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THE BREAKDOWN: Pacquiao-Marquez IV, In-Depth Analysis

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Pacquiao workout 121127 005a“Freddie, this Marquez knows me better than Jinkee does. He knows what I'm going to do before I do.” (Chris Farina-Top Rank)

This Saturday, Manny Pacquiao {54-4-2 with 38 Kos} and Juan Manuel Marquez {54-6-1 with 39 Kos} will do it all again at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and possibly bring some closure to their hotly disputed rivalry. Although Pacquiao has yet to suffer an official loss to Marquez {the Filipino icon is up 2-o-1 against the Mexican legend} the hope here is that a fourth meeting may provide an answer as to who the better man is -such has been the controversial nature of the round scoring in their previous meetings, there are plenty out there who feel Marquez should have been declared the winner on all three occasions. Furthermore, because Pacquiao has failed to knock out any of his previous five opponents, along with looking far from his scintillating best in his previous three appearances –a lackluster win over Shane Mosley and a contentious win and loss to Marquez and Timothy Bradley respectively- many have been quick to declare that Manny Pacquiao is no longer the force of nature he once was.

It cannot be denied that at 33 years-old, Manny Pacquiao will have undoubtedly lost a little in the way of his speed and reflexes. Nevertheless, I believe Pacquiao’s recent form is not so much about physical erosion, as it is about the standard of opponent that’s been standing in front of him of late.

Here, I’d like to touch on why Juan Manuel Marquez has enjoyed more success against Manny Pacquiao than all of Pacquiao’s previous opponents since the David Diaz fight combined. I’m referring to the Diaz fight primarily because I believe this was the fight that kick started Pacquiao’s meteoric rise to the apex of the boxing world.

Manny Pacquiao, like all fighters, has certain tendencies and signature moves that he employs in all of his fights. Juan Manuel Marquez’s success against Pacquiao can be attributed towards how well he deals with them. Let’s now take a look at some of Manny Pacquiao’s signature moves, and in turn, examine how Juan Manuel Marquez and some of Pacquiao’s other opponents have dealt with them.

The trailing left hand lead

One of Pacquiao’s most utilized weapons throughout his boxing career has been his trailing left hand lead. Pacquiao pulls this off mainly by drifting to his left, and to the right of his opponent {unusual for a southpaw} before transferring his weight back over to his right side prior to releasing the shot. One of the reasons Pacquiao is effective with his trailing left hand lead is because of a subtle movement. Even though Pacquiao is considered an ultra-aggressive fighter, if you take a good look at his movement –particularly against the likes of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto- you’ll notice that Pacquiao is actually backing up slightly as he’s drifting to his left. This, I believe, lures his opponent into leading off with a jab because of Pacquiao’s perceived vulnerable positioning –his lead hand is on the outside of his opponent’s lead hand, therefore, he should be available to hit with the jab. What’s really happening, however, is that Pacquiao is lining his opponent up for his trailing left hand.

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Here, Cotto is standing still and Pacquiao is moving diagonally left. As both men attack at the same time, Pacquiao’s superior speed along with his dominant attacking angle allows him to land with his trailing hand as Cotto is missing with his lead. Notice how Cotto’s head remains central and his body is upright before, during and after jabbing. By comparison, Pacquiao pushes off his back foot as he dips low, shifts his weight over to his right and takes his head away from the center and outside of where Cotto’s jab is traveling. This evasive action allows Pacquiao to land his left hand lead up the middle without being in the line of fire.

Because Cotto was static and decided to punch with Pacquiao, a southpaw who was thinking angles, he came off worse.

Pacquiao continued to find the target with his trailing left hand lead against Cotto.

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Cotto remains stationary. As Pacquiao drifts left and is slightly backing up, he lands his trailing left hand lead inside of Cotto’s jab. Notice how Pacquiao’s right shoulder is outside of Cotto’s right shoulder just before he leans in. Again, Pacquiao has achieved his required position, giving Cotto the false illusion that he’s in range to be jabbed. Just as Cotto throws the jab, Pacquiao shifts his weight back over to his right and lands his trailing hand.

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Here, Cotto is standing directly in front of Pacquiao, who is drifting left while backing up slightly. See how Pacquiao shifts his weight onto his back foot to draw out the lead. Cotto responds and leans forward. Because Cotto’s weight is over on his front foot, his mobility is now restricted. As a result, Cotto can’t avoid yet another left hand lead down the pipe from Pacquiao. Cotto is an easy target because Pacquiao has gained a dominant angle yet again.

Here’s another look at Pacquiao landing his trailing left hand lead, this time, against Oscar De La Hoya.

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In this sequence, Pacquiao snakes his trailing left hand lead underneath the jab of De La Hoya. Take note of De La Hoya’s positioning as he’s throwing the jab. He’s stationary and upright. By contrast, Pacquiao is dipping low and is taking his head away from the center line. In this instance, Pacquiao finishes with an evasive step around to Oscar’s blindside. Look at De La Hoya’s positioning in the final photograph. Oscar is in no position to land his vaunted left hook. Also, if he’s going to throw a right hand at Pacquiao, he’d have to punch across himself, which would hinder his power and technique.

Here’s an excellent little video highlighting Pacquiao’s use of the trailing left hand lead against Oscar De La Hoya.

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When you look at the video, I want you to concentrate more on what De La Hoya is doing, rather than simply focus on Pacquiao’s left hand. Throughout the video, you’ll notice De La Hoya is rarely moving. Instead, he’s standing flat footed with his gloves almost a shoulder width apart. Even though Pacquiao’s foot work is exceptional in this clip, De La Hoya, like Miguel Cotto, didn’t exactly make himself the most elusive of targets.

Now let’s take a look at how Juan Manuel Marquez’s positions himself against Manny Pacquiao.

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Pacquiao is drifting left, looking to land his trailing left hand lead. Notice the difference in movement between Marquez and De La Hoya. As Pacquiao is drifting left, Marquez is moving with Pacquiao, on his back foot and to his left. Moving in this way allows Marquez to avoid Pacquiao’s trailing hand by staying on the outside and out of range of it. So much so, as is evident in third photograph above, that Pacquiao refrains from even throwing it and pulls it back at the last second, out of fear of falling short and being countered by Marquez.

Marquez’s movement in conjunction with Pacquiao’s is nothing new. This is something that’s been happening since their first fight.

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Here’s Pacquiao moving to his left. As he drifts left, Marquez moves with him and steps to his left. As a result, we’re presented with a visual of both men moving together in a clockwise motion –this has been a common sight in all three of their fights.  Although you wouldn’t necessarily think it, Marquez’s simple but effective maneuvering has nullified Pacquiao’s trailing left hand lead. If Marquez is standing still, as Cotto and De La Hoya did, then Pacquiao can gain a dominant angle and land his trailing left hand lead with relative ease. Because Marquez is always moving and keeps himself on the right shoulder of Pacquiao, he’s able to neutralize one of Pacquiao’s primary weapons, while at the same time, line himself up to land his own trailing hand.

Two handed feint attack

Pacquiao’s two handed feint attack is probably his most dangerous offensive weapon. Most of Pacquiao’s knockdowns and knockouts over the years have come about because of this attack. This, I believe, is why many of Pacquiao’s opponents are clueless as to where his punches are coming from. In reality, Pacquiao seldom throws anything other than straight punches. However, because Pacquiao is brilliant at either freezing or drawing the lead through feinting, his opponents are often left defenseless against his explosiveness and punch accuracy.

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Here’s a prime example of Pacquiao using his lightning quick two handed feint attack. Pacquiao and Mosley are lined up with one another. Pacquiao feints by stepping forward slightly and dropping low. This draws out a lead from Mosley. As Mosley sticks out his left arm, Pacquiao explodes in behind a one-two and sends Mosley to the canvas. In real time, this all takes place in a split second. Notice how Pacquiao has gained a dominant angle as he’s stepping forward. Pacquiao’s lead foot is well outside of Mosley’s lead foot. Pacquiao’s feint attack, coupled with his speed and explosiveness, sent Mosley into survival mode for the remainder of the fight.

Here’s another look at Pacquiao’s two handed feint attack. This time, Miguel Cotto is the recipient.

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See how Pacquiao lands a right hand and exits on Cotto’s blindside. Before Cotto gets the chance to reset, Pacquiao feints and comes in from another angle behind a right, left, right combination. Notice how Cotto has been turned in the center of the ring before trying to defend himself by blocking Pacquiao’s attack.

Here’s a great clip of Pacquiao feinting Cotto out of position prior to launching an attack.

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If you go to around the 10:22 mark of the video, you’ll notice Pacquiao rolling under a right hook as he’s exiting the pocket after landing a straight left to the body of Cotto. Before Cotto has a chance to fully reset himself, Pacquiao feints low, bringing Cotto’s guard down, and steps in and lands a right hand before stepping back out of range again. Moments later, Pacquiao feints again, bringing Cotto’s left glove down, and throws a right/left as he’s moving off to the side. Once they are squared up again, Pacquiao feints Cotto for a third time. Yet again, Cotto responds by lowering his left glove leaving an opening for Pacquiao to land his right hook as he’s sliding off of Cotto’s left shoulder.

During this whole sequence, notice how it is Cotto who is following Pacquiao. Cotto may be the fighter in pursuit, but Manny is the one who’s initiating all of the action. Manny is bouncing in and out of range, dictating the angles, while Cotto is being made to turn over and over again in the middle of the ring.  

Juan Manuel Marquez is no stranger to Manny Pacquiao’s feint attack. In fact, this attack is what led to Marquez being dropped for the first time during the opening moments of their very first fight.

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Here, Pacquiao catches and drops Marquez with the exact same combination that dropped and hurt Shane Mosley. Out of range, Pacquiao feints low and explodes in behind a straight right/left handed attack. Frozen by the feint, Marquez can’t react in time to block Pacquiao’s assault.

What I find most fascinating about this sequence is the time at which Marquez was caught and dropped by Pacquiao’s feint attack. It was barely a minute into the fight. Soon after, Marquez was dropped twice more in the opening frame. Needless to say, Joe Cortez wouldn’t have been frowned upon had he waved the fight off after the third knockdown. Going into the second round then, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pacquiao was a bad style match up for Marquez and that the lightning quick, high volume Filipino may have had the counter punching Mexican’s number. After the first round, Marquez, a thinking man’s fighter if ever there was one, made an adjustment and has never been caught in Pacquiao’s feint attack again.

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Here in the third fight, as Pacquiao feints and attempts to land his right/left combination, Marquez  is backing away and pivoting on his front foot in a clockwise motion. As Pacquiao steps in, Marquez blunts the attack with his left glove as he’s turning away from Pacquiao’s power hand. Notice the distance that Marquez has attained here against Pacquiao. Pacquiao’s at his most dangerous when he’s landing the punches you don’t see coming when he’s launching his attack from the blindside. Here, Marquez sees everything.

Here’s a video clip from the first fight which highlights exactly what Marquez does to shut down Pacquiao’s attack.

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If you go to around the 31:00 mark of the video, you’ll see Pacquiao trying to land his right/left handed attack. As Pacquiao performs a foot feint, and falls in with a right lead followed by a straight left hand, Marquez throws a left hand backing up, while pivoting on his lead foot in a clockwise motion. This evasive maneuver causes Pacquiao to sail past with his left hand. Once they are facing each other again, Pacquiao tries the same attack with the same result; Marquez pivots clockwise on his front foot and lands a left hand as Pacquiao is falling short with his attack. Pacquiao then tries his luck for a third time. Notice how as Pacquiao feints, Marquez is backing up and is already anticipating Pacquiao’s {by now rather predictable} two handed attack. As Pacquiao’s momentum carries him forward, Marquez’s counter punching intentions causes Pacquiao to make a fast retreat.

So how did Pacquiao continue to have success with this attack against the likes of Cotto and Margarito and not Juan Manuel Marquez? It’s simple; Marquez knows exactly how to defend against it where others don’t.

Here’s a side by side comparison of how Marquez and Cotto defend the exact same Pacquiao attack.

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  • As Pacquiao leans in and knocks down Cotto’s left glove in order to create an opening for his follow up right hand, Cotto is static and it trying to avoid the attack by blocking and using upper body movement. Cotto can’t block low and high at the same time and ends up eating a Pacquiao right hand and is sent to the canvas.
  • As Pacquiao leans in and knocks down Marquez’s left glove in order to create an opening for his follow up right hand, Marquez is on his back foot, moving away from Pacquiao’s charge. As Pacquiao tries to land his right hand up top, Marquez counters with a right/left combination.

Simply put, Miguel Cotto tried to defend Pacquiao’s two handed attacks by trying to block them using upper body movement, whereas Juan Manuel Marquez evaded Pacquiao’s two handed attacks by using clever foot work to keep himself out of range and keep Pacquiao falling short with his lunges. Manny Pacquiao is notorious for his unconventional attacking angles. Against Marquez, who positions himself in such a way that his opponent is never out of his sight, Pacquiao becomes a lineal attacker.

The right hook

After the very first Pacquiao-Marquez fight, Freddie Roach set about making some alterations to Manny Pacquiao’s game. The development of Pacquiao’s right hand was at the very top of that list. Simply put, Manny Pacquiao was far too predictable when relying on nothing else but his straight left hand. Fast forward to the David Diaz fight, and you’ll be treated to one of the finest displays of lead hand work in recent memory.

Here’s an excellent clip showing just how effective Pacquiao became with his lead hand.

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Throughout this video, you’ll see Pacquiao doubling and even tripling up on his lead right hand over and over against David Diaz. Not just throwing hooks, but uppercuts and jolting straights tool. Diaz had no answer for Pacquiao’s multi-faceted violence.

Another excellent example of Pacquiao’s right hand work took place in the Ricky Hatton and Antonio Margarito fights.

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As Ricky Hatton is looking to get inside and land his left hook, Pacquiao sees it coming and counters him. Pacquiao’s speed allows him to reach the target first with a right hook inside of Hatton’s open guard.

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As Margarito sticks out a left jab, Pacquiao takes his head away from the center and lands a counter right hook. This leads to Margarito going on the defensive and Pacquiao landing a further two blows to the body and to the head. See how Margarito’s head doesn’t move as he’s throwing, whereas Pacquiao’s is always off to the side and away from the center line as he’s throwing his shots.

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Again, as Margarito sticks out a left jab before throwing a right hand, Pacquiao reaches the target first with his counter right hook, almost sending the granite chinned Margarito to the canvas.

By my reckoning, the Antonio Margarito fight was the last time we saw Pacquiao’s right hook feature prominently. But why is this? I believe there are numerous reasons for this;

  • Pacquiao’s best right hand work to date came in the David Diaz fight. Not to be disrespectful here, but David Diaz is one of the slowest fighters you’re ever likely to see at 135 pounds. He’s also a southpaw. When two southpaws are lined up with each other, it becomes difficult for either fighter to land their trailing hand. Hence, this is why Pacquiao’s right hand featured more in this fight than in any other. Pacquiao was able to land his right hand pretty much every time he let it go. His better understanding of angles along with the speed advantage he had over Diaz allowed for it.

  • Ricky Hatton and Antonio Margarito fought Manny Pacquiao the exact same way; straight ahead. They also nearly always led with their left hand –a hook for Hatton and a jab for Margarito. Because Pacquiao had a huge speed advantage over both fighters, he was able to time them coming in. If you look at the fights closely, you’ll notice that a lot of the time, Pacquiao was laying back and countering. Even though these fights are considered to be two of Pacquiao’s most violent displays to date, most of the action that took place in them was initiated by Hatton and Margarito.

So what was it that Marquez does differently to avoid the right hook, or even stop it from being thrown in the first place? Primarily, Marquez does this by staying disciplined by avoiding taking the lead against Pacquiao. Because Marquez operates almost exclusively on the back foot, it becomes very difficult for Pacquiao, who often resorts to following Marquez around the ring, to counter him with anything at all, let alone a right hook. Even if Pacquiao decides to lie back and wait in an attempt to lure Marquez into taking the lead, Marquez has more tricks up his sleeve which soon test Manny’s patience and bring out his aggressive nature.

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As neither man are looking to lead, notice how Marquez dips low and provokes a reaction out of Pacquiao, who reacts to Marquez’s feint by leading off with a right/left combination, only for Marquez to counter him with a left hand as he’s moving away. As long as Marquez is moving away and stepping outside of Pacquiao’s right shoulder, landing the right hook is nigh on impossible for him.

Against Margarito and Hatton, Pacquiao had success in firing his right hook inside or around their left hands just as they were throwing. Hatton was far too open as he threw his left hook and Antonio Margarito’s jab was lazy and lacked any real commitment. Both fighters also failed to move their heads as they came inside.

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Look at the difference in Marquez’s attack. Pacquiao is clearly looking to counter Marquez with his right hook, but Marquez has other ideas. As Marquez steps inside, notice how committed to the attack he is. This is one of the reasons why Marquez continues to be a problem for Manny Pacquiao; Marquez isn’t afraid of taking risks, even if it means being countered. In this instance, Marquez’s gamble pays off as he connects with a right hand. As Marquez steps in, he throws a range finding jab to take Pacquiao’s eye away from the real attack, his straight right hand. Also, notice Marquez’s alignment as he’s stepping inside. He’s dipping low and he’s taking his head away from the center line. Now where have we seen this before?

Because Pacquiao is often reduced to following Marquez around the ring, landing a right hook while moving forward, while trying to close the distance becomes an impossible task. Hence, against Marquez, you only ever really see Pacquiao throw a right lead before his straight left hand.

Marquez’s varied attack

Throughout their trilogy, one of the things that stood out for me has been the variation of Marquez’s attack against Manny Pacquiao. Where most of Pacquiao’s opponents seem to throw little more than single shots against him, likely out of fear of leaving themselves at the mercy of his blazing hand speed, Marquez keeps Pacquiao occupied by throwing just about every single punch in the book, thus making his counter attack very difficult to read.

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Here’s Pacquiao throwing a rare jab. Look at how Marquez counters it. Where most of Pacquiao’s opponents are apprehensive to let their hands go, Marquez steps in with a right cross, left uppercut, right cross combination, taking his head away from the center as he throws.

For me, this is one of the ways in which Marquez causes Pacquiao to be less assertive with his attacks. Marquez is certainly not the hardest puncher Pacquiao has faced, nor is he the strongest physically. What Marquez is willing to do however, that others are not, is let his hands go. Truth be told, even though Pacquiao’s chin is excellent, he doesn’t react well to being hit cleanly. When Marquez lands flush with some of those combinations, you can see the hesitancy in Pacquiao’s follow up attacks. Marquez hits hard enough and often enough to earn Pacquiao’s respect, which prevents Pacquiao from simply overwhelming him.

Verdict

Just like Ken Norton was to Muhammad Ali, Juan Manuel Marquez continues to be the stylistic thorn in Manny Pacquiao’s side. So much so in fact, that other fighters have begun borrowing from his tactical tool shed of late. Both Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley avoided taking the fight to Pacquiao, instead, opting to use more of an evasive counter punching strategy by forcing Pacquiao into becoming the aggressor -no doubt by looking at film of Marquez in the ring with Pacquiao. Of course, there aren’t many fighters out there who are as adept as Marquez is when it comes to counter punching, but Pacquiao’s rather subdued performances against both Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley were clearly a direct result of a smart positional strategy plotted against him, as opposed to any physical decline, in my opinion. You want to see Manny Pacquiao rekindle some of his old fire? Stick Brandon Rios in with him, you’ll see the old Manny Pacquiao soon enough.

My point to you is that I believe Manny Pacquiao is pretty much the same fighter he’s always been. It’s just that Juan Manuel Marquez knows exactly how to fight him and fighters like David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito –fighters that applied pressure and who treated Pacquiao like the smaller man- did not. Because of the conflict in styles, Pacquiao becomes a completely different fighter once he’s in the ring with Marquez.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Manny Pacquiao will continue to look sensational against fighters who;

  • Are one dimensional and who always take the fight to their opponent
  • Have limited or no head movement
  • Possess very little in the way of hand or foot speed
  • Square themselves up when punching
  • Rely heavily on blocks and parries to defend attacks, as opposed to foot work and mobility
  • Load up with one big shot every time, looking to take their opponent’s head off
  • Remain flat footed and stationary

Conversely, Manny Pacquiao will always look less than his best against fighters who can;

  • Force their opponent into being the aggressor
  • Move off at angles so that their hips are always pointing towards their opponent’s and their opponent’s hips are always pointing away from them
  • Avoid an attack by using intelligent foot work
  • Can draw leads from their opponent’s by feinting
  • Land regularly and with just enough power so that their opponent respects them enough not to just walk right through them
  • Avoid spending too much time at mid-range
  • Neutralize a hand speed advantage through good timing and smart counter punching

Picking a winner here is no easy task. While Marquez will always have the ring acumen to bother Pacquiao, the same could be said of Pacquiao, whose speed, explosiveness, high volume attack and constant forward momentum always seems to go down better with the judges. Both fighters have talked of knocking the other out, but I can’t really see anything other than a 12 round fight this Saturday. For a knockout to take place in this fight, both fighters would have to venture away from what they’ve done in three fights against each other. They’d probably have to be someone they’re not.

For Pacquiao, this would mean instead of simply following Marquez around the ring, he’d have to block off the exits far better than he’s ever done in the past, while also showing a lot more patience instead of being lured into taking the lead every time Marquez drops a feint. Marquez’s ability to make Pacquiao over reach and fall short with his left hand because of intelligent foot work has continued to be Pacquiao’s biggest problem every time he steps into a ring with Marquez.

For Marquez, this would mean being less conservative. Even though many feel he should have been awarded at least one of the three decisions against Pacquiao, only Erik Morales has managed to defeat Pacquiao beyond doubt on American turf, and Morales was far more aggressive than Marquez has ever been against Pacquiao in doing so.

Despite what changes either man may or may not have made to their usual strategy, as soon as they begin clipping each other, they’ll likely revert back to what they know best. For me, that means we’re going to see more of the same on Saturday. Marquez will likely be on his back foot, circling to his left, waiting for Pacquiao to over commit with his left hand before coming in with sharp counters –namely right hands, left uppercuts and both of those shots in combination. Pacquiao, on the other hand, will likely be pressing the action, following Marquez around the ring before feinting and trying to catch him with his right lead /straight left attack.

I’m finding it nearly impossible to pick a winner in this one folks. For that reason, I’ll just leave it at this…Basically, I can’t envision anything other than a distance fight that could see either man walking away the winner.

Marquez’s defensive countering? Or Pacquiao’s constant aggression and high volume? Judges, what do you prefer?

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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate

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Ali defended

Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone

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The 168-pound tournament of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series, an 8-man invitational, kicked off on Sept. 16 of last year with a match between Callum Smith and Erik Skoglund at Liverpool, England. Tournaments of this nature in boxing almost never play out as planned and this tourney was no exception. But on Friday we will finally crown a winner when Smith meets George Groves at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of all places. At stake will be the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the bundle of cash that comes with it and Groves’ WBA “super” world super middleweight title.

Despite the odd location, this is a domestic affair. Groves, the top seed, and Smith, the #2 seed, are both Englishmen. And if the fight were on British soil, it would have certainly drawn well. In the UK, Groves is enormously popular. His second fight with Carl Froch attracted a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, a British post-war record eventually broken by Joshua-Klitschko.

Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered his lone defeats at the hands of Froch, who defeated him twice, and Badou Jack, and there’s no shame there. Carl Froch, in the minds of many, has a plaque waiting for him at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack, a title-holder in two weight classes, is currently ranked #1 as a light heavyweight by the WBA and WBC.

Although both fights with Froch ended inside the distance, both were nip-and-tuck until Froch closed the curtain. Badou Jack defeated Groves by split decision in Las Vegas.

Groves has a high boxing IQ as he demonstrated on Feb 17 in Manchester where he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Chris Eubank Jr. Groves, observed ringside reporter Gareth Davies, “was just a step too far, too strong and ultimately too technical and experienced in the championship rounds.” Eubank’s father and trainer Chris Eubank Sr. saluted Groves for fighting the perfect fight.

The victory was bittersweet as Groves dislocated his left shoulder in the final round. It required surgery, pushing back the finale until this Friday, a full two months after the conclusion of the other WBSS tourney, for cruiserweights, the finale of which was also pushed back from the originally scheduled date. For a time the promoters seriously considered bumping Eubank into the finals in place of the incapacitated Groves but eventually thought better of it. (Eubank will appear on the undercard in a stay-busy fight against Ireland’s J.J. McDonagh.)

Callum Smith (24-0, 18 KOs) is the youngest of four fighting brothers, each of whom captured one or more regional titles. In the family, the relationship between talent and birth order is inverse, which is to say that Paul Smith, the oldest of the foursome, wasn’t as good as his younger brother Stephen and Stephen wasn’t as good as younger brother Liam.

Liam “Beefy” Smith accomplished what his two older brothers could not, winning a world title. He won the WBO 154-pound diadem in his twenty-second fight and successfully defended the belt twice before it was sheared from him by Canelo Alvarez who knocked him out in the ninth round.

If Callum Smith wins on Friday, he will be recognized by hardcore fans as a more legitimate champion than was the case with his brother Liam. That’s because Callum, who stands six-foot-three (none of his brothers is taller than 5’11”), was touted from the very onset of his career as the most gifted of the fighting Smith brothers. He solidified that opinion in November of 2015 when he knocked out Liverpool rival Rocky Fielding in the opening round. Fielding went on to win the “regular” version of the WBA 168-pound title and that remains the only blemish on his record.

In recent bouts, however, Smith hasn’t looked that sharp. His last two opponents, the aforementioned Skoglund and Neiky Holzken, lasted the full 12 rounds. The obscure Holzken, a converted kickboxer from the Netherlands, was a late sub for Juergen Braehmer who was forced to bow out of the tournament with an illness.

George Groves was a slight underdog to Eubank. On Friday, the odds favor him, but only slightly. At last look it was 13/10 which portends a very close fight. Groves has the edge in experience and in ring savvy and has fought tougher opposition, but Smith will have a three-and-a-half inch height advantage and is judged to be the harder puncher.

Fight fans in the U.S. can access the fight on the new DAZN app. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of New York and other precincts in the Eastern Time Zone and adjust accordingly.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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