Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 2011 Rankings Movement

The most notable fight of September was the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz mega bout.  The unusual ending will be talked about for some time and with the knockout, Mayweather retains his elite status in the SNB Rankings, while Ortiz's loss results in a fall from his previous position.  Additionally, two junior featherweights have been making quite a bit of noise over the last 18 months and make their respective debuts in the rankings.  Here is the complete September 2011 SNB Rankings movement 

Elevated: Toshiaki Nishioka  The Japanese junior featherweight has been on quite a run, defending his title five times, including stopping current featherweight beltholder Jhonny Gonzalez and former junior bantamweight titlist Ivan Hernandez.  Nishioka faces his most notable opponent next month, meeting the legendary Rafael Marquez.  Fighting in Las Vegas, Marquez will have the crowd behind him, but he is moving down to junior featherweight at an age where typically most boxers jump up in weight classes.  Additionally, who knows what Marquez has left after numerous ring wars?  Expect a good showing from Nishioka.  He debuts in the SNB Rankings on the 10 Boxers on the Rise list. 

ElevatedRico Ramos  Ramos is a fast-rising junior featherweight who scored a memorable knockout in July against Akifumi Shimoda.  Through six, Ramos was losing every round, but in the seventh, he landed a right hook that destroyed the Japanese titlist.  It was certainly one of the more improbably victories of the year.  Ramos, undefeated out of California, faces a stiff test in his next fight against mandatory challenger and defensive wizard, Guillermo Rigondeaux.  Shimoda exposed some potential flaws with Ramos – he starts slowly and he can be tentative offensively; however, at just 24, Ramos should have a bright future ahead of him.  He joins the SNB Rankings on the Bubbling Under list.

Demoted: Victor Ortiz  Whatever one makes of Ortiz's performance against Floyd Mayweather, it's tough to claim that his career is on a better trajectory after the knockout.  However, with the attendant publicity surrounding the fight and its aftermath, expect to see Ortiz in a big fight soon, especially in a rematch against Andre Berto.  It wouldn't be shocking if he rights his career and makes another run towards the top.  For now, Ortiz leaves the 10 Boxers on the Rise list.   

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pacquiao and Marquez: Rivals...and Partners

In boxing's great rivalries, the relationship between the two fighters can almost always be characterized in one of two ways: mortal enemies or respectful sportsmen.  In the first category, fighters have found a sworn enemy and focus their energies on destroying their opponents – both  in and out of the ring.  Often fueled by professional jealousy, hate, regional or ethnic clashes (this can occur when both fighters have similar or profoundly different backgrounds) or combustible rhetoric, these caustic rivalries have created some of the most thrilling fights in recent memory.  Examples include the Ali-Frazier and Barrera-Morales trilogies. 

In the second category, many fighters who have engaged in epic ring battles gain profound respect for their opponents.  They realize that these fights have elevated their respective statuses as well as those of their opponents.  In short these memorable matchups have created a bond between the two fighters, and with boxing audiences.    

It's not uncommon for fighters in these types of rivalries to eventually befriend their opponents out of the ring.  They continue to fight their rivals as sportsmen, trying to overcome the challenge in front of them by wits, endurance and desire.  But destruction is not their ultimate goal: just professional and personal accomplishment.  Memorable examples of this category include the Pryor-Arguello and Ward-Gatti fights. 

As Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez embark on their third fight later this year, it's clear that their professional relationship falls squarely in the respected sportsmen category.  Even though Marquez had made disparaging comments about Pacquiao in the past as he grew frustrated in his attempts to land a third fight with his rival, once the contract for Pacquiao-Marquez was signed, Marquez has offered nothing but praise for Pacquiao.  During their press conferences promoting their third fight, the respect between the rival fighters, as well as their fan bases, is obviously apparent.  

An opportunity on the sport's highest stage surely provides vindication for Marquez, who early in his career was slighted by the boxing industry and overshadowed by fellow Mexican warriors Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.  Those two fighters cultivated intense and loyal fan bases throughout Mexico.  The boxing industry and most Mexican fight followers clearly considered Marquez as a third banana.  He was a high-risk, low-reward guy who fought in a cerebral style without significant public support.  Top Rank avoided placing Morales, one of its primary cash cows, in the ring with Marquez.  In addition, Barrera wouldn't face Marquez until almost his 70th pro fight.  It was only with the absence of rematches with Pacquiao or Morales that Barrera agreed to fight Marquez.  That Marquez thoroughly outboxed Barrera was not a surprise to boxing insiders and illustrated why his two Mexican rivals took such great pains to avoid fighting him in their primes.

Marquez, now 38, is still among the sport's top-ten fighters.  Although older than both Morales (35) and Barrera (37), he is the only one of this great Mexican triumvirate that can still land mega-fights.  His longevity, especially against the high-level competition that he has faced throughout his career, has been stunning.  His high performance level can be attributed to his outstanding defensive technique, ring intelligence and boxing fundamentals. 

Unlike Morales and Barrera, Marquez could win, especially early in his career, without having every fight devolve into a ring war.  Marquez understood the subtle points of ring generalship, including pacing, angles and spacing.  Early in his career, he was incredibly difficult to hit, using lateral movement, selective offense and foot speed to escape harm's way.  As he has matured as a fighter (and lost some of his youthful legs), Marquez has become much more comfortable in the pocket.  On offense, he throws every punch in the book and he is acknowledged as one of boxing's best counterpunchers. 

Although he doesn't possess the granite chin of Morales or Barrera, Marquez's ability to recover in the ring is among the best in the sport.  He has been dropped over a half-dozen times but has yet to be knocked out.  With the exception of the Floyd Mayweather fight, his losses have been by close decisions.  In short, absent the Mayweather fight, in his 59 professional contests, he has never been outclassed.

Pacquiao has also spent considerable time in the ring with Marquez's Mexican rivals.  After thoroughly beating Barrera as a little known underdog in 2003, Pacquiao fought three battles against Morales during 2005-06.  Losing the first fight in an epic clash, Pacquiao was able to stop Morales in their last two fights.  After struggling as a one-handed fighter in their first meeting, Pacquiao demonstrated his superiority in the ring as he incorporated an improved right hand into his offensive arsenal.  His blistering two-handed speed and power was too much for the deliberate Morales.  In 2007, Pacquiao fought Barrera a second time.  The fight was non-essential in that Barrera was coming off a loss to Marquez and was seen as a fighter on the down slope of his career.  In addition, Pacquiao-Barrera didn't leave any unanswered questions.  Pacquiao cruised to an easy victory.    

Pacquiao fought Marquez in 2004 and 2008.  In the first fight, Pacquiao dropped Marquez three times in the first round, yet Marquez persevered and earned a draw.  In the second fight, Pacquiao knocked Marquez down again and won a disputed, split-decision victory.  With his two fights against Marquez, Pacquiao has been unable to prove his superiority in the ring.  Even though he knocked down Marquez four times in the two bouts, Marquez won more rounds and many boxing observers claimed that Marquez should have received victories in both fights.  

Because of promotional entanglements, the third Pacquiao-Marquez meeting was delayed.  Immediately after the second fight, Top Rank and Pacquiao decided to move in a different direction.  Additionally, Marquez was promoted by Golden Boy, which was in the middle of a Cold War with Top Rank; the two companies stopped promoting fights together for several years.  In fact, it took Marquez ending his contract with Golden Boy for a third Pacquiao fight to be made.  

Since their second fight in 2008, Pacquiao has fought seven times and has moved up from lightweight to welterweight.  He has won four more titles as well as ended Oscar de la Hoya's career.  In this span, he has lost only a handful of rounds.  Marquez has fought six times since the last Pacquiao fight and has won two title belts at lightweight.  He has defeated some of the best names in the division (Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis) and lost his only fight in this span to Mayweather, who entered the ring as a junior middleweight. 

Even though Marquez is still highly ranked within the sport, there have been some areas of decline.  His defense has slipped enough that he takes numerous hard shots.  Also, he has become an even more pronounced slow starter, falling behind to both Juan Diaz (in their first fight) and Michael Katsidis before recovering to score victories.  He also doesn't let his hands go with the same frequency that he did earlier in his career. 

For Pacquiao, who has also shown slight decline in his foot speed, the third Marquez fight will be the final opportunity to demonstrate his superiority over his rival.  If the fight were to take place much later in their careers, the ultimate impact would be less meaningful.  As it it, Pacquiao is as much as an 8-1 favorite in the fight because of his size and power as a welterweight and Marquez's eroding skills.

Nevertheless, Pacquiao does not act like an overconfident champion; he remembers Marquez's expert counterpunching and indomitable will in getting off of the canvas.  Pacquiao knows that Marquez exposed chinks in his armor.  

As the two ring legends move closer to the sunset of their careers, this fight takes on more importance.  For Pacquiao, the only meaningful fight after Marquez is Mayweather.  For Marquez, this is his last opportunity for a mega-bout.  After this fight, he can retire knowing that he has faced, and mostly defeated, the best in the sport.  

Yet, as fight night approaches, there is no rancor between the combatants or mental games being played out in the media by their trainers or support teams.  Both fighters are concentrating on their tasks at hand, not on gamesmanship or psychological warfare.  Yes, they are opponents, but there is the ultimate foundation of respect, for both Pacquiao and Marquez know that that their respective legacies have been enhanced by the the accomplishments and skill of each other.  In short, their bond in the public consciousness is unavoidable, and the fighters have embraced it.   

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Katsidis' Two Jobs: Gatekeeper, Brit Slayer

The perilous global economy has created uncertainty that has manifested in a variety of changed behaviors in various households.  Consumer spending has dropped.  Unemployment has remained far above the norms of previous decades.  Millions of families have used their money to pay down existing debt.  Many heads of households have taken on second or third jobs to make their mortgage payments or maintain their families' standards of living.  Others have had to learn new skills or take reduced salaries as they re-enter the job market.  For many, good work has been hard to come by.  In this respect, Michael Katsidis has been fortunate, for he has two boxing jobs, as Golden Boy's lightweight gatekeeper and Frank Warren's visiting Brit slayer, that provide him with a generous wage and a sufficient standard of living. 

Interestingly, it's tough to tell which of Katsidis' two jobs seems more personally fulfilling at this juncture of his career.  Having held the "Interim WBO Lightweight Title" on two separate occasions, he now fights for the designation a third time in November against Ricky Burns, who recently relinquished an opportunity to defend his junior lightweight title against Adrien Broner.  Katsidis has proven himself on the Commonwealth circuit, stopping British fighters Graham Earl and Kevin Mitchell in rousing fashion.  In America, he has fought on big cards against future Hall of Famers like Juan Manuel Marquez and Joel Casamayor; they both knocked him out.  In addition, handed two of Golden Boy's more promising lightweights, Juan Diaz and Robert Guerrero, Katsidis was unable to achieve victory.  In short, Katsidis has plateaued.

The upshot of Katsidis' American campaign was not an unmitigated disaster.  He was able to drop both Marquez and Casamayor – notable achievements.  (He should have also been credited with a knockdown against Guerrero, but referee Russell Mora missed it.)  His best wins were a split decision victory against lightweight prospect Vincete Escobedo and a knockout of former titlist Jesus Chavez. 

For Katsidis, the American circuit may not have worked out swimmingly from a won/loss perspective, but he made many friends along the way.  He quickly established himself as one of the sport's best action fighters and he created a strong West Coast cult following based on his grueling and unconventional training regimen.  HBO, not necessarily in the obscure Australian fighter business, opened its airwaves to him on a number of occasions, even following losses. 

Katsidis' return to the U.K. is an arrangement that ensures a healthy payday, but uncertain professional development.  His fight with Burns is an intriguing stylistic matchup that could be wildly entertaining.  Perhaps a win leads Katsidis to a rematch with Keith Mitchell or a meeting with recently deposed John Murray – two additional fighters from Frank Warren's stable.  None of these three fights guarantees that Katsidis moves any closer to becoming world champion.  But, with the aforementioned financial silver lining of these opportunities, Katsidis continues to fight quality opposition and keeps his name high in the sanctioning bodies' rankings.

Katsidis, now 31, has been in a ton of ring wars, gets cut easily and isn't getting any faster.  Even if he loses to Burns, a good, technical boxer, he won't suffer too much physical damage.  Maybe, after a good run of two or three fights in the U.K., Katsidis will finally get that elusive full title shot that has escaped him to this point. 
I wonder if Katsidis' perception of his career has changed over the last few years.  I'm sure that he still dreams of becoming champion, as all boxers do, but it seems as if his latest return engagement to the U.K. is a transition to "opponent."  The Burns fight is a good financial opportunity; however, a win does not immediately catapult his career into greater potentialities.  To me, the move strikes me as careerist, which isn't a bad thing, but, it should be acknowledged, there is a huge gulf between fighting in Vegas against some of the best talents in the sport and taking on a solid, but limited, Ricky Burns in Scotland.    

Burns is a well-schooled boxer who doesn't have the power or athleticism to become an elite talent.  Katsidis is also a limited entity, lacking the hand speed and versatility to beat upper-level fighters who refuse to engage him in ring wars.  Thus, the matchup is a good, boxer-versus brawler affair, but I think Burns (with Warren's backing) would stand to benefit significantly more from the victory than would Katsidis.  However, if Katsidis has changed his orientation, if he has come to the realization that "champion" may not be in his immediate future, than Ricky Burns is exactly the type of fighter whom he should be facing. 

Katsidis can fashion a remunerative second act for his career by taking on the second-tier talents of the European and Commonwealth circuits.  It may not be sexy, but it will certainly pay the bills.  Perhaps Katsidis will still make the occasional trek back to the United States, where he can be "an opponent" for young North American bucks like Broner, Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa.  He certainly would give each opportunity his all.

Every generation has a number of professional fighters who come to the ring in shape, put forth a game effort and lose to the elites in spirited battles.  Occasionally, one like Glen Johnson catches lightning in a bottle and really makes something of himself.  More often, they are the Jason Litzaus, Daniel Ponce de Leons, Librado Andrades, and, yes, Michael Katsidises of the world.  They will have retired making a good living.  They will have roofs over their heads and food in their refrigerators.  It's not the stuff of legend or glamour, but they will have earned their rewards with good, honest hard work.  

So Michael Katsidis will not retire a household name, but his two jobs will have provided him with a house – one  he can pay for free and clear (in today's economy, that's nothing to denigrate).  He will have earned his financial security by taking beatings and knocking out Britain's second tier.  And even if he never attains the vaunted boxing signifier of a title belt, he will leave the sport with a career that 98% of pro fighters would have loved to have had.    

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Notes from the Mayweather-Ortiz Card

  • The one essential truism of boxing is "Protect yourself at all times."  For whatever Floyd Mayweather did or didn't do last night, Victor Ortiz failed in his primary responsibility as a fighter.  The two had already touched gloves after the delay in the action.  Time was running.  The punches were legal.  Whatever one may make of the propriety of Floyd Mayweather's two final shots, they were within the parameters of the rules of the sport.
  • Yes, the ending of the fight was controversial, but Victor Ortiz's blatant head butt leading up to the stoppage was also egregious.  Ortiz literally left his feet to use his head as a weapon, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for the rules of boxing.  To portray Ortiz as a victim after the fight is rich.  His infraction offered no gray area, no room for interpretation; it was a clear violation.  If anything, Ortiz demonstrated a stunning naiveté.  Within a minute of intentionally head butting his opponent, he dropped his gloves and extended a hug.  Unfortunately, he thought Mayweather was tied to some quaint notion of excess civility.  
  • The ending of this bout bothered me far less than the Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko fight, whereby Mares won the fight primarily due to an inordinate amount of low blows, for which the referee refused to deduct points.  Those were blatant fouls.  Mayweather's final left hook and right cross were not the best examples of sportsmanship, but they were legal punches.
  • What separates the masters of the craft of boxing from mere mortals is an innate understanding of the intricacies of the sport, of gamesmanship, and the will to use this knowledge to win by any means necessary.  Whether it is Floyd Mayweather waiting patiently in a neutral corner while a melee ensues in the ring, Wladimir Klitschko expertly tying up his opponents in close quarters, Joel Casamayor fouling in small ways that are beyond the view of the ref, Bernard Hopkins taking a full five-minute rest after a borderline low blow, or Evander Holyfield leading with his head, these little, almost intangible, edges manifest themselves throughout a career.    
  • In short, a master boxer exploits every potential advantage he can find in order to win a fight.  Mayweather uses his elbows and forearms aggressively, but he is never called for infractions.  Hopkins hits his opponents off of breaks often, but it's not just a series of coincidences that he gets away with these shots.  He must understand referee positioning, angles, the tenor of the fight, the speed of his shots and the reaction of his opponent.  Many veteran boxers deploy strategic uses of the "dark arts" of boxing, but this is nothing new; these stealth techniques and tactics have been utilized since the dawn of the sport.
  • Ortiz was unprepared for Mayweather's final punches.  He underestimated his opponent.  These are serious mistakes for a young champion trying to ascend to the top of the sport.  You can win fights in many ways --  hand speed, power, work rate, and defense -- but you can also win with cunning.  Ortiz has yet to prevail in this manner and it doesn't seem likely that he will be outsmarting his opponents any time soon.
  • The fight was shaping up to be very interesting.  Mayweather had a great first three rounds, starting more aggressively than usual.  His right hands were strong and they landed with textbook precision.  There didn't seem to be any ill effects of his 16-month layoff.  Instead of his usual strategy of countering, Mayweather continually backed Ortiz up with solid rights and left hooks.  Ortiz seems surprised by Mayweather's early offense.
  • The fourth round was the best round of the fight, with Mayweather landing power lead rights early and Ortiz connecting with a few solid right hooks and straight left hands.  Before his head butt, Ortiz had successfully pinned Mayweather against the ropes and landed several significant power shots.  It's impossible to tell how the fight would have progressed, but at the time of the stoppage, Ortiz was certainly in the fight.  Yes, he was behind in the scorecards, but he was able to land some hard shots in the fourth that could have opened up opportunities to exploit later on in the fight.
  • It must be said that Ortiz came out with an absolutely terrible strategy.  Instead of pressuring Mayweather and testing his potential ring rust, Ortiz tried to outbox Mayweather in the center of the ring.  Obviously, he lost those exchanges.  Additionally, in round two, there were a couple of occasions where he had Mayweather along the ropes, but voluntarily backed away, as if he was spooked by his opponent's reputation for superhuman counter shots. 
  • This theme of Ortiz granting Mayweather too much respect surfaced throughout the fight and definitely manifested during its conclusion.  If Ortiz was the 34 year-old and fighting some ambitious young buck, would he back off his opponent along the ropes?  Would he try to hug and kiss his opponent?  
  • The controversial ending of the fight will lead to even more publicity for Mayweather's next ring encounter.  Yes, many boxing fans are outraged by the result of last night's fight, but the excitement and notoriety of the ending sure beats a passionless, 12-round, wide decision.  Mayweather's supporters will circle their wagons with even more resolve while his detractors will immediately gravitate to his next opponent, hoping that Mayweather will finally be dethroned.  Essentially, this outcome is a net-win for boxing.  Mayweather has again ensured that when he fights, boxing will separate itself from the multitude of other sports and entertainment options.  Sports fans and media will be there whenever and wherever his next fight takes place.  Guaranteed.
  • Referee Joe Cortez correctly penalized Ortiz for his head butt in round four.  That was an obvious call, but many refs are often reticent to take away points in mega-bouts.  Credit Cortez for that.  However, at the conclusion of the fight, he was out-of-position for Mayweather's final two shots.  Yes, the shots were legal.  But what if they weren't?  What if Mayweather threw two rabbit punches or low blows?  Cortez was in no position to stop the action.  A referee's job is not always an easy one.  Cortez was most likely confirming with the timekeepers that the clock had resumed running.  Nevertheless, his attention was diverted during the final shots.  Overall, it was not a strong performance by the veteran referee.
  • HBO's Larry Merchant had perhaps the line of the night.  Mayweather started insulting the veteran broadcaster during the post-fight interview and Merchant, mike in hand, yelled, "I wish I was 50 years younger.  I would have kicked your ass."  Somehow, that moment perfectly captured Merchant's unique place in boxing.  In almost any other context, an 80 year-old broadcaster who threatens a sport's participant would be seen as nutty or kooky.  Yet, for Merchant, it works.  He has built his reputation on not allowing fighters to grandstand or equivocate during interviews.  Merchant has never backed down from the big moneymakers of the sport, having memorable confrontations with Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins and Mayweather, among others. His personality has not always endeared him to boxers, but he calls it like he sees it. 
  • Fittingly, only moments after last night's confrontation with Mayweather, Merchant resumed his position next to his pal Jim Lampley and gave his post-fight remarks with clarity and unflappability.  Even at 80, he remains cool as a cucumber.  
  • In the past, HBO has steadfastly backed up Merchant. (The network refused Mike Tyson's request to remove Merchant from his fights; along with other reasons, Tyson would eventually leave HBO for Showtime).  However, it will be interesting to see if the network, under interim leadership and already reducing Merchant's appearances, still demonstrates the same level of support for its Hall of Fame broadcaster.    
  • Saul Alvarez was awarded a generous sixth-round stoppage over Alfonso Gomez last night.  He landed a powerful combination starting with a right uppercut and a straight right hand.  He backed Gomez up along the ropes and unloaded with several additional power shots, many of which failed to land.  Referee Wayne Hedgpeth decided to intervene and stopped the fight.  Certainly, Gomez was in a rough spot, and he was knocked down earlier in first round.  But he's a veteran fighter and was competitive with Alvarez throughout the fight; he deserved an opportunity to continue.  Had Gomez merely taken a knee, Hedgepeth would have counted to 10, and Gomez would have had the ability to regroup.  
  • Gomez, a solid "B" or "B+" fighter, provided future Alvarez opponents with a blueprint for success.  Gomez won at least two, if not three, of the first five rounds of the fight.  He simply outworked Alvarez, establishing a solid jab and following with crisp two and three-punch combinations.  Gomez landed consistently with his left hook, straight right and even a right uppercut.  
  • Alvarez, meanwhile, waited for perfect opportunities to throw his power punches.  He didn't use his jab often and decided to counter most of the fight.  He had some magnificent combinations, many of which started, unconventionally, with his right uppercut, but his low punch volume was worrisome. 
  • Last night demonstrated that against an accurate volume puncher with a decent chin, Alvarez could fall behind on points fairly easily.  He's just not busy enough and he won't always enjoy the local referee's beneficence.  At this point, it seems as if Alvarez has fallen in love with his power shots.  His five-punch combinations work well against opponents with little lateral movement.  However, as he meets better fighters, these opportunities will occur less frequently. 
  • In my opinion, I think that Alvarez's trainer, Eddy Reynoso, must work with his fighter to focus on winning rounds.  In addition, more jabs will help Alvarez find spots for his combinations.  There were many good things to take from Alvarez's performance: his combinations were sharp and his creativity on offense was exceptional.  However, his defense must improve and his work rate is subpar.  An elite fighter doesn't lose rounds to Alfonso Gomez.  
  • In one respect, Pablo Cesar Cano, an unknown Mexican fighter in his first title shot, far surpassed expectations.  Featuring a built-up record against mostly anonymous mediocrities, Cano found himself in the ring against one of Mexico's greatest legends, Erik Morales.  Cano scored very well throughout the first part of the fight, landing jabs, a crisp right hand a short left hook.  He boxed aggressively, maintaining his poise; he didn't afford Morales any unnecessary level of respect.
  • However, perhaps in this case, some additional respect was warranted.  Cano became the quintessential victim of his own success.  Cano decided to engage with Morales in a slugfest, ignoring the fact that Morales had been dominant in ring wars since Cano was still in diapers.  Sure, Cano hit Morales.  Who doesn't?  Yes, his hand speed was better than Morales' was early in the fight.  What else is new?  Cano realized that he didn't have to use angles to land on Morales; he could just stand right in front of him to score.  He dispensed with any lateral movement, which troubles the veteran.  To say that Cano played into Morales' strategy is a massive, massive understatement.  For Morales, it was just a matter of time. 
  • To beat Erik Morales, you must possess at least one of these three attributes: overwhelming hand speed, lateral movement, or the ability to absorb unhealthy amounts of punishment.  Cano's speed was good, but not so impressive that Morales couldn't time him in exchanges.  Cano gave up whatever advantages he had in foot speed or movement by standing in front of Morales.  All that was left as the fight progressed was Cano's ability to take power punches. 
  • Morales knows that in almost all cases he will win a war of attrition.  He wants that type of fight.  In fact, at this point, he needs it to win.  He no longer can track down slicksters or cuties; he wants to gut out wars. 
  • As for Cano, he got caught up in a battle for which he was unprepared.  Sure, he displayed some ability, but as a boxer-puncher, voluntarily going to war with Erik Morales highlights some glaring deficiencies in his understanding of his own strengths and weakness and his overall knowledge of crucial fundamental aspects of boxing.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Mayweather-Ortiz Five Scenarios

This "Five Scenarios" article analyzes the most probably outcomes of the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight.  Each scenario will have an accompanying percentage next to it, indicating the likelihood of that outcome occurring.  The official SNB prediction of the fight can be found at the end of the article.

Scenario #1  Mayweather defeats Ortiz by wide decision. 35%
When analyzing these two fighters, this scenario makes the most intuitive sense.  Floyd Mayweather has never lost a fight, and he has participated in only a few bouts that were relatively close (for example, the Jose Luis Castillo I and Oscar de la Hoya fights).  He's also not a big knockout artist.  In the last few years, Ortiz has lost to Marcos Maidana and drawn with Lamont Peterson.  Even in Ortiz's most notable recent victory against Andre Berto, he still had to get up from two knockdowns to win the fight.  Clearly, he has not been thoroughly outclassing his opposition.  Mayweather has the better technique and his advantages in accuracy, ring intelligence and punch placement should be enough to ensure a comfortable victory.  

However, there are a few factors that could provide Mayweather with some rough moments, even if he wins relatively easily on the scorecards.  First, Mayweather uses the first few rounds of a fight to feel out an opponent, throwing punches only occasionally, while Ortiz fights aggressively from the opening bell.  In addition, Ortiz possesses enough power to give Mayweather some initial difficulties before he makes the necessary adjustments.  Finally, Mayweather's long layoff must be taken into consideration.  After 16 months off, Mayweather may have some ring rust.  All of these considerations could lead to Mayweather losing a couple of early rounds before he asserts his dominance.

Scenario #2  Mayweather by late-round knockout over Ortiz.  25%
Mayweather's punch output typically picks up in the second half of his fights.  Thrown with pinpoint accuracy, his punches can carve up opponents.  Although he usually doesn't have one-punch knockout power, Mayweather has developed into a strong welterweight.  Furthermore, Victor Ortiz has significant defensive shortcomings; he moves in straight lines, he features no head movement and he doesn't get out of range fast enough.  In short, he is there to be hit, and Mayweather will find him.

Ortiz's chin is not top-caliber.  Both Maidana and Berto knocked him down twice.  They are both good punchers but Ortiz's leaky defense is the more significant takeaway from those knockdowns.  If Mayweather routinely lands his straight right hands and left hooks on the button, Ortiz may not make it to the scorecards.  

Scenario #3  Ortiz early-round knockout over Mayweather. 20%
It's been said before but it needs to be said again: Ortiz has knocked down every one of his opponents. (There was one exception due to a no-contest, early stoppage).  He is top-ten pound-for-pound puncher.  All the available evidence shows that his left hand is one of the most menacing weapons in the sport.  Yes, Mayweather does have a good chin, but it's not impenetrable.  A number of fighters (Demarcus Corley, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley) have been able to wobble him.  

Ortiz wants to blitz Mayweather in the early rounds and test the veteran's legs and chin.  In those early moments of the fight, before Mayweather has settled in and found his rhythm, Ortiz has the chance to land some homerun bombs.  It's a very risky strategy in that Ortiz will leave himself open for Mayweather's counters, but Ortiz's conditioning should be able to survive any of those rough, early moments.  This is his best shot to win the fight. 

Scenario #4  Mayweather defeats Ortiz by close decision. 10% 
If this outcome occurs, things went badly for Mayweather in the fight's first few frames.  Most likely, Ortiz scored a knockdown or two, building a cushion on the scorecards.  However, Mayweather was able to rally in the fight's later stages to pull out the victory.

The template for this outcome is the first Bernard Hopkins-Jean Pascal fight, whereby Pascal dropped Hopkins twice in the early rounds but Hopkins stormed back to earn a draw (he should have been awarded the decision).  In this scenario, Mayweather has to survive some tough moments and wins the decision based on two factors: 1. He makes the defensive adjustments necessary to avoid Ortiz's left hand.  2. He lets his own hands go more frequently.  This outcome would make the most crowd-pleasing fight.

Scenario #5  Other. 10%
1. Ortiz wins by decision.  Ortiz knocks down Mayweather a few times early in the fight but can't put him away.  He wins enough of the early rounds to secure the victory.  2. Draw.  This is possible if Ortiz is able to land some early knockdowns but loses the later rounds as Mayweather comes on.  3. Fight stopped on cuts.  This must be considered because Ortiz does cut.  The official decision would vary based on when the fight is stopped and if the cut is caused by a head butt or a punch.  Most likely, it would be a mid-to-late round stoppage.  4. Mayweather wins by early knockout.  This scenario would occur if Mayweather throws his patented check-hook, which ended Ricky Hatton's night.  Essentially, this outcome could only happen if Ortiz gets hit with a punch that he doesn't see; with Mayweather's speed, it's possible.  

Ortiz surprises the boxing world by knocking down Mayweather by the third round.  His constant pressure makes Mayweather uncomfortable.  Ortiz's thundering straight lefts and uppercuts force Mayweather to cover up early and head to the ropes.  Although Ortiz wins the early rounds, Mayweather starts to counter effectively off the ropes.  By the middle rounds, the fight has turned and Mayweather dominates with his lead right and counter left hook.  He drops Ortiz twice as the match progresses, battering Ortiz in the late rounds.  However, Mayweather doesn't press the action in the 12th round and Ortiz is able to make it to the final bell.

Mayweather defeats Ortiz 116-109, or nine rounds to threeOrtiz drops Mayweather in the first three rounds.  Mayweather scores two knockdowns in the second half of the fight. 

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mayweather-Ortiz: Keys to the Fight

Here's a quick primer on some of the key elements that will determine the outcome of the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight.

1.  How's the chin, Floyd?
By all accounts, Mayweather has stayed in the gym during his 16-month layoff.  Weighing in the 140s weeks ago, Mayweather should have no problem making the welterweight limit.  However, there's a significant difference between training at the gym, or even sparring with well regarded-professionals, and taking a punch from one of the best knockout artists in the sport.  Mayweather has had a good chin throughout his career but he has been rattled in the past by Demarcus Corley, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley (two of them are southpaws, like Ortiz).  Will Mayweather's inactivity and advancing age hinder his ability to take Ortiz's power punches?  Could even a vintage Mayweather take Ortiz's best shots? 

Mayweather will get hit with some big punches early and he needs to survive the first few rounds; he has no choice.  Ortiz will come forward with relentless pressure and he doesn't throw jabs – just  accurate, thundering, left-handed bombs.  Even if Mayweather avoids most of these shots, Ortiz will still be able to connect with some.  Mayweather's chin and veteran legs will be tested.  

2.  Hey Victor, what about the right hand?
Ortiz's left cross is one of the most devastating punches in boxing.  However, he will need to establish his right hand, especially his hook, to keep Mayweather from pot-shotting or moving away from the pocket.  In his last fight against Andre Berto, Ortiz's jab could have been found on the endangered species list.  If it was thrown at all, it was just for show, so he could land his left hand. 

On the inside, he will use his right hand for hooks and uppercuts as part of his power combinations.  But against Mayweather, Ortiz must throw jabs and lead right hooks to keep his opponent honest.  Without an active right hand, Mayweather will have free rein to circle to his left, pot-shot and turn Ortiz around with angles.  

3.  And Victor, what about some head movement?
Ortiz marches right in to his opponents.  As already noted, he most often won't even throw a jab to get inside.  Additionally, he comes in directly, without using angles.  Any good counterpuncher or boxer who throws straight shots can hit Ortiz fairly easily.  Ortiz's inability to incorporate head movement into his offensive attack makes for exciting television; both Marcos Maidana and Andre Berto knocked him down twice.  

However, if Ortiz wants to win fights against the best in the sport, he will need a less predictable way of getting inside.  Some angles would work; head movement would be even better.  Without significant improvement in this area, Mayweather will have a field day.  It's possible that he could land over 50% of his shots against the most recent version of Ortiz.  Ortiz must fix this flaw or will he will swiftly fall behind on the cards.

4.  Hey Joe, will you let them fight?
The Nevada State Athletic Commission disappointed many with the selection of Joe Cortez as the referee.  True, he has been the third man in the ring for some of the largest and most significant fights over the past 30 years.  However, Cortez has become officious and meddlesome in many of his recent fights, stopping action repeatedly and unnecessarily.  Perhaps most importantly, he was the referee for Mayweather-Hatton, whereby he constantly broke the fighters apart even when they were not actually clinched, having free arms. 

On the surface, the selection of Cortez does not bode well for Ortiz, who must fight at close range to succeed.  Should Cortez continue his recent history of minimizing inside fighting, Ortiz's chances of winning would significantly diminish.  However, perhaps there will be a silver lining for Ortiz with Cortez's selection.  If Cortez can be "fair and firm" with Mayweather by disallowing his illegal usages of elbows and forearms (they have become some of his best weapons in recent fights), Ortiz would benefit.  

5.  So Danny, what's Plan B?
It's obvious that Ortiz will rush Mayweather in the fight's first few rounds.  It's the right strategy against a veteran boxer who is coming off a long layoff and has had problems with southpaws in previous fights.  But what happens when Mayweather survives the early pressure?  What adjustments do Ortiz and his trainer, Danny Garcia, make when Mayweather slips out of the pocket and starts pot-shotting or turning Ortiz with angles?  This may be the most important facet of the fight.

With the exception of the second half of Ortiz's fight with Lamont Peterson, whereby Ortiz stopped applying pressure in the later rounds, believing he was significantly ahead on the scorecards (he should have been – the draw verdict was bogus), Ortiz has only fought in one way: as a power-punching destroyer.  What if Mayweather goes all Bernard Hopkins on Ortiz and turns the fight into a nasty, grappling match on the inside, negating Ortiz's straight left hand?  Surely, Mayweather will try to make this match a cerebral affair, but does Garcia have the strategic chops to instruct Ortiz on how to turn the fight in his favor? 

To this point, Garcia has had the thoroughbred, who dominates lesser athletes with speed, technique and brute physicality.  However, if it's a slow track, with sloppy conditions, against cagey opposition, how does Garcia get his charge to pull ahead?  With Garcia, will Ortiz be able to mount a late charge or will he be nothing more than a pacesetter?

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