Monday, May 31, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Haney-Linares

Saturday's lightweight title fight between Devin Haney and Jorge Linares was filled with unexpected surprises. Deviating from standard operating procedure, Haney immediately went on the offensive. Haney had often started fights with a note of caution, working behind his jab and gradually incorporating other punches in his arsenal. But here, Haney planted his flag in the center of the ring and threw his best power punches. In another unexpected twist, Linares, one of the best combination punchers in the sport, played the role of counterpuncher, looking to land single counter left hooks. 

In order to understand why Saturday's fight started in this fashion, one needs to remember recent history. Haney had faced considerable criticism after his last bout against Yuriorkis Gamboa, where he turned in a dominant but passionless performance. Many felt that Haney could have been more offensively minded, that he was too content to go the distance against an opponent well past his prime. On Saturday, Haney was out to prove a point, that he could be exciting and go right after an opponent. 

Haney (right) connects with a body shot
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

In that Gamboa fight, Yuriorkis didn't have much success, but when he did it was with his counter left hook; Haney wasn't seeing that punch well. Moments before Haney-Linares started on Saturday, the DAZN broadcast showed live footage of Haney's dressing room. Haney and his team were warming up and Ben Davison, who was assisting in Haney's corner, was throwing a series of left hooks for which Haney was moving his right up arm to block each shot. To me, that provided a fascinating insight into Haney's camp. Clearly, they had studied their fighter in the Gamboa match and I'm sure that they saw his issue with defending the left hook, with the expectation that Linares would be utilizing that punch throughout the fight. 

Haney's team had studied Linares thoroughly as well. Linares has had a decorated career, winning titles in three different weight classes, but one of his shortcomings has been a susceptibility to power punches early in fights. Coming into Saturday, Linares had been stopped three times in the first two rounds, including a first-round stoppage to Pablo Cesar Cano in 2019. 

Haney established a commanding lead over Linares during the first nine rounds. He showcased a stunning variety of offensive weapons, hitting Linares with every punch in his arsenal. Linares worked almost exclusively behind his counter left hook and he landed quite a few good ones. But unfortunately, his left hook isn't his best punch. So, while his strategy may have been correct, he didn't have the firepower for his game plan to work. 

As part of this surprising offensive fight, there were a number of occasions in the middle rounds where Haney and Linares stood in the center of the ring and exchanged their best left hooks. This display of machismo was unexpected from Haney and these moments provided thrilling action. However, it was strange that Haney, who was ahead on the cards all night, decided to give Linares additional opportunities to land something big.

The fight changed in the tenth round. Far behind on the cards, Linares started to put combinations together. At the end of the round he threw one of his patented three-punch combinations and finished the sequence with a blistering short right hand. The punch cracked Haney's chin and as the bell rang to end the round, Haney stumbled back to his corner. 

Linares found success later in the fight with right hand
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

The final two rounds of the fight produced yet another unexpected twist. Linares, usually the frontrunner who had never lost a decision on the cards, needed a come-from-behind knockout to win and Haney, who had rarely been touched in his career with anything significant, was in survival mode. Linares had two rounds to play with to end the fight and Haney just had to stay on his feet to win it on the cards. 

Throughout the 11th and 12th Linares hit Haney with several big shots; Haney wasn't even trying to win these rounds. Haney held liberally, which was smart, and Linares wasn't able to avoid being tied up. And for all the good work that Linares did in final few rounds, he couldn't put enough shots together to get the stoppage. Although physically diminished, Haney was able to thwart Linares enough to see the fight out. 

Despite 52 previous fights and 19 years as a professional fighter, Linares was in an unexpected situation where he had to pull a rabbit out of the hat to win; his lack of experience in this situation was evident. Haney was reeling, but Linares was too cute with his punch placement. He didn't let his shots go with abandon. He found himself tied up when he should have been working. Even when he was tied up, he didn't attempt to do too much in the clinch. So, despite having Haney on the proverbial ropes, Linares couldn't find the finishing touch. 

Haney won a decision on the cards (116-112, 116-112, 115-113) and evaluating his performance is a classic glass half full/half empty scenario. He displayed impressive offensive gifts and showed a fully developed arsenal of punches. But even with landing his best shots, he never really hurt Linares, who has been chinny throughout his career. Haney had enough weaponry to keep Linares occupied and honest, but it's clear that he doesn't have top-shelf power. 

Even the last two rounds are open to interpretation. Haney got caught, he held on, he found a way to win, and that last point is critical. Sometimes style points don't matter; the "W" is what's most important. However, one needs to be concerned with his recuperative abilities. After getting cracked at the end of the tenth, Haney didn't make an attempt to win the final two rounds. And he took some additional big shots in those final frames. He survived, yes, but make no mistake, it was a survival. Linares had a golden opportunity to finish Haney off and he couldn't. Some of that credit belongs to Haney, who was able to limit the damage enough to retain his faculties. But Haney is also fortunate that he wasn't facing a true knockout artist, someone who was more experienced in that phase of a fight.

Haney raises his hand in victory
Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Ultimately, Haney is still a work in progress. He entered Saturday's fight as having a sterling defensive reputation and what's clear to me is that his defense is less than advertised. He's a sharp fighter. He features a ton of tools in his toolbox. But Linares landed too many big shots throughout the fight. That Haney's chin held up until the 10th round is a credit to him, but others in the division punch a lot harder than Linares does. Haney still hasn't figured out how to defend the left hook and until he corrects this flaw, opponents will always see a way into a fight against him. 

So often after a young fighter experiences a tough bout the platitudes will follow. "He will learn from this." "He will only get better." Well, not always. The flaws from the Gamboa fight where still evident in the Linares fight. Those exercises that Davison did pre-fight with Haney weren't applied in the bout itself. I can't recall an example of Haney using his arm to block the left hook all fight. Haney does so many things right in the boxing ring, but if he can't correct this defensive shortcoming, he most likely won't ascend to the heights that many have predicted for him. And the irony isn't lost upon me that Linares' career, as solid as it has been, has played out this way. Very good, but a limitation or two away from great. It's no crime to have just a "very good" career, but I'm sure that Haney and his team want more than that. To get there, the gym beckons. And not as it has in the past. 

What is needed for Haney is a taskmaster, one charged with fixing his defensive technique. Some painful pick-and-shovel work is required. These are the unsexy, unglamorous parts of boxing, and for Haney it's vital that he embraces it. Without these fixes, his vulnerabilities will be too apparent for top punchers. But at 22, he still has time on his side. Should he take advantage of it, the world can still be his oyster in the boxing ring. But there are no guarantees. It's his choice.

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.  

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Ramirez-Taylor

The signature moment of Saturday's undisputed junior welterweight clash between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor occurred in the seventh round. During a clinch, Ramirez turned his head away from Taylor and signaled toward referee Kenny Bayless to step in and separate them. With Ramirez looking away, Taylor maneuvered his body, pushing Ramirez off him. Taylor then unfurled a hellacious left uppercut that sent Ramirez to the canvas. Ramirez beat the count, but he was badly hurt. Although Taylor had already knocked Ramirez down in the sixth from a short counter left hand, it was the knockdown in the seventh that significantly changed the tenor of the fight. 

That seventh-round knockdown stopped whatever momentum Ramirez had earlier in the match. Even after getting dropped in the sixth, Ramirez pressed forward and had good moments toward the end of the round. But after the second knockdown, Ramirez needed to marshal all of his forces just to survive. It wasn't until later in the ninth round when Ramirez was finally able to go on the offensive again.

Consider the ramifications of that second knockdown: The seventh round was a clear 10-8 round for Taylor. Ramirez didn't attempt much offense in the eighth; that was an easy 10-9 round for Taylor. Those three points made the difference on the judges' 114-112 scorecards for Taylor.  

Taylor (center) celebrating his knockdown
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Now it's not just as simple as that. Taylor certainly coasted during the final third of the fight, believing that his victory was already secure. It's possible that if Taylor and his team thought that the fight was closer, he would have worked harder during the last three rounds.

If we're being honest, how Taylor finished the fight was problematic. It speaks to the lack of experience in his corner and perhaps some overconfidence. I'm sure that the 114-112 scores reflected a fight that was closer than his team believed (I had it for Taylor 115-111), but we've all seen atrocious scorecards in Vegas over the years. Why would Team Taylor assume that the fight was done and dusted by the tenth round? That's too early in a competitive fight to be taking a victory lap. I'm not downplaying the magnitude of Taylor's win or the quality of his performance in the first nine rounds, but overall, one has to be concerned with his team's naivete and/or arrogance. 

Josh Taylor has cleaned out a talented group of fighters at 140, with wins over Postol, Baranchyk, Prograis and now Ramirez. He clearly is among the best fighters in the sport. And yet I can't help thinking that he has another level to ascend to if he properly applies himself. What's been missing in his victories has been dominance. Some of that can be attributed to the level of his opposition. But, if you watch his fights closely, Taylor himself deserves some blame for this lack of separation from his opponents. 

Not stopping a capable champion like Ramirez isn't a crime, but Taylor certainly could have done more in the fight's final third to leave no questions unanswered. Taylor's fight against Prograis followed a similar pattern, where Prograis, although outgunned in the trenches, found success late in the fight from the outside. Credit to Prograis for winning those late rounds, but Taylor didn't close like he could have. It wasn't enough for Prograis to win the fight; however, those scorecards sure got tight by the end of it. 

In Taylor's last three fights against notable opponents (Ramirez, Prograis and Baranchyk), the majority of the judges for each bout didn't have him winning more than seven rounds. That seems like a small margin of error to me. Fight enough of those type of bouts and you are bound to lose one of them. Again, I'm not claiming that his opponents have been incapable; they certainly were fine boxers, but in each of these bouts Taylor made decisions that directly made the fights closer than they needed to be. 

Taylor and Ramirez working at close range
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

Let's end with some positives. Taylor's comprehensive skillset was enough to beat Ramirez and referee Kenny Bayless, who seemed determined not to let Taylor get any work done at close range. With clever boxing moves, Taylor created both knockdowns. His quick counter in the sixth was an excellent example of turning defense into offense. His ability to work in the clinch before Bayless could intrude ultimately led to his victory. Taylor was faster, he had more punch variety, his legs looked excellent and he had more ways of winning the fight.

Ramirez also had some solid passages in the fight. His body shots clearly bothered Taylor. And Ramirez landed enough clean power shots, whether rights to the body or head, or left hooks to the body, where Taylor never seemed fully comfortable in the fight. Even during Ramirez's worst moments in the fight, in the seventh and eighth rounds, Taylor didn't press for the knockout; Ramirez's power punching was enough to keep Taylor honest. 

Taylor deserves all the praise for his victory. Becoming an undisputed champion is a rarity in boxing, and a wonderful achievement. I've been a fan of his in the ring for many years. I picked him before the tournament started to win the World Boxing Super Series and I thought he would have a little too much for Ramirez. 

And as exciting and special as Taylor has been, once he stops making unforced errors, there is a possibility that he could arrive at an even higher level, one in which opponents are intimidated before they enter the ring, where they can't see clear paths to victory. For now, Taylor is elite, but he leaves enough food on the table to give opponents hope. At this point, if a guy can stick around, he will have an opportunity. 

Let's hope that Taylor and his team realize that their work isn't done yet. Taylor has the skillset to become a generational-type fighter, but if we are being honest there's a self-sabotaging streak of his that needs to be eradicated. 

Boxing is hard enough as it is without providing extra opportunities or motivation for opponents. When Taylor finally gets to that next level, you will see more corner stoppages, mentally defeated fighters sitting on their stools, and foes uneager to get up after a knockdown. Taylor's not there yet. For now, his opponents all believe that they will eventually get their chance. Taylor's final test as a professional will be if he can remove hope.   

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, May 20, 2021

Ramirez-Taylor: Preview and Prediction

Unified junior welterweight champions Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor meet on Saturday in a rare opportunity to crown an undisputed champion. The fight will take place at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas. Scotland's Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs) impressed during his winning run in the 140-lb. World Boxing Super Series Tournament where he beat notable fighters such as Regis Prograis and Ivan Baranchyk. Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) didn't enter that tournament, but he was able to unify titles with an emphatic knockout victory over Maurice Hooker. For Ramirez, a U.S. Olympian, the Hooker win was his most comprehensive performance on the world-level.  

Going into this matchup, I have significant questions and concerns regarding both fighters. This bout will be Taylor's second fight with trainer Ben Davison after leaving Shane McGuigan. Taylor and Davison did have a fight together last year, but that was just a one-round walkover against an overmatched opponent. Davison is relatively new to the world boxing scene. He was instrumental in getting Tyson Fury into shape for his first fight with Deontay Wilder. Davison and Fury executed a stellar game plan of boxing on the outside and movement for that fight. Despite receiving an official draw on the scorecards, Fury should have been the rightful victor according to most observers. 

Image courtesy of Top Rank

Davison and Fury parted ways after Tyson's harder-than-anticipated fight against Otto Wallin. Recently, Davison assisted Mark Tibbs in Billy Joe Saunders' corner against Saul Alvarez, and he will be helping prepare Devin Haney for his upcoming fight against Jorge Linares.  

It's fair to say that Taylor, who is just one boxer, may have more meaningful rounds and tougher fights in his entire career than Davison, his cornerman, has. Whereas McGuigan has established himself as a trainer with creative game plans and one who issues incisive advice in the corner, Davison has yet to reach that level. It's possible that he may turn out to be a great trainer, but there are still unknowns as it relates to him, especially as a cornerman. McGuigan helped guide Taylor through tough fights against Postol, Baranchyk and Prograis; can Davison do the same?  

Coming into Saturday's fight, Taylor has had one professional round of boxing in 17 months. That's a real concern. Not only is he essentially working with a new corner, but ring rust could be a factor. Taylor is a fighter who relies on timing and sharpness in the ring. If it takes him a few rounds to find his form, that could be a strong opportunity for Ramirez to pick up points.

Taylor has gone 12 rounds on three occasions: Postol, Baranchyk and Prograis. Despite winning all of his fights, and winning them without controversy, he has yet to put together a comprehensive 12-round performance in my opinion. Meaning, I think that there have been lulls in his energy level. He takes small breaks where his punch volume and focus can drop. He can let opponents come back into fights.  

Another concern for Taylor is his ring demeanor. He can get a little too greedy in the pocket. There is a macho streak in him and he often slugs it out more than he needs to. He is an excellent boxer on the inside, but he takes some unnecessary shots sometimes. For this fight, staying in the pocket too long will play into Ramirez's hands, who does much better when an opponent is right in front of him. Taylor can box and bang, and against Ramirez, the more he boxes, the better off he will be.  

I was asked on a recent British podcast why Jose Ramirez isn't more popular in America. I answered that boxing fans have seen his fights, and they haven't always been impressed with his performances. In two of his three biggest fights he looked far from convincing. Ramirez won majority decisions over Zepeda and Postol and I won't say that he deserved to lose either, but he certainly could have dropped both with different judges. It's not just that those two fights were close, but there were large stretches in each where he looked ordinary.

It's clear that Ramirez struggles with movement. And while he can box, his power is far less of a factor when he can't set his feet. Perhaps more concerning is that when things haven't gone smoothly for Ramirez in the ring, he can look befuddled; he doesn't switch to a Plan B instinctively.  

Ramirez does have Robert Garcia in the corner, one of the truly best trainers in the sport. Garcia can make great adjustments during fights, but in the ring, during those three minutes of a round, Ramirez isn't one to experiment or improvise. Ramirez may lack Taylor's intuitiveness when it comes to righting the ship.

Prediction: I believe that if both are at their best, Taylor is the better fighter, with more comprehensive skills. He has weapons at every range. He also makes better adjustments during fights.

However, boxing is not fought in a vacuum. There are travel and time zone considerations in which to factor. Who knows if a fighter is injured or how good a camp was? How will a new trainer respond in a corner? Will there be ring rust? Is a fighter outgrowing the weight class? A number of these considerations could be in play for Ramirez-Taylor.  

Let's also not forget that this fight will be contested in America. The three judges for Ramirez-Taylor (Tim Cheatham, Steve Weisfeld and Dave Moretti) were the same three who didn't believe that Postol beat Ramirez. I'm not saying that their scores were outrageous in that fight, but in a close matchup, Cheatham and Weisfeld had Ramirez edging it.  

The pick for me, by the thinnest of margins, is Taylor – something like 115-113 on my card, with a possibility that we could see a split or a majority decision victory in his favor. Taylor has a number of small edges in the fight, but he will have to apply them throughout the entire 12 rounds. It's going to be vital for him to keep his punch volume up, without forcing too fast of a pace. He will need to be strategic when he decides to go inside. When he does march forward, he has to keep exchanges short and not linger in the pocket. If he fights to his strengths, he has a very good shot of winning.  

A Ramirez victory would not surprise me. He will have good moments and win a number of rounds. He throws a sneaky right uppercut in close quarters that is damaging. His right hand to the head and body can be a weapon.  The crowd will most likely be on his side. His punches are easy to see and score well with judges. His work is clean. 

Ultimately, I don't think that we will see a definitive winner on Saturday. I'm picking Taylor to have his hands raised after 12 rounds in a fight where nobody is too sure of who actually won. Both will have moments. Both will do good work. Perhaps Taylor will do a just a little bit more. 

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.

Punch 2 the Face Podcast

In this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I previewed the undisputed junior welterweight title fight between Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor. We both ate some crow regarding Brandon Figueroa and we talked about last weekend's fantastic Showtime card. Also, what should we make of the most recent heavyweight drama? What will happen next?  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, May 10, 2021

Opinions and Observations: Canelo-Saunders

It could have been the left hook to the liver, which Canelo Alvarez landed as early as the first round. Maybe it would be the straight right hand to the solar plexus, a punch Canelo connected with often throughout the first four rounds of the match. But in fact it was the counter right uppercut that ended the fight in the eighth round. After Billy Joe Saunders missed with a lunging right hook, Canelo detonated the uppercut on Saunders' right eye, fracturing his orbital bone. The fight was stopped after the round. 

Reputations are a funny thing. Saunders was known as a slick defensive southpaw, whose movement and unpredictability were supposed to present problems for Canelo. But reputations are sometimes the product of dining out on lesser competition. Sure, Saunders pitched a shutout against the one-dimensional left hook artist David Lemieux. But even the wild-swinging Chris Eubank Jr. was able to land at will on Saunders in the second half of their fight. And as good as Saunders looked against Andy Lee in the first part of their match, Lee certainly got through with some big power shots in the last third. 

Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Ultimately, Saunders' defense just wasn't as good as advertised. Any of Canelo's big power punches could have ended the fight, and he was landing too many of them for Saunders to secure a win. Saunders gave Canelo too many free shots at his body early in the bout. And for a fighter who relies on his legs, that's not a winning strategy. 

It's not as if Saunders was without hope in the fight. In particular, he had strong fifth and sixth rounds where he used his left hand for creative counters. In those rounds he showed that he certainly belonged in the ring with Canelo. 

But let's look at the bigger picture. He wasn't throwing a high volume, didn't move like he could have and didn't seem to have the power to hurt Canelo. And what finally did Saunders in was overconfidence, greed and a mistake. His success in the mid-rounds of the fight saw him hold his ground more and trade with Canelo in the center of the ring. In short, he was now fighting Canelo's fight. All of that bluster leading up to the fight about demanding a 22-foot ring became a laughable footnote as he insisted on trading with Canelo in the pocket. Yes, he was having some success, but he was also on borrowed time. 

In the end it was a defensive move from Canelo, not Saunders, that led to the stoppage. He expertly avoided Saunders' speculative right hook, took a step back and landed on a defenseless fighter. In the post-fight interview Canelo said he instantly heard a crack after connecting with the uppercut. He knew. It was over. 

Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Similar to the Kovalev fight, Canelo kept many of his boxing tricks in his bag and instead focused on the knockout. He wasn't concerned with establishing his jab, throwing a high volume or even losing an exchange or two. His goal was to inflict maximum damage wherever possible. And although it may not have been his most energetic performance, his actions were purposeful. From early in the fight, he concentrated on the body, and perhaps that helped lead to Saunders moving less than anticipated. He also was trying for counter uppercuts as early as the third round – he saw that opening. 

In the two years prior to facing Saunders, Canelo had fought Danny Jacobs, Sergey Kovalev and Callum Smith among others, all champions and quality opponents on the world stage. Meanwhile, Saunders was fighting the Shefat Isufis and Marcelo Cocereses of the world. The gap in quality of competition could not be more striking. 

And let's be honest, it's not as if Canelo has been perfect during every fight during his recent run. The Jacobs fight was contested without a sense of urgency from either boxer. Canelo had stretches of inactivity against Kovalev where he seemed content to wait and regroup for later in the fight. 

No fighter will be at his very best every time that they are in the ring. But over the years Canelo has figured out ways to beat challenging opponents even if he's not at his absolute apex. He outpunched the tricky and athletic Jacobs. He finally cornered a Kovalev who refused to set his feet. And he helped force a mover like Saunders to stay in place and fight in the center of the ring. 

Boxing has always been far more than talent or skills. Real experience against tough competition is vital at the top level in the sport. Saunders hadn't faced a world-level fighter in over three years before Canelo. He had been fighting the type of opponents where he could make mistakes and get away with them. And on Saturday, that rust was on display. He had forgotten the potential risks that could be involved when facing the very best and he didn't fight to his strengths. 

Photo courtesy of Ed Mulholland

Canelo's next set of opponents will all have their plusses and minuses. On paper many will appear to have certain advantages over him, either technical, athletic or physical. And while Canelo is far from unbeatable, my hunch is the next fighter who defeats him will be one who has recently faced duress and has persevered against tough competition. On paper won't be enough. That fighter will need to be battle-tested, physically peaking, psychologically sharp, have a great chin, an experienced corner, and be able to deal with being an opponent against perhaps the most popular fighter in boxing today. It's a tall order. And to me, there's no obvious candidate who emerges among his current pool of potential opponents. 

So, it will be next man up for the Canelo sweepstakes. I certainly appreciate Canelo's greatness, but even more than that I prefer compelling fights at the highest level of the sport. I wish that many of the fighters circling Canelo would have stayed busier perfecting their craft instead of waiting for a golden ticket. The business case for maintaining an undefeated record against weaker competition may be sound, but it also results in half-formed fighters. We're now left with a generation of boxers at 160 and 168 lbs. who have never fully developed their abilities in the ring. And as a lover of boxing, that is a real tragedy. 

Love Canelo, hate Canelo...that's fine. But there are no "what ifs" about his ability level. He has extracted everything he could from his physical tools and continually improved. Canelo's shown a determination to fight top opponents. The others want what he has without putting in the work. And boxing does not often reward shortcuts. 

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, May 3, 2021

Catching My Eye: Ruiz, Parker, Edwards, Conlan, Fundora

Andy Ruiz paid the price for his recklessness early in Saturday's fight against Chris Arreola. Dropped in the second round by a chopping right hand and staggered multiple times in the third by quick counter left hooks, Ruiz, a prohibitive favorite coming into the fight, looked to be in danger of getting knocked out. Trying for the early stoppage, he was repeatedly reminded that lunging in with big shots was not a winning strategy for him.

Then, he took a deep breath, a step back, and decided to box from mid-range. Soon he gained control of the fight. Instead of throwing wild, wide power punches, he relied on his boxing fundamentals. He featured a stiff jab and some pinpoint combinations, including the 1-2-3 (jab/right hand/left hook), the jab to the body/straight right hand to the head, and the right to the body/straight left hook upstairs. 

Andy Ruiz (right) unfurls a right hand
Photo Courtesy of Sean Michael Ham/Fox Sports

By the end of the fight, there was no doubt that he was victorious. Ruiz learned two valuable lessons on Saturday. First, it was a reminder that this is heavyweight boxing and if you make mistakes, the other guy can send you to the canvas. Second, and perhaps even more important, was that Ruiz is not naturally a seek-and-destroy fighter, but a patient boxer with fast hands.

When Ruiz defeated Anthony Joshua in 2019 to win the heavyweight title, it was viewed as a monumental upset. After all, Ruiz was an overweight boxer with a seemingly indifferent attitude to the sport, whereas Joshua was a chiseled Adonis figure who had been a knockout wrecking machine. However, when watching Ruiz connect with his left hook on Arreola on Saturday, I was reminded of how he landed that punch on Joshua and how the hook led to Joshua's downfall.

Ruiz's left hook may be one of the best weapons in the heavyweight division. He whips it with a short trajectory and he lands it with pinpoint accuracy. It may not be the sheer destructive force that Deontay Wilder's right hand is, but make no mistake, Ruiz can land that punch on anyone in the division. 

Now with Eddy Reynoso, Ruiz will attempt to work his way back into the heavyweight title picture (his rematch loss to Joshua where he barely bothered to show up was a grave act of self-sabotage). Ruiz still doesn't have a great boxing body (although it looked better on Saturday), but he remains a threat in the division. He will always struggle with fighters who can work on the outside and have good feet, but in the pocket, he can compete with anyone. 


Joseph Parker won a heavyweight title in 2016 over Ruiz in a fight where I'm not sure that he deserved the victory. And that's a pattern. I don't think he won against Hughie Fury in a 2017 title defense and I'm not confident that he should have beaten Dereck Chisora on Saturday (although I did score it for Parker). 

Watching Parker in the second half of the fight on Saturday, he showed his considerable abilities. He could work in close or at distance. He was a fluid combination puncher. Parker threw every punch in the book. And he was very accurate. 

Parker beating the count in the first round
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

However, there was also a problem of the first three rounds of the fight and the 12th as well. He couldn't match Chisora's energy level or ferocity. He also didn't seem prepared from the opening bell. Chisora dropped him with an overhand right in one of the first punches of the fight. 

There remains a frustration level with Parker. He has the skills to be among the elite, but he could go life-or-death in the ring with anyone. Several key intangibles are missing from his overall package. He lacks a killer instinct. He also takes breaks during fights and often will display a blasé attitude in the ring. 

He's been fortunate. Parker is 29-2, but he could easily have five professional losses. And if a couple of other flips of the coin happened, he would not be considered a legit heavyweight contender, but more of a capable gatekeeper, not dissimilar to Dereck Chisora. 

Even with a trainer switch to Andy Lee for Saturday's fight, Parker has yet to display a consistent and comprehensive performance against a top-level boxer. Parker was a great heavyweight prospect, but it's time to push potential aside. The results speak for themselves. The Chisora fight, the Whyte fight, the Fa fight, the Fury fight – that’s who he is, a skilled fighter who doesn't have the ability or willingness to put 12 rounds together against a top opponent.


Backfoot fighters by and large are not beloved in boxing. Fans want to see entertainment and aggression. Even one of the four scoring criteria for each round, effective aggression, encourages fighters to come forward. However, there is no rule that says they must. 

On Friday, Sunny Edwards on his back foot dominated Moruti Mthalane, a longtime flyweight champ who hadn't lost since 2008. Edwards utilized the entire ring, moved left and right, switched stances effortlessly and landed at will. He hardly ever let the hard-hitting Mthalane plant his feet. Instead, Mthalane was chasing, lunging and missing. And Edwards would make him pay with quick, short combinations before exiting. 

Edwards with his belt after a dominant display
Photo courtesy of Queensberry Promotions

Edwards' trainer, Grant Smith, supplied perfect direction in the corner. He implored his fighter to keep combinations to two shots at most – longer sequences would give Mthalane more ability to find openings. Smith kept telling Edwards not to get greedy, get in and out. He also demanded that his fighter not remain stationary on the ropes, which would provide Mthalane a target. Edwards executed a terrific game plan and Smith did a wonderful job keeping him on task. It's always wonderful to see a fighter and trainer work in concert. 

Edwards doesn't possess a lot of power, but he has impressive strength. One thing I noticed during the fight is that when there were clinches, Mthalane tried to impose himself by putting his weight on Edwards and attempting to walk him back. But not only was Edwards prepared for that maneuver, he seemed just as strong in the clinch. And he was able to neutralize Mthalane's physicality. 

And that's where a crucial distinction must be made. Edwards may not be powerful, but he's not weak. He understands how others will try to beat him and will take that away from them. He will be a handful for any flyweight. To beat him, a fighter is going to have to sharpshoot from range, have a great ability to cut off the ring, or hope that Edwards gets overconfident and makes some mistakes. But if Edwards is as dialed in as he was on Friday, best of luck trying to beat that fighter. 


Michael Conlan is still only 15-0, but there's been no shortage of debate on his potential at the top level of the sport. Unfortunately for Conlan, he came out of the same Olympics, started at the same weight class and was signed to the same promotional company (Top Rank) as Shakur Stevenson. Within a few fights it was clear that Stevenson's athletic ability, natural talents and comparative youth (Stevenson is six years younger) would lead to a higher ceiling. And Stevenson has already won a world title at 126 lbs. and will soon be positioned to compete for a second title at 130. 

Meanwhile, Conlan has yet to face a true top-ten opponent and he recently moved down to 122 lbs., with his team believing that he perhaps didn't have enough power for the featherweight division. On Friday he faced Ionut Baluta, a legit gatekeeper at junior featherweight. Conlan would pass this test, although not comprehensively enough for some observers. 

Conlan has now been working with trainer Adam Booth for a number of fights and interestingly, Booth is emphasizing more of a front-foot approach for his fighter. Booth, who is often known for subterfuge, for wily, clever and indirect tactics in the ring, sent Conlan right after Baluta on Friday. And although Conlan may never be a one-punch knockout artist, he does hit hard to the body and many of his punches were thrown with real spite. 

Conlan wound up winning the fight by majority decision. In my opinion, the two judges who had it close gave Baluta a lot of credit for ineffective aggression; I thought that Conlan was the clear winner. 

Featuring impressive upper body movement and good feet, Conlan made Baluta miss big shots the entire fight; however, there were too many periods where he didn't return fire. So, if one fighter throws ten shots and lands one but the other guy throws four and lands two, it's certainly possible for the busier fighter to get credit, even if he's not particularly successful. 

Conlan will have to walk a very fine line to win a world title. He doesn't have fight-ending power. He can be outworked. But he can fight. It will all come down to potential opponents. He may be able to back-foot his way to a win against a slower-opponent, but the junior featherweight division is loaded with top talent. He wouldn't be favored against any of the current champions. 

With another fight or two before a title shot, it's very possible that Conlan could add another layer of polish. I believe he has been steadily improving. Will it be enough to win a world title? Perhaps not, but I wouldn't laugh that thought out of the room either.  


Sebastian Fundora is a 6'6" junior middleweight who fights like an undersized 5'6" pressure fighter. It's not just that he gives up his height, he prefers inside combat. He knows how to fight up close. Fundora uses his body expertly to wear down opponents. He can impose his physicality along the ropes. Perhaps most impressively, he doesn't smother his work; he picks shots well against much shorter opponents.

On Saturday Fundora won a war against 154-lb. gatekeeper Jorge Cota. The two traded violent power punches all fight. Cota could not match Fundora's volume or accuracy, but he got through with a number of crushing right hooks and looping left hands. But, as well as Cota did, he didn't make it past the fourth round. 

Fundora is a unicorn, an anomaly. People his size aren't supposed to be in the junior middleweight division, and they certainly aren't supposed to fight inside. To this point, however, he has made weight with ease. It's not as if he's a super middleweight trying to squeeze down two divisions. 

Ultimately Fundora will thrive in boxing as long as his punch resistance remains strong. If he continues to fight in close and at mid-range, he will always provide a huge target for opponents, either to the head or the body. If he can take punches, he will be very tough to beat. But win or lose, he's a fantastic television fighter. And boxing can always use another member of that special club. 

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. 
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