Friday, November 21, 2014

Will Chris Algieri Spoil A Potential Mayweather-Pacquiao Clash?

On June 14th of this year undefeated Jr. Welterweight contender Chris Algieri, a fighter who was unbeaten in nineteen professional fights entered the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York to challenge WBO Jr. Welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov for Provodnikov’s world championship. Despite coming into the fight unbeaten, Algieri was a relative unknown outside of New York where he has garnered a significant following.

It was no surprise to some that Algieri was considered an underdog against Provodnikov, who was considered one of the sport’s hottest rising stars. For those who considered Algieri a non-threat were nearly proven right as Provodnikov knocked Algieri down twice in the first round and caused severe swelling of Algieri’s right eye. Despite two knockdowns going against him and an eye that would eventually swell shut as the fight progressed, Algieri implemented his strategy using lateral movement to be an elusive target for the champion and was consistently able to beat Provodnikov to the punch throughout the fight.

Although Provodnikov landed the harder punches, it was Algieri’s tactical strategy and overall greater activity that resulted in him winning the fight via twelve round split decision to win his first world title as a boxer. Even though Algieri was unknown to many prior to the Provodnikov fight, the win over Provodnikov allowed Algieri to become a two sport world champion after previously winning world titles in the Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight divisions in Kickboxing.

With twenty wins and his first world title in professional Boxing there was little doubt after his win over Provodnikov that Chris Algieri had established himself as a force to be reckoned with. Algieri’s performance in that fight has secured him the opportunity to challenge multi-division world champion Manny Pacquiao in a fight for Pacquiao’s WBO Welterweight world title on Saturday night in Macau, China.

Following Algieri’s win over Provodnikov I stated that Algieri had gone from an underdog to a world champion and his ability to not only overcome adversity, but his impressive performance against Provodnikov would likely establish him as a rising star in the sport. For the recently crowned Jr. Welterweight world champion however, he is once again cast in the role of underdog.

It is after all understandable why many are considering Manny Pacquiao a heavy favorite in this fight. Pacquiao has been on the sport’s marquee stage for much of the last decade, has arguably been Boxing’s biggest star, and sharing that status with multi-division world champion Floyd Mayweather. There continues to be much debate as to whom is the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Between the two however, Floyd Mayweather remains undefeated. 

This however, has changed somewhat as Pacquiao has gone 3-2 in his last five fights, after dropping a highly controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley in June 2012 and suffering a brutal sixth round knockout loss at the hands of archrival Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012. Pacquiao was able to rebound fighting twice since the loss to Marquez in scoring a convincing twelve round unanimous decisions over Brandon Rios in November of last year, and regaining the WBO Welterweight world championship by defeating Timothy Bradley in April of this year. Although Pacquiao’s status among the sport’s mythical pound for pound ratings is likely a subject of much debate, Pacquiao’s status as a superstar of the sport is still very apparent. Pacquiao now prepares to defend his title against Algieri.

The key to this fight in my eyes will be whether or not Algieri will be able to neutralize the speed and lateral movement of Manny Pacquiao. Even though Algieri is a slick boxer and has good lateral movement and quick hands, Manny Pacquiao is a fighter that has the ability to throw punches from every conceivable angle and also has shown that he can throw punches in anticipation of where his opponent will move. This along with his speed and quickness has made Pacquiao an extremely difficult opponent.

It is important to remember however, that as overwhelming and difficult to combat as Pacquiao has been throughout much of his career, he has also been hit. This was demonstrated in Pacquiao’s fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. In a fight where Pacquiao seemed to have Marquez in trouble, it was Marquez who brought the fight to a sudden and dramatic conclusion in closing seconds of the sixth round. Pacquiao appeared to be potentially going in for the finish only to be stopped by a sudden and flush right hand by Marquez knocking him out cold on the canvas. While some may have the opinion that Marquez hit Pacquiao with a “Lucky” punch, it was in actuality a perfectly timed punch by a highly skilled boxer who simply was able to capitalize on an opening that his opponent left him.

Although Algieri has only eight knockouts in his twenty wins, he is a world-class boxer. It will be interesting to see if he takes the role of counterpuncher in this fight and looks to capitalize on openings that Pacquiao might leave him before letting his hands go, or if Algieri will use his 5’10 height and seventy-two inch reach and attempt to keep the 5’6 1/2 Pacquiao who has a sixty-seven inch reach on the outside. This has proven to be a difficult task to accomplish for previous Pacquiao opponents who were naturally bigger and had longer reach.

It will however, be of equal interest to see whether Pacquiao, who has not scored a knockout since stopping current WBC Middleweight world champion Miguel Cotto for his first WBO Welterweight world championship in 2009 will be looking to end this fight quickly. Pacquiao may be thinking that Algieri having only stopped eight of his twenty previous opponents does not have the power to hurt him. One must always remember that anything can happen and Pacquiao should not take unnecessary chances.

What may be of more interest than either fighter’s respective fight plans for this fight could be the potential of a fight with Floyd Mayweather for Pacquiao should he retain his title on Saturday night. Although there may be renewed interest in the potential clash between Mayweather and Pacquiao, which has been speculated for several years, the fighter who will stand across the ring from Pacquiao on Saturday night in Chris Algieri is a fighter who has never lost a fight in either Kickboxing or Boxing and who has a combined record of 40-0.

Despite the opinion of many that Chris Algieri is an underdog heading into this fight, it is not a position that he is unfamiliar being in. With the seemingly renewed interest in a Mayweather-Pacquiao clash and with some treating this fight as a mere afterthought, all Chris Algieri has to focus on is this fight and if Pacquiao and those around him have somehow underestimated him, it could have severe consequences as to any potential fight with Floyd Mayweather as well as the financial incentives that would come with a fight of that magnitude.

The eyes of the Boxing world now turn to Macau, China where Pacquiao will defend his WBO Welterweight world championship against WBO Jr. Welterweight world champion Chris Algieri. We will see what happens on Saturday night.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth ® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Look At The Potential Options For Wladimir Klitschko Heading Into 2015

A question that will often be asked in regard to a dominant fighter is who can provide a stern test for that fighter. The dominant fighter, unified IBF/WBO/WBA/IBO Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko has been undefeated for the past ten years and has won sixty-two of sixty-five professional fights.  Klitschko would ask this question of undefeated IBF number one contender Kubrat Pulev on November 15th at the O2 World Arena in Hamburg, Germany as he would make his seventeenth title defense. 

The question that faced the challenger in this fight was whether or not Pulev had an answer for Klitschko’s arsenal, which is highlighted by his jab followed by a straight right hand. Although Klitschko’s jab and right hand have often been showcased in his fights, in this fight it would be his left hook that would be the significant weapon.

Despite being known as a slow starter, Pulev attempted to bring the fight to the champion from the outset. The challenger showed immediately that he was not intimidated as almost as soon as the fight began while in a clinch, Pulev tried to immediately hit Klitschko with his free arm, often hitting Klitschko in the back of the head. One thing that did help the challenger was his 6’4 1/2 frame and being nearly identical to the champion in terms of weight weighing 246 3/4 lbs. to Klitschko’s 245 3/4 lbs.

Recent Klitschko opponents such as Alexander Povetkin and Alex Leapai were unable to land anything significant when Klitschko was able to tie them up. This was due in large part to the champion’s natural size, strength, and weight advantage over them. This time Klitschko was not able to tie up his opponent as easily.

The champion however, would demonstrate his power in the opening round as he connected with a flush left hook that sent the challenger down to the canvas nearly midway through the first round. Pulev immediately arose from the knockdown, but was floored for a second time seconds later as he was clearly hurt as a result of the first knockdown.

Despite being knocked down twice, Pulev remained undeterred and continued to attempt to bring the fight to Klitschko. The challenger however, would be dropped for the third time in the fight in round three as a result of another Klitschko left hook. Pulev showed his mettle as he got up and continued to fight. Although Pulev’s courage and determination cannot be questioned, he simply did not have an answer to avoid Klitschko’s arsenal. The end would come in round five as Klitschko would respond after being struck by Pulev with a flush right hand, the challenger’s best punch up to that point, by landing a brutal left hook that sent the challenger down and out on the canvas. With the win Klitschko advances to 63-3, with 53 Knockouts. Kubrat Pulev falls to 20-1, with 11 Knockouts.

Much like his sixteenth title defense against Alex Leapai earlier this year, this was ultimately just another day at the office for Wladimir Klitschko. Although Pulev was clearly outclassed in this fight, he did show courage, tremendous heart, and deserves credit for the effort he put forth against a truly dominant Heavyweight champion.

What led to Pulev’s downfall in this fight in this observer’s eyes was two factors. One he has a style where he holds his hands up high, but does so wide, which allowed Klitschko a fighter who is known for his accuracy to more or less pick his shots. Pulev also did not offer much head movement and thus was a very inviting target for the champion. I was however, very impressed not only by Pulev’s courage and heart, but also by the fact that despite being knocked down multiple times, he continued to attempt to fight back and did not go into a defensive mode. Pulev’s determination will likely earn him respect and appreciation from both Boxing fans and experts alike. He certainly has the respect of this observer.

As for the champion, with now seventeen successful title defenses in his second reign as a Heavyweight world champion, the question remains who can provide a challenge for him as he continues his march towards Boxing history? In terms of the immediate future this observer sees two realistic options for Klitschko in 2015.

One option might be for Klitschko to meet the winner of the November 29th rematch between top contenders Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora to determine a new mandatory challenger in the World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) ratings. The other option would be for Klitschko to face the winner of the upcoming WBC championship fight between champion Bermane Stiverne and undefeated WBC number one contender Deontay Wilder, which will take place on a date to be announced. If a fight between Klitschko and the winner of that fight could be made it would mean complete unification of the Heavyweight division.

There are other options that could be on the table for Klitschko such as a rematch with former WBA champion Ruslan Chagaev, who Klitschko stopped in nine rounds in 2009. Chagaev, who currently holds interim/regular status in the WBA ratings could be a likely candidate following the recent announcement that top contender Luis Ortiz, who also was designated as having interim/regular status by the WBA tested positive for a banned substance following his first round knockout win over Lateef Kayode in September. 

Although it remains somewhat unclear as to who might be designated as the next mandatory challenger by the WBA as of this writing, it seems logical that Chagaev would be the obvious choice. If however, Klitschko opts to take an elective defense for his next fight, contenders such as Bryant Jennings, Vyacheslav Glazkov, and perhaps even former WBO Heavyweight world champion Shannon Briggs, who has been on a campaign to try and secure a fight with Klitschko, might all be considered options.

We will have to simply wait and see what Klitschko decides to do next. This observer however, will remain firm in his hope as I stated prior to Klitschko’s fight with Kubrat Pulev that if the champion continues to win that his quiet, but steady march towards Boxing history receives the attention and recognition that it deserves.

Following Klitschko’s knockout of Pulev, I commented on social media that both fans and critics alike can say what they want about Klitschko’s Boxing style, but the fact is Klitschko simply gets the job done and often does so by knockout registering a career knockout percentage of over 80%.  Wladimir along with his brother Vitali will likely go down in history as I have said often over the years as two of the most dominant and two of the most underappreciated champions in Boxing history.

As Wladimir stands alone as the only Klitschko who is still active as a fighter, as he continues to approach the statistical milestones set by former Heavyweight champions Larry Holmes, who had twenty successful title defenses in his reign as Heavyweight champion and Joe Louis, who set the all-time record for successful title defenses in any division in Boxing history defending his title twenty-five times in his reign as champion, there is no doubt that Wladimir Klitschko’s place in history will be as an all-time great. If Klitschko ultimately surpasses both Holmes and Louis in his current reign as champion it will be increasingly difficult for any unbiased observer regardless of what you might think of his Boxing style to deny him the recognition befitting of an all-time great.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth ® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Wladimir Klitschko Goes For Title Defense Number 17 Against Pulev

A storyline that has quietly been gaining momentum is unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko’s steady march towards Boxing history.  Klitschko, the two-time Heavyweight world champion has in his second reign as champion compiled sixteen successful title defenses since regaining a portion of the Heavyweight crown by scoring a knockout in his second win over then IBF world champion Chris Byrd in 2006. 

Normally a fighter who has been as dominating as Wladimir Klitschko has been for much of the last decade, the idea of that fighter making a run to attempt to match or even surpass the all-time record for successful title defenses, not just of the Heavyweight division, but rather the entire sport would certainly garner significant attention. For Klitschko however, much of his career has been defined not only by his own individual dominance, but also as one half of what this observer has often called “The Two-Headed Heavyweight Championship Monster” known as the Klitschko brothers. Until late last year when Wladimir’s older brother Vitali retired to focus on his political ambitions, the Heavyweight division was simply ruled by two brothers with iron fists.

Although the retirement of Vitali has left at least the potential for an undisputed champion to eventually be crowned in the division, there is no dispute that Wladimir Klitschko is the number one fighter in the Heavyweight division and the retirement of his brother has not diminished his dominance. In his last fight in April of this year Klitschko dominated a “Game”, but over matched Alex Leapai in scoring a fifth round stoppage to retain his unified world title and earned his sixteenth consecutive title defense.

Klitschko’s TKO of the WBO’s number one contender Leapai cleared the way for him to make another mandatory championship defense against the IBF’s number one contender the undefeated Kubrat Pulev. Pulev, a native of Sofia, Bulgaria is unbeaten in twenty professional fights, is a former European Heavyweight champion, and has scored victories over top contenders Alexander Dimitrenko, Alexander Ustinov, and former two-time world title challenger and former two-time Klitschko opponent Tony Thompson in his career.

The fight between Klitschko and Pulev, which was originally scheduled to take place on September 6th was postponed when Klitschko had to pull out due to an injury where he tore his left biceps during the final stages of his training camp. The postponed clash however, will take place on Saturday night at the O2 World Arena in Hamburg, Germany.

The question that will face the unbeaten Pulev will be essentially the same question that has faced every Klitschko opponent. Can Pulev avoid Klitschko’s jab and straight right hand to get on the inside of Klitschko’s eighty-one inch reach? If Pulev can accomplish this, another question that will be asked of him will be will he be able to do so without being tied up and/or put in a position where Klitschko can use his size, weight, and strength to his advantage.

The good news for Pulev is unlike recent Klitschko opponents Alex Leapai and Alexander Povetkin, he stands 6’4, has an eighty inch reach, and has typically weighed in between 245lbs.-250lbs. or above for most of his fights. This would indicate that Klitschko will not likely be able to rough up and grapple with Pulev as easily as he was able to do against Alexander Povetkin. Nevertheless, it will still be interesting to see how Pulev attempts to combat Klitschko’s primary weapon the jab followed by the straight right hand. A weapon that opponents both short and tall have had significant difficulty dealing with. It has proven to be a task that is easier said than done and it will be of interest to see if Pulev has an answer for Klitschko’s arsenal.

What might be troublesome for Pulev is he is known for being a slow starter in fights and if he does not attempt to bring the fight to Klitschko and look to make the champion uncomfortable from the outset, this fight could well end up being what Boxing fans and experts alike have come to expect of Wladimir Klitschko. The champion slowly, but systematically breaking his opponent down. Klitschko, who has a career knockout percentage of 80% having scored knockouts in fifty-two of his sixty-two career wins is likely viewed by most as the significant favorite heading into this fight.

Pulev however, has shown in the past that he can pick up his pace as a fight progresses as he showed in his fight against Tony Thompson. Pulev, who has eleven knockouts in his twenty career wins will likely look to extend this fight into the middle and late rounds. The key to the fight in this observer’s eyes will be whether or not Pulev has an answer to avoid Klitschko’s arsenal and whether or not he can turn this into a fight. If Klitschko is allowed to control distance and able to fight his fight, it could be a short evening. It is up to Kubrat Pulev to show what he can do against a dominant Heavyweight champion.

Assuming that Wladimir Klitschko is successful in what would be his seventeenth consecutive title defense against Pulev, an element that will follow each defense that follows will continue to be Klitschko’s march towards Boxing history. Only two fighters in Heavyweight history have had more successful title defenses than Klitschko. Larry Holmes who defended his title twenty times from 1978-1985 and Joe Louis who set the all-time record for successful title defenses in the whole history of the sport defending his title an incredible twenty-five times from 1937-1949. Although Wladimir and his brother Vitali will likely go down as two of the most dominant champions in the history of the sport and also two of the most underappreciated champions in history, there is no dispute that Wladimir has entered elite company as only Holmes and Louis are above him in regard to successful title defenses in their respective reigns as Heavyweight champion.

If Klitschko continues to win it is my hope that Klitschko’s quiet, but steady march towards Boxing history receives the attention and recognition that it deserves. We will see if Kubrat Pulev can upset Klitschko’s march towards history on Saturday night.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

The Boxing Truth ® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Has Hopkins Reached The End Of The Road?

Bernard Hopkins has built his Hall of Fame career on his ability to defy odds and accomplish goals that few have attempted. The only man in Boxing history to completely unify a weight class by unifying the world championships of the IBF, WBC, WBA, and WBO while setting the all-time record for most successful title defenses in the history of the Middleweight division compiling twenty successful title defenses from 1995-2005.

Hopkins’ historic reign atop the Middleweight division alone secured his status as a future Hall of Famer. In an era where world championships are won, lost, stripped, or relinquished for various reasons Hopkins showed, despite the various political elements that surround the sport that a fighter can not only win a world championship, but become the one and only champion. Hopkins is a true throwback to an era where fighters took on all comers and there was one recognized champion per weight class.

Although his place in the Hall of Fame was cemented with his historic reign over the Middleweight division Hopkins continued to set goals and accomplish feats. Not only would Hopkins go on to win two separate world championships in the Light-Heavyweight division, a weight class fifteen pounds above the Middleweight division, he would also make history in the process by becoming the oldest fighter in the history of the sport to win a world title at age forty-six in 2011. Hopkins would incredibly top his own historical feat after losing the WBC world title in his rematch with Chad Dawson in 2012, by defeating IBF champion Tavoris Cloud in 2013 to break his own record by becoming a world champion at age forty-eight.

A fighter who has made a career by defying the odds and by fighting well into his 40s continued to defy logic by not only continuing to compete at an age where most fighters are retired, but doing so at the sport’s elite level. It seemed as though Hopkins could well have been able to re-write Boxing’s history books by duplicating his own feat by completely unifying a second weight class. Hopkins however, may have discovered that even he could not defeat an opponent known as “Father Time.”

On November 8th at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey Hopkins entered the ring to unify his IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world title against undefeated WBO champion Sergey Kovalev. Kovalev, a fighter with a career knockout percentage of nearly 89%. Kovalev would not be an easy step in Hopkins’ attempt to unify the Light-Heavyweight division.

Kovalev would drop Hopkins in the first round with a right hand. Although Hopkins was able to get up from the knockdown, it was Kovalev who would control how the fight would be fought, consistently pushing Hopkins back and outworking him in every round. Hopkins would occasionally land punches on the thirty-one year old Kovalev, but could not offer sustained offense and for the first time in his career Hopkins was dominated in losing a one-sided twelve round unanimous decision.

Hopkins was however, successful in taking Kovalev, who had only previously fought as far as eight rounds a full twelve round distance. The question coming out of this fight for Hopkins is whether or not his age has finally become an issue for him. Hopkins who landed only 65 of 195 punches during the twelve round championship bout seemed hesitant throughout much of this fight. Was Hopkins’ sporadic offense attributed to the fact that he is forty-nine years old and could not consistently let his hands go or was it more due to a respect for Kovalev’s punching power and not wanting to put himself at risk of potentially being knocked out?

One should remember that Hopkins after all, is a tactical chess player as a fighter and has always looked to capitalize on an opponent’s mistakes. The feeling that this observer had as I watched this fight was that perhaps Hopkins’ goal was to fight a more defensive fight than is his norm in trying to make the younger man, who is noted for his punching power expend more energy by looking to trap Hopkins. 

Although Kovalev clearly dominated this fight and outworked Hopkins in every round, Hopkins did make the younger man miss often as Kovalev landed 166 of 585 punches thrown. To Kovalev’s credit however, he was able to keep the pace he established as the fight progressed and did not seem to fatigue as the rounds went on. The pace of a fight was really one that seemed more suited for Hopkins, a tactical measured pace where Hopkins typically excels. In this fight Hopkins simply could not let his hands go and that was simply the story of this fight. Hopkins allowed Kovalev to walk in often unimpeded, pinning him against the ropes as he offered little resistance.

As for what is next for Sergey Kovalev, an anticipated showdown with WBC champion Adonis Stevenson may likely be a goal for 2015. Before any talk of a fight to determine an undisputed world Light-Heavyweight champion can take place, Stevenson will defend his title against Dmitry Sukhotsky on December 19th in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

A question however, that both Boxing fans and experts alike are likely pondering is whether or not Hopkins’ loss to Kovalev is the end of the road for a true legend of the sport. Although Hopkins had suffered six losses in sixty-five previous fights prior to facing Kovalev, there has always been some debate as to whether or not Hopkins won those fights. This time however, Hopkins clearly lost this fight and for the first time took a beating throughout.

 To his credit, Hopkins still showed the ability to take a punch and stood up to what Kovalev had to offer excluding the knockdown in the first round. Whether or not we have seen Bernard Hopkins compete for the last time is only a question that he can answer. One idea that some have suggested is that Hopkins could make another attempt at a world championship and perhaps another run at attempting to unify the Light-Heavyweight division by possibly looking for a potential fight with Adonis Stevenson. If Stevenson successfully defends his title in December and assuming that a clash between Stevenson and Kovalev is not in the immediate future, Hopkins may get the nod providing he decides to continue to fight.

Anything is possible and it would not shock me if a fight between Stevenson and Hopkins were made. In this observer’s opinion however, Bernard Hopkins’ legacy and status as a future Hall of Famer and legend of the sport is more than secure. Whether or not Hopkins decides to fight again will be up to him, but in my eyes he has nothing left to prove.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”  

The Boxing Truth ® is a registered trademark of Beau Denison All Rights Reserved.

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