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Super Middleweight Tournament Preview, Part 2

Continued from yesterday….

Andre Dirrell:

I buy this guy far more than most people. He had a strong amateur career, but he’s got very little serious pro experience and zero track record against this level of opposition so I can certainly see why the doubts are there. But he’s got three or four major things going for him as well. Most obviously, he’s preposterously fast, hits pretty hard and is big for the weight- he’s listed as the tallest man in the tournament with the longest reach, and he comes into the ring looking like a light heavyweight. As a physical talent, I think he’s the top man here. Additionally he starts against Froch, which is a fight I strongly, strongly favor him in, and which will give him a chance to get used to facing this level of competition. He’s also very good defensively and gets hit very little, important in a physically rigorous tournament; he and Abraham are probably the best defensive fighters here.

Most importantly, and this is where he separates himself from Ward possibly, is that Dirrell seems mentally strong and has an ego which appears to be unconnected to his fighting style. This is not a man here to show off or win fans or look pretty, as his memorably awful major cable debut against Curtis “5 Cent” Stevens proved. When you think of a bloody-minded competitor in boxing your mind runs towards the great warriors- the Gatti, Corrales, Ward types-but there’s also something to be said for the man who is willing to have as ugly and boring and shitty a fight as he needs to to get the win, who imposes the shittiness of his own style on the opposition (note: this is separate from what John Ruiz does; that guy’s just a cheat) and has the mental strength and discipline not be drawn out of his awful, awful gameplan. As fans we hate these guys and we should, and TV networks don’t want to televise them which mitigates against their reaching all that big a level in the sport often. None of that applies here, however: Dirrell has 3 guaranteed fights at minimum, and if he keeps winning he’s by definition and necessity going to keep getting booked by Showtime for televised money fights. Throw in the fact that in a tournament against high-level opposition the ability to avoid taking too much damage is key, and he’s in effect strongly incentivized to be the boring safety-first fighter he is at heart, and when he’s in that mode he’s very hard to solve.

I can easily see Dirrell winning two of his first three fights in horrifically boring fashion, even against Abraham- winning early rounds against a slow starter, taking a few later ones with superior quickness, and getting on the bike whenever he feels danger. He gives up very few opportunities for Abraham to counter-punch him, and he’s quick enough to get in and get out with body shots against the high guard and pop a jab when it lowers. He’s shown no chin issues, and the few times he’s been caught flush and hard in his career he’s shown no ill effects; when caught he’s also safety-first and thus hard to finish. The guy who might have the best chance to beat him is Ward, who’s nearly as big and just as fast and a dynamic enough offensive performer that he might just outwork Dirrell and get the benefit of the doubt from the judges as the more aggressive fighter (and might well deserve it). Either way, as I understand it the first round of this thing only eliminates 2 guys, and I’d be stunned if Dirrell was one of them.

Mikkel Kessler:

Who? Ohhhh, yeah, my dad told me about him.

No, seriously, it actually is nice to have Kessler back in the realm of the relevant after nearly two full years of him farting around in Germany and Denmark facing guys unrecognized by their own families. Kessler probably is what he is: big, strong, great jab, excellent athlete, physical near-prime at age 30, as much experience at the top level as anyone in this thing bar Taylor. The “probably” is for his not having faced serious opposition since he took a bad beating and lost his undefeated status again Joe Calzaghe. That was the kind of loss which can take something out of a fighter permanently, and he’s not been in tough enough since then to find out if that’s true in his case. There’s not all that much to analyze about Kessler if he’s the same fighter we remember- he’s straightforward and to the point, tough but not unbeatable, a decent bet to win this but not an obviously better one than several of the other guys in it. Only really major flaw is occasional tentativeness and a tendency to have issues against good handspeed, which could be a problem against Dirrell or Ward. I expect Kessler to clobber Taylor and probably KO him, and probably beat Froch (think a more competitive version of the Librado Andrade fight), while Ward is a much tougher match up given the speed differential. 2-1 gets him through to the second round, and those are all about match ups.

Arthur Abraham:

It’s a goddamn shame he and Kessler aren’t fighting in this round at least, as that to me is one of the two most fascinating match ups this tourney can produce (Ward vs. Dirrell is the other). Like Kessler, Abraham is very well known stylistically, and has only one major question to answer here- in his case, what the effects of moving to 168 will be on him. I expect them to be purely beneficial, personally; Abraham looked very weight-drained in his last few fights at 160, and at 29 his body has almost certainly already grown into his new division. He’s never been seriously chinny, so I doubt he’ll face much trouble against slightly bigger punchers. If there’s any downside it’s that Abraham is the shortest fighter with the shortest reach of the six.

Schedule-wise he actually has a similar road to Kessler- fights with Taylor and Froch which he should win, and a tough match up with one of the ultra-quick Americans (he gets Dirrell instead of Ward), and like Kessler he’s got about a 50/50 shot of finishing 3-0 or 2-1, probably with a KO win over Taylor. One minor wrinkle is that Froch’s wild looping punches are actually a better matchup against Abraham’s high guard than technically superior straight punches tend to be. I wouldn’t pick Froch in a thousand years, but you never know I suppose; odd things happen when big men throw punches. Much as with Kessler he’s all but a lock to reach the second round, and his fate there will be decided by match ups and events on the road to that fight.

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That’s the major thing to keep in mind about this tournament: the instant the first bell rings, things will start going wrong. People will get hurt and fights will be postponed; someone will make noise about abandoning the tournament if they’re not paid more; someone may get brutally KO’d early and not be anything like their normal selves from there on; promoters will squabble; there’ll probably be the need for at least one replacement fighter; something totally unexpected will fail catastrophically. There’s a reason tournaments in boxing are incredibly rare and it’s not purely because of the difficult financial dealings which go into these things, it’s also because of the sheer logistical difficulty of coordinating all these fights and fighters and promoters and events in a reasonable time frame. And that’s just for the tournament as a whole; each individual fight will end up being determined partly by similar unpredictable elements: who got hit the most in their previous fight, who’s nursing a nagging injury which might have postponed a non-tournament fight, who’s not in the right frame of mind because they feel they got jobbed on a decision last time out, who holds up best to the rigor of several hard fights in a comparatively short period of time, etc. Many of these factors attain in any fight, but in a tournament situation where there’s enormous pressure to get the fights in and each fight is against world-class opposition, they’re all magnified. Each fight in the tournament gets progressively harder to predict and the reality is that there’s at least 4 guys in this thing who could win it depending on circumstances.

Against all my better judgment and bitter experience, I’m actually getting really excited for this. It all kicks off October 17th…hopefully.

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July 29, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Super Middleweight Tournament Preview, Part 1

Part 1 today, part 2 tomorrow.

So there’s a Super Middleweight tourney happening: 6 contenders, round-robin at first, to determine the A#1nofoolingforrealdeal World Champion at the weight. You’ve got fighters from 4 countries and several different promoters, with varied recent fortunes, styles, experience and skill levels. I’m trying not to get too excited about this since the odds are extremely high that at some point this whole thing will explode and come to nothing, but since they’re at the signed-contracts-and-promotional-group-photos stage it’s probably time to buy it a little. A quick preview, fighter by fighter:

Announced fights/planned fights:

Froch vs. Dirrell
Taylor vs. Abraham
Kessler vs. Ward
Abraham vs. Dirrell
Froch vs. Kessler
Ward vs. Taylor
Ward vs. Dirrell
Froch vs. Abraham
Kessler vs. Taylor

Carl Froch:

Frok or Frotsh depending on who you ask is one of the two fighters alongside Taylor who I give a near-zero shot in this thing. He’s incredibly tough, he gives it his all, he has the confidence of an undefeated fighter; but his technique isn’t even for shit and he’s dial-up slow, an analog fighter in a digital division. Taylor outboxed him handily before disintegrating- what will Kessler, Abraham and Dirrell do to him? All three of those guys are faster and more technically advanced than Taylor and have the great jab that Froch couldn’t get around, none of them have Taylor’s habit of fading or average chin, all three can pick apart the Englishman and then cover up or move against his wind-up lumberpunch offense. Right now I think he loses three decisions, although it’s entirely possible that Abraham drills him with a perfectly timed counter for the KO. Froch is the kind of fighter who could easily be a champion at, say, Middleweight or Jr. Middle; at 168, he’s still a very good fighter, there’s just a few better ones who unfortunately are all in his way.

If he beats someone, it’s probably Kessler; the Dane is a very good offensive fighter, but he’s only occasionally fought opponents who really made him fight 12 hard ones and tried to hit him back with any success, and his record is mixed against that kind of pressure. One thing you can say about Froch is that he will make people actually beat him. I can see an unlikely scenario in which Kessler gets drawn into more of a slugfest than he really wants, gives up on his jab and ends up being outworked by a durable brawler when he fades late. If I really, really stretch my mind I can a scenario where Froch perhaps beats Abraham, just because his weird looping shots are actually a decent tool against the high guard defense and maybe Abraham will be hit with a shot he doesn’t expect from a bigger puncher than he’s used to… but honestly, at this point I’m just looking for nice things to say. Froch is kinda screwed.

Jermain Taylor:

I hate saying this because he seems like such a nice guy and has had a better career than is sometimes remembered, but Taylor comes into this to make up the numbers and add some name value, and maybe to cash out of boxing on his way to whatever’s next in his life. He’s lost 3 of his last 4, 2 by knockout, one of them to another participant in this tournament- and that’s the guy who’s given less of a shot than anyone else but Taylor in the thing by many people, including me. Taylor has to fight Abraham in his first fight who’s a horrid style matchup for him, Kessler who’s somewhat similar and equally bad, and Ward who’s quicker, younger, and better conditioned. Out of those three, I don’t see who Taylor beats- maybe if Kessler’s lack of activity rusts him up, maybe….but Taylor isn’t Kessler’s first fight, so… I dunno. I’m grasping at straws. I expect Taylor to get out-jabbed, out-lasted and caught with counters by both Abraham and Kessler and probably KO’d by the former, and Ward I expect to simply beat him to the punch all night and outwork him. Even more than Froch who might outlast and outwork someone, it’s hard to find a win for Taylor; his best asset right now is probably his jab and power, and Abraham and Kessler probably excel him in both of those categories or else neutralize them. Maybe he catches Ward- whose chin is not the best- with something unanticipated. Wouldn’t bet on it though. A Taylor who was really focused on his conditioning and had a great trainer and the ability to follow a smart gameplan could probably find a way to win with the tools he has, but the actual Jermain Taylor is in very tough in this one.

Taylor stands to make a good amount of money through this tourney; I hope he invests it wisely.

Andre Ward:

There are people out there- serious people who know the sport- picking Ward to win. I have to say, I can see it; he’s got the amateur pedigree, the speed, the power, the confidence, and a decent amount of pro experience against serious(ish) opposition like Edison Miranda and Rubin Williams. He’s probably in his athletic prime at 25, and he’s so goddamn quick that he might just blitz Kessler and Taylor and beat them to the punch over and over, wearing them out. At the very least he probably beats Tayor easy, unless he just walks into something flukey- Kessler might be trouble if he can’t get past the jab, but I don’t expect that to be the case (it doesn’t hurt that Ward faces Kessler in California). Dirrell…I’ll address that fight and him tomorrow. Ward can win this, but there’s three things that have to be overcome for him to do so: the reputation of his chin, an occasional tendency to get drawn into fights which don’t best utilize his abilities- stand-and-trade affairs where he can be caught and loses some of the advantage his size and quickness offer (oddly, he may have been fortunate to avoid Froch), and the fact that while he’s not a neophyte, he has the second-least serious experience of anyone in this and will have to learn on the go how to adapt what he does to a far superior class of opposition that he’s seen before at the pro level.

To be continued tomorrow, with the other 3 participants.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Boxing | , , , , , , | 2 Comments