HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: Best Blow

Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, it's as good a time as any to take a look back at a stacked year of fights on HBO. HBO Boxing Insiders made their selections for the top everything from this year's HBO fights. Next up, Best Blow -- not necessarily a KO, but a punch that because of its degree of difficulty, precision, improbability, impact or whatever else, made you go "whoa."

Previously: Fighter of the Year, Breakthrough HBO Fighter

Kieran Mulvaney: Adonis Stevenson's first round left hand versus Chad Dawson

It's a rare and impressive thing, the ability of a fighter to announce his arrival on the world stage with a solitary punch, but Stevenson -- long touted by the late Emanuel Steward as a knockout artist with huge potential -- did just that. His left hand exploded on Dawson's jaw before the light-heavyweight champion had even had a chance to get warmed up, and although Dawson made it to his feet, his senses had already jumped out of the ring and run toward the locker room, prompting the fight to be stopped and launching Stevenson's HBO career.

Eric Raskin: James Kirkland's final punch versus Glen Tapia

I could just as easily call this my "Worst Blow," since it was a dirty punch from Kirkland and the result of a poor refereeing performance by Steve Smoger. The punch never should have happened. But it did, and it made me cringe more than any other shot delivered in 2013. For sheer viciousness and violence, nothing topped that last left hand from Kirkland that left us all fearing for Tapia's well-being.

Nat Gottlieb: Wladimir Klitschko's second round jab against Alexander Povetkin

This is a tough one. I remember saying "whoa" when Wladimir Klitschko knocked Povetkin down to all fours with a just a jab in the second round. It was a big surprise to see a durable guy like Povetkin go down like that early in a big fight. Povetkin had never been knocked down before, either as an amateur or a pro.

Tim Smith: Gennady Golvokin's second round left hook against Curtis Stevens

The left hook that Gennady Golovkin landed on the jaw of Curtis Stevens in the second round that sent Stevens falling backwards to the canvas. It was the first significant shot that Golovkin landed in the fight. The wide-eyed expression on Stevens's face as he sat on the canvas staring up at Golovkin told the story of the fight. It was a combination of fear and surprise. It's the same look you get when you take the first drop on a steep, fast falling rollercoaster.

Hamilton Nolan: Golovkin's third round body shot versus Matthew Macklin

Golovkin's body shot that dropped Matthew Macklin for good. Never will you see a more pure example of a devastating left hook to the body, an art that only a select few in boxing still practice well.

Michael Gluckstadt:  Golovkin's third round body shot versus Matthew Macklin

Matthew Macklin is a tough fighter who's shown he can take a punch. But he was no match for a well-placed left hook to the body from Golovkin. It was as if Golovkin flipped the "off" switch that had kept Macklin on his feet. If I hadn't seen him fight in Atlantic City recently, I'd assumed Macklin was still lying on the canvas at Foxwoods.

Cotto Destroys Rodriguez in Three

by Kieran Mulvaney

Delvin Rodriguez, Miguel Cotto - Photo Credit: Will Hart

The career obituaries for Miguel Cotto have surfaced periodically since 2008, when the possibly tainted fists of Antonio Margarito sent him to his first professional defeat, sixteen months before Manny Pacquiao bludgeoned him into his second career reversal. Back-to-back losses to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout last year saw the tombstone carvers readying their chisels anew, but by stopping Delvin Rodriguez just 18 seconds into the third round on Saturday night, Cotto proved, and not for the first time, that rumors of his professional demise remain greatly exaggerated.

Even at the relatively young age of 32 -- a figure that beggars belief, given how many years he has been fighting at an elite level -- Cotto’s career is far closer to its denouement than its apogee, and he would surely admit as much; but judging from his performance in front of an adoring crowd in Orlando, there’s plenty more life in it yet.

Read the Complete Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez Fight Recap at HBO.com

Klitschko Dominates A Game Povetkin

by Nat Gottlieb

The really scary part about Wladimir Klitschko’s destruction of Alexander Povetkin on Saturday is that last month Dr. Steelhammer called the Russian fighter “the best opponent I’ve ever had.” If that’s true, then perhaps the only one who will ever beat the long-standing Ukrainian champion is Father Time. And even that fight looks like it would be a tossup.

Povetkin, the former Olympic Gold winner and unbeaten heavyweight, fought a game, aggressive fight, but Klitschko adapted well an inflicted a sloppy beat-down on the Russian to earn a huge, one-sided defeat, with all three judges scoring it 119-104 before a sell-out crowd at the Olimpiyskiy Arena in Moscow. Povetkin, who had never had tasted canvas in 132 amateur fights and 26 as a professional, was knocked down four times by Klitschko, once in the second round and three times in the seventh.

For those keeping score, Povetkin is the 19th straight opponent Klitschko has beaten in defense of his heavyweight titles, a streak dating back seven years to 2006. Klitschko is the second longest-standing heavyweight champion in history. Only Joe Louis, who reigned for 11 years between 1937 and 1949, held the title longer. 

Read the Complete Wladimir Klitschko vs. Alexander Povetkin Fight Recap on HBO.com.

Bragging Rights and Title Belts on the Line as Russia Meets Ukraine

by Kieran Mulvaney

For better or for worse, boxing – and particularly the heavyweight championship of the world – has often featured as a proxy for broader battles, struggles being waged in social, political and even military arenas far outside the ring.

There was, notably, Jack Johnson having to chase Tommy Burns all the way to Australia to become the first black heavyweight champion; former champ James Jeffries coming out of retirement in a failed attempt to reclaim the title for the white race; Joe Louis facing German Max Schmeling one year before the outbreak of war in Europe; and Muhammad Ali colliding with Joe Frazier for the first time in 1971, in a fight that split the country down the middle.

To American viewers, Saturday’s contest between heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko and mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin carries no such extracurricular drama. But far to the east, where the contest will be taking place, there are some definite undercurrents. Klitschko, accustomed to being the hometown favorite on his adopted German soil, will be in hostile territory as he walks to the ring in Moscow to face Russia's Povetkin. Willingly or otherwise, Povetkin and Ukrainian Klitschko will be carrying the hopes and fervor of two nations that have had, and continue to have, a complex and intertwined relationship that reaches back hundreds of years.

Given that history – in which Ukraine has at various times been partitioned and fought over by Russia and other neighboring powers, and was incorporated into the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1991 – Moscow is often seen as the bully in the relationship; but it is Kiev’s standard-bearer who will be heavily favored to throw his weight around on Saturday.

Klitschko's mid-career hiccups have long disappeared into the rear-view mirror; he is closing in on 10 years unbeaten since his shocking loss to Lamon Brewster in Las Vegas. Under the guidance of the late Emanuel Steward, he corrected his defensive flaws and emphasized his strengths: he fights tall, as a 6'6" man should, softening up his opponents with a thudding left jab that blinds as well as hurts and leaves his foes vulnerable to the steel hammer right hand that gives Klitschko his nickname. Meanwhile, he keeps his historically troublesome chin tucked far out of range. The result has been 18 straight wins since the Brewster debacle—15 of which have been a title challenge or defense—of which only four have lasted the distance. Klitschko is a king at the height of his pomp.

There was a time when Povetkin seemed the most serious potential challenge to that reign. An accomplished amateur (and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist), he truly announced himself as a professional in 2007 and 2008, with consecutive victories over American veterans Larry Donald, Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers. That trio of scalps elevated his record to 15-0 and made him Klitschko's mandatory, but he withdrew from that challenge due to injury, and from a rescheduled appointment because his new trainer, Teddy Atlas, determined that he needed more seasoning. Since then, his outings have been infrequent and his opposition rarely inspiring; still, he remains undefeated and, courtesy of boxing politics, has picked up a title belt in the process.

Atlas, though no longer his trainer, has picked Povetkin to knock Klitschko out; to do so, the Russian will have to work his way under Klitschko's jab, slip inside and fire away with combinations. It is a plan that many have sought to execute, but none have succeeded in doing in almost 10 years. If Povetkin were to be successful, it might not have quite the social and political repercussions as some of history's legendary matchups, but it would send significant shockwaves through the world of heavyweight boxing.

Crawford Isn't Fishing for Compliments, but He's Getting Them Anyway

by Kieran Mulvaney

Some boxers are more accustomed than others to the routine of answering an interviewer's questions. Naturally outgoing and expansive, they're more than ready to share the details of their life. Ricky Hatton was a journalist's dream: an open book, he rarely seemed to take life seriously and would often leave his audience in stitches as he cracked jokes and regaled them with tales of his life outside of boxing.

At the other end of the scale are the quieter types, more circumspect in their responses, answering what is asked and little more. Terence Crawford fits into that box, not out of a lack of friendliness, but more as a product of Midwestern reticence when speaking about oneself. Until, that is, the moment his features break into a wide grin, when he is asked if there is anything about him that boxing fans would find surprising.

"Oh man," he smiles. "I love to fish. That's one thing that I've been doing since I was probably five years old. River fishing, lake fishing, pond fishing, everywhere fishing," he expounds. "I just love to fish." He demurs with a laugh when it is suggested he may want to compare notes with Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion who had earlier confided his own love of the same activity. Perhaps they could arrange a fishing trip to Kazakhstan. "I don't know that I want to go all the way out there," he chuckles.

Crawford comes across as the kind of young man who just likes to get on with his job, and to do what he does best, which is boxing with impressive skill for a relatively inexperienced professional. His dismantling of Breidis Prescott on the undercard of Mike Alvarado's March win over Brandon Rios earned rave reviews; and as he prepares to make his third HBO appearance of 2013 – against undefeated Andrey Klimov – on Saturday, it is clear he has the full and enthusiastic backing of his promoter, Bob Arum.

Unsurprisingly, he does not get carried away by the praise he has received for his wins against Prescott and, in June, Alejandro Sanabria.

"I felt like, you know, I was overdue," he says. "I felt like I should have [already] been in the spotlight, but I waited my time and my time is here and I'm going to make the most of it." He concedes that, "it feels great to have those kinds of people believe in me, like I believe in myself," but he doesn't feel compelled to say too much about it.

Instead, he'll save the bulk of his talking for where it counts: in the ring.

Read the Complete Quick Hits: Terence Crawford at HBO.com.

 

CompuBox Analysis: Cotto vs. Rodriguez

by CompuBox

When Miguel Cotto turned pro in 2001, he was christened as the second coming of Felix Trinidad, especially when one compared their deadly left hooks. But in the 12 years since then Cotto has created his own legend that may land him in the International Boxing Hall of Fame one day.

Back-to-back defeats to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout as well as a career-long 309-day layoff certifies that Cotto is now in the sunset of his career. But before Cotto's in-ring presence dips below the horizon he still has business in hand, for on Saturday he will face Dominican veteran Delvin Rodriguez in Cotto's adopted home base of Florida.

The longtime welterweight contender has fought his last five fights at 154 and at 33 he is seven months older chronologically. His ring age, however, may well be younger for while he's taken his lumps in terms of blemishes on his record (several of which were undeserved), he's never taken the sustained beatings Cotto did. Will that fact, however, translate inside the ring? Will Rodriguez's younger 33 be enough to beat Cotto's older 32 or will Cotto's superior elite experience turn back Rodriguez's ambition?

Statistical factors that may influence the outcome are:

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Cotto vs. Rodriguez on HBO.com.

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Crawford vs. Klimov on HBO.com.

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Klitschko vs. Povetkin on HBO.com.

CompuBox Analysis: Klitschko vs. Povetkin

by CompuBox

Like it or not, Wladimir Klitschko may well be among the greatest heavyweight champions who has yet lived. If longevity and dominance over his era are any indicator, he should rank highly on many historian's lists. But because he's not American and because his knockouts are preceded by long stretches of clinical boxing his accomplishments haven't been embraced, especially in the U.S. But the numbers speak highly for him.

* His current seven year, five month reign is now second on the all-time list behind Joe Louis' 11 year 8 months. Larry Holmes, at seven years three months, is now third.

* He is now 21-2 (17 KO) in title competition.

* He hasn't lost a fight in nearly 10 years and has gone 18-0 (13 KO) in that time.

* His 14 consecutive defenses thus far ranks only behind Joe Louis (25) and Holmes (20) and if one adds his five WBO defenses between 2000 and 2003 his 19 ranks him third all-time, tied with Muhammad Ali's 19 in two reigns. Given the current crop it appears that "Dr. Steelhammer" can rule for as long as he pleases.

However, Klitschko is facing a test in WBA "regular" titlist Alexander Povetkin, who is undefeated in 26 fights and has been looking good as of late. Still, a Povetkin victory over the 37-year-old Klitschko would rank as a monstrous upset but stranger things have happened in boxing.

Statistical factors that may influence the outcome are:

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Cotto vs. Rodriguez on HBO.com.

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Crawford vs. Klimov on HBO.com.

Read the Conplete CompuBox Analysis of Klitschko vs. Povetkin on HBO.com.

Plucked from Obscurity, Crawford Makes His Presence Felt at Lightweight

by Hamilton Nolan

Terence Crawford (21-0) may well be the best lightweight in the world. Which is funny, because two fights ago, few people even knew who Terence Crawford was--and they still wouldn’t had Breidis Prescott’s scheduled opponent not injured himself just before their fight last March, allowing Crawford to step up from an undercard spot to fill in. He ended up dominating Prescott, and making the entire boxing world do a double-take. Now, he’s probably one fight away from a world title shot.

Crawford was a talented amateur and a 2008 Olympic team alternate, but his pro career was off to an uninspired start, and he seemed destined to have years more of undercard slogs ahead of him before he might actually land on HBO. That all changed when he used fast feet, intelligence, and strategic aggression to outbox the much taller and more highly regarded Prescott, who spent the night resembling a helpless giant under attack from an angry hornet. Crawford’s speed and power are both above average, if not superlative; what most sets him apart is his skill, and his ability to take control of fights and never let go. He uses offense as defense, putting just enough punches on his opponent to ensure that he stays on his heels, and using slick footwork to stay out of trouble. Crawford is hardly a Mayweather-esque flitting fly, however--in June, he handily TKO’d Alejandra Sanabria in six, in a sterling show of sharp punching that built round by round until it became unbearable. The lightweight division is characterized by action fighters. What sets Crawford apart is his ability to combine action with control.

His opponent, Andrey Klimov (16-0), is coming off a decision win over the fading puncher John Molina four months ago. Klimov, a Russian, fights in the starchy Eastern European style: high guard and straight ahead punching. He is tough, but not a noted power puncher. Crawford, with his lateral movement, in-and-out footwork, and sharp jab, should be able to box circles around Klimov, who will doubtless be looking to land a power punch that will turn the tide right from the opening bell.

Should Crawford win, the division is wide open to him. The British champ Ricky Burns waits on the horizon. It still sounds odd to say, considering Crawford’s relatively paltry pro pedigree, but an impressive showing against Klimov would probably guarantee that he’d be favored over any other lightweight in the world, champ or not. It’s a boxing dream story, so far. Now he just has to make it a reality.

Warrior Cotto Returns to the Ring

by Hamilton Nolan

It seems impossible that Miguel Cotto is only 32. His peers atop the list of “Most Popular Veteran Boxers in the World” are all in their late 30s. Cotto (37-4) has the disposition of an old man, a kind of grim and quiet nature borne of many, many wars. And he has seen more than enough wars for a single career. He’s walked through wars that would have retired an ordinary fighter long ago. Still he is able to not only fight on, but to thrive, and sometimes to conquer. Perhaps he will regret this fact down the road.

After being beaten to a bloody pulp by Antonio Margarito (who may have been using loaded hand wraps) in 2008, it would have been reasonable for Cotto to retire. Instead, he came back to easily beat Margarito three years later. After being brutally dismantled by Manny Pacquiao in 2009, it would have been reasonable for Cotto to retire. Instead, he went on to fight the only fighter more famous than Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, in 2012, and gave him the hardest fight he’d had in years. It would have been reasonable for Cotto to retire after that, having climbed (but not conquered) the two highest mountains in the sport. Instead, he carried on against the talented but unheralded Austin Trout--who beat him last December, in a display of canny prowess that disappointed those who considered it a stepping stone back to the top for Cotto, who remains one of Puerto Rico’s greatest boxing heroes.

Read the Complete Miguel Cotto vs. Delvin Rodriguez Fight Overview on HBO.com

Wladimir Klitschko Defeats David Haye

By Peter Owen Nelson (Photo by Will Hart)

Saturday night, at the Imtech Arena in Hamburg, Wladimir Klitschko (56-3-0) won another belt, but fought for his legacy.

In despoiling the Briton of his WBA belt, Klitschko with his brother Vitali have now successfully unified all four major titles of the heavyweight division (WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF) - perhaps a defining legacy unto itself. However, after out-jabbing David Haye to an unanimous victory (117-109; 118-108; 116-110), Klitschko finds himself still lacking a signature victory. Klitschko's legacy is now in peril of becoming synonymous with the eventless dominance of his cautious perfection.

Read the rest of the Klitschko-Haye Fight Recap at HBO.com