Thursday, June 27, 2013

Malignaggi vs. Broner: No Controversy

When former IBF World Jr. Welterweight champion Paul Malignaggi entered the ring to challenge previously undefeated WBA Welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko in April of last year Malignaggi did so as an underdog.  Malignaggi was after all fighting against an undefeated world champion and was fighting him in his home country, certainly not an easy task for any fighter to attempt to overcome. 

Malignaggi responded by dominating the Ukrainian fighter landing crisp, quick combinations throughout the fight, causing a severe cut and eventually closing the left eye of Senchenko in route to a ninth round stoppage. Malignaggi had triumphed over the naysayers to win his second world title in as many weight classes. 

In some ways Malignaggi’s performance against Senchenko was poetic justice for a fighter who despite not being known for having power has never backed down from a challenge and has always given everything he had every time he enters the ring.  When it was announced that Malignaggi would make the first defense of his world title against undefeated two-division world champion and current WBC Lightweight world champion Adrien Broner  I was somewhat surprised to hear many fans and some observers alike not giving Malignaggi much of a chance in the fight. 

Broner after all does have a career knockout percentage of over 80% and was entering the fight with Malignaggi having scored knockouts in six of his last his last seven fights.  It was understandable to an extent to see some base their predictions on those statistics.  This observer however has often said that I do not make predictions but try as best as I possibly can to offer a well-educated guess as to what may happen prior to a Boxing match. 

Although it was clear that Broner had the advantage in terms of punching power I was not one who believed that this would necessarily be an “Easy” fight for Adrien Broner.  Malignaggi has after all faced several high profile names throughout his career and it was an arguable point that he was the toughest fighter that Broner would have faced in his career in terms of Boxing ability.  Despite being stopped twice in his career by former world champions Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan, Paul Malignaggi was not someone to overlook or underestimate.

When the two fighters got in the ring at the Barclays Center in Malignaggi’s hometown of Brooklyn, New York on June 22nd  it didn’t surprise me to see Malignaggi start the fight at a fast pace.  The key to success for Malignaggi in this fight in my mind was to establish a high work rate and to be elusive.  It would not have been to the champion’s advantage to be a somewhat stationary target for the heavy handed Broner.  Malignaggi had to set the pace from the outset.  In contrast I expected Broner to attempt to cut the ring off and neutralize Malignaggi’s movement.  As the fight progressed an argument should be made that both fighters did exactly what they wanted to do in this fight.  It was a closely fought, highly competitive contest where both fighters were able to execute their respected fight plans with effectiveness.

As I have often said over the years when it comes to close fights it will often boil down to what a judge prefers in their own individual criteria in how they score a fight that will ultimately determine the winner.  This can and often has led to some questionable final scores at the end of a fight between three judges. Sometimes you will see two judges produce similar scores which may fall in line with a consensus opinion of observers as to how a fight was fought. Meanwhile a third judge may share the same opinion with another judge as to who won a fight but will however turn in scores of a significantly wider margin than his or her respected counterparts. 

The criteria of which all bouts in Professional Boxing should be scored is Clean punching, Ring generalship, Effective aggression, and Defense. Despite these guidelines some judges have preferences as to what they look for when scoring a fight.  Some judges will score based on effective aggression and or ring generalship.  What often gets overlooked by some casual observers is how fighters can win rounds by being defensive and landing clean punches in spurts.  In bouts where there are no knockdowns scored or point deductions all of this criteria must be considered when scoring a Boxing match. What can also be overlooked is that Boxing is scored round by round and this along with the recognized criteria can produce varying scores at the end of a fight that goes to a decision. 

In regard to this fight all of the facets which are involved in scoring a Boxing match were visible and are likely to make this fight a topic of debates for years to come.  Paul Malignaggi started this fight working at a high pace throwing jabs and mixing in quick combinations to the body.  This was complimented by good lateral movement by the champion.  Although not landing everything he threw, Malignaggi’s greater activity carried the action for the first two rounds. Broner seemed to be studying his opponent in the early rounds and had success landing periodic right hands and a flush left hook to the jaw of Malignaggi early in round three. As well Broner was able to follow up by landing more solid left hooks toward the end of the round.. 

It became clear that this would be a question of the fighter throwing in greater volume or the fighter who was more economical with his offensive output but landing the harder punches.  At the end of three rounds I had Malignaggi ahead two rounds to one. Although Malignaggi was the more active of the two, Broner was able to deflect a lot of Malignaggi’s offense by staying in a tight defensive shell. 

As the fight progressed I wondered whether Malignaggi would get the benefit of the doubt on the official scorecards due to his effective work to Adrien Broner’s body.  Although he never really seemed to hurt Broner, the body punches were landing. It was clear however in the eyes of this observer that Malignaggi had to continue to use his lateral movement and not allow Broner to get into position to let his hands go for a significant period of time in order to maintain an edge in this fight. 

In round five Broner began to open up more offensively landing his right hand and mixing in flush left hooks. Broner’s gradual pressure and ability to land clean power punches seemed to turn the momentum in his favor at this point in the contest.  Malignaggi however never stopped throwing punches and this made the fight very difficult to score as there were many “Swing rounds” where you could make an argument for either fighter having won a round.  An extremely difficult task for anyone scoring the fight whether they be an unofficial or an official judge. 

Through nine rounds the tempo of the fight had switched to Broner. Although many of the middle rounds were extremely close and hard to score, Broner was able to win those rounds in my estimation due in large part to his ability to consistently find a home for his right hand, mixing in some good body punches and uppercuts on the inside. Malignaggi just didn’t seem to have an answer to avoid Broner’s right hand and Broner’s ability to land the right both as a lead punch and as a precision counter punch proved to be troublesome for the champion. 

Malignaggi appeared to get a bit of a second wind in round ten as he brought the fight to the challenger landing combinations to the body and attempting to land to the head.  As the fight entered the championship rounds,  Malignaggi continued to throw at a high volume and won rounds ten and eleven on my scorecard based on his ability to get his punches off first and ability to bring the fight to Broner.  Broner however was still the fighter dictating the pace and continued to put pressure on Malignaggi. 

Broner seemed to get the better of what was an extremely close twelfth and final round of what ended up being a very competitive fight.  At the end of the twelve round championship bout I had Adrien Broner winning eight rounds to four in rounds or 116-112 in points. 

The basis of my scoring was Malignaggi got off to a really good start and carried the tempo in the first four rounds. From rounds five through ten however although extremely difficult to score Broner landed the harder blows and that turned out to be crucial in the outcome of this fight.

The official result of a split decision was not surprising.  Frankly although I feel Broner controlled the tempo of the fight from the fifth round on, it was still a very close fight and a split decision either way or a draw would not have surprised me.  Judges Glenn Feldman and Tom Miller turned in scores of 115-113 or seven rounds to five splitting for each fighter while Judge Tom Schreck turned in a score of 117-111 or nine rounds to three for Adrien Broner making him the new Welterweight world champion.

In all truth and honesty although there is likely some anger directed at Tom Schreck for turning in a final score that differed from the other two official judges it again boils down to what a judge looks for in their criteria in how they score.  In this fight although it goes without saying that Paul Malignaggi was the more active of the two fighters landing 214 of 843 punches thrown to Broner’s 246 of 524 punches thrown according to CompuBox it isn’t always about who is the more active fighter that determines who wins a decision. 

Adrien Broner’s defense was outstanding in this fight coupled with his ability to be accurate when he did throw landing 47% of his total punches to Malignaggi’s 25% according to CompuBox statistics. What won this fight for Adrien Broner was his defense and accuracy when he did let his hands go. The difference in power and how Broner’s punches affected Malignaggi throughout is also something that can play a factor in the scoring. It is important to note however that the official judges do not have access to CompuBox statistics while they are scoring a fight. 

Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole story of what goes on during the course of a Boxing match. In this case when you view the fight round by round you can see both sides of an argument as to who won this fight. 

For his part Paul Malignaggi expressed his anger toward Judge Tom Schreck’s scorecard after the fight in a post-fight interview with Jim Gray stating quote “ Tom Schreck is a New York Judge that is in Al Haymon’s (Broner’s Manager) pocket. 117-111 is a disgrace. I'm not saying it was fixed but the politically more-connected fighter always gets the close decision." 

Although I have a much respect for Paul Malignaggi both as a fighter and as a Boxing analyst I can not say that I personally feel that the element of politics played a role in Tom Schreck’s scoring.  Obviously no one other than Judge Tom Schreck can explain his scoring of the fight however there were a lot of “Swing rounds” in this fight and a difference in scoring and of opinion as to who won is not far fetched. 

Malignaggi’s anger however is certainly understandable.  He believes that one judge got it entirely wrong, however once he watches the fight he may see what many saw that there were numerous “Swing rounds.” For example; the fourth round  Malignaggi came out and I believe won the first two minutes of the round however Broner finished the round landing the heavier punches and although he did not land as many punches as Malignaggi, he landed at a higher percentage.  This round easily could have been scored either way including even.

Many have already criticized Adrien Broner for not meeting expectations of success that he has had in lower weight classes.  Let’s not forget this was Broner’s first fight in the Welterweight division and he fought not only a champion in Paul Malignaggi but a crafty, ring savvy, veteran.  One may argue that Malignaggi should be considered as this generation’s “Willie Pep”, and this observer agrees.  Nevertheless  Adrien Broner deserved this victory and has established himself as a Welterweight champion.  Broner is only twenty-three years old and has already won three world titles in three different weight classes and is still undefeated at 27-0. 

As far as Paul Malignaggi, he has nothing to be ashamed of and fought a competitive tough fight.  He outworked Broner and if he had been able to land more effectively, the results of the fight may have been different. 

What’s in store for Malignaggi and Broner? These days no one can foresee what’s in either fighter’s future especially when “The Business” of Boxing is involved.  In my book, split decisions are as good a reason as any for a rematch.  The fans enjoyed this one, those of us who covered it enjoyed it, so why not? What do you say guys?

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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

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Monday, June 10, 2013

Stevenson KO’s Dawson: A Star Is Born

Three-time Light-Heavyweight World champion Chad Dawson has been one of the cornerstones of the Light-Heavyweight division for much of the last decade.  Having engaged in battles with the likes of future Hall of Famers Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver, and most recently Bernard Hopkins, Dawson has emerged as one of the elite fighters of the division and one might argue a player in the sport’s mythical pound for pound ratings.

After a grueling and rough fight in his rematch with Bernard Hopkins, Dawson made what some would say was a curious choice by electing to drop down from the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division to the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division to challenge the undefeated Super-Middleweight champion and division kingpin Andre Ward for his title on September 8th of last year. 

In that fight Ward dominated Dawson with crisp combinations, knocking the WBC Light-Heavyweight champion down three times in route to a tenth round technical knockout as Dawson informed Referee Steve Smoger that he did not want to continue.  Ward’s speed and skill were simply too much for Dawson on that evening. Some may speculate that Dawson’s performance in that fight could have been the result of over training and Dawson himself said that he struggled to make weight prior to the fight. This observer however believes that Dawson simply had a bad night at the office against a fighter in Andre Ward who was simply that good and too much for Dawson. 

Following nearly a year of inactivity Dawson returned to the ring on June 8th to defend his WBC Light-Heavyweight world title against contender and knockout artist Adonis Stevenson. The fight took place in Stevenson’s hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Stevenson who was previously ranked number one in the world by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) in the Super-Middleweight division entered the fight with Dawson with an impressive record of 20-1, with 17 Knockouts having a career knockout percentage of over 80%.  Stevenson’s lone defeat as a professional came in 2010 when he was stopped by veteran contender Darnell Boone.  Since that loss Stevenson was able to score seven consecutive knockouts including avenging his loss to Boone in his last fight prior to meeting Dawson. 

This was an intriguing fight because you had the aggressive come forward pressure style of Stevenson against Dawson who has hand speed and the ability to be elusive. Dawson however had shown a willingness to stand and trade with his opponents, most notably in his first fight with Glen Johnson in 2008.  It was interesting to see how Dawson, coming off a knockout loss, the first of his career would take on a fighter who can end it with one punch at any given time.  Stevenson also had been extended to a twelve round distance only once in his career when he scored a twelfth round stoppage of Super-Middleweight contender Don George in October of last year.   Despite his impressive and intimidating career Knockout percentage Stevenson was stepping up not only in weight class but also, in quality of opposition in this fight against Dawson.  Questions of “Is it too much, too soon? “ or, “Can he handle the magnitude of the event?” were only natural that a fighter challenging for a world title for the first time in his career would have to answer.  It was also interesting in the eyes of this observer to see if Dawson could use his experience to nullify Stevenson’s pressure and punching power to extend the fight into the later rounds.

Stevenson however had other plans…  The fight came to a sudden and dramatic conclusion before it could really get started. Stevenson landed a beautiful left cross on the side of Dawson’s head sending him down to the canvas.  Dawson gamely made it to his feet however was very wobbly and incoherent prompting Referee Michael Griffin to stop the fight just seventy-six seconds into the first round. 

Some may question the stoppage and will likely say that Chad Dawson deserved the benefit of the doubt and should have been allowed to continue.  For those who question the stoppage of this fight allow me to present a little historical perspective and a quite similar scenario that may clear up any confusion as to why Griffin ended the contest.

On July 21, 1989 Mike Tyson then the undisputed, undefeated and perceived as invincible Heavyweight champion of the world defended his crown against longtime top contender Carl “The Truth” Williams in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Williams who had previously fought for a version of the Heavyweight title losing a highly disputed decision to Larry Holmes in 1985 was knocked down by Tyson with a perfectly timed counter left hook that landed flush on  the jaw midway through the first round. Williams arose from the knockdown on wobbly legs, incoherent and unable to respond to Referee Randy Neumann which forced Neumann to stop the contest just ninety-three seconds into the fight. Many questioned the decision of Referee Randy Neumann.  The basis of some of the criticism of the stoppage was that Williams had been knocked down seven times previously in his career before getting in the ring to challenge Mike Tyson. 

Williams was floored twice in his fight with James “Quick” Tillis in 1984, floored twice in his fight with Jesse Ferguson in 1986, and stopped after being knocked down three times by former Heavyweight champion Mike Weaver that same year.  Williams was able to recover in his fights with Tillis and Ferguson to win both bouts.  On this basis some including Williams himself believed that he should have been allowed to continue. 

Neumann however provided as legitimate an explanation as you could ask of a Referee following the stoppage. Neumann stated that Williams wasn’t standing upright and was leaning on the ropes, and he could not respond to Neumann when he asked Williams “How do you feel?” After getting up from the knockdown, Neumann also stated that Williams’ eyes were in his words “Blank.”  It was as good of an explanation and justification that anyone could ask for from one of the best referees in the sport. 

Twenty-four years later Dawson-Stevenson ended under near identical circumstances.  As Referee Randy Neumann provided a legitimate explanation twenty-four years ago, so too did Referee Michael Griffin after his stoppage of Dawson vs. Stevenson Griffin stated that he wanted to give Dawson every chance he could to continue but he did not respond and he did not have his legs.

Although some may be angry at the stoppage of this fight Michael Griffin’s explanation is really all you can ask for.  As I have said many times over the years, in Boxing anything can happen at any given time and that is what makes our sport so great. Simply put, one punch can end a fight at any time. 

With the win Adonis Stevenson has legitimately emerged as a new star in the sport of Boxing in winning the WBC World Light-Heavyweight championship in devastating fashion. Stevenson has several options on the table in both the Light-Heavyweight division and the Super-Middleweight division.  Stevenson for his part called out former Dawson opponents in  IBF Light-Heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins and Super-Middleweight champion Andre Ward for potential fights.  In the immediate future however it may be more likely that Stevenson will make the first defense of his world title against current World Boxing Council (WBC) number one Light-Heavyweight contender Tony Bellew of England.

As for Dawson although there is likely anger from fans, Dawson, and his camp over the stoppage one might argue that by stopping the fight when he did Referee Michael Griffin in all likelihood saved Chad Dawson from being seriously hurt.   It is an old saying that this observer firmly believes in “It is better to come back and fight another day than potentially risk permanent damage.”  Although some may say that Dawson should retire after suffering back to back knockout losses, this observer believes that Dawson after a long tenure at or near the top of the Light-Heavyweight division, having fought the best fighters in the division, that he has earned the chance to have a long rest to allow his body to recuperate. It is possible that the drop down in weight to fight Andre Ward as well as going back up in weight to fight Adonis Stevenson may have taken a lot out of Dawson. Let’s not forget twelve years of wear and tear totaling thirty-six professional fights including two no contests would be a lot for any athlete to overcome. Dawson is still a force to be reckoned with in Professional Boxing and he deserves this time to fully evaluate his options before making any decisions.

Although criticism of the stoppage will probably continue for a time in some circles this observer would like to simply say to Referee Michael Griffin “Job well done.”

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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

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