Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao and Froch

After being knocked unconscious in his last fight, many in Manny Pacquiao's team and family wanted him to retire. After some reflection and a clean bill of health, Pacquiao decided to give boxing another shot. Although inactive since December, he claimed that he felt like a rejuvenated fighter. However, many questions surrounded his comeback: Would he still have the chin to compete at the top level? Did he still have the will to win a war? Were his outside distractions too much for him to perform at his best? 
Under these circumstances, it would be natural to assume that Brandon Rios (Pacquiao's comeback opponent), a tough pressure fighter, would want to jump on Pacquiao immediately, testing his resolve from the outset of the fight. This strategy wouldn't give Pacquiao time to build confidence and establish a rhythm. However, Robert Garcia, the hot trainer du jour of American boxing, had Rios come out at mid-range, providing Pacquiao with the ability to set the tempo and fire his best punches. From my perspective, this was an epic failure from Garcia.
Instead, the trainer wanted Rios to establish the jab and work on his straight right hand. But Rios was far too slow to accomplish these goals. And at no point in the fight did Rios make a concerted effort to sell-out for an inside brawl. When Rios did his best work, it was because Pacquiao stopped engaging and allowed himself to get tied up. There, Rios did an excellent job of hitting Pacquiao with his free hand in clinches, specifically with his straight right hand and right hook to the body. If Pacquiao were less cooperative, then Rios wouldn't have even had those good moments.
What most irks me about Rios' performance is that he wasn't put in the best position to win. I'm not saying that Rios had a good shot, but he had a shot, and that was to make the fight as uncomfortable for Pacquiao as possible. This meant battering Pacquiao on the inside and applying lots of pressure.
It's quite possible that Garcia applied some wrong lessons from Pacquiao's last Marquez fight. Yes, Marquez ended things with one shot, but Marquez is and has been one of the best counterpunchers of his generation, not to mention a supremely intelligent fighter. Even with these skills, it took Marquez four fights to put Pacquiao on the canvas. Maybe Garcia thought that Pacquiao was damaged goods – that Rios’ best chance was to wait for a Pacquiao mistake and get him with a clean shot. But I believe that this was a miscalculation by Garcia, a mistake of KYP – know your personnel. Rios certainly didn't possess the same one-punch power that Marquez did. He also lacked the technical ability, accuracy and hand speed of the Mexican master.
I'm sure that Garcia saw some things to employ from Marquez's knockout performance. Maybe if he had a welterweight version of Nonito Donaire, who can counter with the best of them, then Garcia's plan could have been put to action. But in the ring this weekend, Garcia had Rios – a limited and crude slugger who is only at his best when coming forward. In Rios' most memorable performances, he went after his prey like a rabid dog. He walked through fire to land shots and kept coming. Against Pacquiao, that dog remained on its leash.
Garcia's strategy had additional blowback for Rios in that fighting Pacquiao at mid-range zapped him of his confidence. Very quickly Rios realized that he couldn't match Manny's speed or creativity in the pocket. As the fight progressed, Rios never stopped trying to land, but he didn't display that dogged pursuit of victory-at-all-costs that he did in his best professional moments. Ultimately, this weekend's fight was where Brandon Rios finally became acquainted with the concept of boxing mortality, which took the form of a lightning-fast southpaw with power from the Philippines.
Although I had Pacquiao winning via shutout, I don't think that his performance was perfect by any means. On the positive side of the ledger, Pacquiao did an excellent job of using his entire arsenal. His right hook was sharper than it had been in a long time. His right uppercut was also brought out of mothballs and was very effective. These punches were key in forcing Rios to concern himself much more with defense than applying pressure. Rios just didn't know where the shots were coming from.
Pacquiao's footwork was also very good. Often darting around Rios after a quick flurry, Pacquiao proved to be very tough to time and counter. In addition, Pacquiao made sure to get no closer than mid-range while the action was in the center of the ring, which further minimized the countering opportunities for the short-armed Rios. Pacquiao was still very offensive but he was also smart (for the most part). If this lack of recklessness made him less scintillating than he was during his prime, it still enables him to have a career at a high level. Trainer Freddie Roach did a nice job of instilling in Pacquiao how important the concept of range was for this fight.
However, there were two significant points of concern regarding Pacquiao's performance: occasional defensive lapses and curious decision making. Rios was still able to land some hard shots along the ropes and in clinches. At times, Pacquiao forgot that Rios needed a stationary target in order to score. I have no idea why Pacquiao gave Rios so many free shots during clinches, many of them of the head-snapping variety.
This is a major problem for Pacquiao as he heads towards the back part of his career. He'll most likely never be the firebrand who could throw 90 punches a round for 36 minutes. As he ages, he will need moments off during rounds, and he looked like a complete novice during the clinches against Rios. This area will have to be tightened up. Pacquiao also seemed completely disinclined to work in the trenches. If Rios had a free hand, most likely Pacquiao had one as well, yet where was his inside game? 
But in the aggregate, Pacquiao put himself back on the big-time prizefighting map with his performance. He'll have a number of options for a major fight next year. However, let's not read too much into his victory. Rios failed to implement the one strategy that could have won him the fight. Absent that, he really didn't have much of a chance. Credit Top Rank for its matchmaking but a defanged Brandon Rios is not a pure barometer of assessing Pacquiao’s current skill level.
Overall, I found the fight quite dull. After the first few rounds where Rios felt no urgency to press the action, the bout devolved into a ritual slaughter of an overmatched and underprepared fighter. The second half of the contest had the inevitability of an Alabama-Army college football game or a Brazil-Iceland soccer match.
Howard Foster ruined a great fight. Let's not couch this in euphemisms or soft-pedal it. He ruined it. George Groves, a sizable underdog, pasted Carl Froch around the ring for many of the early portions of the fight, including dropping him with a beautiful counter right hand in the first round. This was Groves' moment of glory, his professional coming-out party. No longer was he an inexperienced fighter; he was beating the best fighter in Britain in the center of the ring, and at his own game.
Slowly, Froch started to come back in the fight, doing good work to the body and landing some quality counter left hooks in exchanges. In the ninth, he broke through and hurt Groves with a right hand that pushed him back to the ropes. He followed shortly after with another right hand and a left hook. Groves tried to counter but got tagged by a couple more clean shots as he moved towards the center of the ring.
At this moment, Foster decided to stop the fight. Although hurt, Groves was still throwing back. He was aware of his surroundings. And while his body language was bad and his legs were wobbling, his condition was no different than thousands of fighters who are routinely allowed to continue in a similar state. It was an awful stoppage.
Foster made losers out of everyone on Saturday. Groves saw his moment of glory go up in smoke because of a scared ref who lacked that fortitude to let a fight continue. Froch was deprived of a potentially epic comeback, one that would be viewed as legitimate. And fight fans were prohibited from seeing a definitive conclusion to some absolutely stirring action.
Quick stoppages in Britain have become an almost laughable problem in the jurisdiction. Whether it was this year's rematch between Kell Brook and Carson Jones or the Dereck Chisora-Malik Scott phantom "10-count," bad stoppages have plagued recent British boxing. Saturday's decision was the culmination of a bad pattern of cutting action short, most often to help the house fighter. And make no mistake; even though both Froch and Groves are Matchroom fighters, Froch was the international meal ticket.
I often appear on the Boxing Asylum podcast, where erudite British boxing observers like Kurt Ward, Andy Paterson and Alex Morris frequently bemoan the state of officiating in the U.K. And it's not just one official. It's Foster or Ian John-Lewis or Phil Edwards or Terry O'Connor. Quick British stoppages have continued to intensify over the last few years and the (valid) concerns of the Boxing Asylum group is that these decisions will stigmatize British boxing, resulting in fewer international fights on home soil.
The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) needs to realize that these types of stoppages are bad for business. And although developing British fighters are stuck with these local officials, international fighters have no such compulsion to ply their trade under the same conditions. As an example, why would a fighter like Andre Ward want to square off in a rematch with Froch in England if he knows that the fight will be stopped at the first sign of trouble? Meanwhile, a quality American referee like Tony Weeks, Kenny Bayless or Steve Smoger would be more inclined to let the fight last to its definitive conclusion. This is an issue that needs to be addressed by the BBBofC, or the jurisdiction does risk the loss of attractive and lucrative fights. Hometown stoppages happen everywhere, but this problem is pervasive in British boxing. 
With that said, a couple of more points about Froch-Groves:
I didn't give Groves much of a chance to beat Froch. So let me start by giving him major props for his effort. Groves' past trainer was Adam Booth, a talented coach, but one who is impressed by his own cleverness and cunning. Booth often opts for conservative and technical game plans. With only a short time to work with a new trainer, I expected Groves to continue down the Booth path. I thought that Groves would utilize his legs and boxing ability to take advantage of his foot and hand speed advantages.
But Groves' new trainer, Paddy Fitzpatrick, had a startling game plan. He realized that Groves would have ample opportunity to land his lead right hand over Froch's low left or counter with the right when Froch shot lazy jabs. And he wanted Groves to capitalize on this advantage from the outset, and in the center of the ring. He believed that Froch would present his flaws early and Groves' speed advantage could quickly establish the tone of the fight. Fitzgerald was 100% right. 
What was most surprising was not Groves' hand speed but his power. Froch, known for having a granite chin, was rocked throughout much of the fight by Groves' right. During the opening frames, Groves wasn't just quicker, but stronger. The SKY TV commentators were wondering if Froch had gotten old overnight, or if Groves was just successful in making Froch look old.
And while some on social media were wondering why Groves continued to go for the jugular as the fight progressed instead of boxing more conservatively, two of the judges only had Groves up by one point in the ninth. Fitzpatrick knew that Groves was the underdog and not the crowd favorite. He was instructing Groves to stay on the gas because he knew that the judges could be inclined to favor the champion in close rounds. (For the record, I had Groves up by three points prior to the stoppage.) 
Ultimately, one knock on Groves was how he handled himself in the ninth round. By this point of the fight, he couldn't tie up effectively when hurt (he was much better at this earlier in the bout). In the final moments, Groves gave Foster an excuse to stop the match. Instead of swinging back wildly, Groves should have used his energy to tie up, or use the ring to evade more trouble. Yes, he showed a fighter's heart and instinct by firing back, but his actions also helped lead to his loss. With a more just ref, he would have been able to continue, but he was in bad shape and didn't look like he was handling himself well in the ring.
Froch has faced perhaps the most daunting slate of any professional boxer of this era and has been in a lot of wars. At 36, it's tempting to say that he's on the decline. But I'm not ready to subscribe to this viewpoint yet. Froch looked just as bad in the first half of his title defense in 2009 against Jermain Taylor as he did on Saturday. Froch just struggles with quicker boxers. In the first part of the Taylor fight, Froch looked like he didn't belong in the same ring as the American. But, as he did on Saturday, he found a way back into the fight with body shots and hard power punches.
Froch was in bad shape early against Groves, but by the third round he was whipping right hooks to the body. He may not have won many of the early rounds, but he was investing to the body for later in the fight. In the final moments before the stoppage, it was clear how hurt Groves was. His faculties were lessened, his movements lacked fluidity and his resistance was weakened. Carl Froch was the one who was responsible for that – after being knocked down, after being battered relentlessly. His comeback demonstrated the resolve of a true champion. 
I hope that the rematch happens. Both fighters will clearly learn from Saturday. Perhaps Froch underestimated Groves' strength and he will have to use a tighter jab and engage more purposefully. Maybe Groves will fight more in stretches and not enter into a wall-to-wall slugfest. Froch has proven himself in wars and perhaps Groves' path to ultimate glory will be more of a technical variety. Let them settle it definitively in the ring. And give Tony Weeks the referee assignment.

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


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Boxing Asylum Podcast 11-24-13

I jumped on the Boxing Asylum podcast today to talk about Manny Pacquiao's triumphant return to the ring and the controversy surrounding the Froch-Groves fight.

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:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pacquiao-Rios: Keys to the Fight

One of the more intriguing fights of 2013 takes place this weekend in Macao, China as longtime boxing star Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) faces Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs) in a welterweight clash. In a rarity for a boxing pay per view, both fighters are coming off of losses. Pacquiao was memorably knocked out in the sixth round in December by Juan Manuel Marquez and Rios dropped a close decision to Mike Alvarado in their rematch in March.
It's been a long layoff for Pacquiao and at 34 it will be fascinating to see how he returns to the ring. The knockout in December was gruesome and his team made him undergo a battery of medical tests to ensure that there were no lingering effects from that decisive blow. Although he was cleared to fight, there's no way of knowing how the knockout will play into his psyche and manifest in the ring, or if it does at all.  
Pacquiao's role as a Filipino Congressman and his unofficial duty as one of his country's most notable celebrities have provided ample opportunity for him to step away from boxing. Pacquiao has also spoken about how he has been affected by the devastation of the recent typhoon in the Philippines; his countrymen are still recovering from one of the worst natural disasters of the modern era. All of these factors beg the question: Does Pacquiao still have the physical tools and desire to remain at the top of the sport? 
For Rios, this will be his opportunity to reclaim his status as one of boxing's shooting stars. Already one of the sport's premier action fighters, Rios will now have the chance to prove he's one of its best. Moving up to welterweight, it will be interesting to see if his pressure style can work against a fighter who has had a lot of success against come-forward boxers. In addition, it is unknown how well Rios' chin will hold up against a big puncher at a higher weight.
The keys to the fight are below. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. For Rios, Press Pacquiao Early.
For however confident Pacquiao claims that he is in his return to the ring, the frightening spectacle from last year lingers. Sure, fighters lick their wounds, go back to the gym, put their equipment on and try to move forward, but Pacquiao, like any boxer, will have some jitters stepping back into the ring, and no amount of sparring – with the headgear and larger gloves – will fully erase doubt. He and his team want to get off to a good start and establish confidence. 
Over the last few years, Rios has done a much better job of starting faster and he's going to need to accelerate this trend mightily for this fight. As soon as the opening bell rings, he immediately has to test Pacquiao's resolve and fortitude. Fortunately for Rios, he has the perfect style and temperament to pursue this aim. Rios has never had a problem taking one or two shots in order to come forward. He won't get dissuaded from a flush power shot. Rios must take the fight to Pacquiao and get in close quarters. He needs to rough him up, go to the body and make Pacquiao know that he will have to endure 12 rounds of a savage dogfight in order to win. Perhaps Pacquiao's desire won't be there. Maybe he won't want to engage in this style of a fight. It will be up to Rios to force Pacquiao to make these tough decisions in the ring. If Rios can beat him up early, maybe Pacquiao won't want to stick around late. 
2. Manny, Movement Is Your Friend. 
Until his last bout with Marquez, Pacquiao had increasingly become more of a straight-line fighter, forsaking lateral movement and angles. During his last fight, Pacquiao returned to using his footwork and timing to launch attacks at Marquez. What made Pacquiao so special in his prime was his combination of explosive speed and power. He's a much better fighter when he's firing off odd-angled shots and using his movement to get his opponents out-of-position. Incorporating these facets against Rios will make the fight considerably easier.
Rios will be easy to hit, but the trap is to stand in front of him and trade. For Pacquiao to maximize his chances in the fight, pot shotting will be key. Landing one or two power shots and stepping off to the side will be far more effective than exchanging bombs. As the second Alvarado fight demonstrated, Rios has difficulty cutting off the ring. The more that Pacquiao uses the ring the fewer problems that Rios will present for him. Pacquiao needs to throw quick flurries and then escape.  Rios can't win this type of fight, but he might prevail in a war. Pacquiao's legs will minimize the damage.
Interestingly, in a number of Pacquiao’s recent fights, he has complained about foot and legs issues. These problems didn't manifest in December against Marquez but it's something to keep aware of. If Pacquiao can't move well because of physical ailments, the entire complexion of this fight changes.
3. Rios Has To Stay Out Of Mid-Range.
If there's a pocket in this fight, Rios is in a lot of trouble. He can't match Pacquiao's speed and creativity from mid-range. In addition, Rios doesn't have too many counterpunching weapons from mid-range or the outside. Sometimes he's had success with an overhand right, which worked well against the taller Alvarado, but I don't see that punch landing frequently against Pacquiao, who relies on quick movement. 
Rios must stay in close range as much as possible. In addition, he can't ignore defense when coming in. Yes, Rios' chin is special, but he's never been hit by anyone like Pacquiao before. There's a big difference between walking through the shots of Miguel Acosta and those of Manny Pacquiao.
Being in close will help take away Pacquiao’s straight left hand, clearly his best punch. Pacquiao has far less accuracy and power with his right hook or uppercuts. Close quarters will be Rios' safe zone and it will also allow him to get his work done, landing bracing hooks to the body and short right hands. If Rios can't get in close, he won't be able to initiate enough offense to be competitive and he will be a sitting duck for Pacquiao’s best shots.
4. Pacquiao Must Lead With Power Shots.
Pacquiao has a good jab. It's fast and it can blind opponents. In addition, he uses his jab as a timing mechanism to establish rhythm, providing the opportunity to incorporate the rest of his arsenal into his offense. The Pacquiao one-two, where he flicks the jab and throws a left hand straight down the middle, has damaged many an opponent.
However, Rios is the wrong guy to jab against. He won't mind getting hit by it and the jab will provide him with additional time to move forward. Pacquiao needs to keep Rios at bay and the best way to do that is with power shots. Shooting lead left hands, left hand to the body/right hook combinations and lead right hooks will help suppress Rios' forward momentum. In addition, Pacquiao needs to find his left uppercut and have it ready for when Rios is walking in. Pacquiao must unload the kitchen sink on Rios, who can also be cut easily. In his last fight, Pacquiao got starched by being too cute, running in with a double jab. No such craftiness will be needed against Rios. Pacquiao's brute power shots will more than suffice.
5. The Major Work Will Be Done In The First Half Of The Fight.
I would be very surprised to see wild swings in the fight late. The work (or lack of work) done by each fighter in the first half of the match will clearly manifest by the eighth or ninth round. Will Rios' pressure and body attack successfully wear down Pacquiao’s physical and mental capacities as the fight progresses? Will Pacquiao’s hard power shots take their toll on Rios? 
The late rounds will be the coronation for whoever was more successful earlier in the fight. If Rios takes a hellacious beating for eight rounds, he won't have enough in the tank to press a real attack in the championship rounds. But if Rios can grind Pacquiao down throughout the fight, Pacquiao won't have the legs or resistance to overcome Rios (with the exception of a Hail Mary power shot or two). I think that the first eight rounds will clearly establish the ultimate victor; the rest of the fight will be important only for record keeping purposes.
Here's what I don't know:
1. I don't know if Pacquiao will come out timidly, trying to shake off the cobwebs of last fight, or if he will start the action guns blazing.
2. I don't know how Rios will respond to Pacquiao's power punches.
Here's what I do know:
1. Rios will get hit, he will get hit a lot and he will get hit hard.
Maybe Rios will have some moments luring Pacquiao into a war for brief stretches but I just don't think that he holds up through 12 rounds of Pacquiao’s power punches. Ultimately, Rios will get hit too cleanly throughout the fight. His body and skin will deteriorate in the second half of the match. Whether he makes it to the final bell will most likely depend on trainer Robert Garcia's compassion in stopping the fight. I think that Garcia will make the right call in the late rounds to protect his fighter.
Manny Pacquiao TKO 11 Brandon Rios

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

On Greatness: Nonito Donaire and Mikey Garcia

Nonito Donaire once made me travel 3,000 miles.
For his 2012 fight against longtime junior featherweight champion Toshiaki Nishioka, and the very tasty Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado undercard matchup, I was compelled to leave my comfy East Coast environs and make my first boxing trip to Southern California. Donaire was on quite a run, unforgettably knocking out Fernando Montiel in a bantamweight unification fight, forcing longtime junior bantamweight champion Omar Narvaez to hide behind his gloves and moving up to 122 to dispatch former champion Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. and then-titlist Jeffrey Mathebula.
In Donaire I saw a tantalizing display of hand speed, boxing skill and knockout power. To my eyes, he had already elevated himself to the rarified air of the top-five fighters in the sport. I knew that Nishioka would be a real opponent, someone who featured caginess, power, hand speed and ring intelligence.
And while most remember the fight of the year candidate between Rios and Alvarado from that October night, Donaire-Nishioka provided me with all sorts of joy. From the second round on, I saw one of the proudest champions in the sport practically refuse to engage. Donaire dropped Nishioka in the sixth round with a beautiful left uppercut, a fact that excited me in so much that it was a punch that wasn't often featured in his arsenal. In the ninth round, Donaire ended the fight in perhaps one of the best sequences of his career. Facing an opponent who wouldn't open up, Donaire planted himself along the ropes, practically begging for Nishioka to attack him. Within a few seconds, Donaire landed a perfectly timed counter right hand and Nishioka was sent spiraling to the canvas. Nishioka's corner soon stopped the fight.
That sequence showed me a new side of Donaire, who often could get frustrated in the ring and lose focus. Here, he figured out how to best an opponent who was intelligent, capable and unwilling to let his hands go. The catcalls which Donaire had heard after the Narvaez fight shifted to cheers after the Nishioka knockout.
That fight was Donaire putting it all together. He demonstrated that he could not just counter but also lead. He also featured his wide arsenal of punches and didn't get too left-hook happy. This was a truly great fighter and someone whom I was happy to witness ply his trade live.
After an obligatory early knockout of an overmatched Jorge Arce, the stage was set for Donaire to face his next significant threat, Guillermo Rigondeaux, the legendary Cuban amateur who had won his first world championship in just his ninth pro contest.
Coming into the fight, Donaire was seemingly on top of the world. He was the consensus 2012 Fighter of the Year and was making excellent purses. Quickly he had established himself as one of the faces of HBO Boxing. Yet, there were many who thought that Rigondeaux had the style to present huge problems for him. By fight night, Donaire was only a slight betting favorite. Once again, I was compelled to see Donaire in person. This time it was a far more palatable commute up the Jersey Turnpike to Manhattan.
What followed was a pure master class from Rigondeaux, who timed Donaire perfectly with lead and counter left hands. Using his brilliant footwork, Rigondeaux skated away from trouble throughout most of the fight; he was the one clearly dictating the terms of the match. Donaire couldn't find a clear way to initiate offense. He spent much of the fight either following Rigondeaux around the ring listlessly or swinging wildly with his left hook and right hand.
As the rounds continued to pile up in Rigondeaux's favor, Donaire seemed to have no concrete plan in how to turn the tide in his favor. Even after knocking the Cuban down in the 10th, he proceeded to lose much of the remaining round and the subsequent moments of the fight. I scored the fight 116-111 and I may have even been generous to Donaire. For an elite-caliber boxer, it was a dreadful performance.
During the fight, trainer Robert Garcia gave Donaire instructions about how he should initiate offense, but Donaire was unwilling to respond in the ring; there was a clear fissure between trainer and fighter. It was a major failure by both in that there was no real Plan B; I'm not sure that there was a definitive Plan A.
When things were going well in Donaire's recent run of excellence, few made note of his bizarre training regimen, whereby Garcia, only traveled up to Northern California on the weekends and during the week Donaire worked with his own people and contacted Garcia only by phone. After the Rigondeaux fight, Donaire admitted that he undertrained and didn't study his opponent.
In hindsight, dropping a decision to a fighter of Rigondeaux's caliber wasn't a great calamity, but how easily Donaire accepted defeat was far more problematic. There was no great stand from a proud champion, which we have come to expect from the best in the sport. What we got instead was Donaire going out with a whimper. He didn't take the risks needed to change the fight. Even after the knockdown, he soon went back to caution. Ultimately, there was a shortage of pride. It seemed that he had made peace with his impending defeat.
HBO and Top Rank were very much in the Nonito Donaire business, so they were nice enough to provide him with Vic Darchinyan as his next opponent, a fighter whom he had destroyed in the fifth round of a bout six years prior. Darchinyan, a southpaw slugger who had been receiving pound-for-pound consideration before facing Donaire the first time, wasn't able to defend himself adequately against Donaire's power or speed in 2007. That win catapulted Donaire into the higher echelon of boxers, a position that he had not relinquished until the Rigondeaux fight.
In the lead-up to the Darchinyan rematch, Donaire was surprisingly candid about his waning passion for boxing and his inadequate preparation for Rigondeaux. He hoped to turn it around against Darchinyan but even he wasn't sure that he had the necessary desire to get back to the top.
Saturday's rematch was a strange affair. Darchinyan made some key adjustments, not lunging in with shots and fighting at a more measured pace. He had success early by firing his shots from a low angle, avoiding Donaire's counter left hook. Donaire moved his hands only sporadically and rarely threw more than one shot at a time. He was looking to land knockout punches with his left hook or right hand and felt no need to try and set them up.
Darchinyan was seven years older but fought as the younger and hungrier boxer. He was making a concerted effort to win rounds and prove that he could best his nemesis from years prior. Donaire was getting tagged throughout the fight by Darchinyan's left hand. Not only was Donaire fighting with less-than-maximum effort, but his reflexes look like they had regressed as well. 
Going into the ninth round, I had Donaire and Darchinyan even. Donaire won his share of rounds in my opinion by landing harder shots during exchanges, but many of those rounds were close. Meanwhile, Darchinyan notched his frames more definitively by outworking his opponent (two of the judges had Donaire down big and one also had the fight even).
Donaire was able to end things in the ninth with a punishing left hook that sent Darchinyan to the canvas and a series of follow up shots with Darchinyan trapped along the ropes. In those brief moments, Donaire saved what was left of his career and finished a wounded opponent like a champ, but boxing observers knew what they had witnessed in the rounds prior to the conclusive ninth.
Still lacking hunger, Donaire's performance was desultory and lacked passion. His body looked soft at featherweight and he almost completely neglected his considerable boxing skills in favor of one-punch solutions. Donaire was no longer an excitement to see in the ring; he was suddenly a grizzled vet hoping to survive on the muscle memory of his power shots.  

Even at his best, Donaire had his foibles as a fighter, but they were mostly from caring too much; he wanted to be spectacular and give fans an unbelievable knockout. Now, he looked like he was just going through the motions. His sense of regard was almost a reverse of his halcyon days.
I didn't travel this weekend to watch Donaire live and I bet that I won't ever do so again. I'm happy that I was able to witness that wonderful night he had in California just over a year ago. I knew what I saw that night, a truly great fighter. But I also quite clearly realize what he has now become. 
Greatness can be so ephemeral in boxing. Within one short year, a fighter of the year can devolve into a middling talent; a pound-for-pound entrant can make one question how he was once ever an elite boxer.
Most often we equate slippage with a fighter as a result of the abuse that he has taken in the ring and/or the many wars that have zapped his faculties. But for Donaire, this is clearly not the case. Only 30, he has been in very few tough fights and has very seldom lost rounds prior to the Rigondeaux match.
However, the psychological edge needed for greatness has left Donaire. The best in the sport don't take opponents lightly. They train hard for every match and ensure that their body is in top condition. The elite know that the competition is coming for them and that they must continue to improve; there is always room to get better in the ring. 
Donaire reached the top echelon of the boxing universe and coasted. Reading his own headlines and convinced of his superhuman strength, training and preparation became more of a chore for him. His love of the sport diminished. His role as a family man shifted the priorities in his life.
These psychological components or intangibles aren't talked about as much as the in-ring action but they are just as important in determining how far fighters will go in the sport. Donaire, like many others before him, hit his point where outside interests became more important than boxing. He had an excellent five-year run, featuring many highlight-reel knockouts and impressive victories, but the days of him ruling the lower weights are almost certainly over.
Donaire himself may not be sad about this development. He put in his time to the sport and achieved wonderful results in four weight classes. He made the boxing world care about bantamweights and flyweights, divisions often ignored by mainstream boxing fans and media. He provided for his family and made a good living.
It's always upsetting to see once-great fighters regress or deteriorate. It reinforces thoughts about mortality and the vicious nature of sport, not to mention life. Yet Donaire's story isn't a tragic one (at this point). He made his bones in the sport and was a success story. Absent a complete rededication to boxing, I hope he hangs the gloves up sooner rather than later.
Mikey Garcia is 33-0 with 28 knockouts. He has amassed titles in two divisions and many consider him to be one of the more promising young fighters on the boxing landscape, if not already among the top-20 fighters in the sport. However, I feel that he is still far from hitting his ceiling. To my eyes, he has yet to put together a complete performance against a top opponent (I'm not counting Juan Manuel Lopez, who had already been clearly cooked coming into their fight).
In November of last year, Garcia faced former titlist Jonathan Barros, who was a late replacement for the injured Orlando Salido. Barros had a smart game plan of using his jab and quick combinations from the outside to keep Garcia at bay; Garcia struggled at many points to find the right distance and timing. Going into the eighth round, I only had Garcia up one point. He was able to end things with a pulverizing knockout later that round but I wasn't overly enthralled with his performance.
Earlier this year, Garcia faced Salido and started out like gangbusters, dropping him four times. Garcia's counters were razor sharp and his accuracy, power and ring intelligence were something to behold (I was fortunate enough to see this performance live). But something happened by the sixth round. Salido just wouldn't go away and he started to have success landing his right hand from range. Suddenly, Garcia seemed less confident in the ring. In the eighth, Garcia suffered a nasty gash from a head butt. Knowing that he was ahead comfortably on the scorecards, he and his team took full advantage of the rules and claimed that he was unable to continue. He was awarded a decision on the scorecards, but the ending of that fight left something to be desired. It was a strange way to win his first title.
On Saturday, he was dropped early by Roman Martinez. In the ensuing rounds, he cautiously picked up points by being more accurate and highlighting the defensive aspects of his game. Finally in the sixth round, he started to unleash his power shots and his fireworks were impressive. Pinpoint counter right hands and left hooks crushed Martinez. Garcia used his jab to initiate thundering combinations. In short time, Martinez was unable to defend himself from the offensive onslaught. Garcia landed a menacing left hook to the body in the eighth and Martinez was down for good, giving Mikey his second title.
Growing up in a boxing family, Garcia's ring I.Q. and veteran savvy far belie his 25 years. He initially had the reputation of almost being too cool in the ring, perhaps lacking the passion or fire needed to be a top talent. And make no mistake; he can be very cautious in the squared circle.
To this point, he has faced a number of very good fighters, but he has yet to meet an elite opponent and may not for a while as the 130-lb. division is relatively weak, outside of Takashi Uchiyama, a Japanese slugger who has yet to leave his homeland for a fight.
Garcia has all the tools and talent to ascend to the highest reaches of the sport, but, for me, it's too early to suggest that he will achieve greatness in the ring. I'm still waiting for him to put it all together against top competition.
For now, Garcia can continue to consolidate his skills and work on defeating opponents with different styles and dimensions. For me, the true evaluation of Garcia's future will be in how he handles duress. Yes, I was impressed with how he recovered after being knocked down by Martinez on Saturday – it was more of a flash knockdown – but he responded well. But what will happen when Garcia faces the power of the Uchiyama or the pure hand speed of Terence Crawford? Does Garcia possess the ability to will himself to victory? Can he fight six rounds with a bad cut or a broken hand? We don't yet know these answers and until we do, we can marvel at Garcia's impressive skills and savvy and speculate on how high he might one day ascend in the sport, but at this point it's just conjecture. Greatness may one day be there for him, but it's not there yet.

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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