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