Thursday, October 31, 2019

Canelo-Kovalev: Keys to the Fight

Every now and then boxing provides its fans with a delightful surprise. At the beginning of 2019 much of the chatter regarding Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (52-1-2, 35 KOs) centered on a potential third fight against middleweight rival Gennadiy Golovkin. Meanwhile, Sergey Kovalev (34-3-1, 29 KOs) had recently been knocked out by Eleider Alvarez, and there was concern that the end of his career was fast approaching. 

Yet 10 months later the boxing landscape looks vastly different. Teaming with trainer Buddy McGirt, Kovalev avenged his defeat to Alvarez, turning in one of his strongest performances in recent memory. With the win Kovalev regained his light heavyweight belt. Later in the year he defeated unbeaten prospect Anthony Yarde. As for Canelo, in May he won a decision over Daniel Jacobs, one of the best fighters at middleweight, but following the fight he declined to face Golovkin for a third time. 

Canelo is in the middle of a staggering financial deal with DAZN worth over $250M and the executives at the network wanted a big fight for him in the second half of 2019. From out of the blue Alvarez floated Kovalev as a possible opponent, despite Sergey fighting two divisions north of him at 175 lbs. While few took Canelo's initial suggestion seriously, by the end of the summer this potential matchup started to gather steam. After Kovalev dispatched Yarde via 11th round stoppage, pen was soon put to paper and Canelo-Kovalev became a reality. They face each other on Saturday at the MGM Garden Arena in Las Vegas in what is one of the more compelling matchups of the year.  

Canelo and Kovalev size each other up
Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott

Although few boxing fans clamored for this particular fight, Canelo-Kovalev certainly contains vast amounts of intrigue: Does Canelo's punch play up at 175? Can his chin withstand the Krusher's big right hands? Is Kovalev's recent form the new normal for him, or is he still a knockout waiting to happen? And, can anybody win a close fight on the scorecards against Canelo? 

All of these factors set up what should be an engrossing fight on Saturday. Canelo features flashy shots and will have the crowd support. Kovalev's jab may be the absolute best in the sport, and he hits harder than any opponent that Canelo has faced in his career. There certainly is much to consider, but what factors are the most significant in evaluating Saturday's fight and what is merely window dressing? Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Can Canelo hurt Kovalev?

In recent years Kovalev has been stopped by Andre Ward and Eleider Alvarez. Interestingly, neither was a particularly big puncher at the weight, but they did have enough power to cause damage. We've all seen Kovalev vulnerable in the ring before. He takes rounds to recover after being hurt. He loses his poise. Under duress he hasn't always made the right decisions, such as holding or buying time. 

All of the above is true, but if Canelo can't hit hard enough at light heavyweight then a major path to victory is unavailable for him. In 2018 Canelo stopped super middleweight Rocky Fielding in the third round, which was evidence that his power can play above middleweight. However, let's not confuse Fielding with a top-level guy. And also, it's another seven pounds higher from Fielding to the light heavyweight limit. It's far from certain if Canelo has enough power at 175 lbs.

In the lead up to Saturday's fight Canelo has talked about how he added significant weight training for this training camp. It will be fascinating to see whether his best power punches will be able to make a dent in Kovalev, either physically or psychologically. 

2. Canelo's chin.

One of Canelo's best strengths throughout his career has been his chin. Not only has it enabled him to stay upright against big punchers such as Golovkin and Jacobs, but it provides him with confidence in the ring. For instance, a fighter who doesn't believe in his chin would never try to slug it out for 12 rounds like Alvarez did in his second fight with Golovkin. Canelo's faith in his chin allows him to stand in the pocket and trade, to not fear big shots. 

Kovalev didn't just receive the "Krusher" moniker because of its alliterative properties; he earned it. With a heavy right hand and a spear of a jab, every punch he throws can be damaging. Sure, Canelo's chin has been sturdy throughout his career, but it may never have been tested to the degree in which it might on Saturday. If Kovalev's firepower proves to be too much for Canelo to remain in the pocket, we'll have a much different fight on our hands, and one that will tilt in Kovalev's favor.  

3. The pace of the fight. 

Kovalev needs a Goldilocks pace to win the fight in my opinion. If he's not busy enough Canelo can flurry a couple of times a round, have the crowd ooh and aah, and win one of his patented close and debatable decisions. But if Kovalev is too busy, he runs the risk of burning himself out in the second half of the fight; his endurance hasn't been his strongest attribute. In addition, a high activity level for Kovalev might provide Canelo, a master counterpuncher, with perhaps too many opportunities to hurt him. Kovalev will have a difficult assignment in setting his preferred pace. My guess is that somewhere between 40-50 punches a round will do the trick, but above that range would not be ideal. 

As for Canelo, he has fought with almost relentless urgency against Golovkin in their second fight and at other times he has turned in almost lethargic performances in close victories over Daniel Jacobs and Austin Trout. Canelo often fights with the assumption that the close rounds will go his way. And while events have supported his belief to this point of his career, it's a fine line that he walks. Kovalev will be busy; he'll be sticking a jab in Canelo's face. Taking a leisurely stroll in the park will not be enough for Canelo to win this fight; one can't always assume that the judges will be generous. 

4. Kovalev's jab. 

The best punch in the fight will be Kovalev's jab. At the advanced age of 36 Kovalev has now realized that he can win a lot of rounds with essentially just his jab. The punch is fast, accurate and hard. In addition, Kovalev does seem a little more patient and relaxed in the ring under McGirt; instead of trying to decapitate opponents with every punch Kovalev has started to understand the philosophy of putting points on the board. Setting aside some of his machismo from his earlier years, Kovalev now seems comfortable winning rounds by keeping it simple. If the opponent can't adjust, then he'll continue to land with the stick, and perhaps most importantly, Kovalev has accepted this style of fighting. 

There of course runs a real risk of Kovalev jabbing too much against Canelo. If one provides a great counterpuncher with the same look too often, the counterpuncher will find a way to punish. No doubt that Kovalev's jab will be a factor early in the fight, but a fighter as skilled as Alvarez will be able to get around it at points in the fight. He can time it, counter it, leave the pocket, move to his left toward Kovalev's right hand – there are a number of ways to neutralize a jab. So, yes, Kovalev will need to jab, but if he relies on the punch too frequently, that could lead to additional problems. Kovalev must incorporate his entire arsenal, even if sparingly. That will go a long way to keeping Alvarez honest in the fight.  

5. Kovalev's kryptonite. (And it's not what you think.)

The conventional wisdom suggests that the way to beat Kovalev is to break him down to the body. And since Canelo can be such a great body puncher...1 + 1 has to equal 2, doesn't it? Well, yes, to a degree. Certainly Kovalev doesn't react to body shots particularly well. His comportment at times can be awful after body shots and perhaps most importantly he stops being offensive after an opponent has success with him downstairs. 

But consider that in the two times Kovalev has been knocked out it's been the overhand right, or the right hand over the top, that has caused him the most trouble. Remember that Ward's punishing right hand in the second fight was the punch that started the real problems for Kovalev. The body shots might have been the icing, but the cake was Ward's pulverizing right. In the first Eleider Alvarez fight, Kovalev was caught by surprise from a lead overhand right. This shot caused the first knockdown of the fight and was essentially the beginning of the end for Kovalev that night. 

Fortunately for Canelo, he possesses such a right hand. That was the punch that knocked down Austin Trout. He also landed the shot memorably against James Kirkland and Amir Khan. In truth Canelo's body punching could very well lead to the opening for the right hand. A concerted body attack might cause Kovalev to drop his hands ever so slightly, making opportunities to land to the head more readily available. 


Make no mistake: Canelo is going to have to earn this one. Kovalev will win the early rounds of the fight. He will get off first with his jab and use his legs to avoid prolonged exchanges. His decisive jabs and one-two combos will give him a comfortable lead on the scorecards. 

But my guess is that Canelo will be willing to sacrifice some rounds to get his range. Although Kovalev can dominate opponents with his jab, eventually top fighters have been able to overcome that punch, either on the inside or the outside. It will be a matter of time before Canelo makes adjustments and starts to land his power shots. 

I believe that this fight will resemble the second Andre Ward fight, where Kovalev built an early lead with his considerable boxing skills, and like Ward, Alvarez will eventually turn the tide with something hard that catches Kovalev off guard. My guess is that a lead overhand right or a left hook to the body/overhand right combo will start the damage. Once Kovalev is hurt, Alvarez will move in for the finish and will unload with his best body shots and combinations. And he will have enough firepower to get the stoppage. 

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez KO 10 Sergey Kovalev 

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, October 29, 2019

Buddy McGirt: Searching for the Rabbit

Similar to all of us, when Buddy McGirt heard the initial rumblings that his fighter, Sergey Kovalev, could be a potential opponent for Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, he didn't believe it. He thought it was joke. After all, Canelo was fighting at middleweight and Kovalev was a light heavyweight titlist, and a big puncher at that. Yet months after the initial speculation, with various other fighters considered and rejected, here we are: Kovalev will be taking on Alvarez this Saturday in one of the biggest fights of the year. 

As McGirt had more time to consider a potential matchup with Alvarez, it started to make sense to him. Alvarez needed a big fight, something that would be acceptable to DAZN, which has made a prodigious investment in Canelo's career. After consulting with Kovalev and promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events, all were in agreement and wanted the fight. Canelo would represent the largest payday of Kovalev's career and perhaps just as an importantly, this would be a matchup where Kovalev, the bigger fighter with a great jab, would have a path to victory. This fight didn't represent a simple cash out; they believe that they can win. 

But first things first, Kovalev needed to make a title defense in August against mandatory challenger Anthony Yarde before the Canelo fight could come to fruition. And despite some rocky moments in the eighth and ninth rounds, Kovalev was able to stop Yarde in the 11th. 

Photo Courtesy of Buddy McGirt

As Saturday approaches, McGirt acknowledges that Kovalev should be considered the underdog. Canelo is one of the best fighters in the sport and a pugilist, in McGirt's eyes, who has continued to improve since his early career setback to Floyd Mayweather. McGirt jokingly said that when they beat Canelo the media will say that Kovalev pulled a rabbit out of the hat. But McGirt has been a big underdog before, both as a fighter and a trainer. It's his job to find that rabbit and to help shepherd Kovalev to victory. 

I recently had an opportunity to talk with McGirt about the Canelo fight, his time working with Kovalev and the Yarde victory. Here's what he had to say: 

Interview conducted by Adam Abramowitz
The interview has been edited and condensed. 

Buddy, what was your initial reaction when you heard that Kovalev was being considered as a possible Canelo opponent?

I didn’t really believe it at first. We thought Canelo was just throwing Sergey's name out there. But then eventually I understood that Canelo liked challenges. And who else was there to fight that could put asses in the seats? The answer was Kovalev.

Have you followed Canelo's career? What is your sense of him as a fighter?

I’ve always been a fan of Canelo. I’ve always watched him and I think he has made some major improvements since the Mayweather fight. His trainer does a great job with him too...The best thing he does is the way he sets traps. So we have to be aware of that. 

One supposed weakness of Kovalev's is that he doesn't take body shots well. What can a trainer do to work on this aspect?

As for the body attack, you can and can’t make changes if you know what I mean. There are some things we can do. You just got to make some minor adjustments and we’ll be OK. I'm not too concerned.

Was there a concern about Kovalev, a veteran fighter at 36, going through back-to-back training camps?

Kovalev wanted to stay busy. He understood that if he was out for too long he would lose some sharpness. And bam, here we are. He came into camp in great shape and in a great frame of mind. He wanted this fight...I think this is a great time for us right now to have this fight. The activity level gives us an advantage in my opinion. Kovalev’s confidence is right where it needs to be.

How do you view the Yarde fight? Kovalev had to survive a few rocky moments.

It was a fight that he needed. I think he erased a lot of doubts in the fight with Yarde. He fought a young, strong guy who put pressure on, and didn’t come to lie down. Yarde pressured him. He tested him. And Kovalev passed the test.

What led to Yarde's success later on in the fight?

Kovalev got lazy is really what happened in my opinion. He was winning the fight with just his jab. I always tell my fighters the easier the fight, the more focused they have to be. So after the eighth or ninth round, whatever round that Kovalev got hurt, I had to light a fire under his ass. I said if you don’t change things I’m going to stop the fight. He said in the corner, "Don’t worry. I’m ok. I got this. Plus, he’s exhausted. I got him." And he went right out there and changed it around.

In preparation for the Canelo fight, how can you ensure that Kovalev doesn't depend too heavily on one punch, that he needs to bring his full arsenal to the fight?

I had to show him something new that he could do. Not brand new, but maybe something that he got away from. He showed me some amateur tapes. I said, what happened to this guy there? He said he got away from that. I said, maybe it’s time to bring it back. The thing about Kovalev is that he is a really good student. People underestimate his boxing IQ. And he has a really strong boxing foundation. 

If you are able to beat Canelo, what will the headline be in the media the next day? 

If we win the headline will say that Kovalev pulled a rabbit out of the hat [laughs]. We view ourselves as the underdog. We weren’t announced first at the press conference, which is OK. We understand that. 

Buddy, this isn't the first time that you've been the underdog in your career, either as a fighter or a trainer. What do you say to your fighters who are underdogs going into a big fight? What should their mindset be?

I will tell any fighter who is the underdog: One, keep your eye on the prize. Don’t let stuff like that get to you. And two, don’t pay it any mind. Do what you’re supposed to do and good things can and will happen.

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, October 27, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Prograis-Taylor

Regis Prograis entered Saturday's junior welterweight unification fight with a plan. He wanted to beat Josh Taylor at Taylor's own game, breaking him down on the inside, and Taylor was more than happy to oblige; this was his preferred style after all. Taylor must have been smiling at his good fortune when he realized that he didn't need to exert energy trying to find and track down Prograis in the ring. Instead he could focus on winning a type of fight in which he had excelled.  

The first seven rounds of Saturday's match were mostly contested in close quarters with lots of leather traded. And at that moment it was clear that Taylor was ahead, having won anywhere from four to six of the frames. Even more importantly, he was imposing himself on the smaller Prograis. He was more adept at the craft of inside fighting. He better understood its secrets and opportunities. Taylor expertly utilized his forearms and wrists to create space to land his shots and move away from danger. Every shot was short and purposeful. Subtle sidesteps created angles where he could land and Prograis could not. There is an art to inside fighting and throughout Saturday's fight Taylor demonstrated that he was one of its masters while Prograis was a precocious student – highly talented, but still a student.  

Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

In the eighth round Prograis changed his tactics and tried to win from the outside. He scored with some strafing lead left hands and jabbed effectively. After two rounds where Taylor was able to close the distance and land some thunderous right hooks and straight left hands, Prograis had perhaps his best moments of the fight in the 11th, where he was able to box effectively and mix in some punishing power shots. Prograis also competed well in the closing 12th frame. 

Ultimately Taylor won by a majority decision, 117-112, 115-113 and 114-114 (I had it for Taylor 116-112). It was certainly a competitive fight, but from my vantage point Taylor was more consistent throughout the match and was able to outwork Prograis in several close rounds, especially those in close quarters during the first half of the bout. 

After 12 tough rounds I don't believe that there was much difference in skill or talent between Prograis and Taylor. However, one fighter knew exactly who he was in the ring and how he needed to win the fight, while the other seemed less certain. In my estimation Prograis-Taylor was decided by strategy, tactics and Ring IQ, not always the sexiest factors, but they can certainly be the difference between winning and losing. 

Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

In handicapping Prograis-Taylor, I was concerned with Prograis's lack of competitive bouts throughout his development. Now Prograis and his team are not all to blame for this. A major reason why Prograis had rarely been tested was his supreme talent; he was blowing through reasonable opponents. 

Prior to Saturday Taylor had already been through wars with Ivan Baranchyk and Viktor Postol. He had been rocked with big shots, he had faced duress and he had demonstrated strong powers of recuperation. Perhaps one could look at those factors and determine that Taylor was potentially more vulnerable, but I viewed his history as a positive. Taylor, and importantly lead trainer Shane McGuigan, knew exactly what they needed to do and how they had to fight in order to beat good opponents. 

Prograis and lead trainer Bobby Benton just hadn't had the reps against top competition. That's certainly not a disqualifying factor in winning a big fight, but it was something worth noting. Perhaps if Prograis and Benton had just a little bit more big-fight experience maybe they would have made adjustments faster on Saturday. Taking it a step further, with more tough rounds prior to Taylor they might have learned more about what Prograis needed to do to beat top competition. 

A problem with fighters that have such broad skill sets is knowing when and where to use certain tactics. This has been a recurring criticism that I've had with Daniel Jacobs throughout his career. Jacobs has all the skill in the world and can seemingly fight in any style; yet there doesn't seem to be a coherent strategy throughout a fight and he doesn't realize fast enough what's working and what should be scrapped. 

Now Prograis did come into Saturday's match with a plan, but there needed to be a quicker adjustment to taking the fight to the outside. And maybe, just maybe, Prograis and Benton got their tactics wrong from the jump. To me they seemed to underestimate Taylor's effectiveness on the inside. I certainly think that they were surprised by his power.  

Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

Prograis had rarely struggled coming into Saturday's fight. He had won fights on the inside and from distance. He had success leading and countering. He could use the ring or slug it out in the pocket. Perhaps Prograis and Benton thought that they were a little bulletproof in the ring, that the opponent didn't necessarily matter, that Regis was just on another level. He had never really been vulnerable prior to Saturday; why would Taylor be any different?   

Ultimately Saturday's fight will be a great learning experience for Prograis and Benton. They certainly didn't embarrass themselves and gave boxing fans a hell of a show. However, the margin between winning and losing can be so thin. Getting the fight plan wrong can make all the difference. Prograis had better hand and foot speed. I'm not exactly sure why they didn't utilize their natural advantages in this fight. 

However, all is not lost. They will have additional opportunities. Prograis will make for a great fight against any of the top guys at 140, and he could certainly compete one division north at welterweight. He has a wonderful skill set and presents a series of problems for opponents. At 30, in the absolute prime of his career, and not tied to a particular network or boxing platform, he could have several big fights in the next few years. Here's hoping that he will learn from Saturday's bout and realize that the other guy gets paid too. 

Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson

As for Josh Taylor, he has long been a favorite of mine in the ring. Far more than the sum of his parts, Taylor has off-the-chart intangibles that make up his for pedestrian hand speed, foot speed and athleticism. For starters he has a fantastic Ring IQ. Unlike so many fighters, he has an innate understanding of which punches work at a given distance, and he can execute on that knowledge. Sure, Prograis might throw a prettier hook, and it might even be a harder punch in a vacuum, but Taylor can get his there first because it is perfectly thrown and placed. He has every punch in his arsenal and uses them properly. He's not trying to throw lead uppercuts from five feet away or jabbing from too close. In addition, Taylor is one of the few fighters who can cut off the ring effectively. His footwork is fluid, purposeful and he is always in position to throw.  

All of the above is important, but Taylor also has that intestinal fortitude to persevere. I've seen him get absolutely rocked by huge shots against Baranchyk and Prograis. His right eye by the end of the fight on Saturday made him look like an alien – there was just a hole where it was supposed to be. But Taylor kept pressing forward, refusing to let his physical deterioration become a hindrance in the fight. Perhaps most importantly Taylor doesn't beat himself. He's smart, both intellectually and in the ring. He doesn't make many mistakes. Sure, he's not the fastest guy in the sport and he can be hit, but he forces his opponents to earn everything. 

One area of concern for Taylor is his lack of true knockout power. As he continues to face tough competition he's not going to have many easy fights. His opponents are often going to have speed and/or power advantages and he will need to grind out victories by being smarter, sharper and better prepared. That's a tough way to earn a living at the highest level of the sport. Only 28 and with just 16 professional fights, it's likely that he will have a relatively short run. The body just can't sustain itself through that many wars. But that's in the future, and for now let's just enjoy yesterday and today. 

Josh Taylor possesses a wealth of information about the sport that most fighters, even excellent ones, will never acquire. Right now he's in the perfect sweet spot where his mind and body are in sync. He can see the openings and can physically exploit them. While his time at the summit could be short, for now it's certainly a beautiful view at the top of the mountain. He's earned his position at this impressive, elevated peak. 

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, October 19, 2019

Opinions and Observations: Beterbiev-Gvozdyk

A pound of flesh. 

That famous Shakespearean phrase from "The Merchant of Venice" raced through my mind as I watched Artur Beterbiev's performance against Oleksandr Gvozdyk from ringside on Friday. Sure, Gvozdyk scored points early in the fight and may have gotten the better of individual exchanges, but in many of those moments Beterbiev was still able to connect with a thudding right to the body or a right over the top. Beterbiev did lose some early rounds; however, he was unceasing in exacting his pound of flesh. 

Beterbiev had bricks in his hands and a massive advantage in punching power. In the ninth round Gvozdyk started to succumb to the body assault, bending over from the waist, looking for any reason to clinch, hold or delay the proceedings. By the tenth round, he couldn't withstand the onslaught any further. Taking a knee three times in the round, he submitted. The weight of all of those pounds of flesh had accumulated, and Beterbiev would exit the Philadelphia night as a unified light heavyweight titlist and one of boxing's supreme destructive forces. 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

I'm not sure what more Gvozdyk could have done without having made radical changes to his style. He boxed well at different stages of the fight. He used angles and turned Beterbiev. He successfully limited Beterbiev's offense throughout a lot of the first eight rounds. Perhaps Gvozdyk could have thrown an uppercut more frequently. Beterbiev would bend his head forward after connecting on counter shots; the uppercut was there for him. Maybe Gvozdyk could have played hit-and-run. 

But to win the fight and not just survive, Gvozdyk had to hold his ground and fight, even if doing so selectively. And although he's a solid puncher, and landed several of his best rights during the match, his power just couldn't compare. Beterbiev's missiles, even if they were sparse in number, had their desired impact.

Power is the great equalizer in boxing. Gvozdyk had greater hand and foot speed. He possessed a more comprehensive arsenal of punches. He was a better combination puncher. But ultimately it was power and not the myriad check marks on a head-to-head comparison that proved to be the difference. 

Don't let the "skills pay the bills" crowd off the hook. Skills are nice, and often they are separators in title fights. But elite skills don't guarantee victory. In the round-robin of boxing styles, no one ring style consistently wins. And on Friday it was power that reigned supreme.

This is not to suggest that Beterbiev is a one-dimensional crude banger. Much of his work on Friday was a product of solid training and expert execution. He landed short left hooks in between Gvozdyk's gloves because there was a small gap in Gvozdyk's glove positioning; Beterbiev exploited that opening. In addition, the right hand counters to the top of the head were unfurled with little hesitation. It was clear that those particular punches had been drilled into him leading up to the fight. Beterbiev and his team saw that Gvozdyk took fractionally longer than needed to return his hands to a defensively responsible position. Also, Beterbiev fired those right hands to the body because they were available. He capitalized on that opportunity.

Let's also take a moment to credit Beterbiev for his chin and conditioning. Gvozdyk connected with his best right hands in the third, fifth and eighth rounds. They did affect Beterbiev, but not enough to knock him down, or even make him revise his game plan. Beterbiev, who had previously been dropped twice in his career, had no issues with his chin on Friday. 

In addition, even in many of the rounds that Gvozdyk won, Beterbiev was the fighter who closed more authoritatively in those frames. His overall performance in the fight was not just based on power. He was only able to execute his game plan and withstand Gvozdyk's offensive firepower because he was in such fantastic shape.   

Beterbiev might not have done anything particularly flashy on Friday, but he didn't need to. He stayed within himself. He didn't panic after failing to dominate the early portions of the fight. Like a seasoned pro he paced himself and didn't burn himself out trying to force a knockout.  

Artur deserves further credit for putting forth that type of performance against the best opponent of his career. Gvozdyk is no Enrico Koelling. He's one of the best at light heavyweight and presented Beterbiev with a series of problems early in the fight. And in Beterbiev's previous 14 bouts, he had rarely been tested, especially in the second half of a match. (In fact, Friday's fight was only the second time Beterbiev had to go past seven rounds.) 

Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

There sometimes exists a tendency in boxing for fighters and their trainers to overthink a game plan when preparing for a big fight, to change what had worked previously. Beterbiev never had faced an opponent with Gvozdyk's versatility and skill level. Yet Beterbiev and head trainer Marc Ramsay went the other way in their fight preparation. They further simplified the game plan: Take what's available, focus on two or three specific types of shots, and trust the power. 

Ramsay has helped to engineer a number of huge wins at light heavyweight, such as Jean Pascal over Chad Dawson, Eleider Alvarez against Sergey Kovalev and now Beterbiev’s performance over Gvozdyk. He has an acute understanding of opponents and uses their fighting styles against them. He studied Dawson's passivity, Kovalev's problems with his gas tank and Gvozdyk's predilection for combination punching. Each of these opponents presented unique problems and opportunities, and like a grand chess master Ramsay figured out how to exploit weaknesses, or even perceived strengths. 

Ultimately Beterbiev and Ramsay used Gvozdyk's strengths against him. Yes, Oleksandr would land flashy three-punch combinations, but those moments also provided opportunities for Beterbiev to counter with something big. Gvozdyk's trainer, Teddy Atlas, noted in the lead up to the fight that they can't be too greedy, that giving a puncher too many opportunities was a problem. And perhaps in hindsight Gvozdyk may have fallen victim to this just a little too often. 

Gvozdyk mostly fought his fight, in the style in which he was accustomed to. He was up on two of the cards prior to the 10th round (I also had him up one point at that juncture). To win Saturday's match perhaps he needed to fight in a radically different manner. Perhaps one shot and get out of the pocket. Maybe back-footing Beterbiev with pot-shots. However, those adjustments would have involved massive changes, which may have caused even greater problems for a fighter not used to that style. Gvozdyk competed on Friday, he performed well. He was just bettered. 

Beterbiev now emerges as the top fighter at light heavyweight and I'm not sure too many top guys in the division will be rushing to face that version of hell. On one hand he's at the advanced age of 34, but consider that he's only had 15 pro fights and so few opponents have been able to push him. He certainly could have a few years at the top of the division. 

But whatever happens throughout the rest of his career, and even if he's unable to land another unification match at 175 lbs., the boxing world now fully grasps his devastating dimensions. He's a problem, a killer. He's destruction incarnate. And he waits for the next brave man. 

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.