Sunday, June 02, 2019

Boxing Roundup: June 1, 2019

Haven't done one of these in awhile! But it was a big night of fights, even though I missed the PBC show on FS1. Oh, I recorded it -- it's just that virtually all of it ended up airing on FS2 because some college baseball game ran long, and then the main event came out after the bloc was already scheduled to have concluded. So quickly, before moving on to the far more interesting DAZN card....

Willie Monroe Jr. (24-3, 6 KOs) UD10 Hugo Centeno Jr. (27-3, 14 KOs)

We knew a lot more about Monroe coming in than we did Centeno. Monroe is a slickster who can generally outbox anyone on the B-level of the division, but really can't hang with the top dogs. Centeno was someone whose only losses came to some pretty elite fighters -- Maciej Sulecki and Jermall Charlo -- and so the question was whether he was an A-level fighter who happened to lose when matched at the very top, or was a B-level fighter who'd already seen his peak exposed. Looks like it's Door #2. This is a good win for Monroe, but it doesn't really change his position -- someone with basically zero chance to beat a Canelo or a Golovkin (who already smoked him), but might get the call to step-in as a semi-credible tune-up during a lull period.

Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs) KO6 Devon Alexander (27-6-1, 14 KOs)

Mild upset here. Alexander actually looked to be on the rebound after a long layoff battling painkiller addiction, which is an odd thing to say about a guy who was 0-1-1 in his last two fights, but most people thought he deserved the W against both Victor Ortiz and Andre Berto. Redkach was a one-time prospect who already seemed to have hit a ceiling and was seem more as a fun but limited action guy. But he caught Alexander good in round six, putting him down three times and earning the knockout. This probably ends Alexander's career at anything close to the top level, but it honestly doesn't make me feel ready to reevaluate Redkach just yet.

Okay, with that out of the way, onto ... DAZN!

Joshua Buatsi (11-0, 9 KOs) TKO4 Marco Antonio Periban (25-5-1, 16 KOs)

A good step up for Buatsi against a former title challenger, albeit one who hadn't fought in two years. Periban tried, but Buatsi was way too big and probably always too skilled to really ever be threatened. Periban is probably a permanent gatekeeper now, assuming he even decides to step back into the ring, which is far from clear. Buatsi is by no means a finished product, but he's got a lot of upside.

Chris Algeri (24-3, 9 KOs) RTD8  Tommy Coyle (25-5, 12 KOs)

Well, well. Someone finally let Chris Algeri out of the cage. After a long retirement lay-off following a beatdown from Errol Spence, Algeri looks rested, refreshed, and maybe a little more powerful than he did during his spotlight years following his upset win over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2014. He survived a bit of a scare in round two, and the body shot he put Coyle down with in round four was positively wicked. A fun action fight while it lasted, but Algeri definitely put his stamp on it. Can he compete with the top welterweights? No, it'd be the same slaughter we've already seen. Would, say, a fight against fellow Long Islander Cletus Seldin (assuming he gets past Zab Judah -- yep, that Zab Judah) be a fun time for all? I think so.

Coyle was already sounding like he had one foot out the door on his career, and this loss probably will hasten that process. He might do a farewell fight back home in the UK, but I suspect that'll do it.

Josh Kelly (9-0-1, 6 KOs) D10 Ray Robinson (24-3-2, 12 KOs)

Robinson spoils an up-and-comer for the second straight fight, and comes out of it with a draw for the second straight fight. Kelly seems like one of those dime-a-dozen Prince Naseem Hamed wannabes that always seem to be coming up the ranks. It's not that he has no skill (he does) or no athleticism (he does). But he's just not as good as he thinks he is, and it showed against Robinson. I wasn't judging too closely, but I might have thought Kelly nonetheless deserved the edge even as he clearly faded late. But I have no quarrels with a draw (and I know many other observers thought it was Kelly who got lucky here).

Callum Smith (26-0, 19 KOs) TKO3 Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (37-4, 21 KOs)

Callum Smith is widely considered the best of the "fighting Smith brothers" (that'd be Callum, Liam, Paul, and Stephen). He certainly impressed here, although I'd say he pretty much did as expected. N'Dam -- who lacks a nickname as a fighter, which to this day baffles me since he should obviously be dubbed Hassan "Bam Bam" N'Dam N'Jikam -- is the real-boy equivalent of one of those punch-a-clown dummies. He goes down easy, but he always gets back up. He went down six times against Peter Quillin, was quite competitive during the rounds he stayed on his feet (I remember quipping at the time that "he's doing pretty well except for the times he's getting his ass kicked").

Anyway, Smith -- who had size and skill advantages over N'Dam -- put him down in each of the first three rounds. The third knockdown was particularly vicious, and while N'Dam naturally got to his feet, the referee waved it off. Unlike Willie Monroe, I think Callum Smith would make a genuinely interesting match-up against Canelo Alvarez if the latter felt like fully moving up.

Katie Taylor (14-0, 6 KOs) MD10 Delfine Persoon (43-2, 18 KOs)

There is an emergent narrative about women's boxing today, one I largely subscribe to. Basically, it holds that the women's amateur game right now is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was even a decade ago. Hence, the incoming crop of "prospects" coming out of the amateurs -- folks like Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields -- are just on a different level than even the "experienced" champions in the professional game. They're better schooled, they're stronger technically, and they've fought more consistent high-level opposition. We saw the difference when, in a highly-anticipated unification matchup, Claressa Shields ended up just running over long-time champion Christina Hammer. Yes, Shields is that good. But also her generation of fighter is just better than the one that came before, and that, as much as anything else, was what was on display in Hammer vs. Shields.

That narrative explains why Katie Taylor came in as a huge favorite against Delfine Persoon, despite the latter's glittering record and near-decade long title reign. Yes, Persoon was undefeated for the past nine years. But as Teddy Atlas would put it -- against who? Against who? There was probably nobody on Persoon's resume with skills anywhere close to the top amateurs Taylor had fought regularly.

Yet Persoon did her darndest to upset the story. And most observers -- myself included -- thought she ultimately deserved the nod, or at least a draw. Katie Taylor was very lucky to come away with a victory. And Delfine Persoon showed that she was every bit on the level of the very top, elite women fighting today.

To be sure, it was clear that Taylor was the more skilled and well-schooled fighter in the ring. But Persoon came in with an aggressive, gritty gameplan that sought to disrupt Taylor's rhythm and turn the fight into a brawl -- which she was successful at over large periods. Taylor was most effective when she could keep distance and run Persoon into check hooks on her way inside. But Persoon, though a bit dirty and more than a bit awkward, wasn't some mindless aggressor either -- she made adjustments, and by the end of the fight really had Taylor hanging for dear life. There's a fair case that, if this was a 12 round fight over 3 minute rounds, Persoon could have gotten a stoppage (side bar: women's boxing should have 3 minute rounds and the same number of rounds as the men's game. Full stop. The 2 minute round set-up is just the most prominent example of patronizing sexism that afflicts the women's game).

But let's not mislead: this wasn't the story of the talented but inexperienced starlet looking lost against the cagey, grizzled veteran and then getting gifted a decision. Taylor had a gameplan too, and had more than her share of moments. What we had was simply a great fight, perhaps the best fight we've seen to date in high-level women's boxing.

Persoon was absolutely crushed when the scores were announced, and left the ring almost immediately in tears. It was hard not to feel for her -- she had been toiling in obscurity for years, ignored while fighters like Katie Taylor got all the accolades and fortune. This was her big chance, and from her vantage (and many others) this should have been her night. She put on a hell of a performance, only to have it torn away from her by the judges. I'm not going to say it was a flat robbery, but the consensus view definitely saw more observers giving Persoon the win. I've seen plenty of draw cards as well, but very few folks (other than the two judges) score it for Taylor.

The good news is there's a strong case for a rematch. It was a great fight, a close fight, and one where there's still definitely unfinished business. There also aren't so many big money opportunities in women's boxing that a fight like this -- which now is pretty easy to market -- should be muscled out, though Taylor did mention a potential fight with Amanda Serrano instead. No disrespect to Serrano -- who is a great fighter in her own right -- but I hope she waits her turn. Persoon absolutely deserves a rematch, and it should come next.

Andy Ruiz Jr. (33-1, 22 KOs) TKO7 Anthony Joshua (22-1, 21 KOs)

A monster upset, as Ruiz becomes the first Mexican or Mexican-American fighter to win a heavyweight championship. Was it as big as Douglas over Tyson, as some commentators were breathlessly exclaiming after the fight? No. Joshua was very good but not viewed as an invincible destroyer as Tyson was at his peak, and Ruiz was more of a known quantity than Douglas was. But putting that unreachable height aside, this was a giant upset -- assuredly 2019's upset of the year.

Ruiz was a substitute for Jarrell Miller, who failed a drug test and thus lost his big break, but he still got a decent amount of time to train. Of course, with Ruiz it's always "who can tell?", as the guy just comes into every fight fat. I don't mean that as an insult or anything, and he'd be the first to agree -- Andy Ruiz is chubby around the middle. For pretty much any other fighter -- no matter how much they talk about being "comfortable at the weight" or whatever -- that's a big problem. Chris Arreola, the last Mexican-American to make a run at heavyweight glory, always made light of his weight, but it really did hold him back.

But for some reason Andy Ruiz is different. He's got genuinely fast hands for a heavyweight -- like, not just in the "you'd think as a fat guy he'd be a plodder, but he's actually deceptively quick", but objectively fast hands measured against any heavyweight you can think of. Ruiz throws really good combinations, quickly and accurately, and that was known coming into the fight.

Of course, we knew Joshua pretty well too -- a powerful guy who'd shown both skill and resilience in his breakout fight against Wladimir Klitschko, coming off the deck to knockout the aging legend in 11 rounds. I did not think the fight against Ruiz was quite the afterthought that most were making it out to be -- yet another detour from the Joshua-Fury-Wilder merry-go-round -- but I certainly thought Joshua would win it. I was prepared to be proud of myself when Ruiz made a better accounting of himself than expected.

Instead, we got a really impressive performance that included a strong round-of-the-year contender in round three. That's when Joshua dropped Ruiz and most people thought he was about to move in for the kill. Instead, Ruiz caught Joshua swinging wide and almost immediately returned the knockdown favor. A second knockdown towards the end of the round had Ruiz firmly in control and Joshua looking wobbly, fortunate to hear the bell ring.

Ruiz left Joshua off the hook, it seemed, in round four, and the question was whether he had missed his chance. But instead, Ruiz knocked down Joshua twice more in the seventh -- again, precipitated by Joshua landing a decent shot and then being countered in-between when he got a little too free going for the finish. The last knockdown saw Joshua's mouthpiece go flying, and Joshua retreated to his corner clearly expecting time to be called to replace it. The referee was not obliging, insisting that Joshua come out to fight with no mouthpiece, and I do think that resulted in some confusion as to why Joshua didn't "come forward" to make crystal clear he wanted to continue. But nonetheless, that's on Joshua, who had his arms draped over the ropes and wasn't making any motions towards stepping back into the fight. He was clearly surprised by the stoppage, but not too upset by it.

And on that score: I'm not wild about how Joshua reacted to the end of the fight. Yes, he was very classy in defeat, making no excuses and giving all due credit to Ruiz. Which is great, I like class. But it was a bit weird to see just how little Joshua seemed to be bothered by losing. It's not like I wanted to see a meltdown or anything, but there was a sense as the fight's tide turned in Ruiz's favor that Joshua kind of lost interest once it started to get hard in there. That doesn't really jibe with the heart he showed in the Klitschko fight, but it's something to keep an eye on going forward. Boxing is a tough business under the best of circumstances; it tends to chew up guys who -- however much natural talent they might possess -- have lost that inner drive to press back against adversity in the ring.

Anyway, Joshua losing actually simplifies things in the heavyweight division going forward. His next fight will be a rematch against Ruiz, and meanwhile Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury are scheduled to fight each other assuming both get by their next opponent -- Luis Ortiz and Tom Schwarz, respectively. But a note of warning should be sounded there as well. I don't know anything about Schwarz, and frankly I expect Fury to truck him. But the Ortiz fight -- which got a lot of moans and groans because it wasn't Wilder facing Joshua or Fury -- is very much a real fight.

People forget that the first fight between Wilder and Ortiz was really good and, more importantly, really competitive. It wasn't controversial, because Wilder ended up winning in a knockout, but Ortiz very easily could have taken it. He had Wilder badly hurt and nearly ready to go. For me, I saw a fight where, if you ran it back again, I could very easily see a different man end up on top. So I wouldn't be too blase about Wilder necessarily coming out on top in the rematch. He'll be the favorite, and deservedly so, but Ortiz is a very live dog in there. Wilder/Ortiz is not just some medicine we have to take until we get to the good stuff, and the outcome of tonight's fight should give us all pause before writing the conclusion as foreordained.

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