Monday, November 30, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Klitschko-Fury, DeGale-Bute

There is a minimum punch volume threshold where if a fighter strays below that line, he can't expect to win a decision on the cards. Yes, there could be outliers. Scenarios have occurred where a fighter refuses to throw punches in the ring. There, the marginally more active boxer (even if he is below the threshold) gets the victory. Or perhaps both guys decide to engage in a staring contest for the duration of a fight, and someone has to win. But by and large, there is a threshold. I've always placed that line at 20 punches per round. If a guy can't meet that lowly number and his opponent is decidedly more active, the busier one will get the decision, regardless of quality or effectiveness. On Saturday, Wladimir Klitschko averaged only 19.25 punches thrown per round and, as follows, he lost.

Before I get accused of not understanding how boxing is scored, let me take a step back before further elaborating on my point. Yes, boxing is scored on the 10-point must system, where the winner gets 10 points and the loser gets 9 (point deductions, knockdowns and even rounds could lead to a different number). After the bout concludes, the points are added up and there is your winner. I get this. I understand all of it. However, what I maintain is that at the low extreme of punch volumes, judges won't award rounds to the inactive guy, unless he happens to score a knockdown or really cause damage. Absent those factors, the busier fighter will win the decision (again, regardless of quality or effectiveness) against a guy who refuses to let his hands go beyond the minimum threshold rate.

I don't think that my point is particularly controversial but it should be axiomatic. If you can't throw 20 punches per round, you can't win a decision, or, to play just a little bit nicer, you shouldn't expect to win a decision. This accounts for outliers, force majeure, etc.    

Tyson Fury averaged 30.9 punches thrown per round against Klitschko. It certainly wasn't a robust number but that's a total more often seen in a heavyweight fight. He was credited with landing 34 more punches in a match where not much happened; that's a significant advantage. I rarely belabor punch stats like I have here but in this particular fight, the totals were revealing.

A variety of factors influenced Klitschko's inactivity and I'll list many of them: Fury's constant feints and head movement didn't allow for a clean target to be hit. Wladimir works off his jab and when he couldn't land that punch, he was reluctant to open up with other shots. Klitschko has also never been a body puncher. Thus, one established avenue of breaking down an opponent with head movement was off-limits because of his predilections. Fury's size was another contributing factor to Klitschko's inactivity; Wlad didn't have a reach advantage. Fury stayed out of the pocket and wasn't in Klitschko's range very often. Fury also switched up from orthodox to southpaw and moved his gloves to unusual positions. These actions confused Klitschko, making him hesitant. Let's also not discount Klitschko's age (39). Furthermore, he was unwilling to take risks and he lacked creativity when "Plan A" didn't work. 

In short, it was a comprehensive loss. Fury beat Klitschko and Klitschko also beat himself. By not throwing punches, Klitschko didn't give himself a chance to win on the scorecards. Even when the fight was slipping away from him, he refused to make adjustments. It was the same story most of the fight (with the exception of a belated charge in the 12th round). Klitschko essentially stared at Fury, who confounded him with movement, angles and his physical attributes. While Klitschko remained foggy in the ring, Fury landed quick jabs, hooks and two-punch combinations. 

The three judges awarded Fury eight rounds, eight rounds and nine rounds, respectively. I gave him 11 rounds on my card, with the acknowledgment that rounds 1 and 8 in particular could've gone for Klitschko. Ultimately, it was an embarrassing way for a proud champion to lose his title. Not until the last round did Klitschko fight with any urgency. That he raised his arms at the end of the match was a sign of self-delusion; an effort such as that will not win a prizefight. 

Klitschko-Fury was also a tale of two corners. Peter Fury concocted a great game plan. Team Fury took away Klitschko's jab, one of the best weapons in the sport. By remaining out of the pocket, Klitschko couldn't find any consistency with the jab, which precluded him from gaining confidence. Tyson must also take credit for remaining disciplined throughout the fight. Even as he was piling up the rounds on the scorecards, he didn't make a lot of mistakes or get greedy with his offense. He put in his work and got out of the pocket. To his credit, he refused to turn the bout into a bomb-throwing contest. He was well prepared and fully bought into Peter's strategy.  

On the other side, Klitschko's trainer, Jonathon Banks, had one of the worst corner performances I've seen in 2015. As the rounds continued to slip away, there was no urgency from him until the 10th round. In the break between the eighth and ninth, he was still telling Wlad to "double up the jab, head and body." Of course, Wlad never jabs to the body. I repeat. HE NEVER JABS TO THE BODY! Even if they had worked on that in the gym, he doesn't do it in fights. And let me add one more point of emphasis: HE WAS WELL BEHIND IN THE FIGHT! The time for being cute with the jab was over. Something dramatic had to change for Klitschko to have a chance of winning and the jab wasn't the answer. Klitschko's former trainer, Emanuel Steward (also, Banks' mentor), exhorted his fighters when it was appropriate. On Saturday, Klitschko needed a forceful kick in the ass but Banks acted in the corner like he did as a fighter: someone just going through the motions. 

Due to contractual factors, a rematch of the fight is expected next. If Klitschko does want to entertain another Fury foray, he'd be well advised to switch trainers. At 39, Wlad's not going to learn new things technically. However, he needs a trainer who can connect with him emotionally and rouse him when needed. Banks is not that person. This decision will tell us a lot about Klitschko. If he maintains the status quo, settling for the comfortable and the familiar, he's signaling self-contentment with a mediocre effort. To me, that's not the formula for a different outcome. 

Let me make a final comment about Fury. Over the last few years, he has refined his technique and made vast improvements with his ring generalship. He used to fight like a goon, where he would swing wildly and not respect his opponent. As he has upped his competition level, a new-found seriousness has made its way into his repertoire and it's a welcome addition. He's no longer jabbing from too close or leaving himself wide open after throwing the right hand. In addition, for such a big man, he can be surprisingly agile in the ring. When he switches to southpaw, he doesn't do it as a gimmick. It's tactical and done with purpose. There were many (myself included) who underestimated Fury. The joke was on us. 


Speaking of searching for a new trainer, former super middleweight champion Lucian Bute hooked up with brothers Howard and Otis Grant this year in an attempt to rejuvenate his career. Marked by losses, injuries and inactivity, the last few years hadn't gone well for Bute. However, he looked like a fresh fighter on Saturday against beltholder James DeGale, putting forth a spirited effort in a competitive loss. 

For the first time since his shutout of Glen Johnson in 2011, Bute fought with confidence against a good opponent. He remained aggressive throughout the night and didn't cower after receiving return fire. On offense, he featured a solid left hand and a blistering right hook to the head and body. His other weapons, such as his jab and uppercut, were less successful. 

Ultimately, the offensive creativity and athleticism of DeGale were enough to swing the fight in his favor. How often do you see lead-hand uppercut/lead-hand hook combinations? In other instances, DeGale would switch to a conventional stance and land the following combination: right uppercut (then switch to southpaw)/right hook/left uppercut. I noted specific instances where DeGale threw seven- and nine-punch combinations – and this was against a guy with good power!  He also doubled up with the uppercut in many exchanges. These are the types of punches and combinations thrown by a supremely confident fighter and one who has a number of athletic gifts.   

There were many exceptional rounds in the fight, including the 8th, 9th, 11th and 12th. Both boxers were fighting for their futures; DeGale wanted to cement his status as a young champion on the rise and Bute needed to reestablish his relevance at the top level of the sport. As good as Bute performed throughout the night, DeGale was consistently better. In the end, DeGale prevailed (scores were 116-112, 117-111 and 117-111; I had it 116-112) but both fighters truly won. 

Bute remains a formidable challenger. Sure, he wasn't perfect on Saturday. His defense is still leaky (way too much room between his gloves) and he isn't the most instinctual fighter out there; it took him half the match to launch an attack when DeGale turned conventional. But he showed moxie and he still has heavy hands. This "loss" was far more impressive than were many of his title defenses. 

As for DeGale, he has now defeated Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute in 2015, a damn fine showing. Over the last four fights, DeGale has discovered his ring identity. No longer a cute boxer or one beset by problems of consistency and confidence, he has now become one of the best boxer-punchers in the sport. He features a blistering offensive arsenal and doesn't shy away from exchanges. Moreover, his willingness to leave England in search of larger opportunities is refreshing in an age of protected fighters. He's in a division that features a number of enticing matchups, such as Arthur Abraham, George Groves (the lone boxer to defeat him), Badou Jack and Callum Smith. Here's hoping that he builds on 2015 next year. Not only has he emerged as one of the must-see fighters in the sport, he's quickly ascending to the ranks of its supreme practitioners. 

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