Thursday, August 10, 2017

Marquez, Klitschko and Bradley: Three Warriors

In the last ten days, three perennial members of boxing's elite announced their respective retirements. Juan Manuel Marquez, Wladimir Klitschko and Tim Bradley won numerous title belts and participated in myriad big fights during their careers. Each was among the defining combatants of their era of boxing. And although there were numerous differences between the three, including amateur career, country of origin, level of fan support and ring characteristics, each embodied the warrior spirit that we ask of our best.
 
Before going any further, let's address the elephant in the room: how can someone consider Wladimir Klitschko a warrior? To many fight fans, especially those who love heavyweight boxing, Klitschko, and his brother and fellow champion Vitali, personified all that was wrong with the most recent heavyweight era. Criticisms of the Klitschkos have been leveled at them for seemingly a generation. They were too robotic. They didn't take enough risks in the ring. Their successes were a product of their immense size instead of skill. They lost to lesser fighters. The era in which they fought was particularly poor.
 
It's not worth rebutting these critiques one-by-one. Some hold water while others fail after examining them with rigor and scrutiny. Nevertheless, Wladimir Klitschko was not the most popular of heavyweights, especially in America. (Though, he established a tremendous fan following in Germany and Eastern Europe, becoming one of the biggest ticket sellers of his time.)
 
However one may view Klitschko's career, his determination cannot be questioned. How many other fighters could regroup from devastating knockouts, like he suffered against Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, to reign atop a division for nearly a decade? What type of character must a fighter have to see his professional dreams shattered so conclusively and still make it back to number-one? Those two fights (and an earlier loss to Ross Puritty) weren't a simple matter of losing a controversial decision or getting out-pointed; they were utter annihilations.
 
Klitschko, the former gold medalist who was supposed to be the heir to the heavyweight throne, found himself mid-career without a belt or a chin. Yet somehow, throughout all that devastation, he had steely self-belief. With the help of trainer Emanuel Steward, he slowly rebuilt himself as a fighter. He learned how to use his height to limit his opponents' opportunities. He stuck to what he was good at: three punches – his jab, right cross and left hook.
 
And while his era wasn't populated with many great heavyweights (with the exception of his brother), he notched some impressive wins; scoring two victories over Samuel Peter, who was a hard-punching menace on his way up the boxing latter; dominating another super heavyweight Olympian in Alexander Povetkin; nullifying former cruiserweight champ David Haye and avenging his loss to Brewster. There were many other victories over contenders and pretenders, and he wound up making over 20 successful heavyweight defenses during his various title reigns. 
 
Even in his losses, Klitschko's warrior spirit shone. He got up three times from Corrie Sanders' bone-throttling left hands. Earlier this year, he survived three knockdowns against Anthony Joshua to lose while still on his feet.
 
The Joshua fight provided many boxing fans with a new appreciation or, perhaps, a reminder of Klitschko's gallantry and courage. After getting sent to the canvas in the fifth round, Klitschko immediately went on the offensive. Instead of folding, like many expected him to do, he blitzed Joshua with power shots, even throwing uppercuts, a punch that he so rarely felt comfortable in deploying throughout his career. There, Klitschko put it all on the line. Even though Joshua scored the 10-8 round, Klitschko closed the frame with the momentum.
 
Early in the next round, Klitschko landed his patented one-two, knocking Joshua down for the first time in his career. It was a stunning turn of events. Although Klitschko went for the knockout, he was unable to get it. Eventually, Joshua caught his second wind and would go on to finish Klitschko off in the 11th round. Even though Klitschko was the loser of the match, he received a fantastic ovation from the Wembley crowd. For they, and boxing fans around the world, saw a great example of the Klitschko's fighting spirit.
 
During Klitschko-Sanders, HBO commentator Larry Merchant said at the end of the first round, "It looks like the next big thing is going to become the last big bust." And yet there Klitschko was, over a decade a later, still ruling over the heavyweight division. Through intestinal fortitude, an ability to learn from mistakes, humility, perseverance and the desire for greatness, Klitschko rebuilt himself to become a Hall of Fame heavyweight. It's one of the most unusual career paths in modern boxing. While the boxing world believed that Klitschko was a hype job, a pretender, Wlad would wind up having the last laugh. Ever the sportsman, Klitschko is too much of a gentleman to admit such truths. But in his heart he knows that his self-belief propelled him farther than anyone in boxing would've believed. That must be some delicious satisfaction.
 
***
 
After receiving an undeserved decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in 2012, Tim Bradley's boxing career forever changed. He received death threats. His own promoter asked the state commission to open an investigation. He was deemed an unworthy dethroner of boxing royalty. 
 
It wasn't as if Bradley embarrassed himself in the first Pacquiao fight. He probably won three or four rounds, which was far better than most of Pacquiao's opponents were doing in those days. However, Bradley was now seen as an interloper and became an enemy of many boxing fans. 
 
Prior to the first Pacquiao fight, Bradley had amassed several accomplishments. He bested undefeated talents such as Lamont Peterson and Devon Alexander. He won his first title on the road in England against Junior Witter. Bradley came off the canvas twice to beat Kendall Holt. He was regarded as a blue-collar fighter who did what he needed to do to win. Although Bradley's style (which featured a lot of head-butting and grappling) wasn't everyone's cup of tea, he had never been a villain in professional boxing. But after the Pacquiao fight, many boxing fans considered him public enemy number-one, all because two lousy officials (who wouldn't be judging boxing 18 months after that fight) were incompetent.
 
Nine months after that fateful night against Pacquiao, Bradley returned to the ring with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to let boxing fans know that he wasn't the product of a gift decision; he was one of the best fighters in the world. However, in facing the hard-punching Ruslan Provodnikov, Bradley let his new-found sense of machismo get the better of him. In the first two rounds, he decided to stand and trade, which was a dreadful decision. By the second round, Bradley was essentially out on his feet, winging desperate punches while trying to fend off Provodnikov's onslaught. It looked as though just one more Provodnikov punch would end the fight, but Bradley never went down. 
 
Somehow, Bradley collected himself and started coming back. In fact, he was doing so well that Provodnikov's trainer, Freddie Roach, almost stopped the fight in the latter rounds. Bradley was putting on a boxing clinic and hurting Provodnikov in the process.
 
Understanding that he probably needed a knockout to win, Provodnikov attacked Bradley with a renewed sense of purpose in the 12th round. With a minute left, he detonated a left hook that sent Bradley to the other side of the ring. Immediately, Bradley's legs were jelly, his faculties seemingly not there. With time ticking down and Provodnikov's rally becoming all the more furious, Bradley made one of the best decisions of his career: he took a knee. With 12 seconds left, he kneeled on the canvas, buying time to survive the final round. Somehow, amidst all of the chaos and punishment in the bout's, frenetic and final moments, Bradley had the presence of mind to save himself and his chance of winning the fight. 
 
A few short minutes later, Bradley's final decision was rewarded as he wound up winning a razor-thin unanimous decision. Bradley's performance against Provodnikov almost strains credulity. He might've been out on his feet at numerous times in the match. Concussed during the bout, to this day he admits that he doesn't remember all of the events from that night. Despite absorbing superhuman punishment, he found a way to win. It will forever be his defining fight.
 
Of course, there were other highlights in Bradley's career. He was masterful in out-boxing the great Juan Manuel Marquez. He traded wild leather in a shootout against Diego Chaves. He somehow withstood an absolutely enormous bomb from Jessie Vargas in the closing seconds of their fight to secure a victory. He knocked out the irrepressible Brandon Rios with body shots. 
 
However, he was never able to solve the Pacquiao riddle. With two more opportunities to beat one of the masters of the era, Bradley came up short. In his last ring appearance, Bradley was sent down twice by Pacquiao. He had switched trainers and strategic approaches but he just couldn't get over the top against Manny.
 
Bradley ends his career at 33, but in his case, it's an old 33. He engaged in some blistering wars and absorbed a lot of punishment. Without size, power or blinding athleticism, he willed himself to become one of the best fighters in the sport. He did very well financially and from all accounts he has invested his money wisely. Bradley was also one of the more likable and honest figures in boxing. 
 
On a personal level, I'll always have a soft spot for Bradley. He was my first interview, back in December of 2011. This was before he fought Pacquiao or Marquez. At that moment, Bradley was a former junior welterweight champion without much of a fan following. A high-profile matchup against Devon Alexander was a dud at the box office and in the ring. Upset with his promotional situation, he moved to Top Rank in hopes of landing big fights and better paychecks. 
 
During that interview, I realized how improbable Bradley's journey truly was. After a good-but-not-great amateur career, he had very few attractive professional prospects. None of the big promoters expressed an interest in him. He started to make his bones under Thompson Boxing, fighting in half-filled hotel ballrooms in Ontario, California. When it was time for his first title fight against Junior Witter, he had never fought more than 90 miles from his home as a professional. And he certainly wasn't expected to beat Witter. After winning the title, he immediately became the most obscure American champion in the sport. Few had even heard of Bradley, let alone seen him in the ring.
 
Yet now he retires as one of the defining fighters of his era. In a few short years, he went from an unknown fighter from the California desert to a staple of HBO's boxing programming. He leaves the sport as a significant success story. Nothing was expected of him. Everything (with the exception of one decision) he earned. He came close to losing a number of fights but he somehow willed himself to outlast better boxers and bigger punchers. 
 
In the end, he leaves the sport making a wise decision, just like he did in the 12th round of the Provodnikov fight. There, in one moment of clarity, he provided himself with the best chance to win a fight. Now, with his retirement, he has the opportunity for a much better quality of life.
 
***
 
Juan Manuel Marquez will forever be linked with Manny Pacquiao. Through four intense battles, which were displays of boxing at its highest level, Marquez only recorded one official win. Marquez and many of his supporters still believe that he should've won all four fights, and with different judges perhaps that would be the case. 
  
However, on an even more fundamental level, think about what Marquez had to endure to even have an opportunity to win those fights. He survived five knockdowns in the series, including three in the first round of their initial bout. How many fighters can even remain standing or passably effective after three knockdowns? But Marquez didn't just merely survive that fight; he pressed on and won a lot of rounds. He stood toe-to-toe with one of the best offensive dynamos in modern boxing and fought him on essentially even terms for 42 rounds. Pacquiao had faster hands and feet and better one-punch power yet Marquez, with expert intelligence, technique and punch placement, was his equal. 
 
Before the Pacquiao fights, Marquez was regarded as the least popular member of the great Mexican featherweight triumvirate, which included Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. And although Marquez was considered a talented counterpuncher during that time, he didn't thrill the rabid Mexican and Mexican-American fan bases like his rivals did. Respected more than beloved, he was essentially on the outside looking in. 
 
But that first Pacquiao fight forever changed his reputation. After that battle, he was no longer dismissed as a "technician." He displayed a warrior's heart in coming back against Pacquiao. 
 
Manny would go on to stop Barrera and Morales but he could never finish off Marquez. Pacquiao seemingly tried every tactic in the book to vanquish his rival, from sheer offensive force in the first two bouts to relying on a more measured, technical effort in the third one. Yet Marquez remained in front of him, undeterred. 
 
The boxing community was split on the third Pacquiao-Marquez fight. The judges and HBO liked Pacquiao's work while many fans and a number of ringside reporters thought that Marquez had finally solved Pacquiao's puzzle. 
 
Marquez approached the fourth fight in a much different fashion. Although he knew that he could beat Pacquiao in a given round or even, by his estimation, throughout the course of a fight, judges responded more to Pacquiao's blazing style than his own measured output. Thus, he was determined to get the knockout. Enlisting strength-and-conditioning trainer Memo Heredia (and it should be pointed out that Heredia in the past had been involved in the illegal performance enhancing drugs racket), Marquez added muscle and entered the ring with a bigger physique than he had in his previous ring incarnations. 
 
What followed was simply one of the best fights of this, or any, era. Both boxers attacked each other with a ferocity that belied their advancing age. Marquez was able to drop Pacquiao in the third round, which was a genuinely shocking event. For now, the narrative of the series had forever changed. In the past, Pacquiao was the one who could truly hurt Marquez and Marquez was the fighter who came back valiantly. Now, Marquez was finally on the front foot. 
 
But Pacquiao regrouped and attacked Marquez mercilessly in the fourth and fifth rounds, scoring a knockout of his own in the fifth. By the sixth round, Marquez was the fighter who was in deep trouble. With blood streaming down his face and his legs zapped of their energy, Marquez looked like a spent bullet. Yet, within a few short moments, all of that changed. Pacquiao moved in with a double jab and lost all sense of distance. Marquez responded with a menacing overhand right at point-blank range. Pacquiao was knocked out cold. And Marquez finally had his moment of glory on the sport's grandest stage.  
 
Marquez's finishing blow will forever be part of boxing lore. That one right hand epitomized Marquez's greatness. Give him enough time, and he'll make the proper adjustments; he'll find the opening. And while Marquez seemingly was on the brink of defeat, he can never be counted out. One could possibly win a decision over the Great Marquez, but he can't be stopped. 
 
Marquez established a Hall of Fame career despite having chin problems and a lack of speed. Yes, he could use the ring well and employ angles but athletic types, whether they were Pacquiao, Mayweather, Norwood or Bradley, always troubled him. 
 
In addition, Marquez made some tremendously strange business decisions, such as turning down an earlier rematch with Pacquiao, negotiating himself out of a fight with Morales and going to Indonesia for next-to-nothing to face Chris John, a bout that Marquez lost, controversially.  
 
Marquez had tremendous pride, which served him well in the ring but often hurt him in business decisions. When aligned with Top Rank (often through its Mexican partner Zanfer Promotions), he often felt that he didn't receive the same type of attention and dollars that some of their other stars did. During his period with Golden Boy, he scoffed at not getting big fights. 
 
In his mind, he was always one of the best fighters in the sport. Eventually, the boxing world came to agree with his perspective. And as a fighter who had once been deemed as too technical or boring, he sure made for some unforgettable fights. His first battle against Juan Diaz was another spectacular affair. The younger Diaz battered him through the first four rounds but eventually Marquez found his bearings and used Diaz's aggression against him. That was yet another Fight of the Year for Marquez. He also had thrilling wins against Michael Katsidis and Joel Casamayor.
 
Marquez was almost too proud to admit defeat. After the third Pacquiao fight, he refused to consider the possibility that he was second best. He cried robbery when Tim Bradley was rightfully declared the winner of their match. Only against Mayweather did Marquez acknowledge that he'd been soundly beaten.
 
However, this stubbornness helped to make him the great fighter that he was. Marquez refused to succumb to Pacquiao even after he had hit the deck three times in a round. Despite losing debatable fights to Manny, he pressed on with his career and performed at an elite level. He refused to yield to Diaz, even after being battered and fighting in his opponent's home town. Marquez never thought that he was out of a fight and boxing is in a better place because of his unceasing reservoirs of self-belief.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and 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, July 30, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Broner-Garcia

If one were to ask Adrien Broner how he planned to beat Mikey Garcia, what would he say? What strategies or tactics would he use to win the fight minute-by-minute, round-by-round? Would Broner give a coherent answer, or would he fall back into boilerplate, talking about his "superior skills?"

I ask these questions because in watching Broner-Garcia on Saturday (in which Garcia won by a wide, unanimous decision), I didn't have the foggiest idea of how Broner intended to win. He'd feint, reluctantly throw a jab and find a moment or two to flurry. Garcia consistently out-punched and out-landed him. And as Garcia continued to put rounds in the bank, Broner lacked the requisite knowledge or desire to change the trajectory of the fight. What was Broner's plan?

Even though Broner's corner, led by head trainer Mike Stafford, was chaotic between rounds, at least Stafford had an idea of how Broner could potentially get back into the match. He exhorted Broner to take the fight on the inside and physically impose himself on Garcia. Yet, once in the ring, Broner chose to ignore Stafford's pleadings and instead continued with his same brand of listlessness. Broner ate lots of shots. Most often, his only retaliation after getting hit was to nod his head in disapproval. 

Listen, I don't think that Stafford is any kind of brilliant tactician but on fight night he was trying his best. Broner, either due to arrogance or fear, didn't want to follow Stafford's plan. Instead, he kept the fight at range and continued to get pasted throughout most of the match. 

It's easy to say that Broner needs a new trainer but at this point the fighter's litany of problems extends far beyond who coaches him. In short, Broner isn't a student of the sport and he has never tried to become one. Broner was able to get to the world-level on account of his punch technique, reflexes and intimidation – both physical and psychological (not to mention having the right managerial and network friends). But those attributes aren't enough to beat the best. He seemingly enters the ring with no plan. 

Often, top counterpunchers take a few rounds to see what works and then they exploit those openings; Mayweather and Hopkins were experts at that. But Broner is not among that group. He ambles from round to round with little coherence. If he lands a big left hook to punctuate an exchange, he doesn't seem particularly interested in exploiting that success, or following it up with any urgency. Broner doesn't systematically look for opponents' weaknesses; he just throws punches and combinations from time to time, hoping that they cause damage. 

And The Problem has more problems: In Broner's three losses (there could've been more), he was outworked and couldn't match his opponents’ effort and desire – core intangibles that the best fighters possess. It would be incorrect to say that Marcos Maidana or Shawn Porter possessed more "skills" than Broner did on a punch-by-punch basis. However, boxing isn't won via textbook, shadowboxing or sparring. An opponent is defeated in the ring. At the world-level, against elite opponents, skills are only part of the mix in determining who rises to the top, an aspect of prizefighting that Broner has failed to comprehend. 

As a play on his initials, Broner has used the phrase "About Billions" as kind of an overarching theme or mantra for his boxing career. It's certainly fine to want big money. There's no shame in that. But Broner will fall far short of his remunerative goals. Ultimately, technical craft and flamboyance aren't enough by themselves to get to the big money in boxing. He needed to beat people. Top fighters. Elite ones. Throughout his career, he's come up short in those opportunities. More was needed from him and he didn't have the intangible factors (ring IQ, desire, teachability) to get to that next plateau.    

Looking at the other side of Broner-Garcia, Mikey Garcia did everything an elite fighter is expected to do. He had a strategic plan in how to defeat Broner. From carefully studying his opponent, he knew that Broner gives opponents the body. Thus, Mikey hammered Broner downstairs with sharp left hooks and right hands. In addition, Garcia expertly exploited Broner's high guard by shooting his right hand around the gloves to the side of the head. 

By employing flawless footwork, Garcia cut off the ring and forced Broner to the ropes throughout the fight. There, Garcia, patient and poised, fired power shots to the body and head but maintained his distance perfectly, which limited countershots. Garcia didn't attack recklessly but his pressure throughout the night was constant. In those moments where Broner was able to land a good punch, Garcia immediately responded with three or four of his own. 

Furthermore, Garcia, and his brother/trainer, Robert, understood that Broner isn't the type of fighter who likes to trade. Broner likes to cover up when under fire and usually responds only when an opponent is finished throwing punches, or has left significant openings. Garcia was successful at being first with his punches but like the rest of his game plan, his offense was controlled and ruthlessly efficient. He threw over 700 punches in the fight and yet did a magnificent job (using angles, not backing straight up, having the appropriate distance, etc.) of limiting Broner's counters.

Robert Garcia had a resounding success with Maidana against Broner but Mikey is a much different type of fighter. Maidana's biggest strength was his unpredictability. Shots would come from all angles, whether thrown correctly or not. Maidana would take three punches to land his own. Maidana was a mauling power puncher. Mikey Garcia isn't that style of fighter. However, Robert incorporated the lessons that he learned from Broner-Maidana to give Mikey his best chance of winning. Robert understood Broner's weaknesses on a fundamental level and imbued his brother with the knowledge and tactics to exploit them. Both Garcias were at the top of their respective games on Saturday. 

In one corner of Saturday's bout, there was a perfect synergy between fighter and trainer. They had a coherent plan to accompany Mikey's considerable technical skills. The other corner featured disconnect and disharmony. Broner and Stafford were working at cross-purposes. Perhaps Broner and Stafford had an agreed-upon master plan leading into the fight. Maybe it just didn't work; that happens. However, even if giving Broner and Stafford the benefit of the doubt, once Plan A failed, Broner didn't believe in Plan B. He either didn't believe in his corner's instructions or lacked the confidence to implement them. Neither answer speaks highly of him. 

So for now, Broner remains a "name." He's someone who can help build other fighters of note or fill a TV slot against a lesser opponent. However, it's clear that he has too many deficiencies to be a consistent threat to the top fighters in the sport. Could he knock a guy out and win a title against an elite? Sure, that's possible. But he'd be a considerable underdog against any of the best at 140 or 147. In short, he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He doesn't have the strategic understanding of the sport. That in it of itself isn't the biggest crime in the world. There are many successful fighters, wonderful talents, who aren't rocket scientists. However, those fighters rely on their coaches and teams to give them the strategic and tactical tools to win. Broner doesn't do that. If Broner refuses to study his opponents and he won't listen to those who do, what can he really accomplish at the top levels of boxing? 

As for Garcia, he put forth perhaps his best performance in the ring against one of his better opponents. It's unclear if his power is top-notch at 140 (Broner does have a hell of a chin) but he has the tools, technique and intelligence to compete with the top of the division. To me, his best natural weight is at 135 and he has talked about moving back down for the right fight. Unfortunately, his best potential opponents (Lomachenko, Linares and Crawford) don't often work with Showtime but who knows, stranger things have happened. Perhaps a title unification at 135 against Robert Easter, Jr. could be in the near future. That would be an excellent TV fight while Garcia waits for bigger fish. 

Garcia has cemented himself as one of the top boxers in the sport. After his 30-month hiatus, he has re-emerged with determination and steely resolve. Before his self-imposed exile, he often talked about his fleeting love for the sport. In his comeback, he has displayed little of that ambivalence regarding his vocation. Right now, he's firing on all cylinders, and it's a joy to watch.

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon Stubbs and I talked about the weekend's deep Showtime card, which features an excellent headlining matchup between Adrien Broner and Mike Garcia, as well as Charlo-Heiland, Miller-Washington, Warren-Arroyo and more. We also gave our thoughts on the first-round matchups of the World Boxing Super Series. And yes, we saved a few minutes for the circus that is Mayweather-McGregor.  

Click on the links below to listen: 


Adam Abramowitz is the founder and 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, July 13, 2017

SNB Scouting Report -- Julius Indongo

Who: Julius Indongo
Age: 34
Country: Namibia
Record: 22-0 (11 KOs)
Division: Junior welterweight (140 lbs.)
Titles: Currently has IBF and WBA titles at 140 lbs. 
Stance: Southpaw
Trainer: Nestor Tobias
Promoter: MTC Nestor Sunshine Promotions and Matchroom Sport
Next fight: August 19, 2017 against Terence Crawford
Miscellaneous: Indongo was a 2008 Olympian for Namibia

Style in a nutshell: Indongo is an energetic, athletic southpaw who uses his massive height (5'10 1/2") and reach (71 1/2") advantages to control range while applying a consistent and impressive work rate. Indongo's offense consists mostly of his jab and left hand; however, he uses these punches in a variety of ways. Indongo is excellent at leading with his jab and he'll go to the body with it frequently. In addition, he employs his jab as a quality counter shot, one of his main ways to thwart fighters from rushing in on him. 

Indongo throws a number of different punches with his left hand. Perhaps his most pulverizing is a slinging left hand (that knocked out Eduard Troyanovsky to win his first title). He changes the angle and trajectory of the shot and it can be difficult to defend. In addition, he'll throw straighter, more traditional lefts to the body and head. He does have a right hook, which he throws as a counter and, far less frequently, as a lead. It's not terribly accurate but it can catch an opponent by surprise. 

Everything from Indongo is at mid-range or at distance. He rarely allows fighters to get in close and when those instances do occur, most likely he'll tie up or quickly leave the pocket. He tries to maintain distance whenever possible.

Indongo is a very active fighter but he's not an accurate one. He'll lunge in with wide lefts and many of his shots miss the mark. However, he does have good power with his left hand, both to the head and body. If he can land his best slinging left hand (it almost resembles a sidearm shot), he can cause damage. 

Strengths: height, reach, hand and foot speed, athleticism, applies effective pressure, work rate, body punching, conditioning, ring IQ.

Weaknesses: Inside game, accuracy, only likes going forward, just one knockout weapon, limited offensive arsenal, leaves himself open to be countered. 

Best punches: Slinging left hand, straight left hand to the body, jab

Worst punch: Uppercut

Stylistic Quirks: Indongo often throws such wide, looping shots that he frequently finds himself out-of-position, where he can be easily countered. On defense, he doesn't have much of a counter left hand. His main counter shots (hook and jab) are with his right. When he has an opponent against the ropes, he works very deliberately. He'll often throw just a shot or two before resetting. He's very careful about giving up his size, reach and distance. He likes to initiate offense. Very rarely will he let an opponent be first with shots. 

When Indongo is at his best: Stalking with his right jab and throwing his left behind it, Indongo commands the ring and leaves his opponents unable to close the distance. Featuring a high punch volume, Indongo continues to throw shots. Not all of them will connect but he scores with his jab and left. He goes to the body as much as he does to the head, leaving opponents unsure of how to defend themselves. He varies the angle and the trajectory of his punches to create added difficultly for his foes. 

When Indongo is vulnerable: After throwing and missing with a long left hand, he can be countered with any number of shots. Opponents who can hold their ground and fire off quick counters can have success against him. In addition, he doesn't want to work on the inside. If and when an opponent can get at close range, he doesn't have to worry about much coming back from Indongo. 

How Indongo can have success against Crawford:

Against certain opponents, such as Thomas Dulorme and Hank Lundy, Crawford will take a few rounds to ease his way into the fight. He'll wait to time opponents and find openings. In the initial third of the fight, Indongo will have the opportunity to set the pace and score with shots as Crawford gets his bearings. In addition, Indongo will most likely land one of those slinging left hands in the early rounds (especially if Crawford is in a conventional stance), which will surprise Crawford and potentially hurt him. Indongo needs to keep a high work rate and throw punches, irrespective of their accuracy. He'll be able to win some rounds based on activity. Eventually, Crawford will pull the trigger with more regularity but Indongo can't get discouraged. He'll need to consistently throw shots and ride his high punch volume in hopes of winning a decision. 

How Crawford can trouble Indongo: 

Crawford may decide to fight almost exclusively as a southpaw, which most likely will reduce Indongo's effectiveness with the jab. In addition, by moving to his left (in either stance), Crawford will be able to neutralize Indongo's left hand. Crawford will have the ability to counter Indongo's wildness. In those moments, he can have a lot of success with a counter right hook (out of the southpaw stance) or an uppercut from either hand. Crawford will have some free shots during these quick flurries. If he's accurate, he can cause a lot of damage. Finally, Crawford can do his best to work on the inside. Using feints and lateral movement, he can get inside and fire off two- and three-punch combinations before Indongo can effectively tie him up. Crawford will have a number of options to unfurl his offensive arsenal; he just can't wait too long to get started.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and 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, July 4, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Horn

By now, it seems increasingly clear that there was a continental divide in how boxing fans perceived this weekend's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. In America, the ESPN broadcast had Pacquiao winning a competitive but clear decision (116-111, also, my score) while England's BoxNation broadcast and Australian television had Horn as the victor. Now, let's not say that everyone belongs in the same bucket based on his or her geography. I know several British fight fans that I respect that had Pacquiao edging the win. In addition, I've corresponded with a few Australian boxing enthusiasts that had Pacquiao winning. The number of American fans I saw that had Horn as the victor might be in single digits. 

Officially, Horn, the significant underdog from Brisbane Australia, won a unanimous decision in his hometown against Pacquiao. And before I dissect the fight in more detail, it should be said the Horn performed to the best of his abilities. Not intimidated by the big-fight atmosphere or the reputation of his foe, Horn charged after Pacquiao throughout much of the bout. Whatever else one might say about the fight, Horn successfully made Pacquiao look awkward at various points in the match and he certainly managed to exceed expectations. 

Now, here is where the tricky part comes in. Horn made the fight very ugly. Grappling with Pacquiao on the inside and mixing in a healthy dose of head butts, elbows and rabbit punches, Horn took Pacquiao out of his comfort zone. The question is: how many of Horn's shots were actually scoring blows? 

Punch stats are often fallible. Accepting their absolute totals as gospel is a fool’s errand. However, using them as a tool can be instructive if employing them properly. According to CompuBox, Horn threw more punches than Pacquiao in 9 of the 12 rounds. That's a meaningful difference. On the flip side, Pacquiao was credited with being more accurate in 11 of the 12 rounds. Already, we can see start to see the genesis of why the perception of the fight could vary so drastically. Horn was the busier fighter and it's certainly obvious, even if you bump Horn's connect percentage up by 10% or even 20%, that Pacquiao was the much more accurate boxer. 

There are four scoring criteria that judges use for awarding rounds in boxing: clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship and defense. What follows is my application of these criteria in aggregate for Pacquiao-Horn. Yes, fights are scored round-by-round but, indulge me. (You can use my thoughts on these criteria as proxies for how I awarded specific rounds throughout the fight.) 

I think that it's clear that Pacquiao consistently landed cleaner. His straight left hands and counter right hooks continually found their mark in the fight. Horn's shots were more difficult to judge. Punches that land on the back of the head don't count. Shots that are partially blocked, hit elbows, shoulders and arms aren't regarded as clean punches. 

I also think that it's fair to say that Pacquiao had the better defense. Pacquiao's scoring blows were easier to see. CompuBox had Horn landing at just 14.7% to Pacquiao's 31.8%. You would have to MORE THAN DOUBLE Horn's landed blows to get him close to Pacquiao's connect percentage. I get it. CompuBox is certainly fallible. They don't get everything right. However, I have a hard time believing that they missed 50% of Horn's scoring blows. 10% I'll give you. 20%, it's possible. 50%, not a chance at all. Pacquiao's defense was a large part of why it wasn't clear how many of Horn's punches landed. 

Ring generalship is the first scoring criteria where I think that Horn had the clear edge. In short, he fought in the style that would give him the best chance of winning. Grappling, firing off in close range and making the fight rough-and-tumble, he was more consistent in dictating the terms of the match. Even in many of the rounds where he didn't do the cleaner work, he was still forcing the action and making it the type of fight where he could potentially prevail. 

I think that the most difficult of the four scoring criteria to assess for Pacquiao-Horn is effective aggression. This criterion presents problems during so many fights. It's not enough to come forward. One must come forward and land scoring blows. Ultimately, how you view this criterion for Pacquiao-Horn depends on how successful you believe that Horn was during his forays forward. 

I've already given Horn credit for ring generalship in that he fought the bout in the manner that would give him the best chance of winning. However, that is not the same point as actually succeeding in landing punches. A fighter can give himself the best opportunity for victory and still lose. He can have bad defense. He can throw shots that aren't legal, scoring blows. He can get hurt or knocked out. In short, I don't want to double count Horn's effort. Yes, he dictated the terms of the fight, but that's not the same as actually getting the best of the action. 

To my eyes, so much of Horn's work was awkward and ineffective. Yes, he was successful to a degree with limiting Pacquiao's offensive output, but was he able to accomplish enough offensively to win at least seven rounds of the fight? Without enough quality, scoring blows – again, feel free to up Horn's landed punches by 20% – the case for Horn winning rounds via effective aggression is bogus. 

Of course, not all punches are the same. One guy's power punches don't always register with the same impact as those of his opponent. It's certainly clear to me that Horn never had Pacquiao hurt in the fight. Even when he did catch Pacquiao with some particularly good shots (such as in the 6th and 12th rounds) it wasn't as if his power was so immense throughout the fight that it should be credited as more devastating than Pacquiao's power. Horn was the fighter who was clearly hurt in the fight. Pacquiao rocked him with a series of lefts throughout the ninth that forced referee Mark Nelson to consider stopping the fight. Throughout the bout, Pacquiao’s straight left hands seemed to have more impact than Horn's landed blows. 

It's true that everyone loves a good underdog story. Horn did far better than expected. He wasn't supposed to be competitive with Pacquiao. He made Pacquiao look old in the ring and uncomfortable. Horn outworked Pacquiao. All of this is true. However, nothing mentioned earlier in this paragraph has anything to do with official scoring criteria. Fighters who don't land shouldn't be given credit for having the audacity to move their arms more. "Taking a fighter out of his comfort zone" MIGHT be a case of ring generalship. However, Horn's liberal use of his head (which led to two Pacquiao cuts) might also have had a lot to do with that. Again, leading with your head and butting aren't legal maneuvers and a fighter shouldn't be rewarded for them. (And where was Nelson regarding the butting? He certainly didn't do a great job in keeping the fight clean.) 

Often we see the "aggressor" winning fights, even if his aggression isn't effective. Certain jurisdictions in America, such as Nevada and California, seem to reward the fighter who comes forward more, irrespective of what actually landed in the ring. 

I can almost forgive the 115-113 scores for Horn from Ramon Cerdan and Chris Flores. They weren't able to distinguish between effective and ineffective aggression. Flores has had difficulty rendering good cards in the past when dealing with awkward fights. He was far too generous to Isaac Chilemba in his fight against Sergey Kovalev, giving Chilemba four rounds, closer than the other two judges had it. In addition, he found only two rounds to give Fernando Montiel against Lee Selby, a fight which was more competitive than his 118-110 score suggested. Cerdan scores most of his fights in Argentina and he was last overseas for the Joseph Parker-Andy Ruiz fight, which he scored for Parker by two. (Ironically, that fight was promoted by Duco Events, the New Zealand-based entity that served as the local co-promoter for Pacquiao-Horn.)

Waleska Roldan's 117-111 card for Horn is inexcusable. I tweeted out before the fight that I was amazed she was still getting international judging assignments. She just isn't a good official. She gave Gabe Rosado one round against Peter Quillin. She had Arthur Abraham up by six points in the first Paul Smith fight. She believed that Froch-Groves I was equal in rounds prior to the knockout. Roldan gave Karim Mayfield only two rounds against Thomas Dulorme. Do you want some more? She thought that Artur Szpilka won only two rounds prior to being knocked out by Deontay Wilder. Finally, she gave Miguel Marriaga only one round against Nicholas Walters. 

Roldan somehow continues to get high-profile assignments. Often she scores for the house fighter very widely. Perhaps that's why she's so popular. No matter the reason, the quality of her work is poor. If my 116-111 Pacquiao score differs widely from Roldan's tally, I feel even more comfortable in my final result.  

Moral victories are nice stories and they help to humanize fighters in the ring. I get that. However, an underdog exceeding very low expectations does not necessarily equate to winning seven rounds of a prizefight. Horn lost the battles of clean punching and defense. He got hit repeatedly with hard shots throughout the fight. 

Those who had Horn winning can discount punch stats all they want. And that's fine. But ultimately, it would take a CompuBox fail of epic proportions for Horn to get close to reaching Pacquiao's landed punches or punch accuracy. And Horn had no edge in power.

Ring generalship alone isn't enough to win a fight. A boxer must actually land scoring blows to get credit. I didn't see nearly enough of them throughout the fight to give Horn seven rounds. Few did in America as well. Without clean, landed punches, Horn's whole case for winning the fight involves extraneous factors that shouldn't be considered when scoring a boxing match.

One can protest that American boxing enthusiasts were too influenced by the ESPN broadcast. But in reality, we've certainly been able to tune out Teddy Atlas when needed. Ultimately, I think that American fans care less about the humanistic side of boxing than those in other jurisdictions. Horn was a great story. And we're certainly happy that he'll get another opportunity for a big fight. But we're tuning in at 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning of Independence Day weekend for the boxing. The soft factors are great, but we're there to see a fight. And ultimately, we know what a winning fighter looks like; he's the one that consistently lands more punches, the one that does the cleaner work. Horn did well but finding seven rounds to give him using the official scoring criteria...now that's a story.

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

Letter to the Executive Director of the Ohio Athletic Commission

The following letter was sent to Bernie Profato, the Executive Director of the Ohio Athletic Commission, on July 4, 2017 in reference to the performance of the Ohio-appointed officials during the Jamontay Clark-Ivan Golub fight, which occurred on June 30th. Also referenced was a scorecard from the Robert Easter Jr.-Denis Shafikov bout, which served as the main event for that fight card. 

Mr. Profato:

I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with the Ohio-appointed officials for the Jamontay Clark-Ivan Golub fight, which occurred on June 30th in Toledo. Before I proceed, let me emphasize that I have no attachment to or relationship with either of the combatants in the fight. I am responding to you as an independent entity that has followed boxing for a number of years and maintains a website (saturdaynightboxing.com) that covers the sport. 

The performance of the Ohio officials during the Clark-Golub fight was distressing on many levels. The fight itself was competitive; however, all whom I've talked to on social media that watched the match or attended the bout at the arena believed that Golub, the fighter not from Ohio, should have been the rightful victor. The broadcasters on Bounce TV, which televised the bout, had Golub as the winner. Yet, Clark was declared the winner of the bout by unanimous decision. One scorecard in particular, the 79-73 card turned in by Ken Bucher, had Golub only winning one round, despite two rounds (the 4th and 5th) where Clark looked like he was about to get knocked out. These rounds were as clear as possible to score for Golub. 

In addition, referee James Howe looked like he missed a clear knockdown in the 4th round, which he called a slip. Ultimately, all four of the officials made decisions which enabled the home-state fighter (Clark) to win. 

After reviewing the records of Howe, Bucher and the other two judges, Jamie Garayua and Rosemary Gross, it struck me how little experience these officials actually had in professional boxing. (The following numbers come from boxrec.com.) 

Bucher has only judged 17 bouts in 9 years, an average of less than two fights a year. Prior to 2017, he hadn't judged since December of 2014. 

Gross has only judged 40 bouts in her career, and only two of those were 10-round fights. Again, it's clear that Gross is a relatively new judge who is trying to break in as a professional official. 

Garayua has judged 111 fights, but Garayua's last 10-round fight was in 2014 and before that it had been in 2012. Garayua doesn't seem to be a judge who gets top assignments in Ohio, which usually has several large cards throughout a calendar year. Perhaps I am reading into things that aren't there, but Garayua's assignment record speaks for itself. 

Finally, this was only referee James Howe's seventh professional fight. Overall, this was a crew of officials that lacked top-fight experience. Although Clark-Golub was only an eight-round fight, it was part of a national TV broadcast. Moreover, both fighters were considered significant prospects in professional boxing. 

I understand that in your role as Executive Director, it is part of your job to break in new officials and provide them with experience in increasingly challenging settings. However, wouldn't you allow that perhaps this fight included too many novices? Wouldn't one or even two officials with little experience suffice for such an important matchup? Why have four in one fight? 

Ultimately, when those in the boxing industry witness decisions such as those of Clark-Golub, as well as Garayua's 120-108 scorecard for local fighter Robert Easter Jr. in the main event (which was highly competitive), they may become hesitant about sending their fighters to Ohio and participating in boxing in your jurisdiction. This could have financial ramifications for the Ohio Athletic Commission and the cities which would benefit economically by staging high-profile fights. 

I know that you have served as Executive Director for over a decade, a sign that those in Columbus have faith in your judgment and administrative acumen. I would just like to ask that new officials be mixed in with veteran ones to create a better balance, which may lead to more objective results. In addition, it may be appropriate to review Bucher's Clark-Golub and Garayua's Easter-Shafikov cards. These steps will ensure that the Ohio Athletic Commission continues to conduct itself with the utmost standards of integrity and that Ohio is a welcoming jurisdiction for fighters of all backgrounds, geographies and nationalities. 

Sincerely, 

Adam Abramowitz
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Should you wish to contact Mr. Profato, he can be reached at:
You can also contact the commission at 330-797-2556.

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. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pound-for-Pound Update 6-24-17

There have been a number of changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List since the last update in March. The two most important changes involved the knockout victories from Andre Ward (over Sergey Kovalev) and Errol Spence, Jr. (against Kell Brook). Ward's eighth-round knockout of Kovalev cements his status as the top fighter in the sport. With the loss, Kovalev drops from #2 to #7. Errol Spence makes his debut in the Rankings after his 11th-round KO victory over Kell Brook. Spence enters the List at #17. 

Vasyl Lomachenko has also rocketed up the rankings with his knockout win over Jason Sosa. Lomachenko moves up from #14 to #10. Finally, Tim Bradley has been removed from the Rankings due to over a year of inactivity. 

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List:
  1. Andre Ward
  2. Manny Pacquiao
  3. Terence Crawford
  4. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  5. Roman Gonzalez
  6. Gennady Golovkin
  7. Sergey Kovalev
  8. Saul Alvarez
  9. Naoya Inoue
  10. Vasyl Lomachenko
  11. Keith Thurman
  12. Juan Estrada
  13. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  14. Adonis Stevenson
  15. Donnie Nietes
  16. Leo Santa Cruz
  17. Errol Spence, Jr. 
  18. Carl Frampton
  19. Mikey Garcia
  20. Shinsuke Yamanaka
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.