HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down this past weekend's controversial triple header, highlighted by Tim Bradley and Diego Chaves' surprising draw.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Timothy Bradley has the sculpted torso of a bodybuilder; looking at him, the reasonable expectation might be that his punches land with the force of a mule kick, that he is a knockout artist along the lines of a mini-Mike Tyson. But his most recent stoppage win was against aging Joel Casamayor in 2011, and to find a Bradley KO win before that, one has to go back a further four years, to 2007. Bradley is a lightning-fast technician, a skillful defensive boxer able to dart in and out, land combinations and be gone.
But within that torso beats the heart of a fighter, and so often when he would be best served employing what Lennox Lewis would call "boxology," he allows himself to be dragged into a brawl. That doesn’t always work to his advantage: he complained of lengthy concussion symptoms after his brutal win over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2013, and he looked a lot less pretty after his battle with Diego Chaves in Las Vegas on Saturday night. But it makes for entertainment for the fans. It doesn’t, however, always give Bradley the result he wants. Against Chaves, the judges split three ways in scoring the contest a draw, even though most ringsiders saw it as a wide – if not exactly comfortable – win for the American.
Seriously, what is it with Fight Night at the Cosmopolitan? The last time a major fight card was held at this beautiful property on the Las Vegas Strip, four months ago, Chaves and Brandon Rios engaged in a bizarre foul-fest that resulted in the Argentine being disqualified. This time around, an entertaining trio of bouts was marred by dubious scoring, in the opening contest of the broadcast and then again in the main event.
To be fair, it could be argued that some of the rounds of this welterweight but were tough to score, particularly over the second half of the fight, when the contest devolved into a scrappy affair that surely suited Chaves more than Bradley. Even so, however, the official judges’ scores – and particularly the 116-112 for Chaves on the card of the usually reliable Julie Lederman – left unofficial judges shaking their heads.
At the bout’s opening, Chaves (23-2-1, 19 KOs), launched punches in Bradley’s direction, looking to land anywhere and everywhere he could, while Bradley used his superior upper body movement to evade the worst of them while flashing fast strikes between his opponent’s bludgeoning blows. On two occasions in the second round, both men wound up punches at the same time, leading to heavy clashes of heads from which Bradley appeared to emerge the worse for wear. Shortly afterward, a swelling developed beneath his eye that would ultimately metastasize into a major growth and arguably influence the course of the contest.
The first four rounds were high caliber stuff, Chaves barreling forward and swinging punches with bad intentions as Bradley (31-1-1, 12 KOs) zipped in and out, sending sharp counters through the incoming artillery, and then electing to just stand and fight. It was typical Bradley: fighting the other guy’s fight, and beating him at it, even if it meant taking more punishment than he needed to.
By the fifth, however, as both men began to tire, it all became a little sloppy, and in the sixth, Bradley’s form started to fall apart a little as the fight turned more ragged. His cheek was by now swelling rapidly and his left eye was closing; by the eighth, it was hard to understand how he could possibly see out of it at all. Indeed, perhaps he couldn’t; and as he fell short repeatedly with right hands he launched from long range in the ninth, the thought occurred that maybe his depth perception was shot.
Perhaps in recognition of that fact, Bradley pulled back on his punches over the final quarter, circling and moving, looking to pick his shots. Chaves kept coming forward, working a jab and landing hard to Bradley’s body on several occasions, and taking two of the final three rounds on this reporter’s scorecard. But it seemed beyond doubt that his late-rounds charge had been too little, too late – until the official scores were read out.
“So did somebody just get it very wrong?” asked an inexperienced spectator. An accurate and inclusive answer would have taken too long to give. “Welcome to boxing,” seemed the only thing to say. Only boxing can excite and entertain us as much as it does, and then disappoint and disgust us almost immediately. This might not have been the ideal or desired end to the boxing year, but maybe it was an appropriate one.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Andy Lee may not be the most talented middleweight in the world, or the one with the smoothest boxing skills, but even in a division that boasts the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Miguel Cotto, he might very well be the most dramatic. Certainly, he’s building an impressive résumé' of spectacular, come-from-behind stoppage wins. Back in June, he was deep in trouble against John Jackson, only to uncork a right hand that dropped Jackson face-first to the canvas in the fifth; and on Saturday, he appeared to be getting outworked by Matt Korobov until a right hook and a follow-up flurry brought him a sixth round TKO victory and a middleweight belt.
The affair had been relatively pedestrian to that point, the highlight coming when a southpaw left hand from Lee briefly stunned Korobov (24-1, 13 KOs) in the third. The Irishman seemed keen to find one punch to replicate that effect, while Korobov, efficient if unexciting, scored points with effective combinations.
It all changed in an instant in the sixth. The two men swung at each other, Lee’s right hook landed flush, and Korobov’s legs danced involuntarily. Lee (34-2, 24 KOs), backing up to avoid Korobov’s own right hand, appeared to take a moment to realize how much trouble his opponent was in; when he did, he raced across the ring and unloaded with a furious succession of rights and lefts that forced referee Kenny Bayless to step in and halt the contest.
Lee gave thanks to his trainer, Adam Booth, but dedicated the win to the man who molded him into championship material, the late, great Emanuel Steward, who would have been prouder and more delighted than anybody by the manner of his protégé’s win.
Mauricio Herrera must wonder what he needs to do to get a decision in a big fight. Two fights and nine months after losing a majority decision to junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia in a fight that most observers felt he deserved to win, he lost a wide unanimous decision to Jose Benavidez on Saturday by scores that must have surprised even the biggest Benavidez partisans.
How one judge saw fit to award Herrera only three rounds is baffling, given that the veteran appeared to win at least three of the first four alone, confusing the youngster with jabs to the chest and working him over repeatedly on the ropes. Benavidez turned the tide over the next couple of rounds as he found his range and started landing powerful body punches that clearly sapped Herrera’s strength and diminished his enthusiasm for combat, but the older man found a second wind and a new bag of tricks to stall the youngster’s momentum over the next few. Benavidez stormed to the finish line, using his height and arm length to torque powerful body punches and straight right hands, particularly in a phenomenal final round that saw both men exchanging furiously. Even so, it seemed as if Herrera had done enough in the early going to hang on for the win, and the scores of 116-112 (twice) and 117-11 for Benavidez were received unenthusiastically by the crowd. With the win, Benavidez stays unbeaten at 22-0 with 15 KOs, and picks up a title belt; Herrera drops to a hard-luck 21-5 (7 KOs).
Timothy Bradley and Diego Chaves weigh-in ahead of Saturday’s tripleheader on HBO beginning at 10pm ET/PT.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
After 20 broadcasts in locales as varied as Montreal, San Antonio, London and Macau, HBO’s 2014 boxing year ends in the self-styled fight capital of the world, with a card at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas that is headlined by two boxers coming off very different defeats.
For Tim Bradley, that defeat – the first official one of his career – took place in April across the street at the MGM Grand against Manny Pacquiao, and in a strange way granted him something of a release from the purgatory in which he had found himself after being awarded a borderline larcenous decision against Pacquiao two years previously.
Chaves suffered his defeat more recently, in August, and more controversially, by way of disqualification from a contest with Brandon Rios that had begun as a high-intensity brawl but rapidly devolved into a theater of the absurd that would have been more appropriately promoted by Vince McMahon than Bob Arum.
The combatants also come across as entirely different in personality and tone. Chaves appears taciturn and serious, all business as he seeks to avoid his third loss on American soil. Bradley, as ever, has beamed his way through fight week, garrulous and outgoing, enjoying the comparatively low-key atmosphere after headlining two consecutive pay-per-views (against Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez) and girding himself for a rough, tough battle of the sort that Chaves always brings.
But both have displayed the unique bond that exists between professional prizefighters, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries at Thursday’s press conference and Friday’s weigh-in, and also at a public workout at the Top Rank gym on Wednesday, when Bradley arrived before Chaves had left, made a beeline straight for his opponent, and promptly posed for selfies.
That cordiality will end when the two men step into the ring on Saturday night; although both will be hoping for a somewhat less acrimonious outing than Chaves’ tussle with Rios, neither man can afford to give any quarter. The immediate future for both will be far from set in stone, whatever the outcome, but the one certainty is that becoming the last winner on HBO Boxing in 2014 all but guarantees a place in the schedule in 2015.
Timothy Bradley Jr.: 145.8 lbs.
Diego Chaves: 146.5 lbs.
Matt Korobov: 159.4 lbs.
Andy Lee: 159.8 lbs.
Mauricio Herrera: 139.5 lbs.
Jose Benavidez: 138.5 lbs.
Photo: Ed Mulholland
By Diego Morilla
Diego Chaves takes on Timothy Bradley Saturday night on HBO World Championship Boxing at 10:00 PM. Back in August, before Chaves' fight against Brandon Rios, Argentine writer Diego Morilla looked at his fellow countryman's career and family fighting legacy.
Back in the golden era of Argentine boxing, during the 1950s, Rudecindo Chaves never really stood a chance against the top contenders of his time. But later in life, he would get to see his son Ismael fulfill his dream and make it all the way to a world title bout in Australia.
And even though Ismael was stopped in three rounds in that dream bout against Kostya Tszyu in 1997, he would later become the trainer of one of his young nephews, and in turn end up taking to a world title belt that was three generations in the making.
Second chances are few and far in between for most people. But they run in the Chaves family DNA. For Diego Chaves (23-1, 19 KO) – who meets Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 23 KO) in a 10-round bout this coming Saturday in Las Vegas on Boxing After Dark – that chance has come in a different sport than the one he had initially chosen.
"I played soccer in the minor league system of the Velez Sarsfield club until I was 18 years old," said former interim welterweight titlist. "Soccer helped me with my legwork, it gives me a lot of mobility. But I take boxing with much more respect and seriousness."
In a country in which every kid gives at least one serious try to become a professional soccer player, having made it that far in one of the country's most consistent teams is quite an achievement. But the young Diego abandoned his promising soccer career to pursue that elusive title belt that was still sitting at the top of the family's wish list.
And he got it with a demolition of Ismael El Massoudi back in July of 2012. That fight netted him the chance to face fellow undefeated welterweight contender Keith Thurman in his second trip away from his homeland (the first one being an irrelevant six-rounder in Las Vegas in 2010).
The memories of that fight – and tenth round KO loss –still hurt.
"The loss against Thurman was something we didn't deserve because we were doing great until the last round,and then we got careless," said Chaves, who is still eyeing a rematch. "We wanted to change the game plan at the last minute to lure Thurman to come forward a little bit, because he wasn't opening up the way he had in other fights. We changed our style and yet he continued going backwards, which was not good for us. And when we tried to go back to our previous fight plan I took that hook to the liver and I couldn't recover."
A win against Thurman would have put Chaves among the ranks of the "Argentine legion" of rising stars such as Marcos Maidana, Lucas Mathysse, Carlos Abregú. Instead, Chaves headed back home to regroup and rethink his career. He took only one minor club fight just to stay busy in early 2014, and then he got the call.
"I really loved to hear that HBO thought of me for this fight, to hear that they wanted Diego Chaves for this big fight," he said. "Fighting in Las Vegas against Brandon Rios on HBO is something really big for me, and very special. After this victory, I am sure a lot more doors will open up for me."
That opportunity almost disappeared for Chaves. A "glitch" in the U.S. State Department's database kept him in Argentina until Wednesday of fight week. When the visa was finally issued, he immediately flew to Las Vegas.
Chaves will have to quickly put his travel woes behind him. Against Rios, he will be fighting a talented, highly-rated former champion trying to overcome a 0-2 streak in the last two years in a crossroads fight. Chaves is aware that this opportunity means much more than just a chance to break the 1-1 tie in his record fighting in the United States.
"This is a new door that opens up for me," said Chaves. "I think the image I left (in the Thurman fight)was quite good. I think we have to change a little bit and become a bit more aggressive."
It is easy to see why Chaves sees a more favorable scenario in this new opportunity. Thurman was a more polished, mid-long range fighter with great mobility, much in the mold of the guys Chaves ran into during his aborted path towards the 2008 Olympics (including names such as Demetrius Andrade, Erislandy Lara and others). His defeats against those fighters convinced Chaves to make the jump to the pros before even trying to qualify for the Olympics, in the understanding that his style was more suited for the paid ranks.
And in Rios he will have a consummate professional brawler, one who will stand right in front of him and trade leather all night if he has to, bringing his own brand of aggression as well.
"He has the heart of a warrior, like a good Mexican fighter. We know he has heavy hands, but he is much slower than Thurman. And we know that I am faster and I am much more mobile", says Chaves, who believes Rios will be the perfect opponent to showcase the more aggressive style he plans to bring out. "I know he's had great opponents like Mike Alvarado or Manny Pacquiao, but I am better than him."
The big paydays and huge knockouts achieved by his countrymen in the 147-pound neighborhood are indeed an inspiration, but his goal remains the same: avenging his lone loss to date and then regaining his title.
"I want the rematch, and then I want to be a champion again," says Chaves. "I don't care who I fight against. But first of all, I want to get that rematch done, and after that I can fight against anybody."