Reality Check(s) Vol. II: More public opinions and pundits’ predictions I cannot swallow

joshua clottey29.03.07 - By Gabriel DeCrease: This second round of boxing challenges will be possessed by a more rapid-fire spirit. I will do my best to tame and subdue the completist tendencies that tend to make my articles more encyclopedic than concise. I assure you that long-windedness is, in fact, grown out of love of the fight game, and not the lack of an effective editor. As in the first installment, I will present an alleged fact or commonly agreed upon judgment, and then draw attention to what I perceive to be the obvious—and wholly ignored—inherent weaknesses of the opinion in question. Without further throat-clearing…

The Experts Suppose: Joshua Clottey proved his salt and his elite status as he battled through a painful hand injury to give the world class, much-dodged Antonio Margarito a run for his money. Such a clash demands Margarito have his bottom fitted for a throne cushion, and Clottey be knighted as constituent of the king’s court.

Truth Be Told: Joshua Clottey toughed-out a busted-up hand and brought the fight gamely to Antonio Margarito. Clottey deserves respect and a bump in his ranking with every major sanctioning body as reward. But Clottey has not proven, by this last or any other fight on his record, that he can roll with the best in the business because, frankly, Margarito is not at that level. Clottey’s ability to hold his own against guys like Mayweather simply cannot be determined by his performance against Margarito. Antonio is a fierce puncher, there is no doubt of that, but what has he done to aptly demonstrate that he belongs in the ring with the top-tier fighters he has alleged are pathologically avoiding him—namely Floyd Mayweather.

Margarito proved his aptitude for busting heads in no uncertain terms when he KO’d Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis in 2003, and has since stopped respectable name-fighters Sebastian Lujan and Kermit Cintron without too much trouble. I will even go as far as to say Margarito showed some technical acumen, ring-generalship, and general adaptability of combination punching in his latest boxing decision victory over Joshua Clottey. But the logic of boosting either man’s status quickly becomes cyclical.

The fight was well-fought by both men, and stands a credit to both. Styles make fights, as they say, and two tough, somewhat wild and open punchers who can box in spurts put on a good show. Margarito seemed a bit better, and so he came out on top. Remember, Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti staged three unforgettable wars, full-to-bursting with blood, balls, snapping jabs and haymaker hooks. However, those fights, dramatic as they were did nothing to offset my sense that Arturo Gatti was going to get thumped righteously when he tangled with “Pretty Boy” Floyd. Just as Ward’s late-round stoppages of lesser athletes did not translate into an eleventh hour liver-shot knockout of Zab Judah. The then young and fast-rising Judah was just too fresh, too slick, too quick, and too disciplined to get trounced by Ward’s beard, guts and determination alone. I am getting off track.

The fact is Margarito’s constant unrealistic calling-out of every top-fighter under the middleweight boxing limit has given life, trajectory, and velocity to the myth that he is a world class fighter, when in fact he is a world class trash-talker, a world-class self-promoter, and—as he showed in his fight with Clottey—a brave B-level alphabet belt holder with holes in his solid-game. Think I am wrong? Watch his last fifteen fights, watch the last fifteen fights of the guys he fought, there is nary a top-tier performance to be found. Clottey fits into that same mix. Margarito and Clottey both, I think, deserve the opportunity to prove themselves as elite fighters, but a match between them is not one that can claim an elite fighter.

They both need to take on the best before they should be mentioned in the same breath as first-rate, truly great fighters. And if and when Clottey and MArgarito get shots at the big time I would not be surprised if they are frustrated and easily decisioned by less-heralded guys with more raw talent like the up-and-coming Paul Williams. Williams, for example, seems—though it may be too early to judge—to have that magic touch or synthesized skill that guys like Clottey and Margarito just do not possess. I would expect Margarito v. Williams, if the fight were made tomorrow, to go off like a welterweight boxing replay of Chad Dawson’s awesome dismantling of Tomasz Adamek.

A great show is not always staged by great fighters. In fact, more often than not, nothing to lose club-pugs and journeymen fringe-contenders generate the most watchable warfare.

Baseless Myth: Carl Froch looks better every time out. His crunching power is becoming a dominant force of destruction and intimidation as he looks toward big-time showdowns with the cream of the divisional crop. “The Cobra” is standing just outside providence in the super-middleweight boxing division. Within a year he will be nipping at Mikkel Kessler’s nimble heels. The hope is that Froch will not become ducked and avoided—like poor underpaid and glory-deprived Antonio Margarito.

Apparent Reality: Carl Froch is, at best, the kind of strong, un-technical, brave amateur that Danny Green was early in his career. In fact, it occurs to me that there is an suitable and flexible comparison to be made between the problems I have with Froch and those I observed early in Green’s career. Though Froch has been widely unavailable to audiences outside Europe, I have been following him by way of bootleg video since he dogged and raggedly KO’d a prospect I had been following, Alan, Page, in seven rounds. “The Cobra” has a punch, he is aggressive, determined, confident, and perpetually ready to fight, as it were. These are all attributes that a complete fighter can use as fertilizer to enable the multiplication of defensive boxing skills, proper fighting form, and technical boxing handiness. But in the dozen-or-so fights I have seen him in since he stopped Page, Froch has appeared content to saunter into the ring and wait, hands lazily at his sides, for a wide-angle opening in which to deposit a single goodnight blow. For each opponent that fell in this way, I saw a guy who opened himself up for an easy knockout because he knew no other way.

Froch’s early opponents did not possess the raw athleticism to box around a puncher or confound his thudding bombs with clever in-and-out combinations, feints and shuffling lateral legwork. And for each guy that tasted Froch’s power, and lived to regret it, “The Cobra’s” mythological status grew. And a reputation for power-punching is like cancer for a fighter’s potential adversaries. Contradictorily enough, guys are so fretting the muscle of a feared knockout-artist that they are too nervous or mindful of that power to effectively box. They actually create openings for the slower, less technically sound puncher to knock them out because they are too concerned with avoiding a knockout. Brian Magee was boxing Froch effectively and keeping the cards close when he over-thought, let fear of a big punch take over, and was knocked out.

When you hear Carl Froch mentioned by the media, you inevitably hear tales of terror about how he pounds away until his opponent is left, reduced to primordial-ooze in a neutral corner. I remember hearing the same thing about Danny Green going into his bad-blood-pumping match with Anthony Mundine. Green was a concrete-jawed punching maniac, they said, Mundine’s technical boxing edge would be nullified by punishing pressure and big bombs. The media even let slide that Green had dropped a contested majority decision to Markus Beyer. Why? Because Beyer was also known, in his day, as that kind of ferocious hunter, a puncher born.

Mundine went on, of course, to soundly outbox the determined Green whose heavy artillery was continuously diffused by Mundine’s patient, measured attack that took positive control of the fight when Green, playing to the expectant masses who favored him by knockout, punched himself out and swung his way into precarious corners. Mundine’s magic was a direct product of his refusal to buy into the bad-boy reputation a power-puncher comes to rely on to win fights long before the first bell sounds. Mundine was a seasoned, well-proven world champion, he had seen punchers before and made them miss from bell-to-bell. Jeff Lacy lay, getting his forehead stitched up after he was schooled by Joe Calzaghe, knowing, maybe in a more abstract sense, all-too-well how such a mousetrap can misfire.

Back to Carl Froch. “The Cobra” has not yet faced a really good fighter yet. Magee, aged and overripe by the time he came-to-blows with Froch represents the apex of Froch’s competition. Tony Dodson, highly-touted and owning some good wins, is an anxious brawler with some tough losses and a penchant for hard-living. All the tough-talk blew the scope of the test way out of proportion. Froch, like Dann Green, got a late start in boxing, and thus came into the fight fresher and without a loss or really punishing bout on his tally. Froch, to my mind, is some version of a stronger, better-conditioned, better-protected, less-weathered version of Dodson.

Naturally, Froch won the fight on power alone because Dodson led with his head and did nothing to offset the equation I proposed regarding Froch’s advantages. British super-middleweight title tucked away, Froch lately battered Sergey Tatevosyan. But that fight, as you may well be aware was a hoax of sorts. Tatevosyan persered and never quit through a serious beating at the hands of Lucien Bute just two months before the Russian took on Froch. And Tatevosyan looked profoundly worse-for-wear. Bute’s left hand might as well have still been attached to Tatevosyan’s forehead as he looked half-of-himself against Froch.

I mention all this because, with Carl Froch, like with so many young, undefeated punchers, there is always an angle to boost the fighter’s stock, boost his ego, and fan the flames of the call-out game while concealing the simple reality that once he is on the world stage, all those intimidation tactics and parlor tricks might—like magic—disappear and leave their boy ripe-for-the-picking. I can see it all now. Froch ends up on HBO, all the commentators talk about his big punch and crunching, take-no-prisoners attack, and when he gets whipped, his assault shut-down everyone is shocked because they bought into the mythology and forgot that they never saw the guy fight—except for a few propaganda highlight clips.

If they had seen the guy fight, they too—the credulous, knockout-craving public—would have seen what I have. I have seen Carl Froch, punching power aside, come out for every bell with both hands indolently at his waist. I have seen him walk straight at boxers and fellow-punchers alike without head-movement or a jab. I have seen that jab get lazier as Froch becomes more-and-more enamored with his legacy as a knockout-machine. Hell, against Tony Dodson, a capable slugger, Froch pawed more than he jabbed in trying to wipe Dodson’s defense aside and set up the right hand. I see a fighter who only looks for the big punches, and is frequently unwilling to do the work to create those openings, to tire an opponent out, to wear him down, to make him fear the pressure of solid punches in combination and the hard stuff.

So what will Froch do when he gets his wish and lands a fight with a bog time opponent? Will he change overnight and learn to support his firebombs with cover fire and covert-tactics? I doubt it. Froch needs to learn how to respond and adapt to fighters that will make him create his own road to a knockout, and perhaps learn how to solidly and confidently fight from bell-to-bell and end up on the right side of the judges’ tallies. Some guys have to learn the hard way. Even in his somewhat diminished state, I am confident Anthony Mundine would shut Froch down and take him into the eminent frustration and desperation a puncher learns when he is out-boxed, out-hustled and in need of a knockout that just won’t come. But Froch is already looking past such a trial and talking about a Euro-punchout with Joe Calzaghe.

If Mundine would shut him down, Calzaghe would shut him out. I shudder-to-think about him looking for Kessler. Mikkel’s punch is as wicked as Froch’s. The only difference is Kessler lets the big punches come naturally, or not at all, as a product of a tight, well-learned, well-plotted game that measures and earns victory by a lot more than whether or not the other guy has more Rocky Balboa in him than you. Froch has a lot to prove, and the safe money says he will stumble and be humbled all the way to the back of the line before he cuts the teeth to bite into the world title cake.

Oh yeah, one more thing. These days, armed with a dedicatedly more scientific style and a more patient version of that windmill-swinging killer instinct, Danny Green is looking toward a bright future in the light-heavyweight division. Though he seems to be less bent on brawling, he also looks even stronger now that he is not emaciating himself down to an unnatural 168-pounds. Power is up, nuanced boxing is up. Looks like Danny took the right lesson from his loss to Mundine.

Article posted on 29.03.2007

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