Friday, March 30, 2012

March SNB Rankings Update

Three fighters debut in the SNB Rankings in March, including the first time a boxer has entered the Rankings following a loss. In addition, in what is becoming a 2012 trend, a fighter exits the Rankings after a victory. Finally, a flyweight legend, and SNB Elite Fighter, leaves the Rankings after suffering an unexpected knockout defeat.

Elevated: Jorge Arce The Mexican warrior has been on quite a tear over the last 12 months. He defeated Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. last May to pick up a junior featherweight belt. Then, he dropped down to bantamweight later in the year and won another title. Earlier this year, he knocked out Lorenzo Parra, a fighter whom he drew with in 2010. Arce’s unexpected career resurgence has been stunning. He enters the Rankings in the 10 Boxers on the Rise list.

Elevated: Carlos Molina Perhaps no fighter has seen his stock rise as much in the last 12 months as Molina has, where he has distinguished himself against three notable fighters. He drew with Erislandy Lara (a fight in which he really won), he soundly defeated Kermit Cintron and he was on his way to the biggest victory of his career against James Kirkland when he was disqualified because his corner stepped onto the ring apron. Nevertheless, Molina (originally from Mexico, but fights out of Chicago) has illustrated that he’s one of the best junior middleweights in boxing. He joins the Rankings in the Bubbling Under list.

Elevated: Danny Garcia Garcia defeated Erik Morales this month to win his first title belt. One of Golden Boy’s top prospects, Garcia has shown steady improvement over the last two years. Just 24, he still has some room to grow before he takes on elite junior welterweights, but with his ring intelligence and solid boxing foundation, the Philadelphian is certainly one to keep an eye on. He enters the Rankings on the Bubbling Under list.

Demoted: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam Nobody expected the Thai flyweight master to remain a champion ad infinitum, but few believed that an obscure Filipino, Sonny Boy Jaro, would be a major stumbling block. Instead, Jaro scored a shocking knockout. Wonjongkam’s legs didn’t look good throughout the fight and Jaro’s repeated low blows didn’t help. Wonjongkam has returned from losses before but at 34 and with 89 fights, how much does he have left? He exits the SNB Elite Fighters list.

Demoted: Hernan Marquez March was certainly a strange month for flyweights. Beltholder Marquez was set to defend his title in Mexico against Rodel Mayol. However, controversy prevented the fight from taking place. Mayol’s camp contended that Marquez never legitimately made weight and Mayol refused to go through with the fight. Instead, Marquez fought a replacement fighter, Richie Mepranum, a fighter who had beaten him earlier in his career. Marquez avenged the previous loss by scoring a unanimous decision. Irrespective of the victory, the episode with Mayol raises questions about Marquez’s immediate future in the flyweight division. He exits the 10 Boxers on the Rise list.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pacquiao's Predicament; Gamboa's Gamble; The Counterpunchers' Ode

From an outside perspective, Manny Pacquiao's boxing career seems in a state of disarray. Pacquiao failed to impress in his last fight, a controversial win over rival Juan Manuel Marquez. After that performance, a litany of reasons and/or excuses was offered as to why Pacquiao no longer resembled the dominant force that he was in 2009 and 2010. His trainer, Freddie Roach, suggested that perhaps Pacquiao overtrained for Marquez. His strength and conditioning coach, Alex Ariza, furthered that Manny was not participating in the right kinds of conditioning exercises. Bob Arum, his promoter, referred to Manny's varied outside interests. Others just posited that Marquez had a style that was just extremely difficult for Pacquiao.

In the months since the Marquez fight, boxing has not appeared to be of the highest priority in Pacquiao's life. From his duties as a congressman to his appearances on his Filipino game show to his increased religiosity, Pacquiao's commitment to boxing seems uncertain at this time. In addition, he is under investigation in the Philippines for tax evasion and a more concerning charge of harboring a fugitive. Arum has talked about Pacquiao potentially retiring some time in 2013, but it wouldn't shock the boxing public if Manny decided to step away tomorrow.

Pacquiao's next fight is scheduled for June against undefeated junior welterweight titlist Timothy Bradley. Prior to the agreement to face Bradley, a third major attempt to make the mega-fight against Floyd Mayweather fizzled out. To almost all except Bradley, Pacquiao-Bradley is viewed as a consolation prize. Because of Bradley's relatively small boxing following, his lack of power and a sometimes displeasing ring style, he hardly seems like the ideal opponent for one of boxing's few bona fide stars.

Nevertheless, many boxing observers and betting parlors consider Bradley a live underdog against Pacquiao. His tenacity, physicality, pressure and awkward style seem like a natural neutralizer of Pacquiao's fluid ring movements and hand speed. In addition, there is a school of thought which says that Bradley may be catching Pacquiao at the perfect time. Bradley is young and hungry, whereas Pacquiao has already reached the pinnacle of the sport, with all of the accompanying trappings and commitments associated with wealth and celebrity.

In a vacuum, Manny's power, high work rate and clean punching should lead to a victory over Bradley. He should be able to exploit Bradley's penchant for squaring up too much. In addition, Bradley leaves himself open to counter shots because of his looping right hand; Manny's straight left hand and left uppercut (a punch he doesn't always use) could be major factors in the match.

I believe that this fight will be decided by desire and determination. In the past, Pacquiao has been able to excel during periods of chaos outside of the ring. If he still possesses the motivation and will to train to the best of his ability, the fight is his for the taking. However, if Pacquiao's heart, mind or spirit drifts away from fight preparation, he will have a real challenge against Bradley.

One final determining factor: Pacquiao has had foot problems and cramping in his last two fights. At 33, with 59 professional fights over 17 years – including numerous ring wars – Pacquiao may no longer be the same physical specimen even of his recent past. Irrespective of his distractions outside of the ring, if his body betrays him, all bets are off.

Yuriorkis Gamboa has declined to go to war against Brandon Rios and instead has raised arms against Top Rank and Arena Box. After backing out of the Rios fight, a match which, on paper, looked like one of the most exciting bouts of the first half of 2012, Gamboa claimed that his current contract with his co-promoters is invalid. Bob Arum and Arena Box President Ahmet ├ľner have already stated that they plan to use the legal process to retain Gamboa or prohibit him from fighting under another promotional banner. Gamboa now sits on the sidelines, hoping for his legal representation to set him free or for a settlement to occur. 

As in most sports, contract squabbles are common in boxing. Sometimes a fighter is able to extricate himself from a position in which he feels is disadvantageous (for instance, Floyd Mayweather from Top Rank or Timothy Bradley from Gary Shaw Productions). In other instances, a boxer attempts to leave but is contractually blocked from doing so (such as, Ricardo Mayorga from Don King Promotions or Nonito Donaire and Manny Pacquiao from Top Rank). Without seeing the contractual language, it's impossible to speculate how Gamboa's current promotional status will play out. What's not in question is the ill will that Gamboa has built up in the boxing community.

Yuri, some free advice: without a sizable fan base, it's probably not the best strategic play to upset network executives, boxing stakeholders and fans by pulling out of the biggest fight of your career over a contract disagreement. Should you have beaten Rios, you would have become a star and a seven-figure fighter. Sure, you still might get there, but you probably stalled your career significantly with your antics. In addition, Top Rank and Arena Box have helped build you up into one of the few boxing headliners under welterweight. Might you have legitimate grievances? Possibly. However, you are making very sizable purses for your weight division and have become a staple of American premium cable, regardless of the quality of your opponent. That's a pretty exclusive club. Unlike Bradley's situation when he was with Shaw, the biggest fights for you are with your current promoters.   

Perhaps Gamboa's behavior is a classic panic move from a boxer who didn't feel confident with his next assignment. Maybe Gamboa really believes that Floyd Mayweather or some other promotional entity will be able to open up additional economic opportunities that were unexploited by his current promoters. He waits.

The Counterpunchers' Ode
By Adam Abramowitz

O' hear our stories, these recitals of woe
Of counterpunchers 'cross the world, to and fro.

Combinations are sharp; punch placement is key.
Defense is tight. We land more effectively.

We're cagey and crafty. Make them swing and miss,
Yet after twelve rounds, we're deprived of our bliss.

'Cause aggressors are platinum, we feel like lead.
We must win ten rounds to ensure we're ahead.

Not fans of Ledermans, Giampas or Roths –
Countering not leading – they view us as sloths.

Yet boxers join us from all countries and lands,
United in journeys of glories and stands.

Sergio and Campillo have grown our ranks.
Only one scores the KO's; he gets more thanks.

Fight for championships on those distant shores,
Apprehensive of the threat of unfair scores.

Thy faces have scars of decisions unjust.
Pleading for rematches is sadly a must.

Our forefathers – Hopkins, Whitaker and Wright –
Brighten our spirits, remind us of our plight.

Idolize Sir Floyd, for him they cannot beat.
Fighters and judges can't marshal his defeat.

And we persevere, always ready to pounce
On prospects, pretenders and vets who've lost bounce.

Young bucks with the hype, fighting us they do fade.
Here for the duration, once thirty, we get paid.

Skills and craft, appreciated by many –
But “B-sides” – we scratch for every penny.

Counterpunchers bring brains more than brawn or steel.
Embarrassing other fighters gets appeal.

Learning the tricks, mastering all the angles,
Rough up on the inside, elbows in tangles.

Our victories sweeter, like the freshest cream –
Worked harder and longer to enjoy the dream.

You'll spot us in theaters, arenas and clubs.
We dominate our bouts, despite all the snubs.

Next time you see us, revel on our behalf.
When the scores are announced, try not to laugh.

We the counterpunchers, our minions are strong.
Don't scoff at our essence. We know we belong.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Texas Two-Step, Judah

Controversy marred an intriguing fight between Carlos Molina and James Kirkland. At the end of the 10th round, Molina was knocked down. Referee Jon Schorle started the count immediately. The bell rang. Members from Molina's team came onto the ring apron. Schorle sent them away. Molina rose and was ready to continue. The referee assigned the fighters to their corners and continued the count. Schorle finished the count and then went over to speak to an official, most likely a member of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (more colloquially, the Texas Boxing Commission). He then disqualified Molina for his team's encroachment into the ring. Kirkland, who had been outboxed almost the entire fight, was declared the victor.

Four specific problems made this result particularly controversial: 1. The timekeeper should not have rung the bell. A round is not finished until a count has been completed from a knockdown. For a round to officially end, the timekeeper must wait until the referee ends the count and signals for action to continue.

2. Schorle should have assigned the fighters not to their own corners, but to neutral corners, as rules dictate when knockdowns occur. When he sent them to their own corners, it was a confusing instruction. Fighters only go to their corners at the end of a round and only during a round when they need a new mouthpiece, tape fixed on their gloves, etc.

3. Representatives from the Commission failed to stop anyone from Molina's team from entering the ring apron. Delegates are assigned from the Commission whose sole purpose is to ensure that no one enters the ring during the live action of a fight. Clearly the representative(s) assigned to Molina's corner failed in their duties.

4. Schorle didn't disqualify Molina immediately, but hesitated. He sent Molina's team out of the ring after the count of "4." He then reset the fighters in their corners and then continued the count. Only after finishing the count did he then decide to disqualify Molina.

These four mistakes from people associated with the Texas Boxing Commission further illustrate a pattern of ineptness (or worse) that occurs in the Lone Star State with alarming frequency. In the past year, the Commission has failed to drug test, delayed collecting urine samples, announced open scoring to the public – violating American boxing policy, assigned inept and under-qualified judges to major title fights and has refused to suspend or discipline boxing personnel who have failed in their official duties. The problems with the Texas Commission aren't new. The head administrator, Dick Cole, is a former boxing judge and a political survivor. He has helped facilitate a culture that lacks integrity, consistency and transparency.

The lingering problem of Gale Van Hoy, a judge who incessantly supports house fighters on his scorecards, further highlights the Commission's ineptitude. A transparent Commission would have fired Van Hoy a long time ago. His penchant for favoring Texas fighters has helped locals like Juan Diaz, Rocky Juarez and now James Kirkland. Van Hoy had Kirkland ahead at the time of the disqualification last night, an inconceivable verdict for a competent or impartial judge. Van Hoy also gets prominent national and international assignments too. The bigger attractions for each fight, such as Jermain Taylor, Dominick Guinn or Vernon Forrest seem to fare disproportionately well on Van Hoy's cards. I don't believe that an upright Commission would retain Van Hoy as an active judge.

Schorle is based out of California but he works in Texas quite often. He also doesn't have a strong reputation within boxing circles. Last night, he let the fight get away from him. He could have taken points away from Molina for excessive holding, an illegal punch behind his back or a flagrant hit during a break; yet, he failed to take any action. His hesitancy in stopping the fight and his inability to properly apply boxing rules throughout the bout illustrate an official who lacks basic boxing competency.

The ref hid behind the Commission after the fight, refusing to address the media. From this point forward, Kirkland-Molina will be known as the "Schorle Fight," as the ref will be indelibly tied to the discussion of the controversial bout. He had an opportunity to let the fight continue. He could have sent Molina's corner out of the ring; it's clear that they were confused because of his instructions to both fighters to go to their respective corners and the inappropriateness of the timekeeper ringing the bell. For Schorle, there was a way out of this self-created mess, and he picked the worst possible result. It was a dreadful performance.

Ultimately, it would behoove the state of Texas to get its house in order. With a vibrant boxing audience, several big cities and international airports, its proximity to Mexico and a number of strong local fighters, Texas has the ability to become one of the major fight capitals of the world. Unfortunately, boxers, promoters and managers will be less inclined to fight in the state as long as such neglect, malfeasance and incompetence continue to occur. Boxing has a long history of tolerating various unseemly elements, but Texas' shoddy administration of the sport will create a chilling effect, with many big fights landing in other jurisdictions because of concerns about the lack of equity and transparency.

The fight itself was a fascinating tactical battle, where Molina fought in the perfect style to neutralize Kirkland's ferocity and aggression. Kirkland, a pressure-fighting knockout artist, blitzes opponents who stand in front of him. Molina used crafty head and upper body movement to confuse Kirkland. Molina never seemed to be in the same place. Additionally, Molina successfully smothered Kirkland almost the whole night. He realized that Kirkland needed space to land his straight left hands. Molina stepped around to land counter right hands and left hooks and then tied Kirkland up. It wasn't beautiful to watch aesthetically, but it was a brilliant game plan which Molina executed with aplomb.

Kirkland was so perplexed by Molina’s style that he resorted to throwing short left hands off of the wrong foot in hopes of just landing. Molina avoided trouble almost the entire fight by turning Kirkland, circling around him or holding him. His unconventional movements and ring intelligence enabled him to land with ease.

The tenth round may have been a harbinger of the rest of the fight, but maybe not. Kirkland, after many rounds of passivity, finally went after Molina full-bore. He landed a few left hands that stunned Molina. At the end of the round, he put Molina on the canvas; it wasn't an especially clean knockdown, but it was legitimate. Molina got right back up and didn't seem all that damaged.

Perhaps the knockdown was a hiccup for Molina. Maybe it signaled the beginning of the end for him. We'll never know. Nevertheless, Kirkland was behind on the cards. (I had him down 96-93 after the tenth). It's possible that Kirkland could have staged a comeback, but it's also conceivable that Molina could have grinded out the win.

For as much hype as Ann Wolfe gets as a trainer, she wasn't on her game last night. She insisted that Kirkland box Molina throughout the first half of the fight when it was clear that he couldn't win in that manner. Kirkland was unable to land his jab, which was crucial for opening up opportunities for his power shots. Kirkland should have attacked Molina from the opening bell and he erred by not making a commitment to Molina's body; Kirkland's headhunting was unsuccessful. He gave away too many rounds early in the fight trying to win a tactical boxing battle.

Molina has now bettered Erislandy Lara and toyed with James Kirkland, two top fighters in the junior middleweight division, yet he doesn't have a win to show for it. He's a crafty guy who has excellent balance, conditioning, movement, heart and punch technique. He lacks real power but his accuracy is so good that he repeatedly lands punches right on the button, which stymies his opponents.

For a guy who has a number of losses and was thought of as nothing more than a spoiler until a year ago, Molina now finds himself among the top junior middleweights in the world. He doesn't have a large promotional backing or any of the requisite hype needed for contemporary star making in boxing, but he's just a solid, tough boxer with a very difficult style. Only an excellent fighter can beat him legitimately. I don't know what's next for him (don't hold your breath for a Kirkland rematch), but I hope that U.S. premium channels keep him in their regular rotation.

Danny Garcia pulled away from Erik Morales in the second half of their fight to win a comfortable decision. I scored the fight 118-109, or ten rounds to two with a knockdown, but many of the first few rounds of the bout were competitive. Garcia had distinct advantages in conditioning, foot speed and power. However, it took him a few rounds to get untracked. His punch output was too low in the first half of the fight, which played into Morales' hands. The older vet excelled with the deliberate pace by using his jab and timing Garcia's power shots.

Once Garcia stepped on the gas, the fight became easier. Garcia had most of his success with left hooks (leading to a beautiful knockdown in the 11th round), straight and looping right hands and occasional jabs. His defense was also solid throughout the night; he did a great job of using his arms and gloves to block shots.

Garcia displayed solid technique, ring intelligence and discipline, but he certainly didn't dominate the proceedings. Garcia's power won't be a significant advantage as his competition increases; he makes his mark more with accuracy and punch placement. He's also a deliberate starter who gets more comfortable as the rounds progress. He may need to fight with more urgency and at different speeds but he does possess the building blocks of a successful career.

Garcia's best moments of the evening were when Morales tried to goad him to the ropes. Instead of stifling his power, Garcia stepped back and fired power shots to the head and body. He didn't fall for Morales' traps and he showed tremendous poise. He confidently executed his game plan and didn't let the fight devolve into a war against a seemingly immobile target. That was a veteran move and it showed me that Garcia has a good understanding of what he wants to accomplish in the ring.

Credit Golden Boy Promotions. I thought that Morales would have been too tough for Garcia at this stage of his career. I expected Garcia to win but I also thought that Morales could potentially ruin the young Philadelphian with a devastating ring war. However, Garcia maintained his poise against a tough opponent.

Garcia still seems tentative in the ring and he needs more rounds against quality opposition before he is ready for an elite junior welterweight. He has good skills and winning intangibles but he's not close to a fully developed fighter at this time.

For Morales, he has provided umpteen memorable moments in the ring. Fighting at least three divisions north of his prime weight, he never gave up and put forth a game effort. At this point in his career, he lacks the reflexes and power to be a top factor at junior welterweight. Whenever he retires (the sooner the better), he will be a sure-fire Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the best fighters in Mexico's history.

Zab Judah performed wonderfully last night, dominating Vernon Paris from the opening bell to the ninth-round stoppage. Judah had all of his punches going. His jab looked crisp. His left hand repeatedly hit its mark. He mixed in his right hook and left uppercut expertly. In addition, he controlled distance and his legs and defense were strong. Perhaps most impressively, Judah displayed none of the tentativeness that surfaced in his last loss against Amir Khan. He led Paris throughout the fight and avoided his customary late-round fade.

When Judah is right, he glides effortlessly to victory. With an intoxicating blend of power, speed and technique, Judah tantalizes boxing fans with his skills. Against an overmatched opponent like Paris, Judah's full array of talents were on display.

The key to Judah is confidence. Against "B-level" fighters, he dazzles; under the bright lights of big events against top fighters, he can beat himself. One cannot read too much into last night's performance. It was a good win and it showed that Judah is still interested in continuing his boxing career. In the past, Judah had publicly questioned whether he wanted to keep fighting.

Certainly, Judah will find himself in one more big fight. He's still a name and the skills remain. He's the classic "what if" boxer. I'm sure there are still a few who believe that he can pull it together and become the elite fighter he was destined to be. Personally, I think that he's the classic "A-minus" fighter. Give him a journeyman or a gate keeper and he'll look sensational; against an elite fighter, he'll find a way to lose.

Tomasz Adamek defeated Nagy Aguilera in a stay-busy fight on the undercard. I had Adamek winning 98-92 but he didn't necessarily impress. To Aguilera's credit, the unheralded heavyweight came into the fight in great shape and was determined to win. He showed a good chin and landed his thudding right hand at various points throughout the bout.

Unlike most of his recent fights, Adamek stayed in the center of the ring and tried to blast Aguilera out of the ring. They had several rounds of heated action. In the end, Adamek's superior technique, conditioning and punch variety were the big separators.

Adamek did get hit more than he should have. It's also clear to me that he can't beat elite heavyweights with his power; he must rely on his agility and boxing skills. Unfortunately, as his wipeout lost to Vitali Klitschko demonstrated, he just doesn't possess the chin, skills or power to ascend to the top of the division. He can still be a factor at heavyweight against the best of the rest, but his legs are going to have to be the difference – and he’s not getting any younger.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sergio Martinez's Dangerous Game

By anyone's measure, Sergio Martinez is one of the elite fighters in boxing. He knocked out a pound-for-pound boxer in Paul Williams and defeated the lineal middleweight king, Kelly Pavlik. Martinez's athleticism, daring, power, willingness to take on all comers, fighting spirit and matinee looks have made him a mainstay of HBO Boxing.  He has additionally earned the respect of the boxing media and his fellow fighters. Although he lacks a natural ethnic or geographical base of support, boxing fans certainly recognize Martinez's ability and talent. 

However, Martinez has failed to win over one crucial constituency in the sport: boxing judges.

On the world-class level, Martinez has won only a single decision on the scorecards – just one. In his nine fights against top competition – I am using his last eight HBO appearances and his earlier defeat against Antonio Margarito – Martinez has stopped five opponents within the distance, won a decision against Kelly Pavlik, lost a tight battle with Paul Williams, drew with Kermit Cintron and was knocked out by Margarito (in 2000). Within this subset of fights, he's just 1-1-1 in bouts that were determined by the judges. 

However, these three fights don't even encapsulate the entire scope of Martinez's troubles on the scorecards. Against Darren Barker, he was, at least according to the judges, in a very competitive fight prior to scoring an 11th round knockout. Last weekend against Matthew Macklin, before the 11th round, he was up by only a single point on two scorecards and he trailed on the third.

In short, Martinez's style has not made him a favorite among boxing judges, and this is a multi-jurisdictional issue for him. He was robbed against Cintron in Florida. The tight scorecards against Barker and Macklin were in New Jersey and New York, respectively. He also lost a close decision to Williams in New Jersey. Ten different judges determined these four fights. Julie Lederman and Lynne Carter both judged two of these bouts. 

Lederman had Williams-Martinez I a draw and had Martinez losing to Macklin prior to the 11th round.  Carter believed that Williams beat Martinez and only had Barker down two points before the 11th round. (If I'm Martinez, I don't accept Carter as a judge anytime soon.) 

To my eyes, Martinez had far less trouble in these fights than were the determinations of the judges. Discounting the fact that Martinez legitimately knocked out Cintron (which was botched by referee Frank Santore Jr.), Martinez boxed rings around Cintron. Tommy Kaczmarek's 116-110 card seemed right to me. The fight against Williams was close, despite the egregiously bad 119-110 card turned in by Pierre Benoist in favor of Williams.  Neither Lederman nor Lynne's scoring was implausible, but two different judges could have selected Martinez as the victor. I scored the fight 115-113 for Martinez.

Against Barker, I had Martinez up eight rounds to two, or 98-92, going into the 11th round, a score which was wider than the tallies of two of the judges.  For the Macklin fight, I had Martinez up 96-93 after 10 rounds (seven rounds to three, with one point off for Macklin's knockdown), which was wider in favor of Martinez than the scorecards of any of the three judges.

Although Martinez has been a victim of bad judging – I strongly disagreed with two of the judges in the Cintron bout, Benoist in the Williams fight and Lederman last weekend (she had an off night) – more often, competent arbiters don't award him close rounds. But why is this the case?    

Clearly, Martinez has been the "A-side" in most of these fights; he is the bigger name. His punches are flashy and they cause damage. He has excellent ring generalship, moving wonderfully, controlling the pace and fighting in his style. You would think that with many of these winning attributes that Martinez would score better with judges. But alas, Martinez commits the cardinal sin of a fighter on American soil: he's a counterpuncher. 

As has been discussed many times on these pages, American judges love the aggressor.  When it doubt, with close rounds, Yankee judges go for the one who leads and throws more punches. Lederman, the daughter of Harold Lederman (HBO's unofficial ringside scorer and a former boxing judge), abides by her father's love of the more aggressive fighter. 

Last weekend, Macklin threw more punches in each of the first five rounds of the fight. In boxing parlance, he was "making the fight." Martinez may have landed the more powerful shots and caused more damage, but to Lederman and the judges of her ilk, the more active fighter is the one who wins the rounds. 

By now, Martinez should be aware of this tendency of American judges, yet his punch output against Macklin was abominable. He threw 31 or fewer punches in 4 of the 11 rounds. This would be an alarmingly low number for a heavyweight, let alone a middleweight; the middleweight average number of punches per round according to CompuBox is 58.6!  As solid as some of his connects may have been in these rounds, following the late-career model of Bernard Hopkins is not a surefire way to win favor with the judges. (Hopkins lost three disputed decisions; his dearth of activity was a significant factor in these defeats.) Some judges just won't award rounds to fighters with such a low punch output.

Personally, I don't agree with that position, but I understand it. When judging close rounds, I almost always side with the fighter who lands the more significant shots. I realize that I tend to prefer counterpunchers more than many American judges do. Prime Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright never seemed to lose on my scorecards. It's a personal preference and all judges have them. Unfortunately for Martinez, many American judges are disinclined to give counterpunchers the benefit of the doubt in close rounds.   

Martinez's current hot streak can be attributed to his flashy knockouts. He clearly loves his counter left hand and his power is special; three of his recent knockout victims (Williams, Serhiy Dzinziruk and Barker) had never been stopped previously. Martinez has formulated his recent game plans with the expectation of these late knockouts. On one level, his execution has been riveting to watch: He grinds opponents down. He studies them, looking for weaknesses. He feints. He dances. He picks the precise moments to trade and counter. It's high-speed chess in a 20-foot ring.

He's also playing with fire. Against Macklin, he gave away rounds, unable to let his hands go. In the Barker fight, he had periods of sluggishness and uncertainty. Some credit must be given to Macklin and Barker, who had smart game plans that centered on limited engagement and quick combinations.  However, Martinez insisted on being too fine. He was content to wait for perfect opportunities to land power shots. He seemed unwilling or unable to create his own offense.

As Martinez looks for mega-fights or bouts against more difficult opponents, the certainty of knockouts would seem likely to decrease. In addition, at 37, Martinez's power should start to recede soon. It may not happen for his next fight or even in 2012, but that day will be here sooner than later.  

Martinez's ring style is predicated on knockouts. If or when they don't come, he doesn't fight in a style that will necessarily prevail on the judges’ scorecards. Only a few years ago, he seemed very comfortable leading with his jab, his right hook or his straight left hand. Now, he just waits.  

In my estimation, Martinez's current ring identity – a counterpuncher who has fallen in love with his power – is a recipe for future defeats. He's had a great run over the last three years but with his style, his current streak of success will end soon. The knockouts won't always be there and if Martinez continues with low punch outputs and periods of passivity, he can expect future disappointment in the form of the judges' scorecards.

Martinez has already felt the heartache of disputed losses or draws, but he insists on traveling this perilous path, where only a few, well-placed punches will be his saving grace. It's a dangerous game that Martinez is playing and, without making further adaptations, one that I expect him to lose. 

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Victor Ortiz: Boxer, Enigma

Victor Ortiz is scheduled to face Andre Berto on June 23rd. That much I know. But if you ask me who will win the fight or which Victor Ortiz will show up against Berto, I'll have no idea what to tell you. I could lie or pretend, but any answer would just be rank speculation, a mere academic exercise. In truth, no one – least of all, Victor – knows what's going to happen during Ortiz-Berto II. 

It's a Victor Ortiz fight!  What crazy antics will be in store? Will Ortiz sabotage yet another great opportunity for himself, and if so, how? He hasn't tackled a referee yet. Will that be it? Perhaps he will bring out the old Vaseline-on-the-glove trick. Maybe it's time for the low blows!  

Inside the ring, Ortiz is a basket case of bizarre behaviors. Here's a list (by no means definitive) of some of Victor's greatest hits: quitting, head butting, hitting during a break resulting in a disqualification, kissing, hugging and turning passive.

Although Ortiz's actions in the ring suggest a certain psychological fragility or, at the very least, a lack of savvy, what he endured in his youth makes these boxing deficiencies seem like marginalia. Left by his mom and then abandoned by his father, Ortiz was an orphan and he had the responsibility of helping to raise his younger brother. In addition, he dealt with extreme poverty, hunger, relocation and who knows what else. Faced with a number of childhood traumas, he defeated staggering odds to become one of the dozen or so biggest names in American boxing. Whatever else occurs throughout his career, he has overcome larger calamities than the wrath of disgruntled boxing fans. 

Should he ever right his ship in the ring, Ortiz has the power and style to win fans over. Of the 34 fighters that he has faced, he's dropped 33 of them. As a prospect, his ascension up the junior welterweight division might as well have been fueled by nuclear hydraulics. There's a reason why he gets chance after chance; when he's at his best, he's one of the elite offensive fighters in the sport. 

In Ortiz's one moment of clarity on the world-class level, he walked through fire and rose from two knockdowns to beat Berto. That fight demonstrated all the good that first Top Rank and then Golden Boy had seen from the kid with the harrowing personal story. Ortiz fought relentlessly. He unloaded as many power shots as he could throw. Even after receiving punishment, he kept coming forward. There was no quit in him that night. 

With that one performance, Ortiz helped erase many negative memories. Previously, his bizarre remarks about quitting the sport after the loss to Marcos Maidana and his stunning passivity during the second half of the fight against Lamont Peterson turned off many boxing observers and fans. After the Berto fight, the narrative changed; Ortiz was finally "right." Now a new force in boxing was ready to emerge, one with a telegenic fighting style, a healthy Mexican-American fanbase and a great smile.

In short work, Floyd Mayweather annihilated this notion of a more composed Victor Ortiz. In that fight, Ortiz became unglued.  Mayweather consistently beat him to the punch during the first three rounds and landed his power right hands with stunning accuracy. In the fourth, Ortiz started to land his right hook and was successful in backing Mayweather up. With Mayweather against the ropes, Ortiz decided that no mere punch was appropriate for this setting. No, the best course of action was to catapult his head directly into Mayweather's face. This infraction was so egregious that referee Joe Cortez immediately deducted a point. 

Just moments after the intentional head butt, Ortiz's next winning move was to bestow Mayweather with a nice man hug in the center of the ring. A few seconds later, Ortiz found himself on the MGM Grand canvas with his biggest opportunity gone. Similar to Amir Khan's last bout against Peterson, where he pushed his way to defeat, Ortiz demonstrated against Mayweather that he lacked the finer boxing mechanics to "rough up" a fight without losing points or his composure.  

Many fighters watch Bernard Hopkins or Mayweather commit fouls and assume that it must be easy to get away with infractions. In actuality, there's a specific art to using one's body to neutralize a boxer; launching one's head at an opponent from two feet away in plain sight of the referee is not an example of this.

Ortiz is still far from a finished product. After a stellar amateur career and 34 professional fights, his lack of ring generalship can be stunning. He quickly abandons his jab to load up on power shots. If he can't outslug an opponent, he has no viable Plan "B." His disdain of defense has cost him against Maidana, Berto and Mayweather. Unfortunately, these demerits have continued as his career has progressed. 

On June 23rd, anything might happen. Ortiz's power and penchant for mishaps create an abnormally wide array of potential endings. Because of these characteristics, Ortiz has become must-see television. Perhaps Ortiz follows the game plan and provides another 12 rounds of memorable toe-to-toe action. Maybe he fouls his way out of the fight. All of these eventualities are possible. 

Ortiz has now entered the elite Bizarro Boxers Club® (BBC), where the unexpected is the norm. Similar to Kermit Cintron (one of the Club's most prominent members), Ortiz can’t attribute all of his strange ring happenings to bad luck or unfortunate occurrences; he has played major roles in his defeats. 

It's fairly typical to see boxers have self-destructive tendencies outside of the ring. However, Ortiz belongs to a much more exclusive cohort of prizefighters who save their self-immolation for between the ropes. Brave and steady away from the bright lights, Ortiz is an erratic once they shine down on him in the center of the ring.  Anyone who claims to know how Ortiz-Berto II will end shouldn't be trusted. Only one thing's for certain: we'll all be watching.    

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