Fighting Words: Young Fighters Shine On Showtime; Brook and Russell Jr. Dominant

In boxing, and in life, there is no such thing as immortality. The top dog will not always be the top dog–time catches up, and youth and power will eventually overtake experience. Always.

Boxing’s history is littered with people waving their hands over their head and freaking out over the future of the sport as the top superstars get old and begin slowing down or retiring. The sport was to die after Mike Tyson. Then Roy Jones Jr. Then Oscar De La Hoya. Now, boxing’s two biggest draws and stars, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, are still at the top of the mountain but getting long in the tooth. Their twilight doesn’t seem so far away.

That said, there are numerous young guns out there, up and coming, salivating for their chance to be that star. The sport will find them, as it always does. Who it will be, we don’t know yet–Canelo? Lomachenko? Wilder?–but the young talent in the sport is strong, and it will always persevere. Last night on Showtime, two young fighters with their name on the list of up and comers made emphatic statements as they continue on the long road that leads to the top.

Fight Recap: Kell Brook RTD4 Jo Jo Dan

In Sheffield, England, hometown 28-year old IBF welterweight titleholder Kell Brook (34-0, 23 KO) looked spectacular in a one-sided beatdown of challenger Jo Jo Dan (34-3, 18 KO), mopping the floor with an overmatched, helpless and amateur-looking Dan in four rounds before Dan’s corner mercifully stopped the bout after the fourth round. Dan, a tough fighter with limited power but quite a bit of experience, didn’t belong in the same ring with Brook from the opening bell.

Brook, in his first fight since taking the title from Shawn Porter in a rough and ugly affair, was also returning to the ring after getting stabbed by a machete while on vacation in one of the strangest stories I’ve heard in quite some time. Something about Brook’s explanation of the incident (summary: Brook went to some strange man’s house at 3 AM after being out drinking on vacation, alone, and the guy abruptly went nuts and stabbed him with a machete) doesn’t quite add up, but I digress.

Brook looked strong and outclassed Dan in every single way; he was stronger, faster, more skilled. Every big power shot Kell through landed flush, and he dropped Dan twice in the second and fourth rounds, leaving the challenger flopping on the floor, dazed and frustrated, and struggling helplessly to his feet. Given that Dan is a decent welterweight, it clearly showed Brook to be a class or two above.

Who’s in that class with Brook? Well, Kell called out Amir Khan after his fight, a matchup that would certainty be a major event in Britain and a fascinating match wherever you call home. Brook also claimed he wants to fight the best (the Mayweather-Pacquiao winner, perhaps) but that seems to be a pipe dream for now. At the moment, Brook seems to be continuing to build his name, but his skills and incredible in-ring composure point to good signs for the future and someone who has the potential to be a top pound for pound fighter down the line.

Fight Recap: Gary Russell Jr. TKO4 Jhonny Gonzalez

In the nightcap on Showtime, much-hyped former featherweight prospect Gary Russell Jr. (26-1, 15 KO) exceeded all expectations by flooring and outclassing the always-tough, veteran champ Jhonny Gonzalez (57-9, 48 KO), swiping Jhonny’s WBC title in the process.

Gonzalez is no world-beater, but he is a tough veteran who had the belt after knocking out former pound-for-pound ranked champ Abner Mares in 2013. He isn’t particularly fast, or has world-beating skill, but he does have one-punch knockout power and is always dangerous, and Russell Jr. impressed by wiping the floor with him and getting him out of there within the first third of the fight.

Russell Jr. is a fighter with immense talent (he has arguably the fastest hands in the sport) who has deservedly taken criticism for a lack of quality competition on his record, as he fought a murderer’s row of nobodies and club fighters for years after being named the 2011 Prospect of the Year. In his first step-up fight against a similar world-level fighter, he was beaten decisively by Vasyl Lomachenko, resulting in fans calling him a hype job and dismissing him as a legitimate top contender.

Russell Jr. proved at least some of his critics wrong last night, as he was too much to handle. His speed is still on another level (Gonzalez looked like he was fighting in water for much of the fight), his power showed up last night and when he saw his opponent hurt he wasn’t afraid to go for the finish and get it. He still has work to do–Paulie Malignaggi, commentating for Showtime, astutely observed that Russell Jr.’s speed is great but he only knows how to throw at that one speed and doesn’t vary his punches, meaning world-class fighters can start timing his shots.

That said, the 26-year old fighter gave a great account of himself and looks to be a player in the suddenly stacked (and young) featherweight division, a group of fighters that features the previously mentioned Lomachenko, rising star Nicolas Walters, and others. He is one to watch, so long as he keeps up his level of competition.

Fight Recap: Jermell Charlo UD10 Vanes Martirosyan

Sometime the Wolf Score: Charlo 94 – 96 Martirosyan

In a highly technical affair that featured at least seven rounds that could have gone either way, Jermell Charlo (26-0, 11 KO) kept his perfect record intact as he saw the scorecards go his way. I had it scored 6-4 in rounds to the always game Vanes Martirosyan (35-2-1, 21 KO), but don’t have a problem with a 6-4 card the other way. One judge gave 7 rounds to Charlo, which I think is a little much, but think as the more marketable fighter seeing the scorecards go Charlo’s way isn’t a huge surprise.

Anyway, Jermell Charlo (the more technical of the two twin Charlo brothers) showed his technical, fighting effectively off the back foot and behind a stiff jab, while Vanes chose to attack the body and get 1-2 pot shots in there on his faster opponent where he could. Almost nothing separated these two fighters–neither ever looked particularly hurt, except in the 8th round when Vanes took an accidental headbutt that nearly closed his eye, and it felt like they could fight for 20 rounds and each man would take ten.

Nevertheless, it’s Charlo who gets the win on his record and moves on, while Vanes likely entrenches himself into gatekeeper status.

Charlo, too, is a prospect, along with his brother, who is one to watch in the future. I’m not sold on him yet–his brother has more knockouts and an arguably better resume–but you can’t argue that the 24-year old is oozing with potential, another young lion aiming himself to the front of the pack.

He, like Brook, Russell and the other young fighters building their name, may fail and wind up also-rans, and most do. But one or two of them may wind up true champions, pay-per-view stars, legends in their own time. They are the future of the world’s oldest sport, and the future appears to be in good hands. It’s why we watch and why we invest so much time and passion into a sport that has never loved us back.

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Fighting Words: Kell Brook Derails Shawn Porter Hype Train in Clinch-Filled ‘Meh’ Fest

Boxing has had a rough, rough summer. After a 2013 that consistently delivered great fights and seemed to rejuvenate the sport, 2014 has been decidedly more ‘meh’, and this latest run has been particularly punishing for fight fans. Between horrible officiating leading to unsatisfying fights (Rios-Chaves), atrocious mismatches (Garcia-Salka, which even I skipped) and even blowout fights in matches that looked good on paper (Cotto-Martinez), being a boxing fan is like being in love with a girl who constantly cheats on you and puts out once a year.  You know you should move on to something better and more fulfilling, and all your friends are urging you to leave her and start dating this other girl who will treat you better (‘MMA’, or ‘football’) but you just can’t let go. 

Shawn Porter vs. Kell Brook was a ray of hope. The IBF titleholder Porter (coming into this fight at 22-0-1, 15 KO) had just firmly stamped his name on the boxing map with two big wins against name welterweights by decisioning Devin Alexander and completely demolishing the pillow-fisted Paulie Malignaggi. His name had been thrown around as perhaps one of the next young stars of the sport, a future Floyd Mayweather opponent, a muscle-bound dynamo on the path to greatness. Brook (who entered the ring with a record of 32-0, 22 KO) was a talented British champion with a puffed-up record whose best previous win was against European-level Vyacheslav Senchenko, who has once been stopped by the aforementioned Malignaggi in Paulie’s only TKO win since 2003.

Going into the fight, it looked like a relatively evenly-matched bout between two rising boxers, with Porter as the slight favorite. Alas, last night, boxing again failed to put out. 

Brook (in red) and Porter spent a lot of time like this last night.

Fight Recap: Kell Brook MD12 Shawn Porter

Sometime the Wolf score: Porter 113 – 115 Brook

This fight turned out to be a stylistic nightmare. Porter has made his bones by using athleticism and strength (he is built like an NFL running back) to leap in and wing wild-looking haymakers from crazy angles, at times bringing his hands up from his hips to drill guys upside the head. He found success in doing this in a controlled fashion against Alexander, and turned the knob up to 10 in his match with Malignaggi. Porter knew Malignaggi didn’t have the power to hurt him and he abandoned all pretext of boxing and rushed in, jumping with reckless abandon into Paulie and wiping him quite literally out of the ring with a powerful frenzy of flying muscle and fists. His blowout against Paulie, a veteran fighter who had held his own against some of boxing’s best, started murmurs of stardom.

Brook, who might have the worst nickname in the history of civilization (“Special K”), clearly had watched the gametape of Porter’s fights and came into the ring with a plan to neutralize Porter’s onslaught. Every time Porter jumped in to start winging his power shots from up close, instead of stepping backwards and ceding ground Brook would hold position and tie Porter up, smothering his power and frustrating him. Porter was winning early rounds on activity alone, as seemingly boundless energy caused him to sort-of ineffectively land some of his frenzied shots before getting tied up. But the rhythm (or lack thereof) of the fight was set: Porter leaps in, Brook lands a quick left and ties up. They wrestle for a while. Referee separates them. Porter leaps in. Brook lands a quick, sharp counter and ties up. They wrestle for a while. Referee separates them. Etc.  

This continued on and on for 12 rounds, though Brook started landing a few more of his sharp potshots and Porter landed much less in the second half of the fight, when Porter’s constant bouncing, leaping and wasted aggression caught up to him and he got winded. This is where Brook started taking rounds clearly and separated himself in this fight. Two judges ended up having it pretty clear to Brook, while one had it a draw, giving Brook the majority decision win. 

And there’s the rub. As soon as Porter’s infighting weapon was neutralized by Brook, Porter had nowhere to go. He doesn’t know how to box from the outside, and failed to find a plan B. You can’t take away the kid’s accomplishments, and you can’t immediately brand him a bust after one loss, but Porter looked far from great last night. On the other hand, Brook fought a smart fight and deservedly took the belt, but didn’t exactly make a lot of new fans with the way he fought. After the fight, Porter asked for a rematch. No thanks. 

The book is now out on how to fight Porter, and until he adjusts, we can expect a clinchfest every time he steps up to face real competition. He will be around and have his chances, as he’s only 26 years old, but after Saturday night he will need to work his way back to where he was on Saturday morning. Let’s hope Brook takes some big fights now that he’s a beltholder and doesn’t sit on it with defenses in England against no-name fighters. I’d like to see him in with someone different stylistically and see where he goes from here. 

Fight Recap: Anthony Dirrell UD12  Sakio Bika

Sometime the Wolf Score: Bika 110 – 117 Dirrell 

I’ll be quick talking about this one, because it was a fucking horrendous fight. This was a rematch of these two fighters’ draw from last December, and it was a terrible, foul-filled clinch fest that did not resemble boxing. Dirrell (27-0-1, 22 KO) was clearly the better technical fighter than Bika (32-6-3, 21 KO), which is not hard to do because Bika has no technical ability at all to the point that I am hesitant to call him a boxer. Bika grabs, holds, headbutts, elbows, wrestles and occasionally will throw a wild arching haymaker that has no semblance of technique and starts so far behind him that it arcs like a McDonald’s sign. 

There’s nothing that happened in this fight worth talking about. I’ll leave it to exasperated referee Jack Reiss, who was the highlight of the fight, to explain what was going on in there: “Stop this holding bullshit,” he said to the fighters as he separated them for the 400th time mid-fight. “You guys look like shit doing this.”

Fight Recap: Omar Figueroa TKO9 Daniel Estrada

This fight, the opener for the Showtime card, was easily the fight of the night. Underdog Daniel Estrada (32-3-1, 24 KO) came to fight and had a ton of heart.  Highly-regarded prospect Omar Figueroa (24-0-1, 18 KO) was faster, stronger and more technically proficient then Estrada, but Estrada was able to pull him into a firefight with some precise counterpunching. Figueroa has a lot of potential, and is a great offensive fighter, but his defense needs some work. 

The two fighters clashed heads in the 8th round, opening a nasty gash over the left eye of Figueroa that looked nauseating. With their man up on the cards (I had him up 78-75 at this point, while all three official judges had him up wide as well), Figueroa’s corner was trying to talk the referee into stopping the bout at that point, which would have sent the decision to the scorecards since the cut was a result of an accidental headbutt. The doctor wasn’t having it though, and sent the fighter out for the 9th round. No doubt extra determined to finish the fight, and with blood streaming down the side of his nose, Figueroa launched a devastating right hand that floored Estrada seconds into the round. With Estrada on wobbly legs and with cloudy eyes, Figueroa closed in for the kill and finished him with an unanswered flurry of punches.  Here’s the finish:

Figueroa stops Estrada (GIF courtesy of SB Nation)

Still not sure how far Figueroa goes–he clearly has talent, but there are defensive holes to his game, and he has had problems with his hands breaking in the past. That said, if he continues to fight this way, he will make for some interesting fights, so he is one to watch. 

Other Notes and Thoughts From Last Night

  • Intriguing heavyweight prospect Deontay Wilder (32-0, 32 KO) didn’t look great in his stay-busy victory over fat guy Jason Gavern (25-17-4, 11 KO)–who, if nothing else, was entertaining for 4 rounds before retiring on his stool–but it seemed like Wilder was purposely carrying Gavern rounds as he kept his devastating right hand in his pocket and was content to jab his way through rounds to “get rounds”, a concept that doesn’t really make sense. Wilder could have stopped this fight at any time and there is nothing worthwhile to take from it. The best moment of the fight was when referee Weiss (probably the MVP of yesterday’s show, to be honest) looked at the hard-breathing Gavern and asked him if everything was all right, to which Gavern quipped “Do you have any oxygen?”
  • Lightweight contender Jorge Linares (37-3, 24 KO) absolutely brutalized journeyman Ira Terry (26-12, 16 KO) in the second round of their match to the point that Terry was left moaning in pain and writhing on the ground. Was a great shot but tough to watch. Linares is immensely talented and is an offensive dynamo but has a questionable chin and paper thin skin that cuts easily. His defense and skin (sounds weird to say that) are his downfall, but otherwise he is a really enjoyable fighter to watch.
  • This is really the last relevant fight card until September. And, as is tradition with every major PPV fight, I have friends getting married on the night of the Mayweather-Maidana rematch, which is horrible. That said, unless I want my girlfriend to break up with me I will have to attend this wedding with a smile on my face, but I hope to actually find a way to watch that fight and write about it on here, as Mayweather fights are one of the few days on the calendar that average sports fans and not just boxing diehards care about the sport.