Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Mayweather and the Performers

Reflecting on a jam-packed weekend of boxing, one thing in particular strikes me: All of the top boxers, the hungry young lions and the "A-Sides," fought wonderfully. Think about the strong performances this weekend. Prospects like Errol Spence, Oscar Valdez and Anthony Joshua demonstrated why they are so highly regarded by those in the industry. Titleholders and former champs like Badou Jack, Roman Martinez, and Orlando Salido fought with incredible determination and steely resolve. Peter Quillin destroyed an overmatched opponent. Adonis Stevenson's left hand took another casualty. Jermall Charlo seized the opportunity in his first title shot and wiped out Cornelius Bundrage. Jonathan Oquendo outworked a decorated ex-champion. Even two fighters known to stink it out on TV, Ishe Smith and Vanes Martirosyan, waged a spirited battle. And oh yeah, Floyd Mayweather fought again and may not have lost a round. 

In short, so many fighters added positives chapters to their career stories. Even boxers who dropped decisions, like George Groves and Jhonny Gonzalez, fought admirably. It was a weekend full of entertainment, hope, new faces and quality boxing. 

No, not everything was rosy for all involved. Bundrage, on the wrong side of 40, showed no punch resistance. Chris Van Heerden found out how unforgiving boxing can be when facing a top talent. Chris Avalos suffered his second vicious knockout loss of the year. Andre Berto, although never giving up throughout 12 rounds, just didn't have the skills or talent to provide any trouble for Mayweather. The PBC has now broadcasted four consecutive cards where the underdog in the headline fight hasn't won a round, not the best way to grow the sport, free TV or not. 

But overall, there were some wonderful lasting images: Spence's devastating power shots, Valdez's left hook, Quillin's final right hand, Charlo's aggression, Mayweather ducking punches from point blank range, Salido and Martinez going to war, Jack's right hand knockdown, Vanes' counter right that dropped Smith and Oquendo getting off the canvas to return the favor in the next round. 

Before I get into some analysis, ten quick thoughts:

-- Spence is now a top-ten welterweight.
-- Valdez's left hand is elite but his right hand...not yet. 
-- Salido and Martinez should fight each other twice a year until they decide to retire.
-- Mayweather's reflexes showed no sign of slippage.
-- Quillin can be a lot of fun when he chooses to be aggressive.
-- Groves would be much better if he threw combinations.
-- Eddie Mustafa Muhammad has done a great job training Jack.
-- Let’s stop comparing fighters to the Sugars (Leonard and Robinson).
-- Stevenson's left hand should be a registered weapon.
-- Jesse Hart will be knocked out very soon.

First things first, the Mayweather fight resembled a nice walk in the park for His Floydness. He got some exercise, interacted with some fans and received his needed validation before retreating back to his quarters. Altogether, it was a successful outing, whatever analogy you want to use: auto-pilot, a sparring session, second gear – would apply. 

But hey, you can learn a lot from watching guys spar. The Floyd of Saturday resembled his old self along the ropes. He could see shots coming. His reflexes were good. There were none of the problems along the ropes that he had encountered against Manny Pacquiao and Marcos Maidana. He could evade and spin out before real trouble. He also countered well. Of course, Berto helped out in this regard, insisting on loading up with every shot. His punches somehow missed by feet while he was only standing inches away from Mayweather. 

Offensively, there were very few of Mayweather's signature pull-counter right hands. Instead, what won him the fight was his left hand. His jab to the body was fantastic. He had a number of sharp left hooks to the body as well. Also, he incorporated a few nasty uppercuts. In the last two rounds, he really unloaded his power shots and it was nice to see him fight with a little venom. Although he might not have been going for the knockout, his punching display was enough to galvanize the crowd in the championship rounds. 

Ultimately, Berto couldn't test him. Mayweather resembled the smart kid in class who was bored. He was sticking out his tongue, talking trash, rolling his eyes, dancing – all sorts of activities to make the monotony pass before the final bell sounded. 

Perhaps he exhibited one sign of aging during the fight. Mayweather went to the ropes for long periods of rounds. This was a voluntary action. These are the things that a 38-year-old fighter does to buy time and conserve energy. It didn't cost him whatsoever but clearly this was a fight where he didn't want to scamper around the ring. 

As for Berto, he just isn't an instinctual fighter. When Floyd was along the ropes, Berto's punches didn't flow seamlessly. It's like he quickly cycled through all the available punches in his head before deciding to throw. Unfortunately, his internal computer kept failing him. It repeatedly told him, "Throw a huge right hand at his head." But unlike the world of consumer electronics, Berto couldn't return his defective device for a working model. He threw hardly anything short and nothing underneath. His hook stayed holstered almost the entire fight. 

There have been three times where I thought that Berto fought instinctively, ironically, all in losses. Against, Victor Ortiz, Robert Guerrero and Jesus Soto Karass, he faced survival mode all three times and showed a fluidity with his offense and a knack for sticking around when others might have folded. Fighting with one arm against Soto Karass, Berto went to work and did quite well until that final uppercut. Against Guerrero, Berto had success with a punishing right uppercut that would momentarily thwart Guerrero's aggression. In his match against Ortiz, he decided to meet fire with fire. 

However, Mayweather doesn't threaten opponents in a physical way. His pressure is almost all psychological. Berto didn't need to pull punches out of his repository to save himself on Saturday. Unfortunately for him, he had all the time in the world to think his way through the fight, and that reality didn't work in his favor whatsoever. When trying to survive, Berto can really fight. In other circumstances, his offense stagnates.  

Oh, and by the way, I'm not buying that Saturday was Mayweather's last fight. Let's move on. 


Count me in the camp that considered Orlando Salido as good as done heading into Saturday's rematch against Roman Martinez. In his last 8 fights, he had been knocked down 12 times, and that doesn't even include the bout with Vasyl Lomachenko, where he was lucky to survive the 12th round. Earlier in the year, he fought a spirited battle against Martinez. He was sent down twice in the fight and also lost a point for low blows. In truth, he could have been deducted 25 points and the ref could've still been regarded as being overly generous to him. His legs looked weak and his punch resistance seemed gone. However, Salido's motor and resolve remained top notch. At the end of that fight, he was the fighter coming forward and winning the late rounds. 

On Saturday, Salido seemed like he had found the fountain of youth. His legs looked spry. He took tons of hard shots but only once did his body betray him. His pressure was relentless. The fifth round was one of the better offensive rounds of his career, where he went at Martinez mercilessly with left hooks, pulverizing body shots and chopping right hands.

Salido didn't resemble the plodder of earlier in the year. He moved fluidly and did a very good job of cutting off the ring. His improved foot speed made it harder for Martinez to establish range with his straight right hand, the punch that essentially won him the fight in April.

In another sign of Salido's solid conditioning on Saturday, he rarely resorted to illegal shots. There were a few stray low punches and a couple instances of holding and hitting but for the most part, for him, he fought cleanly. Against Lomachenko and his first fight against Martinez, he used fouls to slow down those opponents and corral their movements. But on Saturday, he didn't need to resort to those tactics. He was doing just fine playing the role of "legitimate fighter." Salido didn't need his tricks to win or survive. 

Martinez still had his moments throughout the match, especially late in the fight. He featured a cracking right hand at points; one in the third round sent Salido down (Martinez himself had been knocked down earlier in the round).  

Salido and Martinez match up perfectly together. Martinez has the range and the better one-punch power. Salido has the brutality, doggedness and body shots that pressure even the best of foes. On Saturday, I felt that Salido got the better of the action, winning 115-113. Ultimately, the fight was declared a split draw. I didn't hate the decision but I thought that he had done enough to get the nod. 

Hopefully, they will fight a third time, and then a fourth, fifth and however many they want before they both call it a day. It's gratifying to see Salido, 34, a 19-year pro, and Rocky Martinez, 32 and a 12-year vet, finally receive the type of recognition in the sport that they warrant. So often they had been brought in as B-sides against more prominent names. Even when they had titles, there were never given a real push by networks or their promoters (at least for Salido, he has been a media favorite for several years). Martinez was the "opponent" (even if he had a title) for Ricky Burns, Mikey Garcia, Diego Magdaleno and others. Salido was put in against Yuriorkis Gamboa, Garcia, Juan Manuel Lopez and Vasyl Lomachenko.

At times both fighters have been outgunned against top boxers in unfavorable circumstances but they have also sprung notable upsets. Salido helped to end Lopez's career and he ruined Lomachenko's bid to become a world titlist in just his second fight. Martinez beat Diego Magdaleno, a Top Rank favorite, and derailed the career of British prospect Nicky Cook.

Salido and Martinez have really found something here. Obviously, these fights will take a lot out of them. But perhaps by the end of the third fight, they each will have made $1M a piece for the three fights. That's great money for them and a substantial reward for a combined 31 years of quality service to the sport.  


Also on the Mayweather-Berto undercard, Badou Jack and George Groves engaged in a very compelling battle. Jack, a reigning super middleweight titlist, scored an impressive knockdown in the first round with a looping right hand. After falling behind early, Groves rallied with sharp right hands and an overall higher work rate. In the back half of the fight, many of the rounds were close. Jack landed the more impressive shots while Groves remained busier and connected with a few authoritative right hands per frame. It was a competitive fight and Jack wound up with the victory by split decision. Scores were 116-111 and 115-112 (Jack) and 114-113 (Groves). I also had it 116-111 for Jack. 

This was an interesting matchup on paper as both fighters possessed solid offensive skills but had been knocked out recently. Jack had responded with three wins since his defeat, including an impressive showing against titleholder Anthony Dirrell. Groves had rebounded with two wins but hadn't looked particularly sharp.  

Going into the fight, I thought that Groves' sharp punching and varied offensive arsenal would be enough for him to win the fight. And on many nights, his effort on Saturday would've been enough to take the title. However, Jack was just a little bit better. His body shots, including jabs and right hands, were incisive. He controlled range very well and his right hand was accurate all night. 

Groves had opportunities to build on his successes throughout the fight but he didn't necessarily take advantage of them. He routinely landed a powerful right that snaked around Jack's gloves. He'd hit him with a single shot, pause to assess damage, and then perhaps follow with another right hand. In those moments where he connected solidly with the right hand, he seldom followed up with his left hook. In addition, I didn't see any combinations more than two punches throughout the fight. As a result, he always gave Jack ample time to recover. Furthermore, Groves headhunted throughout the most of the bout. Even after he landed quality head shots, he rarely went downstairs (and Jack's body was definitely open for left hooks). Again, these were opportunities missed. Groves still fought ably but Jack's overall performance was more consistent. 

I don't like the pairing of Groves with trainer Paddy Fitzpatrick. Under his former coach, Adam Booth, Groves often displayed expert boxing skills and quick foot speed. With Fitzpatrick, he has become a stationary fighter who is in love with his power. This pairing has now lost three winnable fights because of bad tactics and strategy. Why wasn't Groves putting more pressure on Jack (I don't just mean volume, but in terms of space)? Why was almost everything one punch at a time? Why was very little set up? 

Adam Booth may not be everyone's cup of tea but I thought that he was a very good fit for Groves. He has a creative, strategic mind that brought out Groves' athleticism and versatility. Nevertheless, the two had a falling out prior to the first Froch fight. If Booth isn't the answer for Groves, that's fine, but the fighter should seriously consider going in another direction with his career. His power is good but not necessarily game-changing. He has a variety of athletic tools that he doesn't use. In short, he's not giving himself the best chance to win fights. 

Jack has come a long way under Eddie Mustafa Muhammad's tutelage. He had once fought very robotically but he now is much more fluid on offense. He has learned how to use his reach better and he fights with so much more discipline and intelligence than he did earlier in his career. Although he lacks real one-punch power and he's not a wonderful athlete, he has turned himself into one of the top-five super middleweights in the world. To further praise him, he was iced last year and watching his last two fights, one would never know that he had recently suffered a devastating loss. Since that defeat, Jack hasn't fought with any trepidation or hesitancy. His quick recovery from that dark episode demonstrates an incredibly strong internal resolve. Sure, Groves' power shots certainly stung him at times on Saturday but Jack maintained his composure throughout the fight. Jack's 2015 campaign has been a surprisingly fruitful one and I'm fascinated to see if he can keep building on his recent successes. 


Vanes Martirosyan and Ishe Smith have been two of my least favorite fighters to watch over the past five years. Smith is cagey but doesn't have much of a motor. Martirosyan has struggled with letting his hands go in his big fights. Both appeared on Showtime prior to Saturday's pay per view and lo and behold, they delivered a quality matchup. (That's why we watch the fights. You just never know.)

Smith fought with urgency and agility. Lashing Martirosyan with left hooks and short right hands, he seemed years younger than his recent outings. Martirosyan used his jab, reach and power shots to remind people that yes, he in fact once made the U.S. Olympic Team and actually has considerable skills. 

Vanes scored two knockdowns in the match, a left hook at the end of the third round and a punishing counter right hand in the eighth. The first knockdown was a huge swing in the fight. Smith had been having a great round but Vanes' final punch changed the round from 10-9 Smith to 10-8 for him. Martirosyan's shot in the eighth was pulverizing and it's a credit to Smith that he beat the count. 

Many of the rounds were close. I didn't score the fight round-by-round but the two knockdowns seemed to me enough to swing the fight. Martirosyan won the bout 97-91, 97-91 and 95-95, a majority decision. It was a badly needed victory against a quality opponent. As for Smith, he's 37 and now has losses in three of his last five fights. In the past, he could always rely on his chin but if that has now betrayed him, the end could be very near. If I'm in Ishe's corner, I watch him very closely during his next fight. 


Before this article gets more unwieldy than it already is, let me skip ahead to the prospects. So, if you want to discuss the performances of Peter Quillin, Adonis Stevenson or Jermell Charlo, feel free to email or tweet me. They won, they looked very good, the end. 

Three of the best prospects of the sport fought this weekend and all impressed. Anthony Joshua ripped off solid right hands and felled another heavyweight, this time an undefeated one (not that Gary Cornish was anything special). Errol Spence faced the best opponent of his career, Chris Van Heerden, and ran through him like he was a nobody. Oscar Valdez destroyed former title challenger Chris Avalos with a barrage of left hands.

At 14-0 with 14 knockouts, Anthony Joshua has barely broken a sweat dispatching many of the D- and C-level fighters on the heavyweight circuit. In fact, he's been known to knock his opponents out, conduct his post-fight interviews and then immediately go back to his dressing room to complete his workout. Joshua, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, has already become a star in Britain. At this point, he needs tests and rounds. Hopefully, undefeated fighter and former amateur rival Dillian Whyte (his next opponent) will push him in December. Perhaps that will give us a true gauge on how fast Joshua can be moved. 

In addition to his power, Joshua has exhibited many positive qualities in the ring. He's incredibly poised for a young professional. Disregard the quick knockouts, he doesn't fight recklessly and won't force things to win over an adoring crowd. His right hand is punishing but he also works effectively off his jab. I also like his footwork. What we need to see is how well he can take a punch and whether he has the conditioning to go 12 hard rounds against the top guys in the division. I'd say that Joshua is much further along than heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder was at a corresponding point. 

Much of Joshua's development will be dependent on how fast Eddie Hearn decides to move him. Even though Joshua is already a sensation, hopefully Hearn will still give his fighter four or five more bouts against better competition before a title shot. I'm sure that Hearn is familiar with the graveyard of 
recent British heavyweight Olympic medalists. Perhaps holding back Joshua's reins just a little bit might not be such a bad idea. 

At a certain point, a promoter needs to roll the dice, hoping that his fighter responds to a stiff challenge. However, the right developmental fights can make all the difference in the world. Sure, Joshua (like Wilder) could win a title by facing nobodies on his way up but that development track is fraught with peril. Does that career path maximize a fighter's inherent ability? Does he ever reach his full potential without being pushed appropriately during his development? Hearn has some tough decisions to make regarding Joshua's career in the next 12 months and they will be fascinating to watch. This is his biggest chip to play in the boxing game. Let's hope that he makes the right bet.   

Errol Spence didn't win a medal in the 2012 Olympics. That U.S. team disappointed throughout the tournament but Spence was the one fighter who seemed to have a natural pro style. Since Spence has left the amateur ranks, he has done nothing but impress. At 18-0 with 15 knockouts, Spence has gradually moved up the ladder. In a break from tradition, manager Al Haymon is matching him with aplomb, giving him different styles and upping his competition level at a pace that is aggressive but still responsible. 

Van Heerden was a real opponent. Originally from South Africa, he's a top-20 welterweight who has held his own in the Southern California gym wars. And although he landed some strafing right hooks and left hands and rallied at points at the end of rounds, he didn't have the firepower or defensive technique to withstand Spence's offensive onslaught. 

With Spence, everything is hard and accurate. Even his jab is punishing. His straight left hand and right hook are knockout weapons. He goes to the body like a seasoned veteran. To this point, his defense seems above average. 

As far as intangibles go, Spence has many positive ones. He's incredibly poised in the ring. He's not afraid of exchanging and he doesn't force offense. He's also remarkably calm for such a young boxer. It was Van Heerden, the more seasoned pro, that had all sorts of wasted energy in the ring. When Van Heerden tried to set traps along the ropes or play possum, Spence didn't bite. His maturity in the ring far outstrips his age. Right now, Spence is a top-10 guy at welterweight. I'd give him one more development fight and then I think that he's ready for a title shot. I salivate at a thought of a Spence-Terence Crawford fight in three years. 

Oscar Valdez debuted on HBO earlier in the year and it was, frankly, an uneven performance. Although he won a wide decision victory, he had difficulty dealing with the caginess of Ruben Tamayo. He also suffered a flash knockdown in the first round. On Saturday, facing an opponent in Chris Avalos who came right at him, Valdez was much more comfortable. He scored a ferocious knockdown in the third round and the ref stopped the fight in the fifth after Avalos had taken too much punishment. Valdez put on a left-handed clinic, pasting Avalos with jabs, uppercuts and hooks. His left hook to the body is already a destructive weapon.

Valdez, a two-time Mexican Olympian, is being groomed for greatness by Top Rank. The promotional outfit, which is the best at developing young talent in North America, is following its standard protocol with Valdez, being patient while matching him with an array of styles in varied environments.  In short, Valdez, who at 24 is 17-0 with 15 knockouts, is right on track with his development. He's probably another 12-18 months before his first title shot. 

As of now, his right hand is far behind his left in terms of development but as we've seen with someone like Kell Brook, that "problem" can become ironed out with proper guidance in the gym. I'd like to see Valdez think his way through another fight or two before he receives the title shot. He could improve how he sets up shots. The raw tools are certainly there and he has some fantastic weapons but there are still things to work on. Yet none of this is particularly uncommon for a young fighter. So Valdez is still a prospect, not as far along as someone like Spence, but someone who might have a special future.  

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, SN Boxing on Facebook

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