Monday, May 21, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Stevenson, Russell and Selby

Lee Selby has a flaw. When he throws his straight right hand, he slows the punch down, trying to place it perfectly. The punch is released at about three-quarters speed. Thus, after throwing a quick jab, the right hand is more deliberate. Josh Warrington was well-prepared for this quirk and whenever he saw the right hand coming, he would beat Selby to the punch with a counter left hook, or slip the right to throw a double left hook combination to Selby's body and head. This pattern manifested throughout their fight on Saturday. 

It was thrilling to watch Warrington exploit Selby's bad habit. One could almost see him licking his lips when the right hand was coming, knowing that he was about to land a couple of uncontested blows. 

Here's Sean O'Hagan, Warrington's head trainer, in the lead up to Saturday's fight: "What I will say is that you prepare for the fight in front of you. We're preparing for Lee specifically. This camp has been so relaxed. It's flowed so well. There's been no flaws. We're all very relaxed." 

That sounds like a team that did its homework and was supremely confident in its ability to exploit Selby's technical shortcomings. Even though Warrington was a significant underdog coming into the fight (4-1), he approached the bout with the confidence of a seasoned champion, not as the first time title challenger that he was. 

Warrington fired power leads and counters with little regard for what was coming back. And there's a reason for that: He knew that Selby couldn't hurt him. Because of Selby's lack of power, Warrington could afford to exchange in the pocket and take a few shots to land his best. 

Certainly Warrington was amped up fighting in front of his hometown Leeds crowd, and that could have enhanced his feeling of invincibility. But it was more than just raw emotions that led to his victory (a split decision, but in reality he won at least eight rounds). He had the tactical and strategic plan to win; he executed it beautifully. 

Selby fought hard. He had to overcome cuts over both eyes. He had rounds where he was able to put punches together effectively, but his technical flaw and lack of punching power would herald the end of his featherweight title reign. 

After the fight, Selby announced that he would move up to 130 lbs. He believed that his difficulty in making weight negatively impacted his performance. But Selby's problem on Saturday wasn't conditioning, effort or punch volume. He was beaten by a better prepared fighter and a superior corner. 

Selby held a world title belt for almost three years, but with very little to show for it. Despite employing Eddie Hearn, Frank Warren and Al Haymon, he was never able to land big fights, or show enough against lesser talents to create significant demand for his services. I don't see him becoming a major factor at 130 lbs., but boxing is a funny business. Stay in shape and train hard and who knows...on his night he could come again. 

Like Selby, Warrington lacks world-class power. He's a tough and determined fighter but he doesn't feature a true knockout weapon. With only six stoppages in 27 fights, Warrington will have to box perfectly to beat some of the better fighters in the featherweight division. He would have to be one slick defensive guy to outbox Gary Russell, Jr., Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz, and that's certainly not his strength in the ring. But he's an honest, blue-collar boxer that will give it his best in every fight. 


The first half of Saturday's featherweight title bout between Gary Russell, Jr. and Joseph Diaz was outstanding. In a battle of former U.S. Olympians, Diaz punished Russell to the body with right hooks while Russell landed flashy combinations. It looked like fight fans had a war on their hands. But then Russell used lateral movement and struck first in exchanges – and that was pretty much it for Diaz. 

After 12 rounds, there was no doubt that Russell was the superior fighter. Diaz couldn't match Russell's punch volume or fast hands. Russell would win a competitive unanimous decision in one of the best performances of his career.  He completely defanged Diaz in the second half of the bout, taking away Diaz's right hook and with that, his confidence. 

Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Ultimately, it was a strange performance from Diaz, and one that smacked of a lack of preparation. It's not just that he couldn't get anything done from the outside, but he didn't even try. He certainly has a competent jab and an accurate straight left hand, but those punches were glaringly absent on Saturday. Diaz and his father (who trains him) had no Plan B. Diaz essentially followed Russell around the ring for most of the second half of the fight, eating combinations and refusing to let his hands go. Belatedly, he came to life in the final frame, but by then it was too little too late. 

Despite considerable hype, Diaz never struck me as a true blue chip prospect. Lacking elite punching power and athleticism, Diaz won most of his development fights with punch accuracy and boxing skills. But there was nothing particularly special about him in the ring, no one punch or facet that demanded attention or generated excitement. I also believe that he didn't have the proper seasoning going into his first title shot. You won't find a single slick boxer on Diaz's resume prior to fighting Russell, and it certainly showed in the ring on Saturday. He seemed woefully unprepared for Russell's style. It's almost as if Golden Boy didn't have full confidence in him during his developmental period. Why not expose Diaz to that style prior to getting his title shot – especially when Diaz was gunning for Russell's belt! 

Of course, there's no guarantee that if Diaz was developed better he would have beaten Russell, who is supremely talented. However, I don't believe that Diaz was put in the best position to succeed on Saturday. That's on his promoters, his team and Diaz himself. Everyone wants to get the title belt and the spoils that come along with it, but short-circuiting development is a risky proposition. Sure, it can work (Errol Spence, for example), but it can also lead to performances like Diaz's on Saturday – a young fighter facing a crisis of confidence, and without the reservoir of experience to make needed adjustments. 


Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack fought to a draw in a light heavyweight title match on Saturday, and it was a just verdict. Jack, wary of Stevenson's left hand and his own chin issues early in fights, refused to engage for most of the first half of the bout. In round six, he opened the floodgates and roughed Stevenson up throughout many of the latter rounds. A well placed body punch by Stevenson in the 10th hurt Jack, but by the 12th, Stevenson had to survive to make it to the final bell. It was a tale of two halves and neither fighter should be satisfied with his performance. 

Stevenson, 40 and pudgy in the mid-section, looked to be in terrible shape. By the seventh round, his tank was on empty, despite minimal pressure from Jack up to that point. With only two competitive rounds in the past 22 months, his reflexes were poor and his shots lacked crispness. His counters were off; his holding was excessive. 

Jack was clearly better on a punch-for-punch basis; however, that's not how fights are won. Throwing 15 shots in a round isn't going to get it done. He will look back at the first half of Saturday's fight with disappointment, knowing that the bout was there for him to win, and he came up just short. 

Courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime

Ultimately, Jack helped to defeat himself. Paying too much respect to Stevenson early in the fight, he let the older, inactive fighter set a comfortable pace. He spent so much time avoiding Stevenson's left that he forgot to do anything offensively. Jack's trainer, Lou Del Valle, seemed pleased with their tactics. However, giving away five rounds leaves too little margin for error. And furthermore, Stevenson was in such horrid physical condition that had Jack decided to start two or three rounds earlier in the fight, he most likely would have been able to get the stoppage. 

Jack now has draws, majority decisions or split decision wins against Stevenson, James DeGale, George Groves, Anthony Dirrell and Lucian Bute (this verdict was subsequently changed to a disqualification victory for Jack after Bute failed a drug test). On one hand, these results demonstrate that Jack has been able to compete with the best at super middleweight and light heavyweight. However, the close scores also indicate that Jack has problems creating separation against good fighters. He takes rounds off. He can be a slow starter. In addition, he seems unfocused during portions of fights. 

Jack had a wounded champion in front of him on Saturday and couldn't finish the job. He let DeGale survive the 12th round, enabling him to escape with a draw. Inexplicably, he allowed Bute back in to their fight during the latter rounds. Jack possesses the physical tools to be elite but he lacks a killer instinct. This is a serious shortcoming. 

At age 34, Jack is by now a finished product in the ring. He rips body shots and throws sneaky combinations. He's a tough hombre and no one will enjoy fighting him. However, he gives opponents opportunities and can beat himself. It would be silly to count him out in any particular fight at light heavyweight, but it would take a giant leap of faith to suggest that he will emerge as the top guy in the division, not with his flaws. 

As for Stevenson, I guess we are stuck with him for at least one more fight. Possessing the best straight left hand in the sport and a Kronk boxing education, Stevenson could have become a big money fighter. Instead, he was comfortable facing lesser talents – that is, when he could be bothered to get in the ring. Passing up millions of dollars to fight his top rival, Sergey Kovalev, Stevenson is a reminder that not all boxers are motivated to be the best. For some, the sport is just a career, a means to end. But as the end harkens for Stevenson, few will shed tears. 

He will retire as a footnote, and I doubt that will bother him.

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, May 13, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Lomachenko-Linares

The truly great separate themselves in boxing by producing moments of brilliance. Whether strategic, tactical, technical or physical, the elite fighters have an extra attribute that mere mortals are unable to conjure. It's a form of genius that's improvisational, with only those who reside in the upper echelon willing to attempt, let alone execute.

In the 10th round of Saturday's thrilling fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jorge Linares, Lomachenko dropped a perfect rear-hand left hook in the middle of a combination that ended the match. Lomachenko curled the shot just under Linares's outstretched right arm and the punch landed squarely on his liver. Linares beat the count, but was in no condition to continue. 

Going back to basics for a second, so few fighters even throw a rear hook. It's a shot that can be easily countered. Many trainers ban that punch from young fighters' repertoires because it can leave them so vulnerable to incoming fire. But the rear hook isn't a proscribed punch in boxing rules. If a fighter can throw it and get away with it, then so be it; but a boxer should use it at his own peril.

During that combination in the 10th, Lomachenko peppered Linares with all sorts of nasty stuff to the head – right hooks, right uppercuts, straight lefts. Linares kept raising his guard higher and higher attempting to fend off Lomachenko's attack. It was at that moment where Lomachenko threw the rear hook – a shot that he hadn't thrown at any point earlier in the fight – and Linares had no defense for it. 

Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Lomachenko needed to summon that moment of brilliance, because he was in a dogfight. Going into the 10th round, the scores were even. Linares was up two on one card, down two on another and tied on the third (I had Linares up two). In the sixth round, Linares knocked down Lomachenko with a perfect counter right hand – the first time Lomachenko had been dropped in the pros. And at various points in the fight, Linares was able to use his reach and accurate punching to land jabs and right hands with surprising frequency. 

For all of Lomachenko's supreme gifts, and they are supreme, he was getting hit a lot. Clearly Linares's physical attributes, technical skills and smart game plan played a role in this, but there was also a degree of vanity in Lomachenko's performance. He fought like he didn't believe that Linares could hurt him. But after Vasiliy threw a lazy jab in the sixth, Linares countered with that pinpoint right which sent Lomachenko to the canvas. It was a wakeup call for Lomachenko; even the greats can get burned by making a mistake. 

Lomachenko beat a terrific version of Linares. In Linares's recent lightweight title defenses, he combined moments of sublime offense with periods of apathy. He would dominate for three rounds and then let a lesser talent back into the fight. He seemed to lack the drive to put together a consistent performance. But Saturday's Linares was switched on. Starting off brightly in the first two rounds with crisp punching and purposeful movement, he immediately indicated to Lomachenko that he wasn't intimidated; he believed that he could win. 

And after Lomachenko put together excellent rounds in the third, fourth and fifth, Linares didn't fold or succumb to Vasiliy's relentless pressure. He steadied himself and landed that fantastic counter right in the sixth, which buoyed he spirits. He followed that up with a terrific seventh round. 

Much was made prior to the fight that Linares wouldn't be working with his regular trainer, Ismael Salas, who had a pre-existing arrangement to train David Haye for his rematch against Tony Bellew. Linares and Salas had forged a winning partnership and Linares had frequently credited his trainer for his recent revival in the lightweight division. However, Rudy Hernandez and the rest of Linares's team ably filled Salas's void. Hernandez’s corner instructions were excellent: keep punches short, don't over-commit and work off of the jab whenever possible. And Hernandez kept emphasizing the jab, even when Lomachenko was having periods of sustained success. It's often difficult for an orthodox fighter to jab effectively against a southpaw, let alone one as athletically gifted as Lomachenko is, but Hernandez was committed to the shot.  

The jab kept Lomachenko from coming in as much as he would have liked. Sure, he had periods of success at close range, but he didn't have a consistent presence there; Linares's jab and outside punching played a significant role in that. 

Linares followed a solid game plan. His desire was there. He was fighting in the upper bounds of his abilities, but when the dust settled, he faced a talent who simply could do more than he could. Linares is a dynamic offensive talent and a capable, three-division world champion. But he would never dream of throwing the fight-ending rear hook that Lomachenko unfurled. And that gap in creativity and execution is why Lomachenko has the belt today. There is a genius that Lomachenko possesses that Linares lacks. I can't ever remember seeing a similar combination to the one that Lomachenko threw on Saturday, and I'm sure that Linares wouldn't even conceive of it offensively, let along think about trying to defend it.  

Lomachenko-Linares is an example of boxing at its finest. Featuring sublime technical skills, athleticism, momentum shifts, power punches, adjustments and indelible moments, the fight will be remembered as one of the defining contests of 2018. It's the rare bout where both fighters are elevated in its aftermath.

Linares, who had won a number of vacant titles in his career and beat a lot of "B" guys, went toe-to-toe with perhaps the best active fighter on the planet. And Lomachenko had to dig down, overcome adversity and create a moment of improvisation brilliance to secure the win. 

On a final thought regarding Lomachenko, it's worth remembering that he had a 14-lb. functional weight disadvantage on fight night. Facing essentially a junior middleweight on Saturday, Lomachenko, the much smaller fighter, was the one who did more damage on a punch-by-punch basis; his shots had more of an effect. Lomachenko has good power, but he's not one of the harder hitters in the sport. He creates havoc with movement, timing, angles, accuracy, flawless technique, creative combinations and an indefatigable spirit. Lomachenko isn't really a lightweight, yet he was carving up perhaps the best fighter in the division. 

After the fight Lomachenko referred to being knocked down in the sixth as a teachable lesson, and I think that's the correct way to look at it. Lomachenko did not put together a flawless performance on Saturday. He got hit a lot, certainly more than he should have. Linares's periodic success forced Lomachenko to make the type of mistake that often occurs with Vasiliy's opponents, but here the master succumbed to a fatigue-induced error. At the top level of the sport, fighters are punished for pushing out lazy jabs. And if one stands in front of a good opponent too often, eventually the opponent will be able to figure out something that can work.

From what I know of Lomachenko, he's not plagued by self-satisfaction. He was victorious, but that won't be enough for him. He wants to get dominate! I'm sure that he and his father will get back to the gym in short order to perfect some of their mistakes from Saturday. That improvisational moment of brilliance won him the fight, but future opponents will remember that he hit the deck. They might be just a little less intimidated when entering the ring in the future, and Lomachenko knows that. I doubt that leaves a positive aftertaste.  

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, May 3, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast featured an interview with hot prospect and former U.S. Olympian Shakur Stevenson, who impressed with a second-round knockout this weekend. Brandon and I also recapped last week's fight action, including Jacobs-Sulecki on HBO and my on-site observations from the Magdaleno-Dogboe card from Philadelphia. We also previewed Golovkin-Martirosyan, Bellew-Haye II, and Garcia-Velez, all the big fights for the coming weekend.

To listen to the podcast, click on the links below: 

Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link:   

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.