HBO Boxing Podcast - Episode 86 - Klitschko vs. Fury Preview

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney look ahead to this week's heavyweight championship bout between Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury in Dusseldorf, Germany airing live on HBO at 4:45 PM ET, and replaying at 10:15 PM ET/PT along with the replay of Cotto-Canelo and Miura-Vargas.

A Tall Order for Klitschko?

Photos: Will Hart/HBO | Hennesey Sports

By Eric Raskin

Nothing lasts forever. This is an accepted fact. But Wladimir Klitschko’s heavyweight title reign is beginning to make our certainty waver just a bit.

Numbers rarely tell the whole story, but with Klitschko, the numbers are getting to be fairly preposterous – nine and a half years without interruption; eighteen successful defenses. Tyson Fury, who becomes challenger number 19 this Saturday in Dusseldorf, Germany (live on HBO at 4:45 PM ET, and replayed at 10:15 PM ET/PT), didn’t even turn pro until Klitschko was two and half years and five defenses into this current reign. That should help put Wladimir’s longevity into perspective.

But it all has to end someday, whether by choice or by force, and as Klitschko now finds himself four months shy of his 40th birthday, the signs pointing toward a possible conclusion to his championship reign are out there. In his most recent fight, against Bryant Jennings, he wasn’t his usual dominant self, dropping a few rounds to an ordinary challenger and clinching so much that referee Michael Griffin took a point away. Klitschko was supposed to face Fury on October 24, but the fight was bumped back by five weeks when the Ukrainian suffered a calf injury in training; as we’ve seen countless times, aging brings with it increased susceptibility to injury.

In Fury, Wladimir is taking on one of the two or three most worthy current contenders (the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board rates the Irish/English fighter behind only Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin in the heavyweight class) and a man a dozen years his junior. And to top it all off, Klitschko will be giving away about three inches of height, four inches of reach, and 20 pounds against the 6’9” behemoth.

Klitschko is the prohibitive favorite, and rightly so. But is there perhaps a hint of a perfect storm brewing to make this night at the ESPIRIT Arena one of upsets and endings?

"Technically speaking, Wladimir is much more sound than Tyson Fury," former undisputed heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis told "But one thing Fury has got is gusto. If Fury has got enough focus and accuracy to hit Wladimir, if he is able to hit him and create a cut or a bruise or a busted lip, it should be an interesting fight.”

“We all get slower with age and can’t do what we did in our twenties, and maybe Wladimir has got nagging injuries that have left a toll on his body. He’s fighting a battle that every professional athlete fights. I think Tyson Fury’s gonna be a big mouthful for him because of the size and because Wladimir hasn’t fought anybody that goes out there and does what he says he will for a while.”

Whereas the more common term to use is “handful,” Lewis’ use of the word “mouthful” is perhaps more appropriate when Fury is involved. The 27-year-old challenger talks as good a game as Klitschko fights. Whether at a press conference or logged into Twitter, Fury comes armed with a stream of profanities, making him the distinguished Klitschko’s polar opposite and, depending upon your perspective, either the best or worst thing that could possibly happen to the heavyweight division.

When Klitschko guested on the HBO Boxing Podcast in September, he addressed Fury’s prodigious verbal output: “I think it’s desperation for recognition, or desperation for promotion, or not being self-confident,” the champion said.

Fury’s personality figures to have little bearing on the outcome of the fight, however. What might is his size. Mariusz Wach, whom Klitschko defeated by unanimous decision in 2012, is the only previous challenger to hold height and weight edges over Wladimir. Interestingly, the 6’5” Lewis always said he preferred fighting men his own size, and Klitschko feels the same way.

“I do perform better with taller guys than with shorter guys,” Wladimir said. “I’m fighting more aggressive with taller guys. There is not much clinching … I didn’t see any clinching [against Wach], which is the main issue and concern that people have. So I think this fight with Tyson Fury, since he’s taller than me, is going to be entertaining.”

Klitschko admitted on the podcast that he struggled to find sparring partners who could replicate a 6’9” opponent capable of switching from orthodox to southpaw. However, any notion that Fury presents challenges Klitschko has never seen pales in comparison to the leap in class that Fury is taking. He’s built his record of 24-0 with 18 KOs against some decent opposition, most notably Dereck Chisora (twice—the first time coming when Chisora was unbeaten) and Steve Cunningham (who dropped Fury in the second round before getting stopped in the seventh), but those guys aren’t exactly Klitschko. Fury is clumsy but quick for his size and he can both box from distance and mix it up inside. Lewis believes Fury’s ability and willingness to tangle in close could prove crucial in this fight, since infighting is the weakest component of Klitschko’s game.

“What I always did against tall opponents was I said to myself that I’m going to fight on the inside,” Lewis explained. “If my opponent is not a good fighter on the inside, then I’m going to beat him up on the inside because I made it a goal of mine to be able to box on the inside and the outside. From the outside, against a big guy, there’s nothing to separate you guys. So you have to use some other part of your arsenal. Wladimir might have trouble adjusting if Fury takes the fight to him inside.”

Lewis makes a compelling case for why Klitschko might find himself in a tough fight. But the case can also be made that Fury is going to be completely outgunned by an all-time great, a man with a magnificent record of 64-3, 53 of those wins by knockout, who is one of the best pure punchers the heavyweight division has ever seen. Never mind the questions of what happens if Fury gets inside or what happens if he busts Wladimir up a little; what happens when Klitschko pumps a few telephone-pole jabs into Fury’s face and then lands his first clean right hand?

The answer to that question has come out in Klitschko’s favor often enough to lead him to an 11-year unbeaten run and the kind of stats heavyweight championship boxing hasn’t seen since Larry Holmes in the early ’80s. On Saturday night, while Fury will be looking to make a name for himself on a global level, Klitschko will be looking to make Fury just another number.

CompuBox: Klitschko vs. Fury

Wladimir Klitschko has more than achieved the dominance expected of him when he was the "next big thing." His current IBF reign (9 years 222 days) is the second longest in history and if one adds his first WBO reign he has spent more time as a heavyweight titlist than anyone (11 years 367 days -- with three "leap days" added  -- vs. Joe Louis' 11 years 255 days). The 6-foot-9 Tyson Fury, only the second Klitschko opponent to own height and reach advantages, poses a serious threat but can he make the historic leap in front of Klitschko's adoring fans in Germany? If he can, it will be a night to remember. 

Thriving Despite Deficit: Mariusz Wach stood one-and-a-half inches taller and owned a one-inch reach edge but Klitschko dealt with his anatomical challenges by not only out-jabbing the Pole but doing so emphatically. His 12.8 jab connects per round more than doubled the 5.6 heavyweight average and with it he controlled pace (57.8 per round vs. 25.7 for Wach) and maximized his effectiveness while minimizing Wach's (274-60 overall, 153-35 jabs, 121-25 power; 40%-20% overall, 35%-15% jabs, 48%-33% power). Wach, who averaged 2.9 jab connects, never landed more than seven punches in any given round (he did it three times) while Klitschko's lowest connect figure was 14 in the fourth and 12th rounds. But while Wach was lumbering, Fury is impressively coordinated for a man his size. Thus, Klitschko, now four years older, will face a steeper physical and stylistic challenge. In his last last 13 fights, Klitschko has landed 9 jabs per round (tied for #2 with Herrera- GGG, 11 per round #1).  Klitschko opponents landed just 22% of their total punches-- that's 5 per round- 66% fewer than hvt. avg. (16).  Klitschko has a +13 plus/minus rating.  He outlanded those 13 opponents nearly 3-1 in total punches  (1707-578).

A Younger Klitschko?: Fury has dominated his fights with a strategic formula familiar to "Dr. Steelhammer": Dominate range with a busy jab and land power shots at times of his choosing. In his last five CompuBox-tracked fights (vs. Christian Hammer, Dereck Chisora II, Steve Cunningham, Kevin Johnson and Nicolai Firtha) Fury has out-worked (62.5 per round to 27.1), out-jabbed (36.9 thrown/8.2 connects per round to 12.4 thrown/2.8 connects) and landed more of his power shots (41%-36%). He comes into the Klitschko fight off two straight sparkling performances as he trounced Chisora and Hammer before earning two corner retirements. Against Chisora (KO 10) he averaged 70 punches per round to Chisora's 22.1, led 136-53 overall, 52-7 jabs, 84-46 power and averaged 47.4 jabs/5.2 connects per round while against Hammer (KO 8) he averaged 63.3 punches per round (including 34 jabs and 5.5 landed jabs per round), prevailed 152-44 overall, 44-7 jabs and 108-37 power and dominated in terms of accuracy (30%-22% overall, 16%-11% jabs, 46%-28% power). He also switched stances and fired combinations effortlessly. Can he do the same against the legendary champion?

Prediction: This is the most severe threat to Klitschko's reign since David Haye more than four years ago. Fury's height, reach, strength, fluidity and ambition are formidable assets. But three factors will repel Fury; Klitschko hits far harder, represents a massive jump in class and will be fighting before his home fans. Klitschko by decision

Watch: Hey Harold! - Klitschko vs. Fury

HBO Boxing's unofficial ringside judge Harold Lederman gives his take on the upcoming heavyweight matchup between Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury.

Klitschko vs. Fury happens Saturday, November 28 live beginning at 4:45pm ET/PT.

Canelo Rides His Skill, Size, and Youth to Victory over Cotto

Photos: Will Hart, Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

It would be easy to say that youth and size ultimately prevailed at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and to some extent – perhaps a large extent – that would be correct. But Canelo Alvarez did more than simply impose his strength on a valiant, aging warrior as he overcame Miguel Cotto to win a unanimous points decision and annex the lineal middleweight championship. The 25-year-old Mexican also showed skill and poise that belied his years, particularly in the form of an impressively subtle defense that frustrated Cotto’s efforts to land power punches for much of the night.

Cotto (40-5, KOs 33), started brightly enough, bouncing on his toes and looking to land his vaunted left hook behind a stiff jab, but Canelo telegraphed his intentions for the night with a digging hook to the body and an overhand right that sailed behind Cotto’s left hand and just missed his jaw. In the second, the Alvarez overhand right found its target while Cotto struggled to reach his. Canelo kept himself largely at just the right distance to force the shorter man to stretch with his punches, and deftly moved his head a fraction out of range whenever Cotto threatened to land.
The effectiveness of Canelo’s defense was underlined by the CompuBox punch stats, and particularly the poor success rate of the Cotto jab – the punch off which Cotto’s offense operates. Cotto threw 374 jabs, but connected with just 54 of them, a paltry 14 percent. His power punch figures were somewhat better – 75 of 255 landed, or 29 percent. But Canelo’s power punches were the offensive story of the night, as he landed 118 out of 298, nearly four of every ten he threw.

Indeed, from early in the contest, as Cotto sought to circle and box behind the jab, Alvarez focused almost exclusively on power punches, ripping left hooks and overhand rights from mid-distance. And while Cotto blocked many of them early, those that made their way through landed with authority.

Cotto remained undeterred even after Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) began to impose himself. The veteran decided to alter his tactics, step into the danger zone, and fire off combinations before moving out of the way. To at least some at ringside, that created the impression that Cotto was succeeding in winning battles by scoring with flurries, even if the overall feeling remained that Canelo’s heavier punches were winning the war. The problem for Cotto was that his punches largely bounced off Alvarez, whereas the Mexican’s always seemed to carry more weight.

By round 8, Alvarez was marching forward without evident concern for what was coming in the opposite direction. He was by now finding success not only with his overhand right, but also with a short uppercut that exploded off Cotto’s jaw with increasing frequency as the Puerto Rican moved closer. 

Cotto to his immense credit, remained willing to brawl, but continued to come off second best in the exchange of power punches. Entering the final round, Alvarez was unreachable on all three scorecards, but neither man knew that as they both laid it all on the line with a series of furious exchanges. A left hook from Alvarez appeared to hurt Cotto, who retreated and seemed content to make it to the final bell, until he suddenly uncorked a pair of hooks of his own as the final bell rang.

Even those ringside who saw it as a close contest scored it for Alvarez, and so did the three judges, who had it 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109.

The wide spread of the scores upset Cotto and his trainer Freddie Roach.

“Wow!” was Cotto’s sole comment on the cards. After the decision was made, Cotto went right to Freddie and said, "Are you OK? That’s all that matters."
“We thought it was much closer than the scorecards showed, added Roach. “It was a very competitive fight.”

“I have a lot of respect for Miguel,” said Alvarez. “He is a great champion and a great fighter. We knew going into this fight that it would be a difficult journey, but I feel that I was the faster and stronger fighter tonight. I wasn’t hurt by his punches.”

In a sign of the mutual respect shown by both men throughout the promotion, Canelo went to Cotto’s locker room afterward, hugged Cotto’s family and team and said to the dethroned veteran: “I admire you.” 

Vargas Stops Miura in Fight of the Year Candidate

Photos: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

On rare occasions, one look at the winner’s face can tell you everything you need to know about a fight. Francisco Vargas’ right eye was slammed shut, his cheek gashed, his entire visage discolored and lumped up—and you shoulda seen the other guy. Vargas dished out ultra-violence, went through hell, then pulled out a minor miracle to triumph over Takashi Miura in the co-feature to Cotto-Canelo, earning a 130-pound title belt and quite possibly longer-lasting recognition as the victor in 2015’s Fight of the Year.

The bout between the unbeaten Mexican challenger and the southpaw titleholder from Japan was nearly over inside half a round, as Vargas clipped Miura with a short right hand that made his knees dip within an inch or two of the canvas. How Miura stayed on his feet throughout the ensuing onslaught is a mystery. But not only did he escape the round without a knockdown (though it probably should have been scored 10-8 anyway), he soon took over the fight. From rounds three through eight, Miura stalked, strafed Vargas with left hands, raked his body, and dished out a systematic beating—highlighted by a fourth-round knockdown with a straight left. The 2008 Mexican Olympian could barely see the left hands coming, and a mercy stoppage seemed to be in the offing.

But then the pendulum swung one more shocking and decisive time. Vargas hurt Miura with a straight right hand just seconds into the ninth round, and followed up with a crushing right uppercut and left hook, causing Miura’s legs to all but liquefy as he dropped and needed two tries to get up. But get up he did, beating Tony Weeks’ count and insisting he could continue. Vargas unloaded every punch in his arsenal; Miura (29-3-2, 22 KOs) held on. The Japanese warrior tried to stand his ground, but Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KOs) kept firing and found the perfect combination of blows to convince Weeks to wave off the contest at 1:31 of the round.

Early on, we thought we were watching an epic comeback by Takashi Miura. A few rounds later, Francisco Vargas showed us what an epic comeback truly looked like. There was no possible better way to prime a rabid fight crowd for the main event.

Once Again, Rigondeaux Wins and Bores

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Kieran Mulvaney

First things first: Guillermo Rigondeaux is undeniably a supremely talented pugilist. His ring generalship is exceptional and his opponents frequently find themselves flailing desperately at air that the Cuban master has ceased to occupy. Let it also be noted that boxing is traditionally referred to as the sweet science, the art of hitting without being hit, and that the sport’s history is replete with practitioners – from Willie Pep to Nicolino Locche to Pernell Whitaker and now Rigondeaux – who have made excelling at the second part of that equation an art form.

There are times when Rigondeaux fights can be entertaining and even explosive: witness, for example, his first round knockout of Sean Casey in Ireland in 2011. But so great is Rigondeaux’s focus on the art of self-defense to the exclusion of demonstrating any kind of offense that those performances linger less in the memory than his more somnambulistic outings, and he provided another example of the latter on Saturday against Drian Francisco.

One of the knocks on the claims of greatness that the Cuban’s fans would bestow on him is that he requires a very specific type of opponent in order to provide entertainment. A foe who comes at him with an organized and consistent offense plays to his strengths, because Rigondeaux (16-0, 10 KOs), is a magnificent counter puncher who punishes aggression with sharp hooks and southpaw straight lefts. When faced with someone like Francisco – a boxer demonstrably multiple classes below him – the result can be tedium. Francisco tried, at times, but his crude lunges were so easily parried by the lineal junior featherweight champion that on more than one occasion, the Filipino stumbled over his own feet and once even nearly flew out of the ring. And yet, each time that happened, Rigondeaux would stand and watch, the desire for self-preservation overwhelming any sense that maybe the paying public deserved better. When he wasn’t hurling himself ineffectually at his elusive target, Francisco (28-4-1, 22 KOs), evidently considered discretion preferable to being made to look foolish and stood away from his foe, making vague notions of throwing punches but generally electing not to.

So dire was Francisco’s output that he landed only 42 punches all night. Rigondeaux, who rightly won a unanimous decision (100-90 on two cards, an odd 97-93 on another), landed only 72.

All is not necessarily lost. There is – or at least was, before this outing – talk of matching Rigondeaux with fellow hugely accomplished amateur Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is at least aggressive enough to force Rignondaux to throw punches, and skilled enough that the Cuban would be in a genuine contest for once. Still, fans can be forgiven if they aren’t exactly holding their breaths.

Rios Rebounds With Win Over Velez

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

Ronny Rios couldn’t afford a loss in the opening bout of the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view—not with a shock knockout defeat to Robinson Castellanos just 13 months ago stripping him of his status as a touted prospect. So instead of landing firmly in the also-ran bin with his second loss, the 25-year-old Rios fought perhaps the most focused and determined bout of his career and handed Jayson Velez his first defeat, triumphing by well-deserved unanimous decision in their 10-round featherweight scrap.

Rios (25-1, 10 KOs) applied the pressure and landed the more telling blows throughout, while Puerto Rico’s Velez (23-1-1, 16 KOs) never quite got on track. The scariest moments for the Mexican-American from Santa Ana, California came when he flirted with a disqualification for low blows, receiving four warnings from referee Jay Nady before finally losing a point in the fifth round. The fight was roughly level on the scorecards at the midway point, but Rios pulled away from there, landing several flush right hands to the chin along the way. The scores of 97-92, 96-93, and 95-94 all accurately reflected the action—competitive, but not so competitive that there was any doubt about the winner. Now it’s Velez’s turn to try to rebound from that first career defeat, while Rios reclaims his status as an up-and-comer worth watching.