Kovalev vs. Pascal II Preview

kovalev-vs-pascal-new-york-city-press-conference-e1453311835754Sergey Kovalev currently rules the roost in the light heavyweight division and is one of boxing’s most feared pugilists. For one of the weight class’s hardest punchers, there’s smoothness to his work. He doesn’t load up with his shots; instead, his punches are released with fluidity in twos, threes and fours. He keeps himself balanced, poised and controls the distance well. He’s a smart fighter too- perhaps the most technically proficient 175-pounder bar Andre Ward. For much of his career, Kovalev fought for little reward away from the attention of the mainstream broadcasters. Now, however, thanks to his fan-pleasing style and promoter Kathy Duva, he’s risen from relative obscurity to become one of HBO’s biggest stars.

Tomorrow night he puts his 28 fight unbeaten record on the line against the awkward and strong Jean Pascal. Pascal now lives in Canada but heralds from Haiti, and has been in with some of the division’s finest, including Kovalev. Their first fight proved highly entertaining; a great stylistic matchup and well worthy of a second run. For the most part, Kovalev dominated the bout, landing the most hurtful punches and sending Pascal to the canvas for the first time in his professional career. But there were moments in the fight where the momentum swung. Pascal had the Russian visibly wobbled in places before the fight ended in the 8th with the referee stopping the contest.

So should fans expect the rematch to deliver a different result? Both fighters have weighed and are in fantastic shape, as we’d expect. Pascal has made the most noticeable changes to his camp, bringing in hall-of-fame trainer Freddie Roach. Quite what Roach can add to Pascal’s performance with just this training camp for the two to gel is uncertain. Roach has a wealth of experience and is a great tactician. But even if he can refine Pascal’s style, tighten up his punches a bit, and bring a bit more boxing to his game, is that going to be enough to trouble Kovalev. If Pascal’s game plan is to outbox Kovalev, I don’t see it working. To my eye, the better boxing skills lie with the Russian. It’s hard to get past Kovalev’s jab for one. He uses it as a weapon, directing it to head and body. Once he’s softened you up with the jab, he brings in behind it brutal straight rights and hooks. Will Roach be able to bring some refinement to Pascal’s game, and even if he can, how much will that benefit him. Much of Pascal’s success in their first meeting came from slipping inside and under Kovalev’s shots, launching his big bombs around the side of Kovalev’s guard. He did have some success with the straight right counter too. Injecting a bit more method to Pascal’s attacks would stand to reason. Coming in behind a jab would surely help. And keeping on the front foot too, I see as key. When Kovalev is backing you up, you’re in trouble. I believe Pascal needs to pressure Kovalev, make use of the jab more and bring in his power shots behind it. If he can unsettle Kovalev’s rhythm and make it uncomfortable in there for him, he could have some success. He has the power to hurt Kovalev. I can see Roach bringing improvements to Pascal; whether those improvements will bring a greater degree of competitiveness rather than a change in result is unsure. Pascal will no doubt have moments in the fight, and Roach’s work may be enough to stop it ending in a knockout. Ultimately, though, I see this as Kovalev’s night.

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David Haye is back

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It took just 131 seconds for David Haye to despatch of his Australian opponent Mark De Mori last night. The 16,000 odd fans who turned out were glad the Brit was back; something Haye’s swagger and smile seemed to mirror. He entered the ring to the familiar ‘ain’t no stopping us now’ soundtrack, and it was clear from the off he would show that to be the case. Though his opponent was ranked in the top 1o by the WBA, there were still many questions left unanswered. What was clear for all to see was that Haye now looks to be a fully fledged heavyweight. And with some of the man-mountains that are roaming the division that’s a useful thing. His power is still there, speed also. But how that will translate when he has a much sterner test in front of him is yet to be known. Shane McGuigan (Haye’s new trainer) hoisted the boxer high up following the stoppage, getting their partnership off to a winning start and adding confidence no doubt to his role in looking after Carl Frampton for his upcoming fight with Scott Quigg.

On the same night, Tyson Fury entered the ring to crash Deontay Wilder’s post-fight interview. The exchange of words ended with Fury calling the unbeaten American ‘a bum’ adding further fuel to a future clash. It’s an exciting time for heavyweight boxing- and it’s great that British fighters are much to do with that. Haye will need a sterner test to answer more of the questions that remain open. Who that will be we will have to wait and see. For now, let’s just be pleased we have him back.

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2015 was a corker; what can this year muster?

2015 was a great year for boxing. At its peak, we saw Floyd Mayweather nullify the efforts of the popular but ultimately outclassed Manny Pacquiao. The victory cemented Mayweather’s status as one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves. The long-awaited mega fight produced a global event that had nations all over the world poised in anticipation. Rival American television networks Showtime and HBO managed to agree a deal and years of tortuous debate between fans was ended. Interest for the fight crossed over into the mainstream public just as the great battles of yesteryear had done. Fuelled by social media the battle between two of the most renowned fighters of this generation generated a commercial success that took Mayweather’s self-proclaimed ‘Money’ namesake to new heights. He exited the sport (or so we are to believe) leaving even his most cynical critics clear who was the top dog.

We also saw a seismic shift in the balance of power in the heavyweight division. Against all odds, Tyson Fury ended the long unbeaten streak of former heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko. Fury’s victory has shone a light on the heavyweight division once again- adding spice to the United Kingdom’s intriguing domestic scene. Rumblings of a possible future showdown between Anthony Joshua and Fury were quick to surface; made more realistic following Joshua’s knockout win over fellow Londoner Dillian Whyte. And with David Haye’s imminent return to heavyweight boxing, there’s potentially a real tale to sell.

Boxing in Great Britain is in great shape with world champions littering the weight divisions. There’s also a promising pipeline of talent coming through from the domestic ranks. Callum Smith’s clinical performance against super-middle weight rival Rocky Fielding was clinical and worthy of our attention, and despite operating in a competitive division world honours looks to be within Smith’s reach in 12-18 months. But it wasn’t all rosy for our fighters. Kevin Mitchell came up short once again despite a hugely brave performance against Jorge Linares, and Paul Smith and Martin Murray failed to close the deal against a common opponent, Arthur Abraham.

The year ended in style courtesy of a bumper-packed bill at London’s 02 Arena. I was watching the fight from a North-London pub that evening, and it was almost as if the atmosphere from the 02 was seeping through the walls. But it wasn’t just the headline act between Whyte and Joshua that had the crowd –and pub on its feet. Chris Eubank Jr showed he is not a name just because of his Father, putting on a spiteful and entertaining performance before stopping the durable Spike O’Sullivan. Eubank was a fan favourite that night and won a mandatory world title shot against WBA American champion Daniel Jacobs. Luke Campbell, however, wasn’t to fare so well. After looking a little less than his usual energetic self, Campbell was to suffer his first professional defeat at the hands of a strong and very game Yvan Mendy. How Campbell bounces back from defeat (and with what team around him) will be something to watch in 2016.

 So can 2016 deliver a share of thrills to rival 2015? The answer lies in the coming to fruition of some eagerly anticipated matchups.  Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin and Saul Canelo Alvarez poses the broadest global appeal with both fighters prime candidates to take over the sport’s number one spot now. There’s also the alluring prospect of a shootout between Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson. Domestically Amir Khan and Kell Brook would be a sure-fire pay-per-view hit and fan favourite. A persuasive argument can be made for both sides, and there’s bad blood too- you can see why promoter Eddie Hearn sees potential on the scale of Froch-Groves II. With the Mayweather fight a distant memory and Pacquiao facing Bradley for a third time Brook presents Khan’s most lucrative option. Plenty to go on boxing’s 2016 wish list, and if you can’t wait for these hypothetical matchups to be made then, you have some concrete promises in the form of the salivating February Super-bantam weight tear up between domestic world champions Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg. With David Haye’s return to the ring providing the appetizer let’s hope the year can deliver in a big way.

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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 earnt a reputation as one of the sport’s most exciting fighters. The Kazakh wrecking ball is yet to come unstuck in 33 professional contests and goes into battle tonight knowing that he has stopped his last 20 opponents by knockout.

Let’s assess the threat thatgolovkin_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 while his team must understand the size of the task in front of them, they certainly don’t appear to be coming just to 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 while 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 engages 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. While 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 while 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 coach 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 Porter’s need to shift those extra pounds play into the hands of Broner? We won’t know until both men step into the ring on Saturday; however, team Broner must see 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 his 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 while 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.

So whose night will it be? I believe Broner has to fight a very disciplined fight 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 stay out of danger. Broner doesn’t want to find himself against the ropes too much against Porter, which means when Porter charges forward Broner needs 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 see this as a ‘pick em’ fight. Broner has skills and potential but with so much at 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 that defines their career and 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. Some observers 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 first loss) was a change of trainer. But in choosing Amir Khan as his next opponent he apparently 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 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 while 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 have 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. 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 reasonable explanation is simple: 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 while 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 weak 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 extra 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 Mayweather’s, 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’ approach 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 thing for sure, much like his boxing; every move Floyd Mayweather makes is calculated.

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