By Saúl Berríos-Thomas
This week there were many old favorites who climbed back into the ring and continued to fight for their careers. Some have chances at regaining the spotlight while others face a long road.
The main event on HBO PPV from Macao, China was a welterweight fight set for 12 rounds. Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) faced Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 22 KOs). When this fight was announced I thought Rios could win this fight, even a month ago I thought Rios could win, but when I actually took the time to review the tapes of these fighters I knew he couldn’t. Rios was rattled by Pacquiao’s speed from the first round and he never caught up. Rios is able to fight on the inside with skill that is rarely seen, it bothered Pacquiao greatly. It was also the only place where Rios could land punches. The biggest question leading up to this fight was: could Pacquiao take a punch? The answer: yes. Rios is a hard puncher and he landed several good, hard shots that hurt Pacquiao, but Pacquiao took the punishment and showed no signs of anxiety. Once the suspense of the knockout was taken out of this fight it was fairly simple; Pacquiao dominated, but Rios was tough throughout. Pacquiao showed good condition and did not fade. Pacquiao is not the dynamic superstar he once was, but he does still have the skills that make him better than most boxers. He lacks the power that made him a knockout artist earlier in his career, he does not have elite defense and the way he fights tends to go against his natural skill set because a fighter with his speed should want to box and fight technically, but there is a bully in Pacquiao that thrives off of trading hard blows with his opponent. Without an adjustment he can’t recapture his place in the elite category. The fact that Rios could not score a knockout when it was clear that was the only way he could win the fight says a lot about Pacquiao, but it also indicates that Rios will probably never get this kind f opportunity again. The odd thing for a fighter like Rios is that boxing used to thrive off of fighters like this, but now the technical skill is what creates the superstars. It will be interesting to see if Rios is matched with other rough fighters to make great fights or if he will be used as a gatekeeper for young fighter trying to reach the top of the boxing world. The fight went 12-rounds and the judges scored the fight 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 all for Pacquiao. Manny Pacquiao won by unanimous decision.
The co-main event was a featherweight bout set for 12 rounds. Evgeny Gradovich (18-0, 9 KOs) faced Billy Dib (36-3, 21 KOs) in a rematch of their fight on March 1 of this year. Robert Garcia, Rios’ trainer, trains Gradovich, who was born in Russia, but now resides in California. Garcia worked Gradovich’s corner and had no issues preparing Rios. In the first round Gradovich was cut on the top of his head from a head-butt. Dib did the better work in the first round, but after Gradovich settled in it was clear Garcia’s game plan was better. Gradovich has the better boxing skill and he was able to out-box Dib. Gradovich has more power too, which is not hard because Dib is a soft puncher. The fight was gritty and there was a lot of inside fighting and dirty maneuvers, but Gradovich was doing the better boxing. It was an exciting fight, but it was one-sided. With a minute left in round six a vicious right hand during a fierce combination from Gradovich dropped Dib. Dib got up and made it out of the round, but it was clear the fight was close to its ends. In round nine Dib’s corner stopped the fight. Evgeny Gradovich won by technical knockout at 1:10 of round nine.
The next fight was a heavyweight match set for 10. Andy Ruiz (21-0, 15 KOs) fought Tor Hamer (21-3, 14 KOs). Ruiz is big, even for heavyweights and he does not have an athletic build, but he has the technical skills. The men traded blows to begin the fight. Hamer came out strong and hurt Ruiz several times in the first two rounds. When the third round came it was like a switch was flipped as Hamer faded to almost nothing. Ruiz showed a good chin by taking every punch Hamer threw at him early. Hamer has done this before, in a recent fight preceding this one he won the first two rounds and then quit on his stool after the fourth round. This time it only took a devastating third round to finish Hamer. Andy Ruiz won by technical knockout at 3:00 of round three.
The first fight on HBO was a flyweight bout set for 6 rounds. Zou Shiming (3-0) faced Juan Toscano (4-1, 1 KOs). Shiming has two gold medals, but he is 32-years old and has not looked impressive in his first two bouts. Shiming’s trainer Freddie Roach refused to work the corner of Shiming for this fight because he was too busy preparing Pacquiao. Shiming is still learning and he is improving, but the tools don’t appear to be there. He has very little power, he lacks the instincts to finish fights and his hand and foot speed leave a lot to be desired especially for his weight class. His window of opportunity is small and it will be a very difficult task to capitalize in the small opening. Toscano was able to land some good punches, but he never had a chance. Shiming won every round fairly convincingly, even if they were amateurish rounds. The fight went to the scorecards where the judges had it 60-54, 60-54 and 60-52 all for Shiming. Zou Shiming won by unanimous decision.
The main event on Fox Sports 1 “Fight Night” from Sunrise, Florida was a 10 round heavyweight matchup. Antonio Tarver (30-6, 21 KOs) faced Mike Sheppard (21-16-1, 9 KOs) for the vacant NABA title. Tarver at 46 years old intends to make a run through the heavyweight division, but this fight was his first fight in a year and a half and his debut at heavyweight. Tarver was very slow and did not appear to be in great condition as he was breathing heavy after the first round. With two and a half minutes left in round four a thunderous left uppercut from Tarver dropped Sheppard. He got up, but was back down 30 seconds later. With a minute left in the round a left hook finished the fight. Antonio Tarver won by knockout at 1:54 of round four. Tarver does not appear to have a very good chance to make this comeback a success, but he took the first step on that journey and knocked out an opponent he was suppose to knockout.
The second fight on FS1 was a bantamweight bout scheduled for 10 rounds. Randy Caballero (20-0, 12 KOs) took on Jessy Cruz (10-6, 4 KOs). Cruz pushed the pace early and was doing good work from close range. Caballero was doing great on defense and was landing well-timed counter shots. Cruz is a tough fighter, but he lacks the power or hand-speed to be a legitimate challenger for a title. Caballero faced a tough test and was given the opportunity to learn a lot from a good veteran. With seconds left in round seven the referee stepped in and stopped the fight after it was apparent that Cruz had nothing left. Caballero’s effective body work really paid dividends in the end because it was clear Cruz was exhausted and Caballero moved in for the kill. Randy Caballero won by technical knockout at 2:59 of round seven.
The first fight on Fox Sports 1 was a Light heavyweight clash set for 10 rounds. Thomas Williams Jr. (15-0, 10 KOs) faced Yusaf Mack (31-7-2, 17 KOs). They sized each other up in the first round and in round two they began to trade blows. Williams landed better shots in every exchange. They both were punching throughout, but nether had much technical skill or defense, so there were a lot of looping punches that landed and made big thus, but did very little damage. Williams had a little more speed and skill and his ability to work the body was probably the biggest difference in the fight. The fight went 10 and the judges had it 99-91, 98-92 and 97-02 all for Williams. Thomas Williams Jr. won by unanimous decision.
One thing that struck me as odd during the HBO PPV broadcast was that during the Shiming fight the commentators were begging for the fight to be stopped under the premise that Toscano needed protecting, but during the Ruiz fight they were admonishing Hamer for quitting the fight early. As a community the boxing world does not know how to handle the issue of concussions and head trauma. We want to appear to care about the well being of the fighters, so we can more easily justify our love for the blood sport that is driven by violence. These men are getting paid to take punches. We will try to protect the ones who we care about, but not the ones who need protecting. At a recent local boxing event I attended there was a heavyweight fighter with a record of 1-17 who had been knocked out several times. This fighter was obviously being paid to act as stepping-stone for high level and even mediocre fighters. No one will mention fighters like these when discussing the protection of the fighters’ well being. If trying to make football, a violent sport, safe seems fairly ridiculous, then trying to change boxing is absolutely ludicrous. My opinion is: accept what you are watching or don’t watch, but do not wave around morals only when they are convenient.
AP Photo — Boxers Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios are scheduled to battle in a welterweight bout at Venetian Macao on Nov. 24.