Boxing Is Back
I can’t tell you why I haven’t been able to finish articles with regularity, I’m at odds-ends with the creative process, It’s probably something a shrink could better explain.
It hasn’t been for a lack of wanting to create- my draft folder, my digital notepads, my journals- they can all attest to that, full of abandon thoughts, some half-baked, some burnt to a crisp.
I love writing, but, I hate being bad at it- and for a skill as difficult to master as writing, you’re going to be bad at it for a really long time- not unlike boxing. Except, when I make a mistake, I just get angry with myself- when a boxer makes a mistake he gets separated from his senses.
Even though boxing has been back on television since early July- it hasn’t really been back.
I don’t personally identify complete one-sided mismatches as being the sport I love, something that Top Rank has been exploiting since they ended their COVID-19 hiatus. We had legitimate championship caliber fighters, such as, Oscar Valdez, Shakur Stevenson, and others- beating the hell out of clearly over-matched opponents. This, being the completely opposite approach of the UFC- who’s been putting on blockbuster card after blockbuster card dating back to May. And, UFC President Dana White has been reaping the benefits of being the first-and-only organization doing so. Perhaps, the laughably poor T.V. ratings boxing has been pulling could be a learning experience for boxing promoters and network executives alike.
The real boxing returned this past weekend, and, for a second, things felt normal again- championship fights were on the telly, and I actually felt like writing for the first time in months.
I’ve always been quite fond of Dillian Whyte, he’s always seemed like the “outsider” of the heavyweight division. He’s the rebel- the anti-hero to Great Britain’s ultimate clean-cut poster boy in Anthony Joshua. He’s the kind of fighter that you want to root for- he’s the rebel, the bad guy, in a world where it seems like good guys always come out victorious-
There are a lot of life lessons that you can pick up from studying the sweet science- one that I have particularly picked up on is that life, real life, doesn’t care about the theory of “fairness”.
Life is unfair, so is boxing.
Whyte had been black-balled by boxing politics and the nature of timing, he never got his opportunity- and he did everything to the book- everything that the WBC asked him to do, everything his promoter told him to do- he fought, and won, and fought and won. The brawler from East London’s underbelly had built quite a following his 2015 TKO loss to Anthony Joshua (the launching point for AJ on the world scene)- through dramatic slugfests with the likes of English heavyweight staple Derek Chisora (twice), or down to the wire decisions against fellow top contenders such as Columbia’s Oscar Rivas and New Zealand’s Joseph Parker, or, perhaps it was his dramatic 6th-round walk-off knockout over Australia’s Lucas Browne.
It was quite clear to almost everyone with a set of eyes and a functioning brain that Dillian Whyte was the “best of the rest” outside the three kings (Fury, Joshua, Wilder) ruling over the division. Hell, the closer and closer you got to Great Britain, you could even find more and more people believing that he could legitimately challenge the three kings. However, our former colonizers have a bit of a tendency to over-hype their domestic talent. Regardless, Whyte had made a fan enough of me- he was cool- he was the hipster’s favorite heavyweight- when he fought you knew you were going to see something dynamic. And, he makes his ringwalk to AC/DC’s “Back in Black” which I will maintain, is the ultimate theme song for raising hell.
Most importantly, Dillian was a real fighter. He fought the unfavorable fights to solidify his position in the heavyweight division- which isn’t all that common in the sport today. Typically, you would expect to see that approach awarded- but this isn’t a movie, boxing isn’t a fairy tale.
A common, yet unfortunate, theme throughout “The Bodysnatcher’s” career has been getting screwed over. Whether he is being stiffed money and opportunities by his promoter, Eddie Hearn, or led on by the World Boxing Council’s slimeball bureaucrat incumbent- Mauricio Suliman- who held him to being the “mandatory contender” to Deontay Wilder’s and then Tyson Fury’s WBC Championship for over 900-Days without any follow-through on the promise to make them face their rightful challenger.
It seemed like the holding pattern that Whyte was subject to was finally coming to an end- (I sympathized with)- it was guaranteed by all parties- If Whyte got the victory on Saturday night, that was the last hoop he would have to jump through to get the big fight against either Tyson Fury or Deontay Wilder in 2021, and the big payday that comes with it, all he had to do was beat over-the-hill 40-Year-Old Alexander “Sasha” Povetkin.
Matchroom Boxing (England’s biggest boxing promotion), had planned on capping of their four-week stretch of “Fight Camp” -Matchroom President Eddie Hearn’s response to the ongoing worldwide pandemic- with this matchup of massive proportions.
You know when you get Dillian Whyte in the ring, you’re going to see something worth tuning in for. So naturally- it was a perfect fit to showcase the hard-hitting 6’4 (1.93 m), 240-Pound, behemoth in what was the “final eliminator” to the winner of Fury-Wilder III in December.
In a weird way, Alexander Povetkin came into the fight being the underdog’s underdog- during a Dillian Whyte fight week, you often hear the other big heavyweight’s names mentioned more than Whyte himself.
“Will Fury-Wilder III happen this year?”
“Why didn’t Andy Ruiz take the fight against Whyte?”
Questions of that nature circle through the media quite more often than questions of the fight actually to happen on the weekend. All of this, making it much, much easier to forget that Povetkin- even at the advanced age of 40- had more than the proverbial “puncher’s chance”- whatever the hell that means.
It was technical stuff- something the viewer isn’t accustomed to in heavyweight boxing- both men were moving, feinting, finessing, it was a bit of a shock to see two big men so nimble and technically proficient. Less shocking on Povetkin’s end- as he snagged a gold in the 2004 Athens Olyimpic Games- and had caused technical fits for current unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua when they met in 2018.
Whyte, however, had been fighting the best fight of his career- painting the pale sternum of the Russian challenger bright red in bruising. Whyte had been enjoying great success early behind a brilliant jab and body assault- that, paving the way to a fourth round that saw Povetkin hit the deck twice in the round. The first- a no-frills short left hook in close quarters after Whyte had darted in-range with a doubling straight right combination. Povetkin rose at the count of 4, indicating the punch surprised the russian more so than hurt him. The second knockdown, a stunning counter-uppercut off the ropes that nearly knocked Povetkin flat out. By the end of the round, it was clear that Dillian Whyte was winning this fight, he was dominating and looking in special form in doing so. Up until he didn’t.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why they fight the fights.
It was one of the most spectacular turn-of-events that I have ever witnessed in nearly a decade of following fight sports, the finish, truly mesmerizing- one that you simply can’t find enough words to describe.
Eddie Hearn, who was ringside, described it as being “like something out of a dream.” The sickening thud of the massive frame of Dillian Whyte collapsing into an unconscious heap of muscle and bone was enhanced by the spectator-free atmosphere- the contrast in the calmness of Alexander Povetkin strolling away from the utter chaos and destruction he had just caused was something that will probably stick with me ’till my grave.
It was simply unbelievable, and, a stark reminder of the incredibly narrow margin for error in heavyweight boxing.
When people ask me why I love this sport so much, I point to the drama produced here- unlike any other sport in the pantheon of human competition. Simply put, this was unfathomable, incredible, downright spectacular.
It’s easy to overlook Joe Smith Jr. the average person walking the street wouldn’t blink twice when in the presence of what they assume is just another “average joe“. This is quite the paradox, as this average Joe has been the supporting pugilist in nationally televised main event matchups on major networks like ESPN, HBO, and NBC.
Perhaps, that’s an indictment on the sport, as it seems boxing is falling deeper and deeper into the “niche” status compared to the newer and more attractive outfit of combative sport- mixed martial arts. You get the feeling, however, that it doesn’t quite bother the Stoic Smith that he doesn’t have the world’s attention on him at all-times.
A proud Irish-American from the gritty hustle of Long Island, New York, the 30-Year-Old is a full-time Union 66 Laborer when he isn’t fighting world champions in the squared-circle. Union work, coupled with laying asphalt, and cutting down trees makes up the majority of Smith’s time when he isn’t preparing for a fight.
Where last week I featured Derrick “The Black Beast” as being the quintessential prizefighter, Joe Smith Jr. very much so fits the criteria for being considered the quintessential workaholic. No matter what your belief system- you can come to the conclusion that certain people are wired to assume certain roles in society. Some of us are creatives, some of us are fighters, some of us are burnouts, and some of us are wired to work HARD.
Joe Smith Jr. is one of those hard men wired to work the hardest of jobs, so, perhaps it shouldn’t be so difficult to imagine that a part-time boxer could be beating the best fighters in the world in his weight division.
As you could imagine, Smith isn’t exactly an aesthetically pleasing fighter, you couldn’t confuse his style with the Lomachenko’s, Chocaltitio’s, or Canelo’s of the world. He’s pretty unremarkable in that sense. His success relies on brute force, toughness, and having bigger balls than the guy across from him. He is the kind of fighter you see champions face to knock some rust off after a long layoff before a bigger fight. An opponent.
The first time I had seen Eleider Alvarez was in the winter of 2015, he was fighting on the undercard of James Degale vs. Lucain Bute (which turned out to be a cracking fight), I was only vaguely familiar with Alvarez’ opponent- Isaac Chillemba- who had twice fought Tony Bellew over in England, and would go on to face champions Sergey Kovalev and Oleksander Gvozdyk. I don’t remember being incredibly moved by Alvarez’ showing that night, but, a little known fact about me- I am a sucker for cool flags, and the flag of Colombia is one of my favorites because of the yellow-blue-red color scheme- so naturally I was a fan. The next time I saw Alvarez fight was two years later on pay-per-view against Lucian Bute- It was a big fight in Canada, but I reckon it did under 100-buys in America. My High School Sweetheart broke-up with me hours before the fight, so my mind was elsewhere, but I was still elated by the monstrous right-hand knockout the Colombian scored. It was then that I realized that he could be a player in the 175-pound division. It would be two more years before Alvarez would make his mark on the American public in his stunning first fight against Sergey Kovalev. The fight was for Kovalev’s WBO Light Heavyweight Title, and it was a slugfest until Alvarez was able to find the upset producing knockout blow with his right hand. The following February, the pair rematched in Frisco, Texas- an event I attended ringside- and I watched him ruin his momentum by getting thoroughly outclassed by Kovalev who had been in some legal trouble for assaulting a “woman of the night.”
Kovalev would go on to get knocked out by a more popular Alvarez- Canelo Alvarez- last November.
Eleider Alvarez, his signature wild hair and jaw-rattling right fist, would find himself on the rebuilding trail in 2020, scoring another highlight reel knockout in January, setting up the “Title Eliminator” matchup with Joe Smith Jr.
A bloody nose dripping like a faucet, and a swollen cheek bone, worn by both warriors were compliments of the hard fight only four rounds into the 12 round distance.
Eleider relies on rhythm and his opponents to make mistakes- he’s a counter puncher through-and-through, and it’s been both the key to his success and the key to his failure. He has a tendency to wait for his opening- great counter punchers force their opening, and on Saturday night, Joe Smith exploited the waiting pattern by beating the hell out of a waiting Alvarez. It wasn’t pretty, but it was sure fun to watch.
Smith knew that Alvarez was starting to get desperate- and desperation is dangerous when fighting an oppenent who is down on the scorecards, this is where Alvarez was able to catch both Kovalev and Bute while they were falling asleep while in the lead.
To start round nine, Smith lined up a jab-straight combo that missed the mark by about a foot. He circled, and then set up the same scenario- this time blasting Alvarez across the chin. It wasn’t a pretty shot, just a straight right, plain, a lot like Smith’s personality- but it was damaging, it knocked Eleider outside the ring and on to the canvas- Alvarez then became the second fighter that Smith has knocked out of the ring and into retirement- now in the illustrious company of Brenard Hopkins.
The story so far, is that Joe Smith is remarkably average- and- that he’s just good enough to beat everyone accept the champions of the light heavyweight division. However, imagine if Smith dropped his Long Island union job and focused on boxing full-time? Is it that hard to believe that he could beat the Kovalev’s, Beterbieve’s, and Bivol’s of the world?
I don’t think so.