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The Top Ten Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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Looking over the 160lb division of the last decade was tough. A concrete top three was difficult to order for reasons that will become apparent and no natural number ten presented itself; between ten and three were a series of interchangeable middleweights, none of whom made an irrefutable case over the man above him, this, despite their having a reasonable record of matching one another.

An average decade then, for the sport’s number two division, but no less fascinating for all that.

Rankings are by TBRB excluding 2010 to 2012 when Ring rankings are used.

10 – Dmitry Pirog

Peak Ranking: 5 Record for the Decade: 6-0 Ranked For: 41% of the Decade

Dmitry Pirog appears, at first glance to be an inclusion based upon potential and being frank that is a matter in his ranking. Pirog was slated to meet Gennadiy Golovkin in the summer of 2012 when he ruptured a disc in his back while striking a tire with a sledgehammer in the mountains of his native Russia. He never recovered. While Golovkin probably would have been too much for the man they called “The Grandmaster”, even at just 20-0, he would likely have been one of the better fighters Golovkin would ever have bettered.

For confirmation of this, see Pirog’s graduation night victory over Daniel Jacobs in July of 2010. Jacobs would get better but when the two men fought as elite prospects he was basically outclassed by the Russian. Pirog ran a savage pressure but it was his defense that set him apart. He was not impossible to hit, nor even difficult for the right punch, but he had superb reactive head and upper-body movement that saw him consistently ditch Daniel’s best blows, and in fact the best punches of almost every fighter he ever fought.

Prospect watchers know well the nagging doubt created by a leaky defense; Pirog’s was tighter than that of many more experienced men. It was his offense that marshalled Jacobs, however, who was driven to the ropes over and over again despite the demands of his corner and who, after being out-fought and out-thought for most of the preceding rounds, was terminated by a brutal right hand in the fifth. He remains the only man to have stopped Jacobs despite the kind attentions of Golovkin and Saul Alvarez.

Pirog never recovered from that ruptured disc and was almost certainly cheated of a much more significant legacy as a result. I’ll stick my neck out here and say he’d have landed in the top four had he remained uninjured. As it is, he is as reasonable a pick for the #10 spot as I can muster.

09 – Peter Quillin

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-2-1 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

Peter Quillin survived a rough upbringing to become one of the signature contenders of the decade. For all that he failed to deliver on what seemed legitimate potential before being chased out of the division by Daniel Jacobs in 2015, Quillin had some pretty moments. Chief among them was perhaps his tenth-round stoppage of contender Gabriel Rosado in 2013. Some of this was genuinely gorgeous, feinting with the jab before hooking around the corner, delightful small-increment pressure with sudden two-piece attacks tagged on to the thinking footwork.

Quillin’s best though was his massacre of Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. That fight had come a year earlier in something of a crossroads fight for both men, each sporting a ledger of 27-0. Quillin dropped N’Jikam over and again with a beautiful array of left hands. N’Jikam visited the canvas on six separate occasions.

Quillin didn’t deliver in the end and given his rags-to-riches story and healthy interest in boxing’s history, that seemed a shame to me; but he did enough and looked well enough to slip in to one of the two contested slots at the bottom of the ten.

08 – Felix Sturm

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-3-2-1 Ranked For: 49% of the Decade

At first glance, number eight might seem a tad harsh where Sturm is concerned but look closer.

First, he’s hitting barely 50% for a win ratio for the decade – and his best win in the 10s is Matthew Macklin. Not that this is anything to be ashamed of, Macklin was a good operator and ranked #3 in the world at the time of their meeting, but it’s a tough hook to hang a legacy on.

The problem, however, is that many observers felt that Sturm was not deserving of the decision against Macklin and it remains one of the most controversially scored fights on the fascinating Eye on the Ring website. What is clear is that Macklin out-landed Sturm, and herein lies the great strength, weakness and the most interesting wrinkle in Sturm’s fighting style. One of the most patient fighters I have ever seen, Sturm covers up, invites pressure, and lets his opponent work. This was a red flag to Macklin’s bullish instincts, and he spent the entire fight pushing forwards, working the body with veracity, bringing volume and aggression. Sturm responded not by running but by staying in the pocket and ceding round after round but looking to set up sneak counters, a double-left-jab, hard uppercuts. In almost every round he landed the quality work, appealing to a certain kind of eye.

It’s easy to find an argument for Macklin but the fight was indisputably close, and Sturm indisputably won the eleventh and twelfth. His style is one of natural economy. Macklin started to look ragged by comparison as early as the eighth. I scored it 115-113 Macklin but have no problem with a close Sturm card.

Still, his number two scalp that decade was either Sam Soliman or Sebastian Zbik, depending upon who you prefer. Sturm belongs here but would have been shaded in a better decade.

07 – Billy Joe Saunders

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 24-0 Ranked For: 35% of the Decade

Billy Joe Saunders spent most of the decade duelling middleweights before departing for 168lbs, but it is for two performances he makes the ten, one desperate, one so smooth as to be comparable to some of the truly great stylists. Such are the vagaries of boxing style and Billy Joe’s own maddening inconsistency.

The smooth was turned in against number four contender David Lemieux in late 2017. This was the fight where Saunders famously made the limited but brave Lemieux miss by such a margin that he was able to take the time to feign looking to the bleachers for a punch that flew wide. There was so much more to this performance than that distilled moment though. Saunders boxed with genuine brilliance, repeatedly making Lemieux miss him behind a southpaw jab by slipping and shifting to his own right, counterintuitive because it opened him up to Lemieux’s square attack. Saunders was never troubled. No puncher, he was never going to stop his rugged opponent, but he won every round. It made him a legitimate opponent for both Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin; neither fight materialized.

Two years earlier, almost to the day, the other Saunders was manifest in Manchester against Irishman Andy Lee. The temptation here is to give Lee, a good fighter who was in contention for the #10 spot, more credit, but Saunders dominated the first three rounds, scoring two beautiful knockdowns. The first, a slip counter of the absolute highest order, was a thing of fistic wonder.

Then he dropped off dramatically, his workrate and his strategic plan both floundering. Saunders got his win by majority decision, those knockdowns the difference.

Now 168lbs has him, but his incomplete legacy at one-sixty enough to scrape him the number seven spot.

06 – Miguel Cotto

Peak Ranking: Ch Record for the Decade: 7-4 Ranked For: 23% of the Decade

Miguel Cotto’s paper record for the decade and his brief sojourn at 160lbs make him the lowest ranked of the dead locks for this list. Cotto unquestionably belongs but can rise no higher.

His keynote victory over world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has been dismissed by some given how Martinez’s knees had begun to creak but it is worth remembering that Cotto himself had begun to fade having dropped decisions to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout in consecutive fights at 154lbs; so his first round performance against even a struggling Martinez was astonishing.

The champion looked unsteady on his feet, yes, but Cotto’s left hand lead was rarely better, whether he was hooking to the body, jabbing upstairs, or feinting and throwing a stealing, cuffing left hook; it was clear from the first that whatever remained of Martinez was not going to be good enough for Cotto; so it proved, and the Puerto Rican legend was king.

Cotto only had one more win at the poundage, but it was over a second man to make this list in Daniel Geale. Geale is a name, less renowned than that of Martinez and with good reason, but in many ways, it was the more important win. Cotto dominated Geale, a legitimate middleweight, physically as well as technically, hurting him throughout with the left and up-ending him in four. It confirmed him a legitimate middleweight.

For all that, Cotto is exactly 2-1 at middleweight, and when he dropped his title to Saul Alvarez in his next contest, his transient visit to the division was over. Both Geale and Martinez were creaking when he got to them but two wins over men on this list, plus the lineal championship make him a lock.

05 – Daniel Geale

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-4 Ranked For: 51% of the Decade

This was an extremely close call.  Essentially the coin was in the air and it came down “Daniel Geale”.

Geale was defeated by Miguel Cotto, albeit at the end of his career, and Cotto was the legitimate champion whereas Geale was a strapholder and ranked the #1 contender. But Geale was a career middleweight; while Cotto’s relationship with 160lbs was fleeting, Geale fought two generations of middles and in his purple patch in 2011 and 2012 bears scrutiny.

He traveled to Germany in 2011 and in front of a partisan crowd outworked a game Sebastian Sylvester to a deserved decision victory over the world’s #3 contender, and better yet, returned there for a showdown and unification bout with Felix Sturm. Here too he came away a winner in a fight so close as to come down to the eleventh and twelfth, both bagged by Geale. Had Sylvester been blessed with Sturm’s jab, or Sturm with Sylvester’s work-rate, Geale could have lost either fight, but as it was he found the gaps in both styles to take decisions on enemy territory. Probably Geale was less than elite in everything that mattered, he was quick but not fast, a stinging puncher but not a powerful one, organized but not dynamic; for grit and work, however, there is no better middle on this list.

Like all fighters who rely upon stamina to get there, once he lost a step he was a hugely diminished fighter and that he lost three of his last five fights is a reflection of that. Geale is not a top five decadal fighter in sense of class and is reflective of what was a middling decade at 160lbs, but despite his past-prime loss to Cotto it is hard to see him ranked below the transient Puerto Rican here.

04 – Daniel Jacobs

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 18-3 Ranked For: 48% of the Decade

Another coin flip: the difference between Danny Jacobs and Geale wound up being not his wins, but his losses, two brave showings against the two pre-eminent middleweights of his era, Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. He met Golovkin in March of 2017 in a fight that was close, controversial and absorbing, Jacobs keeping a seemingly tentative Golovkin honest with a combination of size and power that the great Kazakhstani had perhaps not seen before. Two years later he entertained Alvarez and once again dropped a close decision, though on this occasion there was less controversy; Jacobs then bid farewell to 160lbs for super-middleweight.

The key victories that make him a legitimate if uninspiring number four were also fascinating, none more so than his single round dispatch of the world’s #2 contender, Peter Quillin. Jacobs, perfectly capable of engaging in and winning a technical fight, as he proved in 2018 in edging out Sergiy Derevyanchenko over twelve, chose against Quillin a shoot-out. Chasing Quillin back to the ropes with a sound jab he then forced the referee’s hands (arguably a little prematurely) with a mix of looping and compact right-hands.

These two contrasting victories and these two losses describe for us Daniel’s strengths and limitations. They make him difficult to rank below the likes of Geale and Cotto, and impossible to rank above any of the members of the undisputed middleweight top three of the 2010s.

03 – Sergio Martinez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 7-1 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

Sergio Martinez moved up from 154lbs just in time for the beginning of the decade. Eight contests comprised the remainder of his career, but Martinez did some damage.

His definitive decadal performance was his title winning effort against Kelly Pavlik. Martinez won the first four rounds with his low-handed, circling style, prioritizing movement, hitting when the opportunity presented itself and forcing Pavlik to reset over and again. Pavlik dominated the middle rounds with faster pressure, accepting that he would be hit but allowing it in order to deliver his own offense. The final adaption was Sergio’s, and it was impressive. Instead of running, he elongated his visits to the pocket, shoe-shining a bit but throwing four and five punches where he had previously thrown one or two. He thrashed Pavlik in the final third, reducing him to a mask of gore, a desperate two-step flinching misses. Re-watching that fight, I was impressed by Sergio’s marked superiority over a reigning middleweight champion of the world. It was not insignificant.

Martinez did not rest on his laurels as a champion. He visited the top five on two further occasions, his terrifying knockout of Paul Williams perhaps the definitive stoppage win of the whole decade, middleweight or otherwise; his twelve-round domination of Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. was almost as impressive in its own way but also signaled the beginning of the end. Martinez broke his left hand in the fourth and damaged his knee during a shocking visit to the canvas in the twelfth. Sergio had tipped over into the realms of the veteran.

He did a fine job on a duo of British contenders in Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray, but there was perhaps a feeling that he had come for a payday in his final fight against Miguel Cotto. Sure enough, his knees betrayed him, and he was pulled from the fight in the tenth round of a fight Cotto was dominating.

02 – Saul Alvarez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 37% of the Decade

Squeaking in in front of Argentine Sergio Martinez is Mexican Saul Alvarez, who took the championship from the man who usurped Martinez, Miguel Cotto. Cotto was absolutely superb in defeat that night, boxing as he had against the menace of Shane Mosley some years earlier and actually pulling out the win on some cards, although the majority saw it for Alvarez. Personally, I was underwhelmed by Saul’s performance and expected a series of shallow defenses followed by his ceding the title to either Gennadiy Golovkin or the emerging Daniel Jacobs.

Instead, Alvarez got the embarrassing defense out of the way early via a smearing of Amir Khan then defeated both Golovkin and Jacobs in 2018 and 2019 respectively. What this means is that Alvarez has the scalps of three men from this list dangling from his waist, which is the gold standard at middleweight.

The devil, of course, is in the detail.

Alvarez first met Golovkin in September 2017, in a fight that was rendered a draw, most, but not all ringsiders seeing the fight for Golovkin, Boxing Scene and the Associated Press both seeing it a draw.  Undeniably it was close, and because it was close, I honor it here. 115-113 Golovkin was my own card and that’s certainly nothing like enough to cry robbery. The drawn fight stands.

A rematch was staged almost a year to the day after the first fight and if anything, it was even more controversial. The jab appeared to have just slipped Golovkin over the line, but, once again, most observers scored it a very close fight. The majority of cards fell into the range 115-113 to 113-115; those with wider cards tended to be outliers. I was something of an outlier myself here in having the fight a draw (though I was not alone – Sports Illustrated, Ring Magazine, Forbes and the BBC were among the numerous drawn cards). Once more, then, for the purposes of this list, the win stands.

His win over Daniel Jacobs certainly stands, though even this was a fight not without controversy and controversy too stalks the Mexican at 154lbs. What is Alvarez then? Is he a fighter of great talent who fights down to his opponent’s level? Something less than that, somehow manages to squeeze wins out by the barest of margins against opponents with serious physical advantages?  Something darker, a favored son of an industry that favors the cash cow above all?

Whatever else, he is the number two middleweight for the decade gone by.

01 – Gennadiy Golovkin

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 23-1-1 Ranked For: 83% of the Decade

First thing’s first: Alvarez’s victory over Gennadiy Golovkin is acknowledged for the purposes of the list but Alvarez is ranked below Golovkin; how does that work?

Although Alvarez defeated Golovkin, the fight was close enough that it could have, and perhaps should have, been scored for the Kazakhstani. This is not the key though. Even if Alvarez had knocked Golovkin out, Golovkin would still have outranked him for the decade. There are two reasons for this. The lesser of these is time served: Golovkin spent the entire decade battling middleweight and Alvarez was but a blink in his eye, for all that he did great work in his brief visit.  More than that is the destruction that Golovkin wrought between January first 2010 and December thirty-first 2019. It is surprising to me how quickly the terrible damage done to the middleweight division has been forgotten in favor of arguments over what “really happened” in the Saul Alvarez fight.

It began, for me, with Gregorsz Prokosa, the #4 contender and a unique, riffing southpaw who on paper appeared to be an enormous challenge for a technician, even one who seemed as composed as Golovkin. It was a slaughter. The stoppage itself was glorious but Golovkin’s pressure, jab, shepherding footwork and most of all, his calmness of demeanor, heralded the coming of royalty.

This was September of 2012. What followed over the next five years was nothing short of a reign of terror. Golovkin dispatched six middleweights from the top five; a total of nine contenders from the top ten. This is not normal. It is difficult to exaggerate how difficult it is for a fighter to pick off nine ranked contenders from one weight division in a given decade. If we see it twice more in the entirety of this series, I will be surprised, but it’s certainly unequalled between heavyweights and middleweights.

For a marquee win, Golovkin is looking at Daniel Jacobs, which is a little unsatisfactory, deepening the frustration surrounding the Alvarez result; but it is worth reiterating that Golovkin just doesn’t need it. He dominated the field for better than half of the decade and the decade is what we are interested in here.

Golovkin is number one.

For the other decadal number ones ranked so far, see the heavyweights, cruiserweights, light-heavyweights and super-middleweights accordingly.

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In Defense of Julie Lederman

Ted Sares

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Some years ago, Matt Podgorski (a former boxing official) came up with a formula for evaluating the performance of boxing judges worldwide by determining the percentage of instances his or her scores were consistent with the other two judges working the same fights. He called it the Pod Index. It was a rare effort to quasi-quantify the work of boxing judges. “Boxing and MMA judges are often evaluated based on whether or not they have had a controversial decision. This is a poor way to assign and regard professional judges,” said Podgorski in an interview with former RingTV editor Michael Rosenthal.

Matt’s Disclaimer: “We are not claiming that judges with low Pod Index scores are bad judges. The Pod Index is simply a measurement of round by round variation compared to other judges.”

Julie Lederman placed very high in Podgorski’s study. In fact, only one  veteran judge — Canada’s Benoit Roussel — had a better score.

For more information about the Pod Index, see http://theboxingtribune.com/2014/12/19/the-pod-index-a-step-in-the-right-direction/

Confirmation Bias

Some of this writer’s favorite judges, in addition to Lederman, are Steve Weisfeld, Glen Feldman, Dave Moretti, Glenn Trowbridge, Joe Pasquale, Max DeLuca, Hubert Earle, Benoit Roussel, Burt Clements, Rocky Young, Joel Scobie, Tom Shreck, Don Trella, William Lerch, Pinit Prayadsab, and Raúl Caiz, Jr. All of them have been maligned at one time or another.

Being a judge is a thankless endeavor and attention is mostly received when something controversial happens. Once a judgment is made about a bad job, that judgment influences future perceptions. This is known as “confirmation bias.”

Thus, Julie Lederman’s highly questionable scoring in the Loma-Lopez fight, though it didn’t change the result, will most certainly label her a bad judge, tarnishing her reputation despite all of the fine work she has done in the past. Moreover, it’s now fashionable to “pile on” and castigate her with a nasty Bob Arum leading the charge.

“…what kind of fight was she watching,…these judges are the craziest…I would advise any fighter I would have to ask the commission not to appoint her…” — Arum

This wasn’t the first time that Arum criticized Julie. Back in 2014, Tim Bradley and Diego Gabriel Chaves fought to a draw. Lederman scored the fight 116-112 in favor of Chaves. Arum had this to say: “She should never be allowed to work in Nevada again….Her scorecard for Chaves is an absolute disgrace …[She was appointed] because they let these [expletive] Showtime guys put a fight on the same night that we did it. They don’t have enough judges. They don’t have enough referees. They want to accommodate both parties. Why? Because they’ll do anything the [expletive] MGM asks them to do.”

“It’s easy to criticize boxing judges. But it’s not that easy to have a sound basis for the criticism. One needs to see the fight the judge saw to be in the position to rightly criticize. Critics should temper criticisms in light of the situations boxing judges are in when judging fights. And judges should likewise understand criticisms from the boxing public, however baseless these may seem.”  — Epifanio M. Almeda

Lederman, 52, is in her 24th year as a professional boxing judge. Her assignments have taken her to eight foreign countries and Puerto Rico. And she has been a fixture this year at the MGM Bubble, working 18 fights across seven shows without incident prior to this past Saturday night.

This, of course, does not excuse Julie’s scoring on Saturday (119-109 for Teofimo Lopez), but it needs to be kept in mind that she has been ranked high over the years and does not have in her past work a pattern of poor judging such as seemed to exist, for example, in Texas and which drew the ire of Paulie Malignaggi.

When she first hit the scene, cries of nepotism and politics accompanied her, but those complaints quickly evaporated. Whether she can bounce back from this controversy remains to be seen. This writer hopes she can.

Photo: Julie Lederman and her father are flanked by Henry Hascup, President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame and Aaron Davis, former President of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board

Ted Sares can be reached on Facebook or at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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“—C’mon!” (from the pen of Springs Toledo)

Springs Toledo

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-C'mon

“—C’mon!” said Teofimo Lopez with two seconds left in the 12th round. It was a Brooklyn thing to say on a Brooklyn-type Saturday night, and Lopez timed it well. He’d just crashed two hooks at either side of Vasiliy Lomachenko’s head and ended their saga as it began—with sharp words.

“My son will destroy Lomachenko,” Lopez’s father told EsNews in August 2017. Three months later Lopez was in the gym mimicking his style. “Same side always,” he said as he tapped the bag and dipped to his right. “Nuthin’ different.” “Lomachenko is a diva,” he said last week. “I don’t like him … I’m the type of person, I say something I mean it. If you have a problem with it, come see me.” Lomachenko came to see him all right, and both brought their fathers as if the whole thing was a schoolyard scrap.

Lomachenko’s father is a silent sage. His modern training techniques are part of the “performance revolution” that has transformed every sport, including the sport that’s barely a sport, and not necessarily for the better. Papa Chenko’s futurama theories seem at once scientific and idiosyncratic. Pundits who never heard of Freddie Brown think they’re next-level stuff. There’s Lomachenko holding his breath under water to build lung strength; there he is touching that board with blinking lights to improve hand-eye coordination. When Lomachenko was 9, his father went so far as to enroll him in a Ukrainian folk dance school to expose him to hobak, hutsulka, and the kolomiyka, and you can see it in all the hopping and side-stepping he does around the ring at 32.

Papa Lopez is anything but silent, though he too is a sage—a naysaying sage with street instincts picked up during a few round trips through hell. He takes no one’s word for anything and if he takes a break from a tirade and asks a question, it has about as much tact as a shiv. When Lomachenko is holding his breath in the pool is someone else there too, denting his rib cage with hooks? Those lights blinking on the screen, do they feint? And dancing school? Dancing school? Brooklyn itself rolls its collective eyes.

Papa Lopez laughs without mirth at the consensus opinion, at the so-called experts. But he couldn’t laugh off the indisputable fact that Lomachenko has been knocking off a parade of world-class fighters. So he plopped down in front of YouTube to see for himself what was happening.

And what did he see?

He saw that the so-called Matrix style is a series of tricks; that Lomachenko is pulling fast ones on the gullible in the opposite corner and in press row. He saw opponents cooperating with him as he gauged their strengths and weaknesses in the first round or two and measured the distance between his glove and their chin. He saw them mesmerized by nothing-shots—“pitty pats,” he called them, “patty-cakes,” and wondered if it would have been easier or harder, given the language barrier, if Lomachenko just came out and asked them to throw something so he can find the best route around it to sock them in the chops.

Papa Lopez also saw that Lomachenko is preoccupied with not getting hurt; that he habitually slips, dips, and veers off to his right against the conventional stance. Teofimo, 23, saw the same thing. They both know why he prefers that direction: it’s the safest route.

His offense, which has two prongs and lots of frills, doesn’t contradict his preoccupation. Lomachenko wants to draw out his opponents to counter them. He stands a half-step off the perimeter where they can’t quite reach him and he can’t reach them. Then he baits them. If they take the bait, he hops in with a jab and then hops back out of reach. He’s making calculations, looking for patterns, and once he finds them he exploits them with minimal risk to himself because, like Floyd Mayweather, he already has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to throw. When is he most aggressive? When his opponent is least aggressive—out of position or covering up. He isn’t comfortable with uncalculated risks. Like Floyd, he wants control; and that only happens with an opponent’s cooperation.

Stanley Crouch, the late cultural critic and Brooklynite who was at least as contentious as Papa Lopez, understood the set-up. “What a boxer ideally wants to do is turn the opponent into an assistant in his own ass-whipping,” he said. “That’s really what you want the other guy to do—to assist you in whipping his ass.”

Lomachenko built a reputation on willing assistants.

And defeating him was easier than anyone anticipated. The fighter of the future bowed to all-American unruliness and old-fashioned fundamentals.

Old School’s comeback Saturday night was long, long overdue. Lopez used his strength and length to draw an invisible border with a warning that said “this far and no farther.” Then he enforced it. Instead of letting Lomachenko freely angle around him like he’s some stiff at the prom, he angled with him and threw punches. When Lomachenko slipped and sallied past his invisible border, he adjusted his distance and sent the dogs out. He stopped his momentum. He never let him take control. He never cooperated.

By the 8th round, Lomachenko realized that he had no chance to win unless he let go of his preoccupation with defense. He had to “sell out,” as Andre Ward said, by getting closer and sallying in when it wasn’t safe. Lomachenko won the 8th round—the first of only three that two judges scored his way—but it didn’t matter. His mouth had dropped open as if he was getting ready to admit futurama’s failure. “I heard him huffing and puffing and I knew I had him,” said Lopez.

The 12th round reminds us that Old School remains the gold standard in the sport that’s barely a sport. When Papa Lopez had a nervous moment in the corner and urged caution, Lopez refused. “I’m a fighter, I can’t give him that,” he said, as if to remind us that Old School is more than dust, that it’s a disposition.

Teofimo Lopez now stands in a succession of lightweight kings whose dispositions were the impetus behind achievements that make this succession very possibly the most majestic of them all: Joe Gans. Benny Leonard. Tony Canzoneri. Barney Ross. Henry Armstrong. Ike Williams. Carlos Ortiz. Roberto Duran. Julio Cesar Chavez. Pernell Whitaker.

Floyd Mayweather is in that succession too, but the business model that guided his career was rebuked Saturday night. Lopez pointed to the past, polished it up, and declared its superiority. “We’re bringing back what the Old School was. You fight the best and push on it. I’m not here to pick and choose who I want to fight because I want to defend my title and keep that 0,” he said and shook his head. “No. Nah!”

The lightweight king now beckons chief rivals Devin Haney, Ryan Garcia, and Gervonta Davis to disavow the business model and take up the red flag. He looks north to Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez’s battle for the jr. welterweight crown and beckons either of them—or both.

 “—C’mon!”

 

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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Kelsey McCarson’s HITS and MISSES: Takeover Edition

Kelsey McCarson

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Boxing is back!

Okay, boxing had technically been back for a few months now. But didn’t it seem to be more fully back to normal with the weekend’s lightweight unification battle between Teofimo Lopez and Vasiliy Lomachenko on ESPN?

Make that double the case now that another edition of HITS and MISSES follows the latest big weekend in boxing, the first installment since the global pandemic began. 

HIT: Teofimo Lopez’s Undisputed Takeover

It’s one thing to parade something like “Takeover” around as your nickname while promising to be the next great fighter in the sport. It’s quite another to actually pull that takeover off, and do it at the tender age of 23 against a three-division world champion that’s a massive betting favorite. 

But that’s what Lopez did on Saturday night in Las Vegas, and he accomplished it in a way that almost nobody expected. 

Lopez dominated Lomachenko from the start of the fight. He outboxed the clever southpaw savant in a way few people dreamed possible and took home the unanimous decision win. Even among the few who thought the young lion might somehow usurp the old guard, most of that crew thought it would probably be one big punch that sent Loma down for the count.

By the end of the night, Lopez had solidified his status as boxing’s newest superstar. He also became the first undisputed lightweight champion since Pernell Whitaker. 

But even if the whole WBC Franchise fiasco leaves you in a place that questions that specific designation, Lopez used his post-fight celebration time to call the other WBC belt holder Devin Haney about a possible future showdown. 

So, Lopez is the undisputed best thing to happen to boxing in a long time. 

MISS: Vasiliy Lomachenko’s Slow Start

I like to think Lomachenko is still somewhere out there right now feinting and shuffling his feet around like a dancer. Seriously, though, what was Lomachenko doing for most of Saturday night? He certainly wasn’t attempting to win the fight. 

Much was made by the ESPN announcers about how Lomachenko would start slow in fights because he liked to download his opponents’ movements before settling on his attacks. But Lomachenko didn’t seem all that interested in attacking Lopez until somewhere around the eighth-round. By that time, the 32-year-old was way too far down on the scorecards for anything to matter all that much.

Sure, the last third of the fight was fun to watch. Lomachenko did end up having his moments including a strong 11th round, but it would have been a better fight if Lomachenko had started sooner. 

Instead, the fighter ESPN has long argued deserved to be ranked above everyone else regardless of weight class dispassionately saw his titles ripped away from him with relative ease. 

HIT: Edgar Berlanga’s KO Streak

Last year, I noted that Berlanga’s incredible streak was probably a case of matchmaking gone awry and that Berlanga would likely suffer later in his career because he wasn’t getting any rounds under his belt that mattered. 

My reasoning? Even terrifying power punchers like Deontay Wilder and Gennadiy Golovkin didn’t dispatch their early opponents in such decisively one-sided ways. 

Maybe it was just the lack of boxing around due to the global pandemic, but now I’ve flipped on Berlanga’s knockout streak. The 23-year-old scored his 15th first-round stoppage in a row against Lanell Bellows on Saturday’s Top Rank on ESPN card. 

It’s become one of the most interesting and noteworthy streaks in the sport, and this time Berlanga stopped an opponent who had never suffered that fate before in any round, much less the first. 

Berlanga’s 15 KOs in 15 fights is good television. 

MISS: Boxing Judge’s Viral ‘Social Dilemma’

Lewis Ritson was awarded a split-decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Miguel Vazquez on Saturday in England in a junior welterweight bout dubbed by the Sporting News as the “worst decision of 2020.”

According to CompuBox, Ritson’s “constant forward movement and snappier punches” earned him the nod on two of the judges’ scorecards even though Vazquez had out-landed him in all the important punch stat categories (193-141 overall, 80-75 jabs, 113-66 power).

But the biggest controversy was the viral picture of judge Terry O’Connor apparently looking at his phone during the fight that he scored 117-111 for Ritson. 

That didn’t sit well with anyone who believes judges should be watching the fights they’re tasked with scoring.

But in the wake of Netflix’s documentary film “The Social Dilemma,” that shows just how ingenious today’s artificial intelligence is at boosting user engagement so companies can sell advertising time to the unwitting people on the other end who don’t know why they can’t put their phones down. Maybe O’Connor and others should be mandated to place their phones in a place they can’t be accessed during fights. 

That would keep the social media outrage that’s going on right now over the few seconds O’Connor spent looking away from the action and point it more toward what appears to be boxing’s bigger problem: phones or no phones, too many boxing judges don’t know how to score fights. 

HIT: The Wonder of Complementary Programming 

Boxing counterprograms itself so much these days through the different promotional companies and networks out there that it’s nice to enjoy at least one day in recent history where a big fight happened and there weren’t any other big fights attempting to grab our attention. 

Not only did that happen, but ESPN wisely chose not to split programming between it’s MMA and boxing audiences on Saturday. 

ESPN is the home to Top Rank on ESPN boxing as well as the world’s leading MMA promotional company, UFC.

Like Top Rank, the UFC had a massive fight card on its schedule on Saturday, and the boxing/UFC audiences are fractured enough that both cards could have somewhat reasonably ran against each other. 

Instead, the UFC’s Fight Night card in Abu Dhabi ran early in the evening, and it meant UFC fans who might be somewhat interested in the big fight in boxing could be funneled to the main card featuring Lopez vs. Lomachenko. 

That’s great for both sports, the promoters and ESPN, too. Top Rank’s Bob Arum and UFC’s Dana White might hate each other for personal and political reasons, but the rising tide of complementary programming on ESPN will ultimately have all ships rising. 

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

 

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