Monday, January 17, 2022

Was Holiday Boxing A Wise Decision For The PBC?


Brief introduction By Beau Denison: It is time for this observer to share his belated thoughts in the form of a feature column that was originally scheduled to begin our 2022 schedule here on The Boxing Truth® discussing two Boxing cards that closed out 2021 taking place on Christmas day and New Year’s day respectively. As the bulk of this column was written in advance of an unexpected delay in the column’s release to readers, what follows is the column as it was written. Towards the end of this column both due to the time between when the material was written as well as what has occurred in the days since what was to be the original release date, the column will be updated to hopefully provide as current information as possible. We thank readers for your patience and hope you enjoy reading.


The year 2020 for several reasons, all of which are not necessarily good, was a year that broke a lot of norms both in regard to everyday life as well as in the world of sports. For the sport of Boxing, at least as far as the United States was concerned, Boxing Day 2020 was one that saw a televised Boxing card promoted by the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) group of promoters. In all the years, this observer has covered combat sports, specifically Boxing, I could not recall a time previously where I saw a Boxing card take place here in the United States on Boxing Day or in the days that occur between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In fairness, I did look at the 2020 Boxing Day event that the PBC promoted as something that likely would not have taken place if it were not for the impacts of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic in that almost half of a year was largely lost in Boxing due to the almost universal shutdown of the sport that occurred during the first six months of 2020, and on that basis it was understandable that promoters, and to be specific those who had broadcast agreements with television networks across traditional and streaming platforms would want to get as much content as possible produced when the sport began resuming activity in the summer of 2020 largely in closed-door settings.


As 2021 drew to a close, I was surprised to see the PBC and one of it’s television partners here in the United States Fox Sports opt to produce cards on both Christmas night and New Year’s day, with the latter of the two being a pay-per-view card.  It surprised me because I had always had the impression going back to long before my journey in covering the sport began in the 1990's that the primary sports that would take place over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are typically team sports that occur during the time of year where the Christmas and New Year’s holidays take place, namely National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and College Football bowl games. It were those reasons why I was not critical as much as I was curious as to why the PBC and Fox Sports would choose to put on two cards, with one being a pay-per-view event with frankly minimal promotion and questionable interest that would be debatable as to whether it would appeal to casual observers as well as those for whom Boxing is a lifelong passion.


While it is during this holiday period that more often than not, I as a Boxing lifer and someone who covers the sport fulltime during a calendar year, usually take a pause to enjoy the holidays and recharge my batteries for the coming year, during this holiday break, I did make a point of it to observe these two cards even though I would not be covering them as they took place. What was of interest to me was not only how these two events would fare both in terms of crowd attendance given that it took place over the holidays as well as how it would fare in terms of ratings and buys for the New Year’s day pay-per-view card, in addition to obviously what would occur inside the ring.


First, it would be the Christmas night event that took place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, that was broadcast on the national Fox Network in here in the United States. Headlining this card was nineteen year old Welterweight prospect Vito Mielnicki, who faced veteran Nicholas DeLomba in a ten round bout. This bout showcased Mielnicki’s skillset as well as his disciplined approach in gradually breaking down DeLomba over nine rounds before finally breaking through with a barrage of punches highlighted by a flush right hand to earn a stoppage in the tenth and final round.  The thing that stood out to me was the disciplined approach that Mielnicki used throughout this fight. In particular, how well he was able to control the tempo of the combat with his jab, which is something that you do not always see with regard to a young fighter. What was also noticeable was how he simply bided his time and waited for the opportunity to get the stoppage win rather than trying to force the issue too much, which is something that even seasoned veterans do not always do when they are in control of a bout to such degree that they could probably end things when they choose to.


Although some might say that Mielnicki could have been a bit more aggressive and if he were then he may have been able to get an earlier stoppage, it is important to keep in mind that this was only the eleventh professional bout for the nineteen year old native of Roseland, NJ. While it is indeed true that a prospect that is able to score head turning knockouts more often than not generates more attention, there is something to be said about the development of a young fighter and the fact that Mielnicki was able to not only go into the tenth round, but do so in a way where he pretty much controlled the bout from the opening bell is something that will likely serve him better than a quick knockout might have in terms of the long-term picture as he progresses in his career.  The only loss for Mielnicki thus far in his career came in dropping an eight round majority decision to James Martin in April 2021. With two victories since that setback, each coming via stoppage, the future looks bright for Mielnicki going into 2022 and the question that might be asked is whether or not he may be ready for a bit of a test in his next fight to see where he fits in what is usually a talent-deep 147lb. Welterweight division.


The future also looks bright for undefeated Middleweight prospect Joey Spencer, who also appeared on this card in scoring a fifth round stoppage of veteran Limberth Ponce.  This was a fight that could be described as a systematic breakdown of an opponent as much like Mielnicki did in the main event of the card, the twenty-one year old Spencer gradually wore Ponce down. Spencer did this by implementing a tactical approach that had an emphasis on maintaining distance, but also allowed him to pick his shots in spurts to the body and head, which kept Ponce off balance and unable to do much beyond trying to defend against what Spencer was throwing. The combination of well-timed and executed offense to the body and head eventually created the opening where Spencer was able to stagger Ponce with a left hook to the head and follow that with a right hand that sent Ponce down on his back midway through the fifth round resulting in a stoppage of the fight without a count from the referee.


Although Spencer was able to get to his opponent in a quicker fashion than Mielnicki was able to in his bout, the approach both fighters used was similar in it’s execution and both fighters were able to get the impressive victories they needed heading into 2022. For Spencer, the stoppage win over Limberth Ponce was his fourteenth professional victory and his tenth knockout. The similarities between Spencer and Mielnicki will continue going into this year as much like Mielnicki, the question for Spencer will be whether or not he is ready for a test to see where he fits into the 160lb. Middleweight division and hopefully an attempt to move him into the top thirty rankings of Boxing’s five recognized world sanctioning organizations the World Boxing Council (WBC), World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF), the World Boxing Organization (WBO), and finally, the International Boxing Organization (IBO).  While the PBC’s decision to broadcast a Boxing card on Christmas night proved to be a surprising success with over two million viewers tuning in to watch what was the highest rated Boxing card broadcast by Fox in 2021, it led to the pay-per-view event that took place on New Year’s day at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, FL.


A Heavyweight-themed event that featured five bouts with the sales pitch being priced at a $39.99 price point, much lower than the $60-$80 price points, which despite the consistently dwindling returns for pay-per-view cards over the last several years, remains the norm. This PBC Fox Sports Pay-Per-View card did however, feature an interesting main event that pitted former IBF Heavyweight world champion Charles Martin against former two-time world title challenger and longtime Heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz.  A bout that was billed as an elimination bout in the International Boxing Federation (IBF) Heavyweight ratings that perhaps because I was observing this card during some downtime that I had an impression was a final eliminator to determine the next IBF mandatory challenger that would theoretically face the winner of the presumed rematch between undefeated IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk and former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua, which might take place later this year. The elements of the business side of the sport as it relates to the IBF aside for the time being, this was nevertheless a fight between two fighters who have been at or near the top of the division for several years.


Although the forty-two year old Ortiz is known for his ability to score quick knockouts, I wondered how he would respond to a fighter in Martin, whom like himself, is a crafty southpaw, who had not been known for his punching power, but did have the ability to score knockouts should the opportunity arise in scoring knockouts in twenty-five of his twenty-eight career victories. Martin also came into the bout on a five fight winning streak and one might argue that he had more momentum coming into the bout than Ortiz, who was coming off of a victory in his last fight following his second stoppage loss to then WBC Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder in November 2019.


The thing that stood out to me when the fight began was the measured approach in which Martin chose to pursue Ortiz. While Ortiz seemed to be the busier of the two fighters, Martin chose a calculated approach focusing on making the most of his openings rather than trying to outwork Ortiz. It was this approach that resulted in an unexpected knockdown when Martin connected with a short left hook that seemed to land behind Ortiz’ ear that sent him down in the first round. Although this was what is often referred to as a “Flash Knockdown” in that Ortiz was caught off balance and was subsequently knocked down rather than it being a case where he was badly stunned/hurt, Martin was able to show that he could exploit openings that Ortiz would leave him and this in my view gave him what some might have viewed as an unlikely advantage as the fight progressed. It also stood out to me that Ortiz’ apparent issues with his balance may not have been a case of an effective fight plan by the former world champion Martin, but also perhaps an indication that at Fort total years old that Ortiz may be at the point where he may not be able to maintain his balance as well as he has done previously throughout his career and that in addition to elements such as age and TBE physical wear and tear that comes with being a competitor in combat sports is something that might become an increasing issue as Ortiz continues on in his career.


Martin would follow the knockdown he was able to score in round one with a second knockdown of Ortiz in the closing seconds of round four. Much like the first knockdown in round one, Ortiz was caught off balance, but this time, it was a jab that knocked Ortiz off his feet. While some may not think much of knockdown a that occur in this way due simply to more often than not, the fighter being knocked down not being hurt, the fact that knockdowns are scored can have a crucial role in how a fight is scored. In this case, particularly because this was a bout between two southpaws that were able to counter each other's offense effectively in spots as this fight progressed.


In this observer's view, the two knockdowns Martin was able to score as well as the general measured approach he implemented for a large portion of the bout was enough to give him the advantage. Despite my view, when Ortiz was able to connect with his offense, he did seem to have more power behind his punches compared to Martin. This kept Ortiz not just in the fight, but also extremely dangerous. The question that developed in my mind was whether or not Ortiz would be able to catch Martin, who had proved to be elusive and almost sniper like with his tactics in setting up his punches.


As can sometimes happen in Boxing and in particular the Heavyweight division, fights can change in the blink of an eye. This is essentially what would happen in this fight. As Martin appeared at least in my eyes to be building a lead on the scorecards based largely on the strength of the two knockdowns he had scored, Ortiz would turn things in his favor in sudden and dramatic fashion. In round six, Ortiz would connect with a flush overhand left that landed on Martin's temple that more or less froze the former world champion on his feet. This set off a brutal barrage of punches that ultimately sent Martin down. Some might say that at this point, Martin was able to benefit from a break of sorts in that because one of his gloves got tied in the first and second ropes as he went down, the referee Frank Santore Jr. opted to stop the count at around the count of seven to unhook Martin's glove. Despite momentarily getting crucial seconds to try and clear his head once the count was stopped, Ortiz sensing he had his opponent in serious trouble, pressed forward with a near relentless assault of punches resulting in Martin being dropped for a second time. This time even though Martin was able beat the count, Santore did not like what he saw in Martin's eye and body language and stopped the fight.


Although this was as impressive a come from behind victory for Luis Ortiz as one could draw up, more questions emerged from this fight regarding Ortiz than there were questions answered. To be specific, given both his age as well as the balance problems that were clearly evident in this fight, just how much longer will he continue on with his career? Despite emerging victorious in what was billed as an IBF elimination bout, an indication that perhaps Ortiz may not have been100% going into the fight with Martin became known in the days that followed the fight as Ortiz withdrew from an ordered IBF elimination bout against undefeated top contender Filip Hrgovic citing an undisclosed injury that would prevent a bout, which would determine a new mandatory challenger in the IBF Heavyweight ratings to face the winner of the upcoming rematch later this year between undefeated unified IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk and former two-time Heavyweight world champion Anthony Joshua. Taking Ortiz' place in the planned IBF elimination bout will be top contender Tony Yoka of France, who had a scheduled bout this month cancelled due to the French government imposing restrictions in regard to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic. As has been the case for many things over the last two years regarding COVID-19 virus, it may be best to wait and see what happens regarding the ongoing crisis before discussing when those two bouts, the Usyk-Joshua rematch as well as this planned IBF elimination bout will take place beyond saying hopefully, they will both occur during the course of 2022.


There were also four other Heavyweight bouts that occurred on the undercard of Luis Ortiz’ stoppage of Charles Martin that will be touched upon here before sharing some closing thoughts. Unbeaten Heavyweight prospect Frank Sanchez had to overcome circumstances, which unfortunately because of the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic have become an issue throughout the entire sport. A change of opponent due to an originally scheduled opponent due to contracting COVID-19. In this case, Sanchez’ original opponent was to be Carlos Negron, who was forced to withdraw from the bout in the days prior to the card due to contracting the COVID-19 virus. Longtime Heavyweight contender Christian Hammer stepped in on limited notice and was able to last the full ten round distance against Sanchez in losing a unanimous decision.


It was a workmanlike performance by Sanchez who simply did what he needed to do over the ten rounds to earn the victory. While there was not much in the way of highlights to speak of regarding this bout, the reality is under the current circumstances the world is in because of the COVID-19 crisis, fights like this are as much an adjustment for the fighter who had to have a change in opponent as much as it is for the fighter stepping into the bout on what is often times limited notice. While as of this writing there is no word as to whether there will be an attempt to reschedule Sanchez to face Negron down the line, but it was as good a performance as one could expect under such a scenario against a durable opponent in Christian Hammer that was able to hang in there and did his best.


Ali Demirezen also saw action on this card in scoring the most notable win in his career thus far in stopping former world title challenger Gerald Washington in eight rounds. The veteran Washington was able to have some sporadic success early on in this fight, but Demirezen gradually was able to take control and midway through the eighth round with their fighter seeming badly fatigued and suffering significant punishment, Washington’s corner stopped the fight. Although Washington had some success throughout particularly when he was able to work behind his jab, he simply did not let his hands go with consistency to be effective for a sustainable period of time. Whether or not this was due to the pressure Demirezen was able to put on him, the effect of Demirezen’s power, or the fact that Washington is thirty-nine years old and has suffered some punishment throughout his twenty-six bout career is only something that he can answer, but for Demirezen, who entered the bout with a record of 14-1, with 11 Knockouts, these are the type of tests that a prospect is often faced with as they look to progress towards an eventual challenge of a world championship. This observer is not quite ready to say that Demirezen is ready for the upper class of the Heavyweight division, but the fact that he was able to stop a former world title challenger is something that should be viewed as a positive as he looks to progress forward in the new year.


This card also featured a rematch as veteran Johnnie Rice scored a lopsided and uneventful ten round unanimous decision over Michael Coffee. Similar to Frank Sanchez’ victory over Christian Hammer, there is simply not much to say about this fight beyond the simple description of one fighter besting the other. Unlike their first encounter in July of last year where Rice entered as an unknown opponent for the then unbeaten Coffee and was not thought to be much of a test for him in entering with a record of 14-6-1, with 9 Knockouts compared to Coffee’s 12-0, with 9 Knockouts, a fight where Rice surprised many in stopping Coffee in five rounds, the rematch was a slow methodical bout that Rice was able to control from the outset to earn a convincing victory on the scorecards. While it is hard to say that Rice is a potential contender at this stage, two consecutive victories over a previously unbeaten prospect is definitely something to take notice of and at minimum Rice has earned status as a potential spoiler for prospects on the rise and fringe contenders for now. As for Michael Coffee, a problem many prospects throughout the entire sport face as they move up towards world contender status, particular those who are able to score several knockouts on their rise up is the issue of what happens when they are tested by fighters that may not be household names, but are capable of giving a prospect a tough fight and possibly a surprise. Two losses to one fighter is certainly not an indication that a fighter does not have potential to be a contender or even a world champion at some point in their career, but for Michael Coffee, it will be a question of whether these two losses were a case of a fighter in Johnnie Rice being under the radar and being a more dangerous opponent than his record may have suggested, or if it was simply a bad clash of styles for Coffee. For now, the two losses should be viewed as something that Coffee should take time to digest, learn from, and see what adjustments can be made in the gym before he attempts to resume his career.


Perhaps the most entertaining bout on this pay-per-view card was it’s opening bout between unbeaten Heavyweight Viktor Faust who scored an exciting and somewhat controversial second round stoppage of veteran Iago Kiladze. A bout that can be best described as “Rock Em’, Sock Em’ the two fighters exchanged multiple knockdowns in the round and a half that they were in the ring together and this can be attributed to both fighters willingness to stand and trade punches with little regard for defense. For Faust, who came into the fight having scored knockouts of six of his previous eight opponents and was heavily favored over Kiladze, this proved to be a significant test that was not anticipated. Faust quickly dropped Kiladze with a short left hook in the opening seconds of round one. Kiladze responded just as quickly as Faust pressed forward following the knockdown and dropped Faust with a counter right hand to the jaw moments later. Not to be outdone, Faust would score a second knockdown of Kiladze later in the first round with another left hook to the head. 


The wild encounter would continue in the second round with Kiladze dropping Faust for the second time with a flush counter right hook to the jaw. Faust was able to get up and later in the round he would respond by dropping Kiladze with a right hand that seemed to land behind the ear. After what was the fifth knockdown of the fight between the two in a little over four minutes of action, Kiladze got up once more. This time on unsteady legs when asked by Referee Sam Burgos whether he wanted to continue Kiladze did not appear to give a clear response prompting Burgos to stop the fight. An enraged Kiladze responded by throwing a right hand that landed on the arm of Burgos. Burgos understandably angry, responded with some explicit language that in essence he asked Kiladze “What is wrong with you?!” before saying the fight is over and pointing Kiladze to his corner. Kiladze was clearly irate at the stoppage and threw his gloves out to the spectators in attendance before leaving the ring in utter disgust.


It is not often that one can say on any level of the sport of Boxing that you see a total of five knockdowns exchanged between two fighters in such a short period of time. Although some may criticize Referee Sam Burgos for stopping this fight and see it as a controversial move, it is important to remember that Burgos was the third man in the ring in September of last year when the ill advised bout between Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield and former UFC world champion Vitor Belfort took place in the same venue. Burgos should be credited as this observer said in covering that sad moment in the sport, for saving the fifty-nine year old Holyfield from himself and quickly stopping the fight following a knockdown and a follow up barrage in which it was clear that Holyfield no longer belonged in the ring as a fighter. That sad night in the sport’s history aside, which this observer simply asked in the days following the event in his coverage “What’s Wrong With Boxing?,” the fact was that Sam Burgos did what the Florida State Athletic Commission refused to do in protecting a man from himself in allowing the event to take place when the state of California, which was originally slated to host the event, refused to license Holyfield citing his age as well as the punishment he had taken throughout his career as well as being many years removed from active competition. In this case, Burgos again proved to be a competent referee and once he did not get a clear response to the question of can you continue from Kiladze, he promptly stopped the fight.


If there is a controversy to point to however, it is in how Kiladze responded to the stoppage. A referee’s primarily responsibility is to ensure the safety of the fighters that compete in addition to ensuring rules and regulations are followed. While it is certainly understandable Kiladze’s anger at the stoppage in what was an exciting fight, putting his hands on the referee crossed the line, and no matter what one thinks of the stoppage should be viewed as unacceptable.


While it is unclear as of this writing as to whether or not Kiladze will face action from the Florida State Athletic Commission (FSAC) for his actions following the stoppage, the bout between him and Viktor Faust was exciting and definitely deserves a rematch just based on the action that took place. Whether or not a rematch will take place will probably come down to whatever repercussions Kiladze faces for assaulting Burgos after the fight was stopped.


As for whether this Heavyweight pay-per-view was successful, yours truly has heard estimates citing by others within the sport claiming that the event drew under 25,000 buys. While I will not speculate on the claims as they are not numbers that have been released by the PBC or Fox Sports, if the numbers were in that range, perhaps it is an indication that doing a pay-per-view card on New Year’s day against a wide range of college football games was maybe not the best idea though if the PBC continues to insist on using the pay-per-view model as they will be in a scheduled February 5th Fox Sports Pay-Per-View card headlined by a twelve round Welterweight bout between former WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman and Mario Barrios, perhaps they should keep the price point at a reasonable range as this card was.


Was the decision to stage Boxing cards on Christmas night and New Year’s day by the PBC and Fox Sports a wise decision? This observer believes, despite the high ratings that the Christmas night card was able to generate on the national Fox network, probably not. It is a fact that was even pointed out by Fox Sports during the Christmas night broadcast that the last Boxing card to have taken place on Christmas in the United States before Christmas 2021 was in the 1960’s. While I could not personally verify when the last card to have taken place on New Year’s day here in the United States was before 2022 began, I would feel safe in suggesting that there have not been too many. While it is important to keep in mind the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 global crisis and that the main priority for all promoters in the sport including the PBC is to try to be as active as possible and to try to keep their fighters that they promote as active as they can in such circumstances, maybe by the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in 2022 roll around, we might see a more strategic approach in scheduling Boxing cards around the holidays.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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