Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pound for Pound Update 3-18-18

As the first quarter of 2018 winds to a close, it's time to update the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List, where a number of fighters made significant leaps in the Rankings, notably Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Mikey Garcia, Errol Spence, Oleksandr Usyk, and Donnie Nietes. The major updates to Rankings are as follows: 

We have a new number-one in the SNB Pound-for-Pound List, as Srisaket Sor Rungvisai won via majority decision over Juan Estrada in FebruaryDuring the last 12 months Srisaket has beaten the then-top fighter in the Rankings (Roman Gonzalez) and the number-nine boxer (Juan Estrada). No one else under consideration for the top spot in the Rankings has wins over that level of competition. Srisaket is ranked in various positions in the top-10 by different ratings organizations. The divergence of opinion regarding his placement most likely depends on whether his majority decision victory over Gonzalez in their first fight was viewed as a legitimate result. In my estimation, that fight was close enough where I thought that the official result was defensible; others may disagree. With the win over Estrada, Srisaket moves from #3 to #1 in the Rankings. Estrada remains at #9. 

Mikey Garcia continues to impress as he now has won a title in his fourth division. Earlier this month he defeated junior welterweight titlist Sergey Lipinets via unanimous decision. Garcia currently holds belts at both 135 and 140 lbs. Perhaps most notably, in his title fights that have gone to a decision, Garcia's closest margin of victory on any scorecard has been a four-point victory. Through this point in his career, not only is he beating solid fighters, but he's winning convincingly. He rises to #5 from #8. 

Errol Spence earned a seventh-round stoppage over Lamont Peterson in January. Spence dominated a legitimate top-ten contender in the division. He continues to rise in the Rankings, moving up to #11 from #17. 

Oleksandr Usyk is now a unified titleholder in the cruiserweight division after squeaking by with a majority decision win over Mairis Briedis. Perhaps the scores were a little closer than they should have been (the fight was on Briedis's home turf) but Usyk was a deserved winner in my estimation. Usyk rises to #12 from #19 with the victory and has a chance to ascend even higher in the Rankings later this year when he takes on titleholder Murat Gassiev in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series   

Donnie Nietes shined last month during his HBO debut by knocking out the rugged Juan Carlos Reveco in a flyweight title defense. Nietes, a three-division champion, continues to impress even at the advanced age of 35. He moves up two places to #13. 

With the retirement of Kazuto Ioka, Badou Jack enters the Rankings at #20. Jack had already proven to be one of the elites at super middleweight and looked sensational in knocking out former light heavyweight champion Nathan Cleverly last summer. 

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List: 

1.   Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
2.   Terence Crawford
3.   Vasyl Lomachenko
4.   Gennady Golovkin
5.   Mikey Garcia
6.   Saul Alvarez
7.   Sergey Kovalev
8.   Naoya Inoue
9.   Juan Estrada
10. Keith Thurman
11. Errol Spence
12. Oleksandr Usyk
13. Donnie Nietes
14. Manny Pacquiao
15. Adonis Stevenson
16. Roman Gonzalez
17. Guillermo Rigondeaux
18. Leo Santa Cruz
19. Carl Frampton 
20. Badou Jack

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, March 4, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Wilder-Ortiz

For many years Deontay Wilder has been regarded as a one-trick pony in the heavyweight division. His defense was horrible. He lunged and over-committed with shots. Putting combinations together seemed exceedingly difficult for him. His footwork could get sloppy or cumbersome. Sometimes he would sleepwalk through portions of a fight. 

But he had that right hand. 

It's not as if conventional wisdom regarding Wilder was all wrong, maybe off by 20%-25%. But Saturday's thrilling 10th-round knockout victory over Luis Ortiz demonstrated that Wilder brings more to the table than just a straight right. He scored three knockdowns in the fight, each with a different punch: right hand, left hook and right uppercut. When he was hurt badly in the seventh round, he found a way to buy time, either by using the ropes or tying up. His jab was effective at points. And while Ortiz certainly had success landing his power shots, Wilder's positioning and defensive posture led to Ortiz being cautious with his offense; Ortiz had a couple of very good rounds in the fight, but it wasn't if he was teeing off on Wilder.

Courtesy of Tom Casino/Showtime

Wilder-Ortiz eventually turned on a few pivotal exchanges in the fight. After four rounds where Ortiz successfully established his pace and rhythm, Wilder connected with a right hand temple shot in the fifth. He followed up with another right, sending Ortiz to the canvas. In the seventh, Wilder rushed in with a big right hand. Ortiz countered the shot perfectly with a right hook. Ortiz then connected with a punishing straight left and another right hook, forcing Wilder to hang on for dear life to make it out of the round. 

In the 10th it was Wilder who landed a perfect counter, a short right hand while Ortiz was out of position. He then poured it on, scoring with a right hand/left hook/right hand/left hook four-punch combination, leading to his second knockdown. He finished the fight with a number of right hands, finally ending matters with a pulverizing right uppercut – perhaps the first uppercut that he had landed all fight. 

Was there more to the fight than that? Yes, a little. Early in the match, Ortiz kept Wilder at bay with some beautiful counter left hands. Ortiz essentially forced the early rounds into an offensive stalemate, which, credit to him, illustrates his supreme ring generalship and sublime countering ability. 

In the eighth round, Ortiz went for the kill during the first minute and then gradually reduced his offensive output. Did he punch himself out? Was he fatigued? Was he overconfident? In the beginning of the ninth, Ortiz might have thrown two punches in the first 45 seconds, surely not a way to attack wounded prey. 

Similar to last year's wonderful Joshua-Klitschko fight, there were opportunities missed by the older fighter. Wilder showed mettle by absorbing punishment, finding a way to recover and then regaining control of the fight. Overall, it was a thrilling bout and it sets up a potential superfight later in the year against English heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua. 


And now it's time to take a break in the action for an aphorism from Confucius: "Better to be a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." 

A few years ago I had a Twitter exchange with my friend Ryan Bivins. This was probably in late 2013 or early 2014, before Wilder had become a headliner on premium cable. Through that point in his career, Wilder had amassed several early-round knockouts but often looked terrible in doing so. Bemoaning Wilder's myriad technical flaws, I kept harping on all the things he couldn't do. Ryan retorted: That right hand could knock anyone out in the division. Right now. 

I thought about that exchange with Ryan after watching Wilder-Ortiz. Yes, Wilder has slowly improved in a number of fundamental areas. He's not as raw as he was when he was battering the Matthew Greers and the Nichola Firthas of the world. But during his development, that straight right hand has brought Wilder all the way from prospect to contender to champ. 

In baseball, they use a scouting system to evaluate players' skills based on the 20-80 scale. "Fifty" is an average score for a major league skill. Each 10 points on the scale represents one standard deviation above or below the norm. For instance, Yankees slugger Aaron Judge would rate an "80" on the power scale while Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton would score an "80" for speed. The top score is reserved only for the elite of the elite for a given skill; there might be only three or four players who grade at an "80" in any particular category. 

Well Wilder's right hand is an "80" in the power category – and that includes boxers from every division. It's such an elite punch that it can excuse other mistakes. Are other heavyweights more coordinated? Could we find a dozen heavyweights who have a better jab? Are there those with better hooks, lateral movement or defense?  The answer to all of those questions would be yes. However, there may not be a heavyweight that grades at an "80" in any specific skill besides Wilder. Maybe Joshua's right uppercut would be a "70", but that's still one standard deviation below Wilder's right hand. (When thinking about standard deviations, think about exponential differences, not linear. A difference of 10 on this scale is several magnitudes greater in reality, not just 10 points higher.) Wilder's right hand is a diamond. Yes, he contains several flaws and warts in the ring, but he still possesses a diamond, one that no one else does in the division. 

Now, on to other matters: it's time to remove the one-dimensional talk from Wilder. Let's bury it, say a prayer, give it a proper remembrance and move on with our lives. Wilder's conditioning and heart allowed him to hang in against Ortiz during the seventh and eighth rounds. Only because of these factors was he able to then land his power shots in the ninth and tenth. Without his conditioning and heart, there isn't a knockout on Saturday. If he was just a one-trick pony, he would have been knocked out. If he didn't take his training seriously, he would cease to be threat later in fights. Yes, he can still be ponderous at times on his feet, but don't mistake that for a lack of athleticism or a blasé attitude about his career; he has a desire for greatness. He doesn't want to settle for being a novelty act with a freak right hand.  

Here's another old saying: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  

Wilder produces memorable knockouts. And he stops guys at any skill level, and at any time in the fight. When watching Wilder, there's a realistic chance of seeing a special and dramatic ending. If and when those moments happen, they create an indelible imprint on boxing fans; those moments are shown a bazillion times on sports highlight shows and create a buzz for the sport.

Sure, we can always focus on what Wilder is not; I know that I've made that mistake in the past. But let's remember what he is: a highlight reel American knockout artist – certainly not the worst thing in the world to be. He's never out of a fight, he's not a frontrunner and he can end a bout in a blink of an eye. Slowly, he has incorporated additional technical elements into his game. Remarkably, at 40-0 and at age 32, he still may not have hit his ceiling.

All of this doesn't mean Wilder is the best heavyweight in the world or that he will become the top guy in the foreseeable future. But he has made himself into an attraction. The greater American sporting world has started to take notice; all of these are positive signs and great for boxing as a whole.

Other than Wilder, perhaps nobody had a better night on Saturday than Deontay's financial planner. With that performance, Wilder added millions to his side of the ledger in a potential megafight with Joshua. Recent generations of boxing fans aren't used to seeing a captivating heavyweight division. But now, with Joshua and Wilder, there are two champions in their respective primes who are knockout artists and bona fide attractions. The pair has single-handedly elevated the division from its previous somnambulant state. Joshua has brought millions of new boxing fans into the fold in England and hopefully Wilder will start to grow the sport in his home market. Joshua-Wilder could be absolutely huge if the fight is promoted correctly. Hopefully the powers that be don't fuck it up.

But for now, let's rejoice in the pleasures of the sport and remind ourselves of how wonderful it can be. For the moment, let's brush the unpleasantness of boxing politics off to the side. We've seen two unforgettable heavyweight fights in the last year. In what decade was the last time we could say that? And we may not be done yet.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, March 1, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast previews Saturday's big fights: Wilder-Ortiz, Kovalev-Mikhalkin and Bivol-Barrera. Brandon and I also recapped the wildly entertaining Superfly 2 card. We also discussed the trend of fighters moving from the PBC to Top Rank. We covered it all and it was a great show.

Click on the links below to listen.

Blog Talk Radio Link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link:

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. Email: 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Sor Rungvisai-Estrada

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai throws only two punches: a right hook and a straight left hand. His opponents needn't concern themselves with defending against a jab or an uppercut: there are just those two shots. Thus, facing a foe with such a limited offensive arsenal, Juan Estrada, one of the best counterpunchers in the sport and a supreme boxing technician, was the bookies' favorite and the pick of many boxing writers (including this one) to be victorious over Srisaket on Saturday. 

In his past efforts against top opposition, Estrada has featured an impressive punch variety, offensive creativity, pinpoint accuracy and the ability to come on late in fights – the types of characteristics that could help nullify Srisaket's powerful but straight-line attack. However, by the end of the fight on Saturday, Srisaket was the one with his hands raised, winning a deserved majority decision over Estrada and retaining his junior bantamweight title. What explained his success?

Courtesy of Ed Mullholland/HBO

Let's go back to those two punches for a moment. What differentiates Srisaket from other fighters with a paltry offensive arsenal is his ability to use his limited shots in unpredictable ways. To initiate an exchange he can throw either the right hook or the straight left to any part of the body: the stomach, oblique, chest, shoulder, chin, or temple. In addition, he's always thinking in combinations. Often the first shot is a throwaway punch, not meant to land, but the second will hit pay dirt. He also varies the speed, power and trajectory of his shots, especially the hooks. Thus, even a well-schooled defensive fighter like Estrada had difficulty in anticipating where and how Srisaket would initiate offense. 

In addition, Srisaket featured new wrinkles on Saturday. He wasn't the crude banger we saw against Roman Gonzalez. No, the slugger incorporated new-found elements of craft into his attack. Deftly using feints, both with his hands and upper body, Srisaket upset Estrada's ability to time him. Yes, he still attacked in a straight line, but his added layers of deception flummoxed Estrada throughout many portions of the fight. Furthermore, he didn't over-commit with his shots, as he had sometimes done against Gonzalez. Srisaket was patient and poised with his offense, which further minimized opportunities for Estrada. 

Andre Ward, who provided enlightening commentary throughout the main event on HBO, quickly realized that Estrada needed to make tactical adjustments in the fight. If Estrada couldn't find sustained success from countering, then he needed to lead. Furthermore, why was Estrada insistent on fighting at range, where Rungvisai's straight left would be most damaging?

Yes, there were points where Estrada took the initiative in the fight. On the front foot, he had success. In addition, he was able to counter Srisaket deftly at times. He landed his share of impressive shots, but often he was crawling his way back into the round, or trying to steal it in the last 30 seconds. He allowed Srisaket to force the action, establish the flow, come forward and win the ring generalship battle.

Ward made another prescient observation about Estrada that stuck with me after the fight. Sometimes, an excellent boxer is going to have to fight. The very best do whatever it takes to win. Think about Ward taking the fight to Kovalev in the latter half of their first bout and then in the rematch. Or consider how Mayweather engaged in a shootout against Maidana to win their first match. These adjustments weren't necessarily their preferred choices, but the fights demanded that they make the switch. They put aside ego and were eventually victorious. Estrada didn't; unlike them afterward he cried foul. 

Estrada needed to get in close against Srisaket, which would have disrupted his rhythm and perhaps nullified his straight left. But he wasn't willing to engage in that type of battle consistently. Sure he could tell himself that he won the match, but he fought in such a style that the judges were more than justified in selecting Srisaket's work in several close rounds. 

As I pointed out in my column from the first Superfly card in September, Estrada, who had been out of the ring for long stretches of the past two years, didn't have the same type of mobility that he had featured earlier in his career. On Saturday, again, Estrada displayed very little lateral movement. Although he would turn Srisaket at points in the fight, more often he would try to use his gloves, arms and reflexes, instead of his legs, to evade shots. With Srisaket's ability to change the trajectories of his punches, a stationary target played into his hands. 

Although Estrada is only 27, to my eyes he is an old 27. While many comparisons are made between him and Juan Manuel Marquez, those comparisons apply to the late-career version of Marquez – the one who sat in the pocket and countered, not the one who would use his legs and the ring to box. 

Estrada is still an excellent fighter, perhaps top-ten in the sport. However, as Ward pointed out, he wasn't willing to do what was needed to win against Srisaket. If he's already in decline physically (which I think he is) and he lacks the intestinal fortitude to win at all costs, perhaps a rapid decline could be forthcoming. I'm not ready to write him off yet, but if he hopes to maintain his status in the sport, more, not less, will be needed from him in future fights. Super flyweight/junior bantamweight is a minefield of world-class boxers; it's probably the best division in the sport. If Estrada has designs on recapturing a championship belt, he's going to have to fight a certified badass to get it – not an easy task, and one which will require more than he was willing to provide on Saturday.

I certainly wouldn't be opposed to a rematch, but I also would understand if Srisaket wants to go in another direction. With three high-profile road fights in succession, I'm sure he'd love to make a home title defense in front of his burgeoning Thai fan base. There are also other exciting matchups in the division, including those against Jerwin Ancajas, Naoya Inoue (if he doesn't move to bantamweight) Kal Yafai, or even Donnie Nietes, the current flyweight champ who might move up to 115 lbs. for a bigger opportunity (Nietes had an impressive knockout win on Saturday's undercard).

Opportunities now abound for Srisaket. HBO would love to get him back on their airwaves as soon as possible. Offers for big fights could arrive from Thailand, the U.S., England and Japan. It will be fascinating to see if the former garbage man, who used to eat rats in order to survive, will fall prey to self-satisfaction. His $250,000 purse represents big money in Thailand. He could go the Marcos Maidana route and blow up to 200 lbs. Of course, he could also be one of those self-driven, high-performing athletes who won't be distracted by money or publicity. 

Srisaket lost three out of his first five professional fights. He was thrown to the wolves. He was just another expendable Thai boxer. But nine years later, he's headlining halfway around the world, making good money and kicking some serious ass. Nothing was expected of him, yet he never accepted that narrative. He continues to improve, refine his craft and slay dragons. Just two years ago he wasn't even a boxing afterthought; he was irrelevant. Now he might just be among the best fighters in the world. 

It's a wonderful sport.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, February 19, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Groves-Eubank, Beltran-Moses

Unfortunately for Chris Eubank Jr., he walked into the Manchester Arena on Saturday not for a tough man competition or a street fight, but a boxing match, one with rules and conventionalities, where over a century of accumulated knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. Ironically, Eubank is the son of former super middleweight champion Chris Eubank Sr., who was well schooled technically and one of the best in his weight class during his peak. Although Sr. was present in Eubank's corner on Saturday, Jr. had insisted on training himself, and that dysfunctional arrangement manifested itself throughout his match with George Groves. Eubank, clearly second best on the night, lost via unanimous decision. 

Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series

As much as I hate boxing clichés, the hackneyed phrase "skills pay the bills" certainly could explain why Groves was the rightful victor on Saturday. Groves applied basic boxing fundamentals throughout the match. His punches were purposeful and effective. He expertly mixed the variety and tempo of his shots. Using angles on the way in and out, he made it very difficult for Eubank to throw combinations. His defense was sharp throughout the match. 

Perhaps most importantly, Groves, a holder of one of the major title belts at super middleweight, understood the concepts of range and ring geography. He'd fire off one-two's and get out of the pocket, which limited Eubank's opportunities for offense. When the action was along the ropes, an area where Eubank would seemingly have the advantage, Groves tied up expertly, neutralizing Eubank and ensuring that his right uppercut wouldn't become a major weapon in the fight. Under trainer Shane McGuigan's tutelage, Groves executed these skills with mastery on Saturday.

Furthermore, Groves bested Eubank throughout the match in terms of ring generalship. Groves, as best he could, kept the action in the center of the ring, where he could use movement and angles to control the action. He didn't participate in a machismo battle. When he was in an area of the ring that could lead to success for Eubank, he didn't let his ego get in the way; he tied up and reset the action. He was well prepared technically, physically and mentally for Saturday's fight. 

Groves won because he picked up small advantages throughout the match. And little by little he put enough rounds in the bank whereby Eubank's final-round charge would become academic. But make no mistake; Eubank landed some big shots in the match. Groves had to absorb those punches and continue with his game plan. That he did so with such aplomb speaks highly of his preparation and ring comportment. 

Groves had to eat a lot of humble pie to get to this point in his boxing career. He had dropped winnable matches to Carl Froch and Badou Jack. Against Froch, he lacked the discipline and conditioning to maintain favorable positions in those fights. In the Jack bout, he tried to win an inside battle where more cunning and clever displays of boxing were needed. 

In the aftermath of those losses, Groves selected McGuigan to coach him and to this point the trainer has helped supply the missing pieces for Groves on the world-level. No longer is Groves burning up useless energy. Instead of trying to win with just his power and hand speed, he has incorporated brainpower into his attack. McGuigan has helped Groves relax in the ring and has provided him with the strategic and tactical elements that had eluded him in his previous title bouts. The upshot is that Groves’s confidence in the ring has soared. 

Eubank, however, has never lacked confidence. And perhaps if he had a shade more humility and a desire to be taught by an actual adult, things would have worked out better for him on Saturday. He does have a number of raw tools. He strafed Groves with a handful of impressive left hooks. There were moments where he landed some punishing power shots against the ropes. Despite being down in the fight, he never yielded. 

But everything from Eubank was thrown with the intention of ending the fight. There was nothing short or soft from him. Feints were non-existent. His punches were often so telegraphed that he routinely swung at air or got himself tangled up in the ropes. Nothing was set up. A coherent game plan failed to congeal – just his misplaced belief that if he landed enough hard shots Groves would fold; it never came to pass. 

Eubank now faces a crossroads in his career similar to the one that Groves encountered. He has lost two winnable fights – to Billy Joe Saunders and Groves. At 28, he's still in his boxing prime but better results against top-level competition will only occur if he makes major changes with his career. He needs a real boxing trainer; he has to trust others and realize that he doesn't have all the answers. If he decides to make those changes, he could one day become a significant player at 160 or 168. If not, he'll just be another resident of the packed graveyard of fighters who never reached their true potential. 

In the final analysis, the smarter boxer prevailed. Groves sought help from an impressive boxing mind – and the fruits of that decision have led to the best run of his career. Eubank has tried it his way and has now come up short on multiple occasions. Time is ticking in his career and the next decision he makes regarding his boxing future will be his most important one. As Groves's career has illustrated, Eubank needn't be written off, but if he really wants to become a top fighter, the status quo will not suffice. 


Friday night featured a spirited lightweight title clash between two virtual senior citizens in boxing: Ray Beltran and Paulus Moses. At 36, Beltran has been a boxing vagabond, performing whatever action was needed to further his career. Famously, he was a sparring partner for Manny Pacquiao during Manny's shooting star ascent in the sport. Beltran has also plied his trade as an "opponent," a B-side, a late replacement and an unsuccessful title challenger. (In truth, he should've won a belt in 2013 against Ricky Burns; however, that fight was contested in Burns's hometown, and winning decisions on the road in boxing can be dicey.)

Moses, at 39, was once a lightweight titlist in 2009-2010. Fighting out of Namibia, where the money isn't big enough to lure notable opponents, Moses, like Beltran, often had to hit the road for his opportunities, in places like Ukraine, Scotland, Japan and now Reno, Nevada.

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

These two hardened pros delivered an excellent fight on Friday (the winner would pick up a vacant title belt). Whereas many of their boxing peers have already retired, transitioning to post-fight careers as trainers, commentators or (gasp!) civilians, Beltran and Moses demonstrated that they still have enough ammo in their holsters to perform at the top level of the sport. 

Over the years, Beltran has gradually incorporated a wide variety of punches in his arsenal. Always thought of as a meat-and-potatoes type of fighter, Beltran now features a huge helping of creativity to go along with his best tried-and-true dishes. On Friday he threw straight right hands, overhand rights, right and left straight shots to the body, jabs, left hooks to the liver and the head, uppercuts to the body and some flashy combinations. He boxed at points and also mixed it up well on the inside. In short, he demonstrated dimensions that had seldom been observed throughout his career. 

Moses didn't let his hands go as consistently or as successfully as Beltran did. But he landed a number of huge right crosses and may have connected with the most damaging blows in the fight. His straight rights cut Beltran up and like a seasoned pro, he targeted his foe's gashes without mercy. 

In the championship rounds, Beltran found another gear, whereas Moses had given it his best with some huge right hands in the 9th round; in the final three frames, his tank was close to empty. Ultimately, Beltran won a deserved unanimous decision. Although his title reign may not wind up a lengthy one, he can one day retire as a world champion. And in a 19-year professional career where little was given to him, that's what's it's all about. 

Credit Top Rank for sticking with Beltran after some losses and a failed PED test; they could have justifiably discarded him. Beltran wouldn't have received Friday's opportunity without their continued support. But credit Beltran as well. He never stopped trying to improve. And his self-belief has been impressive. There aren't too many 36-year-old, seven-loss fighters who become a champion for the first time. But, despite all the odds, one was crowned on Friday.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He'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, February 15, 2018

Groves-Eubank: Keys to the Fight

One of the most anticipated fights of the new year will unfold on Saturday at the Manchester Arena between super middleweight titlist George Groves (27-3, 20 KOs) and Chris Eubank Jr. (26-1, 20 KOs – he also holds a lesser title at 168 lbs.). An all-British battle, Groves, who previously lost two competitive mega-fights against Carl Froch, will look to punish Eubank with his power and guile. Eubank, the scion of Chris Eubank Sr., one of the most successful British champions of the 1990's, features a barrage of combinations. Among current fighters he might have the sport's best right uppercut. 

Groves-Eubank represents one of the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS). (The winner of Saturday's fight will face the victor of the Callum Smith-Juergen Braehmer matchup, which will take place later in February.) Groves, a familiar figure at the top level of super middleweight, finally won a world title in his fourth shot in 2017 by knocking out Fedor Chudinov. 

Eubank lost his biggest fight to date, dropping a close decision to future middleweight titlist Billy Joe Saunders in 2014. Since that defeat, however, he has continued to improve and has displayed myriad offensive weapons and an iron chin. Eubank has become one of the more polarizing boxers in England. He fights with considerable swagger but has faced a relatively poor slate of opponents. His supporters see great potential in him while his detractors believe that he's a fraud waiting to be exposed by a top-level boxer; there seems to be no middle ground regarding his future in the ring.

Needless to say, this fight has become one hot ticket in England. The Eubank clan is no stranger to generating media attention and Groves often displays his own sharp tongue. The promoters of the event are expecting a sell-out on Saturday. For both fighters, a win leads to a level of stardom that neither has yet to achieve. Below are the Keys to the Fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

Courtesy of the World Boxing Super Series

1. Is all experience good experience?

Both Groves and Eubank have lost the biggest fights of their respective careers. Groves knocked down Froch in their first fight and had a big lead before Froch rallied. Eventually, Froch's savvy, Groves's flagging energy and Howard Foster's quick stoppage led to a ninth-round stoppage. In the rematch, Groves fought Froch essentially on even terms until Froch unleashed perhaps the best three-punch combination of his career in the eighth round; Groves didn't see the ninth. Groves also was knocked down in the first round against Badou Jack and didn't consistently get his tactics right in a competitive match; he would lose a split decision. 

Eubank was overmatched against Saunders. Prior to that bout, Eubank had fought woeful opposition while Saunders had faced solid young fighters such as John Ryder, Jarrod Fletcher, Spike O'Sullivan and Nick Blackwell. Eubank was a deer-in-headlights during the first half of the fight, lacking the confidence to let his hands go. Belatedly Eubank staged a rally in the second half of the bout but Saunders was correctly declared the victor of the match. 

In lower-profile settings, both Groves and Eubank have found success. Groves stopped Chudinov on an undercard last summer and had an impressive performance against longtime contender Martin Murray. Eubank cruised to an easy victory against former champion Arthur Abraham prior to the start of the WBSS and dominated O'Sullivan and Blackwell. 

It's certainly true that Groves has more experience in big fights than Eubank, but it's not necessarily the right kind of experience. Groves has made strategic and tactical errors in big fights. Although he has displayed a big heart and gobs of courage in his title shots, it's not clear if he has mastered the big moment. For Eubank, he won't be as raw as he was against Saunders but he's never encountered the type of atmosphere that he will experience on Saturday. Has he learned how to relax in a big fight or will a lack of conviction manifest itself again?

2. Groves's legs.

A long, long time ago – let’s call it 2011 – Groves boxed-and-moved his way to a majority decision victory over the favored James DeGale. Although not a masterful performance, Groves's shorter, more direct punches and considerable movement were enough to nick the decision in his favor. Now, two trainers and many ring wars later, Groves no longer resembles the cagey fighter of yesteryear. Groves’s most recent fights against Chudinov and Jamie Cox quickly turned into shootouts. In both bouts, he absorbed a series of hard shots before winning via stoppage. 

A sustained war of attrition against Eubank, who loves to fire off power shots from the center of the ring, probably doesn't suit Groves. Although only one year younger than Groves, Eubank has far less wear-and-tear in the ring and has also displayed excellent conditioning and a sturdy chin. Groves will need to pick appropriate spots for offense while limiting Eubank's opportunities for prolonged exchanges.

It will be fascinating to see what type of game plan Groves and trainer Shane McGuigan hatch for Saturday's fight. Will Groves try to win a firefight or will he engage in a more tactical affair? Can he still box-and-move? These factors could very well decide who winds up the victor on Saturday. 

3. Eubank's right uppercut.

Eubank's best punch is his right uppercut. Not only does he land it with stunning accuracy, but he'll also throw three, four or five in a row. Although the shot might not be a true one-punch eraser, it's an eye-catching offering that hurts opponents and appeals to judges. 

That single punch should be enough for Groves to adjust his tactics for the fight. He can't stay at close range and exchange bombs with Eubank over 12 rounds. He will need to move to his right (Eubank's left) to neutralize that shot. Although Eubank has a good jab and a solid hook, Groves should make Eubank try to beat him with his left hand. The more time that Groves is out of range of the uppercut, the better. 

4. Who has the edge in power? 

Both fighters’ ledgers display 20 knockouts, but not all KOs are created equally. Groves has essentially spent his entire career at super middleweight while Eubank only moved up to 168 last year. In addition, Groves has faced the much stronger slate of opponents. 

Groves's straight right hand is his best punch. It's quick, short and accurate. Often, his right cross startles opponents, who aren't expecting its precision and power. Eubank can hurt opponents with a number of shots, including his right uppercut, straight right and left hook to the body. However, his shots are longer and take more time to develop – that also helps explain why his picture-perfect punches don't always lead to knockouts; some of the steam is off his shots before they land. 

It's unclear who the true puncher is of the two. Eubank has complete confidence in his chin and relishes trading bombs. Groves, however, understands that he has the element of surprise. His perfectly placed right hand can damage any super middleweight – just ask granite-chinned Froch about that. Ultimately, both fighters will attempt to assert their power over the other. But which one will prevail in the power department and who will need to resort to Plan B once realizing that he can't take the other's best shot? 

5. The late rounds. 

Eubank is a superbly conditioned athlete. He maintains his power throughout fights and even in his lone loss to Saunders, he was the one coming on during the final rounds. Groves has a checkered career in the second-half of fights. Against Froch he was plagued by flagging energy, which led to defensive lapses. However, in other fights, especially against Jack and Murray, he competed well during the championship rounds. 

But does Groves have the stamina and mental fortitude to stave off Eubank in the final frames? Can he build up enough of a lead whereby all he needs to do is survive the final rounds to get the victory? Eubank seems to have the edge late in fights but can he get the knockout if he’s significantly behind on the scorecards? 


Groves's compact punching should give him the early edge in the fight as Eubank takes a few rounds to get the distance and incorporate his power shots. Groves will attempt to end the match early, understanding Eubank's athletic advantages and propensity to come on later in fights. But even if Eubank is hurt early in the fight, I think that his chin and upper body movement will be enough to help him survive the initial rounds. Eventually Eubank will find his way into the fight and he gradually will unleash his best power shots. Body work will play an important role and although both will take their shots downstairs, I think that Eubank's body shots will have more of an effect. 

As the match progresses, I expect Eubank to have sustained success with his power punches as Groves starts to tire. Expect to see a lot of right uppercuts in the second half of the fight with Groves's head snapping back repeatedly. In the bout's final third, I think that Eubank will start to batter Groves and he will sweep the championship rounds. Although Groves will have been competitive early in the fight, Eubank's power punching display will be enough to win a close but clear decision. 

Chris Eubank Jr. defeats George Groves by unanimous decision.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
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