Sunday, November 11, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Usyk-Bellew

It's unusual that one of the defining characteristics of a fighter with an 80% knockout ratio is patience. However, when considering undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, the unconventional often applies. Despite Usyk's size and physicality, he is essentially a mover, forever searching for angles and ways to penetrate a defense. However, he's not moving to skirt trouble; he's trying to initiate some for his opponent. He probes and pokes, always looking for a way in. As many elite fighters do, he will take a few rounds to see what he is up against before making adjustments. He doesn't even mind if he falls behind. With his superior conditioning and work rate, he will eventually discover his opening.

None of this makes Usyk out to be a killer in the ring, and perhaps he's not. He's no search-and-destroy knockout artist. But as the great ones do, he finds a way to win, and he dishes out his fair share of hurt in the process. Whether it's the jab, such as in the Murat Gassiev fight, the work rate versus Mairis Briedis or the slinging left hand that he found in the eighth round against Tony Bellew on Saturday, he employs an enormous tool chest with which to work. And by the end of a fight, even the opponents that have made it to the final bell have been psychologically demoralized or physically beaten down (with Briedis being the one, notable exception). 

Photo Courtesy of Simon Stacpoole

Bellew fought very well on Saturday. Winning a minimum of three of the first seven rounds, he consistently countered with hard right hands to the head and body. Even though Bellew was the significant underdog, he didn't let external pre-conceived notions cloud his performance in the fight; he was there to win. And with the Manchester crowd rapturously behind him, he fought valiantly and courageously, with the fans and fighter feeding off each other every time a solid right landed. 

Unlike many classic boxers, Usyk doesn't have elite defensive reflexes. He can be countered by a determined foe, as Briedis demonstrated earlier in 2018 and Bellew showed on Saturday. Usyk compensates for this deficiency in three ways: 

1. He uses his body to find angles where an opponent can't land his best shot;
2.  He increases his work rate;   
3.  He relies on his chin. 

Bellew had the right game plan on Saturday. His best opportunity was to counter Usyk with something hard. And throughout the first six rounds of the fight, he had pockets of success, sometimes even more than that. In rounds two and three, his counter right hands were clearly the best punches of those frames. 

But as the rounds continued, a problem developed. Bellew's right hands weren't enough to discourage Usyk. Furthermore, as Usyk circled more and more to his right, Bellew's right hand became far less of a factor. In addition, Usyk's constant offensive pressure led to Bellew exerting signs of fatigue. Whereas Usyk's jab was essentially a non-factor in the first six rounds of the fight, suddenly it started to land. And in the final exchange of the fight in the eighth round, Usyk blinded Bellew with a right jab and then finished it off with a left hook. When interviewed after the fight, Bellew didn't even know what the final punch was; he never saw it. 

Let's back up a second though. Usyk's memorable final combination of the fight didn't occur in a vacuum. In fact, Usyk had landed a series of left hands in the eighth round prior to the finale. Bellew was still feeling the effects of one right before the final combination. In a clever bit of improvisation during the round, Usyk lowered the angle from where he threw his left hand. Instead of a direct, straight shot which makes a perpendicular angle to the rest of the body, he started to sling his left hand off to more of the side. In this position, he could use his hand for a cross or a hook. And Bellew wasn't physically or mentally agile enough at this point of the fight to defend Usyk's adjustment.  

After the fight, Bellew indicated that he will be retiring from boxing. Having given it his all on Saturday against one of the best fighters in the sport, there's no sense of disappointment or of an opportunity squandered. Bellew's emotionalism and salt-of-the-earth disposition endeared him to his fans and created a special bond. He was one of them. Not blessed with speed or superior technique, Bellew maximized his talent with self-belief and a willingness to take instruction. After losing to Nathan Cleverly in their first fight in 2011, Bellew didn't appear to be anything more than a tough domestic fighter. But he continued to improve and he didn't let his losses define him. 

He was determined enough to fight through the defensive riddle of Isaac Chilemba to essentially even terms through two bouts (officially, he received a draw and a victory). He avenged his loss to Cleverly at cruiserweight, even after being down significantly early in the fight. He would go on to defeat credible cruiserweight contenders such as Mateusz Masternak and Ilunga Makabu (winning a belt in the process). Perhaps most notably, he beat David Haye twice at heavyweight when nobody but himself and perhaps his most die-hard fans thought he had in chance in their first fight. He retires with a record of 30-3-1, a champion and a recipient of multiple seven-figure paydays. Not too shabby. 

As for Usyk, boxing fans are licking their lips with anticipation for his entree into the heavyweight division. Now aligned with promoter Eddie Hearn, Usyk should be fast-tracked to a big opportunity in his next few fights. With his high work rate, superior footwork and conditioning, he should be a handful in the division. 

And while it will be a fun parlor game to envision how Usyk matches up with the best at heavyweight, let's not forget what he has accomplished in the first phase of his career. An undisputed champion, which is a rarity in modern boxing, he has fought for and defended his titles in six countries, never having a home defense in Ukraine. In short, he's been a bona fide world champion, a throwback to a bygone era where top fighters consistently sought the toughest challenges. Usyk's cruiserweight reign epitomizes the notion of prizefighting, and stands out in this current era of super promoters and boxers-as businessmen. Usyk, like other top fighters, will make his millions, but his money has arrived not through connections or hype, but from earning it – a strange and almost quaint concept in contemporary boxing. 

Let's also remember that Usyk has defeated a knockout artist like Gassiev, bangers like Glowacki, Bellew and Huck, superior athletes like Mchunu and Hunter and technical fighters like Briedis. He has dropped rounds. He has been beaten to the punch, but he has always found a way to win. In just a few short years he has proven that he is one of the best that boxing has to offer. And there's a sense that his story offers several intriguing chapters to come.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, we welcomed 122-lb. champ Danny Roman to the show. Roman recounted his last 18 months where he went from a virtually unknown club fighter to a world titleholder. Roman also talked about what's next for his career. Also on the podcast, Brandon and I looked back at last weekend's World Boxing Super Series action that included the Taylor-Martin and Burnett-Donaire fights. In addition, we gave our picks and predictions for Saturday's Usyk-Bellew clash.

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Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pound-for-Pound Update 11-05-18

There have been a number of changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings since the last update. Oleksandr Usyk dominated fellow titleholder Murat Gassiev, winning by virtual shutout to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion. With his victory he moves up from #12 to #4. 

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez won a disputed majority decision over Gennady Golovkin. Although most ringside observers didn't have Alvarez winning the fight, the bout was close enough that the official verdict should be recognized as legitimate. With the victory, Alvarez maintains his position at #7 while Golovkin drops from #4 to #8. 

Sergey Kovalev was knocked out by Eleider Alvarez. He has now been stopped by his last two notable opponents. Kovalev now drops out of the Rankings. He was previously #8. 

Kosei Tanaka enters the Rankings at #15 after beating flyweight titlist Sho Kimura by majority decision. Tanaka, only 23, has now won belts in three divisions and continues to impress on the world stage. 

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

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

SNB Stock Report 10-28-18

After another busy weekend of boxing, with notable fights in Bulgaria, England, New Orleans and New York City, it's time for another edition of the SNB Stock Report. Whose stock rose (+), whose fell (-) and whose remained unchanged after the fight action (NC)?  Find out below: 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Ivan Baranchyk (+) Baranchyk seems to be one of those fighters who splits opinion among boxing enthusiasts. His detractors would say that his punches are often way too wide, he loads up on almost every shot and his defense is more theoretical than actual. Baranchyk's supporters could point out that he hits like a mule, is well-conditioned and has positive intangibles like self-belief and a desire to improve. I tend to view him positively. Yes, a good technical fighter can beat him, but Baranchyk won't be an easy day at the office for anyone. In fact, Baranchyk's opponent on Saturday, Anthony Yigit, a decorated amateur and 2012 Olympian, was supposed to be such a fighter – crafty, good feet and stellar punch placement. Well, evidently no one told Baranchyk that he should struggle with that style; he went through Yigit like a human buzz saw, grinding him down with ferocious power shots and relentless pressure. By the seventh round, Yigit's left eye had completely closed and the fight was wisely stopped. Although still crude technically, Baranchyk has improved under trainer Pedro Diaz, incorporating more combinations into his offense and varying his attack to the head and body. 

Sergiy Derevyanchenko (NC) Derevyanchenko put forth a commendable effort in a split decision loss to Daniel Jacobs on Saturday. He was knocked down early in the fight and was trailing (perhaps substantially) at the halfway mark of the bout, yet he closed the match strongly. Derevyanchenko spent much of the fight on the front foot and there were many stretches of the bout where he seemingly trapped Jacobs along the ropes. But from my perspective, Derevyanchenko wasn't consistently effective with his aggression and he let Jacobs get away with too many cute things along the ropes. Nevertheless, he provided Jacobs, his stablemate and frequent sparring partner, with a spirited challenge. Derevyanchenko remains a contender at middleweight, but as it stands now, he seems to lack that little bit of extra skill or flash to beat the top fighters in the division.

Terry Flanagan (-) Although Terry Flanagan was a former champion at 135 pounds, since moving up to junior welterweight he hasn't demonstrated that he has the power to be a factor in the division. In June he lost an attempt at a vacant belt, dropping a split decision to Maurice Hooker. On Saturday he was thoroughly outclassed by Regis Prograis, losing a wide unanimous decision. Flanagan hit the deck in the eighth round and never posed a threat throughout the fight. Although he can handle himself in the ring and is well-schooled, he lacks the physical attributes to be among the best at 140. I'm not sure where he goes from here. 

Hughie Fury (-) Just over a year ago, Fury was robbed in a title shot against Joseph Parker. Fury back-footed Parker expertly and although the fight wasn't scintillating to watch, Fury used his hand and foot speed to get the better of the action. On Saturday, Fury had another opportunity to establish his presence in the upper echelon of the heavyweight division against former title challenger Kubrat Pulev in Bulgaria. Instead of seizing his opportunity, Fury turned in a plodding, listless performance and dropped a wide unanimous decision. Fury featured none of the athleticism that manifested against Parker and seemed gun shy throughout the fight. A nasty cut, which opened up over his eye in the second round, certainly didn't help matters, but Fury fought with little ambition or resolve. Overall, it was a disappointing performance. 

Daniel Jacobs (+) Jacobs won a split decision over Sergiy Derevyanchenko on Saturday. He knocked down his opponent in the first round with a menacing overhand right. He also featured strong power shots to the body and an impressive array of defensive moves. Over the years, Jacobs has learned to relax better in the ring, which has helped him on offensive to pick his punches better and on defense to avoid getting caught with big shots, which had been a problem earlier in his career. All of those positive attributes were on display on Saturday. But Jacobs did seem to lose focus towards the end of the fight and didn't match Derevyanchenko's energy or punch volume, allowing some rounds to slip away. With Saturday's win Jacobs confirmed that he is among the best fighters at 160, but he has yet to put together 12 consistent rounds against a good opponent. At age 31 and with 37 professional fights, I still don't have a great read on him. Depending on the night, he could probably win or lose against any of the top fighters in the division. If that sounds like I don't have a lot of confidence in him, that's true; I don't.  

Alberto Machado (+) Machado established himself in 2017 with an upset victory over junior lighweight titleholder Jezreel Corrales. Machado was dropped in the fight and Corrales dominated stretches of the action, but Machado, packing some serious weaponry in both hands, was able to turn the tide and win by knockout. Earlier this year Machado dominated overmatched challenger Rafael Mensah. On Saturday, Machado barely had time to break a sweat, knocking down Yuandale Evans three times in the first round to pick up a KO 1. Machado has continued to improve under trainer Freddie Roach, adding to his punch variety and becoming a solid combination puncher. He finds himself in an exciting division at the moment with no dominant fighter, but several intriguing candidates to be the top dog. Here's hoping that Machado gets a meaningful fight in 2019; I think he will mix in nicely with the best in the division. 

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/WBSS

Regis Prograis (+) Although it wasn't his flashiest performance, Prograis's dominant decision victory over Terry Flanagan may have been his most impressive as a pro. Tightening up on his defense and reducing the wild swings that often left him vulnerable to counters, Prograis fought intelligently in the pocket and consistently got the better of the action. A beauty of a straight left hand sent Flanagan down in the eighth and although Prograis wasn't able to get the stoppage, he asserted his dominance throughout the fight. Saturday's contained performance was an important sign of maturation and an indication that Prograis can be much more than a go-for-broke knockout artist. He'll fight Kiryl Relikh in the next round of the World Boxing Super Series 140-lb. tournament in what should be an intriguing style matchup. 

Kubrat Pulev (+) At 37 and with more than 18 months out of the ring, it was certainly possible that Pulev would begin to see a rapid decline in his physical skills. But fighting Hughie Fury at home in Bulgaria on Saturday, Pulev, beat back Father Time and demonstrated that he can still be a factor in the heavyweight division. Although there was nothing Pulev did that was overly flashy, his consistent effort, physicality, and short, sharp punches were more than enough to earn a wide decision victory. Pulev had to drop out of an Anthony Joshua fight last year due to injury and it's possible that he could face the heavyweight titleholder next year. It's hard to envision a scenario where Pulev beats Joshua, but with wins over Dereck Chisora and Fury, he certainly has earned the opportunity to fight for another title shot (he lost to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014). 

John Ryder (NC) In one of the stranger fights of 2018, John Ryder was getting summarily outboxed by Andrey Sirotkin for six rounds, and then Sirotkin suddenly hit a wall. Sirotkin's frenetic movement subsided in the seventh and Ryder took advantage of the opportunity, unloading pulverizing body shots. Late in the round a beautiful right hook to the body sent Sirotkin to the canvas and he didn't want any more. Ryder remains a fringe contender at super middleweight. He has some pop but is fairly vanilla in the ring. I imagine with Eddie Hearn as his promoter that he will get another opportunity for a big fight. He wouldn't be favored against the best in the division, but he certainly would have a puncher's chance.

Anthony Yigit (-) On paper Anthony Yigit possessed many advantages over Ivan Baranchyk – hand speed, athleticism, coordination, and a larger punch arsenal – but he used none of them in the ring on Saturday. For some strange reason, Yigit decided to slug it out with Baranchyk instead of attempting to box him. Yigit paid the price for that decision, eating some enormous shots throughout the contest. His left eye completely closed from Baranchyk's punishing right hands and after the seventh round, the doctor and referee stopped the fight. Yigit, a former amateur star, is not without talent, but he demonstrated a poor ring IQ on Saturday and will be out of action for an extended period of time as his body heals from Saturday's beating.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Monday, October 22, 2018

SNB Stock Report

This weekend featured three major fight cards with title bouts at middleweight, junior lightweight and bantamweight, and a high-profile World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) clash at cruiserweight. So after all the dust settled, whose stock went up (+), whose went down (-), or whose stayed the same (no change)? Find out in the SNB Stock Report. 

Demetrius Andrade (+) Andrade beat late replacement Walter Kautondokwa to earn a vacant middleweight belt. He scored four knockdowns and cruised to a wide decision victory. On the plus side of the ledger, he displayed sharp punching and his power looks like it will play at middleweight. On the other hand, he carried Kautondokwa in the latter rounds and didn't really try to finish him off when the opportunity was there for the taking. In addition, Andrade touched the canvas during a rare double knockdown. Fortunately for him, referee Steve Willis missed the call (more on him below) and Willis also failed to discipline Andrade for hitting Kautondokwa while he was already knocked down (Andrade could have been disqualified). Ultimately, Andrade's performance puts him in a position for a bigger fight, but there were a number of head-scratching moments as well. In short, Saturday was a microcosm of his career: loads of talent on display, and several confounding choices. 

Rob Brant (+) Not all that much was expected for Brant heading into Saturday's fight against Ryota Murata. Top Rank was already making plans for Murata to face Gennady Golovkin in a middleweight mega-fight in Tokyo next year. Furthermore, Brant looked completely overmatched last year in his super middleweight WBSS fight against Juergen Braehmer. Brant's team pointed out prior to Saturday's fight that he was undefeated at middleweight – to a collective yawn might I add. But they had the last laugh as Brant put together the performance of his career to upset Murata and win a wide unanimous decision. Brant, working with trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, executed a brilliant game plan, using angles, volume and grit to get the better of Murata. In addition, Brant showed a solid beard. He took a number of big shots from Murata, but always came back swinging. Overall, it was a career-defining performance and he should be in line for a decent payday in 2019. 

Maxim Dadashev (no change) Dadashev, an Egis Klimas-managed junior welterweight, was seen by some as a serious prospect. Entering Saturday's fight against old war horse Antonio DeMarco, Dadashev featured a nifty record of 11-0 with ten knockouts. Yet, there Dadashev was in the second half of the fight eating right hooks and clinching to buy himself some time. The optimist would say that Dadashev got some needed rounds and seasoning. He's a good athlete and features excellent hand speed. But the pessimist might watch Dadashev's performance on Saturday and wonder what would have happened if someone fresher and more menacing than DeMarco was landing that cleanly on him. Ultimately, Dadashev won a competitive unanimous decision, but more was expected of him. 

Yuniel Dorticos (no change) When last we saw Dorticos in February, he lost a war to Murat Gassiev in the semifinals of the cruiserweight WBSS. The fight was clearly one of the best of 2018. Now entering a new WBSS tournament, Dorticos had a tougher-than-expected fight against Mateusz Masternak, winning a close unanimous decision. Dorticos looked a little sluggish and his vaunted power failed to materialize in the fight. Credit Masternak for beating expectations, but it's fair to ask just how much the Gassiev fight took out of Dorticos. 

Tevin Farmer (+) It's rare when Tevin Farmer scores a knockout; before Saturday his last one was eight fights ago against Daulis Prescott. Yet there Farmer was on Saturday, raising his hands in glory – in the fifth round! It was just Farmer's sixth knockout of his career. Farmer uncorked a beautiful rear hook to James Tennyson's liver in the fourth round and then finished him off with a lead right hook in the fifth. Overall, it was one of Farmer's most offensive-oriented performances on the world level. Farmer continues to improve and he would be a handful for any of the other junior lightweight titlists. 

Jason Moloney (+) Although Moloney lost to Emmanuel Rodriguez by a split decision, his performance should guarantee another big opportunity at bantamweight in 2019. Moloney was down early in Saturday's fight due to Rodriguez's accuracy, punch selection and athleticism. However, Moloney kept plugging away and in the championship rounds, he was the one getting the better of the action. His sharp counters and committed body attack gradually reduced Rodriguez's output and ambition. Nevertheless, the judges got it right. Moloney had several fine moments in the fight, but Rodriguez was the rightful winner. Still, if Moloney is matched right, he definitely could pick up a belt at 118 in the future. 

Ryota Murata (-) Murata fights as if he has A+ power. Patiently walking down his opponents, when he lets his hands go, almost all his shots are hard. His approach could work at the top level if he actually possessed such power; but he doesn't. Rob Brant consistently beat Murata to the punch on Saturday and used Murata's style against him. As Murata would contemplate whether to let a right hand go, Brant would paste him with a quick three-punch combination and then get out of range. This same exact scenario occurred dozens of times throughout the fight. Yes, Murata did land a few of his bombs, and perhaps the scores were a little too kind to Brant, but Murata didn't do enough to win the fight. Even the best knockout punchers have to know how to win fights on the cards; Brant made Murata look one-dimensional on Saturday. 

Emmanuel Rodriguez (+) Rodriguez is an excellent fighter and it's a shame that because of the bantamweight seeding in the WBSS that he'll have to face Naoya Inoue in the semifinals. In my opinion, those are the best two fighters at 118 at the moment. Rodriguez turned away a spirited effort from Jason Moloney on Saturday. Featuring a large arsenal of punches, excellent movement and imposing physical dimensions, Rodriguez did his best work in the first nine rounds of the fight. Perhaps he took his foot off the gas a little or was getting a bit winded by the end of the fight. Nevertheless, he put forward a commendable performance in the best fight of the weekend.   

Steve Willis (-) The rule for hot dogs is this: it only works when you back it up in the ring. Yes, referee Steve Willis is a showboat. He knows that eyes are watching him in the ring. He's aware of all of the .gifs and memes that are circulating on social media. He's a minor cult hero among the boxing hardcore. However, all of this ceases to be amusing when he misses a knockdown and fails to penalize a fighter for hitting an opponent who was already on the canvas. Willis was dreadful during the Andrade fight. Maybe a little less mugging and a little more humility is needed at this juncture. Willis has been a fine world-class referee for some time, but his work on Saturday was far from satisfactory. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face podcast looks back at a big fight weekend, including Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Naoya Inoue and Eddie Hearn's first U.S. DAZN card, which featured a number of entertaining fights. Brandon and I previewed Saturday's matchup between Terence Crawford and Jose Benavidez Jr. We also gave our opinions on the cancellation of Saunders-Andrade and Billy Joe Saunders' failed drug test. In addition, Lou DiBella joined us to talk about Jacobs-Derevyanchenko, Prograis-Flanagan and Farmer-Tennyson. Lou also shared some recollections from his time at HBO Boxing and what the network leaving the sport means to him.

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Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

HBO Boxing: A Recollection

For me it was Jim, Larry and George, elegantly clad in tuxedos, broadcasting from a glamorous location and arena: Madison Square Garden, Caesars in Las Vegas, the Forum, which was home to the Showtime-era Lakers. When HBO Boxing was there, it was an event. And the fighters were the biggest names of the era – Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez (when not fighting on rival Showtime), Oscar de la Hoya and Roy Jones. But it wasn't just the superstars. If a boxer headlined on HBO, he was somebody. So I took notice of Pernell Whitaker, Michael Nunn, Terry Norris, James Toney and dozens of others.

That era represented a magical time. At 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, the TV was turned to HBO. The promos in the week leading up to the fight had me counting down the days. The HBO theme music at the start of the broadcast created a Pavlovian sense of excitement and anticipation. 

Boxing wasn't part of my household growing up, but over time the sport grabbed a hold on me and never let go. The HBO Boxing commentators were my earliest teachers. From Jim Lampley I understood the magnitude of the event taking place. George Foreman provided meaningful perspectives on fighter psychology and what went on in the trenches. Harold Lederman taught me how to score the action. 

But the broadcast crew didn't necessarily fawn over the action or the fighters; they maintained an important critical distance. If a fight turned out to be a dog, or if a mismatch was about to be shown, Larry Merchant would let me know it. Often speaking for the fan, his cynicism cut through fighter braggadocio and cynical matchmaking. When a boxer had the goods, such as Chavez or Shane Mosley, for example, Jim and Larry would sing his praises, but if one failed to perform or refused to challenge himself, it was made abundantly clear on the broadcast.

Lampley's perfect elocution and statesman-like demeanor lent an official air to the proceedings. Whole rounds would sometimes go by without a comment from Merchant, and then suddenly he would offer a piercing quip that spectacularly captured the action (or often inaction) of the fight. Foreman was lovable but could turn deadly serious when he sensed an impending dramatic moment. Larry and George always seemed to get into some sort of argument on-air, often revealing, sometimes frivolous, but it made for good television. HBO's commentators were not just there for a gig; HBO Boxing was where they wanted to be. Overall, there was a sense of pride that imbued each and every broadcast.  

HBO Boxing's production values were far superior to their competitors, and in many instances have yet to be surpassed. Their camera angles, lighting and sound quality were top-rate and remained the best in the business until the end. They took you into the corners to understand what was happening between rounds. If the fighters or trainers spoke a language other than English, they had an interpreter to communicate what was occurring. The network's ability to conjure up the right replay in the seconds between rounds was wizardly. They incorporated punch stats in a way that provided an additional perspective on the fight. 

Many of these innovations have now become the standard for every network, but HBO's broadcast was always trying to find another way to educate the viewer and further enhance the drama. I could probably list a dozen significant innovations that HBO brought to the presentation of boxing; I would struggle to name more than one or two for their rivals.

But the Golden Era didn't last. As early as 2005 or 2006, I remember cornering Ross Greenburg, then the head of HBO Sports, at a conference in Washington D.C. I had taken the train down from Philadelphia and wanted to voice my displeasure about the slippage of HBO Boxing. The overall quality control of their boxing content was not what it once was. Mismatches were becoming more and more common. Their Boxing After Dark series, so promising when it started, had devolved into a weigh station for "name" fighters taking on sub-standard opponents. Promoters were given output deals and other "make good" network slots as part of back room negotiations, which would have been less of a problem had HBO Boxing not relinquished its understanding of strong matchmaking.  

To my eyes, HBO Boxing was deteriorating, and I was unhappy. This was the New York Yankees becoming the Chicago White Sox. I talked with Greenburg after his speech and he nodded politely to my points of discontent. After listing a few things that I felt could be improved, he begrudgingly admitted that the HBO Boxing website could use some sprucing up. No other point was entertained. And he thanked me for my time. 

HBO Boxing's decline was long, slow and steady. Budgets went from $90 million in the late '90s to less than $30 million in recent years. As a network, HBO was making money hand over fist, but their boxing program was being starved. Perhaps the sport had successfully marginalized itself. Maybe HBO had better options for its capital. For whatever the litany of reasons that caused this disinvestment, the downward trajectory of HBO Boxing was easy to see. Fights that were once routinely shown on the network were forced to go to pay per view. Ratings dropped. Influential boxing people were banned from the network. The loss of Larry Merchant hurt the quality of the broadcast. Rival networks were becoming more competitive. And more than any one of these factors, there seemed to be no coherent plan to restore HBO Boxing's glory. 

Last week's announcement that HBO was exiting boxing was a sad day. It felt like losing a family member. For over a generation, the network was the primary conduit between boxing fans and the sport that they love. Sure, we can all highlight mistakes that were made, bad hiring decisions, the ridiculous politics of the sport and all sorts of other factors. But today won't be a time of accusation and finger-pointing. 

I wish I didn't have to write this article. I wish that HBO Boxing was still puffing out its chest. We have lost a loved one. And there's a gnawing feeling that the loss was avoidable.  

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.