Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Brook-Spence: Keys to the Fight

One of the premier matchups of 2017 takes place in Sheffield, England on Saturday between welterweight titlist Kell Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) and undefeated American Olympian Errol Spence, Jr. (21-0, 18 KOs). For Brook, Saturday's fight marks a homecoming for the Sheffield native and a chance to cement his status as one of the top welterweights in boxing. A win for Spence would formally announce his presence as one of the true rising stars in the sport. Both fighters possess a litany of knockout weapons and sterling boxing technique.

When last in a boxing ring, Brook suffered a massive beatdown in a middleweight fight against Gennady Golovkin. Although Brook had some success early in that fight, Golovkin's power and pressure were too much for him. He wound up suffering a broken orbital bone and didn't make it out of the fifth round. In a surprise to many, Brook insisting on dropping back two divisions to defend his welterweight crown even though he had struggled with the 147-lb. limit in the past. 

Spence has faced limited opposition in his rise to a title shot. He knocked out his two best opponents with ease (Leonard Bundu and Chris Algieri) and lost no more than a couple of rounds in his developmental fights. Despite being relatively untested in his professional career, Spence enters Saturday's fight brimming with confidence. 

Brook-Spence will be a proving ground in determining which fighter is truly an elite fighter in the sport. Brook will have the edges in the home-field advantage and big-fight experience while Spence possesses the better knockout weapons and a blistering body attack. Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Brook's recovery and return to 147 lbs.

After a lengthy recuperation period, Brook will enter Saturday's fight having been out of the ring for almost nine months. Pictures that have circulated throughout his training camp appear to show the champion in fine physical form; however, experienced boxing observers know that still photos provide only a limited amount of information. 

Yes, it's certainly possible that Brook will make weight without a hitch but many important questions should be raised. How intense was Brook's sparring during camp? Was training devoted primarily to cutting weight or is he in peak fighting form? Is his body still comfortable at 147? And perhaps most importantly, how good is his eye? Can he still see punches like he once did? Is there lingering scar tissue that could open up during the fight?

We don't know the answers to these questions at this point but they are central in determining a winner for Saturday's fight. The difference between a healthy Brook and one fighting at a diminished capacity could be a significant factor in who earns the victory. 

2. Spence's chin

We know very little about Spence's chin. Anyone who isn't in Spence's camp that claims to know if he can take a punch is being untruthful. Spence's ledger of opponents is devoid of even a moderate puncher. He didn't even face a trial horse or gatekeeper on his way up that could flash a little leather. 

At this point, we don't know if Spence's chin is a liability or an asset. It's imperative for Brook to find out about Spence's whiskers on Saturday, and as soon as he can. Brook's game plan should center on landing big shots early to test his younger foe. If Spence seems to take shots well, Brook can segue into a "Plan A." However, if Spence doesn't respond well to Brook's power punches then Kell has to attack with a more aggressive "Plan B." It's incumbent for a fighter to test his opponent's potential weaknesses and if Brook starts out the fight as a jabber, he'll let a potential opportunity for victory fall by the wayside. 

3. Don't let Spence get comfortable

Although Spence has international amateur experience and even fought in the U.K. during the 2012 Olympics, he's never experienced a big-fight atmosphere like the one that he will encounter on Saturday. With 30,000 fans rooting against him and fighting six time zones away from home, Spence could certainly be apprehensive early in the bout. 

Brook must seize his advantage in the opening rounds. He should let his hands go immediately from the opening bell and even blitz Spence in the first couple of frames. He shouldn't provide Spence with the opportunity to get settled in the ring. Brook needs to dictate the pace and apply pressure. This approach might unsettle Spence and/or leave him vulnerable in the early rounds before he gains his footing. Going for an early KO might be the smart play for Brook. Of course it's a gamble, but it's one that's worth taking. 

4. Spence's body shots

Spence is one of the best body punchers in the sport. Going downstairs with jabs, straight lefts, right hooks and uppercuts, Spence breaks down opponents with thudding blows. Even though body work is typically a part of Spence's M.O. in the ring, against Brook, body shots may be the paramount key to a victory. 

Brook has had weight struggles in the past and one of the best ways to diminish a fighter who might not be in peak condition is going to the body. Perhaps Spence may need to sacrifice a few rounds early in the fight in order to land a handful of his best body shots. Those punches will soften Brook up for later in the fight and make him less active. Spence should go to Brook's body mercilessly. He may not match Brook's hand speed or punch volume but committed body punching will reduce Brook's advantages and create a more even playing field for later in the fight. 

5. Conditioning

Brook has had two difficult distance fights in his career – the first Carson Jones bout and the Shawn Porter match. Those two fights illustrated potential strengths and weaknesses. Brook was hurt badly in the Jones bout, hanging on to survive in the final round to secure the victory. An optimist would say that Brook successfully navigated around getting hurt. He knew how to tie up and buy time. He was successful in avoiding a finishing blow from Jones. A pessimist might claim that Brook was vulnerable late in the fight. Brook's defense deteriorated as the match continued and he started to throw increasing numbers of arm punches. 

Against Porter, Brook was far more poised. Facing a bullrush throughout most of the 12 rounds, Brook held his ground well and did a fantastic job of neutralizing Porter at many moments in the fight. Porter applied ferocious pressure and had his moments but Brook was able to remain composed and was the more effective puncher throughout the majority of the match. 

Spence has never had to go 12 rounds. In fact, he's only been 10 rounds once and that was an easy decision victory against Ronald Cruz. Spence hasn't been pressed at the world level and like his chin, we don't know how he'll hold up throughout 36 minutes of combat. 

It's tough to say who will have the advantage in the later rounds on Saturday. On one hand, Brook will be propped up by the crowd and has the experience of persevering through tough fights. However, it's also possible that Brook can lose focus and effectiveness as he fatigues. As for Spence, this is the great unknown. Perhaps he rises to the occasion, or maybe he'lll wilt under pressure. However, unless this fight ends in a quick knockout (which is a possibility), expect conditioning to play a major role. It's an open question as to which boxer has the edge in this department. 

Prediction:

I think that Brook-Spence will be one of the best fights on 2017. I'm expecting a shootout. Brook will come out guns blazing and will tag Spence with jabs, straight right hands and uppercuts early in the fight. Spence will get rocked early and will look vulnerable. A few uppercuts to the body will start to put Brook at bay and the match will eventually settle into a war of attrition, with both fighters landing eye-catching shots and taking turns reclaiming momentum in the bout. 

Ultimately, I think that Spence hangs on to survive in the first few rounds – he may even need to get off the canvas – but eventually his body attack will start to pay dividends. In the middle rounds, as the action takes place in center of the ring, Spence's body shots will have their desired effect; Brook's energy level will begin to flag. Brook will continue to throw and land but the sting in his shots will dissipate. As the fight progresses into the back third, Spence will up his attack and continue his body assault. Eventually, a left to the body sends Brook to the canvas, and he won't be able to beat the count. 

Errol Spence, Jr. KO 9 Kell Brook

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast previews a big fight weekend. Brandon Stubbs and I answer the following questions: Is there anything left for Terence Crawford at 140? Is Mayweather Promotions taking a big risk by having Gervonta Davis go to England to make his first title defense? And what the hell has happened to Gary Russell's career?
 
We also talked about my upcoming trip to the U.K. for Brook-Spence. Other topics include the differences between Golden Boy and the PBC in how they develop fighters and a look back at key moments  in James Toney's wonderful career.

Blog Talk Radio Link:
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Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

ITR Boxing Radio-- Canelo-Chavez Post-Fight Roundtable

I participated in a roundtable late night on Lucas Ketelle's ITR Boxing Radio podcast after the Canelo-Chavez fight. There was lots of good stuff on the panel, which included Rory Gerbal and Nathan Davies. We also spent a lot of talking about the September's Golovkin-Canelo matchup. I come in at the nine-minute mark. Click here to listen.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Canelo-Chavez: Keys to the Fight

A scintillating All-Mexican showdown takes place on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (48-1-1, 34 KOs) and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (50-2-1, 32 KOs). The fight sold out in a matter of hours and Vegas will be packed with fight fans for Cinco de Mayo weekend, a traditional date for big boxing matchups. Canelo-Chavez pits the two grand names of Mexican boxing against each other in a battle for supreme bragging rights. No title belts will be on the line, just pride. The fight will be contested at a catchweight of 164.5 lbs., with significant penalties for Chavez if he fails to make the contractual limit.

No manufactured drama has been needed in the build up to the fight as the two combatants harbor genuine antipathy towards each other. Chavez, the scion of perhaps the most famous Mexican boxer of all time (Julio Cesar Chavez, Sr.) still maintains the support of millions of fight fans who idolized his father. Canelo, at only 26, is one of the genuine superstars in the sport and fancies himself as the rightful heir to Floyd Mayweather's title as the biggest boxing draw in America. The fighters hail from different parts of Mexico (Canelo from Guadalajara and Chavez from Culiacan) and once upon a time their careers were built on rival Mexican boxing networks. Both want to assume the mantle of the most popular Mexican fighter of this era.

To this point, Canelo's star has shined the brighter of the two. Winning multiple titles at junior middleweight and becoming the lineal middleweight champ (with his only loss coming to Floyd Mayweather, no crime in that), Canelo has beaten several notable fighters during his ascension to the top of the boxing food chain. Chavez did win a belt at middleweight, but he's never beaten an elite fighter. In his last high-profile fight in 2015, he refused to answer the bell for the 10th round against Andrzej Fonfara. Despite considerable talent, his training has frequently been haphazard. He's failed numerous drug tests and has often lacked even the rudiments of professionalism. 

A Canelo-Chavez fight had been discussed for many years but several factors, including promotional differences, Chavez's weight escalation and animus between the two sides, kept the bout from happening. However, Canelo, in the midst of avoiding unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin (let's call it for what it is), needed a suitable dance partner that could guarantee a large payday; enter Chavez. And although Chavez hasn't appeared to be in top form in recent years, he still possesses the body attack and reach to trouble smaller fighters. Canelo remains a comfortable betting favorite in the fight but Chavez certainly has a vocal minority who believe that he has the attributes to get the job done. 

Read below for the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Chavez's state of mind

Chavez enlisted Hall of Fame trainer Nacho Beristain to help prepare him for this fight. Beristain, who had such success with the Marquez brothers, Daniel Zaragoza and many others, is not a trainer to be trifled with. His fighters are almost always in great shape and are well prepared in the ring. Beristain is a proud man and surely isn't taking this assignment as a lark. He'll be there to win. 

But let's face it: Freddie Roach couldn't control Chavez in training camp and a number of top boxing coaches refused to work with the fighter. Chavez's (lack of) training history speaks for itself. He rarely stays in shape between fights and he's never adhered to a monastic existence during camp. 

Perhaps Beristain will be able to reach Chavez. Maybe Chavez will realize that Saturday's fight will be his last, best chance to make a significant impression in boxing. It's possible that the Mexican rivalry will motivate him like never before. However, one must also consider that Chavez has a self-sabotaging streak. It wouldn't be shocking to hear negative stories about his training camp wafting throughout the boxing ether immediately after the fight. In short, we just don't know which Chavez will enter the ring on Saturday and this uncertainly is a large selling point in the match. Sure, Chavez might put forth a listless performance on Saturday but what if he's the same guy who stopped Andy Lee and came within seconds of knocking out former middleweight king Sergio Martinez? That guy has a shot. Right?

2. Size and weight

Prior to this fight, much had been made about Canelo's preferred weight. Even though he had wrestled the middleweight title from Miguel Cotto, Canelo has never weighed in at more than 155 lbs. for a fight. His team insisted that he wasn't a full-fledged middleweight and he dropped down to win yet another title at junior middleweight. But now suddenly he will be fighting on Saturday in the super middleweight division. 

Although much of Canelo's weight demands smack of gamesmanship (the term "Caneloweight" was coined to denote this phenomenon), he will have a significant weight disadvantage on Saturday. And although I never believed Golden Boy Promotions' spin that Alvarez wasn't a middleweight (he routinely stepped into the ring around 170 lbs.), he's also not a cruiserweight. Chavez has ballooned to over 180 lbs. on fight night. He has a much larger frame than Alvarez does and he uses his physicality to tire opponents, leaning on them and attacking their body. Chavez will also have advantages in height and reach. His long jab will be a factor and his opponents often make the mistake of believing that they are out of range against him only to get tagged by his probing straight right hand. 

However, all of this is moot if Chavez comes into the fight as a dried-out skeleton. He hasn't weighed in at 164.5 lbs. or lower in five years. It's unlikely that he's really sniffed that weight since facing Martinez back in 2012. If he really struggles to make the catchweight limit, all of his advantages will be for naught. He won't have the energy, agility, or endurance to launch a consistent attack. If Chavez does in fact make weight, the question will be did he shed pounds the correct way, or did he have to go on a prolonged hunger strike to get below the limit. This factor will play a large role in how much success Chavez has on Saturday. 

3. Canelo against a puncher

You won't find many punchers on Canelo's resume. Erislandy Lara could certainly hit hard, but he spent most of his fight with Alvarez avoiding exchanges. Cotto was a strong puncher at welterweight and below but he doesn't really pack a huge punch at 154. Pound-for-pound, Chavez isn't necessarily a huge puncher. Many of his knockouts have come against overmatched guys and/or smaller fighters. And let's remember that Canelo will certainly be the undersized one on Saturday. 

We don't know if Canelo can take a good punch from a guy who could be 185 lbs. on fight night. And forget the head shots for a moment, Chavez can unleash a vicious body assault, with his left hook to the body being his primary weapon. Can Canelo withstand a body attack from a much bigger guy? 

Canelo has demonstrated a sturdy chin throughout his career but weight classes do matter in boxing. At a certain point, Canelo's chin could betray him, especially against a much bigger fighter. Will that happen on Saturday?

4. Canelo's boxing skills

Certainly the blueprint for Canelo will be to box Chavez and avoid prolonged exchanges on the inside. He'll have to get in-and-out of the pocket with quick flurries. His jab and right hand to the body will be significant weapons in attacking Chavez. In addition, Canelo needs to be patient. Chavez's footwork can be crude and he often misjudges range, reaching with his punches or even jabbing from too close. Canelo will have opportunities to counterpunch. It's incumbent for him to remain poised in the ring. As he waits for Chavez to make mistakes, he can score with quick single punches and brief combinations. These don't have to be big shots but they just have to land. 

Although Canelo isn't necessary fast on his feet, he understands how to use angles to initiate offense and how to cut off the ring (as long as that opponent isn't Mayweather). Canelo will need to use the ring to his advantage on Saturday. He'll have to circle Chavez and must leave the pocket once he's finished his work. If Chavez decides to fight off the back foot (which is a technique that he's used in the past), Alvarez will need to apply smart pressure without falling into Chavez's traps. Again, Alvarez will be best as a counterpuncher on Saturday. His lead punches should be effective but vanilla. His goal should be to force Chavez into making mistakes. Once this happens, Canelo can use his creative combinations to assert his superiority in the ring. 

5. Pride 

Pride will be a double-edged sword on Saturday. For Chavez, perhaps this fight will inspire him to come into the ring in the best shape of his career. He'll know how much is riding on this opportunity. Should he win, he'll return home to an adoring crowd and will finally get universal respect from the boxing community. For Alvarez, perhaps pride could be a negative factor for this fight. I'm sure that he wants to put on a show for his fans. No doubt it will be important for him to assert his dominance over Chavez. But will these urges lead to taking unnecessary chances and making mistakes? Will he get overeager?

Emotion will probably help Chavez on Saturday. His fans will push him, goad him, force him to dig down. Canelo's supporters will certainly be loud as well. But Canelo will be at his best boxing, taking away the frenzy of the crowd (especially early in the fight). Canelo doesn't want a war and shouldn't let one develop. However, if Canelo gets dragged into that type of fight, you can bet that his sense of pride will have gotten the better of him. Canelo usually runs very cool in the ring but Saturday isn't a typical fight. If he loses his composure in the ring because of machismo, that will provide Chavez with a significant opportunity to win. 

Prediction:

The optimist in me says that Chavez will make weight and will be in at least suitable shape for the fight, but I wouldn't bet my house on that. All joking aside, I strongly believe that Chavez will feed off of the crowd and will be most dangerous in the first half of the fight; let's say from rounds three to six. I think that he'll even have some moments where he'll land some authoritative shots – snapping Canelo's head back with the jab, going to his body with the left hook and surprising him with some right hands from range. 

Ultimately, this match will be won by the fighter who's acted like a professional throughout his career, the one who's consistently trained and made weight. In the second half of the fight, Chavez's emotional high will dissipate and he'll be left with flagging energy and stamina issues. Although I expect Canelo to have some good stretches early in the fight as well (scoring here and there and winning the ring generalship battle), it's in the back half of the fight where he will really separate himself. Eventually, he'll start to exploit holes in Chavez's defense as Junior tires. As the fight progresses, Canelo will land his scintillating counters with more regularity. I expect him to dominate the final third of the bout. I think that pride will help push Chavez to the final bell but there will be no uncertainty as to whom won the fight. 

Saul Alvarez defeats Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. by unanimous decision. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Joshua-Klitschko

Saturday's epic battle between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko should immediately be placed into the annals of unforgettable heavyweight fights; it was definitional of the phrase "instant classic." Both fighters hit the canvas and pulled themselves up from the depths of defeat to rally. The young lion was tested as he'd never been before and the old warrior demonstrated for perhaps the final time as to why he reigned as such a formidable champion. Featuring wild momentum swings and thrilling displays of skill, perseverance and heart, boxing fans were treated to a truly captivating contest. 

Facing perhaps the first moments of self-doubt in his career, as well as physical exhaustion, Joshua bested a great version of Klitschko, the former standard-bearer at heavyweight. Prior to the bout's final moments, Joshua's victory was far from certain. He had to survive a vicious knockdown in the sixth and needed to regather himself during the championship rounds to earn the victory. In the end, the ledger will read "Anthony Joshua TKO 11 Wladimir Klitschko," but that description belies the riveting nature of the match, the implications on boxing's present and future, and the elevation of both combatants in the aftermath of the fight.

Three rounds of Joshua-Klitschko will forever be remembered. The fifth started with Joshua running out of his corner and connecting with a blistering left hook. Klitschko was immediately hurt from the shot and within seconds he dropped to the canvas from Joshua's withering follow-up assault.

Klitschko, who earlier in his career was the target of significant (if somewhat undeserved) criticism for being mentally fragile, now faced an inflection point. He could admit defeat, recognizing that Joshua's power and athleticism were too much for a 41-year old, or, he could make a courageous last stand in his career. Had Klitschko capitulated, few boxing fans would've been surprised. After all, Klitschko was coming back into the ring after a long layoff, looked terrible in his last outing against Tyson Fury and ate some enormous shots from Joshua. He already had achieved a Hall of Fame-caliber career; his place in boxing's history as one of the sport's top-20 heavyweights had already been secured. 

However, Klitschko wasn't ready to pass the torch just yet. He sprang to his feet and with a combination of desperation and pride, stormed after Joshua. Landing straight right hands, a blistering left hook and two uppercuts (yes, that wasn't a typo; he threw uppercuts!), Klitschko had Joshua stunned by the end of the round, seizing momentum in the fight. Heading back to his corner, Joshua realized that Klitschko was unlike any other opponent that he had faced as a professional. Joshua had landed his best hook, but it wasn't enough. 

Throughout his career, Klitschko's resiliency has always been underestimated. He came back from knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster to become the dominant heavyweight force of his era. How many times did he get up from knockdowns against Sanders and Sam Peter? Although not blessed with a granite chin, Klitschko has displayed heart on numerous occasions in the ring. 

After an excellent finish to the fifth, Klitschko began the sixth full of confidence. Early in the round, he landed his patented combination, the 1-2, to drop Joshua with devastating effect. Wlad's straight right hand sent Joshua back to the ropes and Joshua collapsed shortly afterward. In just a few minutes, Joshua went from the precipice of establishing his legend to full-on survival mode. Joshua was a non-factor for the rest of the sixth round. Hurt from Wlad's knockdown and gassed from punching himself out in the fifth, he held, grappled and used his legs to make it out of the round. 

Joshua didn't really reemerge in the fight until the ninth. He took the seventh off to regain his legs and finally started to throw significant punches in the eighth. In the ninth, he recovered his earlier form and launched a blistering assault on Wlad's body – it was the first round that he had won since the fifth. 

After 10 rounds, my scorecard was even. Joshua won almost all of the early rounds on work rate but Wlad had successfully clawed his way back. The fight was still on the table and it was unclear who had the momentum since Joshua and Klitschko had taken turns winning the previous two rounds. 

Aesthetically, the match was pleasing to watch. Featuring few clinches (more on that in a moment) and with both combatants fighting in offensive styles, the rounds flew by. Wlad looked as sprightly on his feet as he had in years. He was the one pivoting, creating angles and using creative defensive tricks to avoid a lot of Joshua's forays. Joshua was most effective as the stalker in the fight, moving mostly in straight lines and looking for opportunities to land his power shots. 

The beginning of the 11th round illustrated why there were so few clinches in the fight. Throughout Wlad's title reign, he had used strategic clinching to neutralize his opponents. His "jab-and-grab" style could be maddening to watch and stripped many of his fights of entertainment, but no one could deny the effectiveness of this tactic. However, Wlad clinched against Joshua sparingly, a deliberate choice by Klitschko and his trainer, Jonathon Banks. 

When a fighter attempts a clinch, he isn't always immediately successful in locking up an opponent. He may grab an arm or a shoulder but the other fighter might not be neutralized instantaneously. With many opponents, failing to immediately clinch might not be an issue because they lack the athleticism, skills or desire to fire shots when under that type of physical duress. However, Joshua possesses a menacing uppercut and that punch becomes an enormous weapon at close range. 

Early in the 11th, Wlad attempted a clinch. Perhaps because of fatigue, or rote muscle memory, he decided that he needed a break. However, his attempt was a clumsy one. And while his gloves were extended trying to lock Joshua up, Joshua unleashed a scorching uppercut that seemingly lifted Klitschko off the ground. The shot detonated with maximum force. Somehow, Wlad remained on his feet (let no one question his chin after that one) but Joshua followed up with an onslaught that sent Wlad to his knees. 

Again, Wlad made it to his feet. Joshua, sensing that his opponent might be ready to go, jumped on Klitschko as soon as the fight resumed. Pinning Wlad on the ropes, Joshua attacked with a number of heavy shots and connected with a sizzling right uppercut/left hook combo that sent Wlad down for a second time in the round. 

Somehow, Klitschko regained his faculties and beat the count (there was no quit in him). However, once the fight continued, he was offering nothing back offensively. Joshua wailed away with Wlad on the ropes and referee David Fields stepped in and stopped the fight. Perhaps there wasn't a finishing blow that landed during Joshua's final flurry but Klitschko was hurt and not throwing anything back. 

In the history of boxing's quick hooks, Saturday's stoppage doesn't even register. I think that Fields is a fine referee. He let both fighters come back from vicious knockdowns and I don't think that he should have any regrets from his officiating on Saturday. 

Ultimately, what made Joshua-Klitschko so satisfying is that both boxers were in world-class form, physically and mentally. When Joshua was on the canvas, there was no longer talk of coronation. He had to rise up from the abyss to earn his victory. Now, he will no longer be regarded as a protected fighter or a creation of media hype. He defeated Klitschko with superior punching power and by displaying a mental resolve that befits a champion. Joshua was pushed to the brink and he responded with guts and determination to vanquish a proud and menacing former champion. And Klitschko removed all doubts about his mental fortitude. Even at 41, he never stopped trying to win. 

After the fight, both boxers hit the right notes. Joshua revealed passion when addressing the crowd, hoping that his performance could help inspire others to follow their dreams. He bestowed the utmost respect upon Klitschko. Confident yet humble, Joshua has the makings of a great ambassador for the sport. 

Klitschko was gracious in defeat. Although acknowledging that the better man had won, Wlad beamed with pride in the fight's aftermath. Sure, he had wanted to win, but he performed to the best of his abilities. Always a sportsman, Wlad understood the enormity of the event and the implications of its result. Should this be the end of his career, he will leave the ring hearing only cheers from a crowd that was supposed to be hostile. There are few moral victories in boxing but I bet that Klitschko's post-fight reception from the 90,000 in Wembley will be one of the warmest memories of his career. 

As boxing fans, we have waited, seemingly interminably, to experience epochal moments in the sport. In this new century, we've suffered through so many desultory heavyweight fights. After decades of disappointment, we now have one to savor. We have a fight that speaks for our generation of boxing. Joshua-Klitschko may not have been Ali-Frazier I or even Bowe-Holyfield I, but it was a damn fine fight; a fantastic one – probably the most momentous heavyweight battle in over 20 years. 

There's no guarantee that the present heavyweight era will now be Anthony Joshua's. He still faces threats in the division from fighters such as Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. However, he delivered a show-stopping performance on Saturday that can never be taken away from him. For whatever happens throughout the rest of his career, he will always have the following legacy: he made heavyweight boxing matter again. His effort made the sports world take notice of a fresh new talent. His performance helped create new fans of the sport and will increase boxing's demand and reach. These are unassailable accomplishments. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Joshua-Klitschko: Keys to the Fight

The biggest heavyweight fight since Lewis-Tyson takes place on Saturday at Wembley Stadium in London as British phenom Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) faces former heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs). This matchup presents the ultimate crossroads fight – the young lion against the grizzled veteran. Klitschko, 41, lost his title belts to Tyson Fury in 2015 and enters the ring coming off of a 17-month layoff. Joshua, 27, will be making the third defense of his title belt, with Klitschko representing by far his toughest opponent to date. 

Both fighters possess one-punch knockout ability. Although Joshua has the advantages of youth and athleticism, Klitschko has vast experience in big fights and a bevy of veteran tricks. Will Saturday represent an official changing of the guard in the heavyweight division or will Klitschko reaffirm his Hall of Fame status in the ring? Will Joshua be exposed as a pretender to the heavyweight throne or will he emerge as the next great champion in boxing's glamour division? The possibilities are mouth-watering. 

Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. What does Wlad have left? 

It's no secret that Wlad looked like an old fighter against Fury. Unable to consistently pull the trigger and flummoxed by Fury's style, Klitschko, a dominating force for over a decade in the division, suddenly was mortal. Now, to be fair to Wlad, it must be said that Fury had a brilliant game plan. He selectively engaged and also confused Wlad by switching stances. Fury also used his wide reach to thwart Klitschko's jab. 

Although Joshua possesses height, reach and a great jab, he hasn't risen to his status in the sport by being cute on the outside. He won't be following the Fury game plan. He's there to knock guys out. This will provide Klitschko with more opportunities to engage than he had against Fury. But can Wlad still let his hands go? Can he capitalize on openings and opportunities? 

Going by the statistics, the smart bet would be to pick against the older, inactive fighter. However, Wlad only needs to land one of his thunderbolts to win. With his right hand and left hooks as knockout weapons, he has several viable paths to victory. But can he still execute?

2. Joshua's chin.

Joshua hasn't exactly faced a Murderers' Row of opponents through this point of his career. And even that statement is too kind. Of all of Joshua's opponents, perhaps only Dillian Whyte and Dominic Breazeale could even be considered as "B-class" fighters. In addition, Joshua has infrequently shared the ring with anyone who could be regarded as a puncher. 

Joshua did get tagged by Whyte in their fight and was visibly shaken. However, he stayed on his feet and recovered to get a knockout win. Although Whyte's power is notable, it doesn't come close to approaching Wladimir's. If Joshua can withstand Klitschko's power, he will have a much easier road to victory on Saturday. If he can't, he'll be in a world of trouble. 

3. Wlad's left hook. 

Certainly Joshua has sparred with fighters who possess solid jabs and right crosses. However, I highly doubt Joshua has encountered a heavyweight who can hook like Wladimir can. Klitschko's left hook is a punishing weapon. Notably, he ended fights against Ray Austin and Kubrat Pulev with that punch. It's a short, compact shot that Wlad often lands with maximum detonation. 

Wlad uses the hook in two different ways. He'll lead with it and he'll also hook off the jab (throwing the left hook after the jab as part of a combination). The uniqueness of Wlad's hook is that it's so well disguised. At first, it looks like another jab is coming. Fighters get hit with his jab so often that they become overly concerned with the shot and set their defenses to thwart it. Sensing this, Wlad will sneak in a hook, and often with lethal consequences. 

I think that Wlad's hook will be his key punch of the fight. If he can establish it with regularity, Joshua will have difficulty knowing where the shots will be coming from and how to defend himself against them. Klitschko's hook will tell us how well Joshua can improvise and make adjustments in the ring. If he is adequately prepared for that punch and/or can make the necessary changes to negate Wlad's hook, then Klitschko will be down a major weapon in the fight. However, Wlad will have the element of surprise with the shot early in the match. If he can land it early, he can change the trajectory of the fight. 

4. Joshua must avoid clinches. 

Everyone knows that Klitschko hates fighting on the inside. Without possessing an uppercut and almost pathologically unwilling to go the body, Klitschko ties up whenever he can at close range. His former trainer, Emanuel Steward, taught him a variety of techniques to lock down an opponent in the trenches. Using his arms, elbows and shoulders to grapple and clinch, Klitschko has been successful at neutralizing opponents who want to work on the inside. 

Joshua goes to the body with regularity and that's been a significant factor in his success as a fighter. He likes to go downstairs with jabs, right hands and left hooks. And frankly, against an older fighter who doesn't want to work on the inside, he must continue to employ this approach. However, he needs to be clever when attacking Klitschko at close range. He must use angles when initiating offense and come inside behind punches. He has to rely on his athleticism, firing quick shots to the body before he can be clinched. Quick lateral movement will help. When Wlad does start to grapple, it's imperative that Joshua works with a free hand whenever possible. 

Joshua's refusal to accept the clinch is vital. Psychologically, Joshua's mindset for the fight must be that whenever he's in a clinch, he's losing. He has to refuse clinches at all junctures and bang away at Klitschko whenever possible. This won't be an easy undertaking for Joshua but it's of paramount importance. 

5. Finishing ability.

In Saturday's fight, it won't be enough to land a bomb here and there and be assured of a victory. Both fighters have one-punch knockout power and have demonstrated recuperative powers. Klitschko, who once upon a time was thought of as chinny, has come off the deck to win before in his career and has more recently taken huge shots from Mariusz Wach and Kubrat Pulev on his road to victory. He's come a long way from his Corrie Sanders days. Joshua was rocked against Whyte but he steadied himself and earned a knockout victory. 

Neither fighter can afford to let a hurt opponent off the hook. The risks are too great. Either one can come back to knock out the other. Thus, it's imperative to put down wounded prey. Does Joshua have the technique and creativity to finish the kill? Can he avoid the clinches and delays if Klitschko is hurt? Does Wlad still possess the athleticism and quick movement to stop Joshua if he's hurt? Can he still put punches together to get the KO? Can he corral Joshua's movement? Who will be the one to finish the job? 

6. Trainers. 

After Steward's passing, Klitschko enlisted Jonathon Banks, a former sparring partner and one of Steward's protégés, as his next cornerman. Klitschko and Banks had a spectacular performance against Pulev but they were both awful against Fury. Banks lacked urgency in the Fury fight, failing to motivate Klitschko or notify him that he was well behind in the match. In addition, Banks was giving Klitschko specific instructions in that fight that were nonsensical, such as telling Wlad to jab to the head and body in the 10th round – even though Klitschko was well behind in the fight and that he never goes to the body. It was if Banks had never seen Klitschko fight before! 

Nevertheless, Klitschko has retained Banks for Saturday's match. Certainly Klitschko will be in good condition for Saturday's fight but does Banks have the right game plan to defeat Joshua? Can he make adjustments in the corner and give Klitschko the proper instruction between rounds? 

Joshua will be trained by Rob McCracken, an excellent coach who guided Carl Froch throughout his notable career (which included several huge fights). McCracken, serving as Team Great Britain's head trainer, has also been instrumental in resurrecting Britain's amateur boxing program. 

McCracken has always impressed me with inventive game plans and matching the strengths of his fighter with the weaknesses of his opponents. Joshua will need a lot of assistance with Klitschko and McCracken has been through the wars. He's rallied fighters when they were down on the cards or sprawled out on the canvas. He's honest in the corner and cogent with directions. If the fight comes down to which side makes the better adjustments, my money will certainly be on Joshua/McCracken. 

Prediction:

In a perfect world, I'd love to see Joshua blitz Klitschko from the opening bell and test the older fighter's body and desire. However, I don't think that Klitschko will be a willing participant in that endeavor. Wlad will be overly cautious during the early rounds, trying to establish his pace in the fight and contain Joshua's explosiveness. Expect very few landed punches in the opening three frames. Both boxers will look for ways into the fight. Joshua will try to open Klitschko up with quick one-two combinations and Wlad will attempt to establish the jab. 

As the fight progresses, I expect Joshua to relax more and start to increase his work rate. Using his athleticism, Joshua will find success going in and out with quick forays. Eventually, he will see that Klitschko's reaction times aren't sufficient enough to defend against that approach. Joshua will continue to take more chances as he finds success. 

Ultimately, I think that Joshua's punch fluidity and athleticism will be too much for the 41-year-old to handle. Joshua will eventually unleash three-and-four punch combinations and Klitschko won't be able to defend himself properly. I'm looking for Joshua to land a finishing blow, either a left hook or a straight right hand, at the end of a lengthy combination. Wlad might block the first two shots, but numbers three and four will put him down for good. 

Anthony Joshua KO 6 Wladimir Klitschko. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face podcast previews Saturday's huge fight between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. Brandon and I also showed Shawn Porter a lot of love for his victory over Andre Berto and were impressed with Jermell Charlo's stunning knockout of Charles Hatley. In addition, we talked about the featherweight division and who we think will emerge as the top fighter at 126. Click on the links below to listen:


Blog Talk Radio Link
Stitcher Link 


Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DiBella on Building Brooklyn Boxing

Observing promoter Lou DiBella on a Brooklyn fight night is to see a man in his element. Checking on attendance figures, making last-minute phone calls, hobnobbing with fight personnel, sparring with media members, giving instructions to his staff, greeting locals at a neighborhood restaurant, DiBella is in constant action. 

DiBella, a former HBO executive, has been helping to promote shows in New York for more than 15 years but with the addition of Barclays Center to the regional landscape and the plethora of boxing talents fighting under the PBC banner, the time is right to expand boxing's landscape in the Big Apple, and beyond. 

For an event like the recent Thurman-Garcia fight, DiBella functioned as the lead promoter of record.  Throughout the promotion of the event and during fight week itself, DiBella assumed many roles. He served as master of ceremonies for the pre- and post-fight press conferences and was the main media liaison for the promotion. He helped set ticket prices and was instrumental in the overall pricing strategy for the event. DiBella placed a few of his fighters on the undercard and had to match those bouts. During fight week, he helped create media availabilities, interview opportunities and public events to expose Thurman and Garcia to additional audiences. 

DiBella's work for that promotion helped create a successful event. Thurman-Garcia was one of the biggest fights in PBC's three-year history. The fight drew a strong rating on CBS and set Barclays Center boxing records for attendance and live gate.

DiBella laughs at criticism that he is somehow a "sham promoter" for PBC events. Originally from the Flatbush area of Brooklyn, DiBella has put a lot of sweat equity into building the boxing program at Barclays Center (their next event will be Saturday's Berto-Porter card). Working with Al Haymon and Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, DiBella has helped grow the Brooklyn boxing market. In just over two years of involvement with the PBC, DiBella has seen the fruits of his labor pay off. Attendance continues to increase; now boxing routinely tops 10,000 at Barclays. And as DiBella points out, those numbers aren't predicated on one particular fighter, but the overall Brooklyn Boxing brand. 

Currently, DiBella wears a number of hats in professional boxing. He promotes dozens of his own fighters, many of whom are up-and-coming prospects. As mentioned, he's the promoter of record for many of the PBC's largest shows, especially those that take place in New York. In addition, one of his big projects is pushing to elevate female professional boxing to a higher level of visibility. He's already placed Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano on larger shows.   

DiBella, not necessarily known to be an optimist, truly believes that there are many positive signs for boxing in the U.S. and New York in particular. He thinks that the PBC is putting out its best product since its inception. He's also relishing his role in building boxing in his hometown. 

I talked with DiBella at several points throughout the Thurman-Garcia promotion and broke bread with him on fight night. In addition, I also followed up with him about Berto-Porter to gain some additional insight regarding the Brooklyn Boxing brand. 

"I don't want to get out of boxing," DiBella said. "I said I didn't want to be in it unless I was making a difference. Over the last 12 months, I see a corner being turned and I think I'm a part of something that's very interesting...I'm not fooling myself. I'm here for a while." 

In talking about the development of the PBC and his overall working relationship with Al Haymon, DiBella, who has known Haymon for well over a decade, believes that the PBC, although acknowledging a learning curve for the series, has the chance to change how fans interact with and are exposed to boxing.

"He [Haymon] told me years ago, when he initially approached me," DiBella said, "that he was trying to change the paradigm, and that I was going to be someone he was going to come to when he was ready to discuss it. I didn’t know exactly what was coming but I knew long before the first PBC show that he was working on something big."

DiBella also gives plenty of credit to Haymon and Yormark as well for boxing's growth in New York City.  

"I haven't had a bad show to promote here in a long time," he said. "Now, all the stuff here is top-notch. Frampton-Santa Cruz, Jack-DeGale, Thurman-Porter, the Coney Island show for Errol Spence coming out of the Olympics. Those were all big events...we're putting out a good product." 

When asked about the secret to growing boxing in Brooklyn, DiBella was blunt about why he is a differentiating factor in the marketplace. 

"You've got to be here," he said. "I walk into the restaurant here and everybody knows me. I walk around the neighborhood. I know people all around." 

DiBella singled out Yormark's commitment in particular. Unlike many arena executives around the country, DiBella believes that Yormark understands the value of boxing and its role in connecting with the surrounding community.

"What differentiates Brett Yormark is that he’s all about creating a brand, like it’s a team, like it's part of a league – Brooklyn Boxing. His work with the PBC is an attempt to build Brooklyn Boxing, a boxing program. He works with PBC because he wants the regularity of its product." 

This week, DiBella has been working on the finishing touches for Berto-Porter. Even though neither boxer is from New York or a nearby geographical region, DiBella is pleased to stage the fight at Barclays Center. He expects the lower bowl of the arena to be filled by Saturday night. In addition, he doesn't think that with big fights in consecutive months at the arena that there is any concern with oversaturating the market.

He said, "Not worried. Here’s why. I built Berto on Broadway Boxing [DiBella's club boxing series in New York]. I started his career. He fought in New York with regularity. He’s a well-known commodity here, almost as if he’s a New York kid. And Porter had the biggest fight of his career here. He’s fought at the Barclays Center and he’s also a known commodity. That’s an easy fight to promote here. It’s a really good fight. Saturate me with really good fights. I know what to do with them. I’m fine with that."

Looking at fighters from his own promotional stable, which features a number of prospects who are rising in the various rankings organizations, DiBella believes that with the right matchups, he could have several potential headliners in arenas such as Barclays Center in the near future.  

"Someday, I think a guy like Regis Prograis could headline an event here," he said. "He has the ability. He’s just not ready yet. [Sergiy] Derevyanchenko could be a main event here. I think [Ivan] Baranchyk a million percent could be a main event here. It’s got to be like a Gatti-Ward scenario. I think we could make some really great matchups with him. Hot Rod [Radivoje Kalajdzic] has the ability to fight here, not as the A-side, but he could fight in a main event here." 

One aspect that would help grow boxing in the greater New York region is the addition of a mid-size venue that could hold cards for 3,000-8,000 fans. Although the Theater at Madison Square Garden fits into that slot, the MSG owners only stage a couple of boxing cards a year there, and the cost for that venue can be prohibitively expensive. DiBella acknowledges that there's a void in the New York marketplace. Although Barclays Center can be scaled down somewhat, mid-level shows could help expand the frequency of the boxing product in New York. In addition, those shows could help break local, national and international fighters on a larger scale. 

But those concerns are for another day. For DiBella, the wheels keep turning. He's thinking about ways to expand his fighters' visibility and how to build bigger events. There are hands to shake and late-night call sessions. Soon, he will be working with Yormark to expand the Brooklyn Boxing brand into the new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. DiBella finds himself in the thick of the action now; he's much closer to where he wants to be. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder/head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.