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The Travelin’ Man goes to Spence-Porter: Part Two

IBF/WBC welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr. Photo by German Villasenor
02
Oct

Please click here to read Part One.

 

Saturday, September 28 (continued): Muhammad Ali was a great fighter but he was made greater for having fought Joe Frazier three times.

Sugar Ray Robinson was a great fighter but he was made greater for having fought Carmen Basilio twice.

We don’t know yet how great Errol Spence Jr. will ultimately become but his 12 rounds of war against Shawn Porter proved his spirit is as formidable as his skill. Like Frazier and Basilio, Porter’s gargantuan fighting heart and overlooked talent forced a celebrated opponent to access resources beyond the superlative tools, then to show that those resources were sufficient to overcome every intangible Porter threw at him. And while Porter ended up losing a split decision that should have been unanimous, the man known as “Showtime” lived up to his moniker while also cementing his reputation as his era’s ultimate proving ground.

The moment that nailed the victory down for Spence occurred in the 11th round when he scored the fight’s only knockdown. The power of Spence’s left cross to the jaw was immense as the blow whip-lashed Porter’s neck, caused his eyes to roll upward and his sturdy legs to give way. Spence’s bomb would have scored a 10-count knockout against just about everyone else but all it did to Porter was to plunge him into a split-second stupor. After his glove briefly brushed the canvas, Porter pulled himself upright, walked a few steps forward, collected himself and shouted, “Let’s go!”

Errol Spence Jr. (right) scored a knockdown of Shawn Porter in the 11th and prevailed by scores of 116-111 on two cards to unify two of the welterweight title belts. Photo by German Villasenor

Errol Spence Jr. (right) scored a knockdown of Shawn Porter in the 11th and prevailed by scores of 116-111 on two cards to unify two of the welterweight title belts. Photo by German Villasenor

As I saw the replay on the monitor, my mind flashed back nearly 38 years to the end of the 12th round of Ray Mancini’s October 1981 fight against then-WBC lightweight champion Alexis Arguello. “The Explosive Thin Man” had just cracked Mancini with a signature right cross, the kind of punch that had scored many of his previous 54 knockouts. However Mancini, fueled by his desire to win a lightweight championship denied his father due to World War II, refused to fully yield to Arguello’s firepower. Yes, Arguello’s bomb drove “Boom Boom” to a knee and, yes, he popped up and tottered forward a few steps but he still was deemed fit to continue by referee Tony Perez and managed to survive the 13th before Arguello finally finished the job in the 14th. This being the era of 12-round championship fights, Spence didn’t have the luxury of having four more rounds to finish what his concussive cross had started but if he had, one would think Porter would have done everything in his power to endure and to make it to the final bell.

With Mancini watching from FOX’s elevated stage, Porter did make it to the final bell and though he lost, his standing remained what it had been an hour earlier – great enough to test the best and to beat the rest.

As is usually the case, the numbers further illustrated the dynamics that unfolded inside the ring. They threw nearly the same number of punches (745 for Spence, 744 for Porter) but Spence led 221-172 overall and 184-142 power thanks to his superior accuracy (30%-23% overall, 44%-26% power) and especially his body attack, which accounted for 113 of his 221 connects or 51.1%. Although Spence led in total connects throughout the fight, he didn’t really cement the victory until the knockdown that swung an otherwise even stanza (20 of 72 Spence, 17 of 71 Porter) his way. The 12th saw Spence stomp on the gas pedal as he landed a fight-high 26 total punches and 23 power shots while Porter went 19 of 65 overall and 18 of 56 power.

Two other interesting trends: First, Porter did a terrific job neutralizing Spence’s vaunted jab. In his four previous title fights against Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson, Carlos Ocampo and Mikey Garcia, Spence landed 7.1 jabs per round and connected at an 18.8% rate but against Porter, he was limited to 3.1 connects per round and 11.2% accuracy. Second, Spence landed 40% or more of his power shots in 10 of the 12 rounds and exceeded 50% three times while Porter was held under 30% in 10 of the 12 rounds. Many of Spence’s power connects were short shots to the body that piled up numbers but only modestly eroded Porter’s pursuit.

IBF/WBC welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. (foreground)

IBF/WBC welterweight titlist Errol Spence Jr. (foreground)

Additionally the CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects – relevant because clean punching is a key judging factor – saw Spence ahead 9-2-1 with four of his nine rounds won by three or fewer connects. That meant Spence won five of his rounds in decisive fashion while Porter won his by one (round four) and four connects (round seven). To me, the 116-111 scorecards submitted by Rey Danseco and Steve Weisfeld were closest to reality while the 115-112 card by Larry Hazzard Jr. appeared to give far too much credit to Porter’s sustained but less effective aggression.

The CompuTrack program revealed that Porter was better able to force Spence into an inside battle (41% of the fight) than against Yordenis Ugas, in which only 17% of that fight was waged in the trenches.

Other significant numbers include:

* Spence’s 9.4 body connects per round more than doubled the CompuBox average.

* Porter’s 62 punches per round against Spence is 10 more than the 52 he averaged in his 10 most recent CompuBox-tracked fights. Conversely Spence’s 62.1 punches per round against Porter are nearly 10 fewer than the 72 he averaged in his last six CompuBox-tracked fights.

* Porter’s round four totals of 90 attempted punches, 26 total connects, 78 attempted power punches and 24 landed power shots are the most ever achieved by a Spence opponent in 18 CompuBox-tracked fights.

* Porter’s 172 total connects, 553 power punch attempts and 142 landed power punches are the most ever recorded by a Spence opponent.

* While Spence did not establish any new personal bests against Porter, Porter established new highs in total punches thrown in a fight (744) and power attempts in a fight (553).

* Spence did achieve new opponent bests against Porter for most total punch attempts (745) and most jabs thrown in a fight (329). Porter has also had 18 fights tracked by CompuBox.

In any case, while Spence’s reputation as a pound-for-pound talent was confirmed beyond question, Porter’s standing should not be diminished. Both brought honor to themselves and to the sport, one that can always use nights such as this to counterbalance those that fall short of the mark.

 

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In Part One, I made mention of Benavidez’s understated reaction to Anthony Dirrell’s aggressive behavior during the weigh-in. But once the bell sounded on fight night, “El Bandera Roja” unleashed the fury that had been building since last year when he was suspended and stripped of his WBC super middleweight title due to a failed random drug test. The result was a ninth round stoppage that returned the belt to him.

The decisive blow was a hook in round six that tore open the fragile scar tissue above Dirrell’s right eye. The close-up of the flap of skin folding outward around the cut produced loud groans throughout the Staples Center but Dirrell, who now had been cut in three of his last four fights, did his best to carry on. The challenge – combined with Benavidez’s blend of youth, strength and determination – proved too much for the 34-year-old champion. In rounds seven through nine, Benavidez out-landed Dirrell 75-21 – including a 38-7 bulge in the truncated ninth that also saw Benavidez out-throw “The Dog” 71-20, land 58% of his jabs (11 of 19) and 27 of 52 power punches (52%) as opposed to Dirrell’s 3 of 12 (25%).

Benavidez’s final surge expanded his leads to 165-94 overall, 64-53 jabs and 101-41 power as well as 33%-24% overall, 31%-22% jabs and 35%-29% power. The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects had Benavidez up 7-2 thanks to sweeping rounds five through nine. Interestingly Dirrell logged more body connects with the jab (42) than with power punches (18) while Benavidez’s distribution of body connects was more conventional (29 with power punches, eight with jabs). Dirrell was successful in terms of slowing the pace to one more comfortable for him (he averaged 42.9 punches per round while Benavidez’s 55.4 was well below the 71.6 he logged in his previous five fights) but Benavidez was ultimately able to assert his authority and close the show robustly enough for Dirrell’s corner to throw in the towel.

Two-time WBC super middleweight titlist David Benavidez. Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

Two-time WBC super middleweight titlist David Benavidez. Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

The toughness of the battle cemented the respect that one sensed was always there but not always expressed during the pre-fight build-up.

“Much respect to the champion,” a gracious Dirrell said. “He’s the true champion. In the whole lead-up to the fight and with all the press, he was a champion.”

“This was one of the hardest fights I’ve had,” Benavidez declared. “It was very tactical. It wasn’t easy. I’ve got a lot of respect for Anthony Dirrell, especially the way he fought tonight.”

Dirrell never used the cut as an excuse for his loss and he showed that while his nickname is “The Dog,” there was no quit in him. He fought well in the early rounds and continued to battle even when the tide and his scar tissue turned against him, which is all one can ask of a fighter. Meanwhile Benavidez reclaimed his place atop the 168-pound division, a summit that includes The Ring and WBA champion Callum Smith, IBF king Caleb Plant and WBO counterpart Billy Joe Saunders. One would think a unification fight with fellow PBC’er Plant could be made but will “Sweet Hands” – or, rather, his team – accept that challenge if it’s presented to them? Only time will tell but I’d sure like to see it.

 

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Mario Barrios looked gaunt at the previous day’s weigh-in but as he awaited the first bell of his fight against Batyr Akhmedov at junior welterweight, his physique looked strong and primed. Barrios also fought strong and primed as he controlled the first four rounds with his work rate (48.3 punches per round to Akhmedov’s 46.8) and a flash knockdown at the end of the fourth. At that point, Barrios was ahead 41-29 overall and 35-21 power and appeared to be in solid command of the contest.

Then came round five – and the massive turn that came with it.

Akhmedov dramatically increased his output (from 47 to 98 punches) and he landed nearly as many power shots in the session (17) than he did in the previous four rounds (21). He turned this thinking-man’s fight into a brawl and Barrios had issues addressing the angles from which the Russian-based Uzbek’s southpaw punches were launched. For Akhmedov, success begat more success and by the eighth, it was everything Barrios could do to keep Akhmedov’s avalanche from burying him. In rounds five through 11, Akhmedov’s work rate increased from 46.8 to 94 and he out-landed Barrios by 100 total punches (183-83) while also doubling him in terms of landed power punches (138-69). The battering turned the right side of Barrios’ face into a swollen mask and the punishment reached alarming levels in rounds 10 and 11 after Akhmedov landed 75 punches to Barrios’ 16 and led 56-13 in power connects.

As the clock ticked under 30 seconds in the final round, all appeared lost for Barrios. However the San Antonio native somehow fired a right hand with enough mustard on it to floor Akhmedov for the second time in the fight, a punch that not only added a stunning plot twist but also inserted doubt as to how the scorecards would read.

Mario Barrios vs. Batyr Akhmedov. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

Mario Barrios (left) vs. Batyr Akhmedov. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

In the end, Barrios’ second knockdown would not have changed a thing, for he would have won a unanimous decision even if it had not occurred. The scoring – 116-111 by Jeremy Hayes, 115-111 by Tim Cheatham and 114-112 by Zachary Young – was heavily booed by the Staples Center crowd, probably more for the margins awarded by Hayes and Cheatham than just for the fact they all deemed the Texan as the winner. It would prove to be the sourest note of the pay-per-view telecast.

The numbers painted a far different picture than that portrayed by the jurists. Akhmedov’s mid-fight surge resulted in final leads of 238-135 overall, 57-22 jabs and 181-113 power, percentage gaps of 26%-18% overall, 21%-6% jabs and 27.8%-27.4% power and a narrow 59-52 lead in body shots by Barrios. The CompuBox round-by-round breakdown of total connects had Akhmedov ahead 8-4 thanks to his having swept the final eight rounds and if one includes the two knockdowns for Barrios in rounds four and 12, Akhmedov still would have prevailed 114-112. That probably would have been a much more palatable final score, for while that margin recognized Barrios’ flash knockdowns, it also would have rewarded Akhmedov’s steady and consistent middle-rounds dominance as well as his gargantuan final statistical leads. Also, the right fighter would have emerged victorious.

While a rematch would be in order, one has to wonder whether Team Barrios would accept that fight. The honorable option would be to say yes to a second fight and while Barrios himself may well want to quiet all the doubters, his management would probably steer clear unless the money is very right. Such is the business of boxing.

 

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The pay-per-view opener was a crossroads fight between a pair of 30-somethings at the crossroads of their careers. At 35, Josesito Lopez was coming off a stirring but losing challenge to then-WBA welterweight titlist Keith Thurman that epitomized his “Riverside Rocky” nickname. Against all odds – and after being floored in round two – Lopez came within an eyelash of toppling the champion in round seven and pushed himself back to even on Don Ackerman’s scorecard. Ackerman was overruled – rightly – by Tom Schreck (117-109) and Steve Weisfeld (115-111) but Lopez’s performance might have offered foreshadowing to the loss “One Time” would incur against Manny Pacquiao nearly six months later. Meanwhile the 36-year-old Molina was coming off a 10-round decision loss to Omar Figueroa in February, a fight that was preceded by an explosive off-the-floor win over Ivan Redkach, which was preceded by a drubbing by then 140-pound champion Terence Crawford, which was preceded by arguably the best all-around performance of his career, a 12-round decision over Ruslan Provodnikov that saw the brawling Molina turn brilliant boxer. The ups and downs of Molina’s career in terms of his results did have two layers of consistency – the pulverizing power of his right cross and the indomitable will that fueled his pursuit of victory.

But while Molina’s heart and big right hand remained, they weren’t enough to overcome the consistently skillful and powerful boxing Lopez produced. A scorching overhand right to the temple dropped Molina less than a minute into the fight and it appeared Lopez’s sickening hook to the body would produce the 10-count knockout moments later. Molina, of course, would not yield that easily as he hauled himself up by nine and managed to survive the rest of the round.

Josesito Lopez (right) and John Molina Jr. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

Josesito Lopez (right) and John Molina Jr. Photo by Frank Micelotta/Fox Sports/PictureGroup

While Molina would produce bursts of success, they were too few and too spurious to threaten Lopez’s command. A straight right in the closing portion of round seven registered the third knockdown and with many in the crowd calling for the fight to be stopped, referee Ray Corona did just that at the 39-second mark of round eight.

The CompuBox stats illustrated the degree of Lopez’s control; he threw more (68.6 punches per round to Molina’s 48.9), landed more (195-81 overall, 105-44 jabs, 90-37 power), connected more accurately (39%-23% overall, 34%-20% jabs, 48%-29% power) and attacked the body with relish (62-4 in body connects). Lopez landed no fewer than 20 total punches in a completed round (the third) while Molina’s high-water mark was 17 in rounds five and six). The seventh saw Lopez go 37 of 83 overall to Molina’s 8 of 47 while landing 56% of his power punches to Molina’s 19%.

While Lopez told the world that he wanted another title shot, many in the world of boxing is telling Molina to bow out while he still has his health. Of course, the ultimate decision is up to Molina but even he must know he is much closer to the end than he is to the beginning and that there is something called “the law of diminishing returns.” I trust that he, his team and his family will weigh all factors before a final decision is made.

 

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Junior middleweight Joey Spencer is still just 19 years old but is already experiencing a reset in his career following tougher-than-expected decision victories over Osias Vasquez and Akeem Black. Three months after the Black fight, Spencer returned to the four-round ranks to take on the 5-0-2 Travis Gambardella, a native of Revere, Massachusetts, who was coming off a majority decision win over the previously undefeated Joe Farina during last October’s Demetrius Andrade-Walter Kautondokwa undercard on DAZN.

Spencer couldn’t have asked for a better bounce-back performance than the one he delivered against Gambardella, a fight that opened the FS1 telecast. Spencer used his superb body attack – one that produced a 17-0 bulge for the fight – to set up the accurate power punches that scored two knockdowns in the first, another in the second and the stoppage 53 seconds into round three. In all, Spencer out-landed Gambardella 48-6 overall, 6-4 jabs and 42-2 power while also producing cavernous percentage gulfs of 40%-11% overall and 55%-10% power.

Cosmetically, at least, Spencer looked strong and prepared at the weigh-in and he looked even better in the ring. It was exactly the confidence booster he needed after struggling to the finish line against Black and while he has burnished his credentials as an excellent starter, it will be intriguing to see how he will perform the next time he experienced resistance in the latter stages.

 

*

 

The main event of the FS1 preliminary show pitted the comebacking Robert Guerrero and Kansas resident Jerry Thomas, who, at 30, was six years younger but far less seasoned in terms of quality of competition. For eight rounds, Guerrero put that seasoning into practice as he imposed a long-range fight with his busy but inaccurate jab (47.9 attempts/2.5 connects per round and 5% accuracy) and his somewhat more precise power shots (31%-23% for the fight). Guerrero’s tactics successfully quieted the wild-and-crazy style Thomas used to turn back the then-undefeated Dakota Polley by six-round decision a year earlier and it appeared “The Ghost” was on his way to a routine decision victory.

In the ninth, however, Thomas found the opening he wanted and cut loose with combinations that rattled Guerrero’s head and injected an air of doubt into the proceedings. In all, Thomas landed 25 punches in round nine alone – just one more connect than he logged in rounds three through eight combined – and his 25 power connects exceeded the 22 he had landed in rounds one through eight. He also threw 102 punches in the ninth compared to 91 in rounds six through eight while Guerrero’s six total connects was his lowest total since he landed four in round one.

Robert Guerrero (right) vs. Gerald Thomas. Photo by Dr. Ed De La Vega

Robert Guerrero (right) vs. Gerald Thomas. Photo by Dr. Ed De La Vega

An inspired Thomas continued to plow forward in the 10th and final round and, statistically speaking, he did well as he went 17 of 81 overall and 16 of 76 power. However Guerrero responded with his best round of the fight in all three phases – 19 of 127 overall, five of 71 jabs and 14 of 56 power – and thus was able to nail down the unanimous decision win (99-91 twice, 98-92).

It was an effective but not overwhelming, performance by the 36-year-old Guerrero, who fought for the third time since ending a nearly 17-month break from the sport. Thomas was his best opponent to date in the return and he proved that, under the right circumstances and against the right opponents, he still has the skills to control matches for long stretches. But because Guerrero campaigns in the most stacked division in the sport, it is impossible to imagine him beating any of the top-flight guys, even the soon-to-be 41-year-old Pacquiao.

If his goal is to make a decent living doing what he loves and doing what he does best, then he can still be a productive professional, at least for the time being. But champion athletes, even those in the twilight of their careers, tend not to think in terms of getting by. They want to test themselves against those who are thought to be better than they are because only then can they find out where they stand. Unfortunately too many of these older fighters in search of discovering where they stand end up being made to sit down in a most involuntary way. Let’s hope that’s not the way Guerrero’s story will play out.

 

*

 

Dan, Dennis and I packed our equipment, indulged in the post-fight meal (where I rehashed the main event and talked travel with Hall of Fame ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. – what a treat that was) and headed toward the exit with my colleagues as well as with Brian Campbell, the host of Premier Boxing Champions’ “Face to Face” series. The well-lit streets were packed with people as we made the 20-minute walk back to the crew hotel and while I didn’t have any post-fight responsibilities to complete, I wasn’t able to turn out the lights until shortly after midnight – or 3 a.m. body clock time.

 

Sunday, September 29: The sleep, if you could call it that, was brief and uneven but I still managed to stir awake within minutes of my 5 a.m. target time. And as promised, a cab was readily available once I stepped outside the hotel at 6:15. Thanks to light traffic – and a no-nonsense driver who was comfortable driving at speeds near 80 miles per hour – I arrived at LAX 90 minutes before boarding. Unlike last week, when I was randomly chosen for an electronics check, I cleared security without a hitch, bought breakfast at one of the airport’s “Entertainment Weekly News” convenience shops and walked toward my gate. Down the hall, I spotted International Boxing Hall of Fame executive director Ed Brophy, who was just about to board his plane for Chicago. We had planned to touch base during our mutual stay in L.A. but a longer-than-expected visit to the Wild Card Gym as well as my early arrival at the Staples Center prevented that from happening.

The two flights home – LAX to Dallas Fort Worth and DFW to Pittsburgh – were quiet and uneventful. I caught up on the rest I missed during both flights while spending the rest of the time finishing Kram’s biography of Joe Frazier and starting on my next book, “The Story of the Olympic Games, 776 B.C. to 1976” by John Kieran, Arthur Daley and Pat Jordan. I first read this book as a child and it served to ignite a deep interest in the Olympic Games. Through it (and Bud Greenspan’s excellent series “The Olympiad” on PBS), I learned about the legends of Jim Thorpe, Hannes Kolehmainen, Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek, Fanny Blankers-Koen, Ray Ewry and many others and the imprint it made on me was immense. Only recently I stopped by my local library to see if the copy I read in the 1970s was still there. To my surprise, it was but the librarian rejected my offer to purchase it. Instead, I ordered an updated copy from Amazon and it arrived the day before I left for this trip.

I arrived home at 9:15 p.m. but I will have only three full days to polish off the work that lays before me because, this coming Thursday, I will start the final leg of this three-weekend push by traveling to Flint, Michigan, to see if two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields can become the first fighter – man or woman – to win a third divisional crown within 10 pro fights when she challenges for the vacant WBC and WBO junior middleweight titles against former IBF welterweight beltholder Ivana Habazin.

Until then, happy trails!

 

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Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 16 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of the newly released book “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.

 

 

 

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