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. 

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