Sunday, April 29, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Magdaleno-Dogboe

In the moments leading up to Friday's weigh in, there was news that junior featherweight champion Jessie Magdaleno was having difficulty getting down to the 122-lb. limit. He was going to arrive a little late to the weigh in, presumably to finish shedding the remaining ounces needed to get to 122. When he finally made it to the scales, there was a sigh of relief from a few in the promotion when he weighed in at 122 lbs. on the dot. 

A little more than 24 hours later, Magdaleno collapsed in a heap during the 11th round. Referee Benjy Esteves provided a protective embrace upon the fallen fighter and waved the contest off. After the bout, Magdaleno's promoter, Bob Arum, announced that after time off, Jessie would continue his career in the featherweight division, four pounds north of where he fought on Saturday. 

Struggling to make weight is common in boxing, but it doesn't necessarily lead to a loss. During the lead up to his fight with Julius Indongo, Terence Crawford had similar problems making weight and shortly after the bout announced that he would move up to welterweight. Jermall Charlo was outgrowing the junior middleweight division and moved up to middleweight after his fight with Julian Williams. However, both Crawford and Charlo won their fights by KO; in fact, they made quick work of their opponents (perhaps they knew that they had to).

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank


Magdaleno started Saturday's fight against Isaac Dogboe in similar fashion to Crawford and Charlo, scoring an early knockdown. He landed a series of power shots toward the end of the first round (one of them was also a rabbit punch) and Dogboe fell to the canvas. 

However, Magdaleno didn't go for the kill after his initial success and Dogboe worked his way into the fight, landing a number of scorching right hands and solid body shots. In fact, Magdaleno didn't fight like a physically compromised athlete in the early stages of the fight. He tried to win the fight as a boxer/puncher, often using his legs, lateral movement and short power shots to score. 

But as the rounds stated to pile up, Magdaleno was using his legs far less often. Although he had success on occasion boxing from the back foot, he also spent too many portions of the fight in retreat or stuck along the ropes – two potential indications of fatigue. In the fifth round, Dogboe landed a sizzling counter right hand that dropped Magdaleno to the canvas. That exchange further confirmed Magdaleno's decision to engage selectively. Magdaleno did a fantastic job surviving the round but whatever early advantage he had in the fight was by now long gone.

As a young prospect, Magdaleno was quite the offensive dynamo. Charging forward with ferocity and fast hands, he was one of Top Rank's rising stars. After a difficult fight against Nonito Donaire in November of 2015, where Magdaleno won his first world title belt, he would go on to fight only one more time in the next 17 months. Some of that inactivity was due to a hand injury. Another portion could be attributed to the realities of the boxing business, and perhaps an admission that Magdaleno was no longer the gym rat that he once was. 

Even though Magdaleno had considerable boxing skills as a young fighter, it was a strange choice to see him try to beat Dogboe in a slicker, more defensive style. Dogboe consistently landed strong, lead right hands and Magdaleno wasn't evasive enough to avoid Dogboe's punishing body attack along the ropes. One attribute of a winning, defensive fighter: don't get hit that much. 

Perhaps the answers to Magdaleno's decisions in the fight could be explained by the events in the 11th round. Dogboe trapped Magdaleno in a corner and then landed a borderline right hand to Magdaleno's midsection. Dogboe continued his flurry, connecting with two more right hands, the last of which sent Magdaleno to the canvas for the second time in the fight. After the action resumed, Dogboe forced Magdaleno back to the corner and started going to work on Magdaleno's body, landing six or so right hands and three left hooks. Eventually, a left hook to the head sent Magdaleno to the canvas and he collapsed to his knees. Esteves ended the fight without a count. 

It should be noted that Dogboe's final blow was not a particularly hard shot; however, the preceding body shots certainly were. It was almost as if Dogboe literally beat the fight out of Magdaleno in the corner. Where Magdaleno held and used veteran tricks to survive the fifth round, in the 11th he couldn't even be bothered to use delaying tactics; he was ready for the fight to be over. And it wasn't as if he was making a noble final stand; he was just getting pulverized in the corner. 

Magdaleno has been well trained by Manny Robles. Surely, he knows how to tie up, foul, hold or use any and all available methods to survive – he had exhibited those skills beautifully in the fifth round. But in the 11th, he yielded: first mentally, then physically. 

Let's give credit to Dogboe who displayed a ferocious right hand and the intensity to match throughout the fight. His power shots and aggression eventually led to Magdaleno succumbing. But let's also note that Magdaleno defeated himself in portions of the fight. He abandoned the offensive style that had led to his success in his career. Perhaps physically and/or mentally he felt that he wouldn't be able to engage in a war, or that his body wouldn't hold up with that style over 12 rounds. However, he wasn't prepared to fight 36 minutes by ceding ground either. His performance certainly wasn't a disaster. He won some rounds. He landed impressive left hands and right hooks at points, but he lost the ring generalship battle, which directly led to his defeat. Dogboe wasn't the opponent to try a new defensive style for winning a fight. 

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Overall, the fight delivered – knockdowns galore, momentum swings, power connects. American audiences were introduced to an excellent, young (23) talent from Ghana with a TV-friendly style. Dogboe could make for some scintillating fights in the junior featherweight division over the next few years. 

As for Magdaleno, perhaps a move to 126 will help him physically. Making weight is one of the toughest aspects of boxing and he may feel much stronger at the featherweight. 

But I can't get past the fact that Magdaleno needs to have an honest talk with himself about his future as a boxer. Yes, it's just one loss and losses happen all the time, but it was the WAY that he capitulated that was troubling. Everyone can have an off night or be far from their best physically. But Magdaleno ended the fight meekly, as a boxer who didn't want any more. That's certainly not going to inspire him (or his team) the next time he's matched tough. 

***

In the co-feature, super middleweight Jesse Hart thrilled his hometown Philadelphia fans by pounding out a seventh-round stoppage over Demond Nicholson. If one were to watch a montage of Hart's best moments from the fight, he would look sensational. He scored three knockdowns and landed eye-catching right hands at various point in the bout. But, highlights aside, there were also moments were Hart looked flustered in the ring, allowing the over-matched Nicholson to beat him to the punch and take the initiative. 

In Hart's highest-profile bout as a professional, he was perhaps seconds from being knocked out in a title challenge against Gilberto Ramirez. Instead of yielding, Hart dug deep and fought back, winning several of the fight's latter rounds. Perhaps the precipice of defeat helped clarify things for Hart that night, for his only task was to survive, and he couldn't hold his way out of the match for the next eight rounds; he had to fight back. 

When Hart has been the better fighter in the ring, he often has lapses. He'll give up rounds, allow opponents to get free shots, and not take foes seriously. He almost got knocked out by journeyman Dashon Johnson doing just that in 2016.

Hart doesn't really know what he wants to do in the ring. He has a powerful right hand, athleticism, and solid boxing fundamentals, but there never seems to be a plan in place. He's too eager to let fights devolve into a battle of machismo. He falls for traps. In addition, he's not particularly patient in the ring. If something's not working, let's say his jab, he'll abandon it. 

He's a frustrating fighter to observe because it's hard to know what his ceiling is. If he someday puts it all together (which at 28 better be soon) then he could be a real threat in the super middleweight division. But it's far more likely that his recent string of performances will be par for the course. He will stop fighters a rung beneath him and struggle to find ways to beat the best in the division. Perhaps he is destined to wind up as a game B-side. And let's not look down upon that, boxing needs those guys too. 

***

Former heavyweight title challenger Bryant Jennings won a unanimous decision over fellow Philadelphia Joey Dawejko, avenging a defeat in the amateurs. The fight went according to plan with the lumbering Dawejko having some success early in the bout before Jennings's superior conditioning took over in the back half of the match. It was a workmanlike performance from Jennings, who won the fight essentially with just his jab and a few well-placed power shots. 

After back-to-back defeats against Wladimir Klitschko and Luis Ortiz in 2015, Jennings spent 20 months out of the ring, with much of that time embroiled in promotional issues. Eventually he signed with Top Rank and they have kept him busy. Saturday was his fourth fight in eight months. 

Following his victory on Saturday, Jennings talked with various members of the media on press row. On one hand, he was pleased with the win and thought he had won eight of the ten rounds (the judges agreed with him). However, he also noted that what he's been working on in the gym with trainer John David Jackson hasn't fully manifested yet in the ring.

Jennings is a solid athlete with a good jab. However, he lacks a true knockout punch, and he knows it. Jackson has been working with Jennings to trust in his power, but that belief is not there yet. Dawejko was the harder hitter of the two on Saturday. When Jennings tried to slug it out in the middle of the ring, he was often beaten in exchanges. 

Unfortunately for Jennings and his promoters, Jennings is at his best when he's on his bike. It's a negative style and it results in fights that aren't often thrilling to watch. I'm sure that Jackson also knows that Jennings's style can't last forever as the fighter (now 33) continues to age out of his physical prime. In addition, he realizes that all boxers, regardless of their athleticism, have to be ready to fight, and win those moments. 

There are still growing pains for Jennings and Jackson and it's unclear if the pair will coalesce to bring out the best in the fighter. Right now, it appears that they aren't fully in sync yet. Perhaps Jennings has one or two more fights to get everything in order. But I'm sure that he wants another crack at real money sooner rather than later, and that will involve a bigger risk than Joey Dawejko. 

***

In just a short time as a pro, Shakur Stevenson has made significant strides. On Saturday he fought Patrick Riley, an unbeaten boxer who could handle himself in the ring. To many it seemed that Riley would be Stevenson’s first real test in the pros. 

Well, throw narrative out the window because Stevenson destroyed Riley in two rounds. In Stevenson’s first few professional fights, he won because of his superior hand speed, reflexes and athleticism. But on Saturday, it was Stevenson's power that did the talking. He threw sharp straight left hands and right hooks. He dug to the body with thudding shots. But perhaps more important than his power shots was his belief in them. Stevenson fought Riley mostly in the pocket, which was a welcome sign of maturity. Instead of over-moving, he was leading and countering from range. He was ready to punish Riley for mistakes and initiate his own offense whenever he saw fit. He had a fantastic moment in the second round where he feinted a jab to the head and came downstairs with a punishing left hand, a scintillating mixture of intelligence and power. 

After the fight, I talked with a Top Rank executive who was thrilled with Stevenson's performance. Yes, Shakur has the hand speed, the athleticism and the Olympic medal, but if he can further develop his power...well, we know how this goes – everyone loves knockouts. If Stevenson continues to add power, the sky is the limit for him, and it still may be even if he doesn't; he is that talented. 

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. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent, succinct writing. I saw all these fights and your take on them increases my understanding of the sport. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete