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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.