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.