Sunday, December 20, 2020

Opinions and Observations: Canelo-Smith

By the second round of his fight against Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Saturday, super middleweight champion Callum Smith was already in serious trouble. Despite having significant height and reach advantages, Smith neglected to use them. He wasn't pumping out a consistent jab and failed to establish a foothold at range. Some early left hooks from Canelo had already made an impression and Smith quickly gave up the center of the ring. As the round closed, Smith inched back slowly towards the ropes in a straight line, the beginning of a pattern that would provide numerous opportunities for Canelo throughout the fight. 

It's understandable for Smith to have wanted more distance to throw his shots, but this action, this gradual retreat, wasn't representative of that strategy. He wasn't moving his legs, creating angles or boxing to hold off the advancing Canelo; no, he essentially lost his composure. Canelo possesses a number of punches that cause damage from distance: his jab, overhand right, and hooks from either hand. And with Smith inching slowly away from Canelo, Callum was never out of harm's way. His linear and gradual retreat invited even more aggression from Canelo.

Canelo (left) shooting a jab
Photo Courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Throughout Canelo's career he has fought and mastered a number of styles in the ring. As he has taken on larger opponents in his most recent fights, he has adopted the role of the patient stalker. But unlike his performance against Sergey Kovalev last year, Canelo on Saturday displayed no conditioning issues and his work rate remained consistent throughout the fight. Although he didn't burn off a lot of energy getting into position to throw, he expertly maneuvered his body to land shots to Smith's head and body. And during the rare instances where Smith used his legs to try to create different angles, Canelo cut off the ring with aplomb. There were few moments of the fight where Smith wasn't facing an imminent threat. 

Canelo possesses a number of crucial attributes for his stalking style to be successful. As already mentioned, his footwork is superb. He's almost always in a position to punch and his balance is exemplary. Rarely is he out of position or off-balance, which could lead to natural countering opportunities for his opponents. In addition, he has made significant defensive improvements over the last few years. He incorporates both head and upper body movement into his attack. He also uses his gloves to parry and block punches. Even more subtle is that he's so competent with his defensive shape that he doesn't have to over-move to avoid shots. He can use his gloves or make a quick head movement to thwart incoming fire while he continues to march forward. 

A final attribute needed to fight in this style is a quality chin. Canelo has shared the ring with some big hitters in his career: from Golovkin to Kovalev to Jacobs to Cotto to Lara to Kirkland. Not once has Canelo been betrayed by his chin from this collection of power punchers. As he has improved as a fighter he has taken fewer of these bombs, but still, some big shots do get through. Callum Smith can punch, with a solid right hand and left hook, but his power wasn't enough to make Canelo recalibrate his attack. 

Of course, Canelo has significant punching power of his own, but what's just as important is his delivery system. He seems to land on every opponent because of his creativity and deception. Canelo repeatedly had success against Smith with an unusual combination from an orthodox fighter: a right hook around the gloves followed by a right uppercut. This combination has a couple of atypical attributes. First, it's uncommon to start combinations with rear hooks, and especially from distance. If you miss a rear-hand hook from range, in theory you can be a sitting duck to be countered (for some trainers, a rear hook is a no-no for this reason). You will see a number of fighters, especially some Mexican fighters, throw a rear hand hook, but usually when they are in close, and it is part of an exchange. (Orlando Salido was another fighter who, like Canelo, was successful in throwing a rear hand hook from range.) 

Second, it's rare to see a fighter switch from a hook to the head to an uppercut with the same hand as part of a combination, let alone with the rear hand. It's an unnatural movement and it requires tremendous coordination, balance, timing and technique. Smith couldn't defend this combination all fight and the results were devastating. 

Canelo also features significant deception with his left hook. He starts the punch a little below his shoulder and an opponent cannot anticipate whether it will go to the head or body. Furthermore, he incorporates so many feints and subtle delay tactics that opponents aren't exactly ready for his power punches even though he always looks like he's ready to throw. 

Canelo's uppercut was a weapon all fight
Photo Courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Callum Smith isn't a bad fighter. He had a memorable knockout of George Groves to win the Super Middleweight World Boxing Super Series and has dispatched a number of capable opponents, such as Rocky Fielding, with relative ease. However, he couldn't adjust to Canelo's multiplicity of talents in the ring. He often resembled a deer in the headlights on Saturday. At no point did he try to rough Canelo up on the inside or run around the ring to change the trajectory of the fight. He didn't have the ability to make adjustments while enduring Canelo's pressure. After a few rounds the bout had an inevitability about it; the only pressing question was whether Callum could make it to the final bell. 

Canelo would wind up winning by a wide unanimous decision. In a few years, perhaps Callum Smith may be just another name on his boxrec ledger, a former champ and a distant memory. But Canelo's performance in this fight deserves to be celebrated. This was one of those outings where he put it all together. It was a truly complete performance.  

Canelo now has a different aura in the ring. It's no longer that opponents are worried about getting fair decisions on the cards. Now it's will they be able to make it to the final bell? Canelo has become a menace in the ring, an intimidator. Golovkin, one of the best pressure fighters of his era, was forced to go on his back foot in their rematch. Jacobs wouldn't let his hands go with consistency. Kovalev, an enormous puncher, refused to trade. Callum Smith seemed completely befuddled. Canelo's recent opponents have done very strange things in the ring; they beat themselves; and they burn up a ton of energy while not having a lot of success. That speaks to Canelo's success in applying physical and psychological pressure. 

We're watching a great fighter hitting his apex. Now peaks can vary: some can be narrow, and some wide, but let's enjoy this moment of Canelo at the summit. Seldom do fighters reach such rarified air. 

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. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I recapped Spence-Garcia. We were impressed with the performances by Billy Joe Saunders and Lyndon Arthur. We previewed this weekend's Joshua-Pulev fight, where one of us likes the upset. Also on the podcast, we talked about Shakur Stevenson and Chris Colbert. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below: 

Also, find us on Spotify: Punch 2 the Face Radio: Episode 202. 

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. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Boxing Betting Show

I joined the Boxing Betting Show with Tom Craze this week to break down Spence-Garcia from a betting perspective, including looking for value plays in the fight. To listen to the podcast, click on the links below: 




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, December 2, 2020

Spence-Garcia Preview: The Elephant

When Errol Spence Jr. (26-0, 21 KOs) was ejected from his Ferrari in Dallas last October, a pall was cast over the boxing industry. One of the best boxers of his era was fighting for his life. We had seen this story before, notably with the great Salvador Sanchez, who had been cut down at his absolute apex in a car crash. In more recent times, Diego Corrales lost his life in a motorcycle accident.

In a video that quickly made the rounds online, Spence's crash was catastrophic. His car instantly transformed into a blazing heap of scrap metal. He was thrown from his vehicle at an enormous rate of speed. Would he survive? 

Although early reports revealed a missing tooth, minor burns and internal bruising, it would have surprised no one if his condition worsened. And even as he recovered physically, if an announcement was made that his days in boxing were finished, all who watched the crash video would have understood.

Spence (left) and Garcia (right)
Photo Courtesy of Ryan Hafey

A little over a year later, Spence, a unified welterweight champion, will enter the ring for the first time since the accident. And in a further surprise, he will be taking on Danny Garcia (36-2, 21 KOs), a former champion and a top fighter at 147 lbs. They will meet on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. 

Any analysis of this fight must start with the elephant in the room: we don't know how Spence will be affected from his traumatic accident. He has spoken of a new lease on life, but does that carry over to boxing? Does he still take shots the same way? Will his body recover in the ring as it has in the past? Does he still possess the desire or willingness to go to dark places to pull out a win, as he did in his last fight against Shawn Porter? 

The confluence of mind, body and soul is individualistic by nature. No one knows how one will respond to trauma. And even if Spence has made a full recovery physically, can he still prosper at the upper echelon of professional boxing, which features a constant reminder of flesh being pounded and pain?  

How Spence-Garcia will manifest is essentially conjecture on top of conjecture. The fight would be intriguing enough without the car crash. Garcia's noted counters would still have an opportunity to land against the best version of Spence, who at times can get a little too comfortable in the pocket. But now, with the events of last year, how Spence takes blows in the ring becomes the ultimate wild card. 

In a vacuum, without consideration of the accident, Spence would have multiple ways of winning the fight. He probably is better than Garcia both on the outside and in close. He's busier than Garcia. He's also more physical in close quarters. We've also seen Spence box masterfully against Mikey Garcia in 2019, where he used his legs and range to keep Mikey at bay over 12 rounds. That type of performance would be difficult for Danny to beat.

Danny Garcia is a fighter who has only two official losses, but examining his career closely, that number could easily be four or five. One of his essential problems is that he never puts 12 solid rounds together against top opposition. He works at his own pace, often to his detriment. He has started fast and faded (against Lamont Peterson and Zab Judah), and slowly but then came on as the fight progressed (vs. Keith Thurman and Lucas Matthysse). In either scenario, his same issue remains: lulls in activity. This leads to fights that are often very close on the scorecards.

He has other problems as well. Having slow feet, he can't chase fighters around the ring; he struggles with quick movement. Garcia also falls into classic counterpuncher traps, where he waits too long to land a shot as his opponent remains busy.   

Despite his limitations, Danny is a technically gifted puncher. He throws every punch in the book and his accuracy and punch placement can be sublime. In addition, he's so relaxed in the ring that he can execute under extreme duress. An opponent's incoming fire rarely rattles him; he sees that as an opportunity to land. His confidence in his chin and his clarity of thought when facing pressure allow him to stay in the pocket. Where other fighters might run, he can find a solution to a pressing problem. 

Furthermore, he can be a creative puncher. In addition to his textbook punches, he also features a fair amount of improvisation in the ring. He can throw a tight left hook, but perhaps his money shot is a long, looping left hook that few fighters throw anymore, and very few opponents can defend successfully. I remember watching him in the early rounds against Zab Judah in 2013, where he landed a stunning variety of right hands, including straight shots, hooks, looping blows and overhand punches. 

For Garcia to win Saturday's fight, at a minimum he's going to have to get Spence on the canvas. If he's not going to put 12 great rounds together, than he'll have to make the ones where he has success really count. Spence's volume will always be a problem and it's not as if Errol is just throwing jabs; he features a variety of eye-catching power shots and combinations. But there will be opportunities for Garcia to land, especially when Spence is coming in and leaving the pocket. 

Garcia should use his blueprint from the Zab Judah fight and attack early. In that bout, Garcia did enough damage in the first eight rounds, that Judah's subsequent comeback in the last third of the bout wasn't enough to matter on the cards. Furthermore, it would behoove Garcia to show a little more urgency than some of his more recent outings. If he can hurt Spence, then he needs to get Errol on the canvas. Saturday's fight for Garcia shouldn't necessarily be about winning 10-9 rounds, but making the most of his moments, leading to knockdowns or a potential stoppage. If he can get Spence on the floor, he won't need to win as many rounds to get the victory. It's unlikely that he will win eight rounds against Spence, but he could win five or six; knockdowns would help considerably.  

It will be fascinating to see how Spence intends to fight Garcia. In most of his bouts, he has been a come-forward aggressor who loves to bang away at the body in close range and throw multi-punch combinations. However, as he has matured, he has featured additional nuances in his game. As previously mentioned, he was masterful in circling against Mikey Garcia last year and limiting Mikey's opportunities. He also spent a fair amount of time as a counterpuncher against Shawn Porter. And although he escaped that fight with a win, it was not a comfortable night's work. He had to sweat that one out on the cards, ultimately winning by split decision. 

The Porter fight should be a warning sign for Spence and his trainer Derrick James. That was the one fight where Spence may have gotten his tactics wrong. Instead of relying on his boxing skills, Spence was content to slug it out with the hard-charging Porter. And Spence had never been hit so much in his career. There was a stubbornness about Errol that night. Despite taking a lot of incoming fire, he was determined to beat Porter at Porter's game. Even though Spence could have used his legs to box and move, or tie up on the inside, he insisted on going mano a mano. That he won was almost incidental. He very well could have been on the short end of that fight, with himself to blame for some poor strategic and tactical decisions. 

It's important for Spence to realize that having success against Danny Garcia in the pocket may be fool's gold. Danny would be happy to eat two to land one at mid-range. Danny won't be there to win the fight via CompuBox or punches thrown; for him it will be based on hard connects. Limiting Danny's offense, either by fighting on the inside or at distance will be vital for Spence. 

Ultimately, Saturday may very well come down to where we started: is it the same Spence in the ring? If so, he should have enough offensive attributes to get the job done. But if there is slippage, either physically or psychologically, then Danny will have a real chance of winning. Spence needs to use his brains over his brawn. A tactical fight will favor him; a firefight will even the playing field. Spence has demonstrated his high Ring IQ in the past, and Saturday's fight would be a wonderful time to let his considerable ring smarts shine. However, if he insists on a dogfight, there are no guarantees, not after what he has endured.

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.