Boxing Thoughts on an Eventful Summer
By Adam J. Pollack
Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn. It is sad that all of the outrage about the alleged robbery actually robs Horn of the accolades that he rightfully deserves. That was a close fight, not a robbery, and Horn fought the perfect fight. Overall, he dictated and was more in control of matters than Pacquiao. Horn had awkward head movement, in-and-out side-to-side footwork, altering the tempos and rhythms of the fight, attacking ferociously, mauling and outworking Pac on the inside, pulling his head down (which Referee Mark Nelson allowed), occasionally butting, then moving and ducking again, showing his versatility. Horn fought the better fight, and had the superior generalship and energy in the contest. Except for the 9th round, Pac never could time or get a read on him, and his range was off. His energy levels overall were fairly low, and lower than they needed to be when he most needed energy late in the fight, when most thought Horn would fade from all of his work. But Horn was in great, superior shape, and Pac was not. All three judges had it for Horn unanimously.
Pacquiao did almost no fighting on the inside, but that is where he needed to work, because he was the shorter fighter with shorter arms, and often was falling short or missing from the outside owing to Horn’s footwork, head movement, and superior height and reach. But Pac was getting manhandled by Horn’s strength, particularly since Pac mostly tried to hold on the inside, rarely worked while there, rarely countered when close, and used a passive defense, which only encouraged Horn.
Let’s face it. Pac has gone up a lot of weight divisions over his lifetime. He looked like a blown-up lightweight fighting a thickly built middleweight in there. The size disparity was quite obvious. Horn’s height, reach, size and strength were big factors in the fight.
Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev. First of all, due credit must be given to Ward for being one of the most courageous champions in the sport. He always has been willing to fight the best out there, and he has proven it consistently, against guys still at the top of their games, which is more than one can say for a lot of so-called champions in this sport. That alone places him at the top or near the top of the pound-for-pound list. His resume features the who’s who of his division’s elites, from Kessler, Abraham, Froch, Dawson, and now Kovalev, not once, but twice. Even some of the lesser-known guys he has fought, like Edwin Rodriguez and Sullivan Barrera, have been real fighters who would be tough outs for anyone but Ward.
As for the Kovalev rematch, before the fight I said that if Kovalev thinks he can just go in there and overpower Ward, and not engage in some real honest reflection about some of his mistakes in the first fight, he was doomed to lose again. Andre Ward is a very smart fighter. Regardless of his poor start in the first fight, he was the one who made the adjustments to make that fight close, whereas after Ward adjusted, Kovalev did not. It likely would be the case that Ward, having learned a great deal from the first fight, would come into the second with a better game plan. I said that if Kovalev did not work on his inside game, footwork, relaxation, punch volume and gears, he was going to lose by an even wider margin this time, though I believed it would be via decision.
In the rematch, after the first few rounds, Kovalev looked lethargic, listless, and confused. He had even less energy than in the first fight. He made no adjustments, mentally was not all there, and seemed more fatigued than the relatively slow pace would have made one think he would be. Now some of his fatigue might have been owing to the occasional low blow, which oddly enough, Referee Tony Weeks either failed to see or failed to warn Ward about. Getting hit low tends to wear you down. But we all know that if the referee does not help you, you need to help yourself. But Kovalev did very little to help himself in any way.
Conversely, Ward’s defense was near perfect, he landed the cleaner crisper blows, particularly to the body, but also several solid jabs and lead rights to the chin. Kovalev clearly was hurt by the body blows, and he was affected by some solid blows to the chin. Like the first fight, after a competitive first 3 rounds, as of the 4th round, one could tell that Ward had adjusted and slightly taken over, and felt more comfortable, whereas Kovalev seemed more confused. By the middle of the fight, it certainly appeared that Ward was en route to another victory.
All that said, it doesn’t change the fact that Ward landed several low blows in the 7th and 8th rounds, and the final blow which doubled over Kovalev and led referee Tony Weeks to stop the contest, was low. True, Kovalev had been hurt by a right to the chin, but he was finished with a low blow. It should not have been stopped at that point. Kovalev should have been given a recovery period and the action allowed to resume, per the unified rules. The referee deprived Kovalev the opportunity to recover from the foul blow, Ward the opportunity to win cleanly and without controversy, and the fans the benefit of their bargain.
Kovalev subsequently has issued a statement that making weight has affected his endurance, and it might be time to move up to cruiserweight. We shall see.
Perhaps the more controversial fight was on the undercard: Guillermo Rigondeaux vs. Moises Flores. Rigondeaux should have been disqualified. He clearly and flagrantly held and hit, which set up the knockout blow, which was thrown and landed after the bell rang. How in the world anyone could watch that and say Rigondeaux deserves to win by knockout is beyond me. It is a reflection of the utter lack of integrity in this sport. Sure they changed it days later to a no contest, but one has to wonder how they got it so wrong on fight night. The result that night was absolutely wrong. If you don’t want to be disqualified, don’t commit flagrant harm fouls. The reluctance to disqualify a name fighter for egregious breaches of the rules is in part why boxing does not have the same level of respect as a sport.
The July 15 fight card at the Forum in Los Angeles might not have the biggest names in boxing, but there are some really good match-ups that should prove entertaining.
Miguel Berchelt vs. Takashi Miura. Both guys come to fight. Junior lightweight Miura is a bit more of the unpolished tough brawler, and Berchelt a bit more of the boxer, but Berchelt also has the power to hurt as well, having scored 28 knockouts in his 31 victories. Berchelt hasn’t lost a fight in over three years, his only defeat, and is coming off a KO11 victory over then undefeated Francisco Vargas. Southpaw Miura, 31-3-2, has 24 knockout victories to his credit, and is coming off a KO12 over 56-11 Miguel Roman. He has a common opponent with Berchelt, having been stopped in 9 rounds by Francisco Vargas in a fight in which both fighters were down. Naturally Berchelt is the clear favorite, but Miura is no easy out.
Joe Smith, Jr., 23-1, 19 KOs, vs. Sullivan Barrera, 19-1, 14 KOs. This might well be the best and most intriguing match-up on the card. This will be a true test for Smith. There still are a lot of question-marks surrounding him. Right or wrong, folks can find ways to explain away his recent big victories – Fonfara got caught cold, Hopkins was 50 years old, had been beaten up by Kovalev, and hadn’t fought in two years. There is no doubt that Smith is a very heavy-handed puncher who probably can hurt anyone he hits. But does he have the power, skill, and condition needed to beat Barrera, a guy who went a competitive 12 rounds with Andre Ward in his only loss, and who has knockout victories over sturdy guys like Karo Murat and Vyacheslav Shabransky? That question makes this fight very intriguing. There definitely is a real aura of danger for Smith in this one.
Terence Crawford, 31-0, 22 KOs, might well be the actual best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now, and he’s fighting to become the first undisputed and undefeated champion in his weight division in quite a long time. On August 19, he will be taking on undefeated southpaw Julius Indongo, 22-0, 11 KOs, who is awkward, tall, long, and strong, and should not be underestimated. This should be a worthwhile junior welterweight matchup. Watching Crawford is like watching poetry in motion. But Indongo is the type of guy who will do whatever it takes to muck it all up and make it ugly, if he can.
Floyd Mayweather, Jr., 49-0, 26 KOs, vs. Connor McGregor, pro boxing debut, on August 26. You know, it makes me laugh and roll my eyes a little just to write that a guy with 49 pro boxing fights is fighting a guy making his pro boxing debut. It reminds me of when Floyd Patterson defended his world heavyweight championship against then pro debuting Pete Rademacher. But you know, as ridiculous as that fight was in its inception, at least Rademacher had actual boxing experience, and had won an Olympic gold medal, in boxing.
To the best of my knowledge, Connor McGregor is an MMA fighter. Sure, stand-up boxing is an element of MMA, but it isn’t what the sport is. Thinking this is a real fight is like taking the best ping pong player in the world and matching him in a tennis match with Roger Federer, or vice versa. Or taking the best bicyclist and putting him on a track to run against the world’s best 10,000 meter runner. At first blush, some might say ‘Maybe, they are similar,’ but anyone who understands the real differences between the sports understands it is more like apples and oranges than one might think. McGregor has no more chance to defeat Floyd in boxing than Floyd has to defeat McGregor in MMA.
Sure, McGregor will last some rounds, owing to the fact that Floyd is extremely careful, cautious, defensive-minded, and minimalist offensively. But don’t let that fool you or give you the wrong impression about McGregor’s performance. Floyd’s caution is all the more reason why McGregor has almost zero chance – Floyd won’t give him the opportunity to land even a lucky punch. He’s going to methodically pick him apart and bust him up.
The fight is non-competitive in its inception. If folks want to buy that, and there is a market for that, then so be it. If you purchase and pay for it, all you are doing is encouraging more ridiculous fights like this to occur. Floyd is a businessman who wants to make the most money for the least risk, so if the fight earns him a lot of money, from a business perspective, one cannot fault him. It certainly is the least risk possible. It will be the easiest money he has earned in a long time, perhaps ever. But from a sporting perspective, he deserves excoriation.
Mayweather is banking on the fact that there is a market for the freak show, the side show, the curiosity. This isn’t boxing as much as it is show business. This is like a circus, with promotion which will be akin to wrestlemania, and like the ringleader and circus master P.T. Barnum once said, “There is a sucker born every minute.” Back in 1910, when Jack Johnson defeated James J. Jeffries, who had been the betting favorite despite not having fought in six years, one observer wrote, “We fool ourselves every day more than other people fool us.” This fight is a fight to fool fools who will help fool themselves.
Perhaps some MMA folks will watch to see how well an MMA fighter can do with an elite boxer, and some boxing folks will watch to see the boxer pummel the MMA fighter. Some might liken it to Rocky. Some folks will be hoping that McGregor, like Rocky, shocks the world with his performance. But we all know what happens in real life.
Japan’s world superflyweight champion Naoya Inoue, 13-0, 11 KOs, is one of the best, most talented pound-for-pound fighters in the world, but amongst the least known top fighters. He will be fighting Antonio Nieves, 17-2-2 on September 9 in California. Check him out. You are in for a real treat.
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