Anthony Joshua turned back the clock on Saturday and reminded the boxing community that he could still throw spiteful lead punches. Joshua was once a fighter who controlled action in the ring, could be first in exchanges, and fired off power shots with confidence. It was a pleasure to watch Joshua reconnect with THAT fighter on Saturday.
Working with his fourth different head trainer in four fights, Joshua has taken significant steps forward under the watchful eyes of Ben Davison. Joshua pierced Otto Wallin with right-hand daggers throughout the fight. By the end of the first round, he had connected with so many sharp rights that Wallin thought better about trying to exit exchanges to his left. By the end of the second round, Wallin, a mover by nature, was so bothered by Joshua's rights that he decided to stop moving and fight Joshua at mid-range, a huge strategic victory for AJ.
|Joshua (right) digging a right to the body
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Joshua uncorked a vicious right hand-left hook combination in the fifth that essentially ended the fight. Wallin's nose was busted up. Ultimately, Wallin was outthought and outpunched, and his corner stopped the bout. For Joshua, it was a great to see him once again throwing hurtful punches with confidence.
as clever as Otto Wallin was supposed to be (he claimed to have mastered Usyk's blueprint in how to beat Joshua) he sure
didn't understand the first thing about movement against a puncher. Why Wallin
insisted on circling to his left, into range for Joshua's right hand, was
beyond my comprehension. Usyk did the exact opposite, moving to Joshua's left side and making Joshua try to beat him with his left hand. It was a disaster start to the fight for Wallin.
It's possible that Wallin resorted to some bad habits once in the lion's den, but he committed a cardinal sin. You cannot move toward Joshua's right hand. Period. And that, more than anything else, led to Wallin losing the fight. By the end of the first round, his nose was already swelling. And his strategic failure did something even worse: it provided Anthony Joshua with a world of confidence.
Not all movement is the same. Wallin lacked the in-and-out movement of Usyk. One reason that Usyk is so tough to time is that he's so unpredictable on his feet. In comparison, Wallin ambled slowly from side to side without much trickery. If Wallin is to recover momentum in his career, he needs to go back to school and understand the important distinction between movement for movement's sake and movement with a purpose. He got figured out very quickly on Saturday.
Joseph Parker has been hit hard by almost every significant opponent in his career. It doesn't matter if it was Chisora, Joyce, Whyte, or Joshua, all fighters with vastly different styles. The unifying element was that Paker's defense betrayed him. But on Saturday, Parker went 12 rounds against the best heavyweight puncher of his era and barely got touched, a major development!
|Parker (left) and Wilder trading hooks
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Working with Andy Lee, Parker's defense was as good as I have ever seen it. Parker stayed low, understanding that Wilder's right hand was far less accurate when his opponent wasn't at eye level. In addition, he remained switched on all fight. There was no drifting or losses of concentration that have plagued his career on the big stage.
On Saturday Parker was never in trouble, he fought with a clear plan, and he remained committed to his strategy. He won by a wide unanimous decision. It's great to see a fighter finally have the light bulb go on, for talent alone isn't enough at the top levels. It's the attention to detail that often separates the good from the great, and that's what Parker had been lacking.
Ring rust is certainly a thing, and it would have been understandable if Deontay Wilder needed a few rounds to regain his mojo; he had only fought one round in two years. But here's a truth about boxing: it's exceptionally hard to win a fight without throwing punches.
Not only did Wilder refuse to let his hands
go through most of the fight with Parker, but he rarely gave Parker anything to
think about. Instead, Wilder was pacing around the ring in deliberate circles, staring at
Parker, not looking like he wanted to even throw punches.
Chris Mannix asked Wilder if the fire was
still there after the fight and Wilder couldn't answer that question
definitively. If Wilder is going to continue as a relevant fighter, he must regain his conviction in the ring. What good is a missile without someone
willing to activate the launch code?
Daniel Dubois entered Saturday's fight with two
stoppage losses in recent fights where in both cases he decided that he couldn't continue. In the Joe
Joyce fight his eye was torn to shreds. In the Usyk matchup, he was beaten up
from pillar-to-post (despite landing a controversial shot that could have been ruled a knockdown with a different ref). Even though Dubois is only
26, Saturday was awfully close to his last-chance saloon.
|Dubois (right) trapping Miller on the ropes
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Facing a determined (if overweight) Jarrell Miller, Dubois took some big shots early in the fight, but he didn't yield. In fact, as he got more comfortable in the ring, he increasingly unleashed his arsenal of power punches. Although he was outweighed by almost 100 lbs. (and that's not a typo), his punches were the ones doing far more damage. And Dubois also showed just enough lateral movement to create better angles to throw and reduce Miller's effectiveness.
finished the fight with a pyrotechnic display of power punching, stopping
Miller with less than ten seconds in the bout. It was the performance that he
needed. Although that version of Miller wasn't a threat to win a heavyweight
title, he was a legit opponent who kept coming and possessed enough power to
ask questions. This was Dubois' most meaningful victory since beating Nathan
Gorman in 2019. And with many of the top heavyweights soon to age out of the
sport, Dubois still could make a legit name for himself. This was a very
promising step forward for him.
Jarrell Miller was a boxing "what if." And let's speak
about him in the past tense because I don't see a way where he can get to the
top of the division at this point in his career. At his best, he was a 290-lb.
beast who threw 90 punches a round and had a relentless energy. There was no
one else in the division like him. Famously failing a drug test before his
title shot against Anthony Joshua, Miller has essentially been in the
wilderness since 2018.
At 35 and over 330 lbs., Miller is now an "opponent." He wasn't bad on Saturday. He had endeavor. He was determined to test Dubois and he certainly landed his fair share of big shots. However, by the fifth round he was already in arm punch mode. He spent the second half of the fight eating huge shots and standing upright because of pride. We may never know what Miller really was or what he could have been, due to the plethora of illegal substances that he was taking, but he had been a genuine curiosity and offered a dimension rarely seen among modern heavyweights.
Agit Kabayel has had an awfully strange career, and he's only 31! After impressing in a 2017 victory over Derek Chisora, (and ignore those scorecards, he won that fight comfortably), Kabayel would sign with Top Rank. Yet the company never brought him to the U.S. to fight any of their key players in the division or develop him on their own. Yes, there were some fights that fell through, but he had faced extremely low-level opposition since Chisora, and it did make you wonder if there was something going on behind the scenes that hadn't been reported. Why hide a capable heavyweight boxer who had intelligence, movement and punching fluidity?
I didn't know what to expect in terms of Kabayel's physical shape or state of mind as he entered his fight on Saturday against Arslanbek Makhmudov, but I believed that if he was anywhere close to his best that he would give Makhmudov a lot of problems.
|Kabayel (left) hammers Makhmudov with a left hook
Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson
Kabayel didn't disappoint; he turned in one of the best performances of the night, battering Makhmudov with body shots, uppercuts and quick combinations. He dropped Makhmudov three times and the fight was called off in the fourth round. In a night full of fighters making statements, Kabayel made one of the most important ones: He was ready for the big stage. Let's hope that whoever is behind him in terms of management and promotion now fully believes in him. Kabayel is a capable, crafty fighter with sneaky power. He's a welcome addition to the top reaches of the heavyweight division.
Sometimes when watching a lower-level card on a random night, you discover a key nugget about a prospect that you can tuck away for safe keeping. One Friday night in Montreal in September 2022 on an Eye of the Tiger card, Arslanbek Makhmudov was taking his first real step up against Carlos Takam, who had been a solid heavyweight gatekeeper over the last decade. And if you didn't see the fight and just looked at the scores on boxrec, you'd notice that Makhmudov won by four and six points on the cards. Sounds routine, doesn't it? Well, it wasn't. Although Takam took some big shots (he was knocked down twice), he kept coming and when he started landing odd-angled power punches, Makhmudov went into full-on panic mode. He froze. Makhmudov's trainer, the excellent Marc Ramsay, cajoled Makhmudov in the corner to keep going, to stay focused and stick with the plan. Ramsay didn't like what he was seeing, and neither did I. Makhmudov won the fight in a very shaky performance.
On Saturday, once Makhmudov was in real trouble, he didn't have the opportunity
to make it back to the corner for reinforcement from Ramsay. Makhmudov's answer was to wing desperation power
shots. All of Makhmudov's
punching power was useless because under duress, he lacked a clear head. He
didn't know how to buy time or extend the fight.
lacks very important fighter instincts. Because of his punching power, he never
had enough repetitions in real fights with opponents who could throw back. Already 34, it doesn't seem like this is a comfort level that will suddenly arrive. You can never count out a guy with a
big punch, but with Makhmudov's poor survival instincts and leaky defense,
he isn't a guy you can count on either.
seven rounds Frank Sanchez painted a clear picture of why so
few fighters and big money interests have been rushing to see him in the ring.
Through a lot of the first six rounds, Sanchez didn't let his hands go. When he did, he connected, doing just enough to win rounds, but so
much of his ring time was spent staring at Junior Fa or moving just out of
range. However, in the seventh round, he let his punches flow, impressing with
eye-catching combinations. In those brief glimpses, he flashed tremendous hand speed,
punch variety and accuracy. Sanchez badly hurt Fa and the fight was stopped.
is the ultimate high risk-low reward guy. When he wants to, he can let his
hands go and dominate opponents, but he's in no rush to do so and doesn't seem
to care about marketplace considerations: he's going to do it his way. Fighters
like Sanchez will have to earn their title shots through the sanctioning
bodies. Absolutely nobody has ever called him out or has indicated an
overwhelming desire to fight him. Sanchez will never be big box office, but
he's a scary package in the ring. He makes few mistakes. He gives very little to his opponents.
And with his power and speed, he can turn a fight in an instant. He's a threat
against anyone in the division.
close by mentioning the one title shot on Saturday's card, which featured
one-sided domination by Dmitry Bivol over Lyndon Arthur (Bivol won by 120-107 on all three cards). It was everything a
Bivol fight usually is: Bivol won with his legs, punching volume, mastery of
distance and fantastic defense. The fight also reinforced several truths about
Bivol. Despite dominating Arthur from start to finish, he never really went
for the stoppage until the championship rounds. He doesn't have an overly
aggressive temperament. He also lacks one-punch power.
fights in a way to neutralize opponents. His greatness is understood when
matched against better fighters. When facing lesser opponents, he has no
problem carrying guys or getting his work in. At 33, Bivol isn't going to
suddenly become something else, and that's fine. There are more than enough
fighters to carry the box office in boxing. Bivol's concern is only about
winning in a way that gives his opponents very little to work with. Yes, he's a
risk-averse fighter, but his offense can be wonderful to watch. He doesn't stink out fights to win.
If Bivol can defeat the winner of next month's Beterbiev-Smith matchup to become undisputed, I doubt that he'll care if his bank account could've had another zero in it. He's there for the glory. The legacy. He definitely is a prizefighter, but for him the prize isn't stacks of currency; he wants everyone to know that he's the best. He's not going to talk about it, but he'll be happy to show it against whoever is against him, and even in his strange career, those who are supposed to be supporting him. Bivol has been inconvenient to the the big-money interests in boxing, but he's so good that Big Money can no longer ignore him.