Monday, September 4, 2023

Belated August 26, 2023 Heavyweight Saturday Thoughts

Introduction: The following column was originally scheduled for release on August 28, 2023. Due to circumstances beyond our control, which necessitated evacuating due to Hurricane Idalia, the release was delayed until Monday, September 4, 2023. Coverage up to this point, which has yet to be made up to this point will be aimed for an upcoming edition of the feature Jabs And Observations. We thank our readers for their continued patience and we hope you enjoy the column below. 

The spotlight of the sport of Boxing focused on the Heavyweight division on Saturday, August 26, 2023 as one might argue it provided a look at both the present in terms of the top of the division as well as what could be the future of it. First, undefeated unified WBA/WBO/IBF/IBO Heavyweight world champion Oleksandr Usyk defended his crown against WBA number one Heavyweight contender and “Knockout Artist” Daniel Dubois at  Wroclaw Stadium in Wroclaw, Poland. While this title defense was not the defense that many Boxing fans wanted to see Usyk make, in that the wish of many was to see an encounter with undefeated WBC world champion Tyson Fury, for what would be the Undisputed Heavyweight championship of the world, a mandatory defense for Usyk provided some intrigue by facing one of the division’s feared power punchers, who had only one of his victories that had gone the distance.

Despite coming into the fight with only one loss and his position as the WBA’s top contender, Dubois was treated by many as a significant underdog. This observer believes that was due in part to Usyk having a significantly higher quality in terms of his career resume as well as the stylistic difference between the two fighters as the champion has provided a puzzle that many fighters ranging from the amateurs, to the pro ranks in both the Cruiserweight and Heavyweight divisions, have found difficult to solve. The one wrinkle that had followed Usyk as a Heavyweight was however, despite his domination since moving up in weight from the Cruiserweight division and becoming a two-division world champion, he had not shown the ability to hurt or stop a Heavyweight inside the distance.

Before a crowd of over 40,000 spectators, Usyk and Dubois engaged in a surprisingly tactical fight that did not reflect the significant odds that were against the challenger. An addition that was also not expected to the equation of this fight was that mother nature also played a role in that the bout took place during significant rainfall, which found its way onto the ring canvas. Several of the rounds were a battle of jabs between the two fighters, but the pace at which the fight was being fought was tailor made for the champion, who likes to fight at a measured pace where he can dictate the ebb and flow of the combat.

Although the weather conditions created a great visual for those watching the bout, it did not seem to create much of a problem for the fighters beyond an occasional slip of footing. While the rain would seem to create an ideal scenario for potential controversy, it would be a ruled low blow against the challenger that would create controversy. It would be an uppercut that appearer to land on the beltline of Usyk that sent the champion crumbling down to the canvas in pain. Despite what appeared to be a legal shot to the body, Referee Luis Pabon ruled it a low blow. Adding to what appeared to be a blown call by a world class referee, Pabon also appeared to instruct Usyk who appeared ready to resume the combat to take the full five minutes that are allowed to a fighter who suffers a foul to recover.

At minimum, the call and the apparent instruction by Pabon was a strange occurrence if not a possible instance of a language barrier between the two after Pabon ruled the punch a foul where Pabon may not have understood clearly that Usyk was indicating he was ready to continue. From my perspective, I felt that the punch was right on the beltline and should have been called a knockdown. Based on how Usyk went down, it is debatable as to if Usyk would have been able to beat a ten count if it had been ruled a knockdown. What is indisputable is that the call by Pabon created a controversy that will be the subject of debate for some time.

Despite what appeared to give him a clear advantage moving forward, Dubois was only able to throw single punches to the body after action resumed. Although things remained competitive, Usyk was able to recover and the champion's timing as well as his ability to counter punch eventually turned the ebb and flow in his favor. Usyk dropped Dubois with a two punch combination that landed on the temple and dropped the challenger in round eight. This was followed by the champion being able to drop the challenger for a second time in the ninth round to score a knockout victory as Dubois was unable to beat the count.

At the end of the day, this fight answered one question for Usyk, but also asked a question of the champion coming out of it. Oleksandr Usyk does have the ability to knockout a Heavyweight, but did Usyk benefit from human error of a referee resulting in a blown call, which allowed him to recover when if the call of Referee Luis Pabon had been different, would it have changed the outcome of this Heavyweight championship fight?

Shortly after Usyk retained his championship, the focus shifted to Tulsa, OK where fast rising Heavyweight contender Jered Anderson returned to the ring just one month after scoring a ten round unanimous decision over former IBF Heavyweight world champion Charles Martin to face veteran Andrii Rudenko at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. While it is rare in present times to see a fighter approaching top contender status to be competing as often as Anderson got back in the ring, it does have more benefits than sitting out in terms of sharpening a fighter's skills and timing. This was a fight where Anderson showed those benefits as he systematically broke Rudenko down with a consistent body attack. Not just by throwing single punches to the body frequently, but throwing them in combination.

Anderson's commitment to going to Rudenko's body ultimately led to a referee's stoppage in the fifth round. Despite Rudenko's reputation as being durable, the stoppage was an appropriate one as he was taking the type of beating that could have long lasting effects. Although there was not much to this fight for Anderson other than the consistency he showed in breaking down a "Game" opponent that was simply out gunned, the fact that he is trying to stay as active as he can will have benefits for him in the long-term, which is something that many top contenders and world champions do not always take advantage of due to the economics of the sport among other factors. There may be a  risk for fighters being more active in terms of both economics as well as a fighter's standing in rankings or as a world champion, the benefits of staying active is something that should not be ignored and that is something that Anderson is showing with each fight.

Perhaps the takeaway from this Heavyweight Saturday should be both the benefits of staying active, but also potentially the groundwork for a potential rematch depending on one's perspective of the low blow ruling in the Usyk-Dubois bout. Nevertheless, these two fights did succeed in keeping the Heavyweight division as a focal point for many Boxing fans and experts alike. The Boxing world will simply wait to see what's to follow in the weeks and months ahead.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

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