Coming into Saturday's fight, Robert Easter Jr., a lightweight champion blessed with a 5'11" height and a 76-inch reach, was as much as a 6-1 underdog against Mikey Garcia. Easter's last three bouts of note, versus Richard Commey, Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna, were all close affairs, and if he had failed to establish himself as a dominant player in the 135-lb. division, at least he had demonstrated that he could compete with the B+ talent level.
Meanwhile, Garcia had clearly established himself over the past decade as one of the best talents in boxing, winning title belts in four divisions and yet to have a fight where he had lost more than four rounds. So while a unification bout usually carries an expectation of drama and intrigue, conventional wisdom suggested that Easter would do no better than win a few rounds, which is precisely what occurred on Saturday.
Floyd Mayweather and others like to say that boxing is about levels. Meaning, at a certain point, talent will win out and there's not much an overmatched opponent can do. Now of course there are exceptions to this rule. We've seen significant upsets, fighters setting an unexpected new threshold in performance and one-punch knockouts proving to be the great equalizer. But by and large, "levels" proved to be correct during Garcia-Easter. Yes, 6-1 underdogs prevail every year, but there are only a handful who can successfully overcome such odds. And Easter didn't fight in a manner that would provide him the ability to join such a sparsely populated list.
For this fight, Easter enlisted trainer Kevin Cunningham, a coach who had significant success developing Cory Spinks and Devon Alexander. Cunningham is good on technique and runs a disciplined camp. Easter, who many felt had stagnated or regressed, was searching for something more against Garcia. And it was clear from how Easter approached the fight in the early rounds that Cunningham had provided him with a specific plan for helping to neutralize Garcia's considerable offensive gifts.
Fighting tall in the center of the ring, which is something that Easter had struggled with as a titlist, he attempted to keep Garcia at bay with his jab and distance. In the first two rounds of the fight, he was successful at limiting Garcia's punch output. The great ones, however, make adjustments.
Garcia eventually would draw out Easter, forcing him to make mistakes and get out of position. The sequence that led to his third-round knockdown of Easter was a perfect demonstration of Garcia's brilliance. Garcia connected with a hard jab and then followed up with right hand that landed squarely on the button. He then moved suddenly away from Easter, who was still dealing with the effects of the shot. Based on muscle memory and panic, Easter threw a left hook in hopes of scaring off Garcia from throwing more punches, but Garcia wasn't there. The hook was widely off target and left Easter wide open for Garcia's own hook. Garcia exploited the opportunity, landed the shot and sent Easter to the canvas.
|Photo Courtesy of Showtime|
That sequence exposed a persistent flaw with Easter. Under duress, he can get ragged and lose his composure. He's tough, he responds with aggression, but ultimately, he can be outclassed. Garcia's ability to relax in big moments, create opportunities through patience and perseverance, and attack in a varied but responsible fashion separates him from those a level or two beneath him.
To be fair to Easter, he was far more composed on Saturday than he had been in recent fights, but there were still sequences where Garcia out-thought and outmaneuvered him. But Easter's performance did have some positives. He threw some nice jabs to the body. Except for a round or two, he stayed off the ropes. He kept his height as best he could. However, these were tools that helped him survive more than win.
By the seventh round, Easter's "Plan A" was no longer viable in helping him secure rounds in the fight. Garcia consistently outboxed him and Easter needed to change tactics to have a chance of turning the bout in his favor. But for the rest of the fight, it was more of the same from him – mostly one shot at a time (usually a jab) and trying his best to keep Garcia from opening up too much.
To his credit, Garcia had significant physical disadvantages in the fight, but after a few rounds, he was successful in opening up Easter's high guard and landing enough power shots to win comfortably on the scorecards (the tallies were 118-109, 117-110 and 116-111). With a hard jab, probing right hands around the guard and a sprinkling of left hooks and body shots, Garcia unfurled his offensive arsenal. And although he might not have dominated every second of the fight, he was consistently better.
Garcia isn't a perfect fighter. He can be too methodical. His punch output isn't that high. He is available for counters because he waits a little too long in the pocket on occasion. However, he has done a masterful job of overcoming any athletic or stylistic deficiencies that he may have. He displays exceptional poise, balance and offensive variety. He also has a first-rate corner. Like any fighter, he's not unbeatable, but it's going to take a special performance to hand him his first loss.
If one were to watch heavyweights Joseph Parker and Dillian Whyte in the gym, it would be easy to observe that Parker was the fighter with better boxing fundamentals. Featuring superior footwork, straighter punches, better defense and a more diverse offensive arsenal, Parker ticks a number of boxes for the hypothetical comparison. However, Whyte is not without his plusses. His physicality creates problems for his opponents. He's effectively awkward. He can throw and land shots from out of position that foes aren't expecting. He also features a mean left hook. In addition, Whyte has several positive intangibles that manifest in the ring: self-belief, desire and mental toughness.
Whyte needed every single one of those intangibles on Saturday, surviving for dear life to finish the 12th round on his feet. Dropped by a hard right hand to the temple, Whyte used every trick to survive. He grappled, held, tied up, used his feet, pushed Parker over – whatever was needed. He was running on fumes, exhausted and hurt, yet he had the presence of mind and clarity of thought to see his way out of the round and win the fight.
|Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Lustig|
It was a thrilling round, easily the best one I've seen this year, but it wasn't necessary reflective of the fight in general. Whyte-Parker was a cagey affair, with periods of sustained action. But the fight also featured enough fouls to make even Joel Casamayor or Bernard Hopkins blush.
Saturday's match confirmed that Whyte is a street-smart fighter and Parker (a former champion) is woefully ill-equipped in that area. Punch-for-punch standing at range, Whyte quickly realized that Parker was the better boxer from distance. Consequently, Whyte made it an alley fight. Throughout the match, Whyte used his weight advantage to lean on Parker. He hit him low. He wrestled and grappled. He led with his head. He used headlocks to tie up. Whyte displayed his knowledge of the rough stuff in boxing, the dark arts, and Parker was thoroughly unprepared for that type of fight.
Referee Ian John-Lewis did his customary poor job throughout the fight, allowing Whyte to hold incessantly, failing to take even a single point away for dozens of Whyte infractions. In addition, he was poorly positioned in the second round where Parker was dropped by a head butt; John-Lewis ruled it a knockdown (more on that later).
Yes, Whyte committed a lot of fouls, but as a number of fighters will tell you, keep on doing it until the ref makes you stop. And to Whyte's credit, he wasn't merely a goon in the ring; the rough stuff was purposeful. He would grapple with Parker and hit him repeatedly after one of the fighters released from a clinch. He used his shoulders to move Parker around to land shots. In addition, his tactics made Parker often yield and retreat. Whyte successfully discouraged Parker from engaging through portions of the bout.
During those moments where the fight was ragged, Whyte landed authoritative punches. He also forced Parker into making mistakes. In the ninth round, Parker threw an uppercut in hopes of further discouraging Whyte from coming forward. However, the shot was thrown from too far away and left him completely vulnerable. Whyte connected with a peach of a counter left hand and Parker tasted the canvas.
Nevertheless, Whyte-Parker wasn't as one-sided as the Sky broadcast made it out to be. When the fight was at range, Parker had pockets of success. His jab was superior to Whyte's. He threw a number of punishing left hands to the body, which may have helped zap Whyte's strength by the end of the fight.
However, I'll always remember Parker's eighth round on Saturday. Certainly down on the cards at that point, Parker seemed like a spectator in his own fight. He was unwilling to engage and seemed content to wind the clock down. Belatedly, he stepped on the gas in the 11th and 12th rounds, and perhaps his performance in the final third helped him save face, but it also reinforced his shocking levels of apathy at points earlier in the fight. He had the tools to beat Whyte, but the will wasn't there.
After the fight, Parker was all smiles, and it irked me to no end. Parker was happy to survive against Anthony Joshua earlier in the year and he seemed content in knowing that he had hurt Whyte. But there seems to be a competitive fire missing from him. Instead of slugging it out in a dogfight, Parker was probably more concerned with his impending, sternly-worded letter to the British Board of Boxing Control for allowing such rough behavior during a sporting event.
Interestingly, had John-Lewis ruled correctly in the second round, the fight would have resulted in a split draw. However, in this instance, I won't be standing on my soapbox demanding heads to roll. If Parker wasn't bothered by losing a winnable fight, why should I be upset by any potential injustice done to him? Ultimately, it was an appalling performance by John-Lewis. It affected the outcome of the fight. But even with those caveats, the fight was there for Parker to win.
I'm not sure what's next for Parker. He hasn't looked convincing on the world level, either as a titleholder or a challenger. Naturally a new trainer would be welcome, but it seems as if he and lead coach Kevin Barry are the best of pals. Four years ago, Parker was one of the most exciting prospects in the division. However, his growth has stagnated. We could blame the trainer, and maybe that would be merited, but perhaps Parker's self-satisfaction after uninspiring performances is the real culprit.
Hardcore boxing fans often have to do inconvenient things to watch the fights they want. They go to bed or wake up at ungodly hours for particular bouts. They allow themselves to get gouged by the boxing industry, paying for multiple networks, streams and pay per views. Sometimes their only resort is the dark corners of the internet, where they hope to find a fight that isn't offered in their home market.
Malware be damned, many of us have watched a Russian language feed of a fight in England or streams from Mexico or Argentina where their broadcasts occasionally take commercial breaks during the fight action. We go through these lengths because a.) We want to; and b.) We never know when a great fight might happen, and we certainly wouldn't want to miss it.
Saturday's Dereck Chisora-Carlos Takam fight wasn't available in the U.S. (neither was Whyte-Parker, the headlining fight from Matchroom's London card). However, many U.S. boxing fans found their way to watching it, because when Chisora is switched on, he makes for damn good fights. Rewarding us for our faith, Chisora-Takam turned out to be one of the best fights of the year. Fans were treated to eight rounds of a phone booth war, with the mercurial Chisora landing two pulverizing right hands in the eighth to finish Takam.
|Photo Courtesy of Lawrence Lustig|
Takam (37) and Chisora (34) are both veterans of the heavyweight scene and have experienced their fair share of disappointments at the highest level of the division. Chisora was denied victory in perhaps one of the most blatant robberies of the last ten years, against Robert Helenius in 2011. He also lost a heartbreaker to Whyte in 2016. Takam was deprived of a win against Mike Perez in 2014 and was boxing beautifully against Alexander Povetkin later that year before being stopped.
The two fighters have been inconsistent throughout their careers, but when they're focused, they can certainly entertain. By all accounts, Chisora took training camp very seriously – doing the road work, and getting quality sparring from the likes of Bryant Jennings. Takam also wanted to prove that he was more than he showed last year in the title fight against Anthony Joshua, where he was brought in with less than two weeks’ notice, but still performed ably before being stopped in the 10th round.
Chisora-Takam was one prolonged battle of attrition, with much of the action taking place along the ropes. There, Takam was the busier fighter, unloading three- and four-punch combinations. Chisora, often with his back along the ropes, certainly got tagged some but he displayed a variety of defensive skills in close quarters, using his upper body, gloves and head movement to avoid, parry or ward off many of the shots. He would also return crisp counter hooks and right hands.
When the fight was away from the ropes, both ripped thunderous power shots to the body. Takam was again the busier fighter but it was a legitimate question as to which fighter was causing more damage.
Some observers on social media incorrectly labeled Chisora-Takam as a battle of two washed-up fighters. No, it was exemplary inside fighting, with both boxers displaying offensive creativity, subtle defensive moves and a willingness to engage in unrelenting combat to win. One perhaps could argue that Takam had other options on the table. Maybe if he boxed more he could have defeated Chisora while taking less punishment. However, I would take issue with that charge on two fronts: 1. Chisora can be disparaged early in fights. It's a good strategy to go at him to see if he will wilt, tire or retreat. 2. As Chisora displayed with his knockout, he can be deceptively tricky at range.
Chisora has short arms and almost always has to overcome a reach disadvantage. Saturday was no different as Takam had a 6.5-inch advantage. But Chisora has learned to overcome these deficits. He throws looping right hands, overhand rights and wide left hooks; these are punches that can connect against taller fighters or those who believe that they are safely out of range.
The final sequence was a perfect illustration of Chisora's unusual strengths at range. From out of nowhere, Chisora throws a looping right hand that detonates on Takam's temple, sending him to the canvas. Takam beats the count and puts his gloves up to protect himself. Then, with a little hitch, Chisora lands an overhand right that immediately drops Takam again, and the fight is waved off.
In a strange way, Takam was perhaps better positioned to win the fight during the hellish sequences along the ropes than by boxing. Chisora's tricks don't work against tall fighters who know how to protect their height and can set range, such as Tyson Fury and Vitali Klitschko, but for boxers who lack that talent or don't possess such imposing physical dimensions, Chisora can be, when motivated, as game as they come.
After 37 fights and 11 years as a professional, Chisora has finally achieved a career-defining victory. He will always be a limited fighter. His short arms make jabbing impractical. He doesn't have an uppercut. His defense comes and goes. But he has some impressive dimensions. He's one of the best practitioners of infighting in the sport. Watch him roll and turn with punches and use his right hand and left hook to counter; those are James Toney moves. Perhaps 98% of boxers are completely useless with their back against the ropes, yet Chisora excels at fighting in that suffocating geography. Finally, he throws punches and combinations that aren't easy to defend. Because of his physical proportions, Chisora has had to learn to throw unconventional shots. Sometimes he looks foolish when he misses by three feet, but when they land, they can really cause damage; few anticipate their angles and trajectories.
Finally, Eddie Hearn deserves credit for putting together the card of the year to this point. Heavily criticized by some English fight fans for making Saturday's card a pay per view, the scintillating heavyweight fights made everyone who watched or attended the card forget about the price of the event. People were jumping out of their seats, screaming and hollering; I know I was thousands of miles away. Saturday's card was a reminder of how great this sport can be and the types of thrills it can provide. There can be no greater compliment.
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com.
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.
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