Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thoughts On Recent Action December 12th-14th, 2019 Plus Preview Of Jacobs-Chavez

As the year 2019 begins to wind down a question that will surround the Boxing cards remaining on the schedule, much like some of the notable events in recent months, is which fighters will be able to set themselves up for lucrative opportunities in the new year. The extended weekend of December 12th-14th provided several bouts ranging from the European championship level, to rising contenders, and finally two world championship fights featuring fighters who are all likely to see lucrative opportunities in 2020.  As an added feature, this column will conclude with a short preview of the December 20th Super-Middleweight bout between former Middleweight world champions Daniel Jacobs and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

First, a look back at a stretch of cards began on Thursday, December 12th in Barcelona, Spain. The card, which was the first for the rapidly expanding Matchroom Boxing Spain promotional branch, featured two European championship fights in Boxing's Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight divisions. The first of these bouts saw current European Welterweight champion and longtime contender David Avanesyan, who was making the second defense of the European championship he won in March of this year against Jose Del Rio of Spain. 

Avanesyan, who is best known for his win over future Hall of Famer Shane Mosley in May 2016, made short work of Del Rio dropping him in the first round with a left hook to the body that sent the former Spanish Welterweight champion Del Rio down and unable to beat the count. Although there was not much to say about this fight beyond a European champion simply seeing his opening and taking full advantage of it, the thirty-one year old Avanesyan showed that he is still a viable contender on the world level after winning the European championship and successfully defending it twice. In most cases, those who win the championship of the European Boxing Union (EBU), the sport’s original European championship, often use it as a way to springboard themselves into a world championship fight.

Avanesyan, who has previously held interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association (WBA) Welterweight ratings could find himself back in contention for an opportunity at a world championship in 2020. More on who Avanesyan might face later in this column. 

The second European championship fight that took place on this card in Barcelona saw current Jr. Welterweight champion Sandor Martin make his first defense of the European crown against former British and European Jr. Welterweight champion Joe Hughes. Martin used effective movement and consistent combination punching to out work Hughes over the course of twelve rounds to earn a convincing unanimous decision victory. While this frankly was not the most entertaining bout, Martin’s overall skill was enjoyable to watch. It was particularly impressive to see how well he was able to deal with Hughes’ steady pressure. 

Although Hughes had some moments throughout the fight, particularly when he was able to land to Martin’s body, he was simply unable to nullify the champion’s ability to move and get his punches off first consistently enough to have sustainable success throughout the fight. As far as what’s next for both fighters it is difficult to say.

Even though Martin is in a position of being European champion in the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division where it theoretically puts him in line to test the waters of the world rankings, his style is not necessarily crowd pleasing and this could create some difficulty in terms of securing fights against opposition that might view facing him as a high risk/low reward scenario that is at times not taken unless said fighter with the non-crowd pleasing style happens to be a world champion. 

Martin’s approach in that style is nevertheless effective and if he can continue to succeed against world rated opposition, the difficulty he may face initially in getting fights will only last for so long. For Joe Hughes, it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back. The silver lining in this defeat was he was simply out boxed and was not in a situation where he was hurt. So, the task will be to get Hughes back from this loss. Whether or not that might occur on the British and Commonwealth level remains to be seen, but it would also not surprise me to see Hughes potentially challenge for one of the world sanctioning organization’s own version of the European championship and if he can succeed there, it just might provide a route to work himself into the world rankings.

This brings us back to the Welterweight division where fast rising undefeated prospect Vergil Ortiz saw action on December 13th when he faced Brad Solomon at Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino in Indio, CA. Ortiz, who entered the bout unbeaten in fourteen previous professional bouts had also scored knockouts against every opponent he has faced as a professional including in his last bout against Antonio Orozco in September of this year.

 An obvious question that is asked when a fighter with a resume like Ortiz begins to step up in the caliber of opposition is whether or not an opponent will be able to extend that boxer into the middle and late rounds of a fight. Orozco, who had only been defeated once in twenty-nine previous bouts was able to extend Ortiz into the sixth round of their fight, but sustained punishment in the process before ultimately being knocked out. Solomon, like Orozco brought a similar record into the ring having suffered only one defeat in twenty-nine previous bouts, but was not known for his punching power having scored knockouts in eight of his twenty-eight career wins. Based on this, it was logical to question whether Solomon would be able to withstand Ortiz’ power as the fight progressed.

As expected the difference in punching power was evident as Solomon tried to use his movement to evade the steady pressure of Ortiz. Despite having some moments fighting out of a somewhat awkward style and landing some combinations periodically, Solomon was unable to land anything to discourage Ortiz from coming forward and when Ortiz landed offense, his punches appeared to have more effect. 

The consistency of Ortiz in being able to walk Solomon down and land a significant portion of his offense to the body eventually paid off as he was able to score a knockdown of Solomon with a stiff jab in the fourth round. Having clearly felt Ortiz’ power, Solomon was unable to recover and in round five the unbeaten twenty-one year old  native of Dallas, TX was able to score two more knockdowns of Solomon to earn the stoppage. More on the potential options for Vergil Ortiz in 2020 later in this column.

Now we come to the two world championship fights that took place on December 14th at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY in Boxing’s Lightweight and Welterweight divisions. The first of these world championship bouts was a highly anticipated bout for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Lightweight world championship between champion Richard Commey and undefeated number one contender Teofimo Lopez. 

The primary question I had going into this fight was a simple, but also complex one depending on one’s perspective. Teofimo Lopez, much like many prospects throughout the entire sport before him, emerged rather quickly on the Boxing scene due largely to his ability to score exciting knockouts. Although the native of Brooklyn, NY had compiled an impressive record of 14,0 with 12 Knockouts prior to challenging Commey for his IBF crown, it was reasonable to wonder if it would be too much, too soon for the twenty-two year old Lopez or if he would become part of a select group of fighters to have won a world championship in under twenty l fights as a professional boxer. 

As has been the case when fighters have challenged for a world championship under circumstances similar to Lopez, he found himself at an experience disadvantage in facing Commey. The champion had thirty-one professional bouts going into this fight and had only lost twice previously in his career. Both of those losses came in split decisions that many felt should have gone his way.

It was nevertheless interesting to see if Commey could deal with a fighter with the type of punching power that Lopez has demonstrated in his three year career. After a tactical and uneventful first round, we would get our answers in round two. Lopez connected with a short straight right hand to the head of Commey that sent the champion down. Though he was badly staggered, Commey was able to get to his feet, but Lopez sensing he had his opponent in trouble went in for the finish and after a barrage of punches the fight was stopped.  Teofimo Lopez had successfully skyrocketed from hot rising prospect, to top contender, to a world champion in such a short length of time.  While Lopez now adds his name to the history book of Boxing as the first world champion of Honduran descent and also adds his name to the exclusive group of boxers to have won a world championship in under twenty fights as a world championship joining names such as Leon Spinks, Michael Moorer, and Vasyl Lomachenko.

Ironically, it appears that the next option for Lopez for his first title defense might come in a unification bout against Lomachenko, who currently holds the WBC, WBA, and WBO world championships in the 135lb. Lightweight division. Both fighters are promoted by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum's Top Rank, Inc. so, the bout would appear to face less obstacles in being made than what is typically the norm for unification bouts. A fight between the two also would bring a unique event in Boxing history if it were to take place in 2020.

With the world championship of the International Boxing Organization (IBO) currently vacant in the Lightweight division, a fight between Lomachenko and Lopez would not only be for the Undisputed Lightweight world championship, but it would also be the first time in history in this observer’s recollection that an undisputed world championship would be determined between two fights who have each have not fought twenty bouts as a professional. Assuming that the IBO were to also sanction the fight to fill its vacancy at 135lbs., it would create a scenario that has never been done before under these circumstances and likely may not happen again for a significant period of time. From a business perspective, the fight would be ideal for Top Rank's existing broadcast deal with ESPN for the network’s ESPN+ digital streaming network as a further step for not only Top Rank, but also the sport as a whole in broadcasting a fight normally reserved for an increasingly outdated and overpriced medium of pay-per-view, on a digital streaming network platform that in a little over a year of existence has established a subscriber base of over four million subscribers. Whether or not a fight between the two will happen in the immediate future is unknown, but in this observer’s eyes the time to make the fight is appropriate given the historical significance it would bring to the sport.

The second world title bout to take place at Madison Square Garden on December 14th saw undefeated multi-division world champion Terence Crawford make the third defense of his WBO Welterweight world championship against undefeated WBO number one contender Egidijus Kavaliauskas.

Crawford, who has firmly established himself as one of Boxing’s top stars having won world championships in three different weight classes has found himself in a predicament that is unfortunately not uncommon in the current landscape of the sport. With rival promoters holding exclusive broadcast agreements with competing networks and with those promoters having the other world champions in his division on their respective rosters, it has put Crawford in a position of for lack of a better term an odd fighter out. 

In his last fight, Crawford successfully retained his WBO crown by stopping former Jr. Welterweight world champion Amir Khan in six rounds in April of this year also in Madison Square Garden. This fight against Egidijus Kavaliauskas brought an element of the unknown. 

Despite being unbeaten in twenty-two previous bouts and holding the North American Boxing Federation (NABF) championship in the Welterweight division and twice representing his native Lithuania in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Kavaliauskas was largely unknown by many fans prior to this bout and an obvious question was what challenge would he bring into the ring against the champion. While it was the expectation of some that Crawford would try to walk through Kavaliauskas, it was important to keep in mind that Kavaliauskas did get to the mandatory position in the WBO rankings and regardless of his lack of name recognition prior to this fight, he should have been taken seriously.

What impressed me about Kavaliauskas was he did not appear to be intimidated by either the atmosphere of fighting for a world championship for the first time in Madison Square Garden or by Crawford. The challenger was also more than willing to engage with the champion and had success catching Crawford between punches with his right hand in the early rounds including appearing to score a knockdown of the champion in round three. This was however, ruled a slip by Referee Ricky Gonzalez.

Through the first four rounds, it seemed confirmed that this would be a more difficult fight than some had anticipated for the champion. Although Crawford is a fighter that frequently switches between an orthodox and southpaw stance, he had trouble throughout the fight from my perspective in being able to time Kavaliauskas. What was a tactical, but competitive fight began to slowly shift in round seven.

The champion was able to turn the ebb and flow in his favor and scored a knockout of Kavaliauskas with a combination to the head. Although this was the first time in the fight that the challenger appeared hurt by Crawford’s punches, he was able to survive the round. At this point in the bout, the momentum was in Crawford’s favor. The champion continued to dish out punishment in the eighth round and in round nine, Crawford closed the show by dropping Kavaliauskas for a second time with a combination to the head. Kavaliauskas was able to get to his feet as he had done in the seventh round, but he could not avoid a flush right hook forcing the fight to be stopped.

Although there has been some criticism of the champion from fans for having more difficulty than expected against Egidijus Kavaliauskas, at the end of the day Crawford accomplished his goal, to retain his world championship. So what does the future hold for Terence Crawford? 

It is a dilemma that fighters dread facing being in a scenario where because of rivalries with competing networks/platforms and promoters, Crawford finds himself in a situation where the other world champions in his division Errol Spence and Manny Pacquiao are both attached to the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) brand of promoters. This along with competing networks and a seeming unwillingness of promoters to work together to make fights puts Crawford in a “No Win” situation due simply to public opinion/interest in wanting to see fights that for one reason or another that cannot be made become a reality.

There is however, two interesting possibilities for Crawford. First would be a fight against current European champion David Avanesyan. Although public appeal of that fight would not be at the same level as a fight against Spence, Pacquiao, or another Welterweight on the current PBC roster, promoters Bob Arum and Eddie Hearn have shown a willingness this year along with their respective broadcast networks ESPN/ESPN+ and DAZN to make fights happen. Avanesyan would likely welcome the opportunity to fight for a world championship and his standing as a longtime contender would make him a good candidate to challenge Crawford.

The second option though this observer believes it to be less likely would be a potential fight for Crawford against Vergil Ortiz. Much like Avanesyan, Ortiz is currently promoted by a different promoter than Crawford, Hall of Fame fighter Oscar De La Hoya under De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions company. Although I believe Ortiz may not be quite ready to step up and face a fighter of Crawford’s caliber just yet, the possibility does exist. Not only is Ortiz an unbeaten prospect that is on the verge of contention, but it is important to keep in mind that Crawford’s promoter Bob Arum is the same man who promoted Oscar De La Hoya for the majority of his career and they have co-promoted several Boxing cards both while De La Hoya was still an active fighter and since his retirement over a decade ago.  

While yours truly believes it is more likely to see Ortiz face a top contender before facing a world champion like Terence Crawford, I would not discount the possibility of a Crawford-Ortiz bout in the not too distant future. Although most are likely of the opinion that promoters on all sides should put their respective egos aside in the interest of making the best fights possible, all a fighter in Crawford’s position can do is continue to compete against the best available competition that is out there.

Finally, we come to previewing an intriguing bout between two former Middleweight world champions. On Friday, December 20th former IBF Middleweight world champion Daniel Jacobs will square off against former WBC world champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a twelve round Super-Middleweight bout that will be broadcast on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN.

The bout, which will take place at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ is a crossroads fight for both fighters. Jacobs, who will be making his debut in the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division, is coming off a twelve round unanimous decision to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in what was a Middleweight unification bout. Although Jacobs had his moments throughout that fight and remained competitive from start to finish, he was out boxed by Alvarez. Now Jacobs looks to bounce back by facing another former world champion.

Some might argue that this is a last chance scenario for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. As most know, Chavez is the son of the legendary Hall of Famer Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Chavez Jr. has had a reasonably successful career including a reign as WBC Middleweight world champion between 2011-2012 where he successfully defended the title three times. Chavez' career however, has been marked by inconsistency and a seeming lack of commitment to the sport. Chavez last major appearance came in a loss to Saul Alvarez in May 2017 in a fight that frankly resembled a sparring session where Chavez did not offer much offense.

Chavez returned to the ring in August of this year after two years of inactivity and scored a first round knockout of veteran Evert Bravo. The question that surrounds this fight is whether Chavez after having only one fight in over two years, after seemingly rededicating himself to the sport is ready to compete against world-class opposition. Chavez has also had a history of weight problems throughout his career and one would be justified to wonder if he will be in good condition come fight time.

Whether or not Jacobs will be as effective at a higher weight as he was as a 160lb. Middleweight is something that also will likely be answered in this fight. Jacobs does have the edge in this observer’s eyes having consistently fought against world-class opposition now going against a fighter who will be fighting for only the second time in two years. 

Chavez nevertheless maintains a level of name recognition value and if Jacobs is successful in this fight, it is logical to think that he will be in the mix for a potential opportunity at a world championship in the Super-Middleweight division. The counter argument is if Chavez pulls off what should be viewed as an upset, it will be hard to argue that having defeated a fighter who recently held a world championship that Chavez won’t be back in the mix himself. 

A fight with intriguing back stories where both fighters have much to lose seems like the perfect way to conclude what has been a stacked and exciting 2019 in the sport of Boxing. We will see if Jacobs-Chavez can close out the year with a bang.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Jacobs vs. Chavez takes place on Friday, December 20th at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, AZ. The fight as well as it’s full undercard can be seen on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN in the United States and several international countries beginning at 7PM ET/4PM PT (U.S. Time). For more information about DAZN including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices/platforms/Smart TVs, availability around the world, and to subscribe please visit: Check your local listings internationally.

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