Thursday, December 6, 2018

Two Former World Champions Begin The Road Back

It can at times be a cliché, but there are two stages of a fighter’s career that most fans of the sport of Boxing can say they are familiar with. The first stage is a fighter’s rise through the ranks toward an eventual challenge for a world championship. This is a part of a boxer's career that can and often is chronicled by Boxing writers/journalists like yours truly.

For many fighters who fulfill their goal in becoming world champion, there is often a second stage that will occur at some point in a fighter’s career that can generate as much interest as a fighter's initial rise. The comeback. On November 30th two former world champions began their respective roads back to contention in the sport. Former WBO Welterweight world champion Jeff Horn and former WBO Jr. Welterweight world champion Chris Algieri.

 Horn, who was coming off of losing his world championship in June of this year in being stopped by undefeated multi-division world champion Terence Crawford in nine rounds. For his first fight since that loss, Horn returned to the site of where he became world champion in July of last year when he scored a twelve round decision over future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao, Suncorp Stadium in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia.

In addition to returning to the ring, Horn was debuting in a new weight class. The 160lb. Middleweight division a weight class that is thirteen pounds above the 147lb. Welterweight division. Two obvious question that is asked of boxers that move up in weight is how they will respond to being hit at the heavier weight and whether or not they will carry power in the new weight class.  Horn's first opponent on his comeback came in the form of former International Boxing Organization (IBO) Middleweight world champion Anthony Mundine.

Mundine, who has been one of the cornerstones of the Australian Boxing scene was many years, has faced several notable names throughout his career including Danny Green, Shane Mosley, Sam Soliman, and Joshua Clottey among others was in the midst of a comeback attempt of his own. The forty-three year old returned to the ring in January of this year following a year layoff to stop Tommy Browne in two rounds in Sydney, Australia.

Although Mundine had more than enough experience competing at a heavier weight than Horn, the fight was over almost as quickly as it began. Horn stunned Mundine with a flush overhand right and then ended the fight by landing a flush left hook to the chin of Mundine, sending the former champion down and out on the canvas. There simply is not much one can write about an encounter that lasts only 1:36.

Even though not many questions were answered in this fight in regard to Horn, it does open some interesting possibilities if Horn chooses to remain in the Middleweight division. Horn, who won a pair of regional championships in both the WBA and WBO Middleweight rankings with his victory over Mundine, could theoretically be moved up the rankings due to his name recognition clout that he earned whether disputed or not in his victory over Manny Pacquiao last year.

In what is an already crowded Middleweight division, it will be interesting if Horn does indeed stay at 160lbs. to see who he faces next. Although there is clearly no shortage of notable names in the Middleweight division currently, an aspect that one should take into consideration when discussing any potential options for Horn or pretty much any notable fighter who is currently under a promotional contract is the ongoing changing landscape in terms of broadcasting in the sport. Horn, who since his victory over Manny Pacquiao has been featured in the United States on ESPN it’s digital streaming network ESPN+ is perhaps likely to remain as a featured fighter on their network and streaming platform at least in terms of the near future. What could change that if Horn remains in the Middleweight division is a sizable portion of world champions and top contenders in the division are now being prominently featured on the DAZN digital streaming network and thus contracts involving rival promoters and competing streaming platforms could become an issue in any potential fights that could be made.

It should be no secret to longtime readers and/or those who have followed this observer’s work in recent years that I am very much in favor of the shift the sport is making toward subscription-based digital streaming options over traditional cable/satellite networks and the pay-per-view medium. While I do not intend to get too much into why I feel this way as I have discussed it frequently in recent times and will continue to do so in the future, as beneficial as low cost subscription-based options will be for consumers in the long-term and as beneficial in terms of opening up greater access in terms of content to that consumer via Over The Top (OTT) digital distribution as compared to the traditional television mediums, a roadblock that will remain an issue in the sport could be the issue of promoters and networks/platforms having a reluctance to work together to make fights that the public wants to see a reality.

One can only hope that with the amounts of money that has been invested in recent times by digital streaming networks and those networks who are trying to serve both the ever emerging digital transition as well as the traditional mediums that remain, that the promoters and networks involved will see the value in hopefully using those investments to make the best fights possible for the Boxing fan. For fighters like Jeff Horn, the benefit will hopefully be an opportunity to face the best competition available.

The second former world champion who stepped back into the ring on November 30th was former WBO Jr. Welterweight world champion Chris Algieri. Algieri, who won the WBO Jr. Welterweight crown in June 2014 as an undefeated top contender in defeating former champion Ruslan Provodnikov, did not defend his crown. Instead, Algieri moved up to challenge then WBO Welterweight world champion Manny Pacquiao in November of that year losing a twelve round unanimous decision and his unbeaten record.

Algieri remained in the 147lb. Welterweight division after his loss to Pacquiao, but did not have the same success as he had enjoyed as a 140lb. Jr. Welterweight winning only one fight in four total bouts in the division. After suffering a knockout loss to Errol Spence, who has since gone on to become one of the Welterweight world champions in the division in April 2016, Algieri spent two and a half years out of competition. For the former Jr. Welterweight world champion, who also held Kickboxing world championships at Welterweight and Jr. Middleweight, his road back began at the Paramount Theatre in his hometown of Huntington, NY.

Algieri made his return by going back to the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division to face veteran Angel Hernandez. Hernandez, a journeyman, who was a veteran of twenty-seven professional bouts going into this fight seemed to be an opponent that would provide some resistance for Algieri in his first fight back after a two and a half year layoff.

To his credit, Hernandez did apply consistent pressure on Algieri from the outset of the fight and never stopped coming forward. This did not deter Algieri, who out boxed Hernandez over ten rounds to earn a unanimous decision victory. Although this fight could be best described as one that served the purpose of working off ring rust for Algieri, I was impressed with his lateral movement and combination punching throughout the bout.

What will be of interest to this observer going forward is the path that Algieri takes coming out of this fight. Despite having some setbacks when he moved up to the 147lb. Welterweight division, Algieri is still a highly skilled boxer who is capable of providing a difficult fight for just about anyone in the Jr. Welterweight division.  The only question might be whether Algieri will choose the gradual path in fighting against fighters who are not considered contenders to continue to work off the rest that accumulates from a long stretch of inactivity, or if he will look to face a fighter who might be rated in the top fifteen of one of the sport’s respective sanctioning organizations in the Jr. Welterweight division for his next fight with the goal of attempting to position himself for a potential world title shot in the not too distant future.

Boxing is a sport with no shortage of interesting back stories and storylines that continue to evolve over time. The comeback stories of Jeff Horn and Chris Algieri are the latest in a long line of fighters who have attempted comebacks with the goal of once again becoming world champion. As each fighter prepares for the next step in their respective comebacks, it will be interesting to see how both progress over time.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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