Sunday, October 13, 2019

October 11-12, 2019 Weekend Thoughts

Following a fight of the year candidate between Gennady Golovkin and Sergiy Derevyanchenko, which kicked off the month of October in the sport of Boxing, the second weekend of the month also provided some intrigue. While the weekend began with an upset of sorts that saw Cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy score a split decision victory over previously undefeated prospect Fabio Turchi, the two days of action also featured the return of a former world champion as well as a highly anticipated Heavyweight debut.

This column will cover some of the action from what was a full weekend of Boxing. Former two-time Light-Heavyweight world champion Chad Dawson returned to the ring for the second time since returning from a two year layoff on Friday, October 11th as he faced former North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Light-Heavyweight champion Denis Grachev at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, CT. Dawson, who scored an eight round unanimous decision over Quinton Rankin in June is attempting to rebuild his career after some notable setbacks. While the subject of his career can be discussed more thoroughly in a column of its own, most Boxing aficionados will likely regard Dawson as one of the top Light-Heavyweights of the last decade.

What is always of interest when any fighter, especially a former world champion returns to the ring following a lengthy absence is to see what effects the time out of competition will have on the fighter. Another term that is often used to describe those potential effects is “Ring Rust.”

At his best, Dawson is a compact boxer/puncher with a good mix of hand speed and punching power. In Denis Grachev, Dawson faced a veteran of twenty-eight professional fights, who was also known for his durability and reputation to be a difficult opponent. Although some might think that facing a fighter of Grachev’s caliber was a risky move for a fighter in Dawson’s position so soon in a comeback, it would provide a good evaluation of exactly where Dawson is at this stage of the comeback before possibly taking a step towards world championship contention.

Dawson’s performance in this fight can best be described as a fighter going through the motions as he gradually outworked Grachev over eight rounds to earn a lopsided unanimous decision. Grachev simply could not find a way ti get into a rhythm. Although he attempted to pressure Dawson throughout, he was inconsistent with his offense. While there was not much to say about this fight, it did serve the purpose of keeping Dawson active in his second fight in four months.

Who Dawson’s next opponent will be remains to be seen, but the win also earned Dawson the United States Boxing Council (USBC) Light-Heavyweight championship. Even though some Boxing fans and critics of the sport might scoff at the fact that Boxing has no shortage of titles at various levels, a title like a USBC title, which has an affiliation with the World Boxing Council (WBC) does serve the purpose of getting a fighter into the world rankings.Whether or not Dawson will be in the discussion for a potential world title shot  in the near future also remains to be seen. Though Dawson certainly has name recognition clout, the key in this observer’s eyes will be for Dawson to remain as active as possible much as it is for virtually every fighter that attempts a comeback. With two wins under his belt, it will be interesting to see how Dawson progresses going forward.

This brings us to the much-anticipated Heavyweight debut of undefeated former Undisputed World Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. Usyk, who was supposed to make his debut earlier this year was sidelined by torn right biceps, which delayed his Heavyweight prospects nearly exactly five months to the day of this fight on October 12th at the Wintrust Area in Chicago, IL. If being sidelined by an injury were not frustrating enough for Usyk, he also had to deal with two changes in opposition for his Heavyweight debut. Usyk’s original opponent, former Heavyweight world title challenger Carlos Takam opted to take his career in a different direction, which included signing with a new promoter rather than waiting for Usyk’s injury to heal and for the fight to be rescheduled. Usyk’s next signed opponent undefeated Heavyweight and former Kickboxing world champion Tyrome Spong fell out early in the week of the fight when it was revealed that he had tested positive for a banned testosterone boosting substance in pre-fight testing. Despite Spong’s protest of the result an accusation that the result was somehow an effort by those associated with Usyk and/or his promoter Eddie Hearn to use as a way to avoid fighting him, the bottom line was Spong was out. The third signed opponent ultimately proved to be the charm. Enter longtime contender Chazz Witherspoon.

The thirty-eight year old Witherspoon took the fight on only a few days notice. Although Witherspoon did not have much time to prepare, he was a Heavyweight of considerable size and appeared to be someone that would allow Usyk to test the waters at Heavyweight. What most would view as a red flag was that, despite Witherspoon’s long-standing as a respectable Heavyweight, he had failed in previous bouts against fighters who were deemed to be top contenders at the time including against former world title challengers Chris Arreola and Tony Thompson. This along with limited time to prepare for a fighter who is regarded as one of the top in the entire sport made many including this observer wonder what kind of fight we would see.

Although Witherspoon seemed to hold his own against Usyk for a time primarily by being defensive, it did not take long before Usyk’s hand speed, angles, and overall skill set began to show as Usyk battered Witherspoon over seven mostly one-sided rounds before Witherspoon stopped the fight after round seven, resigning in his corner.

Even though this was not the type of fight that some might have wanted to see Usyk in for his Heavyweight debut, the former Cruiserweight champion, who by way of his previously holding the undisputed championship in the division, which included the World Boxing Organization (WBO) crown has earned him the mandatory position as the WBO’s number one Heavyweight contender, which puts him in line to challenge the winner of the upcoming rematch between unified WBO/WBA/IBF/IBO world champion Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua. Whether or not that fight will indeed happen in 2020 for Usyk is likely to be debated because there are also other mandatory defense obligations in the other organizations that comprise the unified world championship that may have an impact on when Usyk gets that opportunity.

While yours truly would want to conclude this column by discussing the performances of undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol, and unified Women’s Jr. Welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill, who successfully retained their world championships with decision wins on this card in detail , the story of this evening of Boxing in Chicago was the unfortunate tragic circumstances involving Jr. Middleweight contender Patrick Day, who suffered a severe knockout loss in the tenth round of his fight against undefeated United States Boxing Association (USBA) champion Charles Conwell.

Day held his own throughout the ten round bout. Although he had suffered two knockdowns over the course of the fight, Day had turned in a good performance in what had the appearance of a fight that would go the distance. As can happen in combat sports, the bout would instead come to a sudden end as Day was floored for a third and final time midway through the round. Conwell connected with a left hook to the jaw that sent Day down and out cold on the canvas. Day hit the back of his head on the canvas as he went down and was down for several minutes before being removed from the ring on a stretcher and immediately rushed to nearby Northwestern Memorial Hospital. The broadcast team of DAZN, who broadcast the card provided updates on Day’s condition throughout the remainder of the evening revealing that he had not regained consciousness while being transported to an ambulance at the arena and had also suffered a seizure. This would be followed by news that Day had been placed on a breathing tube at the hospital and news in the late night hours that he had undergone emergency brain surgery. As of this writing Day remains in a coma and is reported to be in critical condition according to several outlets who cover the sport including Fightnews, Boxingscene, and ESPN.

While one should not jump to conclusions, the situation regarding Patrick Day serves as another reminder of how dangerous combat sports can be and why every fighter who enters the ring deserves respect from the fans of the sport for the risk they take each time they enter the ring. It is not something to take lightly. My thoughts and prayers go out to Patrick Day and his family.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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