine period I haven't had much that I wanted to write about. I've worked in healthcare consulting over the past 14 years and my job has provided me with insights into this crisis that are deeply troubling. Our clients are almost all hospitals, with many in New Jersey, one of the hardest-hit states. Many of our client hospitals are operating in a constant state of emergency, treating increasingly sick communities with dwindling resources to combat the virus effectively. Protocols are literally changing on a daily basis. Our clients must regularly process and incorporate new information on testing, treatment, drug efficacy and availability, access to supplies, quarantine and exposure protocols, and admission and discharge procedures. 

Are mistakes being made in this process? Yes, it's inevitable. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has inhibited the type of structured debriefing and strategizing that helps hospitals improve performance. But even the best hospitals are flying by the seat of their pants to put out fires, staff their units and keep people alive. This virus isn't following a traditional playbook learned in Epidemiology 301.

I'm sure that I have plenty of additional observations about the U.S. healthcare industry's response to the coronavirus, but healthcare hasn't been an area that I've chosen to write about over the last nine years, and it's also not why you are reading this. 

I write about boxing. It's an enduring passion and one that compels me to opine. Boxing plays a significant part in my life, as it does for so many of you. The anticipation of a big fight on a Saturday, the chance to see greatness, the communal aspect of seeing live boxing or following along with our favorites on social media, the pre- and post-fight reactions – these all provide pleasure, entertainment and joy. And couldn't we all use some of that at this time? 

My thoughts turn to the many I've come to know over the years who depend on boxing for their livelihood: fighters, trainers, referees, managers, promoters, writers, photographers, broadcasters. This sport mostly involves independent contractors of one form or another. Without fights, for many there is no income, or far less. 

I credit those who continue to write, even if it’s not about matters of life and death. Sports, as insignificant as they seem at the moment, have always been a needed form of escapism, and in these times, a little escapism can be much appreciated. 


*** 

"Nothing will kill boxing. And nothing will save it."

– Larry Merchant 

Boxing was having a strong moment before the pandemic (of course, those predisposed to negativity missed this). Enormous influxes of cash entered the sport over the last two years, from DAZN, ESPN and Fox to name three. Streaming services have made more fights available than ever before. Whole cards were now being broadcasted, further connecting boxing fans with emerging prospects. 

After a multi-decade stasis in U.S. boxing where HBO was the dominant player and Showtime its scrappy younger brother, boxing again became a far more competitive marketplace. The additional investment into the sport helped grow fighters' purses and fostered job creation within the industry – both healthy signs. 

For hardcore boxing fans, the bounties were manifold. Weekends brought matchups from all over the globe on our TVs and devices. Fights that we once would have to read about in small print in a magazine several weeks later were now being broadcasted live. We no longer would have to wait for 15 fights to see a hot emerging prospect. The expanded relationships with Fox and ESPN brought widespread coverage of the sport that had been sorely lacking. 

The resumption of boxing will include many unknowns. DAZN, for example, has already started to withhold money for its rights fees in other sports. The company, saddled with an enormous amount of debt, may decide to recalibrate its business strategy post-pandemic. 

Furthermore, the return of the sport will produce a glut of fighters facing lengthy inactivity periods. How fast will they be able to return to action? Will well-paid boxers give up their generous pre-epidemic guarantees to fight in a smaller forum, or will they hold out for their established minimums? Who will want to fight vs. who will insist on the big money will be a fascinating look into the mindset of many of our top fighters. 

What about the fans? Will boxing restart in empty arenas and sound stages? Will enthusiasts have the freedom to travel? Will we see massive fight cards to rekindle interest or will there be drips and drabs as the industry cautiously dips its collective toe into the water?

What will happen to international superstars who previously had been allowed to fight in America? Will Top Rank still be able to feature Naoya Inoue in the U.S.? Will there be difficulties for international fighters to get visas to fight in America? Will Eddie Hearn, for instance, still be able to travel freely between Britain and the U.S.? If not, what will happen to his stable and his ability to sign North American fighters? 

Also consider that there will be a backlog of events throughout the country. Other sports, concerts, musicals, ice shows, circuses, rodeos, comedians, and additional forms of live entertainment have all been shut out of arenas during this crisis. Boxing may not have its pick of the litter regarding venues. Upon resumption of a familiar everyday life, there will be a triage process among live entertainment options. It may take some time for a normal schedule to return to boxing. 

Throughout this period of quarantine, I'm sure that many of us will watch old fights and maintain our connections with boxing friends and contacts via social media. We will continue to miss our sport greatly and hope that it can return to thrill us and provide us with enjoyment. 

For those in the industry, please take appropriate caution upon restarting your efforts. Yes, you all have bottom lines, bosses to please and payrolls to make, but do your best not to expose your employees, fighters and those in the sport to unnecessary risk. We are counting on you to guide boxing through turbulent times. Please be merciful stewards. 

All the best, 

Adam Abramowitz

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Pound-for-Pound Update 3-27-20

There have been a number of changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List since the last complete update in November. I'll get to the changes in a moment, but first a few housekeeping items. With the coronavirus shutting down the sport, I will be freezing everyone's activity level in the Rankings. Thus, fighters will not be penalized or removed from the Rankings on account of inactivity. Once the sport resumes in full, an inactivity penalty will be reasserted at an appropriate time, but for now, that won't be a factor. 

Since the last update, the most notable change involves Tyson Fury, who knocked out Deontay Wilder in the seventh round in February. Fury had previously been on the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List after defeating heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, but was subsequently removed during his lengthy hiatus from the sport. He returns to the Rankings at #12. 

Prior to the coronvirus outbreak, Donnie Nietes had been removed from the Rankings because of inactivity. His last fight was in December of 2018. In the last Rankings update he placed at #13. 

Unified junior featherweight titlist Daniel Roman lost a spirited split decision to Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Roman competed well in the fight, but came up just short. He had been at #19 in the Rankings and exits with the loss. 

Finally, former pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez returns to the Rankings after knocking out Khalid Yafai in the ninth round. That performance was a return to form for Gonzalez, who had been removed from the Rankings during a 15-month inactivity gap during 2018-19. He re-enters the Rankings at #19. 

Below is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings: 
  1. Naoya Inoue
  2. Saul Alvarez
  3. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  4. Terence Crawford
  5. Oleksandr Usyk
  6. Gennadiy Golovkin
  7. Juan Estrada
  8. Errol Spence
  9. Artur Beterbiev
  10. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  11. Manny Pacquiao
  12. Tyson Fury
  13. Mikey Garcia
  14. Kosei Tanaka
  15. Josh Taylor
  16. Leo Santa Cruz
  17. Miguel Berchelt
  18. Kenshiro Teraji
  19. Roman Gonzalez
  20. Josh Warrington
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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Punch 2 the Face Radio

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I talked about how the coronavirus is affecting boxing and boxing fandom. We paid our respects to the late Roger Mayweather, a two-time champ and wonderful trainer. We also gave our lists of fighters who are underrated and under-the-radar. To listen to the podcast, listen click on the links below: 

iTunes link:
Stitcher link:
Blog Talk Radio link:

Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio #166

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Regis Prograis: No Tuneups

When we last left Regis Prograis, he had lost a razor-thin majority decision to Josh Taylor during the finals of the 140-lb. World Boxing Super Series tournament at London's O2 Arena. Scores for that fight were 114-114, 115-113 and 117-112. Prograis certainly had several strong sequences during the fight, landing a number of stinging left hands, but Taylor performed well on the inside and was a little more consistent round by round.

It was the type of fight where Prograis feels that if it had been in America, and he was the home fighter, perhaps the scorecards may have been more favorable to him. And while Prograis believes that he didn't lose the fight, he admits that it was close. Looking back on the match, he provided a candid assessment of his performance. Although he was the better fighter through stretches of the bout, he understands that he spent too much time fighting in the trenches, which was Taylor's preferred style. 


Photo Courtesy of Ian Walton

"I know when I was boxing him and running him into shots, I was having a lot of success," Prograis said. "When I was fighting on the inside, I had success. But sometimes I stayed in there a little too long. I think that’s the main thing. He was leaning on me a lot. He was bigger than me. I think I could have used my feet more...There are things I can do a little bit better.

"I was definitely prepared for the fight. If you look at the last three rounds, I came on the strongest in the championship rounds. I know I shouldn’t have fought him like that so much, but I really thought he was going to get tired. But credit to him, he definitely came in shape. Sometimes I made him miss and made some good defensive moves...I came on strong in the end, but he was in the fight."

After the tournament ended, Prograis told his team that he didn't want a tuneup or a marking time fight. Already 31 years old and not having had an opportunity to fight for a title until he was 30, it was imperative for him to keep momentum in his career. With titlists Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez tied up with upcoming mandatories, Prograis and his team sought out the best opponent possible, and they landed on former 140-lb. champion Maurice Hooker, who had lost his title to Ramirez in July of last year. 

Prograis (24-1, 20 KOs) is certainly familiar with Hooker (27-1-3, 18 KOs). He beat Hooker in the amateurs and they both spent most of their careers in the Texas boxing scene. They will meet on April 17th at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland (DAZN will televise). The bout, scheduled for 12 rounds, will be fought at a catchweight of 143 lbs., as Hooker and his team have contemplated moving up to welterweight. Prograis could have held out for an eliminator against another opponent to ensure an opportunity to fight one of the 140-lb. champs, but he thought that the high-profile matchup against Hooker (and the accompanying payday) would have a greater impact on his career. 

"Our attitude was we want to get the biggest fight that we can." said Lou DiBella, Prograis's promoter. "Rebuild [him] as quickly as you can because we didn’t think any less of him as a fighter after the Taylor fight. My attitude going into that fight was he was the best 140-lb. fighter in the world. And I still think at this moment he is the best 140-lb. fighter in the world, and he’s going to get a chance to start proving that again on April 17. The marching orders from him were give me the biggest fight that you can. And that’s what we did."


Taylor and Prograis with some inside combat
Photo Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series

Prograis has been a boxing vagabond throughout his career and only in the last few years has he found stability. Originally from New Orleans, his family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina and he wound up moving to Houston. Taking boxing more seriously after arriving in Texas, he was an amateur in a strong scene that featured the Charlo brothers among others. Although he had been a solid amateur, when he decided to turn pro in 2012 at the age of 22, he received no interest from the larger promoters in boxing. 

So he hit the Southern boxing circuit, knocking out lesser fighters on small shows in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Although he had amassed a 10-0 record with eight knockouts, he still wasn't making much headway. Only two of his first ten opponents had a winning record, and the pay had been horrible. 

At that point, Jarvin John, Prograis's manager at the time, again tried to cultivate promotional interest in Prograis. Notable players such as Top Rank and Golden Boy turned him down. In a bold move, or perhaps one that could even be described as desperate, John contacted DiBella through Twitter with clips of his fighter. DiBella was intrigued. 

In 2015 DiBella placed Prograis on a card against rugged journeyman Hector Velazquez, who had been in the ring with top fighters such as Israel Vazquez, Rocky Juarez, Manny Pacquiao, Jorge Linares and many others. In a sense, the fight was an audition for Prograis. Regis wound up knocking Velazquez out in five rounds and DiBella instantly became a fan. 

"He [Prograis] wasn’t a known commodity among boxing people at all," said DiBella. "He was fighting in virtual obscurity...I said to myself after he beat Velazquez that this guy doesn’t need to be babied. He had athletic ability and an ease of movement in the ring. I’ve promoted a lot of guys throughout my career who were originals; you know, they didn’t fight like anyone else. They had their own style and their own way of fighting, but were super talented. And this kid screamed 'athlete' to me... 

"What was obvious about him in addition to the athleticism was the mean streak. Regis is a really interesting, intelligent, evolved, well-read guy, a family man – the whole thing. But the mean streak was obvious from the first second I saw him in the ring."

Quickly DiBella was able to get ShoBox's Executive Producer Gordon Hall interested in Prograis. Soon Prograis became a staple of that series, stopping undefeated prospects such as Abel Ramos and Joel Diaz Jr. Finally, a buzz was starting to build. 

Prior to entering the World Boxing Super Series, Prograis was installed as the number-one contender to Jose Ramirez. For whatever reason, Ramirez and his team weren't rushing to make that fight. Top Rank (Ramirez's promoter) even negotiated a deal whereby Prograis could headline his own card on an ESPN platform while he waited for the Ramirez fight. 

But Prograis and his team grew tired of waiting. After a career of fighting for scraps, Prograis wanted to prove himself against the best and make some money. There were two belts up for grabs in the tournament and the opportunity to face world-level opposition. Prograis wound up relinquishing his shot at Ramirez to enter the tournament. 

He won a wide decision over former lightweight titlist Terry Flanagan in the first round of the tournament and then turned in perhaps the best performance of his career in the semifinals, knocking out titlist Kiryl Relikh in the sixth round and winning his first world title belt. 


Prograis landing on Relikh during their title fight
Photo Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series

Despite the ups and downs of the tournament, which included delays from the organizers and a longer time commitment than initially planned, Prograis looks back on the World Boxing Super Series fondly: 

"For me they always came through," he said. "Of course, it took a little longer than expected. I think when we initially signed it was supposed to be over in less than a year, nine or ten months. I think it lasted a little over a year. For me, it was the right thing to do. When I entered the tournament, I was the number one contender for the WBC belt, but I didn’t think that Ramirez was going to fight me at that time. There were two belts inside the tournament and I felt like I could pick up those belts. For me it was the best fighting the best at 140. I wanted to fight the best and not pick and choose my opponent."

Prograis brims with confidence when talking about the next phase of his career. He wants to win belts at 140, 147 and even 154 pounds. Now represented by Churchill Management, two partners of which are actor Mark Wahlberg and actor/director Peter Berg, Prograis believes that he is being looked after properly. He recently relocated to Los Angeles and has even appeared in two movies, one of which, "Spenser Confidential," directed by Berg and starring Wahlberg, hits Netflix this month. 

And while he's enjoying his time in Southern California, his eyes are focused on Maurice Hooker. He knows that Hooker represents his opportunity to get back into the limelight. 

"He’s a good fighter," Prograis said. "That’s why I wanted to fight him. He’s the next best possible opponent. I want to fight Josh Taylor and Jose Ramirez, but they are occupied right now, so the next best is Hooker. If you look at my record, all I’ve been fighting are world champions, former world champions or undefeated fighters. And Hooker fits the bill. He’s a top-level opponent and I’m glad we got this deal done."

For Prograis, the match is a one-fight deal with DAZN. Prograis and his team want to keep their options open for future opponents. His team continues to have conversations with DAZN, Showtime and ESPN about longer-term commitments, but Prograis knows that he has to keep winning to leverage the best possible deal for his career. 

Prograis likes to set goals and visualize his future. He has a clear sense of what he wants the rest of his career to look like. He believes that he can beat Hooker, Taylor and Ramirez. And with the improvements that he's implementing in the gym with trainer Bobby Benton, he feels that many title belts will soon be his. April 17th will be his first chance to turn his grand plans into a reality. Not dismayed by his recent defeat, Prograis's outlook is optimistic. He knows how good he can be. He just wants another opportunity to prove it against the best.

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.