Survivors: Fight #1 Injury vs. the Big Stage
I bet Marty Murray had a long flight back to England. He hit harder than Sergio Martinez. He knocked him down. Martinez couldn’t hurt him. But Murray didn’t move his hands enough to take the first three rounds or the last two. In the end, Martinez won a unanimous decision 115-112 on all three scorecards. Some had Murray victorious but ultimately the fighter reduced his margin for error by his lack of activity early and late.
Facing an even more hostile environment in Argentina than he did when he fought Felix Sturm in Germany, Murray didn’t want to engage in the first quarter of the match. It wasn’t as if Martinez came out dazzling him; he was just busier. Martinez landed straight lefts to the body and connected with the occasional jab that slipped through Murray’s high guard.
Once Murray got going, he landed regularly with his straight right hand. Surprisingly, Martinez didn’t have much of an edge in hand speed and Murray was clearly the more powerful boxer. However, when the fight was in the balance, Murray didn’t close like a champion. Murray survived the big-fight jitters and worked his way into the bout; he just didn’t have what it took to finish the job.
Murray is in his prime at 30. It’s assumed that there will be other big fights for him on the horizon. I’m not so sure of that. He has the unfortunate position of looking too tough for his own good. If he can go to Germany and earn a draw and go to Argentina and almost pull out a victory, imagine what he would do in more comfortable environs. In addition, his promoter (Hatton Promotions) doesn’t have the juice to make big deals on domestic soil. If Murray had an enormous fan base, eventually big fights would come to him, but that’s not the case.
Absent a quasi-round robin with fellow middleweights from the U.K. and Ireland like Darren Barker, Andy Lee and Matthew Macklin, I don’t see Murray in a sizable fight in the near future. I hope I’m wrong. Murray has had his opportunities. He fought very well in spots; it just wasn’t enough.
The Sergio Martinez who fought on Saturday was a diminished one. Having knee and hand injuries, his mobility and power were fractions of what they used to be. Against Murray, Martinez was often a straight-line fighter. He didn’t dart in and out or dance around the ring like he had done in the past. In many of the instances where he tried to be clever on Saturday, he got tagged.
When Martinez was one of the best fighters in the sport, he encouraged his opponents’ aggression. It gave him opportunities to counter with his deadly left hand. However, in a telling sign, when Murray advanced, Martinez rarely held his ground. There was no planting and firing; he mostly retreated. In addition, this was the first fight during his middleweight reign where his power wasn’t a factor.
It’s possible that Martinez recuperates and regains much of his power and mobility. However, what’s more troubling is Martinez’s leaky defense. Murray at points couldn’t miss with his right hand and Martinez’s performance on Saturday indicates not only the degradation of his skills, which can be attributed to injury, but also a deterioration of his reflexes, and that won’t get better with rest and surgery.
Once Martinez returns (most likely in 2014), he still has some big fights in front of him. The Chavez Jr. rematch is foremost on that list and based on Martinez’s performance last weekend, that fight becomes even more sellable. In addition, a fight against ascendant power-punching star Gennady Golovkin would create tons of excitement in the boxing world. My advice to Martinez is: rest up, heal 100% and get ready for one more run. Martinez probably has two fights left in his career. Hopefully he’ll make them count.
Survivors: Fight #2 The Early Onslaught vs. the Late-Round Fade
It’s not often that a boxer fights the perfect fight and loses, but that’s exactly what happened to Julio Diaz this weekend. Diaz dropped a close, but just, decision to Amir Khan, with scores 114-113, 115-113 and 115-112. Diaz’s strategy was simple: survive the early rounds, land some left hooks and come on in the fight’s second half. It almost worked perfectly. Diaz, having knocked Khan down in the fourth, may have been only a punch or two away in the 10th and 11th rounds from ending the fight. Ultimately, Khan remained on his feet and won enough of the early rounds to prevail.
In his second fight with Virgil Hunter, Khan showed some signs of maturity, but they continued to be undermined by lapses of judgment. In Khan’s favor, he didn’t stand in front of Diaz trying to excite the crowd with six and seven-punch combinations. These opportunities provide ample moments for his opponents to counter or time him. On Saturday, Khan kept his punch sequences much shorter. In addition, Khan didn’t pull straight back as much as he had in previous fights. When hurt, he didn’t retreat to the ropes; he tried to use the ring more.
However, mistakes still abound. As pointed out by the BoxNation broadcast, Khan keeps his right hand too low while throwing his left, making him a sitting duck for a left hook. In addition, Khan doesn’t tie up nearly enough when hurt. He could significantly further his career by knowing how and when to clinch.
Khan’s punch resistance is obviously a problem and he has yet to develop an inside game. These are massive hindrances to becoming champion again (but not insurmountable). The smart play would be for him to continue to develop with Hunter for two more fights, but Khan’s hefty contract minimums most likely will stop that eventuality from happening. He’ll be back in December and it will be for a big fight. Sometimes, it’s best for a boxer to take short money; this is such an occasion for Team Khan, but I doubt that they will go in this direction.
Khan has the skill to become champion again. He also has the defects to lose to anyone decent. It makes him an exciting fighter to watch, even though we are now left to understand how he just barely survived against a faded lightweight champ.
Faded…but not done. It was clear from Diaz’s last fight against Shawn Porter that there was still some gas left in the tank. What Diaz lacked in hand speed or power, he made up for in timing and ring intelligence. He received a draw against Porter, and it wasn’t undeserved. Against Khan, he had huge disadvantages in hand and foot speed. But his power edge was significant, as was his ring IQ. It took Diaz a few rounds to consistently connect with his left hook and straight right hand. Eventually, he found the formula and was able to slow Khan down enough to land more regularly. Diaz fought bravely in a bout that he wasn’t expected to win. With his gutty performance, he’ll have at least one more fight of consequence.
Survivors: Fight #3 Cobwebs vs. the Final Push
Zab Judah was banged from pillar to post against Danny Garcia in rounds five and six and he was knocked down in the eighth. Perhaps many referees less compassionate than Steve Smoger would have stopped the fight during these rounds. Judah had been knocked out before and he had been known to fade late. However, Smoger, as he does, gave Judah the opportunity to go down swinging, and to the surprise of many, the fighter didn’t go down, and he kept swinging.
Saturday was a Zab Judah fight in reverse. Conventional wisdom states that Judah is one of the best frontrunners in boxing. He usually starts off well against good opposition and wilts after facing trouble. A typical Judah fight would have three or four rounds of dominance; however, they are usually in rounds 1-4 not 9-12. Ultimately, Judah rallied with gusto. Unleashing his left hand, he landed some thunderous bombs in the fight’s final third. He didn’t get the victory, but he fought bravely and gave his hometown fans an enjoyable performance. In a point of personal pride, he will always have this late-round rally on his ledger. Quieting the naysayers who mocked him for his late-round fades, Judah faced one of the best fighters in the junior welterweight division, and he made his mark.
The growth of Danny Garcia has been one of the more enjoyable stories in boxing over the last 18 months. Once thought of as a moderately skilled fighter without a superlative strength in the ring, Garcia has proven to be one of the more versatile champions in the sport. Having two legitimate power weapons with his left hook and right hand, Garcia has shown to be a quick study in making adjustments in the ring. He has also demonstrated a rapacious appetite to add new dimensions to his game.
On Saturday, he scored in the early rounds mostly with a slinging right hand to the body and head, a new offensive wrinkle to his repertoire. As the fight progressed, Garcia incorporated a straight right hand that landed repeatedly and hurt Judah at numerous points. Amazingly, Garcia dominated the first eight rounds or so of the fight without the use of his left hand; he had felt that Judah had neutralized it. Essentially, Garcia won this fight because he made things up on the fly, as many of the best instinctive boxers do.
Garcia’s one of those fighters who looks easy to beat on tape. He’s not particularly fast, he can be plodding with his movements and he doesn’t have the athleticism to intimidate. However, to watch him think his way through a fight is special. He makes great adjustments, either by finding the perfect counter shot or mixing up how he delivers punches. In addition, his poise and ring awareness are significant assets that repeatedly manifest in his fights.
On a final note, Garcia demonstrated a special chin. It’s one thing taking Erik Morales or Amir Khan’s best punches at 140. (Morales’ power played best at featherweight and Khan has never committed enough to his power shots to have real KO power.) Withstanding Judah’s best is another proposition entirely. Although Judah may not be as powerful as he once was, he remains a heavy hitter at 140, and he landed his Sunday Best on multiple occasions in the late rounds of the fight. Make no mistake; Garcia was affected by those powerful lefts. But he took the shots well and earned his victory the hard way.
I’m not going to make an indictment upon Garcia’s defense. It’s never been a calling card of his and hey, the other guy gets paid too. A fighter can land on Danny Garcia; that’s not a secret. But it’s going to take more than a handful of power shots to defeat him. Whoever beats Danny Garcia will really have to earn it; there’s no quit in that fighter.
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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