Wednesday, September 28, 2011

With All Due Respect

To the best of my knowledge I have never signed a non-disclosure agreement with The Ring. I've not been asked by anyone to keep the little I know to myself. Truth be known, I don't know much more than anyone else who reads boxing websites. The editorial staff at the magazine was turned over with no warning. Respected writers formerly affiliated with The Ring are not happy about it. Doom has been cried here and there.

I'm not here to cry doom. I'm not here to say bad things about the new administration. I don't think the end of the world or even, necessarily, the end of boxing writing is at hand. I'm not airing personal grievances or attacking anyone I feel has wronged me. I do have a personal stake in what I am writing but it's not about me, not directly.

If it is true, as Stephen King once said, that writing talent is measured by having been paid money for one's work and then having used that money to pay a bill then I can only be considered talented because of Nigel Collins. He was not the first person to tell me that I was talented, to notice that I had ideas, or even to suggest that I try my hand at writing. He wasn't the first person to help me. Several other individuals had given me personal validation as a writer before. If one of them hadn't told me that I should try my hand at writing for The Ring then Nigel would probably never have known who I was. What he did was give me an opportunity and then built on that by giving me a platform. A 1200 word column on lightweight prospect Sharif Bogere became a monthly 1200 word column on women's boxing. He also gave me confidence. Helping raw but talented writers develop, he said, was part of his job. He edited my copy when he thought the backbone for an article was there but the words were lacking. When my work wasn't good enough for his standards he made sure I knew it and told me to rewrite it. He always gave me the time I needed to finish it and made sure, when it was good enough, that it was in the next issue. The fact that my column was in the magazine every month was as much because of Nigel's work as my own.

Some people gain what the Ancient Romans called "auctoritas" and "dignitas" from the positions they come to hold in life. Others led those qualities to the positions they hold and the institutions for which they work because they possess them in spades. Nigel Collins is not diminished because he was fired as editor-in-chief of The Ring. The Ring is diminished because Nigel Collins is no longer its editor-in-chief. Nothing about this is a criticism of, attack on, or complaint about the new acting editor. Mike Rosenthal is a good guy who was nice to me when I was just another noisy fan and who I believe treated me as fairly as his workload allowed when I had become a writer and he was my new editor. If he is given the time and breathing room necessary to do his job, I think he will turn out to be a pretty good editor-in-chief should he get the job on a permanent basis. Nigel Collins just happens to be that rare irreplaceable individual whose absence will always be noticed and never for the better. That's not to anyone else's detriment it's simply to his credit.

With all due respect for the business decisions that led to the editorial turnover at The Ring, firing Nigel Collins was a stupid and short-sighted move. I won't speculate about the motives because they don't matter. The results do. There is no potential upside for readers, the sport of boxing, or the magazine. The best possible result is that the damage won't be too bad. It's hardly a happy situation for any new editorial team that has to do their best to live up to Nigel's example. The differences will be clear.

Someone might say that my denials of personal animus are less than sincere. They will point out that I could hardly expect to merit the same treatment from a new editor that I got from Nigel. They will say that I was lucky to get what I had, while I had it. It might be suggested that I didn't deserve it

My reply is that boxing is not precisely a healthy sport and that the old sources of writers, the newspapers and sports magazines, are drying up. Someone has to develop the future writers just as someone has to develop future champions. The people who say that Nigel went above and beyond the call of duty in trying to help me establish myself and find my feet are not disproving my point.

That is my point.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lots of Rules to Remember?

Every sport has rules no one is really sure of except the officials. Everyone remember when Donovan McNabb didn't know that only such overtime is allowed in NFL games? He wasn't the only person to forget that, at a certain point in the game, the officials will simply call a tie.

Boxing is worse, because every state has its own rules. Some are relatively constant and some make lots of sense. Some are relatively odd or fly against what everyone considers established convention. Everyone in boxing knows that a thrown towel is a universal sign of surrender, but people tend to think that it is part of the rules. It isn't on the books in New York. Just ask Max Schmeling and Yuri Foreman about it.

It really surprised me, however, to see Steve Farhood make a pretty basic mistake on Friday's ShoBox broadcast. Farhood is a guy with encyclopedic knowledge of boxing, who is usually the sane one on the broadcast team regardless of which team he's on. Yet he couldn't understand (or professed not to understand) why Dr. Lou Moret took a point from Chris Avalos when Avalos and Khabir Suleymanov got into another exchange just seconds after Avalos scored a flash knockdown in the third round. For anyone who got carried away by the injustice along with Farhood, I'll explain.

For years there was no rule requiring a fighter to go to a neutral corner after a knockdown. The rules prevented one man from hitting the other while he was down and that was it. Many great fighters of the 1910s and early 1920s would stand over their fallen opponents, wait for them to get up, and beat them back to the canvas. Jack Dempsey was particularly infamous for this behavior, but ironically he was responsible for the rules allowing it being changed.

In Semptember of 1926, Dempsey lost the world heavyweight championship to Gene Tunney by decision. During negotiations for a rematch Dempsey began to be concerned about Tunney mugging him, as he rose, after a knockdown. Dempsey and his handlers requested an addition to the rules: after a knockdown, the fighter who scored the knockdown would retire to the nearest neutral corner and action would not resume until the referee had completed his count and allowed the action to continue. To add poetry to irony, Dempsey forgot his own requested rules change in the heat of the fight after scoring a knockdown himself and the result was the famous "Long Count." Despite the great scandal of the incident in the minds of some of Dempsey's loyal fans and hardcore boxing fans who didn't understand the agreed-upon rules change, Dempsey's innovation is now part of boxing's official rulebook.

Avalos, after scoring a knockdown, was immediately required to move to the nearest neutral corner and allow Suleymanov an eight count. One can make allowances for Avalos if one wishes. It is true that Suleymanov jumped back to his feet and immediately resumed punching, perhaps in hope that the referee would miss the knockdown. However, Dr. Moret went to quite some difficulty to break the two fighters and begin the eight count and Avalos specifically disobeyed Moret's instructions to break. Avalos had earlier knocked Suleymanov down on the break, so this was not a first offense.

Farhood appeared to think that Suleymanov's quick return to his feet and "the heat of the moment" should have allowed Avalos a pass, as Suleymanov was not hit while on the canvas or in the act of rising. However, the rules require the mandatory eight count and the fight is not allowed to resume until the referee has satisfied himself that the fallen man can continue. If one is inclined to cut Avalos some slack because of the circumstances, that's fine: until he refuses to obey the referee's instructions to break so that the required count can be given. Dr. Moret had to physically separate the two men and Avalos visibly argued with him after the separation and deliberately left the neutral corner after he was put there. I think it's safe to say that the real reason for the point deduction was what may have appeared to Dr. Moret as willful defiance of his instructions and an attempt to argue after the fact.

This is the second time that Farhood has appeared to forget the requirement to return to the neutral corner and the mandatory eight count. He did so during the first fight between Lucian Bute and Librado Andrade as well, going so far as to insist that Andrade should have won by knockout despite Andrade's lengthy refusal to stay in a neutral corner after the knockdown and despite the fact that the actual elapsed time between the knockdown and Bute's return to his feet was nine seconds rather than the thirteen Farhood miscounted in the heat of the moment.

None of this is meant as a knock on Farhood, who is the best color commentator or analyst in tv boxing right now. It's just meant to help anyone wondering "why" after hearing Farhood ask the question on the air and to help the tv boxing fan when a commentator less capable than Farhood makes a worse mistake.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Breaking Records at 46

I will start by admitting that I'm a Bernard Hopkins fan, maybe the only one in the world. Every time he proves the conventional fan wisdom wrong, I laugh and I love it. There are a few reasons for this. The most important is probably that I admire boxing craft a lot more than I admire exciting punchers. This isn't to say that I don't prefer an exciting fight to a boring fight or love exciting fighters. I just respect a genuine craftsman more than a super-talented fighter who fails to master the fundamentals of his chosen profession, no matter how entertaining his fights may be or successful his career may be. It's why I was never particularly impressed by Mike Tyson, Oscar de la Hoya or Roy Jones Jr.

A reason nearly as fundamental is the reason 'House' and 'The Mentalist' are successful on television and among my favorite shows. There is something attractive about the pompous ass who has really earned his pomposity and manages it with some wit and style. Yes, B-Hop is a nasty piece of work. If he weren't, he wouldn't be nearly as good as he is.

And like all Americans, I love it when experts are wrong and smart people do or say something stupid. I'm not far gone enough to believe expertise is worthless. I'm hardly a Republican. But I'm too much of a product of my culture not to enjoy its defining vice, pleasure in the misfortunes of the 'elite.'

Bernard Hopkins is not the greatest American fighter of all time. He may not be the Last Legitimately Great American Fighter. Andre Ward shows every sign of being the next B-Hop if he keeps soldiering on so successfully. Hopkins is the definitive American fighter. He captures all our archetypes from his rags-to-riches success story to his unrepentant narcissism outside the ring and his shameless sadism and dirty-tricks inside it. What is more American than winning by any means necessary and believing that victory justifies the tactics that achieved victory?

Maybe I've buried the lead a bit, but everyone knows Bernard Hopkins beat Jean Pascal on Saturday. Now he's boxing's oldest legitimate champion ever. Even if he were younger than George Foreman, he'd still have outstripped his achievements. He's fought a much stiffer class of opponent to claim his post-40 victories and this is his second post-40 light heavyweight championship. Bob Fitzsimmons only won one. I don't think Hopkins is wrong to call himself the Archie Moore of our century.

Most of all, I am glad that Hopkins won. He isn't keeping the next generation out of the spotlight or denying the young guns their chance to shine. He's just making them earn it.

Like he did.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ishida not good enough for HBO?

I respect that HBO wants to provide their subscribers with the best fights possible, but they thought Amir Khan's fight with Paul McCloskey was worth broadcasting to American boxing fans. Yet, after approving Nobuhiro Ishida as an opponent for Paul Williams' first fight since being flattened by Serigo Martinez, they have suddenly changed their mind and said Ishida is not good enough for an HBO fight.

If they are afraid that fans have not heard of Ishida, they may have a valid point. I had never heard of Ishida before he decked James Kirkland three times in the first round to score a huge upset TKO win. Yet HBO's Max Kellerman had been touting Kirkland has a potential worthy opponent for Sergio Martinez after the prospect-turned-ex-con got a few comeback fights under his belt and took a step up in competition. Ishida was good enough to knock Kirkland silly and Kirkland's protest that there is no three knockdown rule in Vegas ignores the fact that the three knockdown rule was left off the unified ABC rules because of a concern that referees were allowing fighters to get pounded until they went down a third time. No one would suggest the lack of a three knockdown rule should stop a referee from protecting fighter who is getting beaten up.

Let's not forget that this is Williams' first fight back after being stopped in the first round himself. HBO's proposed opponents for Paul Williams (Sergei Dzindziruk and Pawel Wolak ) are a slick, difficult southpaw and a bruising pressure slugger. Neither man is a devastating puncher but neither is the first guy a manager wants his fighter to face after coming back from a first round KO.

HBO is not just asking Williams to take a bigger risk than most fighters would take in his situation. They are also denying Ishida, a man who earned a tv date with the biggest win of his career over a prospect many experts were hailing as a future star prior to his legal troubles. Why should be denied the only chance he may get at this kind of exposure?

I'd like to see Ishida on American tv. I don't know Williams' contractual status with HBO, but if this fight could be made on Showtime it might remind HBO that they are not always the best arbiters of just what boxing fans will enjoy. If they were, Timothy Bradley-Devon Alexander would have thrilled a lot more of us.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bogere passes the test!

Sharif Bogere, 20-0(12), was the topic of my first professional article. So I naturally feel an interest in his career. Why should you? Because he's one tough little SOB!

"The Lion" faced the toughest test of his career to date on last Friday's ShoBox card. The leering mess of ink looking to get Bogere into deep water was Ray Beltran, 24-5(16). Beltran is famous for being Manny Pacquiao's sparring partner but he showed a fighter's heart in a bloody, sometimes dirty brawl in Primm, Nevada at Buffalo Bill's Star Arena. Beltran (who was a 4-1 underdog but fought like the favorite) may just need to trade the overused moniker of "Sugar" for something hipper and more descriptive like "Rorshach." He doesn't look at all sweet but he sure told us a lot about Bogere's personality. If more comic book geeks followed boxing then more of my tiny readership would understand why it's a perfect nickname for a lightweight who is looking to hurt someone.

Despite fighting at 140 pounds on a number of occasions, Bogere looked two weight classes smaller than Beltran in the ring. He must not have been intimidated because he started fast. He demonstrated a great jab and backed Beltran up on several occasions with flashy overhand rights to win the first round. The promising start was underappreciated by analyst Steve Farhood, but apprentice blow-by-blow man Curt Menafee sure liked what he was seeing. Unfortunately the first round was the only time Beltran backed up from a punch and Bogere had a long night ahead of him.

Everyone has been told once or twice that they should use their head to get out of trouble. Beltran took the advice literally. The Mexican brawler began to lead with his head in the second round and this, combined with judicious wrestling on the inside and a steady uptick of activity, appeared to give him the edge in the second round. Bogere fought back hard in the third and TV audiences needed the replay to believe the ugly cut Beltran sustained late in the round was caused by a clash of heads and not Sharif's right hand.

Beltran's head was an important factor in rounds four and five. First he mugged Bogere in the fourth, wrestling on the inside and leaning his head against Sharif's. Beltran's punch output and the effect of his punches rose in rough correlation to the number of "accidental" butts. Beltran appeared to hurt Bogere on several occasions during the fifth, clearly winning a bloody and brutal round, but also opened a cut on Bogere's eye with another butt and was sternly warned by referee Robert Byrd for using his head as a weapon.

Sharif's corner did a heroic job of rejuvenating their fighter for round six while Ray began to show signs of fatigue. Bogere used his quickness, mobility, and the moves he's been learning from veteran trainer Ken Adams to reestablish his presence in rounds six and seven. He moved better, he was busier, and his shots found their target more cleanly. Beltran frequently held his hands low and his defense became much looser. He had a few moments in the last minute of round seven, but Bogere had already won the first two and Beltran didn't quite manage to steal the round.

But he did have a scare for Bogere in the eighth. A vicious left uppercut wobbled Sharif badly and the 4-1 favorite had to pull a trick from his sleeve to avoid hitting the deck. Staggering into Beltran, he first attempted to use the bigger man to hold him up. When Beltran wrestled free and Sharif started to go down, he dragged Ray down with him. In a borderline call that could have been equally unpopular had it gone the other way, Byrd ruled that Bogere had not been knocked down. The crowd booed, then Beltran slipped to the canvas again while missing with a haymaker before the round ended. Despite his too wild trips to the canvas, however, the eighth was Beltran's best round of the ninth.

Sharif responded by not only producing his best round of the fight, but by showing the blueprint for how he should have fought all ten rounds. In the ninth he protected his swollen (but no longer bleeding) eye, paid close attention to defense, and moved precisely the way trainer Ken Adams had been telling him to move all night. He began to throw his right hand straight, not looping it over the top so much. He kept his jab going. Beltran still found time to be effective with his head, but was unable to do the necessary damage with his fists to compete. His punching got a bit better in round ten but it was too late and Bogere threw his best combination of the fight just before the final bell rang.

The Boxing Geek scored the fight 96-94 for Bogere. So did judges Lisa Giampa and Jerry Roth. Patricia Morse Jarman had it 97-93 for Bogere. Menafee and Farhood both scored the fight a draw, the crowd loudly booed the unanimous decision, and there is very little doubt it will be controversial with boxing writers who favored Beltran's power and roughhouse tactics over Bogere's guts, skill, and desperate toughness.

On the same card, Beltran's fellow ink blot Evans Quinn appeared to quit in the first round after feeling undefeated heavyweight prospect Seth Mitchell's power. Mitchell showed an ability to create pressure with his jab and to work Quinn with hard combinations against the ropes but the former Michigan State football player was not given enough of a test for this one fight to allow an early verdict on his career.

Bogere, however, hung on to find a way to win a decision against a man who gave him all he could handle. The flashes of power he has shown against other opponents were not there but his work rate, conditioning, and jab were superb. When he committed to defense he showed us that his fundamental boxing skills have greatly improved. When he was on the verge of being dropped in the eighth round he thought his way out of trouble and it paid off. Then he changed his game plan and did what needed to be done to win. That doesn't just show that he is a smart kid who learns what his trainer teaches him.

It shows that he is a real fighter who will remember every trick he is taught and use them when they are they only things he has left. That's what makes a winner over the long haul.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Contrariwise: A Few Thoughts on Khan-McCloskey

Everyone is writing the obvious things about this past weekend's fights, so I will briefly cover the big news and then spend some time on offering a different view of the cut-stoppage of Khan-McCloskey than I am seeing from most fans.

JuanMa Lopez's TKO loss to Orlando Salido is not going to be the end of his career. It might be the necessary motivation to improve his defense and make him better than ever and it might not. By highlighting his vulnerability, however, it adds excitement factor to his fights down the line. It may also keep him from ever having a problem finding good fights. Some people will sign up for certain defeat because of the belief that if they can just tap the puncher's chin, they will be heroes. How do you think a fighter like Wlad Klitscho lands fights? Worst case scenario is JuanMa becoming the Arturo Gatti of the 2010s. Who would complain about that?

The manager of one lightweight prospect, whose fighter had fought at 140 and had the punch to make most experts pick him to beat the "exposed" Ortiz, once told me that Ortiz was too big. The gist was that his problems were caused by inexperience and difficulty making weight. Ortiz was too big to be a lightweight or junior welter, was going to be a welterweight, and was going to be a beast when he and his handlers realized it.

Everything I've seen fans say about the Khan-McCloskey stoppage has been negative and's Dougie Fischer has expressed his agreement with these views in his mailbag. Personally, however, I don't see what the problem is. Was the stoppage strictly necessary as a result of the cut? Of course not. That's not the point and I don't believe it is why the referee and the doctor so quickly resolved to stop the fight after the cut happened.

Amir Khan had, in the eyes of nearly everyone watching, won every one of the first six rounds and Paul McCloskey had not shown the ability to adjust his style in order to stop Khan from winning enough of the latter six to clinch the decision easily. He certainly had not shown the power to turn things around with one punch or to stop Khan. The way the fight was going was very predictable: a one sided decision win, possibly a shutout, for Khan with McCloskey continuing to take punches for no good reason. What would have been the point to letting it go on? Were we enjoying the fight so much that we lost something?

What is interesting is that Khan-McCloskey was shaping up to be the kind of fight that /should/ be stopped but is not. If it had gone on to a boring and one-sided shutout with Khan feeding McCloskey right hands all night then someone would have raised the question about why it was allowed to go on. Those are precisely the kind of fights that damage a fighter most seriously in the long run and no one likes to watch them. I think we should all be happy it was cut short.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Proving Something

"In my opinion, Nonito Donaire is number two, pound for pound in the world, after Manny Pacquiao."

With all due respect for Roy Jones Jr's opinion, Nonito Donaire has a long way to go to prove that he really is in the top two or three on the p4p list. What he has proven, without a doubt, is that he belongs on the list somewhere.

Prior to his fight with Fernando Montiel on HBO's Boxing After Dark Saturday night, I didn't know if Donaire had really earned his p4p berth or not. He had several good wins and a spectacular knock out of rugged, awkward, and over-rated knockout artist Vic Darchinyan. Montiel brought the stronger resume into the fight. A Montiel win would prove that he belonged on the list instead of Donaire.

Both fighters started tight and disciplined in round one. Montiel tried to get his jab going while Donaire landed the most significant punches of the round. It was clear that Montiel was trying to loosen up and apply more pressure in round two. He appeared to be staking his claim to the round but it was soon apparent that Donaire was timing him. The Filipino Flash slipped a right hand and countered with a brutal left hook that divorced the Mexican bantamweight champion from his senses.

Montiel somehow got back to his feet before the count of ten and referee Russell Mora allowed him to try to continue, but a left right combo from Donaire scared Mora out of that idea completely. He waved the fight off immediately. Montiel did not argue or complain and needed help back to his corner. He was immediately taken from the ring to make sure no permanent damage was done.

I did not think it out of line to call Montiel the division's champion coming into this fight. I think it impossible not to call Donaire the division's champion coming out of it. The best fight to be made in the bantamweight division is now Donaire and the winner of Agbeko-Mares for absolute bragging rights. That fight is a lot more necessary to boxing than Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Nonito Donaire was not the only fighter on the card with something to prove. Mike Jones desperately needed to show us he could bounce back from his mistakes in his controversial decision win over Jesus Soto-Karass. Soto-Karass needed to prove that he could indisputably earn the rematch win. While the Mexican brawler did prove his heart, chin, and courage it was Jones who proved that he was the genuine welterweight contender.

The first round of their rematch started slow. Soto-Karass immediately failed to do more than stalk Jones without applying the necessary pressure to take the welterweight prospect out of his game plan. The Philadelphia boxer-puncher stayed tight and disciplined. In the second round he got his jab on track and began to control the timing and distance of the exchanges. An early clash of heads in round three opened a cut on Soto-Karass's left eye. Referee Kenny Bayless called a time out to let the doctor check the cut but the fight soon continued. The Mexican, looking to draw Jones into the kind of brawl that favord Soto-Karass in the first fight, abandoned defese to taunt his opponent. Rather than be drawn into fighting the Mexican's fight, Jones stayed cool and patient and landed telling body punches while opening a second cut (this one on Soto-Karass's right eye) with crisp combination punching. In addition to shredding his opponent's face, Jones also hurt Soto-Karass with telling body shots.

Kenny Bayless either missed the earlier clash of heads or considered the fact that Jones had inflicted the second cut with a punch superseded the accidental butt. Soto-Karass's corner was quite upset by this decision but Bayless refused to be swayed. Bayless's decision served to fire the Mexican's fighting heart. Soto-Karass came out hard in round four and applied pressure effectively enough to produce his best round of the fight. Any change in momentum was only temporary as Mike Jones dominated the middle rounds with a crisp double jab, heavy body shots, and sharp combination punching.

The climax of the fight was the ninth round. Knowing that he was far behind, Soto-Karass again abandoned defense in his efforts to provoke a brawl by taunting Jones and throwing punches. His inability to effectively cut off the ring or to slow Jones' counters meant that the Mexican took more punishment in the ninth than in any round since the third. Yet his game refusal stop coming forward and his busy punch output allowed him to will his way back into the fight and made it very difficult not to reward him with the round. Unfortunately, that was all Soto-Karass had left. The continued inability to apply enough pressure to take Jones out of his game plan allowed the Philly prospect to hold off the Mexican and win every one of the last three rounds just by keeping his head. Both men were sloppy in the championship rounds. Jones was clearly tired and Soto-Karass clearly hurt, giving us a sloppy and entertaining finish, but Jones was the clear winner.

Jones well-deserved decision win was unanimous. Duane Ford scored the fight a surprisingly close 114-112, Robert Hoyle scored it 116-112, and Ricardo Ocasio scored it 117-111. The Boxing Geek scored the fight 118-111 for Jones off HBO.

The only complaint about the night was the HBO broadcast team's attempts to work a little too hard to impose their own narrative of the cuts. Yes, Kenny Bayless missed a clear clash of heads that definitely caused a cut on the left eye. The HBO team also declared the second cut to be opened by a head butt even as their own replay showed a series of punches doing the job. I agree with Max Kellerman that boxing should make more use of instant replay in these cases, but in this case both sides were right. Bayless missed the head-clash because he did not have replay at his disposal, but Bob Papa and Max Kellerman mistakenly ascribed the second cut to a second butt despite the evidence of their replay.

Fortunately, the fight was not stopped due to cuts and controversy due to either party's mistakes was avoided.

Donaire is the big winner of the night but Jones and Soto-Karass stole the show with their bloody fight. More importantly, Jones showed an ability to learn from the adversity of the first fight. Though the fight never stopped being entertaining, Jones was never in danger of losing. I think it's time to stop calling him a prospect. He's ready to take the next step in his career and fight his fellow welterweight contenders.