Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Notes from Rios-Antillon, Cintron-Molina

  • What impressed me the most about Brandon Rios' performance against Urbano Antillon is that he is showing marked improvement.  There are three things that he did against Antillon which illustrate his growth as a fighter: 1. He threw a solid jab at Antillon which landed frequently.  Often pressure fighters (including Rios) dispense with their jabs in favor of their power punches.  However, the jab has the ability to open up opportunities for their power shots.  Rios' left hooks and uppercuts landed more often because Antillon was worried about and/or distracted by the jab. 

  • 2.  Rios' combinations were short and crisp.  As opposed to a traditional pressure fighter like Antonio Margarito, who wears opponents down with volume and power, Rios maintains a high work rate but is incredibly accurate.  The key against Antillon was being first.  Rios repeatedly beat Antillon to the punch with tighter combinations.  If Rios' combinations weren't as accurate as they were, the outcome of the fight could have been dramatically different. 

  • 3.  Rios fought Antillon in the center of the ring.  There is a tendency among pressure fighters to want to back their opponents in the corner or against the ropes.  This strategy can work often but it also has downsides.  Fighters can stifle their power shots when they are against the ropes.  Also, the advantages of using angles and the geometry of the ring diminish once there is less real estate in which to fight.  Rios worked the center of the ring to establish space for his jab and turn his opponent when necessary.  Sure, he got hit a lot but his use of angles was a way of creating opportunities to land his left hook and left uppercut.

  • Another great feature of Rios is his teachability.  It's clear that he and trainer Robert Garcia have an excellent working relationship.  Garcia wanted Rios to throw the jab and the fighter complied.  The trainer wanted the action in the center and Rios followed suit.  It's also clear how much Rios and Garcia have worked to refine the fighter's combinations and offensive attack.  Rios has put in so many hours at the gym that his power-punch combinations feel like second nature to him.  He is a brawler but he's a student as well.

  • Brandon Rios has an exciting future in boxing.  He is an offensive force and has the type of chin that practically guarantees memorable nights in the ring.  It will be interesting to see whether his chin and power translate to the higher weight divisions.  There are a series of excellent fights out there for him in the next 18 months, including Marcos Maidana, Robert Guerrero, Victor Ortiz and Tim Bradley.  I'm not sure that he wins all of those fights but, rest assured, Rios will do his best to make them exciting affairs.  Brandon Rios will not remain undefeated as he faces the elite in boxing.  However, he is the type of fighter, like Gatti, whose profile will not be diminished because of his losses.  If he stays out of trouble and in the gym, he may be one of those special ring talents who, years from now, our grandkids will ask us if we ever saw him fight. 

  • Kermit Cintron sleepwalked through a lackluster performance against Carlos Molina.  He earned his loss by being tentative, having a low work rate, failing to land his right hands and making strategic mistakes.  He also wasn't in great "boxing shape."  Sure, his body looked fine, but he was conserving energy throughout the fight.  Cintron didn't have the extra gear to take the fight out of Molina.  When he needed to be aggressive and apply pressure, instead, he looked to counter and be clever.  The counterpunching may have taken less out of him but the result of the fight speaks for itself.  

  • Cintron is easily the most frustrating fighter in all of boxing.  Against Molina, it's not that he looked slow in the ring or that he didn't have his legs (sure signs that a fighter needs to retire): he just looked flat.  One can blame his 14-month layoff or ring rust for his performance but Ronnie Shields worked him very hard in Houston.  Cintron just finds inventive ways to lose fights.  He has emotional breakdowns, physical ailments and this time, he suddenly thought he was Pernell Whitaker or Bernard Hopkins – a master craftsman and counterpuncher.  Yes, Cintron now has a passable counter left hook, but the guy has one of the best right hands in the whole sport; he doesn't seem to have a firm understanding of his strengths and weaknesses.  The talent is still there but, between the ears, there is something missing. 

  • The marriage between Kermit Cintron and Ronnie Shields is not working.  From the third round on, Shields was yelling at Cintron to be aggressive and to land first.  By the sixth round, Shields was exhorting Cintron, telling him he needs a knockout to win the fight (which was hyperbole and probably not necessary).  It didn't appear that Cintron felt that need to change his approach even with Shield's entreaties.  The thing is, although Shields has incorporated some boxing finesse and movement to Cintron's game, he may have de-emphasized what made Cintron so special in the first place: he was a killer with a deadly right hand.  You get the sense with the Cintron/Shields combination that the right hand is only one tool in their toolbox.  Depth and variation are important but Cintron is not going to suddenly exhibit ring generalship like he's some Cuban Olympian.  

  • Shields is a very likable figure.  He's an honest, hard-working professional who has had a lot of success.  He gives insightful interviews and he makes no excuses.  However, it's possible that he has trouble connecting with modern fighters.  Thinking about his problems with getting Rocky Juarez to start earlier in fights or Kermit Cintron to be more aggressive, it may be that Shields needs a certain type of self-motivated fighter to be successful.  Unfortunately, there aren't too many of those around anymore. 

  • Shields also gives way too much information to his fighters between rounds, telling them six things they need to do in the next round instead of focusing on one salient point.  Shields can accurately assess what needs to be done between rounds, but if he can't convince fighters to follow his instructions, then he has a real communication problem.

  • If Kermit Cintron has any designs on returning to the top tier of professional prizefighting, he needs a master psychological motivator like Teddy Atlas to train him.  If anyone can unlock Cintron's talent in the ring, Atlas is the guy. Cintron must be with someone that can build his confidence and provide him with the motivational edge to execute in the ring.  Emanuel Steward (Cintron's former trainer) and Ronnie Shields do not fall under this category.  They are far more technical.  Cintron needs more of a spiritual connection, a mentor.  He's been something of a boxing vagabond, drifting between promoters and trainers.  Surely, Cintron's a difficult person to get through to, but he's not a bad guy.  He needs someone to take to him, to guide him, to believe in him, especially if he doesn't always believe in himself.    

  • Carlos Molina is a solid B+ fighter.  If he's facing an opponent who's having an off night or takes him for granted, he can win.  He has a high work rate, a sneaky left hook and an accurate right hand.  He has no real power to speak of.  In short, he a spoiler, like Carlos Quintana.  Nevertheless, because Molina is a professional who comes into the ring in shape and prepared, he has given himself an opportunity to have a career.  I'm not a big believer in his ultimate upside, but with his efforts in 2011, he will get bigger fights. 

  • In the next 12-18 months, Molina will earn six-figure paydays and will become an important trial horse at junior middleweight.  There are a number of excellent opportunities at 154 with rising fighters like Saul Alvarez, Vanes Martirosyan, Pawel Wolak, Austin Trout and a rematch with Erislandy Lara.  He may never become a world champion, but he has made a name for himself and has appeared on U.S. premium television.  Not all boxers have the talent to ascend to the highest echelon in the sport, but the Carlos Molinas of the world will make sure that the elite put forth an honest effort and fight 12 tough rounds.  No shame there.

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