Sunday, August 11, 2019

Prospect Night in Philly

With the cancellation of the Frampton-Dominguez main event, Saturday night's card in Philadelphia turned out to be Prospect Night at the fights. Of the seven fights on the card, six featured bouts with both combatants having fewer than 12 professional matches. In all, seven fighters entered the ring with undefeated records. They were a mixture of world-class amateurs, regional attractions, tough local guys and projects. The ranges of performance varied too, from a one-round smash job to an unlikely upset. This article will cover each of the prospects.

Before I begin though, let me mention that Jason Sosa, a former secondary titlist at 130, stopped Lydell Rhodes in the new main event. Knocking down Rhodes three times before the fight was waved off in the seventh, Sosa looked ferocious in the ring, with each left hook to the body seemingly having an effect. Sosa landed his first knockdown in the fifth with a sweeping left hook to the head and moments later connected with a short counter right that dropped Rhodes again. In the seventh, he landed a counter left hook for the third and final knockdown. Shortly after that, Rhodes's corner threw in the towel. Sosa, from just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, turned in a strong performance. And even though he didn't have the speed advantage, his sharper punches and inside fighting skills enabled him to prevail.

Now on to the prospects: 

Robeisy Ramirez (0-1) Cuba, 25, featherweight, Top Rank

Ramirez, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner from Cuba, had a harrowing defection story and was making his pro debut on Saturday. And needless to say, the possibility of losing in his first outing was not on anyone's mind. But that's exactly what happened as unheralded Adan Gonzales knocked him down in the first round and beat him to the punch enough to earn a split decision victory. (In truth, Rose Lacend's 40-35 card for Gonzales was atrocious and did not reflect the competitive nature of the fight. But the upset narrative was compelling; thus, the junk scorecard was conveniently ignored.)



Adan Gonzales Lands a Left on Robeisy Ramirez
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

In the amateurs Ramirez displayed crafty footwork, but on Saturday he too often just marched in winging big shots, and he paid the price for his machismo. He was startled by Gonzales's left hand and for every big shot that Ramirez threw in the first two rounds, Gonzales seemingly connected with quick counters. It took until the third round for Ramirez to match Gonzales's intensity. Ramirez performed much better in the final two rounds, where he controlled distance and limited Gonzales's output. But from my vantage point, it was too little too late. 

Obviously Top Rank didn't want a prized amateur, the guy who beat Shakur Stevenson and Michael Conlan in the Olympics, to lose in his first pro fight. This wasn't a case of challenging a prospect with a gatekeeper to see if he's ready for the next step. No, Ramirez was expected to win his first few fights and be a quick mover. So, this wasn't a win for Top Rank. However, the fighter deserves blame as well. When Ramirez finally decided to respect his opponent, he won rounds. He showed that he clearly had the ability to get the better of Gonzales, but his lack of respect proved to be costly. Let's also give Gonzales (5-2-2, 2 KOs) a lot of credit. He put forward a spirited effort. The aura of a two-time Olympic champ didn't seem to bother him in the slightest. He was there to win, and did just that. And that's why they fight the fights!

Edgar Berlanga (12-0, 12 KOs) New York, 22, middleweight, Top Rank

Berlanga's fight against France's Gregory Trenel was the only non-competitive bout on the card. Trenel couldn't defend himself against Berlanga's power shots and ref Benjy Esteves stopped the fight in the first round with Trenel still on his feet. 

Berlanga is a gifted power puncher with naturally heavy hands. He throws his best shots, straight right and left hook, with little wasted effort and they land with maximum impact. Through 12 fights, Berlanga has stopped each of his opponents in the first round. Obviously that streak won't continue, but his power looks to be real. What Berlanga needs now are opponents that will give him rounds. At just 22, we still need to find out a lot about him. Can he take a shot? What is his conditioning like? What happens when he gets taken into deeper waters? These questions are of course pertinent to all prospects and Berlanga is no exception. He's certainly an intriguing young fighter and one to keep an eye on. 

Paul Kroll (5-0, 4 KOs) Philadelphia, 24, welterweight, unsigned
Shinard Bunch (2-1) Trenton, NJ, 20, welterweight, Nedal Promotions

In a spirited six-round contest, Kroll prevailed via a unanimous decision. Kroll was once a top amateur, but legal problems derailed his momentum. In Saturday's fight he possessed more offensive dimensions, and especially more spite. Bunch landed his fair share of crafty counters, but he was often outworked and seemed like a boy fighting a man. Bunch could certainly handle himself in the ring and was able to extricate himself from periods of danger, but there's a big difference between fending off a stronger opponent and doing enough to win. 

Kroll featured a strong arsenal of power punches and a sharp jab. He ate a number of big shots, which showcased both the good and bad of a young prospect. On one hand he demonstrated a good chin. But he admired his work a little too much and lingered in the pocket after throwing, enabling Bunch to land some biting counters. 

Kroll appears to be a solid athlete and has a number of tools that could see him succeed at the next level, but he's not going to be able to overwhelm all of his opponents, and Saturday's fight was a needed reminder that the other guy gets paid too. 

Sonny Conto (4-0, 3 KOs) Philadelphia, 23, heavyweight, Top Rank

In his fourth professional fight, Conto experienced resistance for the first time. His opponent, Guillermo Del Rio, clipped him with a few overhand rights. Del Rio also knew how to absorb punishment. When Conto landed his best shots, Del Rio mostly just shrugged them off. Conto did win every round of the bout and landed a sweet left hook in the fourth round, which led to the only knockdown in the fight. 



Sonny Conto Connects with a Right Hand
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank


Del Rio proved to be a suitable opponent at this phase of Conto's career. Conto needed to set up combinations to have success and the fight eventually transformed into whether he could put together the right series of shots to score the knockout. That he wasn't able to end the fight early isn't a mark against him, but it was a crucial learning experience. Finishing opponents often can be just as much cerebral as physical. Conto has a good heavyweight punch, but knowing how to finish a guy off is an acquired skill. But even though the knockout didn't come, it was still encouraging that Conto didn't fight recklessly to try for the stoppage. As he started to have more success, he was able to limit Del Rio's effectiveness, which is a sign of maturity and evidence of a present Ring IQ. 

Donald Smith (10-0, 6 KOs) Philadelphia, 26, featherweight, Peltz Boxing

A 5'11" southpaw featherweight isn't a normal occurrence in boxing and Smith is going to have some physical advantages in the ring that are going to be difficult for lower-level opponents to crack. He defeated Abdur-Raheem Abdullah on Saturday via a wide decision. He scored a first-round knockdown and dominated the early action. And while Abdullah was never a threat to win, he did land a wild left haymaker in the third round that sent Smith crashing back to the ropes (it's possible that another ref could have ruled that sequence a knockdown). 



Donald Smith Controlling Abdur-Raheem Abdullah with his Jab
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Although Smith possesses significant height and reach, he doesn't necessarily "fight tall," staying behind his jab and using distance to his advantage; he likes to mix it up. Smith has a sharp left hand and a solid right hook, but the lack of a consistent jab or uppercut enabled Abdur-Raheem to come forward without paying a price a little too often.  

At 26, Smith needs to be moved quickly. He's already too old to be a top prospect; however, it's possible that he could become a tough spoiler. To do that he will need to incorporate more offensive dimensions into his game. If he doesn't evolve in the ring, he's going to have some unnecessarily difficult fights on the inside. Unfortunately, he appears to have hurt his left hand in the fight and may not be back in action for several months. 

Jeremy Adorno (2-0, 1 KO) Allentown, PA, 18, junior featherweight, Top Rank

Jeremy's older brother, Joseph, is also signed to Top Rank. To a number of boxing people who saw both brothers as amateurs, Joseph was considered the better prospect, and a few boxing insiders I spoke with suggested that Jeremy might have been best served by staying an amateur a little longer. Nevertheless, he decided to turn pro this year, and he looked much better in his second professional fight on Saturday than he did in his debut in March. 

Adorno scored a third-round KO with two counter body shots. His opponent, Fernando Robles, stayed on his knees for well over a minute after the stoppage. Compared to his first outing, Adorno did a better job of sitting down on his shots. 

Adorno has adequate hand speed and some variety with his punches. However, he's going to be a long-term project. He's so early in his development that it's difficult to predict what he might be in another 12 months, let alone three to five years from now. Expect him to be moved gradually in the near future. 

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Radio

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast covered the excellent Kownacki-Arreola Fox card from last weekend. Brandon and I delved into the Canelo/Golden Boy/DAZN drama. We also looked ahead to this week's fight action highlighted by Ortiz-Orozco. In addition we previewed the September boxing schedule. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:


Blog Talk Radio link:
iTunes link:
Stitcher link:

Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio, Episode #138.


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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Frampton's Final Push

Carl Frampton was a retired fighter. For two weeks after last year's grueling unanimous decision loss to Josh Warrington, Frampton, a former two-division titlist, thought he was done with boxing. But sitting at home with his family, that gnawing feeling started to take over. "I didn't want to end like that," he said. "I want to know what it feels like to be a champion again." So Carl readied himself for another push to the top. Aligned with a powerhouse team that includes MTK Global, Frank Warren and Bob Arum, Frampton wanted one more shot at the title. 

Frampton (26-2, 15 KOs) next fights on August 10th against Emmanuel Dominguez (26-8-2, 18 KOs) in Philadelphia (televised in the U.S. via ESPN+) and he has already been in town for two weeks as he finalizes his training camp. He met with local media this week at the Irish Center. Three bagpipers played prior to the start of the event, a nice welcoming touch for the boxer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.


Photo by Adam Abramowitz/Saturday Night Boxing


With a win against Dominguez, Frampton will be in pole position for another shot at the featherweight title, but his potential future opponent is unclear at this time. The current WBO titleholder, Oscar Valdez, has signaled his desire to move up in weight. If that were to happen, Frampton could wind up facing uber-prospect Shakur Stevenson for the vacant title. And if the WBO route doesn't work out, there are other possibilities, including a rematch with Warrington, or perhaps a trilogy fight with Leo Santa Cruz.

But first thing's first. Frampton has a fight to win next week and he's been putting the finishing touches on a spirited camp at the Grays Ferry Boxing and Fitness Club with trainer Jamie Moore and chief sparring partners Aqib Fiaz, a Manchester-area boxer from Moore's stable, and Stephen Fulton, an impressive junior featherweight prospect from Philly (Fulton also sparred with Frampton in a previous camp).

At 32 and a veteran of the boxing scene, Carl understands the importance of the Dominguez fight. "At this stage of my career, if I lose my career is over." Frampton knows that he represents an enormous opportunity for Dominguez. And he's also aware that Dominguez has been in the ring with several notable fighters, such as current junior featherweight champ Emanuel Navarrete. 

For this camp, there have been no cutting corners. No cheat days. He was asked if he had a steak sandwich yet while in Philly and Carl responded with a laugh saying not yet, but that's the first thing on the menu Sunday morning after the fight. He asked the crowd if the famous "Pat's Steaks" was a good choice, of which the Philly Phaithful in attendance gave him a good-natured boo.

Frampton spoke with the assembled media for over 30 minutes and he's a natural talker. He has excelled when doing punditry work in England and he co-hosts a successful podcast with Chris Lloyd (TKO with Carl Frampton). During his remarks, he confirmed his desire to get into broadcasting after his career is over. 

During the free-ranging dialogue, Carl analyzed some of the best matchups in boxing, revealed his career highlights and opined on potential future opponents. He handled all of the questions, especially some pointed ones, with ease. He wouldn't take the bait and respond to Stevenson's recent trash talk about him, and he was respectful of past opponents such as Leo Santa Cruz, Kiko Martinez and Nonito Donaire (Donaire and Frampton have become friends and Donaire will be coming to Philly to support Frampton on fight night).

Frampton acknowledged the talent in the featherweight division, stopping to give credit to Santa Cruz, Valdez, Russell (although he wondered why he didn't fight more), Warrington and Stevenson. He knows that he'll have to be at his best to get another belt.  

For trainer Moore, this camp has been an opportunity to address some of the problems that occurred during the Warrington fight, a match so brutal that Frampton's wife vowed that she would never watch him fight live again. "The main problem was Carl's decision making in the first three rounds of the fight," said Moore (who was also on-hand at the media event). "Would Carl have stood and traded with Nonito Donaire in the center of the ring? Of course he wouldn't. He would’ve been a fool to do that with his power. He didn't respect Warrington's power enough. And that was a problem."

Frampton admitted that he was hurt several times in the Warrington fight. For this camp Frampton and Moore are emphasizing fundamental boxing, angles and footwork, the types of skills that could come in handy against Dominguez, or an aggressive pressure fighter, such as Valdez. Frampton illustrated in his title-winning effort against Santa Cruz and in a 122-lb. title defense against Scott Quigg that he certainly has the requisite skills to defeat top-level pressure fighters. But in his two losses (against Warrington and the rematch with Santa Cruz) he also showed that he could be lured into ill-advised firefights. 

Although everyone was all smiles at the media event, the underlying seriousness from the fighter and trainer was definitely present. They weren't in Philadelphia for the sightseeing; they want a title fight by the end of the year.  

Win or lose against Dominguez, Frampton's had a notable career. Along with Steve Collins, he's the only two-division belt holder from Ireland, and the only two-belt titlist from Northern Ireland. According to Frampton, his two most memorable moments were defeating Santa Cruz in New York, where over 2,500 fans crossed the Atlantic to support him (I was there, they were loud), and fighting at home to a sold out Windsor Park in Belfast. 

Frampton was asked about his legacy and his answer was perfect, "I want to be remembered as a legend in Irish sports. But I also want to be known as a decent guy, not an arsehole...or a dickhead." The room broke up in laughter.

Ultimately, the vibes were good. The positivity was abundant, but the reality of where Frampton is in his career was evident. He's now in the lose-or-go-home phase of his career. And as much as he loves his wife and kids, he's not ready to go home for good. Not just yet. 

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Five While I Was Away

Two boxers died last week, Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan. These incidents remind us how unforgiving boxing can be, that tragedy cannot always be neatly separated from the thrill of combat. Sure, there will be time for inquests, finger-pointing and a civil servant or two to offer a resignation, but these losses take precedence. 

This will not be the last boxing match to end in tragedy, but it is our responsibility as fans, consumers, participants and protectors of boxing to advocate solutions that will lead to a safer sport. Everything should be on the table: first responder procedures and equipment, the emergent care quality of affiliated hospitals, referee quality, the existing protocols for sharing fighter medicals between commissions, the standardization of medical suspensions after knockouts. Perhaps meaningful change can occur in these (and other) areas, reducing the likelihood of future ring tragedies. Although change won't bring Maxim or Hugo back, it may save the next fighter. 

The uncomfortable realities of boxing have reappeared and we should bear some responsibility toward helping improve the sport. I bet if each of us thinks long and hard, we all know someone involved in boxing – manager, lawyer, ring official, bureaucrat, ticket broker, arena manager, promoter, fighter, sponsor, broadcaster, television executive. These are the stakeholders in the sport. They, with our backing, can help initiate and lead change. We should engage our contacts in the boxing community about fighter safety. Lobby them. Let them know that these are issues of concern. Through consistent attention we can work to implement meaningful reforms. Maxim and Hugo deserve this much. 

There are gofundme accounts to help the Dadashev and Santillan families in their time of need. Donate. Talk to your boxing contacts about fighter safety. Most importantly, this is not a time to be passive. We all love boxing dearly. We want it to continue. We all know that there are numerous ways to improve fighter safety without changing the fundamental nature of the sport. We all have a role to play in making boxing safer for the next generation of fighters. It's time to do our part. 

***

According to a BoxingScene report by Thomas Hauser, and subsequently confirmed by various parties in the industry, Dillian Whyte, one of the top heavyweights in the world, failed a drug test leading up to his fight with Oscar Rivas. More importantly, he was allowed by the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) to fight even after the positive test, and Rivas wasn't informed of these events until days after the bout (Whyte, despite being knocked down, won by unanimous decision).

Obviously this is a clusterfuck of epic proportions. Hiding behind legalese and other obfuscating language, the BBBofC acknowledged that an official proceeding is underway (Whyte has appealed the positive test) and that further news would be forthcoming in due time. Ultimately, any solution that allows a PED cheat to fight on because he has appealed is an awful one. 

Clearly the BBBofC's protocols need to be changed. This is a fighter safety issue, even outstripping the relevant ethical and moral concerns. In most of the major jurisdictions in the world, the fight would have been cancelled once the positive drug test occurred (although we all know of an exception or two). But the BBBofC remains intransigent. Unlike the issue of avoiding ring tragedies mentioned earlier, this needed change is far simpler to enact. Everyone knows what has to be done.  

The BBBofC needs to do some housecleaning and allow for additional transparency (here's hoping that the stakeholders in boxing apply pressure for needed changes). The Board often doesn't publicly release information about suspended fighters until far after the fact. They can deliberate for an inordinate amount of time before issuing a decision. They have bizarre and byzantine rules (often with UKAD, their drug-testing arm) for determining appropriate actions for failed tests. The BBBofC knows what they need to do. The issue of fighter safety is too important to hide behind outdated notions of due process and secrecy. Whyte could have always appealed a guilty test. But Rivas was never given a chance to make a decision for his best interest. And if real adults were in the room, Rivas would never have had to make that decision: Failed test, no fight. It really is that simple. Don't hide behind legal gymnastics; do the right thing.   

***

Manny Pacquiao delivered a thrilling victory over Keith Thurman two Saturdays ago, winning a split decision victory by the scores of 115-112, 115-112 and 113-114. First, it must be stated that Thurman came oh so close to winning; a Pacquiao knockdown in the first round and a straight left to the body in the 10th were enough to put Pacquiao over the top. It's clear that Thurman won at least four rounds, but during a number of brief and telling exchanges Pacquiao's flurries of success were enough to shade several close rounds in his direction. 

At 40, Pacquiao isn't supposed to be beating top welterweights, but he has looked rejuvenated in 2019, soundly defeating Adrien Broner in January and winning another title belt against Thurman. Unlike his vintage days, Pacquiao now only fights in spurts. He no longer throws 90 punches a round, but he has morphed into a clever and cagey fighter. The Manny of 2004 wasn't picking off opponents with counter hooks and disguised single body shots; however, his performance against Thurman illustrated how encompassing his Ring IQ and repertoire are. 

The success of Pacquiao's afterglow years is predicated on a number of attributes that were ignored during his prime. He became a force of nature in boxing with his singular combination of speed, power and punch volume; however, even years after his best, he still wins even though his foot speed isn't spectacular, his punch output is pedestrian and his one-punch knockout power has been long gone. During his magical run to the top, the boxing commentariat rarely referenced his intelligence, ring cunning, or the development of his craft, but these are the reasons why he remains a force in the sport. 

Throughout most of the fight Thurman sacrificed power in order to shorten up his shots, hoping to land more regularly (according to CompuBox, he out-landed Pacquiao). When he did try to throw his knockout punches, they were often telegraphed. He did land a few of his best straight right hands though, the types of punches that stopped lesser opponents, but Pacquiao was never discouraged. 

Thurman is one of those rare fighters with better foot speed than hand speed. His best power punches can often be long and ponderous. They involve some wasted motion and perhaps that is a reason why he hasn't scored many knockouts as he's fought better opposition. He still packs a punch, but opponents see his shots coming, which can be all the difference between absorbing a blow and getting KO'ed.

Perhaps most distressingly for Thurman was that after the knockdown it took him several rounds to get into the fight. He looked befuddled in the ring in the early rounds, going through the motions without much confidence, unsure of how to attack or how to respond to Pacquiao's offense. Eventually he worked his way into the bout, but it was concerning that he didn't seem to regain his sea legs until the fifth round. 

Thurman contains myriad offensive gifts, but his recuperative powers will always be a concern against quality punchers. Perhaps if he employed more of his hit-and-run style he would have had more success against Pacquiao. But he was there to prove himself in the center of the ring, mano-a-mano. This was supposed to be his moment. Unfortunately for him, the older warrior had a few more arrows in his quiver.

***

Jose Ramirez stopped Maurice Hooker in the sixth round of a wildly entertaining junior welterweight title unification match on Saturday. Featuring thrilling action, momentum shifts and a number of wonderful exchanges, Ramirez scored the most impressive win of his career. Facing a significant reach disadvantage, Ramirez was still able to fight on the inside using lateral movement, angles and a variety of punches. When Ramirez was able to push Hooker to the ropes, he went to town with chopping left hooks and thudding body shots. Hooker in turn responded throughout the fight with menacing left hooks and straight right hands. 

In the end, Ramirez was able to make Hooker miss with a shot, and then Ramirez returned with a pulverizing left hook that Hooker never saw. Following up on the blow, Ramirez drove hooker to the ropes with ferocious power punches, forcing referee Mark Nelson to stop the fight.  

Although a U.S. Olympian, Ramirez was never considered one of the best American boxing prospects. However, in working with Freddie Roach and now Robert Garcia, he has incorporated the teachings of two master trainers into his ring identity. Garcia's influence could certainly be seen with Ramirez's footwork. Instead of fighting as a face-first aggressor, he was now applying pressure behind punches and using angles to attack. And once Ramirez had Hooker hurt, his selling out for the finish is directly from the Roach playbook. Ramirez seized the moment and forced the ending of the fight. Less-seasoned boxers would have smothered their work or somehow allowed Hooker to survive. Ramirez was vicious but surgical in his final blows. He made them all count. 

Ramirez now has a potential huge fight in 2020 against the winner of this year's World Boxing Super Series tournament between Regis Prograis and Josh Taylor. Within a calendar year, there's a very good chance that we'll see another undisputed champion in boxing. And in this time of tragedy in the sport, let's take the positive news where we can. 

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. 
Email: saturdaynightboxing@hotmail.com.
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.