We've Come to the End of the Road - Malignaggi and Murray

Two fighters on opposite sides of the Atlantic both appeared to have reached career crossroads this past weekend.

In the UK, John Murray lost the 'battle of Manchester' to former stable mate Anthony Crolla, being stopped on his feet, one eye grotesquely swelling after being dissected by a razor sharp jab for the majority of the 10 rounds.

In the US, Paulie Malignaggi found himself stopped by a rampaging Shawn Porter, not for the first time, but for the first time being felled hard and rescued by a referee who perhaps let him take a few more shots than necessary. 

They both face a choice; to fight on, knowing that they have almost certainly peaked, or retire and move into other forms of employment.

Malignaggi has been a successful commentator on Showtime, as well as guest appearances in the UK where he has a reasonable profile after his losses to Hatton and Khan earlier in his career. Universally praised for his media work, all the signs point to retirement from fighting, but not from the fight game.

Murray on the other hand, faces a much tougher choice. Two years were spent on the shelf, due to a swollen pituitary gland, and the 'new and focused' Murray who has returned may be drinking less, but was getting his head snapped back with alarming regularity for a fighter who had his career put on hold for issues with his brain. 

The prospect of permanent damage did not dissuade Murray from continuing applying the Brandon Rios tactical defense, which primarily involves taking huge amounts of punishment with no head movement in hope that the opponent will eventually succumb to the pressure.

Malignaggi could feasibly continue at a fairly high level, as a gatekeeper, and his slick and crafty style could ensure many nights where he took little punishment.

Malignaggi doesn't need to retire, but he almost certainly will. Murray needs to retire, for the sake of his health if not for his bank balance. Will he sense it's time to go? Probably.

Will he retire? Probably not. 

 

Is Manny Pacquiao Declining? A Closer Look

The article I posted after the recent Manny Pacquiao victory over Timothy Bradley has been my most popular in the few month history of this website. And when I say popular, I'm talking page views in the half century numbers, people of earth. It's the sort of fame or infamy that I could have only dreamed of when I signed up to Squarespace late last year.

From reading comments on my own article, and on the other boxing sites I frequent, the argument against a Pacquiao decline runs something along the lines of, and I paraphrase:

'Pacquiao's style has changed. He's throwing less because he is smarter / a better boxer / his opponent's styles made it so / you love Mayweather / you are a douchebag stop saying these nasty, nasty things.'

Let me make it clear: I am approaching this neither from the standpoint of a Pacquiao fanboy, nor of a Pacquiao hater. I merely try to look at things with an analytic eye, to see if the stats match up with the perceived decline in Pacquiao's abilities.

For the record, I've been to two boxing cards live in my life, one of which was the Pacquiao - Rios fight in Macau. You can read about it here. I don't live in Macau, or Hong Kong, but I went there as a fan who has hugely enjoyed Pacquiao's rise to the pinnacle of the sport.

Pacquiao celebrating in the ring after the Brandon Rios fight. Not a bad view for the cheapest ticket.

 

So before I'm accused of being some Mayweather surrogate or Golden Boy employee, just know that I'm an average fan who likes to watch fights every weekend where possible, and to occasionally gamble on the outcome. 

All stats used to make the graphs below are taken from Compubox numbers available freely online, starting with the break out performance against Oscar De La Hoya and concluding with the Bradley Rematch.

On the X Axis, 1 = De La Hoya, 2= Hatton, 3= Cotto and so on. This is an article for more of the hardcore boxing fans obviously, but if you struggle to remember any of the opponents and want to double check them, this is Pacquiao's BoxRec page.

Why didn't I go back further into Manny's career? Is it all some dastardly plan of mine to make Pacquiao look bad in front of the 50 or so unfortunates who happen to have stumbled upon my site? The simple answer is, there was only so much copying and pasting and googling I could stomach today. The sample size is the last 11 fights, roughly a 5 year period starting in December 2008.

As not all of these fights have gone the distance, firstly I decided to chart Pacquiao's punches thrown per round, allowing us to include some of his more explosive performances, unlike the rather crappy graph in my prior article on Pacquiao's decline.

So, here we go. Firstly, we have the numbers of punches thrown by Manny Pacquiao, per round.

Take a look at that average line. An 80 punch per round output decreases all the way down to just over 50.

So, on average Pacquiao's output is declining. It's no monstrous, or pronounced, but it is happening. People can pin this on individual performances, and the styles of those opponents, but the pure numbers show that slowly but surely that on average, Manny Pacquiao is throwing less punches.

"Big deal!" say the true believers, "That's all part of the plan." Manny is changing stylistically, he's a more accomplished fighter, he might be throwing less but hey, I bet he's landing more punches. Well...

Let's take a look. Here is the percentage of his punches that land in the sample.

As you can see, the average percentage over the sample decreases from just above 40% to close to 30%

On average, not only is Pacquiao throwing less punches, but he's also landing less with the punches that he does throw. That does not suggest to this writer that he is becoming a more efficient or craftier operator. If he was intentionally sacrificing volume in favor of accuracy, then the numbers just don't back up such an argument.

I'm sure there are still non-believers out there who will say, oh well this only takes into account the work that Manny Pacquiao is doing, so let's take a final look at a stat that takes into account the output of his opponents too.

If we take Pacquiao's punch output per round, and divide it by the opponents punch output per round, we can see the extent to which Manny is outworking his opponent. For want of a better term, let's call it Pacquiao's punching ratio. Basically, how many more times does Pacquiao throw a punch in comparison to his opponent. 

Perhaps he has just faced more cagier, more technical fighters with improved movement, like Marquez and Bradley, so naturally he throws less, and lands less. So in the graph below, the number on the Y-axis represents how much more (or sometimes less) Pacquiao is throwing than his opponent. So for example, in the Clottey fight, the Pacman threw over 3 x as many punches as the Ghanaian. (3.12 times as many, to be exact).

Here's the final chart.

Again, a decline. He's throwing less, he's connecting less, and finally, he's throwing less when compared to his opponent's output.

 

 

For Gold or Glory? Money as Motivation in Boxing

Over at boxingscene.com today, Sergei Kovalev's trainer John David Jackson mused about this weekend's biggest fight between Bernard Hopkins and Beibut Shumenov.

Jackson suggested that Shumenov's vast personal fortune (or at least his families fortune) would be a negative factor coming in to his attempt to unify the Light Heavyweight titles in Washington against the Methuselah-esque Hopkins. Jackson said:

I give Bernard the edge . . . I think this kid will fall into the same trap everybody else does. He will fall into Bernard's trap, and play Bernard's game. They say this kid's rich beyond his wildest dreams. He's got money, so that means he's not hungry. They say he's a super-rich kid. So, how hungry is he really? He cares, but does he really care?

Jackson makes plenty of other more astute points as to why he think Hopkins will be too much for the inexperienced Shumenov, but let's delve a little deeper into the issues of fiscal motivation.

Why do fighters do all the insane road work, spar the extra rounds, fight on with closing eyes and broken bones, or climb from the canvas on jellied legs to face an inevitable pummeling into unconsciousness?

For the money? It's called prizefighting after all. 

In the LA Times last year, Shumenov's Vegas lifestyle was described in detail. Bill Dwyre wrote:

He lives in a 9,654-square-foot house on Coast Line Drive in northwest Las Vegas. The address is strange for a city in a desert, until you realize the property is on a man-made lake with expensive boats docked out back.

Shumenov's house has a gym with equipment that took eight men to carry down the stairs — that was just one piece. There is a film room, an elevator, a huge garage with cabinets stuffed with almost every kind of boxing equipment that exists — gloves, headgear and the like.

There is also a 10-foot-by-10-foot refrigerator in the kitchen.

Shumenov starts his day at 5 a.m. by going to his hyperbaric chamber. That's in his house too. He does a full workout in his gym, then after lunch goes to another gym for running and swimming and still another for training and sparring.

It appears that Shumenov's outrageous wealth could have afforded him many things he desired in life, and yet, he chose to be a fighter. His financial advantages can just as easily be attributed as the source of his success, given the facilities and focus it allows him to have on honing his craft.

Shumenov is not like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. skipping training in favor of sauntering around in his underwear, munching cereal before he moves the couches around in his living room for a quick sparring session. Did childhood privilege encumber him with such laziness?

Nor is Shumenov like the recently de-throned champion Ricky Burns, who still works part time in retail in a well known sports shop. Has the lack of financial reward from multiple title defenses prevented him from giving his all in the ring?

He fought for nearly half an hour with a broken jaw against Raymundo Beltran. Was it the hope of future wealth that quelled the pain?

If you watch the full undercard of a major pay-per-view, you'll see numerous bouts. They're usually streamed on the internet these days, for the hardcore fans who care to tune in for that sort of thing. These bouts can be snooze fests, or they can be wars, in the same way that the headline fights can be tremendous display of courage and guts, or a snooze-fest.

Boxers fight each other in front of entirely empty rows of stadium seating, in a voluminous room void of atmosphere. The proverbial pin drop however, would not be heard, as it would be drowned out by the noise of leather thumping repeatedly against human flesh.

Declining In Plain Sight - Pacquiao Bradley II

Manny Pacquiao got a deserved win at the MGM Grand on Saturday night, defeating Timothy Bradley by UD to gain revenge for the 

Manny Pacquiao is a great fighter. That should not really be up for debate, unless you're trying to sell a fight in any which way you can

The decline is natural of course; Manny is now 35, at an age where some athlete's are already retired. Gone are the days of the 1000 punches a fight Pacquiao, they simply will not come back.

It could be argued that Pacquiao's output has naturally decreased against technically gifted boxers such as Juan Marquez and Tim Bradley, but if the Filipino still retained the same levels of physical talent, then surely Brandon Rios represented an opportunity to unload at will, as the Oxnard brawler became increasingly inactive in a fight where he lost nearly every round. 

Pacquiao is loved, but love cannot blind one to the obvious decline that is happening. The mooted 2 further years of fighting will be greeted with glee by most, happy to see a fighter still plying his trade a few more times before he retires to seek perhaps the loftiest office of government in the Philippines. 

But for those close to Manny, perhaps a few quiet words should be had. Would he rather end his career triumphant, like this prior weekend, or deflated, face down on the canvas against Marquez? If he fights 4 more years, the likelihood of another looping right finding his jaw become evermore probable.

Freddie Roach's remarks after the fight have a familiar sounding tone. As reported on boxingscene.com. Roach said:

I cannot say he is back at his best, because I didn't see that. We trained very hard for this fight, that's the truth, but there are still things missing. We were practising some things in the gym that weren't implemented in the ring...to tell you the truth, I'm a little disappointed, because of the way he fought at times. I thought he could do another kind of fight, other things.

The public will perhaps learn their lesson and stop predicting Pacquiao to win by KO. Whether he still has 'the fire' inside his belly becomes an irrelevant, as the decreasing punch output, and increasing ability to be tagged by long right hands are merely the natural consequences of aging.

Pacquiao called out Floyd Mayweather after the fight, saying all he had to do was pick up the phone and the fight would be made.

If Floyd likes money just as much as he professes, then perhaps it's time to make that call. At this point, that megafight would be a foregone conclusion.

Deontay Wilder v Malik Scott - Preview and Prediction

Deontay Wilder holds a perfect record of 30 KOs from 30 fights, but faces his sternest test to date this weekend when he faces fellow American heavyweight Malik Scott on the undercard of the Danny Garcia show in Puerto Rico.

To the untrained eye, Wilder may look like the most fearsome young fighter in the heavyweight division. But when viewed a little more closely, all that stands out about Wilder is a big right hand that is unquestionably devastating. 

It's the sort of punch that, in the heavyweight division, should see Wilder climb near to the top of the division if properly matched. But his sickening power masks the deficiencies in his boxing ability, which often unravels as he swings wildly for the finish.

Wilder's perfect KO record means that in his 30 fight career he has managed only 53 rounds, less than 2 rounds per fight. His last meeting with Nicolai Firtha went into the 5th round, the longest in his career.

Malik Scott is the polar opposite to Wilder's stiff slugging; he's a pure boxer who typically wins fights by decision, with his built up a solid jab.

Scott was finished by Derek Chisora, although in dubious circumstances, so it's safe to say that Wilder can easily stop Scott with a flush right hand. Chisora is a pressure fighter who hits relatively lightly for a heavyweight. 

In some quarters, this is the level at which it is anticipated that Wilder will be exposed; some identify a suspect chin that had him on jelly legs in the amateurs, while others question his stamina, primarily due to the fact that he hasn't been taken into deep water. 

Scott is not a power puncher, but with his superior footwork, hand speed, and all-round boxing ability it seems more likely that the fight could last into the middle and later rounds. 

While we can say that Wilder has not stepped up his level of opposition until now, Scott's own rap sheet is hardly murderer's row. Chisora is easily the superior opponent that Scott has faced, and he came up short.

It's hard to pick against the Wilder KO, which is probable. Scott should have enough to make this last longer than the average Wilder workout. While there is no value in choosing Wilder by KO, a riskier play worth taking a look at is Wilder by KO in rounds 4-6 at 9/4. The value for gamblers lies in picking Scott by decision, priced at 10/1 with some bookmakers, and this could be used as a suitable hedge.

 

Golovkin v Adamu - In Familiar Fashion

Gennady Golovkin continued a KO victory streak that has seem him become one of 2013's most talked about fighters. Once more he faced an overmatched opponent, but one who had never been stopped. Golovkin's power held true, as the fight finished in the 7th.

Golovkin fought with his usual intensity, throwing regularly but not recklessly, slowly stalking his opponent waiting for an opening. He knocked Adamu down just at the end of the first with a couple of left hooks. Although Adamu bounced straight back up, it was clear that his power could guide Adamu towards the canvas.

To many Golovkin is 'The One.' A future superstar, who has never been down, and has finished 16 opponents in a row. To others, Golovkin is a hype job, with a thin resume who eats shots with increasing regularity. At the elite level, they feel he could be exposed.

The real Golovkin lies somewhere between these two binaries. His power is legitimate, in both hands. He has a very solid chin. He hasn't fought many top drawer opponents. His best wins are probably over Matthew Macklin, and Curtis Stevens. They're good solid fighters, but not the stuff legends are made of.

This fight did little to answer any of the doubts about Golovkin. He can still punch ferociously, and he still takes shots that he doesn't need to. He ate bigger shots from Curtis Stevens, who possesses one punch KO power, but even the most uncrackable chin can be broken by the right shot. Paul Williams had a cast-iron chin but was knocked out cold by Sergio Martinez. 

The Kazakh seems content to test himself in each fight, taking a few to land a few more. 

Golovkin keeps a busier schedule than most, and so these stay busy fights are welcome in an era where top fighters only enter the ring perhaps twice a year if we're lucky. This was strictly a tune-up, a non-HBO fight taking place in Monaco.

Golovkin will struggle to win over the doubters until he has defeated a foe they consider worthy of the levels of acclaim he has reached. There is Andre Ward in a higher weight class. There is Sergio Martinez, who is likely fighting only once this year against Miguel Cotto in the summer. Golovkin called him out after the fight, but there is no chance of those two meeting until 2015 when a shop worn Martinez will have reached 40. 

GGG can continue what he is doing and expand his casual fan base. The critics will continue to grumble until he steps up his level of competition.

Pacquiao v Rios - The Clash at Cotai

On the concourse, the merchandise stalls were cleaned out of all T-shirts and Pacquiao posters by 9:00 A.M, an hour after the gates opened. The shelves were fully stocked with Zhou Shiming's image. They probably still are.

Once inside the arena, . The staging was impressive; the lights popped, the screens gleamed and 4 posts attached by ropes on top of a large square of canvas never looked so beautiful.

The show was lacking in nothing but one vital ingredient.

Atmosphere.

From the upper tier, every single one of Felix Verdejo's snapping punches could be heard popping off of the torso and head of Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan even from the cheap seats.

The Thai put up a spirited performance, and got the silent arena involved in the fight with his constant gesturing, clowning, and waving in of Verdejo. He survived barrage after barrage of slick combos and hard shots, and often fired back with full-blooded shots of his own. Duanaaymukdahan was the moral victor, and the true showman on the undercard.

The other fights were greeted with low murmurs and an occasional hand clap, but little more. The local hero, Zhou Shiming, belted his game opponent around the ring and yet was rewarded with little praise for his efforts. 

Pacquiao's appearance on the big screen, arriving in the building, woke up the majority Filipino crowd who had only come to see one man. Rios was roundly booed whenever he showed up, but in a playful fashion, there was no real hatred for Rios.

Gradovich thoroughly beat down Billy Dib as the chief support on the undercard. Dib was often trapped in a corner and  windmilling his head round and round to avoid the knock out blow. His corner made the right call to step up to the apron and stop the fight just as the referee was doing the same. 

Once the undercard was dispensed with, the main event was good to go. Rios entered to apathetic boos, and then the Pacman began his ringwalk.

Never did I think Katy Perry's Roar would bring a tear to so many eyes.

He had arrived, and the hairs on his adoring public's collective necks were standing smartly to attention. 

Opening Bell

The fight itself was reasonably entertaining. The first round had a no knockdown called against Rios, much to the chagrin of the crowd desperate to see Manny return to knock out form.

While Pacquiao's speed of hand and foot was levels above what Rios was capable of, the opening stanzas were punctuated with mild bouts of panic from the home fans, with the shocking KO from the Marquez fight still in their minds.

When Rios backed Pacquiao up to the ropes, invariably Manny would use his superior footwork to duck round and out of danger, but on occasion during the first few rounds the crowd squirmed as Pacquiao held on the inside. Was he hurt? We couldn't really tell until he emerged from the clinches unscathed, to continue peppering the right side of Rios' face with straight lefts and the crowds cheers were as much from relief as excitement.

As the fight progressed, the threat of Rios waned as he threw less and less and kept his guard higher and tighter. Pacquiao's speed was a joy to behold, but the crushing power of old was absent in favour of a more measured style.

The final rounds had the air of cheering a marathon runner round the last few bends. Manny had made it.

As the arena emptied faster than a seafood buffet fresh out of lobster,  Rios skulked out to smatterings of applause. He entered to boos, and deserved more than the half-cheers he received in his exit. His mental anguish was plain to see in his post-fight interview with Max Kellerman.

During promos before the fight he was unashamedly lusting after punishment. After the fight, we saw the truth; getting beaten up isn't much fun when you don't win.

Pacquiao remained in the ring fulfilling his media obligations and savouring his victory. His mother left the arena to raucous applause, raising the cross from around her neck in salute to the fans as she toddled off down the tunnel. 


Pacquiao left last in a media scrum, as the spotlight struggled to find his tiny fram amidst a melee of bouncers and cameras. He waved to the fans one last time before disappearing down the tunnel into the belly of the arena. 

Manny waves goodbye

Bryant Jennings - Into the Lion's Den

The boxing landscape is changing. For those of us in attendance, it was plain to see who the draw was in New York last week. Not many came for the main event, a world title fight. Nor did they come for the undefeated American Heavyweight on the undercard.

They came for Artur Szpilka.

The Theater at Madison Square Garden was a sea of red and white, punctuated by scarves held aloft to booming chants of 'Polska, Polska, Polska.' When the familiar chant of 'USA! USA! USA!' was employed by the minority of local fans in the audience, it was done with a naughty grin, knowing that one was clearly backing the underdog.

It was a busy, active Heavyweight fight, and while Jennings at times went stretches without throwing punches to conserve his energy, he used his superb foot movement and feinting to keep Szpilka at bay. The fight caught fire at the end of the 5th, with the fighters going at it right up to the bell.

In the 6th, a mugging Szpilka dropped his hands daring Jennings to try to tag him in the face. Jennings replied with a nasty dig to the middle of his solar plexus, and Szpilka dropped to a knee. Jennings would dominate the rest of the fight.

The finish was impressive, as Jennings is not a known finisher and was clearly winning the fight. The Polish fans filed out slowly at first, but then they streamed for the exits. Tomasz Adamek had been signing autographs and taking photos before the fight at the balcony entrances, and he left before the main event with his brethren.


Garcia and Burgos played out in front of an arena that had all the atmosphere sucked out of it, as well as about two thirds of the people. 

With his unbeaten record gone, will Szpilka still prove such an impressive draw? He put in an impressive shift, and his adoring fans seemed to be disappointed only with the result and not the performance itself. Expect to see him in prime position on an undercard soon, and don't be surprised if he sells half the seats.