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
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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