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 clich├ęs, 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 saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com. 
@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? 

Prediction:

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 saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com. 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast looks at the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament. Brandon and I opined on Usyk's tight win over Briedis and looked ahead to Saturday's explosive Gassiev-Dorticos fight. Also, what's wrong with Matthysse and for all of Linares's skills, why isn't he dominating lesser fighters? We also looked ahead to Showtime's spring boxing calendar, with its collection of hits, misses and oddities.

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.com 
He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com 
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.