Tuesday, December 21, 2021

December 17th-18th, 2021 Weekend Thoughts

 As the world nears the Christmas holidays, the Boxing world will not be taking much of a hiatus as was the case in previous years. With the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters staging two cards on Christmas night and New Year’s Day on Fox and Fox Sports Pay-Per-View here in the United States and will be largely alone in doing so, the weekend of December 17th and 18th of 2021 saw a focus on the Light-Heavyweight division, a world title elimination bout, and two rematches that depending on one’s perspective were anticipated for different reasons. While one of those rematches as well as it’s full undercard have already been covered by this observer here on The Boxing Truth®, the final weekend before Christmas saw other action throughout the sport that also deserves attention.


The first of these bouts took place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where an elimination bout took place to determine the next mandatory challenger in the World Boxing Association (WBA) Jr. Middleweight ratings between top contenders Israil Madrimov and Michel Soro.  Although this observer did not have an opportunity to preview this bout in the days leading up to it, this fight as much as any should serve as a reminder particularly to the sport’s detractors as to just how global Boxing is as well as the benefits that yours truly has frequently pointed out in recent years with regard to digital streaming networks that have increased access on a global scale to much of what goes on throughout the sport that would otherwise not be broadcast by traditional networks as this bout was a late addition to the schedule of digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, that also broadcast the previously covered Parker-Chisora rematch.  As for the fight itself, it was fought at a very tactical pace where both fighters were able to execute their offense in spots. It was this pace that resulted in several of the first eight rounds of this bout being very close and very difficult to score.


While Soro tended to be more accurate with his offense, it was Madrimov who seemed to land the harder punches, particularly when the two fighters engaged in exchanges. Although the element of who lands the harder blows is what some would consider as the determining factor in who ultimately gains the upper hand in terms of the scoring of a fight, it is not necessarily the case. When two fighters are able to essentially match each other punch for punch as was the case in this bout, it creates a very challenging conundrum where it will as I have said numerous times over the years, come down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria in how they see a fight based on clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship, and defense. In this case, after eight rounds I felt the fight was even as usually when one fighter seemed as though they were starting to gain a slight advantage over the other, the opposition would return offense to such degree where it left the impression that this was an even fight.


In round nine however, all questions regarding the potential scoring of the bout would come to an end, but an element of controversy would emerge that left more questions than answers. As was the case for the previous eight rounds, the two fighters continued to exchange and match each other’s offense. It was in the closing seconds of the ninth round where Madrimov would break through with a combination of hooks to the head of Soro that appeared to have Soro legitimately stunned and backed against the ropes. The controversy that emerged came when Madrimov pressed forward with his opponent against the ropes and continued throwing punches, the bell appeared to ring several times with no movement from Referee Salvador Salva, who perhaps did not hear the bell due to the roar of the crowd in attendance, seconds later he did jump in and signaled a stoppage of the fight ruling Madrimov the winner by technical knockout.


Although it was clear that Soro was hurt in my eyes at this stage in the bout, the fact that the bell rang several times before the referee stepped in opens the question of whether or not the ruling of Salva of a TKO in favor of Madrimov could possibly be challenged in an attempt to have the result changed to a no contest simply because once the bell rang, the action should have been halted and the blows Madrimov was able to land after that were thus after the bell and would be considered illegal.  While normally I tend to side with the referee in instances like this as they are the closest person to the action and a referee’s discretion could be the difference between a fight ending appropriately or one that ends up having tragic circumstances, I do believe that there might be some sort of challenge regarding the result of this fight with both the WBA and the Federation of Professional Boxing of Uzbekistan who regulated the bout. In the interest of full disclosure with the reader, it needs to be noted that Salva only had twenty-one professional bouts under his officiating record at the time this bout took place in a career as a referee that began in 2016. Perhaps what will be difficult to argue in any potential protest, despite the issue of the bell ringing and an apparent miscommunication between the timekeeper and the referee is that Soro was not answering back with punches when the fight was stopped and did have his hands down when Salva stepped in and stopped the fight.


Even though some might point to Salva’s not hearing the bell to end the round as well as only having twenty-one bouts officiated in five years as a professional referee as inexperience particularly for a fight between two top contenders to determine who gets an opportunity to fight for a world title, Salva’s argument will like be that he saw a fighter in a compromised state in taking punches with his hands down, who was also clearly hurt when he decided to step in and stop the fight.  Although it is a heartbreaking way to lose a fight if you are in Soro’s position, if Salva does in fact have to give an explanation for his stoppage of this bout and provides a similar one to the example this observer has laid out, a protest by Soro and his team will not likely succeed. The best case scenario for Soro, under the circumstances would not be to protest the result of the fight, but rather to petition the WBA for a rematch. particularly since both Jermell Charlo the WBC/WBA/IBF Jr. Middleweight world champion and Brian Castano the WBO world champion appear to be headed towards a rematch of their unification bout, which ended in a draw earlier this year, in 2022. Whether or not the WBA would order an immediate rematch remains to be seen.


The final weekend before Christmas 2021 was also highlighted in part by two Light-Heavyweight bouts including a title defense by undefeated unified WBC/IBF world champion Artur Beterbiev, who made the fifth defense of his title at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada against longtime top contender Marcus Browne. Although much of the focus of the Light-Heavyweight division in recent times has centered around two central figures in Beterbiev and undefeated WBA world champion Dmitry Bivol, Browne did pose a serious test for Beterbiev as a former mandatory challenger in the WBA's Light-Heavyweight ratings. In previewing this bout, I stated that the key to the fight was whether or not Browne would be able to survive Beterbiev’s pressure and be able to extend him into the middle and late rounds of the fight in saying that at this stage we did not know how Beterbiev would respond to being in such a situation as being taken into the deep waters of a fight and whether or not he would be able to adapt.


An argument can be made that Browne was not only able to answer that question, but also was able to get an additional question answered of the champion who had scored knockouts in every one of his previous sixteen bouts in his professional career. How would Beterbiev respond to adversity? As expected, the champion began the fight by applying pressure on Browne and trying to walk him down. Although the pressure was clear, Browne did for a time manage you use his movement and combination punching to offset the tactics of Beterbiev. In the fourth round, both fighters suffered cuts as a result of an accidental clash of heads, but it was Beterbiev’s cut, a deep gash on the forehead that appeared as though might be the cause of the fight being stopped due to the blood going into the champion’s eyes and the bleeding of the wound being difficult for his corner to control.


Despite being under circumstances where some fighters do not respond well, Beterbiev became more aggressive and made it very difficult for Browne to use his movement to gain space between himself and the champion. In round seven, Beterbiev would score his first knockdown of the fight by dropping Brown with a left hook to the body that appeared to cause a delayed reaction. In the ninth round, the champion would bring an end to the fight by dropping Browne for a second time with another left hook to the body that forced Browne to take a knee and the ten count resulting in another knockout victory for Beterbiev in what was an impressive performance under what had to be trying circumstances due to the gash on his forehead. Even though the gash Beterbiev suffered was frankly enough justification to stop the fight, due to the fact that it was caused by an accidental head clash, if the fight had been stopped, the outcome would have been determined by going to the scorecards for a technical decision.


Although no one should discredit the heart Marcus Browne showed in this fight, his effectiveness gradually declined as the bout progressed and if the bout had gone to the scorecards, it is likely that Beterbiev would have retained his title with a decision win. While Beterbiev and Bivol appear to be on a collision course, there is another potential opponent that both champions should keep an eye on. This observer is referring to undefeated former WBO Super-Middleweight world champion Gilberto Ramirez, who returned to the ring on December 18th against Yuneski Gonzalez at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX.


With so much of the recent times of the Light-Heavyweight division focused on Bivol, Beterbiev, and the fact that both have been angling for a potential fight with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, the sport’s biggest star that has been seeking the most lucrative fights possible in his career, or a potential fight with each other, Ramirez has quietly emerged as a potential wild card opponent for either of the three if the opportunity were available to him. In Yuneski Gonzalez, Ramirez faced a solid boxer/puncher who showed immediately upon the fight beginning that he was not a mere opponent for Ramirez to simply get some work in before more lucrative fights in 2022. Gonzalez was more than willing to engage in exchanges of punches with Ramirez from the outset and from my perspective had particular success in landing his right hand as well as being able to periodically back Ramirez against the ropes.


It did not take long before this fight evolved from a Boxing match to an all-out brawl with both fighters standing and going toe to toe, and punch for punch. While there were moments where Ramirez was able to hurt Gonzalez and had him appearing as though he might be able to get a stoppage early, Gonzalez kept fighting on and kept answering whatever Ramirez threw at him. When it comes to fights that are fought like this, the primary question that comes to mind beyond the subject of potential scoring of a bout is which fighter will have enough left in them to go the distance if required to do so.  This was a case where as I watched this fight, the idea of scoring did not come to mind simply due to the way the fight was being fought and the high pace of the combat with both fighters throwing seemingly every punch with fight ending intentions.


As the bout went on however, it did appear that Ramirez was gradually getting the better of the exchanges and the question that formed in my mind was whether or not Gonzalez would be able to go the distance. The war of attrition continued on until the tenth round when Ramirez connected with a barrage of punches on a fatigued Gonzalez along the ropes, which forced the fight to be stopped.


Although Gilberto Ramirez had more difficulty than some may have expected going into this fight, he did what he had to do in outlasting a very “Game” Yuneski Gonzalez in what was a very grueling fight that might be considered one of the best bouts of 2021 depending on one’s perspective. While Ramirez remains a live opponent for either Bivol or Beterbiev going into 2022, he has earned the opportunity to rest, despite his stating that he would like a bout with Bivol in his next fight shortly after his victory over Gonzalez.


The final bout that took place on December 18th featured YouTube star turned boxer Jake Paul in a rematch against former UFC World Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in a rematch of a bout the two had earlier this year in Cleveland, OH. This rematch, which was fought at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL, came out of necessity for Paul and United States cable network Showtime to keep the pay-per-view date after original opponent Tommy Fury, withdrew with what was described as a chest infection and a broken rib that he suffered in training.


Even though this rematch came not necessarily out of public demand as it did out of necessity in terms of the business aspects of the sport, Paul’s status as a celebrity did succeed in selling out the near 20,000 seat arena, which were no doubt full of both his sizable YouTube following as well as those who remain curious as to Paul’s legitimacy as a boxer. It is a fact that Paul has yet to face someone with a legitimate Boxing background and that fact alone has fueled much criticism in addition to his being pushed as a pay-per-view headliner with only four professional bouts to his credit going into what turned out to be an immediate rematch with Woodley. The first encounter, which was won by Paul via eight round split decision had the consensus that, despite Woodley being able to stun Paul in the fourth round of that fight, he simply was not active enough over the course of the fight to garner favor of the judges scoring the bout. Woodley did claim in the lead up to this rematch that he would be more active this time around and for a period of time, he did seem intent on keeping his word as he did try to pressure Paul early.  Unfortunately for those in attendance at Amalie Arena and those watching via pay-per-view, this rematch did not have much in the way of action throughout much of the first five rounds of the bout as both fighters tried to engage each other, but more often than not ended up in clinches, which did not produce much in the way of action.


This can be attributed to inexperience of both fighters in terms of Boxing, but it should also be noted that many of the clinches seemed to be initiated by Woodley. While clinching is not allowed in Boxing and is normally separated by a referee officiating a bout, in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), where Woodley has primarily competed for most of his combat sports career, fighters are allowed to fight while in a clinch. Perhaps Woodley out of instinct tried to gain an advantage over Paul by way of clinching, and thus forgetting that this bout was being fought under Boxing rules. This would prove to be a moot point as Paul would bring a sudden end to the fight in round six when he connected with a flush right hook to the jaw that knocked Woodley out cold face first on the canvas.


Although Paul moved his record to 5-0, with 4 Knockouts with his second victory over Tyron Woodley, criticism will likely remain again based on the fact that he has not faced someone with a legitimate Boxing background and the decision of Showtime to push him as a pay-per-view attraction having not faced a legitimate boxer.  While the issue of the business of the sport and it’s flaws is a subject to be discussed at a later time, it will be interesting if in 2022 those at Showtime, who have struggled to draw consistently high buy rates for their pay-per-view cards amid the consumer trend shifting more towards subscription-based streaming, will insist that Paul fight against people with legitimate Boxing backgrounds going forward if he is truly serious about wanting to be taken seriously as a boxer.  It will also be interesting to see if Showtime’s parent company ViacomCBS chooses to use the growth of it’s subscription streaming network Paramount+ as a pay-per-view alternative in perhaps using Paul as a way to drive subscribers as many of his followers are likely casual Boxing fans and would likely be more inclined to subscribe to Paramount+ for the entertainment options the network has to offer in addition to seeing Paul featured as part of the streaming platform’s sports programming as opposed to paying inflated pay-per-view fees.  For now, Paul has succeeded in scoring another knockout and maintaining the curiosity that has followed he and his brother Logan’s respective entries into the sport. It will be up to him to prove that this is a legitimate Boxing career and not a novelty act that will eventually wear off.


While this is usually where this observer shares some closing thoughts on what has been an extremely active year, despite the continued impacts of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic. As much as I would like to close this column reflecting on some of the events that have taken place, the Boxing calendar now turns to what the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters will have to offer on Christmas night and a pay-per-view card to take place on New Year’s Day in Hollywood, FL.


Although the choice to do Boxing cards over the holidays is a curious one that will have debatable returns, it is important to keep in mind that as of now, both cards are scheduled to take place as planned, but with the impacts of the COVID-19’s latest variant Omicron beginning to lead to cancellations in the National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL) and has already led to at least one Boxing-related postponement in the scheduled Middleweight championship unification bout between world champions Gennady Golovkin and Ryota Murata, which was scheduled to take place on December 29th in Tokyo, Japan being postponed due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions in the country, the possibility of those two cards being potentially impacted is at least that a possibility. While this observer takes a pause for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the reader can rest assured that I will be keeping an eye on the developments of these two cards and if they do indeed take place as scheduled, those events will be covered when our schedule resumes in January 2022.


Happy Holidays.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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