I joined Chris Mannix's SI Boxing podcast this week, which also featured journalist Michael Woods. We discussed the Canelo/DAZN drama, the Charlo brothers and their upcoming fights, and what should be next for Tim Tszyu. To listen to the podcast, click here or here. The podcast can also be viewed on DAZN starting Sunday, September 6th.
Friday, September 4, 2020
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Boxing is back in force and this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast embraces its return. We recapped Ramirez-Postol. Should we be concerned by Ramirez's performance? Is Erislandy Lara still one of the best at 154? We looked ahead to this week's fight action. We also talked about the latest shenanigans from the WBA and discussed the most recent Canelo/DAZN drama.
To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com. He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Sunday, August 30, 2020
After a busy month of fight action, it's time for another edition of the SNB Stock Report. See which fighters' stock went up (+), down (-) or remained unchanged (NC). To read more about the Whyte-Povetkin and Alvarez-Smith fights, click here.
Shawn Porter (+)
|Photo Courtesy of Sean Michael Ham|
In his first ring action since last year's thrilling fight against Errol Spence, Shawn slugged his way to a shutout against Sebastian Formella. Porter dazzled with combination punching on the inside and exhibited solid technical boxing skills on the outside. This was always going to be a marking time bout for Porter, but he looked very sharp and didn't fight down to the level of his competition. Expect Porter to be back in the welterweight title picture in 2021.
Erislandy Lara (NC)
Erislandy Lara remains a formidable fighter in the junior middleweight division. This month he boxed his way to a unanimous decision against overmatched Greg Vendetti. Lara's timing was off at points early in the fight and he wasn't always able to stop Vendetti from getting in close. However, he got the best of the action with straight left hands, left uppercuts and right hooks. At 37, it's a fair question to ask if Lara's reflexes are still at their peak form, but we're going to need to see a much better opponent than Vendetti to find out that answer.
Alfredo Angulo (-)
Many fight fans have been calling for Angulo to retire for a number of years. His physical skills have declined and he's taken far too many heavy blows. However, he had a nice come-from-behind victory against Peter Quillin last year, which was supposed to set up a meaningful fight against Caleb Truax. But Truax had to pull out of that matchup for health reasons and Angulo wound up facing late-replacement Vladimir Hernandez. After a slow start, Angulo slugged his way back into the fight, but he did slow down in the final two rounds. He wound up losing a unanimous decision, but more importantly, he was hit with hundreds of additional hard shots throughout the fight. He's now 38 and if he had been harboring any dreams of finding his way back into the title picture, that reality is now up in smoke.
Angelo Leo (+)
Leo was supposed to fight Stephen Fulton for a vacant belt at 122 lbs., but Fulton tested positive for COVID-19 the week of the fight. Southpaw Tramaine Williams stepped in on short notice and despite a radical difference in opponent style, Leo was able to impress. Taking a few rounds to assess to Williams's hand speed and movement, Leo eventually had success on the inside with a merciless body attack. He also displayed an exceptional ability to cut off the ring, nullifying Williams's foot speed advantage. Leo won via a unanimous decision and put his name into the hat as another top fighter in the deep junior featherweight division.
Ra'eese Aleem (+)
Every now and then an unheralded veteran fighter will suddenly emerge on the scene and force the boxing industry to take notice. Thirty certainly isn't an age for most junior featherweights to make an initial impression; that's when many smaller-weight fighters are already comfortably in their decline phase. However, Aleem, who had been boxing mostly in the Midwest and Pennsylvania circuits, made a significant statement by stopping Marcus Bates in his Showtime Championship Boxing debut. Aleem put forth an impressive power-punching display and he also demonstrated significant skills both on the inside and outside. With his electric performance, he'll certainly have another notable opportunity soon.
Jose Ramirez (-)
Ramirez looked like he was in peak form during an impressive performance against Maurice Hooker last July. Since then, a scheduled fight with Viktor Postol was cancelled twice on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, back into the ring after 13 months, Ramirez struggled against Postol's clever boxing from the outside. Ramirez did have a few notable moments in the seventh and eighth rounds where he hurt Postol with left hooks against the ropes. But for the most part, he seemed to fight Postol to a standstill, with neither fighter truly able to assert his will upon the action. Ramirez wound up winning a majority decision. It wasn't a robbery, but the unified junior welterweight champion did not look commanding or convincing in the ring. He will still have an opportunity to become the undisputed 140-lb. champ in a future fight against Josh Taylor, but Ramirez's career momentum took a hit with his inconsistent showing against Postol.
Viktor Postol (+)
At the age of 36, Postol was supposed to present a couple of challenges to Jose Ramirez, but few, if any, expected him to win the fight. Yet after 12 rounds, the actual winner of the contest was very much in doubt. More than a few on social media thought that he had jabbed and moved his way to a close win (count me in this group). Although Postol lost by majority decision, he demonstrated that he's still an elite junior welterweight. With a different judging panel, he certainly could have had his hands raised at the end of the night.
Katie Taylor (+)
|Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson|
Katie Taylor has now boxed 20 rounds against Delfine Persoon and has come away with disputed victories in both fights. Without getting into the intricacies of scoring, both Taylor-Persoon bouts have been among the best women's boxing fights that I've seen. In my opinion both boxers have been elevated by their performances. Taylor-Persoon is just one of those matchups that stylistically will lead to close verdicts on the scorecards. From my vantage point, I thought that Taylor boxed a little sharper in the rematch and used her legs to better effect. My scorecard read 96-94 for Taylor; however, I don't think that her victory was definitive by any means. But ultimately, the fight was fantastic, and sometimes that's more important than the minutiae of scoring criteria.
Delfine Persoon (+)
It's long been a working theory of mine that the best way to fight expert, polished boxers is to dispense with any notion of trying to match their skills. Persoon doesn't possess the pretty jabs, textbook left hook, or foot speed of Katie Taylor, but she has specific dimensions that will always bother her. Persoon's relentless aggression forces Taylor to fight at a pace (faster) and a distance (closer) that is uncomfortable for her. In addition, Persoon is wonderful in the clinch, utilizing her physicality and maneuvering her body to get off chopping power shots at close range. It's a shame that Taylor and Persoon fought only two-minute rounds. In so many of their rounds Taylor dominated the first half and Persoon came back in the final minute. A third minute could have provided a definitive winner in both bouts.
David Benavidez (-)
On one hand David Benavidez took care of business this month by defeating Alexis Angulo in an impressive, one-sided beat down. But "business" is the key word, as far as it concerns Benavidez. He missed weight by almost three pounds prior to the fight and wound up losing his belt on the scales, the second time in his brief professional career where he has lost a world title outside of the ring. Benavidez has now earned the reputation of being unreliable, which is not a positive development for him. It's unclear if Benavidez can even safely make super middleweight going forward. If he can, he may still get a fight with titleholder Caleb Plant in 2021, but he won't have the same financial leverage that he would have had as a champion.
Sebastian Fundora (+)
Last year Fundora had a difficult matchup against Jamontay Clark. Fundora built an early lead, but somehow let Clark, whom he had hurt multiple times, come back into the fight to earn a draw. Did Fundora have enough physical strength on his lanky frame? Was he unprepared for Clark's lateral movement? Facing former contender Nathaniel Gallimore this month, Fundora put all those questions aside for now and impressed in all aspects against a much different opponent. Not only was his punch selection, power and work rate fantastic, but he also showed a new-found ability to use his physicality to rough up Gallimore in the trenches. Fundora won via a sixth-round knockout. It's still anyone's guess as to which division Fundora will ultimately settle into, but he's starting to grasp more advanced aspects of boxing in the ring. If he keeps making steady progress, he's going to be a tough out.
Israil Madrimov (NC)
Madrimov defeated veteran Eric Walker this month in an overall strange performance. After a fast start, Madrimov seemed to tire by the fourth round. In the seventh and eighth rounds he was getting hit by a lot of shots. Then the fight got weird. In the ninth round, Madrimov landed a leaping left that knocked Walker down. During the follow through of the punch, Madrimov's shoulder also connected with Walker. Referee Gary Ritter ruled that the knockdown was due to the foul, which was a questionable call at best. After a long break, the fight resumed and Madrimov dominated the remainder of the action. He would win a unanimous decision. Madrimov possesses incredible athletic talent, but his lack of defensive fundamentals is problematic at this point in his young professional career. Walker routinely landed with simple one-two's. And it's surprising that with Madrimov's substantial amateur career, that he still has such defensive shortcomings. Madrimov's team has talked about getting a title shot as soon as possible at junior middleweight. In my opinion he still needs three or four fights before he's ready for that level.
Tim Tszyu (+)
In a big fight in Australia, Tszyu, the son of the former champion, Kostya, stopped recent welterweight champion Jeff Horn. In just his 16th pro fight, Tszyu fought like a seasoned veteran, handling Horn's roughhouse techniques and grappling with aplomb. Tszyu featured a pulverizing left hook and a commitment to body punching. Like Madrimov, Tszyu is one of the up-and-comers in the 154-lb. division. And although he possesses offensive firepower, he would do well to fight a legitimate contender or two before he gets a title shot. To this point he hasn't had enough competitive rounds in his professional development.
Rolando Romero (-)
Romero made his Showtime Championship Boxing debut this month against Jackson Marinez, and quite frankly, he didn't look ready for the big stage. Loading up on every shot, Romero seemed befuddled by Marinez's polished boxing skills and athleticism. Romero did connect with some tasty power punches, but there weren't enough of them. Romero was awarded the victory, but it was a robbery. It's never a good sign when the WBA President immediately tweets out that a rematch should be considered based on the scoring of the fight. At 24, Romero still has time to develop additional aspects of his game. He has to learn to set up shots strategically. For many opponents, one shot will not suffice.
Otto Wallin (+)
Wallin, who gave Tyson Fury some problems last year, stopped Travis Kauffman in the fifth round of their fight this month. Wallin is one of those fighters who doesn't necessarily pass the "eye test," but he can fight. Although he doesn't possess big-time power, his punch volume, jab and movement are unique factors in a division where many fighters would prefer to be stationary. He needs additional rounds against credible heavyweights to assess just what his ceiling could be, but he has some interesting raw tools. It wouldn't surprise me to see him spring a notable upset or two in the near future.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
A boxing match contains hundreds of sequences where each fighter attempts to assert supremacy over his or her opponent. Whether it's to land a shot, block a punch, counter, leave the pocket unscathed, find a way to rest, clinch, or perform a number of other maneuvers; in each moment, most often, only one fighter will prevail.
The concluding sequence of Alexander Povetkin's unforgettable fifth-round knockout of Dillian Whyte was one such moment, and one of the best knockouts in recent heavyweight boxing. Povetkin initiated the action with a throw-away left jab. Immediately after throwing the punch, he started dipping to his left; he knew what was coming. By the time Whyte had missed his ineffectual counter right hand, Povetkin had already maneuvered his 40-year old body under and to the side of Whyte's right arm, his last line of protection. Povetkin had now put himself in a perfect position to land a free shot. And he unspooled a devastating left uppercut against a defenseless Whyte. That was the fight. Game over.
|Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson|
Ultimately the sequence demonstrated Povetkin's mastery over his opponent. Like a chess master, the entire sequence played out in his mind before he initiated a single move. He knew what to expect and how to position his body to get the free shot. It was a perfect example of Ring IQ. Povetkin understood how to defeat the opponent in front of him. And despite being 40 years old and physically on the slide, he still possessed the agility, reflexes and timing to execute.
What made the knockout even more stunning was the action in the previous round, where Whyte had dropped Povetkin twice with left hands (a hook and then an uppercut). In truth, those weren't even Whyte's best power shots, but Povetkin's punch resistance had looked poor throughout the fight. He seemed unsteady at a few points earlier in the fight, and especially vulnerable whenever Whyte landed his right hand to the temple.
Until the final sequence in the fifth, Whyte had fought ably. Featuring a contained offensive approach that didn't allow Povetkin to get off too many counters, Whyte was effectively opportunistic with his output: a few jabs here, some nice right hands there, a left hook to remind Povetkin of his power. He was gradually breaking down his opponent in a responsible way.
The ultimate distinction between the two boxers was that Povetkin had actualized and executed a clever boxing move for which Whyte was unprepared. The final sequence reminded me of Jermall Charlo's win over Julian Williams, where Charlo blocked a punch and then countered with a right uppercut at the perfect moment against an unprotected opponent. It was a superior boxing move, as was Povetkin's. These are the types of moves that cement world-class status. It's the combination of ring intelligence, daring, physical talent, reflexes and execution. It would be unfair to call Whyte's performance poor on Saturday, but there was no doubt that he was bettered in a pivotal exchange, and one exchange can often be all that it takes in boxing.
|Photo Courtesy of Mark Robinson|
At his advanced age and a veteran of many wars in the ring, Povetkin most likely won't have too many more nights like Saturday's. He's undersized against the top of the division. His physical dimensions force him to win fights on the inside, which invites oncoming fire from hard-hitting opponents. And he certainly didn't look like he was taking shots well against Whyte.
But whatever else occurs throughout the rest of Povetkin's career, he has created an indelible moment for himself, and for boxing as a whole. And let's make no mistake; the sport needs these moments. Badly.
Few modern heavyweights would be able to come back from being dropped twice to win a fight in the next round. And even in a state of physical decline, Povetkin demonstrated an acute boxing brain and an ability to focus under extreme duress. He also reminded the boxing industry that fights are still won in the ring. Underestimate a capable opponent at your own peril. And if you're a boxer in tough looking ahead to future matchups, you very well could find yourself looking up at the rafters, or in this case, the constellations on a clear summer's night.
When Joe Smith Jr. arrived on the boxing scene in a meaningful way, he was a little-known, 26-year-old club fighter from Long Island who worked construction. He was no one's idea of a prospect. He was brought in to lose against Andrzej Fonfara, who was in the middle of a nice run in the top-ten of the light heavyweight division. Smith was thought to be tough, a possessor of a decent punch, but not much more. By the end of 2016, he had destroyed Fonfara in one round and sent the legend Bernard Hopkins crashing out of the ring through the ropes and into retirement. Hopkins was hit so hard, and shaken up so much that he legitimately thought that some kind of foul must have occurred.
But in recent years, Smith's technical limitations, especially on defense, were exposed by Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol. Despite dropping Barrera early in their fight, Sullivan broke Smith's jaw in the second round. Smith demonstrated his toughness by lasting to the final bell, but after the jaw injury, he wasn't a factor throughout the rest of the bout. And with the exception of a flurry late in the fight, Smith had few answers for Bivol's movement and polished boxing skills.
On Saturday, Smith was facing Eleider Alvarez, a former champion who had excellent boxing skills, sneaky power and a sturdy chin. The conventional wisdom surrounding the fight was that Alvarez had the superior technical boxing skills and was the all-around better talent, but that Smith certainly had the punching power and activity rate to give Alvarez problems. However, the more that Smith came forward, the more opportunities that provided Alvarez to land his blistering counters.
But after watching Saturday's fight, there wasn't one thing that Alvarez did better than Smith. Not a single thing. In a shocking development, Smith outboxed Alvarez, with new-look moves and sequences that belied his previous reputation as merely a "banger." He hooked off the jab, double jabbed his way into perfect punching range, threw lead left uppercuts in tight quarters, and blocked most of Alvarez's overhand rights. Smith demonstrated a level of polish in the ring on Saturday that he had never exhibited in previous fights. As Alvarez waited for the perfect opening to land a counter, Smith continued to punch at will, but he maintained his balance and rarely found himself out of position. To the surprise of Alvarez, there was little that was crude with Smith's work.
Counterpunchers often invite volume because it can lead to opportunities and openings. However, when that volume is educated, piercing and unpredictable, the counterpuncher will find himself in a world of shit, and that is what happened to Alvarez in the ninth round when suddenly he found himself through the ropes and unable to continue. A Smith howitzer of a right hand landed fully flush on Alvarez after the start of the round. Smith followed up with a hard left which made Alvarez's legs betray him. And Alvarez was done.
|Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams|
Eleider Alvarez did have a signature victory in his career with his knockout win over Sergey Kovalev to win a light heavyweight title. However, there should have been a lot more highs in his career. Unfortunately, he spent the majority of his peak years as a fighter who was unable to get big opportunities. In the same promotional stable with fellow Montreal fighters Jean Pascal and Adonis Stevenson, he was not the attraction that the other two were, and he also didn't possess their firepower or magnetism in the ring. He was a technical cutie that no one was in a rush to face. He often had to accept step-aside money from well-heeled players in the sport instead of getting a real opportunity to fight the best. (Ill-timed injuries also played a role throughout his career.)
Alvarez is now 36 and as good as Smith looked last night it's also important to note that Alvarez just can't move like he used to. Eleider was once upon a time a mover in the ring, but watching him on Saturday, his transition to an older, stationary counterpuncher has now been completed.
As sob stories go in the sport, Alvarez's isn't the worst one. He did get a title shot and made the most of his opportunity by winning that fight. However, his no-show in the Kovalev rematch cost him seven figures. In addition, had he had earlier opportunities, let's say against Stevenson, with whom he matched up well, he could be staring at a much larger bank account at the moment. But Alvarez was still fighting on Top Rank card on Saturday with the chance to get another title shot. A declining Povetkin found a way to perform at 40, a declining Alvarez could not at 36.
As for Smith, it's exciting to see fighters, even veteran ones, add to their arsenal. Few would have surmised in 2016, or even 2019, that Joe Smith could outbox Eleider Alvarez, but that's precisely what happened. Earlier this year, Tyson Fury demonstrated his unwillingness to accept the label from others that he was best on the outside. He found a sympathetic trainer, perfected his inside fighting craft and bested Deontay Wilder in the trenches. Similarly, Smith refused to believe that all he could be in boxing was a crude banger. It's easy to accept these monikers and limitations, but it's not so simple for 30-year-olds to want to become something different in the ring.
Smith realized that even the best version of his previous self in the ring, the wild right hands, the pulverizing hooks, was not the way to beat Alvarez. With this belief, he studied his opponent and implemented changes that he knew he needed to make to win. Prior to his fight with Hopkins, a prominent boxing scribe liked Smith's chances in the matchup, writing that Smith was too stupid to be intimidated by Hopkins's psychological tricks. I think that it's now time to throw out this old script for Smith. He's become much more than the boxing industry ever imagined. And he and his very small group of believers alone deserve the credit. Smith and his team have made a career out of being underestimated, but it's more than time for them to receive their just due. Under the guise of ordinary, something quite remarkable has happened: one of the best light heavyweights in the world.
Thursday, August 6, 2020
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com. He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Thursday, July 30, 2020
It's time for another edition of the SNB Stock Report. July featured a number of prominent fighters in the ring and it's time to assess their performances. The (+) indicates fighters whose stock rose. The (-) denotes fighters whose stock fell and the (NC) is for fighters whose stock has remained unchanged after their most recent performance.
Vergil Ortiz (+)
|Photo Courtesy of Stacey Verbeek|
Ortiz returned to the ring with a fantastic power-punching display against Samuel Vargas, earning a seventh-round stoppage. Vargas put forth a game effort, but he was outgunned by Ortiz's blistering combination punching. Ortiz is now ready for contenders in the welterweight division. With his high Ring IQ and myriad offensive gifts, he's going to be a handful. At only 22, it's scary to think that he may have even more room for improvement.
Alex Saucedo (+)
Saucedo performed solidly in his victory against Sonny Fredrickson, winning by a wide unanimous decision. He had Fredrickson hurt a couple of times early in the fight, but he didn't fully sell out for the knockout. Saucedo remains a tough and rugged customer at 140; however, his defense is still a problem. Even a trainer switch hasn't cleaned up that aspect of his game. But as long as his chin holds up, he'll be fun to watch.
Jose Pedraza (+)
Pedraza has always run a little hot-and-cold. It was a pleasant surprise to see him dialed in and focused against the Mikkel LesPierre. Pedraza scored two knockdowns in the fight and was close to getting a stoppage; he won by a wide decision. However, there was a debatable call in the fifth round where he went down and it was subsequently ruled as a slip by the Nevada instant replay official. Still, it was an overall solid and confident performance.
Albert Bell (NC)
The Ohioan remains a frustrating figure in the ring. With tremendous boxing skills and fast feet, Bell boxed to a shutout points victory over Mark Bernaldez. However, it was disappointing to see Bell not attempt to inflict more damage. Bell will eventually become a top spoiler in the junior lightweight division. He possesses championship-level talent. But he's going to have to go through the sanctioning body game to get his chance. His style in the ring doesn't create much demand for his services.
Jose Zepeda (+)
Zepeda boxed his way to a comfortable victory over late replacement Kendo Castaneda. Zepeda has 25 KOs in his 32 victories, but it's clear that he's become much more comfortable as a boxer than a slugger. He still possesses excellent punch placement and a wide arsenal of punches, but his emphasis on defense in recent fights has led to less risk taking. He's one of the top fighters at 140 lbs. His well-rounded skill set should give him a good chance to win a title over the next 12-18 months.
Joe Joyce (+)
|Photo Courtesy of Queensberry Promotions|
"The Juggernaut" faced Michael Wallisch this month in a marking-time bout. He was supposed to face Daniel Dubois earlier this year before COVID scrapped those plans. Joyce wasted little time with Wallisch, scoring three knockdowns and earning a third-round stoppage. He still gets hit a lot, his punches can be timed with a sun dial, but he has heavy, heavy hands when he connects. Expect Joyce to face Dubois later this year.
Carlos Takam (NC)
Takam was in camp for another fight when he received the call to face Jerry Forrest on short notice. And he started off the fight excellently, displaying fine footwork and boxing skills to go along with his usual assortment of solid power punches. He did fade a bit as the fight progressed. Perhaps he wasn't in the best shape with a shortened camp. It's also worth considering that he's 39 and maybe he no longer has a full gas tank. He did win a decision, but didn't exactly put the division on notice. He remains a contender in the thin heavyweight division, but most likely his best days are behind him.
Andy Vences (-)
First things first, Vences deserved the decision against Luis Lopez. Lopez was effectively awkward at times and certainly landed his share of odd-angled punches, but over the course of the bout, Vences did the better work. Nevertheless, Lopez was awarded a split decision victory. Despite being hard done by the officials, it was not a strong performance by Vences. He displayed far too much caution at points in the fight and didn't seem to have a solid game plan as the match progressed. He was also badly hurt in the second half of the fight and a punch or two away from being knocked out. He's now lost two of his last three fights and any momentum that he once had in his career is now long gone.
Felix Verdejo (+)
|Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams|
Verdejo made quick work of the capable Will Madera, stopping him in the first round with an impressive volley of power punches. Verdejo, once a prized prospect for Top Rank, had seen his shine diminish over the past few years. However, in teaming with noted trainer Ismael Salas, Verdejo seems to have regained his confidence. Still only 27, he remains an intriguing name in the deep lightweight division.
Carlos Castro (+)
Castro made a strong statement by stopping former title contender Cesar Juarez after four rounds. Castro, at 26-0 and already 26 years of age, has yet to sniff a title shot, but it certainly looks as though he has the skills to compete at the top level of the junior featherweight division. Developed mostly around the Phoenix area, he's only been with Top Rank a couple of years. They might have found a diamond in the rough here.
Oscar Valdez (NC)
On the plus side, Valdez became the first fighter to stop Jayson Velez, a serviceable opponent who has given a number of solid boxers tough nights at the office. However, Valdez went through long periods of the fight where he seemed stuck between styles. He once had been an aggressive boxer-puncher, but under the tutelage of Eddy Reynoso, he has attempted to become more of a classic boxer. After a number of fights together, Valdez still doesn't look comfortable in the new style. Nevertheless, his left hook remains a real weapon. He scored two knockdowns in the fight and stopped Velez in the final round.
Isaac Dogboe (+)
After taking over a year off after his second defeat to Emanuel Navarrete, Dogboe returned to the ring with new trainer Barry Hunter. Immediately, one could observe the difference, as Dogboe was trying to fight with more defensive responsibility against Chris Avalos. Dogboe wasn't flying open with wide power shots as much and overall his performance was more contained. Avalos, a former title contender who has definitely seen better days in the ring, was in good shape and put forward a good effort, but Dogboe's power shots were the difference. That Dogboe stopped Avalos in the eighth round isn't particularly noteworthy, but the fact that he's listening to his new coach and trying to learn from his past mistakes certainly is. He wants to make another run at 122-lbs. He remains a fun TV fighter, but the junior featherweight division is filled with excellent talents. He will need the right type of opponents (shorter, not huge punchers) in order to win another belt.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
Boxing's return on June 9th brought me a tremendous amount of joy. After months of that strange combination of external COVID-related chaos and the monotony of home confinement, it was comforting to have an old friend back. Actually, it was better than that. Sitting on my couch, watching the fights, I was happy – and there hadn't been a whole lot of happiness in recent months. And was that card, headlined by Shakur Stevenson, particularly good? No, it was not. But you know what? It didn't matter to me. Boxing was back.
Working with the Nevada Athletic Commission, Top Rank helped create protocols for testing and safety to be used in boxing's return. I can only imagine the myriad variables that came into play regarding the creation of "The Bubble": isolation areas, staging, lodging, etc. Brad Jacobs is a Top Rank executive that doesn't always have his name in bold print, but he was the point person for Top Rank in helping create these protocols, and he deserves a lot of credit.
|Shakur Stevenson, the First Bubble Headliner |
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams
Although boxing has returned, the high-end fights have not. Most of Top Rank's broadcasts since June have been good club-level cards – something you would see when Friday Night Fights was at its best 15-20 years ago. These cards have featured many types of fights not often seen on U.S. networks, including fighters with fewer than five bouts, and battles featuring lower-level journeymen. Star appearances have been few. With the exception of Stevenson, not one of Top Rank's current champions have appeared on the series (130-lb. champ Jamel Herring was scheduled to headline two different cards, but he tested positive for COVID).
The budgets for these Top Rank shows haven't been large. Perhaps the main event A-side was making six figures, but the rest of the fighters on the card earned far less. And as the series progressed, it became a cause for celebration if the main event actually transpired. Positive COVID tests and a slew of injuries played havoc with the schedule. By the end of the series, the viewer knew that the fights would be airing on Tuesdays and Thursdays on ESPN, but that was essentially all that was guaranteed.
I won't pretend that all of the cards were outstanding, that they were loaded with memorable fights, but I will say that I found something interesting on almost every show. Whether it was young undefeated prospects such as Elvis Rodriguez and Jared Anderson making great impressions, or seeing a journeyman such as Clay Collard build momentum in his career. How about the four-round slugfest between undefeated prospects Eric Mondragon and Mike Sanchez, where both boxers went down in the first round and battled to a hard-fought draw? Of course, there was Mike Plania's upset over Joshua Greer. Those wide left hooks were something else. The best fight of the summer series was Joshua Franco against Andrew Moloney, which featured ferocious close-range combat. With that performance, Franco demonstrated that he's ready for the top names at 115 lbs.
How about some more? What about unsigned heavyweight Kingsley Ibeh? Sure, he's crude, but he has some power. He notched two wins in the Bubble and was scheduled to fight a third bout against a legit Top Rank prospect before he failed a COVID test. What about the other repeaters on the series, such as Isiah Jones and Donte Stubbs? Both lost their first match in the Bubble, but came back within two weeks to win in their next outing against solid opposition. We saw a lot of good things.
Brad Goodman did the matchmaking for these shows, which featured dozens of fighters appearing on short notice. And far more often than not, the bouts were worthwhile. For fights that featured Top Rank veterans, one could understand why the opponent was selected. And a few Top Rank fighters lost during the series – Greer, Andrew Moloney, David Kaminsky and Andy Vences to name four.
But even in the bouts where Top Rank didn't promote either fighter, you could see the wheels turning, why certain opponents were being matched. Could they be useful as Top Rank opponents later on? Was there a prospect worth signing, or at the very least should be brought back to see more? There was purpose behind the fights, and to Goodman's credit, there was very little slop thrown against the wall. Yes, there were walkovers here and there, but most of the bouts, even with anonymous journeymen or untested young fighters, were competitive or at least held some degree of intrigue. This was no easy feat under such unusual circumstances.
Top Rank has over 100 signed fighters on their website. Less than half of them have fought since boxing's resumption in June. For a number of them, it came down to logistics. International restrictions have made traveling to the U.S. from certain countries very difficult. In addition, for the superstars, more time will be needed to figure out how big fights can get made in this new, fan-less environment. As late as this week, Bob Arum was quoted as saying that he still doesn't know how much money ESPN would be making available for Lomachenko-Lopez.
If you look through that list of Top Rank fighters, you'll see a number of young boxers who didn't appear in the Bubble. For some of these fighters, the phone definitely rang, but no one was there to pick it up. It's clear that some boxers weren’t in fighting shape, or didn't like the prospect of fighting on short notice.
|Oscar Valdez stopped Jayson Velez in the Bubble|
Photo Courtesy of Mikey Williams
There's always an interesting dilemma in boxing between making your own luck and making a stupid mistake. The Bubble fighters picked up the phone from Top Rank. A number of them seized the opportunity, performed well, and breathed fresh life into their respective careers. How about Gabriel Muratalla, Felix Verdejo and Carlos Castro? But I'm also sure there were more than a few who said yes, but were far from their best, whether it was Giovani Santillan, Orlando Gonzalez or Andy Vences. Maybe they shouldn't have picked up the phone? It's always a tough decision to make.
I'm sure that there were some fighters who turned down opportunities during the summer series, potentially leading to ill will with the company. The door swings both ways of course, and if Top Rank has 107 fighters under contract right now (just throwing out a number), it wouldn't be surprising or particularly harmful for the company if soon they went down to, say, 95 signed fighters. It's a tough economy. Those who turned down fights may have had their reasons, but come contract renewal time, those decisions may have significant ramifications, especially for the non-stars and non-champions in Top Rank's stable.
After a couple of rocky weeks (much of which was understandable), ESPN hit its stride in televising the Bubble fights. Streamlining the broadcast to usually five live fights in a three-hour window, the network found an excellent flow and its commentators shined.
I had been critical of ESPN's broadcast in a recent piece and despite the challenges of having all of their broadcasters in different locations for this series, they produced some fine work. The attributes that often had detracted from ESPN's broadcast in the recent past – endlessly hyping future fights, ignoring a lower-level bout to focus on the main event, talking about topics far removed from the action at hand – did not manifest during the Bubble series. Each of their broadcasters gave the fights and the boxers the respect that they deserved, whether it was a main event or a match between two journeymen.
In particular, something clicked for Joe Tessitore. Instead of playing grabass with Andre Ward and Tim Bradley or trying too hard to display his erudition on topics unrelated to boxing, he kept his attention on the fights, and he called them with aplomb. When Tessitore is at his worst, he can give off a vibe that he's a little too cool for school, that lower-level fights are beneath him. But during the Bubble fights he was engaged throughout the series, and was able to highlight his considerable abilities as a boxing broadcaster. He knows the sport intimately and it was great to see him dialed-in.
Furthermore, with Tim Bradley and Andre Ward, ESPN now has the best tandem of analysts among U.S. boxing broadcasters. They make for great television. They're critical when they need to be, but it's not just about cheap shots (although there were a couple of amusing ones during the series). To them, if they see a flaw, they want a fighter to correct that and the audience to understand why it's imperative that the fighter does so. And Bradley has turned out to be pretty damn funny. Whether it's eating a sandwich on air to gently mock Jerry Forrest's late meal before his fight, or sprinkling in a zany analogy or one-liner, he's really found his groove.
It took ESPN a long time to figure out how to best use its assets to make for an entertaining and quality boxing broadcast, but their production team deserves a lot of credit. They have found a formula that works. A little of Mark Kriegel goes a long way, but that little can help place boxers and their struggles in a meaningful context, which raises the stakes for the viewer. In addition, Bernardo Osuna has demonstrated that he's a wonderful jack-of-all-trades for a boxing broadcast. Whether it's reporting, calling play-by-play, interviewing or translating, Osuna knows the sport inside and out and he's a real asset.
For many years I have wanted American boxing broadcasters and promoters to televise more fights on each card. I thought that the British broadcasters, who routinely televised five and six fights a card, did it right. Now, not every boxing consumer wants that much content, but there are many who do, and the upside in providing additional exposure for young prospects and fighters on the rise can be considerable.
It used to be that fighters wouldn't sniff major U.S. broadcasts until they had 15 or so fights (yes, there were some exceptions). Much of this followed the HBO model, and before that the U.S. network paradigm. These broadcasters believed that only the most important fights or fighters needed to be televised. And quite frankly, they were the major game in town. They were the ones paying the big bucks, so they got to make those decisions.
But as the U.S. boxing broadcasting map has changed over the last few years, it's been a pleasure to see Top Rank, PBC, Golden Boy and Matchroom take a new approach. All of them now show nearly their entire cards, even if they are streaming on a company website. Now we don't have to wait 15 fights to see Jared Anderson or Diego Pacheco or Vito Mielnicki. As a result, we can form attachments and emotional connections sooner. We become more invested in them. I hope this trend continues. It's good business and it plants valuable seeds for future success.