Wednesday, January 8, 2020

A Look Back At Some Boxing Events That Closed Out 2019

As the Boxing world embarks on 2020, it is time once again for the first of two annual features to kick off the year here at The Boxing Truth®️. There are thousands of bouts that take place in the sport of Boxing that take place during a calendar year. While many who cover the sport, including yours truly, do our best to cover as many of the events that take place as possible in a quick manner, the sheer volume of events that happen on a weekly basis makes it a difficult task for one to cover all of what Boxing has to offer, even as ever evolving technology has increased access to what goes on around the world.

Although it would frankly be impossible for this observer to cover all the aspects that I would truly want to, when it comes to events that were not covered in a traditional timeframe during the course of a year, this column will touch upon some events that took place as 2019 was winding down. Some may recall of a fight that took place over thanksgiving weekend in Queensland, Australia that yours truly called a curiosity. I am speaking of course of the encounter between Anthony Mundine and John Wayne Parr. A bout that pitted two world champions from the sports of Boxing and Kickboxing together in a fight fought under traditional Professional Boxing rules.

The simple question I asked in previewing this fight was what both fighters had left to give now at advanced ages of forty-four and forty-three respectively. The fight also had the added interest of the fact that Parr would be fighting for the first time since 2003 as a professional boxer having spent the majority of his combat sports career in Kickboxing.

When the two fighters squared off on November 30th, it was not surprising to see Parr establish himself as the aggressor from the opening bell. What was surprising in , my eyes however, was how effective Parr was in finding a home for his right hand. Although Anthony Mundine has never been known as a fighter who is aggressive, it was alarming from my perspective as to how easily he was hit by Parr early on. Whether or not this was a sign of diminished skills and reflexes as is often seen in advanced aged fighters throughout all combat sports is debatable, but it did stick out in my eyes.

Through the first five rounds of this fight, the combat was mostly one way. Parr consistently bringing the fight to Mundine and throwing combinations of punches. This was highlighted by a barrage of punches in round four against Mundine, who was essentially trapped on the ropes and eventually sent through them resulting in a knockdown. Despite Mundine having sporadic moments throughout the fight offensively, I felt Parr dictated the action from start to finish. 

The opinion of this observer notwithstanding, it was a bit of a surprise to see the judges render a ten round split decision in favor of Parr. Even though it has been said that this was the swan song for both men, I have covered Boxing and by extension combat sports long enough to know that one should not dismiss the possibility of either man competing in the ring again, despite their respective ages. If there is both interest and enough money on the table, the possibility of more competition exists.

In staying with the Australian Boxing scene, the rise of Jr. Middleweight prospect Tim Tszyu has gradually been gaining more traction. Tszyu, the son of former unified Jr. Welterweight world champion Kostya Tszyu, has established himself as a fighter who appears on the threshold of a possible opportunity at a world championship in 2020. Tszyu closed out his 2019 year by facing Oriental Professional Boxing Federation (OPBF) Jr. Middleweight champion Jack Brubaker on December 6th in Sydney, Australia. 

A challenge that does exist for fighters who are the children of former world champions are the inevitable comparisons that they face to their parents. For Tim Tszyu, this is something he must also contend with in following in the footsteps of his father, who had a Hall of Fame career. While there are several stories throughout the history of the sport of fighters who had unrealistic expectations placed upon them in following their fathers into Boxing,who, ultimately could not live up to those expectations, Tszyu, thus far has shown promise and has also earned a ranking in the top ten in both the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) in the 154lb. Jr. Middleweight division.

In facing Jack Brubaker, Tszyu faced a slightly more experienced opponent who had been stopped once in twenty previous bouts as a professional. Brubaker also had the appearance of someone who may have been able to stretch Tszyu into later stages of a fight where Tszyu, who had scored knockouts of ten of his previous fourteen opponents prior to the fight had not been taken before, having only gone as far as ten rounds only twice in his career. 

Despite not being intimidated by Tszyu, Brubaker could not land a significant punch to discourage Tszyu from coming forward. Although Brubaker was very “Game “, it was not long before I began to wonder both how much punishment he would be able to withstand and more importantly how long the fight would be allowed to continue. The consistent punishment from Tszyu was halted in round four when Brubaker’s trainer former world champion and Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech threw in the towel to prevent his fighter from further damage.

Although this was not a case where a fighter sustained a prolonged beating in the sense of it lasting several rounds and though I applaud Jeff Fenech for stopping this fight, I frankly wondered why the referee John Cauchi did not stop the fight on his own. This observer will never take anything away from the courage fighters show each and every time they step into the ring, but when it becomes apparent that one fighter is outgunned both in terms of power and in overall skill where the fighter can not avoid punishment from their opponent, what sense does it make in allowing a fight to go on? 2019 was also unfortunately a year that saw several deaths in the sport and while I do not want to make this an overriding theme of this column, all referees on all levels of combat sports need to keep in mind the unfortunate circumstances and consequences that do occur when a fight is allowed to go on longer than it should. Thankfully, for Jack Brubaker, his trainer saw that it wasn’t his night and was able to prevent him from taking one punch too many.

As for Tim Tszyu, the unbeaten Jr. Middleweight appears ready to face a top contender if not challenge for a world championship in 2020. As has been the case with other fast-rising prospects and more specifically, children of former world champions, my concern is that Tszyu may be pushed too quickly into a world championship fight based on both his impressive record and obvious name recognition value he has. If he can continue to win and do so against a top contender or two, it will not be hard to envision Tszyu possibility fighting for a world championship by the end of 2020.

Another undefeated prospect that saw action in December is Heavyweight Daniel Dubois. Dubois, the current British and Commonwealth Heavyweight champion has been on a tear in establishing himself as potentially the next British Heavyweight who could be in contention for a world championship sooner rather than later. The current number five rated WBO contender closed out his 2019 on December 21st when he faced Japanese Heavyweight Kyotaro Fijimoto in London, England.

Although Japan is not known for producing many world-rated Heavyweights in Boxing, I was nevertheless interested to see what Fijimoto had to offer. As impressive and frankly devastating as Dubois has been in scoring knockouts of twelve of thirteen previous opponents prior to this fight, he was and remains at a stage where some are likely to want to see him tested before anointing him as a potential challenger for either Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua, the two men who currently control the World Heavyweight championship. 

For his part, Fijimoto did come into the fight with a respectable record of 21-1, with 13 Knockouts, and held the OPBF Heavyweight championship. Fijimoto however, had never fought outside of Japan prior to this encounter and the lone notable win on his resume came in his third professional fight when he scored a ten round unanimous decision over veteran Chauncy Welliver, who most knowledgeable Boxing aficionados would likely regard as a journeyman or a gatekeeper that young fighters are pitted against before attempting to move them up the rankings. 

Despite a limited, but impressive resume, Fijimoto could not provide much resistance as Dubois consistently pushed him back with seemingly every punch he threw. Dubois would score two knockdowns of Fijimoto in the second round to earn a convincing stoppage. There is simply not much one can say about a fight that is fought under this scenario. Although Dubois simply did what he had to do and got the victory, it is hard to say whether he is ready to face a top contender or either of the current world champions. With a career knockout percentage of nearly 93% however, the question of whether Dubois is ready will likely be answered in 2020.

Finally, the Boxing calendar for 2019 concluded with a battle of youth versus experience on December 28th as undefeated Jr. Lightweight world champion Gervonta Davis squared off with former Featherweight world champion Yuriorkis Gamboa in a battle in the 135lb. Lightweight division. What intrigued me about this encounter, which took place in Atlanta, GA, was that it was in some respects a classic scenario.

A scenario of not only youth versus experience, but also of potentially a former world champion having one final opportunity on Boxing’s big stage against one of the rising stars in the sport. Naturally, when such a scenario takes place, the storyline is how much does the former champion/more experienced fighter have left to give. Despite being the favorite going into the fight in the eyes of many, this fight also had the subplot of it being the Lightweight debut for Gervonta Davis.

When two boxer/punchers meet, it is always interesting to see who will take the initiative to be the aggressor. While Davis is also known for his punching power, he showed in this fight that he is a tactical boxer, consistently beating Gamboa to the punch and being strategic in his attack. This included dropping Gamboa with a short left hook in the second round.

It was after the second round that an element emerged that became a central focus of this fight as Yuriorkis Gamboa appeared to be dealing with both an injury to his right leg as well as a problem with his right shoe. Although it is rare to see a fighter encounter a problem with their footwear during a fight, it is something that can happen, much like an issue with a fighter’s gloves and mouthpiece. The injury however, was something more serious as it was revealed after the fight that Gamboa had suffered a ruptured Achilles in his right leg. 

Even though it is speculation on the part of this observer as to whether the injury came as a result of the problem he had with his shoe, and possibly contributed by the knockdown in the second round, what is not speculation is the courage Gamboa would show in fighting on, despite the injury. As the fight progressed, Davis continued to land flush hooks and uppercuts on Gamboa. Despite the injury and sustaining significant punishment, Gamboa continued to come forward and even had periods of effectiveness with his own offense over the second half of the fight.

Although Gamboa remained very “Game”, he suffered a second knockdown in the eighth round and would ultimately be stopped in the twelfth and final round after being knocked down for the third time. The win for Davis earned him interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association (WBA) Lightweight ratings, which puts him in line to face current WBC/WBA/WBO world champion Vasyl Lomachenko. Although some might be critical of Davis, who has a career knockout percentage of nearly 96% for having some difficulty in getting Gamboa out of there, particularly due to what was later revealed to be a severe injury, at the end of the day all a fighter can do is attempt to accomplish the goal of getting a victory and in scoring three knockdowns in the process of accomplishing that goal, there is not much more Davis could have done and now as a Lightweight has created some interesting possibilities for himself going forward.

One can only hope that as the page now turns to 2020 that the sport of Boxing will be able to continue the increased momentum that was established in 2019. This observer looks forward to sharing his “Boxing Wishlist For 2020” on Friday, January 10th.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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