Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lukie Boxing's Podcast

I joined Lukie Boxing's podcast this week to talk about heavyweight boxing, fighters who impressed/disappointed us this year, our 2016 wish lists and fights that we want to see next year. Click here to listen.

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 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Scouting the Heavyweight New Wave

With Tyson Fury's startling victory over Wladimir Klitschko last month, the heavyweight division has been emancipated from the clutches of Dr. Steelhammer. Although Fury is now the lineal heavyweight king, there is no guarantee that he will have a prolonged reign. Over the past 12 months, several fighters have emerged that could become "the man" in the sport's glamour division. At a very minimum, these heavyweights will engage in exciting fights, which would be more than welcome in a division bereft of recent highlights.
The new heavyweight cast of characters is quite the motley crew. Fighters from America, Cuba, England and New Zealand compose this wave, ranging in ages from 23 to 36. Although they have vastly different styles, below the surface, some commonalities manifest within the group: They all have impressive amateur backgrounds. Each one features a variety of offensive weapons, good coordination, athleticism and power. And perhaps most refreshingly, none would be characterized as the type of one-dimensional lumbering sloth that populated much of the heavyweight division over the last 15 years. One other thing worth noting, these guys love to mix it up in the ring. 

What follows are my scouting reports for the top-five of the new wave, ranked by their accomplishments within the division. I'll touch on a few other fighters at the end of the article.

1. Tyson Fury (25-0, 18 KOs, Age 27, England)
Current Status: WBO and WBA Heavyweight Titleholder, lineal champion
Strengths: Jab, adaptability in the ring, high ring IQ
Weaknesses: Chin, limited athleticism
Next Fight: Wladimir Klitschko, date TBA

A few years ago, Fury was viewed as an amusing circus attraction with very raw boxing abilities. His most prominent skill was his mouth. He possessed decent pop and gave great copy but only his most fervent admirers considered him a future heavyweight champion. His footwork was crude and he took silly chances in the ring. Dropped twice and hurt several times in his developmental bouts, Fury was often vulnerable in the ring. Even as he progressed as a fighter, he remained at risk for getting KO'ed. In his emphatic victory over Klitschko last month, he still had to survive a very shaky final round to secure the win. There's no shame in being hurt by Klitschko; however, when knocked down by a former cruiserweight (Steve Cunningham), there is significant cause for concern.

Fury continues to mature as a fighter. He's become a real student of the sweet science. Don't be fooled by his outlandish postures outside of the ring, he's a serious operator inside the squared circle. By switching to southpaw in the Dereck Chisora rematch, he negated Chisora's best punch, his wild, looping right hand. Fury's performance against Klitschko demonstrated that he has an acute understanding of distance and range. He rarely remained in the pocket against Klitschko, which took away Wlad's jab, the catalyst of his offense.

Although not an athletic specimen, Fury utilizes footwork effectively to initiate offense, get out of the pocket and limit return fire. Placing his shots well, he's a very capable combination puncher. He can fight comfortably in or out and uses feints well to keep opponents guessing. On the inside, he knows how to tie up when necessary.

A skillful practitioner of psychological gamesmanship, Fury has intimidated a number of opponents both in and out of the ring. Even though he has self-assurance in spades, he's learned from past mistakes of overconfidence in the ring. He now understands that any capable heavyweight poses a threat. One final note worth mentioning, Fury has an excellent trainer. His uncle, Peter, has displayed a dazzling ability to craft winning game plans.   

2. Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs, Age 30, USA)
Current Status: WBC Heavyweight Titleholder
Strengths: Power (right hand, left hook), athleticism
Weaknesses: Footwork, inability to relax in the ring, too knockout happy
Next Fight: Artur Szpilka, 1/16/16

Since capturing a heavyweight title earlier this year against Bermane Stiverne, Wilder has embarked on two endeavors: expanding his home fan base in Alabama and getting some needed rounds in the ring. Let's not forget that before he fought Stiverne, he had never gone past four rounds in a fight. Facing Stiverne, Eric Molina and Johann Duhaupas this year, Wilder added 32 rounds to his ledger, and won almost all of them. Yes, there were some rocky moments along the way. He ate a couple of big hooks from Stiverne and some sneaky right hands from Molina. In addition, Duhaupas presented a different style for Wilder – an awkward fighter who had a great beard and could handle himself in the ring. In 2015, Wilder's chin was tested and he had to think his way through fights, valuable lessons for any boxer. 

Despite Wilder's impressive record and knockout percentage, he was deprived of quality development fights. An unexpected bronze medal winner in the 2008 Olympics, his professional team viewed him two ways: raw and a potential cash cow. Unfortunately, too many of his early fights were spent milking his name while not further refining his skills.

Wilder is quite the physical specimen. He has the height, reach, power and athleticism to provide problems for any heavyweight. However, he still lacks confidence in the ring. He can get frustrated when knockouts don't come. He loads up on shots, often missing badly and leaving himself vulnerable. In addition, he'll forget his secondary punches for stretches at a time. His jab can be good but he'll often leave it holstered to focus on power shots. In addition, his uppercut is an underutilized weapon. The more he throws it the better he seems to do. 

Everything with Wilder is hard, perhaps too hard. He has enough natural power where he doesn't have to hit an opponent with his Sunday best to score a knockout. Yet, too often he swings wildly. With such big shots, he could easily get beaten to the punch or countered while he is out of position. In addition, he still jabs from too close, which makes him vulnerable to right hands over-the-top. 

Wilder's package of power and rawness makes for exciting fights. Every opponent can see his flaws but how many can take his best right hand? Yes, he's vulnerable but he's also a destructive force. Most importantly, he's trending in the right direction. He's starting to get a little more patient and mix in his punches better. In addition, he has answered some important questions about his stamina and chin.
3. Luis Ortiz (24-0, 21 KOs, Age 36, USA by way of Cuba)
Current Status: Interim WBA Titleholder
Strengths: Combination punching, left uppercut
Weaknesses: Can be outworked, stamina
Next Fight: TBA

It isn't often that you see a 36-year-old fighter on the list of emerging talents within a division. However, Ortiz doesn't have the typical career path of a professional boxer. A former Cuban national champion, Ortiz would eventually defect but he didn't make his professional debut until the age of 30. After cruising through his developmental fights, a failed drug test in 2014 stalled his ascent in the division. However, he rebounded to notch three victories in 2015. He displayed heavy hands and a well-rounded assortment of skills. With his emphatic stoppage victory over Bryant Jennings last weekend, Ortiz finished the year in the top echelon of heavyweights, a meteoric rise, or perhaps an indictment of the division prior to the current new wave.

Ortiz shares several attributes with the top Cuban boxers from the past 15 years. Like so many of them, he is completely relaxed in the ring, a very fluid puncher and uses his arms and elbows to gain advantages in close. Another similarity is his economical punch output. However, Ortiz has some important distinctions from the recent top Cuban fighters. Perhaps most strikingly, he's almost entirely offensively-oriented. He's not using his legs to dance around the ring or evade shots. He stays in the pocket all fight. Secondarily, Ortiz fancies himself as a true knockout artist. Although power has been an attribute of many top Cubans, Ortiz isn't trying to go rounds; he wants to end fights quickly. 

His left uppercut is one of the scariest punches in professional boxing and he throws it to the head and body. Ortiz also features a sneaky right hook. His jab can be useful but it's not a primary weapon for him.

Ortiz can be outworked and doesn't always put forth a consistent effort from round-to-round. Although surprisingly agile on his feet, he lacks the speed or willingness to track down mobile opponents. Luckily for Ortiz, most of the top fighters in the division are come-forward power punchers but if he takes on a real mover, he could face significant difficulty. It's still unclear if he can be an effective 12-round fighter. 

4. Anthony Joshua (15-0, 15 KOs Age 26, England)
Current Status: British and Commonwealth Champion
Strengths: Multiple knockout weapons, body punching, athleticism, size
Weaknesses: Lack of head movement, pulls straight back, glove positioning
Next Fight: TBA, 4/9/16

With his impressive knockout of former amateur rival Dillian Whyte earlier this month, Joshua, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, is on the fast-track to heavyweight superstardom. Already a huge draw in England, Joshua still hasn't fought a truly top-caliber heavyweight, although he easily dispatched several C-class notables on the British and European circuits.

In many respects, Joshua already fights like a seasoned veteran. He has an array of offensive weapons, a solid jab and goes to the body. He has a fair amount of poise for a boxer with just 15 pro fights under his belt. Joshua's right hand can be concussive but he wisely sets up his shots; he lets the fight develop. 

Against Whyte, Joshua answered several questions. Finally stretched to the second half of a fight, Joshua demonstrated no problems with stamina and he retained his power as the bout progressed. In addition, he took a couple of big shots and although he was momentarily stung in the second round, he was able to regroup. By the fourth, he was back to asserting his will on the action. 

His areas for improvement are typical for young fighters. When attacking an opponent along the ropes, he drops his hands, especially his left. He also pulls straight back from the pocket with his hands down. This leaves him particularly vulnerable to good counterpunchers. Although a great athlete, in general, he moves in a lot of straight lines, which makes him susceptible to be timed. These are all deficiencies that can be corrected; however, if not fixed, these are the types of mistakes that lead to spending time on the canvas in the heavyweight division. 

5. Joseph Parker (17-0, 15 KOs Age 23, New Zealand)
Current Status: WBO Oriental Titleholder
Strengths: Inside fighting, punch accuracy, aggression
Weaknesses: Recklessness, defensive technique
Next Fight: Jason Bergman, 1/23/16

Perhaps the least familiar name on this list, Parker boxes primarily in New Zealand and most often at silly o'clock, when those in the Western Hemisphere aren't conditioned to watch boxing. Parker fights with a refreshing devil-may-care attitude that's in direct opposition to the past era of cautious heavyweights. Everything he throws on the inside is hard: body shots, hooks and uppercuts. He's very creative at close range. 

As someone who enjoys the back-and-forth of combat, Parker's not afraid to take a shot to land his best. However, when he forces an opponent back to the ropes, he jettisons any pretense of defense. A capable fighter who likes to trade on the inside could give him a lot of problems.

At 23, Parker still has time for additional development. Although he has fought a number of competent C-class guys, he still hasn't faced anyone who could be mistaken for a true prospect or contender. It will be interesting to see if he adjusts his game as his competition increases. Hopefully, he will maintain his aggressive demeanor in the ring while he acquires some additional polish. 

The five fighters I have listed above have brought renewed life to a dormant division, but by no means are they the only hopefuls in this next wave of heavyweights – just the most prominent at this point. Perhaps some others will join them in the next 12 months, such as southpaw gunslinger Charles Martin (who fights for a title belt next month), Australian power puncher Lucas Browne or Hughie Fury, recognized by many as more athletic than cousin Tyson. In addition, there are several established boxers that could make excellent fights with those already mentioned above, such as Alexander Povetkin, David Haye, Dereck Chisora, Bermane Stiverne, Artur Szpilka, Bryant Jennings and Carlos Takam.  

Overall, the division is in great shape. The next few years have the potential to produce some outstanding heavyweight fights, seemingly a rarity in the last decade of the fight game. There is no consensus as to which of these heavyweights will emerge as the top gun in the division and it's also possible that none of the five I mentioned will reign as this era's best. Ultimately, a little chaos among action fighters is just fine. The journey to establish the next heavyweight king should be thrilling.

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 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Pound-for-Pound Update 12-3-15

With the results of the last two weekends, there have been significant changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list. Saul Alvarez (previously ranked #13) rises in the Rankings after his unanimous decision victory over Miguel Cotto. Alvarez jumps six spots to #7 and Cotto drops two places from #12 to #14. Also, Tyson Fury enters the Rankings after his decision win over heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko. Fury debuts at #12 while Klitschko falls from #2 to #13. With Fury's addition to the pound-for-pound list, Leo Santa Cruz (formerly #20) falls out of the Rankings.
One quick note about how I view a pound-for-pound list. I utilize recent victories or losses against a specific caliber of opposition as a primary driver for where a fighter is positioned in the Rankings. A secondary consideration (although not trivial) is a boxer's form in recent outings. I bring this up because I now have Alvarez slotted ahead of Gennady Golovkin on my list. Now, do I think that Alvarez beats Golovkin? No, I don't. However, from my perspective, Alvarez has three victories in recent years against very good fighters in Cotto, Erislandy Lara and Austin Trout. I would rank all of those opponents at the time Alvarez fought them over the quality of Golovkin's best foes, such as David Lemieux or Martin Murray.
Although I believe that Golovkin would beat Alvarez, that isn't enough for me to place him over Alvarez on my pound-for-pound list. From my perspective, it's who you beat and when you beat them. Without an emphasis on what fighters have actually done in the ring, this exercise becomes even more speculative than it currently is and frankly that's a rabbit hole I don't want to go down. Yes, I appreciate that many fighters have avoided Golovkin in the ring. However, I can't give Golovkin credit for theoretical opponents that he hasn't faced or beaten. Even though Golovkin has never sniffed a Top-20 pound-for-pound guy in the ring, I still have him ranked at #8, and that's not too shabby given the quality of his opposition.  
The complete Saturday Night Boxing pound-for-pound list is below: 

1.    Roman Gonzalez
2.    Andre Ward
3.    Manny Pacquiao
4.    Tim Bradley
5.    Sergey Kovalev
6.    Juan Estrada
7.    Saul Alvarez
8.    Gennady Golovkin
9.    Guillermo Rigondeaux
10.  Naoya Inoue
11.  Adonis Stevenson
12.  Tyson Fury
13.  Wladimir Klitschko
14.  Miguel Cotto
15.  Danny Garcia
16.  Takashi Uchiyama
17.  Terence Crawford
18.  Donnie Nietes
19.  Shinsuke Yamanaka
20.  Nicholas Walters
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