Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Showtime’s Boxing Showcase Provides Another Memorable Night At The StubHub Center

Over the last decade one of the most popular Boxing venues has been the StubHub Center (Formally the Home Depot Center) in Carson, California. A venue that has played host to several of the sport’s memorable battles in recent years including two of the epic series of fights between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez, Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, and Marcos Maidana vs. Josesito Lopez just to name a few. The StubHub Center has certainly earned it’s place as a big time Boxing venue.

On June 21st the Boxing world again focused it’s attention on the StubHub center for a card that featured two storylines, three former world champions beginning their road back into contention and two former top amateur standouts meeting for a vacant world championship.  The card televised by Showtime and it’s sister channel Showtime Extreme had a good balance of intrigue and the element of the unknown.

In addition to four fights centered around those two storylines the night’s action began with a Heavyweight bout. Undefeated American prospect Dominic Breazeale would face veteran Darvin Vargas.

Breazeale, who entered his fight against Davin Vargas unbeaten in ten professional fights with nine of those wins coming by knockout could eventually see himself as a contender down the road.  On this night Breazale would be given a test by a “Game “ Vargas who was more than willing to stand and engage with Breazeale. Despite his willingness to engage with Breazeale and landing more punches than any of Breazeale’s previous opponents, Vargas was unable to nullify Breazeale’s offense suffering a knockdown in the second round from a right hand before the fight was stopped by Referee Thomas Taylor in round three. Official time of the stoppage was 2:26 of round three.  

This should be looked at as another step in the development of Breazeale. An impressive performance against a fighter in Vargas who did provide somewhat of a test. A question that will be asked of Breazeale and those who handle his career as he progresses will be how soon will he be put in against a battle tested veteran.  It can be an interesting conundrum for those who handle a fighter to determine when he should move up in competition. It will be interesting to see where Breazeale goes from here as he looks to advance up the Heavyweight ranks. 

The first former world champion to compete on this card would be former three-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Chad Dawson. Dawson, who was fighting for the first time since suffering back to back knockout losses to Andre Ward and Adonis Stevenson faced veteran George Blades in a Cruiserweight fight.  As I said in previewing this card the questions that Chad Dawson would have to answer would be what effect did those two knockout losses have on him and whether there would be any ring rust after being out of the ring for one year.

Those questions however, would not really have much of an opportunity to be answered as Dawson made short work of Blades dropping him with a left hook to the body and then knocking Blades down again for the count with a right hand to head. Official time was 2:35 of the first round.

Although George Blades was unable to provide much resistance for Dawson in Dawson’s return to the ring, the win for Dawson was probably something that restored his confidence after suffering those two setbacks to Ward and Stevenson. It will be interesting to see if Dawson chooses to remain as a Cruiserweight going forward or if he will opt to return to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division. 

The first of two Welterweight fights on this card would then take center stage as former two-division world champion Devon Alexander squared off against former NABF and WBC Continental Americas Welterweight champion Jesus Sotto Karass. The key to this fight in my eyes was whether or not Alexander would be able to avoid Soto Karass by out boxing him for the entire fight or whether Soto Karass’ pressuring style would force Alexander into a brawl.

The story of this fight was Alexander’s ability to use his lateral movement to keep Soto Karass from being able to get into a consistent offensive rhythm. Despite being pressured by Soto Karass from the outset, Alexander’s movement and quick hands dictated the fight.  Although Soto Karass was able to have success gradually as the fight progressed, he was unable to really limit Alexander’s movement in my view and Alexander’s ability to get his punches off was the difference in a fight that Alexander would win a ten round unanimous decision.  I unofficially scored the fight 97-93 for Alexander.

Even though I felt Alexander quicker hands and movement allowed him to box his way to victory, it was an entertaining contest to watch where both fighters were willing to engage. Despite losing the fight Jesus Soto Karass as always showed his toughness and should still be considered a dangerous opponent for anyone in the Welterweight division. 

The world championship fight on this card, a bout for the vacant WBO Featherweight world championship was a fight where quite frankly I did not know what to expect. It is true that Boxing is a sport where one should always expect the unexpected. In regard to this fight however, an argument could easily be made for either fighter having an edge over the other.

Would it be the greater professional experience of the number one contender Gary Russell Jr. who entered the fight undefeated in twenty-four professional fights or the skill and amateur pedigree of two-time, two-division Olympic gold medalist Vasyl Lomachenko who, despite competing in only his third professional fight is considered as perhaps the greatest amateur in the history of the sport with an incredible record of 396-1, and who was already making his second attempt at a world championship.

Although some may have had the opinion prior to this fight that neither Russell or Lomachenko had really established themselves professionally to get an opportunity to fight for a world title, it was nevertheless an interesting fight. Despite having quick hands, Russell was not able to dictate the pace of this fight, but Lomachenko’s pressure that set the pace that this fight was fought.

Even though Russell was throwing more in volume, Lomachenko’s ability to slip much of his opponent’s offense and execute his own offense by catching Russell in exchanges was the difference in this fight. There were rounds however, during the course of this fight that were difficult to score because although Lomachenko was the more effective fighter in my opinion based on his solid defense and landing the cleaner offense to both the body and head, Russell was the more active of the two in terms of punches thrown, which I felt made some of the early rounds close. It was clear as the fight progressed however, that Lomachenko was in control of the fight and that is what led to him winning this fight clearly in my eyes at the end of the twelve round championship bout. Unofficially, I scored this fight 117-111 or nine rounds to three for Lomachenko.

Despite what appeared to be a clear win for Lomachenko, there was a mild controversy with regard to the official scorecards. Judge Lisa Giampa scored this fight a draw 114-114, this was overruled by judges Pat Russell and Max DeLuca who scored the fight 116-112 or eight rounds to four for Lomachenko giving him the victory by majority decision.

Although I do not feel that this fight was a draw, Russell’s activity may have been enough to win some rounds that were close. As I have often said over the years when it comes to scoring fights it can simply boil down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria in how they score based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. Even though I felt that Vasyl Lomachenko won this fight by doing all of the above, there are those who may have a different opinion based on Russell’s ability to throw in volume even though he was not able to land consistently. A mild controversy regarding the decision, but not a controversy that should be the main story of this fight.

With the win Vasyl Lomachenko has tied the all-time record of winning a world title in only his third professional fight, which was set by Saensak Muangsurin of Thailand who set the record in July 1975 knocking out Perico Fernandez to win the WBC Jr. Welterweight world championship. Although some may have criticized Lomachenko getting two world title shots so early in his career, it is not unprecedented. After winning a world title, Muangsurin went on to become a two-time holder of the WBC Jr. Welterweight world championship after briefly losing the title in 1976 to Miguel Velazquez, and defeating Velazquez in the rematch.

Whether or not Lomachenko will have a long reign as a Featherweight world champion remains to be seen. This observer however, looks forward to what may be next for the new champion. As for Gary Russell Jr. he was not disgraced in this fight and this should be looked at as a fight where he was simply bested by a fighter who on that night was the better. As it will be interesting to see what is next for Lomachenko, The same could be said for Gary Russell Jr. as he looks to bounce back from his first defeat as a professional.

The night’s action would culminate in a twelve round Welterweight fight between former two-division world champion Robert Guerrero and Japanese contender Yoshihiro Kamegai. In previewing this card last week, I stated that this was the fight that could be the fight of the night based on the exciting styles of both Guerrero and Kamegai and their ability to box as well as their willingness to go toe to toe with their opponents. Guerrero and Kamegai would not disappoint anyone on this night.

From the opening bell Guerrero and Kamegai were willing to engage in a fight that saw plenty of back and forth action. It was Guerrero’s combination punching and ability to dictate how the fight was being fought that I felt was the story of the fight. Kamegai however, was very “Game”, very aggressive and continued to press forward. The battle between Guerrero and Kamegai will likely be considered a fight of the year candidate. In short, the fight was a grueling give and take battle where both fighters were able to have their moments. Guerrero’s ability to land punches in combination and generally get his punches off first was the difference in this fight and that allowed him to earn a hard-fought twelve round unanimous decision. Unofficially, I scored this fight 116-112 in favor of Robert Guerrero. The fight was the first for Guerrero since losing to Floyd Mayweather last year. This victory will likely put Guerrero back in world title contention.

 Despite suffering the second loss of his career in twenty-seven professional fights, Yoshihiro Kamegai has established himself as a fighter who should be viewed by anyone in the Welterweight division as dangerous and not someone to take lightly. It will be interesting to see where Kamegai who was rated number seven in the world by the International Boxing Federation (IBF) coming into his fight with Robert Guerrero will find himself in the mix of what is one of the most competitive divisions in the entire sport.

Readers will recall that I stated in previewing this card that the winner of the Alexander-Soto Karass fight could face the winner of Guerrero-Kamegai. A fight between Robert Guerrero and Devon Alexander would certainly be an interesting fight and I can certainly see a fight between the two being made. There are likely however, other options that could be available to either Guerrero or Alexander and I think it will boil down to what happens at the top of the Welterweight division as contenders such as former WBA champion Marcos Maidana, former Jr. Welterweight world champion Amir Khan, and undefeated top contender Keith Thurman all could be potential future opponents for unified WBC/WBA champion Floyd Mayweather. Although an argument could be made that Maidana will be the most likely opponent for Mayweather in a rematch of their battle last month, realistically anything can happen in the Welterweight division and it will likely all depend on who Mayweather fights next that will determine what will likely happen for those fighters. All of them are potential opponents.

All in all, the latest card to take place at the StubHub Center in Carson, California produced a little bit of everything. Former world champions beginning the road back into contention, highly competitive Boxing matches, a new world champion, a rising Heavyweight prospect, a couple of knockouts, and a fight of the year candidate. A card that will likely go down as another in a growing list of memorable nights of Boxing for one of the sport’s more popular venues.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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