Thursday, November 26, 2009

:boxing: Boxing Bits ::11.26.09:: Champs Get Chewed Up

The past two weeks have not proven to be kind to almost anyone holding a belt, lead in dubious distinction by Miguel Cotto and Mikkel Kessler, who suffered only their second defeat, but did so in authoritative style via stoppage.

--The Cotto-Pacquiao fight happened pretty much as the reports said they did. It was competitive for the first four with the momentum swinging back-and-forth between both fighters. Cotto's second round knockdown was nothing serious (a good, well-placed shot while he was in a position to be unable to stop himself from falling without touching the canvas) but the one in the fourth was, and it took a bit out of him. Moreso, it was the speed, power, and angling of Pacquiao's blows that did him in, and would have done so with the way the fight was going regardless of it.

The most interesting aspect of the match was not only the Pacman taking a few good licks by way of Cotto's snapping hooks and jabs with relative ease, but that he fought a careful and measured fight without the usual non-stop hoppity movements and balletic bravado. He was still moving around and in-and-out of the Puerto Rican's range, but he controlled himself and didn't allow himself to get too comfortable or eager to swarm him into oblivion. That choice of tactic, plus Cotto's "survival mode" and inability to really hurt him or answer his prowess, didn't make for a redux of the scintillating, masterful destruction that was last year's De La Hoya bout, but it was still a showcase of mastery and awe by the now seven weight-class champion Manny Pacquiao...albeit in a different way.

--Yeah, bring on Mayweather...but it won't be so easy.

--Closing out Group Stage 1 in the Super Six tourney, Andre Ward put on quite the performance against Mikkel Kessler to take his WBA belt. Well, it was quite one because it also wasn't the most cleanly-fought fight, either. Sure, Ward busted up the slower, flat Kessler with his faster shots down the barrel and made it look shamefully easy, but admittedly, there where definitely more than a few times that he clutched the Dane by the arm, and drilled some hooks to his body, preventing him from also moving or fighting back in the process. In addition, there was the occasional instance that Ward would lead with his head coming into Kessler, which cut him in the process (a rather blatant one would eventually lead to the fight's stoppage and eventual technical decision).

However, despite his valid grievances during and after it, Kessler very much lost the fight. There's no doubt Ward got too much slack from the referee and used cheap tactics, but as previously mentioned, Kessler looked flat and, quite honestly, largely fought like a chump. He did little to adjust and work around Ward's speed advantage and never committed to changes that seemed to work (i.e. catching him while going backwards, showing more lateral movement, engaging more). He looked underprepared and carried himself early with a sense of self-entitlement, underscored by comments that he didn't spar with southpaws (which Ward is adept at switching to) and just by his pre-fight promo piece. On top of it all, most of Ward's antics occurred in the first half and even overall, it constituted a small portion of his overall game, which was centered around skillfully deconstructing Kessler and capitalizing on the chief faults found in his troublesome outing with speedster Joe Calzaghe (yeah, I just gave him some props).

Like friend and fellow Olympian Andre Dirrell, Ward didn't need to use "dirty" tactics like he did, but unlike Dirrell, he relied more on his abilities and talent to claim victory. He deserved the win, hands down, and Kessler was acting like a sore loser and whiner when he only had himself to blame for not preparing, adapting, or adjusting properly. Ward possess not just his first world title, but also two points to tie him with Carl Froch in second place, behind tournament co-favorite Arthur Abraham, who has three. The other favorite Kessler now finds himself with zero points to show for himself and a date early next year with the rugged Froch in certainly a tough battle. The new champ, on the other hand, may have it a bit easier with Jermain Taylor as his next opponent, who's future in the tournament--and boxing--is in question after that awful knockout to Abraham two months ago. As critical as I have been of him of his recent career paths, Ward showed some more of that promise he had when he first turn pro and easily bested the purported best in the division, so he deserves some applause for that.

Now just discard the poor old-school moves. You don't need them.

--I had a feeling Fragomeni wasn't going to hold onto that title belt long...

--Back to "dirtiness", if Mayol's headbutt in the second round against WBC Flyweight Champion Sosa only looked questionably flagrant, then perhaps the continual jutting of his cranium forward some two or three more times might make you reconsider, otherwise. The KO punch was legit, the path toward getting there was not.

For all of his trouble (and a fractured cheekbone that will shelf him for half a year), at least Sosa will have first crack at Mayol when he returns (no pun intended)--as "WBC Emeritus Champion" (blech, speaking of...).

--A WBA interim heavyweight title bout was apparently set featuring Ruslan Chagaev and...Kali Meehan. Again: KALI MEEHAN. I had a fit for ten minutes upon reading this. Why exactly does the WBA--ever the abuser of "superlative" titles--need an interim champion when David Hayes just beat Valuev for the true lineal belt, and what exactly has Meehan done to deserve a title shot, anyway? Besides beating DaVarryl Williamson for the vacant WBO NABO belt and supposed No. 1 WBA contendership in 2007, fighting two individuals with a combined record of 39-20-2, and losing to every other major or well-known heavyweight he's fought, not a whole lot.

Much of the blame goes to promoter Don King for driving this whole thing, but also to the WBA and their fetish for having multiple champions at a single weight. It's things like this that have done boxing no favors over the years. However, the silver lining in all of this is that Hayes promoter Golden Boy Promotions was reassured by the sanctioning body that fighter is the one and only champion and will only recognize him, putting King's declaration into question (and the WBA's apparent duality, if true). Had this refuse gone forth, the winner of Chagaev-Meehan would meet the victor of Hayes-Ruiz for a "unification" match. I guess King must be a little stung by having Valuev lose his last grip on a major heavyweight title and John Ruiz's possible departure from his stable (and thus another chance at recapturing the WBA belt).

--It is always a tense and unnerving moment when a fighter is on the canvas for any extended period and it is made even more tragic whenever that person never regains consciousness, which is unfortunately what happened last Friday to Francisco Rodriguez. Following a pitched battle for the vacant USBA Super Bantamweight Championship against Teon Kennedy, the fight was stopped after Rodriguez was unable to fend off Kennedy's attacks. One of his cornermen asked him precautionary questions concerning brain injury indication afterwords and his answers prompted him to call for a doctor, but Rodriguez collapsed immediately after. In spite of emergency brain surgery, he passed away two days later on Sunday, all too soon at the age of 25. He left behind a wife and infant daughter, and I send my condolences to both of them and the rest of his family and friends. Boxing is a brutal sport and even through the leaps in technology and the greater protection of a fighter's well-being, tragic matters such as this can still rear its head.

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