Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wilder-Fury: Keys to the Fight

The year's most compelling heavyweight fight takes place on Saturday between titleholder Deontay Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) and former lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Although this matchup doesn't feature the nominal number one in the division, Anthony Joshua, Wilder-Fury has captivated boxing enthusiasts, offering a fascinating style matchup between the knockout artist (Wilder) and the versatile boxer (Fury). The stakes for Saturday's fight are substantial: The winner stands to gain tens of millions of dollars for an eventual fight with Joshua. 

Fury, on his way up through the professional ranks, was often considered more sizzle than steak. Blessed with the gift of gab, his pre-fight press conferences were can't-miss affairs, but the bouts themselves could be humdrum or even sleep-inducing. In addition, Fury's clownish antics at times carried over into the ring where he sometimes would play around with lesser opponents instead of illustrating the menace that should befit a top heavyweight. 

Perceptions of Fury changed with his decisive victory over longtime titleholder and future Hall of Famer Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. Fury dominated with switch hitting, unconventional angles and psychological gamesmanship. Klitschko wouldn't let his hands go and Fury cruised to a comfortable decision (the fight was actually less competitive than the scores would suggest). 

But that was the last time Fury would enter the ring until earlier this year. In the interim, Fury suffered from depression and drug abuse. Fights were cancelled, drug tests were failed and Fury blew up in weight, with some reports suggesting that he was well north of 350 lbs. 

Fury did return to boxing in 2018, beating lesser opponents Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta. Although he may not necessarily have impressed as he worked his way back into shape, he also didn't lose a single moment of either fight. Perhaps the smart play would have been for Fury to take another tune up or two prior to fighting for a championship belt, but he jumped at the opportunity for Wilder, who was unable to finalize a unification match with Joshua. 

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder holding court.
Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Wilder has held a title belt since 2015 and although he has made seven defenses, only one of them, Luis Ortiz, was perceived as a real threat. Wilder was able to stop the cagey Cuban, but not before overcoming some rough moments. Ortiz was close to knocking Wilder out in the seventh round, but Wilder recovered, caught a second wind and scored a late stoppage. 

Despite possessing one of the best right hands in the sport and amassing dozens of TV-friendly knockouts, Wilder has yet to make a significant imprint in the greater American sporting landscape. Saturday's fight will be a chance for him to launch his career into a new stratosphere; however, Fury's considerable boxing skills are a serious threat to Wilder's future plans. 

So will it be the boxer or the puncher? Who will be the one with his hand raised on Saturday evening? Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Composure. 

I have a feeling that the more composed fighter will win on Saturday. But what does that entail for each combatant? For Fury that means smart boxing. He needs to work each round and place his punches intelligently. In addition, he should employ effective neutralizing techniques such as stepping out of the pocket to reset the action and strategic clinching when necessary. Fury must remain consistent with his punch volume and effort. He will find it fairly easy to land on Wilder, but he will need to remain calm as he's having success. 

Fury must resist the urge to showboat or take unnecessary risks. Earlier in his career, light-punching Steve Cunningham dropped Fury with an overhand right during an exchange where Fury wasn't being defensively responsible. If Wilder lands that punch, it's unlikely that Fury would get back up. Fury will have a lot of good moments in the fight, but he can't be greedy. To use baseball parlance, singles and doubles will be enough for Fury to win; he doesn't need to go for the home run.

Wilder must let the fight come to him. Eventually he will have opportunities to land power shots, but burning a lot of energy in pursuit of Fury or missing badly with haymakers won't necessarily be the answer to breaking down his opponent. Wilder can't force the action. If Wilder is overzealous in the ring, that will play into Fury's hands. The Ortiz fight illustrated the dangers for Wilder of rushing in without composure. Like Ortiz, Fury can be a crafty counterpuncher, and Wilder can certainly be hurt by short or odd-angled shots. 

It would behoove Wilder to establish his jab in the early rounds of the fight. Landing the knockout blow isn't vital during the first third of the match. Wilder needs to flash his power shots here and there and a well-timed connection could be enough to garner Fury's respect. Wilder must remember that the fight is 12 rounds, and there will be opportunities to land his best shots if he remains patient, vigilant and composed. 

2. The Effects of Fury's Hiatus. 

There have been examples in boxing where fighters have been out of the ring for extended periods of time and have returned to succeed at the sport's top level. Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard are two such examples. However, not every hiatus is created equal. Fury put on and subsequently took off over 100 pounds. That can take quite a toll on the body. Furthermore, it's clear that Fury wasn't in good condition psychologically during his time out of the ring.  

Fury should be commended for getting his weight under control for Saturday's fight. However, let's not assume that he has the conditioning to go 12 tough rounds against one of the top fighters in the division. Fury has yet to face serious resistance in his return bouts and there's no indication of how his mind or body will hold up under duress. This is one of the clear unknowns heading into Saturday's bout.  

3. Wilder's Other Punches. 

Wilder's right hand is one of the best weapons in contemporary boxing. Big fighters, small fighters, short fighters, tall fighters; it doesn't matter. He's knocked out every opponent that he's faced (he stopped Bermane Stiverne, the only fighter to go the distance with him, in their rematch). Despite Wilder's powerful right hand, he's truly at his best when he's mixing in his other punches. At times his jab, left hook and right uppercut have been effective, but at other points his secondary punches have remained curiously absent, rendering him predictable and one-dimensional. 

Fury's a smart fighter with good eyes and reflexes. He certainly will be planning to neutralize Wilder's right hand, whether that means remaining in the orthodox stance so the punch will be easier to see or crowding Wilder so that he won't have the proper distance to throw it. For Wilder to make inroads in the fight, he will need to land something other than his straight right to divert Fury's attention, be it jabs to the body, double jabs to the head or short left hooks at close range. Remember that Wilder scored knockdowns in the Ortiz fight with three different punches (straight right hand, left hook and right uppercut). To be at his best, he can't just load up on right crosses and think that one punch will be enough to win the fight. 

4. Ben Davison. 

It was certainly an unexpected move when Fury announced that he would be working without his uncle, Peter Fury, for his comeback. He selected little-known Ben Davison to be his cornerman. Davison hasn't amassed much of a resume as a head trainer. Thus it's unknown how effectively he runs a camp (or if he is even the one who is running it). Furthermore, Davison hasn't had big-fight experience as the lead in the corner. Does he make good tactical suggestions? Does he freeze up in crucial moments?

Wisely, Fury and Davison recruited Freddie Roach to assist them in the corner for Saturday's fight (in fact, Fury even concluded his camp at Roach's Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles). With Roach's health having declined, he's not one to yell, motivate or give the type of tough love that Peter Fury was known for. I expect Davison to have a dominant role in the corner on Saturday. He's more familiar with Fury than Roach is and can communicate advice more resolutely. Davison must be given significant credit for overseeing Fury's weight loss during their three camps together, but it's still unclear whether the trainer will be an asset in the corner. 

5. Fury's Focus. 

Fury's singular focus was a major factor that led to his victory over Klitschko. That night he put it all together. However, that performance was not necessarily the general rule for Fury, who has been known to sleepwalk through rounds and switch off at pivotal moments. Fury's chin can be gotten to as well, and it will be up to him to protect himself throughout the fight on Saturday. 

If Fury is focused, he will see shots a lot more clearly and will be in a better position to absorb them. Furthermore, when Wilder starts to unload with power shots, that's where a switched-on Fury can capitalize with counters. The Fury who beat Klitschko was certainly an elite fighter, but there have been other moments throughout his career where he has resembled far less. His lack of focus has played a significant role in his differing versions in the ring.


British boxing commentator Steve Bunce made an intriguing comment in the lead up to the bout between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Smith Jr. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that unfortunately for Hopkins, Smith is too stupid to know any better. What he meant by that was Smith wasn't interested in the cerebral aspects of boxing. He was there to knock Hopkins out and wasn't likely to fall victim to Hopkins's mind games or psychological traps. In a fight where opinion was split leading up to the match, Bunce's analysis was spot on. Smith pounded Hopkins throughout the fight and ended matters by knocking him out through the ropes. 

For Wilder-Fury, I believe that a similar dynamic is in play. Unlike Klitschko, who loved chess and prided himself on his intellectual and cerebral attributes in the ring, Wilder is not cut from the same cloth. He's there to land his bombs and if he's losing early in a fight, so be it. He's not one to get discouraged or psychologically demoralized in the way that Klitschko was against Fury. Wilder has lost numerous rounds throughout his career. He's been down on the cards before. But he retains his self-belief throughout a fight.

I expect Fury to win almost every round on Saturday. I think Fury will do very well...until he doesn't. At some point Wilder will land his Sunday punch, and like every fighter that Wilder has been in the ring with, Fury won't be able to withstand Wilder's best. Wilder's strong finishing instincts and his understanding that he will need to score a knockout to win will hasten Fury's demise. Once Wilder has hurt Fury, I expect him to go for the kill, and I predict that he will succeed. Power will eventually be the real separator on Saturday. 

Deontay Wilder KO 11 Tyson Fury 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe'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, November 18, 2018

The Boots Ennis Show

Making my way inside the 2300 Arena in South Philly for the Jaron "Boots" Ennis-Raymond Serrano card, I stop off at the box office (Hard Hitting Promotions was presenting the show). I ask the woman behind the glass how ticket sales are going. She replies: "We're sold out. Every single seat. You wouldn't believe how many people we had to turn away. It's crazy."

Earlier this year, Philadelphia hosted a strong Top Rank card headlined by the junior featherweight title match between Jessie Magdaleno and Isaac Dogboe. Also on the card were Philadelphia boxers Jesse Hart and Bryant Jennings in separate fights. In a strange scene, after the Hart fight, but before the main event, a large percentage of the crowd started to leave. One out-of-town media member incredulously exclaimed, "I thought Philly was a fight town." To which an elderly writer at the same table said, "No, Philly is a club fight town." Friday's Ennis-Serrano fight was affirmative proof of that statement. 

Electricity was in the air. The crowd was juiced. Yes, local fans show up for Philly vs. Philly fights, but Friday wasn't necessarily an example of that. Ennis had probably 90% of the crowd support. Through 21 fights in his career, Ennis had been a virtual wrecking ball, knocking out 19 opponents, and only six of them had even made it to the fourth round. But Ennis wasn't fighting in a vacuum, appearing deep on big fight undercards or in far-flung casinos. Counting Friday, 12 of his 22 fights had been in the greater Philadelphia area. In short, he's been building his career the old-fashioned way: fighting often (22 fights in just over 30 months) and close to home. He's been beefing up his local following one knockout at a time. 

Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Philadelphia is of course a proud boxing town and while the city may have slipped from its spot in the boxing pantheon over the last few generations, it's not as if it has been bereft of fighting talent. Over the last 10 years, the city has had champions such as Bernard Hopkins, Steve Cunningham, Danny Garcia, Jason Sosa (from across the Delaware River in Camden, N.J.) and Tevin Farmer. It also has produced title challengers such as Eddie Chambers, Teon Kennedy, LaJuan Simon, Demetrius Hopkins, Yusaf Mack, Mike Jones, Gabe Rosado, Eric Hunter, Hank Lundy, Julian Williams, Jennings and Hart.  

As much as Philadelphia loves a good club fight, the boxing community has often been slow to embrace its top local fighters on a more permanent basis. More than a few of those listed above never were able to build a substantial local or national following. As a result, they often plied their trades as "opponents" or itinerant sparring partners, keeping themselves close to a phone as they waited for a title shot. Interestingly, some of the most successful recent Philadelphia fighters developed their local followings after they had made it big. Bernard Hopkins and Danny Garcia weren't the toast of the Philadelphia boxing scene before they made it big.

With Boots Ennis, things certainly feel differently. Everyone sees the talent. In talking to a few of the veteran boxing people around the area – the types that preach caution and perspective – even they acknowledge his abundant skills, fighting family pedigree (two of his brothers boxed, his father is a trainer) and his aggressive temperament. And of course, it doesn't hurt to be the main event fighter on a ShoBox card. Nationally, sharp boxing observers have started to confirm what the Philadelphia boxing community has seen locally. 

Thus, as Boots Ennis made his way to the ring on Friday, resplendent in his purple boxing attire, the crowd was deafening with its support. With his first punch of significance in the fight, Boots landed a jarring straight right hand out of the orthodox stance and then proceeded to paste Serrano around the ring as a southpaw. Throughout the first round, Ennis cracked Serrano with straight lefts, right hooks to the body and menacing combinations. By the end of the round, Serrano was holding on for dear life. 

But Boots was just getting started. In the second round, Ennis closed the show with an impressive display of versatility and firepower. He dropped Serrano for the first time with a pulverizing right hook out of the southpaw stance. Then, seconds later, he knocked down Serrano with a jab/straight right hand combo out of the orthodox stance. He finished off the fight with a flurry of punches while Serrano was trapped along the ropes, ending things with another right hook out of the southpaw stance. In short, it was a flawless performance and left the crowd in a frenzy. 

It's still early days for Ennis. At just 21 and in perhaps boxing's most competitive division, welterweight, there are no guarantees. He will have to avoid many of the pratfalls and hang-ups that have felled many top prospects in the sport. However, the talent is real. Perhaps most importantly, his destructive temperament in the ring separates him from other top American prospects. He's not one of these fighters who plays around with lesser opponents and amuses himself with his superior hand speed and athleticism. He's there to take guys out.

Who knows just how far the Boots Ennis train may go? But it should make for an entertaining ride as he graduates from prospect to contender. So far, he checks off all the boxes. He's connecting with fans and those within the boxing industry. He may be Philadelphia's next big boxing star, but I have a hunch that he wants far more than that. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe'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, November 11, 2018

Opinions and Observations: Usyk-Bellew

It's unusual that one of the defining characteristics of a fighter with an 80% knockout ratio is patience. However, when considering undisputed cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk, the unconventional often applies. Despite Usyk's size and physicality, he is essentially a mover, forever searching for angles and ways to penetrate a defense. However, he's not moving to skirt trouble; he's trying to initiate some for his opponent. He probes and pokes, always looking for a way in. As many elite fighters do, he will take a few rounds to see what he is up against before making adjustments. He doesn't even mind if he falls behind. With his superior conditioning and work rate, he will eventually discover his opening.

None of this makes Usyk out to be a killer in the ring, and perhaps he's not. He's no search-and-destroy knockout artist. But as the great ones do, he finds a way to win, and he dishes out his fair share of hurt in the process. Whether it's the jab, such as in the Murat Gassiev fight, the work rate versus Mairis Briedis or the slinging left hand that he found in the eighth round against Tony Bellew on Saturday, he employs an enormous tool chest with which to work. And by the end of a fight, even the opponents that have made it to the final bell have been psychologically demoralized or physically beaten down (with Briedis being the one, notable exception). 

Photo Courtesy of Simon Stacpoole

Bellew fought very well on Saturday. Winning a minimum of three of the first seven rounds, he consistently countered with hard right hands to the head and body. Even though Bellew was the significant underdog, he didn't let external pre-conceived notions cloud his performance in the fight; he was there to win. And with the Manchester crowd rapturously behind him, he fought valiantly and courageously, with the fans and fighter feeding off each other every time a solid right landed. 

Unlike many classic boxers, Usyk doesn't have elite defensive reflexes. He can be countered by a determined foe, as Briedis demonstrated earlier in 2018 and Bellew showed on Saturday. Usyk compensates for this deficiency in three ways: 

1. He uses his body to find angles where an opponent can't land his best shot;
2.  He increases his work rate;   
3.  He relies on his chin. 

Bellew had the right game plan on Saturday. His best opportunity was to counter Usyk with something hard. And throughout the first six rounds of the fight, he had pockets of success, sometimes even more than that. In rounds two and three, his counter right hands were clearly the best punches of those frames. 

But as the rounds continued, a problem developed. Bellew's right hands weren't enough to discourage Usyk. Furthermore, as Usyk circled more and more to his right, Bellew's right hand became far less of a factor. In addition, Usyk's constant offensive pressure led to Bellew exerting signs of fatigue. Whereas Usyk's jab was essentially a non-factor in the first six rounds of the fight, suddenly it started to land. And in the final exchange of the fight in the eighth round, Usyk blinded Bellew with a right jab and then finished it off with a left hook. When interviewed after the fight, Bellew didn't even know what the final punch was; he never saw it. 

Let's back up a second though. Usyk's memorable final combination of the fight didn't occur in a vacuum. In fact, Usyk had landed a series of left hands in the eighth round prior to the finale. Bellew was still feeling the effects of one right before the final combination. In a clever bit of improvisation during the round, Usyk lowered the angle from where he threw his left hand. Instead of a direct, straight shot which makes a perpendicular angle to the rest of the body, he started to sling his left hand off to more of the side. In this position, he could use his hand for a cross or a hook. And Bellew wasn't physically or mentally agile enough at this point of the fight to defend Usyk's adjustment.  

After the fight, Bellew indicated that he will be retiring from boxing. Having given it his all on Saturday against one of the best fighters in the sport, there's no sense of disappointment or of an opportunity squandered. Bellew's emotionalism and salt-of-the-earth disposition endeared him to his fans and created a special bond. He was one of them. Not blessed with speed or superior technique, Bellew maximized his talent with self-belief and a willingness to take instruction. After losing to Nathan Cleverly in their first fight in 2011, Bellew didn't appear to be anything more than a tough domestic fighter. But he continued to improve and he didn't let his losses define him. 

He was determined enough to fight through the defensive riddle of Isaac Chilemba to essentially even terms through two bouts (officially, he received a draw and a victory). He avenged his loss to Cleverly at cruiserweight, even after being down significantly early in the fight. He would go on to defeat credible cruiserweight contenders such as Mateusz Masternak and Ilunga Makabu (winning a belt in the process). Perhaps most notably, he beat David Haye twice at heavyweight when nobody but himself and perhaps his most die-hard fans thought he had in chance in their first fight. He retires with a record of 30-3-1, a champion and a recipient of multiple seven-figure paydays. Not too shabby. 

As for Usyk, boxing fans are licking their lips with anticipation for his entree into the heavyweight division. Now aligned with promoter Eddie Hearn, Usyk should be fast-tracked to a big opportunity in his next few fights. With his high work rate, superior footwork and conditioning, he should be a handful in the division. 

And while it will be a fun parlor game to envision how Usyk matches up with the best at heavyweight, let's not forget what he has accomplished in the first phase of his career. An undisputed champion, which is a rarity in modern boxing, he has fought for and defended his titles in six countries, never having a home defense in Ukraine. In short, he's been a bona fide world champion, a throwback to a bygone era where top fighters consistently sought the toughest challenges. Usyk's cruiserweight reign epitomizes the notion of prizefighting, and stands out in this current era of super promoters and boxers-as businessmen. Usyk, like other top fighters, will make his millions, but his money has arrived not through connections or hype, but from earning it – a strange and almost quaint concept in contemporary boxing. 

Let's also remember that Usyk has defeated a knockout artist like Gassiev, bangers like Glowacki, Bellew and Huck, superior athletes like Mchunu and Hunter and technical fighters like Briedis. He has dropped rounds. He has been beaten to the punch, but he has always found a way to win. In just a few short years he has proven that he is one of the best that boxing has to offer. And there's a sense that his story offers several intriguing chapters to come.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe'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, November 8, 2018

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, we welcomed 122-lb. champ Danny Roman to the show. Roman recounted his last 18 months where he went from a virtually unknown club fighter to a world titleholder. Roman also talked about what's next for his career. Also on the podcast, Brandon and I looked back at last weekend's World Boxing Super Series action that included the Taylor-Martin and Burnett-Donaire fights. In addition, we gave our picks and predictions for Saturday's Usyk-Bellew clash.

Click on the links below to listen to the podcast:

Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link: 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe'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.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Pound-for-Pound Update 11-05-18

There have been a number of changes in the Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound Rankings since the last update. Oleksandr Usyk dominated fellow titleholder Murat Gassiev, winning by virtual shutout to become the undisputed cruiserweight champion. With his victory he moves up from #12 to #4. 

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez won a disputed majority decision over Gennady Golovkin. Although most ringside observers didn't have Alvarez winning the fight, the bout was close enough that the official verdict should be recognized as legitimate. With the victory, Alvarez maintains his position at #7 while Golovkin drops from #4 to #8. 

Sergey Kovalev was knocked out by Eleider Alvarez. He has now been stopped by his last two notable opponents. Kovalev now drops out of the Rankings. He was previously #8. 

Kosei Tanaka enters the Rankings at #15 after beating flyweight titlist Sho Kimura by majority decision. Tanaka, only 23, has now won belts in three divisions and continues to impress on the world stage. 

Below is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound list: 
  1. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  2. Terence Crawford
  3. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  4. Oleksandr Usyk
  5. Naoya Inoue
  6. Mikey Garcia
  7. Saul Alvarez
  8. Gennady Golovkin
  9. Juan Estrada
  10. Errol Spence
  11. Anthony Joshua
  12. Jarrett Hurd
  13. Donnie Nietes
  14. Manny Pacquiao
  15. Kosei Tanaka
  16. Adonis Stevenson
  17. Leo Santa Cruz
  18. Roman Gonzalez
  19. Guillermo Rigondeaux
  20. Carl Frampton

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.comHe'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.