In the air tonight

New York’s Madison Square Garden provides the perfect stage for tonight’s eagerly anticipated showdown between Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin and David Lemieux. Golovkin’s reputation is that of one of boxing’s most exciting fighters. The Kazakh wrecking ball is yet to come unstuck in 33 professional contests and goes in to battle tonight knowing that he has stopped his last 20 opponents by knockout.

Let’s assess the threat whichgolovkin_lemieux_poster Lemieux poses to Golovkin’s continued dominance of the middleweight division. The Canadian based fighter has an all action style and fists blessed with the kind of concussive power that has made his opponent become avoided like the plague. But whilst his team surely understands the size of the task in front of them, they certainly don’t appear to be coming to just lie down. At just 26 years old Lemieux is the younger man by seven years and sports an equally scary 31 knockouts from 33 victories. And whilst it would be wise to state that most of his performances have been inside his native Canada, even his harshest critics can’t ignore the way he pummelled a common opponent he shares with Golovkin, Gabriel Rosado.

Both boxers’ styles make for a fight that surely has to live up to the hype. Let’s hope Lemieux is the first to force Golovkin out of second gear. Golovkin’s character could be tested tonight, especially if Lemieux manages to land one of his vicious left hooks on his chin. I predict Lemieux to come out the blocks aggressively and to attempt to show the bookmakers why they were wrong. But in his determination to show the world who is the man at 160-pounds I see him getting caught. Golovkin is a master of controlling distance and his defensive ability is underrated. Steaming head first into Golovkin might well be Lemieux undoing. Might we see a disciplined Lemieux try to show us the prowess of his boxing skills? Against Golovkin’s extensive amateur pedigree I see this being a real challenge for Lemieux. To be honest, I expect whatever game-plan team Lemieux have worked on to dissolve once the bombs start to fly.

Prediction: a Golovkin stoppage inside seven rounds. Tonight should dish up fireworks; don’t blink.

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Broner vs Porter 

On Saturday night the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is playing host to what should be a hellacious battle. Both combatants are young, strong, fast and neither can afford to lose. With both fighters heralding from Ohio the fight presents an interesting twist: hometown bragging rights for the victor. On each of their resumes lies a single loss; but there the similarities cease. Tomorrow, for 36 minutes or less, their friendship will have to be put to one side as the pair engage in what should be a fan-pleasing show. 

Broner is outspoken, crass, flashy and unashamedly confident. Porter on the other hand comes across with a charming poise. He’s a humble man with the confidence and assuredness befitting of his credentials. Broner’s loss came at the hands of Marcos Maidana, and though the fight didn’t go to plan Broner importantly showed he had a lot of character. Porter’s unbeaten streak was ended by undefeated IBF welterweight champion, Kell Brook. Whilst Brook is still building his name in the U.S. his performances to date suggest he would give any of the top 147-pounders a run for their money. So whilst both fighters have tasted defeat both remain very much in their physical primes. For Broner, defeat might have come as a blessing. His career as a hip-hop artist would have to be put on the back-burner for sure, but his cocky and polarising on-camera persona remains unchanged. Neither fighter chose to use defeat as an opportunity to change trainer either. Porter remains with his father, Kenny, and Broner under the watchful eye of long-time trainer Mike Stafford.

At Broner’s insistence the contest will be fought at 144 pounds, some three pounds lighter than Porter’s usual weigh-in limit. Broner’s team also inserted a rehydration clause that states neither fighter can come in heavier than 154 pounds on fight night. Will having to shift those extra pounds play into the hands of Broner? We won’t know until both men step in the ring on Saturday; however, team Broner obviously sees something in it.

Stylistically it makes for a great fight. Porter uses come-forward aggression, which he has to use intelligently if he wants to avoid Broner’s counters and stiff jab. He likes to get on top of his opponent, smother their work and punch off of angles. Broner on the other hand stands tall and fight at range, but at times his flat footedness lands him in trouble. From what they’ve both shown in their careers to date Broner I feel is the technically more accomplished boxer. Against Porter he will inevitably try to keep it long, and whilst he can fight on the inside he doesn’t want to let Porter get in range in my opinion. His work rate, or lack thereof, could pose a problem for Broner too. And then there’s the way he carries his left hand, opting to rely on his reflexes and shoulder roll defence rather than a high-held guard. This could be a risky strategy against a decent puncher like Porter.

So whose night will it be? I believe Broner has to fight a very disciplined fight in order to win. His concentration has to be on point at all times; he needs to keep it long for the most part, sit down on his punches and use his feet and hands to keep out of danger. He doesn’t want to find himself against the ropes too much against Porter, which means when Porter charges forward he wants to take two steps back and then step off to the side. For Porter to be victorious he needs to be relentless. There needs to be less tell in his jab accompanied by some subtle feints and intelligent pressure throughout the fight. I really see this as a ‘pick-em’ fight. Broner has skills and potential but with so much as stake I wouldn’t like to make a bet on predicting a winner 

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Chris Algieri

Most boxers crave that marquee fight; a career-defining performance that paves the way for bigger and better things. For Chris Algieri it was a victory over Ruslan Provodnikov. Algieri is a likeable and intelligent individual who has a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition. But don’t let the brains fool you; this man is a real fighter. He showed that in having to climb off the canvas in round one against Provodnikov before going on to earn a split decision victory over the fighter nicknamed ‘the Siberian Rocky’. Throughout the contest Algieri remained focussed, showing he had the grit, determination and the boxing skills to defeat a very dangerous opponent.

Whether his victory justified him a shot at Manny Pacquiao is another thing. It certainly wasn’t the opponent the boxing world was craving for Pacquiao. Regardless, the two met at the end of 2014 in Macau, China, at a catch weight of 144 pounds. The undefeated American was to move up in weight from light-welterweight to face Pacquiao and was undoubtedly facing his toughest challenge yet. But Pacquiao, who had put in on an impressive show against the stationary but tough Brandon Rios, had been knocked out clean by long-time adversary Juan Manuel Marquez just two fights previously. There were some observers who thought the tall and mobile Algieri could pose problems for Pacquiao. Would Pacquaio be able to close the distance as we had seen him do countless times before against tall rangy opponents?

But the majority saw victory for Algieri as a tall order, and under the bright lights Pacquiao showed why. The fight was a clear cut one-sided affair, with Pacquiao delivering scoring six-knockdowns. It was evident early on in the fight that the formula for success which had worked so well against Provodnikov wasn’t going to work against Pacquiao. Matters were compounded for Algieri courtesy of some bewildering advice received between rounds too.

If Algieri’s victory over Provodnikov had flattered him a little then his fight with Pacquiao suggested he wasn’t ready to mix it with the elite fighters in the 147 pound division. Now 20-1, Algieri had to make some adjustments. Perhaps wisely (and so often the case following a dominant loss) was a change of trainer. But in choosing Amir Khan as his next opponent he obviously didn’t fancy a tune-up fight to get him back to winning ways. Having joined forces with John David Jackson (trainer of light heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev) Algieri looked reinvented against Khan. 

Whatever was responsible for the crowd-pleasing show Chris Algieri put on against Amir Khan it has made me want to see more. And I don’t think I’m on my own. Where was the back-foot boxer we had seen against Pacquiao? Against khan we saw an exciting come-forward fighter; Algieri fighting out of his skin and making an exciting battle that no one really predicted. At several points during the fight Algieri seemed to hurt Khan too, buckling the Brit’s legs with a series of overhand rights. And whilst the relentless pressure wasn’t enough to secure victory, the account he gave of himself live on NBC earned Algieri plenty of fans and Kudos. That kids got a future…

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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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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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