If Golden Boy envisioned an ideal scenario
for how the Vergil Ortiz-Egidijus "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas fight would play out,
Saturday's match would have been exactly that. Ortiz faced real fire in the second
round and was stunned by Mean Machine's combination punching on the inside. But
Ortiz rallied and scored a knockdown in the third round and ended
the fight in the eighth with four additional knockdowns. Ultimately, it was "Mission Accomplished" for Ortiz, but despite the
conclusiveness of his victory, he was in a real
fight; all went according to plan.
now 18-0, with all of his victories coming by stoppage, but he's not a one-shot knockout artist. He
features a large punch arsenal and attains his stoppages more by punch
placement and fluidity of his combinations rather than sheer power. Make no mistake, he landed a
vicious left hook for one of his knockdowns in the eighth round that could
topple any welterweight, but I think that his first two knockdowns of the fight – landing a picture-perfect three-punch combination for the first, and the second with a cleverly disguised jab to the body – are more
characteristic of his offensive gifts.
|Ortiz looking at his fallen foe|
Photo courtesy of Stacey M. Snyder
For a guy
who likes to mix it up in the trenches, Ortiz has one aspect of his offensive
profile that is highly underrated, and it's a significant one: his hand speed.
Ortiz is one of those fighters with much faster hands than feet. His footwork
is purposeful and he gets in position to land his shots, but opponents often
don't see his punches coming. He may not have the flash of Ryan Garcia's hands, but Ortiz's shots
get their quickly. This can also be explained by his stellar punching
technique. There's very little wasted motion in his punches and he has an acute
understanding of positioning. It's unusual to see him wildly miss or load up with
punches. He knows that he possesses power, but more importantly, by landing in combinations he realizes that he can open up an opponent without worrying about landing a home run.
Machine and Maurice Hooker both had success early in their respective fights against
Ortiz. It's almost as if Ortiz needs to get hit flush before he kicks in to
high gear. On one hand, he has shown a great ability to make adjustments. The uppercuts that Mean Machine landed in the second weren't a factor later in the match. But it does appear that Ortiz could be vulnerable, especially early in fights. It's one thing
to lose a low-intensity round or two to start a fight; however, it's an
entirely different proposition to be tagged with an opponent's best. Hooker and
Mean Machine may not have had the ability to put Ortiz away, but perhaps a better boxer could. This is an issue that must be addressed by Ortiz and his team. Giving top
opponents free shots is not a recipe for long-term success;
that's how a fighter can get iced.
not make this sound too negative. Ortiz remains one of the top young boxers in
the sport. And perhaps even more importantly, he's a great television fighter. And if he can iron out his defensive issues early
in fights, the sky might be the limit. But the
fights won't be getting easier.
I have a minimum threshold of offense that a fighter must surpass
(absent any knockdowns) to have a legitimate case for winning. That
number is 20 punches a round. I think I instituted that rule during some of the
late-period Bernard Hopkins fights, where he wouldn't let his hands go, but
would dance and grapple his way into believing that he had actually won.
brings me to Saturday's John Riel Casimero-Guillermo Rigondeaux "fight," where we witnessed something far removed from what boxing is supposed to be. Instead of boxing, we watched an interminable game of
"catch me if you can." Rigondeaux would run around the ring and
Casimero would follow, and that was the pattern for all 12 rounds. Rigondeaux wouldn't throw punches and Casimero couldn't
land them. How bad was it? Rigondeaux averaged 19 punches a round and Casimero
missed five out of every six shots he threw. Casimero was marginally busier,
throwing almost 24 punches a round (still horrible), and Rigo landed at 20%, not good either. And this was a bantamweight title fight too!
|Casimero, missing; Rigondeaux, dancing|
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Trapp
the fight, I had Rigondeaux winning, in that when no meaningful punches were
landing I gave him credit for ring generalship and defense. After all, that was
a Rigo fight in extremis. Casimero surely didn't want to be in a track meet. Nevertheless, Casimero won by split decision and somehow won nine rounds from Robert Hoyle (not my
fighters were awful. But I at least thought that Rigo was awful in intended ways, so I did give him credit for that. Casimero entered the fight on a hot
streak, yet he seemed completely flummoxed through large portions of the bout.
However, he did hit hard and it's worth noting that Rigo was not remotely
interested in trading. He was contact-avoidant. I understand "hit and don't get hit," but that boxing aphorism involves "hitting" first. And Rigo
did little of that.
I believe that Rigo should have won a fight where not much happened, let me
revert to my original rule: He didn't do enough. His case isn't worth arguing.
He didn't meet a minimum threshold of action. If he had found sympathetic
judges for his anti-contact performance, then hurrah for him, but some officials just won't tolerate a certain level of inaction. For
whatever case Rigo may have had for winning on Saturday, he made his own bed. One can't
feel too sympathetic for a guy who was so unwilling to take risks.
And if the judges wanted to take a moral stand by not rewarding that behavior,
so be it.
Let's praise three boxing judges: Karen Holderfield, Mike Ross
and David Sutherland. They turned in identical 116-112 scorecards for the
Joshua Franco-Andrew Moloney fight on Saturday. And I think that their scores
were right on the money. But in many ways, this third fight in the
Franco-Moloney series was a difficult bout to score. For one, both junior
bantamweights were very active, each averaging over 60 punches thrown per
round. And much of the action was at mid-range and closer, where it can be difficult to determine which punches actually land. But these three judges saw the
fight correctly. Although Moloney was throwing a lot, he sure wasn't landing.
CompuBox had him connecting at less than 15%, which is a terrible percentage. Now keep in mind,
the judges don't have access to these stats during a fight. They had to see
every punch and their effect (if any) in real time. And they got it right. They didn't
mistake Moloney's activity for achievement.
Franco won the first fight of the series in June of 2021, but Moloney had a rematch clause. Their second fight in November ended in controversy. Franco's
eye started to close in the first round and by the second, the fight was
stopped. Referee Russell Mora believed that the eye closed due to a head butt and thus the fight was ruled a no-contest. But even with a lengthy video review, no one seemed quite sure of where and when that head butt actually occurred. But what was
plain to see was Moloney's left hand landing at will directly on that eye.
|Both fighters celebrate, but Franco (center) wins|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank
Saturday's fight was certainly not a continuation of their second bout. For whatever reason, Moloney didn't
commit to the jab like he had in November. He was either throwing the punch
and already starting to move out of the pocket, or he was shooting it as a first punch
in a pre-planned, multi-punch combination. He was so concerned about other aspects of the fight that
he neglected his bread-and-butter punch. Franco does deserve credit for
defending the jab much better in this fight and countering Moloney effectively,
but Andrew made specific points of emphasis independent of Franco, and those
decisions helped lead to his defeat.
was the better fighter on Saturday. He was more accurate. He had more answers
at mid-range and on the inside. Franco connected with every punch in his
arsenal and in particular he threw excellent straight rights and left hooks to
the body. It was a competitive fight and Franco was the deserving winner.
let's give credit to referee Jack Reiss, who initially ruled a knockdown
in the seventh round when Franco
dropped to the ground. Immediately Reiss gave the count, but then also said that
he would utilize replay between rounds. Video replay clearly showed that the two fighters banged into each other without a clean punch landing. And within a minute, a
potential controversial moment was wiped away. I wish more referees had the
confidence to admit that they need assistance, and that
more jurisdictions would make replay available; it was used expertly in this situation. Overall, the fight was a good
advertisement for boxing: quality action, the officials did their jobs and no
heavyweight contender Joshua Buatsi defeated tough gatekeeper Ricards Bolotniks
in the 11th round on Saturday, scoring two knockdowns in the fight. If I were to
end the description of the fight there, nothing would sound out of the
ordinary. Buatsi, known for his power, is supposed to knock guys out and
Bolotniks really shouldn't be defeating top fighters at 175 pounds.
there was a lot to digest in this fight. For one, Buatsi experienced what it
was like for a fighter to take his best punch and keep on coming. Buatsi landed
a stinging left hook for a knockdown in the sixth and then went for the
kill later in the round, emptying his holster. But Bolotniks survived the
round. And then things got interesting. After taking huge power punches
throughout the fight, Bolotniks started to have his best moments in the
contest. Buatsi was too spent to press forward and was content to fight in
spurts. Meanwhile, Bolotniks was firing off scoring combinations and gaining confidence.
|Buatsi salutes the crowd after winning|
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
business was restored toward the end of the tenth round where Buatsi started
letting his hands go again with menace. In the 11th he fired off a right hand
as Bolotniks was moving away. That punch probably wasn't among the 20 best shots Buatsi landed in the fight, but Bolotniks was off-balance and found himself on
the canvas. Bolotniks was hurt and spent; he was unable to continue.
has been a hyped fighter since winning the bronze medal in the 2016 Olympics.
His power is real, and so are certain defensive shortcomings to go along with
conditioning issues. Buatsi doesn't return his left hand high enough after
jabbing and it makes him a sitting duck to be countered by a right hand, which
Bolotniks did a number of times early in the fight. His glove positioning can
also get a little sloppy and there is ample room to land in between his hands.
was Buatsi's first time going past seven rounds and it showed. Now with trainer Virgil Hunter, I'm
sure that they will work on fixing some of Buatsi's technical defensive issues, but
if his conditioning doesn't improve, he's going to be at a massive disadvantage
against top light heavyweights. And at 28, his clock is ticking.
Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com. He's a member of Ring Magazine's Ring Ratings Panel and a Board Member for the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.