Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Opinions and Observations -- The Frampton-Martinez Card

Belfast, Ireland native Carl Frampton landed a beautiful right hand during an exchange in the ninth round that dropped European titleholder Kiko Martinez (from Spain), ending what was otherwise a very competitive fight on Saturday. Although there was only one year difference between the fighters (Frampton – 25, Martinez – 26), Martinez entered the match with 15 more pofessional bouts than Frampton did and had faced the higher level of opposition.  This experience gap was evident early in the fight.

Whether it was nerves, the big stage, the experience level of Martinez or just a faulty game plan, Frampton started the fight very cautiously.  Maneuvering himself around the ring past the hard-charging Martinez, Frampton used his legs and quick shots to escape harm's way.  However, "escape" is what Frampton did. 

In his quick ascent up the prospect ranks, Frampton didn't excite boxing observers because of his ability to run or stick and move.  At his best, like in the Steve Molitor fight, Frampton demonstrated impressive offensive gifts and a killer instinct.  That was the Carl Frampton who seemed destined for big things in the sport. The Frampton who fought on Saturday was tentative throughout much of the bout.

Nevertheless, Frampton was winning his fair share of rounds.  Martinez stalked him relentlessly but didn't often land cleanly or move his hands enough to take the majority of the rounds.  I had Frampton up 78-74, or six rounds to two, before the stoppage. However, many saw the fight closer. Martinez did have his moments, especially in rounds like the third where he landed flush left hooks as Frampton tried to escape along the ropes. 

Frampton's best rounds were the fourth and the ninth where he held his ground and exchanged.  In these frames, Frampton stopped Martinez's forward momentum with blistering combinations, especially his straight right hand and left hook. Frampton ended the fight as I believe he should have started it: imposing his will. Ultimately, Frampton and/or his trainer, Shane McGuigan, showed Martinez too much respect in the ring.  The amount of caution that Frampton displayed was unwarranted.  It was a wonderful knockout but his performance left something to be desired.

In my estimation, Frampton doesn't have the skill set or ring IQ to be a pure boxer. First, he often circles incorrectly, as he often did on Saturday to Martinez's right side.  Second, he doesn't get in and out of the pocket effectively.  He drops his hands often and frequently keeps them down when moving.  These are significant flaws, correctable, but evidence that Frampton is not a real ring technician at this stage of his career.

One of the great challenges for young fighters is to fully understand and harness their ring identity.  On Saturday, Frampton demonstrated that he is not fully formed yet in the ring.  On the surface, that's fine. He's still young; he was in with his toughest opponent to date. It's what Team Frampton takes away from the victory that is most important. Will they see that Frampton was at his best on Saturday holding his ground and trading? Is the goal to make him some type of slick boxer/puncher?  Ultimately, these are some very serious questions to be answered, and as he moves up in the junior featherweight division, he needs to have these answers in relatively short order.  Frampton is already a top-10 fighter at 122. He may have only one or two additional development fights before his title shot. His team has its work cut out for them.

A matchup that has enticed the boxing world (especially in the U.K.) is a possible showdown between Frampton and Scott Quigg. They are both promoted by different entities (Frampton with Matchroom, Quigg with Hatton Promotions) and are on different paths at the moment, but it's certainly a fight that would draw enormous interest. 

At this point, I would favor Quigg, who is sounder defensively and has more poise in the ring than Frampton does. Frampton has the flashier offensive arsenal but Quigg has the patience, appetite for body punching and ring awareness to cause some significant problems for Frampton. It's a great style matchup and I hope that the fight happens sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, it would do wonders for Frampton and his team to work on tightening up some of his wide shots, especially his right hand, and improving his glove positioning on defense.


On the undercard, featherweight Lee Selby cruised to a unanimous decision (118-110, 117-111 and 118-109) over Martin Lindsay, who had toughness, but not much more. Selby, a British and Commonwealth belt holder from Wales, has a large offensive arsenal and is a committed body puncher.  His left hook is his best punch and he works well off of the jab.  On defense, he does a nice job slipping punches while not taking himself out of throwing range. 

One thing I liked about Selby's performance was that he made a nice adjustment to Lindsay's left hook.  After getting hit numerous times with that punch in the first three rounds, Selby raised his right hand and Lindsay's left hook ceased to be a factor in the fight. 

Selby is an imposing featherweight with the tools and skills to progress to the world-class level.  One attribute of his performance that left something to be desired was his inability to step on the gas.  By the eighth round, it was clear that Lindsay was no threat in the ring; he was essential surviving.  However, Selby was content to maintain his workmanlike pace and judiciously pick his spots.  He finally hurt Lindsay at the end of the 10th with a series of power shots. Lindsay looked ready to go, but Selby started the 11th without any increased urgency.  He wound up with the easy win, but he should have had the knockout. 

Nevertheless, Selby is an excellent talent in the featherweight division.  The next 18 months will be critical for his team as they position him for European and international belts.  Selby is close to a fully formed fighter but it will be interesting to see if he can learn some of the finer points of ring generalship. Will he be able to get guys out of the ring when they're hurt? How will he react to a first-rate puncher?  Does he have a real knockout punch? Stay tuned.


Irish middleweight Andy Lee hooked up with trainer Adam Booth (David Haye, George Groves) after the passing of his former trainer, Emanuel Steward. Lee's professional career to this point has been something of a mixed bag.  He's been knocked out by Bryan Vera and Julio Chavez and he has yet to defeat anyone in the top levels of the division. 

Under Steward's tutelage, Lee developed an excellent straight left hand and a solid right hook. The three knocks on Lee were his defense, his inconsistent jab and his conditioning. The former Olympian had a significant amount of hype as he rose up the prospect ranks but at this point in his career, it's not certain if he will ever become a top middleweight.

Enter Adam Booth.  Booth fancies himself as a master boxing tactician and in certain fights, whether it's Haye-Valuev or Groves-DeGale, you can clearly see Booth's imprint on the final result. Booth enjoys clever boxing and he likes his fighters to use the ring to their advantage.  This approach can work well with athletically gifted fighters or those with a particularly high ring IQ, but it's not for everyone.

To see Lee struggle at times on Saturday against a C-level fighter, Anthony Fitzgerald, was distressing. Booth had Lee fighting off of his back foot, counterpunching along the ropes and throwing quick shots and turning his opponent.  Lee won the bout fairly comfortably by rounds but Fitzgerald applied serious pressure throughout the entire fight. The official score was 98-94 (in non-title fights in the U.K., the referee is the sole judge).  I had him ahead 98-92 on my card but it wasn’t an easy fight. Although Fitzgerald didn't have the technique or power to hurt Lee, he certainly succeeded in making the fight competitive.  

I think that Lee's at his best when he's attacking, when he fires off lead power shots with his right hook or left hand.  (In some fights, his jab can be a plus.)  To Booth's credit, Lee looked to be in fine condition and he dealt with Fitzgerald's aggression quite well. But he didn't shine. 

I'm not sure if Lee and Booth will be a good match.  Lee is a power puncher, not a clever boxer.  He lacks the athleticism or punch output of many of the top guys in the division.  His best opportunity against good opposition is to land his power shots with maximum impact.  Obviously, it's tough to make firm judgments after one fight, but if Lee doesn't progress quickly under Booth, I think a trainer switch should be in order.  Booth has real ring acumen, but I'm skeptical that this match will work out well for either party.

After the fight, Lee talked about wanting to fight Matthew Macklin or Darren Barker.  Both of those fights would be fun and they would sell tickets in the U.K. or Ireland.  At this point, Barker would probably be a more winnable fight for Lee, but it still would be tough to make Lee the favorite.  Ultimately, Lee's team is going to have to take some risks in matching him. He's not a top athlete and his punching power is very good but not necessarily elite. Perhaps he lands a menacing left hand and he picks up an upset victory one of these days.  I think that's his only road towards the top of the division. Maybe Booth thinks Lee can box his way to a belt; I don't see it.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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