Following the month of January, which was one that was largely quiet in terms of beginning 2022 inside the Boxing ring, the month of February began with two well-publicized pay-per-view cards that each took place on the same day. This observer is referring to the two events that occurred on February 5th in Cardiff, Wales and Las Vegas, NV respectively.
First was the event in Cardiff, Wales, which was co-headlined by two Middleweight bouts featuring both the women and men of the sport. First up was undefeated unified WBC/WBA/IBF Women’s World Middleweight champion Claressa Shields, who scored a dominant ten round unanimous decision over a very “Game” previously unbeaten World Boxing Federation (WBF) world champion Ema Kozin. In previewing this bout, this observer stated that I felt that the key to the fight would be whether or not Kozin would be able to get the respect of Shields early.
As has been the case in virtually every fight that Claressa Shields has had in her professional career, she brought the fight to her opponent from the opening bell. Applying consistent pressure and mixing hand speed and punching power, which kept Kozin on the defensive, Shields implemented an offensive approach that for a time appeared as though would break Kozin down in the middle and late rounds. Despite suffering significant punishment over the course of the scheduled ten round world championship bout, Kozin showed a lot of heart and was able to go the distance against a fighter in Shields, who is regarded as one of the top fighters in the entire sport.
A bigger story emerged following Shields victory over Kozin however, as during a post-fight interview, Shields engaged in a heated argument with undefeated WBO world champion Savannah Marshall, who is the only person to have scored a victory over Shields when the two met several years ago as amateurs. While it is not uncommon to see such arguments occur in the middle of a post-fight interview as it is unfortunately something that is used as a promotional tool by promoters and networks, whether they are willing to admit it or not, it is not a good look not just for women in the sport, but the sport of Boxing as a whole when such arguments occur on television that give an appearance as though it comes from “Reality” television. The view of yours truly on that subject notwithstanding, obviously, the wheels are in motion for a Shields-Marshall unification bout later in 2022. Although it may be true that these two fighters do not like each other, hopefully, those around both of them will remind both that outside of whatever dislike they might have towards each other, they are also representing Boxing and in any promotion for the bout, representing the sport in the best way possible should be a focus.
This brings us the second Middleweight bout that took place in Cardiff, Wales as former IBO Super-Middleweight world champion Chris Eubank Jr. squared off against former world title challenger Liam Williams in a twelve round bout. Frankly, this bout turned out to be one between a good fighter in Eubank, who proved to be just a little too quick for a good fighter in Williams, who was very “Game,” but arguably should not have been able to go the distance as he did.
Why am I being as direct as I am in saying that? Due to Eubank scoring four knockdowns throughout the bout in rounds one, two, four, and eleven. While two of these knockdowns came as a result of jabs and were the definition of what is referred to as a “Flash Knockdown” where Williams was off balance, knocked off his feet by jabs, and was not visibly hurt, it is rare to see a fight being allowed to go on beyond three knockdowns against one fighter. The lone exception would be under circumstances where both fighters are knocked down during the course of a fight.
Despite the clear advantage that Eubank had as the fight progressed in a dominant performance in winning a clear unanimous decision, if there is one criticism that one could point to beyond the fact that Eubank failed to finish Williams and to be more specific failed to force the issue after four knockdowns to get a stoppage, it is that he chose to mock Williams and for lack of a better term play around during the middle and late rounds rather than try to end the fight. Although this could perhaps be attributed to the bad blood between the two fighters prior to the fight, an argument can be made that at times it is just as important in how you win as it is simply getting a win.
For a fighter in Eubank, who has a lineage through the accomplishments of his father former multi-division world champion Chris Eubank Sr., who has also gone on to hold a world championship in his own right in his career, if Eubank Jr. wants to secure another opportunity at a world title he needs to win and do so impressively in order to drum up interest and demand for him to challenge one of the current champions in the 160lb. Middleweight division. In this case, though he was impressive and keeping in mind that Williams deserves all the credit for being able to go the distance, the fact that Eubank did not force the issue and chose to mock his opponent rather than trying to finish the fight, is something that will likely turn off some fans and may be viewed by promoters who currently represent one of the world champions in the division as a tough sale. While keeping in mind that Eubank’s approach could have indeed been influenced by whatever issues that may have been between he and Williams going into the fight, he will likely have to explain why he chose not to force the issue and seemed content with going the distance when the possibility of a stoppage was clearly there for him.
Whether or not Eubank will be fighting for a world championship at some point later in the year remains to be seen. One should not discount the possibility of his name recognition as a former world champion being enough to at least enter the discussion for a possible challenge. The public being supportive of such a challenge at this point however, might be debatable. For now, Chris Eubank Jr. did do what he had to do in scoring a convincing and wide decision victory.
This leads us to the second pay-per-view Boxing event that took place on February 5th in Las Vegas, NV. A card that featured two former world champions returning to the ring looking to bounce back from losses in separate bouts. First to return to the ring was multi-division world champion Leo Santa Cruz, who returned to action for the first time since Halloween night of 2020 to face Jr. Lightweight contender Keenan Carbajal in a ten round bout.
Despite suffering a bad cut over the right eye as a result of an accidental clash of heads in round two, Santa Cruz did not show any ill effects from his knockout loss to Gervonta Davis or more than a year of inactivity. When a fighter suffers the type of knockout that Santa Cruz suffered at the hands of Davis, the primary question whenever that fighter returns to action is not only what effect did the knockout have on them, but also how would that experience influence how they fight going forward.
Santa Cruz was able to show early on in this fight that the loss to Davis would not change his approach as he was more than willing to engage with Carbajal from the outset. What stood out in my eyes was not only that Santa Cruz willingness to engage, but more specifically how he established a balanced attack to the body and head of Carbajal. Although Santa Cruz would deal with periodic accidental head clashes throughout the bout, the cut he suffered over the right eye did not seem to slow him down as he outworked Carbajal over the ten rounds to earn a convincing unanimous decision.
For Keenan Carbajal, this was his first taste of fighting on a significant stage and to his credit, he held his own throughout and seemed to deal with an injured left arm in the latter stages of the fight. Despite the loss to Santa Cruz, Carbajal was able to make a solid showing in defeat and he will likely get another opportunity against a notable opponent down the line. This was simply a case of one fighter being about to outwork the other and Carbajal being unable to slow Santa Cruz’ offensive output in that whenever Santa Cruz threw punches, they were in combination and when a fighter is able to do that, it become very challenging for the opposing fighter to combat. Nevertheless, for what was a significant step up in class for Carbajal, he did perform well and did try his best to match Santa Cruz offensively.
As for Leo Santa Cruz, the question becomes what will he do coming out of this fight. Santa Cruz does still hold recognition as the WBA Featherweight world champion in the 126lb. Featherweight division, despite not defending that title since winning it in November 2019. Whether or not he chooses to stay in the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight division remains to be seen. What this fight did accomplish for Santa Cruz was it should boost his confidence after suffering a setback. He was able to produce a convincing performance where he showed the skills that has made him a future Hall of Famer.
The main event of the pay-per-view card in Las Vegas saw former WBA Welterweight world champion Keith Thurman return to the ring for the first time in over two years to face Jr. Welterweight contender Mario Barrios in a twelve round Welterweight bout. In what can be described as a tactical Boxing match, Thurman, who was competing for the first time since losing his WBA championship to Manny Pacquiao in July 2019, displayed a measured approach as he often was the fighter that dictated how the combat was fought. He did this by controlling distance and using lateral movement to keep Barrios from being able to plant his feet and throw offense in situations where it may have been favorable for him.
There were several exchanges of offense between the two fighters however, and Barrios, who was moving up from the 140lb. Jr. Welterweight division for this fight in the 147lb. Welterweight division, was able to take the punches Thurman landed well, despite suffering a bad cut over the left eye in the middle rounds of the bout. The difference in punching power was nevertheless evident as Thurman seemed to have more behind his shots. What was also noticeable in addition to Thurman’s ability to dictate the combat as well as the aforementioned attributes including timing, was in most instances he was the fighter throwing first, which while Barrios was able to have his share of moments, generally left the impression that Thurman was getting the better of the action.
Barrios’ best moment of the bout came late in the eight round when he connected with a right hand to Thurman’s body that forced the former world champion to retreat and catch his breath. While Barrios had sporadic success whenever he went to the body of Thurman, he simply was not consistent enough in focusing his attack to the body, which may have been able to limit Thurman’s movement as the fight progressed. Despite putting forth a very “Game” effort in his Welterweight debut, Barrios was unable to turn the ebb and flow of the combat in his favor, which allowed Keith Thurman to box his way to a convincing twelve round unanimous decision.
In the interest of honesty with the reader, while there may be some who will choose to be critical of Thurman for perhaps not pressing the issue more especially after he was able to cut Barrios in the middle rounds where he may have been able to get a stoppage, after two and a half years out of action, this was the type of performance that Thurman needed. Not only to shake off what is known as “Ring Rust” from inactivity, but also much like Leo Santa Cruz, as a confidence booster after losing his world championship in his previous fight.
As for where Thurman will go coming out of this victory over Mario Barrios, the World Boxing Council (WBC) had the Thurman-Barrios bout as an elimination bout in it’s Welterweight rankings. This could mean that Thurman might be in line to face the winner of the recently announced upcoming unification bout between undefeated IBF/WBC Welterweight world champion Errol Spence and WBA world champion Yordenis Ugas, which will take place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, TX in the month of April in what will likely be another pay-per-view offering. While it is indisputable that Keith Thurman is still one of the best fighters that the Welterweight division has to offer, this observer feels that it might be best if he takes another fight before potentially challenging the winner of Spence-Ugas.
Although these two pay-per-view cards did provide a lot of action and a full day of Boxing for those who opted to purchase both events, obviously how successful both ultimately prove to be is unknown as of this writing. It is my hope however, as someone who has been critical of the pay-per-view model due to among other things inflated price points and the fact that more often than not, not every bout on a Boxing card that is sold as a pay-per-view is made available to the buying consumer with purchase resulting in either some fights being blacked out or, portions of the undercard being sprinkled between either streaming or traditional television platforms, that those promoters who continue to insist on such a model, will at least make the price points economically reasonable for the consumer. While this may be easier said than done for a variety of reasons, the success of digital subscription streaming is something that should not be ignored and if the pay-per-view model is to continue, despite obvious evidence of needing to adapt, those “Hold Outs” as I often refer to them, need to come up with concepts of comparable value for the consumer if they want their events to be successful on a consistent basis.
As always, it is important for me to point out that my criticism of the pay-per-view model and those promoters that continue to insist on such a model is not, nor has ever been aimed at any of the fighters involved as I have always had the view long before I began covering the sport that boxers should be able to make as much money as they can while they can due to the obvious dangers of the sport, the fact that fighters risk their lives every time they compete, and that a career can end just as quickly as one begins. With the pay-per-view model however, no longer being the revenue generator that it once was for networks, promoters, and the fighters, who are promised percentages of such revenue, the fighters should be asking themselves how much money could be left on the table by not adapting, could revenues that promoters look to pay-per-view for, be replaced by advertising sponsorships and other forms of revenue, which would allow the Boxing fan to be able to access the sport regardless of whether they may or may not be able to afford prices that more often than not begin above $60, as well as the obvious opportunity that comes from exposing the sport to new eyes.
While it remains to be seen how successful these particular events were in terms of pay-per-view buys, it was an interesting and at times entertaining day of Boxing and for those who truly love the sport and have its best interests at heart, this is something that should not go unnoticed. Even as the need for the sport as a whole to embrace adapting in the subscription-based streaming era becomes more apparent.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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