Sunday, December 10, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Loma, Roman and Truax

Pride can be a double-edged sword in boxing. On the positive side of the ledger, pride enables a fighter to dig down, overcome adversity, make a last stand and go for the victory even in a diminished capacity. Many prizefighters possess this attribute and mixed with enough skill and the right opponents, pride can lead to thrilling performances. 

Miguel Roman, in HBO's main event, exhibited this characteristic in his knockout win over Orlando Salido, perhaps the living embodiment of positive pride in boxing. Roman, a fighter who had lost the biggest bouts of his career prior to this weekend, had to endure the hell of Salido's infighting throughout the match. Absorbing vicious power shots, hurt early in the fight and trying to handle Salido's grappling and fouls, Roman persevered to pull out a victory despite periods where his chances of winning looked grim. 

Of course, pride can also have negative connotations. There's a reason it was one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Excessive pride can lead to one's downfall. It can make one underestimate opponents or fail to consider potential negative outcomes. There's also a concept of pride where one is "too good" to participate in a specific task – that a certain requirement is beneath an individual. In this scenario, too much pride can lead to one refusing to get his or her hands dirty, not willing to do what needs to get done. 

It's this second aspect of pride that led to Guillermo Rigondeaux quitting on his stool before the seventh round against Vasyl Lomachenko. Claiming an injured hand, Rigondeaux, down big on the scorecards, wasn't willing to risk any more against Lomachenko. It's not as if hand problems aren't common occurrences in boxing. Practically every weekend a fighter continues with some sort of injury. In the HBO undercard on Saturday, Stephen Smith was still trying to win with half a left ear. To Rigondeaux, he wasn't going to change his style or, gasp, subject himself to a ring war, no matter if that was necessary for victory.  

In my years of covering boxing and talking to fighters I've discovered one thing that boxers hate more than losing – being embarrassed in the ring. Many will foul, attempt to get DQ'ed, stay on their stool, claim an injury – anything to avoid being the butt of jokes in the squared circle. Loma was toying with Rigo in the ring, spinning around him without a care and the world, meeting and ultimately exceeding Rigo's propensity to foul, bending when and where he bent, tagging him with whatever shot he saw fit. There would be no selling out for a comeback victory from Rigo, no going out on his shield. For Rigo, the pain of embarrassment was far greater than whatever was going on with his left hand. He'd rather pack it in after six rounds than subject himself to further mortification. His pride wouldn't allow more. 

As boxing fans, we expect fighters to leave it all in the ring. Sublime efforts lead to greater rewards. Rigondeaux has spent a significant portion of his professional career complaining about poor treatment from the boxing industry and a dearth of opportunities. He regarded much of his professional career as a series of outrages. A fighter of his stature shouldn't have to beg and claw for the spoils of glory; he was Guillermo Rigondeaux, one of the best fighters on the planet! But presented with an opportunity to exhibit greatness on Saturday, Rigo demonstrated that he was unwilling to plum specific depths for victory. When finally in a tough fight, the purported master boxer wouldn't scrape his way back like a member of the boxing riff-raff; he capitulated. 

Three years ago, Lomachenko learned a valuable lesson about the dangers of having excessive pride. In only his second professional fight, he insisted on fighting for a title. The champion standing in his way was the aforementioned Orlando Salido. Lomachenko believed that he had almost all the advantages – hand and foot speed, punch placement, a deeper offensive arsenal and sharper defensive reflexes. Of course Salido had more professional experience but Lomachenko wasn't impressed by Salido's career accomplishments; he was on a path to making history! As a two-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the best amateur fighters of all time, he felt that he was more than ready to become a champion, even at such an early point in his professional career. How could a slow, lumbering gatekeeper beat him? 

Pride played a significant role in Salido-Lomachenko. Lomachenko severely underestimated his opponent. On the flip side, Salido wasn't about to be embarrassed in the ring, even if it meant giving up his title belt by coming in over the weight limit. Salido entered the ring with a considerable size advantage and proceeded to teach Lomachenko a lesson in professional boxing. Firing low blow after low blow, digging mercilessly to the body and grappling on the inside, Salido showed the professional novice tricks that he had never before seen. Eventually, Lomachenko made adjustments to counteract Salido's inside fighting but his early deficit on the scorecards was too much to overcome; he wound up losing a split decision. 

There was a stark difference between the Lomachenko on Saturday, now a veteran in professional prizefighting, and the greenhorn version against Salido. Lomachenko expected the unexpected against Rigondeaux and clearly understood the stakes at play. If Rigo hit after the bell, Loma followed. Loma also was seasoned enough to call the referee's attention to fouls. When Rigo went low or engaged in an illegal holding maneuver, Loma indicated these infractions clearly to the ref. By the sixth round, Rigo lost a point for holding. 

After a competitive opening round, Lomachenko-Rigondeaux was never in doubt. Lomachenko's athleticism, agility and incredible body control enabled him to follow Rigondeaux's every defensive maneuver. If Rigondeaux ducked a punch and bent to his left, Lomachenko had the athletic ability to follow Rigondeaux immediately to that position and continue with his offense. He essentially acted as Rigo's shadow. He was prepared for every move that Rigondeaux made. 

During the post-fight interview, Lomachenko shrugged off the significance of the win. He didn't feel that Rigondeaux had the size to be competing on his level. 

Lomachenko is ready for all challenges in boxing. With a rising profile and a huge platform to demonstrate his singular talents, he could be on the cusp of true boxing superstardom. On Saturday he embarrassed a proud, undefeated (if undersized) champion, forcing him to quit. He ends the year as one of the best fighters in the sport and it's going to take a truly special talent or a risk of such epic proportions for him to lose in the foreseeable future.  


Jim Lampley, at the height of his powers on Saturday, provided a wonderful and apt story about Miguel Roman during his fight with Orlando Salido. As a teenager, Roman's brother was murdered and instead of trying to exact revenge on the killer, Roman waited, believing that eventually the murderer would get his just due; a few years later the perpetrator was killed in prison. This story wasn't used to fill time or sensitize the viewer to a personal tragedy; Lampley used it as an analogous backdrop to what was occurring in the ring. As Roman was making a charge in the fight, Lampley exhorted these words, noting that in the past Roman was patient and eventually justice was served. Now, after 70 fights and 12 years as a professional, Roman, after patiently waiting for the right opportunity, was receiving his just rewards. It was a beautiful moment from Lampley, who remains unsurpassed in his ability to inject poignancy into a boxing match. 

More great Lampley: When reflecting upon Salido's memorable career, he provided another keen insight. I'm paraphrasing here but he said what was so remarkable about Salido was that it didn't matter if he'd won or lost his big fights. Francisco Vargas, Roman Martinez, Juan Manuel Lopez. Which ones did Salido win? Which ones did he lose? Which ones were draws? 

Ultimately, it doesn't matter because Salido provided so much entertainment, such thrilling action. Lampley's observation was 100% correct and I struggle to think of another current boxer who receives the same treatment from the boxing industry. Despite 14 losses, Salido attained a unique status in the sport. After the fight, he announced his retirement and he leaves boxing as a main event HBO fighter and this generation's Arturo Gatti. 

At 32, Roman may have another two or three years left to pick up the action fighter mantle from Salido; however, like Salido, Roman has been in a ton of wars. Roman has 12 losses but he also has 45 knockouts in his 58 wins. He's actually fought in America 14 times but didn't really break through until earlier this year, when he gave former junior lightweight titleholder Takashi Miura hell before being stopped. Roman has helped to make two of the best fights of 2017 and if matched correctly he could provide a lot of entertainment over the next few years.

As Salido-Roman ended last night, Lampley speculated that Salido might not be as disappointed in the knockout loss as one would expect since he recognized so much of himself in Roman. There could be a lot of truth there. Similar to Salido, nothing was given to Roman. He had to fight in all sorts of shabby venues, often for short money and without the benefit of full training camps. Roman wasn't supposed to be the opponent last night. But as his countrymen Salido so often did, he showed up in shape and ready to give hell. Saturday's fight wasn't for a title or any other type of trinket but for Roman it was perhaps even more important; it was his chance to matter in boxing. With his two fantastic performances this year, Roman now has a calling card in the sport. And he's just a phone call away. 


Caleb Truax was supposed to be James DeGale's get-well opponent. Coming off of shoulder surgery and 11 months of inactivity after his brutal slugfest with Badou Jack, DeGale intended to make a title defense against someone non-threatening. Truax, somehow ranked in the Top-15 of the IBF (Thanks Al Haymon), was drafted for this duty. When last in a meaningful fight, Truax was iced in one round by Anthony Dirrell. In the 18 months since that bout, he had only fought two lower-level opponents. 

Without being blessed with top-shelf athleticism or the size to trouble upper-echelon fighters, Truax relies on intelligence and an acute understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. He didn't have a single physical advantage over DeGale on paper. But a high Ring IQ, a fantastic game plan, self-belief and a little luck helped to tear that paper to shreds; he won a deserved majority decision in surely what will be the upset of the year for 2017. 

DeGale is one of the more maddening fighters in boxing. In a given round, he can dazzle with his physical and technical dimensions. With lightning hand speed and creative angles, he can land six- and seven-punch combinations that absolutely demoralize opponents. He glides gracefully around the ring. He's just as competent as an orthodox fighter as he is in his natural southpaw stance. And he can pack a real punch. In these moments he can do it all. 

But there is another James DeGale – the one who lets opponents back into fights, the guy who inexplicably takes rounds off, the one who likes to make things hard for himself. Give DeGale enough time and his punch volume will decrease, he'll stop moving and he'll demonstrate indifference in the ring. 

DeGale has had nip-and-tuck fights with Badou Jack, Porky Medina, Andre Dirrell, George Groves and now Caleb Truax. Note the variety of talent levels in that list. What remains consistent is that DeGale seems incapable of putting 12 good rounds together against a fighter who can handle himself in the ring. 

Furthermore, DeGale clearly wasn't physically right in Saturday's fight. By the third round, he was retreating to the ropes. He labored whenever he had to fight in the center of the ring, despite dominating the match in that geography. In addition, his defensive reflexes looked poor. 

DeGale had shoulder surgery, oral surgery and a perforated ear drum as a result of his fight against Jack. After Saturday's bout, he admitted that he may have rushed back into the ring. He also insisted that he will be making changes in his camp. Perhaps some time off is in order. 

None of the above is meant to disparage Truax, who went into a hostile environment and laughed at the oddsmakers. Truax consistently forced DeGale back to the ropes and banged whatever he could hit. He hurt DeGale with straight right hands and short uppercuts in the 5th and 10th rounds and got the best of the action for large portions of the fight. 

Off nights happen in boxing. Fighters may not be at their physical peak, or perhaps there has been some slippage or deterioration in their skills. However, it's not enough just to say that DeGale was less than his best. An opponent must capitalize on such an opportunity. Truax was ready for his chance. He understood exactly what he had to do to win and executed his plan to the best of his abilities. 

On a personal note, I've interacted with Truax a number of times over social media throughout the years. I've found him to be grounded, funny and articulate. As a relative latecomer to professional boxing, he often talked about becoming a fighter to pay off his student debt. In his deepest recesses, I wonder if he ever thought that he would one day become a world champion. 

Life takes interesting twists and turns and it's up to us to make the most of them. Only because Truax wasn't seen as threatening does he now have a title belt. Let that be a lesson to all of us. Like Roman, Salido, or Truax, when the phone rings, be ready. 

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

1 comment:

  1. Well written again. As Lampley shows his age at times (often to the point of comic relief), he is still the best in boxing when it comes to making an event feel special. I am still an admirer even if he's towing the HBO at times or crying for little or no reason.

    DeGale could have underestimated Truax, but all credit to Caleb for showing heart and determination on foreign soil. When boxing often gets it wrong, it's always rewarding to see it get it right when a fighter like Caleb Truax triumphs.

    Keep writing, Adam!