Thursday, February 24, 2022

Jabs And Observations: February 2022

 A new feature here on The Boxing Truth® Jabs And Observations that was introduced in the month of January that will hopefully become a regular fixture of the rotation of content offered to readers as well as in an effort to cover more ground by this observer in regard to the events and happenings in the world of Boxing. Following the feature’s first installment last month, the time has come for the February 2022 edition. While there has been plenty that has gone on outside of the Boxing ring over the last several weeks that will be touched upon later in this month's Jabs And Observations, the February installment should begin with what has happened inside the ring. To be more specific, some of the events that took place over February 18th and 19th around the Boxing world.


Obviously, one that is knowledgeable in regard to the sport of Boxing knows that it is a sport that truly operates twenty-four hours a day, three-hundred sixty-five days a year both in and out of the ring. As such, it can be a difficult task to keep track of and watch everything that goes on even as advances in technology in the streaming realm have greatly improved access to the sport. In honesty with the reader, it is one reason why features such as this have become necessary for yours truly to pen as even though my commitment to covering the sport is a true 24/7 passion for me, I am after all only one person and, despite my dedication, even I will not be able to cover all the fights and events that take place throughout the sport as they occur. Such was the case over this two day period as while I was covering a six bout Boxing card that was promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions that took place on February 18th in Ontario, CA, other events were occurring throughout the sport.


First among those Boxing cards that will be covered as part of this month's edition of Jabs And Observations took place in Orlando, FL on February 18th where premium cable network Showtime presented its latest installment of its popular ShoBox: The New Generation series. A series that has long been a platform for rising prospects to take steps towards world title contention, the most recent edition of the series was no exception.


The main event saw undefeated rising Lightweight prospect Jamaine Ortiz score a dominant ten round unanimous decision over Nahir Albright. In what was Ortiz’ sixteenth bout as a professional, he displayed hand speed, timing, elusiveness, and solid counter punching to out work Albright over ten rounds to earn the unanimous decision victory and along with it, the vacant North American Boxing Federation (NABF) Lightweight championship.


The 135lb. Lightweight division has historically been one of the most competitive in the entire sport due simply to the depth of talent that consistently occupies the division. As most Boxing fans know, the division recently saw a shake up in undefeated George Kambosos upsetting previously undefeated Undisputed Lightweight world champion Tiofimo Lopez late last year to win the title. Since then, there has certainly been no shortage of potential opponents for the champion's first title defense that is expected to occur sometime in 2022. Although Jamaine Ortiz may not be quite at the point where buzz begins to stir of him being a potential opponent for Kambosos or whomever the champion might be down the road, he has certainly put himself out there as a fighter to watch and his having won an NABF title will likely help him progress forward towards a potential world title shot down the line given its affiliation with the World Boxing Council (WBC), who have similar affiliations with other regional sanctioning organizations both here in the United States as well as around the world.


The co-main event of this edition of ShoBox saw what was in my estimation an equally dominant performance, but a bout that ended up being overshadowed by controversial scoring. Yours truly is referring to the encounter between Welterweight prospects Marquis Taylor and Paul Kroll. An eight round bout that was the first time in my recollection that I had seen either fighter compete. A fight that can beat be described as one fighter showcasing what turned out to be a superior skillset mixing hand speed and punching power simply besting the other who seemed a step behind, Taylor effectively out boxed a very “Game” Kroll over the course of the eight round bout in what had all the appearance of a clear decision victory in Taylor’s favor.


In Boxing however, sometimes things are not always as they appear. Despite the appearance of Taylor earning a victory that should have put him on the radar, only one official judge scored the bout widely in his favor, while a second judge scored the bout by two points in favor of Kroll, which led to the third and deciding judge to render an even scorecard resulting in the bout being declared a majority draw.


One does not have to dive too deep into history to know that controversial scoring is unfortunately something that at times comes with the territory not just in Boxing, but all of combat sports. While over the many years I have covered Boxing as well as other combat sports on occasion, I have become used to providing readers with an analysis of how fights are scored and the criteria that is used as part of that process, more recently as was the case with the recent Super-Middleweight encounter between Daniel Jacobs and John Ryder, such analysis is not necessarily warranted beyond sharing my point of view that I simply disagreed with the official decision. The silver lining is that both Taylor and Kroll are relatively young in their respective careers and it is probably beneficial for both that this decision did not occur on a bigger stage and/or one where there was more at stake in terms of financially as well as in the Welterweight division's rankings. As such, it is also not hard to envision that these two fighters could meet again down the line.


February 19th was a day in the sport where there was one premise that could arguably apply to three notable bouts that took place across the globe. Former world champions looking to provide a strong argument for themselves towards another world title shot. First to enter the ring that day was former three-division world champion Jorge Linares, who faced rising Lightweight contender Zaur Abdullaev in Ekaterinburg, Russia.


Despite having a significant experience advantage over Abdullaev both in terms of world championship experience as well as overall experience inside the ring, the thirty-six year old Linares was coming into this fight off of a loss to undefeated top Lightweight contender Devin Haney in May of last year. Although Linares became the first fighter to legitimately hurt Haney in the tenth round of a competitive fight, he appeared to be on the decline of a fine career going into this fight against a fighter in Abdullaev, who appears to be on the rise. While the story of an aging former champion stepping in against a rising contender is one that is as old as the sport itself, the key going into this fight in my eyes was what Linares would have left at this stage of his career as he no doubt looked to this encounter as a way to springboard himself back into the world championship picture in the extremely talent deep 135lb. Lightweight division.


In contrast to Linares, twenty-seven year old Abdullaev was competing in his sixteenth professional bout compared to Linares’ fifty-fourth. As such, it was logical to ask what effect, if any would the difference in experience have on Abdullaev, even though he had the advantage in terms of youth and as well as fighting in his hometown were in his favor.


A significant portion of this fight was controlled by Linares’ ability to keep Abdullaev at distance with his jab. While the two fighters were in relatively close proximity to engage with each other on a consistent basis, Linares being able to keep Abdullaev on the end of his jab as well as regularly throwing left hooks to the body as part of combinations he threw off of his jab was the story of the fight for a lengthy period of time. Although Abdullaev had success attacking in spurts, he was not successful in being able to apply pressure on Linares and back him up against the ropes consistently. When Abdullaev connected with punches however, the difference in power was to his advantage.


Over the course of the second half of the scheduled twelve round bout, Abdullaev’s punching power began to gradually close the gap between himself and Linares. This was particularly evident in rounds eight and nine when combinations to the head as well as some effective work to Linares’ body appeared to hurt the former three-division world champion. While this could have also been attributed in part to fatigue as the fight was fought at a relatively quick pace, the momentum started to shift to Abdullaev at this stage in the fight.


As Abdullaev was able to increase his pressure of Linares in the latter stages of the bout and what worked well for Linares throughout most of the fight began to decrease, I started to wonder whether or not what appeared to be a significant lead that Linares was able to build would be enough to get him over the finish line if the fight were to go its full twelve round distance. After all, it was only two weeks ago that John Ryder was able to pull off what many would consider an upset over former IBF Middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs in a fight that was not unlike this one in terms of how it was fought. Any questions that I might have had developing in my mind about what the potential scoring of the bout might have been at the conclusion of the bout, did not need to be asked. For it was in the twelfth and final round that Abdullaev would catch up with Linares, dropping the former world champion with a left hook to the jaw that sent him down to the canvas. Abdullaev would follow that knockdown by scoring a second knockdown moments later with another left hook to the jaw. A clearly hurt Linares got up for a second time showing his mettle, but he had no answer to keep Abdullaev off of him and after a follow-up barrage with Linares up against the ropes, the fight was promptly stopped.


Although the way Zaur Abdullaev was able to break Jorge Linares down to score a stoppage late in the fight was impressive and will likely move him into the discussion of potential world title challengers for current Undisputed Lightweight world champion George Kambosos, the obvious question coming out of this fight is what does the future look like for Jorge Linares? It should not be overlooked or dismissed that by all accounts Jorge Linares was in this fight right until the moment where Abdullaev was able to catch him and put him away.


While it was a highly competitive fight fought at a quick pace and the aspect of fatigue should also not be dismissed, what should also not be overlooked is Jorge Linares has been through several grueling fights over the course of his eighteen year professional career. With six of his seven losses in fifty-four career fights having come via stoppage, some may say that at this point Linares should consider retirement. Ultimately, that is a decision that he and he alone will have to make, but for now perhaps a rest and some time to reflect is what Linares needs before deciding what he wants to do next.


Two fighters who were idle for lengthy periods of time due in part to the ongoing global COVID-19 epidemic that have circled each other for years for a potential showdown in the Boxing hotbed of the United Kingdom are former world champions Kell Brook and Amir Khan. A potential showdown between the two often discussed, much anticipated, but ultimately one that many people felt was past it’s due date by the time the two fighters met at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England to finally settle what had turned into a bitter rivalry between the two former world champions.


Much as was the case with Jorge Linares, both Brook and Khan had the ultimate goal of getting back into position to challenge for a world championship. Quite frankly, even as seasoned as yours truly is in regard to covering the sport and having seen just about everything one can see take place inside of a Boxing ring, at least until the next unforeseen occurrence, I did not know what to expect from this fight as I like a lot of people within the sport questioned if it was too little, too late to make this fight a reality.


Of course, the concept of letting a fight sit on a backburner for lengthy periods of time is one that promoters throughout Boxing history have used to their advantage, which unfortunately leads to underwhelming returns when a fight like this happens and almost always is not a fight that benefits the sport. As such, I decided to take a “Wait And See” approach to this fight as both Brook and Khan have suffered severe knockouts in their careers and, despite the credentials each man brought into the ring, I wondered what we were likely to see between two fighters, whose best years may indeed be behind them.


To my surprise, the bout turned out to be more exciting than I had anticipated with both fighters seemingly being willing to stand and go toe to toe from the opening bell. While this was competitive for a brief time, it did not take long before the harder punches of Brook began to take effect as the bout quickly evolved from a toe to toe battle to frankly a one-sided beating as the taller and stronger Brook stalked Khan and administered significant punishment that as the fight progressed. This resulted in Khan gradually throwing less and less punches and being in what is often referred to throughout all combat sports as “Survival Mode.” As the punishment continued with little to nothing coming back from Khan, the fight was stopped in the sixth round. Although Khan was not knocked off his feet, the stoppage of this fight was the appropriate call to make as it could have developed into a serious situation from one fighter being allowed to take punishment that they should not be allowed to take. While some of the tragedies that have occurred throughout the sport’s history are accidental, more often than not, tragedies occur when fights are allowed to continue past when they should be stopped.


Fortunately for Amir Khan, good judgment was implemented by Referee Victor Loughlin and Khan was able to leave the ring before possibly suffering a serious injury. Even though some may be tempted to say that Kell Brook is right back in the mix off of this victory, I feel it is appropriate to say that he simply did what he needed to do and will wait to see what he decides to do coming out of this fight before I offer a further comment because frankly, there is not much one can say about a fight that evolved within a round into a one-sided beating. There is not much analysis one can offer nor is there much that can be said to speculate about the victor’s future plans. The one thing that can be said however, is perhaps Amir Khan should consider retirement with all of his faculties intact before he gets seriously hurt.



This leads us to the final fight that will be covered in this month’s edition of Jabs and Observations that featured a former world champion that is perhaps most likely to fight for a world championship than the aforementioned previous three former world champions. I am speaking of undefeated former WBO Jr. Middleweight world champion Jaime Munguia, who returned to the ring also on February 19th to face fellow undefeated contender D'Mitrius Ballard in a Middleweight bout in Munguia’s hometown of Tijuana, MX. This was a fight that was actually scheduled to take place twice over the last year, but was changed due to Ballard suffering injuries while training for the bout. This resulted in Munguia scoring victories over Kamil Szeremeta and Gabriel Rosado respectively even though Ballard did return to action in scoring a ten round decision over Paul Valenzuela on the undercard of Munguia’s fight with Rosado last November.


In what was Munguia’s fifth bout as a 160lb. Middleweight, the third time proved to be the charm as Ballard finally got his chance against one of Boxing’s hottest rising stars. Unfortunately for Ballard, a native of Temple Hills, MD, his first chance on a marquee stage in the sport did not go well. Although Ballard started off well in the first two rounds of the fight and was able to hold his own as well as have moments of success occasionally, Munguia, a fighter known for his punching power made that power known beginning in the second round when he was able to land a left hook that appeared to land on the temple of Ballard and momentarily stunned him. In round three, the two fighters engaged in some heated exchanges of offense with Munguia getting the better of the action. It would be midway through the round when Munguia would catch Ballard with a lunging, but flush left hook to the chin that set off a barrage of punches and sent Ballard down on his stomach on the canvas.


Ballard was very “Game” in being able to beat the count, but appeared as though he was disoriented and seemed to look to his corner. As Ballard was able to beat the count and allowed to continue, Munguia pressed forward with a barrage of unanswered punches that forced the fight to be stopped. After what ended up being a tougher fight than some had expected against Gabriel Rosado last November, Munguia showed in this fight that he does still have the punching power at 160lbs. to end fights quickly if the opportunity arises as he had done as a 154lb. Jr. Middleweight.


As for what is next for Jaime Munguia, it should be noted that he looked as if he struggled to make the 160lb. Middleweight limit for this fight against D'Mitrius Ballard. Munguia is currently rated number one in the world by the World Boxing Organization (WBO) in the Middleweight division. The current WBO champion, Demetrius Andrade, appears to be eying a move up to the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division to hopefully entice a potential showdown against current Undisputed world champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. In perhaps an unintentional segue on this observer’s part, much of the big story that has occurred outside of the ring in recent weeks has centered squarely on Alvarez and a possible two-bout agreement with promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, Andrade’s current promoter, which would see Alvarez return to digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN for two fights against undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Dmitry Bivol in a temporary return to the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division where he held the WBO world champion in 2019, and if he were successful, a long awaited third encounter between Alvarez and two-time Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, who would subsequently move up eight pounds to challenge Alvarez for his Undisputed Super-Middleweight world championship.


While nothing has been announced as of this writing, it does not come as a surprise to yours truly that Alvarez would return to a broadcast platform in DAZN that has broadcast most of his bouts dating back to an initial $365 million agreement between the network, himself, and his then promoter Oscar De La Hoya. Although the business relationship between Alvarez and De La Hoya eventually soured and led to a lawsuit between Alvarez, the promoter, and the network, which resulted in the dissolving of that agreement, Alvarez remained with the network on a fight by fight basis for three more bouts before venturing to the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner for his completion of the unification process for his bout with then IBF Super-Middleweight world champion Caleb Plant last year.  While that bout, which was broadcast on Showtime Pay-Per-View here in the United States did better compared to what several other pay-per-view events before or since have done in terms of buys, and that can be attributed directly to Alvarez’ status as the top marquee draw in the sport, it is not surprising to see that he would return to a platform in DAZN where he is likely to make more money on a guaranteed basis compared to the pay-per-view model, as well as renewing a relationship with Hearn, who he developed a solid working relationship with in the aftermath of his split from De La Hoya and Golden Boy Promotions. It is also worth noting that the well-publicized lawsuit between Alvarez, De La Hoya, and DAZN, likely had it’s roots between tensions between Alvarez and De La Hoya rather than with Alvarez and the network.


What this could all mean for a fighter in Munguia’s position being promoted by De La Hoya, who also recently extended his broadcast agreement with DAZN could be two potential opportunities. The first would be the possibility of fighting for the vacated WBO Middleweight world championship should Demetrius Andrade vacate and move up to 168lbs. to chase a fight with Alvarez. Option two, would be if he cannot make the 160lb. Middleweight limit any longer, that Munguia himself would move up to 168lbs. where a potential fight with Alvarez or perhaps Gennady Golovkin if he chooses to stay at Super-Middleweight, assuming the third fight against Alvarez comes to fruition, would be a significant draw and would each probably sell out a soccer stadium in Mexico. In short, there are no shortage of opportunities for Alvarez against fighters currently aligned with either Eddie Hearn, Oscar De La Hoya, and DAZN and if Alvarez were to remain with the network beyond the rumored two-fight deal, there would also be no shortage of opportunity for those fighters who are looking to secure a fight with Alvarez and might lead to a mass exodus of top contenders and world champions in the 160lb. Middleweight division as there are always fighters who regardless of promotional ties, or network affiliation, are always looking for greener pastures.


It may simply or perhaps not so simply depending on one’s perspective, come down to whether or not Alvarez and De La Hoya are willing to put their differences aside if a potential fight is available for Munguia and whether fighters who are competing under the PBC promotional banner and on different networks will seek bouts with Alvarez. Even if it means doing so outside of their promotional banner, which unfortunately, rival promoters have shown in the past to put their interests ahead of the fighters they represent. The bottom line folks is the circumstances of what Saul Alvarez does next will continue to dominate the Boxing landscape and news cycle at least until something is formally announced and fighters in three weight divisions from Middleweight to Light-Heavyweight are all waiting to see what he will do. Although it is a cliché, the only advice this observer can offer to his readers is “Stay Tuned.”


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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