I'm excited to announce that I will be contributing to the Ring City newsletter on a regular basis. My first piece is out today and it looks at nine emerging prospects in the 154-lb. weight class. To subscribe to the newsletter, click here:
Tuesday, February 23, 2021
Monday, February 22, 2021
I joined this week's "The Weekend That Was" podcast with Alden Chodash of the Fight City to recap a great fight weekend, including Berchelt-Valdez, Flores-Velez and Kelly-Avanesyan. We also looked ahead to the Roman Gonzalez-Juan Estrada rematch. To listen to the podcast, click on this link:
Sunday, February 21, 2021
In observing Oscar Valdez's recent outings against Adam Lopez and Jayson Velez, it's safe to say that he was a fighter caught between styles. As a young pro, he had risen as a brawling pugilist with a nasty left hook. But a switch to trainer Eddy Reynoso led to Valdez incorporating additional elements of a purer boxing style into his attack – boxing off his back foot, switching stances, and using his legs more. Until Saturday's fight against junior lightweight titlist Miguel Berchelt, these disparate styles had yet to coalesce. What Reynoso was requiring of Valdez did not necessarily seem natural for the fighter and furthermore, it seemed that Valdez's natural aggression and offensive talents were being marginalized.
Yet on Saturday, it all cohered seamlessly, as if everything the pair had been working on for the last two years had been building to this one, singular performance. Valdez's stunning tenth-round knockout of Berchelt was a product of these years of hard work. And what had seemed like a series of strange career decisions and ring tactics now revealed themselves to be profound calculations by a young fighter taking control of his career and a trainer who has emerged as one of the best strategists in the sport.
|Oscar Valdez (left) lands a left hook|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Valdez's performance on Saturday illustrated a complete mastery of a tough opponent. And for everything great that Valdez did in the fight, I believe that two specific attributes were chiefly responsible for his win: the application of a speed advantage, and sowing confusion.
Although Berchelt held massive physical advantages over Valdez, Reynoso believed that his fighter had superior speed that, if applied correctly, could provide the open window needed for winning the fight. And it's this specific application of Valdez's speed that highlights Reynoso's strategic brilliance and Valdez's overall skills as a fighter. To Reynoso, many of the traditional measures of speed in the ring would not be effective against Berchelt. He didn't emphasize being first during exchanges or want Valdez necessarily running around the ring hoping to tire Berchelt out; how he envisioned Valdez’s speed advantage was far more subtle. He wanted everything to be quick: incisive jabs, sharp lead left hooks, in-and-out movement, turning and spinning off the ropes, and fast changes to the southpaw stance. In the early rounds, everything was one shot and out.
Reynoso believed that it was imperative to minimize Berchelt's comfort in the ring. He didn't want Berchelt to be able to plant his feet or establish a consistent offensive rhythm. A large part of accomplishing this goal was for his fighter to avoid slugging it out in the center of the ring, where Berchelt could unfurl his numerous offensive weapons.
With Reynoso's plan, Valdez could also marginalize Berchelt's physicality. In particular, Valdez avoided two tactics as best as he could: inside fighting and clinches. Throughout the fight, Valdez did almost all of his work from mid-range and distance. Rarely did he try to grapple with Berchelt or assert himself in the trenches. Even when Berchelt was able to corner Valdez along the ropes, Valdez did not initiate a clinch or hold, where he could be worn down by Berchelt's more muscular frame. Instead, he expertly used his hands and body to maneuver himself away from Berchelt, often by spinning Berchelt or manipulating him away from the action. These moves were quick and subtle, but they were highly effective.
The early-round success for Valdez culminated in a knockdown in the fourth. Because he was able to establish a punishing jab from the outset of the fight, Valdez forced Berchelt into making a mistake. In the beginning of the fourth, Valdez cocked his left hand and Berchelt extended his arms expecting to block a jab. However, Valdez followed with a sharp left hook that bypassed Berchelt's outstretched arms and landed with maximum authority. Immediately, Berchelt's legs turned to jelly. Valdez would land another half-dozen pulsating left hooks in the round and eventually would get a knockdown. But all of this started with his hard jabs earlier in the fight and Berchelt being wary of them.
After Valdez failed to get the stoppage in the fourth, he increasingly decided to fight in the southpaw stance, which seemed like a strange choice at the time. After all, he had just had his best moments of the fight in the orthodox stance. By the sixth and seventh rounds, Berchelt was able to work his way back into the fight by landing a number of hard straight right hands to the head and left hooks to the body. It appeared that the tide of the fight was turning. Despite being on wobbly legs and seriously hurt, Berchelt continued to press forward and his confidence grew.
However, the final three rounds of the fight illustrated the mastery of Valdez and Reynoso's plan. It was a clinic on how to confuse a technically limited opponent. Valdez would hit Berchelt with almost every shot imaginable, and from unpredictable angles: lead hooks and jabs in the orthodox stance, overhand rights, right hooks out of the southpaw stance and perhaps most notably, rear hooks out of the southpaw position. This final punch set up the second knockdown of the fight in the ninth round, where Valdez detonated a rear left hook from southpaw then switched to a right uppercut in the orthodox stance; Berchelt had no idea where the shots would be coming from or how to defend them.
In the final moment of the fight, Valdez landed the signature punch of his career, a short, rear left hook out of the southpaw position. The shot was so fierce that Valdez didn't even bother to look at Berchelt once the punch connected. He sprinted around the perimeter of the ring and then jumped into the clutches of his team. He knew that this was the moment of his career.
It should be noted that Berchelt was a sizable favorite coming into the fight. He entered the contest having defended his junior lightweight title six times, which included five stoppages, many of which were brutally impressive. More than a few, myself included, thought that Valdez was nuts for pursuing a Berchelt fight in that he would be severely undersized and outgunned.
However, one needs to understand that there is a certain arrogance that can be a blessing (or a curse) at the top levels of boxing. There is a belief by fighters and trainers that they can overcome any challenge or opponent. Now of course every team thinks that they have a strategy to beat the favorite, but it's not often where one witnesses a game plan executed to such perfection. All of what Reynoso had been building over the last few years – the back-foot boxing, the switching, the limiting of opportunities by opponents – led to Saturday's victory.
And as brilliant as Reynoso was on Saturday, he wasn't the guy in the ring. Valdez was the one who had the capacity to execute such a specific game plan. He had the physical ability and intellectual aptitude to add things to his craft. Not only could he switch stances, but he could initiate fight-ending sequences with them, a rare gift. He had the tools AND fully comprehended when, where and how to use them.
When Valdez left trainer Manny Robles for Reynoso, he had decided to undertake a radical transformation of his fight style, with no guarantee that it would be effective. His move was risky and had a chance of backfiring, but he maintained a belief in his chosen path, even despite spotty initial results. Not only does Valdez deserve credit for envisioning a more well-rounded style for himself in the ring, but he had the perseverance to stick with it even after getting dropped by an undersized Adam Lopez and looking less than menacing against Jayson Velez.
Valdez scored a knockout for the ages on Saturday; that left hook will always be the first clip of his career retrospective highlight reel. But what should not be forgotten about Saturday's performance is the culmination of an unusual journey, the transition from a front-foot slugger to a slick boxer-puncher. Valdez had bet on himself and won, validating one of the biggest decisions of his career. He saw something different in himself and, with Reynoso, a way to get there. And together they slayed a giant.
Thursday, February 11, 2021
In this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast, Brandon and I previewed a busy boxing schedule for the upcoming weekend, including Diaz-Rakhimov, Teixeira-Castano, Smith-Vlasov, Commey-Marinez and more. We tried to make sense of the Josh Warrington situation. We also looked at the rancor between Top Rank and Teofimo Lopez.
To listen to the podcast, click on the links below:
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
I was enrolled in a UCLA screenwriting program many years ago. In the second week of the semester, the class attended a guest lecture from a bigshot in the industry. He said to us: "Would you do screenwriting for free? Is it something you must do? Do you feel compelled to do it? Because, if you don't, you won't be successful in this industry."
And with that, I felt a sudden need to light a few thousand dollars on fire. Because, I didn't have that undying passion for screenwriting. I was using the class as a mechanism to force me to write. In my heart I knew that the bigshot was right. I now understood that screenwriting would never be an avenue I would pursue in earnest.
Yet at the same time, I was starting my nascent blog, Saturday Night Boxing, and for whatever reason, writing about fights and the key figures in the sport kept me up until the wee hours of the morning. And I loved it.
When I began Saturday Night Boxing, I had no expectations for success. I didn't know if anyone would read it or if my perspective would resonate. My first posts would generate no more than dozens of readers. I remember a piece I wrote on Sergio Martinez and Lou DiBella in early 2011, and it had 49 readers; I was over the moon. But pretty quickly, some pieces in the first few years of Saturday Night Boxing gained significant traction.
By 2012 I had already had conversations with some networks about my pieces. By 2013, I had lined up my first interview with a world champ, Tim Bradley. Soon I would be asked to join the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and later the Ring Magazine Ratings Panel to help rank fighters in the sport.
But now would be a good time to take a pause, because I don't want this to sound like just some careerist manifesto. First and foremost, I watch a ton of boxing. It brings me a lot of joy. I have always watched fights out of an undying love for the sport, not because it's a requirement or it's some type of gig. I follow the sport and write about it because, as that screenwriting guru said, I'm compelled to do so. I must.
I've also never stopped trying to learn about the sport. As much as I might know about boxing in 2021, I bet it will only be a fraction of what it will be ten years from now. At least I certainly hope that's the case. In my years of covering the sport, I've realized that there is wisdom to be gained from all over. This could be from a sparring session, a trainer sitting alone at a hotel bar, a fighter interview, a boxing book, a colleague, or shooting the shit on Facebook or Twitter with boxing fans. I can't tell you how many times I've heard profound nuggets from those in the sport (or even fans) that made me gain a better understanding of boxing and/or reconsider a previous conception that I held. The learning never stops.
Over the years of covering the sport, boxing has brought me lots of joy and some unforgettable memories: Rios-Alvarado I in Carson, Broner-Maidana in San Antonio, Brook-Spence in Sheffield. But live fights themselves are only a small part of what the last ten years have meant to me. I've treasured the conversations I've had with boxing people at fight hotels, in the bowels of an arena, or in late-night phone calls. Of course, not every interaction has been rainbows and waterfalls. I'm an opinion writer and have taken some shots at those in the sport from time to time. Not everyone has always been pleased with me, nor should they be. But honestly, 95% of the people I've met and or interacted with in boxing have been great, even when there's disagreement.
If we're being honest here, and let's be honest, I certainly have envisioned potential careers for myself in the sport. A number of years ago, I had some serious conversations with a network about ways to improve its boxing programming. The talks were productive and I thought at one point it might lead to something, but the timing wasn't right for them, and I was probably a little too green back then.
And over the years I've been approached by numerous websites and other ventures about writing for them (some names you've probably heard of). I've turned down those opportunities because I didn't like the fit, but I always have listened. I'm excited that I'll have an announcement about a new writing gig in the next couple of weeks. I'll be continuing with Saturday Night Boxing and contributing to this new outlet as well. I really like a number of the guys behind this venture and I think that they have an interesting vision.
One of my personal boxing highlights in the last decade has been broadcasting a couple of fight cards in Philadelphia. I'd like to thank Michelle Rosado for that opportunity. I thought the shows went pretty well and I'd be very interested in doing more of that should the opportunity arise.
I plan to continue to be involved in boxing. Maybe that will be in writing. Perhaps that will be in a network or broadcast capacity. But I know that my passion for the sport will keep me tuned in every weekend.
In wrapping up I could probably thank dozens and dozens of people for their help or guidance, or humor. Many know who they are; they have become trusted confidants, advisers or friends. Others may not fully know their influence on me or how much I value their insight, but they are very important to me.
I would like to thank my podcast co-host, Brandon Stubbs, for providing me with a great platform and allowing me to do the show on a consistently irregular basis. We make a great team and we've had a ton of fun over the years. I can't wait for more to come.
I'd also like to thank my readers. Your feedback has been vital over the years and I've loved the interaction. As much as I am compelled to write about boxing, I feel compelled to share my work. I love the lively debates, the jokes, the different perspectives and the attempts at arriving at some greater understanding of the sport.
Boxing's a wonderful sport, of course. It's also awful (but we already knew that). If it's become a niche sport over the years, so be it. It's a niche I want to be in. I've enjoyed this journey over the past decade. I've been happy to share it with you. And I hope for great things for the sport in the coming years. Boxing, as always, faces myriad challenges, but those who are reading this all know one thing: when boxing's at its best, there's no better sport in the world. I hope to continue to grow in boxing over the next decade, and I'd like to play a role in helping the sport thrive; I have lots of ideas.