I joined this week's Chicken Tawk Boxing Prediction Show where Lefty and I previewed Joshua-Franklin, Ramirez-Dogboe and much more. To listen to the show, click here.
Friday, March 31, 2023
Sunday, March 26, 2023
The idea that David Benavidez might be one of boxing's boogeymen has percolated throughout the sport over the last few years. In his development fights and title defenses (when he was a champion), he had plowed through lesser opposition mostly with ease. With wrecking balls in both hands, an active motor and a high Ring IQ, Benavidez had already demonstrated that he possessed high-level talent; but despite his manifold offensive gifts, he still hadn't beaten elite opposition.
There were three reasons for his lack of top opponents: For one, he wasn't fighting in a strong division until recently. There just weren't too many legitimate top guys to fight. A second factor was of his own doing. Benavidez had lost two titles outside of the ring (failing a drug test and missing weight). As a result, he didn't have the same bargaining position. Without a belt, no one was forced to fight him or go through him to unify the titles. And finally, let's face it, no elite fighter had been in a rush to face him for any reason, title or not. Opponents and their teams have eyes. And while watching Benavidez beat up another opponent, potential challengers weren't licking their lips and proclaiming, "This is the guy that I want!"
However, former champion Caleb Plant accepted the Benavidez challenge and for that he deserves credit. He could have gone in any number of directions for another title shot, but instead he chose the most perilous option.
|Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey|
In analyzing the matchup, Plant had a path to victory. Featuring superior foot speed, fast hands, a sneaky left hook and an ability to land punches while on the move, Plant presented challenges for the more flat-footed Benavidez. In addition, Plant was going to fight on his own terms. He wouldn't get sucked into a war or feel the need to play to the crowd, vital attributes in potentially beating Benavidez.
Plant started Saturday's fight brightly. With his jab, left hook and purposeful movement, he flummoxed Benavidez in the early rounds and controlled the pace of the fight. That Benavidez couldn't even reach more than 40 punches a round until the sixth demonstrates how successful Plant was in the first half of the match.
But as early as the third round, Plant started to lose command of what was working for him. Instead of circling and using purposeful lateral movement to land his punches, he too often went into retreat or decided to hold. And as Benavidez started to get cooking with power punches, Plant evaded or held even more. It was a negative style, which is fine, but Plant also wasn't getting enough work done.
In an interesting development, Benavidez gained a foothold in the fight with his left hook. Now, this was a bold play in that Plant's best punch is his left hook. Remember the old boxing adage, "Never hook with a hooker." Well, Benavidez was willing to turn that axiom on its head and expose himself to Plant's power in order to land his. It was a decision that smacked of machismo, and it worked for him. When they traded their best hooks, Benavidez's shots were far more substantial. Benavidez still wasn't landing with regularity in the third and fourth rounds, but his single left hooks were damaging.
The fight started to swing in Benavidez's direction for good in the middle rounds. What I found most exhilarating was how Benavidez would dominate a stretch of the fight with one punch and then the next round he would get the best of Plant with another weapon in his arsenal. It seemed as if in each successive round he dug into his bag of tricks and found something else that worked. He went from the left hook to the head, to the overhand right, to the left hook to the body, to the right uppercut, to opening up with combinations. Despite Plant's elusiveness, Benavidez was able to get through with all sorts of nastiness.
As Benavidez had more and more success in the fight, it became clear that referee Kenny Bayless wasn't going to give David a fair shake. Despite Plant's incessant holding, it was Benavidez who was often warned for fouling. In addition, Bayless wouldn't let Benavidez work with a free hand in the clinch. There were literally a dozen times where I believe that Bayless broke up the action when the fight could have continued. These instances often stopped Benavidez's momentum and temporarily saved Plant from taking more damage.
And as bad as all that was, Bayless' most egregious moment was when he stopped the action when Plant was hurt to take him to the ringside doctor for a cut that was in an unthreatening area. Overall, it was a terrible display from Bayless, who once was one of the best referees in the sport.
Despite the difficulties that Benavidez had with Bayless, he hurt Plant seemingly at will in the latter half of the fight. In the eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh, I thought that Plant was close to being stopped. And perhaps his corner or Bayless could have called off the fight, but to Plant's credit he was able to survive.
|Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey|
Ultimately, Benavidez won via an impressive unanimous decision; I don't think that he should be criticized for not getting the stoppage. He was fighting two guys in the ring, and with a different official I think that he would have been more than capable of scoring the KO.
Plant just didn't have the punching power to keep Benavidez honest. Although he made Benavidez uncomfortable and forced him to think his way through the fight, Plant couldn't stop Benavidez from marching forward. Plant has shown that he can be a capable operator in the ring, but when he faces real power, he's at a significant disadvantage.
As for Benavidez, he has won me over during the last few years. Initially, I wasn't a huge fan of his; I felt that he didn't take the sport seriously enough. But since he lost his last title, I have been impressed with how he has rededicated himself to boxing. He hasn't had the same problems with making weight. His conditioning is now much better. And this has enabled him to become even more imposing in the ring.
If Benavidez can stay on the straight-and-narrow he will have many more triumphs ahead of him. He's now hitting his peak and would give any fighter trouble in his surrounding weight classes. His offensive arsenal is frightening and his ring intelligence is an underrated part of his game. Let's hope he understands how close he is to the precipice of greatness.
Wednesday, March 22, 2023
One of the best matchups in the super middleweight division will take place on Saturday at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas between former champions David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KOs) and Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KOs). The winner of Saturday's fight will become the clear #2 man in the division, just beneath Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, who currently holds all of the major belts in the division.
Benavidez-Plant has been discussed for a number of years and there is genuine bad blood between the fighters. Stylistically the matchup features a high-volume big puncher (Benavidez) against a consummate boxer (Plant). But let's also not be too reductive about what each of these fighters is capable of in the ring. Plant is coming off the signature knockout of his career, with his double left hook destruction of Anthony Dirrell. And Benavidez has tremendous boxing acumen, with an ability to hurt opponents at every range and with every punch available in his arsenal. Below will be my keys to the fight and I'll have a prediction at the end of the piece.
|Benavidez (left) and Plant and the kickoff press conference|
Photo courtesy of Showtime
1. Can Benavidez close the footspeed gap?
It's no secret that Plant moves much better than Benavidez. In addition, Plant fights in a style where he can win rounds while on the move; he's not just being evasive. Featuring lightning quick jabs and left hooks, Plant gets his work in and moves out of the way without absorbing too much damage.
Benavidez can be ponderous with his footwork, often crossing up his feet or remaining too flat-footed, which allows an opponent an exit route to either side. However, Benavidez has fought his entire career with this limitation and he has been able to track down opponents who move away from him. His stoppage win over Ronald Ellis in 2021 is an example of this. Even though Benavidez can be outmaneuvered, he applies constant pressure and he also has the benefit of being able to hurt opponents from long range, ideal for catching foes who back straight up or believe that they may be safely out of danger.
2. Controlling punch volume
There is a significant difference in the fighters' punch volume within a round. Benavidez usually averages in the 60s in terms of punches per round while Plant is more often in the 40s. In order for Plant to be successful, he's going to have to control the overall activity in the fight. He's not set up to throw 70 or 80 punches a round on a consistent basis and if he does get to that level, it's unlikely that he will be able to sustain it over 12 rounds.
Benavidez can still cause damage if his punch volume is lower, but he's much more imposing when he can throw multi-punch combinations. Against Plant, Benavidez is going to have to make each punch count, because he may not get many opportunities to unload at will, especially early in the fight. Single-punch right hands or hard jabs may be the way to initially get to Plant. Benavidez will need to make sure that his outside game is sharp, and he'll have to anticipate where Plant will be next.
Throwing a punch to a spot will be more important than hitting what's right in front of him, since Plant rarely stays in place for long. It also would benefit Benavidez to shorten his shots. He has enough power to affect Plant without landing home run bombs. It's more important to make sure that he can connect.
3. Plant's gas tank
Plant often has his best success early in a fight, when he's at his freshest. He performed well in the first half of his fight against Canelo, but Canelo's pressure and body punching curtailed Plant's movement in the bout's second half; Plant ultimately was knocked out in the 11th round. Similarly, Plant was able to knock down Jose Uzcategui in the second and fourth rounds in his title-winning effort, but he did fade in the fight's final third.
Plant's trainer, Stephen "Breadman" Edwards, will often talk about how fast a fighter is carried, and he's essentially talking about the pace of a fight. Breadman is acutely aware that Plant doesn't want to over-move against Benavidez, which could lead to two issues: One, the optics of potentially being seen as "running" instead of fighting can be negative for Plant. Some judges will not reward too much movement. In addition, by moving so much, Plant runs the risk of depleting himself for the back half of the fight. Plant will need to utilize his movement against Benavidez, but he will have to thread the needle – don’t move so much to penalize himself, but don't be that stationary as to give Benavidez additional opportunities to land.
4. Can Plant spring an early-round surprise?
It was genuinely shocking when Plant scored his first knockdown against Uzcategui. After all, Uzcategui was perceived as the puncher in the matchup. And I think that the Uzcategui fight provides a template for how Plant can be victorious in this matchup. Benavidez's defense can be lackadaisical at times. Look at how he was dropped coming in with his hands down against Ronald Gavril. Gavril connected with a short left hook that Benavidez didn't see coming and David was sent to the canvas.
Plant will have the speed advantage early in the fight and he will need to keep Benavidez honest. It would be wise for him to try to land something hard early. After all, things can happen in a fight. Maybe he can drop Benavidez early. Maybe he can cause a significant cut. Both of these scenarios could drastically alter the trajectory of the fight. And it would be a mistake for Plant to immediately get on his bike in the early rounds. At the fight's outset, he will have the element of surprise. He needs to believe in his power and take some chances.
5. One-hand vs. two
In his first fight with Breadman Edwards against Dirrell, Plant sat down on his right hand much more than he had in previous fights. This is a very important development because throughout Plant's career his left hand has been far more advanced than his right.
Canelo was able to eventually neutralize Plant's left hook by smothering it. This essentially removed Plant's primary power punch. I don't believe that Benavidez is the same level of student that Canelo is, but still, he's a natural fighter. If Benavidez doesn't feel threatened by Plant's right, he could change the angle of his attack to limit Plant's left. Thus, it's imperative for Plant to show confidence in his right. Otherwise, he will diminish his own offensive possibilities.
Benavidez has a two-fisted attack and can throw crushing hooks and uppercuts with both hands to either the head or body. He's a far more well-rounded puncher than Plant. Although he may not have the same sharpness as Plant, his punches bludgeon opponents. In addition, because he can throw any punch at any time, opponents have a very tough time defending themselves against him. His unpredictability is a big advantage.
In short, I believe that the fight will play out similarly to Plant's matchup with Canelo, but with Plant doing better on a round-by-round basis on Saturday than he did against Alvarez. However, I still have concerns about Plant's gas tank and his ability to move for 12 rounds against a committed, hard body puncher.
I think that Plant will get off to a fast start and I expect him to mix in hard power punches with his jabs in the early rounds. I think we'll see his right hand become a more pronounced part of his offensive attack. He will sit down on his punches better than he has in the past and will try to score with convincing blows with both hands.
But keep an eye out for Benavidez's right hands from distance. As Caleb tries to exit the pocket, Benavidez's straight right and right hook will come into play, and he'll hit Plant unexpectedly. I also think that Benavidez will invest in the body early in the fight, shooting straight rights and left hooks whenever he can. He may not win many of the early rounds, but his plan will be to wear Plant down for the second half of the fight.
Ultimately, I think that Benavidez's pressure and power punching will turn the tide in the fight's final third. Plant will find that that ring will suddenly seem smaller. When he tries to trade, he won't get the better of exchanges. And attempting to clinch Benavidez is an awful proposition. He's a madman on the inside and can wear fighters down without even throwing punches. I think that Benavidez will be successful in softening Plant up in the championship rounds. The fight will be very close on the scorecards, but Benavidez won't let the bout make it to the final bell.
David Benavidez defeats Caleb Plant by 12th-round stoppage.
Sunday, March 12, 2023
When Tim Tszyu was originally announced as Jermell Charlo's next opponent, I wasn't filled with a lot of confidence that the undefeated Australian prospect with the famous last name was ready to give the undisputed champion a run for his money. Yes, Tszyu featured a sterling record of 21-0 with 15 knockouts, but very few of his bouts were against top-level opposition. In his last fight, Tszyu had a rougher-than-expected outing against former title challenger Terrell Gausha. Gausha dropped him in the first round when Tszyu tried to come inside too recklessly. When Tszyu would unfurl his power-punching combinations, Gausha often countered him effectively. Even though Tszyu won the fight without controversy, he still seemed a little too green in the ring.
Nevertheless, Tszyu's title shot was announced. However, months later Charlo had to pull out of the fight with an injury. Tszyu and his team now had two options to consider: Take a stay-busy bout against a marginal opponent while he stayed on track for a title shot or fight a real challenger as a way to continue to improve in the ring. Tszyu's team opted for the latter approach, selecting former 154-lb. champion Tony Harrison as his next opponent. And it was a big risk. Harrison had just dominated the tricky Sergio Garcia in one of his best performances as a pro and he featured a cerebral and technical style that would be a completely different look than Tszyu's notable past opponents.
Despite the matchup being challenging on paper, Tszyu entered the ring with a clear understanding of how to fight and beat Harrison. As early as the first round, it was apparent that Tszyu had learned some valuable lessons from the Gausha bout. Instead of charging in irresponsibly, he patiently stalked Harrison looking to create openings. In fact, he had his earliest success in the fight, not leading, but as a counterpuncher. In the second round Harrison followed a jab with a straight right hand and Tszyu immediately countered with a hard right uppercut.
|Photo courtesy of boxingscene|
This pattern continued throughout most of the early rounds of the fight. Whenever Harrison went to his power shots, whether it was a straight right hand or a left hook, Tszyu had an immediate counter ready and they landed frequently. Tszyu's counters weren't just scoring blows; they were so accurate, crisp and effective that they made Harrison reluctant to throw anything other than his jab.
It's here that Tszyu's team, led by uncle Igor Goloubev and grandfather Boris Tszyu, deserve a lot of credit. They noticed a specific flaw that Harrison made when he threw his power shots. He would lean a little too far over his front foot while throwing them, exposing his chin for a momentary second. As soon as Tszyu recognized the power punches coming his way, he knew exactly what to do. These sequences had been drilled into him during training camp. He had the right punches ready to go and his timing on the shots was exceptional.
Tszyu's team had clearly worked on this specifically for Harrison and as a result they helped create additional dimensions for Tim in the ring. No longer could he win only by front-foot aggression; he could now make opponents pay for their mistakes from distance.
Another aspect of Tszyu's performance that really impressed me was his poise. Fighting in front of a raucous home crowd, it would have been understandable, expected even, if he tried to force an early knockout to galvanize his fans. But Tszyu didn't succumb to that trap. He was patient. He didn't overcommit with his shots. He didn't gas himself trying to look spectacular early. He fought like a veteran who understood the task at hand. He needed to break down his opponent over time and he executed that game plan to perfection.
Now the fight wasn't all one-way traffic. Harrison's jab was terrific. And there were enough dead moments in the fight where Harrison's stick was enough to win rounds or at least make them very close. Of the eight completed rounds in the fight, I had Harrison winning three of them (the judges scored it the same way). But unlike Joe Joyce's jab against Daniel Dubois, Harrison's jab wasn't able to hurt Tszyu or cause real damage. It ultimately wasn't enough to thwart Tszyu's gameplan or stymie his aggression. Harrison needed something more and it wasn't until the second half of the fight, where he landed some short uppercuts, that he threw power punches on a consistent basis.
In Harrison's corner, his brother kept chiding him for overthinking things during the fight. Yes, Tszyu was following an expert game plan, but Harrison's self-inflicted errors in judgment played into Tszyu's hands. When Tony is at his best, take the first Charlo fight or against Sergio Garcia, his movement can be among the best in the sport. His ability to use lateral movement, foot feints and circling can force opponents into hesitancy or self-doubt.
But Harrison also had a history of fading in fights, and perhaps too much movement had been a contributing factor. To me, it was clear that Harrison tried to save his legs as much as possible in the early rounds of the fight and overcompensated in doing so. By not using any lateral movement, he remained too close to the pocket to evade trouble. So, in trying to solve one problem (preserving his gas tank) he created another (taking too many clean shots early). Perhaps the best answer was to mix in selective lateral movement to keep Tszyu guessing. Instead, Harrison moved in straight lines throughout the first half of the fight, making him an easier target.
The end of the fight in the ninth round was a power punching clinic by Tszyu, who mixed in devastating right uppercuts and straight right hands against a mostly defenseless Harrison. And in the final moments, Harrison once again demonstrated that he lacked the ability to survive rough moments. Similar to the Charlo rematch where he refused to hold or tie-up upon getting hurt, Harrison didn't engage in any tactics to break the momentum of Tszyu's onslaught. He stood there, almost motionless, unable to process what to do next.
|Photo courtesy of boxingscene|
Perhaps like many fighters, Harrison held onto the belief that he could punch his way out of trouble. But he never was able to arrive at a crucial understanding throughout his career, that other people can hit hard and take you out in a moment's notice. Harrison's losses have all followed the same pattern – a quick unraveling as soon as he got seriously hurt.
Harrison is a student of the game and I'm sure that he's analyzed his fights over his career. Intellectually, I'm positive that he knows how important it is to tie-up when hurt. I bet he teaches the fighters he trains to do just that. But during those rough moments in his own career, he never had that instinct to tie-up, and it has cost him several fights, including a couple earlier in his career where he was clearly ahead before getting hurt.
Ultimately, Tszyu's decision to fight Harrison turned out to be the perfect step for his career. He has now beaten a top contender. And it wasn't just that he defeated Harrison, but the manner in which he did so. He didn't need a hometown scorecard to get the nod; he created clear separation. As he has waited for his title shot, Tszyu has taken advantage of this period and developed additional facets of his game. He is now a serious threat. Charlo beating him is no longer a formality. Tszyu will make him have to earn it. And if Tszyu continues his rapid improvement in the ring, who knows how far he can go?
Now there's intrigue. And now there's a great fight to sell.
Thursday, March 2, 2023
We often don't find a lot of steak in the first quarter of the boxing calendar. At best we'll partake in a couple of tasty appetizers as we wait for our main courses to be served later in the year, often beginning in April or May. But 2023 hasn't started out to form. Just two months in and we've already had generous helpings of surf and turf, with four fights in particular worthy of three Michelin stars.
Beterbiev-Yarde, Navarrete-Wilson, Nery-Hovhannisyan and Matias-Ponce have provided shining examples of the best that boxing can offer, with thrilling action and ferocious exchanges. The first two of these fights offered up delightful surprises while the final two lived up to and even surpassed their lofty expectations. And before the shine of these four fights dims as the year progresses, let's take a few moments to commemorate them; they were special nights for the sport.
1. Artur Beterbiev TKO 8 Anthony Yarde
Tagline: Yarde finally lives up to his hype, reaches a new level.
Earlier in his career, Anthony Yarde was considered one of Frank Warren's prized prospects, but his early returns at the world-level demonstrated that he lacked polish and craft. In Yarde's previous title fight against Sergey Kovalev in 2019, he was underprepared physically and strategically, losing by knockout after he clearly gassed. Yarde also lost a subsequent fight to fellow English light heavyweight Lyndon Arthur, where he struggled to get past Arthur's jab.
|Photo courtesy of Top Rank|
Yarde and his trainer Tunde Ajayi made some tough decisions after these setbacks, bringing in James Cook to their camp to help with training and fight preparation. Yarde annihilated Arthur in their rematch in four rounds and against Beterbiev, the unified light heavyweight champion, he had a clear plan of attack: counter with hard left hooks to the body, score with quick one-two's and don't get caught in prolonged exchanges. Against Beterbiev, Yarde was no longer just a collection of physical attributes in the ring; he was now a real fighter. Taking on one of the elites of the sport, he didn't look remotely out of place.
Throughout many portions of the fight, Yarde matched Beterbiev, one of the biggest sluggers in the sport, punch for punch. In addition, Yarde demonstrated tremendous recuperative powers, rallying many times after being hurt.
Ultimately, Beterbiev's power shots proved to be too much. A chopping right hand to the head in the eighth round essentially ended the fight, but Yarde pushed Beterbiev the whole way, providing the pound-for-pound talent with perhaps the toughest fight of his professional career. To many, Yarde was supposed to be roadkill for Beterbiev, but Yarde wasn't intimidated by Beterbiev's attributes. Despite the loss, Yarde displayed true world-class abilities. His improvements were real; let's hope that he maintains them. If he does, he'll beat a lot of quality fighters.
2. Emanuel Navarrete TKO 9 Liam Wilson
Tagline: The end of the rainbows and waterfalls portion of Navarrete's career.
Emanuel Navarrete was attempting to win a title in his third division, but his original opponent, former 130-lb. champion Oscar Valdez, had to pull out with an injury. In stepped lightly regarded Liam Wilson, an Australian with a pedestrian record of 11-1, but with a reputation of having a good left hook.
|Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams|
At 122 and 126 lbs., Navarrete’s freakish physical dimensions (72-inch reach) and unconventional attack vanquished opponents who couldn't keep up with his physicality, off-kilter rhythms and substantial reach. It almost seemed as if Navarrete was playing another sport. Navarrete beat his opponents by doing so many things against the grain – throwing off the wrong foot, power shots from odd angles, six- and seven-punch combinations, throwing lead uppercuts from several feet away.
But Wilson, who had the physical dimensions of a true junior lightweight, was able to touch Navarrete whenever he let his hands go (which in truth, wasn't always often enough). Using a solid jab and a straight right, he demonstrated that his shorter punches could get there much quicker than Navarrete’s wide offerings.
In the fourth they traded hooks and Wilson's compact missile sent Navarrete to the canvas. And it wasn't a flash knockdown; Navarrete was badly hurt. Although Navarrete had always been hit by his opponents, it now looked as if he had finally met his match at 130 lbs. He could no longer overcome his mistakes in the same way. In the sixth, Wilson hurt Navarrete at the end the round and the potential for a monumental upset was on the table.
But, like a champion, Navarrete rallied. He regrouped and went to Wilson's body with ferocious intent. He dispensed with his brand of spinning wizardry and fought his buns off to survive and do whatever it took to emerge victorious. By the end of the eighth he had depleted Wilson. He started the ninth with a straight right hand that dropped Wilson, and the plucky upstart could no longer withstand the onslaught.
Ultimately, the fight showed that Navarrete isn't going to have too many easy nights at the top level of 130 lbs., and boxing fans may see some great matchups with him over the next 12-18 months. I wouldn't mind seeing Wilson back on my TV either.
3. Luis Nery KO 11 Azat "Crazy A" Hovhannisyan
Tagline: A night of ferocious and beautiful carnage.
This matchup was certainly on fight fan's radar as the former two-division champion Nery was trying to regain momentum in his career against Hovhannisyan, a junior featherweight who is the definition of an all-action fighter. The fight certainly lived up to its billing. It reminded me of those classic late-90s HBO Boxing After Dark broadcasts, where two sluggers gave no quarter and emptied it all in the ring.
|Photo courtesy of Cris Esqueda|
Nery started the fight strongly, mixing in power punches with substantial movement. It was clear from early on in the fight that he had the better technique and the straighter punches. But Crazy A, who probably was expecting to lose the opening rounds, wasn't discouraged. He kept coming forward and eating shots. Even when his skin started to open up from all of the damaging blows, he persevered. Crazy A understood the task at hand: Get to Nery's body, make him stop moving, win an attritional war.
By the ninth round it appeared that Crazy A's plan was working to perfection. He was the fighter who was ascendent and Nery now remained in the pocket. Crazy A was landing his hard left hooks and straight right hands on a consistent basis.
But in the tenth round, Nery, who had been stopped in his only loss, to Brandon Figueroa, summoned all his reserves and uncorked a ferocious left hand that dropped Crazy A to the canvas. Hovhannisyan made it out of the round and started the 11th, but Nery started to tee off on him and the fight was stopped.
Nery-Hovhannisyan has been my favorite fight of the year to this point. Everything about it was beautiful: the camera work and lighting by the DAZN crew: the rambunctious Southern California crowd, the tiny ring, the epic battle. It was a throwback to the days of yesteryear, and I loved every second of it.
4. Subriel Matias RTD 5 Jeremias Ponce
Tagline: Who doesn't love a five-round shootout?
Matias-Ponce was another fight that certainly appealed to hardcore boxing fans. Both fighters featured hard-charging styles, big punches and knockouts aplenty. The fight was for the IBF version of the 140-lb. title and although it feels a little gross complimenting a sanctioning body, we probably would never have seen this matchup unless some hardware was on the line; so, good for the IBF and good for us!
|Photo courtesy of Esther Lin|
Matias is one of the true wrecking balls in the sport. Everything he throws is hard and all of his previous 18 wins had come by knockout. So, it was genuinely shocking when Ponce went right at him in the first round and pasted him with his best power shots – hard left hooks, straight and overhand rights – he was there to end the fight early. And his initial onslaught did catch Matias off guard.
Matias ate some ferocious shots in the first two rounds, but he was able to work his way into the fight. By the third round, Matias was successful in getting through on a consistent basis with his best punch, his short, thudding left hook. Matias was welcoming the firefight and Ponce, who had fought so valiantly and vigorously in the opening rounds, now fully understood what he was up against; his plan A, although bold, had failed.
By the fifth round, Matias was able to up his assault, cracking Ponce with left hooks and hard body shots with both hands. A left hook to the top of Ponce's head wrecked his equilibrium and Matias dropped him after some additional follow-up punches. Ponce made it out of the round, but his corner had seen enough. They were going to live to fight another day. Ponce had engaged in a ferocious battle, but Matias' kitchen was just too hot. Matias prevailed in an ultimate mano-a-mano battle.
As I write this at the beginning of March, I'm smiling from ear to ear, recounting these four great wars. These fights are why we watch boxing week after week. They delivered the goods, the smiles, the memories, the pleasure. They are why we are here.