Monday, September 12, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin and Gonzalez

Throughout Gennady Golovkin's meteoric rise to the top of the boxing food chain, he's dispatched his opponents with a unique combination of power shots and textbook punch technique. Armed with a ferocious style in the ring and a natural ebullience when not fighting, Golovkin's popularity in the sport has spread like wildfire. He has amassed legions of fans and he has become one of the top attractions in the sport. However, his career has been lacking in one crucial aspect: quality opponents. Golovkin's resume is rife with B- and C-level talents. And on account of this overmatched opposition, it's been difficult to gauge just how good he really is. Certainly, knocking out Saul Alvarez or roughing up Andre Ward would mean much more than stopping Gabe Rosado or Willie Monroe, capable fighters, sure, but no threat to march up anyone's pound-for-pound list.  

It should be stated that Golovkin has been a victim of his own success. A who’s who of middleweights has consistently avoided fighting him over the last four years. So, Golovkin continues to seek out meaningful fights to add to his legacy, but without viable middleweights agreeing to fight him, he's found himself biding his time until a top 160-lb. fighter gets brave.

On Saturday, Golovkin took his Big Drama Show to London to fight Kell Brook, one of the top welterweights in the world, but a boxer who had never even competed among elite junior middleweights, let alone the best at 160 lbs. The fight was a big-money opportunity for Golovkin, who was expected to roll through Brook. And in the most important sense, he did just that, forcing Brook's trainer, Dominic Ingle to stop the fight in the fifth round. But Brook had his moments and probably won two of the first four rounds of the fight. 

Boxing fans haven't been accustomed to seeing Golovkin struggle. Watching Brook tag him with right uppercuts and straight right hand counters was certainly an unusual sight. To be fair to Golovkin, he was facing a truly excellent sharpshooter, one of the best in the sport at "make him miss and make him pay." When Golovkin went wide with his left hook, Brook landed sharp counters. During stretches of the fight where GGG refused to come in behind a jab, Brook pasted him with solid combinations. 

Although Brook was winning a number of battles in the ring during the first four rounds, he was losing the greater war. Golovkin repeatedly connected with enormous left hands to the body and head. By the end of the first, Brook looked like he was ready to fall over after a left hook to the liver. During the second round, his right eye was cut and it was quickly becoming a problem. In the fifth, Brook stopped moving and could no longer defend himself against Golovkin's artillery. Ultimately, it was a humane stoppage by Ingle – an unpopular move in some corners of boxing fandom – but the right one. After the fight, Brook was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a broken eye socket.

From one perspective, stopping Brook in the fifth round was certainly a successful, if not altogether expected, endeavor for Golovkin. However, in assessing Golovkin by his previous lofty standards, his performance was wanting in a few areas. (In the post-fight interview, Golovkin graded himself a "3 or 4" out of 10.) He was far too knockout-happy in the fight, abandoning his boxing fundamentals to seek a quick knockout. He threw a number of wide left hooks from way out of position, providing Brook with an opportunity to counter them. In addition, he kept his jab holstered throughout the fight, a decision that resulted in getting hit with more shots than necessary. Yes, Golovkin had the chin to withstand Brook's power, but that's not an approach which will work against bigger punchers. And taking more shots than needed is never a good strategy.

Nevertheless, Golovkin's footwork was still exemplary. Expertly cutting off the ring, he was successful in forcing Brook to the ropes at many points in the fight. Brook couldn't rest as Golovkin pushed the pace.

Even though GGG did look bad when he missed a number of wide left hooks, he landed enough of them to help secure the victory. It's clear that his trainer, Abel Sanchez, saw something on film that indicated the lead left hook could be a weapon for his fighter. Yes, Golovkin was at times crude with the punch and fired it from out of range but ultimately he successfully followed the plan. Golovkin's body shots helped to take away Brook's legs as well. In just five rounds, Golovkin had outmaneuvered Brook in the ring, both physically and mentally. Brook was left with his arms down against the ropes, pretending that he was unfazed by Golovkin's punishment and ferocious pace. No one was buying Brook's story, least of all his trainer.

Brook didn't last 15 minutes. 


In one of the best fights of the year, pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez moved up to junior bantamweight to defeat longtime champion Carlos Cuadras, claiming a world title in his fourth division. Coming into the fight, Gonzalez was 45-0 with 38 knockouts and hadn't had a competitive distance fight in almost four years. Cuadras also entered the matchup as an undefeated boxer with a lofty knockout rate (35-0-1, 27 KOs). Despite being a champion for over two years at 115-lbs., Cuadras was a relatively unknown quantity to a majority of U.S. boxing fans. Most of his fights had occurred in Mexico and Japan and they received scant coverage outside of those markets. However, boxing aficionados were certainly enthusiastic about the matchup, with Cuadras possessing the athleticism, chin, hand speed and self-belief to give Gonzalez problems.  

Although I believed that Gonzalez would win a close unanimous decision against Cuadras, which he ultimately did (115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 – the last one being off the mark), the fight played out far differently than I had anticipated. Instead of gradually working his way into the fight, Gonzalez practically ran at Cuadras with pressure. Displaying perhaps the best foot speed of his career, Gonzalez frenetically charged after Cuadras, slipping jabs, closing the distance and landing straight right hands, left hooks and uppercuts. Cuadras was having some moments early in the fight but it took him a few rounds to adjust to Gonzalez's intensity and pressure. 

In a similar vein, conventional wisdom said that Cuadras would start off well early in the bout but gradually succumb to Gonzalez's superior skills, accuracy and offensive creativity; yet that didn't happen as Cuadras was the fresher (and better) boxer throughout much of the second half. Cuadras held his ground more in the fight's latter rounds and had sustained success with quick flurries on the inside and single shots (mostly left hooks and straight rights) from the outside.

To my eyes, the fight ended in a standstill. (But I wasn't exactly...standing still. I was up off my couch shouting like a lunatic during the thrilling final round.) I scored the bout 114-114. From my vantage point, neither fighter truly imposed his will on the other. Cuadras, although less marked up than Gonzalez, spent a lot of the fight in retreat and ate a ton of Gonzalez's combinations. Gonzalez was visibly distressed at points in the bout and was certainly hurt two or three times. As the fight wore on, Cuadras often got the better of their exchanges but Gonzalez was more consistent and had the better work rate in many rounds. And I thought that there were at least four swing rounds that could have gone either way. It was a difficult fight to score and much of that can be attributed to the quality work that was done by both boxers. 

After the fight, Cuadras believed that he had won the fight and that he wasn't given enough credit from the judges. However, Saturday wasn't Cuadras' first rodeo. If you're going to be fighting off the back foot in many of the rounds, you better win them big. When rounds are close, judges will often side with the aggressor, irrespective of how effective he was. But Gonzalez wasn't just flailing away and missing shots, he WAS landing with excellent punches. That they didn't hurt Cuadras is secondary; they were scoring with the judges. Gonzalez was the one pushing the fight and connecting more frequently — these things matter. Ultimately, Cuadras didn't do enough to take it out of the judges’ hands, either by knockout or by winning rounds so clearly that it would be obvious to whoever was scoring. So Cuadras has a case for a draw or even a close victory, but it's just a case. He wasn't definitively the better fighter on Saturday. 

Gonzalez shouldn't be marked off for his performance. Yes, his punches didn't seem to have the same effect that they had at 112 lbs. and he lacked some of his offensive dynamism of past fights but much of that can be attributed to Cuadras. Gonzalez faced the most difficult opponent of his career. That he didn't entirely separate himself from a top-two fighter in a bigger division isn't a knock against him; it's an illustration of just how good Gonzalez is. Without having the punching power or speed advantages that he enjoyed in most of his fights throughout his career, he still found a way to win the fight on the judges' scorecards. Yes, it's possible that more of his fights will continue to be competitive at 115 lbs. but isn't that we want to see? One-sided showcases are fun every once in a while but I'd always choose a great fight over a mismatch. And if Gonzalez now happens to be in more competitive bouts at the higher weights, we win. 


In the 12th round of Robert Easter, Jr.'s match against Richard Commey on Friday, a pivotal moment transpired that showed how much the young lightweight from Ohio still has to learn in the boxing ring. Cracking Commey with a huge right hand at the start of the round, Easter had an opportunity to end the nip-and-tuck bout. Commey, trapped along the ropes, bending over in anguish and barely throwing back, somehow managed to survive the round. 

Easter started off doing the right things after Commey was hurt. He placed his shots well and didn't neglect the body. However, as the 12th continued to progress, his technique deteriorated, allowing Commey to remain in the fight. By failing to maintain appropriate distance, Easter enabled Commey to tie him up with relative ease. He also began to smother his own work by fighting too close to Commey, which took the sting off of a lot of his shots. Commey deserves credit for hanging on like a pro but he was there to be finished – and Easter left him off the hook.  

Ultimately, Easter would win a split decision, which was a fair verdict (115-112, 114-113 and 113-114). The 12th round secured the victory for him. However, he was one measly point away from losing the fight and that's too thin a margin to be letting wounded prey stick around. 

Easter, at 25 years old, has amassed a record of 18-0 in less than four years as a professional boxer. He's now won a title at lightweight but he's far from a finished product. Yes, he has the size, power, punch arsenal and chin to be a factor against anyone in the division. However, as we've seen repeatedly in boxing, it takes more than skills at the top level of the sport. Easter's lack of composure in finishing Friday's fight could be an opportunity for a learning experience. Young fighters do go through growing pains and their maturation isn't always in a straight line. However, Friday's performance could suggest that Easter has a low Ring IQ. All fighters practice putting guys away in the gym. It's a fundamental part of a boxer's training. Yet, when Easter needed to execute on Friday against a severely diminished opponent, he looked levels beneath a top fighter.

Lightweight has become an excellent division with fighters such as Linares, Crolla, Zlaticanin, Flanagan, and most likely Mikey Garcia, patrolling its top end. These are experienced talents with high Ring IQs; they don't beat themselves (well, Linares' skin sometimes betrays him, but that's a physical ailment not germane to this point). Perhaps I'm making too much of Easter's 12th round but I saw some potential warning signs. I think that he needs a few more developmental fights before he tries to unify titles. So, congratulations to him on the win. He is now a world champion. But without rapid improvements, he won't be long for the top rungs of the lightweight division. Yes, He's finally graduated but the real world can be hard and unforgiving.

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