HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney analyze Manny Pacquiao's drubbing of Chris Algieri and preview the upcoming lightweight title fight between Terence Crawford and Ray Beltran on Boxing After Dark, Saturday at 10:00 PM ET/PT.
By Nat Gottlieb
Call this fight the Ricky Burns Playoff.
Both the unbeaten lightweight sensation Terence Crawford and his opponent Saturday night on Boxing After Dark (10:00 PM ET/PT), Ray Beltran, traveled to Scotland during the past two years to fight then-champion Ricky Burns. Only one came away with a victory. That was Crawford last March.
Beltran, on the other hand, dominated Burns for most of their fight last year but flew back home with a bitter-tasting draw that everyone, including the British press, thought should have been an unquestionable victory. Robbery was a popular word in boxing circles after that fiasco.
Now both fighters believe the belt is rightfully theirs. But this tug of war is not going to be decided by debate. The argument will be settled in the ring in front of Crawford's rabid hometown fans in Omaha's CenturyLink Center.
"Beltran feels I have something – a world title belt – which belongs to him," Crawford (24-0, 17 KOs) says. "He thought he beat Ricky Burns and I thought Beltran won too. But he didn't and I did."
The 33-year-old Beltran (29-6-1, 17 KOs) knows he's getting a second chance at the belt that eluded him, and is determined to make the most of it. "I see this fight as an opportunity for me to achieve the recognition in the boxing world and the public's eye," Beltran says. "This fight is Champion vs. Champion."
Beltran is clearly facing an uphill battle. Not only will he have to deal with the 10,000-plus hostile fans expected to jam the Nebraska arena, but Crawford is a very formidable foe, one already being hailed as a future superstar.
If a trainer wanted to build the perfect fighter, he would look a lot like Crawford, who's coming into this bout off a brilliant demolition of the previously unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa. The 27-year-old Omaha native is the equivalent of a boxing work of art. To say he's the complete package is to trivialize. If there is something he can't do in the ring, it will be big news to those who have watched him fight.
When Beltran squares off against Crawford, this is what he will see standing in front of him: a beautifully compact fighter with superfast hands, power, great reflexes, remarkable poise and focus, and a defense that is close to impenetrable. And almost to rub salt into the wounds of opponents, Crawford, while an orthodox fighter, is also a switch hitter. So if by chance the crafty veteran Beltran is able to figure Crawford out, the Omaha boxer is liable at any time to change to a southpaw stance. It almost seems unfair.
Longtime Southern California boxing writer, William Trillo, who has seen both fighters up close, understands the degree of difficulty Beltran is up against. But he also has covered hundreds of Mexican boxers and knows what they're capable of doing when their backs against the wall. "Beltran is your prototypical Mexican fighter who has more grit than talent," Trillo says. "He certainly deserves a shot at the title, but on paper this is a huge mismatch. That being said, Beltran is one tough SOB, so counting him out is ill-advised. With roots at the Wild Card Gym, he has the confidence to attempt to take it to the next level."
While Beltran does have six losses on his record, a change in trainers to Pepe Reilly has propelled the Mexican to four straight "credited" victories over good opponents, and another one over Burns that unfortunately is not in the books.
Both fighters' bouts with the slick Burns provide a glimpse of what we might see of them in the ring together on Saturday.
In September of last year, Beltran lost a few early rounds while figuring out the elusive Scot, then dominated his opponent almost the rest of the fight. It was such a clear-cut victory for him that the British press—generally known to root for the home team—called it the following way in the Daily Telegraph: "Boxing The Victim of Outrageous Judging As Ricky Burns Gets 'Home' Draw Against Raymundo Beltran."
During that fight, Beltran broke Burns' jaw in the second round and that raises some questions. One is could you make the argument that the courageous Burns would have fought better and possibly won the fight if he wasn't in constant pain? Then again, maybe Beltran set the table for Crawford's easy victory by breaking Burns' jaw six months earlier. Against Crawford, Burns fought with a titanium plate in his jaw, and perhaps the painful memory of what can happen to your face when it gets into the path of an incoming missile.
Still, Crawford's victory over Burns was more impressive than Beltran's. Crawford thoroughly outclassed the Scot, looking like a young Floyd Mayweather as he boxed circles around his opponent, and never at any time being threatened.
Even though he is a big underdog, Beltran is undaunted by the task ahead of him and unfazed by the hoopla surrounding the champion. "Crawford is talented, has skill, but I have the ability to adapt and will be ready for what he brings," Beltran says. "The situation against Burns made me stronger. I felt the love of the crowd and all of their respect that night."
Crawford, at least verbally, is not taking his opponent lightly. "Beltran can fight," Crawford says. "We know that. I am going to fight him like a bad dog, fight fire with fire. Let's see if he really has the will to win in Omaha. My will to win is off the charts."
To come away with a victory, Beltran is going to need more than just the will to win. He's going to have to find a way to deal with Crawford's hand speed, which often makes it near impossible to see his shots coming. The Mexican will also need to find a clear target to hit, because Crawford fights like a phantom menace. The Omaha boxer is never quite "there" for you to tag. In addition to constantly changes angles, Crawford's head and upper body movement are so good that he can duck and slip punches without bothering to use his gloves to deflect them.
This will probably be Crawford's last fight at lightweight. Although he made the 135-pound limit for his beat down of Gamboa, he weighed 152 pounds when he stepped into the ring that night. Should Crawford defeat Beltran his team will likely move him up and turn him loose on the loaded 140-pound and welterweight divisions. After what he has shown so far, Crawford could be a terror amongst terrors at the higher weights.
By Nat Gottlieb
Saturday's co-feature matches up two unbeaten boxers, both with an aggressive, take-no-prisoners style. Featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich will be making his fourth title defense against Puerto Rican boxer, Jayson Velez. This will be a step-up fight for Velez. That being said, Gradovich, a Russian, hasn’t faced the greatest of competition. Gradovich’s best opponent so far was Billy Dib, an Aussie champion. Dib lost a split decision to Gradovich last year and four months later was knocked out in a rematch. Trained by top-tier conditioner, Robert Garcia, Gradovich (19-0, 9 KOs) is called “the Mexican-Russian” for his all-out action style.
Gradovich’s experience in title fights will be a factor, but Velez (22-0, 16 KOs) has more punching power. The Russian has a very good chin, though, so it remains to be seen how much damage Velez’s fists can do. The key for Velez to score an upset is probably to try and slow down Gradovich, who throws a high volume of punches, and to take the Russian into the later rounds, where he could land enough power shots to earn the decision or, perhaps, knock him out. The best way for Velez to do that is to work Gradovich's relentlessly-charging body and try to land a high number of shots. Any way you figure it, the come-forward styles of these two boxers promises to be a crowd-pleasing fight.
Don't miss the thrilling replay of their high-stakes world welterweight title battle this Saturday, November 29th, at 10PM (ET/PT) on HBO Boxing After Dark.
HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman discusses Terence Crawford vs.Ray Beltran happening Sat., November 29 at 10pm ET/PT on HBO.
By Kieran Mulvaney
"We are exactly where we need to be," insisted Chris Algieri's trainer Tim Lane at one point late in his beating at the hands of Manny Pacquiao. If they needed to be bouncing off the canvas as a result of Pacquiao's punches, Lane was on the money; otherwise, beyond an understandable desire to encourage his wilting fighter, it is difficult to figure out quite what Lane was seeing.
Algieri was never even remotely in this contest, and showed little to suggest he ever would be. There was a school of thought in the build-up that perhaps the American's long reach and footwork would make it difficult for Pacquiao to land effectively, and certainly the way in which Algieri circled backward and away from the Filipino all night ensured that it was at times hard for Pacquiao to hit him as cleanly as he would like.
But there was a competing vision, in which Algieri would be hopelessly outclassed, and this was the prediction that came to fruition most accurately. If the plan was to lure Pacquiao into counter punches – well, that didn't work well. If it was to survive the twelve rounds: OK, that worked as planned. If it was to be hit cleanly as infrequently as possible, the grade on that challenge is incomplete, as his constant backward circling did frustrate Pacquiao for long stretches, but Pacquiao's punches, when they found their target, did so with devastating effectiveness.
The first knockdown, in the second round, was a combination of a Pacquiao punch and Algieri slipping on the canvas; in the sixth round, Algieri tumbled head over heels after a Pacquiao barrage and went down again in that same round from a right hook.
A fierce left cross in the ninth sent Algieri to his back. He beat the count, but dropped to his knees from a follow-up flurry and seemed on the verge of being stopped as Pacquiao unleashed a fusillade of punches against the ropes. Somehow, the American survived that round and, despite being knocked down by another left hand in the tenth, made it to the final bell.
Pacquiao continued to pursue his foe, not letting up this time the way he has done in the past against the likes of Antonio Margarito or Brandon Rios. But Algieri clung on, always dancing away, always pulling back his head enough to limit the concussive impact of Pacquiao's punches, but doing nothing to encourage any belief that he might emulate the movie character he had been optimistically compared to and produce a "Real-Life Rocky" moment.
"It's not just his hand speed" said Algieri (20-1, 8 KOs) afterward of Pacquaio. "He's a great fighter. He does everything well. I was never hurt, but he did catch me with a big shot."
Pacquiao, as is his nature, was gentle in his assessment.
"I did my best," he reflected. "Algieri was fast-moving. I'm not surprised that he kept getting up, because that's what he did [in his previous fight] against Ruslan Provodnikov."
But the fact of the matter is that Algieri didn't belong in the same ring as Manny Pacquiao, He has ridiculous heart, as he proved against Provodnikov and demonstrated again by lasting twelve rounds against Pacquiao. But heart alone isn't enough against a future Hall-of-Famer such as Pacquiao.
Ah well, it is done. The more than 13,000 in the Cotai Arena enjoyed what they saw. And the boxing circus moves on to its next stop.
By Kieran Mulvaney
Zou Shiming scored four knockdowns – but had to overcome a badly swollen and cut left eye and a determined and resilient opponent with an occasional predilection for landing low and leading with the head – en route to a 12-round unanimous decision win in flyweight action.
Zou – who, lest we forget, because of his massive popularity in China is The Reason We Are All in Macau™ – began brightly, dropping Thai opponent and Manny Pacquiao doppelganger Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym face-first to the canvas twice in round two, on both occasions courtesy of straight right hands. A flurry at the end of the round might have resulted in an early ending to the contest had not the bell rung when it did; but, despite dropping his opponent again in the sixth, and once more in the twelfth (this final call a more controversial one, as it appeared the two men basically dragged each other to the canvas), Zou had to endure some torrid times before hearing the final bell.
OnesongchaiGym clearly had no intention of performing a role purely as The Opponent, and attacked Zou as best he could, whenever he could – his determination to hit his foe wherever and with whatever he could earning him a point deduction in the sixth and a couple of stern warning. Despite on occasion landing flush on his foe’s chin, the Thai fighter rarely looked strong or capable enough to cause the upset.
The final scores – 119-106 twice and 120-103 – were perhaps a smidgen harsh, but not overly so. Zou, who improves his professional record to 6-0 with just 1 KO, remains a work in progress, and will need to be matched carefully as his career progresses. But the roar of the crowd with every punch he landed underlined the reason for wanting to do so: he is hugely popular among his home fans, and with exciting performances likes this he will surely – for all his limitations – become only more so.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
In the fourth round of his featherweight title defense against overmatched Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo, Vasyl Lomachenko scored a knockdown of exquisite beauty: landing a southpaw right hook and a follow-up left, shifting his position, landing another combination, and then taking a step back, sizing up his foe and waiting for the perfect moment before launching one more left hand to drop his Thai challenger to the canvas in the corner.
An early end to the contest seemed a matter of inevitability; but, at the end of the sixth, Lomachenko – the two-time Olympic champion who won a world title in his third professional bout – returned to his corner with a painful and possibly broken left wrist. So, for the rest of the fight, he went out and won every minute of every remaining round with just his right hand, moving in and out of range like an especially agile cat and popping Piriyapinyo with right hooks, jabs and uppercuts. His opponent was game – and initially, once he sensed Lomachenko was hurt, he turned aggressor; but by the end, he had withdrawn into his cage, resigned to being beaten up by a one-handed man.
Lomachenko is simply a joy to watch: his speed, his balance, his footwork, his innate understanding of where he is in relation to his opponent. In just his fourth pro outing, he is already close to being the perfect package. While his injury may have prevented the knockout his fans craved, the fact that he dominated a foe who entered the ring with a record of 52-1, and did so with just one hand for half the fight, is perhaps all the more impressive and indicative of his tremendous potential.