Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Compelling Story of The Lightweight Division Continues

The Boxing world is still talking about the recent changing of the guard which saw undefeated IBF number one Lightweight contender George Kambosos ascend to the throne of Undisputed Lightweight champion of the world with his recent decision victory over previously undefeated former champion Teofimo Lopez. As normally is the case when there is a changing of the guard atop any division throughout the sport, the scrambling amongst top contenders and top promoters has begun all of whom are vying for one central thing. An opportunity to secure a bout with the new champion. For the fighters the opportunity is obvious, to compete for the Undisputed Lightweight crown Promoters and networks meanwhile, see the opportunity to secure the rights for the new champion’s first title defense for their respective promotional banners and network platforms.


In the aftermath of Kambosos’ victory over Lopez on November 27th in Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY, coincidentally, two Lightweight bouts took place on December 4th and 5th that could have an impact on what Kambosos might do next and it is worth noting that the new champion was in attendance at both bouts, no doubt scouting his next potential opponent. The first of these two bouts took place on December 4th at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Los Vegas, NV where undefeated top Lightweight contender Devin Haney squared off with former IBF Jr. Lightweight world champion Joseph Diaz in a twelve round bout.


What was of interest for me in regard to this fight was whether or not Diaz could expand upon the test that Haney received earlier this year in his fight against former world champion Jorge Linares. A fight where Haney was badly staggered at the end of the tenth round and appeared as though he may have been saved by the bell. Although to his credit, Haney was able to regroup and finished the fight strong, the fact that he was legitimately hurt for the first time in his career was something that future opponents could try to use to their advantage against him.


While some may argue that Linares, a former world champion is nearing the end of a fine career, Diaz is closer to his prime years as a fighter and this seemed like a fight that would provide Haney a test beyond what Linares was able to do if an opportunity arose for Diaz. Despite how things seemed going into the fight, what ended up occurring was more or less a tactical Boxing match, which while competitive throughout, favored Haney as he generally out boxed and outworked Diaz in the majority of the rounds to earn a twelve round unanimous decision victory.


One aspect of Diaz’ strategy, which I felt served him well for a period of time was that he tried to pressure Haney from behind a high defensive guard. While this led to sporadic success throughout the bout for him in my view in scoring four out of twelve rounds in his favor, he simply did not throw enough to earn the nod in some rounds that may have been viewed as close and spent much of the time looking to entice Haney to throw punches in which he could try to counter. This allowed Haney to use his movement to evade the pressure Diaz was putting on him and generally win rounds by being more active and landing the cleaner, more effective punches.


It can be a challenge for fighters, particularly those that attempt to implement a strategy based on counter punching to find a balance between being a disciplined counter puncher and putting themselves in a position to win rounds by being active. In this case, I felt that Diaz was responsible in the sense of staying defensively sound, but he could not produce an offensive output that was such that may have swayed opinion as to who was getting the upper hand in rounds that were not easy to score and this is what ultimately gave Haney the edge to win the fight and remain unbeaten.


The second bout, which may have implications for the future of the Lightweight division took place on December 5th at the soon to be renamed Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA where former Jr. Lightweight world champion Gervonta Davis met Isaac Cruz in a twelve round bout. The story of this bout was that Cruz had stepped in as a replacement for original opponent Rolando Romero on a little more than one month’s notice to face the heavily favored Davis.


While such a scenario does not always lead to competitive fights, Cruz showed immediately that he had not taken the fight for a mere payday and almost as soon as the fight began, immediately backed Davis up against the ropes. This was aided by the fact that Cruz used consistent and effective head movement that did make it difficult for Davis to land consistently. It became clear rather quickly that this would be a tougher than expected test for Davis, a fighter who had scored knockouts in twenty-four of his previous twenty-five bouts in his professional career. Cruz was able to consistently bring the fight to Davis and never really wilted in trying to apply consistent pressure.


As the fight progressed however, Davis was able to use more movement to evade some of Cruz’ pressure and in the process was able to get some distance where he was able to get his punches off first. The subtle difference particularly in the middle and late rounds is what allowed Davis, who injured his left hand in the sixth round and who subsequently fought the later rounds using only his right hand to earn a hard fought unanimous decision victory.


Similarly to how I saw the Haney-Diaz bout, I scored the Davis-Cruz bout eight rounds to four in favor of Davis. Unlike Haney-Diaz, this proved to be a much more difficult fight for Davis compared to the consistent Boxing performance that Haney was able to put forth. Both fighters however, did maintain their positions as contenders in the Lightweight division and it will be interesting to see if either was able to make a convincing argument to entice George Kambosos to give them an opportunity to fight for the Undisputed Lightweight championship of the world.


Unfortunately, it is not as cut and dry as it perhaps should be to determine who may be first in line for Kambosos. This is due to both Haney and Davis holding what amounts to interim/regular champion status in the WBC and WBA Lightweight ratings respectively. There is also some who think the issue of Kambosos being an undisputed world champion is something to dispute. This is due to the World Boxing Council’s decision to designate Teofimo Lopez as it’s “Franchise” champion shortly after he became undisputed champion with his decision victory over Vasyl Lomachenko in October of last year. While such a designation is merely a label, Boxing’s other respective sanctioning organizations do not recognize the new champion Kambossos, who beat Lopez as an undisputed champion.


Even though 90% of this can be summed up simply as Boxing’s various political elements rearing their collective heads in not so productive ways, this fact could delay fights from being signed because promoters may see a route to get a sanctioning organization to potentially strip Kambosos of a piece of the undisputed championship as an easier way to go for their fighter to be recognized as a legitimate world champion rather than engage in a negotiation process where Kambosos per his being champion is in the obvious position of being able to dictate the terms of a potential fight. While such “Franchise,” “Interim,” and “Regular” champion designations remain more of a detriment to the sport than a help and remains one of the reasons why Boxing can’t seem to get out of it’s own way at times, unfortunately, this is the scenario of things within the sport that needs to be revamped significantly.


As for former unified Lightweight world champion Vasyl Lomachenko, He will be the next potential opponent for Kambosos looking to make an argument for himself as he will face former IBF Lightweight world champion Richard Commey at Madison Square Garden’s Theater, the same venue where Kambosos defeated Lopez for the Undisputed Lightweight world championship, on December 11th in a fight that can be seen on ESPN and ESPN+ here in the United States.


This amounts to a “Crossroads Fight” between two former world champions who coincidentally each lost their portions of the Lightweight world championship to Lopez and each has only fought once since suffering those respective defeats, each scoring knockout wins in those bouts. Perhaps, the similarities between Lomachenko and Commey end there. Vasyl Lomachenko is known for his immaculate foot work, ability to change angles and vary his attack at odd angles against his opponents. This has resulted in him winning world titles three divisions from the 126lb. Featherweight division to the 135lb. Lightweight division. Although he lost what ended up being a close fight to Lopez, Loma, as he is known to his fans, is still one of the top fighters in the entire sport and should be considered as a potential opponent for Kambosos along with Haney and Davis.


Before Lomachenko can set his sights on trying to become a two-time Lightweight world champion he must deal with a highly skilled boxer/puncher in former IBF Lightweight world champion Richard Commey. Commey suffered a second round knockout loss at the hands of Lopez in December 2019, nearly two years to the day of this encounter with Lomachenko. Although what happened to Commey in that fight can be best described as one fighter simply getting caught and being unable to recover, he has put together a fine career in his own right having scored victories in thirty of his thiry-three career bouts. While Commey has more professional experience compared to the seventeen bouts Lomachenko has fought, Lomachenko has a plethora of amateur experience having won three-hundred ninety-six bouts as an amateur and only losing two bouts as a professional against the highest level of competition available.


The key to this fight in my eyes will be whether or not Commey will be able to get Lomachenko’s respect early in the fight.  One thing that Teofimo Lopez was able to do that worked out well for a significant stretch of his fight with Lomachenko, which ultimately led to his victory was he made it very difficult for Lomachenko to get into a consistent rhythm offensively and also limited his movement. Commey must take the initiative and find a way to make Lomachenko uncomfortable. Both fighters are capable of scoring a knockout should the opportunity present itself, but the winner of this fight might be determined by who is able to dictate the combat and the answer to that question might come early in the bout.


No matter who wins between Lomachenko and Commey, odds are we will not be any closer to determining who will be the first to challenge George Kambosos for his undisputed crown. With this being the last significant Lightweight fight on the schedule to take place in 2021 however, at minimum, the debate of who out of the three winners of these bouts made the most convincing argument should become clearer.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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