The left uppercut that Gervonta "Tank" Davis detonated on Leo Santa Cruz in the sixth round on Saturday will forever be a part of his career highlight reel. The concluding sequence was almost a perfect approximation of the fight. Santa Cruz landed two hard right hands, and then Davis evaded another right hand, slipped to the outside, and uncorked a wicked shot that originated from almost below his knee cap. Santa Cruz never saw the punch coming and upon impact his body limply slumped underneath the ropes. The referee wasted no time in administering the count; that was all she wrote.
Although some corners of the boxing world had objected to the matchup between Davis and Santa Cruz, I was not among the group of dissenters. To me it was an intriguing matchup. If you were to devise a fighter that could give Davis some real problems, Santa Cruz would be close to it. Santa Cruz usually featured a lot of volume, whereas Davis could be outworked. In addition, Santa Cruz had decent hand speed, he could throw off the front or back foot, he certainly had length and reach, and perhaps, most importantly, he wouldn't be intimidated by his power-punching opponent.
|Davis lands an uppercut on Santa Cruz|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin/Showtime
Ultimately, the fight was damn intriguing in the ring. Santa Cruz had a lively start, firing power punches and throwing the type of volume that Davis rarely had seen. Davis was happy to trade heavy artillery, but he was getting hit frequently and from unusual angles. It took Davis until the fifth round to get control of the fight. By that time, Davis had landed his fair share of right hooks and left uppercuts to the body, which forced Santa Cruz to keep his hands much closer to home.
But the sixth and final round was, for me, one of the most enjoyable frames I've seen all year. Both fighters had the action where they wanted. Instead of trying to march forward behind power punches, Santa Cruz retreated to the ropes and had a lot of success pasting Davis with slinging right hands, straight right hands and left hooks. It was here where Santa Cruz really demonstrated his class and creativity. His angles and improvisation were new looks for Davis and Santa Cruz may have landed more in the sixth round than any opponent has against Tank.
Even though Santa Cruz was finding a lot of success with his back against the ropes, this position was catnip for Davis, who loves a stationary target. Despite being strafed with incoming fire, Davis, an excellent infighter, kept his poise and ripped shots to the body during the round. And in fact, both fighters took turns stealing momentum from the other throughout the round. In the final moment, Davis was able to absorb Santa Cruz's shots, make a defensive adjustment and fire off a match-winner in a blink of an eye. It was an elite boxing move and a prodigious thunderbolt that echoed around the boxing world.
It wasn't a 100% clean performance from Davis. He got hit a lot. He was outworked at points. But he was able to best his most difficult opponent to date with a striking display of skill and power. He may be one of the hardest punchers in the sport on a pound-for-pound basis, but perhaps we knew that going into Saturday's bout. What we learned from this fight was that he didn't wilt when facing some resistance. He was able to make instinctive adjustments and he maintained his self-belief even when everything wasn't going his way. Santa Cruz was an important opponent for Davis' development, and if Tank can keep himself in shape and in the gym, he's going to have some huge opportunities in the sport over the next few years. In my opinion, Saturday's bout was his final fight of the first phase of his career. Now there will be real expectations. If things break right, Davis may soon be hobnobbing with the one-percenters in Bermuda or St. Tropez.
Jason Moloney is a perfectly capable bantamweight contender. He features skills on the inside and outside. He has a significant punch arsenal. His legs are pretty good. Although not a ferocious puncher, he has enough pop and guile to keep opponents honest. However, "capable" was just not good enough against one of the best fighters in the sport on Saturday. Naoya "The Monster" Inoue, the Japanese dynamo, feasts on the merely capable.
When Moloney didn't throw his best jab, Inoue would pepper him with lightning-quick and powerful right hands. In the moments where Moloney didn't return his hands fast enough to a responsible defensive position, he would be punished by power shots. When Moloney leaned in to initiate his offense, Inoue met him with uppercuts and check hooks.
|Inoue (right) scoring with an uppercut|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
And it wasn't just punishing counter shots from Inoue. He exploited gaps in Moloney's glove positioning and consistently landed during combinations, especially second and third shots. He also varied his attack to the body and head expertly, and with a full array of punches. By the fourth round, Moloney, traditionally a front foot fighter, was in retreat. And it soon became a matter of "when" not "if" for Inoue.
The first knockdown of the fight in the sixth, from a beautiful check left hook, was a warning sign for Moloney. He never saw the shot coming. Although Moloney made it to his feet without an issue, the brutality of Inoue's offense was clearly having an effect. In the seventh round, a perfect counter right hand over an ineffectual jab ended the fight. Moloney looked like he was going to be able to beat the count, but the pain was too much to bear; he was counted out, giving Inoue his 20th win of his career, 17 by stoppage.
Inoue is as complete of an offensive fighter as there is in the sport today. All of his power punches are knockout weapons. His jab can be piercing. He delights in body punches as much as head shots. He doesn't force his work and he never wastes punches. Everything is purposeful.
Last year Inoue was tested for perhaps the only real time in his career when he faced former champion Nonito Donaire. Unlike Moloney, who was just good, or even very good, Donaire featured something great: his left hook, one of the best punches in boxing over the past 15 years. He landed that punch in the second round and it destroyed Inoue's right eye socket. Even still, Inoue was able to drop Donaire later in the fight, and had him hurt on several occasions. It's going to take something great, like Donaire's left hook, to beat Inoue. The bantamweight division is currently filled with impressive talents. But there has to be something sublime to get the better of Inoue: a perfect shot or a magnificent counter. Absent a moment of brilliance, I expect Inoue to mow through this, his third division, like he did the other two. He's a truly exceptional fighter.
Oleksandr Usyk electrified boxing fans with his run through the cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series and his subsequent knockout of Tony Bellew. With nothing left to prove at cruiserweight, he took the expected step of moving to heavyweight. Due to a last-minute opponent switch for his first fight at the new weight last year, some injuries, and a pandemic-forced delay, Usyk finally faced his first significant test in the division on Saturday, against gatekeeper Dereck Chisora.
Chisora, a mercurial fighter who has taken inconsistent approaches to training throughout his career, came into this match in excellent shape and determined to cause damage. Stalking Usyk during the first quarter of the match, he landed his fair share of overhand rights and hooks to the body. During the first round especially, Usyk looked uncomfortable with the physicality of the bout, and he took some time to find his way into the fight. Eventually, his sublime angles, footwork and punch placement started to have their desired effect. By the ninth round, Chisora looked like he might be ready to go.
|Usyk gets through with a straight left|
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
But then a strange thing occurred. Chisora caught a second wind and continued his march forward as if the previous five or six rounds had never happened. Although he never had Usyk seriously hurt, he certainly made him leave the pocket. Usyk spent the majority of the championship rounds on his bike. Yes, he might have won some of them, but it was far from a commanding performance.
The final scores were all in Usyk's favor, 115-113 (x2) and 117-112, which fairly reflected the fight action. In the post-fight interview Usyk graded himself a three out of ten on his performance and admitted that he fought much of the contest in Chisora's preferred style.
Ultimately, Usyk's performance didn't answer many questions about his future success in the division. He still has great feet, a sturdy chin and quick hands. But it doesn't appear that his punching power will be an asset in the new weight class. He remains a fighter who is far more talented offensively than defensively. His myriad angles are used primarily to set up punches and not evade shots. He's been hit consistently by Bellew and Chisora, fighters not necessarily known for their hand speed or offensive creativity.
Nevertheless, it's way too early to issue a prognosis for Usyk in the heavyweight division. There are very few southpaw movers in the weight class and he won't be an easy fighter to prepare for (I imagine that Otto Wallin could get some excellent money for sparring work in the coming years in that he's the only other half-decent southpaw mover in the division). If Usyk's chin holds up and he can remain injury-free, he could present several matchup difficulties for top heavyweights. However, no one will be shaking in their boots from Saturday's display. The aura that he had in the cruiserweight division has yet to manifest at the heavier weight. Whatever wins he gets in the new division will need to be hard-earned in the ring; there is nothing inevitable about his future success among the tall giants in the sport.
The fickle boxing public can be odd when it comes to choosing which fighters to embrace. On paper, an all-action Mexican puncher such as Jaime Munguia would seemingly engender rapt affection from boxing fans. Munguia's new trainer, Erik Morales, was certainly more skilled than Munguia, but fought in a similar style, and he was revered by the boxing fans who didn't outright loathe him (many boxing fans were either Team Erik Morales or Team Marco Antonio Barrera – never both). But either way, Morales inspired passion. With Munguia it's mostly apathy or disdain.
After winning a title at junior middleweight in an impressive performance against Sadam Ali in 2018, Munguia made five title defenses. Although his opposition wasn't what anyone would call A-level, he only had one fight that was relatively close, which was against Dennis Hogan (and Hogan certainly had a case for winning that one). Although Munguia was still a young champ, he seemed to have plateaued. His defense could be wretched. And there was an untidiness about his work on occasion. When knockouts didn't come easily, he could seem pedestrian, lacking creativity to open up his opponents.
|Jaime Munguia at Thursday's weigh-in|
Photo courtesy of Tom Hogan/Hogan Photos
However, with Munguia, too much focus has been made on what he isn't rather than what he is. Now at middleweight, and still only 24 years old, he destroyed the lip of Tureano Johnson with a picture perfect uppercut in the sixth round on Friday. The punch landed with such thudding ferocity that a piece of Johnson's lip travelled several feet away. The fight was stopped after the round, with the officials correctly deeming that Johnson was physically unable to continue with that ghastly gash.
Johnson has been a capable gatekeeper at middleweight for almost a decade and he gave Munguia solid work throughout the fight. Featuring a ferocious assault, Johnson forced Munguia onto his back foot, which was certainly not his preferred style. But by the second round Munguia was delivering those vicious uppercuts right between the gloves like a seasoned pro. And he stuck with it. For all that has been made about what Munguia can't do in the ring, he demonstrated with those uppercuts that he is a natural fighter. He didn't need to be told to throw that shot. He didn't look awkward when firing; they seemed like second-nature to him.
Munguia remains a TV-friendly action fighter. Perhaps he has been a victim of the expectations that accompanied his title belt earlier in his career. Maybe he will never win a belt in a second division. But he can punch, he has several offensive weapons and he doesn't shy away from combat. That fighter is fine by me.
I also wouldn't write off Munguia's ability to perform in the upper reaches of the middleweight division. He will struggle with movement and classy operators, but he knows that at a certain point a fighter will have to try to score points on him to win. He will have opportunities to assert his offense even against the best fighters at 160. And he has enough punching power, self-belief and natural ability to hold his own. He's the definition of a "live dog" against top middleweights. Underrate him at your own risk.
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