When thinking about the perfect knockout punch, I like to consider a blow that comes out of the blue. Meaning, I don't want a fighter already softened up for a finishing shot. In my opinion, the most pleasing knockouts are those without warning. That's exactly what Stephen Smith did in August to Gary Buckland. British prospect Smith (16-1, 9 KOs) was considered the favorite against the more experienced and light-hitting Buckland (27-2, 9 KOs). They fought evenly through four rounds and then in the fifth, Smith landed one of the best counter right uppercuts you will ever see. Here, take a look. That shot is the frontrunner for my 2013 Knockout of the Year. Just savage stuff.
The conventional wisdom for the Abner Mares-Johnny Gonzalez stated that Mares would win rather handily but that Gonzalez might be dangerous early. Well, what does "dangerous early" mean? Here's a stat: coming into the Mares fight, Gonzalez had scored 30 knockouts within the fourth round of his 10 and 12-round fights. That's a pretty staggering number. Make that 31 as Gonzalez started the carnage in the first round with a wonderfully disguised left hook that dropped Mares. After the knockdown, Gonzalez immediately jumped on Mares with a barrage of punches leading to a second knockdown, which forced referee Jack Reiss to stop the fight. Gonzalez had lost as recently as last year to Daniel Ponce de Leon, Mares' most recent victim, and had been knocked out on other occasions. He wasn't viewed as a particularly live underdog against Mares – just "dangerous early." Kudos to Gonzalez for the biggest win of his career. His performance in August takes the lead for my 2013 Upset of the Year.
TO THE FIGHTS:
A Damn Good Month:
Darren Barker: Barker waged a spirited battle with middleweight titlist Daniel Geale and survived a knockdown to the solar plexus to win a split decision, earning his first world title. Surprisingly, Barker both outthrew and outlanded Geale. Barker displayed more confidence with his offense than he did in his past title shot against Sergio Martinez. His left hook and uppercuts were weapons throughout the fight. It was a gutty performance from Barker, who now has tons of attractive options for big fights in the middleweight division.
ESPN: It's nice to see ESPN take some chances with its Friday Night Fights series, which often broadcasts from remote outposts in front of staid crowds. In August, ESPN went to U.S. Cellular Field (home of the Chicago White Sox) to broadcast an attractive triple-header in front of a rapt audience. The show featured an excellent piece by Nigel Collins on Chicago's boxing history, an enjoyable interview with former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and three great fights. It felt like a big event and the Friday Night Fights crew demonstrated that it was more than capable of helping to create a memorable night of boxing. I'd like to see the network follow this path more frequently next season.
Andrzej Fonfara: Early in his fight against Gabriel Campillo, Fonfara seemed outclassed by Campillo's slickness, angles and defensive prowess. But Fonfara kept charging forward and by the eighth round Campillo's output had started to slow. Fonfara hit pay dirt in the ninth with a series of right hands and a sharp left hook to the body that stopped Campillo. A Polish fighter based in Chicago, Fonfara scored the biggest win of his career in front of his hometown fans and a national audience. I expect him to challenge for a title shot in the next six months.
Jhonny Gonzalez: That first left hook that dropped Mares in the opening round was a thing of beauty. Gonzalez dropped his shoulder as he threw the punch. Mares protected for a body shot but Gonzalez went upstairs with the offering. Cut to Mares on the canvas. Gonzalez has often come up short in his biggest fights, but not this time. For one night, the boxing world was his.
Danny Jacobs: In his fourth fight back after overcoming a rare form of spinal cancer, Jacobs stopped faded former title contender Giovanni Lorenzo in the third round, headlining the inaugural fight of the Golden Boy series on FS1. It was a nice win for Jacobs against a name, but Lorenzo hadn't beaten even a moderately notable fighter since Dionisio Miranda in 2009.
Sergey Kovalev: Scoring two knockouts against Nathan Cleverly in the third round and getting the stoppage early in the fourth, Kovalev secured his first world title. More importantly, he obliterated one of the better fighters in the division, putting the rest of the light heavyweights on notice. After the fight, it was rumored that he was to sign a multi-fight contract with HBO. Expect to see much more of the Krusher in the future.
Kiko Martinez: Earlier in the year, Martinez got knocked out against hot Irish prospect Carl Frampton. He looked to be on the downside of a decent career. However, no one told Martinez that he was supposed to be an "opponent" for Jhonatan Romero's showcase appearance on HBO. Instead, Martinez applied relentless pressure and broke Romero down in six rounds, giving the well-travelled Spaniard his first world title belt. It was a great performance from Martinez who most likely will go to England next to face another excellent young fighter, Scott Quigg.
Kubrat Pulev: The Bulgarian heavyweight Pulev didn't dazzle in his win over Thompson but he put together a consistent second half to pick up a deserved decision. Pulev now becomes a mandatory for one of Wladimir Klitschko's belts. Although Pulev will be a decided underdog against either Klitschko, he would hold his own against the other top fighters in the division.
Leo Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz picked up a title belt in his second division by stopping Victor Terrazas in the third round. On paper, Terrazas figured to be the toughest opponent in Santa Cruz's career but Santa Cruz granted no quarter to his veteran opponent and blitzed him with his bevy of power punches and constant pressure. Santa Cruz continues to mature as a fighter, with noted improvement in how he sits down on his shots and places his punches. He is fast becoming one of the must-see fighters in the sport.
Giovani Segura: Reversing a downward slide that saw him lose two of his last three fights, Segura went to Puerto Rico and demolished Jonathan Gonzalez in four rounds. Segura again finds himself as a player in the white-hot flyweight division. A battle against countryman Hernan Marquez would be mighty tasty.
Stephen Smith: An English prospect whose rise up the ranks was thwarted by Lee Selby, Smith made the boxing world take notice with his spectacular knockout of Gary Buckland. Whatever else happens in Smith's career, he will always have that unforgettable counter right uppercut KO.
Szpilka-Mollo: Artur Szpilka and Mike Mollo have waged two savage heavyweight wars where both fighters were knocked down in each bout. No, neither of these combatants will ever be world class, but they have reminded boxing fans how exciting the heavyweight division can be when two game fighters wing knockout blows. Kudos to both warriors for two memorable evenings in 2013. Although Szpilka won both fights on the official ledger, there were no real losers.
Deontay Wilder: The thought was that at least Siarhei Liakhovich would provide Wilder some rounds before fading, but that notion was wiped away after a vicious right hand that made Liakhovich convulse on the canvas. Wilder's power is among the most exciting in the sport. The challenge will be to find him suitable opponents who will give him some rounds of experience, not necessarily an easy assignment in a thin division.
Not The Best Month, Not The Worst Month:
FS1: It's obviously a good thing for boxing when a new network commits to 26 shows in prime time. However, FS1 still has numerous kinks to work out with its broadcasts, including its on-air talent, production values and overall direction of its telecasts. I'm sure improvements will be made, because they are much needed.
Daniel Geale: Geale performed well against Darren Barker but two judges favored Barker in a very close fight. It was strange to see Geale outworked during some of the later rounds, but in a great division and with a TV-friendly style, he'll be back in the title picture very quickly.
Adrian Granados: Granados scored a six-round TKO over undefeated Mark Salser, but a surface reading of his ledger does not begin to describe his performance in the fight. Granados failed to use his boxing ability and athleticism and was dropped twice by counter shots during infighting along the ropes. Granados, who has already lost twice in his pro career, will not continue to advance until he understands even rudimentary aspects of ring generalship.
Argenis Mendez: Coming off of the best performance of his career with his fourth-round knockout of titleholder Juan Carlos Salgado, Mendez only earned a draw against Arash Usmanee. Most observers believed that Mendez did more than enough to win a decision. However, the result quashed much of the momentum that Mendez had built up earlier in the year.
Tony Thompson: Fighting less than two months after his knockout victory over David Price, Thompson's tank ran empty against Kubrat Pulev and he dropped a unanimous decision. Thompson won a few rounds early in the fight and didn't embarrass himself in the loss, but there's only so many consecutive months that a 41-year-old can stay in the gym. It would have been interesting to see how a well-rested Thompson would have performed, but he didn't get that opportunity. Nevertheless, Thompson will still be a player in the division, against possible opponents such as the winner of Arreola-Mitchell or the loser of Haye-Fury.
Is This Month Over Yet?
Gabriel Campillo: The former light heavyweight titlist no longer has the punch resistance or legs to ward off trouble in the ring. Even though he won many of the early rounds against Andrzej Fonfara, he couldn't avoid the big shots. Campillo has now been knocked out twice in 2013 and while he is still a name, he more than likely will continue as a gatekeeper.
Nathan Cleverly: Cleverly needed to have been magnificent to outbox Sergey Kovalev over 12 rounds. Instead, he decided to stand at mid-range and exchange with the much stronger fighter; he didn't see the fifth round. His performance was an epic failure of ring generalship and maturity. There has been talk about Cleverly replacing his trainer (his father) with a more experienced corner; that's definitely an avenue he should consider.
Siarhei Liakhovich: It seems like decades ago that Liakhovich was a heavyweight champion. Now, he's just fodder for up-and-coming prospects. Since 2011, he has been knocked out by Robert Helenius, Bryant Jennings and now Deontay Wilder. Liakhovich needs to call it a career.
Abner Mares: Mares got caught in the first round by Jhonny Gonzalez – plain and simple. These things happen in boxing and it's not a grand indictment about Mares' skills in the ring. Nevertheless, Mares will have to work his way back to restore his luster as one of the best talents in the sport.
Jhonatan Romero: Having significant size, speed and skills advantages over Kiko Martinez, Romero instead decided to stay on the ropes and trade with the much cruder fighter. It was one of the worst performances by any fighter this year, and with his lack of savvy, it's worth considering how Romero won even a paper title.
Victor Terrazas: Terrazas was a victim of his own machismo. After being dropped by Leo Santa Cruz in the third round, Terrazas decided to stand and trade, instead of tying up or using his legs to avoid trouble. It was a surprising and ultimately shortsighted decision, as Terrazas didn't make it out of the round. Terrazas has displayed a decent ring I.Q. in several of his previous fights; however, his decision against Santa Cruz helped lead to the loss of his title belt.
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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