Monday, August 1, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Frampton and Stevenson

Shortly after Carl Frampton's fantastic performance in his majority decision victory over Leo Santa Cruz, I was at a bar talking to a boxing friend of mine, Dave (otherwise known as @buflo_dolla on Twitter). While we were recapping the fight, he made a comment that perfectly encapsulated Frampton's wonderful 2016 campaign, which also includes beating fellow junior featherweight titlist Scott Quigg. I was expressing my disappointment in Santa Cruz's tactics and Quigg's punch output when Dave stopped me and said, "That's Frampton. That's what he does!"

Thinking about that comment a little more, it occurred to me that I had been underrating Frampton's versatility and numerous attributes that he brings to the table. Frampton made a tough fighter refuse to throw punches for seven rounds earlier this year. He convinced one of the best pressure fighters in the sport to try to outbox him. Great boxers not only exploit mistakes but they force their opponents to make more of them, whether they are physical errors in the ring or strategic miscalculations made during training camp.

Frampton's talent forced bad decision making. He convinced Joe Gallagher, an excellent trainer, to be overly cautious with his game plan for Quigg. He made Jose Santa Cruz, another solid cornerman, insist that his son should fight on the outside. This is what talent does; it forces mistakes. 

Now I'm not ready to say that Frampton is one of the five or so top talents in the sport but his status in boxing is ascending. He beat a vicious inside body puncher and one of boxing's premier pressure fighters. He's controlled range, brawled when he had to, broken a jaw, evaded lots of shots, countered beautifully and displayed an array of offensive weapons. 

It should also be stated that Frampton didn't dominate either fight. He won seven or eight rounds in both. It's not as if he's invincible in the ring. Saturday's victory wasn't nearly as comprehensive as Terence Crawford's was a week prior when he virtually shut out the top threat in his division. However, Frampton showed a multitude of skills and intangibles that led to his wins. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't beat himself in either fight. When Quigg came on in the second half of their bout, Frampton had a huge 12th round to seal the victory. And as Santa Cruz stepped on the gas in the final third of the match, Frampton not only matched his effort, but bested him in the championship rounds. These finishes speak highly of Frampton's psychological makeup. 

Even with Frampton's victory on Saturday, he still has quite a bit of business to take care of before he can be called the top featherweight in boxing. Fellow titleholders Gary Russell Jr. and Lee Selby loom as legitimate threats. Hard punching Oscar Valdez, who just won a title last week, has one of the best left hooks in boxing. Even Jesus Cuellar has the type of power that could trouble most in the division. 

Although there's no guarantee that Frampton remains unbeaten at this point next year, he's truly arrived as a top fighter in the sport. In additional to the laudable goal of facing tough challengers, he's also continuing to get better. And the 24 rounds he's had against Quigg and Santa Cruz will be crucial in his continued development. 

For Santa Cruz, all is not lost. He wasn't embarrassed on Saturday. He certainly belonged in that ring. With judges sympathetic to his style, he could have escaped Saturday with a draw or even a narrow victory. (Scoring it at the arena, I had Frampton winning 115-113 but there were a number of swing rounds). 

Saturday's fight illustrated a couple of truths regarding Santa Cruz: his punches aren't accurate or hard enough to win with just single shots. He needs volume and he has to swarm an opponent. Even though he eclipsed 1,000 punches against Frampton, there were many points in the fight where he tried to box off the back foot, attempting to win rounds with finesse. And that approach just won't work well against sharpshooters. Santa Cruz's punches can be very wide and easily countered. He doesn't have one-punch knockout power. When he hurts opponents, it's from an accumulation of blows, not a single shot. 

As Showtime's Al Bernstein pointed on during the telecast, there was disagreement between Santa Cruz and his father regarding the tactics for the fight. The elder wanted more distance and the son favored aggression. Ultimately, the fighter didn't truly commit to either approach. I think that Leo's plan would've been the better option. At range, he couldn't consistently overcome Frampton's counter left or straight right during exchanges; those punches won rounds. But when the action became more ragged or when Santa Cruz really pressed the fight, he found opportunities to pick up points. 

I'll end with something I said to Dave. After watching the fight, it was clear to me that Santa Cruz didn't have the best approach to beating Frampton. In my belief, only with more pressure could Santa Cruz have won. I told Dave, "He needed to Margarito his ass. And he didn't do that." Dave nodded his head. 

That's Frampton. 


Light heavyweight titlist Adonis Stevenson and Thomas Williams Jr. waged an epic war on Friday night in Quebec City. The end result, Stevenson KO 4, was not surprising, and to be honest, the fight itself followed the script – but what a beautiful script it was! Stevenson sent Williams down with a short left hand at the end of the first round. However, instead of capitulating, as many of Stevenson's opponents do, Williams rallied in the second and landed a couple of huge right hooks as well as a handful of punishing combinations. This was now a fight! 

No longer was this bout another one of Stevenson's generic title defenses against listless opponents. The guy in front of him was real and coming to win. And as many top fighters do, Stevenson found another gear. Ripping body shots in the third and fourth rounds, Stevenson nullified Williams' success and turned the tide of the fight. At the end of the fourth, he connected with a short left hand as Williams was caught trying to throw a wide punch from too close. Fight. Over. 

It was thrilling stuff! An old-school shootout. The O.K. Corral transplanted to The Great White North.

Stevenson puts on quite a show. But unfortunately, he's been more comfortable being the star of the B-movie than fronting a Hollywood blockbuster. To keep the Western theme, he's more Joel McCrea than John Wayne. During his title reign, he's had opportunities to face Sergey Kovalev, Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins and didn't make those fights. 

At 38, it's not clear how many good years he has left. He makes enough mistakes whereby once his reflexes show signs of slippage, he could deteriorate very quickly (think Sergio Martinez). Stevenson could lose at any time now. He gets hit a lot and he doesn't always control range. He often holds his right hand too low and doesn't return his hands quickly enough to a defensively responsible position.  

Stevenson is essentially a one-handed puncher but he does do so many great things with the left. He can lead and counter with straight, concussive blows. His uppercut is a thing of beauty. He also goes to the body with punishing force. His left hand remains one of the best erasers in boxing.

But he's vulnerable – and beatable. His prodigious power and litany of flaws make him can't-miss TV. In a perfect world, he'd get a really big fight before the prime of his career sunsets but he's not victimless in the lack of big names on his ledger. For now, he continues to be a top fighter in the sport and an enjoyable entertainment. Enjoy it while it lasts. 

As for Williams, he can take solace knowing that he has become one of the best television fighters in the sport. In four bouts – against Cornelius White, Umberto Savigne, Edwin Rodriguez and Stevenson – Williams has produced fantastic television. He's a true gunslinger. And maybe his brand of fighting won't permit him to have a record-breaking run like "Gunsmoke." Perhaps he's more comparable to “Deadwood," which was excellent during its few seasons. But both are still remembered today. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter, SN Boxing on Facebook
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