Sometimes there isn't a grand narrative; boxing can just be fun. For the thousands of fans who bought tickets in Sheffield, England and Atlantic City, New Jersey, they were treated to entertaining cards and more than got their money's worth. Whether it was Kell Brook dominating the best opponent of his career (Vyacheslav Senchenko), a young Olympian flashing his tools (Anthony Joshua), the awesome knockout power of a heavyweight on the rise (Deontay Wilder), a local favorite (Gabriel Rosado) going toe-to-toe trying to win his first title or an ageless marvel (Bernard Hopkins) giving fans a memorable reminder of his greatness, there was something for everyone. And even conspiracy mongers were thrown a bone with enough questionable scoring and bad reffing to keep social media networks buzzing for days.
Sure, there were things not to like about Saturday: the doctor stopping the Quillin-Rosado fight when Rosado could clearly see, giving Quillin a TKO victory in a seemingly competitive match. The judging in Rose-Maciel, Rosado-Quillin and Hopkins-Murat was poor. Steve Smoger manhandling Murat was beneath him.
But ultimately, Saturday provided a number of indelible memories like Brian Rose fighting through a nasty cut on his nose to win a shot at the junior middleweight title, Brook overcoming some rough moments in the fourth round against Senchenko before ending it with a massive right hand, Wilder facing an opponent who took the fight right to him, Rosado, down big in his match, roaring back to make it competitive and Hopkins standing and trading with a man practically decades younger than he is. Crowds were on their feet throughout the action. Smiles were legion. Good times were had.
But let's get to some nitty-gritty from the weekend. Here's what we know.
1. Peter Quillin took a step back.
A year ago, Quillin generated tons of excitement with his six knockdowns of rugged contender Hassan N'Dam. Earlier this year, he dropped Fernando Guerrero four more times in a stay-busy fight. Against Rosado, things continued in the same vein early as Quillin landed blistering power shots in the first four rounds, including a punishing left hook in the second which led to a knockdown. However, as Rosado started to press the attack, Quillin was reticent to let his hands go. By the seventh round, Rosado was successfully dictating the terms of the fight, landing right hands from distance and doing good work on the inside as Quillin was trying to land a knockout power shot off of the back foot. Before the fight was stopped (because of a Rosado cut caused by a jab), Quillin seemed very tentative in the ring and far removed from the menacing puncher he had been over the past year.
Furthermore, it wasn't as if Rosado flashed intimidating power or exceptional hand speed; Quillin just didn't take too well to his pressure. In some ways, Quillin reminded me of the version of Sergio Martinez who fought Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin. He became overly reliant on knockout punches – meanwhile, he looked uncomfortable in spots and was often outworked.
Quillin has yet to face a top-five middleweight in his brief title reign. In watching his last five fights, I believe that the book is out on him. Pepper him with pressure and volume and he becomes beatable. Forgotten in the N'Dam fight was that the French fighter was able to win many of the rounds in which he remained on his feet. Rosado, once he adjusted to the left hook, figured out the way to better him. I could see Daniel Geale and Darren Barker giving Quillin fits and I would make Gennady Golovkin a significant favorite over him if that fight ever got made. Quillin's sharpshooting might fare better against an aging Sergio Martinez, who has gotten knocked down a ton recently, and Marty Murray, who has heavy hands but problems letting them go.
Moving forward, Quillin will have to improve significantly to be considered an elite talent at 160. Hearing the boos from the pro-Philadelphia crowd after the fight was unceremoniously stopped, Quillin admitted on Twitter that he will have to make some adjustments. In my opinion, he needs to remember to work off of his jab and secure rounds on the cards (ignore the "official" scores from Saturday). The knockouts will come from putting his punches together; one shot most likely won't be enough against the best in the division. In addition, his team should provide him with a steady diet of young pressure fighters during his future sparring sessions. Quillin has tons of tools at the moment – speed, power and punch variety – but right now, they are just tools; he's far from a complete fighter.
2. Gabe Rosado has had one weird year.
Prior to this year, Rosado was a journeyman 154-lb. fighter who finally started to gather momentum by beating some fringe fighters in 2012 like Jesus Soto Karass and Sechew Powell. Moving up to 160 to make some money in an HBO fight against Gennady Golovkin, Rosado was expected to be cannon fodder. That he stayed on his feet until the match was stopped in the seventh, fought bravely through a busted-up face and even had a few good moments on offense was unexpected. Later on in the year, he appeared as a B-side to undefeated Mayweather Promotions fighter J'Leon Love. Rosado scored a knockdown and closed very well in a tight battle. At the time, he lost a split decision with one judge asleep at the switch somehow only giving Gabe two rounds. Love subsequently failed a drug test, changing the official result to a no-contest.
Without a win in 2013, Both HBO and Showtime still offered Rosado a significant opportunity – HBO with Matthew Macklin and Showtime with Quillin. Rosado chose the title fight and had a wonderful back half of the fight on Saturday until the cut caused the ring doctors to stop it. What was strange was that Rosado could clearly see out of the damaged eye. There have been many significantly worse cuts/abrasions in recent boxing history where the fighter was given a chance to continue (instances with Gatti, Cotto, Wolak and Matthysse come to mind). Furthermore, two of the judges on Saturday had Gabe winning one round or fewer, just an abomination of professionalism.
Rosado is now 0-2-1 in 2013. In each winless fight, he has continued to raise his profile. Instead of making tens of thousands to face mid-level guys at 154, he is now making far more per fight against a better caliber of opponent. In short, Rosado had continued to improve and believe in himself in the ring. He has a fairly high ring I.Q. and knows his strengths and weaknesses as a fighter. Not blessed with a ton of athleticism or power, Rosado competes with smarts and will. He should still get another big fight in 2014, whether it is the rematch with Quillin or a fight against another titleholder like Barker. The networks like him and he comes to fight. He does need a good win though. His current streak has taken him far, but he probably only has one more big shot; he'll need to make the most of it.
3. Bad judging continues to plague the sport.
In my favorite line of the weekend, Eric Raskin of Grantland tweeted, "Looks like Aaron Davis has a few more judges to suspend." Raskin was referencing the preposterous 90-80 (Kason Cheeks) and 89-81 (Waleska Roldan) scores for Quillin-Rosado before the fight was stopped. Davis, the appointed Director of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, famously suspended three judges after the Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara fight, whereby Williams won a decision in a bout he clearly had lost. It was a ballsy move by Davis, and it earned him respect in the boxing community, but it's time for more action. New Jersey isn't suffering from a shortage of judges; giving Roldan (who actually lives in New York) and Cheeks some time off will only make the New Jersey corps of judges better. And while Davis is at it, he should sack Pierre Benoist as well, perhaps one of the worst judges in the sport.
It's one thing when Roldan and Cheeks miss a fight; it's another thing when one of the premier judges in the sport turns in a bad scorecard. Judging royalty Julie Lederman had a bogus 119-108 card for Bernard Hopkins over Karo Murat. Murat had a good case to win five rounds and most on social media had Murat taking three to five frames. That Lederman got the correct fighter is immaterial; she didn't do her job. Lederman gets many of the high-profile assignments on the East Coast. She's usually a fairly good judge, but in my estimation, this is the second turd card she has submitted this year – her draw in Malik Scott-Vyacheslav Glazkov was even worse than Saturday's score. Veteran New Jersey judge Joseph Pasquale also submitted the same 119-108 score as Lederman did. Pasquale doesn't have the same profile that Lederman does, but he gets a lot of decent assignments on the East Coast. Perhaps this card should curtail his activity for the time being. I'm not holding my breath.
But let's not confine our bad judging from the weekend to the United States. The card in Sheffield had its own scoring atrocity. Spanish judge Fernando Laguna's 117-111 scorecard in favor of house fighter Brian Rose over Javier Maciel was laughable. Maciel, from Argentina, landed the harder shots consistently throughout the fight and hurt Rose on a number of occasions with his left uppercut. Rose had some moments with his jab and right hand counters but in my estimation Maciel had a clear win (I scored it 116-112). Giving Maciel only three rounds is a sure sign of incompetence. Here's another telling sign about Laguna. According to boxrec.com, this was only the third fight he judged in 2013; he only had two in 2012. It's quite possible that the powers that be already don't seem to be thrilled with him. I hope that trend continues in 2014.
4. Anthony Joshua will be a fun addition to the heavyweight division.
Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist Anthony Joshua dazzled in his second professional outing by knocking out Paul Butlin in the second round. With an eerie similarity to Lennox Lewis' knockout combination in the second Hasim Rahman fight, Joshua blinded Butlin with a quick left hook and finished him with a pulverizing right hand; Butlin was toast.
Perhaps more telling was Joshua's poise in the ring. Unlike many young heavyweights with power, Joshua didn't rush into the action winging power shots. He boxed, felt out his opponent and stayed patient. It's a good sign for Joshua that at this point he looks very comfortable in the ring, a trait that has often confounded past British Olympian David Price.
5. Deontay Wilder's power is real, but his shots are still really wide.
Shifting to a heavyweight who's further along in his professional career, it's safe to say that Deontay Wilder's apprenticeship in the heavyweight division will soon be over. The 2008 Olympic bronze medal winner was considered raw by his handlers and was developed slowly. Nevertheless, Wilder's right hand is already one of the best in the division. Golden Boy has been searching for people to give him rounds and at least Nicolai Firtha was kind enough to stick around until the fourth and not lay down when things got rough in the first round.
In fact, Firtha blitzed Wilder after the opening bell and landed a few short right hands. Immediately, Wilder was in the unusual position of boxing off of his back foot to stem the tide. By the end of the round, Wilder had dropped Firtha twice. Overall, Wilder sent Firtha down four times before the fight ended, but his performance wasn't 100% peachy.
Concerning for Wilder is his penchant for missing his opponent by two feet. Firtha had enough head movement to slip a number of Wilder's wide punches. Firtha lacked the power to cause any real damage with his counters but you could visualize scenarios where more mobile boxers (think of a Dereck Chisora or a David Haye) would really make Wilder pay for his misses. Wilder loads up on his shots and is very slow in returning his hands to a responsible defensive position. Wilder spent many moments in the second and third rounds swinging at air. Only when he started to shorten up his shots was he able to land his finishing blow. Hopefully that is a lesson learned.
However, there are a number of wrinkles in Wilder's game that are quite promising – in addition to his power, of course. On Saturday, I liked how Wilder used his left hook to keep an advancing Firtha at bay. In addition, Wilder moved very well; he wasn't just another heavyweight lardass with a right hand. He used his lateral movement to put himself in position to land his power shots. Wilder's athleticism is a key component that is often overlooked. Although he can be a little stiff with his upper body, his legs will provide additional dimensions for his opponents to overcome. By using the ring in spots, he will become an even better fighter.
There's much to like about Wilder but there are also more than a few variables that can give pause. He has talked about facing more of the top talents in the division. I would like to see him fight someone with a punch first before putting him in with the best guys at heavyweight. Maybe a limited guy like Mike Mollo would be a good step. Mollo wouldn't be there to win a decision; he'd only try to land bombs. I think that's an avenue worth exploring for Wilder's development.
6. Kell Brook's right hand has finally caught up to his left.
Kell Brook flashed onto my radar screen in 2011. Beating former world-level fighters Lovemore NDou and Rafal Jackiewicz, Brook displayed excellent punch variety and very good athleticism. However, Brook's left hand was far more developed than his right one was. Brook controlled a lot of the action with his jab, left hook and left uppercut and he countered beautifully with his left. But his right was a work in progress; he was far less accurate with his straight right hand and he really didn't sit down on it like he could.
This lack of a strong right hand manifested in last year's match with Carson Jones, where Brook had difficulty thwarting Jones' pressure in the second half of the fight. In the rematch earlier this year, the big difference was Brook's right hand, thrown both as a lead shot and as part of combinations. Jones wasn't able to adjust to the shot and the right led Brook to victory.
Facing Vyacheslav Senchenko, a well-schooled and crafty boxer without a big punch, Brook's right hand immediately paid dividends. Dropping Senchenko in the third round with a nasty right, Senchenko was lucky to beat the count. In the next round, as Senchenko started to rally, Brook ended things with a short right.
Brook is a more well-rounded offensive fighter than he was a year ago. With more weapons at his disposal and very good hand speed, he is now clearly a top-ten fighter at welterweight. The next step is to see how he fares against the best in the division. As of right now, I still have a few questions.
Sharing a bizarre trait with the early version of Amir Khan, Brook often goes into a defensive shell after getting hit with a good shot. Moving back to the ropes, he allows opponents to tee off on him as he recovers. This still happened in the fourth round on Saturday after Senchenko landed a nice right hand. However, Brook was able to respond fairly quickly and shift back to offense.
In addition, Brook has taken rounds off in some of his more high-profile fights. Supposedly, his past conditioning problems are no longer an issue, but he still gets caught in between styles where he's not quite sure how to execute as fights progress into the later rounds. Brook likes to counter with his left hook and jab, but I still think that he's a much better fighter when he leads. His hand speed and accuracy are overall advantages in the division that can help build early leads on the scorecards and immediately make opponents uncomfortable. I wouldn't consider Brook a tactical genius or a master of angles at this point of his career. Yes, he can counter effectively when an opponent is right in front of him, but with issues in how he responds to taking shots and his overall lack of deception, I wouldn't predict that counterpunching will be the way his ticket gets punched to the big time.
7. Hopkins continues to surprise.
After watching dozens of Bernard Hopkins fights, I felt like I had seen everything from the grizzled veteran. Yet, I wasn't prepared for Hopkins standing in the center of the ring in the 11th round, trading potential knockout shots with Karo Murat and engaging in a poor man's Gatti-Ward. Throughout the second half of the match, Hopkins continually pressed for the knockout, sensing he had weakened prey. The fight went the distance, but not without Hopkins trying his best to close the show.
However, let's not pretend that this was a new fighter in the ring on Saturday. There was nothing alien about Hopkins clinching throughout the early rounds, committing an array of fouls, turning Murat and walking him across the ring and using his head to gain an advantage. Murat, was more than game to fight beyond the limits laid out in the Queensberry Rules, greeting Hopkins with head butts, low blows, hits on the break, and punches while Hopkins was down on the canvas after a slip (referee Steve Smoger would have been well within his limits to disqualify Murat for that maneuver). But in the battle of gamesmanship, Hopkins provided the ultimate one-upmanship, trying to convince Murat's corner to stop the fight in the eighth as he slipped shots along the ropes, hitting Murat in the kidney as he was turned around and planting a kiss on his pate during another clinch.
Murat was essentially outclassed, although he landed enough right hands to win some rounds. He certainly hit Hopkins throughout the fight, but most likely, that was Hopkins making the determination that he could withstand Murat's power shots in hopes of initiating his own offense.
Hopkins was downright offensive in this fight (in a good way), throwing almost 50 punches a round and mixing in his wide arsenal to win a comfortable decision. Noticing that Murat kept his left hand at around his knee, Hopkins started to land his lead right hand. But this wasn't the same, slow-developing lead right of recent Hopkins' vintage, where he would lean back, cock the shot and fall in after throwing. Hopkins' right on Saturday was short, and he maintained his balance and position to follow up with combinations. As the bout continued, Hopkins established his jab, both moving forward and fighting off of his back foot.
In the trenches, Hopkins had success using his free left hand to land hard uppercuts to the body (so few fighters use their free hand when in clinches – it’s a lost art). During the second half of the bout, Hopkins started featuring his left hook and a much bigger right hand. This fight was a strong reminder that Hopkins' arsenal doesn't exist just to neutralize an opponent. On Saturday, he was there to impress upon the boxing world that there was still a lot left in his tank. And for one night, there clearly was.
Finally, for a fighter who has earned a reputation on merit as being tough to watch in the ring, at times in the second half of his career, Hopkins has turned into quite the showman. Whether it was talking to Murat's corner while avoiding punches, doing pushups instead of waiting on Jean Pascal, mugging for the crowd after slipping a shot from Tavoris Cloud or hitting Antonio Tarver with a bolo punch, these were fun moments where the fans really responded to Hopkins. As the New York crowd gave Hopkins a standing ovation after the end of the Cloud fight earlier in the year, the Atlantic City audience was on its feet many times on Saturday. Fight fans left Boardwalk Hall having witnessed a winning performance from a legendary boxer, but just as important, an enjoyable one.
8. Hopkins-Murat will not be played at Steve Smoger's Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Yes, Smoger is one of the best refs in boxing. His ability to gauge when a fighter is capable of continuing is nonpareil in the sport. However, his laissez-faire attitude in the ring can be a detriment during a fight where there is a lot of clinching and fouling. True, he deducted a point (belatedly) from Murat for hitting on the break but Smoger seemed to lose control of the bout. Murat got away with hitting Hopkins on the canvas after a fall. Hopkins landed a kidney shot while Murat had his back turned, which was in plain view of the Smoger.
In addition, Smoger, putting his palm on Murat's head, shoved Murat across the ring on numerous occasions, a maneuver that didn't smack of professionalism. (Smoger didn't try that one on Hopkins.)
Saturday was at least the fifth Hopkins fight that Smoger has officiated. Perhaps more importantly, Smoger is from South Jersey, an area of the country that is essentially an extension of Hopkins' home base. It's unavoidable to be from this part of the U.S. and not fully comprehend Hopkins' accomplishments and ring legacy (I'm also from this part of the world, writing just minutes away from where Hopkins trains). In short, Smoger just seemed a little too chummy in the ring with Hopkins. He was disinclined to issue a serious warning for Hopkins' myriad fouls, let alone deduct a point. Yes, Smoger could have been more aggressive in penalizing Murat's infractions as well, but I don't think that anyone could watch the fight and feel like Murat had a particularly good rapport with Smoger.
I interviewed Smoger earlier in the year and he, quite frankly, provided a treasure trove of wonderful anecdotes, education and undying passion for the sport. There may be no referee in boxing who respects fighters, their sacrifices and the joy that they provide like Smoger does; I was very thankful for the time he gave me and his perspective on the sport.
With that said, Hopkins-Murat illustrated one of his weaknesses in the ring. He lets fighters fight to the nth degree, and if they aren't interested in engaging, he sees no inherent need to instill or impart a flow on the action. A fusspot like Jay Nady – although not licensed in New Jersey, but as an example – might have been better for a fight like Hopkins-Murat (unless he decided to disqualify one of them in the first round, a distinct possibility), or a more athletic ref like Benjy Estevez could have been better at breaking apart the two boxers. Smoger would have been perfect for Quillin-Rosado, but he was overmatched for the main event. And it pains me to say that.
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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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