Thursday, April 6, 2017

Observations On Recent Events In Boxing March 2017

The year 2017 has already provided some interesting moments in the sport of Boxing. A consistent theme thus far has been competitive fights that end in closely scored decisions. This theme seemed to begin in this observer’s eyes with the February 18th Welterweight encounter between former multi-division world champion Adrien Broner and Adrian Granados.

A grueling encounter where two fighters simply put it on the line and left it all in the ring where there was not much to separate the two fighters at the conclusion of the bout. The end result, a ten round split decision in favor of Adrien Broner had the ingredients of what most associate with a close decision. More often than not, the main ingredient is an encounter that evolves into a great fight where there is a difference of opinion as to who got the upper hand.

The month of March featured a couple of notable encounters that one might argue belong in the same category as Broner-Granados in terms of being highly competitive with a healthy difference of opinion as to who won those battles. Of course, the most obvious of the encounters most would say was the March 18th world Middleweight championship fight between long-reigning unbeaten champion and knockout artist Gennady Golovkin and longtime top contender Daniel Jacobs. Before briefly sharing my thoughts as to what I feel might be in store for both Golovkin and Jacobs in a mini continuation of this observer’s coverage of that fight that was published on March 26th, there were other encounters that I feel deserve attention.

One such encounter took place on March 11th in Germany when former WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Demetrius Andrade met WBA number one contender Jack Culcay in a bout to determine interim/regular championship status in the World Boxing Association’s (WBA) Jr. Middleweight ratings. This was a tactical chess match from start to finish. What made this fight difficult to score in my estimation was both fighters were able to have periods of effectiveness in several of the rounds and the ebb and flow of the fight seemed to change constantly. One fighter tended to get the upper hand in the first part of a round only for the other to take control during the latter stages of a round.  Of course, when it comes to the definition of “Swing Rounds” there often is a healthy difference of opinion as to who got the upper hand, but in my eyes this fight was extremely close and I ended up with a 115-113 or seven rounds to five scorecard in favor of Jack Culcay at the end of the twelve round bout.

It seemed to me that Andrade was able to get the better of the action in the first half of the fight even though many of the rounds throughout the entire bout were close and Andrade narrowly avoiding a knockdown in the fourth round after the legs of the two fighters became tangled resulting in the former WBO world champion going down to the canvas in what was correctly ruled a slip by Referee Luis Pabon. What made this fight challenging to score in my eyes was Andrade seemed to get the better of the action when he was able to control distance and keep Culcay on the outside. Culcay meanwhile seemed most effective when he was able to execute his offense in short spurts of combinations particularly when he was able to get on the inside and exchange with Andrade. Although the official verdict of this encounter was ultimately ruled a split decision in favor of Andrade with two official judges scoring the fight 116-112 in points or eight round to four in his favor, I do not feel that this decision was controversial and I would like to see a rematch between the two at some point in the future.

As for when the rematch might take place, with the win Andrade earned interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Jr. Middleweight rankings which puts him in line to challenge unified WBA/IBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Erislandy Lara. Even though logic would suggest that Andrade would likely face Lara before a potential rematch with Culcay, one must remember that since the WBA instituted interim/regular champion designations in their respective rankings shortly after Bernard Hopkins successfully unified three Middleweight world championships in a unification tournament in 2001, fighters who hold such designations have not always faced the current WBA champion after becoming number one contenders and have in some cases had to fight on and maintain their position in the rankings for significant periods of time before getting their opportunity to face the champion.

If Andrade is not in the plans for Erislandy Lara for the remainder of 2017, the possibility certainly exists that Culcay could be an option for him, but I believe that Andrade might look to face another top contender in the event a fight with Lara cannot be made in the near future. Perhaps an opportunity to face current WBC world Jr. Middleweight champion Jermell Charlo or recently crowned IBF world champion Jarrett Hurd might also be available to Andrade if a fight with Lara is not in the immediate future.  Of course, one might argue that the best option in the Jr. Middleweight division both from a financial and exposure standpoint would be a fight against current WBO world champion Saul Alvarez, but Alvarez will face Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6th at a catch-weight of 164lbs., ten pounds above the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight limit and four pounds above the 160lb. Middleweight limit. Obviously, with the Alvarez-Chavez fight looming and depending on the outcome of that fight, there are lucrative options available for Alvarez outside of the Jr. Middleweight division. At minimum, the status of the WBO Jr. Middleweight world championship should be viewed as in limbo until after Alvarez-Chavez takes place. We will simply have to wait and see what options will be available to Andrade going forward and how the landscape of the Jr. Middleweight division will change in time.

Perhaps the most competitive fight that took place during the month of March was an encounter that took place on the undercard of Golovkin-Jacobs on March 18th between WBC Jr. Bantamweight world champion Roman Gonzalez and Wisaksil Wangek. In what was a grueling back toe to toe  battle,  Wangek  emerged victorious earning a twelve round majority decision to win the championship from Gonzalez, the fighter considered by many to be the best pound for pound fighter in the world. Although this observer felt Gonzalez won the fight as I scored the bout eight rounds to four or 115-111 in his favor, there were several close rounds in this fight that saw plenty of back and forth action. Gonzalez suffered a knockdown in the first round from a body shot by Wangek. Wangek was also penalized a point in round six as a result of a clash of heads that was ruled to be intentional by Referee Steve Willis.

Even though there were several “Swing Rounds” in this fight the key in my eyes might have been how one chose to score round six. Keeping the point deduction in mind, if one felt Wangek were winning the round prior to the point deduction it is logical to assume that a round that would have otherwise been scored 10-9 in favor of Wangek would be scored even 9-9 because of the point deduction. If one felt that Gonzalez was winning round six before the deduction against Wangek however, that round would be scored 10-8, which would negate the 10-8 round Wangek earned in round one because of the knockdown.

From my perspective, I scored round six 10-8 in favor of Gonzalez as part of a stretch where he won rounds two through eight on my scorecard before also winning the twelfth and final round.  Wangek meanwhile won rounds one, nine, ten, and eleven with the two fighters earning a 10-8 round in rounds one and six resulting in the 115-111 score in favor of Gonzalez on my scorecard.

For Wangek, who also goes by the name Srisaket  Sor Rungvisai, the win over Gonzalez earned him his second reign as WBC Jr. Bantamweight world champion after previously holding the championship from May 2013 to May 2014. Although some may have questioned the decision which made Wangek a two-time world champion, it was a great fight that like the others being discussed in this column could have gone either way.

One prospect who one might argue was put to his first significant test during the month of March was undefeated rising Middleweight prospect Jason Quigley, who earned a hard fought ten round unanimous decision over veteran contender Glen Tapia on March 23rd in Indio, CA. Quigley, who entered the fight with a record of 12-0, with 10 Knockouts started the bout strong, but appeared to have difficulty in the middle rounds as Tapia gradually worked his way into the fight. Even though Tapia was able to make the fight close in this observer’s eyes as the bout progressed as I ended up scoring the fight 96-94 or six rounds to four in favor of Quigley, all three judges turned in wide scores in favor of Quigley earning him the decision victory.

Although the overriding theme of the recent history of the sport seems to be close and competitive fights, there have also been statement making performances. Rising Jr. Lightweight prospect Leduan Barthelemy established himself as a fighter to watch with his March 28th stoppage victory over Reynaldo Blanco in Nice, CA. Barthelemy, who is undefeated in thirteen professional fights is the younger brother of undefeated two-division world champion Rances Barthelemy and displayed some of the characteristics of his older brother who held the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Jr. Lightweight world championship from July 2014 to February 2015. Leduan displayed a good mix of hand speed and punching power as he dominated a “Game”, but over matched Blanco before Blanco’s corner stopped the fight in the ninth round. It will be interesting to see going forward if Leduan will be able to move himself into a position where he could challenge for a world championship in the near future. This performance will likely draw some to compare him with his older brother Rances, who won his first world championship in his twenty-first professional fight in his second encounter with Argenis Mendez,

It is important to remember that each fighter has their own path as they attempt to climb the ladder of contention and determining when a fighter is ready to challenge for a world championship can be a difficult task for a fighter’s handlers. For now, Leduan Barthelemy could be approaching the point where he might be ready to test the waters to see if he can make the transition from rising prospect to a world title contender.

This brings us back to what may be in store for Gennady Golovkin and Daniel Jacobs going forward. In the weeks since the bout took place, I have thought of a few scenarios that might be available to both fighters. One scenario for the champion Golovkin most would say would be to look to defend his world championship against Saul Alvarez assuming that Alvarez is successful in his bout against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6th. Even though this option might be the most lucrative on the table for Golovkin, another possibility which could be option to him would be to fully unify the Middleweight division by looking to face Billy Joe Saunders, the undefeated WBO world champion who stands as the lone obstacle between Golovkin and the Undisputed Middleweight championship of the world. 

What might be interesting however, is if Jacobs might be a potential option for Saunders as it is not uncommon to see a fighter who loses a close decision in a challenge for a world championship receive another opportunity against another world champion in the division. Jacobs did put forth an impressive performance against Golovkin and did create an element of doubt in regard to the outcome of a Gennady Golovkin championship defense and should be considered a viable option for anyone in the Middleweight division.

Given the close decision that was rendered in the Golovkin-Jacobs bout, this observer feels the best option available to both fighter as could also be said for Broner-Granados, Culcay-Andrade, Gonzalez-Wangek, and Quigley-Tapia would be for a rematch between the two to take place. Although there was no rematch clause for the Golovkin-Jacobs bout, public interest could fuel demand for a rematch between the two with the storyline of whether or not Golovkin can validate what some might feel was a questionable decision that went in his favor in a would be second encounter with Jacobs, who is more than deserving of a second opportunity against a fighter who has carved out what this observer has called a path of destruction through the Middleweight division. Jacobs not only took Golovkin the full twelve round championship distance for the first time in his career, not only ended Golovkin’s twenty-three fight knockout streak, but also gave the champion what should be viewed as a legitimate scare. This warrants a rematch.

2017 has thus far proven to be an extremely competitive year for the sport of Boxing. We now will see what is in store in April. If the first three months of the year are any indication, April could continue to provide the type of competition and excitement that the sport thrives off of. It should be fun to watch.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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