Sunday, October 2, 2011

Notes from Martinez-Barker, Lee-Vera

  • Although many might disparage Sergio Martinez's performance last night against Darren Barker, I thought that he acquitted himself quite well.  With Barker, he was facing an opponent who fought in a risk-averse style, limiting Martinez's offensive openings.  To my eyes, Martinez won every round except the 8th, although the 4th round was very close.  Throughout the fight, Martinez was the more active fighter, throwing more punches and landing harder shots than Barker was.  The awkwardness of the fight stemmed from Martinez's inability to drag Barker into a slugfest; credit Barker for staying disciplined. 
  • Barker tried to survive, not win the fight.  He featured a high guard and sporadically threw his left jab and straight right hand.  He may have thrown less than a half-dozen hooks or uppercuts in total.  He quickly realized that he had a hand speed disadvantage and sought to minimize Martinez's opportunities.  Even though Barker was able to land his shots at a reasonably high connect percentage, that success did not encourage him to take additional chances.  From the early rounds on, there was blood streaming from Martinez's nose, yet Barker remained static in his offensive attack.
  • By the end of the 2nd round, it seemed to me (and I remarked about this on Twitter) that the key punch for Martinez would be his right hook.  Barker's high guard was set up to block Martinez's jab and straight left hand.  Anything looping or unconventional would have a much better chance of getting through Barker's defense.  For reasons unknown, Martinez was reluctant to throw his right hook or uppercuts during the first half of the fight.  Perhaps not having his head trainer, Gabriel Sarmiento, hurt his offensive attack.  Nevertheless, Martinez would have benefited earlier from a more varied offense.  Martinez danced and faked, and tried to set traps for his opponent, but hooks and uppercuts would have suited him much better.  Once Martinez started to throw and land the right hook in the 9th round, Barker began to wilt. 
  • Many of the first five rounds of the fight were competitive, with both Martinez and Barker landing a similar number of punches.  Martinez won those rounds with his power shots and higher activity level.  Most of Barker's landed punches were jabs.  Nevertheless, Barker was performing reasonably well, demonstrating that he belonged in the same ring as Martinez.  A huge underdog, Barker was supposed to be knocked out in the early rounds of the fight, but he exhibited strong defensive technique and ring generalship.  He also showed that he is a well-schooled fighter who boxes with a high degree of ring intelligence.  Perhaps if Barker had less ring awareness, fans would have been treated to a more thrilling fight, but never underestimate the power of self-preservation.  
  • Martinez tried to fight as a counterpuncher for the first half of the match.  Banking on his hand speed, movement and odd-angled shots, he expected to defeat Barker by capitalizing on his mistakes.  It was interesting to watch Martinez slowly abandon his "Plan A," and transition to the role of the aggressor.  No longer facing the sloppy defenses of Kermit Cintron, Kelly Pavlik or Paul Williams, Martinez had to work for his knockout; he had to create his own opportunities.  Eventually, the light bulb went off and he realized that Barker couldn't defend the hook.  Although last night was certainly not Martinez's best performance, it did demonstrate Martinez's cerebral gifts and creativity in the ring.
  • Did Barker and his trainer, Tony Sims, provide a blueprint for beating Sergio Martinez?  Maybe.  I think there are two types of fighters who can defeat him: high-volume pressure fighters who have solid chins (prime Paul Williams and Antonio Margarito) or economical defensive fighters with good power (prime Bernard Hopkins and the current version of Floyd Mayweather).  It's understandable why the high-volume pressure fighters can succeed.  Martinez wants to lure people into firefights.  He doesn't mind getting hit because it leads to more offensive opportunities for him.  However, in this situation, it could lead to Martinez getting hit enough that he loses too many rounds on the judges' scorecards (the first Paul Williams fight). 
  • What Barker did demonstrate is that an economical puncher with strong defensive gifts will give Martinez problems.  I can see Floyd Mayweather's right hand hitting Martinez repeatedly, without giving Martinez the ability to counter.  Barker didn't have the power, or, really, the will to hurt Martinez, but I'm sure that a lot of orthodox fighters will watch last night's tape in preparing for Martinez in the future.
  • If the upshot of last night's performance results in more fighters wanting to face Martinez, then the sport is better off.  Maybe Daniel Geale, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or Felix Sturm now decide to fight Martinez.  I hope this happens.  A late bloomer, Martinez is already 36 and he may not have too many years left in his prime.  
  • Andy Lee looked infinitely better last night against Bryan Vera than he he did in his fight against Craig McEwan, which took place earlier in 2011.  For starters, his punches were much crisper.  No longer throwing the lazy right jab or keeping the straight left out too long, last night Lee snapped out his punches and quickly got back into defensive position.  Additionally, he used his full offensive arsenal.  In the past, Lee would get hook-happy, waiting for the perfect opportunity to land his counter right hook, but last night, he threw everything.  He knocked Vera down with his straight left and even landed a blistering right uppercut to end the 4th round.  I think Lee's starting to believe more in his straight left hand;  he dropped both McEwan and Vera with that punch and he now throws it more forcefully than he did in prior fights.  
  • Vera derailed Lee's career in 2008, where the rugged Texan was able to knock out the former Irish amateur star.  Prior to that point, Lee's stock in the sport was skyrocketing.  He was Emanuel Steward's prized pupil and the best fighter from a boxing-mad country.  In their first fight, Vera, pretty much the definition of a gatekeeper, refused to comply with the preordained script and stalked Lee with his aggression and straight right hands.  He exposed major weaknesses in Lee's conditioning and defense.
  • It took many years for Lee to right his ship and as recently as the McEwan fight, it looked as if Lee would never turn the corner.  Last night, he fought with focus and discipline.  He didn't let the match devolve into a slugfest.  He moved well throughout the night, thwarting Vera's clumsy pressure.  Lee exploited his reach advantage by keeping Vera at the end of his punches.  For most of the fight, he tied up on the inside or safely got out of range.  I'm still not ready to say that Lee will be an elite middleweight, but last night demonstrated that he was again taking positive steps.  
  • Vera didn't go consistently to the body until the 8th round.  On my card, Vera took the 8th and 10th rounds with his body assault.  The blows affected Lee, but it was certainly a case of "too little too late."
  • Nevertheless, Vera illustrated that Lee may still have some conditioning problems.  Fighting 12 rounds will be a difficult proposition for Lee against some of the better-conditioned athletes in the division, like Matthew Macklin, Daniel Geale or Felix Sturm (of course Sergio Martinez has spectacular stamina).  Working with Emanuel Steward for a full training camp, Lee showed a lot of progress last night, but I think his conditioning will be his Achilles' heel throughout his career, although I'm not suggesting that Lee doesn't train hard.  Essentially, every boxer has a core baseline of stamina from which to work, and Lee's may just not be very high.       

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