Sunday, April 30, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Joshua-Klitschko

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 28, 2017

Joshua-Klitschko: Keys to the Fight

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

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

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

1. What does Wlad have left? 

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

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

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

2. Joshua's chin.

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

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

3. Wlad's left hook. 

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

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

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

4. Joshua must avoid clinches. 

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

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

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

5. Finishing ability.

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

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

6. Trainers. 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Anthony Joshua KO 6 Wladimir Klitschko. 

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

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

Blog Talk Radio Link
Stitcher Link 

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

DiBella on Building Brooklyn Boxing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Opinions and Observations: The Lomachenko Card

A jab step. A foot feint. Quick side-to-side movement. A quarter-step back. A spin. A triple uppercut-left hook combination. Punches from all angles and trajectories raining down with heavy frequency. Jason Sosa couldn't adequately defend himself against Vasyl Lomachenko because he didn't know where or when to expect incoming fire. 

A specific sequence in the eighth round illustrated Lomachenko's singular brilliance in this area. Moving blindingly fast from the left side of Sosa's body to his right, Lomachenko successfully got Sosa turned around the wrong way. Lomachenko then unloaded a straight left hand that was completely undefended: the free shot the fighters dream about! Lomachenko detonated the blast and Sosa was rocked. Sensing an opportunity to end the fight, Lomachenko upped his attack with maximum ferocity. He followed up with a fuselage of power shots. Sosa stumbled around the ring, clinched, but somehow found his way out of the round. However, he wouldn't be long for the fight; his corner mercifully stopped the bout after the ninth. 

If there is one flaw with Lomachenko, and this may or may not be of importance as his career continues, the sequence I noted above, although brilliant in execution, demonstrated it. With a free shot against a defenseless opponent, Lomachenko couldn't get the KO. He's just not a huge one-punch knockout artist. Credit Sosa's chin and determination but this instance was a perfect illustration of Lomachenko's power deficit. Yes, he inflicts damage and hurts opponents, but he lacks a true eraser. Again, this only might be a factor later in his career because a number of boxers who have ascended to the top of the sport weren't one-punch knockout guys. Mayweather rarely knocked anyone out at welterweight. Hopkins wasn't a KO guy during the latter part of his middleweight reign. Whitaker was never known for his power. Lomachenko's lack of a true knockout punch might hurt him in a fight down the road, but maybe he won't have to worry about it. 

However, let me back up for a moment. This potential flaw of Lomachenko's has already manifested. In the 12th round against Orlando Salido, Lomachenko had Salido badly hurt and in survival mode. The fight was neck-and-neck and if Lomachenko could land a finishing blow, surely he wouldn't have to sweat it out on the judges’ scorecards. But he couldn't end the fight; he would go on to lose a split decision. 

Salido was just Lomachenko's second pro opponent and surely Vasyl has gained experience and ring maturity since that March night in 2014. However, as Lomachenko continues to face better fighters and potentially at higher weights, it's certainly possible that he will find himself needing a knockdown or a knockout to cement a victory. 

But for now, let's just enjoy the ride. 

Watching Lomachenko in-person for the first time, I was amazed by his footwork. He moved with such grace and commanded the ring. His movement left Sosa confounded; Lomachenko looked like he could've been a dancer or a fencer. In fact, Lomachenko took years of dancing lessons in the Ukraine and that training certainly has paid off in his boxing career. Sosa, a hard-working, blue-collar fighter, lacked the foot speed or athleticism to find Lomachenko consistently, let alone compete with him. 

Sosa used his stablemate, Tevin Farmer, as a chief sparring partner for Lomachenko. Like Lomachenko, Farmer is a slick southpaw who is hard to hit cleanly. However, Farmer is essentially defensively minded and isn't the type of fighter to average upwards of 60 shots in a round. What separates Lomachenko from a boxer like Farmer, who is an incredibly talented fighter, is the offensive temperament that accompanies his strong defensive foundation. Yes, Sosa might be able to track a defensive cutie who only wants to throw 35 punches a round, but he doesn't have the defensive chops to remain on the front foot against a volume-puncher like Lomachenko. 

A fighter can't press Lomachenko if he's constantly in defensive mode. At points, Sosa landed on Lomachenko but he couldn't get much on his shots because he wasn't confident where Lomachenko would be. And unlike the Salido fight, Lomachenko wasn't compliantly standing in front of Sosa, giving him his body to pound. Lomachenko has learned a lot from the Salido loss and he seldom remained stationary on Saturday. He refused to provide Sosa with a way into the fight. 

Lomachenko is an elite talent who now remains in a holding pattern, waiting for tougher opponents to fight him. At this point, Lomachenko may not yet bring the money for prospective top fighters to face him. Hopefully, Top Rank and HBO continue to support Lomachenko and provide potential foes with attractive financial inducements. Lomachenko's current abilities are among the best in the sport. We wait with rapt anticipation for his opportunity to face greater talents. 


In the HBO opener, cruiserweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk won a competitive battle against Michael Hunter. Usyk, the 2008 heavyweight Olympic gold medalist, has moved fast as a pro, winning a world title belt in just his 10th fight. Hunter was himself a 2012 Olympian and although he was getting a title shot in only his 13th pro bout, he lacked Usyk's strong slate of developmental fights. He had defeated the previously unbeaten Isiah Thomas in 2016 but that was the only good fighter on his resume prior to Usyk. 

Hunter started on Saturday very confidently. Featuring a hard jab, clever footwork and quick combinations, he flummoxed Usyk for portions of the first four rounds. Hunter would step in with quick one-twos and deftly get out of the pocket. He displayed significant boxing skills and a true fighting spirit. Throughout the match, whenever he got roughed up, he refused to capitulate and continued to fire back. 

However, as the fight progressed, Hunter's lack of experience led to his undoing. In the second half of the bout, he ceded control of the ring generalship battle. Hunter got dragged into Usyk's fight and he didn't have the experience or ring IQ to regain control of the match. When Hunter should've clinched or left the pocket, he was too game and instead decided to exchange. Lacking a big punch, Hunter couldn't match Usyk's power. In addition, Usyk's constant pressure and high-volume attack started to wear him down. 

Usyk had huge offensive rounds in the 10th and 12th, tattooing Hunter with right uppercuts, right hooks and straight left hands. In fact, the fight should've been stopped at several points but referee Bill Clancy – a sadist if I've ever seen one – permitted Hunter to take an unnecessary beating. Yes, Hunter had won a few early rounds but the fight wasn't in the balance in the bout's final third. By the end, Hunter was cooked and only his pride, his fighting instincts and Clancy's cruelty permitted him to hear the final bell. 

Since turning pro, Usyk has developed a rabid, cult-like following among many in boxing's cognoscenti. With his considerable boxing skills, constant pressure and offensive temperament, Usyk possesses traits that many observers believe could lead to an elite boxing career. More than a few have suggested that Usyk ultimately could become a genuine heavyweight contender. 

I won't say that Usyk disappointed on Saturday. He beat a determined and talented foe who offered the type of tricky angles, hand speed and footwork that can make many fighters look ordinary. However, Usyk's defense just wasn't good enough on Saturday to make heavyweights start to worry. Usyk had little defense for Hunter's jab. Usyk couldn't effectively counter it and featured little head movement. In addition, he struggled with Hunter's rhythm. Stepping in and out of range, Hunter landed frequently. Now, imagine those same shots from a much bigger puncher. 

If you haven't noticed, the heavyweight division is changing over. Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are not the plodders of yesteryear. They use their feet and move around the ring. Usyk could fair well against a stationary fighter but if he decides to move up, he'll have to beat an athletic, powerful heavyweight to emerge as the top guy in that division. At this point, his defense is too porous and his straight-line movements won't help matters. 

Usyk, whom many regard as the best cruiserweight in the world at the present moment, still has unfinished business in the division. Fellow titleholders like Murat Gassiev and Mairis Briedis could present some difficulties for him. Usyk is 30 and his prime is now but if he truly wants to become an elite heavyweight, he should use his current division as a finishing school. Let's see his defense against Gassiev's power bombs. Can he overcome Briedis' boxing fluidity? If he emerges from those contests unscathed, he will be ready for tougher fights at heavyweight, but for now, he still needs some refinement. 


Oleksandr Gvozdyk dazzled on Saturday with a third-round knockout of rugged Yunieski Gonzalez. Gvozdyk, like his fellow countrymen Lomachenko and Usyk, also was an Olympic medalist, and although he might not engender the same effusive praise in boxing circles that his compatriots do, he certainly provided some indelible moments on Saturday. 

In the third round, he had a masterful sequence that led to the first knockdown. Connecting with a powerful combination, Gvozdyk then took a half step back to avoid Gonzalez's counter. After allowing Gonzalez to miss wildly, Gvozdyk stepped back into the pocket and unleashed a peach of a left hook that shook Gonzalez to his foundation. Within moments, Gonzalez was on the canvas. Later in the round, Gvozdyk uncorked a massive overhand right that ended the fight. Earlier in his career, Gonzalez had taken some huge shots from Jean Pascal and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, but he was unable to withstand Gvozdyk's combination of intelligence, power and timing. 

Gvozdyk continues to improve. In July of last year, he was dropped by trial horse Tommy Karpency. Although Karpency isn't a big puncher, he caught Gvozdyk in an overconfident moment with his hands down. Gvozdyk subsequently finished off Karpency but he had learned his lesson. Gvozdyk pounded out a win later in 2016 against Isaac Chilemba, a fighter who makes opponents look terrible. However, Gvozdyk maintained his composure and work rate and continued to win rounds. Ultimately, Chilemba's corner decided to end the fight. 

On Saturday, Gvozdyk successfully neutralized Gonzalez's overhand right. Instead of getting caught with punches, like he had in the past, Gvozdyk avoided punishment and inflicted his own. Gvozdyk has considerable offensive skills and packs a big punch. If he remains committed to defensive responsibility, he could emerge as a major player in the light heavyweight division. At the very least, with Saturday's performance, he’s now on the map.

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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Lomachenko -- Is "Great" Good Enough?

By any measure, Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the most talented fighters in contemporary boxing. He amassed two gold medals for Ukraine in the Olympics and an amateur record of 396-1 (that's not a typo). In just eight professional fights, he's won titles in two different weight classes. He almost captured a belt in his second pro fight, losing via a split decision with the deck stacked against him (Orlando Salido badly missed weight and the ref failed to penalize Salido for repeated, egregious low blows). In only his third professional contest, he successfully won a championship belt against undefeated Gary Russell, Jr. 

And that's where the facts end and the superlatives begin. More than a few boxing historians rate him as one of the best amateurs of all time. Bob Arum, Lomachenko's promoter, has proclaimed him the best fighter since Ali. Roy Jones, the former pound-for-pound champ and current HBO commentator, believes that Lomachenko is the top fighter in boxing. Almost all credible ranking organizations rate Lomachenko among the best in the sport. 

Top Rank, Arum's company, has accelerated Lomachenko’s development far beyond its standard operating procedure. The company secured a title shot for him in just his second fight (unheard of in modern boxing) and placed him on the Mayweather-Pacquiao card, the highest-profile boxing event of the century to this point. He was also further exposed on a Pacquiao pay per view in Macau. By Lomachenko's seventh fight, he was already headlining a card on HBO. He's now become one of the network's core fighters.

Lomachenko has enraptured many hardcore boxing fans with his dazzling display of athleticism, footwork, punch placement and creativity. He finds angles to land shots that few could even imagine, let alone attempt and execute to perfection. His footwork astounds. He can spin an opponent and come from behind his foe to land a legal shot (a personal favorite). He seemingly works both sides of an opponent simultaneously, using quick lateral movement to initiate offense as he chooses. He's also an extremely talented combination puncher, throwing every punch in the book with frightening accuracy and hand speed. And he's not just a pitty-pat puncher. His knockout of multi-divisional champ Roman Martinez was truly devastating. 

On Saturday, Lomachenko will fight Jason Sosa in another HBO headlining appearance. The bout will take place at the MGM National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C. The venue seats only 3,000 or so but the card was a virtual sell-out within a week of tickets going on sale. 

Although it's clear that Lomachenko has a base of support, the question must be asked if it will grow, or will he remain just a cult-like figure among the sport's aficionados? Does he have the ability to expand his fan base beyond boxing most devout supporters? Will he ever fill large arenas? Might he one day become a pay per view star or one of the top draws in boxing? 

HBO and Top Rank have clearly been ahead of the general boxing public when it comes to Lomachenko. Through this point in his career, Lomachenko has drawn middling TV ratings and he's yet to become a top ticket seller. And while he is supremely talented, are HBO and Top Rank force-feeding him to the boxing public, or might they see their investment pay off with repeated exposure?

Unfortunately for Top Rank and HBO, both organizations face significant hurdles in their plans to make a star out of Lomachenko. As for Top Rank, after Sosa, they have pretty much run out of potential opponents from their own promotional stable (they co-promote Sosa with Peltz Boxing). They have given Lomachenko a crack at Salido, Martinez and Nicholas Walters – all good fighters but none that are elite. And the current landscape at junior lightweight lacks a truly worthy test of Lomachenko. 

The opponents that may be able to take Lomachenko to the next level of popularity are a division above, at lightweight (Jorge Linares, Mikey Garcia), and are signed to/aligned with other promoters. Linares could be a possibility in that Arum will work with Golden Boy Promotions but Mikey Garcia, who is aligned with Richard Schaefer, seems far less likely. (Garcia sued Top Rank to gain his promotional independence). Top Rank also rarely works with Al Haymon and his stable of fighters, which includes current 135-lb. champ Robert Easter, Jr. 

If Bob Arum has grand designs on growing Lomachenko in the sport, he's most likely going to have to hold his nose and make deals with those whom he doesn't like. I guess it's possible that Terence Crawford (a Top Rank fighter) could fight Lomachenko at 140, but Crawford has already talked about moving up to 147 and it's unlikely that the money would be available for that matchup (more on that in a little). In short, Bob needs to deal with Richard or Al if he really wants Lomachenko to develop into a larger attraction. This could mean contentious negotiations, network disagreements, venue disputes and media battles; he's going to have to cede some control. 

At 85, Arum has lived a full life and has made his millions. But at 29, and in the prime of his career, Lomachenko has yet to earn big money. If Arum thinks that Lomachenko is a generational talent, what's stopping him from matching his fighter tougher? Why not give Lomachenko the chance to earn more?

HBO has a different set of issues. The network hasn't exactly been breaking the bank in 2017. HBO has continued a trend to move more fights to pay per view, away from their monthly boxing subscribers. The network couldn't afford to put Golovkin-Jacobs on its HBO Championship Boxing platform even though the purse for the main event was less than $5M (for instance, Taylor-Wright was on HBO and that had a similar price tag). In actual dollars, HBO's boxing budget is not what it was in previous decades and this disparity is even more striking when accounting for inflation. Furthermore, AT&T is in the process of attempting to acquire Time Warner (the corporate parent of HBO). There's no certainly that the deal goes through or how the potential new owners will regard boxing. From the outside, it seems that HBO Boxing has refused to make bold or expensive moves during this period of uncertainty. 

All of this matters because it's unclear if HBO will even have the largess to support Lomachenko in more substantial boxing endeavors. As Golovkin-Jacobs and Kovalev-Ward proved, the pay per view market isn't exactly on fire right now. And each of those fights would seem to do better on paper than any matchup that Lomachenko might be involved in (a fight against a cashed-out Manny Pacquiao notwithstanding). 

Lomachenko needs to be on a network and if HBO can't shell out real dollars for bigger opponents, Lomachenko's growth in the sport may plateau. Top Rank could always dig into its war chest to help defray HBO's costs for a fight or two, but ultimately, Top Rank is in business to make money. Established network starts aren't loss leaders; that's what prospects are for. Veteran boxers should be net-positive for a promotional company (or neutral, at worst); that's how the model has always worked. 

With all of these external factors acting as potential headwinds for his growth in the sport, Lomachenko has to do his part to create demand. Lomachenko has had few competitive fights. Sometimes he starts off aggressively (Roman Martinez) but there are other times where he seems content to get rounds in (Romulo Koasicha, Gamalier Rodriguez). Lomachenko can help himself by laying waste to lesser talents in quick fashion – like Golovkin and Kovalev did. Let's face it, fast knockouts are sexy. They leave fans wanting more. And it isn't like Lomachenko doesn't have the power or ability to do that; however, it may be a question of temperament for him. 

As Lomachenko readies for his 2017 debut, he enters the ring as an HBO headliner and one of Top Rank's featured fighters. But will he end the year as something more? Will his in-ring exploits lead to headlining positions in larger venues? Will he face even tougher competition? Will Top Rank and HBO pony up to ensure that better fights happen? Will Lomachenko endear himself to more casual boxing fans? 

It isn't easy to create boxing stars in the U.S. market. The sport has helped marginalize itself with some bad decision making. Even excepting boxing's self-inflicted wounds, ad-supported TV networks don't like to trouble themselves selling the sport to its sponsors, despite boxing often doing better ratings than other network programming. (Unfortunately, not enough suits believe that boxing can be a valuable part of a larger sports and entertainment portfolio.)

With the potential roadblocks facing Top Rank and HBO, Lomachenko, foreign-born and not a traditional one-punch knockout artist, will most likely have difficulty making the jump to the next level of visibility in boxing, to say nothing of the larger sporting world. He may very well wind up being the singular fighter of his era, but how many will notice? 

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