by Johnny Walker
Following last Friday evening’s fistic festivities on ESPN-2, where analyst Teddy Atlas called boxing a “corrupt sport” and the decision rendered by the judges on the night’s opening bout “a sham,” HBO World Championship Boxing followed up on Saturday evening with more weird scenes from inside the squared circle.
The favored headliner Timothy Bradley drew with underdog Argentinean Diego Chaves in the welterweight division; the undefeated Russian ex-pat Matt Korobov was stopped by Irish Andy Lee’s powerful right hook for the WBO Middleweight title in the co-feature; and Mauricio Herrera was outright robbed by the judges in his bout against Jose Benavidez Jr. for the WBA Interim Junior Welterweight title.
The latter fight even prompted HBO announcer Jim Lampley to go off Atlas-style, saying, “This is the kind of thing that is not good for boxing’s public image.”
HBO’s announcers–led by Harold Lederman–kept foreshadowing a possible robbery early in the Mauricio Herrera versus Jose Benavidez Jr. bout, repeatedly mentioning how workmanlike but aesthetically displeasing guys like Herrera often come out on the “wrong” end of decisions against slick fighters with powerful backers.
Indeed, Benavidez showed flashes of brilliance, and his punches often seemed to have more pop on them and landed cleaner. But Herrera, the man Lampley described as a “worker bee who never quits, won’t give up” just kept on coming, forcing his way inside to hammer his opponent’s body, throwing bunches of power punches, some of which made their way around the guard of Benavidez.
While Herrera was indeed on the end of some powerful shots from Benavidez, he never seemed hurt by any of them, and simply forged ahead with his own game plan, refusing to be outworked. Herrera indeed seemed to be winning the fight on pure volume punching and ring generalship, as his more talented opponent was forced into a defensive posture for too much of the fight.
The last two rounds of the bout were highly entertaining as both men launched some power-shot flurries, with both fighters getting off 34 punches apiece in the final round.
There seemed to be a general ringside consensus that Herrera had done enough to win the fight, but the dire doubts expressed by the HBO announcers earlier in the fight came eerily true when the scores of 116-112 and 117-111, all in favor of Benevidez, were read out by Michael Buffer.
A draw would have been the minimally acceptable decision involving any decision with Herrera not on the winning end, at least for this writer. But no, indefensible scores like 117-111 instead gave Benevidez (22-0 15 KOs) the victory.
The scores left “a bad taste in the mouth” for the rest of the evening, said Lampley. But there were more tasty surprises to come.
In the evening’s second fight, “Irish” Andy Lee took on the favored, unbeaten Russian ex-pat Matt Korobov for the vacant WBO world middleweight title.
Korobov never did live up to his advance billing in this fight, however, and as he failed to do much of anything impressive, Lee’s confidence started to grow: the former pupil of the late trainer Emanuel Steward relaxed and began landing hooks and jabs of his own. In round three, Korobov was shaken by a Lee right hook.
The action picked up in rounds four and five, with Korobov and Lee trading jarring jabs on more than one occasion, but with Korobov still not quite finding his sweet spot in the squared circle, seeming somewhat “off” all night.
With Lee’s confidence now peaking, the Irishman unleashed a powerful right hook after being rocked himself by a Korobov left hook in round six. Korobov was woozy and rubber-legged, and Lee moved in for the metaphorical kill, forcing referee Kenny Bayless to stop the fight at 1:10 of round six, making Andy Lee the WBO world middleweight champion.
After the fight, Lee (34-2, 24 KOs) thanked his new trainer, Briton Adam Booth, but also thanked “the man who made me, Emanuel Steward. He said I’d win a world title.” An excited Lee also thanked members of Steward’s family for flying in from Detroit to see his title win.
Finally, Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley took to the ring against a man many in the boxing media had described as a “professional opponent,” a fighter for Bradley to “stay busy” against until someone more worthy could be found.
Argentina’s Diego Chaves, however, had different ideas.
Bradley–who later admitted being “flat” for the fight–has been criticized in the past for excessive head-butting, and began engaging in this activity, whether by accident or intentionally, by the second round.
This time, however, it was Bradley who came out on the wrong end of the butts: while Chaves’s corner, led by Miguel Diaz, kept any injury from the head clashes under control, Bradley’s left eye began to swell and looked to be swollen almost shut by the evening’s end.
The fight itself was entertaining if a bit pedestrian, but it was clear that Chaves was doing much more than most had predicted he would do — by the end of the fight, the HBO announcers who had Bradley winning the fight easily started to backtrack even before the scores were read.
Perhaps Bradley, said to be receiving $2 million for this fight while Chaves collected $35,000, was feeling jaded, or perhaps his damaged eye was bothering him more than he let on after the fight, but the American somehow never really got going. Sure, Bradley landed some fine power shots in spots, but never established a ring rhythm, in part because Chaves just didn’t allow him to do so.
By the second half of the fight, Bradley began to slow down, and his obvious inability to really hurt Chaves was energizing the latter fighter. By round nine, Bradley was clearly flagging, while Chaves landed some big right hands that slowed “Desert Storm” down even more.
With the left side of his face badly swollen, Bradley hit Chaves with nasty low blow in round 11, and Chaves responded by landing two hard right hands on Bradley when fight resumed.
Chaves carried his momentum into the final round, and raised his hands in victory as time ran out, as did Bradley, who didn’t look like a winner thanks to his badly damaged eye.
The night held one final surprise when the judges, including the daughter of aforementioned HBO analyst Harold Lederman, Julie, rendered their verdicts on the main event.
Ms. Lederman had it 116-112 for the Argentinian, while Burt A. Clements had it 115-113 for Bradley, and Canadian Craig Metcalfe saw it as a draw, 114-114.
Somehow, however, this split decision draw failed to stir as much outrage as the outcome of the evening’s first televised bout — probably because as the fight went along, it became clear that Chaves was gaining steam while Bradley was losing it.
Bradley (31-1-1, 12 KOs) said later that though he “felt like I won the fight clearly,” he also admitted to feeling “flat in spots.”
Chaves (23-2-1, 19 KOs) felt it was an even fight, “though I felt I was superior in many instances.”
For the rest of us, it was just one more in what has become almost the norm of very strange nights spent watching the often inexplicable sport of boxing.