Sunday, April 21, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Haney-Garcia

Haney-Garcia was the good stuff. It's why we watch – the theater of the unexpected, the element of surprise. It was a triumph for Ryan Garcia and a humbling experience for the Haneys (Devin and father/trainer Bill), as well as for boxing fans and observers, with so many convinced that the victory would be a formality for Haney, and that Garcia was on his way to an implosion in the ring. 

Garcia, who was a notable betting underdog entering the bout, was without a doubt the better fighter on the night, the one who dominated the second half, scoring three knockdowns. And Haney, for all his accomplishments in the ring, could not avoid Garcia's signature left hook. Haney displayed bravery in getting up from the knockdowns, but he was outgunned, and perhaps more concerning, outthought on the night. 

Photo courtesy of Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy

The first question that needs to be asked is why did Haney keep getting hit by Garcia's left hook? After the fight, Haney was asked about the punch and he acknowledged that he was certainly aware of Garcia's primary weapon. So, what happened? 

Garcia cracked Haney in the first round with the left hook and it's perfectly understandable that in the early part of the fight Garcia would have the element of surprise with the punch. It's one thing for Haney to see it on You Tube; it's another thing trying to defense it in the ring. Garcia whips his left hook with so much torque and can place it perfectly on the point of the chin. It's unlike most other left hooks in the sport. The trajectory, speed and power behind the shot is unique. It's not that Haney got hit with the shot early in the fight that's the major issue. Those things happen; the greats can make adjustments.  

My main issue with Haney's performance is how Garcia was able to land the shot later in the fight, after Haney had already seen it and had the opportunity to neutralize it. Haney, the supposed defensive master, continually got caught with the same left hook throughout the back half of the match. 

And this leads to the next question: Why was Haney still in range for the hook? Why didn't he try to make Garcia beat him with his right hand? Was it because of overconfidence? Arrogance? A lack of preparation? 

To be fair, Garcia's right hand was much better than advertised on the night and he had stretches of the fight where he created a lot of concern for Haney with his straight right. But none of the three knockdowns occurred from the right hand, and that was telling. At a certain point, a master boxer learns to take away a weapon. Recently, Shakur Stevenson did just this against Oscar Valdez. Stevenson was willing to get hit by Valdez's right hand to ensure that he stayed away from his left hook. On one hand Stevenson did get hit more than we are used to seeing, but he stayed upright and was able to win the fight comfortably because he understood the risk in front of him. 

The Haneys did not have a good night. Devin was in the pocket too much, in range far too often. Devin expected to grind Garcia down with volume and pressure. And although that initial strategy made sense when considering how badly Garcia blew weight and the legitimate questions about his mental state coming into the fight, why were there no adjustments from Haney when it was clear that Garcia remained a threat? 

With knockdowns in the seventh, 10th and 11th rounds, Haney continued to get pasted by Garcia's hook, and he let a victory slip away. Haney was essentially compliant in his own demise. He and his father were unable to get out of the same rut. 

Photo courtesy of Cris Esqueda/Golden Boy

Let's also take a moment to credit Garcia's other punches. Often called a one-trick pony, Garcia set up the first knockdown in the fight from a perfect hooking off the jab combination, where he landed the jab and immediately followed with the hook. The deception worked because of the effectiveness of Garcia's jab and his ability to throw both punches from the same arm slot; Haney didn't know what was coming. 

Garcia's right hand was a factor in the knockdowns in the 10th and 11th rounds. The tenth featured a multi-punch combination where he drove Haney back to the ropes with Haney eventually falling over from the onslaught. Garcia landed shots with both hands and it was a straight left in the exchange that did the most damage. In the 11th, Garcia was able to break free from a clinch (another subtle skill) and hit Haney with a cuffing right to the side of the head before unloading with a pulverizing six-inch left hook that had Haney's eyes rolling back before he hit the canvas. Without the right, I'm not sure that the left lands there. 

The fight contained all sorts of other goodies to discuss too. How about referee Harvey Dock's wild seventh round, where he might have missed two additional Garcia knockdowns (calling them slips after clean shots were landed), and rushing in to give Haney loads of extra time. He took a point away from Garcia for hitting on the break (which was certainly within his judgment to do so), but he took a massive amount of time to restart the action as Haney was reeling.  

Ultimately, I think that there are two key takeaways from the fight. First of all, you can never discount a guy with an A+ punch. It doesn't matter if a fighter is getting beaten from pillar to post or has all sorts of other disadvantages in a given matchup; the big-time punches are separators. There are so few legitimate A+ punches in the sport that we tend to forget just how rare and special they are. Ryan Garcia is live in any fight because of his left hook. He can drop or stop anyone with it. It is up to the opponent to neutralize the shot, because if Garcia is allowed to land his hook, the punch can and will change a fight. 

I think the other key is the poor strategic and tactical performance from Devin and his father. In the Kambosos fights, Devin was masterful in staying on the outside to win. Yet, Devin and his father never employed this approach at any time against Garcia. They were determined to be the hunter, to go after Garcia, and they suffered because of it. Was it a stubbornness that they refused to change, or did the moment get away from them? They were never able to regain control in the second half of the fight. 

The official ledger from the fight will say that Garcia won by majority decision. There will also be a note that he missed weight by three pounds, with the upshot being that Garcia did not win Haney's title belt. Yet none of that really encapsulates the fight. Garcia was the one who dug down deep and turned the fight around. In the process, he not only beat a pound-for-pound-level fighter, but exposed serious shortcomings with Devin and his corner. 

Overall, Haney-Garcia was a thrilling night of action. I certainly hope that there's a rematch and it will be fascinating to see what happens if the Haneys get their tactics right. But first, a big piece of humble pie needs to be consumed. They need to respect their opponents more. And they also must understand the concepts of fallibility and mortality in the ring. Every fighter can be gotten to, every fighter can be hurt, but the key question is what happens next? And this is where they failed. 

On this night Ryan Garcia was king. He had heard all the criticism; he even played his role in facilitating much of it! But he reminded everyone what he can do in the boxing ring. As long as he has his left hand, he is a threat. To anybody.

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 

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Haney-Garcia: Preview and Prediction

Devin Haney (31-0, 15 KOs) and Ryan Garcia (24-1, 20 KOs) enter Saturday's fight at Barclays Center in Brooklyn as familiar opponents. They fought six times as amateurs with each winning three times. But as they fight for Haney's junior welterweight belt on Saturday, those old amateur bouts will no longer matter in the squared circle. A new history will be written. 

As far as matchups go, this is one where both will think that they have advantages and opportunities to exploit. Garcia will like that Haney isn't a pure pressure fighter or a one-punch-knockout artist. He certainly will have periods of the fight where he will have space to operate. Garcia has better power and might have the advantage in hand speed. And he also doesn't have to worry about being perfect in the same way that he did against Gervonta Davis, who had the fight-ending power to punish mistakes – that was Garcia's only loss of his professional career; he didn't make it to the eighth round. 

Haney during his open workout
Photo courtesy of Chris Esqueda/Golden Boy Promotions

Haney will try to capitalize on Garcia's being left-hand dominant and his often-clumsy footwork. Haney has a decided advantage in foot speed and he certainly understands how to take away weapons. If he plants himself on Garcia's right side, he would favor his varied offensive arsenal against Garcia's right hand. Haney also has an advantage in experience in the professional ranks. He's been twelve rounds against current and former champs and won those battles. He has persevered.

But let's not make this fight so reductive; there are other vital considerations in play that can mean much more than who can establish his jab. It's no secret that there's a lot of bad blood between the two and that could manifest in the ring in different ways. Despite being a terrific boxer on the outside, Haney is often far more daring in the ring than his reputation suggests. He took the fight right to opponents such as Jorge Linares, Vasiliy Lomachenko and Regis Prograis. Instead of playing it safe, he often operated at mid-range and closer. And although he's not a standard pressure fighter per se, his volume and effectiveness at mid-range give opponents a lot of trouble. 

But that does create opportunities. Linares was eventually able to crack Haney with a big left hook late in their fight and Lomachenko turned the tide in the second half by pushing Haney back to the ropes; in that fight Haney's energy did flag during some of the later rounds. And with Ryan Garcia's left hook, he doesn't have to land too many of his best ones to change the direction of the fight in his favor. 

Emotion can play the other way as well. After his knockout loss to Davis, Garcia admitted that he stopped listening to his corner and went for the knockout, even if he did so recklessly. Those decisions ultimately got him stopped in the fight; he provided Davis with too many openings. 

Garcia getting gloved up
Photo courtesy of Chris Esqueda/Golden Boy Promotions

Ultimately, this fight may come down to psychology as much as tactics or technical proficiency. Garcia can lose focus in the ring. He can junk a game plan when he's not satisfied. He often will give off bad body language when things aren't going his way, which can buoy an opponent even further. But Haney is a risk taker, and he doesn't necessarily have the big punch to bail him out of trouble. He often fights as if he has a point to prove, which can be to his detriment.  

Garcia's physical and mental well-being will be significant factors in the ring. Throughout the promotion, Garcia has repeatedly trafficked in strange and even offensive behavior. And it's not even what he was saying was adding to the the promotion of the fight; much of it was just bizarre. Furthermore, he wound up missing weight on Friday by over three pounds, not a sign of a fighter who's locked in at the moment. That could lead to desperation in the ring, which could play out in a number of different ways.    

I think that there are two distinct periods of the fight that will ultimately reveal the winner. The first three rounds will probably be the most intriguing. Haney will want to make an immediate statement and let's face it; Garcia doesn't really want to be boxing for 12 rounds. He's going to fire off some bombs and test Haney's chin. 

It's vital for Haney to make it out of the first quarter of the fight unscathed. If he does get dropped or hurt badly early in the match, Garcia will gain even more confidence. And if Garcia can damage Haney early in the fight, he must try to end it. There's an old saying in the sport that a wounded animal is often the most dangerous one, but that's also one of those aphorisms in boxing that doesn't always stand up to the bright lights of scrutiny, such as skills pay the bills or styles make fights. Sometimes they can be true; sometimes they aren't. Haney doesn't have the one-punch power to turn everything around if he's hurt. If there's a diminished Haney, Garcia has to go for it. 

If the fight makes it to the second half, that's when Haney needs to turn the screws to Garcia. By that point, Garcia would have tried his Plan A, which was to end the fight with a left hook. He hasn't often displayed a viable Plan B in many fights. Haney will have to continue to pepper Garcia with volume and psychological pressure, because there's a legitimate chance that Garcia could wilt. This is not the fight for Haney to chill on the ropes for a spell, play with his food, or take a round off. He needs to remove Garcia's will to fight, his self-belief; Haney wants doubt to creep into Garcia. And that won't happen by itself. 

For my pick, I'm going to side with Haney's experience and temperament in the ring. I've seen him prevail against tough opponents and in trying circumstances. I believe that Haney will have enough defensive responsibility to survive the perilous opening rounds with his faculties intact. Although he has had to navigate through a scare or two in the ring, he has survived those moments, and he has that experience in his back pocket. Eventually he will start to bank rounds, especially as he feels more comfortable incorporating additional facets of his offensive arsenal. I like Haney to pull away in the second half of the fight. 

I have very little confidence in what version of Ryan Garcia we will see in the ring. His power always needs to be respected and the possibility of a Garcia knockout can't be dismissed. But if he is losing as the fight goes to the second half, I've yet to see him pull a rabbit out of his hat. I'm not sure how resilient he is in the ring. Although Haney isn't a one-punch knockout guy, I think that he's a very solid body puncher, which could be vital in weakening Garcia, who likely will burn off a lot of energy early in the fight going for the knockout, and trying to calm his nerves.  

I'm picking Haney by 10th round TKO. I think that a body shot knockdown will cause significant damage and remove Garcia's will to win. Haney's intelligence, multiplicity of tools, consistency and positive big-fight experience will ultimately be the determining factors that lead to his glory. 

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 

Monday, April 8, 2024

Roney Hines: Movement and Time

Undefeated heavyweight prospect Roney Hines (13-0-1, 8 KOs) isn't impressed by the current top heavyweights. For Hines, a 6'6" southpaw from Cleveland who can really move, he doesn't see many with his attributes in the division. Eventually, he acknowledges Oleksandr Usyk's skills, his ability to move and not take big punches, but Hines is much more interested in studying smaller fighters. 

"I like to implement Lomachenko's style, how to move, hit and not get hit, that matrix thing," Hines said. "I like watching Gervonta Davis. Back in the day I loved watching Floyd [Mayweather]. Now there's Usyk at heavyweight who can move, but I don't enjoy watching bigger fighters at all." 

Photo Courtesy of DiBella Entertainment

Hines controls the ring, taking advantage of his foot speed and athleticism, knowing that other heavyweights don't possess the gas tank or desire to engage in that type of fight. Even before boxing he was immersed in karate, which he credits with his versatility in the ring, especially the ability to switch stances with ease. He can punch, but his power is more a result of accuracy, hand speed and the element of surprise over sheer one-punch force.

At 28, Hines is still relatively young for the heavyweight division, but even so, his career has moved in fits-and-starts. He's had a gap in his career of almost 16 months and another of almost a year. 

Hines is now aligned with promoter Lou DiBella and next appears in the ring on April 18th in Philadelphia against 11-year veteran Robert Hall (14-2, 11 KOs). Hines believes that he now has momentum on his side and if he wins this month, his goals are to stay active and keep moving up the ladder, hoping to face a top-15 or top-20-rated fighter by the end of the year. 

Although Hines was a decorated amateur, winning the 2018 Golden Gloves by beating Sonny Conto in the finals, he didn't find instant stardom as a professional. Due to financial considerations, he wanted to get moving with his pro career. He admits that he didn't take the best deal out there when he turned pro, but he needed to get started. 

Hines served two years in prison for robbery and assault when he was still an amateur. In prison he had a lot of time to reflect on what he wanted his life to be upon being released. And his attention turned toward boxing. 

"When you are locked up," he said, "you have a lot of time to think. I was sitting in my cell and I said what am I going to do with my life when I get out. Am I going to get a job? What am I best at? It came to my reality that boxing was the path for me...Why not get your life together, work out and get paid? Boxing gave me that drive to move forward."

So from being off the scene for a couple of years to quickly winning the Golden Gloves, Hines took his shot. His talent attracted noted trainer Buddy McGirt and he now works with L.A.-based trainer Eric Brown, who once was one of the house coaches at the Wildcard Gym. Hines admits that while he himself might not be the easiest guy to work with, his relationship with Brown is as smooth as "butter on bread." Another key member of Hines' team is coach Marlon "Butch" Davis, who has been with him since his amateur days in Cleveland. 

Although Hines has progressed in the ring, he is still fighting eight-rounders. Two fights ago, he had a majority draw against rugged club fighter Helaman Olguin. Hines laughs off his performance in the fight, with the most valuable lesson learned for him is don't fight when you're sick. 

Despite having a resume that lacks notable names, Hines is not short on confidence. He believes that he already is one of the best heavyweights out there, but he just hasn't had the opportunity to show it yet. He knows that his style will be a handful for others to face. But he does understand that at this point the best course of action is one step at a time. He's tried it other ways and he believes in DiBella's plan for him. 

April 18th will be a crucial step for him. A past slip up can be dismissed as an off night, but if he wants to have a real path to the top, he has to perform. If he continues to win, the opportunities will come. He has the trainer he likes; he believes in his promoter. There is a plan. And now it's all about him. Can he manifest his potential into reality? 

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 

Monday, April 1, 2024

Opinions and Observations: Wardley-Clarke

It's unusual to see two prospects announce themselves as legit contenders in the same fight. However, Fabio Wardley and Frazer Clarke went to war, and during their fierce battle they exhibited a multitude of skills and winning intangibles, demonstrating that they are now factors in the upper reaches of the heavyweight division. The fight was declared a draw, but that won't be enough to thwart their momentum in the sport: both have the goods. 

Officially, the fight was ruled a split draw, with the judges unable to agree on a winner (one picked Clarke, one picked Wardley, one had it even). To my eyes, the verdict was just. The fight featured massive shifts in momentum and several close rounds; it was tough to split them. Wardley did score a knockdown in the fifth and Clarke had a point deducted for low blows in the seventh (a bit harsh in my opinion), but despite that gap, Clarke won his fair share of rounds with cleaner boxing and some wicked power shots.

Clarke (left) and Wardley going to war
Photo courtesy of Boxxer

And whether they decide to rematch each other or go separate directions, both provided boxing fans with a thrilling night of action and also laid down a marker to the rest of the division: they are going to be tough fighters to beat. Perhaps what was even more impressive was that both showed additional dimensions in the ring from their previous fights, suggesting potential for even further improvement. 

Clarke is already 32. He turned professional late, remaining an amateur through the 2020 Olympics (which were actually held in 2021). In his early professional fights, he had failed to galvanize the boxing public. While always demonstrating a big punch, his performances were often labored, featuring anemic punch volume and a suspect engine. You could often hear whistles in the crowd during the myriad slow moments in his fights, yet that didn't seem to bother him.  

Wardley had no amateur boxing background to speak of. He was kind of a novelty guy when he turned pro, a white-collar boxer who had real power. Although Wardley had pop and athleticism, he had to overcome his lack of boxing fundamentals. He would often swing from his shoes, throw the wrong punches at the wrong time, and had very little idea about responsible defense. His punching power always elicited respect, but many were waiting for him to be found out by better talents. How can a guy who does so many things "wrong" expect to be a legit contender in the sport?  

Yet Clarke and Wardley put to bed many of those blemishes on Sunday. Clarke was dropped in the fifth round and ate tremendous numbers of big shots, yet he was the fresher fighter in the final round, giving it all for a potential knockout. In the concluding moments, he actually had the better engine.

And Wardley, at age 29, demonstrated a number of flourishes that shows he's been a quick study in the gym. His best punch of the fight was a counter right hand over Clarke's jab, not a novice's punch! He also went to Clarke's body with left hooks like a seasoned pro. And when he did get tagged in the fight, he didn't crumble. He tied up or used the ring to buy time. He has learned what a real fighter does under duress. 

The action in the fight was sensational. The tenth was a Round of the Year contender with both fighters hurt during the frame but determined to keep firing. The second, seventh (which was marred by the unnecessary point deduction) and eighth rounds also featured thrilling action. Frazer held his own with jabs, right uppercuts and sneaky right hands around the guard. Wardley did a little of everything: sharp counters, multi-punch combinations, double jabs, and power shots to the body. 

The championship rounds were also a special attribute of the fight. Although Wardley had never been past seven and Clarke had only been ten rounds once in a noncompetitive win, neither had experienced rounds 11 or 12 before, yet they both showed their fighting spirit as the bout drew to a close. Wardley had little left to give in the final rounds, but there he was winging his best arm punches in the 11th round, trying everything he could to find a final blow to end the fight. And even though Clarke seemed happy to remain upright by the end of the 11th, he was the spritely one in the final round, marching forward, trying to land a closing bomb to stop the fight from going to the judges. It was as if he was fighting more than Wardley; he wanted to silence each and every one of his critics about his lack of endurance or desire.

Wardley-Clarke was one of the finest non-title heavyweight fights since 1997's battle between David Tua and Ike Ibeabuchi (and here I mean world title). Neither Tua nor Ibeabuchi won a world title, yet for those who have seen the fight, they speak about it with reverence, even decades later. Wardley-Clarke featured the same spirit. Two big heavyweights throwing bombs, taking them, recovering, refusing to yield, fighting for their careers, and thrilling all who were watching.  

Wardley and Clarke possess the offensive firepower and internal fortitude to challenge top heavyweight contenders. Are they perfect fighters? Of course not. But they carry a big punch, won't shrink from a challenge and have subtle dimensions that make them more difficult to beat than would appear at first glance. They are real fighters. 

Credit to Ben Shalom and the Boxxer team for putting the bout together and credit both fighters for accepting the challenge. They put on an unforgettable night of boxing and there are plenty of titleholders and illustrious names in the sport who couldn't say the same.   

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