A critical look at the past week in boxing
The biggest winner on a busy Saturday was Gennadiy Golovkin. The best performance was turned in by Sebastian Fundora. And Ryan Garcia did about all he could against a reluctant opponent.
Golovkin’s speed and reflexes probably aren’t what they were in his youth but he didn’t perform against Ryota Murata like a man who had just turned 40. He took some heavy punches early in the fight – hasn’t he always? – but he absorbed them and methodically broke down his opponent, finally stopping him in the ninth round to unify two middleweight titles in Japan.
The power is still there, which makes him a threat to any 160-pounder and perhaps even bigger men.
I never understood how Murata rose to prominence because of his limitations but he’s a solid fighter who is unusually strong both physically and mentally. Triple-G deserves credit for the victory.
The big question now: Can he compete with a prime Canelo Alvarez?
Golovkin’s victory sets up a third fight with his rival in September, assuming nothing unforeseen happens in Alvarez’s May 7 fight against Dmitry Bivol to prevent the showdown. No deal is in place but both sides want it.
I would never pick a 40-year-old to beat a prime Alvarez but Golovkin demonstrated enough against Murata to indicate that he can still give the Mexican star problems, maybe even push him as hard as he did in the first two fights.
One concern is Golovkin’s apparent vulnerability to the body. Murata hurt him more than once with well placed shots to the midsection, drawing a whence at least one time. Alvarez is one of the most-effective body punchers in the world.
On the positive side for Golovkin might be weight. The fight almost certainly would take place above 160 pounds, which would make it easier on Triple-G during camp. We’d have to see whether he can carry his power to super middleweight but he probably would feel stronger, which would be a plus.
Bottom line for me: Golovkin (42-1-1, 37 KOs) deserved a third, lucrative shot at Alvarez even before he fought Murata in light of the controversial outcomes in 2017 and 2018. He then gave a strong performance at 40, after a 16-month layoff and in his opponent’s backyard.
He has earned the superfight.
I have to acknowledge that I was among those who thought at one time that the 6-foot-6 Fundora was more of a novelty than a genuine title contender. He was too big of a target, too skinny. I was convinced that his body would break under pressure.
Well, not only has his body held up, he’s the one that has been doing the breaking. We saw that again against Erickson Lubin in a Fight of the Year candidate in Las Vegas.
Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KOs) did what he typically does, which is to drown his opponent in a wave of never-ending power shots. The talented Lubin had many good moments – including one in which he forced Fundora to take a knee – but he couldn’t avoid the onslaught with any consistency.
And we saw the end result, Lubin’s disfigured face and inability to fight back in the ninth and final round. Trainer Kevin Cunningham’s decision to stop the fight was mercifully appropriate.
Fundora’s ability to walk through fire to overwhelm good opponents with his inhuman work rate (706 punches thrown in nine rounds in this fight, according to CompuBox) and sheer determination is awesome in the literal sense of the word. He simply buried Lubin, a former amateur star who had entered the fight on a hot streak.
Fundora said afterward that it was the finest performance of his career. I concur with that. It was a defining victory given the respect Lubin had going into the fight, one that will be remembered even Fundora never wins a major title.
Of course, the opportunity to fight for a title is around the corner. Fundora is now the WBC’s mandatory challenger, leaving him and Tim Tszyu at the head of the line to fight the winner of the Jermell Charlo-Brian Castano rematch for the undisputed championship or for a vacant title if the winner vacates.
I won’t predict that Fundora would beat Charlo, who I favor against Castano, but I’ll never underestimate him again.
The only thing bad about Garcia’s performance against Emmanuel Tagoe in San Antonio is that he failed to deliver a knockout. And is that really bad?
A good, experienced boxer who is more concerned about getting hurt than he is about winning the fight is extremely difficult to knock out, which is what we saw in the fight at The Alamodome.
As it was, Garcia put Tagoe down once, hurt him badly in late in the fight and won by a near-shutout decision in the 12-round bout. Two judges gave Tagoe one round while third gave him two. I gave the Ghanaian none.
And remember: Garcia was returning from a long layoff (as was Tagoe) and fighting for the first time with a new coach, Joe Goossen. It takes time to get back into a groove and get accustomed to an unfamiliar cornerman.
I thought Garcia could’ve jabbed more than he did, which might’ve led to more damaging power shots. I thought he could’ve thrown more combinations. And he admitted afterward that he could’ve done a better job of cutting off the ring, which he attributed to a lack of experience against a runner.
Still, all in all, I thought it was a solid comeback performance. He dominated the fight, which is the main objective.
I can’t imagine he’ll want to waste time fighting another Emmanuel Tagoe. One potential opponent for later this year is Joseph Diaz Jr., who was critical of Garcia’s performance on the DAZN broadcast Saturday.
I like that matchup for Garcia, who probably needs one more transition fight with Goossen before he takes on the biggest dogs at 135 pounds, gifted fighters like Gervonta Davis, George Kambosos, Devin Haney and Vasiliy Lomachenko.
I think Garcia would beat Diaz. And he might end up as the cream of the 135-pound crop. Just give him time.
I’ll always admire men and women with the courage to step through the ropes and do hand-to-hand battle with an opponent intent on hurting them. No other sport requires the same degree of mettle.
That’s why I don’t understand when a fighter behaves as Tagoe did in his fight with Garcia.
Tagoe talked a good game leading up to the fight, exuding confidence that he would shock the world. “I know what I’m capable of doing,” he said. And then he fought as if he were terrified, which deprived him of a chance to win the fight, Garcia a chance to truly show what he can do and the fans a chance to see a competitive battle.
I thought of Manny Pacquiao’s fight against Joshua Clottey in 2010 at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas. The boxing world was abuzz over Pacquiao, who was at the peak of his abilities at the time. Everyone was primed for another great performance from the Filipino star.
What did Clottey do? He covered his face and essentially refused to fight, which resulted in a near-shutout decision for Pacquiao and a lot of disappointed fans.
I get why Clottey and Tagoe were afraid. They undoubtedly realized early on that they were out of their depths, that Pacquiao and Garcia were too quick, too powerful, just too good to overcome. So they shifted into survival mode.
I would ask them: Is that why you’re in boxing? To survive?
I can see a fighter shutting down after they realize somewhere in the middle of the fight that they have no hope, although even then it’s difficult to stomach. Clottey and Tagoe shut down before the opening bell, which makes me think that it was all about the money for them.
Tony Harrison (29-3-1, 21 KOs) is back. The former 154-pound titleholder, coming off a knockout loss in his rematch with Charlo and then a draw with Bryant Perrella not long after the death of his father-trainer Ali Salaam, outclassed Sergio Garcia (33-2, 14 KOs) to win a wide decision in a 10-round bout on the Fundora-Lubin card and re-establish himself as a legitimate contender. Garcia was the aggressor but Harrison countered beautifully and consistently beat Garcia to the punch to win easily. Dad would’ve been proud. … Perrella (17-3-2, 14 KOs) and Kevin Salgado (14-0-1, 9 KOs) fought to a draw on the Fundora-Lubin card. Bad decision, in my opinion. The only effective weapon in the uneventful fight was Perrella’s stiff jab, which he landed consistently. That’s the main reason I gave Perrella seven of the 10 rounds. Somehow one judge scored it for Salgado, who did almost nothing. And another had it 95-95. I don’t get it. I’ll add this, though: Perrella can’t rely on his jab to win fights. He needs to pick up his overall work rate. That same can be said for Salgado. …
I have to admit that I didn’t think early in the career of Shane Mosley Jr. (18-4, 10 KOs) that he would amount to much. He has proved me wrong. The son of the Hall of Famer by the same name recorded the biggest victory of his career on the Garcia-Tagoe card, defeating veteran Gabriel Rosado (26-15-1, 15 KOs) by a majority decision that should’ve been unanimous. That was his first fight since he lost a majority decision to Jason Quigley, which might be a sign of inconsistency. I don’t know whether Mosley is good enough to win a world title but he has a lot of ability, maybe enough to challenge for a major belt. Rosado is now 5-10-1 (with one no-contest) in his last 17 fights yet is still getting high-profile opportunities. That speaks to his fighting spirit, which has never waned. … Mikaela Mayer (17-0, 5 KOs) outclassed veteran Jennifer Han (18-5-1, 1 KO) en route to a one-sided decision to retain her two junior lightweight belts Saturday in Costa Mesa, California. Mayer has said her first priority is to unify more titles at 130 pounds. I’d rather see her move up to 135 and face the winner of the April 30 Amanda Serrano–Katie Taylor for the undisputed lightweight championship. The best versus the best. …
Kudos to Naoko Fujioka (19-3-1, 7 KOs) on her Bernard Hopkins-esque performance in a flyweight title-unification bout against Marlen Esparza (12-1, 1 KO) on the Garcia-Tagoe card. Fujioka fought Esparza on roughly even terms even though the Japanese fighter is 46 years old, a testament to her fitness and ability. The judges gave Esparza a wide decision (100-90, 100-90 and 97-93) but it was closer than that. Fujioka is a marvel.