The Ariza Factor

Both inside and outside of the ring controversy has followed Floyd Mayweather his entire career. His last loss was at the hands of a controversial decision that cost Mayweather Olympic Gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Since then and throughout his professional career he has always been surrounded by, and often instigated, controversy.

So perhaps Mayweather’s decision to add Alex Ariza (former strength and conditioning coach to Manny Pacquiao) shouldn’t surprise us. Yet as I sit here theorizing over a range of explanations for the addition of Ariza to his May 2nd preparations I find it hard to reach a definitive conclusion. The first and most obvious is psychological warfare. Many of Mayweather’s previous 47 opponents have succumbed to his mind-games. Employing the ex-conditioning coach of Team Pacquiao could certainly qualify for psychological warfare. Though there’s no evidence in the public domain to suggest Pacquiao and Ariza ever formally fell out, the discourse between Freddie Roach and Ariza has never been pleasant since their split. And before Alex Ariza was fired by Pacquaio (something believed to be ordered by Roach), Pacquiao was putting fighters to sleep with ease.

Another cynical but obvious explanation is pure and basic: controversy. No one knows how to sell a fight, or an event for that matter, better than Floyd Mayweather. Videos of Alex Ariza helping Mayweather prepare for Saturday’s fight add another layer of intrigue and public interest to the already highly anticipated bout. But what about the tangible physical and mental gains of having Ariza involved at this late stage in his career? He’s been doing a pretty good job so far without any of the modern marvels of scientific conditioning.

Firstly I should say that whilst an interested observer in the application of strength and conditioning to boxing, I have no scientific qualifications to quantify the observations I make. Early in his career, Mayweather was knocking plenty of decent fighters out. Some say his brittle hands account for the lack of knockouts, others suggest he doesn’t carry the punch up at welterweight. I disagree with both views. I think his safety-first style is the main contributor to the lack of knockouts in recent years. Could there be something Mayweather has seen in his Ariza’s time with Pacquiao that he thinks he could benefit from?

Mayweather’s conditioning has always been supreme. He’s never run out of puff and he barely looks as if he’s broken a sweat some fights. But if you’re a close observer of Floyd Mayweather then like me you must have noticed the change in his physique for this fight. To me he looks more muscular, markedly bigger and I attribute that to Ariza. But could there be adverse effects to the additional bulk Floyd seems to have put on? Could it slow his speed, or will he carry the same cat-like reflexes with an additional dollop of mustard to his shots?

In a recent video interview Ariza spoke on his association with Mayweather, which goes right back to the days of when he was in the corner of a former opponent of Mayweathers, Diego Corrales. But it was the rematch between Mayweather and Marcos Maidana where Ariza seemed to be (whether officially or not) part of the camp. Not everyone is happy with his presence in the American’s camp. Floyd Mayweather Sr (trainer and father of Floyd Mayweather Jr) being one of them. Whether that’s his old school attitude to this relatively new science or an ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ attitude remains unclear. Perhaps some of his reluctance to the new addition to the camp is the failed drug tests that fighters associated with Ariza (Brandon Rios for one) have succumbed to. 

Or could Ariza’s presence be a product of something simpler? Does Floyd see something in Pacquiao that he feels warrants that extra level of preparation? One things for sure, much like his boxing; every move Floyd Mayweather makes is calculated.

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Gremlins 

Sorry – tech issues have caused a delay in posting my latest blog post. Please come back tomorrow to read more ! Thanks 

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May 2nd: Floyd Mayweather Jr vs. Manny Pacquiao

floyd-mayweather-manny-pacquiao-press-conference-3-11-15-08-photo-by-naoki-fukudaIn less than two weeks time the widely acclaimed best pound-for-pound boxers of this generation will collide in the most lucrative fight in history. Yet much to the bemusement of boxing fans and the media, still no tickets for the highly anticipated matchup have gone on sale. Even with the fight’s self-proclaimed A-Side expected to take home north of 150 million dollars and his last line of defence against Pacquiao’s punches containing a $100 bill, diamond dust and flecks of gold, these circumstances seem absurd. But Mayweather, with his $20,000 mouthpiece, represents only one side of this extraordinary event. Pacquiao’s rise from abject poverty to fame is a truly inspiring story. Both inside the ring and through his political endeavours Manny Pacquaio represents the people. He is the ultimate people’s champion, a fan-favourite and a legend in his native Philippines. By contrast Mayweather’s brand is a product of his astute personal marketing programme, evolving alongside his unrivalled financial success. Under the banner of The Money Team (TMT) he appeals to those who lust after the materialistic success that his mantra of ‘hard work and dedication’ (and of course talent) has brought him.

So we have two fighters with distinctly different fighting styles and public personas. Both have been propelled by their mutual desire to square off in the ring and both are destined to make a fortune from this fight. But this fight means more to both fighters than money. Despite his resume, had Floyd Mayweather bowed out of the sport without facing Manny Pacquiao there would have question marks over his career. All 47 of Mayweather’s victories have come against viable threats; many decorated current and future hall-of-fame fighters. Despite his two-year lay off from the sport, Mayweather would argue that he should never have lost his number one pound-for-pound status. But whilst Mayweather was taking a rest from the sport, Pacquiao was producing some truly scintillating form demolishing anyone and anything in his path culminating in the World Boxing Council (WBC) naming him ‘Fighter of the Decade’ in 2011. He seemed invincible against all foes, except for one: Juan Manuel Marquez. A fighter we should say was made to look amateurish by Floyd Mayweather in his return to the ring back in September 2009. But whilst Mayweather had proved he had lost nothing by his brief absence from the sport, Pacquiao had been busy dispatching of British brawler, Ricky Hatton, in a brutal second round K.O. and stopped Miguel Cotto to lay his own claim to the sport’s number one spot. So both fighters share common opponents, and arguments can be made on both sides for who produced the better results.

Perhaps looking at the fighter’s most recent bouts can shed some light on who holds the advantage going into the ring on May 2nd. Mayweather’s last fight was against the extremely durable, unorthodox and dangerous Marcos Maidana. Freddie Roach likes to look at this fight as evidence of Mayweather’s deteriorating legs. For large spells of the fight, Floyd was backed up against the ropes and the elusive footwork that had made him such a tricky guy to pin down seemed (to Roach’s credit) absent. Yet when the pair squared off months later for their rematch, Mayweather was up on his toes producing a beautiful performance to pull a dominant one-sided victory. So what of Manny Pacquaio’s recent run of form? The devastating knockout he suffered at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez meant his homecoming party against the tough but slow Brandon Rios was deemed more dangerous than it would ever been before. But Manny’s performance against the younger Rios seemed to quell any doubts of irreparable damage suffered at the hands of the Mexican legend. So with his confidence seemingly strong and no visible signs of physical or mental battle scars, he sought to avenge his controversial points loss against Timothy Bradley Jr. This fight showed that Pacquiao had the hand speed; angles and the boxing IQ to outfox, outhustle and outfight one of the top contenders in the division. And then, in the fall of 2014 he inflicted six knockdowns on Chris Algieri celebrating his 57th professional win.

So Manny enters the ring May 2nd coming on the back of a series of impressive wins. He rides into battle with a clear purpose: to dethrone the unbeaten Mayweather. Backed by his countrymen and millions of fans all over the world, more motivated than ever on what some observers are calling ‘a religious crusade’. Mayweather, on the other hand, is determined to see out the end of his career and retire unbeaten. How will history unfold on May 2nd? Check back in Monday 27th as I examine the other factors that could decide their fates.

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2015: A KO Year?

The present state of boxing with its bitter promotional rivalries and warring television networks means fans are often left wanting. Don’t get me wrong; there are promoters out there who want to make the most exciting fights happen and whose presence is positive for the sport. Take Britain’s Eddie Hearne for example. You may not like his smooth spun Essex charm but it’s hard to argue with the results he delivers. Captivating the nation with Froch-Groves fever and filling London’s Wembley football stadium with 80,000 screaming fans just one of them. Part I of making 2015 a year to remember is to end the on-off saga between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. If the recent meetings between the two fighters bear fruit then we should see the fight announced imminently. May 2nd isn’t that far off after all. And even though the fight is coming four years too late it still remains a bout that will set all-time records and have us all on the edge of our seats.

Deontay Wilder becoming heavyweight champion is another positive development for the sport. He’s big, he’s bad and he’s just the sort of character the division needs. However for the division to pose real allure there has to be several credible contenders to the throne. The Klitshko brothers have been excellent ambassadors for the sport and worthy champions also, but for the division to be truly alive once again it needs new names to make the headlines. Britain has its share of fighters who are all seeking heavyweight glory in 2015. Tyson Fury: 6-foot-9 and armed with an equally sized mouth. David Haye: a former world champion who has promised to make a return in 2015. And Anthony Joshua: a potential crossover star with power, athleticism and the makings of a fine champion.

But with several hall of fame fighters destined to retire in the next couple of years who are the upcoming fighters ready to take the torch? Talented and undefeated Amir Imam is one junior-welterweight I’m expecting big things from in the future. He came to my attention on the undercard of Wilder-Stiverne producing an exciting performance to extend his unbeaten record to 16-0. Also fighting that night was Leo Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, whose form hasn’t been quite so scintillating as of late, expressed a desire during his post-fight interview to face either Britain’s Scott Quigg or Ireland’s Carl Frampton next. Though I’d rather see an eliminator between Quigg and Frampton first, either of those fights should they present themselves promise action. But there’s one fight that I have earmarked as a potential fight-of-the year candidate. On March 7th, Robert ‘The Ghost’ Guerrero will face off against Keith ‘One Time’ Thurman. Both fighters can box, both like to slug it out and both have the ability to end the fight with either fist. Will it be Thurman’s night, or will Guerrero prove too much of a test for him? I’m going with the Ghost. So the scene is set. 2015 has the makings of a great year; let’s just hope it delivers.

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Kovalev defeats Hopkins

box_r_hopkins-kovalev3_mb_300x300Last night Sergey Kovalev proved he is the man to beat in the light heavyweight division by dominating a defiant but overmatched Bernard Hopkins.

From the start Kovalev showed why he was the bookmaker’s favourite by flooring his older opponent with an overhand right. Kovalev looked the bully throughout, forcing his older opponent to constantly use his legs to avoid his heavy punches. We’ve seen Hopkins fight this way before, however Kovalev never presented openings for Hopkins to capitalise on. Hopkins seemed wary of throwing his trademark lead right hands, and the few times he did let his hands go he never really troubled his opponent.

Hopkins wasn’t able to outwit his opponent either. Kovalev’s offence remained controlled throughout; displaying his brains and brawn in front of a sold out Atlantic City crowd. When Hopkins did rally he had the crowd on their feet, but his success was short lived as Kovalev came back with his own more hurtful shots. Ultimately Hopkins was unable to assert himself at any point during the fight, coming up short against a bigger, stronger and better man on the night.

Kovalev’s dominant victory proved he’s the real article. How he advances from here is unclear; is anyone really going to want a piece of the 31 year-old following that performance? And what about Hopkins? Should Hopkins decide to draw the curtains on his fantastic career then he leaves with his pride fully in tact. Yes he was hurt, but in withstanding the onslaught of Kovalev and a climactic 12th round reinforced his legendary status. A new star has arrived in the light-heavyweight division.

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Hopkins-Kovalev Preview

090214-hopkins-kovalev-600 A blockbuster November kicks off tonight from Atlantic City, USA, when Bernard ‘The Alien’ Hopkins takes on the undefeated Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev.

Hopkins’s story is fascinating. He earned his tough-guy reputation on the mean streets of Philadelphia, but one too many brushes with the law was to land him in the state penitentiary facing a lengthy sentence. Inside jail Hopkins developed the discipline that has allowed him to dominate fighters in their mid-twenties. Few fighters eat, sleep and breathe the game like he does. He is in no doubt a different breed to most. Alien, perhaps not.

But longevity is just one of the remarkable things about Bernard Hopkins. His professional career spans 26 years and 65 fights and is sprinkled with victories over future hall of famers. De Le Hoya, Trinidad, Tarver; the list goes on. Hopkins’s experience, style and mental toughness make him elite in one of the world’s toughest professions. But the threat posed by Sergey Kovalev is deemed to be very real.

Kovalev brings to the table 26 victories (23 coming inside the distance). He’s operated under the radar for most of his career but the way he’s steamrolled through the division has made him one of the most avoided and feared fighters in the sport. The way he tore through undefeated Welshman Nathan Cleverly sent a clear message to everyone in the light-heavyweight division. Much is made of Kovalev’s power, but his boxing brain and timing are underrated. Come tonight, Hopkins will need all the ring smarts he knows to keep the relenting Kovalev at bay.

This is an intriguing matchup; one in which age doesn’t play a big factor. Hopkins has looked fired up and is utterly convinced in his ability to win this fight. Why else would he take it? He’s far too smart to take a fight he thought he couldn’t win. I don’t think it’s the money either; this is for his legacy. A victory over the younger, harder hitting Russian would put another layer of polish on an already staggering career. So what are Kovalev’s chances? He’s the bookies favourite, I also believe he has the tools to get the job done. Much is made of Kovalev’s power, but he’s not reckless either. What is unknown is how he will react if he can’t get to Hopkins. What happens when the older man makes him miss and stings him with counters?

Hopkins can take the life out of fights. I believe this fight will be one for the purists. I predict we see a smart, mobile and aggressive counter-punching Hopkins surprising Kovalev. Though Kovalev will have his moments, I can’t see him putting Hopkins into retirement. Hopkins to pull off a career defining victory and unify the divison.

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Mayweather vs Maidana 2

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Most predicted that boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighter would have an easy night’s work against Argentinian welterweight champion Marcos Maidana. Few believed the hard-hitting Argentine would steal more than a few rounds in their showdown at the MGM Grand earlier this year. Fewer thought the two would be facing off in a rematch later that year. Maidana had a punchers chance, but ask any of Mayweather’s previous 45 opponents how easy it is to land clean on Floyd and you can perhaps understand why Maidana was a 12-1 underdog going into the fight. But Maidana had overcome the odds before and his career was also experiencing somewhat of a mini-revival under the tutelage of revered trainer Robert Garcia. Their partnership had heralded four back-to-back victories culminating in an impressive one-sided beating of undefeated American star, Adrien Broner. Maidana (again the underdog going into the fight) executed an impressive game plan to out hustle his brash and controversial opponent. Maidana’s display cemented his status as one of the welterweight division’s most dangerous stars and caught the eye of Floyd Mayweather.

But Mayweather is no Broner. Yes the two share some comparable characteristics inside the ring, but the more seasoned star is on an altogether different level. Apart from Jose Luis Castillo and arguably Oscar De Lo Hoya, no one has really come close to toppling Mayweather’s 17-year reign as world champion. And despite advancing into the twilight years of his career Mayweather remains unbeaten rising to the challenge of whoever they put in front of him.

But would the same tactics Maidana used to defeat Broner work against boxing’s ultimate technician? It was a showdown between an unorthodox and relenting pressure fighter vs possibly the sport’s best ever boxing brain. Maidana forced the attack early and this came as no surprise, but what I didn’t expect was for Maidana to be able to cut off the ring so effectively. Was this the product of a more crowd-pleasing Floyd Mayweather or are his legs (as Freddie Roach believes) not once what they once were? I believe the latter to be true. Floyd is not as fleet of foot as he once was; his style has evolved over the years but he still remains largely elusive. Maidana was able to catch Floyd, but Mayweather was able to stay calm in the heat of battle and make the necessary adjustments to regain control of the fight. Something I had him doing from round four onwards. We saw Floyd cut for the first time (the result of a head butt) and a rousing battle ensued that was deemed one of the toughest of Floyd’s career. Fortunately for Mayweather the noisy pro-Latino crowd wasn’t scoring the bout. From the rafters the more aggressive Maidana may have looked to be controlling the action, but it was the cleaner work of Mayweather that shone through as the fight advanced. After the final bell sounded the contest was scored by one judge, Michael Permick, as a 114-114 draw. However, Burt Clements had it 117-111 in favour of Mayweather, and Dave Moretti scored it 116-112 in favour of Mayweather as well.

In the rematch it is Maidana who has to do something different. The first fight proved Maidana is able to catch Floyd and outwork him. Yet despite the Argentine’s tricky style and unwavering will it still wasn’t enough to produce a victory. To be the first person to beat Floyd Mayweather Maidana has to either catch Floyd clean with one of his power shots or assert the pressure and success he showed in their first fight for the full 12 rounds. I am picking Mayweather to win the rematch- I think we will see more-or-less a repeat of their first fight. Both fighters will have learned something from their initial contest but I believe it is Mayweather who will adapt to produce another clear victory. The fight is in less than two weeks.

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