Thursday, February 28, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast, Brandon and I wade into the Wilder-Fury shenanigans, covering it from all the angles. What's next for the heavyweight division and are there any silver linings here? Also on the podcast, Eubank, DeGale, Soto-Rios, Lara-Castano and much more. Click below on the links to listen: 


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, February 25, 2019

Tevin Farmer: Finding the Peak

As junior lightweight champion Tevin Farmer (28-4-1, one no contest) prepares to make his third title defense on March 15th against Jono Carroll (16-0-1), it's business as usual at TKO Fitness in Cherry Hill, New Jersey (about 20 minutes east of Farmer's hometown of Philadelphia). It's early in training camp and while Farmer has stayed as active as any current champion in the sport – the Carroll fight will be his fourth in just over seven months – Farmer and head trainer Raul "Chino" Rivas look at every training camp as an opportunity for improvement. 

Today's menu features a sparring session between Farmer and three-time Tajikistani Olympian Anvar Yunusov, who is now based out of Philadelphia and has a 6-0 record as a professional. Yunusov, like Carroll, is a southpaw and this will be his fourth time sparring Farmer. Yunusov has also sparred notables such as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Jason Sosa (a Farmer stablemate). Farmer rolls in just after 12 p.m. and after exchanging a few pleasantries with the gang at the gym he sits down to get his hands wrapped.   

Farmer is now at an interesting place in his career. Until recently he was a virtually anonymous contender that no one seemed eager to face. Now he is a champion, but one who hasn't yet been in a high-profile fight. He certainly is known within the sport; however, he has yet to expand his popularity beyond hardcore boxing fans and his local supporters in the Philadelphia area. His headlining slot against Carroll at the Liacouras Center (the home of the Temple Owls basketball team) will hope to expand his popularity in the region further. The fight will be broadcasted in the U.S. by DAZN and in the U.K. by Sky. 

Since winning the title last year, Farmer has had to transition from the hunter to the hunted. Less accomplished fighters now call him out, whereas for years  Farmer sought the best at junior lightweight, but his challenges fell on deaf ears. Farmer still wants big fights, but he knows that he has to win for those to happen. He's had a years-long feud with fellow champion Gervonta Davis via social media that at times has been both entertaining and tedious. Farmer understands the current politics of boxing, but he also doesn't want to be bound by them. After years of waiting for his shot, he wants to build a legacy.


Photo Courtesy of DiBella Entertainment


At some point during Farmer's career he got mislabeled as a pure boxer, or a stick-and-mover. Although it's true that he lacks true knockout power (only six KOs in 34 bouts), and has a tricky southpaw style that relies on his superior footwork, he actually fights a lot in the pocket or at close range. Increasingly, Farmer has become an adept inside fighter, especially in impressive performances against Ivan Redkach and Billy Dib. Under Rivas's tutelage, Farmer has learned not only how to attack at close range, but also how to protect himself adeptly in tight. 

I asked Chino (everybody calls him as Chino) what has made Farmer successful at close range and his answer focused on Tevin's mindset. "I could tell each fighter the same thing," he said, "and it comes down to who has the ability to adapt. I go back to the IQ that he [Farmer] has. I have fighters that have been with me longer than Tevin and their inside game is nowhere near as good as Tevin’s.

"I give the same instructions. I use the same defense. And I give the same angles. Tevin was able to master it. Some people just adapt faster than others...I work on the mindset first because after that everything else can fall into place. If you can build a chemistry with your fighter, the rest is easy. My chemistry with Tevin is one-of-a-kind. It’s something special. It’s like we think together. It’s something special."

Rivas wasn't Farmer's first professional trainer, but once the two aligned with each other after some early setbacks in Tevin's career, Farmer has been undefeated (in full disclosure, Farmer did lose a disputed decision to Kenichi Ogawa in 2017 that was subsequently changed to a "no contest" after Ogawa failed a post-fight drug test). 

Farmer's professional career started unceremoniously with a 7-4-1 record, certainly not on the path to a title. Farmer told me in a past interview that after his loss to future titleholder Jose Pedraza in 2012, he decided to take boxing more seriously. It was at that point where he joined forces with Rivas. Their relationship went beyond teacher and pupil. Farmer actually lived with Rivas and his wife for almost two years. 

But even before Rivas was Farmer's official trainer, he had seen something in Tevin from when Farmer sparred some of his fighters. "There would be times when he would be sparring one of my guys," Rivas said, "where I was able to give direction, and he would just click. I was very impressed with how easily he was able to adapt to what I was telling him. He went from being a sparring partner for one of my guys to being someone who could get the best out of my fighters. 

"His defense was very impressive. It needed to be corrected, which is something that through the years has been corrected, but I loved his IQ and I loved his feet. I thought with that combination, once I taught him how to sit down with power shots, that he could be very entertaining."

Lou DiBella was also impressed with Farmer, even in the early stages of his career when Farmer was losing a number of his fights. DiBella had brought Farmer into face Pedraza on short notice. And although Farmer, who admittedly was out-of-shape, wound up losing the fight, he was winning the early rounds of that bout until his conditioning hit a wall. Based on that performance, DiBella developed an affinity for Farmer and would subsequently become his promoter.  

It took Farmer over five years to establish himself as a title contender after the Pedraza loss, but Rivas noted that Farmer's positive outlook was a big difference-maker. "We had that time to stay focused and hungry," he said. "Honestly, it’s been very easy for me to be able to keep him focused. He’s so strong-minded, which is a plus for me. He makes it much easier for me. And I thank the Lord every day for that."

***

During today's spirited sparring session, Farmer and Rivas focus on the right hand. Working with a lot of jabs to the body and double right hooks to the body and head, Farmer treats sparring as a day's work, not a point of machismo pride. Yunusov certainly has his moments throughout the six rounds and it's clear with his punch accuracy and hard, straight shots that he could have a bright future in the sport. 

Much of the sparring takes place in close quarters, where Farmer, with Rivas's exclamations from the corner, works on creating angles to land his shots. Farmer does an excellent job of using his body and Yunusov's positioning to get quality work done in the trenches. It isn't always aesthetically pleasing to watch, but it's effective. After the sparring concludes, Farmer and Rivas go to the speed bag to work on timing exercises. 

Farmer's next opponent, Carroll, is a rugged fighter who likes to throw a lot of shots. Although Rivas wouldn't divulge his particular fight strategy for Carroll, certainly physicality and grappling are techniques that can reduce a foe's punch volume. 

Before Farmer leaves for the day, I talk with him for a few minutes about his career and what headlining in Philadelphia means to him. Farmer has fought in and around Philly almost a dozen times, but this is his most significant opportunity in the famous fight town. 

“To box in Philadelphia is always great," he said, "because some of the best boxers come from Philadelphia. I’ve headlined in Philly before, but to headline on the big stage, it’s definitely special. This fight means a lot to me. I’ve been working the last eight, nine years to become recognized and known as one of the best in the sport.”

In truth, neither Farmer nor Rivas seem overly concerned with what Carroll brings to the table. Rivas acknowledges Carroll's high-volume attack, but it's a style he believes that Farmer has faced a number of times in his career. What Rivas is most interested in is ensuring that Tevin can reach his full potential as a fighter; there are always areas to improve.

Farmer has appreciated his recent fight activity and believes it has helped him fine-tune his skills. “I'm working on just getting better little by little," he said. "Just taking it one day at a time. At a certain point in your career, you don’t see big improvements. Everything is little improvements now."

Despite numerous junctures where he could have lost hope, Farmer continued to work on becoming a better fighter. Even after getting shot in 2017, he refused to let that episode derail his grand plans. (A bullet went clear through his right hand. He acknowledges that he doesn't know if his hand will ever be 100%, but he's also not letting it be an excuse. With his customary positive outlook, he said, "[The hand] hasn't let me down yet.")

For Farmer and Rivas, March 15th is about continuing to progress toward Tevin's peak. There are still areas to master, from sitting down on his lead left hand to better angles to more consistency with his power shots. Bigger fights may be on the horizon, but they need Tevin to be at his absolute best, and they believe that while they are close, their work is not yet done. And perhaps it never will be. Farmer and Rivas are certainly confident, but no one could accuse them of being self-satisfied. They know that real challenges lie ahead. 

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.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Philly Special Card

I'll be broadcasting Friday's Philly Special card with Michael Woods from the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia. The seven-fight card will be headlined by undefeated bantamweight prospect Christian Carto (17-0, 11 KOs) against Victor Ruiz (22-10, 15 KOs). Also featured on the card will be undefeated heavyweight Darmani Rock (13-0, 8 KOs) and the debut of heavyweight Sonny Conto, signed to Top Rank Promotions. The card starts at 7:30 EST and is presented by Raging Babe Promotions. FightNight Live will be broadcasting the card via its Facebook platform and can be accessed at this 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, February 4, 2019

The Kovalev Chronicles

Maybe it was when he was five years old and his father threw him down the steps, breaking both of his legs. Or perhaps when he was living in a shelter when his family had no place to live and his mother was trying to kick drug addiction. Or how about when his family, his mother and seven siblings, all lived in one-room apartment." Or maybe when he was nearly paralyzed during sparring as a 13 year old when an undiagnosed neck injury from that fall as a child reared its ugly head. A loose bone from his neck had broken off and he couldn't move his head. 

Or maybe it was when he had to live in a chair for weeks at a time during recovery because his family couldn't afford a medical bed. Or perhaps it was just after he received the call that he had been waiting for all his life, to fight on HBO Boxing, only to be rear-ended in a car accident, leaving him out of the ring for another 15 months.

Ray Robinson isn't supposed to still be here.

Despite having myriad reasons for self-pity and justification many times over to quit, Robinson perseveres, refusing to let a bad hand, or in his case, several bad decks, define him. Through it all, the glories and the down times, hope sustained him and boxing has been his salvation. 

After his neck surgeries and over a year of recovery as a teenager, he begged his amateur coach and his mother to let him go back to the gym. Despite their initial skepticism, his undying passion for the sport convinced them to give him another chance. At first, "Moses," his amateur coach Howard Mosley, insisted that Ray use the ring and avoid mixing it up. Moses had made a promise to Ray's mother that he wouldn't let anything bad happen to her son. But after some amateur losses on the comeback trail, Ray's competitiveness took over. He knew that he needed to stand his ground and fight. 

Incredibly, within two years of coming back to the sport after his surgeries, he was winning national tournaments. He was invited to Northern Michigan University to train with the best amateurs in the country and qualified for Team USA. From barely leaving Philadelphia growing up to fighting in Turkey, Italy and Russia with notables like Tim Bradley and Adrien Broner, it was almost out of dream. Yes, the lows had been terrible, but the highs were beyond what he could even imagine.

"I had never been on a plane," he said. "Not only was I leaving the city, but I was leaving the country." Once I started to travel to different countries, it was just a whole different world. I used to run back and brag to my brothers, like, 'Dude, there’s a whole other world out there.' It was amazing to see. From at one time being stuck in a shelter to wearing U.S.A. clothes and representing the U.S.A., it was such an honor." 

Robinson (24-3, 12 KOs) fights Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas (21-0, 17 KOs) at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on March 30th. The fight is the co-feature to the Oleksandr Gvozdyk-Doudou Ngumbu matchup and will televised by ESPN. Robinson knows that he will be the underdog in the bout, but fighting at home and finally having a full training camp, he feels 100% confident. 

When Robinson last fought in February of 2017, he lost to Yordenis Ugas via seventh-round knockout. It was perhaps the only time in his career when he didn't listen to his trainer, Derrick "Bozy" Ennis. They didn't have a full camp and Ennis didn't think the moment was right. Robinson, who was still upset about missing that date on HBO against Dmitry Mikhaylenko, jumped at the chance. 

"My last fight," said Robinson. "Bozy kind of didn’t want me to take it, but I didn’t agree with him. I said, 'Let’s do it.' Sometimes trainers are right. Sometimes they see things they don’t like. With me and Bozy, it’s about trust. Bozy’s been in the game for a long time, way longer than me...He knows what’s best for his fighters. It’s important that I put trust and confidence it what he says. 

"I felt like I had my back against the wall because of the HBO fight that didn’t happen...everything with the car accident. So this opportunity came and I think that I jumped at it too quick. I think I didn’t have time to prepare properly...But no excuses, he was the better man that night. And now I’m back on the horse."

Robinson, a 5'10" southpaw with a slick boxing style, has always struggled to get big fights as a professional. His favorite fighter is Pernell Whitaker, and like Whitaker, very few wanted to deal with him unless they had to. Even after losing to Ugas, a scenario when the phone often rings because a fighter now looks vulnerable, the calls didn't come. Robinson's manager, David McWater, who has represented him the past three years, is amazed at how challenging it's been to get Robinson fights.

"Ray's a wonderful person," said McWater, "but it's hard because nobody wants to fight a slick southpaw. It's hard to get a break for this kid...Ray is a number-one guy. I love him to death. I would do anything for him, but it's hard. I thought after he lost to Ugas we would get offers right and left. Not true."

But the lack of opportunities or fights on short notice has been a theme throughout his career. Despite his amateur pedigree, he wasn't signed by any of the major powerhouse promoters in boxing. As a young fighter, he faced three undefeated boxers in a four fight span – Darnell Jiles Jr., Brad Solomon and Shawn Porter – and he lost decisions in last two. After the loss to Porter, he was fed up. He felt mistreated by the industry.

"I was confused, he said. “I wasn’t sure. I was ticked off by managers and my promoters [he was promoted by Star Boxing at the time]. I was a fighter that spoke well in front of the cameras. I wore a suit. I thought they would have taken care of me better, that they wouldn’t have rushed me in there like that. I was irritated and ticked off. After the Porter fight, I found out that certain people were stealing from me. I didn’t understand that side of boxing.

"[Former champion] David Reid was out there with us in Michigan too [where Robinson trained for Team USA]. He used to tell me about that side of boxing, that it can be a dirty game if you end up in the wrong hands. I had never really seen that side – you know basically using you up like a workhorse until they tossed you to the side. That’s how I felt. I was being used for their benefit. So I took some time off."

Robinson got a nine-to-five job in the auto body industry. He thought he might be done. But as he had more time to reflect, the sport that he fell in love with as an eight-year-old kept calling him back. After a year out of the sport he came back and went on a 13-fight winning streak.

Throughout it all, hope has sustained him, providing him with a sense of optimism despite tragedies and setbacks that would have made many lesser fighters quit. Robinson still believes that better days are ahead. 

"If you don’t have hope in life" he said, "You’re going nowhere. Because the moment when you’re stuck, the only thing you do have is hope...Never give up. If you have a dream, just go get it. Anything in life – it doesn’t have to be in sports – you have to appreciate your ups and your downs. The downs give you your tough skin. I had a lot of downs growing up and that gave me my tough skin...With me having a couple of roadblocks in life in general, the shelter, getting thrown down the steps, whatever it may be,  it gave me my tough skin. Seeing my mom going through the hell that she went through. I got to have that tough skin.

"Any day you could always get that phone call. Boxing could be that lottery ticket. And I’m not talking about money. But any day you could get that dream call, that dream opportunity that could change your life."

The phone did ring for Kavaliauskas. And Robinson and McWater loved the fight. "We jumped at the opportunity," said McWater. "Ray thinks it's the perfect opportunity for him now, and so do I. I more than jumped at it. I basically begged [Top Rank matchmaker] Brad Goodman for it. We're excited." 

And Ray has never had this type of opportunity fighting in front of his hometown fans. He thinks it will help propel him in the fight. Even though he might be the "opponent," he's going to be the opponent with a lot of crowd support. 

"This is amazing," he said. "I’m so excited. It’s so weird how the boxing game is. You can be up but once you get down, you feel like you’re not getting a shot to win the fight. And I’m OK with that. 1000%. But I took that one setback and everyone makes it out that I lost nine straight. But things happen for a reason. You can’t stop God’s plans. Maybe if I didn’t fight Ugas, I never would have gotten this fight. Maybe these guys think they see something that they can take advantage of, and this is why I got this opportunity. This is the reason why I’m training so much harder. I can’t wait to get in there."

At 33, there might not be many more chances to get to the big time. Although he is now a veteran fighter, with over 12 years of experience as a pro, his passion for the sport still burns brightly. The science of it keeps him hooked. Hit and not be hit. All those fantastic Philly gym sayings – “swim without getting wet" or "playing in the mud without getting dirty – continue to speak to him.

Kavaliasukas awaits and Ray has been preparing diligently at the Harrowgate Boxing Club. Spending a lot of time sparring with his good friend, uber-prospect Jaron "Boots" Ennis, who is also Bozy's son, Ray feels ready for this opportunity. 

He has no excuses. The problems the plagued him as a young fighter – the short camps, the inactivity, the people who weren't looking out for him – that’s all in the past. Yes, his tragedies have helped form who he is, but don't possess him. He seems to have made peace with his past. He just needs that one performance, that one night to put it all together. 

"You got to love what you do," he said..."In boxing, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is stamped. Sometimes the fight gods won’t always go your way. What's perfect about boxing is that any given night, anyone could have that big uh-oh, that big moment or the big upset...I absolutely love this shit."