Sunday, May 22, 2011

Notes from the DeGale-Groves, Cleverly card

·      The big winner in the James DeGale-George Groves fight was Groves' trainer Adam Booth.  Booth had a masterful game plan for Groves and his fighter followed it to perfection.  Groves, known for his aggression, and at times recklessness, fought instead as a counterpuncher and a pot-shotter.  DeGale was so confused by Groves' tactics that it took him until the second half of the fight to throw meaningful combinations.

·       Groves' timing was impeccable.  When DeGale threw his jab or a right hook, Groves would counter with straight right hands to the body or left hooks to the head.  After throwing his quick counters, Groves quickly got out of harm's way.

·       Groves moved beautifully throughout the fight, circling mostly away from DeGale's straight left hands.  But Groves also switched up his movements, further confusing DeGale.  Groves fought a lot of the fight on the ropes, luring DeGale in to lead with his jab or a right hook.  Groves then countered and stepped away from DeGale beautifully.  Groves' discipline throughout the fight was his greatest achievement. 

·       For some reason, DeGale insisted on switching from his southpaw stance to orthodox.  Every time he switched, you could practically see Groves lick his lips with anticipation.  Groves tagged DeGale repeatedly with uppercuts and straight right hands when DeGale went conventional.  Tactically, it was an awful move for DeGale and that may have been the difference in the fight.  Obviously, the switching showed that DeGale was frustrated and was looking to create some openings.  He did, but unfortunately they were for Groves.    

·       There were some difficult rounds to score, where few, solid punches were thrown, let alone landed.  Groves was wary of trading while DeGale seemed to be flustered at how to initiate offense.  

·       If additional contestants are needed for "Dancing with the Stars" or "So You Think You Can Dance," Groves and DeGale are both worthy candidates.  There were long periods during the middle rounds where both fighters would literally dance on their toes from side to side, refusing to throw punches to 20 to 30 seconds.  At one point, I thought that their routine might be choreographed.  Perhaps with some additional training, the two of them could go on the road together.

·       For DeGale, this must be a frustrating loss.  He had more power, tighter punches and better technique than Groves did.  He just wouldn't let his hands go.  Although he came on in the second half of the fight, he let too many early rounds slip away.  DeGale was the heavy favorite and the Olympic gold medalist.  Unfortunately, he wasn't fighting in the amateurs whereby you win with each clean, effective punch.  Commentator Jim Watt made the point brilliantly in the broadcast that DeGale was still fighting in an amateur style, throwing one punch at a time instead of combinations.  

·       The Sky broadcast was exemplary.  Watt and play-by-play man, Ian Darke, had an easy rapport.  I had been familiar with Darke from his work in the 2010 World Cup; he's incredibly witty and doesn't force conversation.  Furthermore, Sky augmented its pay-per-view coverage with three former champions: Joe Calzaghe (a friend of Cleverly's), Johnny Nelson and the dean of Irish boxing commentators, Barry McGuigan.  Each one was incredibly lucid and added a lot to the broadcast.  In a sight you don't often see on television, McGuigan apologized to Groves after the fight for his prediction that Groves didn't have the intestinal fortitude to beat DeGale.

·       Promoter Frank Warren was as good as any boxing commentator after the fight.  Assessing DeGale's performance, he thought his fighter had won but gave away too many early rounds and refused to let his hands go.  It was an honest assessment and something you would rarely hear from an American promoter after a close defeat. 

·       Give Frank Warren credit, with DeGale and Groves as a main event – two fighters with only 22 professional fights between them – as well as three different opponents for Cleverly, Warren was still able to pack the O2 arena.   The man can really promote.  

·       Nathan Cleverly fights in an exciting style.  He leaves his jab at home and instead throws nothing but power shots, especially left hooks and straight rights.  Cleverly wants to be a crowd pleaser but he has some significant things to learn if he wants to beat the best in the light heavyweight division.

·       Cleverly handled late replacement Aleksy Kuziemski in three of the four rounds of their fight.  His left hooks were crisp and his right hands consistently found their marks.  However, from round one it was apparent that Cleverly squares up too much when throwing his hooks and leaves himself open for counters.  In addition, during exchanges, Cleverly's punches start to get wide, which created openings for Kuziemski.  

·       In the third round, Kuziemski broke through with a series of left hooks that landed flush on Cleverly.  Cleverly took the punches well (Kuziemski didn't have real power) and returned fire like a real fighter.  The subsequent in-fighting created a couple of cuts on Kuziemski's left eye. 

·       Cleverly opened one cut with a beautiful, short uppercut in the fourth.  Referee Denny Nelson stopped the fight toward the end of the round.  It was a bad stoppage.  The American referee should have let Kuziemski's corner attempt to stop the cut between rounds or, at the very least least, have the ringside physician examine the cut before calling the fight off.  However, it was not a tragic ending; Cleverly was clearly the better fighter.   

·       Cleverly is going to face some real problems when he meets a fighter with real power.  He is susceptible to left hooks and doesn't have first-rate power of his own.  He must tighten up his defense.  I think southpaws, with their straight left hands, could potentially be devastating for him.

·       The Sky broadcast team was fair in its assessment of Cleverly's performance.  While giving him the proper plaudits for winning a world championship belt, both Darke and Watt criticized him for not throwing his jab.  In addition, McGuigan noted that Cleverly makes his fights more difficult than they need to be by giving up his height and resorting to brawling.  

·       If I were Frank Warren, I would give Cleverly a couple of more developmental fights before challenging some of the best at light heavyweight.  Cleverly has a future but his style may lead to a short career without more attention to defense.

·       I was able to catch the last half of the Frankie Gavin's fight on the Epix feed.  Gavin rolled to an easy points victory over Young Mutley.  Mutley was merely looking to survive and Gavin was content to throw right jabs and straight lefts. Gavin is one of Warren's best prospects and was looking to make a big impression.  The crowd was not pleased with the fight but some boxers just won't provide opportunities to look good.  Gavin's victory was a solid one, and he was fighting at less than 100% physical condition.  Personally I would like him to throw more right hooks and uppercuts, but that will come.  For a fighter with only 10 professional fights, he controls distance well and looks uncommonly poised in the ring. 


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