Saturday, November 21, 2020

Belated November 14, 2020 Boxing Thoughts


When Boxing is in its normal active state, it is not uncommon to see some of the biggest bouts that the sport has scheduled on its calendar to take place between the months of September and November. For obvious reasons due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, the year 2020 has been considerably different from the norm in Boxing as well as all sports and everyday life. As 2020 begins to wind down however, an obvious subplot for the fighters who are competing or are still scheduled to compete this year is who will be able to position themselves for potential lucrative opportunities in 2021 barring an obvious possibility of another shut down related to the ongoing crisis that continues to worsen globally.


On November 14th, the Boxing world was treated to several bouts that could provide an idea as to what 2021 will look like if the sport is able to remain active. Some of the action featured throughout the sport that day included two of the top fighters in the sport putting their respective crowns and standing within the sport on the line, an overdue groundbreaking milestone for Boxing as a whole, as well as a little “Controversy.”


First, I believe it is appropriate to discuss the negative of what occurred on November 14th as to not only address what was frankly a “Controversy” that evolved from a scenario where the administrators of the sport frankly blew an opportunity to show decisions can be justly rendered in the simplest of ways, by using the technology that is available to render decisions and correct/verify a ruling made in the ring by the referee officiating a fight. This observer is referring to the circumstances that emerged in the rematch between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney, which took place at the MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas, NV. A fight that took place on the undercard of undefeated WBO Welterweight world champion Terence Crawford’s title defense against former IBF Welterweight world champion Kell Brook.


An encounter where interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Jr. Bantamweight division was at stake. In their first encounter in June of this year, Franco won a twelve round unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Moloney to earn the WBA’s interim/regular champion designation, which in essence makes him the mandatory challenger for current WBA world champion Roman Gonzalez. The rematch however, would be overshadowed by “Controversy.”


Moloney got off to an effective start working behind a consistent jab, something he was not able to do in the first fight. It was the work behind the jab as well as his effectiveness in moving in and out of range that allowed him to control the tempo of the combat in my view. It was late in the first round however, where a circumstance emerged that became the central story of this encounter. Referee Russell Mora indicated that there was an accidental clash of heads that caused significant swelling over Franco’s right eye. In a short period the eye would close and ultimately force a stoppage of the bout in round three.


Under normal circumstances when a fight is stopped due to an accidental foul before the completion of four full rounds the fight is ruled a technical draw. What made this ultimate ruling “Controversial” is it would be confirmed via multiple replays that there was no accidental clash of heads and the swelling appeared to those broadcasting the bout for United States sports television network ESPN as well as this obvious that it was caused by one of the several jabs Moloney threw in the fight round and subsequently worsened as the bout progressed for the short period before it was ultimately stopped. A clear case of a referee blowing a call out of human error however, would not be verified by those representing the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) where the use of instant replay is used ideally for situations just like this.


Perhaps more baffling was it took nearly thirty minutes for the NSAC to ultimately agree with Mora’s ruling even after numerous replays as well as consolation with the ESPN production staff who said repeatedly, they could not find an instance where a head butt occurred when Mora had indicated. From my perspective, I went through the same replay cycle that the NSAC officials did both when I watched the fight originally as well as in the days since it took place and I could not find an instance where the two fighters heads clashed even with the use of extended slow motion technology, which I am fortunate to have available to me. There was however an argument that I have heard some fans use online in the days since that made me review the footage more.


An argument that suggests that the swelling to Franco’s right eye may have been caused by an inadvertent thumb as Moloney threw his jab. While I personally saw a clean punch land on Franco’s eye, which then began the process of swelling, I decided to review the footage for clarification. There was no thumb in this observer’s view that one would more likely be able to see in a Mixed Material Arts (MMA) fight where open handed grappling gloves are used. It is also worth pointing out that while the designs of Boxing gloves can vary based on the company making the gloves, thumbless gloves have been mandatory in the sport for several decades now and while accidents can still happen, an instance of a fight being stopped for what would fall under an accidental thumb is extremely rare as most gloves have the thumb attached.


Although I feel strongly that this was both a bad call by Referee Russell Mora as well as replay official and Hall of Fame Referee Robert Byrd and NSAC Chairman Bob Bennett, I am reluctant to use a word that all too often fans use when something occurs that they might not agree with. “Corruption.” As someone who covers the sport, I try not to use shut a word unless absolutely necessary. In this instance, perhaps it was a case of a bad night for all three men who ultimately made the decision on this fight as well as an unfamiliarity of using instant replay to render a call or verify a call. After all, similar replay review procedures are now standard in many sports both on the college  as well as professional levels, and even with such procedures in place there are times where all involved, referees, umpires, and replay officials will miss the appropriate call. 


For Boxing, a sport that is organized on many levels, but disorganized on several others, this is a case of needing to catch up to where the rest of the sports world is in terms of taking advantage of the technology that the world has available and being as familiar with using said technology as possible so when circumstances like what happened here in the Franco-Moloney rematch emerge, the odds of the correct call being made more often are increased. While this observer can write a column on this subject in of itself, for the time being with Andrew Moloney formally appealing the ruling, it is best to say the story between Joshua Franco and Andrew Moloney is “To Be Continued.”


What followed the Franco-Moloney “Controversy “ can best be described as a word champion making a statement as he looks to secure a lucrative opportunity against another world champion in his division. Three-division world champion Terence Crawford scored a sudden knockout of former world champion Kell Brook in the fourth round to retain his WBO Welterweight world championship. A short right hook sent Brook reeling into the ropes that signaled a knockdown as the ropes prevented him from going down. Crawford sensing he had Brook in trouble closed the show with a barrage of punches that forced Referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight at 1:14 of the round. 


While this fight seemed to follow a similar pattern to some of Terence Crawford’s previous fights in that he started slow and suddenly took full advantage of an opportunity to overwhelm his opponent with offense once it arose, the question for Crawford is essentially the same as it was prior to this fight, what’s next for him? In an ideal scenario it would be easier for fights between the top fighters in a given division to occur on a fairly consistent basis. Of course, for better and often worse, Boxing is far from ideal simply because of the various political aspects of the sport that far too often stand in the way of potential fights that could be made as well as progress overall.


Although this subject as well qualifies for a column in of itself, it is the responsibility of the respective promoters involved in the sport to put their respective business interests and at times even their egos aside for the sake of what will benefit the sport in the long-term. More often than not, this means putting the best fighters against the best in a reasonable timeframe both in terms of public interest as well as for the fighters respective timeframes as competitors. A practice that often takes too long to come to fruition that when two marquee fighters do get in the ring finally to do battle, the result often does not leave the Boxing fan feeling satisfied.


Obviously, there are two realistic options for Terence Crawford coming off of his latest title defense. One would be to face the winner of the upcoming clash between undefeated unified IBF/WBC Welterweight world champion Errol Spence and former two-division world champion Danny Garcia on December 5th. The second and perhaps more lucrative option depending on one’s perspective would also be a unification bout with future Hall of Famer and current WBA Welterweight world champion Manny Pacquiao. 


Both options would obviously require Crawford’s Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum and his company Top Rank, Inc. to work with either the Spence-Garcia winner or with Manny Pacquiao to make those fights happen. Obviously, with Spence, Garcia, and Pacquiao all competing under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner of promoters this could be difficult. For the good of the sport, fights like these two potential bouts need to be made. It would also be nice if not only the interest of the sport were taken into consideration, but also the fans that support it by avoiding the outdated and inflated model of pay-per-view if such fights are able to be made. The main goal of any promoter should be after all to get their attractions in front of as many eyes as possible. With reasonably priced subscription streaming networks steadily growing and rapidly exceeding what a potential audience would be via the traditional pay-pee-view model, why limit the potential audience and more specifically, the potential revenue that could be generated for all involved by making a potential fight as these two options more accessible economically? A question that the networks who continue to rely on the pay-per-view model should be asked repeatedly, especially given the recent underperforming numbers of pay-per-view cards that have taken place in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.


Despite the “Controversy” that took place in Las Vegas as well as the questions that still need to be answered in regard to Terence Crawford’s future, there was progress that took place on November 14th that was frankly long overdue. I am referring to the “Groundbreaking” card that took place at the Wembley Arena in London, England. The historic venue has seen many memorable Boxing cards in its storied history. This card may turn out to be one of the most significant because of the progress it represented.


For the first time, the Boxing world was treated to a card where three Women’s bouts, two of which were world championship fights as its headline attractions. In addition to Jr. Featherweight contender Rachel Ball earning interim/regular champion status in the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) Jr. Featherweight ratings by scoring a ten round unanimous decision over Jorgelina Guanini, two world champions, who are among the best in the entire sport put their respective crowns on the line.


The first of those world champions was undefeated unified WBC/IBO Jr. Lightweight world champion Terri Harper, who made the fourth defense of her crown against unbeaten top contender Katharina Thanderz. Harper, who was coming off a split decision draw in her last title defense against Natasha Jonas in August, was clearly intent on making a statement in this fight by dominating a very “Game “ Thanderz before the fight was stopped in the ninth round. I was particularly impressed by the more aggressive approach Harper showed in this fight compared to her last outing against Natasha Jonas. While it shouldn’t be described necessarily as extreme aggression, she clearly made some adjustments in her approach prior to this fight and it worked to her benefit in securing not only a successful title defense, but earning a stoppage in the process.


Although obviously, the logical option for Harper going into 2021 would be a rematch with Natasha Jonas, she could also be a potential opponent for the woman who defended her world title in the main event of this card. Undefeated Undisputed Lightweight world champion Katie Taylor.


Taylor along with undefeated multi-division world champion Claressa Shields has been front and center in being able to secure significant progress/exposure for Women’s Boxing in recent years. Following her victory in her rematch with former Lightweight world champion Delfine Persoon in August of this year, where she scored a ten round unanimous decision, Taylor would face an undefeated and unknown challenger in her title defense on November 14th in the form of Miriam Gutierrez. Despite entering the bout unbeaten in thirteen professional fights and producing a similar statistical record to Taylor, who entered unbeaten in sixteen professional bouts, all of Gutierrez’ previous bouts took place in her native Spain against unknown opposition.


Gutierrez however, showed she belonged in the ring with Taylor. Although as the fight progressed it became evident that she was tactically out gunned by the more experienced world champion and former Olympic Gold medalist, Gutierrez remained “Game”, getting up off the canvas in round four and surviving bursts of offense from the champion that appeared may have been enough to force a stoppage of the fight. The challenger was able to go the full ten round distance. Despite losing to Taylor in her first world title opportunity, Miriam Gutierrez has nothing to be ashamed of and she will likely get another opportunity in and around the Lightweight division off of her effort in defeat.


As for Katie Taylor, this fight served as another demonstration of the full skill set she has and continues to develop. While there may be some who might be critical due to Taylor not being able to secure a stoppage in this fight, it is important to remember that knockouts in Women’s Boxing do not always occur due to the two minute duration of rounds. Taylor nevertheless was able to get a convincing victory in another title defense. Whether or not there there will be an eventual showdown with Terri Harper remains to be seen, but if that fight could be made and take place where spectators are allowed to attend in a post-COVID-19 environment, it just might be one of the bigger fights that could be made in Women’s Boxing as well as a good draw in the Boxing hotbed of the United Kingdom.


In terms of drawing power, this card featuring three women’s bouts drew over two million viewers on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom. While it is unknown currently what the overall number of viewership for the event will be as it was broadcast internationally including here in the United States by digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, the number out of the United Kingdom illustrates a few things.


One the sport for women has come a long way from the days where with the exception of a few Hall of Fame fighters such as Christy Martin Lucia Rijker, Laila Ali, Mia St. John, and Deirdre Gogarty, whom were able to garner television exposure on a regular basis, the sport particularly here in the United States was not treated in the same regard as Men’s Boxing. In this aspect, it’s about time as there have been numerous fighters throughout Women’s Boxing history who deserved the exposure that television offers, but never had the opportunity. While one should credit the five Hall of Fame fighters I have mentioned there are countless others throughout the sport’s history who should also be proud for the roles they all played in helping advance Women’s Boxing to the level it is currently where the current top stars in the sport can now benefit from far greater exposure and lucrative opportunities than has ever been available to female fighters before.


Equally important, this card also proved that when you make Boxing both women’s and men’s accessible to a potential viewing audience and do so either for free or at by using a reasonably priced subscription model, people from the Boxing enthusiasts, to the casual fan, to those who may not have had an opportunity to see the sport before will respond and tune in. Something that those promoters around the world that continue to insist on outdated models including pay-per-view should take notice of.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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