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.
Ortiz is 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
Mean 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.
But let's 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.
This 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
Scoring 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 favorite judge).
Both 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.
So, while 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.
Franco 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.
Finally, 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 controversy.
Light 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.
However, 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
Normal 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.
Buatsi 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.
Saturday 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.