James 27-2-0 (12Kos) lost a tough one last night in the main event against Russian Radzhab Butaev 14-0-0 (11Kos) at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas. Initially, James used his height and reach advantage to keep at bay the shorter Butaev. James scored with a long left jab and mixed in several combinations. He banked the first few rounds and had things going his way.
Butaev looked to be the stronger of the two, and he turned things around when shifting to southpaw, literally jumping forward with a hard right jab. It shook James, and Butaev then opened up with a hard left and then pummeled James with hard body shots. James stayed tough and threw his own body shots and uppercuts, but they lacked the steam of Butaev’s punches.
James has a bad habit of giving up his height and reach advantages by leaning down and in. The move places him in harm’s way for clubbing punches to the side and back of his head. Even more troublesome is his habit of turning his back on his opponent. The old “protect yourself at all times” adage came into play when Butaev took the opportunity to land a couple of right hands to the right side and jaw of James. Referee Celestino Ruiz felt the shots were illegal, and he signaled for the judges to deduct a point against Butaev. The replay of the video made the referee’s call questionable.
The bending in and turning his back pretty much cost James the fight. Just why he did it, (does it), only he knows, but it’s a pretty good guess that Butaev’s body punches and headshots caused James heavy fatigue. In fact, he could be heard between rounds mentioning to his trainer “my legs,” which a good guess would be they were tiring. Mobility goes when the legs tire. That was bad news for James. A stationary James then started exhibiting the problems already mentioned, the bending forward and turning around to give his back to Butaev.
At times every fighter will experience fatigue, whether it’s due to punishment or lack of fitness. Obviously, when that happens, bad things can occur because the fighter becomes more of a target. That certainly was true with James Saturday night.
Excellent fighters have the ability to use additional technical skills to keep them out of harm’s way, or at least to minimize the potential damage. Fans know the good/great fighters are sound fighters. They not only can manage/control distance, they can deal with getting hit, even hurt. The great ones don’t get hit/hurt with the same punch twice.
Last night it was kind of ironic because James did hit Butaev with the same punch not just twice, but three times (rt. Uppercuts). However, they did not knock Butaev off his game plan. On the other hand, Butaev’s heavier punches did knock James out of his game plan. So, what was he to do? If his legs were failing him, he needed to rely on his technical skills.
But he just didn’t have them. He wasn’t slipping punches. He wasn’t parrying punches. He wasn’t pivoting and stepping around Butaev. He wasn’t pushing off and clinching. He wasn’t ducking or bobbing and weaving either. He was just bending forward and staying in that vulnerable position. Without those skills, James was unable to rest to stave off Butaev’s attack, and he continued to take punishment. The fight might have been stopped prematurely, but there’s no doubt James was sustaining a lot of damage. His face showed that.
As the old saying goes, it’s back to the drawing board. Best of luck to James. He is a good guy.