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THE BREAKDOWN: Nonito Donaire-Toshiaki Nishioka

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Donaire LA arrival 121008 001aDonaire is in tough against the Japanese vet Nishioki, and will have to be on his game to prevail, according to Lee Wylie. (Chris Farina-Top Rank)

Following Andre Ward's near flawless performance against the universally recognized light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, and Sergio Martinez's stick and move seminar over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. , Nonito Donaire {29-1, 18 knockouts} will be hoping to follow in his fellow pound for pound rival's footsteps when he defends his IBF and WBO junior featherweight titles against wily Japanese veteran Toshiaki Nishioka {39-4-3, 24 knockouts} at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California this Saturday.

It is this writer's opinion that each fighter will be presenting the other with their toughest challenge to date –if you know anything about each fighter's style or how they operate, then you'll know the type of opponent that both men prosper against. Needless to say, neither Donaire or Nishioka will be accommodating one another, which is what makes this fight so intriguing on paper.

Nishioka is very smart and skillful. A southpaw technician with excellent all round capabilities, he can lay back and box cautiously behind his jab, or can press the attack and pour it on in combination if need be. And don't be fooled by his age either. He may be 36 years-old, but Nishioka's shown very little or no signs of slowing down just yet. It's no coincidence that Nishioka hasn't tasted defeat in more than eight years at fighting at an elite level. If Donaire is anticipating his hand raised this Saturday, then he needs to be at his absolute best –fully armed and operational. Speaking of which, Donaire hasn't looked anything like his best in any of his last three outings, at least not anything resembling the chilling knockout artist that we were accustomed to seeing prior to his move up in weight. There are, I believe, three reasons for this.

Firstly, it's very rare that a fighter is able to increase or even maintain the same level of punching power as he/she moves up through the weight classes. Roberto Duran didn't, nor did Alexis Arguello, and despite what many believe, neither has Manny Pacquiao, who's yet to put a fighter weighing more than 140 pounds down and out for the count of ten.

Secondly, Donaire, also reminiscent of Pacquiao recently, is now facing fighters who aren't playing into his style by simply trying to take his head off. On paper, Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel were considered very dangerous. In reality, to those with knowledge of styles and how they mesh, they were tailor-made for the quick trigger, counterpunching Donaire. On the other end of the stylistic spectrum, fighters like Omar Narvaez –cagey and defensive– are almost impossible to find openings against. This is the type of opponent that causes a fighter like Donaire to underperform, not a knockout-seeking head-hunter who loads up on every single punch he throws.

Which brings me to my third and final point. Lately–possibly buying into his own hype–I believe Nonito Donaire has suffered from what I like to call “Mike Tyson Syndrome.” By that, I mean he's fallen in love with his own power, and in particular, his left hook. As I'm sure you're all aware, during his prime, Mike Tyson was so much more than a one handed slugger. Sadly, once the likes of Kevin Rooney were no longer part of his world, that's exactly what Mike Tyson became. Gone were the combinations, the footwork, and the side to side head movement, and in their place? A caricature of his former self, who, while still too strong a puncher for most heavyweights, lacked the creativity to get his punches home on the Evander Holyfield's of this world –all the other flaws in his make up came flooding through as a result. Likewise, Nonito Donaire must get back to setting up his left hook and refrain from loading up with it every chance he gets. The more predictable Donaire becomes with it, the easier it will be for a smart and calculating fighter like Nishioka, who will surely have it scouted, to defend against.

Battle of the left hands.

While both fighters are more than proficient with their right hand –Donaire's uppercuts and straight right and Nishioka's short right hand on the inside– it's the left hand work of both men, that I feel, will likely dominate the fight.

The counter left hook of Nonito Donaire is, I believe, the most spectacular single shot in all of boxing –it's been said here before that there probably isn't a better shot in boxing that encapsulates both its savagery and artistry simultaneously. Providing Donaire is smart, he could win the fight with it. Performed at its best, Donaire's coup de gras is meticulously prepped. With his lead hand low and his right hand extended out in front of him, which enables him to parry his opponent's jab, Donaire is trying to lull his opponent into thinking it's safe to attack. Looking at Donaire's low left, and extended right, opponents generally think it's safe to lead off…and that's strategic suicide. As they lead, Donaire transfers his weight over to his right side {his head is away from the centre line, not giving away any free targets as he throws} and launches his left hook from outside his opponent's line of vision, pushing off of his lead leg and pivoting on the ball of his lead foot as he throws it, almost giving the impression that he's in reverse as it lands {check out the Vic Darchinyan knockout}. It's all about split second timing and deception. Again, the problem here is if Donaire becomes too predictable and begins telegraphing it or over-using it, then he runs the risk of leaving himself open to counters…and Nishioka could counter his counter.

By contrast, Nishioka's left hand is similar in its deception, but different in its execution. Nishioka likes to step to his left –considered unusual for a southpaw– almost daring his opponent into releasing their right hand, the perceived southpaw kryptonite. As an opponent releases his right hand, Nishioka, similarly to Donaire, shifts his weight back across and counters with a straight left hand. But whereas Donaire's left hand comes wide and from the outside, Nishioka's comes straight up the middle. If there's a left handed gun-slinging contest between the two, it's not hard to imagine Nishioka's straighter and more conventional left hand reaching its target first. The flip side of this argument though, is that Donaire can land his left hook even though his body isn't correctly aligned. Imagine Nishioka, a southpaw, shooting his straight left hand. He'll be looking to get his lead foot outside of Donaires's lead foot, enabling him to land it whilst being out of range for a counter right hand {think of Marquez's right hand positioning against Pacquiao, but in reverse}. The beauty of Donaire's left hook, however, is that it can land from the orthodox stance even though his lead foot may or may not be outside of Nishioka's lead foot. This is how Andre Ward managed to land his left hook over and over against the taller southpaw Chad Dawson. Dawson did everything correctly –his lead foot was outside of Ward's with his body perfectly aligned to land his straight left. But because Ward's a converted southpaw {left handed but fights out of the orthodox stance} he could shoot a left hook from inside of Dawson's range –inside the southpaw jab and with his lead foot INSIDE of Dawson's lead foot.

Having read this, I'm sure a lot of you are thinking that there's a lot of technical mumbo jumbo that probably won't come into play. In many cases you could be right. Sometimes boxing can come down to the simplest of things –Who's quicker? Who's stronger ? Or even who is fitter. However, I believe this is going to be one of those occasions, with plenty of feinting and foot positioning, where geometry will be paramount.

Prediction:

As was mentioned here earlier, on paper, neither man's had it as tough by my estimation. A win here for either would easily be a career best. Speed, reflexes, timing and power seem to go with Donaire, but experience, ring savvy and toughness –Nishioka's been down and got up to win on more than one occasion– are with the Japanese veteran.

I can see this fight going one of two ways. The first, is that Nishioka, a technician who likes to work out angles before implementing his findings in later rounds, can generally be a slow starter. Donaire on the other hand, has been known in the past to be a somewhat fast starter. Merge the two notions together and I don't think it's beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that Donaire catches him cold –either with his vaunted left or with his uppercuts– and ends the fight early. The second, is that like in his last fights when he lacked creativity by neglecting the body and refusing to set up his left hand, Donaire becomes a tad predictable and we see a fight with Donaire hitting nothing but arms and elbows with his power shots from the outside. There's no question that Donaire hits hard, which has lead to many of his opponents closing their defensive doors early in fights against him. Should Nishioka experience Donaire's power early enough to decide that opening up isn't worth the risk of being knocked out, then Nishioka may be happy enough to just see out the remainder of the fight. Hopefully, this won't be the case. As Nishioka has a real chance of winning here.

Even though I think Nishioka is a terrific fighter, who's vastly underrated by many, I think Donaire wins. I believe the fact that Nishioka won't have fought in over a year by the time he steps into the ring could play a major part, especially against a younger talent like Donaire, who's probably the most active fighter out of all the pound for pound claimants.

Whether Donaire's going to look spectacular while doing so, however, is another thing entirely. When he's on it, I think Donaire's right up there with the very best in boxing. And yet, there remains a distinct possibility that we may have overestimated him slightly, what with his sensational one punch knockouts over good, but upon reflection, tailor made opponents. If Donaire wants to remain among the pound for pound pack, he's in need of that “special look good win” that's going to be comparable with those of Andre Ward and Sergio Martinez which will get people talking about him again. That being said, this could be a case of “win this one and look good next time,” as Nishioka is very hard to look good against. Any win over Nishioka would be a good one, but should Donaire look anything close to spectacular against a technically solid, versatile fighter who's more than proven at this weight class {a weight class that Donaire's yet to look sensational in} then that really would be something to talk about.

Also on the same night, Brandon Rios {30-0-1, 22 knockouts} will be moving up to the 140 pound division where he will face Mike Alvarado {33-0, 23 knockouts} in a WBO title eliminator in a fight that many are quick to slap with fight of the year potential. With my beers already on standby, I'd like nothing more than to bare witness to a fight of the year calibre contest. Unfortunately, I don't think we're going to see one. At least not from Rios and Alvarado.

I won't lie here. I'm a Brandon Rios skeptic, always have been. Upon watching him in the past, I've seen nothing but a fighter who comes in square looking to outpunch his often smaller opponents who had no clue on infighting or how to deal with his size and strength for that weight class. That all changed last year when he faced the unknown to most Richard Abril. Sometimes, bad decisions in boxing get blown out of context –Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley was one such fight in this writer's opinion. But then, there are some decisions that are simply inexcusable. Brandon Rios's gift decision over Richard Abril was one of the worst that I've ever seen. Throughout the fight, Rios was not only dominated from the outside, but he was also mastered in close by a better infighter than himself. All Abril had to do to negate Rios's best weapon, his left hook, was push his left hip into Rios's waist and cover his face with his right glove {the Mayweather inside posture}. Rios had absolutely no idea on how to prevent it from happening or how to land his left hook. Abril chopped Rios up from the opening bell to the last, using his better outside and inside fighting skills. This, I believe, is going to be the deciding factor on Saturday night. I'm sure Rios is going to get his wish at some point by Alvarado meeting him on the inside, but there's more to infighting than walking in with your shoulders parallel to your feet whilst looking to land a wide left hook. Mike Alvarado is technically better, bigger, and stronger than Brandon Rios, inside or out.

I don't mean to be a spoiler here, but I don't think this fight will even be all that close. I think Alvarado is capable of outboxing Rios from range or in close, using the same kind of infighting/outfighting –standing side on behind a high shoulder– that Richard Abril used. Granted, I don't think Alvarado possesses the mobility of Abril, but he probably doesn't need to. Should Alvarado be able to withstand Rios's fire power, which I think he can, and proceed to land combinations on Rios, which I think he will, then we could even see Rios put on the back foot. Rios's physical strength and decent chin are what has won him fights in the past, not his skills. Now he's fighting at 140 pounds, Rios's get out of jail free card is gone by my estimation. Can you imagine how effective Julio Cesar Chavez Jr would be fighting at cruiserweight against actual cruiserweights? I'm guessing he'd probably be as effective as Brandon Rios would be fighting opponents HIS own size too. Now that Rios is fighting a physically bigger man that isn't just going to wilt under his physicality and crudeness, I think we're going to see a lot of indecision in the ring from Rios this Saturday.

I'm not going to beat around the bush here and talk about angles and foot placement. I think Mike Alvarado is better than Brandon Rios no matter where or how the fight takes place. If forced to find an argument in Rios's favour I'd point to his 26 years as opposed to Alvarado's 32 years. But even then, it seems to me that Rios is a very old 26 years-old while Alvarado is a relatively young 32 years-old.

Prediction:

No matter which way I look at it, I can't see anything other than an Alvarado win. I don't think we're going to see the knock down drag out affair that most are anticipating. Alvarado, with his superior boxing ability, doesn't need to fight that way, and even if he does, he'll likely back Rios up, who has no reverse gear, and stop him anyway.

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An Unofficial Judge Scored 9 Rounds for Canelo; Feel Free to Hoot and Holler

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auxiliary press

The auxiliary press section at the T-Mobile Arena is quite a distance from the boxing ring. I’ve been in auxiliary press sections before, but never one that was up so high. It was here that I found myself on Saturday night, peering down on the ring far below and like everyone else checking out the big screen between rounds for a closer look at key moments.

From this vantage point, the ring is both smaller and bigger. It’s bigger in the sense that it opens things up a bit. Your eyes see more space between the fighters and you are better able to judge which fighter is controlling the distance. Think of the picture from the overhead cam in a football game. Looking straight down, the playing field doesn’t look as congested. The holes that open for a North-South running back bursting into the secondary get wider and from this panorama you are better able to judge the work of the offensive line.

Having said that, this is really no place to adequately judge a boxing match, so I can be forgiven for scoring the fight 9-3 for Canelo. For what it’s worth, however, the fellow on my right had it the same. The fellow on my left had it somewhat tighter, but also scored it for Canelo. And for the record, neither of these guys were Hispanic so they weren’t blinded by tribal loyalty.

At the T-Mobile, when the main event ends, the scribes in the auxiliary press section are literally held hostage. They are prevented from going down to the post-fight press conference until the arena has thinned out.

This reporter couldn’t get his laptop to function properly and had no patience. I’m not comfortable working on my cellphone, so it was imperative that I get home in a jiff and be there when David Avila’s ringside report turned up in my e-mail. On a fight of this magnitude, the boss wants the bread-and-butter post-fight story up on the site in a hurry.

Aware of the hostage situation, and my own technological limitations, I had the foresight to scope out the arena for an escape route just in case I needed to get away fast. And so, before a hostage-taker could rope me in, I was off and running, scurrying down a little used staircase. I had my car parked in the right spot for a quick getaway, traffic was light, and I was home at my work desk in less than 30 minutes.

I didn’t wait around to hear the scores. To me it was a foregone conclusion that Canelo would have his hand raised. Heading home, I had the car radio tuned to an all-sports station. And when the scores came across the radio, I thought to myself, well, I was wrong and I was right. I thought GGG would win and I was wrong about that, but I was right, I thought to myself, that the judges would be disposed to give GGG the close rounds. In my mind, the scores (114-114 and 115-113 twice) gave GGG the best of it. Granted, several rounds were tough to score, but yet the fight wasn’t that close.

Au contraire !

To my amazement, the vast majority of those seated in the ringside press section scored the fight a draw or had it shaded toward Triple-G. In fact, according to one survey, which included those in the building and a select few watching at home or in a TV studio, only two of the 59 people that were polled had it for Canelo with 17 scoring it even. The most cantankerous of the GGG faction was ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas who apparently had it 117-112 and labeled the decision a robbery.

No I won’t defend my scoring. Let me see the fight on TV (and with the sound off, natch), and I’ll get back to you. But I’m still flabbergasted that my score was so out of whack with the consensus.

Odds and Ends

Although the fight was announced as a sellout, there were empty seats scattered around the arena. The announced attendance was 21,965, roughly 1,400 less than for the first encounter last September.

The first Canelo-GGG bout set the attendance record for an indoor fight in Nevada and came in third all-time in gate receipts, surpassed only by Mayweather-Pacquiao in 2015 and Mayweather-McGregor in August of last year. But that’s a distant third to the leader. The gross gate for Canelo-GGG I ($27,059,850) was far below Mayweather-Pacquiao which raked in an astounding $72,198,500.

Although there’s more money in circulation each year and more fat cats willing to pay an enormous sum to attend a mega-fight, I doubt the Mayweather-Pacquiao record for gate receipts will be broken any time soon.

The crowd, needless to say, was skewed heavily toward Mexicans and Mexican-Americans. And while it’s often said that members of this ethnic group are true fight fans, the reality is that when they come to Las Vegas they act just like the Anglo high rollers, which is to say that they arrive at a big fight fashionably late.

When the first of the four PPV fights started, the arena was not more than 15 percent full. When the semi-main started, the arena was perhaps one-third full, notwithstanding the fact that it was a title fight featuring a boxer from Tijuana.

The old outdoor fights at Caesars Palace were thick with celebrities who were acknowledged by the ring announcer. Saturday’s fight at the T-Mobile was something of a throwback. The roll call included movie stars Denzel Washington, Will Smith, and Mark Wahlberg, comedians Dave Chappelle and Cedric the Entertainer, and sports personalities Lebron James, Charles Barkley, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Triple H – to name just a few.

Standing in the ring as GGG and Canelo made their way from their dressing rooms was a fashionably dressed woman wearing a dress that one would associate with a Latin country. I assumed she was there to sing the Mexican National Anthem. In my younger days, the Mexican National Anthem was sung so often at big fights in Las Vegas that I could eventually mouth the words.

But no, there was no National Anthem whatsoever, neither U.S., nor Mexican, nor Kazakhstani. I was told that they did do anthems before the first of the preliminary fights. This would have been about 3:00 in the afternoon when there were not more than a few hundred people in the joint.

Was this a reaction to the brouhaha set in motion by Colin Kaepernick? That’s a fair assumption.

Not only were the anthems missing, but so also was Michael Buffer, a fixture at HBO shows for decades. I’m told that he now works exclusively for Eddie Hearn. He’ll be back on the job this coming Saturday at Wembley Stadium in London.

Joe Martinez, Buffer’s replacement, did a solid job, as did referee Benjy Estevez who was working his first big fight in Nevada. Of course, Canelo and GGG made it easy for him. No matter your opinion of the scoring, I think we can all agree that these two great warriors engaged in a very clean fight.

By all accounts, this was a very good fight for the bookies. The expectation that there would be late Canelo money in Las Vegas on Mexican Independence Day weekend wasn’t born out. At one establishment, the odds favoring GGG rose from 7/5 to 9/5 (minus-180) in the last few hours of betting. I’m told that it nicked above 2/1 at a few places offshore.

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How Much Is Left for Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez?

I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number

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I first wrote about Roman Gonzalez in 2010. He was a baby-faced 105lb shotgun then, but was not widely known. I predicted that he would be the world’s number one fighter one day and also that when he eventually came undone, it would be against a southpaw.

I also predicted that, for Gonzalez, there would be no second act. Once undone, he would stay undone. Gonzalez was no Jake LaMotta, no sponge for acid, and to describe him as face first would be to do a disservice to the high guard and sleek slippage of punches that, even as a minimumweight, he was already exhibiting. I felt, however, that the purity of the violence he dealt in required a commitment that a hurtful defeat might undo. I also felt that super-flyweight would be his roof and that when he landed there he might find himself tangling with various immovable objects, where once give had been guaranteed.

So I was not surprised when southpaw superflyweight deluxe thug Srisaket Sor Rungvisai dropped him like a stone down a well late last year. I did have a bad feeling as regarded his comeback this weekend though.

An earlier aborted attempt at a return to action seemed to have been caused by the most disappointing of reasons, his perceived inability to make the 115lb limit in time. Once a fighter has decided to eat himself into the divisions above it’s rare to see him back at his old trim; the nightmarish vision of Gonzalez trying to compete with Naoya Inoue and Zolani Tete reared its ugly head momentarily, but Gonzalez set to work and made the grade, like he so often has.

A fight with Moises Fuentes at 115lbs was his reward.

Quantifying this opponent is important. Fuentes had, at one time, been ranked among the very best light-flyweights in the world. He exited that division after winning a crackling match with perennial warmonger Francisco Rodriguez and then losing by knockout to Kosoei Tanaka. After straying dangerously close to 120lbs and splitting a pair with Ulises Lara, he struggled back down to 112lbs only to be brutalized by Japanese prospect Daigo Higa in a single round. The word “shot” started to be muttered in connection with Fuentes in the wake of this result.

Gonzalez meanwhile was being marooned on the wrong side of history in his native Nicaragua as the country fell down around his ears. The political disaster wrought upon his people left him in an isolated position politically and, undoubtedly, with severe personal financial problems of his own.

So there were two desperate men sharing the ring on the undercard of Golovkin-Alvarez contest but to my eye, Gonzalez-Fuentes was far and away the most interesting match.

Gonzalez looked old and dry during the referee’s instructions, his expression hangdog, new folds of expression on his once smooth features. He looked down, not unusual, but he radiated a sliver of defeat where once there had been only surety.

Until the bell rang.

Gonzalez, in his prime, was among the best combination punches of the modern era. This has always been his stated mode of expression, eight to twelve punches his declared and terrifying target and he has proven himself capable of landing at the lower end of this range. Nor are these the “mixing” punches of, say, Joe Calzaghe, who cuffed and slapped and looked to land a meaningful punch in among the a stream of less hurtful shots. Gonzalez meant business.

As business boomed and he became the lineal flyweight champion of the world, he continued to add layers. By the time of his flyweight reign he had developed one of the most dangerous right hands in the world. He shaped it in all ways, he threw it at all ranges, he targeted head, body, chest, and such was his balance and stance that he did all of this without selling the punch. When Gonzalez dipped his left shoulder to throw a left-hook or uppercut, he could instead transplant that punch with a straight right.

Certainly not all of the above was confirmed against Fuentes. He wasn’t buying the space like he used to, developing strange angles to begin the withering barrages that we saw in his prime, but we did see him throw the same explosive and unexpected combinations, sometimes leading with the left-uppercut, a suicide punch for many fighters. And we saw him use that right hand.

We saw him feint with it to open up for the left and we saw him use it as a prop punch for a hook or uppercut, and we finally saw him unleash it, on the button, for what may be the knockout of the year.  Gonzalez rounded the brave Fuentes up, cornered him, and then knocked him unconscious with a punch that traveled through the target and “frightened” Gonzalez into thinking that he had legitimately hurt the Mexican.

His relief when Fuentes returned to us, cross-eyed and confounded, but unharmed, was palpable.

My pre-fight wish was that Gonzalez would look very bad and be forced to consider retirement, or very good, thereby hoping that my final prediction would be denied and “Chocolatito” could be declared back in the title hunt.

Though what we got is certainly more the latter than the former, in truth it is neither.

Gonzalez’s speed of foot had begun to betray him even before Rungvisai pole-axed him and although he looked sprightly at times here, he’s not going to be as quick at 115lbs as he was at 108. More, he landed a lot of punches on Fuentes and Fuentes stood up to them. When Gonzalez hit that kind of stride at 112lbs, even burning heart warriors like Akira Yaegashi wilted; Fuentes was able to rally several times which was good for the contest but makes clear that Gonzalez left his truly destructive power behind when he left his flyweight title behind. Murderous in landing the perfect shot, clubbing super-flyweight foes into submission is going to remain extremely challenging.

So when he comes up against a meaningful challenger, he will have to defeat him with craft, guile, and what remains one of the most fluid offenses in the sport. Many of his potential opponents will be faster than him and some will be able to hit as hard or harder.

Gonzalez will no doubt be in pursuit of a strap. This leaves him with three choices.

Rungvisai, the legitimate champion, we know about. Gonzalez may want a third fight and given the weakness of the matches on the most recent HBO Superfly card, it is far from impossible that it can be made. If it was made next, Rungvisai must be considered a heavy favorite.

The wonderful Filipino Jerwin Ancajas, too, holds a strap at the weight and he, too, should be avoided unless Gonzalez is determined to undertake an all-or-nothing swoop at a fighter entering his prime. This contest is not unwinnable for Gonzalez, but all things considered, it would arguably be the very best victory of his career if he were to pull it off.

Finally, there is Englishman Khalid Yafai.

Yafai is the right man. He is the type of fighter that Gonzalez has specialized in breaking since he turned pro; a fleet-footed, clever boxer short on dig and high on flurries. Yafai is definitely good enough to stay ahead for spells, he might even be good enough to win seven rounds, but he is not going to brutalize Gonzalez while he does it.    Here is a fight for a strap that Gonzalez would be favored to win.

Alas, promotional vagaries also make it the most difficult to make. But perhaps Gonzalez will bide his time. There are other meaningful contests to be made in a sprightly division undergoing yet another quality iteration.  Perhaps Gonzalez will seek a rematch with old foe Juan Francisco Estrada, still dangerous but underwhelming in his most recent contest. Perhaps a battle of the veterans can be sold to HBO and Gonzalez can tangle with Donnie Nietes. Or maybe power-brokers would be more excited to see him in with another mysterious old man from foreign shores and Gonzalez-Kazuto Ioka can be made.

These are all exciting fights and most of them can be made with a minimum of fuss.

So it’s Roman Gonzalez then, perhaps not quite back, but certainly warming up in the wings. And if the division isn’t quite trembling, it can at least be said to have thrown a quick look over its shoulder into the gathering gloom.

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A Tactical Change Paid Dividends for Canelo Alvarez vs. GGG

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s

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night Canelo

This past Saturday night Canelo Alvarez 50-1-2 (34) won a majority decision (114-114 and 115-113 twice) over Gennady Golovkin 38-1-1 (33) to capture Golovkin’s three middleweight title belts at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. And like their first fight last September that ended in a majority draw, the decision has provoked controversy.

The amazing thing about Canelo and GGG is how evenly they’re matched and difficult their fights are to score. I scored the rematch 6-5-1 Canelo, (after seeing the first meeting 8-4 GGG) but it was so close that it could as easily gone to Golovkin by a point. But let’s get one thing clear: This fight was too close to be considered a robbery regardless of who had their hand raised. And when you take into account that Canelo forced Golovkin to fight in retreat, landed the more eye-catching shots, worked his body from the onset, and that Golovkin’s face was much more puffed up and lumpy at the end (although Canelo was cut), no way was the decision in favor of Canelo an injustice.

Stylistically, GGG is an attacker and Canelo is a counter-puncher. However, Canelo answered Golovkin’s trainer Abel Sanchez’s call and didn’t run. No, he didn’t run in the first fight either, but in this fight, unlike the first, Canelo moved forward and initiated the exchanges. Golovkin’s jab, which is always reliable, worked overtime and kept Canelo from owning the exchanges, but like most attackers, GGG can’t hit as hard or be as effective if forced back. And because of that Canelo had no reservation in regards to forcing the fight. So when looking at what stood out the most, it was Canelo’s more imaginative offense and body punching, thus forcing Golovkin to go away from what he’s done best and in every other fight of his career, and that no doubt influenced the judges. Moreover, Golovkin noticeably flinched a few times at feints and was unwilling to pay the price of going to the body entailed to win.

Prior to the rematch it was said in this space how two things would unfold when they met the second time. Quoting from the June 20th TSS preview:

Based on the strategic options for both, Canelo has more room to be better and change things up to level the fight. And then there’s the business side of the equation and I’ve been around too long to fathom that if it’s closer this time GGG will get the decision. A Canelo win sets the rubber match up perfectly because in the eyes of boxing fans and PPV buyers they’ll view them as being 1-1. For the reasons stated above, as much as I’d like to be wrong (and there’s no fun pouring cold water on something so widely anticipated), I don’t think that will be the case. It’s a monumental reach for me to think GGG can win a decision unless he beats Canelo beyond recognition – which I don’t believe he can. Therefore Canelo-GGG goes the distance and Alvarez, being more competitive this time, gets the decision and that sets up the rubber match for Cinco De Mayo weekend 2019.

The fact is, Canelo being the more versatile fighter completely flipped the script after fighting mostly in retreat and with his back to the ropes during most of their first encounter. His aggression and willingness to stand his ground the way GGG did the first time, projected that Canelo was the more willing fighter and he was obviously rewarded for that. Granted, Golovkin really dug down and showed his strong constitution during the second half of the fight after being told by his corner he was losing. He fought a terrific fight, as did Canelo, but it wasn’t enough for GGG because he left too many rounds up for grabs, which was suicide with Canelo forcing the fight.

The result shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, especially since the fight was so close and could come down to whose style you liked better or who you were rooting for. There was no definitive winner of this fight. Sure, a draw would’ve been a fair call. The problem with that, however, is that Team Golovkin knew they had to be more assertive and erase any semblance of doubt this time, due to GGG being excoriated in some circles for not getting off enough in the last bout and never slamming the door to prevent Canelo from tightening the fight with a rally, the way he did down the stretch. This time GGG got off a little more, but that was because he was mostly fighting to prevent Canelo from overwhelming him with his aggression. In a way it’s ironic how Canelo accepted the challenge and fought Golovkin in a more macho way and it knocked Golovkin off his game.

One tries not to be redundant, but like the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB…..boxing is a business and is star driven. Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is a superstar fighter in the eyes of the boxing establishment and many fans. There’s no guesswork needed to grasp that it’s good for business for him to keep winning. His determination, skill and toughness exhibited against a monster like Golovkin might endear him to fans more than ever. Canelo fought a better fight than the first time and put to rest the rumor that he was aided by PEDS.

The net result is exactly what the boxing establishment, not the fans, needed. And that was a win for Canelo in a fight where it was tough to pick the winner with Canelo acting as more the predator than the prey. By forcing GGG to break more exchanges, working both the body and head, along with never appearing tired or overwhelmed, it was just enough to win the borderline rounds in the eyes of the judges and tilt the fight in his favor. In fact, Golovkin, over Canelo’s protest, had Dave Moretti as a judge for the fight. He was the only judge who scored the first clash for Gennady. And this time he scored it for Canelo and may have tipped his hand when he gave the 12th round to Canelo, perhaps knowing it could swing the fight in his favor….and it did.

This decision cannot be lambasted like others we’ve seen. GGG didn’t suffer a loss of esteem in losing and Canelo finally has a statement win over a marque fighter. They’ll fight a third time and it will be perceived as a rubber match. Golovkin will be almost another year older and less than what he was this past weekend and Canelo will win more conclusively while avoiding the young lions nipping at his heels named Charlo, Saunders and Andrade.

Because boxing is and always has been star driven, Gennady just can’t put enough separation between he and Canelo to get the decision. Their rematch is one of the few fights I’ve seen that really could’ve gone either way – it’s just that a push usually goes to the combatant who is better for business.

The next time there’s a real close fight on paper, and it’s unlikely to end in a knockout or stoppage, you must ask what result better sets up the next big bout. The formula isn’t fool proof. De La Hoya-Trinidad and Pacquiao-Bradley I are glaring exceptions, but more often than not you’ll cash your ticket. In this case a Canelo win sets up fight three more than a Golovkin win would’ve….and knowing GGG won’t walk away from the fortune at stake, he’ll go for it.

Photo credit: Tom Hogan / Hoganphotos / Golden Boy Promotions

Between 1977 and 1982, Frank Lotierzo had over 50 fights in the middleweight division. He trained at Joe Frazier’s gym in Philadelphia under the tutelage of the legendary George Benton. Before joining The Sweet Science his work appeared in several prominent newsstand and digital boxing magazines and he hosted “Toe-to-Toe” on ESPN Radio. Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@gmail.com

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