Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes from Klitschko-Adamek, Gamboa-Ponce de Leon

  • What struck me most about Vitali Klitschko's dominating performance over Tomasz Adamek was his intelligence.  Of course, Klitschko's physical advantages and technical expertise are immense challenges for any opponent to overcome, but Klitschko also won the mental game last night, laying traps for Adamek, goading him to come forward.  Klitschko's mastery of the psychological dimension of boxing is what separates him from all others in the heavyweight division, including his brother.
  • He did a number of things last night to entice – and then ultimately frustrate – his opponent.  He would keep his hands down, inviting Adamek to throw his jab or quick left hook.  Klitschko refused to tie up on the inside, making sure his opponent would not be too discouraged from fighting at close range.  He would faint Adamek, inviting counters, but then he would step back and counter with his own shots.  Most impressively, he used subtle footwork to control the distance and the action of the fight.  If there was an exchange in the center of the ring, it happened because Klitschko deemed it necessary. 
  • Adamek employed a strange strategy.  I thought he would use his foot speed to move around the ring and attempt to pot-shot.  It would have been a tough way to score against Klitschko, but foot speed and movement were the only real advantages that he had.  Adamek also could have gone for broke by rushing Klitschko and waging a war in the inside.  Most likely, the fight would have ended early, but perhaps he lands something hard.  Maybe Klitschko's body gives out, or his face cuts up.  Again, not a high probability play, but at least one that has some odds (however slim) of winning.  
  • Instead, Adamek remained in the pocket all night, placing himself in perfect position to receive Klitschko's thunderous jabs and straight right hands.  He didn't use lateral movement at all and advanced only in straight lines.  Short of holding his gloves down by his sides, this style gave him, perhaps, the lowest possible probability of winning.  It's tough to tell what Adamek and Roger Bloodworth's game plan was.  There's a long history of Klitschko's opponents turning to deer-in-headlights once they taste his power. 
  • Unlike his brother Wladimir's match with David Haye, Klitschko was in a real fight last night – one in which he dominated, but nevertheless an actual contest with two combatants.  There were several spirited exchanges throughout the fight and afterwards, Klitschko's face did look marked up on its right side.  Adamek was able to land some jabs and a few very good left hooks.  It was almost odd seeing punches land on Klitschko.  However, Vitali's defense was very good all night; credit Adamek for those connects.
  • Klitschko had three punches working last night.  His jab was, of course, masterful.  It was not just the precision of the punch which dictated the fight, but it's frequency; he averaged over 40 jabs per rounds -- a staggeringly high number for a heavyweight, or any weight for that matter.  His straight right hand connected on numerous occasions.  He should have scored a knockdown in the second and did in the sixth.  In both cases, the ropes held up Adamek from landed on his back.  In addition, Klitschko started to mix in a sharp right uppercut in the middle rounds.  Once the third punch was established, Adamek's was unable to defense Klitschko's combinations.  Klitschko did throw a few left hooks last night but it was more of a show punch, not landing accurately or thrown with maximum impact.
  • Vitali's performance last night provided further differentiation between the Klitschko brothers' respective ring identities.  Wladimir fights nervously, falling for almost every faint and stopping his offense when his opponent starts to engage. Wladimir also, almost compulsively, ties up on the inside, refusing to fight at close range.  Vitali boxes in a much more relaxed manner than Wladimir does.  He draws his opponent in and wants to fight on the inside.  He is also much more fluid with his combinations than Wladimir is, letting his hands go early in the fight; his brother often takes several rounds to commit to anything other than a jab.  Wladimir is the better athlete and probably has the stronger right hand, but Vitali is the more natural fighter.
  • The knock on Yuriorkis Gamboa was his recklessness.  He would rush in with amazingly fluid flurries but would leave himself vulnerable to counters.  He had a history of getting dropped by lesser opponents (Adailton de Jesus, Darling Jimenez).  Sure, he was exciting to watch, but there was always a feeling that Gamboa's defensive shortcomings would be exposed against higher caliber opposition.
  • In 2011, against Jorge Solis, an interim junior lightweight titlist, and Daniel Ponce de Leon, a former junior featherweight champion, Gamboa has demonstrated remarkable improvement in discipline, judgment and defense.  Gamboa dominated Solis, knocking him down five times before stopping him, and won practically every round against Ponce de Leon, an awkward southpaw who possesses real power. 
  • Gamboa, with trainer Ismael Salas, executed a perfect strategy for fighting Ponce de Leon.  Instead of rushing in, leaving himself vulnerable for Ponce de Leon's counter left hands and right hooks, Gamboa, on Salas' orders, remained in the center of the ring, landing quick, two-punch combinations without getting into exchanges.  The result of this strategy led to fewer fireworks, but a sustained advantage.  Salas correctly understood that Gamboa could win the fight just on his hand speed advantages and accurate right hands.  It was odd to see Gamboa disengage after landed powerful shots.  Surely, the crowd wanted to see more, but it was the right strategy.
  • Throughout the fight, you could see that Gamboa respected Ponce de Leon's power.  Instead of keeping his hands low like he had in previous fights, Gamboa's gloves were in perfect defensive position.  He wasn't posturing for his opponent to come forward or showboating to rile up the crowd, but he remained patient, waiting for the right opportunities to throw his punches while minimizing Ponce de Leon's hard, awkward-angled shots.  In the sixth round, in an uncommon display of sportsmanship during a fight, both boxers bowed to each other – a sign that Gamboa has finally met an opponent whom he deemed worthy.  
  • Gamboa won almost every round, but he did not dominate.  The punch stat numbers were actually fairly even.  Gamboa's hard right hands were enough to score points but Ponce de Leon landed with several looping left hands and right hooks.  Although Gamboa had a sizable advantage in hand speed, Ponce de Leon craftily timed his opponent and countered fairly well.  He landed a few booming left hands in the fifth round but also took some nasty right hands during the frame.  Ponce de Leon paced himself well and, like Gamboa, didn't try to force action.
  • Gamboa's offense consisted of only two punches throughout most of the fight – his jab and right hand.  He dispensed with his left hook, which can get wide, and his uppercut, because he was fighting from distance.  As a result, he didn't showcase his full arsenal, but he was able to defeat one of the best opponents of his career with just two punches, a significant achievement.  
  • Although many might knock Gamboa's performance because it was more measured than it had been in previous outings, the manner in which he defeated Ponce de Leon suggests that he has an ability to become a truly elite fighter.  His execution of Salas' game plan demonstrates that he is coachable – a significant achievement for a young fighter who has already gone through three trainers as a professional.  Additionally, he has become a smarter boxer, realizing that high-level pros have the ability to hurt him, especially if he fights recklessly.  His understanding of the finer points of ring generalship and defense raise his potential ceiling.  Originally thought of as a flawed and fluid knockout artist, Gamboa is now much closer to a complete fighter.  If his progress continues in this vein, expect him to rapidly ascend the pound-for-pound lists in the next 12 months.
  • For Ponce de Leon, he acquitted himself well in defeat.  After a tough fight earlier in the year against Adrien Broner, where he was robbed of a decision victory, he faced another challenging assignment against Gamboa.  With Ponce de Leon's performances this year, he has erased the sting of the Juan Manuel Lopez fight, where he was demolished in the first round.  A fight against rising featherweight Mikey Garcia would be a great measuring stick for both boxers.  I wouldn't count Ponce de Leon out in that matchup.

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