Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin, Gonzalez and Fonfara

Gennady Golovkin stopped David Lemieux on Saturday with brains as much as brawn. Fighting the biggest puncher of his career, Golovkin expertly limited Lemieux's offensive opportunities with a blistering jab and a high ring IQ. Sure, there were still big punches landed and no, Golovkin didn't turn into a safety-first boxer, but he used his considerable physical and technical advantages to make the fight easy for him. After eight rounds of a one-sided beating (including a knockdown from a vicious body shot in the fifth), the ref had seen enough and stopped the fight. 

Golovkin's jab hasn't been a secret throughout his rise in boxing. He features it, especially early in a fight, as a way to control range and set up his power punches. But Golovkin's jab didn't serve those purposes against Lemieux; it was his primary weapon. The jab turned Lemieux's nose into a faucet and it kept the shorter-armed foe from releasing too many of his power left hooks. Golovkin did mix in the rest of his offensive arsenal but his jab was the real differentiating punch in the fight. Every time he connected with it, Lemieux's head snapped back so emphatically that I expected candy to start spilling out. 
Golovkin has faced some criticism in his career for being relatively easy to hit. Opponents such as Daniel Geale, Martin Murray and Willie Monroe Jr. had stretches of success and perhaps pointed to a way for a better puncher to trouble him – and certainly Lemieux, with 31 KOs in his 34 wins, was such a foe. But one of the main pleasures of Golovkin's performance on Saturday was observing how he specifically tailored his approach to beat Lemieux. If Lemieux couldn't get close, he couldn't be a factor, and Golovkin retained that disciplined throughout the fight. Even when the fight opened up during the middle rounds, Golovkin returned again and again to his trusty jab, which controlled distance, neutralized his opponent and caused further damage.  

As Golovkin's star power has ascended, so has that of his trainer, Abel Sanchez, who has been praised for improving Golovkin's balance and leverage on his punches. Saturday also confirmed Sanchez's considerable abilities as a strategist. Golovkin followed Sanchez's game plan meticulously, ignoring the urge to make the fight into a war, which would have sent his adoring crowd into a frenzy. Instead, he started gradually. He worked almost exclusively off his jab in the opening rounds. Over the fight's duration, he systematically broke down a tough opponent while remaining far more defensively responsible than he's been in his recent outings. Ultimately, Golovkin's disciplined performance on Saturday illustrated his strong working relationship with Sanchez. 

Finally, let me remark upon one additional attribute of Golovkin's: his chin. Golovkin has withstood the left hooks of Curtis Stevens and David Lemieux, two of the three best punches in the middleweight division outside of anything that Golovkin himself throws (Andy Lee's right hook would be the third). Not only did he take these punches, but he exhibited no tentativeness or hesitancy after absorbing the blows. 

If a boxer knows that his beard can withstand whatever comes his way, he feels more comfortable taking risks. Golovkin didn't get hit a lot on Saturday but Lemieux did land some thunderous hooks in the middle rounds of the fight. Yet, Golovkin continued to impose his will on Lemieux as if those shots never occurred. Even when Lemieux scored with a big hook or two, Golovkin simply returned to dominating the action.

Not only is Golovkin a devastating puncher and a fighter with a high ring IQ but he also has a world-class chin. His unique combination of skills and his offensive ring temperament explains why so few top middleweights have been willing to fight him.


After witnessing Roman Gonzalez's spectacular domination of former champion Brian Viloria, who actually gave a wonderful effort, I started to think about what type of fighter could possibly beat Gonzalez. Like Golovkin, Gonzalez has a rare collection of skills that presents innumerable obstacles for opponents: he's a pressure fighter, he's a high-volume guy, he features an enormous arsenal of punches, his accuracy is devastating, and he works side-to-side and up-and-down better than anyone in the business. 

I reached out to Cliff Rold of boxingscene.com for his opinion on a fighter profile that could beat Gonzalez (Cliff is well versed in boxing history and a fervent admirer of Gonzalez). He suggested two possibilities: a rangy guy with good hand speed and quickness to get out of the pocket or a guy who could stink out a fight, such as a smaller version of Bernard Hopkins. I kept wondering if a bomber with good hand speed and coordination, someone like a Corrie Sanders, who had height, range, quick hands and power, could be the ticket. Gonzalez isn't necessarily a slow starter but he definitely gets better as fights progress. Perhaps a bomber with early power could be the guy. 

I'm going through this exercise because otherwise I would just gush with superlatives about how exceptional Gonzalez is. To my eyes, he is clearly the best fighter in boxing (with the understanding that Floyd Mayweather is in fact retired). If Mayweather was effusively praised for being a defensive genius, then Gonzalez deserves similar hosannas for his complete offensive mastery. It's everything – timing, balance, footwork, intelligence, punch variety, consistency, endurance, power, willingness to take risks, desire to be great – he has the complete package. 

Maybe we saw something in the final round of the fight. In the ninth, Viloria landed a nasty body shot that stopped Gonzalez in his tracks. Gonzalez didn't throw another punch for about 45 seconds. However, after taking time to recover, he continued his onslaught of Viloria and forced the ref to stop the fight before the round concluded. But let's not read that much into Gonzalez being hurt from a good shot; all fighters are susceptible to this. However, to take a positive from the sequence, Gonzalez showed impressive recuperative powers. 

So for now, I'll keep thinking about the mythical rangy bomber with fast hands in the lower weights because that's the only guy who beats this version of Roman Gonzalez. "Chocolatito" is so good that I'm trying to create fictional characters that could give him a sufficient test.  


Andrzej Fonfara and Nathan Cleverly engaged in one of the year's most vicious wars on Friday. The light heavyweight battle featured over 2,500 punches with both fighters firing power shots at close range. After a good start by Cleverly, where his fluid combination punching earned him several of the early rounds, Fonfara's heavy artillery carried the second half of fight. He destroyed Cleverly’s nose and Cleverly also had to have his ear drained after the fight. Fonfara won a tight unanimous decision (115-113, 116-112 and 116-112) and the scorecards were just.

I appreciated the fighters' courage, tenacity and guts. Either of them could have opted for alternative strategies after the brutal early rounds but they both maintained their ferocious combat throughout the entire match. Even though both had been stopped in previous bouts, they fought with reckless abandon. The match was a real treat. 

But let me stop right there. Perhaps the reason why Fonfara-Cleverly turned out as well as it did had to do with the fighters' limitations. It took Fonfara five rounds to take a step back to get appropriate leverage with his right hand. Early in the fight, he was so close to Cleverly that he was stifling the punch's impact. When he finally found range, his shots were more effective. That it took him almost half the fight to make this adjustment doesn't speak too highly of his ring IQ or the work of his corner. In addition, Fonfara has difficulty stringing combinations together. His balance is poor and that prohibits him from throwing more than two punches in a sequence. Yes, Fonfara won the war of attrition, but perhaps if he added strategy and technique to his unquestioned toughness he would be a better fighter. I'm not asking him to dance around the ring or dazzle with hand speed, but a corner with more experience could do wonders for him. 

Cleverly's issues are between his ears. In short, he suffers from too much self-regard. Cleverly isn't a power puncher yet he fights like one. He has significant physical and technical gifts but he throws them away to bang on the inside. As Cleverly has aged, his legs may not be what they once were, but he still has the athleticism, jab and boxing skills to present problems for top light heavyweights. Ultimately, if he insists on standing in front of punchers, he will continue to take losses. Yes, he deserves credit for providing a spirited showing on Friday and expunging the putrid stench of his second-half performance in the Tony Bellew rematch. However, his loss on Friday could've been avoided with better strategy and tactics. 

As a fan, I loved Fonfara-Cleverly, but as someone who wants to see greatness in the ring, the fight gnawed at me over the weekend. These boxers aren't reaching their full potential. Equipped with a better technical corner, maybe Fonfara could've possessed the punch variety and creativity to take out Adonis Stevenson after hurting him. With some more humility, perhaps Cleverly would only have one loss on his ledger instead of three. So, I loved their fight on Friday but it also left me frustrated.  

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
Contact Adam at saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com

No comments:

Post a Comment