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. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook. 

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