Saturday, April 30, 2011

What Happened to Arthur Abraham?

When the Super Six super middleweight tournament was announced in 2009, Arthur Abraham was considered the co-favorite with Mikkel Kessler.  Going into the tournament, Abraham featured a pristine 30-0 record and had previously defended his middleweight title 10 times.  Other elements were also in his favor.  He faced quality opposition during his middleweight reign, including Edison Miranda, Kofi Jantuah, Raul Marquez, Khoren Gevor and others.  Additionally, Abraham had prospered on American soil (where the semifinals and finals of the tournament would be held), knocking out out Edison Miranda in their rematch. 

Technically, Abraham featured an awkward style that was tough to prepare for.  He kept his gloves all the way up shielding his face.  He would explode from his defensive posture with straight right hands and left hooks.  He was tough to hit cleanly, well-conditioned and a good finisher.  He threw almost all power punches and he placed them extremely well.

In the first round of the tournament, Abraham faced Jermain Taylor.  The two were often rumored to meet while they were both middleweight titlists.  However, Taylor, with the support of HBO, and Abraham, with the backing of powerful German-based promoter Sauerland Event, became cash cows in their respective countries.  The matchup in the Super Six was attractive because of the unfinished business during their title reigns.  

After a few back-and forth rounds to start the fight, Abraham dominated Taylor during the second half.   He knocked out Taylor in the 12th round and Abraham was leading comfortably at the time of the stoppage.  The knockout was so vicious that Taylor had to spend several days at a German hospital.  Abraham didn't beat a prime Taylor, but he looked great in victory.  Taylor may have been damaged goods, previously losing by crushing knockouts to Kelly Pavlik and Carl Froch. 

Abraham's next Super Six fight was against Andre Dirrell.  Although Dirrell had a competitive showing against Froch, Abraham was favored for their bout.  Conventional wisdom said that Abraham's superior fighting spirit would overcome Dirrell's evasiveness and occasional unwillingness to engage.  

In a major surprise, Dirrell dominated almost the entire fight.  Dirrell circled Abraham beautifully and stopped to throw powerful combinations seemingly at will.  He knocked down Abraham in the fourth round.  Abraham looked flustered throughout the fight, refusing to throw punches or emerge from his defensive shell. 

Eventually Abraham would come on, hurting Dirrell in the 10th and 11th rounds (there were two potential knockdowns that weren't called) before Abraham was DQ'ed for hitting Dirrell while he was down on the canvas. 

After the fight, the worst of Abraham and Sauerland surfaced.  They claimed that Dirrell was faking injury.  (Dirrell was obviously incoherent in the post-fight interview, thinking that he had lost the fight.)  They threatened to protest the disqualification.  Team Abraham also insisted that Dirrell should be disqualified for not taking the post-fight drug test, even though Dirrell had to be transported to the hospital for observation.  Finally, Team Abraham claimed that they were going to pull out of the tournament.  

Abraham, who was starting to establish a fan base in America, ruined whatever good will he had in the U.S. with his antics.  He was seen as a sore loser and most importantly a bad sportsman.  The disqualification punch on Dirrell was egregious.  If that punch can't disqualify someone, I'm not sure that any could.

Abraham's next match was against Carl Froch.  Before the fight, there were endless delays because neither boxer would agree to fight in the other's home country.  They settled on Finland.  Abraham was still given a very good chance to win.  His straighter punching and tighter defense was seen as a way to defeat Froch, who often throws looping shots and can be easy to hit.  

In a shocking display, Froch outboxed Abraham in every round to win the wide decision.  Froch, not known for his boxing ability, stayed disciplined, kept distance well and constantly hit Abraham with his jabs, right hands and left hooks.  Again, Abraham essentially refused to throw punches or engage his opponent.  By the end of the fight, Abraham had huge red marks on his cheeks, from his gloves repeatedly being knocked into his face by Froch's punches. 

Now, Wilfried Sauerland and Abraham's own trainer, Ulli Wegner, were furious at the boxer for his refusal to fight.  Sauerland considered pulling Abraham from the tournament.  In a surprising move, Abraham insisted on a tune-up fight before entering the semi-finals against Andre Ward.  Abraham dispatched obscure Stjepan Bozic with ease.

Abraham meets Ward later this month.  After some substantial disagreements between Sauerland and Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen, about the location and the selection of the referee and judges, the fight should proceed. 

Andre Ward is a significant favorite against Abraham.  Ward's fluidity in the ring, his various ring styles and his boxing intelligence are major obstacles for Abraham to overcome.  Abraham may have a puncher's chance to beat Ward in that the American has been knocked down earlier in his career.  However, Abraham has refused to let his hands go during his last few fights and doesn't seem comfortable transitioning from defense to offense.  Ward won't be in front of Abraham to hit.  In addition, increasingly it looks like Abraham can only land shots when he remains flat-footed in the center of the ring.  The lateral movement of Ward will present all sorts of challenges for Abraham.

The recent performances of Arthur Abraham are inexplicable.  To those who saw him as a middleweight titleholder, Abraham was a killer and a warrior.  Abraham cultivated a strong following in Germany both at the turnstiles and on television sets.   He had a reign of destruction as a titleholder, where his moniker "King" seemed apt.  He defeated Edison Miranda in their first fight despite a broken draw that was gushing blood and Miranda's repeated low blows.  His guts were not called into question.   Yet somehow, Abraham has morphed into a docile, defensive fighter, scared to let his hands go.  His technique and footwork have deteriorated in his recent fights.  No one expected this transformation.  Without a good showing against Ward, Abraham's career as a relevant fighter is finished.  

I get the feeling that something out of the ring has contributed to Abraham's downfall.  It's not that he merely lost to Dirrell and Froch, it's how he lost.  Abraham refused to engage.  He was champion of the world and suddenly now he won't fight?  The competitive spirit that took him from the amateurs to the top of the middleweight division suddenly disappeared?  

Teddy Atlas likes to say that boxing is 90% mental.   At the top level of the sport, everyone has talent.  On paper, and by evaluating Abraham's past performances prior to the Super Six, Abraham had the talent to defeat every fighter in the tournament.  Clearly, something isn't right with the fighter.  Hopefully, some additional information will come to light about Abraham's state of mind over the last 18 months.  King Abraham's fall from the throne has shocked the boxing world.  To this point, there are few answers.    

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chad Dawson: Descent and Uncertainty

On February 3, 2007, Chad Dawson defeated unbeaten light heavyweight titlist Tomasz Adamek.  Dawson gave a rousing performance, dropping Adamek in the seventh round and dominating most of the fight.  Unfortunately, that night remains the high point of Dawson's career. 

The early momentum of Dawson's career has faded.  After numerous lackluster victories, he lost his title to Jean Pascal.  Over the last few years, he has parted ways with two trainers (more on that in a bit).   Out of the ring, he has reportedly had management squabbles and financial difficulties.  In addition, Dawson hasn't gained any type of mass following or public support.  In four years, Dawson has transitioned from rising American boxing prodigy to uninspiring light heavyweight afterthought.  In short, this is a career in descent.

The Pascal fight capped a series of dispassionate performances, including a  couple of uninspiring victories against Antonio Tarver, a gift win against Glen Johnson in their first fight and an ugly victory in their rematch.   

To many, Dawson epitomizes what's wrong in the sport.  Here's a boxer who requires million-dollar guarantees for his purses, yet he doesn't sell any tickets or fight with passion.  Dawson has tremendous talent but does not fight with urgency.  He seems content with ineffectual points victories instead of decisive ring performances.  Dawson is removed from the public and does the bare minimum in terms of promoting his fights. 

A few years ago, it really looked like Dawson would be the next American star.  He quickly ascended the super middleweight and light heavyweight rankings.  He possessed athletic gifts, a full arsenal of punches and a quirky southpaw style that made him very tough to hit.  Floyd Mayweather, Jr. thought that Dawson was one of the best young fighters in boxing (it didn't hurt that Floyd's father was training the light heavyweight).

Things started to unravel for Dawson in the first Glen Johnson fight.  After dismissing Johnson leading up to the match, Dawson fought aggressively in the early rounds by marking his territory and refusing to let Johnson back him up.   Through the first few rounds, the fight was exceptional, with both boxers firing blistering combinations.  Johnson hurt Dawson in the middle rounds with a series of clubbing right hands.  Throughout the rest of the fight, Dawson avoided the pocket and was content to throw a few jabs and one-two's before quickly getting out of range.  Meanwhile, Johnson continued to press the action and make the fight.  Many boxing observers (including this writer) thought Johnson won at least eight rounds.  Somehow, Dawson notched the victory, winning 116-112 on all three scorecards.

Fans wanted an immediate rematch yet Dawson moved on to the faded Antonio Tarver.  After dispatching Tarver twice (the second fight only occurred because Tarver negotiated a rematch clause), the only high-profile fight left for Dawson was a rematch with Johnson. 

Even with these less-than scintillating performances, Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, convinced HBO that they needed to be in the Chad Dawson business.  The network demanded that he fight Johnson again; reluctantly, Dawson agreed to the rematch.

In a horrible performance, Dawson ran all night and scored with pitty-pat combinations and ineffectual jabs.  He basically tired out Johnson, who aimlessly followed Dawson around the ring all night.  It was a terrible display by the champion.  How Dawson continued to get premium television dates after that performance is a credit to Shaw.           

In his last fight against Pascal, Dawson looked listless during the first half.  Dawson had no answers in the early rounds against Pascal's ambush-style flurries.  Pascal seemed to toy with Dawson, ducking in and out of range and unloading several punches before Dawson could counter.  Dawson fought with little energy and refused to lead. 

As the fight progressed, Pascal started to fade.  By the ninth round, Dawson was landing some big shots.  He was way behind in the fight and finally started to put punches together.  By the 11th round, Pascal looked vulnerable and a late-round knockout seemed possible.  Dawson had Pascal hurt but unfortunately, a clash of heads led to the fight being called.  Pascal received the unanimous victory.  

Overall, the performance against Pascal continued to raise many doubts about Dawson's career.  He didn't seem overly concerned about the loss, immediately informing the HBO crew that he had a rematch clause.  Whenever he put punches together against Pascal, they landed; he just wouldn't throw them.  Dawson seemed to be a fighter who was questioning himself in the ring.

Even though a case could be made that Dawson had a real chance to defeat Pascal before the stoppage, because of the public antipathy towards Dawson (due to his reluctance to engage with boxing fans and his dispassionate ring performances), there wasn't a demand to see the rematch.  When Hopkins drew with Pascal, the public demanded a second fight.  When Dawson lost his title, there was indifference.   

Dawson hasn't fought since the Pascal match last July.  In the interim, he has rarely surfaced.  Never a fighter who enjoyed the promotional aspects of the sport, Dawson has remained out of the public view.   

Dawson fights next month against Canadian brawler Adrian Diaconu on the undercard of the Hopkins-Pascal rematch.  If he beats Diaconu, he faces the Pascal-Hopkins winner.  The Diaconu fight, like the Pascal bout, will be on hostile turf in Quebec.   

For this fight, Dawson has enlisted Emanuel Steward.  It's a fascinating match in that Dawson does not resemble the type of pupil associated with Steward's more resounding successes.  Steward likes pocket fighters.  He's the best at establishing height and distance.  Steward's fighters master the jab and sit down on their straight crosses.  Steward also rarely works with southpaws.  Dawson fights (when he actually decides to throw punches) in a fluid style based on angles, turning opponents and staying out of punching range.  Surely, Dawson could pick up a few things from Steward (for instance, committing to his power shots), but it would not be shocking if this union didn't produce optimal results.  

Dawson has never fought in the Kronk style promoted by Steward.  He lacks the physical dimensions of height and range that are so important to Steward's successes.  Technically, he doesn't throw his jab as often as Steward's fighters do and Dawson doesn't commit to his straight left hand in the pocket. 

Dawson has certainly not lacked quality instruction.  Through his professional career, he has employed five different top-notch trainers -- John Scully, Dan Birmingham, Floyd Mayweather, Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and now Steward.  Birmingham emphasizes the pocket.  Mayweather may be the best at coaching defense and angles.  Muhammad does well with fluid fighters. 

Essentially, Dawson needs to decide on a ring identity.  What kind of fighter does he want to be?  For a while, he seemed to be fighting in a Floyd Mayweather, Jr. style of defense and countering.  However, Mayweather stays in the pocket for these opportunities or uses angles to potshot where Dawson often refuses to engage.  At other times, Dawson has been a runner, briefly setting his feet to throw quick combinations before moving out of the pocket.  He's fought as a boxer-puncher, finding opportunities in the pocket to throw combinations and press the action.  He also has fought as a prototypical slick boxer, using angles and turning his opponents.  

Dawson has more than enough boxing acumen to be an elite fighter in the sport.  His talent has never been called into question.  What separates Dawson from the elite is not technique, but desire.  Many elite fighters in the sport (such as Mayweather Jr., Donaire and Hopkins) can fight in various styles: so can Dawson.  However, the difference between those elite fighters and Dawson is that they have displayed an almost a pathological desire to win their fights.  They change their style to give them the best chance to win, not to merely avoid danger.  Angles, distance and flashy combination are great, but winning is paramount.   

So Dawson has received a spectacular boxing foundation.  But does he have a first-class fighting spirit?  At a certain point, the deficiencies with Dawson are not about his trainers.  Any of the five trainers would be suitable for a world champion.  What Dawson really needs is someone to light a fire under his ass: someone like Teddy Atlas.  Dawson isn't the first gifted fighter to become passive or indecisive after reaching the upper levels of the sport.  Example like Hector Camacho and Michael Moorer certainly apply.  Someone like Atlas or Jesse Reid could quickly determine if Dawson is salvageable from a psychological standpoint.  Certainly, Steward will show Dawson how to commit more to his power shots, but if the fighter doesn't want to do what it takes to become great, there isn't much that any trainer can do.

Somehow, Dawson is still only one fight away from a title shot.  Hopefully, he has undergone the requisite soul-searching and rededication needed to reach and then ascend his prior pinnacle.  He has a real fight ahead of him against Diaconu.  If Dawson isn't mentally prepared to fight a war, he will lose.  Judging by talent, he should win.  

But talent isn't enough at the highest levels of any sport.  The gutters of boxing are littered with unfulfilled promise.  Dawson's X-Factor is desire.  Is he willing to do whatever it takes to win?  He should beat Diaconu, Pascal or a 46-year-old Hopkins; but those fighters are ready to engage in battle.  To win these fights, Dawson must establish his power shots to ward off these aggressive opponents.  He will get hit and there will be some rough exchanges.  The fancy trainer, the network backing and the noted promoter are irrelevant if Dawson isn't mentally prepared to win at all costs. He has one more shot next month.  Is he up to the task? 

Monday, April 25, 2011

April Rankings Movement (Ortiz, Narvaez, Berto, Lopez)

April has been an outstanding month for boxing.  The month featured several fight-of-the-year candidates as well as some significant upsets.  As a result, numerous changes have been made to the Saturday Night Boxing rankings.  For the first time since the rankings began, a fighter was removed from the "SNB 10 Boxers on the Rise" list, even though the boxer did not suffer a defeat.  Ultimately, when a fighter's stock stabilizes, he is no longer effectively "on the rise."  Read below for all of April's rankings movement. 

Elevated:  Omar Narvaez joins the "Fighters on the Cusp" list after scoring a resounding victory over previously unbeaten Cesar Seda.  Narvaez, from Argentina, has never been defeated in his 36-fight career and has made 19 title defenses in the flyweight and super flyweight divisions.

Elevated:  Hernan Marquez debuts on the SNB rankings list after his savage TKO victory over Luis Concepcion.  Marquez, now a flyweight titleholder, joins the "SNB 10 Boxers on the Rise" list.

Elevated:  Victor Ortiz replaces Andre Berto on the "SNB 10 Boxers on the Rise" list.  Ortiz's impressive victory over Berto makes him one of the hottest names in boxing. 

Demoted:  Juan Manuel Lopez leaves the "Fighters on the Cusp" list after his TKO loss to Orlando Salido.  Before, the Salido fight, he was one, big victory away from becoming an elite fighter; now he must regroup.

Demoted:  Marcos Maidana exits the "SNB 10 Boxers on the Rise" list.  It's fairly clear after the Erik Morales fight that Maidana, while a tremendous action fighter, has significant technical flaws which prevent him from reaching the top of the sport.  He may still win an outright title at junior welterweight but the performance against Morales has curtailed his career's upward trajectory.

Demoted:  Andre Berto also leaves the "SNB 10 Boxers on the Rise" list.  Although he put forth a spirited showing against Ortiz, Berto now finds himself a few additional steps away from elite status.  The loss shouldn't derail his career too much, but it was a decisive defeat. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SNB Nuggets (Ortiz, Maidana-Morlaes, Guerrero-Katsidis)

Golden Boy deserves all the credit in the world for sticking with Victor Ortiz, who had marginalized himself in the boxing world over the last two years with a series of dubious performances.  Many promoters (Don King and Top Rank come to mind) would have kept a fighter like Ortiz on ice after quitting in one fight (against Marcos Maidana) and easing up on a wounded opponent in another (Lamont Peterson).  With Ortiz's rousing victory against Andre Berto, the Golden Boy head honchos (Oscar de la Hoya, Richard Schaefer and matchmaker Eric Gomez) must have felt a tremendous amount of pride.  They kept Ortiz in the limelight, securing him additional fights on HBO, and placing him on undercards of some of Golden Boy's major fights. 

In short, Golden Boy understood what they had in Ortiz.  Strategically, he is an important asset: he's of Mexican-American descent, speaks English as his first language, interacts very well with the media and possesses knockout power.  

Golden Boy would have received no scorn from the boxing world had they decided to run out their contract with Ortiz and cut their losses.  His performances in those two previously mentioned fights were brutal; there was a good reason why Berto was a healthy favorite in their contest.  But Golden Boy steadfastly continued with their support of Ortiz.

I hope Ortiz is celebrating his well earned victory lap.  His team believed in him, as well as his family.  After those constituencies, I'm not sure there were too many others who thought he could beat Berto in the manner in which he did.  It was an inspiring performance and he will be up for some mega fights over the next 18 months.

The Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales fight was an entertaining scrap, where Morales showed he still had the physical dimensions to fight at least one top-level fighter.  It was a great performance from the Mexican legend but let's not get ahead of ourselves.  Agreeing with two of the judges, I scored the fight 116-112 for Maidana.  

The competitive nature of the fight can be attributed to the style matchup.  Maidana is slow and Morales has a super-human chin and a champion's determination.  Against Pacquiao, who throws lightning-quick combinations from odd angles, Morales could not see the punches coming.  The older Morales can't deal with speed or lateral movement.  Maidana does not possess either attribute.  If Morales has a future in boxing, he must be matched very carefully.  A fourth fight against his chief rival, Marco Antonio Barrera, is a natural, next step.

Maidana would have knocked out many fighters with that performance.  His blistering straight right hands, left uppercuts, left hooks and his commitment to body punching, make him one of the best offensive fighters in all of boxing.  Don't let anyone try to convince you that Maidana was overrated because the fight with Morales was close.  Morales can take unbelievable amounts of punishment.  

Maidana would help himself in future fights if he did two other things.  First, if he had even a serviceable jab, his power combinations would land at a higher rate.  Second, although Maidana has tremendous desire and fighting spirit, he needs to be able to fight 12 rounds.  No one questions his heart; he is relentless and keeps coming forward despite taking his opponents' best shots.  However, he also gives away rounds. 

I think Maidana needs to strengthen his legs, especially his thighs.  He gets wobbled a lot, and while he is not necessarily hurt, his lack of a strong base gives the impression that he is unsteady, thus losing rounds.  His punch output trailed off in the middle rounds before he turned on the jets in the final three stanzas.  If Maidana fought in his style for 12 consistent rounds, he would be that much more difficult to beat.

Two rounds of the Maidana-Morales fight deserve special mention.  The 8th round was just a brutal affair.  Morales landed a stunning left hook in the first few moments, followed by a short uppercut and some stinging jabs later in the round.  Maidana hit Morales with a  thundering overhand right about half way through the round and had some great moments along the ropes with left hooks and uppercuts.  These two fighters went to war and it was savage and beautiful. 

Maidana won the fight with a combination at the end of the 10th round.  The frame was up for grabs with 20 seconds remaining.  Then Maidana threw a punishing right had that landed flush on Morales' left cheek and followed it up with a strong left uppercut that landed on Morales' other cheek.  Morales looked defeated in the corner after the round and didn't have much left throughout the rest of the fight.  These two punches (as well as Maidana's constant body attack) swung the fight for good.

After the fight was over, Morales walked back to his corner.  There were huge red blotches all across his right side and right-hand area of his lower back.  The markings were from Maidana's vicious left hooks to the body.  Morales absorbed tremendous punishment in this fight.  I'm not sure many others could have withstood Maidana's assault.

Robert Guerrero displayed a textbook example of how to defeat a pressure fighter.  Seriously, they could show his performance in boxing instructional videos.  Establishing space in the center of the ring, Guerrero varied his attack against Michael Katsidis by throwing strong right jabs, lead left uppercuts, right hooks and straight left hands.  He controlled distance beautifully, circled away from Katsidis' right hand and engaged his opponent with sharp combination punching. 

For most of the night, Katsidis look flustered, unable to get inside against Guerrero, who seemed to land at will.  Katsidis did have a second-round knockdown that should have been called.  However, Guerrero was not badly hurt and the knockdown would not have made a difference in the scoring. 

At lightweight, Guerrero looked enormous.  His combination of boxing technique, size and speed will be formidable against any opponent at 135.  He could easily transition to junior welterweight without any difficulty.  

Sorry to harp on a theme again, but 135 is Guerrero's proper weight.  There were instances during his fights at featherweight and junior lightweight where he faded or didn't have that second offensive gear.  The process of shedding pounds to get to an uncomfortable weight can be enervating.  Now that Guerrero has found his ideal weight, he could emerge as an elite fighter very quickly.   

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Drawing Board Welcomes Kirkland and Lemieux

Mr. Kirkland, Mr. Lemieux, welcome to the Drawing Board.  I'm Marie, the receptionist.  Please come here and pick up your paperwork.  Make sure to list your emergency contact information so that when people wonder about what happened to you, we can refer them to an outside source.  Feel free to turn in your cell phones.  You won't need them here.  Maybe you have found out by now, but most of your friends, girls and supporters won't be calling or texting you too much on account of the loss, and all.  

Your tour guide, Danny Jacobs, will be here shortly to show you around the Board.  Danny has been one of our most popular members at the Drawing Board.  He'll show you the ropes.  Please feel free to take a lollipop.  They're special suckers that will last for six months.  In the meantime, why don't you have a seat in the Ricardo Williams Honorary Waiting Room.  Just let me know when you are finished filling out your forms. Please attach the headshot that you brought with you.  After a suitable period of time, we will send out your Reminder Packets to influential members of the boxing community.  Your sponsor will go over that information with you at a later time.  Also, on the last page of your paperwork, are the complimentary 12-month subscriptions to HBO and Showtime.  The perk is given to remind fighters about where you've been or where you are going.  Besides, your televisions are probably going to be your only contact with the networks over the next year.   

Ahh Danny, so nice to see you.  Gentlemen, follow Danny.  

David, James, nice to meet you.  Let me give you a little tour of the place.  One of the most important parts of every client's day at the Drawing Board is spent in one of these four therapy rooms.  It's one of the great features of the Board.  There you will spend 90 minutes each day with just an empty room, a table and a TV, watching fights. 

Oh, I see you have your lollipops.  They're damn good aren't they?  They're supposed to symbolize "licking your wounds."  Kind of funny, right? 

As I said, we have four main therapy rooms.  The first room on the right is the I Had an Off-Night Room.  The second room, and this is for you James, is the Glass Jaw room.  The room was recently refurbished with a grant by Wladimir Klitschko, one of the Drawing Board's executive members.  David, you'll be in the Too Much, Too Soon room.  I certainly spent some time there.  Victor Ortiz produced a great presentation for you to watch.  The final room is the "It Was a Lucky Punch Room."  Please be quiet though, because Paul Williams is in there right now watching some tape.

The purpose of the therapy rooms is to work through the psychological effects of your defeats.  In the rooms, you will watch a lot of film of your losses.  The idea is to break you down again and build you back up.  You will watch a lot of other fights as well, all featuring young boxers that had similar problem to you guys in their losses.  I can't tell you how many times I had to watch the Chazz Witherspoon fight with Chris Arreola.  You will learn that there are a lot of fighters just like you. Some have rebounded and have had great careers.  Others will never recover.  It's up to you to decide the next step. 

Your counselors will provide a comprehensive fight program where you will watch up to 15 to 20 fights a week.  After each new fight, you'll record your thoughts in your PFJ or Personal Fight Journal.  You know, why the fighter lost?  What didn't he do well?  What could he improve?  It's a valuable learning lesson.  During the first two weeks at the Drawing Board, you'll carry your PFJ with you at all times. 

Guys, follow me down the hall a little bit.  Behind the closed door is the "Thank You Room."  There, every month you will bring someone important from your life into the Drawing Board and talk to them for at least a half hour.  During that session, you will thank them for what they have done for you, whether it's their support, wisdom, love or honesty.  Whatever it is.  The point of the "Thank You Room" is to remind fighters that they do have support, and also, that many people have helped to contribute to their success.  The Thank You Room reinforces that there are others out there that have a personal and emotional interest in your success.  Not everyone has given up on you.  Some of these sessions get very tough but let me tell you, they build character.

Every month you will have a meeting with your sponsor.  Your sponsor could be your manager, your promoter, your trainer.  He's the one guy who believes most in you as a professional boxer.  Your sponsor's job will be to guide you through the process of regrouping and getting you to see the truth.  The more honest your sessions go with your sponsor, the faster you can leave the Drawing Board.

I spend most of my days training.  The Drawing Board has a world-class gym and, as you can imagine, great sparring.  During your first weeks here, they'll throw you in with the fighters who are just about to leave.  This will remind you that you are here to get better as a boxer -- mentally, physically and technically. 

We have a great library here and free internet access.  You'll be able to stay in touch with your friends and follow what's going on in the world.  I'll say this: you'll find out who your friends are really quickly while you’re at the Drawing Board.    I talk with my fans (or former fans) online a lot.  I swear many of them must have hurt themselves jumping off the wagon so fast.  I bet many had serious injuries!  It's funny.  Many lost money on me or were sure that I was going to win.  Now, many of them are pretty bitter.  You learn a lot by talking to your fans and just boxing people in general.  

At first, you will only be allowed to have visitors four hours a week.  That time can be spent however you see fit.  Fighters bring their kids in here, their girlfriends, their mistresses.  I've seen it all.  As you become a more senior member of the Drawing Board, you will be allowed to have nights out and weekend furloughs.  However, they will only be permitted with your counselor, sponsor and trainer's approval. 

Through these doors and down the hallway are the Drawing Board's residential quarters.  Your rooms will have an enormous bed, featuring 750 thread-count sheets and extra long mattresses.  The room also has a massage table, home entertainment systems, a Jacuzzi.  It's actually real nice.  Dinner time is at 7:30 every night and after that, the time is yours.  The Drawing Board does not permit drugs or alcohol, although they do bring in some champagne and wine for Film Night.  During your stay, you will have access to our chef, our sports therapists, our athletic and training staff, you name it.  If you take care of yourself, the Drawing Board will take care of you.

Come with me in here, this is our home theater.  It seats 24.  As you get more advanced in your treatment, we will show you, and select guests, a film of your best moments as a boxer.  This is the last step before leaving the Drawing Board.  During Film Night, the Drawing Board throws a big party for you and invites its other fighters and your close relations for a big celebration.  The idea of Film Night is to give fighters that final bit of confidence as the re-enter the civilian world.  After Film Night, fighters are finally ready for the next challenge in boxing.  I'm hoping my Film Night is soon.  I've heard rumors that I might be only a month or two away.

In here is the Press Rroom.  Each week, you'll sit at the long table up front and answer a series of questions by our professional staff.  Here you will provide answers about your career, and what your goals and objectives are. 

Oh, I forgot, before each Press Room session, they'll present to you your Individual Motivational and Goal Assessment.  The I.M.G.A could be  slides of your childhood, your early birthday parties, your neighborhood, your high school graduation, your first girlfriend, your one-room apartment where you grew up.  The goal is to remind you that if things go right there will be opportunities for you in your future.  In many cases the past is why we originally turned to boxing.  It's complicated and tricky, but it works. 

In the Press Room, the questions get tough and these sessions prepare you for the boxing media.  Here we learn to take responsibility for our performances and not blame others for any shortcomings that we may have.  The media, if used correctly, can help you throughout your career.  Even though you don't like what they write about you today, if you take care of your business, the media will take care of you.  There is no sport in the world where the media have as much power.  It is up to you to take advantage of that. 

Ok.  That's the quick and dirty tour.  I have to run and meet my sponsor.  I'm sure we'll be seeing each other around real soon.  Just settle in and you'll be meeting with your counselor in a little bit.  Best of luck at the Drawing Board.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Fever

The Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley fight is the featured boxing event of the spring.  I'm sure there are a number of other venues to get a full rundown of that fight.  I would like to highlight some other intriguing fights that will take place over the next few months.  Five fights in particular look like great matchups.

Fight:                    Bernard Hopkins vs. Jean Pascal
When:                   May 21
What's at Stake:   Light Heavyweight Supremacy: The Rematch

This rematch will settle the disputed outcome of their first fight.  Pascal knocked down Hopkins twice (one of the shots was behind Hopkins' head and shouldn't have counted) but Hopkins won almost all of the later rounds and the fight was ruled a majority draw.  Most ringside observers thought the old man won.  Hopkins rejuvenated his career (yet again!) with his performance, fighting more aggressively than he had in recent years and pummeling the younger Pascal as the fight progressed.  It was the best Hopkins has looked since the Kelly Pavlik fight.  After the Pascal fight, Hopkins negotiated a sporty three-fight deal with HBO, provided that he keeps winning -- not bad for a 46-year old.   

For Pascal, the questions remain.  He didn't fight three-minutes a round, which provided opportunities for Hopkins.  Pascal also didn't throw enough punches to win many of the later rounds.  His endurance faded substantially down the stretch.  For Pascal to beat Hopkins (and he certainly can), he's going to have to take the fight to his older opponent and win it in the trenches.  The Roy Jones flurries may have worked for Roy Jones against Hopkins, but Pascal, to his chagrin, is not Roy Jones.  Pascal's going to have to be the busier fighter and throw power shots instead of flashy combinations.  He must make Hopkins respect his power, which will reduce the veteran's work rate.  Does Hopkins have another great fight in him?  If Pascal insists on his 30-second, mid-round breaks, Hopkins can pull off the victory and become the oldest champion in the history of boxing.

Fight:                     Sebastian Zbik vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.
When:                    June 4
What's at Stake:    Big Money Fights at Middleweight

Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., the scion of perhaps the most revered fighter in the history of Mexico, doesn't have his father's work ethic.  Throughout his career, Junior's refused to keep himself in-shape between fights, he's been suspended for banned substances, he's skipped training and he's fought very mediocre opposition.  This isn't the traditional route to a championship fight.  Luckily, the WBC has a soft spot for anything Mexican (see Alvarez, Saul for another example), and he will be fighting for Sergio Martinez's belt, which the sanctioning body stripped from him for no particular reason.  Junior does have a good left hook and wisely enlisted Freddie Roach, so he has at least two things going for him.  Oh yeah, the fight is also in Southern California, where Chavez will draw a huge crowd, and Junior will be the house fighter for the promotion.

Essentially, Zbik has to win 10 rounds of this fight to get the decision.  Zbik is not a joke opponent; he is an interim titleholder.  The German has won some nice fights on the European circuit.  He has solid technique, good conditioning and excellent ring generalship.  For Zbik, a win can lead to a big fight with Sergio Martinez.  I don't think he has enough power to hurt Martinez, but Zbik would make a credible opponent.  For Junior, a win leads to big-money fights where he can continue his career fighting B-level fighters for oodles of money, now bankrolled by U.S. premium cable.  I don't see a scenario where Top Rank would risk their cash cow by facing Martinez.  Expect a solid, technical fight.  The battle may come down to Chavez's power versus Zbik's conditioning.  

Fight:                     Carl Froch vs. Glen Johnson
When:                    June 4
What's at Stake:    The Super-Six Tournament Finals

When two brawlers with great chins face each other, expect sparks to fly.  Old Glen Johnson is still in the thick of things at super middleweight.  We know for certain that he'll be in shape, fire the 1-2 and give a professional effort.  With Johnson, Froch has an opponent who will be there to hit.  It's up to Froch to remain disciplined.  I'm sure he'd love to go toe-to-toe with Johnson, but Froch should instead pick his spots and prepare to win this fight on points.  

Johnson needs Froch to provide some cooperation.  Froch sometimes can get reckless and drop his hands.  Also, Froch's footwork is unconventional to say the least.  If Johnson keeps firing away, he can score a knockdown with an off-balance Froch.  Both fighters start slowly and come on late in fights.  Froch needs to keep his work rate high in the early rounds and pile up the points.  The winner will most certainly face Andre Ward, who should defeat Arthur Abraham, unless he gets caught with something unforeseen. 

Fight:                     Saul Alvarez vs. Ryan Rhodes
When:                    June 18
What's at Stake:    Alvarez's Ceiling

Make no mistake, with Ryan Rhodes, Alvarez will be in a real fight.  After facing a series of blown-up welterweights and junior welterweights (Jose Cotto, Carlos Baldomir, Lovemore N'Dou and Matthew Hatton), Alvarez will tangle with his first, top-ten junior middleweight.  Rhodes is the definition of a journeyman.  He actually fought for his first title over 13-years ago!  For Rhodes, his career has been revived after dropping down to 154.  Fighting as high as light heavyweight, the additional focus on conditioning has prolonged his career and he now has perhaps his biggest fight.  Rhodes, an English southpaw, doesn't have real power but he can be a brawler.  He should provide Alvarez with some challenging moments.

If Alvarez is as good as the hype, he should dispatch Rhodes in a competitive fight.  If this is a case of "too much too soon," then Rhodes has a real chance to win.  Alvarez must establish his power and keep his work rate high.  Mixing in various punches will go a long way because Rhodes can be one-dimensional.  A good victory sets up Alvarez for even bigger things.

Fight:                     Devon Alexander vs. Lucas Matthysse
When:                    June 25
What's at stake:    Premium-Television Love

Forgive me for stealing a few days into the start of summer for the fifth fight of this series.  HBO was kind enough to award a return date to Devon Alexander as part of the negotiations for the Tim Bradley fight.  HBO guaranteed Alexander a  second chance.  If Alexander puts forth another lackluster performance, there won't be a third chance.  Matthysse, the Argentine banger, acquitted himself well against Zab Judah in a fight where many observers thought he pulled off the victory.  Matthysse had the right strategy against Judah; he just didn't execute it early enough in the fight.  A real puncher, Matthysse must close the distance to Alexander in the early rounds and test his chin.  Keeping the fight in close quarters will give him the best shot at victory.  For Alexander, he must remember to bring his uppercut to the fight, establish it and make Matthysse think twice about coming in too often.  Alexander must be willing to fight 12, tough rounds and ignore the distractions of fighting at home.  Alexander has to win, and look good. 

The winner of this fight will land a big name, although perhaps not immediately.  Let's assume that the winner of the proposed Khan-Bradley fight will face Zab Judah to unify all the titles.  The loser of Khan-Bradley makes an ideal opponent for Matthysse.  If Khan loses, an Alexander-Khan fight would be a solid matchup.  Even if these fights don't happen immediately, eventually the unified champion will have to give up some of his titles.  These title opportunities will be available for the winner of Matthysse-Alexander.