Sunday, September 24, 2017

Pound-for-Pound Update 9-24-17

There have been numerous changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List since the last update at the end of June. Right at the top, former #1 fighter Andre Ward announced his retirement last week and as a result exits the Rankings. With Ward's departure, there is no unassailable answer as to who is now the best fighter in the sport. Based on the previous SNB Rankings, Terence Crawford now assumes the top spot. Crawford was recently an undisputed champion at junior welterweight after knocking out Julius Indongo (he since relinquished one of his belts) and also a former champion at lightweight. True, top names are missing on his resume but I think that he's the best choice for the #1 spot at this time. Crawford is by no means the only worthy pick for the best, but he is mine.

Another major development in the Rankings resulted from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai's fourth round knockout of Roman Gonzalez, who previously had been SNB's #1 fighter before losing to Srisaket earlier in the year. With the victory, Srisaket moves up to #2 and Gonzalez falls to #14. 

Mikey Garcia had a very impressive performance against Adrien Broner in July, winning a comfortable unanimous decision. Garcia has now won belts in three divisions and has beaten a top-ten contender in a fourth weight class (junior welterweight). He clearly is among the top fighters in the sport. He jumps from #19 to #8. 

Manny Pacquiao dropped a competitive and controversial decision to Jeff Horn in July. Many had Pacquiao as the winner of the fight (as I did) but the match was certainly competitive. I can't credit Horn for the victory in a pound-for-pound sense because I don't believe that the decision was just; however, it's clear to me that an elite fighter does better with Horn than the most recent version of Pacquiao did. In the new Rankings, Pacquiao drops from #2 to #11. 

Juan Estrada eked out a competitive unanimous decision victory over Carlos Cuadras earlier this month. It was Estrada's first win over a top opponent in three years. With the victory, he moves from #12 to #9. 

Two fighters are now on the SNB Pound-for-Pound List. Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk has quickly become the top guy in the division. With wins over Krzysztof Glowacki, Thabiso Mchunu and Marco Huck, he has already amassed some impressive scalps on his ledger. He debuts in the Rankings at #19. Kazuto Ioka returns to the List, re-entering at #20. Ioka is now a three-weight world champion (105, 108 and 112) and in his current run has made five defenses of his flyweight title, including an impressive win over Juan Carlos Reveco. 

Finally, Shinsuke Yamanaka exits the Rankings after his KO loss to Luis Nery. After the fight, Nery failed a drug test. The case is still being adjudicated but it's clear that Yamanaka is no longer one of the 20 best fighters in the sport. 

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


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, September 17, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Canelo-Golovkin

At the conclusion of Saturday's entertaining bout between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, both fighters raised their arms believing that their efforts had led to victory. Golovkin was the busier fighter, throwing over 200 more punches. He had his best stretch of the match in the middle rounds. Canelo neutralized Golovkin in the early-going and ended the bout with flurries of blistering power punches. Like the fighters, the three judges were split in their perception of the action. Dave Moretti saw Golovkin winning the fight 115-113. Don Trella scored it a draw and Adalaide Byrd somehow had Canelo as the victor by a score of 118-110 (more on her later). The majority of press row scores ranged from 116-112 in favor Golovkin to a 114-114 draw (I had Golovkin winning 116-112). 

I found two facets of the fight particularly surprising: 
  • On a punch-for-punch basis, I think that Canelo was the more successful boxer. 
  • Canelo's conditioning was much worse than expected. 

Canelo's counters were consistently the best punches in the fight. In the center of the ring, he had sustained success whenever he let his hands go. Canelo demonstrated his command of every power punch in his arsenal, connecting with left hooks to the body, uppercuts and straight right hands. 

His counters had their desired effect, often forcing a break in Golovkin's offense and making him retreat or reset. Throughout the fight, Golovkin was extremely mindful of limiting Canelo's opportunities for countering. In the first third of the bout, Golovkin was unwilling to fight in close and even as the fight turned into a battle of power punches, Golovkin didn't march in with reckless abandon. Yes, Golovkin was offensively-minded during the fight, but he wasn't as successful in his forays as he had hoped. There were periods of caution from Golovkin throughout the match. 

Despite success in the center of the ring, Canelo had retreated to the ropes by the fourth round. Throughout much of the next six frames, the ropes were most often his home base. Roy Jones pointed out during the HBO telecast that it wasn't necessarily a function of Golovkin forcing Canelo to the ropes but more likely a decision of Canelo's own making. With all respect to Jones, who in my opinion is the best American boxing commentator working today, his analysis was off in part. Yes, Canelo voluntarily withdrew to the ropes, but increasingly his actions were based out of necessity and not out of preference. He just didn't have the stamina to fight for three minutes a round. He'd cover up along the ropes and try his best to defend himself but overall those were losing moments for him during the fight. 

Canelo's corner implored Alvarez to stay away from the ropes but round after round he returned there as a way to sustain himself. With an eight-year age advantage (27 vs. 35), one wouldn't think that the prime-aged fighter would be the one with conditioning challenges, but Canelo just didn't have the energy reserves to match Golovkin's effort and work rate

Canelo has had conditioning problems in the past, especially in fights against Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara. At the time, many of his struggles were attributed to his size in the junior middleweight division. Stories surfaced of his struggles in making weight. That theory was further supported when he fought a number of contests at a limit of 155 pounds, just over the junior middleweight mark.

In 2015, Canelo didn't have any conditioning problems against Miguel Cotto (fought at 155 lbs.). He seemed strong at the weight and maintained his agility throughout the match. With his performance in that fight, pesky questions about his conditioning subsided. 

Saturday's fight was contested at the middleweight limit of 160 lbs., five pounds north of his most recent forays in the middleweight division. In theory, that should've been a comfortable weight for Canelo. However, Saturday's fight didn't evince that. Canelo couldn't sustain his effort through large portions of the match.

Canelo needs to improve his strength-and-conditioning regimen. Looking bulky in the ring, perhaps his thick musculature leads to early onsets of fatigue. The fourth round is far too early for a world-class boxer to gas out. And it wasn't as if Golovkin had been pressing Canelo earlier in the fight. Canelo's team needs to evaluate their current training program; the status quo isn't working.

Maybe Canelo's problems with conditioning will always be an issue for him in his career. Some fighters look capable of going 24 rounds while others have problems sustaining their efforts through 12. Against top opponents Canelo will continue to have vulnerabilities unless significant changes are made in this area.


Canelo and Golovkin succeeded at various points in the fight but each was unable to assert sustained dominance. Golovkin fought tentatively in the first three rounds and couldn't match Canelo's effort in the final two frames. Perhaps paying too much respect to Canelo early in the fight, Golovkin neglected Alvarez's body and didn't seem fully comfortable letting his hands go until the middle rounds. 

Once Golovkin hit his groove, he demonstrated his greatness. Featuring a non-stop attack and fantastic footwork, he unloaded on Canelo with an array of power shots; his pressure was relentless.

Throughout the fight, Golovkin exhibited strong boxing fundamentals and a high Ring IQ. If one was inclined to give him rounds in the first quarter of the fight, his jab, the foundational punch in the sport, was the reason. Throughout the match he did an expert job in varying the pace and force of his shots. Mixing in jabs, softer right hands and power shots, he probed Canelo's defense and found openings. 

However, Golovkin's success in the middle rounds didn't have its desired effect on Canelo in the final third of the fight. Had he done more damage, the possibility of a successful late-round Canelo stand would've been far less likely. 

As for Canelo, he heeded the call from his corner before the 10th round and closed the fight well. Tagging Golovkin with combinations at the start of each of the final three rounds, Canelo found energy reserves when he needed them the most. His work in the Championship Rounds staved off a loss. Despite the conditioning deficiencies that he had demonstrated earlier in the match, he dug down in the fight's final moments and did his best work. 

Ultimately, Canelo-Golovkin was a well-contested fight that showcased the best of both combatants. Canelo's combinations and punch placement are among the best in the sport. Golovkin maintained his reputation as one of boxing's premier offensive fighters. The bout featured a number of swing rounds, especially the 1st and the 10th. In a final analysis, each fighter did have a case for victory. I think that Golovkin's claim had a better foundation, but it was still one comprised of sand and dirt instead of stucco.  

***

Despite an excellent effort from both fighters, Canelo-Golovkin I (yes, there will be a rematch) will forever be known as the "Adalaide Byrd Fight." Her 118-110 scorecard in favor of Canelo marred a compelling bout. Byrd's scorecard diverged so wildly from a defendable range of scores that the only conceivable explanations were incompetence or corruption. 

Byrd has been a bad boxing judge for some time. Examining her judging history one will see a number of strange scorecards. It's not that she has a bias necessarily for the "money" fighter; she's just someone who can be wildly erratic. The Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC), Bob Bennett, has fielded complaints about Byrd's performance in the past. (Top Rank recently tried to have Byrd removed from judging Lomachenko-Walters.) However, Bennett saw no pressing need to take action. Most likely now, after a push from his political superiors in Carson City, he will. 

Bennett has not distinguished himself during his time at the NSAC. He has retained poor officials under his watch despite years of substandard performance. We can name the bad officials in Nevada – Robert Hoyle, Adalaide Byrd, Vic Drakulich, and Russell Mora – yet, they continue to get assignments week after week. 

Earlier this year, Bennett and the NSAC broke a long-standing practice in boxing by allowing junior middleweights Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor to wear eight-ounce gloves during their fight, a move seemingly at odds with the mission of a state athletic commission, which is tasked with protecting the health and safety of combatants. Even on a more basic level, Bennett and the NSAC allowed Mayweather-McGregor to happen, a fight between an undefeated champion, perhaps the best boxer in the world, and a novice who had never had a professional boxing match. If there were sanity in the world, that fight would've been nothing more than an exhibition, with further regulatory controls put in place – not an actual boxing match with additional protective measures lifted. 

But, money talks and one must concede that Bennett has helped to usher in three enormous boxing events into Nevada this year. Mayweather-McGregor, Canelo-Golovkin and Canelo-Chavez Jr. were wildly successful at the box office, adding millions into the coffers of Nevada, its government and the NSAC. 

With that said, government officials loathe scrutiny. They don't want the general public to see how the sausage gets made. When scandals happen, such as Byrd's scorecard, there becomes a call for greater accountability and transparency, something that very few involved in Nevada politics would like to entertain. 

The powers that be in Nevada don't want reporters looking into how Bennett and the Commission assign judges, how officials are evaluated or the Commission's procedures when objections are made with their officials. The state can't have people poking around into who the NSAC's Commissioners are, how they were appointed, what business relationships they might have and whether potential conflicts of interest are occurring.

Because of these factors, I expect Byrd to get sacrificed at the altar. Perhaps if Bennett gives the public some red meat, calls for additional oversight and transparency will subside. Byrd has served the state of Nevada for decades as a judge and her husband, Robert, continues to receive top assignments as a boxing referee. Out of respect for the Byrds' service, perhaps Bennett will not publicly flay Adalaide, but in all likelihood she will be removed from her position – and that information will eventually get leaked to a friendly reporter in the coming weeks. 

If I were Bob Bennett, I'd take this opportunity to get my house in order. For as many plaudits that Bennett has received for bringing in money to the state, those accolades aren't enough to counterbalance the Nevada political class's aversion to increased scrutiny and transparency. The powers that be would easily sacrifice a big fight or two a year (or even Bennett) in favor of keeping the opaque status quo. 

Bennett should take this opportunity to do the following things
  1. Bring in an outside consultant to help him evaluate Nevada's boxing officials and announce this move publicly.
  2. Expand the NSAC's existing initiative to add new officials.
  3. Allow more exceptions to Nevada's residency requirements to ensure that only top officials are working major boxing events. 

These steps will provide the public with more confidence in the NSAC, which will in turn help to keep interlopers away from the Nevada political patronage system. Bennett needs to address the following questions: Does the NSAC have transparent evaluative criteria for their boxing officials? Can they be easily communicated in case of an open records request or a legal proceeding? Or is it a black box? Outside help could create stronger criteria for evaluating and retaining officials. Clearly, the current practices haven't led to better officiating. 

Bennett and the NSAC have already instituted a training program to add new officials, both judges and referees. However, that training will take years to complete and there may need to be some housecleaning with its existing officials in the interim. He should expand the program to make sure that they get the numbers needed for the next generation of officials (it's also a scary thought that Adalaide Byrd has been one of the officials who has helped to train prospective new judges). Nevada doesn't need a handful of new boxing officials; it needs batches of them.  

The state also has strict residency requirements for its boxing officials. For big title fights, the NSAC will at times bring in an out-of-jurisdiction judge to mollify the sanctioning bodies and the "away fighters" (Don Trella, from Connecticut, was such a judge on Saturday). However, Nevada rarely allows out-of-state referees (Jack Reiss, from California, did ref a few fights in Nevada in May of 2016, a recent exception). Unfortunately, Nevada doesn't have enough quality referees for the amount of boxing matches that occur in its jurisdiction. Thus, Drakulich and Mora continue to get assignments because of the parochialism of the NSAC and the prerogatives of state officials. This needs to change.

It may take a few years until a new batch of homegrown officials is ready for the bright lights of Vegas. In the interim, the NSAC needs to ensure the integrity of its professional boxing matches. The NSAC has always prided itself on its self-sufficiency but it's time to bite that bullet and reach out for help. Boxing and Nevada need each other, but they also need each other to function properly. The NSAC is a problem commission at the moment. If changes aren't made, Bennett and his cronies in Carson City can only hurt the sport, which in turn will negatively influence a state dependent on entertainment and tourism to stay afloat.

Bennett has a tough task ahead of him. Although his tenure hasn't inspired much confidence that he can right the ship, his own job security might depend on it. And self-preservation can be a great cure for inertia. 

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, September 14, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face podcast was a jammed-packed edition, featuring  Canelo-Golovkin galore, our Superfly recap, a preview of Saunders-Monroe and much more. We broke down the each fighter's keys to victory for Canelo-Golovkin and offered predictions. We also talked about what's next for the big players at the 115-lb. division. And we took a few calls from some very passionate boxing fans. Also, please bear with the choppiness during the first few minutes.

Click below for the links to the podcast:

Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link:
You Tube link:


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. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SNB in Sports Illustrated

My prediction for the Canelo-Golovkin fight was included in the Sports Illustrated preview for the fight. Click here for the article, which features a number of sharp boxing minds giving their pick for the fight.

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, September 12, 2017

Canelo-Golovkin: Keys to the Fight

One of the most anticipated fights of the year takes place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday between Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) and Gennady "GGG" Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs). The matchup has been brewing for nearly two years since Alvarez dethroned Miguel Cotto to become the lineal middleweight champion. Although Golovkin had wanted to face Alvarez immediately after that fight, Canelo and his promoters had other ideas. All sorts of shenanigans ensued. In an unusual step, Golovkin was installed as Canelo's mandatory for the WBC belt even though Golovkin was a current, unified titleholder through other sanctioning organizations. Eventually, Canelo gave up his belt instead of making his mandatory obligation. He wound up fighting Liam Smith at junior middleweight and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. at super middleweight. 

As has become the norm throughout his career, Golovkin struggled to find opponents while waiting for Canelo. He fought a welterweight in Kell Brook and dispatched lightly regarded Dominic Wade. Earlier this year, Golovkin had a very challenging fight against Daniel Jacobs, a secondary titleholder who had periods of sustained success during their match. Golovkin squeaked by with a close, unanimous decision. That fight might have significantly changed Golovkin's perception in the sport. Suddenly, he was revealed to be a mortal. His long knockout streak had ended. His punches didn't seem to have the same impact. More than a few suggested that Canelo and Golden Boy Promotions finally agreed to the Golovkin fight because of GGG's struggles against Jacobs. 

Naturally, there will always be speculation about these matters but what's far more important is that one of the best matchups in the sport is happening. Both Golovkin and Canelo are ranked on every pound-for-pound list. Although Canelo may have been too green in his 2013 loss to Floyd Mayweather, he's developed into one of the best boxer-punchers in the sport. Golovkin still possesses a plethora of knockout weapons and is one of the best offensive talents in boxing. Canelo will have age and the crowd on his side while Golovkin should have significant advantages in reach and one-punch knockout power. 

Quite simply, it's a mouth-watering matchup. Below are the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Golovkin's jab

Golovkin controls opponents with his jab. Although his career has featured numerous highlight reel knockouts, his stick is his most effective punch. It's hard, he places it expertly and it allows him to open up with his power shots. In his close win over Jacobs, it was his jab more than any other factor that led to Golovkin's victory. That fight also demonstrated another interesting point. When Golovkin's power wasn't landing consistently, his jab was enough to win rounds. It helped him defeat a bigger and far more athletic opponent. 

On Saturday, Golovkin will have advantages in height and reach (don't believe Alvarez's dubious height statistics that are floating around the Internet). He'll use the jab in the early rounds to establish range and to find soft spots in Alvarez's defense. It will behoove Golovkin to stick with the punch throughout the fight. It will help him score in dead moments in the bout and keep Canelo's punch volume down.

Alvarez will need to minimize Golovkin's jab. Although there are a variety of ways to neutralize the jab, Alvarez will need to pick the tactic that will best enable him to establish primacy in the fight. Yes, perhaps Canelo will use the ring at times to get out of the pocket. At other points, I'm sure he'll want to get in close to bang the body. Perhaps the best strategy in neutralizing Golovkin's jab will be to counter with hard power shots. Canelo can duck the jab and fire off a straight right hand to the body. He can also slip it to the inside and shoot an overhand right or a right uppercut. 

Canelo is a gifted counterpuncher and he's fantastic at using an opponent's aggression against him. In certain ways, the predictability of how Golovkin initiates offense plays into Canelo's hands. However, Canelo is going to have to be precise with his counters and be willing to take shots in order to land his own. 

2. Body Punching

Body punching is a strength for both fighters. Canelo hits the body with every punch that's imaginable, often in clever and unusual combinations. He's also an expert at mixing up head and body punching during a combination, making it extremely difficult for his opponents to defend his offensive forays. Golovkin goes downstairs with single shots, and they can be absolutely paralyzing. 

In this matchup, it might be a question of who cries "uncle" first in terms of body punching. Both will want to go downstairs throughout the fight – Golovkin to curtail Alvarez's movement and exuberance, Canelo to weaken a mature fighter. It will be fascinating to see who can better take the other's best shots to the body. It's worth pointing out that Jacobs had success going to the body against Golovkin. At certain moments in that fight, Golovkin elected to leave the pocket and reset instead of taking more shots downstairs. Perhaps Canelo can follow in Jacobs' footsteps, or maybe that was just a case of Jacobs' significant size advantage playing a role. 

3. Canelo's chin

We all know about Golovkin's chin. In OVER 28 MILLION AMATEUR AND PROFESSIONAL FIGHTS HE'S NEVER BEEN DOWN...we know the drill. His chin speaks for itself and it's been a huge advantage throughout his career. He's walked through the best shots from power punchers such as Curtis Stevens and David Lemieux. One shot won't do him in. 

Canelo hasn't faced power close to Golovkin's level. It's one of the great unknowns in Saturday's fight. Through this point in his career, Alvarez has demonstrated a sturdy chin but Golovkin's power represents an entirely different proposition. It may be that Golovkin's heavy hands are enough to lead to a stoppage. Perhaps more likely, they will preclude Canelo from executing on offense at points in the fight. Either way, Golovkin's power is a significant threat. Although Canelo's defense has improved over the last few years, he's by no means a master in that area. He'll be hit with power throughout the fight. But can he take it?

4. Canelo's corner

It's no secret that in Canelo's biggest fight to date against Floyd Mayweather, his corner, led by Eddy Reynoso, had a poor night. Claiming to have Plan B, Plan C and Plan D for Mayweather, Canelo moved around aimlessly for most of the fight, following Mayweather without a clear understanding of how to execute. Canelo was certainly a fledgling on the world stage back then, and that fight perhaps highlighted Reynoso's inexperience as well. 

Both Canelo and Reynoso performed much better against Cotto in 2015. There, they had a clear grasp on what they needed to do to win. Holding his ground in the center of the ring, Alvarez let Cotto come to him, whereby Canelo would counter with an array of impressive shots. Canelo pasted Cotto entering and leaving the pocket. 

GGG presents different challenges and opportunities than Mayweather or Cotto did. He's a significant knockout threat but he's also there to be hit. Canelo can fight in a number of styles. He can box, in-fight, trade in the pocket and win from range. It will be fascinating to see which strategies Reynoso employs. Perhaps more importantly, what happens if Golovkin has early success? Can Reynoso and Alvarez make the needed adjustments? They've demonstrated that they can come up with good game plans (they had the right idea versus Erislandy Lara as well) but can they adjust during a fight? 

5. Potential Decline for Golovkin?

At 35, Golovkin is no spring chicken. He's boxed for forever and although he hasn't taken a tremendous amount of punishment as a professional, think about all the training camps and tough rounds of sparring that he's had to endure (many years ago, Alvarez was one of Golovkin's sparring partners).

Certainly Golovkin didn't look his best against Jacobs. He didn't take shots as well as he once had. Perhaps more distressingly, at points in the fight he was oddly tentative. Was this a case of not being able to pull the trigger or was it a one-off situation against a very capable and game opponent? 

Golovkin's reflexes will be a very important part of Saturday's fight. Can he still exploit openings when he sees them? Will he be able to pick off shots during Canelo's thunderous combinations? These factors will play a large role in determining if he will be able to achieve victory. 

6. Canelo's home-field advantage

Canelo will have the crowd. He's the A-side of the promotion. He has a judge (Dave Moretti) who has turned in very favorable scorecards for him. In short, the intangible factors for the fight will certainly favor him. 

Golovkin must enter the ring on Saturday with the knowledge that every close round could likely go to Canelo. GGG will have to throw more than he might want to, work through fatigue and not let Canelo off the hook. Until the fight ends, Golovkin can't afford to let up whatsoever. 

Prediction:

Golovkin's jab will be the decisive punch in the first three rounds of the fight. He'll sting Canelo repeatedly with the punch. Alvarez will try to counter early in the fight but he'll need some time to master the range needed to land with authority. 

Eventually, Canelo will get his timing down. Single shots to the body and impressive counters upstairs will start to change the trajectory of the fight. Both will have moments in the middle rounds of the bout with combinations and eye-catching power shots; the fight will certainly pick up in its intensity. In an unexpected twist, I expect Golovkin to resort to boxing in the final third of the bout, and the switch will be successful. 

Ultimately, I think that Golovkin's piston-like jab and his intelligent offensive forays will be the determining factors in the match. Alvarez will certainly win some rounds and have moments of sustained success during the fight but there won't be enough of them to earn the victory. I also expect the judges to score the fight much closer than the boxing writers will. 

Gennady Golovkin defeats Saul Alvarez by majority decision.

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. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Superfly

The lasting image of Saturday's Superfly card will forever be Roman Gonzalez, the former pound-for-pound king, sprawled out on the canvas after a deadly right hook from Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. In one sense, Saturday's fight represented an end of an era. Gonzalez, the dynamo from the lighter weights who had captured the imagination of boxing fans and network executives, no longer represented an unstoppable, frenetic force. And while that's all true, Saturday wasn't the end of his legacy, but only a specific chapter of a potentially much larger story. The card featured perhaps 5 of the top 25 fighters in the world on HBO World Championship Boxing, an unheard of number of top talents on one broadcast. That all materialized only because of Gonzalez's exceptionalism.  

Superfly's opener was a fantastic matchup of two former Gonzalez victims, Juan Estrada and Carlos Cuadras, who were in line for potential rematches with Roman. The middle fight of the card was headlined by Japanese star Naoya Inoue, seen by many as the biggest threat in the 115-lb. division. And, of course, Gonzalez himself topped the action against his Thai nemesis, Srisaket. 

HBO hadn't been a consistent investor in the lower weights for over 20 years prior to Gonzalez. Because of his scintillating style and the rapt affection of his devotees, the network broke from recent traditions and decided to feature an obscure Nicaraguan who had fought mostly in Central America and Japan. This was not a typical page from HBO's playbook. Only because of Gonzalez's success and magnetism did a major U.S. boxing network scrap its traditional rules for how it showcases the sport. 

Sure, it would've been nice had HBO been on board with Gonzalez a few years earlier, when he was in his prime. Fights against Estrada, Francisco Rodriguez and Akira Yaegashi would've wound up making Gonzalez an even bigger star had they been in America. And in that era, there was no one else in the sport quite like Roman. 

Thus, Saturday served as some stiff medicine for many of Roman Gonzalez's biggest fans, and other boxing observers who delighted in seeing the best in the sport. Gonzalez's presence helped democratize boxing in America. For a brief window, the world of boxing had opened up to U.S. fans. No longer needing to trawl the Internet at ungodly hours in hopes of catching a grainy feed from Japan, now hardcore boxing fans could see the best in the sport on their own TV screens. Perhaps even more importantly, Gonzalez helped reinforce the crucial notion that great boxers can fight at any weight and can come from even the most far-flung boxing outposts. 

Hopefully HBO will stick with the little guys. The 115-lb. division is the deepest it has been in generations. In addition to Srisaket, Estrada, Cuadras and Inoue, super flyweight/junior bantamweight also features excellent talents such as Khalid Yafai, Jerwin Ancajas and John Riel Casimero. Not one of these fighters is American, or often fights in the U.S., but they are all worthy of attention. 

*

Things were amiss for Roman Gonzalez from the beginning of Saturday's rematch. In the first round, he fought very tentatively. Trying to box from range, Gonzalez couldn't accomplish anything of note. Even when he attempted to get inside, his forays lacked conviction and he seemed wary of Srisaket's power punches and mauling style. 

In essence, Roman Gonzalez was defeated rounds before he was actually stopped. For if Roman Gonzalez wasn't going to fight in his patented daredevil style, would he even still be Roman Gonzalez? How could he expect to win then? He didn't beat people from range. The best way for him to overcome his disadvantages in size and reach would be in close. 

Andre Ward made a key point during the fight when he talked about how Gonzalez was far too concerned about Srisaket's head butting. To him, if Gonzalez's attention was devoted to self-protection, then he wasn't actively thinking about ways to win the fight. It was a shrewd observation and Ward correctly noticed Gonzalez's hesitancy and caution. 

Saturday wasn't a continuation of their epic first fight from earlier in the year. Srisaket fought with confidence throughout the match; there was no retreat from him. He also was much sharper with his right hook than he had been in the initial bout. In addition, Gonzalez's defensive reflexes had continued their decline from where they had been earlier in his career. In the past, he would be hit with big shots here and there but now he couldn't avoid Srisaket's bombs. 

Trading power punches in the fourth round, Srisaket landed first with a right hook that sent Gonzalez to the canvas. Later in the round, Srisaket navigated himself around Gonzalez to land an unguarded and unseen right hook, the Holy Grail of punches – the  free shot! Gonzalez remained supine on the canvas for several moments after the punch; he was finished. Srisaket had defeated him physically, technically and psychologically. It looked like one of those Humpty Dumpty knockouts, whereby it's uncertain if Gonzalez will ever be able to put himself back together again.  

In one sense, Srisaket is a fairly limited fighter. He's essentially a two-punch guy, with just a straight left and a right hook. There's nothing particularly clever about him or how he goes about fighting. However, both of his main punches are real knockout weapons. In addition, he has several intangibles that elevate him above his raw technical attributes. His motor is unstoppable. He has loads of self-belief. He's not afraid to get hit. He also features a relentless determination in the ring. 

Srisaket took enormous punishment early and late in the first Gonzalez fight. However, he was the far more confident fighter on Saturday. Although he has had 49 professional bouts, so few of them have been on the world level. It's certainly possible that his experiences from the first Gonzalez fight have led to improvement, both technically and with his own confidence level. 

Soon to be 31, Srisaket is approaching the territory where many smaller fighters (such as Gonzalez) start to decline rapidly. It's certainly possible that Srisaket meets a similar fate in his next few fights. However, Srisaket has also engaged in very few fights of note over his career. He could still be well preserved with another two or three good years left in him. Either way, I hope to see much more of him. 

*

Way back in 2013, Juan Estrada defeated unified 112-lb. champion Brian Viloria in one of the more impressive performances of the year. After a competitive first third of the fight, Estrada turned on the jets and comprehensively beat Viloria with a stunning array of boxing, power punches and movement. On that day, Estrada looked like truly one of the elite fighters in the sport. In his previous outing, he had dropped down to 108 lbs. to fight Gonzalez. Estrada gave a great account of himself, but he was a little too green for that fight (he was just 22) and Gonzalez's consistent pressure and volume were enough to get the decision. In Estrada's three fights after Viloria, he continued to look like one of the best talents in boxing, decisively beating Milan Melindo (who is currently a 108-lb. champ), Richie Mepranum and Giovani Segura.

It should be stated that the Estrada of that era was far different than the fighter who defeated Carlos Cuadras by the slimmest of margins on Saturday. The 2013/14 version of Estrada had the entire package. He moved gracefully in the ring. A spectacular combination puncher, he had numerous knockout weapons. Defensively, he was responsible and was always ready to counter. 

Since the Segura fight, Estrada hadn't faced one fighter of consequence until Saturday. Injuries, promotional problems and unrealistic financial demands kept him from a Gonzalez rematch and other big fights during that period. But Saturday wasn't an example of ring rust. Physically, he no longer resembled his best self. To my eyes, Saturday's version of Estrada was perhaps 70% of what he once was. Against Cuadras, he was a straight-line fighter. His shots were often just ones and twos. His defensive reflexes were poor in the early rounds. He got out-worked at a number of stages in the fight. 

That Estrada was able to find a way to beat a fighter as talented as Cuadras speaks to his intelligence and boxing technique. However, the 114-113 margins were razor thin (and there is certainly an argument that Cuadras could've won). Estrada did score an impressive knockdown in the 10th round from a short right hand and generally got the best of the later rounds. Many pointed out his resemblance to Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday – how he gradually made adjustments and won a fight against a more athletically talented fighter by intelligence and punch placement. But again, that comparison speaks mostly to the latter version of Marquez, who was far less mobile than he had been earlier in his career.  

Unfortunately, mainstream boxing fans, like they did with Roman, might have missed the best version of Estrada. He lost crucial years rehabbing from injuries and embroiling himself in the type of boxing politics that keeps a fighter out of the ring. At 27, he's not too old to go on a final run. Although he could certainly be competitive against Srisaket, he's no longer at his best. He may only have another 12-18 months at the top level of the sport. He should make them count. 

As for Cuadras, he continues to run hot-and-cold. He can look absolutely dominant for stretches of time or for specific rounds. When Cuadras is at his best, he appears to be one of the top fighters in the sport. However, he coasts, he gives inconsistent effort and he doesn't realize that other fighters get paid too. It's almost like it insults him that opposing fighters don't just give up after he finishes off a dazzling six-punch combination. And sometimes it seems as if Cuadras's real purpose in the ring is to amass an amazing highlight reel tape instead of fighting to win. In his losses to Gonzalez and Estrada, Cuadras could've done more. He neglects basic boxing fundamentals in favor of showmanship. Although there's something to be said for that, boxing fans like showmen who win. Furthermore, Cuadras hasn't fully grasped the need to fight consistently for three minutes a round. Yes, he may land the best combinations in every round, but that doesn't necessarily lead to winning a fight. 

Certainly this isn't the first time that these flaws have been pointed out. Cuadras remains a stubborn, talented and proud fighter. However, he'd have fewer losses in his career and a much healthier bank account if he'd heed the advice of his corner more often. They've stressed the need to be more defensively responsible and not trade recklessly. But Cuadras insists on doing it his own way. Hence, Cuadras remains just a step below the truly elite in the sport. Sure, on a good night he could pick up another title and give anyone a tough fight. However, he lacks the consistency to be at the top and it's a shame because the raw tools are there. 

*  

Naoya Inoue made his American debut on Saturday with a stoppage win against overmatched Antonio Nieves. Displaying lethal left hooks to the body, poise and tremendous footwork, Inoue dominated virtually every second of the fight's six rounds. Inoue has ferocious power and with that knowledge he stalks opponents relentlessly. 

Inoue is only 24 but he's already had a quite a career. He's picked up belts in two divisions (108, 115) and dislodged the top guy in those respective classes to win his titles. Not that Adrian Hernandez or Omar Narvaez were elite fighters in a pound-for-pound sense, but they were the best of what was out there at the time. 

Already ranked as a top-ten fighter in the sport by many publications, Inoue has the opportunity to ascend toward the top should the right opponents be placed in front of him. HBO, in an odd bit of American chauvinism, kept treating Inoue as some type of prospect during the broadcast. Inoue is already one of the more established figures at 115. In addition to Narvaez, he also owns solid wins over David Carmona and former titlist Kohei Kono. In an otherwise strong broadcast, HBO hinted that Inoue perhaps wasn't ready for some of the other super flyweights on the card, which is nonsense; he's more than ready. 

Doing big business in Japan, it's unlikely that Inoue will become a permanent fixture on the American fight scene. But now aligned with K2 Promotions for his U.S. fights, perhaps he can come stateside every 12 or 18 months, further building his popularity globally.

Inoue has the power, charisma and youth to become a major international boxing star. Hopefully the powers that be strike while the iron is hot. Inoue has the potential to beat any of the tough fighters at 115 (although that's certainly not a guarantee). If his handlers allow themselves to be bold, they could wind up with a phenomenon on their hands.

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, August 31, 2017

On Top Rank, ESPN and HBO

I.

Last Saturday, boxing played a featured role for three of the largest North American media companies. Showtime (owned by CBS) presented the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor pay per view (PPV), which will wind up being one of the top-two PPVs of all time. ESPN (Disney) made a significant announcement, entering into a four-year agreement with Top Rank to broadcast a minimum of 16 fights per year. HBO (for now owned by Time Warner) televised a live boxing card headlined by Miguel Cotto, who was once one of the biggest stars in boxing.

The day presented an interesting juxtaposition. From my perspective it seemed that one of the companies was busy dominating boxing's present; another announced a bold foray into the future, while the third remained stuck in the glories of the past. Clearly, HBO didn't win the "wow factor" of the day. Now, of course, one can always cherry pick dates and times to present facts in a certain way, and it should be noted that HBO stands to televise a very successful PPV on Sept. 16 between Saul Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. The network also has an impressive junior bantamweight card on Sept. 9. 

Still, one can't avoid the current trajectories of the boxing business. For decades, HBO was the gold standard of the sport. Featuring the biggest names and many of the best fights of the past 30 years, HBO was the dominant force in American boxing. Its overwhelming success in building and promoting boxing stars essentially forced its competitors out of the PPV business. In short, HBO was the boxing glamour network. 

Recently, change has been afoot in boxing. Floyd Mayweather's migration to Showtime created an important beachhead for that network. And although HBO still averages higher boxing ratings than Showtime does, by many measures Showtime's performance and, perhaps more importantly, its commitment to boxing have made it a significant player in the sport. It's not that Showtime is a newbie in the fight game, but now the network has the relationships (specifically with influential boxing manager Al Haymon) and the corporate commitment from CBS to provide a truly compelling boxing product.

II.

Top Rank's decision to partner with ESPN wasn't made in vacuum. Over the years HBO has routinely slashed its boxing budget. According to multiple sources, HBO's boxing budget in the 1990s was routinely north of $60M. One former executive at HBO said that one year it surpassed $80M. Today, rumors in the industry place that number closer to $30M. On the surface, that's a quite a drop, but it's even worse than it appears at first glance. 

Let's assume that HBO's budget in 1997, 20 years ago, was $60M, a nice easy number to play with. Sixty million 1997 dollars would equate to $91M 2017 dollars using an average inflation rate of 2.17% (which was the average inflation rate in that 20-year period). So in essence, HBO's $30M commitment today is a third of what it was in the late '90s. That's quite a steep decline. 

I must state that the purpose of this piece isn't an anti-HBO screed. HBO runs a business. A very profitable one. According to Time Warner's 2016 annual report, HBO made $5.89B (yes, billion) for that year including a profit of over $1.9B. HBO now makes up 20% of revenue for Time Warner. 

So it isn't that HBO is some sort of failing enterprise. On the contrary, it has become one of modern media's true success stories. One must remember that 25 years ago, there wasn't The Sopranos, Sex in the City or Game of Thrones. Back then, HBO essentially was a movie channel that also had live sports, specifically boxing. Without the existence of much original programming, boxing was a major draw for the network. 

In time, HBO achieved such staggering success with its original programming that boxing played more of a subsidiary role. It should also be noted that boxing ratings aren't what they were two decades ago (however, hardly any programming matches its ratings from past generations, when there were far fewer media and entertainment choices). 

Over the last two decades, a gradual downward spiral has occurred regarding HBO's boxing ratings and its corresponding budget. HBO World Championship Boxing once routinely topped two and three million viewers per telecast; now the series doesn't consistently crack one million. It's a chicken-and-egg scenario. Was the drop in ratings a rejection of the sport by HBO subscribers or did HBO's reduction in its boxing commitment erode the quality of its product, leading to poorer ratings? The answers to these questions are challenging and complex but the realities of HBO Boxing's ratings and budgets are clear.

In addition to the gradual whittling away of its boxing budget, other economic headwinds are hurting HBO's commitment to the sport. In October, 2016, AT&T made a successful offer to buy Time Warner. The deal, valued at the time of the announcement to be over $85B (source: Wall Street Journal Oct. 22, 2016), is still under regulatory review by various government agencies. Although both parties hope that the deal can be formally approved by the end of 2017, there are still some significant hurdles before the acquisition is finalized. 

So what does the acquisition mean for HBO Boxing? Here's more from Time Warner's 2016 Annual Report in a heading that describes the business risks of the AT&T-Time Warner acquisition on page 23:

"[P]arties with which the company has business relationships may delay or defer certain business decisions, seek alternative relationships with third parties or seek to alter their present relationships with the Company."

In short, Time Warner realizes that business-as-usual may be interrupted during the acquisition. Certain business units may not see their budgets grow as the company waits in limbo. Other important aspects of the company's operations, such as content acquisition, partnerships, capital expenditures, marketing and hiring, could also be curtailed during this period.

Thus, as Top Rank needs television dates for its stable of fighters, HBO, for a variety of reasons, might not be its ideal partner at the present time. Who knows what will happen to HBO Sports if AT&T assumes control of the company? Do the new owners retain the existing executives at HBO or do they install new people? Will AT&T believe that boxing helps HBO's position in the marketplace? Will boxing even be a part of HBO's programming? In this current climate, Top Rank's search for a safe haven makes perfect sense. 

III.

ESPN has had a mercurial presence in boxing over the decades. In the '80s and '90s, the network partnered with Top Rank on a successful weekly series. At one point in the '00s, ESPN broadcasted live boxing twice weekly. It has long been said in the boxing industry that if ESPN wanted to dominate the sport, it could. But for some reason, the network never wanted to. Over the years, ESPN faced a similar downward spiral with its Friday Night Fights series, devoting fewer resources to programming and seeing a precipitous decline in its ratings. 

Despite various ebbs and flows, the network has always kept a toehold in boxing. However, in the latter years of Friday Night Fights, ESPN essentially quarantined boxing to its Friday night ghetto. The network didn't do much to publicize the series. Start times were often juggled and significantly delayed. Rarely was boxing integrated with SportsCenter or other ESPN programming. In conversations with former ESPN executives, boxing was seen as difficult to attract advertisers even though its ratings had been more than respectable. 

Over the last few years, ESPN has shown a renewed interest in the sport. Al Haymon's PBC series flipped the business model of boxing. In the past, ESPN had to acquire content; now Haymon & Co. were paying ESPN to broadcast fights. However, that marriage was short-lived. The quality of PBC cards on ESPN lacked consistency. Eventually Golden Boy Promotions approached ESPN with a new deal that featured a series of club level fights and access to its bigger fighters for promotional appearances on the network. Through the first year of their new agreement, the ESPN/Golden Boy deal seems to be satisfying both parties. 

The Top Rank/ESPN pact further grows the network's boxing programming. Top Rank insists that the deal will include its biggest fighters, such as Pacquiao, Lomachenko and Crawford. In addition, Top Rank will be sharing its valuable fight library with ESPN, which will certainly become a nice plum for ESPN Classic and the new ESPN stand-alone streaming service that begins in 2018.

The network and its related properties have access to the general sports fan that is unsurpassed in the current media landscape. Highlight and debate shows provide a constant reinforcement of the top sports stories of the day. After ESPN's successful broadcast of the controversial Pacquiao-Horn fight, the network spent dozens of hours in the subsequent days debating the Horn victory. That type of publicity is hard to duplicate in any other media setting.  

ESPN is clearly the North American sports leader but recent media trends have shattered its bulletproof position in the Disney empire. More consumers continue to "cord-cut," giving up their cable packages. Acquisition costs for sports leagues have become astronomical, cutting into ESPN's margins. The network executed a significant round of layoffs early in 2017. 

IV. 

Watching HBO's broadcast of Cotto-Kamegai, it struck me that an end of an era has occurred in boxing. This isn't to say that HBO Boxing is on its deathbed or that the network will no longer be a factor in the sport. However, there exists the very real possibility that HBO will televise fewer and fewer big fights in the coming years. This is our loss. 

No network has a better broadcast than HBO. The network has always treated boxing, on-air, like a valuable property. Its commentators are well researched and prepared. HBO broadcasters never thought of boxing as a moonlighting or secondary gig, a sport to call in the downtime between other higher-profile endeavors. No, Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, George Foreman, Emanuel Steward, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones were always right where they wanted to be – in the thick of boxing, calling big fights for passionate fans. 

And it's not just the on-air talent. HBO Boxing was such an innovative enterprise. Its advances in the presentation of boxing are too numerous to list fully, but here are some: the incorporation of punch stats; the use of translators to describe the conversation in the corners; the integration of an unofficial scorer – not just to announce the score itself but why a fight should be scored the way it is; the graphics that demonstrate where punches are thrown among the head and body. Honestly, there are a dozen of these innovations that now have become a basic vocabulary for fight fans. HBO Boxing didn't just televise the sport, it also educated generations of their viewers. On Saturday's broadcast, HBO incorporated a new statistic – how often a fighter was advancing vs. retreating. What a fascinating concept, one that has many implications in how we view fights and their scoring. 

In addition, HBO Boxing has the best production values. Its deep focus and high definition cameras are unmatched to my eyes. Its lighting makes the presentation look truly cinematic. Camera angles and cuts are expert. 

But there are also simpler pleasures in the HBO broadcast: the way that Jim Lampley will cut out for 30 seconds here or there just to take in the fight, the encouragement of differing opinions from its commentators, the real brotherhood between the HBO announce team. One can tell how deeply all of the players admire each other. These aspects of boxing will surely be missed if HBO plays a reduced role in the sport. The other networks may have compelling fights or boxers, but they don't come close to surpassing HBO's mastery of the boxing broadcast. 

V.

With 16 shows a year from Top Rank and more than a dozen annual dates from Golden Boy, it might be time for ESPN to make some strategic investments in boxing. The quality of its production pales in comparison to HBO's and Showtime's. ESPN Boxing's cameras and lighting don't necessarily do the sport justice. ESPN's producers and directors make some bizarre camera angle choices during fights, often showing an overhead view which serves little purpose. 

In addition, the broadcast seems far too casual. ESPN's lead play-by-play man, Joe Tessitore, only seems emotionally invested in boxing intermittently. His main gig is calling college football games on Saturday nights. He doesn't always exhibit enthusiasm for the fights. Perhaps a better quality product will keep his attention, but maybe it won't. 

Teddy Atlas is an institution, and that has both good and bad ramifications. Atlas has a tremendous perspective on the psychology of fighters. He's great at communicating strategy and analyzing game plans. Occasionally, he'll catch something absolutely brilliant when breaking down video of a fighter, such as a flaw or tendency. In these moments, he is truly unsurpassed. But he also has been over-indulged for far too long by the ESPN production crew. He talks incessantly, often over the action. He can be slow to notice when the tenor of a fight has changed. He falls back on analogies and clich├ęs. Sometimes they are prescient; at other points they can be trite. He also doesn't do well with disagreement or countervailing opinions. These are major shortcomings. 

In two of the three broadcasts of the Top Rank/ESPN series, the network has featured a studio portion of the telecast that involves Stephen A. Smith. Smith is ratings catnip for ESPN. For good or for bad, he draws viewers in. However, to this point of the Top Rank series, he's been woefully underprepared. He didn't recognize the names of any of Jeff Horn's opponents – including former champions and title challengers. He admitted that he had never seen Miguel Marriaga fight before. This is unacceptable. Yes, Smith certainly brings positives to a boxing program but his lack of preparation undermines his opinions and disservices boxing fans. In no other major sport would a supposed expert gleefully claim that he hadn't watched an opponent. 

For ESPN to succeed in broadcasting boxing, it has to improve. Its on-air talent must display the enthusiasm and expertise needed for the job. Hire a researcher for Stephen A. Smith. Bring in an unofficial scorer that can provide a different opinion from that of Atlas, who often misses action during fights. Invest in better technical equipment. The sound quality needs to be better. The production of the show needs to be freshened up. Work with Top Rank to get better results in these areas; they've been on the front lines of world-level boxing for 40 years. Ask for help.  

More boxing on ESPN is certainly a welcome development. However, there is no guarantee that the Top Rank deal will succeed. Top Rank must continually provide top, competitive matches. ESPN executives must have enough expertise in the sport to provide appropriate quality control. The network needs to find the best avenues to publicize its boxing content among its myriad platforms. Perhaps most importantly, the ESPN/Top Rank partnership must become successful visually, on TV, and not just economically. These are real challenges for both parties.

ESPN has the resources to broadcast a top boxing product. But is the will there? Is this a money grab for the network or the beginning of a successful and sustained foray into the top levels of the sport? Color me intrigued.

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.