Monday, October 29, 2012

Boxinghead Battle Update

I have started a prediction game featuring many of the boxing experts in the United States and a few sprinkled in from around the world. I call it the Boxinghead Battle. Predictions will be tabulated throughout the year for major fights.

The rules are as follows: One point (+1) for correctly picking the winning fighter, minus one point (-1) for selecting the losing fighter and five points (+5) for correctly picking a draw. If someone correctly predicts a no-contest, they win ten points (+10) but no points will be deducted for a fight that is declared a no-contest.

Below you will see the current standings of the Battle. Each expert is identified along with his publication. Some names are prominent boxing figures on Twitter and do not have an official affiliation.  There are also other boxing enthusiasts as part of the Battle.  Contestants who haven't remained active have been removed. The current leader is James Foley of Bad Left Hook (+9). Matthew Mojica (-2) is the trailer.

Check for updates to the Boxinghead Battle. There will be a dedicated page on the upper right hand side of the website.

Update as of October 29th:

Abramowitz, Adam (saturday night boxing) +5
Abramson, Mitch (new york daily news) +1
Albia, Corey +2
Anjuum, Mohammad 0
Barry, Alex (boxing seed) +7
B-Mitch +1
Boxing 101 +1
Boxing Mouth +2
Bivins, Ryan (sweetboxing) +3
Black Dynamite -1
Burton, Ryan (boxing lab) -1
Campbell, Brian (espn) +5
Carp, Steve (las vegas review journal) +3
Christ, Scott (bad left hook) +1
Conner, Patrick (tqbr) +5
Conye, Danny +4
Coppinger, Mike (ring) +2
David, Jose 0
Donovan, Jake (boxing scene) +2
Erdman, Corey (ring) +1
Fake Larry Merchant +2
Ferguson, Billy (fighthype) +7
Ferlisi, Emile +1
Fischer, Douglass (ring) +8
Fitzsimmons, Lyle (boxing scene) 0
Foley, James (Bad Left Hook) +9
Frauenheim, Norm (15 rounds) +4
Freeburn, Shannon +4
Fruman, Andrew (bad left hook) +1
Gaibon, Ernest (boxing lab) -1
Idec, Keith (boxing scene) +4
Iole, Kevin (yahoo) +1
Jones, Vince Parker +1
Lampin, David +1
Linus 0
Lito (boxingheads) +1
Mannix, Chris (sports illustrated) +2
Maquinana, Ryan (boxing scene) +5
McCarson, Kelsey (the sweet science) -1
McDonald, John (the boxing voice) +1
Mojica, Matthew -2
Montoya, Gabe (maxboxing) -1
Morilla, Diego +2
Mulcahey, Marty (maxboxing) +8
Mulvaney, Kieran (espn) + 1
Noodles 36 +1
Olson, Hans (boxing insider) +7
Ortega, Mark (tqbr) +8
Pawel +4
Pina, Aris (Punch Zone Aris) -1
Poplawski, Ray +1
Punch to the Face +1
Rafael, Dan (espn) +8
Raskin, Eric (grantland) +1
Ring King 0
Robinson, Chris (boxing scene) +4
Rodriguez, Alex +5
Rold, Cliff (boxing scene) +8
Rosado, Michelle +3
Rosenthal, Michael (ring) +5
Salazar, Victor (boxing voice Vic) +4
Sandoval, Luis (boxing lab) +2
Santoloquito, Joe (ring) +2
Sledskillz +3
Smith, Sarren -1
Songalia, Ryan (ring) +2
Starks, Tim (tqbr) +5
Title Fight 0
Two Piece Boxing +5
Velasco, Darren +3
Velin, Bob (USA Today) +6
Wally (Urban Sports Scene) +1
Wainwright, Anson (maxboxing) 0
Woods, Michael (espn) +2
Wylie, Lee (the sweet science) +4

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Emanuel Steward -- Pride and Joy

Sitting in the stands of Boardwalk Hall in 2007 prior to the first fight between Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik, I started to leaf through the official program for the event. I stopped on a full-page ad that featured what must have been two-dozen championship boxers; all of them had been trained by Emanuel Steward. Steward's name and likeness graced the ad and a few things struck me. First, the sheer heft and stature of the champions he trained were astounding: legends like Hearns, De la Hoya, Chavez, Lewis and Klitschko. These fighters had contributed so much to my collective boxing consciousness. Second, Steward, who by this point had already been regarded as one of the best trainers on the planet, had paid for this ad or had insisted that it be included in the program. Here was a man who had already reached the mountaintop of the sport and yet that was not enough; he needed to remind boxing fans of his accomplishments.  

This ad might have smacked of pride and ego, and these characteristics were a part of Steward, but he was never regarded as smug or insufferable. His confidence, self-assuredness and ring knowledge helped dozens of fighters put belts around their waists and his observations and commentary added to millions of boxing fans' appreciation of the sport.  Steward, who left us on Thursday at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer, loved boxing dearly and felt honored by his role within it. He was a successful, self-made man in boxing and he became one of the sport's great ambassadors. He was aware of his influence and success in boxing; it meant a lot to him, but he never lost touch with his journey to the top. 

Growing up in West Virginia and moving to Detroit, Steward turned to boxing. He was a bantamweight Golden Gloves champion as an amateur (his amateur record of 94-3 was incredible). Because of family and economic conditions, he needed to work and he became an electrician instead of pursuing a professional boxing career. But he found his way to the Kronk Gym in Detroit to train fighters. He made a name for himself there and eventually amassed a huge stable of champions. By the late '80s, he had become one of the most in-demand trainers in the world, a position within boxing that he maintained until his passing. 

He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame 1996. He also segued into television, eventually becoming the lead commentator on HBO's flagship World Championship Boxing telecasts and its pay per view cards.

Steward would come to be synonymous with Detroit boxing.  In the heyday of the Kronk, in the 80s, when boxing captured more of the hearts and minds of the American sporting public, he became a celebrity. Fighters from across the country and around the world would come to the sweaty basement gym in Detroit for its legendary sparring.  Eventually, Steward would become the owner and caretaker of the Kronk. 

Steward's pride in his accomplishments could be evident whenever he would talk about Tommy Hearns or Lennox Lewis. His face would light up and in a brief instant you could sense how it felt to be a trainer on top of the world.  And he liked his celebrity and place in front of the camera. It was common for him to leave a fighter's training camp and jet in for a weekend to call HBO Boxing and head right back to training. He earned his place in the sport and he wasn't about to relinquish it.  

As a commentator, he called it straight. He loved fighters. It didn't matter if they were black or white, from the U.S., Mexico or the Ukraine. He enjoyed talking about strategy and always emphasized the importance of conditioning and a good training camp.  Immediately in fights, he would zero in on the fighters' legs.  Within the first round, he would almost always correctly determine if a fighter "had it" that night. He respected fighters of all ilks, both past greats and modern boxers on their way up. He never pined about how great the old days were. He was always present with his analysis.  

He also managed a number of the fighters whom he trained. Many of his boxers, like Hearns, Lewis, Klitschko and Andy Lee – were like sons to him. He wanted to do right by his fighters, both in and out of the ring. For a man as accomplished as he was, he never believed in shortcuts, even later in life.  He had no reservations about upending his life to have a training camp in Austria or the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania.  In fact, he relished these moments to be one-on-one with his fighters.  In addition to boxing, he talked with his fighters about life lessons, financial issues and the importance of good decision making. He reveled in his fighters' victories and their losses were his losses. Years later, you could still see some some of his most painful defeats in the wrinkles on his brow. 

In addition, he would have fighters live with him in Detroit, where he became not just the boxing ambassador for the city, but also one of its cultural attaches. He would take fighters and journalists around the city, pointing out its rich boxing and industrial heritage. Even with its harsh climate, he remained in the Detroit area. It was his adopted hometown; the love between the city and the man was mutual.  

But as a trainer, he wasn't a perfect fit for all. Often as a gun-for-hire, he was brought in to work with champs like De la Hoya, Chavez, Chad Dawson and Jermain Taylor. Not all of these matches jelled. He didn't work well with fighters who cut corners in training and he had firm ideas on what led to elite boxers. He believed in intense sparring for his fighters and preferred isolation, when possible, for his training camps. In addition, he also hated interference from hangers-on, promoters and managers. He didn't want his methods questioned. He had a lot to teach but only to those fighters whom he felt were receptive. 

Steward's long-lasting and best pupils bought into his boxing philosophies. He believed in the power of the jab and never wanted boxers to give up their height or reach advantages. Steward loved knockouts, but he didn't want his fighters deviating from the game plan to get them. He stressed aspects of footwork and glove positioning that are often overlooked in boxing today. He hated fighters who reached with their shots or weren't in proper position to throw a punch. He taught his boxers how to properly tie-up on the inside when they were hurt.  

Working the corners, Steward had almost a preternatural ability to anticipate when an opponent was weakening or when it was the proper time to go for the knockout. Like the best trainers, he was brutally honest in the corner. When his fighters were behind, he let them know it. When they weren't doing something right in the ring, he tried to correct it. He was calm under pressure and never tried to complicate things too much between rounds.  

He was an avid student of the sport. He was probably one of the best at picking up an obscure weakness of an opponent and setting forth a plan to exploit it. His fight collection was legendary and he often would host fighters and fight scribes for film sessions.

Those who knew Steward often talked about his irrepressible love of the sport. He could talk about fights and fighters for hours on end, and he would talk to whomever – famous writers, celebrities or Joe Schmoe from the public. He loved being a part of boxing and boxing loved him back.  

I encountered Steward only once, at the weigh-in earlier this year prior to Hopkins-Dawson II in Atlantic City. After the weigh-in, Steward wandered to the back of the roped-in media section and started chatting with boxing fans and a few bloggers. He gave a writer from his opinion on the upcoming fight and quickly a crowd started forming around him. Once he was finished with the reporter, everyone started asking him about his thoughts on future fights. Who was going to win Mayweather-Cotto? Would Tim Bradley be a difficult opponent for Pacquiao? Steward had to run to an HBO meeting, but he took time to answer everyone's questions and pose for pictures. This was right where he wanted to be. His joy couldn't be denied.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Brooklyn Boxing

Championship boxing returned to Brooklyn, New York this weekend, the first time since the 1930s.  Four title bouts (at least three-and-a-half) highlighted a deep Golden Boy Promotions card at the new Barclays Center.  Here are my thoughts from a memorable fight weekend. 


This fight almost didn't occur as Erik Morales failed two drug tests leading up to the bout.  Morales tested positive for clenbuterol, a substance used to help expedite weight loss.  The testing was conducted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency and Morales failed both an "A" and "B" sample.  After passing a third test, somehow the fight was allowed to go on.  Usually, in standard drug testing procedures, once an athlete fails an "A" and then "B" sample, he is suspended/banned/flogged/tarred-and-feathered.  Here, with the drug test being conducted outside the purview of the New York State Athletic Commission, Golden Boy and all of the parties involved agreed to push forward with the fight.

Obviously, this situation smacks of a farce.  Why have drug testing if a positive result doesn't prohibit a guilty athlete from competing?  Why have a state athletic commission, whose job it is to protect the safety and health of fighters, if it insists on being toothless in the face of a failed drug test?  Why should Danny Garcia have any faith in Golden Boy if the company would let him face a fighter who failed not one but two drug tests leading up to this fight?  I understand why Garcia wouldn't want to walk away from a seven-figure payday but where was his manager, Al Haymon, or Golden Boy to protect him.

The potential ramifications of this decision are far-reaching and manifold.  The actions and conduct of the various participants from last week merit further condemnation reflection, but we do have some fight action to get to.  Ultimately, Garcia won and looked spectacular but this situation reeks and is a reminder that Golden Boy Promotions, an entity that came into boxing with a stated goal to clean up the sport, is participating in the same type – or worse, an even greater type – of chicanery that they accused the other big promotional firms in boxing of participating in.  Essentially, morality and fighter protection took subordinate roles to money and expediency.   

Ok.  Moving on.

There are many excellent counterpunchers and combinations punchers in the sport.  What makes Danny Garcia special is his ability to use his counterpunching opportunities to start his combinations.  95% of boxers counterpunch with a single shot.  Think about Bernard Hopkins or Juan Manuel Marquez.  They use their counter right hands to land single, punishing power shots. Or take Kell Brook and his counter left jab (Brook had a nice stoppage this weekend over Hector Saldivia with that punch).  Boxers use these counters to freeze and/or hurt an opponent.  After landing the shot, they make a quick assessment of damage.  They then follow up with additional punches as they transition to offense.  Garcia is one fighter who throws fluid combinations when he is in a counterattack position.  Canelo Alvarez is another.  Floyd Mayweather can also do this but he more often pot-shots with single counter shots. 

Garcia will throw a counter left hook and immediately follow with his right hand.  Or he will throw a counter right hook and follow with a left uppercut and then a straight right hand.  In past fights, he has also used his counter uppercuts and right hands to initiate his combinations.  

So good for Garcia.  He does this.  What does this mean?  What should this tell me about him?  Perhaps most importantly, this skill set illustrates how comfortable Garcia is during exchanges.  He's steely and determined when an opponent throws, not frazzled and unsure of himself.  He sees incoming fire as an opportunity not a distress signal.  This also tells me he doesn't worry about getting hit.  To remain in the pocket against fighters with faster hand speed, like Amir Khan, or ones with all sorts of veteran tricks,  e.g. Erik Morales, Garcia shows that he has full confidence in his chin and ring generalship.  Even when Khan blistered Garcia for three rounds, Garcia didn't leave the pocket or change his game plan.  Garcia has the patience and poise to survive his opponents' shots and look for his opportunities to land his combinations.  In short, he can really handle himself under pressure.

In addition, Garcia is a very creative counterpuncher.  It's unusual to see a counter right hook against a conventional fighter.  In theory, this shot leaves the boxer open for a straight right hand.  But Garcia throws the punch, as does Canelo, and it's quite a weapon.  Granted, Garcia had a real hand speed advantage over Morales and he understood his positioning prior to throwing the punch, but he shouldn't be docked for having the wherewithal to throw an unconventional punch.  Think about Floyd Mayweather throwing that looping right hand against Miguel Cotto.  On the surface, Mayweather had four sharper punches than that one, but it landed consistently and hit its target.  It's the mark of a top fighter to fill his arsenal with weapons and to know when and how to deploy them.  It's clear that Garcia has this skill. 

The other facet about Garcia which strikes me as above average is his accuracy.  People have scoffed at Garcia's counter left hook, deriding it as slow or wide, but it almost split Khan's neck into two and sent Morales pirouetting into the ropes.  Garcia doesn't have great hand speed or some type of god-given fluky power, like that which resides in Randall Bailey's right hand, but his punches are thrown with excellent technique and, to my eyes, little wasted energy.  As Andre Ward, Mayweather and Marquez have shown, accuracy is a bitch.  And Garcia demonstrates this point as well. 

I would put Danny Garcia in the top-four at junior welterweight in a group that includes Lucas Matthysse, Marquez and Brandon Rios.  I'm not saying that he beats the other three that I have mentioned, but I wouldn't feel comfortable betting against him either.  I also wouldn't put him in the ring against a cutie like Joan Guzman. 

Garcia has been underrated throughout his entire career, by pundits, Golden Boy and his opponents.  It's clear that he continues to improve as he grows more confident in the ring.  He still has his drawbacks – he can be slow to start fights, he can be outworked and his foot speed is only adequate.  And there are questions to answer about his chin against good punchers in the division.  However, he continues to impress.

The left hand he landed in the fourth that sent Morales through the ropes is the type of perfect punch that fighters dream about and fans pay hard-earned money to see.  Garcia's not a full-on attraction yet in the sport but he's making a name for himself.  As one of just a litany of Golden Boy prospects at this time last year, Garcia has really distinguished himself.  He has become a bona fide player in the 140-lb division.

For Morales, I'll save the official appreciation of his career until he calls it quits.  Hopefully, I'll be able to write those words sooner rather than later.  The man has accomplished so much in the ring, but he's done.  He had a decent first two rounds until Garcia started to open up.  At this point, Morales doesn't have the defense or legs to protect himself against top fighters. 

In terms of morality plays, Morales has cut some corners in his career, like many other top fighters.  He's had problems making weight in the past.  He tried getting there with a little help this time.  He lost spectacularly.  This doesn't mean that I hate Morales or will now think of him only as a "cheater."  It's a data point in an otherwise long and distinguished career.  I won't dismiss this episode but I won't let it color all that came before it either.  I understand that others may approach this situation differently and I respect that, but this is where I stand.


To add to the pre-fight drama, Pablo Cesar Cano failed to make weight in his welterweight title opportunity against Paulie Malignaggi.  It was a rather strange circumstance in that Cano was moving up from junior welterweight for the title shot.  You wouldn't expect a fighter who made weight comfortably at 140 to struggle to make 147.  Often, fighters miss weight when they outgrow a division, don't train hard or move down a weight class.  I'll let you decide which reason it was here. Thus, Cano couldn't win the title in that he didn't make weight.  With everything that went on with Morales leading up to his fight, Cano's transgression seemed rather banal by comparison.

Malignaggi, a brash and light-hitting Brooklyn native, was making his first title defense at welterweight.  The thought was that Cano, a solid but rather unspectacular Mexican fighter at junior welterweight, would be a game enough opponent for Malignaggi to look good in front of his hometown fans.  As we have seen often in boxing, nobody told the "opponent" that he was there to lose. 

Malignaggi had many solid rounds in the beginning of the fight.  He jabbed Cano to death and opened up an awful cut on Cano's right eye in the second round.  Referee Steve Smoger correctly ruled that the cut was caused by a punch.  The question seemed to be when, not if, Malignaggi would be able to open the cut up more and end the fight.  It's a marvel that Cano was able to make it through 12 rounds (there was some great work in his corner). 

Despite several quality rounds throughout the fight, Malignaggi didn't look his best.  He was off with his counterpunching.  Cano did come forward with some head movement but he wasn't particularly elusive.  Cano threw a straight right hand, a jab and a left hook.  His punches were compact and well thrown, but he didn't have blinding speed.  Malignaggi just wasn't accurate and his legs looked sluggish.  For whatever reason, Malignaggi was tagged much more than he should've been and because of the lack of accuracy with his counter shots, Cano kept coming forward, undeterred.

Many rounds played out in the classic boxer vs. pressure fighter matchup, where the boxer wins the first two minutes of the round on activity, ring generalship and work on the outside but then the pressure fighter comes on and lands the best shots of the frame with power punches.  In short, these rounds were tough to score. 

Malignaggi had a solid 10th round and was off to a good start in the 11th.  He was circling well to his left and tagging Cano with his jab and a few straight right hands.  Suddenly, Cano landed a right hand that I don't think Malignaggi took particularly well.  Cano soon hit Malignaggi with another right.  Later on in the round, Cano connected with a third right hand and Malignaggi dropped to the canvas; he was really hurt.  Cano's knockdown punch was a good one but I think that the first two right hands earlier in the round really softened him up.  Cano's momentum from the 11th didn't carry over into the final round;  Malignaggi actually fought well and was able to avoid further harm. 

I scored the fight 115-112 for Malignaggi, or 8 rounds to 4 with one point off for the knockdown.  There were a number of close rounds that could have gone either way and probably my card was on the boundary of what was an acceptable score for the fight.  I think that anything from 8 rounds to 4 for either fighter would have certainly been a legitimate score for the fight. 

Tom Miller and Glenn Vazquez both scored it 114-113 for Malignaggi and Glenn Feldman turned in a laughable 118-109 verdict for Cano.  Malignaggi escaped with a split decision. 

It was a close fight, one in which both fighters could have done more.  For Malignaggi, his timing could certainly have been better and he didn't move as fluidly as he had in the past.  Sometimes Malignaggi gets too brave and likes to mix it up on the inside, to his own detriment, but at his best, he is a boxer/mover.  His legs just didn't look good on Saturday.  That could mean a number of things.  Maybe it's age.  Maybe he over-trained.  Maybe it was just a night where he wasn’t feeling his best.  These things happen.  Nevertheless, that wasn’t a vintage Malignaggi performance.  

For Cano, he lacked agility at moments in the fight and definitely could have been busier.  Although he landed the better shots in many rounds in the fight, often there weren't enough of them.  In addition, he really didn't take it to Malignaggi in the 12th.  Despite having his opponent hurt at the end of the previous round, Cano fought the last round like it was any other.

Because of Malignaggi's lack of punching power and limited formula for winning fights, he needs to be matched very carefully going forward.  Cano seems like a classic spoiler to me.  He doesn't do any one thing great but he's game and has some pop.  As he acquires more professionalism and experience – he’s still only 23 – he may have some real upsets in him yet.  I certainly wouldn't mind a rematch but I'd be surprised if it happens.

Quillin-N'Dam N'Jikam

Brooklyn resident Peter Quillin knocked down French-based Cameroonian Hassan N'Dam N'jikam six times to win a competitive fight for his first world title (the broadcast referred to him as N'Dam, so I'll do the same).  Yes, somehow, N'Dam remained in the match despite being knocked down twice in the 4th, 6th and 12th rounds.  You can watch a lot of boxing and you won't see that dynamic happen again anytime soon. On my card, I had Quillin leading 103-102 going into the 12th round.  He then declaratively sealed the victory with a crushing left hook to drop N'Dam and then moments later he knocked him down one final time.  That shot was a right hand. 

The final scores were all 115-107 for Quillin but take a moment to consider those tallies in more detail.  Despite scoring six knockdowns, the judges only had Quillin winning seven rounds.  I scored it 113-109 for Quillin and believed that he had only won five rounds.  Nevertheless, the knockdowns ensured that there wouldn't be any scoring controversy. 

Going into the fight, I knew that N'Dam would be a difficult matchup for Quillin.  N'Dam moves very well in and out and side to side.  His style is very much built on fluidity and flow.  He comes in from odd angles.  He has a good jab and throws his straight right hand and overhand right from unconventional trajectories.  He also has very good ring generalship and knows what he wants to accomplish in the ring. 

Quillin is well schooled and powerful but he never had to trap a mover.  His best victories were against Winky Wright, Craig McEwan and Fernando Zuniga.  Those were fighters who weren't hard to find.

I thought N'Dam won the first three rounds with his movement, jab and activity.  N'Dam also had a decided hand speed advantage.  Quillin wasn't moving his hands enough to win rounds and he was too stationary; he was an easy target to hit.

Now it's time to pat myself on the back a little bit.  After round two I tweeting the following: (@snboxing, for those who are interested) "N'Dam up 2-0.  To me, the fight will turn on how accurate Quillin's left hook and uppercut are." 

I was seeing some occasional lazy right hands from N'Dam.  They were unconventional shots, but eventually they could be timed.  And in the fourth round, Quillin got his timing down pat.  He landed a pulverizing left hook that sent N'Dam sprawling to the canvas.  Later on in the round, Quillin landed another blistering left hook that sent N'Dam down again.  Somehow, N'Dam survived the round. 

I thought that N'Dam recovered well in the fifth round.  Before the sixth, Quillin's trainer, Eric Brown, who also won with Malignaggi later in the night, implored his fighter to stay aggressive.  Quillin started much more active in the sixth and landed two more knockdowns in the round with left hooks.  Again, N'Dam survived the round. 

From the 7th through the 11th rounds, N'Dam gradually worked his back into the fight.  He often circled to his left which is usually the wrong way against an orthodox fighter, but Quillin's left hook was giving him problems not his right hand; it was the correct move.  N'Dam also let his hands go with more confidence as the rounds progressed.

Quillin at times looked like he was loading up on the left hook.  Instead of working his jab or his right hand more, he was content to lay back and wait for that perfect opportunity to land the hook.  It's an understandable reaction in that he had already scored four knockdowns from that punch, but in the meantime, because of his inactivity, he was letting N'Dam remain competitive. 

Brown kept telling Quillin to remain aggressive, which would be the key to getting the knockout.  However, Quillin's conditioning didn't seem that strong.  At various points as the fight progressed, he appeared winded and he fought with his back to the ropes.  At first I thought that Quillin was laying a trap but it became obvious that he was using the ropes as a crutch.  Remember, HE was the fighter who had scored four knockdowns, but by the 11th, he was not the fresher boxer.

N'Dam continued to press the action with his jab, right hand and left hook to the body.  In an incredibly courageous performance, he didn't let his earlier knockdowns dissuade him from trying to win the fight.  

Prior to the 12th round, Brown again pressed Quillin, wanting his fighter to make an emphatic statement to finish up the fight.  Quillin responded and essentially removed any doubt of the final outcome.  Brown should be given a lot of credit for his performance in the corner.  I'm sure that many trainers would have had a false sense of confidence going into the 12th round with their boxer fighting at home and having already scored four knockdowns.  However, Brown didn't want Quillin to take his foot off the gas.  The fight WAS close and Brown was taking nothing for granted. 

Ultimately, Quillin delivered an exciting performance, displaying power and accuracy.  It wasn't a perfect outing for him, but I'm sure his team knows that.  To cut Quillin some slack, he had been matched far too easily in his run up to the title and there wasn't a great template to prepare for a unique mover like N'Dam.  It's clear that N'Dam's pressure, resolve and high punch volume were bothering Quillin as the fight progressed but Quillin could’ve made the fight easier for himself by featuring his full arsenal of punches.  Most importantly, he'll have to improve his conditioning to make sure he can go 12 hard rounds with the Martinezes and Golovkins of the world. 

For N'Dam, I hope this isn't that last that we see of him on American TV.  In the deep middleweight division, he would make for a great opponent against Daniel Geale, Matthew Macklin or Felix Sturm.  He wasn't able to squeak out the win but he made quite a name for himself in defeat.

Finally, Eddie Claudio had, in my eyes, the best performance by a referee all year.  Claudio is a fairly obscure New York-based referee.  This was probably his highest-profile assignment since the Paul Williams-Carlos Quintana rematch in 2008.  Doing his best Steve Smoger impression, Claudio let the fight go on far longer than most referees would've.  His judgment rewarded fans with a spectacular fight.  He took long looks at N'Dam after each knockdown and saw that the fighter was lucid and responsive.  After each one, he let the fight continue.  All knockdowns are not created equal and too often referees will reflexively stop a fight after a third knockdown.  Claudio looked at this match on its own terms.  I hope that he lands bigger assignments with more regularity after his performance on Saturday.


This was just a brutal fight to watch. Here's how it played out: The younger Alexander threw jabs and a few straight left hands to the body while the 38-year-old Bailey waited, and waited and waited to throw his right hand.  That's it.  That's the whole fight. Bailey's a one trick pony: his crushing right hand.  To my count, he landed four of them and to Alexander's credit he took them well. 

According to CompuBox, Bailey threw 198 punches in the fight.  Think about that for a second.  A 12-round fight is 2,160 seconds (36 minutes x 60 seconds).  Bailey, in essence attempted a punch every 11 seconds.  That's an absolutely brutal ratio, especially when considering that Bailey threw a couple of combinations as well. In total, Bailey landed 45 punches – that’s less than four punches a round!  Just dreadful.  

Alexander didn't do anything spectacular on Saturday.  He stayed very basic and limited his arsenal.  His left hands to the body were risky in that Bailey could counter him with his right uppercut but Alexander remained quick with his shots and didn't remain in the pocket longer than necessary.  He had the right game plan: Establish the jab and score with quick shots and combinations.  He turned Bailey repeatedly, not giving him an opportunity to set his feet.  

Still, there were a couple of things I didn't love from Alexander on Saturday.  He often circled the wrong way (left), which was squarely in the direction of Bailey's power.  Also, Alexander neglected his right hook, which was such a weapon against Marcos Maidana.  If he would have moved to his right more (which he should have) the right hook could have been a great punch for him. 

To me, Alexander is an A-minus fighter.  He has a good amateur background and throws punches with solid technique. He moves decently and has a fairly good defense.  To this point, untraditional fighters with some hand speed (Lucas Matthysse and Tim Bradley) have troubled him. I think of him similarly as I did Vernon Forrest.  He can beat a lot of good names but he doesn't do anything exceptional; the fighter who can show him something different will perplex him in the ring.  If matched right, Alexander could have a belt for a while but I don't see anything elite here. 

For Bailey, he can sail off into the sunset knowing that he won two world title belts.  He was a very limited fighter but that right hand of his was truly special.  I wish him the best and I hope that he retires soon.

On a final note, Arthur Mercante simultaneously deducted points from both fighters in the sixth for excessive holding.  It was a completely unnecessary point deduction and a shameful way for Mercante to insert himself into the fight.  Some referees really believe that people pay their hard-earned money to watch them (Jay Nady is another one who comes to mind).  It's a terribly misguided notion.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Rios and Donaire

On Saturday at the Home Depot Center, a venue designed for tennis, Rios-Alvarado was Federer-Nadal, but with concussive blows instead of blistering groundstrokes. Just substitute Brandon Rios' overhand right for a Federer overhead smash, Mike Alvarado's winging right hand for a Nadal winner down the line or sharp uppercuts from close distance for fast-paced angled volleys.  Like a thrilling tiebreaker that whips a tennis crowd into a frenzy, Rios-Alvarado achieved this type of euphoria, but for almost 20 minutes of action, not a dozen or so points.  

The "oohs" and "aahs" from the fans will always stay with me.  The crowd responded to the fighter's power shots practically every 15 seconds.  First it was a punishing right hand from Alvarado that snapped back Rios' head, sending sweat flying out of the ring.  Next, the crowd exclaimed with wonderment from a sinister Rios left hook to the head, temporarily stopping Alvarado in his tracks.  This went back and forth several times a round, with the crowd on its feet at many points during the action.  This was the ultimate battle of will. 

Coming into the fight, I knew that Rios could thrive in a war of attrition.  I saw him gradually break down lightweight titlist Miguel Acosta and force Anthony Peterson to throw incessant low blows, hoping to stem Rios' aggression or find a way out of the fight.  I was less certain about Alvarado.  Previously, Alvarado had prevailed in battles against Breidis Prescott and Mauricio Herrera, but these were spirited contests against lesser opponents.  I was curious to see how Alvarado would fare against a more committed inside fighter and one who wouldn't fade down the stretch.

The first three rounds of Rios-Alvarado were riveting.  Alvarado started off the rounds forcefully, scoring with right hands and right and left uppercuts.  Alvarado's hand speed looked excellent and he kept his punches compact.  Rios was getting outlanded but he would make his mark.  He came on as the rounds ended and landed the more telling blows, specifically with left hooks to the head and body and left and right uppercuts.  I scored all three rounds for Rios but I thought that the first two could've gone to either fighter.

To me, it seemed like Alvarado wasn't taking Rios' punches as well as Rios was absorbing Alvarado's blows.  Rios also invested more capital to the body while Alvarado stayed almost exclusively with head shots. 

Rounds four and five were Alvarado's most successful moments in the fight.  He worked well behind the jab and used some angles and movement to initiate offense.  In these rounds, Alvarado didn't square up as much to Rios as he had in the earlier frames.  This limited the available target for Rios and reduced his ability to land combinations.  Rios still connected, but not with the frequency or force that he had in earlier rounds.  You have to wonder how the fight would have transpired had Alvarado started out the match in this style. 

The fight was moving Alvarado's way until the end of the sixth when Rios landed a few overhand rights that drove Alvarado back to the ropes.  The shots stunned Alvarado and he was not prepared for this new wrinkle from Rios.  On my card, I had it tied at 57 after the sixth round, but the scoring would soon be academic.

In the seventh, Rios landed some crushing overhand rights that rendered Alvarado defenseless along the ropes.  Pat Russell stepped in and called off the fight.  Despite Max Kellerman's insistence that the match was stopped prematurely, no one in the crowd whom I spoke to (admittedly, there were more Rios fans than Alvarado supporters there) believed that the stoppage was unjust. Along those lines, there was no feeling that Russell's call deprived fans of some sort of legendary finish.  The fight was already an epic and it provided the paying customers with one of the most memorable matches they'll ever see in person; everyone got their money's worth. 

Russell did a spectacular job throughout the match.  Although almost all of the fight took place in tight quarters, Russell didn't feel the need to unnecessarily break the fighters apart.  He allowed the infighting and physicality to coalesce into a spectacular event.  At the end, when it was time to earn his money, Russell made the right call.  Although Alvarado never went down, who knows what would have happened with one or two more clean blows?  He couldn't defend himself and Russell instinctively understood the right time to end the fight.  As a referee, he remained unobtrusive until he had to be decisive; he performed perfectly all night.  It was a great job. 

Brandon Rios might be the best pressure fighter in boxing.  He understands what a pressure fighter has to do to win fights.  The pressure fighter gradually breaks the body and the will of the boxer in front of him.  That occurs with a constant assortment of power shots and an unwillingness to back off from an opponent.  The pressure fighter can't take rounds off and has to have an excellent chin.  He must withstand hard shots and keep coming forward.

What makes Rios special is his acute understanding of what he needs to do in the ring to win as a pressure fighter.  His short punches are devastating and he's a true believer in the critical importance of body punching.  Sure, Rios is a brute, but he's a self-actualized one.  

Matched against the right kind of fighter, Rios is a force of nature.  He's not unbeatable but it will take a great fighter who can best even a good version of Rios.  As I suspected going into the fight, his poor showing against Richard Abril could be attributed to his inability to comfortably make lightweight and an awkward, grappling opponent fighting at a high level. Luckily in the 140-lb. division, there aren't too many fighters who have the veteran savvy or style to stink it out against him to get a victory. 

Rios' other potential kryptonite could be a boxer with blazing hand speed who can move.  With the exception of Joan Guzman, I can't think of another fighter at junior welterweight who possesses that assortment of skills.  Perhaps a perfectly disciplined Amir Khan could give him trouble, but that fighter is a hypothetical construction and hasn't actually appeared in the ring against top opponents. 

His best matchups at 140 would be against pocket fighters like Danny Garcia, Lucas Matthysse and Juan Manuel Marquez.  It will be interesting to see where he goes next.  Bob Arum has talked about Rios facing the Pacquiao-Marquez winner.  Two years ago, the thought of Rios against Pacquiao would be some sort of cruel joke.  But Pacquiao has slowed down some and resides mostly in the pocket himself these days.  I wouldn't favor Rios, but the match would intrigue me.  And I'm on record as saying that Marquez will never get in the ring with Rios.   

Make no mistake; this was an excellent Mike Alvarado who showed up on Saturday.  He threw over a hundred punches a round. He landed his power shots consistently and impressively.  He kept his shots compact.  That version of Alvarado could beat a lot of fighters at 140.  Unfortunately, he voluntarily fought a land war against Genghis Khan. Fault Alvarado for his tactics or succumbing to his machismo, but not his effort or his willingness to make a great fight.  It was a starmaking performance for Alvarado in a loss and his next fight will be the biggest one of his career.  Alvarado now knows that he'll have to fight just a little bit smarter and use his athletic gifts more to his advantage.  If he can learn from this fight and take the appropriate amount of time to heal, he'll come back better and become a real force at junior welterweight.  


Watching Nonito Donaire's ninth-round TKO of Toshiaki Nishioka, I kept thinking of Admiral Ackbar.  Ackbar, of course, was the military commander of the Rebel Alliance in "Return of the Jedi."  His famous warning, "It's a trap," could have been given to Nishioka in the ninth round.  With the exception of the sixth round, when Nishioka rallied with power shots after he was knocked down from a left uppercut, he was very tentative letting his hands go.  In the ninth, Donaire moved back along the ropes and Nishioka started opening up.  Within seconds, Donaire dropped Nishioka with a beautifully-timed counter right hand.  Nishioka fell to the canvas and within seconds his corner stopped the fight.  It was a classic trap set by Donaire and Nishioka walked right into it. 

You see, Donaire needs to set traps like this because his opponents don't want to trade with him.  Donaire possesses a blinding combination of power, speed and punch variety.  Perhaps his opponents were spooked by his crushing knockout of Fernando Montiel.  Since that fight, Donaire’s foes – Omar Narvaez, Wilfred Vazquez Jr. and Jeffrey Mathebula – haven’t been too eager to exchange.  Narvaez and Vazquez seemed pleased with surviving while Mathebula shut down once Donaire started punching in combinations. 

On paper, Nishioka seemed like a different type of opponent.  Undefeated in eight years, with six junior featherweight title defenses on his ledger, Nishioka had thrived in a war against Jhonny Gonzalez and had bettered aggressive fighters like Rendall Munroe and Rafael Marquez during his title reign.  

Nevertheless, when the opening bell rang, Nishioka couldn't even muster to throw a dozen punches in the first round.  From the start, Donaire worked off the jab and peppered Nishioka in the early part of the fight with a double jab followed by a right hand.  Not all of his punches landed and in fact, Nishioka blocked quite a few of them, but it became apparent to the Japanese fighter just how dangerous the Donaire juggernaut was; Nishioka spent the majority of the fight on defense.  

In my estimation, there were two clear ways for Donaire to better Nishioka.  He could be first and beat Nishioka to the punch with combinations.  The second way was for Donaire to catch Nishioka lunging and out of position with hard counter shots. Donaire started the fight using the first strategy and gradually worked his way towards the second one.  

Watching live, I believe that Donaire could have blitzed Nishioka from the beginning of the fight.  Nishioka hardly countered and didn't seem comfortable fighting at close range.  When Donaire flurried, Nishioka put his ear muffs up and tried to contain damage; there was no return fire. 

However, it's difficult to stay aggressive when an experienced opponent offers such limited available targets.  This does not excuse Donaire, for one problem of his is the occasional deviation from his game plan.  But this does explain why Donaire often resorts to setting traps and counterpunching.  In this mode, he caught Nishioka lunging in the sixth round and giving up his distance in the ninth.  His knockdowns were pulverizing punches executed with remarkable precision. 

True, Donaire's overall performance didn't scintillate the crowd, but he got the job done against his best opponent at junior featherweight.  As Brandon Rios' career demonstrates, when you have a compatible opponent, you can make great fights, when you have a Richard Abril in front of you, the match can be a stinker.  Donaire again faced an unwilling opponent.  That's a credit to his awesome package of skills but still, everyone – Donaire, Top Rank, HBO, boxing fans, etc. – would like to see some of his fights have a little more sustained action.  

Donaire annoys some boxing observers because he experiments in the ring and sometimes toys with opponents.  Yes, he can be a showboat and gets knockout-happy.  However, many of his tactics are used to convince his opponents to engage.  Like Sergio Martinez, he'll give up a round here or there to encourage his opponents to open up.  It's a strategy that smacks of gamesmanship but it's not necessarily a bad one.   Ultimately, Donaire wants to entertain fans and make a name for himself in the sport.  The knockouts are important to him.  It's an excellent impulse but sometimes he loses perspective and feels like he somehow has failed himself and the boxing public if his fights go the distance. 

What I liked from Donaire on Saturday was his working within his game plan to achieve the victory.  The knockout came, but he didn't waste half the fight looking for it; he put rounds in the bank.   He stayed within himself and used his physical gifts and boxing intelligence to starch a world-class opponent.  Perhaps most impressively, he forced a longtime titlist and the top fighter at 122 to assume the position of an "opponent."  Donaire's performance didn't wow the crowd like Rios-Alvarado did earlier, but it was very impressive in its own right. 

For Nishioka, there was immediate talk after the fight about the possibility of retirement.  This makes sense in that junior featherweights don't suddenly get better in their mid 30s.  Nishioka had a wonderful career and defeated a number of very good opponents.  It's a shame that American audiences never had an opportunity to see him at his peak.  His last two fights against Rafael Marquez and Donaire displayed only a fraction of his mobility and footwork.  In his prime, Nishioka danced around the ring with a free-flowing style reminiscent of Sergio Martinez's fancy footwork.  On Saturday, he was hesitant to take even baby steps, let alone feature crafty moves.

After injuring his left hand in the fight, Donaire will be out the rest of the year.  When he returns to the ring, he'll have three natural opponents: Guillermo Rigondeaux and the winners of Mares-Moreno and the rescheduled Salido-Garcia.  Unlike Andre Ward, a top fighter who now faces no legitimate threat in his division, Donaire has a clear path to ascend even higher in the boxing world.  

Donaire has been pretty damn impressive in 2012.  In one calendar year, he's taken out a former titlist, a current beltholder and the number-one guy in the division. He's on the shortlist of Fighter of the Year candidates.

One final note: trainer Robert Garcia won both fights on Saturday, working the corners for both Rios and Donaire.  These two fighters are remarkably different athletes and yet Garcia has them thriving with their disparate styles.  It says something for Garcia that he doesn't try to create cookie-cutter fighters.  Robert Garcia boxers don't all do this or that.  He takes what he has and helps shape his fighters into using their particular strengths and styles.  To me, that's the mark of a truly excellent trainer.   

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Rios-Alvarado: Keys to the Fight

One of the most anticipated action fights of 2012 takes place this weekend between former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios (30-0-1, 22 KOs) and undefeated junior welterweight Mike Alvarado (33-0, 23 KOs). Both fighters look to win by applying pressure and landing power shots, but which one will wind up victorious? Read here for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. Weight.
Much has been made of Brandon Rios' trouble in making the lightweight limit over the last 12 months, with Rios losing his title on the scales prior to facing John Murray and coming in overweight against Richard Abril. Now, officially moving up to junior welterweight, will Rios be the same destructive force at the new weight in which he was at lightweight?
There are opposing viewpoints as to how Rios will perform at 140 lbs. One perspective posits that Rios has had an advantage in his last fights in that he was bigger than were his opponents; thus, his punches had more force than his foes were used to facing. The antithetical view advocates that Rios was killing himself to such an extent just to make the lightweight limit that he was weight-drained and zapped of energy. In this scenario, the best Brandon Rios failed to emerge during these fights. This second opinion is the one which I espouse. In his last few fights, Rios' legs looked terrible and his agility was far from his best. I believe that at 140 he will be a more dynamic fighter.
Nevertheless, it's one thing to face a generic 140-pound fighter for a first major foray in the division, it's an entirely different proposition to square off against someone like Alvarado, who is a large junior welterweight and is very physical. Can Rios' special chin handle Alvarado's power punches? Will Rios' sharp body attack lead to the same winning formula that he had at lightweight? Will his power be diminished or enhanced at junior welterweight? I'm of the belief that the extra weight will help Rios but is that still enough to beat Alvarado?
2. Combat Experience.
To me, it's clear that Rios has the more impressive names on his resume. I believe that Anthony Peterson and Miguel Acosta are better fighters than anyone whom Alvarado has faced. Alvarado's best victories were against Mauricio Herrera, a crafty and aggressive fighter with only average power, and Breidis Prescott, an accurate puncher who fades as fights progress. These were perfectly suitable opponents and good names, but Rios has defeated a tougher slate of foes.
This edge in experience is particularly important in this fight because the match will most likely devolve into a bloody ring war. Despite Alvarado's claim that he will try and box Rios, both fighters are much more comfortable in close quarters, trading power shots. Alvarado is not an effective fighter when he backs up. He might box for a few rounds, but ultimately he will hold his ground against Rios; standing and trading is his best opportunity to impose his will on the fight.
Here is where the unknown comes into play. Rios has been in ring wars with top prospects, champions and challengers. Alvarado has persevered against lesser guys. Most notably, he needed a last-round knockout to earn a win over Prescott. His comeback against Prescott was impressive, but again, it's Breidis Prescott! For a fighter with designs on reaching the top of the junior welterweight division, Alvarado shouldn't be going life-and-death with a fighter like Breidis Prescott. Of course, Rios had his own struggles with Richard Abril; however, I attribute that performance to Rios' inability to fight at lightweight anymore. Perhaps I am being too charitable to Rios, but that's how I see it. Rios has thrived at a  high level and it's unclear whether Alvarado can win a war against a top fighter.
3. What happens in the first three rounds?
Rios, like many pressure fighters, is a notorious slow starter. Alvarado begins fights energetically but not necessarily effectively. I don't expect the fight to be won in the first three rounds, but it can definitely be lost there. Although both fighters will be gunning for the knockout, it's certainly possible that the bout will go to the scorecards. I'm not sure that Rios can afford to give up more than a few early rounds.
Alvarado can sometimes personify ineffective aggression. He looks active, he throws hard shots but he often misses. Rios should be there to hit but even slight head movement can give Alvarado problems. It's imperative for Alvarado to put rounds in the bank early in the fight. If that means shortening up his shots to land, then that's the direction he needs to take.
4. Precision.
I think the biggest difference between the two fighters is that Rios' accuracy is superior. Although both boxers excel at inside fighting, Rios' shots are shorter and, I believe, cause more damage. Alvarado's punches from the outside, specifically his straight right hand and left hook, often miss their mark. His best punches are his left and right uppercuts on the inside. Rios is much more economical with his punches. He doesn't flail as much as Alvarado does and he waits until he is in range to throw. In addition, he is a committed body puncher while Alvarado can resort to head hunting.
Accuracy, I believe, will be the biggest determinant of the fight. Both fighters will stand in front of each other and trade. Rios' shots are just a little bit better, they hit their mark more often and they will get there faster.
5. Skin
Both fighters can get marked up but Alvarado has gotten cut badly in prior fights. Although this isn't the most tactically challenging/interesting aspect to discuss in this fight, it could prove to be crucial. Both fighters have such a healthy disdain for defense; they will get hit repeatedly with hard bombs throughout the fight. Obviously, they are both tough guys who pride themselves on their respective ring styles. However, all the machismo in the world can't save skin from opening up. It's a very real possibility that this fight ends on cuts.
I think Alvarado wins the first few rounds on activity as he uses his jab and some rudimentary movement to temporary flummox Rios. By the middle rounds, Rios closes the distance and the two trade punches as the fight progresses. There will be several round-of-the year candidates with both fighters unloading their power shots in a vicious display of boxing at its most beautifully savage. Ultimately, I think that the shorter and quicker shots of Rios will get the better of Alvarado. I don't see Alvarado's skin holding up throughout the fight. His face will cut up from Rios's offensive assault and I think he won't make it to the final bell; the referee will prohibit Alvarado from continuing.
Brandon Rios defeats Mike Alvarado by TKO 9.

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