Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Conclusion Of July 2020 In Boxing Part 1

When Boxing is in its normal active state, it is perhaps one of the most active sports in the world with events in the sport taking place both in and out of the ring on a 24/7 basis almost every day of a calendar year with perhaps an exception for many being the period of time that covers end of the year celebrations including the Christmas holidays. Although the year 2020 has seen a significant change to what is usually the norm not just for Boxing, but all of sports due to the ongoing global COVID-19 crisis, the last full week in July 2020 produced several events throughout Boxing in and out of the ring in both traditional and Bareknuckle-form that for the first time in months was somewhat reminiscent of what the sport is like under normal circumstances.


While it would frankly be an impossible task to discuss everything that transpired in the context of one long-form feature column, this observer will offer the reader some of his thoughts on various topics that did circulate the Boxing news cycle in a special two-part feature column in an effort to cover as much ground as possible while hopefully, enlightening the reader on my perspective as well as what is to come in the weeks and months ahead. It is and should be no secret to those who know me as well as longtime readers that I have been uneasy about sports resuming under the circumstances of COVID-19. A view that I have expressed both here on The Boxing Truth®️ as well as on social media platforms.


Despite the opinion of some that if I feel so strongly that sports as a whole should remain inactive until the circumstances of COVID-19 improve due to safety reasons as well as health concerns, that I should sit out in protest, that frankly is the view of those who do not cover sports and thus do not have obligations to maintain or an understanding that those who work and/or are involved in any form of journalism are also entitled to their view as anyone else is, but express it in a professional manner while fulfilling their commitments. It  is my hope however, that the reader understands that while I might have a view based strongly on numbers that have been released that everyone has seen on a daily basis that indicate the circumstances of the COVID-19 virus are not improving and numbers of both newly diagnosed cases as well as unfortunately deaths increasing, I have remained professional and have resumed covering Boxing with the overriding theme being the sport attempting to operate under previously unforeseen circumstances that are far from the norm. Now that I have addressed this, I will continue with this column.


 A significant part of the coverage provided by yours truly since Boxing began attempting to resume in June has centered around cards that have taken place at the MGM Grand Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV. A venue that has come to be referred to by Boxing fans as “The Bubble” due to the protocols that have been put in place by both promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank, Inc. as well as the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC.) due to COVID-19. A summer series of Boxing cards that have been televised here in the United States by sports television network ESPN and it’s digital subscription streaming network ESPN+.


The series, which has aired twice weekly for the majority of the last two months saw its finale in terms of a twice weekly format on Tuesday, July 21st. Two former world champions as well as a highly touted rising prospect were featured on the card. First to enter the ring was former WBO Jr. Featherweight world champion Issac Dogboe. Dogboe, who held the WBO world championship in the 122lb. Jr. Featherweight division in 2018, was looking to bounce back from two consecutive losses to Emmanuel Navarrete, the first resulting in the loss of his world title in December 2018. In what was his first fight in the 126lb. Featherweight division, Dogboe faced veteran and former world title challenger Chris Avalos in a scheduled eight round bout.

This fight was largely dictated by Dogboe patiently looking for and taking advantage of openings Avalos left him. Dogboe’s approach was highlighted by a consistent attack to Avalos’ body as well as combinations punching. What was most evident in my eyes was how calm Dogboe was in his approach and how he did not go looking for a knockout. The patience he showed as well as the consistency of his attack however, eventually took its toll on Avalos and Dogboe was able to get a stoppage in the eighth and final round. An impressive performance for a fighter in Dogboe who was likely looking at this fight as a way to test the waters of a new weight class. What should also have the served as a confidence booster for him after suffering those setbacks against Emmanuel Navarrete will likely lead to an opportunity for him in the future in the Featherweight division.


A rising prospect that has been generating buzz in the sport that also saw action on this card was undefeated Light-Heavyweight Edgar Berlanga. As is the case for some rising prospects, Berlanga has been able to garner attention for his ability to score quickly knockouts. An almost guaranteed way to turn heads for any fighter on the rise is when those knockouts come in the first round. In Berlanga’s case, all thirteen of his previous fights as a professional prior to his bout against Eric Moon on this card ended in a first round knockout. Such a statistic made the question going into this fight obvious, would this be number fourteen for Berlanga in terms of first round knockouts? While this can be a cliché, it did not take long for that question to be answered. 


Two vicious right hands to the head was all Berlanga needed to get a stoppage in just 1:02 of round one. While I have been impressed by what I have observed from watching Berlanga compete thus far, it can be very tempting when seeing a prospect who is capable of ending fights in the way that Berlanga has demonstrated to say it is only a matter of time before they are fighting for a world championship. I believe it is too soon to place that type of distinction on Edgar Berlanga as he has not faced opposition as of yet that have been able to provide a test for him. If he can continue to progress however, we might be having discussions regarding when he might fight for a world title soon rather than later.


The main event on July 21st saw undefeated former Featherweight world champion Oscar Valdez, who returned to the ring against veteran Jayson Velez in a scheduled ten round bout. A storyline going into this fight was the potential of if Valdez were successful in this fight that a potential encounter with current WBC Jr. Lightweight world champion Miguel Berchelt. 


Although Valdez generally landed the harder punches throughout this fight against Velez, it appeared for a period of time that Valdez might have been having trouble getting into a consistent rhythm. This was due to Velez’ movement and overall activity in the early rounds. Valdez however, was eventually able to find a home for his left hook that led to a knockdown of Velez in round five when a flush left hook to the jaw sent Velez down to the canvas. The success Valdez was able to have with his left hook along with an accumulation of punishment to the body of Velez ultimately turned the momentum in Valdez favor. A second knockdown as a result of another left hook to the head in round ten ultimately led to a third knockdown and a stoppage of the fight in Valdez’ favor.


Even though this fight was more difficult in spots for Valdez than some might have expected would be the case, if a fight between Valdez and Berchelt is indeed in the works for the future, this fight should be viewed as Valdez doing his part to set up that potential fight and doing what he needed to do, which was getting the victory. The conclusion of the twice weekly Top Rank Boxing cards could mean that such a fight might be intended to take place before the end of 2020. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to dictate things in terms of if sporting events take place, the question might come down to whether or not Top Rank or the fighters themselves will be willing to stage what normally would be a lucrative fight for all involved behind closed doors in an environment without spectators.


Although Top Rank’s closed door events have had a mixed reaction in the eyes of some fans due to a perceived lack of quality bouts, the protocols that Top Rank and the NSAC have established have set up a blueprint for other promoters and state athletic commissions to implement to stage Boxing cards. One such promoter Oscar De La Hoya, his promotional company Golden Boy Promotions, and it’s broadcast partner, subscription-based sports streaming network DAZN returned to action with a Boxing card on July 23rd, with a Boxing card at the Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino in Indio, CA.


Much like the cards Top Rank has staged in Las Vegas under the supervision of the NSAC, this card was held in a similar atmosphere where similar protocols were in place in a fan-less environment. As I have said in my previous coverage of Boxing events under the circumstances of COVID-19, watching fights take place without spectators can be an adjustment, but it is a necessity in what remains very uncertain times.


The return of Boxing for Golden Boy Promotions and DAZN was headlined by undefeated Welterweight contender Vergil Ortiz Jr. facing veteran Samuel Vargas in a scheduled ten round bout. Ortiz, who entered the bout unbeaten in fifteen professional fights has been on a path, which could lead to an opportunity at a world championship in the near future. In Samuel Vargas, the unbeaten Ortiz, who had stopped every opponent he has faced, faced an opponent that was a former North American Boxing Association (NABA) champion, but one who had failed when he had stepped up against world class opposition including former world champions Amir Khan and Danny Garcia to name a few. Despite his experience edge over Ortiz, Vargas was not thought by some to be able to provide him a test. For seven rounds, the always “Game” Vargas hung in against Vargas while taking significant punishment along the way.


A highlight of Ortiz’ offense was a solid jab that he threw and increasingly landed at will. This along with increased body punches and flush hooks over the course of the fight became the story of this encounter. With two seconds remaining in round seven, Referee Jack Reiss seeing what can only be described as the beating Vargas was taking, stepped in and stopped the fight. 


While the conclusion of this column should center around what the potential plans could be for Vergil Ortiz following his victory over Samuel Vargas and how those plans might be impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, there was one story that emerged from this card that became the central story in the aftermath. This observer is referring to a bout that took place on the undercard between undefeated Women’s Jr. Flyweights  Seniesa Estrada and Miranda Adkins. 


A fight between Estrada a top contender and Adkins an unbeaten fighter, but one who is forty-two years old and took the fight on short notice, ended in seven seconds when a combination by Estrada  to the head sent Adkins down in scary fashion resulting in the fight being immediately stopped.  While thankfully Adkins did not suffer serious injuries, there has been considerable criticism of both Golden Boy Promotions and the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) for the fight, which is said to have the distinction of being the quickest knockout in Women’s Boxing history, being allowed to take place.


The source of the criticism stems from how Adkins appeared unprepared as well as the brutal nature of the knockout. In terms of the experience Adkins had going into the fight, she was unbeaten in five bouts beginning in September 2018 up until this bout on July 24th. Those five bouts however, came against four opponents who were making their professional debuts and one who was winless in two previous bouts. In comparison, Estrada entered the bout unbeaten in eighteen bouts as well as earning interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Association (WBA) rankings in the 108lb. Jr. Flyweight division.


This leads to an argument that there was a significant difference in terms of experience between the two fighters and what some might call negligence by both the CSAC and promoter Golden Boy Promotions. While I agree that there was an experience difference between the two fighters and one could make an argument that such a fight would not be sanctioned if the sport were operating under normal circumstances, a conundrum that athletic commissions around the world as well as promoters as they attempt to operate in the midst of an ongoing epidemic will be providing fighters who are able to compete with that opportunity.


Sometimes this includes the scenario of fighters who may not be as experienced being offered fights on short notice. Under an ideal scenario, one would hope that matchmaking would be more even on paper prior to a fight, the reality is no one truly knows what will happen until two fighters get into a ring to compete. Unfortunately, those who are trying to operate during this epidemic including athletic commissions need to be prepared for scenarios like this throughout the whole sport as several fighters who are considered top contenders and world champions both men and women could choose not to compete until the circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis improve significantly as well as financial reasons. For those who are opting to try and stay active during the time of uncertainty, they will have to take the opposition that is available to them who are willing to step in and compete.


If athletic commissions and/or promoters are unprepared to deal with such circumstances, perhaps all should consider halting the sport again until circumstances improve. Unfortunately, this is the reality that not only Boxing, but all of sports are facing.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


Part two of this special feature will be released on Saturday, August 1st.


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