Monday, February 29, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Frampton, Crawford and Santa Cruz.

5, 11, 14, 17, 17 and 18. Those are the punch totals (according to CompuBox) for Scott Quigg in his first six rounds against Carl Frampton, abysmal numbers for any fighter, let alone a world titleholder. As I opined following Klitschko-Fury, absent a knockdown or an opponent getting seriously hurt, there is a minimum punch threshold for a fighter to reach (I place that number at 20) to have even a chance at winning a round; in the first half of Saturday's fight, Quigg consistently fell below any reasonable standard. It didn't matter how well he neutralized Frampton nor was it a factor that Frampton didn't seem to land cleanly throughout most of the match (with the exception of an uppercut that broke Quigg's jaw in the fourth round). Quigg just didn't do enough on offense to justify winning rounds in the first half of the bout. 

After the seventh, Quigg's trainer, Joe Gallagher, told his fighter that the TV broadcasters had him down big. At that point, Quigg started to let his hands go and he won the next four rounds with relative ease. However, after the fight, both Gallagher and Quigg believed that the early rounds were even. This was a major miscalculation on their part and a clear failure to grasp modern boxing judging (I know that sounds harsh but it's true). A fighter or a corner can't expect to win a round throwing 11 punches if the other guy is throwing 40. With that paltry output, there just isn't enough for the judges to look at. That Quigg and Gallagher were satisfied by their performances in the first half of the fight is an indictment of their game plan and symptomatic of a team whose self-regard is too high. You have to earn rounds; they aren't given to you by not getting hit hard. You must be offensive-minded. 

Now, let me throw out some percentages: 10.0%, 6.3%, 5.6%, 7.5%, 2.2%, 12.7% and 13.9%. Those are the connect rates in seven rounds of the fight for Frampton. In a sport where champions are expected to land a minimum of 25% of their shots (often they attain a much larger percentage), this showing was just as abysmal as Quigg's punches-thrown numbers. 

Essentially, the majority of Frampton-Quigg boiled down to the ineffective aggressor against the fighter who refused to engage. It was a battle of bad vs. awful and the bad boxer did enough to secure eight or so rounds on the scorecards. 

Yes, Quigg came on strong in the back half of the fight and did real damage in the 11th, but he had already dug such an enormous hole. The final few rounds of the bout made Quigg's inexplicable showing from rounds 1-7 all the stranger. Clearly, once the fighters started exchanging, he was the sharper puncher and threw the heavier blows. However, he was unwilling to take risks early in the fight or open up. And it wasn't like Frampton did that much early in the bout to dissuade Quigg. Frampton pawed with his jab and threw an occasional right hand. Quigg could've done more; he just chose not to. 

In truth, neither fighter distinguished himself on Saturday. Frampton was also overly cautious in the fight and displayed very little of his electrifying arsenal. He was winning by doing the bare minimum early in the match. He wasn't trying to impose himself on Quigg or attempt to stop him. Where was Frampton's desire to be great? Why did he refuse to seize the moment? He did have a good 12th, where he fought aggressively and stymied Quigg's momentum. That round was the only glimpse of Frampton's complete package as a fighter: his punch selection, athleticism, recuperative powers and creativity. The rest of his performance was lackluster. 

The judges awarded Frampton a split decision victory with scores of 116-112, 116-112 and 113-115 (I had it 116-113 for Frampton) but it's safe to say that neither fighter truly "won" on Saturday. If anything, both showed that they weren't ready for the big stage. 

What made, for instance, Froch-Groves I so much fun is that both fighters rose to the occasion. Groves charged at Froch from the opening bell and dropped him in the first round. After taking massive amounts of punishment in the first three rounds, Froch staged an impressive rally and scored a stoppage later in the fight (it was a controversial knockout but it still counts). Both boxers took risks and desired to be great. Groves seized his moment and Froch wouldn't succumb to Groves' power and superior athleticism when many others would've done so. 

Perhaps not all is lost for either Frampton or Quigg. Remember, in Groves' first big opportunity as a professional, he escaped with a majority decision victory over James DeGale in a dreadful fight.  Instead of throwing meaningful punches, both boxers tried to out-cute each other. By the time of Groves' fight with Froch two-and-a-half years later, he was finally ready for the big stage. Hopefully Frampton and Quigg make similar progressions in their careers. 

Both Frampton and Quigg have ability but there is a big difference between having a title belt and being elite. What blocks them from reaching the next level is more mental than physical. As of now, they both lack the desire to be great. An elite fighter wants to dominate an opponent, put his stamp on a match and announce to the world that he is a force to be reckoned with in the ring. Neither Frampton nor Quigg did that on Saturday. They still have a lot to learn about prizefighting. Unfortunately, youth isn't on their side (Frampton is 29, Quigg is 27), so if either one has grand designs on making a lasting name for himself in the sport, he better start soon. 


A pair of headliners had impressive fifth-round stoppages on Saturday as Terence Crawford and Leo Santa Cruz demonstrated their considerable talents against lesser foes. Crawford's knockout of Hank Lundy was a perfect example of what the Nebraskan native does so well in the ring. The fight was competitive during the first four rounds but in the fifth Crawford noticed a Lundy flaw. Crawford then exploited it and ended things quickly. In the fifth, Lundy fought exclusively out of the southpaw stance after starting the early rounds in the orthodox position. As a southpaw, Lundy kept his lead right hand dangerously low. He was a sitting duck for Crawford's straight left hand. As the round progressed, Crawford seized the opening and landed a blistering left that that staggered Lundy and pushed him back to the ropes. Crawford followed up with a few additional shots that sent Lundy to the canvas. Lundy beat the count but he was still in bad shape. Crawford then jumped on his opponent, attacking him with power punches. In short order, ref Steve Willis waved off the fight. 

Santa Cruz scored two knockdowns in the first round against hard-charging Kiko Martinez. Throwing 140 punches in the opening frame, Santa Cruz unloaded his entire offensive arsenal but he couldn't quite finish Martinez, who was also landing his own bombs on the inside. Then the dynamics of the bout changed as Santa Cruz decided to fight Martinez off the back foot, often switching up to the southpaw position. Martinez had moments in the next few rounds but he was getting outboxed and beaten on the inside. In the fifth, Santa Cruz rocked Martinez, a former titleholder at 122 lbs., with a three-punch combination. Santa Cruz then drove Martinez back to the ropes and unloaded more than 50 punches to earn the stoppage. 

Santa Cruz was once thought of as a smaller-version of Antonio Margarito, a consummate pressure fighter who wore down opponents over the course of a fight. However, on Saturday and in his previous fight against Abner Mares, Santa Cruz demonstrated some excellent boxing skills to go along with his aggressive, brawling attack. Santa Cruz can fight going forward or backward. He does an excellent job mixing up the velocity and angles of his punches. In addition, Santa Cruz is a wonderful combination puncher. 

For me, his money punch on Saturday was the right uppercut but he also threw quality jabs, hooks and straight right hands. And when Santa Cruz turned southpaw, he actually had a lot of success. The maneuver wasn't just for show; he scored with a number of excellent right jabs and straight left hands from that stance. Santa Cruz's finish was special stuff; it also demonstrated his high ring IQ. Throwing a variety of punches in blistering combinations, keeping his distance so he wouldn't smother his attack and protecting himself to avoid any serious return fire, Santa Cruz ended the fight like a seasoned pro. 

In short, Santa Cruz has exhibited additional dimensions over the last year. He has done what all great fighters aspire to do: continue to get better.

Crawford and Santa Cruz are excellent boxers who would be even more popular if they had the right opponents. Crawford currently resides in a relatively weak junior welterweight division. He's had trouble getting quality opposition. His most compelling foe in the division is Viktor Postol, who, like Crawford, is promoted by Top Rank. That potential fight has already been offered to and turned down by Postol but it's still possible that it could occur later in 2016. For now, Crawford must continue to ply his trade and hope that a suitable, big-time opponent agrees to fight him. Unfortunately, he's become a victim of his own success. Very few fighters want to take on a tall, rangy, switch-hitting, intelligent, powerful boxer. So he must wait a little longer. 

Santa Cruz doesn't lack potential top opponents but he needs his manager, Al Haymon, to match him against them. The featherweight division is loaded with Haymon fighters, from Gary Russell Jr. to Jesus Cuellar to Lee Selby. All would make for very compelling fights against Santa Cruz. In addition, it's very possible that Carl Frampton (another Haymon fighter) moves up to 126 by the end of the year. Opportunities abound.

Santa Cruz has been a headliner on various Haymon-affiliated networks for years but he's been matched relatively softly. Now, Haymon has all of the fighters needed to make a number of scintillating matchups for Santa Cruz; here's hoping that they happen. 


Also on Saturday, Marco Huck stopped longtime cruiserweight rival Ola Afolabi, who failed to answer the bell to start the 11th. It was a nice rebound win for Huck after being knocked out in his previous fight by Krzysztof Glowacki. Although the first three Huck-Afolabi bouts were crowd-pleasing and close affairs (two razor-thin Huck victories and a draw), their fourth meeting wasn't competitive whatsoever. On Saturday, Afolabi looked to be an old 35. He barely let his hands go and seemed cautious throughout most of the fight. In part, his hesitancy could be attributed to the condition of his left eye, which by the fourth round was partially closed from several Huck right hands. However, Afolabi's corner was disappointed with his performance throughout the match, especially his effort level and punch selection. 

Mark this fight down in the "You Never Know" category. Huck had fired his new trainer just two weeks before Saturday's bout. From a distance, the move wasn't a sign of a fighter who was in a good place with his career. Huck had already parted ways with trainer Don House after his loss to Glowacki and now he had fired his replacement. On paper, this series of events didn't augur a positive result for Huck on Saturday. 

However, Huck performed at a high level throughout the fight, as if none of these incidents over the past year had occurred. He maintained a relatively high work rate and landed his power shots consistently (specifically his right hand and left hook). Also, he didn't receive much punishment. Defense hadn't previously been a strong suit for him throughout his career but he was very responsible on Saturday; I imagine that getting beaten to a pulp by Glowacki might have had something to do with this adjustment. On Saturday, he relied far less on machismo. He kept his hands high and used hit feet more to evade shots. In the past, he would stand in front of an opponent and let his chin take the brunt of the damage, defense be damned, but his emphasis on avoiding punches made Saturday his cleanest victory in years.

Huck now needs to make some crucial decisions about the next phase of his career. In 2012, he had a great showing at heavyweight against Alexander Povetkin. (He dropped a close decision but many felt that he had done enough to win.) After that fight, he dropped back down to cruiserweight where he could only muster a draw against Afolabi – certainly not a recipe for building career momentum. Huck and his former promoter, Sauerland Event, had frequent disagreements about the best course of action for his future. Huck had talked about going to America and staying at heavyweight while Sauerland wanted to keep him in Germany as a cruiserweight, a division where the company had several top fighters under contract. Huck eventually parted ways with Sauerland in early 2015 and with that he lost his longtime trainer Ulli Wegner, who worked exclusively with Sauerland fighters. 

Huck is only 31 and remains a star in Germany. He now has a level a freedom that he didn't have when he was with Sauerland but he also has the added responsibility of capitalizing on the remaining years of his career. He needs to answer several questions: In what division does he want to fight? How can he maximize his moneymaking opportunities? Where does he want to fight? And finally, who will train him? Stay tuned. 


Puerto Rican lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo opened up the Crawford-Lundy card on Saturday against  Willian Silva, an unknown, undefeated prospect from Brazil. In truth, Silva didn't offer that much but he had two virtues: he knew how to handle himself in the ring and he wasn't intimidated. On offense, Silva settled for little more than landing a few crafty overhand rights. As the fight progressed, it became clear that Verdejo was several levels above his opponent. However, as Verdejo cruised to a lopsided decision victory, his performance was far from captivating.

Verdejo, like many young prospects, is a work in progress. On Saturday, his punches were mostly ones and twos instead of his usual assortment of free-flowing combinations. He had trouble setting up his shots. After realizing that Silva would stick around, he seemed to run out of ideas. Yes, he was throwing punches and winning rounds (occasionally he would slip in a punishing right hand) but he didn't impress.  

Verdejo has a plethora of raw skills that could, and I repeat, could make him an outstanding professional, but he's still far from that level. I wonder if he's a real student of the sport. He doesn't seem to understand angles or feints. For as many types of punches that he throws, he doesn't always know when to throw them or how to set them up.

At 22, Verdejo still has plenty of time to progress in the sport. There's no question that he's an exceptional athlete and possesses solid hand speed and power. But questions still remain about his aptitude for the sport: Is he actually improving from fight-to-fight? Can he think his way through a match? Is he receiving the right instruction and can he incorporate that instruction in the ring?

In the past, I've been sanguine on Verdejo's prospects but I think that Saturday was a small step back. It's time for Verdejo to go to school and learn. But will he be the star pupil or the gifted student who fails to reach his potential?

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