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!