Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Looking Back At Thanksgiving Weekend 2021 In Boxing

 When the sport of Boxing is under normal circumstances and not under the scenario of which it has been for nearly two years due to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic, one of the more anticipated periods of time for the Boxing schedule comes over Thanksgiving weekend here in the United States as several interesting cards both here in the country as well as internationally occur over the holiday weekend. 2021 has seen a return of sorts to normalcy as the schedule over the Thanksgiving holiday was certainly full of interesting events.  Now readers know the events that occurred in Madison Square Garden’s Theater where undefeated Undisputed Lightweight world champion Teofimo Lopez finally met unbeaten IBF number one contender George Kambosos for the crown. This column however, will focus on the other action that took place throughout the weekend that saw upsets, returns to the ring of top contenders and former world champions, a women’s world championship fight, and a Unified Jr. Featherweight Unification world championship fight. We will then conclude this column with a short look ahead to what will begin the month of December.


First on our journey of events actually took place on Thanksgiving day in London England’s York Hall  where unbeaten Flyweight prospect Harvey Horn  faced veteran Fadhili Majiha in the main event of the card, which was meant as a showcase of sorts for Horn as he looked toward a year of further progression in 2022. Majiha, a veteran of forty-five professional bouts going into the encounter, had taken the fight on short notice. While many assume the scenario of the fighter that steps into a fight on short notice automatically puts that fighter at a disadvantage, this is simply not always accurate.


The first three rounds of this fight were largely dictated by Horn. Horn, who entered the fight unbeaten in nine professional bouts and had won the World Boxing Organization’s (WBO) version of the European Flyweight championship prior to this bout, used good lateral movement as well as a consistent straight left hand to keep Majiha off balance and having difficulty in landing his own punches consistently. In round four however, Majiha was able to catch up with the elusive Horn, staggering him with a left hand to the head before setting off a barrage of punches that culminated with a left hook to the body that sent Horn down. The unbeaten Horn was able to get to his feet, but sensing his opportunity, Majiha pressed forward dropping Horn with a right hand to the head in the center of the ring. Horn struggled to get up the second time around and was unable to beat the referee’s ten count. The fight was over.


Although this was an upset from the standpoint of Majiha entering the encounter on short notice, he did have considerably more experience than Horn in terms of professional fights. While it is indisputable that Horn was ahead three rounds going into the fourth round of the scheduled ten round bout, sometimes fighters do get caught with punches that they do not see coming and in this case Majiha was able to make the most out of his opportunity both in terms of taking the fight itself and the opportunity that presented itself once it was clear that he was able to hurt Horn. Majiha simply did not let Horn off the hook and that is what ultimately led to the stoppage of this fight.  Given what happened in this fight both in terms of the unexpected result as well as the way it occurred, it would not surprise this observer to see Majiha and Horn in a rematch in 2022 because the fact of the matter is whatever plans that may have been ahead for Horn in potentially getting himself into position to challenge for a world championship in the new year has now been put on hold by a fighter that was likely thought to be a mere opponent that would at minimum allow Horn to get some time inside the ring before the end of 2021. An obvious flaw with that kind of thinking is sometimes fighters are in fighting shape and are simply waiting for the phone to ring with the next opportunity to compete. Such fighters can at times be even more dangerous than they may appear simply because they are in a position where they are taking fights on limited notice. This is essentially what happened in this fight and it will be interesting to see if things might be different in a second bout between the two with both fighters having the benefit of a full training camp to prepare for each other or, if the old clich√© of styles make fights will apply in that Majiha just may have a style that will be difficult for a fighter with Horn’s style to overcome, despite how dominant Horn appeared in the first three rounds of the fight.


Our next stop in this column takes us to Dubai U.A.E where two fighters returned to action on what is known as “Black Friday” here in the United States, each looking to get back on track in their careers after seeing their careers halted for a period of time due to the impacts of COVID-19. The first fighter to enter the ring was longtime Super-Middleweight contender Rocky Fielding. As some may recall, Fielding, had a brief stint in holding interim/regular champion status in the WBA’s Super-Middleweight ratings, which in short gave him a mandatory challenge, This status was taken from him in December 2018 at the hands of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, who knocked him out in three rounds in Madison Square Garden. Fielding had only fought once since that fight in scoring a second round knockout of Abdallah Paziwapazi in November 2019 in his first bout as a Light-Heavyweight.


Over two years removed from that fight, Fielding returned to action against veteran Emmanuel Danso. In short, this fight amounted to little more than a brief workout for Fielding against an opponent in Danso, who appeared to be in survival mode from the opening bell. The highlight of this bout came late in the second round when Fielding decked Danso with a left hook to the head. Although Danso was able to get up and finish the round, he did not come out for the third round giving Fielding his twenty-eighth career victory. Unfortunately, there is not much one can say about fights that are fought like this, but if there is a silver-lining, it is that at least Fielding was able to get back in the ring and resume active competition. If circumstances improve with the COVID-19 virus and it’s numerous variants, hopefully, Fielding will be able to continue fighting on a more regular schedule in 2022 as the enemy of any fighter is “Ring Rust” and the more active a fighter is, the better off they will theoretically be as they look to position themselves for world championship fights and more lucrative opportunities.


Much like Rocky Fielding, former WBC Super-Middleweight world champion Badou Jack is in a similar position in looking to stay active. Jack, like Fielding also held an interim/regular championship designation in the WBA’s rankings system during his time as a Light-Heavyweight. Although Jack was unable to secure a Light-Heavyweight world championship during his time in the division, the former Super-Middleweight world champion has returned to action, this time as a Cruiserweight. On this card, Jack faced veteran Samuel Crossed. Unlike Fielding, Jack came into this fight off of a victory in June of this year so there was not as much of a question of “Ring Rust” going into this fight for Jack.


The similarities between the two on this card would continue however, as Jack would overpower a “Game”, but overmatched Crossed in scoring a convincing second round stoppage. Jack dropped Crossed with a right hand to the head in the second round, this would be followed by a second knockdown courtesy of another Jack right hand. Despite being out gunned, the twelve fight veteran Crossed showed his mettle by trying to continue on after the second knockdown. Jack, knowing he had his opponent compromised, would close the show by landing a combination to the head highlighted by a left hook that sent Crossed down for the third and final time as the bout was subsequently stopped.


Although ultimately both Jack’s bout with Crossed and Fielding’s bout with Danso amounted to miss-matches, the benefit of time inside the ring is crucial and as far as Jack in concerned, 2022 could be a year where he looks to enter the world championship picture in the Cruiserweight division. A division where marquee lucrative fights tend to be few and far between, but never the less offers a fighter like Jack a possible opportunity to attempt to win a world championship in a second weight class. Hopefully, if he were to get that opportunity, it will not come in the form of an interim/regular designation, which as this observer has stated frequently over the years though well-intended does more harm to the sport and creates more problems than it solves.


As world championship fights are concerned, “Black Friday” over Thanksgiving weekend concluded with a world championship fight in the Women’s Featherweight division where champion Erika Cruz made the first defense of the WBA Featherweight world championship that she won earlier this year in scoring a technical decision then champion Jelena Mrdjenovich in a fight that was halted due to an accidental clash of heads. Cruz’ first title defense came against WBA number five rated contender Melissa Esquivel in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.


In what was a very competitive fight from the outset, it quickly became a battle of an at times more accurate fighter in Esquivel against a more active and seemingly stronger fighter in Cruz. While the wisdom that some might use is to say that the stronger fighter often gets the better of the action, that was not necessarily the case for a good portion of this fight as Esquivel found success in landing straight clean punches in between the punches that Cruz was throwing.  A challenge that can be present throughout the sport and in particular in Women’s Boxing due to rounds only being two minutes in duration, is to distinguish between who is more active versus who is more accurate and then to determine which element is dictating the tempo of combat. 


As someone who has long advocated the need for Women’s Boxing to move to three minute rounds, the same distance as their male counterparts, there were times throughout this fight where I had the conundrum of trying to form an opinion in my mind as to who was getting the better of the action because in many of the rounds, both fighters had periods of effectiveness and because of the limited round length, this made it an extremely challenging fight to score.  Often times when it comes to Women’s Boxing, the fights are generally fought at a fast pace, which I feel can directly be attributed to the two-minute round length. This creates a scenario where fights are often determined by subtle differences between two fighters as many bouts in Women’s Boxing do end up going to decisions.


In this case, although Esquivel had periods of effectiveness throughout, the champion Cruz was the one who dictated the tempo of combat by approaching the challenger at odd angles and mixing her offense up, which made it difficult for Esquivel to find a consistent rhythm though the bout remained very competitive until the final bell where Cruz would retain her WBA Featherweight world championship via ten round split decision.  This victory for Cruz may lead to an encounter with Amanda Serrano, the multi-division world champion, who currently holds the WBC and WBO world championships in the Women’s Featherweight division. Although this fight would make the most sense for Cruz both from a financial standpoint as well as a fight that would likely draw attention as a unification bout, Serrano, who will fight former world title challenger Miriam Gutierrez on December 18 on the undercard of undefeated YouTube star Jake Paul’s encounter with unbeaten Cruiserweight Tommy Fury in Tampa, FL, appears to be on a collision course with undefeated Undisputed Lightweight world champion Katie Taylor for a bout sometime in 2022. Taylor herself, will be back in action on December 11th in Liverpool, England in defense of her Lightweight crown against WBA number one rated contender Firuza Sharipova. Obviously, the outcomes of these two upcoming fights will likely go a long way in determining Cruz’ next move in the new year.


Speaking of unification bouts, coincidentally, our last stop chronicling the action that took place over Thanksgiving Weekend 2021 in the sport takes us to Las Vegas, NV, where two undefeated world champions in Boxing’s 122lb. Jr. Featherweight division put their respective world titles on the line. This observer is referring to the bout between undefeated WBO world champion Stephen Fulton and WBC world champion Brandon Figueroa.


There is always an element of the unknown when two boxers get into the ring to face each other. Such an element is magnified and anticipation naturally increases when two fighters are unbeaten and each hold a world championship in a given weight class. This was a fight that was fought almost exclusively on the inside. Figueroa generally the fighter coming forward, but Fulton holding his own and at times out landing Figueroa. While a grueling back and forth battle is something that seemed to favor Figueroa going into this encounter, it turned out to be essentially a dead even fight in my view. After twelve back and forth rounds, it would be Stephen Fulton who would earn an extremely hard fought twelve round majority decision to emerge as a unified world champion.


In all honesty, this fight turned out to be one of the better fights of 2021 and given how close the combat between the two fighters was, as well as the outcome of the bout, which will obviously be debated, the conditions appear ideal for a rematch. Whether or not that indeed happens in 2022 remains to be seen.


As the month of December begins, two Lightweight fights will take center stage during the first weekend of the month, which given the changing of the guard that occurred with George Kambosos dethroning previously undefeated Undisputed Lightweight champion Teofimo Lopez, which also occurred over Thanksgiving weekend, the stakes of these two Lightweight bouts, which will headline separate cards will likely be elevated as the winners of these two bouts are likely to be vying for an opportunity to face the new champion. The first of these two bouts will take place in December 4th where undefeated top contender Devin Haney will meet former IBF Jr. Lightweight world champion Joseph Diaz. A fight that will take place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV, which can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, brings together two of the rising stars in the sport.


Devin Haney is coming off what many observers, including this one felt was the toughest test of his career in scoring a hard-fought twelve round unanimous decision over former three-division world champion Jorge Linares in May of this year. Some may recall Linares nearly brought a sudden end to the fight at the end of the tenth round in that bout when he badly staggered the unbeaten Haney and appeared to have him momentarily knocked out on his feet. Haney however, was able to regroup and finished the fight strong to secure the decision victory. Haney, who holds what amounts to an interim championship designation in the WBC’s Lightweight rankings, will be putting his unbeaten record on the line against relative newcomer to the 135lb. Lightweight division Joseph Diaz. Diaz, known to his fans as “Jo Jo,” won the IBF Jr. Lightweight world championship in January of last year shortly before the impacts of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic really began to emerge, by scoring a narrow twelve round unanimous decision over then champion Tevin Farmer. Diaz’ reign would be a short one as he would lose his title on the weight scale shortly before his first scheduled title defense against top contender Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov in February of this year. Although the fight would go on, the title would ultimately be vacated due to a controversial majority draw that many believed Rakhimov deserved the decision. While the title would have been vacated anyway with a Diaz victory due to him failing to make the 130lb. weight limit, the struggle to make weight as well as the difficulty Diaz had in that fight ultimately led to him moving up to the 135lb. Lightweight division.


In his Lightweight debut, Diaz scored a twelve round unanimous decision over Javier Fortuna in July, but did sustain a cut over the left eye as a result of an accidental clash of heads during the bout.  What this fight boils down to in my eyes beyond it being a well-matched encounter between two boxer/punchers is whether or not Diaz will be able to provide Haney with a more difficult fight than Linares was able to.


While it is important to keep in mind that prior to that bout, Devin Haney had not been significantly tested in his career and that Linares did provide him a legitimate test, Haney is now at the level of the Lightweight division where the fights will be tougher and tougher as his level of opposition continues to increase. Although he has what amounts to a mandatory challenger slot in the WBC’s rankings due to the organization giving “Franchise” status to Teofimo Lopez as an undisputed world champion prior to his loss to George Kambosos, what happens in this fight against a fighter that like Linares is highly regarded in Joseph Diaz will likely determine how soon he will get an opportunity to fight for the world championship. One might assume if Haney is able to win this fight, but does not look impressive in doing so, that a potential bout between him and fellow unbeaten top contender Ryan Garcia, who Haney faced and defeated in the 2015 Youth National Championships as an amateur, could be made before determining whether he is ready to face Kambosos, assuming that Kambosos is not heading towards an immediate rematch with Lopez.


There is also the obvious possibility that Diaz might upset any potential plans that Haney might have by scoring a victory in this fight. Diaz has slightly more professional experience than Haney and per his already being a world champion knows what it’s like to be in a hard grueling fight. Haney did get a taste of what a difficult and grueling fight can be like against Jorge Linares and it will be interesting to see if Diaz, who was supposed to face Ryan Garcia prior to Garcia taking a sabbatical to address his mental health earlier this year, saw anything in what Linares was able to do against Haney that he might be able to exploit.


Finally, the first weekend of December will conclude on Sunday, December 5th, when undefeated unified WBA/IBF Jr. Lightweight world champion Gervonta Davis meets top contender Isaac Cruz in a twelve round Lightweight bout, which will headline a card from the about to be renamed Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA and will be broadcast on Showtime Pay-Per-View here in the United States. Davis, who has a record of 25-0, with 24 Knockouts has spent his recent time in the ring earning interim/regular champion status in the WBA rankings in multiple weight classes. While such designations are nothing more than a mandatory challenger position for whomever holds those world championships, Davis has nonetheless looked very impressive in his recent outings in scoring knockouts of Leo Santa Cruz and most recently Mario Barrios in his last fight in June of this year.


Davis does have the type of style and punching power that draws interest no matter who he fights and recently it is clear that the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters has been trying to position him as a pay-per-view draw even as the medium of pay-per-view is in decline due largely to both inflated price points, as well as the rise of digital subscription based streaming networks that have emerged as major players not just in Boxing, but in all of sports. One of the criticisms that Davis has faced recently is the desire to only fight against fighters that are also aligned with the PBC. While yours truly is very critical of this approach by any promoter, it is clear that such an approach is not necessarily rooted in the best interest of the fighters themselves and is more to the benefit of those who are involved on the business end of the sport. Although clearly such approaches oftentimes backfire on those who see it as a viable strategy, thus far it has not in regard to Davis though demand has continued to increase for him and other PBC linked fighters throughout the sport to fight against opposition outside of the PBC banner.


On this occasion, the unbeaten Davis will face what could be a stern test in the form of Isaac Cruz. Cruz, who will enter the bout with a record of 22-1-1, with 15 Knockouts, comes into the fight with limited time to prepare due to original Davis opponent Rolando Romero being removed from the bout earlier this month due to several allegations made against him outside of the ring. While the unbeaten Romero is in limbo due to said allegations, which ultimately could sideline him indefinitely, this now becomes a significant opportunity for Cruz to step in against a high-profile opponent that if he were to pull off what many would call an upset, could lead to even more opportunities down the road. Cruz has been unbeaten since losing an eight round unanimous decision in 2016 to Luis Montano, in what was his sixth professional bout.


What Cruz will bring into this fight is that he is a boxer/puncher that does have deceptive punching power and is capable of ending a fight quickly should an opportunity arise as he showed in scoring a first round knockout of Diego Magdaleno on Halloween night of last year, coincidentally on the undercard of Davis’ knockout of Leo Santa Cruz. The challenge for Cruz coming into this fight beyond the limited time that he has had to prepare is whether or not he will be able to weather an early storm by Davis who usually starts fights at a fast pace and looks to land power shots. 


Although Cruz proved that he is also capable of starting quickly and ending a fight quickly as he did against Magdaleno, conventional wisdom would suggest that he will look to counter Davis’ offense and try to extend the fight into the middle and late rounds. Davis has also shown an ability to end fights in later rounds as well as well as maintain his stamina as a fight progresses, so it will be interesting to see whether Cruz will be able to disrupt Davis from being able to get into a rhythm and if he can, whether or not he will be able to maintain it for all twelve rounds if he needs to.


Despite the fact that this bout is an interesting clash of styles, what is of perhaps equal interest is the fact that the ViacomCBS-owned Showtime, has chosen to make two curious moves. The first as it relates specifically to the Davis-Cruz bout is to stage it on a Sunday evening on pay-per-view at a $74.99 price point. The second is the fact that the network will stage a second pay-per-view during the month of December when they will broadcast the Jake Paul-Tommy Fury Cruiserweight bout in Tampa FL. Although as of this writing, a price point for the Paul-Fury pay-per-view event has not been announced, it is nevertheless a curious choice to stage two pay-per-view events, which may be similar in price point during the month of December, particularly due to the state of the pay-per-view medium and consistently dwindling pay-per-view buy numbers for the majority of cards aired on the medium.


While yours truly has been and will continue to be critical of such an inflated model, the recent news that the PBC will be staging a Heavyweight-themed card on pay-per-view on New Year’s Day, with Fox Sports this time doing the broadcast/distribution duties at an already announced $39.99 price point has me wondering aloud as to how successful these two Showtime Pay-Per-View events will be when the returns come in. In the interest of honesty and with the reader keeping in mind this observer’s vocal support for digital subscription-based streaming options over the pay-per-view model due largely to the value it offers consumers for a monthly or annual subscription as well as often times every bout on a card being televised as opposed to the consumer being asked to pay an oftentimes inflated fee to see a portion of a card, often between three or five bouts on a full Boxing card, which may have between eight or twelve bouts in full, I believe that in regard to Showtime, ViacomCBS is missing what could be a significant opportunity to do Boxing events on it’s digital subscription streaming network Paramount+, which does offer sports content including the Combate Americas mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion as well as several soccer leagues and NFL games broadcast by CBS Sports on it’s streaming network. While the potential of offering these type of cards under something along the lines of “Showtime Boxing on Paramount+” branding would likely increase subscriptions to Paramount+ while also allowing ViacomCBS and Showtime to take advantage of both the live and on-demand aspects of streaming technology for said cards, something that cannot be done via traditional pay-per-view platforms, the success or lack thereof of these two cards may finally be the tipping point to convince the powers that be that it is time to adapt because it is obvious that the cable/satellite medium’s decline is not going to cease any time soon and the solution to the issue of dwindling buy numbers will not be found by continuing to do undervalued pay-per-view cards at inflated prices where ultimately everyone involved from the networks, to the promoters, and finally the fighters, who are lured by the promise of shares of revenue, lose out.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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