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Do Freddie Roach Fighters Lack Inside Defensive Skills?

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KhanMediaDay4Peterson Blevins20If we were to compile a pound for pound list on sheer talent alone, Jorge Linares would probably feature somewhere around the top as a result of his smorgasbord of just about every positive boxing attribute imaginable – decent height, reach, handspeed, footspeed, hand/eye co-ordination and power. Linares was once thought of as one of boxing's hottest prospects, but now, after his second round knockout defeat courtesy of Sergio Thompson – his second technical knockout loss in a row – it seems Jorge Linares is now destined to join boxing's “what could have been?” list.

So how does a fighter, who is blessed with all the talent in the world, suffer consecutive TKO losses at the hands of far less talented fighters?

Linares' promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, believed he has the answer when he took to Twitter after the bout.

“Linares needs a new trainer. He has so much natural ability but has no defense. Jorge needs a new trainer, someone that is going to pay attention and teach him defense! Freddie Roach was just too busy and I was told he didn't train him for this one. If you do not get hit, you do not get knocked out. If Linares had defense, he would be untouchable. If I had no chin I would do everything in my power to learn the craft of defense.”

De La Hoya does make an interesting point. While I wouldn't go as far as Oscar in saying that Freddie can't teach defense, I would say that there seems to be certain defensive areas that Roach has missed in the tutelage of his fighters.

Looking at Linares, Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao, we can see a fighters who ARE defensively responsible when attacking. A fighter is at his most vulnerable at the time of his attack, so by being overly aggressive, a fighter may be caught off balance and find it difficult to transition back to defense. This is where Roach has done a terrific job with Linares, Khan and Pacquiao; their balance issues have improved under the guidance of Freddie Roach.

Also evident in Roach's fighters is the ability to move away from danger after an attack, so as to reduce the risk of a counter attack. In other words, Roach has taught his fighters how to maintain defensive concern after the completion of their attack. Roach has embedded this into his fighters through an emphasis on great footwork. If you look at Pacquiao, his ability to move off after an attack is his main form of defense. It's the same with Khan and it's the same with Linares.

Defense is not only used when under pressure from an opponent. It is also used when a fighter is on the attack. This is the area in which Roach clearly excels. On the other hand, there does appear to be an area in which Roach seems to have either neglected, or has a distinct lack of understanding of: defending on the inside.

Yes, Roach has worked with some great defensive fighters in the past. Marlon Starling and James Toney were indeed defensive specialists. But Toney was already well schooled under Bill Miller and Starling, a naturally gifted counterpuncher, didn't need any defensive refinement.

Even fighters who operate at a distance have to posses some understanding on how to defend in close, Muhammad Ali and Wladimir Klitschko being prime examples. At their best, they are keeping the fight at arms length, either on the end of a jab or a straight right hand. Their objective? To prevent their opponents from breeching their optimum fighting space. That's why we have never seen them mount much in the way of offense on the inside. However, one of the reasons that Ali and Wladimir were able to dominate is because of their ability to prevent an inside fight from occurring by tying up on the inside and locking their opponent's arms up. From a defensive standpoint, they had knowledge on inside fighting.

I believe this knowledge is missing in Jorge Linares', Amir Khan's and quite possibly Manny Pacquiao's work as a direct result of the type of fighter Freddie Roach was… an offensive blood and guts trader who sometimes took five to land his one. If we focus on Khan and Linares in particular, they don't seem to know how to react when confronted with severe pressure.

So how does a fighter defend in close?

The best defensive fighters have a good variety of defenses against every punch available. They are able to mantain relaxation amid heavy fire. If a fighter is putting severe pressure on them, panic is no option. They stay calm and allow their defensive skills to take over, slipping, rolling, elbow blocking, half arm covering, hip rotation and the ability to tie up. I've never seen Linares and Khan display any of these defensive attributes.

A trainer like Freddie Roach likely never had much use for these techniques as a fighter because his entire emphasis was on attack. This could be the reason why Roach was never considered a great fighter. There always comes a time when offense is not always enough.

If we take a look back throughout history, more often than not, the defender has gotten the better of the attacker; James Corbett got the better of John L Sullivan, Gene Tunney got the better of Jack Dempsey and Jack Johnson got the better of Jim Jefferies. The modern era is no different. The ability to defend, and in particular the ability to defend in close, cannot be overlooked.

Telling times lie ahead.

The next couple of months could prove to be very detrimental for Freddie Roach. He has two fights coming up, against two proven inside fighters, against his two prized assets – Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao. During their first bout, Amir Khan's lack of an inside game was brought into light from the third round onwards as his opponent, Lamont Peterson – who normally operates as a boxer – took on the persona of the brawler and swarmed all over Khan, throwing nothing but power shots in close. As was evident during his win over Marcos Maidana, Khan had no answer to Peterson's severe pressure. Khan's only response was to push his opponent off which eventually led to a two point reduction against him. If there have not been any improvements made to Khan's inside game, then it is not hard to imagine Peterson utilising the same strategy that won him the fight last time out.

While Freddie Roach deserves an awful lot of credit with regards to his transformation of Manny Pacquiao's offense– namely his two handed attack and balance issues–is there any evidence of him improving Pacquiao defensively on the inside?

Against Antonio Margarito, a slow plodding fighter, Manny found himself on the ropes on more than one occasion. If we take a look at those instances when Pacquiao's back was up against the ropes, his only answer for defense was more offense. There were also occasions early in the Miguel Cotto fight when Pacquiao's back was against the ropes. Pacquiao's response to his opponents offense in that fight was to cover up and wait for Miguel to stop throwing. It is no coincidence that between rounds during most of Manny Pacquiao's fights, you will hear Freddie Roach tell him to keep off the ropes. Apart from those two occasions that I've mentioned, Pacquiao's offense has been so overwhelming of late, and his footwork has been so good, that we have not seen him forced into an inside fight. While he is considered the underdog, Timothy Bradley's footspeed, stamina and inside game could provide the perfect foil for Pacquiao's offensive. If Pacquiao is forced into an inside fight, I'm not sure I can envision him competing with Bradley in close.

These next two fight's could be THE defining fights of Freddie Roach's illustrious training career. A win in both of them for Khan and Pacquiao, and the two Linares defeats will merely be deemed as unfulfilled potential in a promising young fighter. However, unless there have been significant steps taken with regards to improving his fighters' inside knowledge and ability, we could be in for two of the biggest back to back upsets in recent memory. Suddenly, Freddie Roach, who is considered by many as the finest trainer in the sport, would be faced with the ominous notion that a gaping hole in his tutelage may have resulted in the demise of his two star pupils, culminating in three high profile defeats in a row as a result of his neglect on the inside nuances of boxing.

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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