Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Thoughts On Kovalev-Yarde And Estrada-Beamon

The day of August 24, 2019 in the sport of Boxing featured two world championship fights in the Light-Heavyweight and Jr. Bantamweight divisions. The first of these bouts took place at the Traktor Sport Palace in Chelyabinsk, Russia as three-time World Light-Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev made the first defense of his third reign as a world champion against undefeated WBO number one Light-Heavyweight contender Anthony Yarde. Despite this being a well-matched encounter style wise between two fighters who are known as “Knockout Artists “, this turned out to be a somewhat surprising tactical battle.

The champion controlled most of the first half of the fight working behind a consistent jab and mixing in combinations. While Kovalev’s approach was not unlike the strategy he used in regaining the WBO Light-Heavyweight world championship in a twelve round unanimous decision win over Elieder Alvarez earlier this year, what impressed me was how he kept his calm and was not overly aggressive. Periodic body punches from Yarde however, gradually took effect on the the champion.

It was the sporadic body work Yarde was able to establish that created an opening in round eight when a hook to the body set off a barrage of punches that staggered Kovalev. Although Kovalev did not go down and was able to survive the assault that the challenger had dished out, it was Yarde’s best round in a fight that he was not consistent in terms of activity and at times appeared frustrated due to the tactics implemented by the champion.

Despite the ebb and flow appearing to shift in Yarde’s favor, Kovalev was able to bounce back by regaining control of the fight in the ninth round and brought the fight to a conclusion by knocking Yarde down for the count with a half jab/half left hook to successfully retain his world championship. While Kovalev survived an onslaught by Yarde in the eighth round, he also produced another impressive performance by being a tactical boxer and not necessarily a seek and destroy “Knockout Artist.” There was also a questionable moment in between rounds eight and nine that will be discussed along with what might be in the champion’s future later in this column.

The second world title fight that took place was a battle for the WBC Jr. Bantamweight world championship between two-division world champion Juan Francisco Estrada defending his recently won WBC crown against WBC number fourteen rated contender Dwayne Beamon at the Multiple Use Center in Sonora, MX. This was Estrada’s first defense of the WBC crown that he won earlier this year in his second fight against former champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. What was of interest to me about this fight centered around how Estrada would do in his first fight since the rematch with Sor Rungvisai. Although Estrada did not fight Sor Rungvisai in back to back fights, the two bouts between the two were grueling battles and also served to shine the light on Boxing’s lower weight divisions. In regard to the latter, though Boxing’s lower weight classes have always seemed to be hit or miss with regard to television network coverage here in the United States, specifically amongst the traditional cable/satellite television medium, the lower weight classes the sport has to offer has been given a platform on digital sports streaming networks such as DAZN and ESPN+.

What this fight also had was a bit of the element of the unknown as Beamon was a relative unknown, but did enter the encounter with Estrada having won sixteen of his previous eighteen professional fights. The question that is usually posed when a relatively unknown contender gets an opportunity to fight for a world championship is one with two parts.

Part one how will the fighter deal with facing a fighter who in all likelihood has a significant edge in terms of overall experience and more specifically, experience at or near the top of the sport. This is followed by part two of the question, how will said fighter handle the atmosphere of fighting for a world championship for the first time. The latter part of the question is one that many world-class fighters eventually have to answer. In this case, this two-part question was certainly valid to ask, especially given that of his sixteen previous wins, only five of those bouts came against fighters that one could consider as having winning records. Beamon’s one previous loss also came again a fighter by the name of Martin Tecuapetia, who has a record of 13-9-4, with 10 Knockouts.

Although some may view this as a red flag, it should be noted that the loss for Beamon in August of last year was a split decision that he was able to avenge in a rematch two months later. Nevertheless, the loss coupled with a lack of overall notable opposition did make this observer question whether or not Beamon would be ready to fight for a world championship. Although Beamon was very aggressive and attempted to bring the fight to Estrada, the difference in both experience and overall skill was apparent early on.

Estrada was credited with two knockdowns in round two. The first, which I did not believe should have been ruled a knockdown came when the two fighters legs appeared to get tangled while Estrada was throwing a punch. This turned out to be academic as Estrada scored a second knockdown of Beamon moments later. Despite his aggressiveness, Beamon at times appeared clumsy and this seemed to play into Estrada’s hands. Even though Estrada was in control of the combat for most of the fight, there were periods where he chose to showboat for the crowd in attendance and taunt the challenger.

While this may have been in response to some taunting coming from Beamon, I feel such tactics are unnecessary and do not do a fighter the caliber of Estrada any good. The opinion of this observer notwithstanding, Estrada did put forth an impressive performance overall and was able to stop the very “Game” Beamon in the ninth round to retain his WBC world championship.

As for what’s next for Estrada, it would not surprise me to see a third encounter with
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Each fighter has won one fight each and both of those bouts were competitive. Though it is rare to say that anything regarding how fights are made is simple, given that the two fighters together were able to garner more attention for some of the sport’s lower weight divisions than had previously been the case, a third fight between the two makes all the sense in the world.

Now we return to the subject of Sergey Kovalev. Although he was able to weather the storm in the eighth round of his victory over Anthony Yarde, it cannot and should not be ignored what occurred in his corner between rounds eight and nine. Kovalev’s trainer former world champion Buddy McGirt told his fighter that if he did not show him something in the ninth round that he was going to stop the fight. McGirt stated that he felt the champion was taking too many punches.

Although it is not uncommon for a trainer to say such things, it should be noted that McGirt, who has gone on to have a Hall of Fame career as a trainer after having one as a fighter winning world titles in multiple divisions, was also in the corner of Maxim Dadashev, who died as a result of injuries he suffered in his fight against Subriel Matias nearly one month to the day of Kovalev’s fight against Anthony Yarde. Some might question why McGirt, who was praised by many including this observer for stopping the Dadashev fight, when Dadashev wanted to continue, would threaten to stop this fight involving Sergey Kovalev.

It should not be overlooked that despite his pleas of wanting to fight on, Dadashev collapsed while attempting to leave the ring after the fight was stopped. While some might also question given the circumstances of Dadeshev’s passing whether McGirt should have been working in the corner so soon after the tragedy, his threat to stop the Kovalev-Yarde fight did succeed in getting his fighter to get back to his fight plan and ultimately successfully defend his championship. Only Buddy McGirt can say what he was thinking, but the man has earned a reputation as one of the best and most sought after trainers in the sport. More important than that and his own accomplishments as a fighter, McGirt cares for his fighters and no one should question his concern for the well-being of his fighters.

As for what’s next for Kovalev, he has stated that he wants to fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez next. Sergey Kovalev still has the name recognition clout to attract lucrative fights. The question may be whether Alvarez is willing to move up two weight classes from where he currently sits as a unified Middleweight world champion to challenge Kovalev in the Light-Heavyweight division. Something that will likely be answered in time.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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