Sunday, February 19, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Klitschko, Cloud and Williams

The bar has been set so low in modern heavyweight boxing that whenever a challenger actually engages a Klitschko, it's a shocking event. On that level, Dereck Chisora exceeded expectations against Vitali Klitschko. For a fighter whose biggest claim to fame was losing a horrid decision to prospect Robert Helenius, Chisora acquitted himself far better against a Klitschko than so many of the brothers' other opponents, even though these challengers had superior professional pedigrees to that of Chisora.

With that said, it's not as if Chisora was actually close to winning the fight. On my card, I scored it for Klitschko 117-111, or 9 rounds to 3; the judges were even less generous to Chisora. For most of the fight, Chisora was the aggressor, but it was mostly ineffective aggression. Quite frankly, he didn't throw or land enough punches. In rounds 6 and 8, he connected with enough looping overhand rights and left hooks to take those rounds, but mostly, he followed Klitschko around and didn't land too much.

Although it was shocking to see Vitali back up and counterpunch, he performed quite well in that role. He landed some vicious right crosses and right uppercuts to the body. He also skirted around trouble and punished Chisora with right hands when Chisora lunged in with wide shots.

Vitali won the fight with one hand. After the first few rounds, where he landed jabs and left hooks, he practically dispensed with his left altogether. Throughout the rest of the fight, he used his left hand to cuff Chisora behind the head, keeping him in place so he could land his power right hand shots. (It was announced after the fight that he tore a ligament in his left shoulder. That explains why Klitschko barely threw his left.)  

Klitschko's athleticism impressed me. Vitali is thought of as the more awkward or lumbering of the two brothers, but last night, he used his legs, agility and coordination spectacularly. He did an excellent job of creating throwing angles to counteract Chisora's unconventional attack. He also eluded Chisora's aggression for most of the night. Klitschko's performance was all the more impressive when you consider that he is past 40 and has had a history of knee and back problems. Last night, he looked downright sprightly.

I'm sure there are those who say that Vitali is starting to slip. How could a fighter with such a limited amateur or professional background like Chisora have moments of success against the Big Bad Wolf? To my eyes, Klitschko looked excellent, beating a determined fighter with just one hand. Although Klitschko may not be long for the sport, last night was not a sign to exit. More likely, his body will tell him when it's time to retire.

Boy, that Del Boy Chisora has a lot of energy! After going 12 hard rounds with Klitschko, he decided to mix it up with top-5 heavyweight David Haye during the post-fight press conference. What a fighting spirit!

Chisora has some admirable traits in the ring: self-belief, determination and an unconventional attack. However, he needs to learn how to throw meaningful combinations. Although his looping shots can be hard to defend, they just come one at a time. Ultimately, his balance prohibits him from throwing flurries. He overcommits so much to land one shot that he's out of position to throw anything else. Part of this is due to his height disadvantage; however, this problem can also be attributed to his lack of technique. At this point, he is a fun fighter to watch who can mix it up with some of the best heavyweights in the world, but without improvement in balance and defense, he runs no risk of ever being considered elite.

It's very strange for a fighter to lose three consecutive high-profile fights and yet see his marketability in the sport continue to ascend. This is now the case with Chisora. He has more options than ever in the division. After the press conference imbroglio with Haye, that fight would be a huge event in the U.K. He would also be a natural opponent for any of the American heavyweights such as Chris Arreola, Tomasz Adamek or Eddie Chambers. A rematch against Fury or Helenius would be welcome as well. If Chisora stays in the gym, keeps his weight down and develops his technique, he could have a nice two-to-three year run ahead of him.
The most controversial fight of the weekend was the light heavyweight matchup between titlist Tavoris Cloud and challenger/former beltholder Gabriel Campillo. Cloud shot out of the gate in the first round, dropping Campillo with a perfect right hand on the chin. Immediately after the knockdown, Cloud wisely went to the body and then delivered another flurry of shots that forced Campillo to fall into the ropes for a second knockdown. It looked like Campillo wouldn't survive the round, but he hung in there, using enough movement and clinching to buy time until the bell sounded.

Cloud may have punched himself out for a while after the first round, for it was strange to see the pressure fighter suddenly back up in the second round. That allowed Campillo the opportunity to get into the fight. Campillo responded over the next few rounds with picture-perfect combinations, angles and movement that thwarted Cloud's aggression. Campillo started to land at will.

A clever southpaw, Campillo clearly confounded Cloud, who has been most comfortable in his career with straight ahead brawls. Campillo moved around the ring, picked a spot and then unleashed a quick combination – usually starting with a jab, double jab or right hook, followed by a straight left or a left uppercut. He also remained in the pocket at times to counter the charging Cloud with his left uppercut and right hook. Campillo's advantages in foot speed and ring generalship were considerable as the fight progressed.

One problem of Campillo's that manifested in the fight was his lack of punching power. He landed so many perfect power shots on Cloud but they didn't dissuade him from coming forward. I'm not suggesting that those shots didn't faze Cloud; however, they weren't enough to fully establish dominance in the fight. Cloud's aggression wasn't always effective, but he kept coming.

It was clear that Campillo thought that he had the match won by the 11th round. He fought very conservatively over the last two rounds and didn't take many opportunities to land his power shots. Cloud was far more active in the final two rounds, pressing the action and making the fight. My scorecard had the bout a draw at 113-113, with Campillo winning seven rounds but losing two points because of the knockdowns. To my eyes, Campillo had the fight won, yet lost it in the last two rounds because of overconfidence.

In a similar replay of Pacquiao-Marquez III, the aggressor (Cloud) ultimately was rewarded and the counterpuncher (Campillo) was left with disappointment. Cloud won a spilt decision, being the beneficiary of two fairly inexperienced judges. Clearly, David Robertson's 116-110 decision in favor of Cloud was a travesty. By his scorecard, Campillo only won four rounds – that’s a far different fight than anyone else saw. If I squint hard enough, perhaps I could see Joel Elizondo's 114-112 verdict for Cloud. I gave Cloud rounds 1, 4, 6, 11 and 12. However, rounds 4 and 11 were swing rounds that could have gone either way; in those two frames, I responded to the quality of Cloud's power punches. Maybe Elizondo gave Cloud the second as well. All the others were clear Campillo rounds.

The frustration that many had watching this fight reminded me of the first bout between Roy Jones and Antonio Tarver, where Tarver won a number of obvious rounds and did a lot of damage. The rounds that were given to Jones were close frames that could have gone either way. Jones' rounds didn't involve nearly the amount of fireworks that were found in the big rounds that Tarver clearly won. Looking at the two fighters at the end of last night's match, Campillo's face and body surely looked the fresher of the two fighters, but scoring round by round, I don't feel that the overall verdict was an egregious robbery. Yes, David Robertson's scorecard was atrocious, but I scored the fight a draw and concede that a two-point Cloud victory was possible.

Nevertheless, the invincible sheen of Tavoris Cloud as some kind of terrorizing pressure fighter has been wiped away with his performance against Campillo. Facing a crafty southpaw, Cloud, at times, looked dumbfounded. He even switched to southpaw once, a signal of his frustration. He had real problems cutting off the ring against a mover. In addition, he repeated earlier patterns of his career by taking rounds or portions of rounds off.

Cloud doesn't really throw combinations. He loads up on one punch at a time. He may decide to throw three right hands in a row and then later in the round rip his opponent’s body with a series of left hooks, but combinations do not flow fluidly from him. Yes, he is an aggressive tough, fighter, but there are holes in his game right now.

One final note about Cloud, he was essentially in training camp for four months coming into his fight against Campillo. Initially, he was scheduled to fight Zsolt Erdei on December 31st, before Erdei pulled out with a hand injury. Cloud remained in camp to face Campillo. It's quite possible that Cloud left some in the gym. Maybe, if he was a little fresher, he would have finished Campillo in the first. Perhaps he would have had more in the tank in the middle rounds of the fight.

Campillo now has two losses by split decision and another by majority decision. In addition, he has a split draw, two wins by majority decision and another razor-thin decision. That's 7 questionable verdicts in 27 fights, a staggering number. Perhaps his lack of power and counterpunching style have been significant demerits on the judges' scorecards. He has yet to win in the United States and has also had controversial verdicts in Germany, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Denmark. Without knockout power, he will be subject to the vagaries and whims of boxing judges throughout the world.

Maybe like Anselmo Moreno, it takes a while for judges to definitively figure out how good he actually is in the ring. (So many boxing judges are disinclined to reward counterpunchers.) Perhaps he fights up and down to the level of his competition. Nevertheless, with his style, Campillo must dominate ever round to win decisions in hostile territory. He cannot afford to take rounds off or coast to victories. It's not like he's a familiar face to many of the boxing judges in which he performs in front of; they may take a few rounds to acclimatize themselves to his style. Without this realization, he may continue to face rough sledding on the judges' scorecards.

Cloud came moments away from winning the fight in the first round while Campillo could have claimed victory with a more energetic final few minutes or a more competent judge. Naturally, a rematch would be in order. With the real possibility that Cloud over-trained for the fight and the subsequent realization by Campillo that he needs to fight all 12 rounds, the range of potential outcomes for a rematch is staggering. I hope it happens sooner or later. Despite last night's verdict, Campillo demonstrated that he is a world-class light heavyweight. If a rematch with Cloud doesn't materialize, he would be a viable opponent for Hopkins, Dawson, Pascal or Cleverly.
Paul Williams cruised to an easy victory against Nobuhiro Ishida. In many ways, Williams reminded fight audiences of his former self; he pasted Ishida with volume punching and fluid combinations. Unfortunately, many of Williams' drawbacks manifested as well. He got hit with some vicious left hooks and right hands. However, Ishida didn't land enough of them to win rounds or change the momentum of the fight. Against a stronger puncher, those shots would have given Williams all kinds of trouble.

Throughout his career, Williams' best defense has been his chin. It's a great chin. It stood up to Antonio Margarito and Sergio Martinez in their first fight. However, as he has aged and moved up in weight, his chin isn't what it was. Williams still doesn't move his head and he is lazy with his jab. He seems only comfortable brawling. Williams' performance last night was reassuring in that it demonstrated that he hasn't completely lost it inside the ring, but his deficiencies remain.

Williams still has the ability to make several exciting fights in the junior middleweight and middleweight divisions but his overall ceiling has fallen significantly. I think now he can be viewed as an exciting action fighter whereas a few years ago there was the thought that he could be an elite talent in the sport. He can still make a comfortable living boxing at his current level but he had a chance to be so much more.

Ishida demonstrated that he was a one-trick pony. Last year's knockout of James Kirkland was shocking, but that may have been more of a product of Kirkland's defensive shortcomings and problems in training camp than any new-found rise in Ishida's abilities. Ishida has a future as a mid-level spoiler or gatekeeper on the Friday Night Fights level. With only feather-fisted power and moderate hand speed, I don't see him being a factor on the world-class level. Nevertheless, his knockout of Kirkland was an indelible image for boxing fans and Ishida will always know that for one night he made his mark on the sport.

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