Monday, July 16, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Khan-Garcia, Haye-Chisora

Danny Garcia exhibited a mastery of boxing's version of rock-paper-scissors on Saturday when he landed a vicious counter left hook that dropped Amir Khan. Garcia brought the scissors. The old boxing adage is speed (paper) beats power (rock), but timing (scissors) negates speed. To complete the analogy, it doesn't matter how good a boxer's timing is if he's sprawled out on the canvas from a knockout blow.

For two rounds, Amir Khan dominated Garcia. He threw enormous right hands and left hooks. Garcia couldn't catch up with Khan's speed. Khan was buoyed by his early success. Instead of using movement or his boxing skills, he just unloaded with power shots.

Garcia took some big punches, but he remained calm. Even though Khan dazzled with his light show and received the oohs and aahs from the crowd, Garcia didn't get discouraged. He looked to land his counter left hook and counter right hand. He didn't connect much in the first two rounds, but he was trying to get his timing down.

Many young, talented fighters are not equipped to deal with the type of duress that Garcia endured. Instead of sticking with their game plans, they become unglued. Many don't know how to tie up or buy time. They make panic decisions, which can lead to more mistakes. During sustained trouble, some wilt under the pressure (David Lemieux and Fernando Guerrero are recent examples). Yet Garcia was unruffled. He had fought in the Philly gyms and had a lengthy amateur career. Khan's fireworks were not enough to take Garcia off of his game plan.

Intangibles so often separate the wheat from the chaff in boxing. Many prospects have better skills, superior athleticism and more intimidating power than Garcia has. However, Garcia, with his TKO victory over Khan, has ascended to become one of the top fighters in his division, while so many more impressive talents fail to reach a similar echelon.

For Garcia, his poise makes him special. It's unusual for a young fighter (24) to exhibit this type of calm during a barrage of incoming fire. This attribute doesn't show up in a tale-of-the-tape or a scouting report. No one says, "You better watch out for Danny Garcia. He has patience and poise." It's only once he is in the ring that this dimension is fully appreciated. (I would include Saul Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Mikey Garcia – no relation to Danny – as other young fighters who have impressive poise.)   

As usual, Garcia took a few rounds to display his arsenal, but it all came out during a scintillating fourth round where both fighters fired power shots. Garcia featured a crisp straight right hand, a nice left uppercut and an abundance of left hooks. (He has a decent jab but he rarely threw it against Khan).

Here's another intangible for Garcia: he didn't punch himself out. Khan never fully recovered after the first knockdown in the third round. Garcia stunned him early in the fourth with a right hand on the temple. The punch forced Khan to stutter backwards and his knee touched the canvas. From that point until the end of the round, when the final knockdown occurred, Garcia threw power shots with bad intentions. However, he didn't empty his tank in the first minute of the round like so many fighters do (young and old). Garcia did step on the gas but he didn't drive off the cliff. He continued to batter Khan without being reckless. When Khan finally went down for the last time, that particular shot wasn't among Garcia's hardest blows; it was only one of a number of power punches.  

I'll throw out some more intangibles for Garcia: confidence, determination, self-belief, an ability to stick with his game plan, and an understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. Don't forget, Garcia was a late replacement in this fight for Lamont Peterson. He jumped at the opportunity to face Khan, despite knowing that he would be a significant underdog in the fight and that his promotional company was more heavily invested in his opponent. He didn't take the safe route, which is a plague upon modern boxing. He bet on himself and delivered.

I'd like to say a little more about that spectacular left hook that floored Khan in the third round; it wasn't a lucky punch. Garcia had been attempting to throw the counter left hook from the first round forward. He and his camp saw something with Khan and knew that the left hook could be the punch to seize control of the fight. If Garcia didn't land with "that" left hook, another equally devastating one would be on its way soon enough. Team Garcia (his trainer is his father, Angel) was prepared for Khan's attack and they worked on a precise punch to turn the match in their favor. If that punch was lucky, then I don't know what training camp is for.

For Khan, he got caught up in the wrong fight. As I noted in an article about Khan earlier in the month, he thinks that he's a power puncher. In a pattern that has repeated itself throughout the toughest fights of his career, Khan falsely believed that his power was enough to quash his opponent. Even though he landed big shots on Garcia, they weren't enough to carry the fight, or even to dissuade Garcia from engaging.

Khan stayed in the pocket and created a stationary target for Garcia's counterpunches. Instead of moving in and out with quick combinations and flummoxing Garcia with his superior foot speed, Khan allowed Garcia a way into the fight by remaining right in front of him. It's this factor which directly led to his loss.

The problem with Khan is that the fighter whom he wants to be is not the same as the one who he actually is. Khan yearns to electrify crowds with ring wars, but he doesn't have enough defensive skills or the chin to consistently win these types of fights. He wants opponents to submit early on account of his blinding speed and immense power; however, he lacks the heavy hands to stymie the best at junior welterweight. He fancies himself a brawler but he can only consistently win as a boxer.

The gap between who Khan is and what he wants to be is a central problem in his career. I listed the intangibles for Garcia and they are a striking contrast to Khan's. Khan doesn't follow game plans. He can defeat himself in the ring. He makes mistakes when under duress. He can get jumpy and wastes energy. He's not aware of his strengths and weakness and he doesn't understand what will ultimately win him big fights.

Khan deserves much of the blame for his last two losses; however, his trainer, Freddie Roach, also must shoulder some of the load. It's quite clear that Roach wanted Khan to fight more tactically. Roach admitted after the match that Khan engaged in the wrong type of fight. But it's a trainer's job to clearly and decisively communicate a winning game plan to his fighter. If Khan refuses to listen to Roach, then that means that he doesn't have supreme confidence in his coach, a cardinal sin for a fighter-trainer relationship.

Khan has now lost two consecutive fights where he was an overwhelming favorite. The fighter can be blamed for overconfidence and looking past his opponents, but Roach has been guilty of that in the past as well. It was Roach who predicted that Marcos Maidana wouldn't win a round from his fighter and it was Roach who talked about Khan beating Mayweather, well before the business at hand was complete.

I believe that Khan can be salvaged but it's probably time for a fresh perspective in his corner. He needs a trainer who can teach him some better defensive techniques. His coach, whoever it may be, must communicate clearly why Khan needs to fight a certain way and how this approach will directly result in wins. Most importantly, Khan has to buy into this plan 100%. One of the Mayweather brothers might make sense as Khan's next trainer, but there are a number of potential candidates that could work.

Despite the loss, Khan didn't disgrace himself against Garcia. Surviving two knockdowns and fighting on wobbly legs, he threw caution into the wind and tried to take Garcia out in the fourth round, a leading candidate for Round of the Year. Firing right-hand haymakers, left hooks and uppercuts, he put everything he had into those punches. It was wonderful stuff. Even in a losing effort, he gave the boxing public quite a show.  

As shocking as Garcia's knockout of Khan was, I was almost equally surprised by how David Haye dispatched Dereck Chisora. Against Wladimir Klitschko and Nikolay Valuev, Haye's two best opponents at heavyweight, he showed tentativeness and an unwillingness to engage. Furthermore, with his advantages in athleticism, reach and boxing skills, it made perfect sense for Haye to use the ring and box to a decisive victory.

Instead, Haye stayed in range and pasted Chisora with his superior hand speed and accuracy. When Chisora threw punches, Haye did a masterful job at slipping them. Like a seasoned pro, he expertly tied up Chisora on the inside.

On offense, Haye's left hook was his money punch throughout the fight. He threw it hard, but he didn't overcommit with it, keeping himself in solid defensive position. Haye also mixed in a number of solid right hands.

In the fifth, he landed his own left hook for the ages, which wobbled the granite-chinned Chisora. Haye followed up with a short right hand that put his opponent on the canvas. This sequence hadn't occurred in many of Haye's heavyweight fights because he so often wasn't in range to land his best punches. On Saturday, Haye made a decided effort to stake his ground in the middle of the ring and win the fight in exchanges. He understood that Chisora lacked the refinement to land effective counters.

Chisora's relative successes in the heavyweight division occurred when he could initiate offense. He'd jump in with a wide punch that stunned his opponent. He then would follow up with odd-angled power shots. Haye and his trainer, Adam Booth, wisely realized that they had to be first. They sized up their opponent and made a determination that Chisora couldn't win a fight by countering.

This was not Chisora's finest moment. He lacked the willingness to move his hands. His usual aggressive temperament was nowhere to be found. He had turned in questionable performances before (his loss to Tyson Fury, for example) but his problem on Saturday was not his conditioning; he didn't seize the moment. He landed a couple of big punches at the end of the third and a few in the fourth, but he wasn't competing. Certainly, the idea was to take Haye into the second half of the fight and cause damage. However, Chisora didn't invest enough in the first few rounds to actualize his game plan. He barely went to Haye's body and his overall punch volume was paltry.

Chisora will never be a fully polished entity. When he is on, his crudeness can be a big asset (the Robert Helenius bout). Similar to the former American heavyweight Lamon Brewster, Chisora fights in a style where he has to absorb a lot of punishment to win. With no consistent way in against taller fighters, Chisora is susceptible to power shots as he looks for moments to rush forward. It's his willingness to take these punches and still press forward that separates him from other fighters. If Chisora won't engage in this manner, he just doesn't possess enough traditional boxing skills to win fights. Brewster survived hell to defeat Wladimir Klitschko in their first fight. In their second matchup, Brewster engaged far more traditionally and got stopped without the bout being competitive. For Chisora, he has exhibited only one style in which he can be successful as a fighter; I haven't seen evidence of a second.

During his run in the heavyweight division, Haye's confidence has fluctuated based on the opponent in front of him. On Saturday, he was a true heavyweight destroyer against a real opponent. He found himself in the center of the ring, firing devastating power shots against a heavyweight with a great chin. He showed no fear or trepidation; everything he wanted to be, he was.

Haye's final flurry in the fifth – alternating right and left hooks – was riveting stuff. He fired each of those four punches with the sole purpose of ending the fight. He had endured a year of derision in boxing circles for his passive showing against Klitschko. Those final four punches were thrown with the intention of demolishing that criticism. His finish went a long way toward easing the sting of his poor performance against Wladimir. 

After the match, Booth said that Haye would retire unless he fights Vitali Klitschko. I wonder if Haye decides to change his tune. After his knockout, he was treated as a conquering hero by his faithful and earned a new level of respect from the boxing public at large. Glory is the most addictive drug in boxing, far more enticing than money or status. Haye tasted the best that the sport had to offer and I bet he drinks from that cup again.

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  1. Timothy J. GodfreyJuly 16, 2012

    I couldn't have posted a more accurate account of the Khan-Garcia fight myself. Just because Khan trains with Manny, doesn't mean he should fight like Manny. Manny has the power in his arsenal when he decides to forego boxing for a quick minute to hang and bang. I don't Khan should get rid of Roach; I think Roach should relinquish his services from Khan. Roach isn't the one "Not" listening. Khan is the quintessential British boxer, arrogant, brash, and thinks he knows more than anyone.

    Tim Godfrey aka Box Doc

  2. AnonymousJuly 16, 2012

    Great article!

    ''The problem with Khan is that the fighter whom he wants to be is not the same as the one who he actually is. Khan yearns to electrify crowds with ring wars, but he doesn't have enough defensive skills or the chin to consistently win these types of fights.''

    Superbly put.

  3. AnonymousJuly 16, 2012

    Great article !

    I think F. Roach is still bother by paquiao lost vs bradley it was a tough one the world was shocked so"poor freddie" thats how we felt it. Now no one knows what goes on in a coach mind in that situation specially when he had so much to do (desire may not be the same ).

    When it comes to Khan situation after 2 straight losses changed might be good for him take a look at his record with roach 2 v 2 losses and one (L) by KO at this level it too much he need to go back to the basic not bcuz roach is not good lol hes one of the Best if not The best but for him it is.

  4. I like the article, but I disagree that Chisora didn't lay enough groundwork for the second half of the fight. He was losing, but coming forward nonstop and applying pressure. David Haye was having to fight every second of each round to keep him off. By the end of the 4th Haye really look like he was getting gassed. I think he went for broke in the 5th because he knew he was getting tired.

  5. Superbly written. Laurence