Monday, July 2, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Saucedo and Catterall

For a couple of years, Alex Saucedo had been bumming around on Top Rank undercards. He was not regarded as one of the golden jewels of the company's prospect stable, but still, the talent scouts at Top Rank thought that he had some potential. He could punch and he certainly was a fighter at heart. In short, Saucedo was the type of B-prospect that was worth a flyer. If he turned out to be something, great. If not, on to the next one. Last year after a third-round destruction of Gustavo Vittori, I asked a Top Rank executive when Saucedo would be getting a push from the company. The response I received was that the company wanted to give Saucedo a few more fights to gel with trainer Abel Sanchez and that big things were expected for him in 2018. 

Prior to Saturday, Saucedo had mostly fought in front of sparse crowds and the die hards who stream the preliminaries. He was a virtual unknown to all but the hardest of hardcore boxing fans. Yet there he was on Saturday, ready to enter the ring in front of a raucous crowd in his hometown of Oklahoma City under the bright lights of ESPN; this was his push. 

Fighting Lenny Zappavigna (known as Lenny Z in boxing circles), Saucedo may have started off the evening as an afterthought in the larger boxing landscape, but by the end of the night, no longer would he have to worry about anonymity in the sport; he engaged in one of the fiercest battles of attrition in recent times. Overcoming tremendous adversity, he stopped Lenny Z in one of the best fights of the year, announcing his presence on the big stage with a thunderbolt.

Photo courtesy of Top Rank

Saucedo, 24, is a hybrid-style fighter. Originally from Mexico before moving to Oklahoma, Saucedo definitely employs the "take two to land one" ethos of many Latin American fighters. However, he has attributes that come from other parts of the boxing world. He throws a left uppercut that he starts away from his body, chest-high, and moves up almost in a perfectly straight line. Gennady Golovkin, who also trains with Abel Sanchez, has a similar shot in his arsenal. In addition, Saucedo is best at mid-range. Throwing a variety of right hands, many of them looped or overhand, his shots detonate much better from distance. In close, he can smother his shots. Furthermore, he doesn't go to the body much.

Defensively, Saucedo is a work in progress. He has confidence in his chin, which can be a double-edged sword. He can evade punches when he wants to, but often he'll eat a shot or two because he'd rather stay in range to throw counters. Of course, the art of blocking and parrying shots could help him significantly. In the fourth round, Saucedo tried to eat a right hand and it didn't go well. Lenny Z then exploded with a half-dozen right hands, all hard and landing on the chin. Saucedo was dazed and hurt, but miraculously he didn't go down. Perhaps a number of refs would have stopped the fight at that point since Saucedo was seemingly target practice, but Gerald Ritter gave Saucedo the opportunity to fight on. 

Despite getting battered from pillar to post in the fourth, that was the last round that Saucedo would lose on my card. In a Herculean display of recuperative powers, he won the fifth, using his legs to create distance for optimum punching range. He proceeded to carve up Lenny Z's eyes throughout the remainder of the fight, creating a splatterpaint of blood on canvas that would make Jackson Pollock blush.

Let's also not forget Saucedo's knockdown. In the third, he used some footwork and subtle defensive skill to land a free shot. He detonated a short, overhand right on the point of the chin and Lenny Z hit the canvas. Somehow, that was the only knockdown in the fight. 

By the end of the seventh, Lenny Z's corner had seen enough. Lenny's eyes were barely functional and he looked like a horror movie ghoul, more a conceit of the makeup department than an actual human being in the flesh. It was a wise decision to call the fight, and afterwards, Lenny Z, 30 and a veteran of a number of ring wars, decided to announce his retirement. Although the Australian had never won a world title, he had always been competitive with top opponents at 135 and 140. 

Photo courtesy of Top Rank

As for Saucedo, he's now in position to fight for Maurice Hooker's 140-lb. belt and he has already provided some choice words for Top Rank's other champion at junior welterweight, Jose Ramirez. 

Saucedo's at a pivotal point in his development. He's good enough to bang with top guys at 140, but that's not the same thing as saying that he would beat them. There are still moments where Saucedo catches himself in the ring, going through the gears to remember to take a step back so he doesn't smother his work. Other times he will gingerly leave the pocket, reminding himself that it's OK to stop and reset. He has decent legs, an excellent chin, great conditioning and the heart of a champion. But will that be enough? 

If Saucedo understands that there are additional facets that can be added to his repertoire then he could be a real threat to anyone in the division. If not, he'll still be a lot of fun and make for great TV. But without more improvement, opposing fighters will consider him a tough day at the office, but perhaps nothing more. 


In another intriguing 140-lb. matchup on Saturday, English prospect Jack Catterall eked out a tight unanimous decision win over previously undefeated Tyrone McKenna of Belfast, Northern Ireland (which is where the fight took place). That the fight even made it to the scorecards was an indictment of Catterall laissez-faire ring demeanor and a testament to McKenna's internal fortitude. 

McKenna, sent down to the canvas three times in the fight (only two of them were ruled official knockdowns), somehow survived Catterall's early onslaught and was actually the one winning rounds in the back half of the match. Only a rousing final round saved Catterall on the cards, which in truth were a touch too generous to the hometown fighter – but hey, these things are common in boxing, and Catterall should have been aware of that reality. 

Catterall consistently was the bigger puncher and displayed superior boxing skills but at many points of the match he couldn't be bothered to let his hands go. He allowed McKenna to steal a number of rounds by sheer output. Overall, Catterall's performance smacked of self-satisfaction and far too much ego. In the third and fifth rounds, Catterall looked like he had McKenna ready to go, but Catterall took his foot off the gas and let McKenna recuperate. 

Now 22-0 and a dark horse candidate to fill out the World Boxing Super Series tournament at 140 lbs., Catterall is on the verge of getting a title shot. Although he certainly knows how to fight and has considerable boxing skills, there's a big hole in his boxing game; it's where his motor should be. 

Catterall has already defeated capable fighters such as McKenna, Tyrone Nurse and Joe Hughes, but his paltry offensive output won't be enough at the next level. It's almost as if he has the reverse of Saucedo's issues. Catterall has an abundance of offensive skills and nifty defensive maneuvers, but there are questions about his desire. In many ways Catterall reminds me of another English southpaw with excellent skills and a blasé attitude – Frankie Gavin, a fighter who was never able to get to the top level. 

Catterall has sparred with Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and Kell Brook, and I'm sure he feels that he can handle himself in the ring against the best fighters in his weight class. However, there's a difference between competing and winning. It's not enough for Catterall to hold his own, or it's not enough if Catterall wants more for himself and his career. 

Hopefully Catterall's trainer, Jamie Moore, conveyed some uncomfortable truths after the fight. Catterall's effort wasn't enough to beat the best at 140. Sure, Catterall has talent, lots of it, but all elite fighters have talent. Those pesky positive intangibles – for example: desire, resilience, a killer instinct – are what Catterall needs, and they don't often suddenly appear for a 25 year-old fighter. If Catterall was scared straight by his performance on Saturday, then he has a real shot. But if not, disappointment looms.   

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. 
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