Wednesday, April 27, 2022

MTK Global and the Void

By now, most of you are aware of the collapse of MTK Global, a Dubai-based firm that managed fighters and promoted boxing cards. The party officially stopped for them when The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Daniel Kinahan and placed a $5M bounty for his arrest. Kinahan, an Irish national alleged to be involved in a pan-national narcotics operation, had been intimately involved in advising fighters and played an essential role in the formation of MTK Global (formerly MGM). 

The extent of Kinahan's recent involvement in the operations of MTK Global remains unsettled, at least in an official capacity, but over the last few years he has been pictured with an array of fighters, he recently met with Mauricio Sulaiman (the head of the WBC), and Top Rank head Bob Arum admitted to an Irish newspaper that he had paid Kinahan millions in advisory fees for delivering four Tyson Fury fights. Clearly, Kinahan retained some degree of influence in the current fight scene, and most likely not a negligible one.

A little more than a week after the U.S. sanctions were announced, MTK Global ceased operations, admitting that their existing business partners (promoters, TV networks, etc.) no longer would associate with them. Although MTK was not officially sanctioned by the U.S., several other businesses aligned with Kinahan were, and the historical connections between Kinahan and MTK Global had been too rampant for plausible deniability to remain.

There are intrepid government officials, reporters, members of law enforcement, and perhaps a friendly whistle blower or two who have helped set these wheels in motion. Kinahan had been in exile from Ireland for many years, with arrests warrants out for his capture, but even that didn't thwart his involvement in boxing. However, when the U.S. feds got involved, certain inconvenient facts could no longer be overlooked by many in the sport. 

Boxing has forever attracted unsavory elements. From organized crime, to corrupt commissions, officials and organizations, to fixed fights, to rating scandals, to bookies and gambling rings, to bribes, to money launderers, to authoritarian regimes using the sport to project power; the sport has often been infected or infiltrated by members of the criminal class, or those who have resorted to criminality to arrive at a certain outcome. In other words, I'm not naive to boxing's sordid history. The Kinahans of the world will not be the first or last member of the underground economy to try their hand in professional boxing. 

But two things about this saga continue to interest me: 1. The astounding rise of MTK and Kinahan in just a decade. 2. The void that they filled. 

What follows may be uncomfortable for some and I realize that I may risk upsetting several existing relationships that I have cultivated in my time covering the sport, but this isn't an issue in which to sit on the sidelines.

In ten years, Kinahan and his tentacle organizations went from being relative unknowns in the sport to having a hand in representing a number of the biggest fighters in boxing, including Tyson Fury, Josh Taylor and Terence Crawford. Fighters he personally advised, or through MTK, had promotional contracts with Matchroom Boxing, Queensberry Promotions, Top Rank and Golden Boy (four of the biggest players in the sport). MTK had a television contract with ESPN, a Disney company (home of Mickey Mouse!). Kinahan's fighters also regularly appeared on SKY and BT Sport. SKY and ESPN in particular are part of large public companies with shareholders who we could assume wouldn't want their companies associating with elements of the international narcotics trade: yet, there they were for the whole world to see.

The allure of money swings both ways in boxing. Criminals use the sport to clean their money, or for starfucking purposes, or to exploit another racket in their existing portfolios. But those in boxing need new sources of money, especially for big fights. There are promoters in the sport – solid, stable ones – who have willingly accepted the financial largesse of authoritarian regimes with less than stellar records on human rights. In other words, amorality has often played a large role within the sport, even for those who have managed to remain on the right side of the law. 

In the weeks and months ahead, we will see many involved in boxing put their head in the sand, feign ignorance and tap dance their way around their recent behavior. Quietly, many will work their channels to find the next big source of cash. And you could bet that these potential new players won't all represent all that is right and good in the world. In short, the music will continue even though the song won't sound exactly the same. Maybe it will be a cover version of an old familiar tune. 

MTK became a factor in the sport with its money spread to all sorts of major players. That money was accepted directly by certain parties and tolerated by others. It became the new cost of doing business for many entities in the sport. And the growth of MTK reaffirmed a moral rot in boxing that rears its head every so often, and that rot extended far beyond just fighters or promoters. Representatives of billion-dollar companies played their part as well, either through action or silence. 

And as repulsive as certain elements of the money behind MTK may have been, we also must accept another truth that the company exposed: there was a major void in fighter representation. Starting with boxers based in the British Isles and then moving around the globe, Kinahan and Co. were able to penetrate the sport not just because they could help get big fights made, but because they had boxers willing to sign on the dotted line for them. And not just boxers at the top. They invested in the grassroots of the sport. They set up gyms, they established relationships with amateurs and they gave some lesser talents a shot at a real career. MTK staged cards giving several relatively unknown fighters a chance to be seen and make a future for themselves. MTK was able to convince scores of fighters that their financial futures could be more lucrative and that their existing representation didn't have their best interest as a paramount consideration. 

This is where the current state of boxing had been failing too many fighters. Now it's certainly possible that MTK fighters were lied to. Maybe MTK's promises were unrealistic; maybe the fighters were sheep believing in fanciful fables. But maybe they were also right not to believe that the status quo was serving them well. Let's also not forget that many MTK fighters liked how they were being treated under new management. 

Fighters getting shafted over money and mistreated by the existing power structure...well, that's as old as the sport itself, and it's one of the most unsavory aspects of boxing's history. Over time, the split between promoter and fighter and manager and fighter has shifted more favorably to the boxer. 50/50 contracts are from a bygone era. But maybe those percentages need to shift even more. 

And maybe it's not even just about the money anymore. Perhaps fighters crave better communication, to be treated as adults and real people, not as "product" by a patriarchal figure or organization. Maybe they want more transparency about options in the marketplace, more agency in their own careers. There’s a saying in the sport that sometimes the fighters are the last to know, and in my experience, I have found that to be true on several occasions. Deals are often still negotiated in secret. Not all options are presented to fighters. Managers and promoters have their angles. TV networks get in the way. Clearly what the MTK saga demonstrated was that many fighters didn't believe that existing representation structures were working for them.

I shed no tears for the dissolution of MTK Global. Theirs is not a sob story. At best, the company was far too casual around elements of criminality. At worst,'s much worse. A cleaner sport is a better sport to me. And I don't see a gray area here. 

I am pro-fighter though and I hope that more can have their needs met. One day there will be a person or entity who will offer additional services to fighters that will be game-changers: such as medical coverage for fighters' families and retirement investment vehicles. If this sounds like a pipe dream, maybe it is, but I know that the sport can get there. Someone will come around with that pitch, and it will be an attractive one. 

This sport, full of beauty and repulsiveness, will continue unabated, and I will be here for it. And hopefully out of this MTK debacle, a further push to the good will continue. Although I don't expect this to happen immediately, I'm also hopeful that the right people will start to realize that the fighter representation void can be filled. Boxers can be taken care of far better than they are currently, and the one who figures this out will have much to gain. We don't need more MTKs, but we do need those who put fighters first. The fighters are the sport. They are its future. They deserve to have their families put in a better place because of what they do in the ring. And the fact that so many were willing to align with an obvious criminal element to meet their needs is a damning reflection on how the sport of boxing was failing them.

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. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Opinions and Observations: Spence-Ugas

Every once in a while, a trainer and fighter come together to devise and execute a masterful game plan that makes boxing a joy to watch. Errol Spence's comprehensive victory over Yordenis Ugas on Saturday was such a case. Trainer Derrick James did his homework on Ugas. He understood exactly what was in front of him. Ugas was a counterpuncher who could be outworked. In addition, James determined that Ugas' counter right hand was his best weapon, and that he needed space to throw it. Thus, James created a brilliant game plan, where Spence would crowd Ugas' left side and attack with volume, which in theory would significantly reduce the effectiveness of Ugas' right hand. 

A game plan can be great, but a fighter needs to buy in to it, to commit fully for it to be realized. And where Spence deserves credit is that he understood a certain portion of his skill set would be required to win the fight, but other attributes of his could be detrimental to the cause, such as power shots from range and utilizing his back foot. Furthermore, Spence needed to commit exclusively to inside fighting, a style that he hadn't totally embraced in recent years. Over his last few fights, Spence had blended aspects of fighting from all ranges, but against Ugas, he agreed to the grueling and risky approach of coming right into the kitchen and working relentlessly. 

Spence (left) landing his left uppercut
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

The results were stunning. Spence scored a tenth-round stoppage as Ugas' right eye completely closed from the inside carnage that Spence had administered. Ugas at best won two or three rounds and after the sixth he was reduced to sporadic single shots here and there. 

The geography of the fight was mostly Spence operating on Ugas' left shoulder, where Spence could work his left hand freely, but he was at such an angle where Ugas couldn't throw his right hand with much effectiveness. Spence and James were giving Ugas the opportunity to use his left, especially to the body, but they correctly gambled that by taking away Ugas' right, Spence would hold a huge advantage in the fight. 

Ugas wasn't ineffectual every second of the fight. He was able to land some cracking counter rights at the end of the third and he did unload on Spence during an unusual moment in the sixth where Spence lost his mouthpiece and was looking at the ref to stop the action; Ugas connected with his best right in the bout, which flung Spence to the ropes. And in fairness, a knockdown should have been called at that moment since the ropes kept Spence from going down. But those were really all of the highlights from Ugas' performance. He did get through with some solid body shots on occasion, but he seldom was able to put punches together or seize momentum in the fight, even for small periods.  

Spence's left uppercut was his money punch on Saturday. James and Spence noticed that Ugas leaned his head forward with a high guard, protecting straight shots to the head. But there was room between his gloves, especially coming from underneath. Spence landed his uppercut dozens of times throughout the fight and they were punishing blows. Ugas was never able to make a defensive adjustment to neutralize the punch. 

Spence mixed in other power punches from close range as well. His right hook to the body cracked Ugas on numerous occasions. His straight left to the body was pulverizing. 

Often, we talk about boxers who make fights harder for themselves than they need to be; but Spence-Ugas was the opposite. Ugas is a skilled and rugged fighter who has proven that he can defeat top-level welterweights. However, Spence looked levels above anything that Ugas had to offer. But I want to stress that it didn't have to be that way. Spence capitalized on Ugas' weaknesses and succeeded. It may have looked somewhat easy, but that's only because he followed a great game plan. If he decided to fight at mid-range or retreat, it could have been a much different fight, a much more competitive one. 

Spence and his team celebrate the victory
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

It was not a great night for Ismael Salas, Ugas' trainer. Round after round, a similar pattern of the fight manifested and yet Ugas remained tethered to the spot right in front of Spence. Ugas rarely tried to move forward. And except when he was hurt, he rarely used his back foot. Ugas has the capacity to attack or retreat and be effective, but he chose to do neither of those things. Instead, he remained a target for Spence, as if he couldn't process what was happening to him. The fight demanded a radical adjustment for Ugas to turn it around, but nothing of note was implemented. 

Let's also give Spence credit for additional aspects of his performance. Having survived a car crash that wrecked his body and undergone retinal surgery on his left eye, it would have been perfectly understandable and even reasonable if he insisted on fighting Ugas with more caution. But Spence attacked ferociously the enitre fight, demonstrating that he had put both traumas behind him. Furthermore, Spence's agility and stamina looked much better than it had in his last fight, against Danny Garcia. Spence made weight without any outward signs of difficulty and moved around the ring on Saturday like a much younger version of himself. He didn't labor. He didn't need to take a round or two off. There was no retreating to avoid wear-and-tear on his body. He was fresh and energized. 

Spence did not look like a fighter in decline on Saturday. His commitment to the sport was evident in how he fought and how he prepared for the match. Yes, he can be hit, but he hits back, and he keeps coming with power and volume. He remains a force at welterweight, a big draw, and one of the best in the sport. Fortunately, injuries didn't derail his career. He's an elite talent and I'm thankful that we'll get to see more of him.    

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, April 14, 2022

Punch 2 the Face Radio

On this week's Punch 2 the Face Podcast, Brandon and I previewed the big Spence-Ugas fight. We also looked back at a wildly entertaining fight weekend with Sebastian Fundora earning his signature win and Gennadiy Golovkin reminding the boxing world of what he once could do. Plus, we talked about some current events in in the sport (Kinahan, etc.) and some strange matchmaking. 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. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Spence-Ugas: Preview and Prediction

Errol Spence (27-0, 21 KOs) and Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs) meet Saturday for a three-belt welterweight unification at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In addition to the inherent drama of two of the top fighters at 147 lbs. squaring off, Spence's physical health brings added intrigue to the matchup. Spence was slated to meet Manny Pacquiao last year, but he failed an eye exam. Ugas stepped in as the late-replacement opponent and won a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Spence subsequently had retinal surgery and let's also not forget that he recently had missed a significant period of time due to a serious auto accident. 

Spence's left eye may be the most important factor in this fight. Retina injuries can be career-threatening and although Spence has received the all-clear from the relevant organizing authorities, there are physical and psychological concerns about his injury that are important in assessing the fight. Will Spence's repaired eye allow him to go 12 hard rounds against a top-level fighter? Ugas's counter right hand might be his signature punch and that lines up perfectly with Spence's left eye. You can bet that Ugas will target it. 

And then there are the psychological ramifications of the eye injury. Will Spence try to limit exchanges because of a concern for his eye? Will he fight with the same type of aggression and comfort level that he had prior to his injury? These are all open questions heading into the fight and shouldn't be minimized. Spence in theory has edges over Ugas in terms of volume and being the effective aggressor (a scoring criterion), but if he fights more passively, does he lose those two advantages?

Spence and Ugas at the fight announcement
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott

This leads to a discussion about fighting styles. Ugas is a counterpuncher. He can carve up opponents that have defensive shortcomings. He can counter well with either hand. His top three weapons are his counter right to the head, his straight right to the body and his left hook to the body. He's accurate with his punches and he's also rugged on the inside. He can work expertly in the clinch and he is also adept at catching, blocking and parrying shots. Ugas does hits solidly, but he's not a knockout puncher. You won't find a stoppage over a champion or a legit contender on his resume. 

Spence is one of the few fighters in the sport who excels at every range. He has a great jab when he wants to use it. He can slug it out from the outside or at mid-range and he's adept at coming inside and throwing combinations in tight quarters. He's a vicious body puncher and often finishes up combinations with a pinpoint right hook. 

As Spence has matured as a fighter he has learned how to pace himself. He'll have rounds where he applies a lot of pressure, but then he also knows when to take a breather on the outside and use his legs. He can hold his ground and trade or use the ring to his advantage. 

Both Spence and Ugas will have distinct advantages early in the fight. The angles of Ugas' counters often surprise opponents. Many of his shots, especially to the head, are somewhere between a straight punch and a hook. He'll also throw wider hooks with both hands. It often takes fighters several rounds to acclimate to his punching style, and some never do. 

Spence's length and expert combination punching trouble opponents. When he's in his groove, his punches flow effortlessly. He puts four and five shots together with ease and he expertly varies his punches to the head and body. And his game isn't about hand speed, but precision. He takes the extra split second to land his shots. This premeditation also allows him to be more defensively responsible. He doesn't wing shots off-balance or out-of-position. His feet are in the right position and he throws his punches with perfect weight distribution. 

Where Spence can get into trouble is against the unconventional or when he misjudges range when leaving the pocket. He never seemed fully comfortable against Shawn Porter's ferocious onslaught, which included many untraditional punches. He also got tagged by a number of Danny Garcia right hands from distance late in their fight. Spence wasn't in danger of losing that bout at any point, but there were a few occasions were Spence thought that he was out of range, but really wasn't. And make no mistake, despite the relatively lopsided scoring of the fight, he got hit with some very hard shots. 

In my estimation I don't see either guy winning by stoppage. Ugas doesn't have KO power and Spence has been slightly more risk averse as he has matured. If the knockout isn't there for him, he's not going to force it. I believe that the judges will have a hard task in this fight. They will need to determine if Spence's overall offensive package or Ugas' sharp, single counter shots will carry each round. And it might not be an easy task to arrive at that conclusion. 


I must admit that I've changed my pick since the fight was originally announced. Initially I liked Ugas to win because I think that he'll be able to land his counter right frequently against Spence. And I also believe that he'll surprise Spence with the quality of his body shots. 

However, I think that optics and politics will play a big role in the scoring of the fight. Remember, aggressors have an inherent advantage in scoring rounds. Effective aggression is a scoring criterion in it of itself. Spence will more often be making the fight. He'll have the crowd behind him. He's the bigger star. There will be periods of the fight where he will land three shots to Ugas' one, and although Ugas' connect will be solid, it still might not be enough to nullify Spence's success in the exchange. 

Counterpunchers need to win rounds clearly, especially when they are the B-side. They can't leave doubt among the judges. Spence will be doing more work and I will expect him to end the fight with more punches thrown and landed. Although I don't think that he will dominate, I believe that he will do enough to have his hand raised at the end of the night. And I am also assuming that his eye holds up.  

I believe that Spence-Ugas will be an intriguing tactical fight that will contain periodic moments of excitement where both will land impressive shots. And I think that we'll also see high-level exchanges between two who are masters of their craft. But Spence will let his hands go more frequently and that will be enough to carry the day. Punch-for-punch, these two fighters might have similar effectiveness. But when things are close, the natural tendency will be to gravitate to the fighter who is doing just that little bit more.  

Errol Spence defeats Yordenis Ugas, winning 7 or 8 rounds in the fight. 

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.  

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Opinions and Observations: Golovkin-Murata, Lubin-Fundora

After the fourth round of Gennadiy Golovkin's grueling middleweight unification match with Ryota Murata, the momentum of the fight was going Murata's way. Although Golovkin had a bright opening round, Murata worked his way into the fight with punishing work on the inside, mixing in right uppercuts, left hooks to the body and straight rights. Murata's big shots were having an effect and perhaps this was the beginning of the end for the once-great Golovkin. 

But in a situation similar to last year's Anthony Joshua-Oleksandr Usyk fight, Golovkin, like Usyk, found another switch and he was able to up the ferocity and effectiveness of his power shots; he just wouldn't be denied. By the seventh round Golovkin was rag-dolling Murata against the ropes. He ended the fight with a beautiful counter right hook in the ninth that spun Murata around and dropped him to the canvas. Within 20 minutes of real time, Golovkin went from "old fighter" to "still a relevant force." It was a sudden and impressive turnaround.

Golovkin (left) and Murata exchanged vicious power shots
Photo courtesy of DAZN

Unlike Golovkin's last fight of note, against Sergiy Derevyanchenko, it was GGG who was the fresher fighter in the second half. He essentially outpunched Murata, which is no easy fete at the age of 40 and coming off a significant layoff. 

Golovkin's performance on Saturday was a reminder of what a special offensive fighter he was and still remains. His combinations flowed. He frequently landed left hook to the body/left uppercut combos that Murata couldn't defend. He pumped his jab like the old days. Golovkin also landed his signature high-arching left hook to the top of the head, a punch that would break the hands of many a lesser fighter. But for me, the punch that won Golovkin the fight was his right hook. Golovkin isn't blessed with top-shelf hand speed, which makes the rear hook even more dangerous to throw because the whole right side of his body is left unprotected. However, with expert marksmanship, he repeatedly wrapped his right hook around Murata's high guard, and did so with devastating results. 

The knockout blow was a counter right hook thrown over a lead left hook. Those two punches come from the same side, and despite Golovkin's age and supposed athletic decline, that final punch was thrown and landed almost in a blur – that’s how perfect it was. It took a few replays even to see the trajectory of the shot. And you can bet that Murata never anticipated it. 

Golovkin will be remembered for his power and his jab, but what may be forgotten is how creative a puncher he can be. He's not a robot that throws the one-two in programmed ways. When he's flowing he has every punch at his disposal. In addition, he can vary the angle and the speed of his shots so that they are harder to defend. He's not just a "puncher." There's an acute boxing mind behind his expressionless face in the ring. 

In the twilight of his career, Golovkin has become more of an opportunistic businessman than a fighter. He has not chosen to face certain formidable challengers, just as he was not given opportunities by bigger names on his way up. It does leave a bit of a sour taste. But for one night, let's push politics aside and remember that Golovkin was a special talent. The Murata fight was a welcome reminder of why so many boxing fans once gravitated to GGG. Watching him ply his destructive trade was one of boxing's great joys. 


Erickson Lubin walked back to his corner after the second round and got an earful from his trainer, Kevin Cunningham. Lubin had just gotten dropped by a Sebastian Fundora right uppercut and he was in bad shape. Cunningham was in disbelief with what he had just witnessed. Boxing well in the first, Lubin strafed Fundora with a number of power shots from mid-range and the outside. And yet in the second Lubin went right at Fundora, standing in the kitchen with his 6'6" opponent and going toe-to-toe. It was a maddening decision by Lubin and Cunningham was irate. 

But this would be the theme of Lubin's night in this wonderful and brutal battle: Lubin the Freelancer. He showed guts beyond belief and the heart of a champion. But he fought the wrong fight and paid the price. 

It was clear from Cunningham's instructions throughout the fight that he wanted Lubin to use his legs more, to get in and out, to be a sniper. Lubin would answer affirmatively after every piece of direction was given. Sometimes he would do what Cunningham asked; sometimes he wouldn't. 

Fundora (right) throwing one of many uppercuts
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey

That Lubin still had significant periods of success points to his skill set and fortitude. Even after getting dropped in the second, he went after Fundora in the third and fourth rounds and landed a number of impressive hard left hands. 

The seventh round will be tough to beat for 2022's Round of the Year. Fundora landed one hellacious left uppercut after another. The fight looked as if it was ready to be stopped. Lubin didn't hold or use his legs; he just drifted straight back toward the ropes, staying in range to be hit with more shots. And despite taking a brutal beating, Lubin bit down and landed three menacing straight left hands and Fundora, seconds away from getting the stoppage, was now on the canvas, and he was hurt. It was special stuff.

But that would be Lubin's last stand. In the eighth Fundora continued to land blistering power shots. Lubin's face had become grossly disfigured, with huge pockets of swelling around his nose, eyes and cheekbones. In the ninth, Fundora battered Lubin along the ropes and after that Cunningham had seen enough. He stopped the fight. 

Lubin made the mistake that many others have in assessing Fundora. With such a big frame and so much body to hit, it must seem so tempting to rough up Fundora on the inside, to chop down the tree. However, that's exactly where Fundora wants to fight. Fundora is not just comfortable on the inside, he thrives there. He has figured out a way to land his best punches in that geography. I'm sure that most trainers would look at Fundora and implore him to use his height and reach more, but Fundora has developed in a unique manner. The closer an opponent is to him, the better he does. 

Cunningham knew exactly what he had in front of him regarding Fundora, but Lubin needed to find out for himself. And he found out the hard way. There are certain fighters who are gifted freelancers, who can identify opportunities or sniff out weakness in an opponent that are beyond even what their trainers could fathom. But these fighters are few, and Lubin isn't one of them. It's possible that by sticking with Cunningham’s game plan that Lubin would have won the fight. However, he was unwilling to trust his corner. He felt that he knew better. He was a little too brash for his own good. A more disciplined performance was needed and Lubin wasn't able to give that. 

As for Fundora, his size, tenacity, unique dimensions and power punching will make him a tough out in the junior middleweight division. He is a beast. But he might be a tamable beast. His chin can be cracked. And in a division of heavy hitters, there are a number of fighters who have the potential to stop him. But what Saturday's fight showed is that an opponent is going to have to beat Fundora with cleverness mixed in with power. Out-toughing or outlasting Fundora isn't going to be the way to get the better of him. It's using deception, running him into shots, controlling the pace of the fights, using the ring to one's advantage. 

Fundora will make for wildly entertaining fights. He represents the new guard at 154 lbs. that will soon be fighting for titles. This group includes Tim Tszyu, Charles Conwell, Israil Madrimov, and a number of others. They all hit hard too. As imposing as Fundora can look there's no guarantee that he will emerge as the next heir at junior middleweight. But in the meantime, let's enjoy the ride. Many have looked at him and dismissed his future prospects in the sport. Yet here he is continuing to beat excellent fighters and silence his doubters. Fundora has forced his way into conversations about the next generation of fighters who could lead the sport forward. He wasn't part of anyone's master plan. But he's a threat, a force, a problem. And win or lose, we're going to watch.   

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.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Lubin-Fundora: Two Development Pathways

How fighters are developed is a crucial component in determining their ultimate success in boxing. Although fighter development is more of an art than a science, the goal with any young boxer is to move him or her up the ladder until they are ready to take on top talent. This process features a degree of guesswork because some advanced fighters need far fewer rungs on their ladder than those who need more time to improve and refine their skills. 

In the modern era of boxing we have seen vast differences in how fighters are moved. On one side there are boxers like Vasiliy Lomachenko, who was deemed ready for a title shot in his second pro fight (although he lost that bout, but won a belt in his third outing), and Naoya Inoue, who secured a world title in his sixth pro match. Then there are those like Kelly Pavlik, who had 31 pro fights before his first title shot, and Deontay Wilder, who had 32 bouts prior to his opportunity. Obviously, a significant chasm exists between the extremes of fighter development.

All of the above is in the context of this weekend's scintillating 154 lb. matchup between Erickson Lubin (24-1, 17 KOs) and Sebastian Fundora (18-0-1, 12 KOs). Lubin and Fundora represent opposite sides of the development spectrum. What makes it even more interesting is that the same company (PBC) has been responsible for much of both fighters' development (although it should be stated that Lubin didn't align with the PBC until a little later on in his development pathway).  

Erickson Lubin
Photo Courtesy of Amanda Westcott

Lubin is now 26, but he received his first title shot over four years ago, where he was wiped out in one round by Jermell Charlo. Prior to the Charlo fight, Lubin had a relatively weak slate of opponents. He had lacked a genuine 50-50 matchup in his later development fights. He was supposed to accomplish big things in the sport and wasn't given many real challenges on the way up. His development was the path of least resistance with his team looking more toward a title shot than creating a well-rounded fighter. Jorge Cota, a solid gatekeeper, was Lubin's best opponent prior to facing Charlo.

Lubin's outing against Charlo exposed significant defensive shortcomings. The final sequence started with Charlo attacking Lubin with a simple double jab. Lubin tried to avoid the second jab by ducking down and to his left, but he left his body completely unprotected, with his gloves nowhere near his face. Charlo immediately followed with a right hand, and that was all she wrote. 

It was a stunning turn of events for Lubin, who had been viewed as one of the top prospects in the sport. However, it must be said that Charlo didn't have to do anything flashy to score his KO. He employed no trickery or subterfuge – just a double jab and a right hand behind it. Lubin's defensive posture was a mess and he's spent the last four+ years getting back to the place where he was in 2017. 

Lubin's development pathway wasn't necessarily unique in boxing. Many young uber-talents such as Canelo, Anthony Joshua, Gervonta Davis, Shakur Stevenson and Gary Russell Jr. were thrown into title shots without real championship-level experience. For many teams these days, the goal is to get a young kid a belt and then develop him further as a champion. There are differing opinions on the validity of this strategy, but there's no question that it is frequently employed across the sport. 

On one hand, the urge to provide a life-changing opportunity for a fighter is strong. Although Anthony Joshua was not a fully developed fighter when he faced Charles Martin for a title, the opportunity was too significant to pass up. And even though Joshua never became a complete, well-rounded fighter, it's tough to argue with the nine figures in his bank account. Yes, he took a loss against Andy Ruiz that a fighter with more experience would have avoided, but he and his future generations will be set. That he didn't reach his ultimate aptitude in boxing is more our problem than his. 

But the Lubin situation is not similar to Joshua's from my vantage point. Not only didn't he have the right kind of competitive rounds in his development, but he was facing a tough, prime, power-punching boxer for his first title shot. Jermell Charlo was not Charles Martin or a guy like Matthew Hatton, whom Canelo beat for his first title. At the time Charlo was considered close to an A-level fighter, and his recent run of form in the junior middleweight division shows that he could wind up being one of the top-ten fighters in the history of the division. Prior to fighting Lubin, Charlo had faced tough guys like Francisco Santana, Dennis Douglin, Demetrius Hopkins, Joachim Alcine, Vanes Martirosyan, Gabe Rosado and John Jackson, all of whom were at a minimum on the same level as Cota and many were better. And all Lubin really had was Cota. The difference between Charlo's seasoning and Lubin's was vast. And that seasoning manifested when they faced each other in the ring. 

After Lubin lost to Charlo, he aligned with trainer Kevin Cunningham and faced many of the types of fighters that he should have met prior to his world title shot: the cagey former champion Ishe Smith, the rugged Nate Gallimore, former champion and power puncher Jeison Rosario and veteran gatekeeper Terrell Gausha. Through these fights Lubin has learned a lot about himself. He's been tagged by both Gausha and Rosario, but he was able to power through those moments to win without controversy. He's won shootouts when he needed to and relied on his considerable boxing ability on other occasions. With these experiences, he's become a much more well-rounded fighter. (Interestingly, you won't find a notable southpaw on Lubin's list of opponents, and that could be an interesting factor to consider against Fundora.)

A look at Sebastian Fundora's opponents is a stark difference to Lubin's ledger prior to Charlo. Fundora somehow has faced eight undefeated fighters in his first 19 fights. That's a sign that someone behind him didn't fully believe in him at first. Most top prospects are protected to some extent; that's not been the case for Fundora.

Sebastian Fundora
Photo courtesy of Esther Lin

Fundora stands at an unimaginable 6'6", which makes him a unicorn at 154 pounds. There's no one else like him. He looks like a toothpick. There seems to be no muscle on his legs. Yet, he's a fighter who loves trench warfare and mixing it up on the inside. Throughout his career, it's been pure boxers like Jamontay Clark and Sergio Garcia who have given him the most trouble, not the tough bangers. 

But what's worth noting is Fundora's variety of opponents. Yes, he had his shootout with Cota and won. He also dispatched Gallimore without trouble. But Garcia and Clark were crafty and unorthodox. Daniel Lewis had a considerable amateur background and Ve Shawn Owens was a true puncher. 

At 24, Fundora has had a much stronger development slate than Lubin did. Although he also didn't fight a lot of southpaws (with Clark being a notable exception), he's faced opponents who have helped give him additional seasoning at the top levels of boxing. He's had to win wars and also learned to think his way through fights. He's faced fighters with good defenses. He's had opponents who tried running away and others who came right at him. 

Ultimately, Lubin and Fundora are now standing in each other's way for greater glory. They have both overcome doubts and incredulity to be in the mix as top junior middleweights. Lubin deserves considerable credit for picking himself off the canvas and seeking improvement. He has now proved he can overcome adversity. His chin has been tested. He has persevered through rough moments. 

Of course, I will always wonder what would have happened had he fought the right development bouts prior to Charlo. At 26 would he now be indestructible? I bet we wouldn't see the same type of caution that he continues to show on occasion; he still has points in fights where he doesn't seem to trust his chin. 

And Fundora may look like a novelty act, but don't be fooled. He can be a nightmare matchup for many types of fighters. He can use his range, dig to the body and go punch for punch. His endurance is stellar. 

The winner of Lubin-Fundora will have earned it. I's a credit to the boxers and their respective teams for agreeing to take the fight. Saturday's loser could find himself many years away from a title shot; the stakes are high. It's what the sport should be about – two hungry guys going for it, risks be damned. And how each has gotten to this point is one of the more interesting dichotomies in modern boxing. 

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. 
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