The Awkward Opponent

16.11.06 - By Geoff McKay: A local sports club had put up some good money for a weekend basketball tournament they were hosting, so some buddies and I threw a team together in the hopes of earning a good payout for a weekends work. Now, to be sure, we were no superstars but we all had college experience and understood how the game should be played. Before out first match we stood sizing up our opponents, who sporting the most expensive shoes and fancy jerseys depicting their favorite NBA stars. The many air balls and missed lay-ups we observed in their warm-up didn’t do the outfits proud however, and we were left brimming with confidence..

Mine was the privilege of checking their big man, a robust fellow of about 5’8”, and perhaps 240 pounds. He was decked out in a full Orlando Magic, Shaquille O'Neal uniform, which of course led us to dub him Shaq. The plan was to work the ball inside, build a lead, then cruise to victory. My eight inch height advantage should have made this a snap. I got the ball inside, threw a fake on Shaq and spun quickly to the opening I knew would be there when he moved. Shaq didn’t move. Nobody told him he was supposed to respond to fakes, and we crashed heavily onto the floor after a massive collision.

Things on the defensive end were no better. Shaq’s team fed him the ball; I cut off his lane to the basket, now Shaq had to pass, but once again he didn’t get the memo. He lowered his head and charged for the hoop, his mind focused on his objective. Once again, I wound up on the floor in a tangled heap with Shaq.

Later on, one of our guys went up high for a rebound. This left a temporary vacancy on the floor which was immediately occupied by one of our opponents, with predictable results when our man came back down. Fortunately we had a sub available, small consolation indeed to our friend who spent the next three weeks on crutches, his painfully sprained ankle wrapped tightly in tensor bandages. We won the game in the end but it was far from impressive, and truth be told any of out future opponents watching would have been left licking their chops.

So it is in boxing. Countless times an awkward or unskilled opponent has caused a talented boxer to look bad, simply because it is almost impossible to predict what they are going to do. An awkward opponent doesn’t play by the rules, doesn’t follow the code and it can throw even the best fighter off of their game. He doesn’t make his opponent look bad because he’s good, he may be terrible. He makes his opponents look bad because he is awkward. I have composed a list of some of the more recent “awkward opponents” that come to mind. I look forward to hearing any other suggestions

Oleg Maskaev vs. Derrick Jefferson

Jefferson was on a roll after scoring the ring magazine “knockout of the year” over Maurice Harris. He got caught early by Oleg however, and broke his ankle while going down from the punch. The fight lasted 4 rounds, some of which Jefferson Jumped around on one leg, or displayed some funky footwork that more resembled a solo dance routine than boxing, while trying to keep his weight off the ankle. Every once in awhile, Jefferson would lunge in with a desperate shot trying to finish Oleg, and came very close to connecting. Oleg didn’t look at all comfortable with the injured Jefferson, and came dangerously close to catching some of the wild shots on the chin. Oleg scored another two knockdowns but when Jefferson’s body language began to border on the insane, Oleg seemed completely stymied. Finally the referee stepped in and stopped the fight in the fourth. When asked about the incident later, Jefferson was disgusted, as he told Larry Merchant,

“Who ever heard of twisting your ankle in boxing?”

Allan Green vs. Donnie McCrary

Green’s future looked bright. His record sported several impressive wins, and there was talk of a possible future fight with Joe Calzaghe when he stepped into the ring with Donnie McCrary, a former sparring partner and last minute substitute. Green seemed a little off at first, as though he was having difficulty sorting out the professional carpenter. Green kept coming forward but McCrary was in full retreat and wouldn’t engage. Finally, in the third round Green caught McCrary with a good body shot, knocking out his wind and sending him to the canvas.

Green, sensing blood, moved in for the finish, just as McCrary lunged in with a desperate left hand. The punch caught Green flush on the chin, and almost looked like it was an accident. McCrary seemed as surprised as Green but that’s the way it goes with an awkward opponent. McCrary followed up with a barrage that sent Green crumbling to the canvas. Green struggled up, but was clearly out on his feet, and was only saved by the fact that McCrary didn’t go for broke when he had the chance. Green came back to score a KO in the 6th round, but the shot at Calzaghe suddenly vanished, leaving Green to look elsewhere.

Nicolai Valuev vs. Monte Barrett

Barrett’s career could most accurately be described as up and down by the time he fought Valuev. He strung off two impressive winds against Dominick Guinn, and Owen “what the heck” Beck, before losing in a lackluster performance against lifetime friend Hasim Rahman. The next fight for Barrett was the giant Valuev.

This fight was awkward from start to finish. Even the stare down didn’t look right, as Barrett ferociously glowered up almost a full foot at the giant Valuev. Barrett is actually a talented boxer when he is not fighting a man who outweighs him by a hundred pounds, but the weight and size differential definitely caused Valuev to be an “awkward opponent”.

Barrett came out and tried to get aggressive, but was almost immediately clubbed with a shot that sent him staggering across the ring. It did not look as though Barrett was hurt from a punch; it looked like someone driving an Austin mini hadn’t seen him on a crosswalk. It was the sign of things to come. Barrett was finally bludgeoned into submission in the 11th round. The fight was summed up beautifully by the comments of the HBO announcers. Manny Steward remarked;

“This is just a street brawl between a big guy and a little guy, nothing more”. I think Larry merchant said it even better;

“This looks like the doorman trying to keep some interloper out of a club”.

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Calvin Brock

Usually, a nervous fighter will betray himself before a bout. Body language, and out of place comment or glance, lets the cat out of the bag. Brock, however, didn’t display any outward signs of nervousness before the bout and I felt he really believed he could win. His performance during the first round of the fight showed otherwise. He came out awkward, and off balance.

The first punch Klitschko threw sent him lurching to the corner of the ring, and later he tripped and fell after staggering around off balance. Brock is a good boxer, and he did land some good body shots, but he was clearly uncomfortable, and worried about getting hit the entire time. He kept his weight on his back foot, and moved awkwardly around the ring.

He was likely stymied by the size difference but his unorthodox style made him difficult to attack, and resulted in trips to the canvas for himself and Klitschko, as well as a deep gash caused by an unintentional head butt.

Wladimir put in what was seen as a sub par performance, but he likely found it difficult to figure out the “awkward” Brock. Getting into correct range is no easy feat when your opponent spends a lot of his time tripping and stumbling to the canvas, sometimes dragging you with him. In the end, Klitschko’s jab calmed Brock down enough for the Steelhammer to land a couple of giant right hands, and put an end to things.

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Article posted on 16.11.2006

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