I wonder if there was a sign in the red corner's dressing room on Saturday: The best performance of the night gets an extra $50,000. And as if it were a contest, each winner on Saturday tried his hardest to claim that fictional bonus. What we saw was excellence – hungry fighters, going for it, putting markers down, showing the world their absolute best.
At the top of the card Artur Beterbiev revealed further evidence of his greatness by destroying Joe Smith in two rounds to win his third light heavyweight belt. And as impressive as that performance was, Saturday was also much more than the main event. It was Robeisy Ramirez showing the boxing community that he's finally ready to take his career to the next level. Bruce Carrington let everyone know that he can quickly become a force. Jahi Tucker at 19 demonstrated that he already has several top-shelf skills. And Troy Isley, facing by far his most difficult opponent, displayed not just impressive power and speed, but also a sharp boxing mind. Each of these winners mastered his opponent and it was a thrilling display of talent at Madison Square Garden's Hulu Theater.
|Beterbiev celebrates after his win|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
That Beterbiev knocked out Smith was not a shock, but the new wrinkles he displayed at 37 demonstrated that he's far more than brute force. Beterbiev immediately started the fight with lateral movement, not letting Smith have a straight line of attack. And from the jump, he was in counterpunch mode, which is not an attribute that is usually associated with him. He threw counter right hands that punished Smith's robotic offensive forays. At the end of the first round, he beat Smith to the punch with a right-hand temple shot that dropped Smith as he was coming in.
Beterbiev featured several high-level boxing facets to go along with the howitzers in his gloves. He demonstrated surprising hand and foot speed. His counters were sharp and quick. He also showed a sharp boxing mind, figuring out Smith's offensive setup in lightning-quick fashion. Beterbiev realized that as soon as Smith cocked his right hand, he could beat Smith to the punch with a shorter right hand. This pattern recognition led to three knockdowns in the first two rounds. And in a veteran move, after Beterbiev hurt Smith, he didn't allow his opponent time to recuperate. He pressed forward with two fight-ending uppercuts. Beterbiev's power is of course scary; he has yet to go the distance in 18 fights. But as he demonstrated on Saturday, there's much more to his game than a big punch.
Robeisy Ramirez was a highly touted two-time Olympic gold medal winner when he was signed by Top Rank. He then proceeded to lose his debut in a listless performance against Adan Gonzales, a Colorado club fighter. I was at that fight in Philly and Ramirez didn't look prepared for Gonzales' pressure. Ramirez fought like he expected to win just because he had shown up in the arena.
Ramirez eventually linked up with noted trainer Ismael Salas, but even with this new pairing he still failed to impress on a consistent basis. He would flash moments of high-level skill and then show an utter lack of urgency. He often seemed happy to squeak by in rounds, even if his opponents were far beneath his skill level.
On Saturday Ramirez showed that he has finally turned the corner. Facing the best opponent of his career in Abraham Nova, Ramirez fought on Saturday as if his career depended on it, and maybe it did. He punished Nova with his left hand. Refreshingly, he didn't just lie back waiting to counterpunch. In the third round he beat up Nova with cracking power shots. In the fifth he ended the fight with a two-punch combination. The lead right hook missed, but Nova never saw the straight left coming, and suddenly he was on the canvas under the ropes.
|Ramirez's straight left was his money punch|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
Ramirez appears to have learned that professional boxing is not just about winning. It's also about creating demand, instilling fear, dominating those beneath you, handling your business, and not resting on your laurels. There will always be room for improvement. The history of boxing is filled with great amateurs who were unsuccessful at the top pro level; Ramirez fought on Saturday as if he didn't want to be anywhere near that list.
Bruce Carrington might be Top Rank's best prospect (there is a healthy competition for that designation at the moment). However, he's not young (25) and turned pro relatively late. Even after Saturday's stoppage win, he only has four pro fights. But in his short pro career he has already demonstrated that he can become a factor in the sport, and quickly. Similar to fellow Top Rank prospect Keyshawn Davis and even a young Errol Spence, Carrington displays a preternatural level of poise that is uncommon in prospects, even in top ones.
Let me expound on his poise for a minute. Carrington is not only comfortable at all ranges, he can excel in each one. Many top American prospects aren't adept at inside fighting and shy away from it. Yet Carrington loves going to work in the kitchen. More impressively, he's not spooked by incoming fire. He's also not opposed to trading, knowing that his skills and defense will lead to him winning an exchange.
Carrington has a Roy Jones-like ability to double and triple the same power punch in a sequence while still remaining defensively responsible. He had a sequence on Saturday where he landed a triple left hook on Adrian Leyva. He did the same with several consecutive right hands to the body later in the fight.
Carrington has every punch in his toolkit, as well as hand speed and power. We still need to find out if he can take a real punch, but the early signals in his professional career scream FULL STEAM AHEAD!
Top Rank has a stellar pipeline of prospects at the moment and it's tough to keep track of all of them. So many names. So much "talent." But which fighters will be able to distinguish themselves above the "solid prospect" level? Who could be something more? Consider Jahi Tucker. Tucker was a junior national amateur champ and decided to turn pro early. At 19, he's already 8-0 with five knockouts. He's an aggressive fighter with solid technique and power. On Saturday, he repeatedly bested D'Andre Smith with quick one-two's or a double jab followed by the right hand. He marches forward consistently and responsibly. He has a solid boxing foundation and is highly disciplined in the ring for someone of his age.
Tucker still needs to add several facets to his game. Tucker's jab and right hand are far better than his other punches at this point in time. He also doesn't have to get in and out as much. In time he may learn that he can stay in the pocket a little longer and continue to do damage (Carrington does this very well). What Tucker does at this point, he does very well, but we need to see if he has an improvisational gene. How does he make adjustments?
Overall, there's a lot to like with Tucker, who has a fan-friendly aggressive temperament to go along with his considerable skill level. He fights like he's not interested in going rounds, but he does so behind a solid defense. The early signs are very positive.
Olympian Troy Isley faced Donte Stubbs on Saturday. Stubbs has become a favorite of Top Rank, with Saturday's fight being his fourth on a Top Rank card. Stubbs had shown a solid chin, an ability to go rounds and a lack of intimidation against guys with more pedigree. Stubbs started Saturday's fight throwing every punch with knockout intentions, with the correct understanding that he had little chance of outboxing Isley.
|Isley (right) lands a right hand on Stubbs|
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams
This type of opponent was exactly what Isley needed. Stubbs forced him to be defensively responsible. Too often top prospects get by in their early developmental fights with hand speed or power, but they make a lot of mistakes in doing so. However, if Isley decided to back straight up against Stubbs, he would've gotten crushed by a winging left hook, and if he was lazy in returning his hands to a solid defensive position, he would've been cracked by counter rights.
So, Isley passed the first test. A guy was coming in with the sole intention of knocking him out, and Isley remained poised. And if Isley had just boxed his way to a cautious victory against that kind of opponent, it would have been a great learning opportunity for him. But Isley not only nullified Stubbs, he punished him. Isley capitalized on Stubbs' wide shots and scored two knockdowns in the fight, the last one icing him in the sixth.
Isley is now 6-0 with four KOs. This was the performance that he needed. Throughout his early professional fights he had done nothing to dampen his prospect sheen, but he also wasn't making many waves; he was just progressing. This type of highlight reel KO was important to build his buzz.
Isley is certainly one to watch, as were all of these winners on Saturday's card. They all performed, entertained and made boxing fans want to see more. And that's what it's about. Create the demand. Keep building.