Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Broner-Maidana, Thurman

I will forever remember the joy – the euphoria in the crowd as Marcos Maidana was announced the winner over Adrien Broner, the cacophonous exclamations of shock and pleasure as Maidana sent Broner to the canvas in the second round, the hundreds of fans who lined up in the hotel lobby after 1 a.m. chanting and singing, flashing their cameras and mobbing Maidana as he walked into the fight hotel, trainer Robert Garcia reveling in Maidana's performance after the fight with a celebratory drink, erasing the sting of Pacquiao-Rios just a few weeks past. These moments are indelible to me. They are why the sport in my estimation has no parallels: the perseverance, the viciousness, the surprise, the upset, the glory, the elation. These are the intoxicants that make boxing so special.

Of course there are other images that made an imprint: Broner hurriedly leaving the ring after his first loss, the solemn and consoling beers shared by members of his team in the hotel lobby as joy and revelry were just a few feet away – their conversation was nothing above a whisper. These defeats hurt. They quash dreams, change realities and force people to consider their immediate futures.

The boxing world was turned on its head on Saturday with Marcos Maidana battering the supposedly better-skilled Adrien Broner over 12 rounds to win a hard-fought decision. Knocking him down in the second and the eighth, Maidana earned his first outright world championship after years of being so close to the top of the mountain.

Sure, many boxing fans disliked Broner's sense of entitlement, his out-of-the-ring antics and his lack of professionalism, but the night wasn't all about Broner's comeuppance. Maidana's fearlessness, power and perseverance have connected with boxing fans. They know that Maidana was never handed anything in the sport. He was brought in to lose to Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan. He was hand-picked by Devon Alexander to make his debut at 147. He was selected by Adrien Broner as a credible steppingstone to greater things in the sport. Maidana's glories in boxing have all been as a result of his sweat equity. He was never a "chosen one" or groomed by Golden Boy to be anything other than an opponent. 

But it's not just having a strong will that finally took Maidana to the top. Lots of boxers have never-say-die attitudes and the internal fortitude to become champion; however, they lack the technical skill to get there. After feeling he had plateaued as a fighter, Maidana enlisted Robert Garcia to help him improve. Saturdays' result was a stunning testament to how well the two have worked together.

Maidana's lead left hook was his money punch against Broner. But that deserves some additional discussion. It wasn't that he threw the punch that was so surprising; it was his ease with landing it. The Maidana of five fights ago would never have had the same type of success in connecting with that shot that he did on Saturday. Against Broner, Maidana disguised the punch with a shoulder feint. This forced Broner to defend against a potential incoming jab. Instead, Maidana unfurled a delayed looping left hook that nailed its target. In the past, Maidana didn't have feints or a jab. He would rush in with power shots through hell or high water. However, Broner defended Maidana the way that he did because of Maidana's improved jab. That whole sequence of success should be attributed to Maidana's further refinement under Garcia.

And unlike what Brandon Rios failed to do against Manny Pacquiao, Maidana went for the jugular from the opening bell, attacking Broner with right hands from over-the-top at close range, jabs to the body, grappling and left hooks. His determination and punch output immediately put Broner on the defensive.

Broner and his team were so worried about Maidana's lead right hands at the outset that Maidana was able to score with his other offerings. Interestingly, of the big punches that Maidana landed during the fight, very few were his traditional right hands – the ones that dropped Ortiz and sent Khan to funny town. He had more success against Broner with a right hand that he started above his head and shot it down to the back of Broner's. It was an untraditional punch, but it proved to be effective.

All of this speaks to Garcia's game plan. He knew how paramount it would be for Maidana to establish his other punches. He formulated a strategy that took advantage of Broner's slow starts and his willingness to mix it up. And as Broner rallied back into the fight (which he did in the middle rounds), Garcia never let up on Maidana, imploring his fighter to keep the pressure on and go for the big shots. Garcia knew that Maidana was the "opponent" and that the fight was in Texas, a jurisdiction that can be very hospitable to star fighters. It wasn't enough to be up by a few rounds and play it safe; the fight had to be in the bag. 

And there were many rounds, especially late in the fight, where Broner had good opening minutes, hitting Maidana solidly with combinations and backing him up towards the ropes. Yet Maidana dug down and fought back with his own determination vis-a-vis vicious bombs. He wasn't conceding rounds and he was willing to fight for all 12 (another new wrinkle in his game).

After the final bell sounded, the long delay in announcing the result was sickening. Could Maidana really get robbed? Surely, there are worse robberies that occur in the sport throughout the year. I had the fight 115-110, which equates to eight rounds to four, minus two points for Broner for the knockdowns and one point for Maidana for the egregious head butt in the eighth. Although there were three or four swing rounds in the fight, a judge would've had to bend over backwards to find a way to give the match to Broner. But this is boxing; these kinds of awful scenarios happen. It's why the sport can be so soul crushing at times. I was feeling uncomfortable. I'm sure that many in the audience were feeling similarly.

Finally, Jimmy Lennon Jr. grabbed the mic and said that there was a unanimous decision. I had some immediately relief. When he announced that the first judge, Stanley Christodoulou from South Africa, had it 115-110, I didn't even need to hear whom he had as the victor. Christodoulou is one of the finest judges in the sport, and if he had the score wide, I knew it was for Maidana. The final two scores were read (116-109 and 117-109) and the boisterous crowd erupted in a wave of revelry as "El Chino's" name was called. Saturday wasn't my first rodeo, but let me assure you that this was the most passionate crowd response I have witnessed in my years of attending live boxing. 

After the fight, fans, members of the media and those in other boxing camps congregated and expressed a combination of awe, jubilation, bewilderment and shock. They had seen a special performance. Very few had predicted that Maidana would win, and certainly even fewer thought that he would win a decision in Texas against a groomed star such as Broner. It was an unforgettable post-fight scene, with excitement and libations all around. 

As for Broner, I will not bury him here. I'll say that he fought back bravely after getting beaten up early in the fight. After seven, I had the bout even. But I think that the eighth round was the fight. Broner had an excellent first minute and landed hard right hands and left hooks. However, Maidana caught him with that left hook again and followed up with a blistering combination that led to the second knockdown. After Broner got up, Maidana continued to charge at him and rough him up. Although Broner was successful in milking a head butt for a point, I think that Maidana's ferociousness really stunned him.

Broner wasn't used to a guy walking through his shots. (And make no mistake; I saw Maidana on Sunday morning, he was really marked up). In addition, Broner's hand speed and accuracy weren't enough to thwart Maidana's desire to come forward and engage. Certainly, Maidana felt Broner's power, but was it anything worse than what he had experienced from Victor Ortiz (who knocked him down three times) or Jesus Soto Karass? Broner had only been in one real war in his career, against lightweight Antonio DeMarco, but that fight was effectively over in the mid-rounds after Broner started to unleash his power shots. Here, following that same blueprint, Maidana wasn't as compliant as DeMarco had been, and Broner had difficulty matching Maidana's punch volume and effort.

Let me also make some notes on the defensive differences between Broner and his role model, Floyd Mayweather. Broner absorbed the shots that he did on Saturday because he doesn't use his legs with the frequency or skill that Mayweather does. It's one thing to have a Philly shell defense; it's another thing to know when and how to spin out from the ropes, when to disengage and how to reset the action. Mayweather is just far more fluid with his feet than Broner is. Floyd uses distance and movement to control the pace of the action; Broner is often a stationary target.

I read an interview with Mayweather from earlier this year where he talked about the characteristics of his defensive style. He said that the most important part of his defensive posture was keeping his right hand up by his cheek to protect himself from the left hook. He would take getting hit with the jab as long as he could block the hook. Broner bit for Maidana's feints and after watching dozens of Mayweather fights, I'm not sure that he would've done the same. It's why jabbing can sometimes work against Mayweather. He'll give you a jab to land as long as he can stop the hook. 

One attribute of the Philly Shell is the ability to limit combination punching. With only allowing a limited area to hit, the first shot becomes primary. It's Shane Mosley cracking Mayweather from a distance with his right hand or Judah scoring with a single left.

Even with all of Maidana's success, I counted only a few instances where he was successful at throwing even a three-punch combination. Thus, as Garcia knew and instructed to Maidana, the first shot had to hurt. The left hook was delivered in such a way that it stunned Broner and gave Maidana the opportunity to land follow-on shots. A traditional jab-your-way-in approach to the shell doesn't work and Garcia didn't even try that. He instructed Maidana to deliver single jabs to the head or body to set up shots for later, not to initiate prolonged offensive exchanges. Again, this was an acute understanding of an opponent by a trainer and a wonderful example of a fighter incorporating the teachings of his coach.

For Broner, it may make sense for him to drop down to 140, a division he passed over earlier this year. It's clear that his power won't be enough to take out the top players in the division and his sparse punch volume coupled with defensive holes make it tough for him to beat the best welterweights.

It will be fascinating to see what he does next. Will he insist on a rematch? Does he want another top guy at 147? Will he take on one of the bad boys at 140, like Danny Garcia or Lucas Matthysse?

I'm sure that Broner will want to remain in the limelight but will he put in the time at the gym to get better? Will he be a Marcos Maidana and learn from his defeats, or will he be an Andre Berto and never really recover from his first loss? His frame of mind and dedication will now determine his future in the sport. He has more than enough skills to beat top guys. But he needs to understand that to be the best there has to be constant improvements and adjustments. He has to be willing to put in the work.

For Maidana, he literally has 10 guys who would be viable opponents. Everyone from Mayweather to Guerrero to Thurman to Matthysse to Garcia to Porter, and the list goes on and on. A lot will depend on the Mayweather dominoes. If Mayweather selects Khan to fight next, he'll need a big name and an action fighter to support him on the undercard. You can bet that Maidana would get prime consideration for that coveted slot in May. Even if Mayweather goes in another direction, Maidana's name is virtually synonymous with must-see TV (we'll forget that the Devon Alexander fight happened). Whomever Maidana winds up fighting next, he will have successfully filled up his financial coffers in 2014 from his performance on Saturday. It was a night that can never be taken away from him, or from the multitude of boxing fans for which he provided so much joy.


Undefeated welterweight Keith Thurman made an impressive showing on the undercard as he stopped the rugged Jesus Soto Karass in the ninth round. As the fight started, Soto Karass made an immediate impact by buckling Thurman's knees with a vicious uppercut. Similar to his last outing against Diego Chaves, Thurman felt his opponent's power and decided to fight in boxer-puncher mode instead of an all-out slugger. 

After the first couple of rocky rounds, Thurman took control of the fight. Boxing sprightly on his feet, he used his legs and his large offensive arsenal to alternately negate and thump Soto Karass. In the past, we had been conditioned to see Thurman as the seek-and-destroy young gun, but on Saturday, he was ducking under punches, turning Soto Karass, picking spots in the ring to initiate action and controlling much of the fight with his jab and movement.

But this being Thurman, he didn't try to stink out the fight. No, when he let his hands go, he unloaded vicious bombs, including his right hand, left uppercut to the body and a left uppercut/hook hybrid punch that led to his first knockdown in the fifth round and initiated the final sequence in the ninth. Soto Karass spent much of the fight eating punches or blindly following Thurman around the ring. Thurman used the entire squared-circle to his advantage and expertly navigated along the ropes to thwart Soto Karass' oncoming aggression.

It was less than 18 months ago when many big-time boxing writers derided Thurman as nothing more than an Al Haymon creation. They mocked HBO for featuring him on its airwaves. To my eyes, that was unwarranted then, and Thurman's continued advancement in the ring has made those particular fight scribes look foolish; he's one of the most exciting young fighters in boxing.

Almost under-the-radar, Thurman has been moved expertly. From the crafty Carlos Quintana to the mature and durable Jan Zaveck to the banger Chaves to the pressure fighter Soto Karass, Thurman has seen an array of different styles as the quality of his opposition has increased. For his next fight, there will be lots of talk about a Maidana matchup (Maidana actually passed up that fight last year) and it's a scenario that promises fireworks. I think that Thurman might be ready for it, but if his team is still interested in further refining him, I would suggest that he try and track down a mover like Paulie Malignaggi. That would be an interesting battle which would force Thurman into a cerebral fight. It would also prepare him for some of the more well-rounded and tactical talents at 147.

Through Thurman's development process, we have learned a lot about him. We know that his chin is pretty damn good. He certainly is much more than just a one-punch knockout artist. He has very good foot speed and at least above-average hand speed. He can jab and go to the body. Perhaps most impressively, he has three knockout weapons with his right hand, left hook and left uppercut.

Another attribute I particularly like about Thurman is his coachability. Although he possessed raw power 16 months ago, his shots were very wide and telegraphed. He has done an excellent job of working with trainer Dan Birmingham to shorten his punches and use his considerable athletic gifts to separate himself from his opponents. Sure, there are still things to learn. I think he wastes a little too much energy bouncing up and down in the ring; better controlling his aggression might make him that much more lethal. In addition, he could add some feints to his repertoire. Feinting his right would open up so many possibilities for his left hook and uppercut. His weapons are real; now it's just a case of delivering them with maximum impact.

On a final note, Thurman spent almost three hours after the fight talking with fans, taking pictures and signing autographs. Holding court at a table near the center of the hotel bar, Thurman had a small group from his team with him, but there was no posse or barrier restricting access. Actually, he jumped up whenever someone came to talk with him. He went back and forth with media members. He gracefully accepted well-wishers.

Thurman seems to be a fighter who is incredibly comfortable in his own skin. He has a combination of intelligence, confidence and sincerity that really connects with fans. Still only 25, he has some big fights ahead of him and there are no guarantees that his record will remain unblemished in the next 18 months. Nevertheless, I think that there's a very good chance that Thurman becomes a significant star in the sport. If he stays in the gym and keeps working his tail off, he may become one of the true drivers in boxing, with the chance to expand the reach of the sport further into the mainstream. He's standing on the precipice of great things and maybe only his will and determination will govern how far he can go. Keep your eyes here.

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 
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  1. Expert analysis but you failed to mention alex areza feeding something into marcos maidanas mouth somewhere mid late fight ?

  2. Broner vs Kahn, would be good, Maidana is a good fighter there to fight his opponent, Broner hits after the bell often, first round with Paulie, kneed him in a later round, always with the elbows, pushing over and over, he should have been DQ for it or the 11th round hitting after the bell, DQ, and he wasn't even going to touch gloves for the 12th round, Maidana had to reach for his glove. But Garcia has to flush that rat Ariza from his neck ! he should be banned from boxing.

  3. Alex Ariza didn't put anything in Maidanas mouth or nostrils. You're grasping at straws trying to make Maidana look like he was being administered inhalants. He was not. Ammonia caps turn purple when they're are cracked and that was a clear clean and white napkin. Alex Ariza was just a dumbass getting in the way of the cutman and trainer trying to get airtime, he didn't need to be there, but he certainly did not administer anything.