Sunday, April 25, 2021

Catching My Eye: Navarrete, Adorno-Ortiz, Cash, Cruz, Martin

I'm trying out a new column idea. There are weeks in boxing such as this past one where there may not have been a huge fight to write about, but I found a number of things compelling in the ring. Basically, here's what caught my eye: 

Let's see how it goes. 

Everyone likes compact punches, tight punches, straight punches. The boxing truism that the punch that gets there first is most often the best one certainly applies far more often than not. However, every now and then a Mayorga, a Maidana or a Navarrete comes along to remind us that boxing rules of thumb are mutable and shouldn't be set in stone. In fact, these fighters have prospered because they have used their unorthodoxy, unpredictability and awkwardness to beat more traditionally "skilled" fighters. They don't have fast hands or textbook technique. And they laugh at what many would consider "no-no's" in the sport.

On Saturday, Emanuel Navarrete threw a lead left uppercut off the wrong foot, and across his body, as his opponent, Christopher Diaz, was moving away from him. Not only did the punch land, but it led to a hard knockdown. The skill, agility, athleticism and creativity needed to land that punch is incredible, but you won't often hear Navarrete and "skills" used in the same sentence.

Navarrete celebrating his win
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Fighters such as Navarrete aren't often appreciated by boxing purists because they do so many things that are "wrong" in the ring. 99% of the top fighters in the sport wouldn't even dream of throwing that punch, because it leaves them opened to be countered, it has such a high degree of difficulty, and it could lead to being out of position during the next moment in the fight. I can envision many trainers in the gym disciplining their fighters for even attempting to throw something so reckless and unconventional. 

Navarrete throws a lot of his punches with a loop or a hitch. He can mix in jabs and straight rights to the head and body, but his left hook can be wide and he often will start his left uppercut from his shoestrings. In addition, his footwork is untraditional and he has his own unique rhythm in the ring. His opponents aren't sure where the punches will be coming from and from what angle they will land. It gives him a huge advantage against fighters with more traditional boxing backgrounds. They don't see fighters as unconventional as Navarrete in their boxing development and few sparring partners can replicate what he can do in the ring. 

He has now faced two fighters as a featherweight. He won a vacant title against Ruben Villa, a gifted mover with terrific feet, solid defense and a strong amateur background. On Saturday, he defeated Diaz, more of a traditional pocket fighter, and beat him at every range – in close, at middle distance and on the outside. I won't say that Villa and Diaz are elite fighters, but they are certainly capable practitioners at the world-level. 

It's going to take a special fighter to beat Navarrete. In the meantime, expect more thrilling displays of unconventional power punching. He's appointment television. 


It's unusual to see a pair of 14-0 prospects matched on an undercard with little on the line. There are a number of reasons why these fights don't often happen: promotional, managerial or the fighters themselves. Thus, Joseph Adorno and Jamaine Ortiz (and their respective teams) deserve credit for facing each other in an eight-rounder when they didn't need to. (There also was a similar fight of undefeated prospects last week that I'll touch on in a little bit. What a week!)

Adorno and Ortiz slugged their way to a draw in a fantastic bout where both lightweights flashed moments of sublime skill, but, as prospects, demonstrated areas where they need to make improvements. 

Adorno (right) throws a right hand
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

In the rounds where he wasn't knocked down, Ortiz, out of New England, impressed with high work rates, fluid combinations and relentlessness. He applied effective pressure most of the fight. But he was also dropped twice, in the second and the seventh, both from mistakes of over-aggressiveness and perhaps being too greedy in the ring. In the second round, he threw a ten-punch combination (yes, you read that correctly), but then was dropped by a cuffing left hook. There's a good reason why fighters don't explode with punch sequences which are that long. It leaves a lot of openings for the opponent. Adorno placed his shot perfectly and despite all the good work that Ortiz did in the round, he lost it 10-8. 

During the seventh round, Ortiz was chasing Adorno around the ring. In a moment where he thought that he had Adorno trapped along the ropes, Adorno picked him off with a hard left uppercut. The shot short-circuited Ortiz's senses and the next thing he knew he was trying to untangle his body from the second and third rope. Adorno was able to land the shot because Ortiz had lost his defensive shape when he went on attack. At the moment where Adorno threw the uppercut, Ortiz was perfectly square, leaving a huge target area for his opponent. 

It's clear that Adorno, the higher-profile fighter heading into the bout (although the underdog from the bookies), was outworked through large stretches of the match. And he's going to have to learn to deal with volume punchers in a better fashion. 

However, what ESPN's broadcasters missed during their shaming of his effort was that he had made a subtle adjustment. Whereas in the early rounds he tried to hold his ground and counter, by the end of the fight he was using his legs to pot-shot and pick off Ortiz from the outside. It worked in the seventh, although not in the eighth, but that adjustment was enough to salvage the draw on the cards. 

Adorno-Ortiz is a fight where literally, of course, no one lost, but figuratively that's the case as well. Both fighters displayed a high skill-level and got some good work done. This was an instance where both boxers took a risk and it paid off. They were in a real fight, a great one, and now it's time to get back to work. 


Felix Cash appeared on my radar last summer when he dismantled former world title challenger Jason Welborn. Now it's true that Welborn had been at his best at 154 lbs. and not at 160. And yes, he was close to the end of the line last year. But it was the manner in which Cash won that really caught my eye. Cash displayed a spiteful right hand, a solid defensive shape, excellent accuracy and a killer instinct. I was intrigued. 

On Saturday, Cash faced undefeated Denzel Bentley in a British and Commonwealth title fight. In the first round Cash was able to exploit Bentley's poor glove positioning and he connected with a menacing right hand. But it was the third round where Cash fully displayed his acumen and ferocity. He landed a sequence of five devastating right hands that led to Bentley slumping along the ropes, defenseless; referee Victor Loughlin rushed in to halt the fight (which was a perfect stoppage). 

Felix Cash (left) with the left uppercut
Photo courtesy of Queensberry Promotions

Cash had a solid amateur background and in this case his pedigree played a large role in the victory. He quickly noticed that Bentley's glove positioning would allow for openings. He carefully picked shots and when he connected he knew exactly what he needed to do for the finish. 

Trained by Tony Sims (one of England's best), Cash was surgical in his offensive performance. He didn't waste shots and he was clear-eyed when the fight turned. So often young fighters don't realize when they have their opponent hurt, and frequently when they do, they don't know how to finish. But Cash showed a veteran's poise and a young man's fearlessness as he went for the stoppage. It was a fantastic display. 


In the main even of Thursday's Ring City broadcast, Erika Cruz defeated longtime featherweight titlist Jelena Mrdjenovich. The fight was stopped in the seventh round due to cuts and went to the scorecards, where Cruz won by a shutout. 

I'm certainly not an expert on women's boxing, but I've followed it more closely over the last few years. So please take my following comments with a grain of salt. 

In my opinion there has been a turnover in women's boxing, with fighters such as Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano emerging as among the very best. The difference with these particular women as I see it is that they can punch spitefully. They turn over their shots well. They have much better technique than many of their predecessors did. 

Erika Cruz didn't do anything special on Thursday. It was one right hook/straight left combo after another, and not much more. But both of those punches landed with thudding power and Mrdjenovich didn't have anything in her arsenal to discourage Cruz. 

In my opinion, many recent female boxing champs, the ones who seem to be losing in rapid fashion these days, got to the top of the sport on punch volume, agility and athleticism. Count me in the camp that is far more enthused to see this current crop of women, the ones who can really punch. In my opinion the performance level of women's boxing is rapidly improving as better opportunities have become available. I enjoy watching excellence and I think that women's boxing is displaying much more of it over the last few years. It's a trend that I hope continues to accelerate. 


Every now and then a fighter emerges from obscurity, almost fully formed, and I ask myself, where has this guy been hiding. I had such a moment on Tuesday as I watched Frank Martin destroy fellow unbeaten lightweight Jerry Perez in the seventh round.

Martin, 13-0, 10 KOs, a southpaw out of Indianapolis, is part of Derrick James' stable, which also includes Errol Spence and Jermell Charlo. Similar to those two champions, Martin throws menacing power shots. But what is different about Martin is that he can really move and has lightning-fast hand speed. 

When watching Martin on Tuesday I immediately thought of Gary Russell Jr. He moves so fluidly in and out of the pocket. He can evade shots laterally, he can duck under them, and he can counter at will. The ring is his friend and he uses it to dictate the terms of the action. 

His final combination was a beautiful display of technique and creativity. He threw a perfect double jab that forced Perez back and instead of following up with the straight left hand, he unfurled a dazzling rear left hook, a punch I don't believe he had thrown yet in the fight. Perez surely wasn't expecting it and had no defense for it. And to bring it back to the beginning of this column, sometimes, as Navarrete has shown, a looping punch can be devastating; the opponent doesn't see it coming. With that final rear hook, Martin had a highlight reel knockout. 

Martin is already 26, which isn't young for a prospect. Fortunately for him, he already looks close to the world level. Yes, perhaps he needs to learn to move a little less and to hold his position more, but he may emerge as a real threat to the best at 135. Frank Martin, we're so glad that you've arrived!  

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, April 15, 2021

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Radio, Brandon and I recapped a busy boxing weekend, including Jaron Ennis, Smith-Vlasov, Stanionis, Ancajas, Top Rank's heavyweight prospects, and Benn. We also previewed Andrade-Williams, Harrison-Perrella and Prograis-Redkach. Also, we talked about Triller's entrance into boxing and highlighted some big fights coming up for the spring. To listen to the show, click on the links below:

Apple podcast link:

Spotify link:

I heart radio link:

Stitcher link:

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.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Smith, Ennis, Stanionis, Ancajas

When Joe Smith Jr. defeated Eleider Alvarez last year, the quality of his performance demonstrated a metamorphosis in his career. No longer just a crude banger, Smith outboxed an excellent boxer. He worked off the jab and used angles and purposeful footwork to set up shots. Initially offering little more than heavy hands and desire early in his career, now he had finally become a well-schooled fighter.  

On Saturday, Smith had the opportunity to win a vacant light heavyweight belt against Maxim Vlasov, and none of his recent refinements made the trip to Tulsa. From the first moment of the fight, he was winging wild power shots and often missing badly, looking like a guy having a bar fight at two in the morning. His jab was non-existent. He recklessly squared up to throw punches, which created easy target practice for Vlasov. In addition, Smith's feet didn't seem under him. He was having balance issues during large portions of the fight.  

Smith (left) tries to defend a Vlasov right hand
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams

Ultimately, Smith's poor form can be attributed to two factors: He thought he would knock out Vlasov with ease, or he didn't train properly (of course these two things could be related). Vlasov recently had COVID and perhaps there was a belief that he would be less than 100% for the fight. In addition, Smith just got married and naturally that change can lead to a break from tried-and-true habits. But perhaps Smith was believing his headlines a little too much after knocking out Alvarez.   

Vlasov started the fight completely prepared for his opponent. He was in-and-out, side-to-side, never in one place for too long. But he wasn't running; he was always near Smith, so he could land from unpredictable angles and counter when Smith missed. Vlasov didn't try to load up with shots. He mostly featured "touch" right hands, but he did mix in some more punishing uppercuts and venomous crosses as the fight continued. And he was having so much success early in the fight that he was even backing up Smith, a successful example of bullying the bully. 

Until the final third of the fight, Smith often looked befuddled in the ring. But it must be said that there were a number of rounds where Smith was getting comprehensively outboxed and then he would land a straight right to the head or a body shot that would hurt Vlasov so significantly that Maxim would stop throwing punches. Vlasov had a poor poker face during those moments; everyone watching knew how badly affected he was. These rounds made for some interesting scoring decisions in that Vlasov was very much fighting his fight, but Smith would land big punches – a case of ring generalship vs. clean, effective punching.  

Smith closed the fight well. Whereas his big shots connected sporadically throughout the first half of the fight, by the end the heavy artillery was landing far more frequently. Vlasov was significantly hurt in the 11th round, but a rabbit punch allowed him to take a lengthy breather. Smith also turned on the jets in the 12th and he demonstrated that his determination, heart and right hand were still present, even if his considerable boxing skills were not.  

Ultimately Smith won by a majority decision: 115-112, 115-113 and 114-114. I scored it 115-113 for Vlasov, but I understood that Smith had a case for winning a close decision. It certainly wasn't Smith's cleanest performance. He won't want to watch the replay often. Still, it's always a nice story when a club fighter makes it to the world level and wins a title. 

Vlasov probably deserved better than what he received on the judges’ scorecards. He showed what upper body movement, feints, good feet and angles can do to a knockout artist that loads up on big shots. Vlasov was clever, tricky and determined. Ultimately the judges liked Smith's power a little bit better, but Vlasov performed ably.  

Smith could next face Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight. Although Beterbiev is among the hardest hitters in boxing, he presents none of the stylistic dilemmas that Vlasov did. Beterbiev-Smith would be a battle of whose chin holds up better. There's a risk that Smith could get knocked out there, but he won't have to deal with clever and cagey. Maybe he'll prefer that.  


Jaron "Boots" Ennis has not been a secret. He hails from Philadelphia, a city that has a seen a few things over the decades when it comes to its beloved boxing, and which features a fanbase that is not overly impressed with what's hot and new. Yet despite the cynicism of Philly fans, Ennis has been able to shatter that hard-heartedness. During his development fights, he created what seemed like universal support and affection among Philly's boxing enthusiasts. One can often hear Philly boxing fans (or even those in the city who ply their trade in the sport) rip this young fighter or that prospect, but when I've seen Ennis fight in Philly, I've never heard a negative word about him from anyone, which I'm sure qualifies as some sort of record. 

And despite not facing tough competition throughout his development fights, Ennis at 23 was already headlining a Showtime championship boxing card on Saturday. It didn't matter that there wasn't a championship on the line for his fight against welterweight contender Sergey Lipinets. It wasn't a case of Showtime boxing head Stephen Espinoza being too hasty. Similar to those Philly fight fans, the boxing execs trusted their eyes and had become believers. 

Jaron "Boots" Ennis (left) shoots a left hand
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

The attributes that have made many boxing fans fall in love with Ennis were all in fine form on Saturday: the massive punch variety, the pinpoint accuracy, the freak athleticism, the seamless switching from southpaw to orthodox. But what really surprised me was Ennis' punching power. Yes, his final right hook/left uppercut combo in the sixth round will be replayed endlessly, but Ennis pasted Lipinets throughout the fight with hard stuff from all angles and multiple stances. It wasn't just that he landed with thudding blows, but that they had a real effect on a tough, durable fighter who had taken his fair share of heavy punches throughout his career.  

While all of Ennis' fancy stuff is important and vital in his overall package as a fighter, let's not forget that he has 25 knockouts in 27 fights. He's not one of these cuties with great skills who needs to fight in that style because of a lack of power. He can box brilliantly AND hurt an opponent, stop him, and end it quickly. 

Lipinets turned out to be the perfect opponent for Ennis. He was physical, did some grappling on the inside, dug to the body when he could, had nasty intent on his shots and took some big punches. Ultimately, Lipinets was outgunned, but he represented Ennis' first real test as a pro, a test in which he passed with flying colors.   

But if we're nitpicking, and let's nitpick for a second, Ennis does need to tighten up things defensively. Perhaps he has developed some bad habits against poor opposition. There were too many times where Lipinets was able to land a free shot on Ennis (usually a chopping right hand) to an area where there wasn't a glove anywhere nearby. Maybe Ennis thought that he was out of range, that his reflexes would allow him to avoid the shot, or that he had the chin to take it. Whatever the reason may be, it's not a good practice to give capable, hard-hitting welterweights free shots.  

I'm sure Ennis knows that he kicked some serious butt on Saturday, but what will he do when he sees "95" on his exam paper instead of "100"? Will he be satisfied with the result, or will he do what it takes to ace the next one? That answer will help determine his ultimate ceiling in the sport.  


Quietly, Lithuanian welterweight Eimantas Stanionis has plied his trade on smaller cards, beating solid pros such as Justin DeLoach and Levan Ghvamichava. In his 13th professional fight on Saturday he faced former junior welterweight title challenger Thomas Dulorme, a 30-bout veteran who had recently given strong work to Jamal James, Jessie Vargas and Yordenis Ugas in the welterweight division.  

And this was not a faded version of Dulorme that appeared on Saturday. Working with noted trainer Ismael Salas, Dulorme was well prepared for what Stanionis had to offer. Noticing a high guard, Dulorme went to Stanionis' body with lead power shots. Salas realized that Stanionis almost always worked off the jab, so he had his fighter move toward Stanionis' power hand, often a no-no, but here it was excellent advice. In addition, Dulorme was instructed not to stand in front of Stanionis and limit prolonged exchanges. Ultimately, Dulorme and Salas had the right game plan; it just didn't matter.  

Over the course of 12 grueling rounds, Stanionis was better able to assert himself in the ring. When Dulorme darted out of the pocket, Stanionis used excellent footwork to trap Dulorme and start another offensive attack. Although Dulorme constantly moved to Stanionis' right, it was Stanionis' jab that consistently landed throughout the fight. And even though Dulorme would have success with quick lead punches, Stanionis' counters were crisp, hard and effective.  

Stanionis would win via unanimous decision and while Dulorme asked many questions, Stanionis had enough answers. Although there are more hyped young welterweights in the sport than Stanionis (Ennis and Vergil Ortiz, for example), his performance on Saturday demonstrated that he too has world-class skills.  

Some of the issues that Dulorme and Salas exposed are areas that Stanionis must continue to improve upon. He can be predictable with his offensive approach and he will need to mix in more lead right hands and lead left hooks. And it's true that his defensive guard can be a little too high. 

Stanionis landed many of his best shots throughout the fight, but he wasn't able to knock out or even seriously hurt Dulorme, who has been chinny throughout his career. Although Stanionis has an almost 70% knockout ratio, he doesn't seem to be a one-punch KO guy; he grinds down opponents over time with pressure and incisive punching.  

A smart fighter with a number of solid tools, Stanionis is going to be a tough night at the office for any opponent. However, it's an open question as to whether he has anything that could be considered sublime. The welterweight division historically has featured many of the top fighters in the sport and the present with Crawford, Spence and Pacquiao is a further continuation of this trend. Being very good often isn't good enough, not at 147. We shall see.  


Jerwin Ancajas is not a beloved fighter. After impressing in his early title defenses, he did two things that led to antipathy in many corners of the boxing world: he turned down big fights and his performance level started to drop. Unfortunately for Ancajas, he finds himself in the junior bantamweight division, where titleholders like Juan Estrada and Kazuto Ioka have recently faced much bigger challenges, and former champions Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai are constantly hunting big game. They all want to prove themselves against the best, and I'm not sure that Ancajas has felt similarly. 

Ancajas, from the Philippines, and a protege of Manny Pacquiao, recently aligned with the PBC and kicked off Saturday's Showtime broadcast against unheralded but capable Jonathan Rodriguez of Mexico. And they went to war.

Ancajas (left) connecting with a straight left hand
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

Ancajas won via a unanimous decision and the fight was a fantastic watch, with brutal back-and-forth action. Ancajas' offense was eye-catching. He dug to the body mercilessly with right hooks. He displayed a ferocious and varied offensive attack. 

But his faults were still there to see. Noticing that Ancajas leaned over his front foot, Rodriguez pasted him with right uppercuts. Seeing that Ancajas' glove positioning was a mess, he landed consistently with straight and looping right hands. 

Furthermore, after knocking down Rodriguez during an impressive eighth round assault, Ancajas was unable to get the stoppage despite Rodriguez looking like he was ready to go at multiple points. And despite being physically depleted, Rodriguez was actually the fighter who seemed to close better in the championship rounds.  

Saturday's version of Ancajas was a lot of fun, and fun is always welcome in boxing. But this is not a division to fool around in. There are real threats at 115 lbs., Hall of Famers at or still close to their peak, and menacing contenders. If Ancajas can't perfect his defensive shortcomings, or figure out how to stop a wounded fighter, his title reign will wind up being remembered for much more quantity than quality. He's now at nine title defenses and counting, a formidable number for sure, but the names are nowhere near as impressive as that number. And we probably know why that has been the case.  

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, April 8, 2021

Inside Boxing Live

I joined Inside Boxing Live with Dan Canobbio this week to talk about Ennis-Lipinets, what's next for Jamel Herring and preview the big fights coming up in the spring and summer. To watch and/or listen to the show, click on the links below: 

YouTube link:

iTunes link:

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.

Ring City Newsletter

In the latest edition of the Ring City Newsletter, I examined the American heavyweight prospect scene. I took at look at eight undefeated American prospects and assessed their chances of making it to the world level. To sign up-for the newsletter, click here.

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.