Sunday, March 31, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Gvozdyk, Mean Machine-Robinson

Let's start with the most interesting fight from Saturday's card in Philadelphia, the welterweight co-feature between Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas and Ray Robinson. From an entertainment perspective, the fight wasn't particularly memorable, but in terms of strategy, tactics and applying the criteria for judging rounds, the bout offered a number of intriguing aspects to consider. The fight was a classic style matchup between the come-forward aggressor (Mean Machine) and the crafty boxer (Robinson). 

Leading up to the bout, a friend of mine in England asked me if Robinson was worth a bet as a 14-1 underdog. He had read my pre-fight profile on Ray and after further considering the relative strengths of the two boxers, he thought that those odds seemed a little too wide. I agreed. I told him that I wouldn't favor Robinson, but he certainly had a path to victory: a lot of lateral movement, fighting off the back foot, limiting exchanges; it was worth a shot at such long odds. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

And Robinson fought his fight on Saturday. Circling the perimeter of the ring, reducing Mean Machine's output, keeping action to a minimum, to my eyes he certainly won the ring generalship battle. He was the far more successful boxer at imposing his will on the fight. 

He did stink the fight out though; make no mistake about it, but I'm not here to pass judgment on that strategy. It was his best chance of winning. He pot-shotted from the outside, landed a few notable jabs and counter right hooks and kept on moving. It wasn't riveting to watch, but one had to admire his execution. Mean Machine certainly hit harder and clearly had more confidence in his chin. Robinson fought the way he did out of necessity. 

Stinking a fight out is not why we turn on the television set on a Saturday night or go attend live boxing. It's a negative style. But there's nothing illegal about it. In fact, I think it's a strategy that more fighters should employ in the right set of circumstances. At a minimum, boxers should at least prepare to face that type of style during training camp, and Mean Machine looked ill-equipped. 

Inching along the outside of the ring, not running, Robinson continuously moved to his left (interestingly, towards Kavaliauskas's power hand) and Mean Machine made no adjustments throughout the fight. Kavaliauskas couldn't cut the ring off and looked befuddled for large portions of the bout. This was supposed to be Mean Machine's opportunity to make a big statement in the welterweight division, that he was a worthy future opponent for Terence Crawford. Instead, he spent much of the night flummoxed in the ring.

When they did exchange, or when Mean Machine got off first, he had a noticeable advantage in power. Mean Machine did connect with a few memorable lead right hands and a couple of left hooks, but he was essentially nullified throughout much of the fight. 

But Robinson essentially nullified himself as well, so infrequently letting his hands go. The sport is called "boxing" and not "make your opponent look like shit." To my eyes, Robinson just wasn't offensively oriented enough to win the fight. In too many rounds he didn't cross a minimum threshold for me in terms of activity. I can enjoy counterpunchers, movers and/or boxers, but he just wasn't doing enough offensively.

I scored the fight for Kavaliauskas 97-93. The official scores were 97-93 (for Robinson) and two scores of 95-95: thus a majority draw. Many whom I spoke with on press row also had Mean Machine winning, but others I talked to in the arena didn't see it the same way (it's worth remembering that Robinson was fighting at home in Philly). Carl Moretti from Top Rank believed that the draw was appropriate. Legendary Philly promoter Russell Peltz thought it was a draw or a slight Robinson victory (he wasn't scoring it round by round). Former junior welterweight champion Chris Algieri, who was calling the international broadcast of the fight, had Robinson winning by two rounds. 

In talking with Algieri after the fight, I referenced his bout with Ruslan Provodnikov, where he won by a split decision (114-112 twice and 109-117). Remember in that fight that Algieri was knocked down twice. So, essentially two judges had him winning eight rounds while the third judge only had him winning one round. In that particular fight, I don't think that any of the three turned in a bad card. But how can scores so disparate be valid?

Algieri referenced his fight with Provodnikov and Robinson's effort with Mean Machine with the same phrase: commanding the ring. He believed that he imposed his style on the fight with Provodnikov. Similarly, he thought that Robinson was the one who dictated the terms of the bout. Robinson had effectively neutralized Mean Machine's power shots and when evaluating each round, it was clear that Robinson was more content with how the action was unfolding. But doesn't a boxer have to move his hands enough to win rounds? This is where Algieri thought the comparison between fights wasn't 100% apt, because he believed that he was significantly more active than Robinson was. Nevertheless, he thought that Robinson had done enough, but he also understood that the fight could lead to legitimate differences of opinion.

In talking with Robinson after the fight, he was pleased with his performance. He thought that he should have won. He believed that the game plan put together by trainer Derrick "Bozy" Ennis was perfect. One aspect worth noting was the decision to move to his left. That was Robinson's decision in the ring. He didn't think that Mean Machine had prepared for it and realized quickly that it was working. 

Ultimately, credit must be given to Robinson and Ennis for effectively utilizing a style that helped them against a heavily-favored opponent, but let's also acknowledge how the sport functions. Although, Robinson averted a loss, he also didn't create additional demand. Few opponents are going to want to get into the ring with him voluntarily; there's little upside. He doesn't have a significant fan base, he's not necessarily great television and his physical dimensions (tall southpaw) aren't particularly desirable for those trying to move their careers ahead. Instead, Robinson will have to wait on the generosity of the rankings organizations to get notable fights. But at his age (33), it's all about getting that opportunity for the belt, and if he needs to stink out a fight to get there, so be it. But I hope he understands that there is a reason why certain fighters are B-sides. 

As for Mean Machine, he has clearly plateaued. Once upon a time he was a highly regarded Top Rank prospect and considered a serious contender in the welterweight division. But he turned in a listless performance against Juan Carlos Abreu last year and another sub-par effort on Saturday night. Robinson completely took away his jab and Mean Machine struggled, both technically and psychologically. There was very little strategy or craft in his attack. He certainly had a case for winning, but shed no tears for him; that was far from a world-class performance.

We won't soon have an answer to how much ring generalship should be awarded during fights. There's no percentage basis where ring generalship should be given 20%, etc. In some respects this lack of universality in scoring creates frustration, but it also leads to a certain appeal. There isn't one template to winning a fight. Disparate strategies can be employed for victory. A fighter can win moving forward or going backwards, leading or countering. This range of options helps level the playing field. Robinson wasn't going to win a mano-a-mano battle against Kavaliauskas, and the rules of the sport don't require him to do so. Boxing isn't a tough-man competition. As Saturday illustrated, brains can sometimes hold brawn to a standstill.


I've seen Oleksandr Gvozdyk fight live four times (against Isaac Chilemba, Yunieski Gonzalez, Craig Baker and now Doudou Ngumbu) and each time he has fought in a different style. I've seen him stalk, dart in and out with power shots, bide his time patiently in the pocket and fight cautiously. He has a cerebral approach to boxing and he has top-shelf athleticism. Bob Arum has called him one of the most intelligent fighters that he's ever promoted.

Gvozdyk won Saturday's fight against Ngumbu in an unusual circumstance. In the fifth round Ngumbu appeared to pull a calf muscle (shout out to more #CalfTalk!) and after a significant delay couldn't continue. Officially Gvozdyk won by a technical knockout. 

Leading up the conclusion of the bout, Gvozdyk was certainly ahead in the bout, but he wasn't razor sharp. Although he fought energetically, he wasn't able to consistently connect with his power shots. Ngumbu didn't offer all that much, but he did land a couple of clean counter left hooks that reminded me of an instance earlier in Gvozdyk's career when the unheralded Tommy Karpency was able to drop him. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

In Gvozdyk previous fight, against lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, he turned in one of the most disciplined performances of his career and avoided most of Stevenson's left-hand lasers. So far, Gvozdyk's best performances have come against top competition. Unfortunately, he seems to turn on and off his focus depending on how he perceives the quality of his opposition. 

Gvozdyk is one of the elite talents at 175 and he certainly has a chance to emerge as the best among the current crop within the division, but it's also worth remembering that he can be vulnerable. Like his friend and compatriot Vasiliy Lomachenko, his biggest flaw could be underestimating opponents. It may not be the Bivols or Beterbievs or Kovalevs who do him in, but perhaps a significant underdog who lands the right punch. 

This is not meant to berate or minimize Gvozdyk's considerable talents in the ring. But if he doesn't respect each and every opponent he faces, his reign as a champion might turn out to be shorter than he expects.  

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, March 28, 2019

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

This week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast featured our spring boxing preview. Brandon and I highlighted the best fights in the next three months, some intriguing matchups that are under the radar and a couple of big-name fighters who are in jeopardy of losing. We also looked back at last week's excellent Peterson-Lipinets fight and previewed this weekend's boxing action, headlined by Gvozdyk's first title defense. 

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, March 17, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Garcia

From the moment the fight between Errol Spence Jr. and Mikey Garcia was announced, I didn't like it. Although Mikey has been one of the best fighters in the sport, holding recent titles at lightweight and junior welterweight, I didn't envision a scenario where he could beat Spence, an elite, big welterweight, with serious punching power, and a fighter who's in his physical prime.

However, I'm not Nostradamus. Garcia insisted he saw something in Spence that he could exploit. He's a great fighter, with a brother who's a marvelous trainer. Boxing has seen shocking upsets before with fighters moving up in weight to accomplish the sublime. So while I didn't love the matchup, I also wasn't dismissing the possibility that the Garcia clan had spotted an opportunity to win, a potential Kryptonite for Spence. 

Humility is important. I certainly don't have all the answers in analyzing fights, far from it. So I kept looking at this fight more and more. Was there a way for Mikey to do a hit-and-run job on Spence, get off and get out? Or pot-shot with quick counters and move? Did Mikey have the desire or the willingness to stink the fight out, similar to how Mayweather or Andre Dirrell have tried to win certain bouts? So if I'm really honest, the fight did hold a bit of intrigue for me. Although I didn't think that these approaches would be enough to beat Spence, perhaps there were scenarios where Garcia could compete. No, I wasn't going to change my feeling on who would win the fight, but I certainly wasn't against witnessing magic in the ring, something truly special or transcendent. 

Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey/Fox Sports

But by third round of Saturday's fight, whatever strategy the Garcias planned to incorporate had been rendered ineffective. Spence had been peppering Garcia with jabs and left hands. Already Garcia was shelling up, refusing to let his hands go with regularity. Spence's volume, power, angles and punch variety were causing Mikey to focus on defense. He had felt Spence's power and needed to limit damage. 

Much of the fight was the same. Spence was busy throwing and landing punches, while Garcia wasn't. Gradually Spence incorporated more of his arsenal into his attack: jabs to the body, right hooks, looping left hands around the gloves, an uppercut here and there. Mikey was mostly concerned with staying upright. Occasionally he would score with a nice lead or counter right hand, but he lacked the endeavor to follow it up or put punches together. When he was able to make Spence miss or get out of position, he didn't pounce on those opportunities. Instead, he remained on the defensive. 

Spence had a number of huge rounds in the fight, especially the ninth and the eleventh. Robert Garcia had suggested stopping the fight in the corner, but continued to let his brother get licked in the ring. In the end, the scores were a formality; Garcia didn't win one round on the judges' scorecards. 

Overall the fight left me disappointed. I didn't observe Garcia selling out to go for the win. There wasn't a coherent Plan B or a willingness to try anything different. He didn't attempt to take the fight on the inside. He didn't try to use the ring and pick off Spence from the outside. I'm not saying that any of these approaches would have led to victory, but where was his desire to improvise or adapt? He was beaten, yes, both physically and technically, but he was also bested mentally in the ring. He was out of ideas mid-way through the fight. 


For some reason that I haven't quite figured out, Spence has been mischaracterized by many boxing observers. He's not a true knockout artist. He breaks fighters down. He's patient, moving to his own rhythm and timing. With an educated jab and a toolbox full of punches, he doesn't gun for one-shot KOs; he tries to beat opponents into submission. 

In addition, several of Spence's ring attributes are underrated. Although he's not a speed demon, his footwork is stellar. He consistently moved out of the way of danger when facing a rare Garcia foray. He's also an expert at judging distance. When he's out of the pocket, he's out; he's not one to get picked off by a stray shot. And he uses his physical advantages expertly, illustrating a high Ring IQ. For example, he understood that his reach would be an enormous advantage over Garcia. Throughout the fight he pumped his jab successfully, and with the knowledge that Garcia couldn't hurt him at range. He also didn't get cute. He stayed with what was working.

Despite the defeat Garcia remains one of the top talents in boxing, but he bit off more than he could chew against Spence. When Mikey first angled for this fight, his brother and family tried to talk him out of it (this has been confirmed to me by multiple people within the industry). Mikey deserves praise for facing such a tough opponent, but there's no reason to throw bouquets at his performance in the ring either. 

There are still some great fights out there for Garcia, including Lomachenko if Mikey can get back to 135 pounds or the winner of the 140-lb. World Boxing Super Series. How about Pacquiao? Garcia could certainly win those fights, but there's no guarantee that Saturday's beating won't linger in subsequent performances. Ultimately, Spence was a bridge too far. Garcia quickly realized it in the ring and was resigned to that outcome. 

Nicknamed "The Truth," Spence has a moniker that is hard to contest. He's well-schooled, poised, intelligent and versatile. Although he may not have the top-shelf athleticism of other talents in boxing, his combination of power, volume, fundamentals, punch variety and a high Ring IQ make him one of the best fighters in the sport. I'm not even convinced that he unloaded his entire arsenal against Garcia; I think that there's even more to come. 

Spence's rivals haven't been in a rush to face him. The PBC has a plethora of top welterweights available to fight him, but none have chosen to do so, not even for unification bouts or career-high purses. I hope that Spence's handlers realize that his opponents are smart fighters too. They have eyes and television sets. And they probably know what's coming. A huge deposit in their bank account will be needed. 

Finally, let's not completely absolve Spence from his inability to land marquee welterweight fights. To this point in his career he's been a team player, a loyal soldier, certainly noble attributes. But right now is his time in the sport. He has a lot of leverage, and it's time that he started to use it. If he needs to ruffle some feathers to get the big fights, so be it. The situation may require it. Remember, windows can close at any time.

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.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Opinions and Observations: A Phriday Night of Philly Phights

In the ninth round of a fight he was handily losing, Gabe Rosado suddenly turned the tables. Knocked down twice already in the bout and miles behind on the scorecards, Rosado landed a counter right hand that sent the heavily favored Maciej Sulecki to the canvas. Rosado knew this was his moment. As soon as Sulecki beat the count, Rosado pounced, battering him with every power punch in his arsenal. Again Sulecki dropped to the floor, and only the end of the round saved him from even more abuse. 

The Philadelphia crowd was on its feet. And they stayed that way all throughout the tenth and final round. Their hometown guy, Rosado, was attempting to pull off the type of comeback that epitomized the Philadelphia fighting spirit. Sure, you might be better, more talented, more highly regarded, but we're never going to stop fighting. 

Rosado kept firing away during the 10th. Sulecki was gassed and in survival mode, but Rosado just couldn't find the finishing blow. In the end, Sulecki won by a unanimous decision, which was the correct call. And although there were the obligatory boos when the scores were announced, there was no real controversy. 

The crowd celebrated Rosado's effort. And while Sulecki may move on to a title shot against Demetrius Andrade, Rosado had extracted his pound of flesh. Rosado had given Sulecki a true Philly fight, one that Sulecki won't soon forget, and one that he won't be in a rush to duplicate. 

Sulecki had almost every conceivable advantage over Rosado in the fight. He was quicker, fresher, bigger, more talented, his punches were straighter. However, Rosado isn't a stiff in the ring; he knows how to fight. Despite a limited amateur career, Rosado picked up all sorts of pugilistic wisdom in his countless Philly gym wars and facing top competition in his professional fights. As early as the second round, he noticed a flaw with Sulecki. Once Sulecki fired his right hand, he would freeze. Trainers call it "admiring your work" or "taking a picture." Instead of moving out of the pocket or continuing to throw shots, he stopped to assess the damage his shots were causing. In those brief moments, he was wide open for a counter right hand. 

Throughout the fight, Rosado was trying to focus on those openings. He had a good third round landing counter right hands, straight and overhand. And even though he was getting beaten to the punch during the fight, he knew what he needed to do to turn the bout in his favor. In the ninth, he seized the moment and almost had the biggest upset win of his career. Of course, "almost" could be the story of his career. 

Rosado has sometimes been derisively referred to as the "Gabekeeper," obviously a play on words with gatekeeper, a fighter who isn't good enough to win at the top level, but can challenge those a step down. Gatekeepers may be seen to some as a pejorative term in boxing, but fighters like Rosado play an important role in the sport. Rosado gives a professional effort every time out and can make for good fights. His record (24-12-1) belies the competitiveness of most of his matches. If there was a break or two that had gone his way (let's say the dubious stoppage against then-titleholder Peter Quillin or the decision against J'Leon Love), perhaps his career would have turned out differently. Nevertheless, he continues to provide good value in the ring. 

As for Sulecki, he remains a contender in the middleweight division. Perhaps he was overconfident and didn't respect Rosado's power or boxing acumen, but he and his team now have a perfect opportunity to correct a flaw moving forward. Sulecki gave Daniel Jacobs a tough fight last year and he will compete against Andrade, but to win these fights, he needs to tighten up his defensive approach. If Friday helps to correct some of his flaws in the ring, then consider Friday a crucial inflection point in his career. 


In Friday's main event, Tevin Farmer bested Jono Carroll's almost absurd punch activity (1,227 punches!) to win a unanimous decision. Although Farmer was the clear winner, Carroll made him work every second of the fight. The difference was the quality of Farmer's power punches and his 30 to 45-second flurries during many of the rounds where he looked like a truly elite fighter. Farmer was close to stopping Carroll in the 11th after he landed a series of right hooks, forcing the ever-aggressive Carroll to retreat to the ropes. By the end of the fight Carroll's faced was marked up and his right eye looked awful. Farmer was the deserved winner, but it was a difficult fight for him. 

Farmer's challenge on Friday was to win the fight without getting dragged into the type of war that Carroll wanted. Matching Carroll's punch volume would have played into Jono's hands. Farmer isn't a volume fighter; he picks his shots economically. According to CompuBox, Farmer threw 404 fewer punches than Carroll, an astounding number, over 30 punches a round! It's rare to see a fighter win when being out-thrown by such a significant margin, but the judges were correct in their assessment. Farmer's work was cleaner and more effective. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Still, there were large stretches of rounds where Carroll was busy throwing shots (often missing) while Farmer refused to engage offensively. Farmer was fortunate that he had competent judges. Many judges will often score for the aggressor, even if the fighter wasn't particularly effective. 

Despite the win, Friday wasn't among Farmer's best performances as a pro. He had problems making weight and his legs didn't look great, especially in the early rounds. When he tried to fight on the outside, where his faster hands and feet should have given him advantages, he was surprisingly ineffective. His jab lacked snap and he couldn't get out of range consistently. 

Farmer won the bout on the inside. He has become an adept inside fighter over the years and he did a number of really clever things in the ring with angles and positioning in close quarters. Using his neck and upper body (and the stray elbow of forearm), he would move Carroll to areas where he could land and Carroll couldn't. Then, he would expertly switch sides with his head and work the other side of Carroll's body. These are subtle skills that aren't always apparent, but they are practiced and perfected by the best inside fighters. (I observed Farmer working on his head and neck positioning during a sparring session in camp.) 

Farmer will need to be better against the top junior lightweights. In the post-fight press conference, he graded himself a B-minus or a C-plus, and he had an interesting comment where he said that elite fighters are never satisfied with their performance. Much of this is true, but with Farmer, it's not just a matter of tweaking or fine tuning. He wasn't in top condition against Carroll. He also didn't seem fully focused in the ring. Perhaps he didn't look at Carroll as a serious opponent or maybe the three fights in five months caught up with him – it can almost feel like a perpetual training camp, and the body does need a rest. 

After his recent activity, I'm sure that Farmer could use a physical and mental break from boxing. The time off can help his body recuperate. Perhaps more importantly, he can use the break to refocus on his task at hand. Yes, Farmer's a champion and a very good fighter, but he's yet to beat a top opponent. And he can't afford to have an off night against the best; he just doesn't have the punching power to erase mistakes or cover over an inconsistent effort. To beat a Gervonta Davis he will have to be at his 100% best and despite his victory over Carroll, he wasn't near that level on Friday. 


Elsewhere on Friday's entertaining card, there was a grab bag of goodies. Katie Taylor demonstrated elite skills in stopping fellow champion Rose Volante in the ninth round. Taylor dropped Volante with a beautiful left hook in the first and inflicted damage throughout the fight. I will profess that I don't watch a ton of women's boxing, but Taylor looked fantastic. Her footwork is pristine. Her in-and-out style is difficult for an opponent to time. She goes to the body with menace, and she's no slapper. Her punches have some real bite. 

Photo Courtesy of Ed Mullholland

Taylor is a huge star in Ireland and there were throngs of Irish media surrounding her in the post-fight press conference. There's a special quality about Taylor in the ring. There's no need to grade on a curve. There's no "she's a good fighter...for a girl," or any of those backhanded compliments that often circulate regarding the best female fighters in the sport. No, she's excellent at what she does, and it's a pleasure to watch her fight.  

Luke Campbell looked terrific in dispatching Adrian Young in the fifth round. (Some publications have him as "Yung." Boxrec has him as "Young." We'll go with that.) Campbell has become an excellent fighter and has used losses in his career as an opportunity to improve. He does a wonderful pull-counter where he will make an opponent miss by inches and then come back with a hard straight left or right hook. He also digs to the body mercilessly.

Campbell should be in line to get another title opportunity within the next 12-18 months and I wouldn't count him out. Yes, he can be outworked and he's not a tremendous athlete, but he's a smart fighter, he knows what he wants to accomplish in the ring and he's technically sound. Plus, even though he's 31, he still seems to be getting better and better.

Daniyar Yeleussinov is one of Matchroom Sport's high-profile prospect signings. A two-time Olympian from Kazakhstan and a gold medalist in the 2016 games, Yeleussinov, 28, is supposed to be a fast-mover as a prospect. However, his fight with Silverio Ortiz on Friday demonstrated that he still has a way to go before challenging the top fighters at welterweight. 

Yeleussinov has great feet and good hand speed, but still has a number of amateur habits that are serious concerns. He often will throw shots at half-speed in the pocket, but then won't get out of the way or throw additional shots. He's a sitting duck to be countered. Overall, he doesn't fully commit to his power shots, which is not uncommon for developing fighters, but it's still an issue. 

Whether or not Yeleussinov makes these improvements has a lot to do with his temperament. Does he already view himself as a top talent or does he recognize the need to make these improvements? Does he have humility and a willingness to learn? There are a lot of raw materials for a trainer to work with regarding Yeleussinov; let's hope that the fighter knows that he doesn't yet have all the answers. 

Finally, the Philadelphia crowd was treated to a fun lightweight tussle between Hank Lundy and Avery Sparrow. A true crossroads fight, Lundy, 35, the former title contender, set out to prove that he is still a significant factor in the top levels of boxing, while Sparrow, just 25, wanted to make a statement that he is worthy of the type of opportunities that Lundy has received throughout his career. On Friday, youth prevailed. Sparrow scored two knockdowns in the second round and while Lundy came back in the second half of the fight, he had too big of a mountain to climb and lost via majority decision. 

Lundy-Sparrow was a spirited battle. The crowd appreciated the two hometown fighters giving it their all, which is what the expectations are for Philly boxers – not championships or titles or glamour or flash – but giving your best effort. Every. Damn. Time. 

And they delivered.  

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.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Ray Robinson: Tragedy and Hope

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 and his mother was trying to kick drug addiction. Or how about when his mother and seven siblings all lived in a 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 down the stairs 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 his 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, keeping 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 the justification many times over to quit, Robinson perseveres, and with a smile on his face, 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 has sustained him, with boxing his salvation. 

After a year of convalescence following his neck surgeries, he begged his mother and his amateur coach, Howard "Moses" Mosley, 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 insisted that Ray use the ring and avoid mixing it up in the trenches. 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. 

Within two years of his comeback 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 a dream. Yes, the lows had been terrible, but the highs were beyond what he could even imagine.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Farina/Mayweather Promotions

Robinson (24-3, 12 KOs) fights welterweight contender 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 be 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 that 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 in 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."

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 want to deal with him unless they have 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 dropped decisions to the last two. After the defeat 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 [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 – 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 working 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 boxing he returned with a renewed commitment to the sport, and he won 13 fights in a row.

Throughout it all, despite tragedies and setbacks that would have made many lesser men quit, Robinson never relinquished his hope, that good things would be in store for him. He still believes that the best years of his boxing career are ahead of him. 

"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. 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 the Kavaliauskas fight. Robinson and McWater both loved the matchup. "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 an opportunity of this magnitude where he can fight 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 nobody gives you a shot to win the fight. And I’m OK with that. 1000%. I took that one setback and everyone makes it out like 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."

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.

Ray has raved about his camp at the Harrowgate Boxing Club. 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 earlier in his professional career – 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 they don't possess him. He seems to have made peace with his past. He's just looking for that one performance, that one night to put it all together. 

"In boxing," he said, "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 that big upset."

He believes that it's his time. "My mindset is perfect. I’m a little bit hungrier. And hopefully I’m a little bit smarter. When you take some downs in your career, or in life in general, you make sure that you make the right choices to be successful. You've also got to love what you do. And I absolutely love this shit."

As harrowing as Robinson's misfortunes have been, he has bigger things on his mind now. In another month, his career, his life, could look completely different. He has a big fight coming up. And he is ready.  

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. 
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