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Weekend Recap: HBO’s SuperFly lives up to the hype

2017 has been an incredible year for boxing. Knockout, big matchups, mainstream fights – it’s been everything the previous couple of years wasn’t. Let’s take a look at this past weekend, starting with the much-hyped HBO ‘SuperFly’ card, which lived up to all of the excitement it promised.

HBO’s card featured three fights in the super flyweight division, and included five of the division’s top fighters. It was an impressive card that promised action, and boy, did it deliver.

Carson, California (HBO)

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (44-4-1 40 KO) KO4 Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (46-2 38 KO)

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Boxing is truly a cruel sport. Nicaragua’s Chocolatito, one of the few fighters in the smaller weight divisions to truly break through in the U.S. thanks to the backing of HBO, was a mainstay on the pound-for-pound rankings in the past couple of years. He had risen from a minimumweight fighter in the mid 2000s to take titles in four weight classes, coming as high up as 112 pounds. That said, he been showing potential signs of aging throughout the past couple of years as his power stopped carrying up in weight. He went from stopping tough opponents like Edgar Sosa and Brian Viloria as he started fighting on HBO to struggling a bit with McWilliams Arroyo to pulling out a close, contested decision against Carlos Cuadras. These were all good fighters and tough opponents, but Gonzelaz didn’t look the dynamo that had people putting him at #1 in the sport.

Last March, Gonzelz defended his title against Thai challenger Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and he found himself in unfamiliar territory. Sor Rungvisai was bigger than him, tough, and walked through most of his punches. Gonzalez went down in the first round, suffered head clashes that made him bleed profusely, and he ultimately lost a close but disputed decision (I scored their first fight a draw, for what it’s worth).

Heading into the immediate rematch on Saturday night, Chocolatito was the favorite, even though the Thai fighter had the belt. In a stunning turn of events, Sor Rugvisai blew out Chocolatito from the opening bell. Gonzalez had strange body language from the get go, looking depressed in the corners between rounds, even though he was competitive through three rounds as the fighters met in the middle of the ring and traded punches.

It all went to shit for Chocolatito in Round 4. Sor Rungvisai caught him with a nasty combo in the first minute of the round, which folded the Nicaraguan champion and sent him down to the canvas hard. This was no flash knockdown – Chocolatito peeled himself off the ground but his body language told the whole story. He was badly hurt.

To his credit, he went out like a warrior. When he got up, he went straight to his Thai opponent and tried to trade his way back into it. Results were predictable – Sor Rungvisai hit him with a right hand that was so full power that every vein in his arm was bulging out as he threw it – and with that, Gonzalez was done, his eyes looking like they were fighting back tears of disappointment as he lay sprawled on the cavs looking straight up in the air. He didn’t rise for a couple of minutes as the doctor checked him out, a truly brutal way for the champion to go.

Let’s give Sor Rungvisai his due – he’s the rightful champion, and looked strong, confident and powerful in there. He dominated Chocolatito from the opening bell. But let’s pour one out for a great career in Chocolatito.

Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12 KO) TKO6 Antonio Nieves (17-2-2, 9 KO)

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Japan’s Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue is a titleholder who has made waves overseas by steamrolling through quality opposition. At just 24 years old, he’s already on some people’s pound-for-pound list, and has put together a string of dominant performances in recent years. The only recent fight of his to go the distance was his May 2016 unanimous decision win over the tough David Carmona in a fight where Inoue injured his right hand and fought multiple rounds basically one handed. Saturday night was his U.S. and HBO debut, the first time American boxing fans had a chance to see him on a non-YouTube stream with yelling Japanese commentators.

Inoue didn’t disappoint, as he looked absolutely dominant beating up his limited opponent, to the point the Nieves spent the 5th and 6th rounds just running and trying to survive. You could tell that Nieves didn’t want to be there and though he was tough, the fight probably went a couple rounds too long. I don’t think we learned much about Inoue – he’s already beaten better competition than this – but it was a nice introduction to a guy I hope we get a chance to see more of.

Juan Francisco Estrada (36-2, 25 KO) UD12 Carlos Cuadras (36-2-1, 27 KO)

STW Scorecard: Cuadras 114-113 Estrada

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In the opener of the SuperFly card, the two Mexican fighters fought an entertaining, fun and close battle that may have been the fight of the night. Though I scored it by a point to Cuadras, all three judges gave the fight to Estrada by that same slimmest of margins (114-113) and I have no problem at all with the decision, as multiple rounds were very hard to score. The two fighters, both of whom gave Chocolatito hell in previous fights and walked into the night looking for a rematch with the Nicaraguan star, proved to be a great style matchup. Cuadras, the bigger and more solid of the two, started off strong and really dominated the first few rounds of the fight with his activity and volume punching. Estrada stayed patient and began sneaking in hard, snapping shots in between Cuadras’ combinations, and started turning the tide and having success in the middle rounds of the fight. After a back and forth couple of rounds, Estrada dropped Cuadras HARD in the 10th as Cuadras got caught napping leaving an exchange. That knockdown proved to be the difference in the cards and I can’t argue with that giving Estrada the win.

I will say – I had the fight even going into the 12th round,  with all of the momentum favoring Estrada. I fully expected him to continue his dominance but he seemed to get tentative in the round and didn’t close as strongly on a clearly weary Cuadras as I’d have liked to see, and Cuadras snuck in some decent shots in the final minute of the round. I wobbled between scoring it even (and thus, scoring the fight a draw) but guilt in doing that got the best of me so I nicked it to Cuadras.

The winner of this fight in theory gets a shot at Sor Rungvisai’s belt. Regardless of who they fight, these guys are fun as hell to watch and I look forward to seeing more of either of them.

Berlin, Germany (World Boxing Super Series)

Oleksandr Usyk (13-0, 11 KO) TKO10 Marco Huck (40-5-1, 27 KO)

Boxen: Profis

I am super excited about the World Boxing Super Series – which is staging two tournaments in two different divisions (super middleweight and cruiserweight) – in an elimination-style format. It has high-level, quality boxers participating, and the shame is that it doesn’t yet have a U.S. broadcast partner, so American boxing fans are forced to try to find online streams to see these fights. Here’s hoping they figure this out.

This was the first fight, a quarterfinal matchup between Ukraine’s Usyk and Germany’s Huck. Usyk may be the tournament favorite in the cruiserweight divison, a incredibly tall, skilled boxer who may not have thudding power but lands so precisely and sharply that he tends to stop guys on accumulation alone. Huck, a veteran and former champ in the division, came into the fight the obvious underdog and on the clear downslide of his career but still is a feisty veteran.

The fight played out about as expected – Usyk came out behind the jab, boxing and keeping Huck away from him using movement and that long jab. Huck was competitive in R3 until Usyk jumped all over him and did some damage. Huck got a nice shot in about halfway through R4 but Usyk came back with a nice combination that rocked Huck’s head back. Usyk was just too good and his arms are way longer – his size was making a big difference.

In the 8th, Usyk snaps Huck’s head back and hurts him badly, sending him reeling. Huck then wrestled the Ukranian to the ground and while there on his knees, he goes for a dirty chopping punch to the back of his head. The punch misses, but it was such a cheap shot that the ref took a point away immediately. The usually measured Usyk then starts fighting pissed off and starts really doing damage. In R10, Usyk knocks a clearly hurt Huck against the ropes and for about 30 seconds just nonstop throws punches as Huck merely tries to survive. Ref steps in and stops it – maybe a tad early, but Huck was so far down on the cards and really had no hope to win, so no problem here with the stoppage. Usyk moves on in the tournament and will fight the winner of Mairis Breidis and Mike Perez.

Las Vegas, Nevada (Showtime)

David Benavidez (19-0, 17 KO) SD12 Ronald Gavril (18-2, 14 KO)

STW Scorecard: Benavidez 114-113 Gavril

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On Friday night in a special edition of Showtime Championship Boxing, we got another look at one of boxing’s growing prospects in Arizona’s Benavidez, a 20-year old super middleweight who hits like a truck. After an impressive showing in May where he knocked out veteran Rogelio ‘Porky’ Medina in an absolute firefight, Benavidez was riding the hype train all the way to this match, which was for the vacant WBC title.

His opponent was Romania’s Gavril, an unheralded boxer with a solid record fighting under Floyd Mayweather’s TMT banner, who was matched with Benavidez after original opponent Anthony Dirrell pulled out. Most commentators thought the young American would wipe the floor with Gavril, but that didn’t prove to be the case at all.

Benavidez got off to a strong start, as he entrenched himself in the middle of the ring with Gavril circling around him. Gavril had himself a nice second round, outlanding and scoring well. Then Benavidez took over for a few rounds with effective power shots. He really swings hard and hits with serious power. Gavril started bleeding pretty hard around R4 as Benavidez turned it up. I had Benavidez up through six though a lot of rounds were close and Gavril gave a good account of himself.

In round 8, Benavidez started looking very tired and started fading. His punch form started deteriorating and his punches didn’t look like they were as powerful as earlier in the fight. He seemed to be wading through deep waters for the first time in his young career, as he had found an opponent who he couldn’t put away early. R10 was fun and close with Gavril edging it until Benavidez hurt him at the end, and in R11 Benavidez started summoning some more energy and hurting Gavril, who was gassing and trying to hold for the first time in the fight.

In the final round, Benavidez was winning with effective combos on an exhausted Gavril and then with 45 seconds left he got caught lazily coming in and chasing a combination with a counter shot he walked right into and he dramatically went down. Super, super dramatic end to the fight. It was a close one, and a tough test for the young prospect, but I do think he deserved the decision.

J’Leon Love (23-1-1, 13 KO) TD Abraham Han (26-3-1, 16 KO)

STW Scorecard: Han 77-76 Love

J’Leon Love, once a relatively highly touted TMT ‘prospect’, is a shitty fighter who’s best trait is that he looks kind of like Tupac Shakur. In his first fight in over a year he fought journeyman Han and got outfought for much of the fight as he just wasn’t active enough or good enough to look any kind of good. In the 8th round, the two came together for one of the worst head clashes I’ve ever seen, as a monstrous cut opened on Han’s head and he just started pouring and pumping out blood, and was really hurt. That ended the fight and it went to the scorecards. Two of the judges scored it a draw while one had one of the worst scorecards in recent memory, a washing in favor of Love. The TMT fighter was lucky to escape with a draw here, but showed nothing really to make him a watchable fighter.

On this note, boxing should consider their technical stoppage rules. Currently, if the fight has to be stopped due to an accidental headbutt like this one, judges are required to score the round. In this one, it happened in the first minute of R8, and nothing of note had happened yet. I scored the round 10-10 for this reason, but it looks like all judges did score the round, and that affected the outcome. Shitty way for a guy to take a draw like Han did. I’d be good never seeing Love again.

Caleb Plant (16-0, 10 KO) UD10 Andrew Hernandez (19-7-1, 9 KO) 

STW Scorecard: Plant 100-90 Hernandez

Caleb Plant seems like a nice guy with a heartbreaking backstory, but he just isn’t an impressive prospect to me. He always seems to be in with subpar opposition and he doesn’t exactly blow the doors off the guys he’s in with – every Plant fight seems to be the same. Plant was levels better technically in this fight, fighting a dude who is both not good and who took the fight on a week’s notice. Hernandez just got blown out, and he toughed out some pain, but Plant never stepped on the gas pedal, showed crazy power, or really looked like he’s anything other than a good technical fighter with a low ceiling. Just not that impressed with him in general, and do not think he’s a world-level fighter.

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Career Trajectory: Miguel Cotto

36-year old Miguel Cotto is in the midst winding down a long and storied career. The Puerto Rican fighter achieved true Pay-Per-View star status during his peak, participated in some great fights, and put himself at the top of the boxing world for years. He’s a lock for the Boxing Hall of Fame, and he deserves to be. After his most recent bout, he said he was retiring after one last fight later this year. To give context on one of the biggest stars of his generation, I decided to go back through the last decade or so and follow his career trajectory to take a closer look at how strong his boxing resume really is.

Cotto had some great years in the mid-2000s, especially 2007. To his credit, he continued to fight in relevant fights for years, but looking back he really did have some smart matchmaking, and lost nearly every time he stepped up in class as he got older. That said, he’s among many boxing fans’ favorite fighters for good reason – he made an entertaining scrap. Note that for some fights I only have my scorecard to go on, and for others I have full notes, but it’s fun to look back at one of recent history’s most entertaining careers.

Let’s go down the Cotto rabbit hole, starting in 2006:

June 10, 2006: Miguel Cotto UD12 Paulie Malignaggi

STW Scorecard: Cotto 116-111 Malignaggi

 

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Before Malignaggi became the good boxing announcer/terrible person that he is today, he was a light-punching but talented technical fighter who made himself a solid career despite not being able to punch his way through tissue paper. Malignaggi gave a good account of himself in this fight, broadcast on HBO, as a prime Cotto flashed that wicked left hook and power punching that battered Paulie around the ring, including a knockdown in R2. I gave Malignaggi 4 rounds in a spirited effort, but Cotto was just way too much for him here.

 

December 2, 2006: Miguel Cotto TKO6 Carlos Quintana

STW Scorecard: Cotto 48-45 Quintana

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Few times has Cotto looked more dominant in his career than this fight against fellow Puerto Rican Quintana. After starting a little slow with the spirited Quintana winning 2 of the first 3 rounds on my card, HBO rightfully was salivating over how powerful Cotto looked, as he battered Quintana around the ring in R5, knocking him down twice as Quintana barely hung on to end the round. His corner through in the towel, and Cotto looked like a true force.

 

June 9, 2007: Miguel Cotto KO11 Zab Judah

STW Scorecard: Cotto 98-90 Judah

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Am skipping Cotto’s stay-busy title defense against Oktay Urtel here. Cotto totally dominated the talented Judah here on HBO. After giving the first, feeling-out round to Judah, I had Cotto sweeping the fight (with a point deduction in the third), and really starting to beat him up later in the fight, including a knockdown in R9, before stopping him cold in R11. Very impressive Cotto performance here.

 

November 10, 2007: Miguel Cotto UD12 Shane Mosley

STW Scorecard: Cotto 116-112 Mosley

Miguel Angel Cotto lands a punch to Shane Mosley in their WBA World Welterweight boxing match

2007 may have been Cotto’s high point as a boxer – back-to-back wins over Judah and Mosley are certainly nothing to sneeze at. This was a really fun fight, Cotto’s first on PPV. Cotto started off looking the stronger man and taking Mosley’s shots well, but Mosley had a really nice rally in R9 and R10 to get back in the fight and get the crowd hyped. Cotto however, recovered well in the championship rounds and took both of them in my card to take the deserved victory. There were a few close rounds (2, 7, 9) but overall Cotto earned what may have been a career-best victory.

April 12, 2008: Miguel Cotto TKO5 Alfonso Gomez

STW Scorecard: Cotto 50-42 Gomez

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In Cotto’s return to HBO after his huge win over Mosley, he fought the way overmatched Gomez and steamrolled him. He scored knockdowns in rounds 2,3 and 5 with his power and pure boxing skill before the referee mercifully stopped the fight between rounds. A stay-busy fight for sure – but one in which Cotto looked great.

July 26, 2008: Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto

STW Scorecard: Margarito 97-93 Cotto

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Ah, the infamous Cotto-Margarito bout. At the peak of his career, Cotto runs into a Mexican buzzsaw in the hard-punching Margarito, who continually moved forward through all of Cotto’s shots like a zombie all night long, systematically breaking down the Puerto Rican and giving him a beating that Cotto perhaps never quite fully recovered from. This became controversial later on as Margarito got busted in his next fight with illegal hand wraps, but at the time, the relentless Margarito overcame Cotto’s skill advantage to just beat the everloving shit out of Cotto, doing real damage from R7 on. Cotto wound up taking a knee and throwing in the towel in the 11th, and he couldn’t be blamed for doing so. Rough night for Cotto, especially after such a strong run.

February 21, 2009: Miguel Cotto TKO5 Michael Jennings

STW Scorecard: Cotto 40-34 Jennings

After taking a few months to recover from his beating at the hands of Margarito, Cotto made his return in an easier fight against the untested Jennings. Jennings, in way over his head, mostly tried to avoid Cotto’s power from the get go. He tried to stay out of range as Cotto sporadically landed the left hand, patiently beating him down by R3. Cotto hurt Jennings badly in R4 starting with a left to the head and then put him down twice with nasty lefts to the body. Jennings barely survived the round. He managed to make it through most of the 5th but took a knee after a wicked body shot from Cotto. Ref waved it off, not seeing enough to let the fight go on.

 

June 13, 2009: Miguel Cotto SD12 Joshua Clottey

STW Scorecard: Cotto 114-113 Clottey

 

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Now this was an interesting fight for Cotto as he took on a much-avoided, strong fighter in Ghana’s Clottey. R1 was nip and tuck close with Cotto maybe a little ahead when, just before the end of the round, Cotto scored a key knockdown on a jab. That, at least on my scorecard, would be the difference in the fight. HBO’s announcers had Clottey doing well early, but I have Cotto up 4-2 (+ 1 KD) after the first half of the fight on just pure activity. In R4 Cotto began bleeding badly, hard round to score but thought he finished strong. In R5 Cotto body slammed Clottey, who was leaning on him in a clinch, and Clottey looked a little hurt, taking some time to resume the fight. In R7 and R8, Clottey was absolutely kicking Cotto’s ass. Cotto rebounded a bit in R9 but I still had Clottey taking it. Going into the last three rounds, I had it even, meaning taking 2 of the final 3 would give either fighter the win. Cotto looked hurt and winded going into those rounds, but Clottey absolutely blew this fight by becoming too inactive down the stretch, especially in rounds 10 and 11. He had this fight and lost it more than Cotto won it. A decision either way would have been fair, but Cotto deserved the razor thin decision in my mind. Clottey would later embarrass himself and effectively end his career with a total non-effort on PPV against Manny Pacquiao, but this was a huge missed opportunity for him.

 

November 14, 2009: Manny Pacquiao TKO12 Miguel Cotto

STW Scorecard: Pacquiao 108-99 Cotto

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Gotta give Cotto credit – he didn’t waste too much time challenging a top level fighter a little more than a year removed from his huge beatdown against Margarito. This was Pacquiao at the height of his powers, and you forget how damn impressive he was during this time. This turned into a blowout on the scorecards, but it was a massively entertaining fight that was closer than the cards made it out to be, as Cotto had a couple rounds that were going his way that he lost at the end due to a knockdown (3 point swings).

R1 Manny started kind of slow, with R2 a close one but Manny taking it with a stronger finish. Pac got a KD to win R3 10-8 even though Cotto clearly won the rest of the round. R4 was incredible – it was a GREAT round for Cotto throughout and then Pac knocks him down (and hurts him) with 20 seconds left – wow. Cotto came back to edge R5 but Pac just started crushing him in R6, after which Cotto just started losing rounds, his face swelling up and getting on his bike just trying to survive. The second half of the fight was a systematic beatdown, and the ref showed mercy stopping it in the 12th. More of a reflection on just how good Pac was rather than a referendum on Cotto. Why Pac was a superstar, and Cotto was a star.

 

June 5, 2010: Miguel Cotto TKO9 Yuri Foreman

STW Scorecard: Cotto 79-73 Foreman

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This was a weird fight – Cotto found a soft touch with a belt to come back against. Foreman really was never on the level of Cotto, and it showed right away as Cotto just outjabbed and outfought him early at Yankee Stadium on HBO. Foreman had a solid R4, landing with his right hand, but he slipped towards the end of the round and that might have aggravated a leg injury (he came into the fight with a brace on his knee). Cotto returned to outboxing the limited Foreman and in R7 Foreman completely blew his knee out, falling down twice and limping around the ring but showing a lot of heart to continue to trade despite the fact that he could barely move. In R8 a towel threw in, looked like Foreman’s corner was stopping it, but in a totally bizarre scene the ref didn’t want the fight stopped so he kicked everyone out of the ring and restarted. Did Foreman no favors though, as in R9 he took a nasty body shot from Cotto that dropped him and the ref finally stopped it. Just a weird fight.

 

March 12, 2011: Miguel Cotto TKO12 Ricardo Mayorga

STW Scorecard: Cotto 108-101 Mayorga

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This is kind of the stage of his career where Cotto sort of got deliberate with his matchmaking. He fought an over-the-hill Mayorga in this fight on Showtime PPV and going in nobody gave the brash, trash talking Nicaraguan much of a chance. Cotto was the much better fighter technically, but R2 Mayorga managed to land some big shots. He’s fun to watch – in R3 he gets crazy, runs into the corner and yells at Cotto to come at him, but he still loses the round. That turns out to be a theme – Mayorga continues to talk and pose but lose rounds. In R7 he managed to land some good shots that seemed to affect Cotto but otherwise he didn’t have much success. Cotto hurt him pretty badly in R12 and Mayorga quit right there and then himself.

December 3, 2011: Miguel Cotto TKO9 Antonio Margarito

STW Scorecard: Cotto 89-82 Margarito

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Cotto’s revenge fight on HBO PPV. Margarito, who since his big win three years prior was in a terrible downward spiral, taking an ass beating from Mosley and suffering through a suspension after the hand wrap scandal, was coming off just a total sustained beating against Pacquiao in which Pac broke his orbital bone and likely injured his eye beyond repair. The eye was a major storyline prefight (the commission even had an eye specialist ringside) and turned out to be a major part of the fight itself.

Cotto started the fight moving and boxing as Margarito did his usual come-forward zombie routine. R3 was really fun as Cotto stands and trades – Margarito already bleeding badly from that right eye. Cotto is the more skilled of the two and clearly landing the cleaner punches but Margarito just keeps coming forward. Cotto doing some major damage in R6 as Margarito’s eye is really compromised and he can’t seem to see out of it. After a couple of rounds of looking closely at the eye, the doctor stops the fight after R9. Even though it was a compromised Margs, must have felt good for Cotto to get his revenge.

 

May 6, 2012: Floyd Mayweather UD12 Miguel Cotto

STW Scorecard: Mayweather 116-112 Cotto

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Cotto gets his big money fight against Mayweather on HBO PPV (Mayweather’s last HBO fight) and actually makes a good account of himself. Floyd starts off masterfully as usually – Cotto can’t land a clean shot at all and Floyd is peppering him with some nice shots. After dropping the first four rounds, Cotto found some success in R5 by muscling Floyd into the ropes – fun round. This is a relatively close fight – it’s tactical and not a barn burner but fought at a really high level. For a Floyd fight, especially at this stage in his career, it’s pretty entertaining. Cotto had a nice middle of the fight – I had him winning rounds 5,6,8 and 9 – but Mayweather pulled away at the end and even looked like he hurt Cotto in the final round. Nice performance from Floyd, but Cotto gave a good account of himself as well.

December 1, 2012: Austin Trout UD12 Miguel Cotto

STW Scorecard: Trout 116-112 Cotto

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2012 was a tough year for Cotto as he took his second consecutive loss of the year when he challenged Austin Trout for a junior middleweight belt coming off his loss to Floyd. The first thing you notice as the fight starts is that Trout is way, way bigger than Cotto. Tough style matchup for the shorter man. Trout is effective using his length early to keep Cotto at the end of his jab in the first two rounds, even stunning Cotto a bit in R1. In R3 Cotto managed to get Trout to the ropes and though Trout countered nicely at times it was a tough one to score – I gave it to Miguel. Cotto got to him in R4, getting in some nice hooks at close range. Cotto finds a nice rhythm here in the early rounds – I have him up 4-2 after six rounds.

In R7, Trout turns the tide and never looks back. He pops his jab out and starts controlling the action, really picking him apart (though not really hurting him). He stuns Cotto a bit at the end of R10 and really dominates R11. The 12th was a fun round as the crowd started getting loud and into it with both guys sensing urgency and swinging, and Trout maybe getting the better of it a bit.

I had Trout sweeping the second half of the fight as Cotto just got outboxed and couldn’t seem to get anything going. Decent scrap though. The official scorecards were a little wide, but Cotto storms off in a huff like a huge sore loser. Really bad look for Miguel post fight – very ungraceful loss for him here. A low point in his illustrious career for sure.

 

October 5, 2013: Miguel Cotto TKO3 Delvin Rodriguez

STW Scorecard: Cotto 20-18 Rodriguez

After back-to-back losses to Trout and Mayweather, Cotto took nearly a full year off, coming back a weight class higher to take on the journeyman Rodriguez and with Freddie Roach in his corner. They tried to sell this as a new, more offensive-minded fighter, but what it really was was a good veteran fighter dominating a limited opponent, stopping him in R3. This is another transition in the career of Cotto, as he competed at a higher weight class and began cherrypicking opponents.

June 7, 2014: Miguel Cotto TKO10 Sergio Martinez

STW Scorecard: Cotto 90-77 Martinez

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This fight- which I went to live – made me sad. Martinez was at this time the lineal middleweight champion defending his title, approaching 40 years old and had given the sport a handful of years where his star shined bright in good, entertaining fights, making himself into a star (though not a superstar) and giving himself a HOF-worthy run at middleweight. He had notably struggled in his last couple of fights with injuries, and came into the fight having had two knee surgeries and been inactive for about a year. Cotto was the smaller man stepping up in weight, and the two met at Madison Square Garden to duke it out.

Turns out Martinez was cashing out, in what would be his final fight. He just had nothing for Cotto, who looked great, though it was a little hard to judge as Sergio was badly, badly compromised from the jump. His leg was unstable and he could barely move. Cotto came out quick and aggressive and Martinez just couldn’t handle it, getting knocked down three times in the first round alone. Cotto continued his assault as the rounds wore on, and Martinez showed heart to stay in it, but Cotto just dominated him every second. Cotto scored another knockdown in R9 when he caught Sergio with a jab coming in. After the round, his corner tells him his knees aren’t working and they have to stop it, ending the champion’s career. Great performance from Cotto, but with, unfortunately, an asterisk.

 

June 6, 2015: Miguel Cotto TKO4 Daniel Geale

STW Scorecard: Cotto 30-27 Geale

A less than impressive win for Cotto. After winning the lineal middleweight title from a one-legged Martinez, Cotto weight drained Australia’s Geale to the point that he posed nearly no danger and looked like a zombie on fight night. Cotto never really was challenged in this one as his hook found a home on the drained Geale and he stopped him easily in 4 rounds. This was a cynical one from Cotto.

 

November 21, 2015: Canelo Alvarez UD12 Miguel Cotto

STW Scorecard: Alvarez 117-111 Cotto

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This was an exciting one on paper, a fight on HBO PPV between the veteran Cotto and the young star Alvarez. Ultimately it wound up being a nice scalp for Alvarez, who boxed well in a tactical affair as it really seemed like their size difference (Canelo having a 10+ lb weight advantage on fight night) made a huge impact as none of Cotto’s shots seemed to hurt Canelo at all. Thought it was a pretty clear Canelo win, with Cotto taking only rounds 1,4 and 9, but it wasn’t boring. This gave Canelo the lineal middleweight title. After this fight, Cotto took nearly two years off.

August 26, 2017: Miguel Cotto UD12 Yoshihiro Kamegai

STW Scorecard: Cotto 119-109 Kamegai

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After nearly two full years out of the ring, Cotto returned this past August in a card that, unfortunately for Cotto, had to compete with the Mayweather-McGregor spectacle, meaning that the only people who watched this fight was the fighter’s respective families and the HBO broadcasting team assigned to cover this. Cotto has called this his second-to-last fight and it was a good test to see how much Cotto had left.

Turns out, he has enough at this level to look good. Cotto dominated this fight – I gave Kamegai R1 on aggression and then scored every other round for Cotto. The Puerto Rican landed at will all night, bloodying up Kamegai while moving backward as the Japanese man came forward like a horror movie zombie. Cotto landed so hard that Kamegai’s chin would often end up over his shoulder looking in the other direction, but Kamegai just keeps coming forward and taking it. I started wondering if they should stop it as early as R7, but Kamegai survives the rest of the fight, which was way too repetitive and one sided to be that interesting. Cotto remains in a different class from the C-level competition, and looks like he still has something to offer if he does indeed retire after his next fight.

Boxing Rankings: June 2017

Heavyweights

For the first time in a long time, the heavyweight division is actually interesting, with some rising stars, young guys with potential and power, and some old guys who can fight. Let’s take a look at the division. Everybody has their own ‘ranking’ system, but for the purposes of this blog, we’re going to rank the titleholders at the top followed by the top contenders. This is going to result in things like Klitschko being ranked below weaker fighters who have belts, but fuck it it’s my list so that’s how I’m gonna do it.

The Beltholders

#1 Anthony Joshua, England (19-0, 19 KO) (WBA, IBF) 

  • Overview: Joshua is the current rising star in the division and perhaps one of the biggest rising stars in the sport of boxing. He holds two of the belts, has shown impressive power and is a charismatic champion who seems destined for absolute superstardom, particularly after his Fight of the Year-worthy win over Wladimir Klitschko, in which he came off the canvas to stop the veteran titleholder and end his reign atop the division. The Klitschko win was far and away the best W on his resume, but big things are expected of Joshua moving forward.
  • Best Wins: TKO11 over Wladimir Klitschko, TKO7 over Dillian Whyte, TKO7 over Dominic Brezeale
  • Losses: N/A

#2 Deontay Wilder, USA (38-0, 37 KO) (WBC)

  • Overview: Wilder is a frustrating fighter, an athletic specimen with a nasty right hand who is labeled as the next great American heavyweight hope but who sports a paper-thing record and has shown a lot of deficiencies recently. Some of his weak resume is not his fault – he was scheduled to fight Alexander Povetkin before the Russian failed multiple drug tests – but he’s got a belt and it’s time to see him actually step up.
  • Best Wins: UD12 over Bermane Stiverne, KO9 over Artur Szpilka, TKO5 over Gerald Washington
  • Losses: N/A

#3 Joseph Parker, New Zealand (23-0, 18 KO) (WBO)

  • Overview: Parker is a much-hyped fighter and currently holds a belt as a heavyweight, but recents fights show a lot of deficiencies and problems at the top level. He was unimpressive in recent wins over average fighters, and the more we learn about him the more he seems like he’s maybe a level below the top-tier heaveyweights.
  • Best Wins: MD12 over Andy Ruiz Jr, UD12 over Carlos Takam, UD12 over Razvan Cojanu
  • Losses: N/A

The Top Contenders

#4 Wladimir Klitschko, Ukraine (64-5, 53 KO) 

  • Overview: Though the belts are all held by three undefeated young fighters, Klitschko is the OG of this division, ruling it for over a decade before losing to Joshua in a very closely contested fight. Klitschko would still probably be the favorite over any other fighter in this division, even though he’s coming off of two straight losses, and though some consider him bad for the division – his dominance, however impressive, was uninspiring to say the least – he is an all time great and surefire Hall of Famer. Very interested in a Joshua rematch after how good the first fight was.
  • Best (Recent) Wins: UD12 over Alexander Povetkin, KO5 over Kubrat Pulev, UD12 over David Haye
  • Recent Losses: TKO11 to Anthony Joshua, UD12 to Tyson Fury

#5 Tyson Fury, England (25-0, 18 KO)

  • Overview: I am struggling mightily with what to do with Tyson Fury. Fury is an enigma – he’s a huge guy, an awkward fighter who always seemed sort of fat and untalented, but who continually pulled out wins and was the man to dethrone the reign of Wladimir Klitschko and give himself the right to call himself the lineal heavyweight champion. Then he promptly left the sport, started doing copious amounts of cocaine and got really, super, crazy fat. He claims to be making a comeback, so we’ll see where he’s at when he comes back, but we’ll just slow him right here for now.
  • Best Wins: UD12 over Wladimir Klitschko, RTD10 over Dereck Chisora, KO7 over Steve Cunningham
  • Losses: N/A

 

#6 Luiz Ortiz, Cuba (27-0, 23 KO)

  • Overview: Ortiz is an incredibly dangerous fighter, a huge, muscular, scary guy with stupid power. He’s old, having gotten his career started late, and he doesn’t bring money or name recognition to the table. This makes him not very appealing to fight, and puts him int he unfortunate state of chasing one of the big guys to get in the ring with him. Here’s hoping he gets his chance sometime before he gets too old.
  • Best Wins: TKO7 over Bryant Jennings, KO6 over Tony Thompson
  • Losses: N/A

 

Other Notables (No Particular Order)

  • Kubrat Pulev, Bulgaria (25-1, 13 KO)
    • Best Wins: SD12 over Dereck Chisora, UD12 over Tony Thompson, TKO4 over Samuel Peter
    • Losses: KO5 to Wladimir Klitschko
  • Andy Ruiz Jr, USA (29-1, 19 KO)
    • Best Wins: RTD4 over Ray Austin, UD10 over Franklin Lawrence
    • Losses: SD12 to Joseph Parker
  • Dominic Breazeale, USA (18-1, 16 KO)
    • Best Wins: KO5 over Izuagbe Ugonoh, RTD5 over Amir Mansour, UD10 over Fred Kassi
    • Losses: TKO7 to Anthony Joshua
  • Dillian Whyte, England (20-1, 15 KO)
    • Best Wins: SD12 over Dereck Chisora, UD10 over David Allen
    • Losses: TKO7 to Anthony Joshua
  • Charles Martin, USA (24-1-1, 22 KO)
    • Best Wins: TKO3 over Vyacheslav Glazkov
    • Losses: KO2 to Anthony Joshua
  • Christian Hammer, Romania (22-4, 12 KO)
    • Best Wins: SD12 over Erkan Teper, TKO7 over David Price
    • Recent Losses: RTD8 to Tyson Fury

 

NBA Summer Previews: Southwest Division

Again, we are having a guest writer in for some NBA summer team previews.  I have no inside knowledge whatsoever and these are just meant to give an idea of where teams are at as a whole as we head into draft and free agency season. This is part 3 of the series – click below for previous versions:

 

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San Antonio Spurs

  • 2015-16 record: 67-15
  • Finish: 2nd place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Kawhi Leonard (22.5)
    • Rebounds: LaMarcus Aldridge (8.3)
    • Assists: Tony Parker (5.3)
    • Blocks: LaMarcus Aldridge (1.4)
  • Restricted free agents: Boban Marjanovic
  • Unrestricted free agents: Matt Bonner, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kevin Martin, Andre Miller, David West
  • Draft picks: 29th

Last season overview: The Spurs turned in an under-the-radar historic season, nearly going undefeated at home in the regular season (losing just once) and winning 67 games. This was one of the most formidable all-time regular season teams – they just happened to be overshadowed by Golden State’s excellence. The team was experiencing a changing of the guard last year, with budding superstar Kawhi Leonard and free agent signee LaMarcus Aldridge assuming the mantle as the present and future of the team while mainstays Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili began to show their age. The team hit a wall in the playoffs as they were upset by the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in six hard-fought games. Seeing as the Thunder nearly went on to upset the Warriors, there’s no shame in that loss – but it still feels like a disappointing end to what would most years have likely been a championship-winning team.

Summer outlook: With Duncan and Ginobili pondering retirement, this summer could be the true changing of the guard as the old leaves and the team rebuilds completely around Leonard and Aldridge. It will be interesting to see what kind of offers the enormous but unproven Marjanovic gets on the restricted free agent market, and how much the Spurs value him to bring him back. As long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, the Spurs are going to be good, and will be a free agent destination. Expect this team to be in the mix again.

Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks

  • 2015-16 record: 42-40
  • Finish: 6th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Dirk Nowitzki (20.4)
    • Rebounds: Zaza Pachulia (5.4)
    • Assists: J.J. Barea (5.0)
    • Blocks: Saleh Mejri (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Dwight Powell
  • Unrestricted free agents: Raymond Felton, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki, Zaza Pachulia, Chandler Parsons, Charlie Villanueva, Deron Williams
  • Draft picks: 46th

Last season overview: The always-contending Mavs took a step back last season in terms of talent and expectations, after an offseason that saw them lose Tyson Chandler and swing and miss on free agent DeAndre Jordan. However, they far exceeded expectations, making the playoffs with a banged-up and ragtag group of veteran castoffs. Nowitzki continues to play well in his old age, and guys like Zaza Pachulia, Deron Williams and JJ Barea looked better then they had in years playing under Rick Carlisle. The team was never a serious contender, but made the playoffs and took a game from the red-hot Thunder in what has to be considered a successful season overall.

Summer outlook: With Nowitzki certain to resign a three-year deal after a year that feels good, the Mavs will always have him as their centerpiece. The rest of the roster, as it feels like is the case every year with this team under Mark Cuban, is likely to change. Parsons is a big decision, as injuries have prevented him from living up to the contract he signed when he left Houston for Dallas a couple of years back. There are a lot of ways this team could go, but expect them to be active in free agency and continue to look different each year.

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Memphis Grizzlies

  • 2015-16 record: 42-40
  • Finish: 7th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Zach Randolph (13.0)
    • Rebounds: Zach Randolph (8.8)
    • Assists: Jordan Farmar (4.0)
    • Blocks: JaMychal Green (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Bryce Cotton, Xavier Munford
  • Unrestricted free agents: Chris Andersen, Matt Barnes, Mike Conley, Jordan Farmar, PJ Hairston, Ryan Hollins, Lance Stephenson
  • Draft picks: 17th, 57th

Last season overview: The Grit-and-Grind Grizzlies era may have seen its final bell toll last season, as the Grizzlies were a depressing slog of a team that scratched and clawed their way to a playoff spot but after a wave of crushing injuries were mere fodder for the Spurs, getting swept out of the playoffs in four blowout losses. They played an antiquated style of basketball, saw stars Marc Gasol and Mike Conley go down to season-ending injuries, played a slew of anonymous fringe NBA players down the stretch, and ended by firing coach Dave Joerger. The Grizz may have become the hardest team to watch by the end of last season. Truly the end of an era.

Summer outlook: First and foremost, resigning star point guard Conley has to be their top priority. Past that, anything could happen – big men Gasol and Randolph are under contract, but as aging veterans on a team in transition, who knows where they’ll go from here. Our expectation is that they continue to value being a contending if not quite championship level team, so will avoid a full rebuild – but if Conley leaves, who knows.

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Houston Rockets

  • 2015-16 record: 41-41
  • Finish: 8th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: James Harden (26.6)
    • Rebounds: Dwight Howard (14.0)
    • Assists: James Harden (7.6)
    • Blocks: Dwight Howard (1.4)
  • Restricted free agents: Terence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
  • Unrestricted free agents: Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Jason Terry
  • Draft picks: 37th, 43rd

 

Last season overview: After a season in which James Harden finished second in MVP voting and the team made an epic run to the Western Conference Finals, the Rockets brought nearly the exact same team back and they became a mess and perhaps the most disappointing team in the league last year. The Rockets were viewed as a preseason title contender, but wound up getting off to an awful start that saw them fire coach Kevin McHale after a handful of games, rumored infighting between stars Harden and Howard and a team that never seemed to like each other, click together or give much of an effort at all throughout the season. They squeaked into the playoffs as an eight seed, getting blown out in five by a Warriors team missing Steph Curry for most of the series. In a season of high expectations, this was a team with very few bright spots.

Summer outlook: The Rockets started the summer off by hiring Mike D’Antoni as their coach of the future, clearly doubling down on the offensive talents of Harden and looking to play a run-and-gun style rather than focusing on defense. This also seems to signal the departure of Howard, who has a player option for next year and is widely believed to be leaving. This is a team in major flux, and GM Daryl Morey has never shied away from making moves. Chalk this up as another team that is going to look completely different next season.

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New Orleans Pelicans

  • 2015-16 record: 30-52
  • Finish: 12th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Anthony Davis (24.3)
    • Rebounds: Anthony Davis (10.3)
    • Assists: Jrue Holiday (6.0)
    • Blocks: Anthony Davis (2.0)
  • Restricted free agents: James Ennis, Tim Frazier
  • Unrestricted free agents: Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, Alonzo Gee, Eric Gordon, Jordan Hamilton, Kendrick Perkins
  • Draft picks: 6th, 39th, 40th

 

Last season overview: The Pelicans were another team that took an unexpected step back last year. After making the playoffs in 2014-15, the Pelicans were expected to continue their improvement, and star Anthony Davis was a darkhorse preseason MVP candidate. Instead, the Pelicans were never able to get off the ground, as a litany of early-season injuries dug them into a hole they could never recover from. This has been a snakebit roster, as key cogs like Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson found themselves often injuried during their tenure in New Orleans, not making the impact they were expected to at any point in their tenure. The team ended their season playing guys off the street big minutes, and looking nothing like what they promised to be before the beginning of the season. Head coach Alvin Gentry, in his first year at the helm, has to be looking to regroup going into year 2.

Summer outlook: The Pelicans have a lot of decisions to make, not least of what to do with Anderson and Gordon, two players who were onetime keys to the team’s plans but did not wind up moving the needle for various reasons. They probably need to rebuild the team around franchise centerpiece Davis, but have to do it in a smart way – Davis will be in his prime for the next four years, and it’d be a shame if that prime was wasted on a middling team.

 

 

NBA Summer Preview: Southeast Division

Again, we are having a guest writer in for some fun, easy NBA summer team previews.  I have no inside knowledge whatsoever and these are just meant to give an idea of where teams are at as a whole as we head into draft and free agency season. This is part 2 of the series – click below for previous versions:

 

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Miami Heat

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 3rd place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Chris Bosh (19.1)
    • Rebounds: Hassan Whiteside (11.8)
    • Assists: Goran Dragic (5.8)
    • Blocks: Hassan Whiteside (3.7)
  • Restricted free agents: Tyler Johnson
  • Unrestricted free agents: Luol Deng, Gerald Green, Udonis Haslem, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Dorrell Wright
  • Draft picks: None

Last season overview: The Heat may have been the 2nd most talented team in the Eastern Conference last season, with a veteran group that included Bosh, Wade, Deng, Dragic and the midseason acquisition of Joe Johnson. Unfortunately, Bosh missed the second half of the season with serious medical issues. Despite that, Wade’s craftiness and a nice boost from Dragic along with the improved play of Whiteside got the team past the Hornets in the first round and saw them push the Raptors to 7 games before running out of gas.

Summer outlook: With most of their team as free agents, and no draft picks, it’s a big summer for the Heat. Wade isn’t expected to go anywhere, though you never know. Hassan Whiteside will likely look for a max contract and will be a hot commodity around the league – expect him to be the biggest decision the Heat make this summer. With the number of free agents and the uncertainty around Chris Bosh’s future, this team could either look exactly the same or completely different next season – it very much remains to be seen.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta Hawks

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 4th place, eliminated in second round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Paul Millsap (17.1)
    • Rebounds: Paul Millsap (9.0)
    • Assists: Jeff Teague (5.9)
    • Blocks: Paul Millsap (1.7)
  • Restricted free agents: Mike Muscala
  • Unrestricted free agents: Kent Bazemore, Kirk Hinrich, Kris Humphries, Al Horford
  • Draft picks: 21st, 44th, 54th

Last season overview: The Hawks regressed slightly from their monster 2014-15 season last year, falling into status as a good but not great team that never really had a shot to win the title. They have a strong starting five (Horford/Millsap/Korver/Bazemore/Teague), a mix of veteran and young talent and a team focused approach to the game, but they never really felt like much of a threat. They took out the Celtics in six games in the first round and then promptly got swept out the playoffs by the Cavs.

Summer outlook: Another team with some decisions, the Hawks are seeing a couple of key pieces (Horford/Bazemore) become unrestricted free agents. There’s also been much speculation around a Teague trade for quite awhile now, given the emergence of backup guard Dennis Schroder. Very curios to see what they decide to do.

 

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Charlotte Hornets

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 6th place, eliminated in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Kemba Walker (20.9)
    • Rebounds: Marvin Williams (6.4)
    • Assists: Nicolas Batum (5.8)
    • Blocks: Marvin Williams (1.0)
  • Restricted free agents: Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez
  • Unrestricted free agents: Nicolas Batum, Tyler Hansbrough, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee, Jeremy Lin, Marvin Williams
  • Draft picks: 22nd

Last season overview: The Hornets overachieved by any measure last season – Walker turned in a Most Improved-worthy campaign, Williams finally fulfilled some of his potential, and free agent signings Batum and Lin outperformed expectations. Coach Steve Clifford ran a tight ship and the team played the right way. They lost a four way tiebreaker for third place and wound up with the 6 seed, giving the Heat all they could handle before losing on the road in Game 7 to get eliminated in the first round.

Summer outlook: The Hornets have a lot of decisions to make as well this summer, with some major players hitting unrestricted free agency. Their priority will likely be Batum, who really made major steps in an advanced role this season.

 

Washington Wizards v Golden State Warriors

Washington Wizards

  • 2015-16 record: 41-41
  • Finish: 10th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: John Wall (19.9)
    • Rebounds: Marcin Gortat (9.9)
    • Assists: John Wall (10.2)
    • Blocks: Marcin Gortat (1.3)
  • Restricted free agents: Bradley Beal
  • Unrestricted free agents: Alan Anderson, Jared Dudley, JJ Hickson, Nene, Ramon Sessions, Garrett Temple, Marcus Thornton
  • Draft picks: None

Last season overview: The Wizards were one of the league’s bigger disappointments last season. After making a 2nd round playoff run in 2014-15, the east side Dubs took a huge step back, getting off to a slow start to the season and playing catchup the rest of the way, ultimately falling short of the playoffs. Coach Randy Wittman lost his job over it, and an overall ugly campaign for a veteran team and a lack of draft picks this summer leaves them with a murky future.

Summer outlook: The Wizards will look to lock up Beal, John Wall’s talented but oft-injured running mate, to a long term deal this summer. They also will look to make a franchise-altering pitch to free agent and hometown kid Kevin Durant, but failing that, hard to see where they go from here.

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Orlando Magic

  • 2015-16 record: 35-47
  • Finish: 11th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Nikola Vucevic (18.2)
    • Rebounds: Nikola Vucevic (8.8)
    • Assists: Elfrid Payton (6.4)
    • Blocks: Nikola Vucevic (1.1)
  • Restricted free agents: Dewayne Dedmon, Evan Fournier, Andrew Nicholson
  • Unrestricted free agents: Brandon Jennings, Jason Smith
  • Draft picks: 11th, 41st, 47th

Last season overview: The Magic were a talented, exciting, young and flawed team that made strides and took the next step towards getting better last season. Their young talent – Vucevic, Oladipo, Payton, Fournier, Hezonja, Gordon – is a strong collection that has a bright future, and though they missed the playoffs, they showed flashes of real potential.

Summer outlook: After a very strange parting of ways with coach Scott Skiles after just his first season, former Pacers head coach Frank Vogel comes in to make his mark. It will be interesting to see where they go from here and whether they continue to build by having their young talent develop, or whether they look to turn some of their assets into veteran players to start winning now. Either way, this is a team that looks ready to start to make that next step.

 

NBA Summer Preview: Atlantic Division

Have a guest writer in today to dust off the ol’ NBA team summer previews just for fun here.  I have no inside knowledge whatsoever and these are just meant to give an idea of where teams are at as a whole as we head into draft and free agency season.

Atlantic Division

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Toronto Raptors

  • 2015-16 record: 56-26
  • Finish: 2nd place, made Eastern Conference Finals
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: DeMar DeRozan (23.5)
    • Rebounds: Jonas Valanciunas (9.1)
    • Assists: Kyle Lowry (6.4)
    • Blocks: Bismack Biyombo (1.6)
  • Restricted free agents: Terence Ross
  • Unrestricted free agents: Bismack Biyombo, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Luis Scola, Jason Thompson
  • Draft picks: 9th Pick, 27th Pick

Last season overview: Coming off their best season in franchise history, the Raptors have some work to do. After a strong regular season led by All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan, the Raptors had an up and down playoff run, looking bad at times and good at times as they struggled to get past two overmatched opponents in a pair of 7 game series wins against the Pacers and Heat in the first two rounds. In the conference finals they found themselves unable to hang with LeBron James’ Cavs, getting escorted out in six games, though they left their home floor to a standing ovation from their adoring and passionate crowd.

Summer outlook: This is a franchise on the up and up, but they have some big decisions to make, primarily with center Biyombo and All-Star DeRozan. DeRozan had a big season, but struggled in the playoffs with ineffective shooting as a low-percentage volume scorer. He might command the max, but is he worth it? Biyombo is an interesting case as well, a raw but athletic 23-year old center who stepped up bigtime in the playoffs. He may have earned himself some big money.

 

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Boston Celtics

  • 2015-16 record: 48-34
  • Finish: 5th seed, lost in first round
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Isaiah Thomas (22.2)
    • Rebounds: Jared Sullinger (8.3)
    • Assists: Isaiah Thomas (6.2)
    • Blocks: Amir Johnson (1.1)
  • Restricted free agents: Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller
  • Unrestricted free agents: Evan Turner
  • Draft picks: 3rd, 16th, 23rd, 31st, 35th, 45th, 51st, 58th

Last season overview: The Celtics overachieved last year with a hard-playing roster of role players under coach Brad Stevens, scrapping their way to a solid record and a four-way tie for third place. Tiebreakers saw them lose homecourt advantage in the playoffs and they were outplayed by Atlanta, eventually losing in six games in the first round. Still, the emergence of Isaiah Thomas as a team leader, Jae Crowder as a top-tier glue guy and their other players made this last season a success, and for a team that’s building assets they have positioned themselves very well moving forward.

Summer outlook: The Celtics are in a great position and will be expected to be active this summer. Their stockpiling of draft picks is paying off this year, but a team can only bring in so many rookies, so look for them to dangle some of their picks in trying to pry talent off of other teams – particularly with that 3rd pick they got from Brooklyn.

 

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New York Knicks

  • 2015-16 record: 32-50
  • Finish: 13th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Carmelo Anthony (21.8)
    • Rebounds: Carmelo Anthony (7.7)
    • Assists: Carmelo Anthony (4.2)
    • Blocks: Kristaps Porzingis (1.9)
  • Restricted free agents: Cleanthony Early, Langston Galloway
  • Unrestricted free agents: Arron Afflalo, Lou Amundson, Kevin Seraphin, Lance Thomas, Sasha Vujacic, Derrick Williams
  • Draft picks: None

Last season overview: The Knicks were up and down last year (mostly down), with a few bright spots here and there, most notably the play of Latvian rookie Kristaps Porzingis, who showed a nice offensive game, hustle and the possibility of becoming a franchise cornerstone down the road.

Summer outlook: Having no draft picks hurts pretty bad, as the Knicks had to give up their #7 selection to Denver. But with Porzingis in the mix, there is hope, as the Knicks need to hope their big market status and Phil Jackson running the show starts making them an attractive destination for free agents again. Anthony isn’t getting any younger, so look for them to make some moves to try to get better quickly.

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Brooklyn Nets

  • 2015-16 record:  21-61
  • Finish: 14th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Brook Lopez (20.6)
    • Rebounds: Thaddeus Young (9.0)
    • Assists: Jarrett Jack (7.4)
    • Blocks: Brook Lopez (1.7)
  • Restricted free agents: Markel Brown, Willie Reed
  • Unrestricted free agents: Wayne Ellington, Sergey Karasev, Shane Larkin, Thomas Robinson, Harry Sims, Donald Sloan
  • Draft picks: 55th

Last season overview: Woof. The Nets suffered though a rough season with a banged-up roster of journeymen and fringe NBA players, never having either hope to be competitive this year or much to look forward to for the summer with them owing their pick to Boston. The worst and lowest point is probably over for them, but it will take them years to rebuild. They’ve started their changes by bringing in first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson and former Spurs assistant GM Sean Marks to turn this ship around, but it’s going to take some time to get back to respectability.

Summer outlook: This is a team without a ton of options at the moment – they don’t have a team quite ready to compete to land the big free agents, and they don’t have a significant draft pick to bring in a rookie. You wonder if they look to trade some of their veterans – Lopez, Young, Jack – for young talent as they look to rebuild.

 

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Philadelphia 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers

  • 2015-16 record: 10-72
  • Finish: 15th place, missed playoffs
  • Team Leaders
    • Scoring: Jahlil Okafor (17.5)
    • Rebounds: Nerlens Noel (8.1)
    • Assists: Ish Smith (7.0)
    • Blocks: Jerami Grant (1.6)
  • Restricted free agents: Isaiah Canaan, Christian Wood
  • Unrestricted free agents: Elton Brand, Ish Smith
  • Draft picks: 1st, 24th, 26th

Last season overview: After a third straight year of tanking to play the lottery odds and attempt to rebuild through high picks by not even attempting to win, the ownership in Philly finally got sick of losing and parted ways with GM Sam Presti, whose rebuilding plan was taking hits due to bad luck, injuries to young players and just a general ugliness feeling to a franchise that wasn’t even trying. Okafor and Noel looked like capable players, if immature, and Ish Smith provided a spark plug once he came onboard midseason. But overall, this is a team that will likely look much different in a couple years than it did last season.

Summer outlook: The Sixers finally saw some dividends out of losing as they landed the first pick in the draft lottery a few weeks ago, giving them that coveted first pick they’ve been targeting for years. With the Colangelos on board now running the team, expect the team to make a push at getting much better very quickly. The team has a lot of young talent and assets – now it needs to convert that into wins.

Fighting Words: Lara/Martirosyan, Charlo Brothers Showtime Boxing Preview

Showtime and HBO seem to continue to swing wildly back and forth in the boxing world. A couple of years ago, the pendulum seemed to be swinging Showtime’s way, as they signed Floyd Mayweather, Canelo Alvarez and even, albeit for just one fight, Manny Pacquiao.  They got into bed with Golden Boy Promotions, who at the time worked with shady boxing manager du jour Al Haymon and had a pretty great stable of fighters. Then, at this time last year, Al Haymon’s PBC had taken all of their bigger fights to network TV, and Showtime’s boxing offering was so bad that I unsubscribed from it and didn’t really miss much.

This year, the momentum seems to be going back to Showtime, as HBO’s rumored budget cuts have hurt the quality and quantity of their boxing programming. Whereas HBO has been featuring its ‘name’ fighters either in mismatches – Terence Crawford, Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward all fighting little-to-no-hopers – or in Pay Per Views (Canelo and the just announced Crawford-Postol unification fight, which is a great fight but will sell very close to zero Pay Per Views), Showtime seems to be bouncing back. They feature the two brightest up and coming heavyweights (USA’s Deontay Wilder and a new deal with UK sensation Anthony Joshua), have held and promised significant/decent matchups (Jacobs/Quillin, Frampton/Santa Cruz).

This weekend’s Showtime card tilts to the ‘decent’ level – it has three relatively evenly matched bouts featuring six good fighters. It’s not going to be a huge ratings hit, but it will be watched with interest by hardcore boxing fans, may have some significant turning points for certain fighters’ careers and frankly, is better matched than any non-PPV bout HBO has put on so far this year.

Erislandy Lara vs. Vanes Martirosyan

This is a rematch of a November 2012 bout that was fought to a technical draw after a clash of heads in the 10th round opened a nasty cut over Martirosyan’s eye and he was unable to continue. The fight went to the scorecards – somewhat controversially, referee Jay Nady asked the judges to score the 10th even though only about 20 seconds of it had been fought – and the judges were completely split, with one judge having it for either fighter and one judge having it a draw. I had Lara up 88-85 at the time of the decision (scoring the first and 10th rounds even), but it was a difficult fight to score so a draw wasn’t the worst outcome here. Let’s look into the two fighters:

 

Lara

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Erislandy Lara is a Cuban tactitian, a slick, defensive-minded fighter who confuses opponents with his constant movement and bores fans to tears with his running around the ring. Lara is usually the more talented fighter in the ring, and his matchup with Vanes is no exception.

He’s a tricky southpaw whose entire gameplan is to potshot and not get hit and there are times where that strategy looks great – his fight against Alfredo Angulo was a cracker, as Angulo came straight at him winging punches and Lara was able to show his accuracy and skill in a thrilling matchup. But sometimes it just serves to turn fans off as we’re reminded on why he isn’t a bigger name or draw. His fight last year in Chicago against journeyman Delvin Rodriguez, in which Lara had every single physical advantage you could think of, saw him get booed out of the ring after he decided to just outpoint a clearly hurt, tired and overmatched opponent over 12 easy rounds instead of ever going for the stoppage.

Lara presents the toughest road for himself: he’s a good fighter who can probably beat anybody in his weight class at any given night, but his style turns fans off so much that he doesn’t bring in any kind of money or incentive for fighters to fight him, giving him the “avoided” label – though a lot of that is his own doing.

  • Record: 22-2-2 (13 KO)
  • Height: 5’9
  • Titles Held: WBA Super Welterweight Title (won Dec. 2014 vs Ishe Smith)
  • Best Wins:
    • Austin Trout (UD12) – In a crossroads fight in December 2013, Trout – who is also fighting on this card and will get into more details later – two guys with very similar, awkward styles matched up together and Lara came out the clear better man. It wasn’t a pretty fight, but it was a significant one, and likely Lara’s best win to date. It put his name on the map and ended up earning him his PPV matchup against Canelo.
    • Alfredo Angulo (TKO 10) – Just prior to fighting trout, Lara matched up with tough Mexican fighter Angulo, a brawler who made up for his lack of skill with a surplus of heart. Angulo was tailor-made for Lara’s style, but gave as good as he got for ten rounds until Lara’s crisp shots banged Angulo’s head around one too many times and the fight was stopped due to Lara inflicting a crazy amount of damage, Angulo suffering an enormous and disgusting hematoma that disfigured his face and being unable to continue. By far the most exciting performance of his career.
    • Ishe Smith (UD12) – The 2014 fight that got him his WBA super welterweight belt, Lara beat the unspectacular Smith convincingly, albeit in unspectacular fashion.
  • Losses
    • Canelo Alvarez (SD12) – In the biggest fight of his career, Lara stepped up to face the Mexican superstar in a PPV bout and proceeded to, in my opinion, totally shit the bed. His potshot-and-move gameplan wound up looking a bit too much like running away for my, and the judges’, liking. It seemed he had the skill advantage on the night as Canelo didn’t look great either, which makes this performance all the more disappointing.
    • Paul Williams (MD12) – Lara’s first career loss, this July 2011 decision was a total farce. Williams was a very good fighter, and Lara deserved this win.

Martirosyan

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Martirosyan, who is Armenian and looks like it, has had a pretty solid if unspectacular career. There was a time when he was coming up that there was some hype behind him – he was fighting a low level of competition pretty consistently and had more talent than most – but seems to have settled in as a fairly basic, though tough, fighter. He’s a likeable guy that just seems to be a level below the cream of the crop. He isn’t afraid to bring the fight, and though he hasn’t had a knockout in over three years, he seems to win fights based on grit and out-toughing his opponent.

Vanes just 4-2 in his last six fights, and Saturday represents a pretty significant moment in his career.

  • Record: 36-2-1 (21 KO)
  • Height: 5’11
  • Best Wins:
    • Willie Nelson (UD10) – In October 2014, a faltering Martirosyan was matched up with an undefeated up in comer in Willie Nelson, in a matchup where Vanes was clearly there in the gatekeeper role. Vanes kept his contender name alive as he deservedly took a decision (I scored the fight 97-93 in his favor) over Nelson and sent Nelson back down a level. A contender-level gatekeeper may be the spot for Vanes, but this night gave him the juice to continue his career at a high level.
    • Ishe Smith (MD10) – In his most recent fight, Vanes pulled out a tough decision over Smith in another closely matched contender-level bout – Martirosyan actually put Smith on the canvas twice, but even with the point deductions, he scraped out a majority decision here.
  • Losses:
    • Demetrius Andrade (SD12) – Andrade is a legit contender, a young guy with endless amounts of potential that has crushed his own career with inactivity and management issues. Still, Vanes gave the undefeated ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade all he could handle in this 2013 title fight, and gave a good showing of himself here.
    • Jermell Charlo (UD10) – Last March, in a step-up fight for the more finesse Charlo twin, Jermell took a unanimous decision win in a close fight in which, in my view, seven rounds could have gone either way. I had the fight scored 96-94 in Martirosyan’s favor, but I don’t think a Charlo decision was a robbery. Not much separated them here, but it being a step-up fight for Charlo, this may have cemented Vanes as a gatekeeper-level fighter.

 

The Verdict:  I will confess I usually don’t like watching Lara fight much, and this fight doesn’t really get my heart pounding. That said, I rate his talent and skill highly, and find Martirosyan to be ordinary. I thought Lara deserved the decision in their first matchup, and if Lara shows up to win, and not to run, I think he will take a unanimous decision over Vanes.

Jermall Charlo vs Austin Trout

 

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Jermall Charlo

Of the two Charlo twins, I rate Jermall much higher and have really enjoyed watching him. They look exactly the same, and their names are only one vowel apart, but someone pointed out once to me that Jermall ‘mauls’ opponents as a more physical man whereas Jermell is a little more “mellow” and more of a boxer, and that’s helped me differentiate them. Shout out to Bad Left Hook for the mneumonic.

This is a big fight for Jermall – he holds a belt, but he’s looked at still as a bit of a prospect-level. Let’s see what he’s really made of here – Trout is no easy out. This Charlo has shown a lot of potential, an aggressive style with true power in his hands – he has stoppages in 16 of his last 17 fights, and hasn’t seen a dip in effectiveness as he stepped up in power. I think he’s the real deal, but we’ll see what he’s made of Saturday night.

  • Record: 23-0 (18 KO)
  • Height: 6’0
  • Titles Held: IBF Super Welterweight Title (Won Sept. 2015 vs Cornelius Bundrage)
  • Best Win:
    • Cornelius Bundrage (TKO3) – In Charlo’s first title shot, and really the only real significant win on his record thus far, he dominated the admittedly old-as-shit (Budrage was 43 years old at the time of this fight) and overmatched champion over three rounds to swipe the belt in a fight that was never close. Charlo was probably the favorite going in, but ‘K-9 Bundrage’ was an experienced veteran, and Charlo crushed him emphatically. Just a great step-up performance for a young contender.

 

Austin Trout

 

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Trout is a tough fighter, another tricky southpaw in the mold of Erislandy Lara. He’s had some big wins and big matchups – he put his name on the map with a deserved upset over Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto – and gave Canelo Alvarez all he could handle. He’s an awkward fighter to face, long and smart, though he isn’t known for his power.

However, his loss to Lara seemed to set his career back, as he’s taken a significant step back in competition since then as he works to build his career back up. He’s looked shaky in a couple of those fights, causing speculation that his setbacks maybe are causing him to be a little more disinterested in his career. Either way, he’s going to be the best fighter Jermall Charlo has ever been in the ring with professionally.

 

  • Record: 30-2 (17 KO)
  • Height: 5’9
  • Best Wins:
    • Miguel Cotto (UD12) – It certainly is not easy to go into Madison Square Garden and take down Cotto in front of thousands of adoring Puerto Ricans. Trout came into this December 2012 fight as the clear B-side, but proved to be too much for the smaller Cotto to reach. Trout used his smarts and reach to outbox Cotto thoroughly, and put his name on the map. A great win, but we’re coming up on four years since this went down.
    • Delvin Rodriguez (UD12) – The performance that likely earned Trout the Cotto shot, Trout thoroughly outboxed Rodriguez and proved himself to be above a journeyman level fighter.
  • Losses:
    • Erislandy Lara (UD12) – As written above, Trout found himself matched with a similar fighter and found himself a step slow. Trout’s career has been pretty muted since then, with this being his biggest step up since this loss in Brooklyn.
    • Canelo Alvarez (UD12) – In a somewhat controversial fight in spring 2013- the fight was fought under the bizarre open scoring rules, in Texas, and Canelo was given some questionable rounds early, which caused Trout, knowing he was down, to throw caution to the wind and fight outside his normal style to try for the comeback. Canelo did score a hard knockdown in the fight, so there wasn’t too much handwringing over it, but Trout made a good showing of himself in the loss. This loss continues to look better as Canelo’s star grows, but again – this was now three years ago.

The Verdict: I think Trout gives Charlo some trouble early, but Charlo’s power proves to be too much for Trout. I predict a late TKO win for Charlo, giving Trout the first stoppage loss of his career. I could also see Charlo winning on the cards, if Trout goes super defensive after feeling Jermall’s power.

Jermell Charlo vs John Jackson

 

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Jermell Charlo

This, the opener to Saturday night’s card, might be my favorite fight of the whole card. The vacant WBC super welterweight title (vacated by the retiring Mayweather) is on the line and two young guys are going for it.

Jermell Charlo brother, who some rate higher than his brother due to his better level of opposition, has never impressed me much – he is a good boxer, but seems content with outpointing slower, less talented fighters and has never really shown me next-level power or speed. Jackson is a very flawed young fighter who packs a ton of talent but has been been stopped before and may be chinny. If Jermell doesn’t have the power to slow down Jackson, this could get very interesting quickly.

  • Record: 27-0 (12 KO)
  • Height: 5’11
  • Best Wins:
    • Vanes Martirosyan (UD10) – As written above, this is a significant win for Charlo, and does put him on the map as a worthy contender. This is nothing to sneeze at, and proves Jermell to be a high-level contender. That said, this was a very close fight in which Charlo enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in the judging.
    • Gabriel Rosado (UD10) – Charlo’s first big step-up fight in January 2014 saw him totally outclass a tough contender in Rosado, showing that Charlo’s skill is the real deal. That said, though Rosado has given everybody a tough fight, he’s also frankly lost to every good fighter he’s faced, so this win doesn’t really set Charlo too much apart.

 

John Jackson

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Jackson, the son of former fighter Julian Jackson, is a fun fighter to watch, a skilled brawler who looks world class for a few rounds and then has a tendency to bite off more than he can chew. He’s starting to rebuild after a nasty knockout loss to middleweight contender Andy Lee in the summer of 2014, fighting twice since then and seeming to box more carefully, picking up a pair of decision wins and looking to change his style, for the good of his boxing career and probably his health.

  • Record: 20-2 (15 KO)
  • Height: 6’0
  • Best Wins:
    • Jackson doesn’t have any significant wins of note – his record is littered with solid journeyman-type opponents who more often then not come into their bouts with a solid handful of losses. Jackson has lost both time he has stepped up in competition, which may say something about him.
  • Losses:
    • Andy Lee (KO5) – On the undercard of the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez fight in June 2014 at Madison Square Garden, Jackson took this step up fight against contender Andy Lee and spent the first four rounds looking incredible. He was winning by a mile on all scorecards, outfought the veteran and generally looked like he was arriving on the scene in a big way. Unfortunately for him, Lee landed a vicious short right hand right as Jackson was throwing one of his own, and it turned Jackson’s lights out immediately and sent him careening lifeless to the canvas. A tough, tough knockout to bounce back from for a young fighter.
    • Willie Nelson (UD 10) – In September 2012, Jackson took a step-up fight against the lesser-regarded Nelson and was promptly upset in a close but clear unanimous decision loss. Nelson, of course, has gone on to be a solid if unspectacular contender.

The Verdict: Look, the smart money here is on Charlo. He’s undefeated, skilled, has fought better competition and is the clear A-side in this fight. He’s supposed to win. Jackson hasn’t beaten anybody, has lost both times he’s stepped up in competition, and may not be very good. However, Jackson has fought at higher weights before – he got knocked out as a middleweight – and I can’t get past those four rounds that he looked great in against Lee, who is a very good fighter. I might regret this and look foolish, but I’ll go ahead and pick Jackson in the surprise upset in this one.