Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Saturday Night Boxing Top-20

Change is inevitable.  When I started Saturday Night Boxing, I wrote a brief mission statement that would define the blog, web site, facebook page, etc., "The big fights, the best fighters and the colorful characters in the world of boxing."  My emphasis was clear; Saturday Night Boxing was a place to discuss the most prominent figures in the sport.   

Along the way, I added some additional bells and whistles.  I set up a rankings system to highlight not just the elite fighters, but also great boxers on their way up and young guns who were starting to make their mark in the sport.  These were all well-intentioned concepts but, in my eyes, my various rankings lists over time became muddled and/or vague. In addition, several top fighters who were beneath my elite fighters list didn't place on any of my rankings lists; there was a disconnect.  

As a way to bring further clarity to my rankings process, I decided to start from scratch.  Clearly, by spending more time talking about say, Scott Quigg, instead of Miguel Cotto, I wasn't doing justice to the mission statement of Saturday Night Boxing; I was ignoring too many top fighters from a rankings perspectives. 

So for now, let me reintroduce the SNB Rankings with a more familiar bent. I'll begin with my top-20 pound-for-pound list.  As with all lists, these are subject to personal whims and misplaced faith.  However, let me state my criteria.  

The most important factor in determining positioning in the rankings is what a fighter has accomplished in the ring.  This is less subjective than other variables but still not black-and-white. How much credit should Yuriorkis Gamboa get for beating Orlando Salido? How good is Salido, really?  It's a quality win, certainly, but to what extent? I, like all of you, will have to provide my best guesstimates here.  

The second factor for me is domination.  It's one thing to squeak by with a disputed victory.  It's another thing to knock out an opponent or win every round.  That's the chief argument for why I believe that Floyd Mayweather deserves the top spot.  He's never in close fights.  Facing solid guys, he rarely loses more than a round or two legitimately.  Similarly, the Klitschkos rank high on my list because they don't give up rounds.  Yes, their quality of competition has been weak, but their mastery of those whom they do face is undeniable.  

A third factor is how good the fighter is right now.  Perhaps the most glaring omission on my list is Bernard Hopkins.  He is just one fight away from being the top light heavyweight in the world.  But I saw his last bout against Chad Dawson, where he wouldn't throw punches and barely engaged. To me, his age, unwillingness to let his hands go and lack of punching power lead me to believe that he is on the decline (this is not necessarily an assessment that smacks of genius).  

I don't believe that Bernard Hopkins is a top fighter anymore, which transitions nicely to my fourth factor: activity. Floyd Mayweather may only enter the ring once a year, but when he does, he still dominates good fighters with relative ease.  That example is pretty clear. But what about less active fighters like Chris John or Toshiaki Nishioka, who have some big wins, but don't fight often?  When they do get in the ring, it often isn't against top opposition.  I think that these boxers do deserve some demerits, for how can you be a top fighter if you don't actually, you know, fight.  

In a nutshell, the four criteria are quality wins, domination factor, current ability level and activity. I'd like to make one additional point at this time.   Moving further away from the top of the rankings, the individual placement of the fighters becomes far more subjective.  For instance, I could passionately argue why I believe that Andre Ward should be ranked higher than Sergio Martinez should be, but I'm less certain when it comes to the relative merits of Brian Viloria versus Marco Huck.  They are in the same range in my eyes. If you wanted to make a case for or against either fighter, I certainly could be convinced.  

Finally, this is just one man's opinion.  That's an obvious statement but it's worth being made.  Rankings are fun.  It's enjoyable to debate, protest and listen to other arguments.  I'm hoping for some interesting feedback from you on these Rankings moving forward.  I have made my case for what I believe, but it's not definitive.  Perspectives change over time.  It's all a part of the process. 

In the weeks and months ahead, I hope to add some additional rankings lists to highlight other aspects within boxing.  But for now, let's start at the beginning and talk about who the best fighters are in the sport.  Without further ado:

1. Floyd Mayweather  He doesn't fight often but when he does, he sails along with easy victories.  His last five opponents have been Miguel Cotto, Victor Ortiz, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Ricky Hatton.  All are good fighters at a minimum; some are much better than that.  I have Mayweather losing only three rounds total in those five fights. 

2. Manny Pacquiao  His spot is precarious here in that Andre Ward is knocking on the door.  Pacquiao should have lost his fight with Juan Manuel Marquez last year and uncharacteristically took his foot off the gas against Tim Bradley in his last fight.  He still should have won that decision with relative ease, but he is no longer the human wrecking ball that he was from 2009-2010.

3. Andre Ward  Andre Ward dominates top fighters.  Just in the last three years, he has defeated Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Chad Dawson.  I had him losing only five rounds in those fights.  He doesn't have an obvious top opponent for his next fight but depending on Pacquiao's performance later in the year, he may still move up in the Rankings. 

4. Nonito Donaire  It's become clear to me that Donaire's accomplishments are not as highly appreciated by many boxing observers as they are by me. Nevertheless, his career-defining wins over Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel were devastating stoppages and he has beaten a half-dozen solid, B+ fighters when he wasn't in against "name" opposition. His next fight against Toshiaki Nishioka could further cement his top status in the sport.    

5. Sergio Martinez  Up until recently, I had Martinez ranked third; but upon further consideration, his fights are closer than they should be.  In fact, in his last seven fights, only his bouts against Serhiy Dzinziruk and the rematch against Paul Williams were blowouts.  Admittedly, he's faced good opposition, but no one is claiming that Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. are elite guys, so why is he losing rounds, getting knocked down and almost getting stopped?

6. Juan Manuel Marquez  Yes, if things broke his way, he might be ranked higher.  Forget these silly rankings; his life would be far different if he had won his three fights against Pacquiao.  He has a firm case to make in the third fight, but the first two were 50-50 affairs.  I don't rank Marquez as high on my Rankings as others might because he went life-and-death with Juan Diaz and he couldn't win one round against Mayweather.  Sure, there was a weight difference with Floyd, but there was also a big disparity in skill level.  

7. Wladimir Klitschko  It's hard to ascend more in the Rankings when facing a collection of stiffs and nobodies.  He does deserve credit for his wipeout win over David Haye but lately, that's all there's been.  He beats the guys put in front of him and doesn't fight down to the level of his competition. Those are good points in his favor but still, his opponents have been awful; that can't be sugar-coated. 

8. Vitali Klitschko  His long, mid-career retirement probably keeps him further down the list than he could have been but he still has put together dominant performances against flavors-of-the-month like Chris Arreola and Tomasz Adamek.  He may only be with us for another fight or two as he contemplates retirement. 

9. Tim Bradley  Legitimately winning four rounds against Manny Pacquiao is no small accomplishment. Bradley put forth a game effort in that fight. Of course, he didn't deserve the decision but he still acquitted himself well. In addition, Bradley won three versions of the junior welterweight title and his wins over Devon Alexander and Junior Witter were particularly impressive. 

10. Anselmo Moreno  Moreno, perhaps the best pure defensive boxer in the sport, has a chance to ascend the Rankings even higher in November when he faces Abner Mares.  Moreno put on a clinic last year in his dominant win over Vic Darchinyan and he has won a number of seemingly close decisions on foreign soil that were actually much wider victories than the score totals would indicate, e.g. wins against Mahyar Monshipour and Volodymyr Sydorenko.   

11. Roman Gonzalez  Gonzalez is in my estimation the best current fighter under 118 pounds.  The undefeated (32-0, 27 KOs) knockout artist from Nicaragua has not always faced top competition, but he's stopped seven of his last eight opponents and he continues to get better. Unfortunately, junior flyweight is not terribly strong right now, but if he keeps winning in spectacular fashion, he will climb the Rankings. 

12. Carl Froch  Froch has faced the best at super middleweight.  Yes, he lost to Andre Ward decisively and dropped a razor-thin decision to Mikkel Kessler. But his victories have been substantial, including knockout wins over Lucian Bute and Jermain Taylor and impressive defeats of Arthur Abraham, Jean Pascal and Glen Johnson.  

13. Miguel Cotto  There's no denying Cotto's past accomplishments and his impressive career resume. However, in my eyes, Cotto has not beaten a very good fighter since 2009, and that was a disputed decision over Josh Clottey.  Cotto's next fight against Austin Trout in December will tell us if he really has been rejuvenated under his new trainer, Pedro Diaz, or whether his recent run has been more the product of favorable matchmaking.  I had him winning only two rounds earlier this year against Mayweather. 

14. Yuriorkis Gamboa  Gamboa may be a great fighter but he has yet to have a signature win.  Sitting on the sidelines throughout 2012 hasn't provided any further clarification about his true talent level. He's had some nice wins at featherweight (Daniel Ponce de Leon, Jorge Solis and Orlando Salido) but people more often talk about the fights that didn't happen (Juan Manuel Lopez, Brandon Rios) than the victories he's actually had. 

15. Chris John  In reevaluating my Rankings, Chris John suffered the most. Although undefeated at 47-0-2, John now only fights twice a year, and often against C-level fighters.  He's a skilled technician but if he's unwilling to face the best at featherweight, he shouldn't continue to be rewarded for his solid victories of many years ago.  Many still claim that his 2006 win over Juan Manuel Marquez was unjust.  His 2009 draw against Rocky Juarez, where he was a clear winner, does not even things out in the minds of many of his detractors.  

16. Brian Viloria  After a career of ups and downs, Viloria has really found himself at flyweight, with decisive victories over Giovani Segura and Omar Nino, who was an old nemesis of his.  Viloria has another opportunity to move up in the Rankings when he faces Hernan Marquez, one of the top fighters in the division, in November.  This may be a case of a fighter finding his optimal weight. 

17. Marco Huck  It's quite possible that the third best heavyweight in the world is hiding out at cruiserweight.  Huck has had an interesting year.  He lost a tight, and many would claim unjust, verdict against heavyweight titleholder Alexander Povetkin earlier in the year (I had it a draw) and only earned a draw against tough cruiserweight Ola Afolabi.  Huck, the longtime cruiserweight titlist, has become one of the sport's best action fighters but it's disappointing that he caved to the wishes of his promoters to stay at cruiserweight.  I think he would cause a lot of damage against the big boys – non-Klitschko division.  

18. Abner Mares  Mares' run in the last few years has been impressive. He's defeated Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko and drew with Yonnhy Perez.  He's certainly challenged himself against tough fighters. However, Mares is not dominating these opponents, but barely squeaking by.  He'll have a chance to move up if he defeats Moreno in November. 

19. Chad Dawson  Through one lens, Dawson has lost to Andre Ward and Jean Pascal in his last five fights.  Still, the current light heavyweight top dog has a number of impressive victories, including those against Hopkins, Adamek, Johnson and Antonio Tarver.  A rematch against Pascal makes a lot of sense for his next move. 

20. Daniel Geale  Beating two German champions in their backyards should mean a lot, and it does.  Geale, a clever boxer from Australia, won tight decisions over Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester, but they were well deserved.  Although he doesn't wow with power shots or flash, he's a very intelligent boxer and has excellent technique.  In the solid middleweight division, if he keeps winning, he'll have a number of opportunities to ascend the pound-for-pound list. 

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

The SNB Interview -- Gabriel Rosado

Junior middleweight Gabriel Rosado (20-5, 12 KOs) faces Charles Whittaker (38-12-2, 23 KOs) on Sept. 21st in an IBF title eliminator (NBC Sports Network). Rosado, a pressure fighter from Philadelphia, has raised his profile in 2012 with stoppage wins over Jesus Soto Karass and Sechew Powell. He recently spoke with Saturday Night Boxing in a wide-ranging interview. He discusses, among many topics, his upcoming fight with Whittaker, what he learned from Bernard Hopkins and his keys to inside fighting.

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

(This Interview has been condensed.)

SNB: Thank you very much for your time. You’ve had an excellent year so far with two big wins against Jesus Soto Karass and Sechew Powell. What were the keys to those fights in your opinion?

GR: The key with the Soto Karass fight was putting pressure on him and flipping the script on him. He’s a pressure fighter and most guys that are pressure fighters really don’t want to fight backing up. He was coming up in weight class and I definitely took advantage of my size advantage on him. I just backed him up and applied pressure and got the stoppage.

With Sechew Powell, he’s a counterpuncher, a sharpshooter. With him, I just basically had to stay patient and not be as aggressive as I was with Soto Karass. I just had to be patient. I think that the experience I’ve had pretty much allowed me to get him at the right time, in the middle rounds. I was able to adjust in the middle of the fight.

SNB: After a couple of early losses in your career, you’ve been on a six-fight winning streak. What have you and Billy Briscoe [Rosado’s trainer] specifically worked on in the gym during this recent run?

GR: I think it’s just experience has kicked in. I think I have a whole new mindset, a whole new different focus. I was always determined to win, but I think at this point, I know what it takes to win. The experience is kicking in. Me and Billy Briscoe are always working on our craft and we’re always working on getting better.

I’m a complete different fighter. Back then, it wasn’t like I could train full time. I always had a job. It’s kind of hard to have a full time job... now I’m fortunate to train 24-7 and just focus on boxing. I get my rest and the things I need to be able to be 100% when I step in the ring. I definitely think that has made a difference in my career.

SNB: What was your full-time job before?

GR: I did everything, man. I did construction. I worked at a school as a handyman. I’ve done a bunch of things. I’ve always held a job throughout my career. My last job was a graveyard shift at Home Depot.

I trained and then I’d go to work, you know like a 10-hour sparring session. You get out of work at like six in the morning and you’re exhausted. You get about four hours sleep in and you do the same thing the next day.

So it’s tough, but a lot of fighters have to go through that. I think the fact that I went through that in my career helps make me appreciate more that I have all the time in the world to now train. So I take full advantage of that because I know how hard it was when I had to do that – how hard it was to get ready for a fight. I take full advantage of being able to be free to train at whatever hours I can.

SNB: I saw a great quote from you in an earlier interview where you said, “In boxing right now, guys don’t even understand the inside game. And I think that’s the advantage we have.” My question is: What’s the toughest part about fighting inside? What does a fighter need to learn to master it?

GR: I think the inside game takes a long time. It’s a skill that my trainer’s been trying to teach me forever – since we started. It’s never kicked in until I fought Ayi Bruce. It was around the time I was beginning my winning streak. [The Bruce fight was Rosado’s third win in his current six-fight winning streak.]

The inside game is old school. It’s an old-school craft. James Toney was probably one of the best at it and now-a-days, guys don’t really know about the inside game. Joe Louis had that style. James Toney had that style. Bernard Hopkins could tie you up on the inside. It’s a skill. You’re in the inside with a guy and they may want to punch but you’re catching a shot because your hands are in the right position and you’re moving your head. And as you’re catching shots and moving away from shots, you’re countering him. You’re touching him to the body and you’re breaking him down little by little. We definitely have that. That’s my game and definitely a big advantage.

SNB: You fight Charles Whittaker on September 21st in a title eliminator. What do you know about Whittaker?

GR: He’s a game guy. He’s been on a winning streak as well. He hasn’t lost in about eight years. He has a winning mentality even though his record has losses. That fact that he’s won in the last eight years shows me he has a winning mentality. I’m pretty sure he’s going to come game and ready. I’m not sleeping on him. He is older than me, but that doesn’t mean anything. [Whittaker is 38; Rosado is 26.] He’s going to come to fight. That’s what I know about him. I know he’s taller and has a good right hand. Other than that, I’m ready for whatever he’s going to bring to the table.

SNB: I watched some tape on Whittaker. I noticed that he has a good right uppercut. As an inside fighter, how do you get around an opponent who has a good uppercut?

GR: The thing is you have to fight at an angle when you’re on the inside. The thing is most guys who fight on the inside now fight squared up. When you fight squared up, you’re open to a lot of shots. You get hit in the ribs. You can get hit through the middle with uppercuts.

You have to be at an angle and you have to be facing him with your lead shoulder. You have to keep your right hand right underneath your chin so that when he does shoot uppercuts, you catch that shot. And if he throws the straight right hand, you can roll it off your shoulder. And if he comes back with a hook, that right hand, bring that back up to the chin. You have to keep that hand there to get away from his uppercut. When you’re at an angle, it’s harder for a guy to land an uppercut. When you’re squared up, that’s the easiest time to hit a guy with the uppercut. That’s the key to make sure you stand at an angle on the inside.

SNB: As a Philly fighter, you’ve been on the scene for a number of years, but I noticed that you’re in Phoenix for the last few weeks of training camp. What brought you out to Phoenix?

GR: Training camp went well in Philly. I got good sparring and things like that. My strength trainer, Jason Sargus, from Brazen Boxing, got me in great shape as far as my strength, stamina, things like that. The last few weeks I wanted to get away to Phoenix to focus on the fight, not that I wasn’t focused in Philly, but when you’re in your hometown, your friends are around. Your family’s around. Sometimes you don’t get the critical rest you should get. So I tried to go away, me and my trainer. Out here, we train and we rest. We don’t have to worry about anyone bothering us or distractions, or anything of that nature.

Phoenix, Arizona – the heat. It’s about 110 degrees out here so it helps me lose weight. I’ve already lost five pounds out here. It definitely works out as far as making weight and being able to just concentrate on the fight.

SNB: I saw that prior to the Powell fight you went out to the Wild Card Gym in L.A. What did you take away from your time there?

GR: The Wild Card Gym was great. There’s a lot of good fighters out there, a lot of good sparring. Unfortunately when I was out there, they had switched up opponents on me. I was supposed to fight Joel Julio and I ended up fighting Sechew Powell, who’s a southpaw. So we didn’t really get the southpaw work that we needed. We had to make the adjustment in the middle of the fight with Sechew Powell because we didn’t get the southpaw work.

As far as the atmosphere in the gym, it’s definitely a great atmosphere. Freddie Roach, great guy, definitely welcomed us in. So it was a good experience.

SNB: You had a couple of early losses in your career to guys like Chris Gray and Joshua Onyango. What do you remember about those fights and how do you look at that period of time now?

GR: The fight with Chris Gray was my first loss and I remember winning the fight. A lot of people thought that I won the fight but it went his way. It was just early in my career. I started boxing at the age of 18. So it wasn’t like I was in the game for a long time. I started boxing at 18 and I turned pro at 19. That was an early stage. That was probably my sixth pro fight. I was still learning on the job.

I actually fought Josh Onyango in a rematch on three-day notice and I knocked him out in the third round. It just comes with experience. You know, the losses, they make you or break you. It just taught me to be stronger and work on my craft. I never had my head down. When I took a loss, I always went back to the gym and just worked on my craft.

SNB: I know that many of the Philly fighters are very close with each other and pull for one another. What’s the best piece of advice or the best tip you’ve been given from a Philly fighter and who gave it to you?

GR: The best tip was from Bernard Hopkins. I did five training camps with Bernard. I think a lot of things that I do were things I learned from Bernard. Bernard is a mental guy and boxing is all mental. At the end of the day, you can have all the skills in the world, all of the talent in the world, but mentally, if you don’t believe in yourself – you don’t have that strong mental strength – you’re not going to go far. Mentally, I’m a strong fighter. Bernard Hopkins, I learned that from him. Mentally, you have to be strong.

There’s a lot of things that I’ve seen Bernard work on in the gym that I observed and I took and added to my game. So Bernard always taught me some things, always spoke to me and was always open about showing me new things.

SNB: For the last few fights, you hooked up with Hall of Fame promoter Russell Peltz. He’s also known for his great matchmaking. How has your career changed since you’ve been affiliated with him?

GR: We’re definitely on the same page – Russell and Doc Nowicki [Rosado’s manager] are my advisors. Russell’s an old-school guy and I’m kind of an old-school fighter. I’m young but I have that old-school mentality. It meshes well. He’s put me in critical fights…you know Soto Karass on NBC. That fight right there gave us a lot of buzz. And again, with Sechew Powell, that worked out and got a buzz for me. And now, being in the main event, against Charles Whittaker, for the IBF mandatory is definitely going to put a stamp on me with the fans, and the boxing world is definitely going to want to see me fight K9 [Cornelius Bundrage] for the title. Me and Russell, it’s just working out well right now.

SNB: Here’s another quote from you that I really like. “I never saw myself as an ‘opponent.’” What’s the toughest part about being an underdog in your opinion?

GR: I actually embrace that. I like it. I don’t want to be the guy that got it the easy way. People question them. I don’t want to be that guy. I like to be the blue-collar worker. I’m the type of guy that comes through adversity. I like to be the guy when times get tough, I definitely try to get a positive out of it…I never had the “opponent” mentality. Whenever I took a loss, obviously, I was disappointed, but I always made sure I came back strong. I like the fact that I come back and I have that mentality.

SNB: If you can beat Whittaker you’re in line for a title shot. Thinking about this now from where you started at the beginning of the year, what’s 2012 been like for you?

GR: It’s been very exciting. It’s probably the most fun I’ve had in my career. Just having a good time, man. With this fight, with Whittaker, I’m just going to keep it flowing. I’m not taking him lightly at all. The whole goal is to become world champion and Whittaker’s in the way right now.

I know that with the type of performance that I’m going to put on, it’s going to be a performance where people are really, really going to believe in me. People might question that I can’t beat guys like Canelo [Saul Alvarez] or whoever the case may be, but when they see me on the 21st, they’re really going to believe in me.

I already have a lot of people that believe in me now but the type of statement I’m going to make on the 21st is going to be that I am improving all the time. I think every time I step in the ring, I’m always adding something to my game and I’m always getting better. I’m never satisfied with a fight. I always want to add to my game. I always want to do something better. I think that’s the statement I want to make. I think once the fight’s over, the fans are really going to appreciate it and the boxing world is really going to appreciate it. I’m expecting big things for me.

SNB: Present company excluded, whom do you see as the best fighter at 154 pounds right now?

GR: Honestly, I truly feel in my heart that I can beat anyone at 154. I’d say myself. Whoever it may be, I feel I can beat anyone at 54 right now. I feel that I’m a different fighter, a much more complete fighter. The thing is a lot of fighters and a lot of people really underestimate my boxing I.Q. This is chess. This is about who is able to make the best adjustments. I have that in my game.

I never get discouraged… The fact that I’ve been through the hard times and I’ve been through the tough losses…I already know what that is. I’ve experienced that. So when I step in the ring now, I feel like there’s nothing that I haven’t been through. I’m in that ring with confidence and believing in my abilities. I can beat anybody at 54.

SNB: Again, thank you very much for your time. One final question: What’s something that not a lot of people know about you?

GR: My faith in god. I’m a god-fearing man. I’m not perfect but I definitely pray…I always ask god to help me stay humble. I know that with being in the spotlight and getting known and more money comes, people can just kind of stray away and get caught up in the hype. I just want to stay humble. I just want to represent people that work hard – the guy who gets up and does that 9 to 5. That’s who I represent. I’ve been there. I’ve worked hard. I’ve been in that position. I want people to know that I’m a humble guy just like everybody else. I want to do big things in the sport, stay humble and please the fans.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Opinions and Observations: The Vegas Double-Down

This weekend featured some scintillating fight action, which included two enormous, competing cards in Las Vegas. If you don't mind, I'll forego the witty introduction and get right to it.

First off, I was wrong. I predicted a nip-and-tuck fight with Martinez pulling ahead as the winner by the slimmest of margins. I based that off of a couple of factors. Primarily, I had thought that Martinez (37) was starting to slow down. His activity level had dropped precipitously in the Barker fight and he had become a pocket fighter during his last few bouts. I foresaw a mano-a-mano war where Martinez's knockout punches would be pitted against Chavez's pulverizing body shots.

Instead, in an athletic tour de force that would make even a sprightly 20-something boxing whippersnapper cry uncle, Martinez used his legs expertly for 11 rounds to dominate Chavez. He circled mostly to his left, which is unusual against an orthodox fighter but correct against Chavez's because of his ferocious left hooks. Martinez danced, feinted, fired off blistering combinations and easily outclassed Chavez throughout the fight. Martinez wouldn't let Chavez set himself and they rarely had sustained exchanges. Chavez was often reduced to following Martinez around the ring and eating a lot of leather.

It was clear that Chavez had no answer for Martinez's movement. Chavez couldn't cut the ring off and when they had exchanges along the ropes, it was because Martinez allowed it. Even in those instances, Martinez turned his body towards his side and bent over so Chavez couldn't use his body to lean on him. Additionally, in that position, Martinez was only giving Chavez his back to throw at and not his body. To say that Chavez was flummoxed by Martinez's tactics and movement would be a massive understatement.

Martinez did things that Chavez had never seen before. He would stand out of reach, square to him and throw two upjabs with his left hand (remember, Martinez is a southpaw and his jab hand is his right hand). He would turn Chavez constantly and duck and twist past Chavez's body.

In addition, he landed hard shots throughout the entire fight, especially with his straight left hand, left uppercut and right hook. Martinez also jabbed very well at points and fought Chavez both off his front and back foot. Martinez's technical mastery was just too much.

Things changed drastically in the 12th. After having some success trading in the 11th round with some straight right hands, Chavez came out in the 12th and let his hands go. He caught Martinez with a slinging right hook which drove him back to the ropes. Martinez either lost focus or believed that he was out of range. Whatever the case may have been, Martinez got hit flush. Chavez then followed Martinez back to the ropes and pummeled him with a series of left hands. A key point in this sequence was that Chavez kept enough distance so that Martinez couldn't tie up. Martinez tried to hold on, but Chavez backed up and Martinez fell to the canvas.

At this point there was a lot of the final round left. Martinez's face was battered and bloody. Chavez pounced on him and connected with a few more shots. Later in the round, Martinez fell flat to the canvas, untouched, from sheer exhaustion. But, he regained his legs and held on at points. By the end of the round, he started to fire back; he had survived, and Chavez's chance at one of the most improbable victories in boxing history fell by the wayside.

Nevertheless, the pro-Chavez crowd roared. They had gotten their money's worth in the 12th round. They knew that the young fighter whom they had placed their allegiances with had what it took to knock out one of the top fighters in the sport.

Perhaps most importantly, Chavez displayed heart worthy of his legendary father. He could have quit at many points in the fight after the beating he was taking, but he pressed forward and gave himself the chance to win. He missed by a few seconds, but the exhilaration he created in the Thomas and Mack Center and with boxing fans across the world was unforgettable. That 12th round was a majestic moment in recent boxing history. Give credit to both fighters – Chavez for never giving up and Martinez for somehow finding the will to survive.

Martinez regained his title belt with a deserved victory. For most of the fight, he painted a masterpiece worthy of Rembrandt. Unfortunately, by the end of the night, his face resembled the random coloring found in abstract expressionism – some red there, some blue, drips and dribbles – he was an inspiring mess. He didn't finish the fight well. Perhaps fatigue set in, or he lost focus, but his performance overall was excellent.

Martinez's cunning and ring intelligence is among the best in the sport. Perhaps most importantly, he consistently delivers excellent fights, often with unforgettable endings. In only a few years, he has amassed quite a boxing resume.

There was much talk after the fight of a rematch. Frankly, I would be fine with that. Chavez, I'm sure, gained a lot of confidence with his performance in the 12th round and if he lets his hands go with abandon in the rematch, good things might happen. His chin and body held up to constant pounding from Martinez. He'll have the self-belief knowing that he could take Martinez out at any time. I wouldn't favor Chavez in a second matchup, but I'm pretty sure it would be a different fight.

Although I have admired Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's intoxicating combination of youth, ring-savvy and combination punching, I haven't yet climbed aboard his bandwagon. With Alvarez having been fed a bevy of faded champions and blown-up fighters, it's been very tough for me to evaluate his true ceiling as a fighter. In contrast, I know now that Chavez has the power to knock out any middleweight and his chin can stand up to the best in the division. That doesn't make Chavez an elite fighter yet, but it certainly leads to a tough day at the office for any of the top guys at middleweight. With Alvarez, I just don't know how good he is and I certainly can't evaluate whether his defensive flaws are minor impediments or massive barriers to achieving greatness.

Against Josesito Lopez, an energetic boxer with an irrepressible fighting spirit, Alvarez landed pretty much at will. His left hook was his most devastating punch of the fight and his combinations were jarring and crisp. One thing that struck me was an improvement in Alvarez's hand speed. From watching Alvarez in a number of his past fights, I had thought that his hand speed was average, but what had made him so successful was the combination of perfect technique, confidence with a variety of punches and stunning accuracy. However, against Lopez, who had decent hand speed, Alvarez consistently beat him to the punch. His jab was quick and bracing and his combinations were compact and accurate.

Here's why it's so tough to judge Alvarez at this point: as the fight progressed, Lopez landed some massive shots on him, including right hands and left hooks. Because Lopez is a smallish welterweight, his punches had no effect on Alvarez. However, these are the moments that beg the following questions: does Alvarez lose focus on defense or does he just not bother when facing small fighters without real power? These are serious questions to consider and ones which won't be answered until Alvarez takes on a higher quality of opposition and more specifically, a real puncher.

For Lopez, despite entering the fight as a massive underdog with physical disadvantages, he fought with a tremendous amount of heart. Even after being dropped three times, he kept firing away, trying to change the fight with one punch. It was sad to see him sacrificed at the altar of Canelo, but hopefully that paycheck with the multiple zeroes will help soothe him. I'd like to see him back at welterweight, where his determination and self-belief have the chance to cause real havoc. Potential bouts against Devon Alexander and Marcos Maidana make sense to me.

By this time next year, we'll know much more about Canelo the Fighter; we already have found out about Canelo the Attraction and Canelo the Matinee Idol. Golden Boy, who in its defense did try to make competitive matchups against James Kirkland and Paul Williams prior to selecting Lopez as an opponent, knows that Alvarez will only reach his true potential as a fighter and ticket seller if he faces real, live opponents. They are going to need some B-sides and some credible ones. It was a great performance from Alvarez, but take it with a generous heaping of salt.

Maidana-Soto Karass
Marcos Maidana stopped Jesus Soto Karass in the eighth round of a slugfest. That result could have been predictable. However, the new wrinkles that Maidana displayed were certainly unexpected. Under the guidance of new trainer Robert Garcia, Maidana, a crude slugger in the past, doubled and tripled-up his jab. In his prior fights, you could count the number of jabs that he threw in each bout on two hands. His best defense was his chin and he walked flat-footed to his opponents. Against Soto Karass, he danced around the ring with side-to-side movement. He even slipped punches and fought off his back foot.

In the fourth round, he eluded eight punches in a row along the ropes; I almost fainted. Was this an imposter? What happened to the all-action warrior? Did he now fancy himself a cutie pie?

After winning many of the early rounds, Maidana got way too caught up with his new toys. He yielded ground to Soto Karass, a garden-variety pressure fighter looking to make a statement. Yes, Maidana slipped a lot of punches and displayed some fancy footwork, but he also got tagged. In these rounds, specifically the fifth and the sixth, he forgot to win them. Dodging punches and turning an opponent is nice, but hitting hard is better.

It was only in the seventh round, when Maidana again decided to hold his ground and press forward, that he had sustained success. A beautiful, four-punch combination (right hand/left jab/left jab/right hand) dropped Soto Karass and really hurt him. By the eighth round, Maidana piled on and referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight.

Maidana's new dimensions were shocking. Despite having only one full training camp with Garcia, Maidana incorporated many new elements into his package, but he wasn't employing them seamlessly. That will come with more time with Garcia.

Even though Maidana was a top amateur in the boxing-rich country of Argentina, he looked so raw as a professional – this of course was part of his allure. It seemed like he didn't even know how to throw a jab or set up shots. He also lacked the rudiments of defense. Furthermore, while his heart was never in question, his conditioning sure was.

Maidana has gone through trainers frequently in the past few years, which suggests dissatisfaction with the state of his career. Perhaps, he decided that he didn't want to continue with his physically taxing face-first style. Maybe the Devon Alexander result conveyed the necessity of improving his footwork and defense. It's certainly possible that Maidana previously had a belief in his invincibility; maybe he's finally receptive to new ideas. So far, the early returns with Garcia have been intriguing. The amount of progress that Maidana has made with just one fight under Garcia demonstrates his boxing aptitude and teachability. Ultimately, it's a credit to him for trying to expand his dimensions.

Knocking out Soto Karass is a nice result, but it's not going to take him to the top of the welterweight division. With continued improvement in his defense, footwork and conditioning, he'll put himself in a much better position to tackle the elite in the weight class.

It was widely expected that Guillermo Rigondeaux would dispatch Robert Marroquin with ease. By looking at the final scores (118-108 x2 and 118-109), conventional wisdom seemed to carry the day. But the fight was interesting from this perspective: Marroquin hurt Rigondeaux with two left hooks as well as a right hand. Rigondeaux didn't take these punches particularly well and these moments were significant enough to cast doubt upon Rigondeaux's eventual ceiling in the junior featherweight division.

Throughout the rest of the fight, Rigondeaux dominated with his expert ring generalship, defense, movement, feints and devastating counter left hands, either straight shots or uppercuts. Rigondeaux dropped Marroquin twice with picture-perfect left hands and his mastery of distance and movement flummoxed Marroquin throughout most of the fight. Marroquin couldn't find ways to land, and in a number of rounds he didn't throw much at all.

Rigondeaux also mixed in a few functional right hooks. He's still left-hand dominant and he needs to develop a real right-hand weapon to become a complete offensive fighter.

If Rigondeaux has real chin issues, a power puncher like Nonito Donaire, who has devastating left hooks, could be his kryptonite. It's one thing to have great defense, but even the slickest defensive wizard gets hit. If Rigondeaux can't take punches well, no legendary amateur pedigree will save him, he'll be in trouble. To be continued.

Gonzalez-Ponce de Leon
Jhonny Gonzalez wasn't the first fighter to be completely frustrated by Daniel Ponce de Leon's combination of awkwardness and heavy hands and he most likely won't be the last one. Gonzalez, who previously had some trouble with southpaws (Gerry Penalosa and Toshiaki Nishioka, to name two), certainly wasn't prepared for Ponce de Leon's strange variety of shots. How about a lead, looping left hook from distance? (Remember, the right hook is usually the money shot for a southpaw.) How about a head used as a guided missile with lunging straight left hands to the body thrown behind it? Would a slinging right hook followed by a sharp elbow help any?

Ponce de Leon's shots looped and curved from all sorts of improbable angles, but he also mixed in a firm jab and some straight left hands. Gonzalez just didn't look comfortable in the ring. Ponce de Leon's punches and head forced Gonzalez to become hesitant.

Gonzalez has excellent punching power but Ponce de Leon wisely stayed out of distance until he was ready to attack. He kept exchanges short and got out of the pocket quickly. Gonzalez's hand speed looked particularly slow on Saturday, which didn't bode well for him. The fighters who had dominated Ponce de Leon had excellent hand speed and/or sharp, compact punches (JuanMa Lopez, Gamboa and Caballero); Gonzalez had neither. His accuracy was terrible throughout the night and he really needed to land his uppercut to thwart Ponce de Leon's aggression. Of the handful that he threw, I can't remember one connecting.

Although Ponce de Leon is thought of as a crude fighter, his game plan on Saturday demonstrated a firm understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. While most observers expected a brawl, Ponce de Leon used distance wonderfully to control the action. His short flurries racked up the points and protected him from unnecessary return fire. By the sixth round, he was systematically breaking Gonzalez down. He landed a sharp left which put Gonzalez through the ropes.

A nasty head clash in the eighth ended the fight. Ponce de Leon won by scores of 79-72 x2 and 77-74 (I also scored it 79-72). The mark of an intelligent fighter is to try and make fights as easy as possible. Ponce de Leon did that and it's time to reassess his reputation as a mere awkward brawler. On a good night, he gives any of the current crop of top featherweights trouble.

Matthew Macklin received an opportunity on the Chavez-Martinez undercard because of his good showing against Sergio Martinez and his promoter's (Lou DiBella) desire to keep him active. He was in the ring against Joachim Alcine, a former junior middleweight titlist from Canada, who is now in the spoiler phase of his career.

Macklin just didn't let Alcine get started. He tagged Alcine almost immediately with a right hand that led to an unexpected knockdown. Macklin flurried later along the ropes and Alcine took a knee for a second knockdown. He continued with several more unanswered punches and referee Jay Nady stopped the fight. That's all she wrote.

In the last 15 months, Macklin fought on even terms with Felix Sturm and was competitive with Sergio Martinez until a late knockdown. It's clear that he's a top-ten middleweight. The hope is that he will have another opportunity soon against a top middleweight. If he keeps impressing, he'll get his next shot very soon.

Santa Cruz-Morel
Leo Santa Cruz, a bantamweight titlist, unloaded on Eric Morel for five rounds with a vicious, pulverizing body attack. Morel, an aged former flyweight champion, had enough after the fifth round and just ended it. For Morel, he landed some of his best power shots, which led to just more punishment. Santa Cruz had zapped his legs and the beating he was taking could have become life-altering. The decision to end it was understandable.

Santa Cruz has become one of the more impressive pressure fighters in the sport. He often throws over 100 punches a round, mostly power shots and thrown from a good position. His balance has impressed me and although he doesn't have one-punch knockout power, he has heavy hands. Like a good pressure fighter, his chin seems to be very sturdy. He has an array of combinations and punches. One combination in the third round – a right hook to the body/right uppercut to the head/left hook to the head – had me particularly giddy. His future is bright but...

During the Showtime broadcast, the commentators explained that Santa Cruz was preparing to head up the junior featherweight division, a weight class that may be the best in boxing. Facing guys with superior movement and/or punching power may trouble him (such as Anselmo Moreno, Nonito Donaire and Guillermo Rigondeaux). To me, Santa Cruz still needs more seasoning before he is ready for that level of fighter. In a perfect world, he would stay at bantamweight for a few more fights and gain some valuable experience. However, if he must go up to junior featherweight right now, he needs to be matched carefully before facing the beasts atop the division.

The best fight on Saturday was between Roman "Rocky" Martinez and Miguel Beltran Jr. for a vacant junior lightweight title belt. A classic Puerto Rican vs. Mexico matchup, these two boxers were evenly matched. The bout took place in a phone booth as each combatant fought for their careers.

Martinez was a former titlist who lost his belt in 2010 to Ricky Burns in an entertaining scrap. Beltran probably didn't deserve a title shot off of his career accomplishments – this was only his second scheduled 12-round fight. But the WBO and Top Rank/Zanfer matchmakers saw something with this pairing, and it delivered.

Beltran won the early rounds with his superior hand speed and more compact shots. But as the fight continued, Martinez was able to assert himself. The rounds were back and forth and there was a beautiful ebb-and-flow to the match. Probably eight or nine rounds could have gone to either fighter.

Neither of these boxers is a world-beater, but they both fought as hard as they could for their paychecks. They reveled in their opportunity to make a mark in the sport. In fact, they went at it so hard for 11 rounds that they were both gassed by the 12th, leading to an anti-climactic final round. Nevertheless, they electrified the crowd and made names for themselves in front of a huge global boxing audience.

What turned out to be the pivotal moment in the fight was a blatant rabbit punch by Beltran in the 11th round. Beltran had previously been warned twice by referee Russell Mora for hitting behind the head. The shot that finally led to a point deduction wasn't particularly menacing, but it was so blatant that it needed to be called. Mora is one of my least favorite referees in boxing. (His horrible showings in Donaire-Montiel and Mares-Agbeko I should have gotten him banned.) However, his deduction was completely appropriate. Beltran lost his composure at a key point in the fight and instead of settling for a draw, he lost the decision. Scores were 116-111 (Beltran) and 114-113 x2 (Martinez). I also scored it 114-113 for Martinez. Yes, the deduction cost Beltran the match, but in actuality, Beltran caused himself to lose the fight because of a lack of discipline.

The Top Rank/Zanfer team deserves a lot of credit for placing this match as the chief undercard support of Chavez-Martinez. Instead of going with a "name" in this slot, they went with action. They placed their faith in two relatively anonymous fighters. It was a nice risk taken by Top Rank and one that paid off handsomely. Their understanding of matchmaking remains the best in the business.

Earlier on Saturday, cruiserweight Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Troy Ross fought an entertaining slugfest that featured, unfortunately, another poor decision in Germany. The first three rounds were a war with both southpaws trading hard power shots. Hernandez, a Cuban émigré and titlist based out of Germany, had early success landing his straight left hands while Ross, a former title challenger from Canada, scored with his straight left and blistering right hook. Hernandez had a five-inch height advantage and for a while, his shots had an easier time finding their mark.

However, Hernandez's flaws started to show. He threw lazy jabs, leading to easy counter opportunities. He also leaned forward, giving up his height advantage; this provided Ross with an available target.

In the fifth round, Ross dropped Hernandez with a left hand and a brief flurry of follow-up power shots. Hernandez survived the round with some help from referee David Fields, who should have deducted another point when Hernandez turned his back to Ross for an extended period of time. Fields also initiated some rather lengthy and unnecessary pauses during the round.

Shockingly, Ross' trainer, Chris Amos, instructed his fighter to box in the sixth. Even though Hernandez's legs weren't stable, Ross listened to his corner and didn't press his attack. He gave Hernandez ample recovery time. By the ninth round, a round-of-the-year candidate, the two were trading again with furious shots. Hernandez looked to be hurt at the end of the round, but just as he did earlier in the fight, Amos implored his fighter to take his foot off of the gas and box.

Ultimately, Ross lost a decision that he should have won. Scores were 116-112, 115-112 and 114-113, all for Hernandez (I scored it 115-112 for Ross). It was a bad decision but Ross should never have let it get to that point. He had Hernandez wounded on foreign soil, and he didn't take him out. At 37, this was Ross' last shot. I'm sure he had a long plane ride back to Canada to think about what he could've done differently. Perhaps he will realize that Amos' awful corner work helped lead to the defeat.

Hernandez had two victories in the last year against long-time champ Steve Cunningham – one of which was a farce and the other was a close fight that could have gone either way. Trained by master coach Ulli Wegner, the thought was that Sauerland Event had another first-class cruiserweight on its hands. However, Hernandez took a few steps back with this performance. His shots were very wide, his defense was porous and his chin seemed to be problematic. He would get an awful beating from titleholder Marco Huck; Hernandez is far from being an elite fighter.

I'm sure that Sauerland can keep the title in his hands for some time with its skilled matchmaking, but Hernandez's performance was very disappointing. Maybe his relative success against Cunningham was more about an older fighter who was no longer comfortable at the weight instead of anything special that Hernandez was doing. No one's stock fell more over the weekend.

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