Monday, December 9, 2013

Opinions and Observations: Don't Close the Book

Saturday featured seven combined fights on Showtime and HBO and a major title match in Germany. The interpretations and implications from the weekend's action are almost limitless, with upsets, dominant performances and a few disappointments sprinkled in throughout the fights (fortunately, no robberies). However, one theme struck me in particular: fighters who made me reconsider their existing labels in the sport.
Think about the action from Saturday. Felix Sturm, a jabber supposedly on the slide, rushes Darren Barker with power shots and heretofore unseen aggression. He ends the fight in the second round. Paulie Malignaggi puts aside talk about becoming a full-time broadcaster and bests Zab Judah with fresh-looking legs and a solid jab. James Kirkland re-establishes relevance after a career marked with missed opportunities and legal problems. Shawn Porter disabuses the notion that he has a sparring partner mentality and takes the fight right to Devon Alexander. Erislandy Lara finally seizes a big moment and dominates Austin Trout from start to finish.
What we saw on Saturday was an excellent display of character from these veterans (and a younger fighter, with Porter).  Ignoring the warnings from father time or the catcalls from boxing media and fans, these fighters went to work and performed at stunningly high levels, often reversing recent lackluster or wanting performances.
Let's take a look at where these five fighters were a year ago: Sturm had just lost his middleweight title belt on home soil to Daniel Geale in a fight where he was outworked. He would subsequently lose a decision to Sam Soliman, which was later reversed to a no-contest when Soliman failed a drug test. The thought was that Sturm was on the decline. He was being outhustled in the ring and his punch volume had started to plummet.
Malignaggi had won a disputed decision against Pablo Cano in a fight where he was knocked down and faded down the stretch. With a history of injuries and public statements about his contempt for boxing, Malignaggi had frequently talked about retirement. That he seemed so comfortable as a broadcasting was perhaps another sign that his heart wasn't into being an active fighter.
In a junior middleweight eliminator last year, Erislandy Lara received a technical draw against Vanes Martirosyan, yet another moment where he failed to impress on the world stage. Although many had Lara winning the fight, his lack of punch volume or urgency painted him with the Scarlet "C," which has been the burden of many Cuban boxers – boring, lack of passion, etc.
Last December, James Kirkland was in the midst of another round of inactivity, this time as a result of a lawsuit against his former management and promoters. It was his third extended period of inactivity in his career. In addition, by suing Golden Boy, how would he get big fights again? He also talked about leaving Ann Wolfe, his trainer and professional muse. The last time he had left her he was knocked out in the first round; would he even still be a factor in the sport?
Porter had been most notable as a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather but his in-ring performances had left something to be desired. On the big stage last year against faded, former lightweight champion Julio Diaz, the best that he could muster was a draw. At 25, he was no longer a young prospect and there were troubling signs in the ring. He would often lose focus during rounds and get caught in-between styles. After watching his first fight against Diaz, there was no thought that this was a future world champion. (Porter subsequently beat Diaz convincingly in a rematch this year.) In addition, other young welterweights in the Golden Boy stable, such as Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman, were viewed as far more attractive commodities, receiving the recognition, network support and promotional push that Porter had been unable to obtain.   
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from this past weekend is that trends can be reversed in boxing. The purity of mind and purpose can solve a lot of problems. Sturm emphatically declared how important it was for him to regain his title. Malignaggi felt revived after signing with Al Haymon. Porter understood the seriousness of the opportunity presented to him.
And in the end, these five fighters, many of whom had been written off recently by the boxing community, provided thrilling moments on Saturday, from Lara's pulverizing straight left hand that knocked down Trout, to Sturm going for the kill to Kirkland's savage beating of Glen Tapia. Porter jumped on Alexander from the opening moments and immediately took Alexander out of his game plan. Malignaggi befuddled Judah with his jab and movement.
For many of these fighters, Saturday was redemption. For others, their performances were trumpets to the boxing world announcing or confirming their vitality in the sport. These proud boxers demonstrated that they weren't ready to transition into a lesser phase of their careers: they were still relevant, they could beat excellent fighters and they deserved coveted spots on television.
So, don't close the book yet on Sturm, Porter, Lara, Malignaggi and Kirkland. There may still be many important chapters to be written. And even if Saturday's glories turned out to be the last hurrah for some or all, it's important to remember that labels are not permanent in boxing. Intangibles – health, peace of mind, desire, maturity, coachability – continue to lead to surprising results. Labels will – and frankly, should – always be a part of boxing, but let's try to make sure that they are written in pencil or erasable pen, instead of a Sharpie.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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