By Tyson Bruce
Last Saturday’s boxing card on HBO could best be described as brutal. The preliminary bout showcased the emergence of a new and exciting heavyweight contender in Mike Perez, who out-boxed the favored Magomed ‘Mago’ Abdusalamov in a rousing slugfest. In the main event, Gennady Golovkin overpowered and gradually demolished Curtis Stevens, despite a game effort by the Brownsville slugger.
It has been so long since a great heavyweight fight that one almost forgets what it even looks like. Fortunately, Perez and Abdusalamov reminded us just how exciting and brutal heavyweight boxing can be by beating the living day lights out of each other for ten punishing rounds. It could have been the best heavyweight tilt featured on HBO since Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko fought some ten years ago [Vitali and Corrie Sanders was pretty brutal, as I remember, as was Sergei Liakhovich and Lamon Brewster –ed].
The match was fast and furious from the get go, with Abdusalamovv jumping on Perez with his customary aggression. However, Perez showed the refined skills that were honed in the Cuban amateur system and counter-punched ‘Mago’ effectively, stunning the Russian in the first round with a quick right hook. In many ways, the first round was a microcosm of how the rest of the fight would go, as Perez’s faster hands and better boxing skills would prove too large an obstacle for Abdusalamovv to overcome.
In between the first and second round, Abdusalamov stated that he felt his nose was broken and a large swelling developed on the right side of his face, which was the product of Perez’s sneaky and fast right hook.
The fight was a rough and tumble affair, especially through rounds 1-5 before both men began to tire considerably. Abdusalamovv landed plenty of his own bombs, but Perez showed a magnificent chin and was never really rocked until the ninth round, despite taking many flush shots. After letting Abdusalamov back into the fight in rounds 2-5, Perez regained superiority in the later stages of the bout, inflicting a shocking amount of punishment to Abdusalamovv’s face.
Frankly, it was something of a surprise that Abdusalamov’s corner let him continue. His face was a grotesque mass of swelling and blood, as he likely sustained a broken nose and fractured cheek bone, as well as a nasty gash over the right eye.
In the ninth round, Perez had a point deducted from a borderline shot that landed on the belt line. Invigorated, Abdusalamovv showed his amazing courage by rallying to stun Perez for probably the only time in the fight. That rally, tragically, also probably convinced his corner to send him out for the last round. Perez, however, would not be denied, as he out-boxed and stunned ‘Mago’ in a stirring final round. As expected, Perez won by a fairly comfortable margin on two of the three cards: 97-92, 97-92, & 95-94.
Although it was a nostalgic experience to watch two big and powerful men lay it all on the line, we bore witness to the danger and health risks that are involved with boxing. Brave warriors like Abdusalamov, who often lack more than rudimentary defensive skills, sometimes need to be protected from themselves. This was evident from the rapid swelling on his face: some kind of injury had occurred. His corner and the multiple ringside physicians should have aired on the side of caution and stopped the fight. As a result, Abdusalamov is now in a medically induced coma to treat a blood clot.
On behalf of boxinginsider.com and myself, I would like to send my best wishes to ‘Mago’ Abdusalamov and his family. We wish you a full and speedy recovery, and your bravery and noble warrior spirit that you showed in your bout will never be forgotten by anyone who had the pleasure of watching it. Get well soon.
In the main event, Gennady Golovkin vs. Curtis Stevens lived up to the hype, as it was a tense and exciting match between two snipers with real knockout power.
Golovkin came out in a much more measured pace in the early going against Steven’s and showcased his underrated boxing skills. He repeatedly snapped back the head of Stevens with a battering ram of a jab. Although he controlled the first round, Golovkin showed Stevens a great deal more respect and caution than any of his other more recent opponents. Stevens’ strategy for the fight was clear: he was fighting in a pronounced peak-a-boo crouch while waiting to land his big left hand counter. While at times this was effective, Golovkin minimized the effects by using clever and effective footwork.
The second round began much the same way as the first, until Golovkin exploded at the end of the round with a perfectly timed double left-hook combination that dropped Stevens very hard. Stevens’ had a wide-eyed look of utter-shock on his face and he struggled to beat the count. Fortunately for him, there was only about 20 seconds left in the round.
After the second round it looked like the early blowout win that most people predicated for Golovkin was coming true. This turned out not to be the case, as Stevens, much to his credit, regrouped nicely, fighting in survival mode for the third round and getting his legs back. The fourth and fifth rounds were fought on relatively even terms, as Stevens caught Golovkin slipping with a couple of pretty big shots.
However, Golovkin showed that his arsenal is a box filled with many tools, as he regained his focus in the sixth round and began backing Stevens up to the ropes and ripping him with vicious body shots. In between rounds, Steven’s face took on the scarred and dejected appearance that all of Golovkin’s previous opponents displayed. The end was near.
In the seventh round Golovkin was brutality personified, as he battered Stevens from pillar to post in something that resembled a heavy bag workout. Referee Harvey Dock looked awfully close to stopping the bout at several points during the round. Fortunately, Stevens’ corner did the correct thing and waved the white flag at the round’s conclusion.
In the post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman, the usually mild mannered Golovkin called out lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and said he was open for business with anyone from 154-168 pounds. Hopefully a top opponent steps up and takes the challenge, but after yet another devastating display from “GGG,” I wouldn’t hold your breath.
All in all, this was an extremely satisfying night of boxing that featured an unexpected heavyweight slugfest, a game effort from an underdog challenger, and a great performance from one of boxing’s best new stars. Also, if Deontay Wilder is looking for a real heavyweight to tangle with, he need not look any further, as Mike Perez has certainly made a case that he may be the best young heavyweight out there.
Unfortunately, Magomed Abdusalamov’s once-promising career likely ended on this same night, showing the dark side of boxing on an otherwise exemplary card.