The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Boxing Predictions

A very decent card from HBO this weekend; assuming we can avoid the controversy which seems to follow Sergio Martinez around like a black cloud, this should be a fun evening of fights.

Lucian Bute vs. Edison Miranda

I’m still looking for a ruling on whether it’s “Boot” or “Byute-eh”. In either case it’s a very good fighter, one who’s looked a cut and a half above the level of an Edison Miranda of late. The great thing about a guy like Miranda is that he combines an entertaining style with a career which functions as a perfect demarcation of the line between the really good and the truly world class. His best wins are guys like Howard Eastman and Allan Green, very solid fighters a bit below his level; but every time Miranda has stepped the competition up one level above that, he’s lost: to Arthur Abraham by decision and then by KO in a rematch, to Kelly Pavlik by KO, and to Andre Ward by one-sided decision. Those are the only 4 losses of his career. For the most part, the way a fighter looks against an Edison Miranda is a pretty good indication of how good they really are.

Which brings us to Lucian Bute. We think we know how good he is, and that’s real good: still undefeated, he’s stepped up his competition of late and beaten guys like Sakio Bika, Fulgencio Zuniga and paragon of ruggedness Librado Andrade twice- the second time by brutal and impressive KO of a man thought to be borderline indestructible. Bute appears to have a combination of skill and athleticism which has many complaining at his being left out of the Super Six tournament (which is its own discussion), and which is clearly positioning him as the #1 contender to the winner of that competition if it survives all the way to producing a single champion and if Bute remains undefeated in the meantime. To get there though Bute will have to get past Miranda, who will arguably be the toughest opponent of his career and who will if nothing else determine whether Bute is truly an elite fighter, or whether the actual pronunciation of his name is in fact “Allan Green.” I like Bute by decision or perhaps late KO. I don’t think he’s as good as he looked against Andrade the second time, nor as bad as he looked the first time; and I think at this point Miranda is probably being somewhat underrated given his track record and how much sturdier and stronger he seems to be at 168. All of that to my mind adds up to Bute carefully out-boxing Miranda round after round using angles and picking spots out of respect for Miranda’s considerable power. It won’t necessarily win him the biggest headlines on Monday, but a clear decision will still make a powerful statement for Bute here and if the accumulated pounding ends it late then all the better.

Kelly Pavlik vs. Sergio Martinez

Bad juju like steel bars fi Buju. I have a strong suspicion that while this will be a good fight for action and skills, the story of how this fight ended up happening would be better on both counts. Maybe the sequel to HBO’s “Legendary Nights” can be “Legendary Negotiations” and debut with this one.

The general opinion is that Martinez is a bad style matchup for Pavlik, and while at the time this is being written not many of the notable press have their predictions in I am willing to go out on a limb and bet that more of them will be picking Martinez than you would expect given that he is, among other things, a semi-blown up junior middleweight who lost his last fight. This is the pass to which things have come for Pavlik, who’s gone from being a breath of fresh air in the sport a few years back to being one of the most disrespected champions around while losing only one fight- and that while moving up in weight. It’s a strange state of affairs, with three essential causes.

The first and most obvious is that one lone loss, a fight a year and a half ago in which Pavlik was beaten relentlessly and nearly stopped late by the legendary Bernard Hopkins in the last great performance of his career. In the minds of most this fight was a classic example of a fighter being exposed: Pavlik had built a career on looking great against straight-line fighters who wanted to throw hands with him, and Hopkins seemed to prove that by using angles and control of distance to force Pavlik out of his linear game plan the KO monster could be made into a boxing mouse. The second issue for Pavlik is actually his wins- since beating Jermain Taylor for the middleweight crown in 2007 by KO and discounting the Hopkins fight, Pavlik has faced: Taylor in a mandatory rematch at a catchweight, nonentity Gary Lockett, and a pair of more or less competent if unknown journeymen in Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Angel Espino. Not exactly Pacquiao-esque. The third issue has been a general malaise in the form of injuries, inactivity, and dashed hopes. Twice, Pavlik has been in line for a minor dream fight against Paul Williams; twice, the fight has broken down over money issues, Pavlik’s health and rumors of alcohol abuse in the Pavlik camp. In the year and a half since the Hopkins fight Pavlik has twice fought opponents with nearly no name recognition, leaving the Hopkins fight in the minds of many as the most recent image of Pavlik as a fighter. There’s a sense of aimless drift to his career these days, compounded by seemingly unanswered questions as to how good the pride of Youngstown really is.

For all of that though, there’s still a lot of good to be said about Pavlik as a fighter. His power, assuming his hands is fully recovered, remains excellent with 32 KOs in 36 fights including those over name fighters like Taylor and Edison Miranda and rugged journeymen like Jose Luis Zertuche and Fulgencio Zuniga. He is personally tough, for better or worse; he’s been knocked down a few times in his career and nearly stopped by Taylor in their first fight, but he’s found ways to survive in all of his fights and proved in the first Taylor fight and against Hopkins that he has what it takes to continue competing and trying to win when faced with significant adversity. Despite the knockdowns, he actually seems to have a good chin. He’s tall and tends to do a decent job of using his reach, although surprisingly for this fight he actually lists as having an inch less reach than Martinez. He tends to use his jab effectively for his style as a blinding agent, setting up an incredibly quick straight 1-2 which has done a number on many a man. For all the qualms about his footwork (and they are legitimate), Pavlik is a solid stalker who cuts the ring off well and doesn’t tend to smother his punches too much; and when the time comes to finish, he does a great job of mixing up his shots to break a man down. Pavlik may or may not have been exposed as limited by Hopkins, but within his limits he remains effective and dangerous.

So why is Martinez considered such a live dog that he’s very nearly a favorite (+140 at the first two sports books I checked)? With respect to Martinez, a fine fighter, it’s largely down to the flaws Kelly Pavlik showed in the Hopkins fight; Martinez just seems to be the first guy Pavlik has faced since with the skills to exploit them. Pavlik has always been a purely linear fighter- he has zero lateral movement and doesn’t adjust well to fighters who do except during finishing sequences when he corners well. He throws his punches one or two at a time, and while he doesn’t tend to lunge he has the mentality of a purely offensive fighter so much so that he actually seems to forget at times that counterpunchng is a possibility. As a result he relies far too much on a good but not invulnerable chin; he doesn’t react badly to punches really, but he often gets hit with so many that eventually even an average puncher at the elite level (like Hopkins or Taylor or, say, Martinez) can break him down given time. As noted, he’s mentally tough; but at times this becomes a flaw as his response to adversity is often to try harder to make a failing gameplan work rather than to adjust to circumstances and deploy a backup plan. I think this probably is part of why Pavlik seems to have plateaued in his skills development of late as well. Martinez in particular is a dangerous opponent to fight this way against, as he moves well laterally and controls distance effectively with his footwork and jab while maintaining his balance well enough to get surprising amounts of power into shots which seem like they’re not thrown fully planted with correct leverage. Martinez also does a fine job of timing offensive fighters and nailing them just as they open up to throw, and that can be death for an occasionally robotic fighter like Pavlik. And while I think this factor is oftentimes wildly over-rated, Martinez is a southpaw; that will likely make it even harder for Pavlik to figure out his challenger especially as Martinez falls off to his right and throws a hook over Pavlik’s jab. There’s also the unanswered questions about Pavlik’s mental and physical health to consider- his camp has become almost Tito Ortiz-like about such issues, so it’s really anyone’s guess what kind of condition Pavlik is truly in. And I don’t consider it a good sign that every Pavlik interview of late could be titled “I hate Paul Williams (who’s this Sergio guy?).”

So how does the fight go? There’s many possibilities including a non-zero chance of a brutal 1 round KO win for either man, but I think in the early going unless Pavlik is a completely different fighter than we’ve seen he’s going to get out-boxed by a faster, more skilled opponent. If he wins rounds he’ll win them by going 50/50 and getting a knockdown for the 10-8, and it’s a good bet that that will happen at least once in the first half of the fight since Martinez, almost as much as Pavlik, sometimes gets so mesmerized by his own offense that he forgets to get out of the way of what’s coming back at him. From the 6th round on though, things should get more and more interesting. Martinez has been known to fade a bit, and if he can’t completely befuddle Pavlik he’s going to end up feeling the heat more and more from a puncher who absolutely can put him away. At the same time, Pavlik can’t let the fight get too far away from him- if he takes so much damage early that he can’t take advantage of a Martinez fade, or if he allows himself to get so far in the hole on points that he’s chasing a KO and trying to force things, he’s going to be out of luck. Pavlik’s road to victory is to pressure, pressure, make Martinez feel his power and be defensively responsible enough to not get pummeled; Martinez’s is to make Pavlik follow him aimlessly in straight lines towards where Martinez used to be, walk him into right hooks and left hands, and try to wear him down and perhaps stop him late.

I expect it to be an excellent fight with an outside chance of fight-of-the-year fireworks. I am picking Martinez by decision, but neither man winning would shock me.

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April 16, 2010 - Posted by | Boxing

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