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. 
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