Sunday, November 26, 2023

Opinions and Observations: Benavidez, Matias

In spectacular performances on Saturday, David Benavidez and Subriel Matias again demonstrated that they are two of boxing’s elite punchers. Both fighters won by corner stoppage, with undefeated opponents Demetrius Andrade and Shohjahon Ergashev failing to answer the bell for the seventh and sixth rounds, respectively. 


As we all know, punching power is a vital attribute for boxers. It can be a key separator between fighters. It may be the reason why a fighter can prosper at the highest level despite significant weaknesses. And certainly, knockouts directly lead to wins. But power can also be a more elastic concept; it's far more than the biggest single punch. Neither Benavidez nor Matias is a one-shot knockout artist, yet they are clearly among the most gifted punchers in the sport. And even within that group in which Benavidez and Matias belong, the two are vastly different from each other in how they stop opponents; there are subsets within subsets of power punchers. 

Benavidez (right) landing a right hand on Andrade
Photo courtesy of Amanda Westcott/Showtime

Power can come from all different places. It could be how a punch is thrown with perfect rotational torque. Maybe it's a genetic disposition where a given fighter is blessed with superior physical strength for his weight class. Perhaps it's the combination of blinding hand speed with expert punch placement – hitting opponents with punches they don't see.


The source of Matias' power wouldn't fit in any of those categories. He throws hooks to the head from maybe six to eight inches away from an opponent. For most fighters, they would not have enough distance to create maximum power from that close, and yet Matias' short shots detonate on an opponent. Matias (a current champion at 140 lbs.) has to have crazy forearm and wrist strength; he's not a big swinger like a Benavidez. And yet his short punches cause immense damage. Perhaps the only other elite-level active fighter who has such prodigious power from that close is Artur Beterbiev. 


These are unusual punchers and opponents aren't used to them. For so many fighters, getting in close to an opponent takes the sting off their punches, especially head shots. But it seems to be physically impossible to smother Matias. He gets his punches off so quickly and at such short range. Throw in that these punches can be fight-changers, and one can see how treacherous facing him can be. His punches look so innocuous, but they are devastating. 


Benavidez, an undefeated former two-time champion at super middleweight (he lost his belts both times due to out-of-the ring issues), is also an atypical puncher in that he can take out opponents from every range. Although his bread-and-butter is beating people up with body shots on the inside, he is a major threat from distance. In the fourth round against Andrade, he connected with an overhand right from the outside that changed the fight for good. Andrade even had a glove up and partially blocked the shot, but the punch was so concussive that he still fell to the canvas a moment later.


In addition, Benavidez has one of the true sledgehammer jabs in the sport. Although he possesses towering dimensions in the super middleweight division at 6'2", Benavidez somehow can jab to the body as effectively as he does to an opponent's head. While Benavidez isn't considered an elite athlete by many (which is off base...and I'll get to that in a minute), he can give up his height without putting himself at a major risk to be countered. These are athletic maneuvers that appear to be easier than they actually are.


Benavidez has been accused of being a weight bully, of being clunky, of lacking athletic polish. People will criticize his footwork (he occasionally will cross his feet!) and his straight-line movements. Yet Benavidez has now beaten two of the better movers in the sport (Caleb Plant and Andrade), and he made sure that neither fight was in doubt. So, if you believe that Benavidez isn't a serious athlete, what would explain his success against top opponents who know how to use their legs? 


Ultimately, Benavidez has a few secrets that have been missed by many observers of the sport. First, Benavidez is an unusual pressure fighter. Sure, he's coming forward, but he often initiates from the outside. And he's not just throwing from the outside; he's hurting opponents from that range. Thus, the movers aren't prepared for how good he is from distance and how much ground his punches can cover. They are worried about the short punches, but it's his longer ones that often hurt them. 


He also has the element of surprise. With a full arsenal of punches, Benavidez has a tool for almost every circumstance. How about an overhand right? How about a long, sweeping left hook? How about a lead right hook? These are often untraditional shots that opponents haven't prepared for. 


Two additional elements of his game further explain his success. One, he has an unwavering commitment to the body. The Plant fight was a sublime example of how to make a mover not move so much. Benavidez may have lost some early rounds, but he was doing damage to the body even if he was mathematically down in the fight.


Furthermore, his defense is far better than given credit for. Yes, you can hit him and even win rounds, but he's almost always defensively responsible. And more to the point, he doesn't mind taking a punch or two to land his. So, in aggregate, we have an unusual pressure fighter who has power from all ranges with pretty good defense and an understanding of how to break down even the most mobile of opponents. This sounds like a pretty good fighter, doesn't it? I'd say that he's on the short list of the best in the sport. And as Al Bernstein stated on the Showtime broadcast after the fight, "You either have to box perfectly against Benavidez for 12 rounds or really hurt him." So far no one has been able to do either. 

Matias (left) throws a short left hook
Photo courtesy of Ryan Hafey/PBC

Now Matias is a little different in terms of his approach in the ring. Like Benavidez, he will give up some early rounds until he gets going, but he's not necessarily doing anything in the interim until he starts to come forward. He got ragdolled by Jeremias Ponce in the first two rounds of their fight earlier this year and Ergashev landed some thunderous left hands in the first against him on Saturday. 

As devastating as Matias is in the ring, there is a pathway to beating him (and he has lost before, to Petros Ananyan, although he did avenge that defeat in impressive fashion). Matias is susceptible to a long-range puncher. But it will take a fighter to have the discipline to keep firing, while not punching himself out. That opponent will also have to be able to move without over-moving. It will require a fighter to thread a very fine needle against Matias to beat him, or perhaps someone who could bomb him out in the first round. 


Although Matias doesn't offer much at long range, he can get inside pretty well. Like the best pressure fighters, he knows how to block or parry a punch while still coming forward.


Matias will also square up a lot on the inside and despite this being a "no-no" from many trainers, I think it's a critical aspect of his success. So often in boxing what is supposed to be "wrong" for many fighters winds up being right for another. Very few trainers would advise their fighters to square up, because that gives an opponent much more of a target to hit. But you know which trainer preached squaring up at close range? Cus D'Amato, the man who molded Mike Tyson. From D'Amato's biography, Cus believed that squaring up at close range gave his fighter the opportunity to inflict maximum damage. At that moment, Tyson could throw power shots with either hand and an opponent would not have the ability to anticipate the selection or sequencing of punches. This position leads to breaking down an opponent's defensive construct. Where does he place his hands? Where will the shots be coming from? 


Matias' success has reminded me of D'Amato's beliefs. Right in front of an opponent, Matias will unspool wicked hooks and uppercuts with either hand. There's no longer a lead hand or a back hand; it's now two hands that can cause maximum damage. Even a decorated amateur and well-schooled fighter like Ergashev fell apart under that type of duress. He couldn't anticipate Matias at that position. His defensive construct suddenly lost its effectiveness. He had no answers.  


Benavidez at 28-0 and 24 KOs and Matias at 20-1 with 20 KOs will never be mistaken for Deontay Wilder or Julian Jackson. They are not one-punch knockout specialists who will be talked about reverently for generations. However, they are two of the best punchers in the sport and possess unique gifts that even top opponents can't acclimate to. How many fighters can beat you up from any range in the ring? Who can end your night with six-inch punches from either hand in no particular pattern?  


Both Benavidez and Matias are must-watch fighters. They provide unique and thrilling dimensions. They remind us that the orthodoxies of "right" and "wrong" can be fungible. Yes, Benavidez will walk forward and not always be in a boxing stance ready to throw. He'll cross his feet. He'll throw rear hooks from what many would consider irresponsible angles. And Matias will square up giving an opponent his whole body to hit. But he knows at that position, he's the far superior fighter with more power and tools. 

Benavidez and Matias break molds. They challenge conventional wisdom. But while all of that is interesting on a theoretical basis, what they really do is deliver hurt. They administer beatings. They thrill the fans. And that's what keeps the sport humming.   

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, 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. 

Friday, November 3, 2023

What to Make of Keyshawn Davis?

In 2014, the noted baseball writer Bill James conducted a study where he determined eight factors that indicated "younger player" skills vs. "older player" skills. Those with "younger" skills had more triples, more stolen base attempts and a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio. Players with "older" skills had better command of the strike zone, less speed and more grounded into double plays.  

A key part of James' study was an examination of players who were the same age to see if those with "younger" or "older" skills would go on to have a better future. Prior to the study James had a belief that players with younger skills would do better and the results of his study validated his opinion. Those with younger player skills did in fact do better than those with older ones. Although the differences weren't stark, they were present in the data. 

Similar to baseball, I believe that boxing has certain components that would suggest younger vs. older skills, irrespective of the actual age of a boxer. For instance, I would suggest that boxers with "older fighter" skills have a more developed punch arsenal and their knockout percentage starts to go down. (I know that many in boxing like to say that power is the last to go, but I believe this aphorism is erroneous. Consider those top fighters who stuck around into their late 30s and 40s. The knockouts start to evaporate. Think about Mayweather or Pacquiao or Hopkins or Ali. Compare their knockout percentages in the last five years of their career to an earlier point. Even the great Juan Manuel Marquez only had three KOs in his last ten fights, same with George Foreman – three out of his last ten).  

Other older fighter skills include more poise in the ring, a clear ring identity and a more economical punch volume. Now some of these factors can be studied numerically and others are observations I have drawn over my years of watching boxing. If you disagree, I would welcome your comments as to why you believe differently. 

And what are "younger fighter" skills? Much more movement. More reliant on knockouts. Boxers with younger fighter skills don't have as defined a ring identity. It's less clear how they want to try to win. They have a more limited punch arsenal. Their athleticism is more advanced than their ring craft. 

All of this is prelude to specific feelings I have about Keyshawn Davis. Davis is one of the most unusual young fighters I have seen in my time covering boxing. He is preternaturally poised. Nothing seems to bother him in the ring. He's not in any type of hurry. He places his punches patiently and expertly. Although he has a respectable 60% KO rate in his ten pro fights (I'm counting his recent "no-contest" against Nahir Albright in this data), I don’t think that he’s a huge puncher. He already has a developed ring style as a patient counterpuncher. He throws every punch in the book. 

Keyshawn Davis
Photo courtesy of Mikey Williams/Top Rank

But what is most interesting to me is his energy level as a young fighter; he wastes no energy. Everything he does is purposeful. He's not punching himself out or fatiguing himself, which many young fighters do when they first face initial resistance. But as a corollary to that, he doesn't seem to have those additional top gears that many young fighters possess. He hasn't had to go to the well in his career, but he also doesn't try. What is in his reserve? Does he have a reserve? 

What I suspect is that Keyshawn Davis will not have a better career moving forward than that of his frequent sparring partner, Shakur Stevenson, despite Davis being two years younger. To me, Stevenson still has many of the young fighter skills that would suggest a longer and better future. His athleticism is top tier. He still moves a lot. His reflexes are as sharp as they can be. He continues to add to his offense, not just in the types of punches he throws but also his temperament in the ring. He's still discovering things about himself in the ring.  And Shakur has the ability to turn it up when needed. 

With the stipulation that both fighters stay out of trouble, I would take the next ten years of Stevenson's career over Davis' without any hesitation. I can still see areas where Stevenson can continue to refine, but what Davis may lack are factors associated with youthful zeal. He may already be close to his finished product even though he's just ten fights in. 

In his last fight, Davis only threw 331 punches in ten rounds, averaging just over 33 punches a round, a troubling number for a young fighter without true knockout power. That result, a majority decision victory, was subsequently overturned after Davis failed a drug test (the early scuttlebutt was marijuana). In the fight before, he threw 465 punches over ten rounds, a much better number, but certainly not an overly active total in the lightweight division. In his fight against Omar Tineda in 2022, he again failed to reach 40 punches per round. 

As a point of comparison, Stevenson threw close to 50 punches a round against Oscar Valdez and was well above the 50-per-round mark against Jamel Herring. And those two opponents were of much higher quality than anyone who Davis has fought. Stevenson also doesn't set punch volume records, but as he has become more offensively oriented, he has increased his punch volume considerably, demonstrating his significant athletic reserves, a key trait of younger fighter skills. 

Now I don't believe that Davis will become a bust, but I do think that he will have an earlier peak than many fighters. I have no doubt in his ability to win a world title in the next two to three years. I just don't think that he will be the guy to hang around into his late 30s. I'm not sure that he has the athletic reserves or the temperament to compete for that long. I believe that his future is now. I don't see a long decade-like reign on the pound-for-pound list. 

Now it's possible that I will wind up with egg on my face. And I'm prepared to accept that. Maybe Davis will incorporate a different strength-and-conditioning regime. Perhaps his self-perception of how he wants to fight will change, leading him to increase his tempo and urgency. But based on what I've seen to this point, I wouldn't expect him to suddenly turn into an offensive dynamo in the ring. 

For several fights, something hasn't sat right with me while watching Davis and I think that the Bill James older skills vs. younger skills rubric helped me realize what it was. We are watching a very advanced fighter in the ring. Davis is 24 right now, but if you think of him as 29 or 30, I think that's far more appropriate. He may only have three of four more prime years left. 

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of
He's a contributing writer for Ring Magazine, 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.