Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Five Years of Saturday Night Boxing

Saturday Night Boxing turned five years old today and this is a milestone that even surprised me. When I started writing about boxing in February of 2011, I had no master plan or grand design; it was filling a need. Yearning for an additional creative outlet and feeling dissatisfied with aspects of my professional life, I needed to start writing again. The decision to focus my efforts on boxing was an easy one. Although I had always been a fan of the sport growing up, as I got older, boxing became more of a consuming passion. But it wasn't just fandom that compelled me to start writing about the sweet science: I felt that I had something to contribute.

In following boxing, I observed that strategy and technique, the two aspects of the sport that intrigued me the most, were lacking sufficient media coverage. Although I absorbed whatever I could from the widely read boxing press, a large part of the sport remained a mysterious black box to me. In the media, most attention was given to the "who," "what," or "where" of the sport and very little time was spent on the "how" or "why." In short, there was a dearth of informative analysis about boxing. 

How do you take away a jab? When is a prospect ready to step up? Is Freddie Roach actually a good trainer? What does a "high ring IQ" really mean? Why have Eastern Europeans started to break through at the sport's highest levels? Which referees are beneficial for particular fighters? Which judges should we worry about? All of these questions have been opportunities to delve deeper into the sport. And often I found out that there aren't too many easy answers. 

For instance, I could define having a high ring IQ as a boxer who puts himself in the best possible position to win a fight. Of course, that answer is cursory and unsatisfactory. What is the best position? How does one evaluate that as an outsider? What are the fighter's strengths and weaknesses? What about those of a particular opponent? On a basic level, many aspects of the sport can be understood and appreciated but the learning never stops. And the chasm between what I knew about boxing five years ago compared to now could still be just as great as my current knowledge base and what I might understand five years from now. 

In writing about boxing, my primary goal has been to provide a level of analysis for the major fights, boxers and figures within the sport that was often lacking in widely read media outlets. I eschewed the rote preview pieces, conference call/press conference happenings or fight recaps in favor of highlighting a few key aspects that helped shape my opinion on a particular fight or a perspective on the sport. I won't claim that everything published on this page was innovative or groundbreaking but I also can read my past work and know that original thought was given. I never wrote for click-bait purposes or parroted others in the industry. I might not have been first with a fight review or a viewpoint but I feel very comfortable knowing that my articles were true expressions of my thoughts on the sport; no punches were pulled.  

When writing about fighters, I've always been drawn to inflection points in a boxer's career. How a fighter responds to failure or success, how he handles duress in the ring, the decisions he makes regarding his team – promoter, manager and trainer, the opportunities rejected or accepted, the manifestation of his intangibles; these have been the topics that excite me.

I've learned that there are very few truisms in boxing. Speed beats power, except when it doesn't. Skills pay the bills, but what if a fighter has a bad chin or is known for giving an inconsistent effort? I can cite many examples in the last five years where the boxer with the better skills lost.  Perhaps the only standard that I cling to when evaluating fights is when two relatively even boxers are matched, the more intelligent one seems to win. But I am open to persuasion on that one. Much of boxing is unlearning too. What is accepted as conventional wisdom may often be the wrong path to victory.

Over the past five years, I've had the pleasure of conducting a number of interviews with boxing industry figures that have greatly enhanced my understanding of the sport. I'll always have a soft spot for Tim Bradley, who gave me my first interview. Sick as a dog with a high fever and strep throat, I remember transcribing the interview in a Santa Monica hotel room with glee, knowing that he had provided me with a number of poignant insights regarding his amateur background, his difficulty in attracting attention in his nascent years as a professional and his dogged determination to become one of the best in the sport. 

Another highlight was talking to referee Steve Smoger. Even though Smoger had been a professional for over 30 years when I conducted the interview, his admiration for boxers and his gratitude for being able to play just a small role in the sport remained palpable. His passion for boxing and the art of refereeing was revelatory.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Fury, who went from prison to training the heavyweight champion of the world. Fury's frank assessment of the development of Tyson Fury was a breath of fresh air in an industry filled with hype, platitudes and canned responses.

I've also had an opportunity to interact with many in the boxing industry on an off-the-record basis. Speaking with promoters, managers, network executives, reporters, trainers and fighters, I've been enriched by these conversations; and not all of them were rainbows and waterfalls. Even though I'm no big cheese, I've learned that when people want to get a hold of you, they miraculously find you. I remember sitting in the Atlanta airport one Friday night listening to a boxing executive explain the difficulty his network was having regarding the consistency of its boxing programming. Over the next 35 minutes, he provided background on why certain fights weren't getting made. I remember watching everyone board the plane as we talked about the changing boxing landscape. I hated having to cut that conversation short. Or, there was that Saturday afternoon the day after I wrote a caustic piece about a network. I spent 45 minutes engaged in a spirited call with a PR honcho while pacing the aisles of a CVS pharmacy. I realized from all of these experiences that most in boxing really want to get it right and leave their mark in bettering the sport. 

Boxing writing has brought me tremendous fulfillment over the past five years. From covering live fights to meeting those within the industry to interacting with fans, friends and foils on social media, it's been a great ride. Of everyone I've met in the sport, I'd say that 95% have been fantastic. There have certainly been those who have disappointed me as well. I've learned that boxing people are fiercely protective of their opinions on the sport. Although most enjoy the respectful give-and-take of debate and seek out additional viewpoints, others are didactic and/or intolerable. Unfortunately, some members of this second category have risen to positions of prominence or semi-prominence in the industry. To them, ruling over their fiefdoms remains far more important than considering new ideas or different perspectives.

By and large, boxing creates connections. The sport doesn't lend itself to isolation. The best fight atmospheres have boisterous crowds. Big events lead to passionate followings on social media. It's practically impossible to watch a good fight and sit in silence during the experience. As boxing remains a niche sport in many locales, enthusiasts seek out interaction to satisfy their fight cravings and yearnings. And although one might not have many friends that love the sport, boxing fans around the world are legion and are always interested in having a conversation. Over time, fans strike up new acquaintances and friendships and they build networks and communities. 

This sense of community has always been important to me throughout Saturday Night Boxing's tenure. It wasn't enough for me to have a forum in which to write; I wanted to form new connections within the sport. As a point of pride, at its height, I had built the former Saturday Night Boxing Facebook page to over 75,000 people. To my knowledge, it was the largest boxing fan forum on that medium. 

Talking about the sport with people from all over the world, I love the insight, the humor and the debates. Sure, there are some idiots, fanboys and the occasional racist who needs to be expunged (it isn't a perfect world we live in) but that type of interaction continues to be an enriching experience.

When the original SNB Facebook page was inexplicable removed at the end of 2014, I was crestfallen. I knew that I would never amass that type of audience through Facebook again. The site had changed over the years and people now use it differently than they did in 2011. After a few months of licking my wounds, I decided to give it another go. I was certainly encouraged by the supportive messages from a number of people from the old forum. This time I wouldn't advertise the group and I would restart with only a skeleton crew of acquaintances and friends that I had met over the years; version 2.0 was more about fun instead of brand-building. The new group, SN Boxing, will never reach the heights of the old Saturday Night Boxing page but the format is more democratic and fulfilling. Yes, the SN Boxing Facebook group continues to provide entertaining and informative boxing discussion but by now it's become something else to me. So many people in the group have become friends; it's not something I would want to stop.

Over the past five years, there have been so many memorable boxing moments that I've had the opportunity to experience live: the standing ovation at the Stub Hub Center after just the first round of Rios-Alvarado I, the Kovalev after party following his win over Hopkins, the section-wide brawl in the crowd during Alvarado-Provodnikov, partying at the Toga Bar in Atlantic City on fight weekends, the euphoria in the Alamodome after Marcos Maidana defeated Adrien Broner. I've had the opportunity to see a Mayweather and a Pacquiao fight. I've gone to eight states to see live boxing – soon to be nine in March as I venture to Connecticut for Thurman-Porter.  

Like many of you, boxing has helped me get through some tough times. Perhaps my favorite thing I ever wrote for Saturday Night Boxing was Don't Rob Me, a piece about an unnamed veteran fighter who was hoping for one more shot at the top. I wrote that article in a hotel room over two nights in New York as my dad was undergoing cancer surgery. During those moments, writing about boxing was especially cathartic.

Over the years, there have been articles that I've written which I love and others that, years later, are cringe-worthy. Five years is enough to understand the cycles and seasons of boxing. Networks and promoters rise and fall. Interest levels among the fans wax and wane. New opportunities within the sport continue to emerge while others collapse. Certain fighters surprised me (Canelo Alvarez) while others have been disappointments (I had high hopes for Adrien Broner). I nailed some predictions (Bradley beating Marquez by split decision) and there are those that still bother me years later. (Donaire didn't actually knock out Rigondeaux in the 4th, did he?) I can take pride in that I know my work is read by people whom I respect a great deal. Yet, I also realize that I'm unknown in many circles.  

For today, I'll stop being hard on myself and celebrate this accomplishment. It's a good feeling to keep something going when it would've been easy to stop. (Lord knows I don't do it for the money!) I've met some great people. I've had the privilege of learning about the sport in a way that far surpassed my expectations five years ago. I've written some articles that I'm proud of. I've made some new friends.
So what's next on the horizon? That's tough to tell. Over the years, I've been approached by a number of websites and media outlets that wanted me to write for them. To this point, I've turned down those offers. I always have and will continue to listen to what's out there and I'm grateful to those who appreciated my opinions and perspectives enough to want me to work with them. Those particular opportunities weren't the right scenarios for me at that given time but I'd certainly jump at the right fit, whether it involves writing, broadcasting or being involved in a network capacity. If there is a move to be made, I'd like it to help transition me to a career in boxing. Yes, so few of those opportunities actually exist. I'm aware of this and I'm not exactly holding my breath. I also realize that I haven't always been the best at "playing the game" over the years. I can be an acquired taste. Perhaps I went after the wrong person on Twitter or maybe a particular criticism I levied would disqualify me from a certain job. So be it. I believe in being truthful first and let the chips fall where they may. I haven't spent the last five years angling for this gig or that one. If it happens, great and if it doesn't I'm at peace with that too. 

One thing I'd like to have is a more consistent podcast presence. I've enjoyed being a guest on various podcasts over the years, whether it has been Boxing Asylum, Tha Boxing Voice, LukieBoxing or others. I hope to do something on at least a semi-regular basis in the coming months. My work schedule isn't always fun but this is definitely a goal. I'd love to partner up with the right person or media outlet for a podcast. 

I certainly will keep writing. I realize that I don't publish as frequently as I used to do. The challenge isn't writing per se; it's writing something interesting. If I can't meet that standard, then I try not to waste your time or mine. I also prefer to do longer pieces rather than quick hits. These types of articles don't always lend themselves to a lot of volume. Perhaps the right fights just haven't been there and the inspiration ebbs and flows with the current events of the sport. And also, life gets in the way. But I know I'll be writing when so moved. 

Of course, I'll still be watching as many fights as I possibly can. Who knows when the next Bradley-Provodnikov or Rios-Acosta will occur? The beauty of boxing is that we just don't know. I'll also continue to be a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, an organization that has done a great job in helping to overcome the bias and silliness inherent in world boxing rankings.

As usual, this article has gone on too long. Let me end with some thank yous to people who have encouraged my writing, helped continue my education in the sport, provided a steady source of entertainment or just were there for me when I needed them. So, thank you to Tim Starks, Kelsey McCarson, Jake Donovan, Douglass Fischer, Brian Campbell, Matthew Swain, Kurt Ward, Lucas Katelle, Ryan Bivins, Cliff Rold, Stephen Edwards, Ron Katz, Melissa Bollinger, Amanda Kelley, Lee Wylie, Scott Christ, Stephen Talbott, Glen Warren, Juan Burleson, Agustin Juarez, Chito Muniz, Richie and Theresa Urnaitis, Chris Lukach, Larry Rasmussen, Alex Morris, John Patrick Monaghan, Victor Rosales, Victor Salazar, Patrick Connor, Aris Pina, Joel Stern, Matt Weiler, Diana Heres, Dave Dambrisi, Rafe Bartholomew, Jay Caspian Kang, Scott Christensen, Daniel Roberts, Hans Olson, Daniel Reed, Shaun Hall, Andy Brook, Billy Ferguson, David Hammer, Nic Mimmack, James Grills, Itch, Ivan Ocampo, Brandon Stubbs, Jim Whittam, Jamie Dodsworth, Danny Finnegan, Jenna Anzaldua, Tim Vigon, Rebecca Pitt, Mark Ortega, Cam Beaton, Waleed Albarakati, Alan Conceicao, Brian King, Matt DiGiallonardo, Alex Barry, Alex McClintock, Gary Graham, Emily Pandelakis, Ian Morton, Matthew Mojica, Michael Gluckstadt, Richard Closs, Steve Laird, Christopher Coreschi, Gabriel Gonzalez, Scott Hale, Brittany Rogers and Greg Bishop. There were many others that I could have included as well.  

Finally, I wanted to thank four people in particular. David Greisman is not only an excellent columnist for BoxingScene but he's also a wonderfully warm and funny human being. He's one of the most talented writers in the sport and he's an even better person. David was nice enough to bring me into his orbit many years ago and I'll always be appreciative of his generosity. We've spent many fantastic fight weekends in various places throughout the country and I'm looking forward to more good times ahead.  

Michelle Rosado has been the most supportive person I've encountered in my five years of Saturday Night Boxing. With a heart of gold, she's blazing her own way in the sport. Always there to provide a laugh, a boxing connection or an unvarnished opinion, Michelle is this wonderful, delightful energy force in the world of boxing. There's no one I'd rather have in my corner than Ms. Raging Babe herself.  

Over the past five years, David Byrne and Arran McLachlan have become two of my closest friends. Somehow, through a bizarre algorithm of Facebook, they've been with me since the beginning and I treasure their friendship and humor. Often they are my co-pilots and I got really lucky with them. One of these years we'll all meet up, and it will be an absolutely epic undertaking. 

And to all my readers, thank you for your comments, feedback and support. May the next five years be even better.  

Adam Abramowitz
February 8, 2016
Philadelphia, USA

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 

1 comment:

  1. Yes a long article but I had some time on my hands...lol. Seriously though I enjoyed reading, and relate 100% to the "boxing creates connections" paragraph. May 2016 bring more opportunities to do what you enjoy and are good at.