Thursday, February 23, 2023

February 18, 2023 DAZN Boxing Marathon Thoughts

One of the first marathon days of Boxing in 2023 took place on February 18th as digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN, presented three different cards taking place in three different countries taking place in one day. For the purposes of this column, the three respective main events will be discussed.

First, it was former two-division world champion Felix Sturm, who at age forty-four returned to the ring in Stuggart, Germany. The former Middleweight and Super-Middleweight world champion made his debut in the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division.

Sturm’s opponent on this occasion was relative unknown  Sukru Altay. This can best be described as a fight that was fought in a phone booth. In that both men opted to stay in close and engage in a toe to toe battle for ten rounds.

While Sturm was not the fighter he was many years ago in terms of his movement, he still showed flashes of what made him one of the best fighters in the world during his prime.  This included a high defensive guard and disciplined approach in terms of his punch placement. One thing Sturm discovered as this fight progressed as many fighters have when they have moved up in weight is punches that led to knockdowns and knockouts in lower weight divisions does not necessarily have the same effect as one moves up in weight and faces fighters at a heavier weight for whom is that opponent’s natural weight.

Sturm was able to connect with several shots throughout this fight, particularly to Altay’s body that were hard and thudding punches that may have dropped fighters at Super-Middleweight and Middleweight. Altay, the naturally bigger fighter was able to withstand whatever Sturm was able to throw and continue firing offense of his own, including having Sturm hurt more than occasionally over the second half of the scheduled ten round bout. 

An extremely close fight in the eyes of any objective observer, Sturm was able to emerge victorious via ten round unanimous decision, winning the fight by one round, two rounds, and nine rounds to one on the official scorecards. While the 98-91 or nine rounds to one scorecard was not an accurate reflection of what took place in this fight, this observer felt the fight was even, but if one were to base opinion as to who had the upper hand on body language, it appeared as though Altay was the more confident of the two and may have had an edge at the conclusion of the bout.

At forty-four years old and having had a more difficult fight than some may have expected against Sukru Altay, it is difficult to assess where Felix Sturm might go as he moves forward with his career . He does have the benefit of name recognition, particularly throughout Europe, which can help him secure opportunities in whatever division he chooses to compete in. Although he was able to get the victory in this fight, the signs of decline is something both Sturm and his handlers need to keep in mind moving forward. He was in a grueling fight against a very determined opponent and one might say that could be a reason for the signs of decline that Sturm appeared to show. Given his age however, it may be the accumulation of many years and battles in the ring that are starting to show.

This brings us to the second main event that took place on February 18, which was the lone world championship fight to take place on this particular Boxing marathon. This observer is referring to the battle for the WBA Featherweight championship of the world between defending champion Leigh Wood and top contender Mauricio Lara. A bout that took place in the champion’s hometown of Nottingham, England at the Nottingham Arena. For the purposes of this column and it’s length, I will not rehash the various points yours truly made in previewing this fight as part of this marathon day of fisticuffs. What I will say however, is I was surprised in how this fight was fought. To be more specific, surprised in the strategy implemented by the champion.

For much of the fight, Wood was able to keep Lara on the outside due to both his reach and movement. While I felt the fighters split the first four rounds, the tempo of the combat was clearly dictated by Wood, and it also appeared that he was able to get the better of many of the exchanges as well. One thing that Wood did that would proof to be detrimental as the fight progressed is he left his chin up after he threw punches. Although this is a habit many fighters on every level of the sport tend to have, it is something that can only be corrected in the gym when one has time to polish and refine their skills both offensively and defensively. 

Despite this, as the fight progressed, Wood appeared to gradually be taking control of the action in addition to dictating how the fight was fought. As clear as this appeared, in Boxing and by extension all combat sports, anything can happen. In round seven, Lara connected suddenly with a flush left hook to the jaw as the two fighters simultaneously threw left hooks that sent Wood down on his back on the canvas. The champion was able to make it to his feet, despite being on unsteady legs. Just as it appeared that the fight would be allowed to continue, Wood’s trainer Ben Davison threw the towel in to stop the fight making Lara the winner and new WBA Featherweight world champion.

Following the fight, I commented on social media that I could see both sides of an argument though Wood as the champion deserved the chance to continue, a trainer knows what their fighter has and can see things that fans and those of us in the media cannot see. While the circumstances of the stoppage and loss of his world championship are heartbreaking for Leigh Wood and his fans, Ben Davison is one of the best trainers in the sport and a decision like that is not an easy one to make when it has to be made in a split second. While people will likely call the decision Davison made controversial, Wood was badly hurt and did not appear to know where he was in addition to not having control of his legs. On this basis, I feel Davison made the right call to stop this fight.

As heartbreaking as the loss of a world championship is for any fighter, it is better for a fighter to be protected from themselves in circumstances where they are clearly hurt and in a position where they are compromised. Although fans may not appreciate what Ben Davison did in this fight, he put his fighter ‘s well being above all else including a world championship and all the benefits that come with it including, but not limited to the financial incentives both for the fighters as well as the trainer. In doing so, Davison also ensured that his fighter will have the opportunity to come back after he takes some time to recover, as opposed to potentially dealing with a serious injury if not God forbid worse. It is often when trainers and referees do not recognize when a fight should be stopped that the risk for serious and potentially permanent injury to a fighter is increased. Thankfully for Leigh Wood, Ben Davison ensured that he can come back and the only question is whether or not he will invoke his rematch clause, as opposed to whether or not he will be able to return to the ring at all.

The finale of this particular Boxing marathon took place in Pomona, CA where Jr. Featherweights Luis Nery and Azat Hovhannisyan treated Boxing fans to a memorable give and take battle between two of the top contenders in the 122lb. Jr. Featherweight division. A grueling fight that saw nearly non-stop toe to toe action from the opening bell. This was a fight that followed one pattern. Nery being the fighter looking to use his movement and the length of the ring to his advantage, Hovhannisyan the fighters pressing forward constantly looking to corner his opponent and land power shots.

When fights are fought in such a pattern, it is the fighters that uses lateral movement that often tries to catch their opponent with offense as they come forward and then use that movement to evade and maintain a distance where they are able to connect and the opposition can not. For much of this fight, this was the way Nery fought Hovhannisyan and seemed to be getting the better of the exchanges, despite Hovhannisyan being able to apply constant pressure. As the fight progressed, Hovhannisyan was able to close the distance slightly between himself and Nery. He did this by focusing a portion of his attack to Nery’s body.

Although the element of body punching is truly an underappreciated art in Boxing, it remains one of the best, if not the best way to try to limit an opponent’s movement. While Hovhannisyan ‘s body attack was sporadic, it did result in him being able to narrow the distance between himself and Nery, which in turn created some heated exchanges between the two fighters.

It would be Nery’s tactical approach however, that would ultimately wear Hovhannisyan down, Nery would score a knockdown of the always “Game” Hovhannisyan in the tenth round with a short left hook to the head and would force a stoppage in the eleventh round of the scheduled twelve round bout. Even though Hovhannisyan came out on the losing end of this fight, he showed a lot of heart and he does deserve credit for making this an exciting fight to watch. The lack of consistency in his body attack however, I felt worked against him and if he were more consistent, perhaps this fight would have ended differently as when he was able to land it was effective. It was simply a case where he was unable to break Nery’s rhythm and as a result, the pattern of the fight never changed, with Nery generally getting off his punches first and being able to move, which ultimately led to him being able to break Hovhannisyan down.

As for Luis Nery, he is currently rated number two in the world by the World Boxing Council (WBC) and will likely be in position to challenge the winner of the upcoming fight between WBC world champion Stephen Fulton and undefeated former Undisputed Bantamweight world champion  Naoya Inoue later this year. While Nery probably took more punishment in this fight with Azat Hovhannisyan than he or his handlers would have liked, it was still an impressive performance and one that will likely make him the logical opponent for the winner of that fight.

Ultimately, these three exciting main events stretched across three different Boxing cards in three different countries is as good an illustration as any to a consumer as to the value of a DAZN subscription. While that is something that the network strives for in an era where subscription-based streaming is becoming the dominant force in all of television including sports, it should not be overlooked that recently DAZN raised it’s monthly subscription option in the United States to $24.99 per month, while also raising it’s annual subscription option to $224.99 per year. A move that has angered some fans as the network also intends to offer occasional pay-per-view events, which would not be included with the increased subscription options.

Although this is likely due to the ongoing effects of the ongoing COVID-19 global epidemic from a standpoint of operational costs as well as the challenge of acquiring broadcast rights to various sports globally outside of Boxing in an increasingly expanding market as many sports and leagues look to transition away from traditional television to streaming, any network in DAZN’s position is constantly walking a tight rope in an effort to both make a profit and provide value for their subscribers. While the use of the outdated and overpriced model of pay-per-view is not a wise strategy even when used on an occasional basis for any network in 2023 as buys for such events continue to decline, if one is objective, it is hard to say that DAZN is not providing value for their subscribers. As walking the tight rope becomes increasingly more challenging however, there will likely come a point where the network will have to come to terms with fighters and promoters who continue to insist on the use of pay-per-view if they want to maintain and add value for an increased subscription price.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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