Saturday Night Fever in New York
As you may have heard, there were competing cards in New York, this past weekend. It certainly ended up being a memorable and entertaining night of boxing from the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, and the Theater at Madison Square Garden (which were televised by Showtime and HBO, respectively).
Literally and figuratively the biggest bout on Saturday was the heavyweight battle between defending WBC champion Deontay Wilder facing Luis Ortiz. Coming into this bout, despite a glossy record (39-0 with 38 knockouts), to many observers, Wilder was unproven and unauthentic as a prizefighter. In facing the 38-year-old Cuban, he would give a barometer of his true abilities.
And to be honest, for much of this see-saw battle, it was an indictment on the unrefined and oftentimes unhinged skill set of Wilder, who came in at a rather flimsy looking 214 pounds. The early portions of the bout were controlled by Ortiz, who steadily came forward and methodically out-worked Wilder in a fight that began at a very slow pace and had the fans at the Barclays Center restless.
In the fifth, Wilder scored a knockdown but he then found himself out on his feet two rounds later, as he was caught flush by a short right hook in an exchange. For a minute or two, it seemed like Ortiz was destined to be a heavyweight titlist but, for whatever reason (fatigue? Age?), he refused to seize upon the opportunity in front of him.
To paraphrase the late Dennis Green, “Wilder was who we thought he was AND HE LET ‘EM OFF THE HOOK!”
Ortiz will have many a sleepless night in the future, as he thinks about that eighth round, in which he failed to capitalize on the moment and change his life. Fortune favors the bold and, in this instance, Ortiz was anything but.
Eventually Wilder would regain his bearings and turn the tide with a series of right hands. Say whatever you want about the “Bronze Bomber”; he has – as they say in baseball – plenty of holes in his swing and he would be the player who would strikeout 150 times in a season but also hit 50 home runs while driving in a ton of runs. With Deontay (is) Wilder, you take the good with the bad.
And on this night, with his title run (and perhaps his life-changing payday versus IBF/WBA beltholder Anthony Joshua) slipping away, he came up with the proverbial 10-run homer, as Larry Merchant would say. For all his defiencies, technically and fundamentally, Wilder has the eraser. While it turns out that he was somehow up on all three cards going into the championship rounds, there was great anticipation over what was transpiring.
Then in the 10th frame, this happened:
And with that, Wilder retained his title in one of the more memorable heavyweight title fights in recent memory. Yes, he’s as flawed as he is dangerous, and dangerous as he is flawed, but even with his shortcomings, he isn’t an easy out. With his sloppy technique (and, at this juncture, he is what he is), he’ll never be in complete control of a fight at the elite level. But with his God-given power, he’s never out of a fight either.
Ortiz found discovered this the hard way.
– On Sunday morning, I received the following email from an old reader of mine, “The Battleship” Bill Pittman, who I think echoes the thoughts of many other fans, regarding Wilder:
“Hi Steve, I wanted to follow-up my email from last week about the Wilder/Ortiz fight, when I was so sure Wilder would get beat. Now, the morning after the fight, obviously things look different. I greatly enjoyed the fight, which was highly interesting and/or extremely exciting throughout! Wilder was just as technically bad as I thought he’d be and Ortiz showed his boxing skills to jump out to a solid lead on my scorecard. But what I had not expected was for Wilder to be so damn tough! This was a guy who had been buzzed by lesser-lights, yet he refused to be beaten down by a fighter as good as Ortiz. For the first time I can remember, he showed true championship heart and an indomitable will and just refused to allow himself to be beaten or knocked out (round 7). It made for a great fight and made me appreciate Wilder in a way I never had before.
“Previously I always viewed Deontay Wilder as a wild, unorthodox fighter who did so many things wrong in the ring but always made it through because he was matched very carefully and had a huge, equalizing punch. But after last night, in seeing his heart on the line and how he rose to the occasion, I have to say I am now a fan. That performance redefined him for me and converted me to someone who now appreciates him for who he is. He’s still seriously flawed, and eventually that will probably bring him to grief, but he’s also tough as nails and has an indomitable will. It’s hard to not like a fighter like that, flaws and all.
“I’ve heard Wilder say in the past that he was mystified why the fight fans have not flocked to his banner, as a hard-hitting, undefeated American heavyweight. I can only speak for myself but I never was a fan before because I found his level of opposition off-putting and it made me believe his career was about protecting him and not about showing he was a serious fighter. But in stepping up to fight a guy as skilled as Ortiz, Deontay put himself on the line and, while he was outboxed and struggled, he did what all top-quality fighters do, he found a way to win. So going forward, this old fight fan from Indiana will be in his corner. Especially if he continues to challenge himself by seeking out fights with the best.
“As always, thanks for giving a boxing fan from the hinterlands an avenue to voice my thoughts about the sport we both love so much and keep up your great work!
– In the opening bout of this Showtime broadcast, Jose Uzcategui dominated Andre Dirrell in their rematch. From the very beginning, “Bolivita” intelligently pressured and suffocated Dirrell throughout. The Venezuelan has really evolved as a fighter and Dirrell never felt comfortable in there, on this evening.
Uzcategui, who won the IBF interim super middleweight title, was able to land right hands over the top and, as he got closer, worked the body with both hands. Every punch landed on Dirrell moved him. On the flipside, on this evening, Dirrell was reduced to throwing what old trainers would label “‘Get off me!’ punches” that were thrown more for survival than offensive purposes, which never dissuaded Uzcategui. What was striking was how easily he reached Dirrell while Dirrell never consistently landed on Uzcategui. The only way he really had a chance is if his uncle Leon Lawson came out from under the ring and sucker-punched Uzcategui again. (#GoodJobUnc)
After the eighth round, it was decided that Dirrell should not continue. It was the right call.
As for Bolivita, it says here that he’s live against any 168-pounder in the world and now he’s in line to face the winner of the Caleb Truax-James DeDale rematch for Truax’s IBF belt.
– Meanwhile at the Garden, while it wasn’t the official listed main event, the bout between WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol and Sullivan Barrera held the most interest on this HBO broadcast.
Bivol, who impressed American audiences last year, was considered – and rightfully so – unproven and untested. While he passed the eye test in 2017 in dispatching Samuel Clarkson, Cedric Agnew and Trent Broadhurst, he was still a bit of an unproven commodity and Barrera would gauge just where he stood in the division.
Well, you can say he passed this test with flying colors.
Bivol finished with a flourish, in stopping the sturdy and durable Barrera with a laser shot of a right hand. But while Bivol’s power is eye-opening, his ring generalship is equally as impressive. He does a masterful job of controlling distance with his in-and-out movement, utilizing feints and setting the table with a solid jab. While WBO junior lightweight titleholder Vasyl Lomachenko controls this with lateral movement, spins and pivots (which dizzy his foes), Bivol does so in a much more linear fashion. The next step in his evolution is becoming a bit more comfortable on the inside and working the body.
But give “Sully B” credit; he made Bivol work and not many other light heavyweights could have taken that type of shellacking for so long. Bivol showed he could go into the late rounds, carry his power and deal with some adversity.
It’s too early to anoint him the King of 175 but he started stating his case.
While Wilder-Ortiz was certainly the best fight of the weekend, Bivol and Bolivita were the two best fighters.
– The eventful evening culminated with Sergey Kovalev successfully defending his WBO 175-pound belt by cutting up the game Igor “Home Alone” Mikhalkin, who was a competent boxer from his southpaw stance but simply didn’t have the power to hold off the heavy-handed “Krusher”:
I found it interesting that the HBO crew of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Roy Jones Jr., were rather critical of Kovalev for getting touched up a bit. Well, last I checked, this is professional boxing and guess what? It happens when you face a certain level of boxer. And there’s a reason some managers stay clear of left-handers. And it was mentioned that it may have been a different fight if Mikhalkin were a better puncher.
Yeah, but you could then argue that if Mikhalkin were just that, Kovalev would have then boxed in a different fashion. Believe it or not, fighters do adjust their strategies based on whom they are facing. He understood he wasn’t facing “Paledonis” Stevenson in there.
Now the question is, just what is the time frame for a potential match-up between Kovalev and Bivol?
Once again, I’m hearing a lot of complaints on Twitter that, while you can stream the fights on Showtime’s app, that isn’t the case with HB(lockbustervide)O…Neither undercard in New York was streamed anywhere, which seems inexcusable in 2018…Former IBF welterweight titleholder Kell Brook looked like he was supposed to in his return to the ring. I don’t know if his face/eyes will hold up in a tough fight but he is still very sound and complete as a fighter…Please tell me it’s not going to rain this upcoming Saturday, with the fights taking place at StubHub Center…Saw the “Frontline” on PBS on Harvey Weinstein. The stuff that was taking place was truly cringe-worthy…Seriously the Lakers are making some real progress this season…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.