Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Knockout Kings/Fists of Gold

This weekend’s Knockout Kings II on Showtime and Fists of Gold II on HBO delivered some spectacular boxing. So let’s get right to it.  
Jesus Soto Karass TKO 12 Andre Berto 
What we learned: Soto Karass has really improved his conditioning. Berto’s skills have diminished, but he fights with a lot of heart.
There is a formula for beating Andre Berto and Jesus Soto Karass followed it throughout the fight: high volumes of power shots. Berto has essentially become a selective counterpuncher as his career has progressed, but he never had the type of power or activity to thwart aggressive opponents like Victor Ortiz or Robert Guerrero from imposing their will. Berto throws shots that land well, and they look impressive, but unlike those from Mayweather or Hopkins, they aren’t devastating enough – either in power, speed or deception – to spook opponents or take them out of their game plans. 
Soto Karass was essentially given up for dead after his January 2012 loss to Gabriel Rosado. At that point, he had a five-fight winless streak and his relationship with Top Rank/Zanfer Promotions had ended. However, Golden Boy resurrected him later in the year to essentially serve as cannon fodder in its effort to rebuild Marcos Maidana after his wipeout loss to Devon Alexander. To the surprise of many, Soto Karass fought valiantly against Maidana and scored very well with his intelligent pressure. He would subsequently get knocked out, but he was certainly competitive. In his next fight, Soto Karass bested welterweight contender Selcuk Aydin, displaying a terrific punch output and a sturdy set of whiskers. 
There are many fighters who claim that they have rededicated themselves to boxing and/or they are in the best shape of their careers. Coming into Saturday's fight, Soto Karass made such a statement, and he certainly proved its veracity. Throwing 117 punches and 71 power shots per round, Soto Karass kept the pressure on and had success landing on Berto with a variety of shots, most notably his jab, straight right hand and right uppercut. Soto Karass got hit with a number of good shots throughout the bout but he mostly kept coming forward, another sign of his solid conditioning. 
Soto Karass hurt Berto in the second round and by the fourth, Berto’s equilibrium was off. It looked like he might be ready to go. Berto’s new trainer, Virgil Hunter, wasn’t in whispering mode. He was chastising his fighter for his shoddy defense and challenging him to rise to the occasion. At this point in the match, the narrative most certainly would have been that Berto might be done in boxing. Having already lost savage fights to Ortiz and Guerrero, Berto didn’t look like he had much left. His reflexes were non-existent in the first few rounds. His foot speed was glacial and his accuracy was a far cry from what it had been at its best. Furthermore, Berto seriously damaged his right shoulder by the end of the fourth round and was down to one good arm – and not his best one.  
But then something strange happened. With only his left hand available to try to win the fight, Berto focused in the ring as he had never done before. He fought instinctively, trying to maneuver himself to best land his left, whether the jab, hook or uppercut. And he actually started to have some success.
The back half of the fight featured a lot of close rounds with Soto Karass scoring well with his volume and Berto landing a number of sizzling left hooks. In my estimation, Berto won a number of these rounds. Ultimately, it came down to the quality of the shots. To me, I believe that Berto landed the more telling punches in many of these rounds. 
On my scorecard, the fight had tightened up. In the 11th, Berto dropped Soto Karass with a borderline low left hook to the body. Soto Karass survived the knockdown fairly well and probably won the rest of the round, but I don't think that he deserved the extra point to make it a 10-9 frame. Going into the last round, I believed that the fight was still on the table (and it was according to the judges – they all had the match within one point either way). 
However, Soto Karass ended things abruptly with a devastating counter left hand. Berto beat the count but he didn’t look coherent, Ref Jon Schorle took a look at him and correctly stopped the fight. 
It was a career-making knockout for Soto Karass, a journeyman/gatekeeper who finally earned a convincing win on the sport’s top level. He’ll be in line for another big fight at the end of the year. Certainly he would make for an excellent matchup against one from the Guerrero/Ortiz/Lopez list. 
For Berto, there is a bitter irony in his defeat. During the ascendency of his career, where he was relentlessly paraded on HBO against mostly undeserving opponents, Berto engendered a lot of ill will. There were question marks about whether his real skill level correlated with his sense of entitlement. He wanted to be treated like a star, despite not beating anyone of note. He hadn't even put forward a memorable effort against a good opponent. 
But in defeat on Saturday, Berto fought valiantly, exhibiting the heart and determination that was so often lacking in his earlier performances. He was outgunned, perhaps a fraction of what he once was, but he showed that he was a true fighter. Many boxers would have found a way out of the match after the fourth, but Berto kept pressing on. 
No, he didn’t do everything that he could have done, even with just one arm. As the 11th round illustrated, the way to hurt Soto Karass is downstairs, but Berto, having never been a committed body puncher, didn't go to the body nearly enough. Berto should have dug his left hook to the body throughout the fight, and especially after the knockdown. It was an opportunity missed, but it doesn’t diminish his performance. 
Clearly Berto’s defense is too problematic at this point for him to defeat the best at welterweight. Never one with a solid defensive underpinning, Berto must carefully evaluate his next steps. He will always struggle against volume punchers and his chin and legs don’t look particularly strong. He needs a few fights to regroup and I think that going the Amir Khan rebuilding route might make sense. Maybe someone like Julio Diaz or Carson Jones would work for his next opponent. Perhaps then a move to Aydin if he wins. 
In the meantime, he has to figure out with Hunter (or whoever will be training him) his identity in the ring. In addition, I think less heavy weight lifting would increase his upper body flexibility, which would help him slip punches and give him the ability to feint more convincingly. Finally, I think that Berto needs to change his conditioning program. He was much more agile a few years ago and his best chance in the ring might involve using more angles and better movement. 
I think that Berto still can win some fights against good (maybe not top) opponents, but not in his present fashion. He should be proud of the way he persevered on Saturday. The next step for him is learning how to minimize adversity against good opposition. I’m not saying that he will ever reach this plateau, but if he doesn't have the urge to become more responsible defensively after Saturday’s bruising defeat, he’ll be out of the sport really quickly. 
Omar Figueroa UD Nihito Arakawa 119-107, 118-108 and 118-108
What we learned: Figueroa has the power shots and temperament to go far in the lightweight division. Arakawa has an almost mythical ability to absorb punishment.
This was one of the most savage boxing fights in recent memory. As I tweeted on Saturday, “This is not a fight of the year. This is one fighter getting his career ended.” Nihito Arakawa absorbed superhuman punishment from Omar Figueroa and kept coming forward. Figueroa unleashed a blistering body assault throughout the fight, but Arakawa couldn’t be stopped. Two knockdowns and hundreds of power shots to the head weren’t enough to dissuade Arakawa, or his corner, from continuing. And all the while, Arakawa kept throwing punches, lots of them – 1170 according to CompuBox. Many of them were arm shots, but he mixed in a variety of solid hooks to the body and straight left hands as well. It was a shocking display of fortitude from Arakawa, one of the bravest efforts you will ever see in boxing, but someone should have stopped it.
In the sixth round, Figueroa scored his second knockdown of the fight. Arakawa was out of position along the ropes from a number of hard blows and couldn’t properly defend himself. Referee Laurence Cole, who is often a subject of scorn in the boxing community for his capricious rulings, homerism and inability to control a fight, correctly ruled a knockdown, indicating that the ropes held the fighter up. This was an excellent decision. Although Figueroa was clearly winning the fight, the rounds were competitive. Had Cole stopped the fight at that point, he could have been justified in that Arakawa had already taken quite the beating. But he correctly let Arakawa continue.  
However, by the end of the ninth round, the facts on the ground had changed; Arakawa was unmercifully getting battered. The majority of my timeline on Twitter wanted the fight to be stopped. The bout had migrated from a special back-and-forth war to a one-sided beating of epic proportions – the type of fight where something bad might happen afterwards to the loser. 
I believe that Cole should have stopped the fight in the later rounds; however, it’s tough to criticize him too much for letting it continue because Arakawa kept throwing. He initiated action and still landed quite a bit. But he was getting hit with such massive shots in return. 
Perhaps the majority of the blame resides with Arakawa’s corner. Yes, their fighter was landing shots, but their first duty is protection, and I fear that they let Arakawa down. True, it was Arakawa’s biggest opportunity of his career, but after Saturday, I’m not sure how much career he’ll have left. He endured a savage and needless beat down over the final four rounds of the fight.
There’s a lot to like about Figueroa. He’s energetic in the ring. He has real punching power. He’s photogenic. He has a competitive drive to be the best at lightweight. Just 23, he’s already connected with the South Texas boxing market. His future is bright, but…there is always a but. 
Paulie Malignaggi made an excellent observation on the Showtime telecast regarding Figueroa (actually Paulie was outstanding all night, further reinforcing my feeling that he is best boxing analyst working on U.S. television). He said that just because Figueroa fights in a face-first aggressive style, doesn’t mean that ignoring defense is necessarily the best choice for him. It’s clear that Figueroa didn’t respect Arakawa’s punching power, but he still he got hit with far too many shots. I’m sure that Figueroa was amazed that Arakawa was still standing after he had landed all of his best punches (I know that I was), but at a certain point, Figueroa showed no interest in making tactical changes in terms of the geography of the fight. Whether he was leading or countering, he insisted on fighting in a phone booth. Yes, he secured the victory, but as Malignaggi pointed out, he probably made it harder on himself than he needed to. His lack of adaptability was concerning.  
The lightweight division is filled with boxers and neutralizers like Ricky Burns, Terence Crawford, Miguel Vazquez and Richar Abril. Yes, there will be certain fighters like Antonio DeMarco and Raymundo Beltran who will engage Figueroa in a toe-to-toe battle, but to beat many of the top guys at 135, Figueroa will need to think his way through fights. At this point, Figueroa has heavy hands and a nice offensive temperament, but the finer points of defense and ring savvy will be needed. He’s still young and he has aligned himself with a good trainer in Joel Diaz, but Figueroa’s future is now. Not every opponent will be as light hitting or as obliging as Arakawa was. 
Keith Thurman TKO 10 Diego Chaves
What we learned: Thurman has the savvy and power for top opponents at 147. Chaves is another name to add to the mix in the great welterweight division. 
This was a fun fight where both heavy hitters went for the early knockout, thought better of it and then tried to adjust accordingly. Through the first four rounds, both fighters tried to end it – Chaves with straight right hands, either over the top of Thurman’s jab or as a counter shot, and Thurman with left hooks and right hands. It was certainly natural that both power punchers went looking for the early kill; they each entered the bout with knockout ratios over 80%. They believed in their power and wanted to see if the other could take their best.
The early rounds featured both fighters throwing their knockout blows in the center of the ring. Through four, Chaves was getting the best of it. His shots were shorter and he capitalized on Thurman’s tendency to overcommit with his punches. In the early going, both fighters answered questions about their chins; they ate some monstrous shots. It was some wild action, but both fighters eventually decided that chins were checked and Plan B’s were in order.
By the fifth round, the pace of the fight became far more deliberate. Thurman used his jab and footwork more to set up shots. He went to the body with single right hands and left hooks. His shots stayed more compact. As the rounds progressed, Chaves had difficulty initiating his own offense as Thurman became more defensibly responsible. After eight, I had the fight even. 
The match turned on a single Thurman left hook to the body in the ninth round that dropped Chaves to the canvas. Thurman wasn’t able to finish Chaves off but there was some real damage. In the 10th, Thurman landed a right hand that stunned Chaves and followed up with a barrage that led to the fight being stopped. 
It was a gutty performance from Thurman, a fighter who had been dismissed by many a year ago as merely another product of Al Haymon hype. Over the last four fights, Thurman has made several advancements. He has shown against Jan Zaveck, and again in Saturday’s fight, that he can make key adjustments when a knockout isn’t imminent. Against Zaveck it was just staying busy and picking up the points. On Saturday, it was reducing his exposure by staying more compact and keeping his opponent at bay with jabs and movement. He will never be a defensive slickster, but he did a much better job of containing damage after the first few rounds.
Thurman is ready for the top of the welterweight division. A match against Marcos Maidana would be ideal (Maidana actually pulled out of a fight against Thurman last year as he was switching trainers). He still has things to work on in the gym, such as remembering to work off of the jab and remaining in better defensive position after firing power shots. In addition, he’s a much better fighter when he incorporates movement. Thurman has the raw tools to be a force in the division. He’s not all the way there yet and I would shield him away from anyone too technical at this time, but he’s on the right path. 
Chaves certainly made a name for himself with his performance on Saturday. With heavy hands and a pleasing offensive style, he likes to slug it out in the center of the ring. At this point, he’s a less exaggerated version of early Maidana. He might not have the same type of one-punch power as his fellow Argentine, but his footwork isn’t as bad either. Chaves still needs to work on how to create opportunities to deliver punches. The power and technique for his straight right hand is there, but his use of angles, mastery of ring generalship and understanding of how to set up shots can be improved. This wasn’t a brutal loss for him and a natural opponent for his next fight could be someone like a Josesito Lopez. The 147 lb. division might be 20 deep in terms of very solid fighters. Add Chaves to the mix. 
Let me give Showtime and Golden Boy credit for putting together one of the best fight cards in years. On the surface, the three bouts didn’t have a “wow” factor. There wasn’t a headliner who was guaranteed to draw eyeballs or headlines. Yet, Saturday’s card was the result of Showtime doing its homework on fighters such as Chaves and Arakawa. This was clearly not one of the network’s more expensive cards of the year, but it delivered the best return of any of its 2013 offerings.
In addition, Golden Boy should be praised for having the confidence in these three fights to approach the network for its approval. Even though Golden Boy has a virtual monopoly on Showtime’s boxing programming, no one wants a repeat of the lifeless Smith-Bundrage card. Golden Boy still needs to deliver excellent value to make this arrangement work. Saturday, the promoter had one of the signature cards of its tenure. Anyone who was watching on Saturday will remember these three fights: the best praise possible for a network and a promoter. 
Juan Estrada UD Milan Melindo 117-109, 118-109 and 118-109
What we learned: Estrada is fast becoming one of the best fighters in the sport. Melindo has the tools to be a future champion. 
This fight was close through the first nine rounds. The previously undefeated Melindo won many of the early frames in my opinion with stiff jabs, quick combinations and a high punch volume. (The official scorecards were a little too wide in my opinion. My card had Estrada winning by 116-111.) At various points in the first half of the fight, Estrada, who defeated unified flyweight champ Brian Viloria earlier in the year, was getting beaten to the punch at close range. 
During the middle rounds, Estrada made a key strategic adjustment by staying on the outside. With a slightly longer reach, Estrada was able to control the fight with his jab and movement. He frustrated Melindo who couldn’t find a consistent way in.
As the bout progressed into the later rounds and with perhaps Melindo sensing that he was behind, he started to take more chances offensively. He lunged in with power shots and paid a big price. Estrada unloaded his arsenal. He scored with counter and lead left hooks, solid right hands and a number of crushing uppercuts. Similar to the Viloria fight, the later it got, the better he was. In the 11th, he landed a spectacular short counter right hand that sent Melindo to the canvas. Even in the 12th, with the fight comfortably in hand, Estrada tried to go for the knockout, pasting Melindo with thunderous power shots. Through sheer will and determination, Melindo heard the final bell. He had huge swelling on the right side of his face and there was no argument about the decision. 
Only 23, Estrada is already one of the best fighters in the sport. He has the technical tools, power, savvy, temperament and conditioning to establish quite a reign at flyweight. Seeing him think his way through the fight was pretty special. He found himself against a good opponent, junked Plan A to go to the outside and then went to Plan C when he noticed that Melindo’s sharpness had started to decline.
Perhaps the biggest fight to make in the smaller weight classes would be a rematch of Estrada-Roman Gonzalez. Estrada lost a competitive decision in their fight last year, but he has continued to improve and 112 lbs. may suit him more than 108 did. That rematch would be a worthy addition to any HBO or Showtime broadcast or PPV. 
Melindo, at 25, still has a bright future ahead of him. He has excellent hand speed, good technique and a strong understanding of how to handle himself in the ring. He would have beaten many flyweights on Saturday, but he just lost to a better fighter. There are a number of attractive fights for him in a deep flyweight division, especially if he is willing to travel. Potential opponents include Edgar Sosa, Moruti Mthalane, Viloria and Akira Yaegashi. I wouldn’t count Melindo out against any of those foes. If he puts together another performance like he did against Estrada, I have no doubt that he will soon raise his hands as a world champion. 
Evgeny Gradovich UD Mauricio Munoz 120-108, 119-109 and 119-109
What we learned: Gradovich is an intelligent boxer-puncher, but one who has a number of potentially serious technical flaws.
Featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich boxed his way to a virtual shutout victory over Mauricio Munoz. Early on, Munoz was live, firing off just enough straight right hands and left hooks to stay in the fight. However, as the rounds continued, Munoz was outclassed by Gradovich’s footwork, punch output and boxing skills. From the ninth round on, Gradovich had essentially imposed his will on the fight. Munoz was never seriously in danger of getting knocked out, but he was happy to survive.
Gradovich fights comfortably both in the pocket and on the run. He has herky-jerky upper body movement and really establishes his own rhythm to his offense. He has now won and defended a title in his first 17 bouts, a very special accomplishment. However, there are a number of things he must tighten up to beat the truly best at featherweight, such as Abner Mares or Mikey Garcia. 
Perhaps most importantly, he is very susceptible to an uppercut. During exchanges on the inside, he leans in with his chin extended over his body. Munoz didn’t land with an uppercut all night, but a good technician will see that opportunity and plaster him with shots to the body and head from underneath. In addition, although Gradovich moves a lot during his matches, he does fall into patterns where he admires his work. When he decides to stay in the pocket and trade, he remains there a little too long. Again, Munoz lacked the accuracy and power to really make Gradovich pay for these mistakes but a better fighter would jump at that opportunity. I also still have questions about Gradovich's chin as neither Billy Dib nor Munoz had a lot of punching power. 
Gradovich understands how he needs to win. Lacking real power, he relies on high punch volumes and movement to outbox his opponents. He has a full arsenal of punches, although he rarely throws them with full leverage. He’s a guy who can clearly beat the B+ level at featherweight. But the technical flaws are there to be exploited. I think he’s going to be in some wonderful fights over the next few years. 
I’d like to make one final point about HBO. This was the second card of theirs this year that originated from Macau, China. For this series, Top Rank was responsible for the production of the broadcasts and HBO paid a much smaller license fee than it typically does. HBO has provided a lot of entertainment on these cards by highlighting fighters from smaller weight divisions, like Estrada and Viloria; these are excellent talents who deserve to be on American airwaves. I hope that the positive reception from these shows spurs HBO to broadcast more fights from the lower weights. It’s a nice beginning of a trend, one that should continue.  

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

Monday, July 22, 2013

Boxing Asylum Podcast 7/21

I jumped on the Boxing Asylum podcast today to discuss Bey-Molina, Chisora-Scott, Fury, the heavyweight scene, bad refs and the late Diego Corrales. I also butchered a Deontay Wilder question. Lots of fun stuff today. I appear at about the 25:00 mark. 

Click here to listen.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Intangibles

If Mickey Bey takes a knee in the 10th against John Molina on Friday, he probably survives the round, and the victory would be his. If Malik Scott stands up, like he is supposed to, at the count of "8" in Saturday's fight against Dereck Chisora, referee Phil Edwards most likely won't count him out. If Tim Bradley keeps fighting against Ruslan Provodnikov in the 12th round, he gets knocked out and loses, but he takes a knee and wins the fight.   

There are hundreds if not thousands of these little moments that occur in boxing throughout a year that help determine winners and losers. And these crucial factors are not merely tied to knockdowns. It's Bernard Hopkins using his arms and elbows to wear down an opponent without getting a point taken off. It's Seth Mitchell learning to tie up properly in the rematch against Johnathon Banks instead of getting KO'ed in the first fight. It's John Molina trying to win in the 10th round of a fight that he's losing big. It's Victor Ortiz dropping his gloves during live action that leads to his demise.   

It's Arthur Abraham fighting with a broken jaw or Devon Alexander stopping a bout because of a cut. It's Zab Judah getting up too early from a knockdown or Kermit Cintron not understanding that a fight is official according to California Rules once the fourth round starts. It's Mike Alvarado boxing against Brandon Rios in the rematch instead of trying to win a slugfest.   

These are all intangibles and they aren't measured in records, body comparisons, jabs, power punches, foot speed or tales of the tape. The intangibles include ring awareness, heart, the willingness to take risks, teachability, intelligence, determination, pain tolerance and savvy. There are fighters who have clearly demonstrated that they have superior intangibles – Mayweather, Ward, Hopkins, Froch and Marquez, and those whose intangibles count against them – Ortiz, Khan and Cintron.   

Intangibles are just as essential in evaluating fighters as are skill sets. (With younger boxers, assessing intangibles is more difficult because these traits, positive or negative, often are only revealed in competitive matchups.) Over the last month, we have seen the outsized role of how intangibles can affect a fighter's career. David Price has height, reach and a big punch, but he gassed himself and couldn't continue in the rematch against Tony Thompson. Lee Selby features all sorts of offensive tools, but instead of slugging it out with a guy who could only hurt him on the inside, he wisely boxed his way to a victory over Viorel Simion. Bey was easily winning his fight, but he lacked the experience and awareness to take a knee. As talented as he may be, Scott didn't show the proper urgency in rising from his knockdown.   

For Bey, Price and Scott, these defeats are major setbacks, and the fighters themselves all share a lot of the responsibility for their losses. Price scored an early knockdown but punched himself out; Bey could have held on or taken a count; and Scott could have responded more appropriately. Based on skill level, all three fighters were at least even with or better than their opponents, but their records now tell a different tale.   

During Saturday's card in England, super middleweight Frank Buglioni picked up an easy ninth win over a 10-25-2 fighter. In a skills evaluation of the two boxers, Buglioni had the far better technique, punching power and athleticism. But that was known going into the fight. (This is a major reason why I don't like watching very young prospects develop.) The only thing to learn from the bout was whether Buglioni could go eight rounds. He passed his test, as lackluster a fight as it was, and he will be ready for his next assignment, one that hopefully will allow more of his intangibles to be revealed. I'm not knocking Buglioni's development; almost all prospects are moved in this manner.   

Later in the card, middleweight prospect Billy Joe Saunders, who is further along in his career than Buglioni is, demonstrated numerous positive intangibles in his virtual shutout victory over undefeated fighter Gary O'Sullivan. Saunders stuck to his game plan, refused to get careless and didn't provide O'Sullivan with a way into the fight. He demonstrated discipline, craft, conditioning and intelligence. These intangibles will take Saunders to the next level just as much as his excellent right jab, varied arsenal and athleticism will.  

Next month, undefeated heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder takes on faded former heavyweight champion Siarhei Liakhovich. Now, it's more than likely that Liakhovich is done. In recent years, he has been stopped by Robert Helenius and Bryant Jennings. However, maybe Liakhovich has a few good rounds in him. Perhaps we will see what happens to Wilder when he takes some excellent shots against a puncher. Will he know how to tie-up? Can he even pace himself to go five or six rounds?   

To this point, I have reserved making strong opinions about Wilder because I know so little about his intangibles; he hasn't really been tested. From a skill level, his right hand is world class, but I don't know much else about him as a fighter other than some technical flaws that may or may not get ironed out as he progresses. He might have a shaky chin, but many heavyweights with a shaky chin have become champion (Wladimir Klitschko and Lennox Lewis are two recent examples). I'm hoping to see Wilder face some duress and then evaluate how he handles himself during the rocky moments. Although the current heavyweight division is historically weak, does Wilder even have the stamina to go 12 rounds with David Haye? Can he deal with the pressure of Dereck Chisora? Can he stay disciplined against a neutralizer like Malik Scott? None of these answers is known yet. And until a number of them are, Wilder should not be seriously considered as anything more than a young prospect.  

A great, recent example of intangibles in the ring occurred throughout the Super Six super middleweight tournament. Entering the tournament Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler where the presumptive favorites; more were known about them than the young wild cards like Andre Dirrell and Andre Ward. The Andres hadn't been matched tough enough prior to the tournament for evaluators to properly assess their intangibles.

But as the Super Six progressed, the participants' intangibles were further revealed. Arthur Abraham got himself DQ'ed. Andre Dirrell removed himself from the tournament – his career has never been the same. Substitute fighter Glen Johnson dropped down in weight and fought valiantly. And Andre Ward wound up winning the tournament with a broken hand.

Looking back on the Super Six, these intangibles don't just provide information about which fighters won and lost, but more importantly, they inform us how the boxers will be remembered. The tournament's top-two finishers now are viewed differently because of their intangibles. It's not just Ward's considerable skills that make him a favorite over everyone at 168, but his mental fortitude and versatility. The experience that Carl Froch gained by facing current or past champions and his complete trust in trainer Rob McCracken's game plans make him that much more confident as a fighter.   

Perhaps the best test of intangibles later on the year will be the Marquez-Bradley fight. Marquez will never beat himself. He's one of the most intelligent and seasoned fighters in the sport. Bradley has also demonstrated heart, determination, intelligence and adaptability, but he also has shown some lapses. He unwisely volunteered to enter into a slugfest against Provodnikov. He engaged Kendall Holt too much in the 12th round of their fight and got knocked down. These are serious concerns. Will he provide Marquez with some of these openings? Those who are siding with Bradley have to be concerned about his intangibles as compared to Marquez's.  

And finally, what will we learn about Saul Alvarez? Can he stick to his game plan after getting hit solidly? What about if he has early success? Does he junk his approach and go for the knockout, or does he follow his corner? Does he have the determination and conditioning to go 12 hard rounds against a fighter of Floyd Mayweather's caliber? How will he respond to a strategic elbow or forearm from Floyd? If he's down big in the fight, will he risk getting knocked out, or will he settle for the points loss?  

The intangibles so often make or break careers. Look how Wladimir Klitschko recovered from two awful losses and bought into Emanuel Steward's guidance. Klitschko had already been an Olympic medalist and world champion; many fighters wouldn't submit themselves to a full-on rebuilding of their ring identities like Wlad did.  Lennox Lewis is a good example of positive and negative intangibles. He undertrained prior to the first fight against Hasim Rahman and got knocked out. But he showed tremendous courage and pride by immediately taking on Rahman. He trained like a professional for the rematch and was victorious.  

On the other side of the equation, look how Tomasz Adamek just avoided a fight with tough contender Kubrat Pulev to take an insignificant bout instead. What about Chris Arreola not giving himself the best chance to win because of being overweight?  

At the highest levels of the sport, it's not just about height and reach, power, athleticism, an undefeated record or a jab. More often than not, the intangibles are what separate the great from the merely good.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Opinions and Observations: A Fourpack of Fights

Kell Brook-Carson Jones II
A year ago, Kell Brook faced his toughest test as a pro when he survived a late onslaught by Carson Jones and won a majority decision. After a quick knockout of Hector Saldivia, Brook set himself up for his first world title shot against Devon Alexander. Unfortunately, the match never materialized as both fighters pulled out with injuries at various points. The fight was scheduled for three different dates, but after Brook's last injury, Alexander decided to move in another direction.
With a significant amount of time out of the ring, Brook's promoter, Eddie Hearn, thought that bringing Jones back to England would be a good gamble for his fighter and a chance for Brook to make a more definitive statement. But Jones would have to face more of a stacked deck in the rematch. Saturday's fight was called for only 10 rounds, instead of 12 in the first scrap. This favored Brook who started much faster in the first fight. In addition, the bout wound up at 152 lbs., five pounds higher than the welterweight limit. Initially, the fighters agreed on a 150-lb. catchweight; Brook's camp thought that the additional pounds would make it easier in the gym after the injuries and time off. However, as that fight got closer, Team Brook sought two additional pound and Jones, with the prospect of a decent payday going up in smoke, agreed.
Brook started out on Saturday like gangbusters. He pasted Jones with an improved right hand and landed numerous left hooks and uppercuts. Jones took a knee in the second round after eating a menacing right uppercut. Through three rounds, Brook banged Jones from pillar to post. Jones looked like he was ready to go, but Brook couldn't finish the job.
Then something strange started to happen. Brook gradually started to box off of the back foot and let Jones come forward. Through rounds 5-7, Jones landed with a number of straight right hands and although he was wasn't winning these frames, he was really starting to make his presence felt in the fight.
Brook dominated the fight whenever he was first and aggressive. Jones lacked the ability to counter effectively. Only when Brook decided to counter off of the ropes did Jones have any success. To me, this was a very bizarre adjustment. If I were trainer Dominic Ingle, I would have yelled at Brook after the 5th round and said, "Kell, plant yourself in the middle of the ring, let your hands go and you'll stop him." Nevertheless, Brook resorted to a lot of cute moments in the ring where Jones was able to land some power shots.
In the 8th, Brook decided to go back on the offensive. He landed a number of punishing right hands. Referee Michael Alexander was nice enough to call a phantom knockdown on Jones and then decided to stop the fight later in the round. Jones did take a lot of big shots in the match, but he wasn't in any type of perilous position; the fight could've continued. Still, it wasn't as if Jones was winning rounds. It was a bad stoppage but Jones placed himself in that situation. One year ago, Jones was very close to having the signature win of his career. On Saturday, he was far removed from that 2012 version.
Despite Brook's TKO win and pitching a shutout on the cards, I was not enthralled with his performance. He had a fighter hurt and ready to go early, but he took his foot off of the gas. In addition, his shifting to a more passive approach in the middle rounds of the fight led to him taking a number of unnecessary shots.
It may be a question of temperament and confidence. Does Brook see himself as a killer in the ring? Is he willing to take more risks to land the finishing blow? Does he trust his chin enough to hold his ground? I saw lapses of confidence in Brook and I was disappointed with Ingles' corner work, which needed to have been much more assertive. Brook should have taken out Jones in four. That would have been a real statement. Now, I am just left with more questions. Last year, after the first Jones fight, Brook considered hiring Carl Froch's outstanding trainer, Rob McCracken; I think that would be a great decision for Kell.
Brook still needs to discover who he is in the ring. He has outstanding accuracy and a large arsenal of punches. However, he lacks a good finishing instinct and some of the finer points of ring generalship. He must better utilize his advantages in the ring and a superior trainer might help him get to that point.
Edwin Rodriguez-Denis Grachev
Here was a pleasing result. Edwin Rodriguez, the super middleweight who had gotten a large push from HBO but had thus far failed to captivate boxing fans, finally put together a performance worthy of his past hype. He iced the rugged Denis Grachev in the first round. Fighting with reckless abandon, Rodriguez winged left hooks and right hands, blitzing Grachev right out of the ring. He scored two knockdowns and Grachev, who had gone the distance with former world titlists Lucian Bute and Zsolt Erdei, didn't know what had hit him.
Rodriguez's performance was worthy of Ricardo Mayorga or Antonio Margarito, fighters who never met a wide power shot they didn't like. What's even more interesting is that prior to this fight, Rodriguez had settled into a pattern of tentative ring performances.
Yes, the Rodriguez who appeared yesterday was crude, but he was crudely effective against an opponent who liked to gradually work his way into a fight. And it was damn enjoyable to see an old-fashioned blitzing.
The super middleweight division has a number of potential interesting opponents for Rodriguez, assuming he can get back down to the 168-lb. limit (Saturday's fight was at a catchweight of 171.5 lbs.). Titlist Robert Stieglitz seems there for the taking. George Groves would be another name worth pursuing. Perhaps a match with Thomas Oosthuizen, who is also promoted by Lou DiBella, would be a decent determinant of which DiBella super middleweight has the brighter future. I don't think that Rodriguez is ready for an opponent like Andre Ward or Carl Froch.
Rodriguez has the body and boxing skills to be a serious player in the super middleweight division. Saturday's showing was a welcome display of offense and power punching. Rodriguez's left hook is his best weapon but there are still several questions that remain. Does he have the accuracy to land on the better fighters in the division? Will he be a consistent presence on fight night? Can he ever shorten up his right hand? He's still a work in progress but his future looks much brighter than it did six months ago.
Lee-Selby-Viorel Simion
For most of Lee Selby's rapid ascent up the prospect ranks in the featherweight division, things had gone pretty easily for him. In his last seven fights, he only went the distance once. Included in those wins were stoppage victories over British trial horse John Simpson, who no one knocks out, and undefeated prospect Stephen Smith. During his recent run, Selby had displayed a bevy of offensive gifts, including a menacing right hand, very solid footwork and a large arsenal of weaponry. But in these fights, he hadn't been seriously tested defensively. On Saturday, Romania's Viorel Simion went to England to provide that test. And although Selby didn't ace his exam, to my eyes, he passed with flying colors.
Simion is the type of rugged, physical fighter who no one enjoys facing. He features constant upper body movement, cuffing punches, a non-stop motor and the type of unbreakable chin that intimidates opponents. But he is also a crude puncher who doesn't know how to set up his shots and only moves forward in straight lines. A boxer beats this kind of opponent, and that is what Selby did.
Instead of firing power shots from the center, Selby moved off of the back foot throughout most of the fight. He did a nice job, especially early, in alternatingly tying up Simion on the inside or spinning out from Simion's pressure and resetting. Selby also used lateral movement very well in the first two-thirds of the fight, thwarting Simion's effectiveness. Selby's most effective punch was his right hand to the body and he landed those thudding shots throughout the fight. They weren't enough to dissuade Simion from coming forward, but they certainly scored. At other points in the fight, Selby was able to find a home for his left hook and he did have some intermittent success with his jab. However, Selby overcommitted with his straight right hand to the head and seldom did he land with that shot.
By the eighth round, Selby's movement started to flag just a little bit. The late rounds were being fought more at close range, the distance where Simion could be more effective. As the fight progressed, Selby did make some mistakes. He kept his left hand too low when throwing his right, making his left side available for Simion's counter right hands. In addition, he started to back up more in straight lines, which allowed Simion to have success lunging in with right hands and left hooks.
Selby did drop a number of the later rounds in the fight, but I didn't think that he was in danger of losing the decision. The scores were (115-113, 116-112 and 118-110). For Selby, Simion was an excellent learning experience, a chance to box 12 hard rounds against an aggressive opponent.  Although Selby did not wow boxing fans with his firepower, his success in the ring was far more subtle. He displayed a keen understanding of ring generalship and pretty solid defense throughout the fight. He demonstrated that he can mostly neutralize a hard-charging guy who can take a punch. He also did a nice job of transitioning to the body when the head wasn't there to hit.
I'm excited to see Selby progress in the featherweight division. One potential future fight that was suggested during the Sky broadcast was a matchup against Billy Dib. I think that would make for a great opponent for Selby in late 2013/early 2014. Dib is crafty, tough and a little dirty, but he can be outworked.
Khabib Allakhverdiev-Souleymane M'Baye
Southpaw Khabib Allakhverdiev stopped veteran French fighter Souleymane M'Baye in 11 rounds. Allakhverdiev, a Russian who trains under John David Jackson in the same South Florida gym as light heavyweight knockout artist Sergey Kovalev, gradually wore M'Baye down with hard left hands to the head and body, lead right hooks and uppercuts with both hands. Despite a second-round knockdown, Allakhverdiev struggled to let his hands go throughout the first half of the fight. When he decided to throw in combinations, M'Baye couldn't counter effectively.
Nevertheless, M'Baye won a number of the opening frames, scoring with solid lead right hands and being busier. Throughout much of the early portion of the fight, the two fighters stood in the middle of the ring doing various dances: M'Baye would flick his left jab at air and Allakhverdiev would bend his knees searching for angles. The early stuff wasn't fun to watch.
In time, Allakhverdiev took more chances in the ring and his power punching proved to be too much for M'Baye. He scored a beautiful knockdown in the eighth round with a straight left hand-right hook combination. Referee Luis Pabon stopped the fight in the 11th after M'Baye continued to take loads of punishment.
It was a good win for Allakhverdiev, who is already among the top-ten at junior welterweight. However, he will have to make some adjustments moving forward. Jackson implored his fighter to do more work on the inside and go to the body. Eventually, Allakhverdiev responded with some good fighting in close range, although his body attack was much spottier.
Allakhverdiev, already at 30, is 19-0 with 9 KOs but his power has really started to manifest over the past two years. Jackson has done a wonderful job at getting Allakhverdiev to sit down on his shots and keep his power punches compact. If you squint hard enough, you can see some similarities between Allakhverdiev and Lucas Matthysse. Both are aggressive fighters with heavy hands who have a high degree of ring intelligence. Similar to Matthysse's first fights in the United States, Allakhverdiev doesn't always let his hands go enough and is susceptible to losing rounds because of being outworked. There are also some notable differences between the two fighters, Allakhverdiev has a shorter reach than Matthysse does and isn't as effective at mid-range as the Argentine is. However, Matthysse offers a template of how Allakhverdiev can improve.
The first order of business is for Allakhverdiev to start fights more aggressively. As of now, he would struggle with someone like a Mike Alvarado, who is tall, tough and throws a ton of punches. However, by dedicating himself to starting more consistently, Allakhverdiev can help mitigate this problem. I think he's going to be a major player in junior welterweight division before his career is through. Already based in the U.S., Allakhverdiev needs some additional TV exposure and some recognizable opponents. My mouth is watering over a potential clash with fellow Russian Ruslan Provodnikov. I think it would be a guaranteed Fight of the Year. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tracking the Middleweights: Year 3

In February and June of 2011, I noticed that a large collection of young talent was starting to converge in the middleweight division. During the time of the first article in the series, boxing fans were bemoaning the lack of suitable opponents for 160-lb. king Sergio Martinez. In addition, the other beltholders in the division (Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester) remained safely ensconced in Germany with no designs to fight each other or Martinez. The division seemingly was in a holding pattern. However, I saw hope on the horizon. Less than 30 months later, fighters from the original 12 that I identified in early 2011, plus three that I added to my review in 2012 have started to make their mark not just in the division, but in the imagination of the boxing public.

It's fun to revisit the quainter times of early 2011, when I thought that Fernando Guerrero and David Lemieux had a chance to be the class of the division – in my defense, I also said that Gennady Golovkin "may have the most upside of anyone in this group."  In 2011, I grouped the fighters into three categories.
Early 2011 Top Talents: (all fighters listed alphabetically)
1. Gennady Golovkin
2. Fernando Guerrero
3. David Lemieux
4. Dmitry Pirog
Early 2011 Good Prospects:
1. Darren Barker
2. Daniel Geale
3. Danny Jacobs
4. Matthew Macklin
5. Sebastian Zbik
Early 2011 Suspects:
1. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
2. Andy Lee
3. Craig McEwan

Remember, that Pirog had impressively knocked out Jacobs. Chavez was nothing more than a sideshow at that point of his career. Lee had already been stopped by Vera and had yet to face McEwan.
By June of 2012, these fighters started to further differentiate themselves in the division. With the additions of Marty Murray, Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam and Peter Quillin, the original dozen was expanded to 15.  Here's how I ranked the fighters just over a year ago.
June 2012 Top Talents (again, listed alphabetically)
1. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
2. Daniel Geale
3. Gennady Golovkin
4. Dmitry Pirog
Chavez was coming off of the best portion of his career by outpointing Zbik and stopping Lee. Geale had beaten Sylvester and Golovkin was essentially marking time. I decided not to penalize Pirog for his injuries at that time.
June 2012 Contenders
1. Darren Barker
2. Andy Lee
3. Matthew Macklin
4. Marty Murray
5. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
6. Peter Quillin
Lee had defeated Vera in the interim, although lost to Chavez after starting well. Murray went to Germany and received a draw against Sturm. N'Dam was slowly building his way up the organizational rankings. Quillin looked strong in beating McEwan.
June 2012 Suspects
1. Fernando Guerrero
2. David Lemieux
3. Craig McEwan
4. Sebastian Zbik
Guerrero was KO'ed by Brewer, Lemieux lost to both Rubio and Alcine, McEwan was bested by Lee and Quillin, and Zbik somehow got stopped by Sturm. This group has not done much better over the last 12 months, but I'll get to that in a bit.
I also didn't rate Danny Jacobs in 2012 because he had a large chunk of inactivity on account of a rare form of spinal cancer. Luckily, the cancer is in remission and Jacobs now finds himself back in the ring – a truly inspirational story in the sport.
For 2013, I will again rate the fighters in three groups – top talents, contenders and suspects.  I'll also assign letter grades and include comments on their performances over the past 12 months. At the end, I'll re-list the 2013 rankings of these fighters in a simpler format. 
July 2013 Top Talents (listed alphabetically) 
1. Daniel Geale (A+) Geale had an excellent year, picking up his second title in Germany by outpointing Felix Sturm and avenging the only loss of his career against Anthony Mundine. Geale will make his next defense against Barker, which will be his first fight in America. HBO, who is heavily invested in the division, will televise. Aligned with promoter Gary Shaw, Geale (if he beats Barker) could be in line for a future fight with Golovkin, Quillin or Martinez. In other words, really big things will be in store for him. 
2. Gennady Golovkin (A+) No fighter in the division has excited boxing fans the way that Golovkin has. Now a fixture on HBO, Golovkin destroyed Grzegorz Proksa, Gabriel Rosado and Macklin. In addition, he pulverized Nobuhiro Ishida earlier in the year in Monte Carlo. Golovkin is perhaps another good performance away from being a bona fide star in the sport. A victory over Martinez or the winner of Geale-Barker would help him reach that status.
3. Peter Quillin (A-) Quillin fought a savage war with N'Dam, where he knocked down N'Dam six times, and yet the fight was competitive until the 12th round. It was an excellent performance against a very solid fighter. However, N'Dam showed that with pressure and volume, Quillin could be outworked. Quillin also had a marking time knockout against Guerrero. He features three knockout punches (left hook, right hand and right uppercut) and excellent precision. He has advanced in the last year perhaps more than any other fighter on this list. Recently married, I hope he's happy because Golden Boy can't offer him too much at the moment, with the exception of a fight against Murray or Lee.
July 2013 Contenders
1. Darren Barker (C) Barker killed time over the last 12 months by beating Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo. Barker's next big test will be in August against Geale. Barker could be competitive as Geale won't be able to hurt him. However, Barker will have to show the savvy he demonstrated early in his Martinez fight and yet somehow manage to match Geale's energy level and conditioning.
2. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (B-) Just a few more seconds and Chavez would have been the lineal middleweight champion. He came oh-so-close to stopping Martinez in the 12th round during an otherwise listless performance. Imagine what could have happened had Chavez bothered to train more! After the fight, Chavez was suspended for testing positive for marijuana. He hasn't fought since. Rumored to face Bryan Vera next, it's not clear if Chavez will ever make the middleweight limit again. For now, he remains in the division.
3. Andy Lee (C) Lee lost his trainer and father figure, Emanuel Steward, in 2012. He regrouped to defeat Anthony Fitzgerald and Darryl Cunningham as he transitioned to trainer Adam Booth. Lee seems caught in between styles right now, with Booth having Lee fight much more cleverly with movement, instead of the way favored by Steward, which was to sit down on his power shots. Nothing is scheduled for Lee at the moment. A clash against Macklin in Ireland would make sense and sell a lot of tickets.
4. Matthew Macklin (D+) Macklin scored a surprise first-round knockout of Joachim Alcine last year. He showed real aggressiveness in power in that outing. However, he was destroyed by Gennady Golovkin last month with a liver shot that could take years off of his professional career (that shot also broke a rib). Macklin most likely will have to go back to the domestic route in the U.K. for the time being. A fight against Lee or Barker in the next 12 months would do some good business.
5. Marty Murray (B+) Murray knocked out underwhelming Jorge Navarro but made his bones this year in giving Sergio Martinez one of his toughest fights. Murray sent Martinez to the canvas and it's possible that if the fight took place outside of Argentina, he would have won. Murray has lined himself up for a big fight against Quillin or Golovkin later this year. However, he's going to have to let his hands go more to have a chance on the cards. He'll get one more big shot; he better make the most of it.
6. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (B) N'Dam was knocked down six times but still won five rounds from all three judges in his fight against Quillin. N'Dam features high volume, odd-angled shots and some tricky movement. Unfortunately, his chin couldn't withstand Quillin's left hook. Nevertheless, he got up six times and showed tremendous heart and courage. N'Dam is in a tricky spot right now. For him to get a big fight, he will have to be the B-side to a larger name in the U.S. or Britain. If he's willing to travel and accept short money, he can be back on the world scene shortly. If not, it will be a long slog back through the European circuit.
July 2013 Suspects
1. Fernando Guerrero (D) Guerrero won two stay-busy fights (Jose Medina and Juan Carlos Candelo) but took some major punishment in his seventh-round loss to Peter Quillin. Guerrero just doesn't have the defensive skills or chin to last against the best in the division. He is another year from becoming a mere trial horse in the division.
2. Danny Jacobs (Inc.) Jacobs miraculously made it back to the ring in 2012 after his battle with cancer. Dipping his toe in the water, he's fought three times in his comeback against limited opposition. I imagine that in a year from now we'll know much more about what he can still do in the ring. He is rumored to be fighting Giovanni Lorenzo in August, which would be a nice test to see where his career goes from here.
3. David Lemieux (C+) Lemieux fought three times over the last year (Alvaro Ganoa, Albert Ayrapetyan and Robert Swierzbinski) and scored stoppages over all of them within two rounds. None of the three was a world beater but at least Lemieux had a solid year of regrouping. Lemieux had three problems in his losses – confidence, conditioning and defense. It looks like he's starting to regain his mojo in the confidence department. We don't know yet about the other two areas. I imagine that we'll find out sooner rather than later.  
4. Craig McEwan (D-) He lost in Prizefighter, beat a 19-23-1 fighter and had a technical draw after a fight was stopped in the first round because of a cut. McEwan's career isn't going anywhere right now.
5. Dmitry Pirog (Inc.) Pirog didn't fight in the last 12 months and pulled out of a clash with Golovkin because of a training camp injury. Pirog still hasn't capitalized on his 2010 knockout win over Jacobs. Now almost an afterthought in the division, he has lost all of his rankings juice and has no immediate shot of working his way back into the middleweight title picture.
6. Sebastian Zbik (Inc.) Zbik is semi-retired right now and hasn't fought in 15 months. It's unclear whether he will give it another shot in the middleweight division or stay on the sidelines. Should he decide to go back into the ring, a fight against Lemieux or Jacobs would make sense in trying to re-establish his credentials.
July 2013 Rankings (alphabetical within each category)
Top Talents
1. Daniel Geale
2. Gennady Golovkin
3. Peter Quillin
1. Darren Barker
2. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
3. Andy Lee
4. Matthew Macklin
5. Marty Murray
6. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
1. Fernando Guerrero
2. Danny Jacobs
3. David Lemieux
4. Craig McEwan
5. Dmitry Pirog
6. Sebastian Zbik

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of saturdaynightboxing.com.
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook: