Monday, August 7, 2017

Observations On Recent Events In Boxing July 2017

The month of July in the sport of Boxing was highlighted by several fights that shined the light on the sport’s international scene. Of course, much of the discussion over the last few weeks centered on what some see as a controversy when future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO Welterweight world championship to undefeated number one contender Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia on July 1st. There were however, other bouts that took place throughout the course of the month that should be discussed. 

The first of these bouts also took place on July 1st as longtime Heavyweight contender Alexander Povetkin returned to the ring to face Andriy Rudenko in Moscow, Russia. This was Povetkin’s first fight since knocking out former world title challenger Johann Duhaupas in December of last year. A fight where Duhaupas entered the bout on short notice after Povetkin’s original opponent Bermane Stiverne withdrew from the fight following Povetkin testing positive for the banned substance Osterine.   Povetkin was subsequently suspended by the World Boxing Council (WBC) and prohibited from participating in WBC sanctioned fights indefinitely after previously testing positive for the banned substance Meldonium earlier in 2016 prior to Povetkin’s scheduled fight against undefeated WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder.

Despite the WBC suspension, the ruling does not have the ability to prevent Povetkin from continuing on with his career. This was a fight that seemed as though it would end before it really could begin as Rudenko suffered an injury shortly after the beginning of the bout as midway through the first round following a brief clinch Rudenko appeared to crack his neck and sustained an injury in the process. Even though it appeared the fight would be stopped due to the neck injury after several minutes of a delay, Rudenko was able to continue the combat.

Although Rudenko was quite “Game” and deserves all the credit he receives for being able to fight on, Povetkin’s quicker hands and combination punching was the story of this fight as he boxed his way to a convincing twelve round unanimous decision.  With the win Povetkin, who has previously held interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Heavyweight ratings earned the WBA Continental and WBO International Heavyweight titles, which in simple terms means it will elevate Povetkin’s positioning in both the World Boxing Association (WBA) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) respective Heavyweight ratings.

Although Povetkin will likely have to contend with some stigma from the two infractions that have been ruled against him with regard to the use of banned substances, Povetkin is still a contender in the Heavyweight division. It will be what he does going forward that will determine not only if he can get back in the hunt for an opportunity at a world championship, but more importantly if the two infractions will ultimately put a question mark on his career.

One of the more interesting highlights of July came on July 15th as IBO Super-Middleweight world champion Chris Eubank Jr. made the first defense of his crown against former two-division world champion Arthur Abraham at the SSE Arena Wembley in London, England. Readers might recall in previewing this bout, this observer stated that the champion Eubank had all the theoretical advantages in his favor. Youth, hand speed, an unorthodox style, punching power, and was capable of ending a fight with either hand.

The primary question going into this fight was how the challenger Abraham would combat Eubank given the champion’s advantages and having good lateral movement, a component that along with hand speed has caused Abraham problems throughout his career.  Despite having an experience edge over the champion, Abraham was unable to land anything significant and spent most of the fight on the defensive as Eubank dominated the championship bout and scored a twelve round unanimous decision to retain his IBO world championship.

Eubank simply did what he had to do against an experienced former champion. What was significant beyond Eubank being able to successfully defend his crown for the first time was with the victory Eubank earned a spot in the upcoming World Boxing Super Series Super-Middleweight tournament. A single elimination tournament, which will also include WBA world champion George Groves and will also determine a new World Boxing Council (WBC) Super-Middleweight world champion. A championship that is currently vacant.

Eubank will defend his IBO world championship in the first round against top Super-Middleweight contender Avni Yildirim at a date yet to be determined. Although this observer looks forward to providing more insight as the first World Boxing Super Series, which will also include a single-elimination Cruiserweight tournament, draws closer, the winner of the Super-Middleweight tournament will become the central figure in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division. It is an intriguing tournament concept that could provide fireworks and I hope it is something that will prove to be beneficial for the sport in the long-term.

The third significant bout that took place in the month of July took place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. An intriguing battle between multi-division world champions Mikey Garcia and Adrien Broner fought at the Jr. Welterweight limit of 140lbs. Going into this fight, I expected to see a tactical battle given that both Garcia and Broner are boxer/punchers, who are both highly skilled counter punchers.

What was immediately noticeable to this observer was Broner elected to use more lateral movement in this encounter than had been the case in previous fights. Rather than standing in the pocket and looking to deflect punches with a style that uses a shoulder roll defense, similar to future Hall of Famer Floyd Mayweather’s Boxing style, and looking to counter punch, Broner appeared as though he was trying to change his approach early on. Whether or not this change in tactics was due to facing a naturally aggressive fighter with quick hands in Garcia is a question that only Adrien Broner can answer, but it became clear as the fight progressed that the change was not working in the former four-division world champion’s favor.

This was due to Garcia applying consistent pressure, positioning himself in ways where it was difficult for Broner to counter effectively, and his ability to be tactical in how he placed his punches. Although he was not always aggressive in every minute of every round, Garcia’s performance in this fight is something that could be used as an illustration of the difference between what is mere aggression and what is effective aggression.

Despite being able to be effective in spots as the fight progressed, almost anything Broner was able to land Garcia had an answer for as I scored this fight ten rounds to two or 118-110 in points in Garcia’s favor. What is an interesting question coming out of this fight is what might be the potential options for the undefeated three-division world champion Garcia. Although Garcia was impressive in what was his debut as a 140lb. Jr. Welterweight, he still holds the WBC world championship in the 135lb. Lightweight division and one might think that the question of where he fights next in terms of weight class might come down to what is the most lucrative option available for him rather than a question of whether he could make the 135lb. Lightweight limit.

In this observer’s eyes, I believe a viable option for Garcia could be to possibly face the winner of the upcoming unification bout that will for the first time determine an undisputed world champion in the Jr. Welterweight division as WBO/WBC world champion Terence Crawford will meet IBO/IBF/WBA world champion Julius Indongo on August 19th in Lincoln, NE. If one were to assume that Garcia will not be looking to go back down in weight to the Lightweight division, an encounter with the winner of this fight is one that would make sense for both the newly crowned undisputed Jr. Welterweight world champion as well as Garcia given his star status in the sport. 

Of course, whenever there is the possibility of a unification bout or in this case full unification of a world championship, there is always the question of what the mandatory championship defense obligations for the undisputed champion will be among the respective sanctioning organizations that comprise a unified or “Undisputed” world championship. It remains to be seen where Garcia off of his victory over Adrien Broner will be ranked if he opts to remain in the Jr. Welterweight division, but along with the question regarding mandatory championship defenses that surround a unified or undisputed world champion in the aftermath of a unification bout, the inevitable question among Boxing fans is usually who in their estimation is the next legitimate challenger for the champion.  Although there is certainly no shortage of top challengers in the traditionally talent deep Jr. Welterweight division, some may believe Garcia is that challenger after his impressive performance against Broner.

As the month of August has begun, the question will be what will follow. With the full unification of the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division and World Boxing Super Series looming as well as some interesting possibilities that exist in the Heavyweight division, there will be no shortage of stories in Boxing in the remainder of 2017.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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