Sunday, August 25, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Kovalev-Yarde

The Sergey Kovalev-Anthony Yarde light heavyweight title bout swung on one simple factor: a fighter who had never been past seven rounds gassed. Yarde was actually a victim of his own success. Hurting Kovalev with uppercuts and short right hands on the inside, he went for the finish in the eighth round, but Kovalev, using all of his veteran savvy, was able to survive.

After the round, Kovalev's trainer, Buddy McGirt, warned that he was ready to stop the fight. However, when the two boxers started the ninth, it was Yarde who was suddenly running on empty. The fight would end in the 11th when Kovalev knocked down Yarde with a well-placed jab. Yarde was too exhausted to get to his feet. It was a stunning reversal of fortune and Kovalev, the fighter formerly accused of having no heart, of being a front runner, of quitting, was the victorious one, showing resolve and the refusal to succumb to defeat. 

Photo Courtesy of Pavel Tarbachuk

In the professional ranks the margins between winning and losing can be paper thin. It could be a matter of inches, seconds or a last-minute adjustment. After the eighth, Yarde had Kovalev in serious trouble, but he could offer no more. That burst of a second-wind, that sense of pacing never materialized, and that one attribute ultimately was the difference. 

By some standards Yarde exceeded expectations on Saturday. The cards were stacked against him going into the fight. He lacked world-level experience and a high-level amateur background, his development slate of opponents was poor, he didn't spar during his training camp and he had to go to Russia, never an easy trip. That he competed so well against Kovalev, still one of the top light heavyweights in the world, speaks highly of Yarde's aptitude and self-belief. 

Yarde flashed a solid counter left hook in the early rounds of the fight and if he didn't win many of the first six frames, his hooks were enough for Kovalev to holster most of his own power shots. And once Yarde was able to get past Kovalev's jab, he started to batter Kovalev with the success of a far more seasoned in-fighter. His left uppercut to the breadbasket and short right to the chest completely turned the action of the fight. 

In the aftermath of the defeat, the decisions of Team Yarde leading up to the title fight could certainly be questioned. His trainer, Tunde Ajayi, didn't believe in sparring. His promoter, Frank Warren (who certainly knows how to develop fighters), didn't challenge Yarde sufficiently in his development bouts. There were also opportunities to take step-aside money, to get another camp or two before rushing headlong into Yarde's first title shot. And these considerations are not second-guesses. All of these factors were pointed out well before Yarde entered the ring on Saturday. 

Warren and the rest of Team Yarde played their cards instead of folding. In poker parlance, they were always behind in the hand, but they had several outs (i.e., ways to win). It's clear that at 36 Kovalev is a vulnerable champ. Sergey has been through the wars and never had the world's greatest chin. In addition, Kovalev had lost three fights since 2016; whatever aura of invincibility he once had is now long gone. And Yarde certainly had enough of a punch to cause damage. But it just didn't work out. They gambled and lost. Maybe it wasn't the right time to push the chips in, but the thought process behind the decision was certainly understandable.

Once upon a time Kovalev was one of the true ring bullies in the sport. Battering opponents with a laser jab and a Krushing right hand, he was a destroyer. He intimidated in the ring. More than that, he was a bona fide sadist. He wanted to hurt opponents, to cause damage, to elongate their suffering before ending it.

Kovalev eventually got into trouble in three ways: He didn't respect his opponents, he lacked humility and he was a nervous fighter under duress. He seemed shocked when opponents actually decided to fight back, and when they did, he was ill-equipped from a technical or psychological standpoint. Despite jumping out to an early lead against Andre Ward in their rematch, once Kovalev was hurt, he couldn't process a next move. He complained to referee Tony Weeks instead of defending himself. He didn't tie up. He didn't take a knee. He appeared to crumble instead of think his way out of trouble.  

After getting dropped from a menacing overhand right in the first Eleider Alvarez fight, he decided to fight back harder, to slug it out with Alvarez mano-a-mano instead of giving himself the opportunity to recover. His decision making when under duress was a significant flaw.

But in Kovalev's performance on Saturday and in his victory against Alvarez in February's rematch, he finally displayed a maturity in the ring and a real sense of Ring IQ. He didn't try to decapitate Alvarez in the rematch. He stuck to his boxing fundamentals and would beat Alvarez with his jab and short right hands. And instead of gassing in the later rounds, he seemed at his most relaxed in the ring. 

And on Saturday, even when he was hurt, he was still processing the moment in the ring. He wisely tied up at the end of the eighth round, enabling him to have an opportunity to come back; I'm not sure if he would have made the same decision a few years ago. He has now realized that he can be hurt, but that circumstance doesn't have to lead to defeat. Even under duress, he still has agency.

This was Kovalev's second fight with Buddy McGirt and the trainer has made a huge difference with Kovalev's ring demeanor and sense of strategy. In perhaps the twilight of his career, Kovalev now understands that hitting harder, running farther and killing yourself in camp don't necessarily lead to better results in the ring. McGirt wisely decided to rein in Kovalev during training camps and also instilled a confidence in Kovalev – that the fighter was far more than a knockout machine; he had a fantastic fundamental boxing foundation, and that would be enough to beat even top-level opponents. 

But credit must also be given to Kovalev for accepting his own mortality in the ring. Kovalev had a well-deserved reputation of being stubborn and not listening to others. After the Alvarez defeat, however, he understood that he needed to make changes to prolong his career. Primarily, he needed to accept a revised ring identity – that it's OK not to run through opponents. And this was a radical change for one of the best knockout artists in the sport, one who prided himself on his ferocity. It's a change that many veteran fighters would refuse to make. It is an old dog learning a new trick. He realized that the most important thing in his career was winning, by whatever means necessary. And if that meant fundamental boxing, so be it.


Yarde is now at the first crucial inflection point of his career. At 28 he is no longer considered young in boxing years; he's squarely in the middle of his athletic prime. He certainly has the raw athleticism and enough fundamentals to compete on the world stage, but what lessons will he learn from Saturday's defeat? What does he need to change in order to beat top fighters? Does he take a few step backs, get some needed rounds against B-level opponents, or does he believe that he's ready for another shot at the best? Should he switch trainers? Is he getting the right advice from his team? 

It's easy to say that Yarde will be able to regroup and win a title in the future. But look around the division – Gvozdyk, Beterbiev, Bivol and Kovalev – one has to beat a terrific fighter to get a belt at light heavyweight. There are no guarantees that Yarde will be able to get to that level. 

Yarde's next set of decisions will be the most important ones he makes in his career. It took Kovalev a series of catastrophic defeats to make needed changes. Although Yarde isn't at that level, he might not be that far away. But does he know where he went wrong? He only gets to have one career, and if he wants one that lasts, he needs to realize that the status quo cannot suffice.

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.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Pound-for-Pound Update 7-20-19

There have been a number of significant changes to the Saturday Night Boxing Pound for Pound List since the last update in April. Most notably, there's a new fighter at the top of the Rankings. Japanese dynamo Naoya Inoue has continued his impressive run of form, knocking out bantamweight titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez in the second round to pick up a major title in his third weight class. In Inoue's 11 fights for major world titles, only one has even gone the distance. He moves up from #5 to the top spot.

Juan Estrada was able to defeat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by a competitive unanimous decision, turning the tables in their rematch from early 2018. With the victory, Estrada ascends from #12 to #7 while Sor Rungvisai slides from #4 to #8. 

In another fight with significant implications on the Pound-for-Pound list, Manny Pacquiao defeated welterweight beltholder Keith Thurman to win yet another world title. With the victory, Pacquiao moves up from #15 to #10. 

So far 2019 has produced a string of notable upsets; the most striking one was Andy Ruiz's seventh-round stoppage victory over Anthony Joshua. Although Ruiz doesn't yet crack the SNB Top-20, the victory pushes Joshua out of the Rankings. He previously was #13 on the list. 

In another notable fight on the boxing calendar, Julian Williams won a hard-fought unanimous decision over Jarrett Hurd. With the defeat, Hurd drops from #14 to out of the Rankings. 

This latest update features three fighters debuting in the Rankings. Daniel Roman defeated junior featherweight titlist TJ Doheny to become a unified titleholder in the division. He enters the Rankings at #18. 

At #19, Japanese light flyweight Ken Shiro enters the Rankings. He's now defended his title six times and beaten good competition. Only one of his title defenses has gone the distance.

Wanheng Menayothin debuts in the Rankings at #20. The Thai strawweight has now made 11 defenses of his title. Much has been made of Menayothin's record (53-0), but generally his level of competition hasn't been great. However, his consistency, durability and longevity at the top of the division warrant a spot in the Rankings. 

Here is the complete Saturday Night Boxing Pound-for-Pound List: 
  1. Naoya Inoue
  2. Vasiliy Lomachenko
  3. Terence Crawford
  4. Oleksandr Usyk
  5. Saul Alvarez
  6. Gennadiy Golovkin
  7. Juan Estrada
  8. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai
  9. Errol Spence
  10. Manny Pacquiao
  11. Mikey Garcia
  12. Donnie Nietes
  13. Kosei Tanaka
  14. Leo Santa Cruz
  15. Roman Gonzalez
  16. Josh Warrington 
  17. Miguel Berchelt
  18. Daniel Roman
  19. Ken Shiro
  20. Wanheng Menayothin
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, 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. 
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. 
snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.