Tuesday, December 19, 2017

2017 Houston Boxing Awards

By Peter Lim
Photos by Hosanna Rull

For the third consecutive year, the same DNA belonging to two different fighters claimed the Fighter of the Year award. While the award went to one twin in 2015 and 2016, his brother, younger by a full minute, took home the honors in 2017.

The same bout received awards in three different categories – Fight of the Year, Upset of the Year and Round of the Year, and the same boxer won in the Fighter of the Year and Knockout of the Year categories.

In the Knockout of the Year and Upset of the Year awards, two Houston fighters competed against themselves for first and second place. But while the winning fighter was the contender for the Knockout category, it was the losing fighter who was involved in both the candidates for Upset.

And the awards go to …  

Fighter of the Year

Jermell Charlo (30-0, 15 KOs)

It’s almost a no-brainer that the fighter who’s up against himself for Knockout of the Year, both in world title fights, gets the Fighter of the Year award. Jermell Charlo outdid his twin brother, who won this award in 2015 and 2016, by scoring two jaw-dropping KOs in defense of his world junior middleweight title.

In April, Charlo rendered Charles Hatley unconscious with a laser right starkly reminiscent of Evander Holyfield’s fight-ending punch against Buster Douglas. Six months later, Charlo stole a page from Mike Tyson’s playbook and executed the punch Tyson used to KO Michael Spinks when, out of the blue, he dropped and paralyzed Erickson Lubin for the full count in the first round. Granted, both Hatley and Lubin might have fallen a tad short of deserving a title shot, but given the way Charlo effortlessly and savagely dispatched of them on the world stage, he deserves the Fighter of the Year award hands down.

Runner up
Erislandy Lara (25-2-2, 14 KOs)

Lara equaled Jermell Charlo’s feat by making two successful defenses of a different version of the world 154-pound title. He stopped Yuri Foreman with a body shot in January and methodically outpointed Terrell Gausha in October. But Lara’s title defenses didn’t come close to equaling the high drama and explosiveness of Charlo’s knockouts.

2016 winner: Jermall Charlo

Fight of the Year 
Dat Nguyen TKO6 Miguel Flores

Featherweights Nguyen (20-3, 7 KOs) and Flores (21-1, 9 KOs) engaged in six action-packed rounds of ferocious back-and-fourth boxing and slugging at the Silver Street Studios in February. Flores threw double-fisted combinations, snapping straight punches to the head before ripping the body with his signature hooks that had folded many of his previous opponents. But the stockier Nguyen absorbed the incoming blows with aplomb and returned fire with a vengeance. While Flores was landing at a higher volume, Nguyen’s punches seemed to shake and rattle the hometown favorite more than vice versa.   

In the sixth round Nguyen unleashed a right-left-right combo. All three punches connected flush with maximum impact sending Flores crashing heavily along the ropes. Flores bravely struggled to his feet before the count of 10 but he was clearly hurt and discombobulated, and Nguyen’s follow-up assault prompted the referee to step in and call a halt to the fight. 

Runner up 
Craig Callaghan W10 Josue Garcia

A tall, lanky welterweight from Liverpool, England, Callaghan utilized his superior height and reach to beat Garcia to the punch and outbox him over 10 rounds at the Ballroom at Bayou Place in May. But Garcia was never out of the fight as he kept pressing the action and hurt Callaghan on several occasions making it a suspenseful and entertaining affair.

2016 winner: Craig Baker KO8 Steve Lovett

Knockout of the Year
Jermell Charlo KO1 Erickson Lubin

Charlo had sparred numerous rounds with one of the most talented lefties in the sport, Errol Spence Jr., so he came well prepared for any southpaw tricks Lubin had to offer. But no one could have foreseen the highly unorthodox punch angle at which the knockout blow was delivered.

Both fighters were cautious and neither had connected with anything significant before the knockout, which was as sudden as it was brutal. As Charlo was setting up for a right cross, Lubin evasively dipped to his left. But, mid-pivot, Charlo instantaneously turned the cross into a hybrid hook-uppercut landing his right fist smack on Lubin’s right jaw. The blow short-circuited Lubin’s nervous system as he collapsed like he was hit by a taser, frozen stiff on his side with his arms outstretched for the full count.

Runner up
Jermell Charlo KO5 Charles Hatley

Charlo dominated from the opening bell and could have ended the fight at any time after the first round but he seemed intent on waiting for the perfect moment to get as spectacular a knockout as possible. That moment came in the fifth round when he drilled Hatley with a harpoon of a right that sent him crashing face first to the canvass where he remained unconscious for the full count and then some.

2016 winner: Tie – Jermall Charlo KO5 Julian Williams and Deontay Wilder KO9 Artur Szpilka

Upset of the Year
Dat Nguyen TKO6 Miguel Flores

The pre-fight writing on the wall said it all. Flores was an undefeated PBC prospect fighting on a PBC card in his hometown. He was coming off a high-profile breakout year in 2016 during which he went 3-0. Nguyen, on the other hand, had two six-round fights in 2016 against nondescripts opponents after a three-year layoff. Nguyen, 10 years older than Flores, was supposed to be just another notch in Flores’ gun holster en route to an imminent world title shot.

But somebody forgot to deliver the script to Nguyen’s dressing room. After a sluggish start, Nguyen found his groove in the second round and began rocking Flores with well-timed power punches. Flores threw the more fluid combinations but, with the reflexes of a teenager, the 34-year-old Nguyen countered with bad intentions. In the sixth round, Nguyen fired a perfectly executed right-left-right that sent Flores crashing heavily to the canvass. The follow-up onslaught that led to the stoppage was a mere formality that earned Nguyen the win and the 2017 Upset of the Year award.

Runner up
Chris Avalos TKO5 Miguel Flores

Like his fight against Nguyen, Flores was expected to win handily against Avalos, and he was doing just that until the shocking and dissatisfying end. Flores outboxed and out-slugged Avalos throughout, dropping him in the third round, but Flores was unable to continue after the fifth round due to a nasty gash on his eyelid. Flores and Avalos clashed heads all night but the referee controversially ruled the cut was the result of a punch.

2016 winner: Thomas Williams Jr. TKO2 Edwin Rodriguez

Prospect of the Year 

Arturo Marquez (9-0, 5 KOs)

Since joining the pro ranks last year, welterweight Marquez has embarked on a busy fight schedule, averaging a fight every two months. A well-rounded boxer-puncher, Marquez, 21, defeated three fighters with winning records (2-1, 2-0 and 6-1) in the first half of 2017 but suffered the first knockdown of his career, a black eye and bloody nose as he struggled to beat a fighter with a 4-19 record in November. Still, given his high activity and overall level of competition, Marquez beat out the other Houston up-and-comers to take home the Prospect of the Year award.

Runner up - Efe Agjaba

Since joining the pro ranks under the mentorship of Ronnie Shields, Agjaba has stopped all three of his pro opponents, two of whom had winning records, in the first round. As an amateur, this 6-foot-6 heavyweight reached the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics representing Nigeria. 

2016 winner: Miguel Flores

Round of the Year 

Dat Nguyen vs. Miguel Flores - Round 2

In the opening round, Flores effortlessly imposed his will on Nguyen, beating him to the punch and rattling him with two-fisted combinations as the 24-year-old unbeaten prospect was expected to do against an opponent who was 10 years his senior. But in the second round, Nguyen stood his ground against Flores’ onslaughts and rocked Flores as he returned fire with a vengeance. The subsequent rounds were fought on equally furious terms before Nguyen stopped Flores in the sixth round, but the second round was the momentum changer that ultimately turned the tide.

Runner up
Craig Callaghan vs. Josue Garcia – round 10

Aware that he needed a knockout to render moot an insurmountable points deficit, Garcia let his hands go, swinging with decapitating intentions in the 10th and final round. He managed to graze Callaghan with some hail-Mary punches but never connected cleanly enough to get the desired result. It was sure fun to watch him try, though.

2016 winner: Tie – Jermell Charlo vs. John Jackson (Round 8) and Thomas Williams Jr. vs. Edwin Rodriguez (Round 2)

Comeback of the Year 
Tie: Edwin Rodriguez and Ryan Karl

Edwin Rodriguez (29-2, 20 KOs)

After a disastrous 2016 in which he suffered his first knockout loss and an ACL injury, light heavyweight Rodriguez came back in 2017 with a second-round stoppage win against Melvin Russell (11-3-2, 7 KOs). Rodriguez would have been the runaway winner for this award had he beaten Chad Dawson in November, but the fight was scrapped at the last minute due to Dawson sustaining an injury.

Ryan Karl (15-1, 9 KOs)

Welterweight Karl suffered his first career defeat when he was stopped by fellow-undefeated prospect Eddie Ramirez in February. But he rebounded with two decision wins later in the year, to begin a back-to-the-drawing-board rebuilding process of his career.

Runner up
Virginia Fuchs

2016 was a heart-breaking year for Fuchs, falling one victory short at both the Continental Games and World championships to qualify for the Rio Olympics. But she roared back in 2017, going 18-0, winning gold at four international tournaments and the USA Boxing Nationals. Fuchs, 29, intends to go for gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

2016 winner: Craig Baker

Trainer of the Year
Ronnie Shields

For the second year running, no other trainer came even close to Shields for Trainer of the Year. In addition to guiding Erislandy Lara to two successful world title defenses, Shields served as chief second to Jermall Charlo in his middleweight debut, a four-round blowout over highly-ranked Jorge Sebastian Heiland. As trainer to both Edwin Rodriguez and Ryan Karl, Shields also saw victories in all the fights mentioned in Comeback of the Year award.

Honorable mention:
Bobby Benton
Aaron Navarro
Derwin Richards
Dwight Pratchet

2016 winner: Ronnie Shields

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Lomachenko vs. Rigondeaux: a historical first

Unprecedented Showdown
When two ridiculously talented southpaws, both ranked in virtually every current top 10 pound-for-pound list, face each other in the ring, it is undoubtedly a super showdown. Throw in the fact that it is the first time in the history of the sport that a pair of two-time Olympic gold medalists will pit their wits against each other and ‘super showdown’ might actually be an understatement.  It’s a crying shame that virtually nobody outside the boxing world will pay much attention to this once-in-a-lifetime collision course.
New Generation
Vasyl Lomachenko (9-1, 7 KOs) and Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) represent the epitome of the new generation of fighters who, courtesy of stellar amateur careers, have been able to bypass palooka and journeymen competition and dive straight into the deep waters of fighting gatekeepers, contenders and even titleholders from the get go. Naoya Inouye, Artur Beterbiev, Dimitri Bivol and Anthony Joshua are among other members of that generation.
A gold medalist at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, Lomachenko fought for a world title in his second pro bout, losing narrowly by split decision. He won a 126-pound title in his next fight and by his sixth outing, he became a two-division titleholder at 130. Rigondeaux, who struck gold at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, became a 122-pound world title holder in his ninth fight and, three fights later, partially unified the championship by defeating a fellow titleholder.
Past opponents
Lomachenko’s previous opponents represent a far better gauge as to how he will fare against Rigondeaux than vice versa. Like Rigondeaux, Gary Russell Jr. was a slick, speedy counter-punching southpaw, and Nicholas Walters loosely resembled a right-handed version of the Cuban. Lomachenko easily defeated both.
Rigondeaux, on the other hand, has never encountered a southpaw style even vaguely reminiscent of the Ukrainian’s. But his best opponent to date, Nonito Donaire, was ranked among the best pound-for-pound fighters at that time, and except for suffering the first knockdown of his career, he outclassed and dominated Donaire.
Will it be Holmes-Spinks I or II?
The outcome of this this good-big-man-versus-good-little-man showdown ultimately boils down to which fighter will be first to the punch, dictate the tempo, control the action and get the better of the exchanges. Either way, it will play out like a miniature, southpaw version of Larry Holmes’ and Michael Spinks’ two epic collision courses in the ‘80s.
Like Spinks, Rigondeaux will be rising two divisions to fight Lomachenko. Eight pounds at super featherweight, after all, is about as significant a size advantage as the roughly 20 pounds Holmes had on Spinks at heavyweight.  
Holmes-Spinks 1 was fought on Spinks’ terms as he tactically swash-buckled, flurried and frustrated Holmes en route to a historical upset. In the rematch, Holmes turned the chess board into a prison yard and used his superior size to bulldoze, bully and buckle Spinks, winning 11 of 15 rounds only to be robbed on the scorecards in one of the worst travesties in the history of the sport.
Should Rigondeaux be able to utilize his savvy, accuracy and timing to the max, he will be faster on the draw, fluster Lomachenko and neutralize his firepower by punching between the bigger man’s punches. And if he can keep it up for the duration of the fight, as Spinks did in his first encounter with Holmes, accolades will rain down upon him for pulling off a David-versus-Goliath feat.
But if the larger-framed Lomachenko can utilize his superior size and strength to move Rigondeaux around and walk through his punches, like Holmes did to Spinks in the rematch, he should win the majority of the rounds and maybe even score a knockdown or two along the way. In this case scenario, provided the judges are not as inept and/or corrupt as those who decided Holmes-Spinks II, Lomachenko should win comfortably.
See prediction at: http://peterliminator.blogspot.com/2017/12/vasyl-lomachenko-vs-guillermo-rigondeaux.html

Friday, March 24, 2017

Golovkin W12 Jacobs afterthoughts

Is Triple G losing some spunk in his step or was Jacobs as crafty as he appeared?

Granted, Jacobs didn't win the fight but snapping the murderous-punching Golovkin's 23-bout knockout streak and falling short of an upset by a round or two was certainly a major feather in his cap. So dominant and complete a fighter was Golovkin that he might have lost fewer rounds in his previous 16 title defenses combined than he did to Jacobs in this one fight.

Was it a matter of Golovkin losing half a step in his 35-year-old legs or was Jacobs just an exceptional fighter with sufficient savvy and ring IQ to derail Golovkin's penchant for having judges at ringside obsolete? Whatever the case, Jacobs managed to expose some chinks in Golovkin's armor, weaknesses that future big-name opponents the likes of Saul 'Canelo' Alvarev, Jermall Charlo and Billy Joe Saunders will be eager to exploit.

-- Golovkin is no counter puncher. Jacobs showed that if you're first to the punch, Golovkin will step back and reset rather than return fire immediately. Many of Jacobs' flurries were designed to impress the judges rather than inflict damage, much like they do in the amateurs. But they nevertheless stopped Golovkin in his tracks even though he caught most of the incoming fire on his gloves and arms.

-- He is troubled by fleet footwork. Golovkin can handle lateral movement as long as its only in one direction; he will chase you down, cut you off and chop you up regardless of whether you're moving east or west. But by consistently sidestepping and abruptly changing directions, Jacobs effectively foiled Golovkin's seek-and-destroy modus oenrandi.

-- Golovkin has proven equally adept at confronting orthodox and southpaw opponents alike with calculated yet uncompromising brutality, but he seemed confused and somewhat frustrated against a switch-hitter. Although Jacobs was virtually ineffective offensively as a southpaw, his alternating between stances seemed to throw Golovkin off his game.

But as problematic as Jacobs was, Golovkin still found a way to win, albeit barely. Facing the toughest challenge of his career, Golovkin dug deep into his body and soul to box, bang and bully his way to victory, which speaks volumes of his ability to overcome any adversity thrown his way.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Nguyen TKO6 Flores an early candidate for Upset of the Year and Comeback of the Year

At first glance, Dat Nguyen’s and Miguel Flores’ pre-fight records of 19-3 (6 KOs) and 21-0 (9 KOs) respectively might not have appeared that disparate. But upon further inspection, Nguyen’s stunning sixth-round TKO victory over the previously undefeated Flores must surely be considered an early candidate for Upset of the Year, and Nguyen a contender for Comeback of the Year.

Flores (L) and Nguyen face off at thee weigh in.
One boxing website listed Flores as a 51-1 betting favorite going into the fight. That’s nine points more  than the 42-1 odds that Buster Douglas faced in his 1990 monumental upset of Mike Tyson in Tokyo. While the 51-1 number might be unverified, the multiple obstacles Nguyen had to overcome were nevertheless very real.

Consider the following:

Nguyen was fighting an upcoming, undefeated PBC fighter in his backyard on a PBC card. A full 10 years older than Flores, Nguyen was inactive in 2014 and 2015.

He was plagued by managerial snafus early in his career and often had to accept fights on short notice. He fought twice last year, both six round fights against nondescript opponents. Flores, on the other hand, had been moved carefully up the ladder and had a breakout year in 2016 culminating in a career best performance against highly-touted Ryan Kielczweski.

Previously trained by Buddy McGirt, Nguyen was self-trained for this fight. Taking the fight on four weeks' notice, he assembled an impromptu squad of sparring partners, one of whom also drilled him on the punch pads. Nguyen instructed him on how to hold the pads for each combination, so he essentially trained his sparring partner on how to train him.

At the weigh in, Nguyen seemed genuinely perplexed that he tipped the scales 1.25 pounds over the contracted weight of 128 pounds. But he insisted he had made weight at his gym in Florida on a scale that had never failed him before.

When the bell sounded, Nguyen looked every bit the role of sacrificial lamb he was scripted to play. The younger, sharper Flores effortlessly speared him with long punches from range before ripping in crisp combinations upstairs and down in a one-sided first round.
But instead of breaking Nguyen down, Flores’ punches only seemed to chip away the ring rust that had accumulated over years of sporadic activity. The result was a scintillating, give-and-take affair that saw both fighters rain hellacious punishment on each other.

Ultimately, it was Nguyen’s better punch resistance that won him the fight. He absorbed Flores’ best shots with aplomb, allowing him to walk down, break down and eventually stop the younger hometown favorite.

See Nguyen-Flores fight reports in Boxing Scene and The Houston Chronicle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Unprecedented transparency in Santa Cruz-Frampton

Leo Santa Cruz vs. Carl Frampton II turned out to be as entertaining and action-packed a scrap as their first fight. Both fighters showed remarkable sportsmanship and mutual respect before, during and after the bout. But thrilling fights and gallantry are a dime a dozen in the sport of boxing. What made this fight really exceptional was its pre- and post-fight level of transparency.  

To reveal one's game plan is short-sighted at best, foolhardy at worst, in any sport. Santa Cruz, though, had no inhibitions about throwing all his cards on the table and laying out the exact fight strategy he had devised before going into battle. Frampton edged him in their first encounter with superior gamesmanship, yet Santa Cruz saw no need to hide the adjustments he intended to make In the rematch. Santa Cruz executed everything he declared he would do - utilize his longer reach to control distance and tempo, tone down his natural propensity to brawl and only engage in exchanges on his terms - to a tee to win the fight. So confident of victory was Santa Cruz that he even had the foresight to talk about a rubber match before weighing in for the rematch.

Frampton, for his part, displayed a degree of perspective and humility rarely seen in the sport. In close fights, the loser typically truly believes he had won in the immediate aftermath. It usually takes a week or two of reflection and reviewing replays before he grudgingly concedes defeat. But minutes after the fight was over, Frampton spoke with the objectivity and overview of an unbiased journalist who had just covered the fight from ringside supplemented by multiple camera angles. With brute honesty, he candidly admitted that the fight was close but the verdict fair, apologized to his fans and admonished himself for ignoring what Santa Cruz openly stated he was going to do.  

Santa Cruz's more conservative approach did not diminish the thrill level of the fight, but  much of the credit should go to Frampton for pressing the action and forcing Santa Cruz to brawl more than he wanted to. Each fighter is now the culprit for the other's only loss so a third encounter is simply a no-brainier.

Frampton campaigned vigorously for the rubber match to be held in Belfast, and that would probably be fair since the first two fights were waged on American soil. Although Frampton could easily fill to capacity the largest soccer stadium in Ireland, Vegas or New York would still make more economic sense for all parties involved. London, perhaps, would be an evenhanded compromise.