Sunday, March 13, 2022

Opinions and Observations: Wood-Conlan

As late as the 11th round in Saturday's fight, Leigh Wood was in danger of being knocked out. Throughout the bout Michael Conlan had repeatedly landed punishing rear left hooks from the southpaw position, one of which led to a knockdown in the first round. In the 11th Conlan was now pasting Wood with sharp lead right hooks. Wood took big punch after big punch, yet somehow, he stayed on his feet. 

Despite being battered through large portions of the match, Wood kept coming forward. He was able to land a flash knockdown on Conlan at the end of the 11th to tighten up the scorecards, but going into the last round he was behind in the fight.

A minute into the 12th he backed up Conlan to the ropes. He threw a combination to keep Conlan busy. Conlan turned his head to slip one of the shots and that moment provided Wood with the opportunity he was looking for. Conlan's arms were not in a defensively responsible position leaving his head unguarded and exposed. Wood saw the opening and threw a short, devastating right hand on Conlan's temple; the shot made Conlan's body go limp. With two additional shots Wood knocked Conlan through the ropes and out of the ring. And just like that, with a quick flurry that lasted no more than a few seconds, the fight was over! It was a remarkable comeback from Wood and a performance that exemplified what top-level boxing can offer. 

Conlan (right) with the 1st-round knockdown
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Although the finale of the fight was shocking and unexpected, the conclusion didn't occur in a vacuum. Perhaps most importantly, let's remember where that final knockout sequence happened: the ropes. As early as the first half of the fight, Conlan's trainer, Adam Booth, beseeched his fighter to stay off the ropes. Yet, as the fight progressed, Conlan spent more and more time there, some of it his own preference, but Wood's pressure also was a significant factor in Conlan's decision making. 

Throughout his professional career Conlan has usually fought as a classic boxer, employing his jab, angles and quick combinations to better his opponents. Conlan possesses fancy footwork, the ability to switch hit and a high Ring IQ. But on Saturday, Conlan started the fight as the hunter. Throwing big left hand after big left hand, Conlan put everything into his shots. Wood was vulnerable and Conlan went for the stoppage. Conlan had the element of surprise in his favor and Wood just couldn't adjust to that rear left hook. 

The fight reminded me of Froch-Groves 1, where Groves, the supposed boxer, immediately started with power shots and scored an early knockdown. Groves landed dozens of punishing blows, but eventually, he lost steam and his opponent wisely kept going to the body. Groves would lose that fight by a controversial stoppage, but there was no doubt that Froch was ascendent as the bout was called off by the referee. 

On Saturday, Conlan's unfamiliarity with the role of Destroyer took its toll. Despite his success, the energy required for his big shots was depleting him. He unloaded his entire holster, yet Wood was still standing. Through stretches of many rounds in the second half of the fight, Conlan would either go to the ropes voluntarily or he would acquiesce to Wood's desire to press the action. And while Conlan's reliance on the ropes helped him temporarily stave off exhaustion, Wood was able to have success in several exchanges in close quarters. 

Conlan sent through the ropes in the 12th
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Conlan's insistence on fighting along the ropes showed a lack of tools at his disposal. There are other ways to slow down the action of a fight. He could have tied up more in the center of the ring. He could have tried to backfoot Wood for a round or two with just his jab. Yet Conlan kept going back to the ropes, even though he was warned that by doing so he would give Wood his best chance of success. 

I don't want to sound too harsh on Conlan. In many respects this was his best performance as a professional fighter. Offensively, he displayed several gifts. He showed an improvisational ability that is beyond many top fighters. Switching stances, Conlan was able to discover that rear hook opening not four or five rounds into the fight, but almost immediately. Furthermore, Conlan was far from a one-trick pony. Once Wood was more conscious of the left hand, Conlan went to work at close range with right hooks. At points his jab was very effective as well. Despite possessing the ability to do so, Conlan didn't try to stink out the fight for a win; he wanted to make a grand statement on the biggest stage of his career. His approach and temperament were laudable. 

However, at the very top of the sport there are fine margins that separate winning and losing. And unfortunately for Conlan, he went to the same well too many times (the ropes). There are very few fighters who can consistently get the better of their opponents with their back on the ropes. Many try; few succeed.  

Wood celebrates his victory
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Conlan did many things well against Wood, but a fight is 12 rounds, and only one boxer was left standing on Saturday. Conlan will need to learn how to pace himself better, to navigate 12-round fights against real threats. There are times to step on and off the gas and hopefully he will perform better in similar circumstances in the future. 

As for Wood, what more can be said? His comeback was out of a dream. It was a testament to the code of the professional prizefighter. You never know what the other guy is feeling. As bad as it may be for you, maybe it's worse for the guy in the other corner. Wood's performance highlighted the beauty, ferocity and dread of an attritional sport. During 12 grueling rounds, he was the one who could endure more. It wasn't about his jab or a defensive adjustment or a clever corner instruction. It was his will, his self-belief. Leigh Wood would not yield. He would be knocked down and beaten up. But that wouldn't be enough. He would keep coming. He would persevere. And I'm sure it will be months before his feet touch the ground again. 

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, March 10, 2022

Punch 2 the Face Radio

In this week's Punch 2 the Face podcast, Brandon and I marveled at Roman Gonzalez's performance against Julio Cesar Martinez. We examined what's next for Chocolatito. Also on the podcast, we reviewed the Jose Ramirez-Jose Pedraza fight and looked ahead to this weekend's Leigh Wood-Michael Conlan matchup. To listen to the podcast, 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. 

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Loma and Usyk to Ukraine; Growing Pains for DAZN

Oleksandr Usyk and Vasiliy Lomachenko are among the best fighters in the sport.  Both won gold medals in the Olympics and world title belts in multiple divisions in the professional ranks. And both are in line for huge opportunities in their next fight. Usyk, a current unified heavyweight titlist, has a potential eight-figure purse for the Anthony Joshua rematch, and many believe that Lomachenko is in pole position for a fight with unified lightweight titlist George Kambosos. 

These plans, however, are now on hold. Usyk and Lomachenko have returned to Ukraine to defend their homeland against Russia. This act is extraordinary on many levels. Lomachenko and Usyk are sporting heroes in Ukraine. There is tremendous value in them continuing to ply their trade professionally, to represent their country positively on the international sporting stage. For their upcoming fights they would have the opportunity to speak out against the invasion and have platforms and visibility for their perspective. Public relations and propaganda (and I don't use the world negatively in this context) are vital tools for every government and cause.

Oleksandr Usyk after his victory over Anthony Joshua
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

Furthermore, even if Usyk and Lomachenko did decide to be apolitical and not talk directly about the crisis in their homeland, they could still be looked at as role models for their country and throughout the sporting world. Continuing to fight would have value both within Ukraine and in the larger international framework. But these roads have not been taken. 

What Usyk and Lomachenko are doing deserves praise on the highest level. They are passing up millions of dollars and perhaps, if something unfortunate does happen to them during the war, their future ability to earn from boxing. That money could be used for their families for generations to come, to improve their standing. 

Each has sacrificed financial rewards and the glories of professional sport at the highest level for a greater perceived purpose. There was no mandate for them to take up arms, but each believed that the defense of his country was far more important than money, fame or the trappings of boxing. Here's hoping that both emerge from the war healthy, successful in their endeavors, with their families intact, and with the ability to delight millions of boxing fans around the world once again.  


Last week, the streaming service DAZN announced that they would utilize pay per view as part of their boxing product offering, starting with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez's next fight with Dmitry Bivol. To those who follow the sport closely, this change was not a surprise. After all, pay per view has been the bread-and-butter way to maximize boxing revenues for over 30 years. But the announcement represented a marked change for DAZN, which featured the "end of pay per view" as part of their marketing. 

DAZN entered boxing in 2018 and has relied on annual or monthly subscriptions for revenue. They also feature other sports in various markets including soccer (football) and darts, among others. Working with boxing promoters such as Matchroom and Golden Boy, DAZN has broadcasted a substantial amount of boxing content. For diehard fans of the sport, the company has to this point provided a lot of value; however, boxing diehards don't make the financial world go round – there just aren't enough of them. Boxing rights fees, although cheaper than many other sports, add up and enormous contracts given to Matchroom, Golden Boy (chiefly for Canelo's services, since re-engineered after Canelo left Golden Boy) and Gennadiy Golovkin haven't set the boxing world aflame. In addition, the financial outlays for soccer rights fees often include seven or eight zeroes attached to them.

In public disclosures, the company has reported losses of over a billion dollars in both 2019 and 2020. Although billionaire principal Len Blavatnik has recapitalized the company on numerous occasions, DAZN is awash in red ink. In this context, the move to boxing pay per view is understandable and even necessary. 

Much of this has been anticipated by those in and around boxing, but for some reason DAZN was the last one to the party. Major American and British-based networks (Showtime, Sky, BT Sport, Fox and ESPN) have all utilized pay per view as part of their business model. They all know that big events and the maximization of revenues from those events are an important reason to broadcast boxing. Although not every pay per view will be profitable or will turn enough of a profit to affect a company's earnings materially, when a promoter and network hit a home run on a pay per view, the financial rewards are seven or even eight figures; that's real money.

DAZN has tried a number of different pricing strategies and structures since their inception. In America, their monthly fee is now up to $19.99, but they feature a discount for those who get the yearly subscription. They have announced that pay per views will be $20 less for existing subscribers vs. those who buy just the event itself. Yet, all of this is starting to sound very steep. 

It's not cheap to be a boxing fan. Numerous networks and streaming platforms broadcast meaningful fights throughout the world. But, choices have to be made. In England, Channel 5 is showing free fights. Millions of sports fans in the U.K. already have Sky because of the Premier League. In America, almost everyone has ESPN. Showtime has been broadcasting top-level boxing for decades. Can DAZN make itself essential? 

If DAZN plans to stick around in crowded sports markets, it's going to need more content, and better content. That isn't going to be cheap. And of course that's one strategy: More! Bigger! Better!

But maybe it's also time for the want-to-be "Netflix of Sports" to recalibrate. There's value in the boxing that they broadcast. Much of it is additive in that fans wouldn't get it anywhere else. But is that worth $19.99 a month? DAZN's loyal subscribers in the U.S. have already experienced multiple price increases. How many fans have they alienated in this short time? While DAZN is chasing a broader slice of sports fans, if they continue to antagonize their hardcore base, that will have significant ramifications as well. 

DAZN needs some immediate public relations relief and they have to stop treating their subscribers with contempt. Boxing fans are used to paying money for fights, but they don't like being misled. DAZN has made a number of important errors since their entrance into boxing, many of them unforced. Now, it's imperative that they agree on a coherent strategy going forward. Are they actually in the boxing business to stay? If it's part of their long-term strategy, they better start showing more respect to their customers. And if they're just in boxing to get a foothold in the sports landscape, that's fine too, but then maybe they shouldn't be throwing around as much money for lesser fights. Right now, they seem to be on the fence, not a good place to be.  

I don't have personal animosity toward any boxing broadcaster. I want them all to succeed, because that would mean a healthier sport. DAZN is a welcome addition to boxing and despite their mistakes they have provided many memorable fights. But I think it would be a more palatable experience for everyone if they stopped shooting themselves in the foot and figured out exactly what they want to be doing with boxing. And then after that, maybe they should communicate honestly with their subscribers going forward. That would be a good place to start. 

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.