Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thoughts On Recent Action:March 10th-13th, 2021


As is sometimes the case in the sport of Boxing, it can be a challenge for one to keep track on everything that goes on day to day. While this observer certainly does his best to cover events as they take place, there are times when circumstances warrant that events be covered/discussed in summary-form. This column will discuss some of the events in the Boxing world that took place between the days of March 10th and March 13th. Although Welterweight Lewis Crocker’s victory over Deniz Ilbay, which took place in Bolton, England also took place during this period of time, the reader will be taken on a journey of sorts that will begin with a card in Uncasville, CT, venture to one that took place in Bangkok, Thailand, which featured the return of a former world champion, to Dallas, TX for two highly anticipated rematches, all the way back to Uncasville, CT where an intriguing Super-Middleweight encounter closed the week of events.


Our journey begins on March 10th at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT where the latest edition of Showtime Sports’ popular ShoBox: The New Generation series took place. Among the bouts that were fought on this card were two Lightweight bouts each pitting unbeaten prospects against each other as well as a fast-rising Jr. Welterweight contender facing what some felt was the biggest test of his career.


The first of the two Lightweight bouts saw unbeaten Victor Padilla overcome a knockdown in the first round to score a knockout of previously undefeated Thomas Velasquez in the fifth round. Padilla, who entered the fight unbeaten in eight previous professional bouts had scored knockouts in seven of those fights. A staple of the ShoBox series over its twenty year history has been consistently matching rising prospects with records similar in scope to Padilla against fighters who can provide a test for them as they look to progress towards world title contention. For a time, this is what Velasquez, who entered with a record of 10-0-1, with 6 Knockouts, appeared to be doing not only by dropping Padilla in the first round with a right hand to the chest, but also using a cagey Boxing style that disrupted Padilla from being able to find his offensive rhythm.


 This changed dramatically in round five when Padilla connected with devastating right hook to the jaw that rocked Velasquez and lead to him being knocked down. Velasquez was able to get up, but a follow up barrage of offense from Padilla resulted in the fight being stopped. Although this was not a come from behind victory reminiscent of a good movie or television drama, Padilla did pass a test here in this fight and was able to answer a question that is inevitably asked of all rising prospects throughout all of combat sports, how will they respond to adversity? While ultimately the knockdown he suffered in round one was more of a case of him being off balance rather than being hurt, Padilla still had to respond to it and did show an ability to adjust to an opponent with a difficult style to turn things around and get a victory, which is really all you can ask of a fighter.


The second Lightweight bout on this card saw Steven Ortiz edge out previously unbeaten Jeremy Hill over eight rounds to earn a unanimous decision to move his record to 12-0, with 3 Knockouts. Although this fight did not have the highlights that the Padilla-Velasquez bout did, Ortiz simply did what he had to do in order to get the win. Whether or not Ortiz will be an opponent for Padilla down the line remains to be seen, but style wise, Ortiz is a boxer that might be capable or providing Padilla with a another test, which may be a logical bout for a future ShoBox card.


Questions regarding a prospect’s ability to adapt have been also been asked of Jr. Welterweight contender Brandun Lee. Lee, who emerged quickly as a hot rising prospect in 2019, was featured in the main event of this card against veteran Samuel Teah. For Lee, who entered unbeaten in twenty-one professional bouts, having scored knockouts in nineteen of those fights, Teah appeared on the surface to be a fighter that might be able to answer questions about Lee. What made this interesting was that Lee had quickly built a reputation since making his television debut on the ShoBox series as a “Knockout Artist” routinely scoring the type of knockouts that show up on highlight reels.


In Samuel Teah, Lee faced a veteran of twenty-one bouts like himself, but one who had shown an ability to defeat fighters thought to be prospects in a similar position as Lee was at one point and more importantly, Teah had never been stopped or knocked down in his career. A misconception that can happen from time to time in regard to fighters who are able to score quick knockouts is that they go into a bout with the intention of trying to end the fight with every punch they throw.


This was a fight where Brandun Lee showed patience in implementing a tactical approach where he showed he can box in using lateral movement, combination punching, and counter punching when he had opportunities to. It was one such combination to the head that sent Teah down in round three, answering the question of whether he could drop a fighter that had never been knocked down. Lee would answer the next question of whether he could stop a fighter that had never been knocked out before moments later when he dropped Teah with a brutal right hook to the head that sent him down for the second time and out on the canvas. 


As much as this was another statement-making performance by Brandun Lee, the question of who can provide the now 22-0 contender with a test. In my view, Lee is at the point where he should face a fighter rated in the top fifteen of a sanctioning organization’s rankings in the talent-deep 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division in his next fight in order to determine whether or not he is ready to face someone close to getting a shot at a world championship. With world champions Jose Ramirez and Josh Taylor set to meet for the Undisputed Jr. Welterweight championship of the world in May, the immediate future of world championship bouts in the division is in limbo. If Lee can continue to win however, and do so against top rated opposition, it certainly is a possibility that he will be a potential opponent for either Ramirez or Taylor at some point. It would also not surprise me to see Lee enter the 147lb. Welterweight division in the future.


Now we venture to Bangkok, Thailand in the form of the written word where former two-time WBC Jr. Bantamweight world champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai returned to the ring on March 13th (March 12th In the United States) to face former WBA Minimumweight world champion Kwanthai Sithmorseng. As has been the case throughout the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, this fight took place in a studio setting not unlike cards that have taken place in Uncasville, CT last August. An arena converted into a studio atmosphere where no spectators beyond essential personnel were permitted to attend due to COVID-19 protocols. 


Sor Rungvisai implemented a systematic attack from the opening bell gradually walking Sithmorseng down and ripping hard body punches as well as offense to Sithmorseng’s head. Sithmorseng, who’s prime was as a 105lb. Minimumweight, could not offer any resistance beyond trying as best as he could to cover up. The gradual beating resulted in a knockdown of Sithmorseng in the final minute of the third round when under significant punishment, he took a knee. Sithmorseng did get up from the knockdown, but signaled to his corner with a simple gesture of shaking his head that he did not want much more. After completing the third round, the bout was stopped giving Sor Rungvisai a stoppage win. While this fight amounted to little more than a short short workout for Sor Rungvisai, in the overall picture, as the number one contender in the WBC’s 115lb. Jr. Bantamweight division, the victory over Sithmorseng puts him in line to face the winer of the WBC/WBA unification battle between Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez.


Coincidentally, our journey now takes us to that fight, a rematch that took place on March 13th at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX. Although this is a rarity for yours truly after over two decades of covering every level of the sport, it needs to be pointed out for accuracy purposes that in previewing this fight, I incorrectly referred to Gonzalez, who won the World Boxing Association’s Jr. Bantamweight championship in February of last year as the challenger, when in fact this rematch of a fight Gonzalez won in November 2012, was a unification bout. While this does not happen regularly for yours truly, even those who cover the sport full time can make errors from time to time, which when one takes into account the WBA’s structure of recognizing world champions followed by multiple fighters who hold interim/regular champion status in a given weight class, such errors albeit rare, is understandable. Fortunately for Gonzalez, he entered the fight as the WBA world champion and no such confusion was attached to that.


As for the fight itself, a question that is often asked of rematches that follow an action-packed initial encounter is whether the rematch will be similar or even exceed what are often high expectations. Much like the first fight between the two men, the combat between the two fighters was very competitive and came down to subtle differences that ultimately determined who had the upper hand. In the first fight Gonzalez was able to get the victory based largely on the pressure he was able to apply on Estrada as well as his being able to back him up against the ropes as the fight progressed.


The second fight saw Estrada being able to use lateral movement more to turn and offset Gonzalez’ pressure. If there was also an element that one could point to as different in comparison to the first fight, it was that Estrada was not caught on the ropes as often and seemed to get the better of many of the exchanges. The fight was nevertheless closely fought depending on one’s perspective and the result of a split decision victory in favor of Estrada appears to set the stage for an inevitable third fight.


Before that fight can occur however, Estrada is likely to first complete his trilogy with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and that will likely lead to a third fight against Gonzalez for the winner as Gonzalez has now fought both men twice. In this observer’s view, Gonzalez will probably fight both men again before all three fighters retire from the sport.


The co-main event of the Estrada-Gonzalez rematch was a rematch for the Undisputed Women’s Welterweight championship of the world between Jessica McCaskill and former longtime champion Cecilia Braekhus. An immediate rematch of what many considered an upset last year where McCaskill dethroned Braekhus in a narrow decision ending her decade-long reign atop the Welterweight division as well as ending Braekhus’ attempt to surpass Joe Louis for most consecutive title defenses in a single reign in the history of the sport.


While the first fight was closely fought and saw McCaskill outwork Braekhus over ten rounds, the second encounter was more definitive as the champion essentially repeated her strategy from the first fight. Bringing the fight to Braekhus and forcing the former champion into a fight that was not to her advantage. Unlike the first fight however, McCaskill was able to hurt Braekhus with hard right hands throughout the rematch. It was this approach that proved to be successful for a second time as McCaskill would retain her undisputed crown, this time by unanimous decision. Whether it is a case of a bad clash of styles or looking toward retirement as she appeared to be prior to the first fight, Cecilia Braekhus just did not have an answer to keep McCaskill off of her and it is logical to ask where she will go from here. 


As for Jessica McCaskill, there are two logical options, one would be a fight with multi-division undisputed champion Claressa Shields, who would have to move down in weight to challenge her, or a rematch against undefeated undisputed Lightweight world champion Katie Taylor, who defeated McCaskill in 2017 in defense of her Lightweight crown that she eventually fully unified. For a sport that has struggled for decades for recognition and consistent exposure, Women’s Boxing is finally on Boxing’s main stage and along with that should be lucrative opportunities for the stars in the sport as the circumstances of increased exposure for women in the sport should create opportunities for today’s top fighters to make more money than top fighters in previous eras. It’s something that is long overdue.


Now, we come full circle back to where our journey began, the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT where on March 13th, undefeated former two-time WBC Super-Middleweight world champion David Benavidez returned to the ring to face fellow contender Ronald Ellis. In what was billed as a world championship elimination bout in the WBC’s Super-Middleweight ratings, Benavidez gradually battered a very “Game” and determined Ellis over eleven rounds before the fight was stopped in round eleven.


Benavidez, who is unbeaten in twenty-four professional bouts appears to be in position to challenge current unified WBA/WBC world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez within the next year. As most know, Alvarez, who recently scored a one-sided third round stoppage of previous WBC mandatory challenger Avni Yildirim, is preparing to face undefeated two-division world champion Billy Joe Saunders, current holder of the WBO crown in what will be a unification bout in May. Depending on the outcome of that fight, a potential unification bout against undefeated IBF champion Caleb Plant for what would be the undisputed world championship in the Super-Middleweight division or a long-awaited third encounter with Gennady Golovkin, the immediate future for Alvarez appears occupied and it will be interesting to see what Benavidez will do in the meantime. Perhaps a challenge of Caleb Plant could be an option given that both Benavidez and Plant compete under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) promotional banner.


As the Boxing world was on this journey of Boxing events , we sadly learned the news that former Undisputed Middleweight champion of the world Marvelous Marvin Hagler passed away. Hagler, who passed away on March 13th at the age of sixty-six, compiled a record of 62-3-2, with 52 Knockouts between 1973-1987 successfully defended his Middleweight crown twelve times over seven years from 1980-1987 will forever be one of the greatest Middleweights in Boxing history. While Hagler’s story deserves multiple columns in of itself including his involvement as part of Boxing’s “Fabulous 4” along with Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Roberto Duran, who ruled much of Boxing’s focus in the 1980’s, what I will always appreciate about Hagler as someone who spent his early years watching him, is nothing came easily for him and he truly represented a blue collar type of fighter.


It took Hagler forty-nine professional bouts in which he won forty-six of those fights before he finally got an opportunity to fight for the World Middleweight championship. On that night in November 1979, Hagler fought to a controversial draw with then undisputed Middleweight world champion Vito Antuofermo. A fight that many who were around at the time as well as those of us who would see the fight in the years that followed like yours truly felt Hagler won. 


In 1980, Hagler three fights removed from the draw with Antuofermo, traveled to London, England where he knocked out then  undisputed Middleweight world championship Alan Minter in three rounds. What should have been a moment of glory for Hagler resulted in an ugly scene as the pro Minter crowd in London responded by throwing debris in the ring forcing Hagler and his supporters to run for cover. This began an era of dominance in the division that has only been seen twice in the years since Hagler retired by Bernard Hopkins and Gennady Golovkin. In Hagler’s twelve successful title defenses including a stoppage of Antuofermo in a rematch in 1981, only one man went the distance with Hagler, Roberto Duran, who lost a narrow fifteen round unanimous decision to him in November 1983.


While most will remember the fighter known as “Marvelous” for two fights that took place in the latter stages of Hagler’s career, his1985 war with Thomas Hearns, and his final fight that is still debated to this day, a split decision loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, I will always remember Hagler for not only the “Class” and dignity he brought to the sport that frankly still needs it, but also his willingness to fight anyone regardless of promoters or ties to broadcast networks that were involved in the sport during his era. Something that those of us involved in the sport should demand more of. 


Although his bout with Sugar Ray Leonard was viewed as controversial by many and was the only time even as a youngster, who watched the fight when it took place that I felt Hagler lost by a narrow margin, something else that should be respected is he was so disgusted over losing his crown that he turned down more than one lucrative offer including a rematch with Leonard, choosing to embark on an acting career in Italy. Regardless of one’s point of view of the outcome of his final bout, it is admirable that Hagler chose his principles over what would have been lucrative paydays. 


Despite the loss to Leonard, Hagler’s legacy was before and remains more than secure. A fighter who had to fight for every opportunity he got, one that didn’t initially have the benefits of a marquee promoter or consistent television exposure and lucrative contracts. Marvin Hagler literally fought for and ultimately received the recognition he was long overdue. A fighter who showed that hard work, determination, and dedication does pay off.  A legacy that is simply “Marvelous.”


Marvelous Marvin Hagler God bless you, rest well.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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