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Why Don't All Boxing Fans Appreciate the Skills Of Andre Ward, And Mayweather?

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Andre-Ward-Round-1-MagazineBoxing skills are like wealthy people. Everyone has the ability to make one million dollars but relatively few people know what it takes to be wealthy. The beauty of boxing at its essence is its simplicity. You have to throw a punch to hit the other guy. Even the smartest dummies could figure that out. The ability it takes to dominate a fight without receiving a scratch on your face, well,  that takes another level of understanding.

A fighter told me once, “People could watch the sport all they want but until they get in the ring, they will never truly understand the game. This game is about skills.”

The definition of skills in boxing gets misinterpreted at times. Think back to 2005 when Floyd Mayweather Jr. fought Arturo Gatti.

Thomas Hauser wrote, “In boxing, the better fighter beats the more exciting fighter almost every time.” He was illustrating his point in a post fight description of Floyd Mayweather’s sixth round knockout over Arturo Gatti. The story focused on the comments made by both combatants during the buildup of the fight. Before the bout Mayweather said, “I'm not going to let some guy beat my brains out. The name of the game is to hit and not get hit. The less you get hit, the longer you last in this sport. I'm not in this sport to see how hard I can get hit or to see how many big punches I can take. That's what he does.” 

Arturo responded with, “Floyd talks a big game, but he's never fought anyone who hits as hard as me. When I punch my opponents, I hurt them. People fall down when I hit them, and he's going to walk into it. The only thing he has over me is speed. We'll see what happens when speed and power go against each other.”

Well, power does not work in boxing if your target has enough ability to get out of the way. When looking at differing viewpoints closely, Mayweather was saying that he was going to win by out-boxing Arturo Gatti. And the result of the contest was one of the most lopsided PPV bouts in recent memory. But it was also one of the most overlooked fights of Mayweather’s career because it looked too easy.

Describing a victory in boxing is complicated. Mayweather is 41-0 and has been justifiably wobbled by only two punches (thrown by Shane Mosley) since he fought DeMarcus Corley back in 2004. But he is considered soft to some viewers because he refuses to engage in a test of chins.   

Today, Andre Ward is falling into the same Mayweather mold of misinterpretation. I addressed the issues of criticism with the super middleweight champion over the phone last week.

Much like Mayweather or Hopkins, Ward’s fights are not always filled with the most action. He might not always win with mind numbing speed or blazing knockout punches. He wins because he has more boxing skills than his opponents. And the ones with the most boxing skills have the ability to make a fight look dull in victory when they refuse to stoop to the level of their competition by engaging in a back and forth tussle, by taking risks and allowing themselves to be hit just to prove that they have a solid chin.

Nobody earns success without criticism. Nowadays, the Oakland based champion seems to end up describing his level of competition, and his style as a pugilist, and his in-ring strategies, more so than luxuriate in his dominant victories, a dilemma that Mayweather has endured throughout his career.

Maybe the way an average fight fan views a fight compared to a world class boxer is completely different. It could be that most of us don’t see what the fighters see because we have not stepped foot in the ring.  

Ward has his own assessment. “I think it is a combination of things. It depends on how long the person has been a boxing fan. If you were a boxing fan that follows the fighters from the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s, I think that those guys tend to appreciate the sweet science a lot more. They are able to see what you need to see in the game of boxing as a whole. But if you just became a fan a few years ago, with the rise of the MMA, you might be looking for some sort of tough man competition. I respect MMA a great deal. I watch it and appreciate the sport, but boxing is much different.”

“You cannot argue with the result,” Andre Ward told me after he defeated Arthur Abraham on May 14th by lopsided unanimous decision. It was the Ward’s third straight dominating victory. Besides the fact that Ward has practically shutout his last three opponents, winning almost every round on all of the judges’ scorecards, many observers have criticized him for having unexciting fights. But analyze his level of competition. Look at who he has fought and who they have beaten before making a judgment. To make a boring fight against world class boxers is a difficult task.  

Now, Andre Ward has a long ways to go in order to fight at the level of expertise of Floyd Mayweather, or Bernard Hopkins. But he is a schooled fighter. And when describing his technique in the ring, the champion echoes the thoughts of his current boxing heroes.

Ward said, “I don’t care who you are, if you take a lot of punishment in this sport, you are not going to last long.  And I have heard those same words come out of Floyd Mayweather’s mouth. I have heard the same words come out of Bernard Hopkins’ mouth. Two guys who seem ageless, who are masters, not just fighters or boxers, they are masters of this sport that we call boxing. Those two guys have been criticized for having boring fights or not putting up action. But it looks like that sometimes when you shut a guy out. When it is not a back forth type of deal, sometimes it looks easy. But (in my fights) it might look easy sometimes or effortless, and the conclusion that people draw is that you are not giving it your all.”

Making it look easy might not be cool for some of the viewers but it is very fun for fighters who are trained to duck punches. Ward said, “You can’t force a guy to fight. I am going in there to please the fans and put on a spectacular performance every time out. But if the other guy is only in there to survive then there will be less action. It does not necessarily mean that it is a bad fight.”

Then Ward described the fighting styles of his recent last five opponents and why their styles dictated the results of the outcome. He said Edison Miranda and Mikkel Kessler came to fight and win, which led to more exchanges in the fights. However, he believes that Allan Green, Sakio Bika, and Arthur Abraham all stopped trying to win and were only in there to survive.

And he has a good point that seems to get overlooked sometimes. Surviving a fight is the natural instinct of every boxer. All of them are trained to endure punishment in the ring. It is a part of the game.

Sugar Shane Mosley was heavily criticized by practically everyone that follows boxing for his poor effort against Manny Pacquiao a few weeks ago. Say what you like about his performance, he knew how to survive. After the fight Mosley said, “I did not want to take any risks.” Crafty veterans who were once great fighters know how to do what it takes to go the distance. Boxers are taught first to protect themselves. Against Pacquiao, Mosley did the same thing that De la Hoya did, he did the same thing that Roy Jones did against Joe Calzaghe, he did enough to survive.

There is a difference between outclassing and outpunching your opponents. Fighters like Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, and Andre Ward understand that. Why can’t we?

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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