Monday, August 29, 2011

August 2011 Rankings Movement

Before examining the August SNB Rankings updates, I thought it would be worthwhile to delineate and clarify what the four different ranking levels represent:
1.   SNB Elite Fighters – This is the most obvious list.  These boxers are the best of the best.  I have not capped it at 10 because, to my eyes, there are currently 12 elite fighters in the sport.  Also, you will notice that all of the lists are alphabetical by the fighter's first name.  Clearly, Amir Khan is not the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in boxing at this juncture.
2.   Fighters on the Cusp – These are the boxers who are one big victory away from becoming elite.  Many of them are long-time champions who haven't had that signature win yet.  Others have been titlists who haven't felt the need to unify belts.
3.   10 Boxers on the Rise – The 10 Boxers on the Rise list is the only one that is capped.  The fighters on this list are all titleholders who have significant forward momentum and buzz in their careers.  Many of these fighters will face significant challenges in the next 12 months, which will give them the opportunity to establish dominance in the sport and further ascend the Rankings.
4.   Bubbling Under – This list is reserved for two kinds of fighters: 1. Obscure titleholders who deserve a little more recognition (Anselmo Moreno, Gennady Golovkin). 2. Up-and-coming fighters who have demonstrated that they are worthy of additional attention (Kell Brook, Mike Jones).
With that, let's examine the rankings movement for August.  Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated fight of the month was cancelled (Maidana-Guerrero) because of Robert Guerrero's shoulder injury.  With a new slot open on the 10 Boxers on the Rise list, I felt that the most worthy candidate to fill that spot was Roman Gonzalez.  August's most notable card occurred last weekend, with Alexander Povetkin and Robert Helenius scoring impressive victories.
Elevated: Roman Gonzalez  Let's face it: the junior flyweight division doesn't get a lot of attention, but Gonzalez, an undefeated titlist from Nicaragua, has distinguished himself.  Gonzalez packs a big punch, knocking out 24 of his 29 opponents.  Also, he was formerly a strawweight champion.  Gonzalez has fought all of his matches in Nicaragua, Mexico and Japan, but he will be making his American debut in October against former titlist Gilberto Keb Baas.  Gonzalez enters the SNB Rankings on the 10 Boxers on the Rise list.  

Elevated: Alexander Povetkin  Povetkin, a Russian heavyweight, notched one of the biggest victories in his career this month by defeating former champion Ruslan Chagaev.  Povetkin, the 2004 Olympics super heavyweight gold medalist, picked up a paper title with the victory.  To this point, he has avoided fighting Wladimir Klitschko on two separate occasions, but he has a chance to establish himself at heavyweight by beating other boxers in the non-Klitschko portion of the division.  He enters the SNB Rankings on the Bubbling Under list.

Elevated: Robert Helenius  An obscure Finnish heavyweight with only modest amateur experience, Helenius knocked out his third former champion this month.  Having now defeated Siarhei Liakhovich, Samuel Peter and Lamon Brewster, Helenius has opened eyes with his power and ability to finish.  Only 27, Helenius has a chance to be a force in the heavyweight division over the next decade.  He also joins the Bubbling Under list.

Demoted: Robert Guerrero  Ill fortune has befallen Guerrero yet again as his opportunity to dislodge junior welterweight brawler Marcos Maidana was derailed because of a shoulder injury.  For a variety of reasons, Guerrero's career has never gained proper momentum.  With his injury, Guerrero, fighting out of California, may be on the shelf for up to six months, and it may take much longer to reestablish his current position within the sport.  Because of his impending inactivity, Guerrero falls off the 10 Boxers on the Rise list.  

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (    

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Notes from Povetkin-Chagaev, Helenius-Liakhovich

  • The Alexander Povetkin-Ruslan Chagaev fight was there for the taking.  Chagaev won rounds with his straight left hand while Povetkin scored with his high punch output.  The crucial factor in this fight was conditioning.  Povetkin was able to catch his second wind in the last third of the match while Chagaev's punch volume deteriorated.   
  • Chris Mannix, from the EPIX broadcast made a crucial point in round 11 regarding Povetkin.  He said, "It's almost if Povetkin realized that the best defense is good offense."  Essentially this was the determining factor in the fight.  If Povetkin continued to press on with his jab and combinations, Chagaev wouldn't counter.  In the middle rounds of the fight, Povetkin turned passive, or was conserving energy, and Chagaev unloaded some vicious left hands and right hooks.  As Povetkin raised his activity level, he swept the remaining rounds of the fight. 
  • Povetkin's power didn't faze Chagaev, but he won rounds with an array of punches and crisp combinations.  He's only a medium puncher at best.  For Chagaev, he had success with the lead left from rounds 4-6 and waited for more opportunities to land the punch.  However, Povetkin's work rate curtailed Chagaev's ability to set up the left.  Throughout the entire fight, Chagaev was unable to transition well from defense to offense. 
  • For Chagaev, this is a colossal setback.  Falling to Wladimir Klitschko is one thing, but to lose a winnable fight by getting outworked is embarrassing.  He did not have the energy or creativity to mount much of an offense in the last four rounds of the fight.  For a man they once called "The White Tyson," Chagaev more often looked like he was waving the white flag.  I don't know where he goes from here but any heavyweight who is active and can take his punch will fare well against him.
  • It's clear what Teddy Atlas has been trying to do with Povetkin.  Instead of flinging amateur-style jabs and token combinations, Povetkin is learning to sit down on his punches better.  Povetkin will never have intimidating power, but his punches score with expert placement and technique.  In the past he would nervously wing shots, now he is acting more cerebrally in the ring, taking advantage of the opportunities provided by his opponents.  Additionally, Atlas has made improvements with Povetkin's defense.  Povetkin used to have problems with getting out of range; he was very susceptible to counters after his offensive flurries.  His defense against Chagaev was much improved.
  • Povetkin's greatest attribute in the ring is his high energy level.  For a division that has been plagued by lumbering sloths (with the exception of the Klitschkos), Povetkin's activity level must surprise many fighters who are used to winning by throwing 20-30 punches per round.  Atlas wants to put more substance behind Povetkin's punches and you can slowly see some of the changes taking place.
  • Povetkin would stand no chance against the Klitschkos but he would have a legitimate shot to win against all others in the division.  Perhaps the biggest confidence builder from this fight was how well his chin held up to Chagaev's bombs.  In the future, some lateral movement would help him become less predictable.  
  • For Atlas, it certainly seemed strange to invoke Povetkin's late father between rounds as a motivational tactic.  I certainly don't know Povetkin well enough to determine whether that was a factor in him pulling away over the last few rounds.  Perhaps Atlas saw the obvious: the fight was winnable as long as Povetkin stayed aggressive.  Atlas believes that fights are most often won or lost between the ears.  It's impossible to say whether or not he inspired Povetkin in the last few rounds, but clearly Atlas will sleep well tonight, with his fighter beating a former champion with only three weeks of preparation.
  • Robert Helenius demonstrated why he is a force to be reckoned with at heavyweight.  With a beautiful ninth round knockout over Siarhei Liakhovich, Helenius put the division on notice that his power will be a factor against any heavyweight.  He fights with the knowledge that very few people can withstand 12 rounds of his right hand.  Helenius' accuracy is another asset.  He throws his right hand often and lands it frequently.  His uppercut and jab routinely hit the mark as well.
  • He seemed happy to trade on the inside because he knew that his opponent would be in range for additional right hands.  Helenius ate more left hooks than he needed to but I'm fairly certain that he wanted to draw Liakhovich in.  Team Helenius had studied the Shannon Briggs fight and correctly assessed that Liakhovich couldn't withstand too many hard right hands. 
  • The final knockout featured everything you would want from a heavyweight.  A jab set up the right hand, which led to a left hook.  He closed the show with another right hand and finished with a pulverizing left uppercut.  Ultimately, heavyweights aren't used to defending against so many different types of hard shots.   
  • However, his performance wasn't flawless.  He neglected his left hook in favor of the one-two.  He still needs to work on that punch.  It seems that of all of his punches, he is least confident in the hook.  It could have been a key punch in countering Liakhovich and that opening was there for him all night, but he didn't throw the counter left nearly enough.  
  • Helenius also didn't tie up Liakhovich on the inside.  He could have made the fight easier for himself by leaning on his opponent and using his physicality to wear Liakhovich down.  Additionally, Helenius kept his right hand too low.  Liakhovich had real success with left hooks to the head and body because of Helenius' glove placement.  If Helenius were ever to face a Klitschko, he would have to correct this flaw in order to have any sort of a chance.  Wladimir would pepper him all night with jabs and left hooks. 
  • For Liakhovich, he put forth a game effort and fought with more passion than at any point since the Lamon Brewster fight.  He was in good condition and his punch output was high.  However, his chin just couldn't withstand good right hands.  His success in the fight came at an enormous cost.  In order to get in close and land his power shots, he had to eat dozens of punishing right hands.  Liakhovich probably wasn't going to win this fight on the outside, but he had only a miniscule chance of winning a slugfest in close quarters.  His success in the 4th and 6th rounds was fool's gold, for it emboldened him to take more risks on the inside, playing into Helenius' strategy.  
  • Liakhovich has had a distinguished career.  He won a title and the Brewster fight was probably the best heavyweight scrap of the young century.  However, he was never the same fighter after that war.  In all probability, he is finished as a serious contender.  
  • Sauerland Event has moved Helenius aggressively and it will be fascinating to see who they will match him with next.  Perhaps it will be a fight with Tomasz Adamek, if he loses to Vitali Klitschko next month.  Another exciting possibility would be David Haye.  Whichever direction they decide to go in, Sauerland has a live heavyweight on their hands, one who has the talent and power to awaken slumbering fans of the division.    

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (    

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SNB Nuggets (Hopkins-Dawson, Guerrero, Adamek)

Anyone who watched Chad Dawson toy with quality fighters like Tomasz Adamek, Antonio Tarver and Adrian Diaconu knows that Dawson is an elite talent in the light heavyweight division.  However, in assessing his next fight against Bernard Hopkins, it's perhaps best to evaluate Dawson in the fights in which he has struggled. 

In his first fight against Glen Johnson, Dawson was cruising in the early rounds until Johnson landed a series of big right hands in the middle stanzas.  Dawson seemed shell-shocked throughout the rest of the fight.  Against Jean Pascal, Dawson fell behind substantially on the scorecards, unable to cope with Pascal's idiosyncratic offensive flurries.  In both of Dawson's problem fights, he showed an unwillingness to engage his opponents.  Against Johnson, he ran throughout most of the second half of the fight.  With Pascal, he seemed uncomfortable leading until later on in the fight when Pascal's energy started to flag.  

The two fights illustrate a substantial ring flaw of Dawson's that will be exploited by Hopkins; Dawson does not make adjustments well.  

Hopkins can lead or counter.  He can start with the jab or begin exchanges with his straight right hand.  At times, he uses lateral movement but he also charges straight forward.  In short, Hopkins is a psychological master in the ring and based on Dawson's performances in his most challenging fights, it's uncertain whether he can overcome Hopkins' creative tactics, gamesmanship and tricks.  

And although Dawson now features Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner, Steward can't force his boxer to throw punches or fight Hopkins aggressively.  In fact, Dawson's default nature can often be passive.  He seems most comfortable picking up points with his superior technique, avoiding risk whenever possible.  

Hopkins will not permit Dawson to smoothly maneuver around the ring.  He will press Dawson with his lead right hand, left hook to the body and inside grappling.  Dawson will have to prepare himself for a war – not one with thousands of punches being exchanged, but a psychological battle, whereby every decision of his will be attacked and countered.

As a soldier, Dawson might be an excellent marksman.  At the firing range, he can hit the target from hundreds of yards away.  He could win competitions and trophies with his form and technique.  But, to this point, Dawson is not combat tested.  How will he be able to recalibrate both physically and psychologically when the enemy fires back and his shots start to miss their mark?

It's quite possible that Robert Guerrero could be one of the top-15 fighters in all of boxing.  However, forces inside and outside the ring have curtailed his visibility in the sport.  Over the last three years, several incidents have kept him from achieving greater glory in boxing.  He begged out in the second round of an HBO fight against Daud Yordan because of a cut.  His wife underwent treatment for leukemia where he had to tend to his family.   He also suffered a couple of key injuries.  Most recently, he had to scrap a fight against Marcos Maidana because of a torn rotator cuff.  Maidana-Guerrero was seen by many as one of the best fights of the year and its cancellation is another blow to Guerrero's career momentum.  He might miss an additional six month after undergoing surgery.

Guerrero has already defeated former lightweight champion Joel Casamayor as well as Michael Katsidis and Vicente Escobedo – two solid names within the division.  The Katsidis fight demonstrated that Guerrero might be something special in the ring.  He dominated the brawler with his large offensive arsenal, size, hand speed and ring generalship.  With just a few notable exceptions, Katsidis was unable to get close to Guerrero; it was a tremendous performance.

Moving up to junior welterweight to face Maidana, Guerrero had the opportunity to headline an HBO event and defeat one of the best warriors in the sport.  That so many boxing observers favored Guerrero over Maidana indicates just how much talent he possesses.

Spending six months on the shelf could be a significant career setback for Guerrero.  By the time he returns to the ring, it may be possible that Amir Khan, Devon Alexander and Tim Bradley all will have moved up to welterweight.  Although Guerrero has indicated that he could eventually wind up at 147 lbs., he first needs to prove to himself and his promoter, Golden Boy, that he has the physicality and chin to withstand the best at junior welterweight.  The landscape at 140 lbs. won't be as pleasing when Guerrero returns as it is at this moment. 

For Guerrero, he has endured traumas far greater than a torn rotator cuff.  He is still young (28) and finds himself in the prime of his career.  If he can get back into fighting shape, there eventually will be big game to be had.  However, there's no mistaking that he has missed out on several high-profile opportunities. 

Tomasz Adamek has done everything asked of him since moving to heavyweight.  He has fought often, built a loyal fan base, impressed in his lone premium cable appearance and sought out opponents who would best prepare him to defeat a Klitschko.  All of these things are praiseworthy, but he still won't stand much of a chance against Vitali Klitschko next month.  

At heavyweight, Adamek no longer has the physical advantages that enabled him to pick up titles at light heavyweight and cruiserweight.  In those divisions, Adamek was a brawler and a pressure fighter who won matches in close quarters.  At heavyweight, Adamek doesn't have the physical stature to rough up opponents.  He also lacks a heavyweight punch, stopping only three of his seven opponents during his tenure in the division. 

His chin at heavyweight is also in question.  He expertly maneuvered past Chris Arreola to win a decision.  However, in that fight, he avoided direct exchanges on the inside whenever possible.  Additionally, he was significantly bothered by Michael Grant's power.    

Adamek's blueprint against Klitschko will be to stick and move, using the ring to confound the older and slower giant.  However, the execution of that strategy will be challenged on many fronts.  Does Adamek have the skill to elude Klitschko for 12 rounds?  Will Adamek be able to land enough shots to win rounds?  Will his body and chin hold up to Klitschko's power and physicality? 

Surely, Adamek has earned his title shot.  He can be counted on to put forth a game effort, but his path to victory is treacherous.  Vitali has dominated all of the mere boxing mortals he has faced.  Adamek does not have Lennox Lewis' punch and it's uncertain if he has the offensive firepower that would give him a better chance of winning than any of Vitali's other recent victims. 

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (  

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Fact Finding Mission about Robert Helenius

1.  Who?
Robert Helenius (15-0, 10 KOs), heavyweight contender, who fights out of Germany, but is originally from Finland.

2.  Why should I care?
Helenius has already knocked out former heavyweight titleholders Lamon Brewster and Sam Peter.  He faces another former titlist Siarhei Liakhovich this weekend.  He may be only one or two fights away from fighting for the heavyweight title.

3.  But the heavyweight division is putrid.  Why would Helenius be any different than the others who have faced the Klitschkos and failed to impress?
It is true that the Klitschkos have dominated their division.  However, they won't be around forever.  Helenius is only 27 and he's going to be a major factor in the division over the next decade. 

4.  OK, so what makes this kid special? 
The best thing about Helenius is his rapid improvement.  After only knocking out 1 of his first 5 opponents (all of whom had mediocre professional records), he has stopped his last 9 out of 10, which includes KOs of two former champions and a title challenger.

Helenius features an excellent offensive arsenal and has solid defensive skills.  Also, he is incredibly accurate with his punches, especially his jab and straight right hand.  His grasp of spacing and his ring generalship far belies his experience of only 15 professional fights.

5.  Is his power legit?
He knocks people out mostly from an accumulation of punishment.  He has a solid right hand and he can also end fights with his left hook or left uppercut. 

6.  The knockouts are nice, but there are many fighters who have built up records against fading, former champions.  What makes him world-class?
It remains to be seen whether Helenius will be able to reach that level.  He has a number of things going for him.  He is well trained, having Ulli Wegner in his corner.  Helenius controls distance magnificently, frequently employing his stinging jab or counter left hook to keep opponents off of him.  He also features some subtle, veteran defensive moves, which minimize his opponents' offense.  He uses his left hand and forearm to keep his opponents at bay as they attempt to come forward.  He also shifts back or to the side as they approach him, thwarting their timing.  In short, he anticipates their offensive flurries very well and takes himself out of harm's way.

Helenius features an uncommonly large offensive arsenal for a heavyweight.  His jab may not be on Wladimir Klitschko's level, but it could be the second best in the division.  It's a hard jab that causes a lot of damage in it of itself.  He also throws fluid combinations, featuring left hooks, straight rights and uppercuts.  All are above-average punches.  His counter left hook is really outstanding.

He also utilizes his size very well.  At over 6'6" and weighing about 240, he fights tall and doesn't get sloppy in the ring. His opponents have to work very hard just to get close to him.  Like other well-schooled veterans, Helenius knows how to tie-up on the inside, deftly using his physicality on the inside to further weigh down his opponents.  However, unlike Wladimir Klitschko, he's not afraid to go to the body and can certainly mix it up on the inside. 

7.  So what are his weaknesses?
Helenius doesn't move very well laterally.  He could be susceptible to stick-and-move guys like Eddie Chambers or even someone like Alexander Povetkin who features a high work rate and can get out of the pocket.  Sam Peter's power bothered him early in their fight before Helenius adjusted to it.  Who knows how many right hands he could take from Vitali or Wladimir Klitschko, but that could be said about any heavyweight.

Technically, he sometimes lets opponents escape, because he underutilizes his left hook.  Thus, if boxers continue to circle to his left, he can have problems cutting off the ring.  He also can give away rounds early in a fight, feeling out his opponents instead of boxing aggressively.   

8.  You mentioned Ulli Wegner earlier.  Where have I heard that name before?
Wegner trains many of the top boxers in the Sauerland Event stable.  His most notable name is Arthur Abraham.  He has also trained former titleholders Sven Ottke, Markus Beyer and Oktay Urkal.  Most of his boxers fight in the classic, European upright style.  Wegner is very good at teaching defense, spacing, quick and powerful combinations and the finer points of ring generalship.  

9.  Sauerland seems to be moving Helenius very fast.  Did he have an extensive amateur career?
Helenius was a good but not great amateur.  He won a silver medal at the European Amateur Boxing Championships, although he failed to qualify for the Olympics.  Overall, he never won a notable amateur tournament; however, he often did place well.  

In a telling quote (courtesy of Eastside Boxing), Helenius speaks candidly about his middling amateur success and the modest start to his professional career:  

"I would say at the beginning I wasn’t physically better like now because I was really lazy as an amateur training. I wasn’t training that well and when I came to Sauerland it started a whole new level of training. So the first fights I was only getting used to the hard training and stuff like that so it was good to have some distance fights with them because you get the experience and stuff like that and how it feels to be in a professional ring. Now I’m more physical and more stable and more physical. I’ve improved really a lot since my first few fights. I think it’s much in my head. I’m more stable and I feel better and I could do stuff in the ring that I couldn’t do before because I was afraid my conditioning would end soon. Now I feel more secure."

That quote is fascinating, for it illustrates that Helenius felt that he lacked the conditioning and, frankly, the self-confidence to perform at the highest levels of the sport.  Although it's fairly unique to see boxers speaking about personal insecurity, perhaps Helenius' perspective could be best understood through the prism of the Finnish boxing program.  Essentially, Helenius was the Finnish boxing program! 

Growing up in Finland, what were the realistic expectations that he could amount to a serious boxing prospect in a country with very little historical success in the sport?  What boxing infrastructure was in place in Finland for him to become an elite amateur?  Who were the esteemed coaches or fellow boxers he had to help inspire him and take him to the next level?  With these factors under consideration, it's understandable how a young boxer from a country with such a limited boxing history could feel insecure about his future prospects in the sport.

In essence, Helenius is a trailblazer.  He has massively superseded whatever modest expectations were placed on him as an amateur from Finland.  With Wegner, Helenius has augmented his knowledge base of boxing fundamentals.  He also has significantly improved his professionalism and physical conditioning.   As a result, Helenius has harnessed his raw talents to a level where he can now knock out former champions with great chins.   So his amateur career wasn't spectacular, but, in his case, there were mitigating circumstances that a mere amateur win-loss record fails to capture.

10. So how will he do against Liakhovich?
Like most of his recent fights, Helenius will win by late-round knockout.  Liakhovich's chin is questionable and he can wilt in the later rounds of tough fights.  Expect a close fight early, but Helenius will gradually pull away.  Liakhovich falls in the ninth or tenth round. 

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Does Berto Need to Show?

Andre Berto suffered his first career loss earlier this year in a grueling match against Victor Ortiz.  Both fighters were knocked down twice but Ortiz had more success throughout the night.  Berto didn't have answers for Ortiz's power shots and relentless pressure.  It was a spectacular fight and Berto experienced his first, real ring war. 

Berto's next opponent is Jan Zaveck, a titleholder from Slovenia, who is based out of Germany.  In addition to the U.S. location of the fight, Berto will be favored because of his superior skills and pedigree.  However, he is under pressure, not just to win the fight, but to look good in the process.  If he answers the following questions against Zaveck, he will have demonstrated that his career is back on an upward trajectory:

Can he overcome his chin problems?
It's not a state secret to reveal that during his rise to a title, Team Berto protected him from punchers.  He was dropped by light-hitting Cosme Rivera and was rocked by the slick boxer, Luis Collazo.  Ortiz reaffirmed Berto's chin issues with his two knockdowns.  Against Ortitz, tasting the canvas was not the end of Berto's problems.  What was more worrisome was how poorly he recovered from the knockdowns.  There were large portions of the fight where he seemed listless,  lacking energy and agility.  It's not yet clear if Berto has the ability to recuperate well in the ring.

Zaveck is not a massive puncher but he can certainly stop people, winning his belt by knocking out Issac Hlatshwayo.  In his last fight, Zaveck ko'ed lightly-regarded Paul Delgado.  Zaveck is a solid combination puncher and likes to throw quick flurries in tight quarters.  He has a good jab, but he uses it mostly to get in firing range for his right hand.  A typical Zaveck flurry consists of leading with one, sharp jab, landing the right behind it and then throwing three or four power shots in close range.  He will dig to the body and throw uppercuts.  He hardly throws his left hook.

Against Zaveck, Berto's challenge will be to avoid the right hand.  Zaveck throws that punch from awkward angles.  It's not a straight shot, yet it finds its target.  His snapping jab provides him with the cover to throw the right.  Berto must expect the right hand as soon as Zaveck throws his jab, for he rarely doubles it up.  In short, how Zaveck starts offensive sequences is predictable.  Berto should be able to time him and counter effectively with his right hand or left hook.  However, expect Zaveck to land some solid combinations at various points throughout the fight; eventually, Berto's chin will be tested.

Will he listen to his trainer?
To say that Berto's corner was dysfunctional during the Ortiz fight is a massive understatement.  Berto's trainer, Tony Morgan, was wisely instructing Berto to avoid trading with Ortiz.  Meanwhile, Berto's brother was in the corner telling him that he was "an assassin," and imploring him to go to war.  As a result, confusion reigned.  Berto didn't change tactics throughout the fight and never adjusted to Ortiz's offensive onslaught.

It's clear that Morgan and Berto will have a plan going into the fight with Zaveck.  The question is: what happens when something goes wrong?  Will Berto heed his trainer's advice and execute Morgan's plan?  The sign of a mature fighter is one who trusts his corner implicitly.    

That is not to say that Morgan is a time-tested cornerman; Berto is his highest-profile fighter.  Because of Berto's impressive skills and his mediocre opposition throughout most of his career, the Morgan/Berto combination hasn’t faced too many challenges in the ring.  They squeaked out a decision against Collazo but were unable to right the ship against Ortiz.  The Zaveck fight will help reveal whether this tandem has a prosperous future together.  Morgan has demonstrated innovative fight plans, but can he control the other voices in the corner and will Berto listen to him when times get tough?

Will he remember his uppercut?  
Berto throws a tremendous uppercut; however, that punch was mysteriously absent against Ortiz.  In fact, the Ortiz fight demonstrated that Berto is uncomfortable throwing his uppercut in close quarters.  Instead, he prefers to fire it from medium range.  Zaveck will give Berto opportunities to throw his uppercut.  He never really leaves the pocket and can be caught coming in.  Unlike Ortiz, Zaveck does not apply constant pressure and fights only in spurts.  Berto could neutralize a lot of Zaveck's aggression with the uppercut.

Can he be creative in the ring?
Berto spent much of the Ortiz fight waiting for the perfect opportunity to throw his counter right hand.  In the sixth, he found an opening and landed it.  That counter right may have been the most impressive connected punch of his entire career.  It dropped Ortiz, who was badly hurt.  However, Berto was almost in disbelief that Ortiz beat the count and continued to march forward.  Berto spent many rounds looking for opportunities to land the punch again; it never happened.

Berto seems to fight in one style throughout a match.  Against Carlos Quintana, he was the aggressor and used his size to batter him on the inside.  Facing Juan Urango, he moved exquisitely and coasted to an easy victory.  Against Ortiz, Berto became a brawler.   During the course of a fight, Berto has had difficulty transitioning from one style to another.  He seemed to run out of ideas against Ortiz, or was too busy trying to survive.

Zaveck is there to be hit.  He leaves himself vulnerable, wildly coming in to throw his combinations.  Berto could score in these situations with counter uppercuts or looping/wide shots.  Additionally, Zaveck doesn't get out of range after he fires; he could be susceptible to a check hook or an overhand right.  Berto will also have opportunities to land first and establish his jab.  In short, Zaveck presents Berto with chances to unleash his entire offensive arsenal.  However, does Berto have the fluidity and ring IQ to throw the right punches or combinations at the appropriate times?

Ultimately, Berto's ability to answer these four questions will help determine if he will ever become an elite boxer.  Many young fighters get derailed on their quest to the top.  Will Berto be able to recover from his loss by adding new dimensions in the ring, or will he falter and wilt under pressure?  With a convincing victory, Berto sets himself up for another run atop the welterweight division, where a big name like Manny Pacquiao could loom in the not-too-distant future.  But if Berto loses to Zaveck, or even struggles to win, his ceiling as a fighter will be sharply lowered from where it was 12 months ago.

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What to Make of the Klitschkos?

September 24, 2005.  That's the last time that one of Klitschkos was in a competitive fight.  Since that night, the heavyweight brothers have fought 18 times and have destroyed their opponents.  Only four fights have gone the distance. 

The Klitschkos have not endeared themselves to the boxing public, outside of Germany, the Ukraine and some other Eastern European countries.  By now, they have received belated respect for their longevity and accomplishments from most boxing observers, but never adulation.  They seem robotic, cerebral and lacking passion.

The Klitschkos view boxing, almost in an English sense, as "sport," and you get the feeling that to them, boxing is not life or death.  They see opponents as obstacles to overcome or as problems to solve.  In short, they are "professionals," possessing all of the positive and negative attributes that that word suggests.  They are excellent at their jobs, but their fights do have the feel of "another day at the office."  The Klitschkos are fitness freaks and never beat themselves outside of the ring.  They want to entertain and put forth a good effort, but they are too calculating and, frankly, talented to fight with the type of reckless disregard, risk-taking, or showmanship which converts new fans.  They have scored spectacular knockouts, but the often clinical destruction of their opponents can take on a mirthless quality. 

In addition, the brothers have rarely ventured outside of Germany for their fights, basking in the comforts of their lucrative German TV contracts and robust box office numbers.  Since Wladimir regained his title in 2006, he has fought in America twice. Coming back from retirement, Vitali has exclusively defended his title in Germany except for one fight in the U.S. and another in German-speaking Switzerland.  His next fight will be in Poland in September.   

During their title reigns, The Klitschkos have not become global boxing ambassadors, and it's clear that these two champions and PhDs fight more for sporting pleasure than personal validation.  They have tons of interests outside of the ring.   They have a command of a multitude of languages and cultures, but socially and politically, they remain close to home (either Germany or the Ukraine).  Both have spoken out against corruption in the Ukraine.  (Vitali previously ran for mayor of the country's capital city, Kiev.)  Vitali does own property in the U.S., but he keeps a low profile when in America. 

The heavyweight champion of the world used to be one of the most recognizable and powerful figures in all of sport.  Many were larger-than-life figures like Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston and Mike Tyson.  The Champ was not just an emissary for boxing, travelling and fighting around the world, but an international star.   Comparing the Klitschkos to these past, elevated standards, they seem bland and, perhaps, irrelevant.  It's not enough for the heavyweight champ to win his fights; he has to galvanize the public at-large.     

As the old pugilistic saying states, "As they heavyweights go, so goes boxing."  In this current era of uncompetitive heavyweight fights, more than a few boxing observers and casual fans lament over the diminishment of the sport.  With the heavyweight division in an uninspired moment, the glory days of Ali-Frazier or Bowe-Holyfield are now distant memories. 

But the sport has survived and even thrived with a lesser heavyweight division.  Boxing fans have discovered new stars like Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.  If boxing's popularity has ebbed some in the United States over the last generation, the sport has demonstrated sensational international growth during this period.  In several parts of the world (e.g. the Philippines, Indonesia, Germany, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Canada), the sport is as strong as it has ever been.  Other countries such as Argentina, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Japan and the U.K, have seen the sport return to prominence.  

The Klitschkos, in fact, have helped lead this growth, with Germany (where they fight), the Ukraine (where they hail from) and Russia (where they became part of the amateur system) having their most successful eras of professional boxing. 

Still, there is no denying that the lack of competitive heavyweight matches is bad for the sport.  Here, the Klitschkos face two lines of criticism.  1. They are too big physically for the division.  2. They are facing a historic level of subpar opposition.  Both claims are spurious, but let's examine them in more detail.

Yes, the Klitschkos are bigger than the average heavyweight champ over the last 50 years.  Both are over 6'6'' and weigh around 245 lbs.  But Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe were roughly their equivalent size.  Moreover, many of their opponents were similarly sized, such as Tony Thompson, Kirk Johnson, Ray Austin, and Jameel McCline.  Others had similar weights, such as Sam Peter, Danny Williams and Shannon Briggs.  So, it is not as if the Klitschkos have been outweighing all of their opponents by 30 or 40 pounds every fight.  

It's also tough to claim that the Klitschkos are facing a historic level of inferior opposition.  All boxing divisions go through troughs from time-to-time and the heavyweight division is no exception.  For every Ali-Frazier-Norton-Foreman or Tyson-Holyfield-Bowe-Lewis heavyweight grouping, it is just as common to see Larry Holmes or Joe Louis rack up consecutive title defenses against lesser opposition.  Even Muhammad Ali's first title run in the '60s featured such forgettable names like Henry Cooper, Karl Mildenberger, Cleveland Williams and Zora Folley. 

What makes the Klitschkos' competition seem all the more inept is that prior to their title reigns, the heavyweight division experienced a rare, extended dynamic phase, from Mike Tyson through Lennox Lewis, where there was an almost 15-year period of interesting, competitive fights.  Even the peripheral boxers from that era (for example, Ray Mercer, Oliver McCall, Michael Moorer, Donovan "Razor" Ruddock and Tommy Morrison) could really fight.    

The quality of the current heavyweight division has paled in comparison to the previous era, but the Klitschkos have taken on all comers, from former Olympians (Sultan Ibragimov, Ruslan Chagaev, Odlanier Solis) to knockout artists (Corrie Sanders, Samuel Peter, Shannon Briggs, Chris Arreola) to slicksters (Chris Byrd, Kevin Johnson, Juan Carlos Gomez).  Although the Klitschkos' list of opponents does not feature a lot of Hall of Famers, don't blame them; this heavyweight era has not been a particular fertile one, but again, the subpar quality of their opposition is not historically uncommon.

At 40 and 35 respectively, Vitali and Wladimir still have the desire to continue fighting.  In time, their dominance will be appreciated by boxing historians.  If they have failed to captivate the international boxing public the world over, that reality will fade; their accomplishments are legion.  Similar to the reigns of Larry Holmes and, to a lesser extent, Lennox Lewis, eventually the Klitschkos' mundane title defenses and uncompetitive fights will be forgotten and their impressive boxing ledgers will be all that remain. 

The Klitschkos will be historically significant for many reasons.  Obviously, the notion of two brothers simultaneously defending their belts in one division will long be remembered.  Their ability to open up new markets for professional boxing will have lasting effects which will benefit the sport.  Furthermore, their unique combination of knockout power, discipline, technical savvy and intelligence will be comparative touchstones for future heavyweight boxers.  There is a definitive "Klitschko Style," and it may be some time until we see another boxing talent who possesses their rare array of physical, fundamental and intellectual gifts.

Contact Saturday Night Boxing at  
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: 
and on Twitter: @snboxing (