Height and reach are often used in boxing as proxies for size. These measures can help explain specific advantages or disadvantages that a fighter may have in a given matchup. But let's remember that these tangible measurements are just "proxies," which of course comes from the same word family as "approximate" – an estimate, not exact. Height and reach are only rough guides; they are not the final word for determining or in some cases even adequately describing size.
For example, let's take a look at Saturday's matchup between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Richard Commey. Commey had a one-inch height and five-inch reach advantage over Lomachenko. On paper, Commey's reach advantage seemed significant. But watching the fight play out, it became obvious that Commey's reach wasn't going to be a factor at all. Not a committed jabber, Commey has made his living with power shots. And even if that were not the case, I can't think of any opponent who has controlled Lomachenko with a jab. He's just not in one place long enough for that punch to be a factor.
|Loma (left) getting work done on the inside|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Much of Lomachenko-Commey took place at mid-range or closer. And when there was clinching on the inside, it was Loma, the "featherweight" or the "junior lightweight," who was manhandling the supposedly bigger fighter. Lomachenko scored the fight's only knockdown in the seventh when he maneuvered himself in the clinch to create an opening and landed a huge, short left hand.
Later on in the round, Lomachenko had Commey trapped in a corner. Commey tried his best to get out of that position, but Lomachenko's punching, use of distance and physical strength wouldn't allow Commey to get to safety. Commey just barely survived the seventh, but that round illustrated the folly of using size proxies as gospel. Loma's core strength and how he applied it made it clear who was the more imposing physical fighter – and it wasn't the guy who has been a big lightweight throughout most of his career.
In a strong performance, Lomachenko won via a wide unanimous decision. This fight should be a reminder that he's far more than just hand speed and clever angles. He was causing damage with his fists, sure, but he also used his body to dominate his opponent. Hopefully, this will help end the lazy narrative that Lomachenko isn't a real lightweight. He was a physical force in the ring on Saturday, beating up a former lightweight champion. To me it doesn't matter what division he started his professional career; what I saw was a fighter who was beating up a strong lightweight with his body. At no point did Lomachenko look overmatched physically in the fight. If anything, Commey had never experienced that type of physical depletion in the ring.
Conor Benn was not viewed as a serious threat to the top of the welterweight division 18 months ago. The son of a famous fighter, he had a strong surname and some rudimentary power. He helped sell tickets and generated some casual interest on Matchroom cards.
But a funny thing has happened over his last four fights, he has improved significantly. Under trainer Tony Sims' guidance, Benn has added numerous facets to his game. He's now much more than a crude knockout artist. He puts punches together well. He invests in body shots. His footwork has become more functional and less ponderous. He has learned to pace himself better.
|Benn (left) knocking out Algieri in the 4th round|
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Benn knocked out former junior welterweight champ Chris Algieri on Saturday with a perfect one-two. The final right hand landed like a missile and Algieri, who is usually a durable fighter, was left motionless on the canvas for a few brief moments. He wasn't in any type of position to beat the count.
As Benn has been moved steadily up the welterweight division, the next test for him is to see if his chin can hold up. To this point, you won't find a real puncher on his resume, and I have to believe that's not coincidental. If he can take a punch, he will have a chance at the top of the division. His offense can be explosive and he has fight-ending power. But if his beard isn't up to snuff, much of that won't matter. It's time to see what the kid has. There is no easy way to get a belt at welterweight, and the handbrakes need to come off. Let's see if Conor can take a punch. We know he can throw one.
Boxing presents infinite opportunities for those inclined to be angry to express themselves: subpar matchups; sanctioning body shenanigans, poor judging, the best not fighting the best, etc. And there will always be time to return to those areas of discontent. However, let's also not lose the forest through the trees; boxing continues to offer sublime pleasures. On Saturday, we had another opportunity to witness one of boxing's best treats – Nonito Donaire's left hook.
Donaire, still a titlist at 39, ended yet another opponent on Saturday with his signature shot. Reymart Gaballo fought with determination and steel in the first three rounds of their fight. It was clear that he wanted to defeat his Filipino countryman and announce himself on the world stage. But the problem that so many fighters encounter with Donaire is that when they throw their right hand often, there will be an opportunity for Donaire to land his left hook.
|Donaire (right) landing his signature left hook|
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin
Donaire connected with the left to the body in the fourth. He actually left his feet to land the shot, which connected with a sickening thud. Gaballo dropped to the canvas. He tried getting up at "8," but the pain was too much and went right back down.
In my opinion Donaire's left hook and Deontay Wilder's right hand are the best two punches in boxing today. Both fighters have losses on their resume; they have and can be beaten. But they have the potential to knock out any single opponent in front of them with their best shot. Donaire doesn't have the speed that he once did. His defense is now just adequate. But he still has that crushing left hook. It's a special punch. And it was my pleasure to watch him display his prodigious gift one more time.
Flyweight champ Sunny Edwards has great feet, among the very best in boxing. And in addition to his considerable athleticism, he understands range very well. Without a huge punch he knows that his best chance of winning any given fight will be on the outside. His opponent on Saturday, Jayson Mama, understood this as well. Mama spent the first four rounds of their fight doing exactly what he needed to do against a much faster foe: going to the body, making the fight rough and rugged, and using the dark arts to gain an advantage.
The opening third of the fight was a huge gut check for Edwards. Mama rabbit punched him a lot, went low with shots and wasn't shy about leading with his head. By the third round Edwards had a huge cut on his hairline from a headbutt. Mama made these rounds competitive. In addition to the fouls and grappling, he landed some eye-catching chopping right hands.
But then it was almost as if a switch turned on for Edwards and he said to himself: I don't need to be in this type of fight. He spent the last seven rounds or so of the bout in cruise control, dominating the action from the outside. By the end of the match, Mama looked demoralized. It was even hard to remember that Mama had success in the early-going; it had been that long ago. Edwards wound up winning a wide unanimous decision and he demonstrated his class in being able to make in-fight adjustments.
To beat Edwards, an opponent is going to have to have great legs AND a big punch. Flyweight currently isn't a deep division, but the titleholders are very good. Fights against fellow titlists such as Junto Nakatani and Julio Cesar Martinez would be terrific matchups.
Although Edwards will never have the physicality to beat the best in an inside fight, few in the entire sport have the combination of his foot speed and boxing ability from the outside. For fans of that outside pure-boxing style (which isn't everyone's cup of tea), Edwards should be a must-watch. And even if you don't like watching a boxer who moves so much, it's still impressive to observe a fighter who has mastered a particular style so comprehensively.