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While We Wait for Manny Pacquiao Vs Floyd Mayweather JR: Thoughts on the “Other” Stories in Boxing

By Jeff Stoyanoff

While the world of boxing waits to see what transpires in the ongoing saga of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight negotiations other fighters continue to exist. I am just as interested as the next guy in seeing what may prove to be the biggest fight in the history of boxing, but we won’t know anything for a little while so now seems like a good time to take a look at a couple of developing stories.

Khan and Ortiz – Lingering Questions Answered?

Both guys looked very good in their respective fights earlier this month. Granted, both were in optimal situations to look good. Nate Campbell is 38 years old, though we like to remember those outliers that confound our expectations regarding age like the oft cited Bernard Hopkins, that number has to mean something. Campbell has had a long and solid career, but it does appear to be catching up with him. Make no mistake, Ortiz dominated Campbell and showed himself to be the superior fighter right from the opening bell. It wasn’t that he won or even that he dominated, rather it was how overwhelmed and lost Campbell appeared to be in the fight. Perhaps Campbell would have never have been able to beat Ortiz, but the domination exhibited by Ortiz was bolstered by an opponent who no longer could react and adjust to even make the fight a little more compelling. Campbell is a terrific fighter, but no matter how many times one mentions Hopkins or Archie Moore, fighters get old. Ortiz did what he was supposed to do and looked like the fighter that was previously tabbed as potentially the next big thing in boxing, but he wasn’t in much danger on this night. It is going to take a great effort by a supremely talented fighter to best Ortiz at this point and the veteran Campbell seemed to be unable to fight at that altitude anymore.

While the talent level of Ortiz is undeniable it is hard to forget his fight against Marcos Maidana last year. Ortiz’ talent was on display as he dropped Maidana three times in the fight. Unfortunately for Ortiz, the talent and toughness of Maidana were also on display as he weathered the storm and came back to score a pair of knockdowns himself. By the sixth round, Ortiz was cut over both eyes and physically worn down by the relentless punishment of Maidana. After being knocked down, Ortiz indicated that he did not wish to continue in the fight. Truthfully, Ortiz was, in all likelihood, going to be knocked out in the next 30 seconds (there were over two minutes left in the round). His vision was no doubt impaired by the cuts and he was being outworked by a fighter who had decidedly more left in the tank. Ortiz made a rational choice, but boxing is hardly a sport governed by rational thinking. Though certainly logical, the decision to stop by Ortiz was viewed by many as quitting and it has to leave a lingering doubt as to how he will fare against top fighters in the future. Ortiz will encounter adversity again; how will he respond? No matter how he looks during his comeback none of it will matter at all until he is faced with adversity and must choose again between the logic of self-preservation and the blind courage required to make it to the heights that his talent seems to promise. All of which brings us to Amir Khan.

The similarities here abound. Khan looked sensational against Paulie Malignaggi on the same card as Ortiz and Campbell. Khan was expected to win, but Malignaggi had proven to be slick and tough; the kind of guy who could hang around in a fight and produce some questions about his opponent. No such questions could be asked on this night. Khan landed far more clean shots on Malignaggi than had any previous opponent as he dominated him in a way that not even Ricky Hatton or Miguel Cotto could. Khan controlled the action with his jab primarily as he systematically took apart an ever more bewildered Malignaggi. The win was no surprise, but the level of domination was noteworthy.

However, much like the case with Ortiz, one can go overboard with the superlatives. Malignaggi was well passed his prime as well. As was pointed out during the broadcast, Malignaggi relied more on his reflexes and athleticism to out slick his opponents over his fine career rather than utilizing solid technique. The deficiencies in fundamentals were exposed time and again by Khan. Once again as was the case with Ortiz in his fight, perhaps Malignaggi never could have beaten Khan. However, the slippage in his quickness magnified the flaws on defense and the result was an easy night for Khan. Like Campbell, Malignaggi is a terrific fighter, but at 29 years of age he is ancient. He has been through a few wars and he employs a style that relies on quickness and fast reactions and he has never been one to eschew contact in the ring. Fighters sometimes get old overnight and never has that saying been more true than in the case of Paulie Malignaggi on May 15th. In fact, Khan was in even less danger than Ortiz as Malignaggi has also never been blessed with much in the way of one punch power. Once Khan was able to outbox Malignaggi the fight was over. Khan was too good and Paulie was too far passed his prime to fight at anywhere near the brilliant level that Khan brought.

But the similarities between Khan and Victor Ortiz hardly stop there. Khan’s lone loss poses the same kind of fatalistic questions as does Ortiz’ recent loss to Maidana. Khan was caught and knocked out by a sensational left hook from Breidis Prescott in their fight in December of 2008. Just like Ortiz, no matter how good Khan looks it simply will not matter until he is in there again with a dangerous opponent and gets caught flush again. Truth be told, Khan’s loss should not provide a conclusive end to the story about his beard. He was backing into a corner and he got caught with a spectacular shot right on the point of his chin. Perhaps Khan will always struggle when it comes to taking a good shot in the ring as many tremendous fighters have. However, that shot might just have put anyone’s lights out.

Lennox Lewis was often regarded as having a questionable chin during his hall of fame career. The evidence of this lies in the fact that he was knocked out twice in memorable fashion. However, Lewis only went down those two times in a career that spanned 44 fights against the biggest and hardest punching heavyweights of his era. Was he only hit hard twice? Could he have stayed on his feet against the litany of fearsome punchers he faced if he couldn’t take a pretty good shot? Images often trump logic and nowhere is this more true than in discussions of the beard in boxing. Khan getting dropped by a perfect shot doesn’t necessarily mean that any shot that hits him is going to take him out. Everybody has a perfect spot and perhaps Prescott just managed to find Khan’s with a tremendous shot. None of this is to say that Amir Khan is going to be George Chuvalo out there, but mistakes can be particularly costly in boxing and Khan made a big one against Prescott.

Perhaps it was an anomaly and Khan may prove to be tougher than we expect in his subsequent fights; only time will tell. Perhaps Ortiz has rededicated himself to boxing and will display surprising grit and toughness when confronted with adversity once again; only time will tell. These two seem ideally suited to pose these lingering questions to the other. The fight seems like a natural.

Did we miss the “prime” Paul Williams?

It certainly was a bizarre ending in the Kermit Cintron – Paul Williams fight on May 8th. Cintron tripped over Williams legs and fell out of the ring. Though replays showed no conclusive evidence that he fell in some violent way that would have precluded him continuing the fight was stopped. The story goes that Cintron wanted to continue but that the doctors overruled him and stopped the fight as a precaution. That seems plausible to me. However, there have been subsequent suggestions that Cintron actually jumped out of the ring (wow) and that he stayed down long enough to have the fight stopped only to then feign protest after. This seems less plausible.

First, consider the fight itself. Two rounds of fairly careful boxing with not a lot of contact followed by 30 seconds with some good exchanges and then the strange finish. Cintron decided he wanted out after 30 seconds of trading with Paul Williams? So, Williams is some kind of superhuman amalgam of Thomas Hearns and Earnie Shavers? After going 30 seconds Cintron was desperate to get out of the fight? I suppose that makes Sergio Martinez the toughest human being in the history of boxing. Also, Cintron clearly landed during the exchanges and should have won the first two rounds. In fact, Williams clearly buckled after eating a good right hand from Cintron in that third round. It seems safe to say after watching Williams fight for the last few years that that right hand for Cintron would be there again if the fight continued. Perhaps if it was the 9th or 10th round and Cintron was winning one could argue that the strategic move in such a scenario would be to stay down and take the decision win, why chance it? Of course, that once again assumes that boxing and rational thinking are not mutually exclusive when all the evidence suggests that they in fact are. Nonetheless, at least a case could be made in that situation for opting to go to the cards, but that was not the case on May 8th.

So, what would Cintron’s motivation be? Perhaps he wanted to cement his place as an outsider when it comes to any big fights at 154 pounds because that is exactly where he is after this loss. Williams doesn’t need to fight him again and Cintron just lost so why would anyone else? I am just waiting for the second day stories about how Cintron hates money to help explain why he would opt out of a golden opportunity to elevate his status in a deep division filled with potential big money fights. If Cintron wants out as soon as he takes one shot from Paul Williams, why is he even fighting in the first place?

Beyond the Cintron fiasco, I wonder where Paul Williams is in his career. The lack of familiarity with Paul Williams that casual fans have should not be taken as an indication that Williams has somehow only recently burst on the scene. Williams has had 39 fights which is a fairly high total for a fighter in the modern era of boxing. Moreover, Williams fights at a torrid pace and definitely gives and takes a lot of….wait for it….punishment. The power of Paul Williams is cumulative as, more often than not, he wears his opponents down before taking them out. On top of that, he has never excelled on defense. That brutal combination usually leads to a shorter than average career at the top for a fighter.

The lack of world class defense never hurt Williams in the past because his punch output simply overwhelmed his opponent and when he did take a punch he seemed to do so very well. But that has started to change a little, he was hurt a few times against Martinez and he did buckle on a good right from Cintron. And let’s remember that among his many long, tough fights is a contest against Antonio Margarito. Williams went 12 hard rounds against Margarito. The second half of that fight in particular saw Margarito gain in effectiveness landing consistently with solid right hands down the stretch. Not only was that a physical fight, but we must now consider the question that will always accompany a discussion of an Antonio Margarito fight; just what was Paul Williams getting hit with that night?

Paul Williams is a wonderful fighter and hopefully he can squeeze some well deserved money out before he must contemplate retirement. Williams is still largely unknown, but he is hardly untested in the ring having endured more than his share of high contact fights; his prime years may have just slipped by.

Froch Retirement? That was fast…

No sooner than Carl Froch loses his first fight than the talk of retirement starts. However, this time it’s a little different. The ones talking about retirement are not the fans, but Carl Froch himself. This seems like pretty strange talk for a guy who appears for the most part to be full on arrogant in his appraisals of his boxing ability. Suddenly, with one loss there is talk of retirement? Where is the boastful talk of what he has learned and how even the greatest fighters lose and what matters is how one responds to those moments of adversity?

Froch recently lost a somewhat controversial decision to Mikkel Kessler in Denmark in phase two of the Super Six Super Middleweight Classic. I actually scored the Kessler fight for Froch by a single point. Interestingly, I thought Froch handled the post fight interview exceptionally well. He said he felt as though he won the fight, and while you may disagree, it is not as though his statement was outlandish. He then talked about the disparity in the scoring making a very salient point in suggesting that if one of the judges scored that fight nine rounds to three for Kessler then there was simply no way that he (Froch) could have possibly won a decision on that judges card. It is hard to disagree with that view. Judging by the scoring in this event, Froch is not exactly crazy for saying he doesn’t want to fight Arthur Abraham in his adopted home country of Germany. After going on the road to fight Kessler, Froch shouldn’t have to take on Abraham in Germany. Although it is hugely ironic that the most controversial decision in the event went for Froch and yet it is Froch who is complaining most loudly. What’s more fun than human nature? But, the fight location is the least of Froch’s problems at this point.

Froch needs to find a way to gain some confidence as the road doesn’t get any easier in the Super Six. Ordinarily, Froch could come home and take a fight or two against softer competition, get the winning feeling back and then step up again. However, in this format he steps right back into the fire against Arthur Abraham. If the US Open is billed as the toughest tennis in the world and the US Open is the toughest golf in the world then the Super Six is the toughest boxing in the world. The Super Six is built not just on fierce competition, but on a grueling pace that exacts a heavy toll: Physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Today’s top fighters don’t have to deal with the loss in the same way as many of their predecessors The brilliant fighters of today are cash cows that can be worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. They are handled carefully. They are matched up well and moved along at a measured pace. Not because they are soft, but because they are incredibly valuable. The Super Six confounds the status quo by forcing top fighters to face each other one after the other; no options. The event challenges the psyche as much as the body. Winning the Super Six is not going to be purely a question of physical prowess; there will be a significant mental and emotional component as well. Already, every fighter other than Andre Ward has lost (Allan Green hasn’t lost but hasn’t fought either). Unless, Ward dominates this thing from start to finish, the winner of this event might just have to pick himself up off the canvas (figuratively speaking) and gut out a win; not when he feels ready, but now. Today’s brilliant but precocious talents are not always accustomed to winning that way, but they might just have to here.

Right now it is difficult to say where things are in terms of the physical questions in the Super Six as the favorites seem to change after every fight. But, the mental aspects might be starting to take shape. The talk of walking away sends a message that Carl Froch may not be strong enough mentally to pull this thing out. The Super Six brings great boxing matches, but in between it’s a grind and a grinder is going to take it down.

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