When unbeaten fighters collide we can get some great fights as both men put it all on the line to not just win the bout but the keep their perfect record intact. We saw one such fight earlier this year when Kosei Tanaka beat Ryuji Hara in a genuinely enthralling contest for the OPBF Minimumweight title. When a world title is at stake however things are even more interesting and there is so much on the line for both men.
We saw one such world title bout this past Saturday when IBF Featherweight champion Evgeny Gradovich (19-0-1, 9) took on mandatory challenger Jayson Velez (22-0-1, 16) and we ended up with both men retaining their unbeaten records whilst we all tried to lift our jaws off the floor at one of the worst decisions of the year.
The Russian champion was defending the belt for the fourth time and early on it appeared that Velez had the style to beat him. For the first few rounds Velez simply out boxed Gradovich, he used exceptional movement and fought superbly behind a very busy jab that kept Gradovich at range and prevented the usually busy Gradovich from getting inside where he likes to work.
In round 3 things began to change as Velez's feet began to slow and he was gradually forced into the fight that Gradovich would have wanted. The Puerto Rican challenger probably did enough to take the round but it was probably the final round that Velez could have been given without a debate.
In round 4 Gradovich began to really close the distance, both traded body shots and both had their success in the bouts closest round. It was one that could have gone either though to us it seemed that Gradovich just did enough to take it as he began to turn the fight into his style of a fight. The Russian was cutting the distance, building on his success from the previous round and began to force Velez to trade shots. When trading Velez did have plenty of success of his own but was out-worked, out landed and out powered.
From round 5 to 11 Gradovich became more and more successful. His trademark engine was helping him to grind down his challenger who was game but out fought and came off second best in every exchange. It was to Velez's credit that he was fighting back but he was unable to ever establish the distance that had helped him to take the earlier rounds.
The action, for the most part in those Gradovich won rounds, was exciting and saw both men unloading a high volume of shots but sadly for Velez it was hard to see him winning any of them, or even taking a a share of an occasional round as his punches resembled arm punches and his head was snapped back time and time again.
Going into the final round it seemed clear that Velez was in a hole and would need a KO to win the title. His early work had long been forgotten and he seemed to know he needed something special to pull the bout out of the bag. Knowing he was down Velez really went for it in the final moments and seemed to unload everything he had at Gradovich who saw out the storm to hear the final bell.
It seemed a clear win for Gradovich who had swept much of the bout. At most we suspected Velez could have won 5 rounds, giving him the close 4th and the 12th, at an absolute push. In reality however we hadn't given him anything after the third round and had it a very clear 117-111 to Gradovich. The judges however threw their typical spanner into the works. One judge had it the same as us, one judge somehow found 6 rounds to give to Velez giving a 114-114 card whilst the third judge had a frankly ridiculous card of 115-113 to Velez, a truly shocking card that should see the judge dragged over the hot coals.
For Gradovich the key thing is that he retained his title and there is still a chance for him to get involved in major bouts with the likes of Nicholas Walters in 2016. For Velez the draw was an early Christmas present and whilst it's clear he's a talented fighter he was very lucky to escape with his unbeaten record.
It's a shame the judging has cast controversy over this bout which was, the scoring aside, a really enjoyable bout that saw both men fighting their heart out and we hope to see both men in action sooner rather than later, though not a rematch as some suggest. This wasn't close enough to actually warrant a rematch, even if it was a “draw”.
Before every Manny Pacquiao (57-3-2, 38) fight we seem to hear that the Filipino fighter is on the slide, isn't hungry and isn't what he once was. We won't suggest that he's in his prime, he certainly isn't, but he is still a top fighter as we saw again this past Sunday morning when he successfully defended the WBO Welterweight title and clearly beat brave American Chris Algieri (20-1, 8) in a one-sided contest in Macau
The bout started in relatively tame and unexciting fashion with Algieri moving a lot and throwing little. Every time Pacquiao landed anything the crowd cheered the Filipino who didn't seem to land much in the first round but did, clearly, out land Algieri. We saw something similar in the second round though Pacquiao did manage to connect with more solid shots that ended up marking up the left eye of Algieri. The key talking point of the second round was a botched call by the referee when Algieri slipped on the water in Pacquiao's corner, it was the first of 6 official knockdowns during the fight.
In the third round Pacquiao continued to take charge though was looking like a bull rather than a talented boxer. It wasn't that Pacquiao doesn't have the skills, he just refused to respect Algieri and was happy to take excessive risks in the attempt to land a clean bomb or two, sadly those bombs were limited in success with Algieri rarely standing still for long enough for Pacquiao to let shots go.
By the end of round 4 it was difficult to see what Algieri had in the locker and he was forced to take some solid and hard shots, including a major uppercut. It was impressive that Algieri withstood it without going down though it seemed that Algieri was going to begin taking bigger shots on a more regular basis. The only thing really saving Algieri from serious punishment was his insane engine that allowed him to move almost every second of every round.
It wasn't until round 6 that Pacquiao seemed to be able to get close enough to Algieri for long enough to do real damage which he eventually did following a hard left hand which was followed up in style as he sent Algieri down for a legitimate knockdown. Algieri managed to recover though was down again, albeit another water-related slip as Pacquiao recorded a 10-7 round and moved into a nigh on unassailable lead.
Despite being 9 points down after just 6 rounds Algieri was given copious amounts of encouragement from his trainer who appeared to be completely deluded and unaware of what was going on in the ring. Rather than admitting that Algieri was in trouble was repeating the mantra of being “exactly where we wanna be baby”, a very confusing assessment of what was actually going on in the ring,
Rounds and 7 and 8 were some of Algieri's best as he connected with a number of clean right hands but they merely bounced off the Filipino who landed his own, more eye catching and effective, shots. Algieri's biggest problem was he stuck in a mentality of needing to move to survive and as a result his output was far too low and his power too lacking to really cause Pacquiao to think twice about what he was doing.
It appeared that Algieri was growing in confidence and was having success in neutralising Pacquiao early in round 9. That was short lived however and a monster left hand from the Filipino fighter dropped Algieri hard. The American appeared to get a very long count and was looking out on his feet though the referee deemed him fit to continue. Pacquiao jumped on his man, smelling blood and soon afterwards Algieri was down for the second time in the round. Pacquiao was then in kill mode and went to destroy his pray. Shot after shot reigned in from the Filipino and appeared he had forced the referee to step in. Instead of the stoppage however it was a poor positioning issue of the referee that led to real confusion when he really should have stepped in.
Having just managed to see out round 9 it was surprising to see Algieri get sent out for round 10 and several times in the round he appeared to wobble. Those however were the final scares for Algieri who had recovered his senses by the start of round 11 and saw out the final 2 rounds with out much in terms of real danger.
Having completely dominated the bout there was little real question about the score cards which read 119-103, 119-103 and 120-102 all in favour of Pacquiao.
Now the talk, of course, goes back to a Pacquiao Vs Mayweather bout, a bout that should have been made back in 2010. By now the bout has lost a lot of it's allure, it's something we still all want, of course, but not something that will define the sport as it would have done a few years ago. A few years ago the two were the stand out fighters, now both have slid whilst we've seen the rise of Roman Gonzalez, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Gennady Golovkin all of whom have managed to take attention away from Pacquiao and Mayweather and new fights have becoming interesting. What was one the fight everyone wanted is now just another fight and if it's made, as rumoured, for May 5th then it's likely to the swansong for the loser as opposed to a bout that could have put either man among the greats.
For Algieri this loss was a painful one though hopefully it won't be one that sends him into obscurity. He's a talented and likeable fighter and we'd love to hear him on a microphone, following in the footsteps of Paulie Malignaggi, as well as seeing him fighting other non-elite fighters. Perhaps strangely we would favour Algieri against almost anyone at Light Welterweight, including Danny Garcia, if Algieri is to drop back down a weight. At Welterweight the scene might be too tough for him though we'd still like to see him in with some of them to see how good he really is.
At the moment professional boxing seems to be going through a genuine transition and it appears that we are at the start of generation where fighters don't mess about padding records but instead the best are going to race to the top and stay there. We've already seen Naoya Inoue get to the top of the Light Flyweight division and we suspect he'll manage to become the #1 guy at Super Flyweight in the next 12 months. We've also seen Kosei Tanaka move to within a fight of a world title. Another man who deserves to be mentioned alongside those two is Ukrainian sensation Vasyl Lomachenko (3-1, 1).
Unlike the two Japanese fighters Lomachenko was regarded as one of the greatest amateur fighters of all time. He was pushed quickly by an American promoter and given huge attention by the boxing press in Europe and US. That attention helped him to tie the long standing record of Saensak Muangsurin in winning a world title in just his third professional bout.
In his fourth bout Lomachenko made the first defense of his title, the WBO Featherweight title, as he bamboozled, out boxed, out fought, out moved and just did as he wished with Thai veteran Chonlatarn Piriyapinyo (52-2, 33).
In the opening round it was clear the men were in completely different levels with Lomachenko doing as he wished against Chonlatarn who fought a very timid round. It was a start that suggested that Chonlatarn was afraid of Lomachenko's great amateur credentials and as a result it was a poor round to watch.
Thankfully, for those watching, Chonlatarn did up the work rate round after round and tried to make a fight of things. Sadly for the Thai however the more he opened up the more opportunities he gave to Lomachenko who danced around the ring, landed at will and did as he pleased whilst also getting some valuable ring time.
The ability of Lomachenko was really on show in round 4 as he put on an exhibition for the first 2 minutes of the round before dropping the teak tough Thai very late in round. The Thai, to his credit, recovered and saw out what was left of the round though it appeared that he was only in the fight for as long as Lomachenko wanted to carry him.
Having been dropped in round 4 it was great to see Chonlatarn on the front foot through rounds 5 and 6 though he failed to have much success in either round despite coming forward and pressuring the ultra-skilled Ukrainian fighter who showed his class with a sensational burst of punches late in the round 6.
With the bout under total control Lomachenko spent much of round 7 taunting and teasing Chonlatarn. It was an exhibition in show boating even if it did come at the expense of his offensive which went frustratingly quiet for a round. It seemed that Lomachenko had injured his left hand but he was still managing to put on a masterful display of pure boxing against an experienced and world class opponent.
Although Lomachenko was effectively down to one hand he was still managing to completely dominate the Thai and round 9 was a masterclass with Chonlatarn looking confused by what was coming at him. The same again applied in round 10 as Lomahcneko seemed to step on the gas slightly and back up the Thai who looked like he was completely frustrated by what was happening in the ring.
Whilst it would have been nice for the Ukrainian to have closed the show in the final two rounds what we got instead was just more supreme boxing from Lomachenko who did what he had been doing for several rounds and just dominated with the right hand whilst Chonlatarn did little more than hit air and look lost.
Sadly for those fans hoping to see the stoppage it was never likely when Lomachneko hurt his hand, which we think happened in round 6 or 7. What we got instead however was a masterclass in 1-handed boxing which both amazed and frustrated us. We were amazed by Lomachenko's ability to dominate a fight one handed whilst we were frustrated by knowing that with 2-hands he could have done so much more
In 2013 Nihito Arakawa made a name for himself on the international stage when he went to war with Omar Figueroa. Prior to that fight Arakawa was hardly known outside of Japan though he left that fight as a man known for his insane toughness and heart. In 2014 it seems another Japanese fighter has done the same, as Hidenori Otake (22-2-3, 9) proved his toughness on route to a clear loss to Britain's Scott Quigg (30-0-2, 22) in a WBA Super Bantamweight title fight.
From the opening round it seemed clear that the two men were on different levels with Quigg showing a better variety of shots, more power and better technique than Otake. What Otake showed however was no sense of fear or intimidation and even when Quigg landed his trademark left hook to the body Otake seemed to shrug it off and come forward with tireless effort. Unfortunately for Otake his skills weren't able to make his toughness or work rate and all too often he found his shots hitting air or the arms of Quigg who showed great defense and movement.
The first 4 rounds or so were dominated by the fast action of both men as they stood in front of each other and let their hands go without thinking too much about boxing. It was a high octane all action start to the fight though a start that was clearly a better one from Quigg, despite the fact Otake was often the man bringing the action.
In the middle of the contest the action changed somewhat. We we from the toe-to-toe action to seeing Quigg get on his toes and box a bit. This saw the champion really easing his way through the middle rounds and showing his extra class as Otake hit the air and took hard counters in return for his misses. It was again showing off Otake's toughness and work rate though certainly showed his technical limitations as he chased Quigg rather than cut the ring off.
At the end of round 9 Otake's eye was beginning to show signs of damage, the result of the clean shots to the head that he was being forced to take. In the following round the cut was worsened by a slicing uppercut from Quigg that left Otake with a cut above his right eye. The cut seemed to give the doctors a reason to stop the bout though they rightfully allowed it to continue noting the cut wasn't a fight ending one, especially not in a world title contest.
Whilst the cut could have discouraged the Japanese warrior it actually seemed to just drive him on more than ever and he upped his work rate attempting to try and break Quigg down. Sadly Otake was unable to really land too many clean shots on the Brit but he did manage to force the unbeaten champion to work extremely hard in what were some very exciting championship rounds.
At the end of the contest there was no doubting the winner. Quigg had taken everything Otake had and came back with interest landing the better, sharper and more eye catching shots and was a worthy winner with cards that read 118-110 and 119-109, twice,, however Otake had impressed and given a fantastic account of himself in his first bout on foreign soil.
It's fair to suggest that this was Otake's one big chance at a world title and although he came up short we do hope that fans from the UK will remember the gutsy warrior from Tokyo who we suspect will, sadly, fade back into relative obscurity on the Japanese domestic scene.
Although Japanese fighter Takashi Miura (28-2-2, 21) maybe not be the #1 Super Featherweight in Japan it's hard to dislike him with his vicious style, heavy hands and his ever growing reputation as a Mexecutioner. That reputation was further enhanced today as he retained his WBC world title and made unexpectedly light work of mandatory challenger Edgar Puerta (23-4-1, 19) who was stopped in the 6th round of their world title bout
For our British readers "The Bomber" might be Tony Bellew, who fights in a few hours time, in Japan however that name is owned by Miura who showed off his world class power early on as he dropped Puerta inside the opening round. At that point it looked clear this one wasn't going to go the distance with both men fighting with bad intentions, power shots coming from each man as they looked to hurt their foe.
Despite being dropped early the Mexican managed to show genuine grit and resiliency, the sort we expect from Mexican fighters, as he began to have some genuine success of his own in the second round. Unfortunately for the challenger he appeared to be putting a lot into his attacks and was still being forced to take several solid shots in return as Miura continued to find a home for his heavy shots, including an eye catching right hook in round 3 that detonated clean on Puerta's head whilst body shots seemed to regularly connect with the Mexican challenger taking a lot of them.
After 4 rounds the open scoring showed the Japanese fighter clearly in control of the bout with the judges scoring it 39-36 39-36 40-35 to the champion. It was hard to believe that Miura was a man who had been inactive for 11 months prior to this bout and instead of looking rusty he looked hungry. He was fighting like a man who wanted to prove he was the best and wanted to move beyond the likes of Puerta and into the realms of unification bouts.
Miura's control of the bout grew and in the 5th round round it seemed that Puerta was starting to struggle, the body shots were taking their toll and the Mexican was looking like a fighter who was beginning to break down under the pressure. To his credit Puerta did try to fight back but lacked the power, speed and technique to change the fighter and was being held in there by his guts and determination more than his skills.
In round 6 a huge left hand from Miura staggered Puerta before a follow up attack saw Miura over-whelming a tired and beaten looking Mexican who was lucky that the referee was quick to act and save him. With almost a minute of the round left it was likely that Puerta would have been badly battered had the fight been allowed to continue much longer.
For Miura this was a 4th successive win over a Mexican fighter and his third would title defense, it seems however he wants a change next time out and will seeking a rematch with fellow Japanese world champion Takashi Uchiyama. The two men met almost 4 years ago with Uchiyama needing to pull himself off the canvas to stop Miura and defend the WBA world title, since then however Miura has really developed into a world class fighter, as shown today in one of his most rounded and complete performances, whilst Uchiyama has shown some signs of slow down. A rematch between the two is looking more likely than ever though it will depend on Uchiyama winning his upcoming bout on December 31st against Israel Hector Enrique Perez, a bout that is widely viewed as a "gimme" for Uchiyama.
We have all heard it time and time again over the last few years, it's said as a fact, it's said with little doubt and it's accepted as the truth. Floyd Mayweather is the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. We hear it almost every time we watch a boxing broadcast, it's like a mantra coming from the well oiled machine of the western boxing media and it's heard by millions of fans around the world who accept is as gospel and something that simply cannot be questioned.
What everyone seems to be forgetting is that Mayweather's #1 status isn't clear cut, in fact if anything his recent struggles with the somewhat average Marcos Maidana and his failure to secure a fighter with his major rival leave him very prone to be questioned by the boxing fans out there who aren't drones and who are free thinking individuals who refuse to be brainwashed by the hype of the American boxing media.
For those fans another man stands out, a little Nicaraguan who is controlling an empire in the lower weights and smashing opponents up for fun. That is WBC and Linear Flyweight champion Roman Gonzalez (41-0, 35) who again showed off his destructive side with a vicious and controlling destruction of Filipino challenger Rocky Fuentes (35-8-2, 20).
Fuentes had entered the bout having lost just 3 bouts in his previous 25, with all 3 losses being close ones, he had traveled to Japan and Thailand and had been the Oriental champion for almost 3 years and to many he was an uncrowned champion ducked by those at the top due to his high risk-low reward status. Fuentes was the man people didn't want to fight and when they did fight him they generally didn't want to get too close to him as he was tough and heavy handed having developed amazingly well from his early boxing years where fights were based on him gaining experience as opposed to creating a pretty and undefeated record.
Through the first 4 rounds Gonzalez threw caution to the wind some what and like a genuine ruler went to war. He didn't feel the need to back off and show impenetrable defense, instead he set off with the intention of proving he had the better army and the better weapons. He went out to expand his empire by dominating his foe. This did see him catching a few solid shots though, as we've seen through his career, they had little effect on the Nicaraguan who appeared to show genuine contempt of Fuentes's power. It was, as if Fuentes was a peasant trying to fight back over the dictator and, like a real dictator, Gonzalez wasn't bothered by the one brave sole willing to stand up against him.
The open scoring had the bout 39-37 through 4 rounds though by the end of round 4 it appeared that Fuentes was beginning to struggle. His spirited effort was his unwinding and his defenses were breaking down. The Roman Empire was set to expand and it seemed that it was merely a matter of waiting, wondering how long Fuentes could survive.
Unfortunately for Fuentes it seemed Gonzalez could smell blood and began to crank things up, just as he had done when he had claimed this title back in September with a stoppage victory against Akira Yaegashi. As soon as that happened Fuentes began to look lost. Gonzalez continued to attack, attack and attack some more with Fuentes being chipped away at until he was dropped in round 6. The Filipino managed to recover to his feet though a follow up left him needing to be saved by the referee who knew that Fuentes was set to take a pounding.
Gonzalez's win his does see him recording his first win as the Flyweight champion. Unfortunately however very few fans got to actually watch the bout with it only being aired in Nicaragua and in Japan. This is where the Roman Empire struggles in comparison to Floyd Mayweather. Gonzalez is, at just 27, a 3 weight world champion with wins over a who's who including Fuentes, Yaegashi, Juan Francisco Estrada, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Katsunari Takayama and Yutaka Niida, his form has been incredible and his performances have been destructive to say the least. Yet he unfortunately lacks the big mouth piece of US media that has helped perpetuate the myth that Mayweather is in a league of his own. Gonzalez, like Guillermo Rigondeaux, appears unable to capture the attention of the US and Europen TV outlets who are ignoring the best fighter on the planet. It's a shame though it appears to be a point echoed on twitter with many suggesting that channels now need to give some attention to Gonzalez as he is a very special fighter who brings everything fans want to see.
With or without US TV it seems the Roman Empire is set to expand and after his win over Fuentes he called out the likes of Estrada and Naoya Inoue, bouts that again would enhance the reputation of a man who wants to prove he is the best fighter in the sport. Gonzalez doesn't want to say he's the best, he appears more old school than that, instead he wants to show that he's the best and will continue chasing the best fighters in his division in an attempt to prove how good he really is.
In today's main event on the ALA promoted "Pinoy Pride 28" card local fans saw one of their boxing hero's, Donnie Nietes (34-1-4, 20) record the 5th defense of his WBO Light Flyweight title defense and his 9th total world title defense.
Nietes was battling against Mexico's Carlos Velarde (26-4-1, 14) and unfortunately the bout was a total mismatch, much like many had expected.
The opening round was slow, to say the least, with the fighters being told early on to refrain from clinching by referee Robert Byrd. It seemed at the time as if we may have a stinker on our hands. Thankfully the bout warmed up in round 3 as Velarde was forced to change his tactics slightly and come forward more. With Velarde finally letting his hands go Nietes began to take advantage landing crisp counters through the round.
The bout continue to get better in round 4 as the men stood up close and traded shots in a more exciting manner. It wasn't the most thrilling action of the show but it was becoming better and Nietes was beginning to take total control of the fight with his crisper punching and more rounded boxing.
Nietes control continued to grow in round 5 and by the end of the round it seemed to be a question of how long Velarde could survive as the Filipino began to let his punches go with more fluency than he had in the first 4 rounds. Velarde was beginning to shut down both mentally and physically and in round 6 he was looking tired, trying to take breaks on the ropes, a tactic that he was punished for by Nietes.
In round 7 Nietes again stepped on the pace and came forward. As he did so he seemed to hurt the Mexican who complained about a headbutt, the complaint was ignored by the Filipino who continued to attack. Soon afterwards it was apparent that Velarde was bleeding from the eye and he seen made it clear he was unhappy.
Following the the 7th round Velarde retired in his corner, giving Nietes his third successive stoppage. For Nietes however the win was more important than the manner of it and he'll now break the record for the longest reigning Filipino world champion breaking the record previously held by the great Flash Elorde.
It's expected that Nietes will now vacate the title and make the move to Flyweight however Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr, who was on the undercard, has shown serious interest in a fight with Nietes who may well view a possible Rodriguez clash as the better send off to the division than this contest, especially given that Rodriguez really struggled in his bout on the same card.
(Image courtesy of rappler.com)
It's a real shame when world title fights aren't televised and that was the case this past Thursday when WBC Super Flyweight champion Carlos Cuadras (31-0-1, 26) went to the US to defend his world title against Filipino fighter Marvin Mabait (19-3-2, 13). The bout was put together after Sonny Boy Jaro had visa issues to enter the US and in some ways the fight seemed destined to be a mismatch with Mabait given around 2 weeks notice.
The fight proved to be as much of a mismatch as many had assumed. Mabait was in trouble every time Cuadras put his foot on the gas and this saw the Filipino going down in round 4, although no count was given at the time it did appear to be the start of the end for the Filipino challenger. The following round Mabait was again in trouble as he did have a knockdown scored against him with the ropes keeping him up.
The challenger was put out of his suffering early in round 6 as Cuadras dropped him and the referee essentially said enough was enough, despite Mabait getting to his feet well inside the count.
For Mabait this is likely to be his best chance to claim a world title and is sadly his second successive successive stoppage loss, in fact it's his third stoppage loss in 5 fights and one has to assume he'll now become a journeyman. As for Cuadras this was his second defense since winning the title with a technical decision over Srisaket Sor Rungvisai earlier this year. We doubt we're the only ones who would rather see Cuadras Vs Srisaket II than fights like this that go untelevised and are made on short notice.
Just a few years ago Sergey Kovalev (26-0-1, 23) was a relative unknown in boxing circles. Today he is the unified Light Heavyweight champion having added the WBA "super" and IBF titles to the WBO title he won last year when stopped Nathan Cleverly and announced himself on the world stage. The stoppage over Cleverly was Kovalev saying "look at me, I'm destructive" today however he impressed by boxing, using a great game plan and out-boxed boxing master boxer Bernard Hopkins (55-7-2-2, 32).
In more than 20 years nobody had really out boxed Hopkins. He had been beaten 6 previous times but they was usually down to faster fighters out working him not out boxing him, not dominating him and certainly not making him look lost in the ring. Those however were all adequate descriptions for what Kovalev did from the opening round to the final bell.
The fight started very slowly, it was at Hopkins's pace and tempo. Usually that spells failure for fighters as Hopkins slows bouts down and wins them on skill, timing and ring IQ. This time however Hopkins wasn't able to do what he usually did, the pace suited Kovalev who imposed himself with intelligent pressure, smart timing and very calculated offense which saw him dropping Hopkins in the opening round with a well timed right hand. Despite the bout being incredibly slow prior to the knockdown, it seemed to give Kovalev the belief that he could stop Hopkins and he went on the offensive in the final minute.
Having failed to put Hopkins away in round 1 Kovalev let the pace slow, continued to pressure Hopkins and seemed to "out Hopkins" Hopkins with patience, smart boxing and controlled work. There wasn't a lot of hard solid shots landed early on but plenty of body jabs got through from Kovalev who fought a very respectful fight knowing that Hopkins could be dangerous if he was given chances. When Kovalev did open up, notably at the end of round 3 and part way through round 4, he seemed to shake Hopkins who should true resiliency to remain up right despite the pressure.
By round 6 it was looking like a masterclass from Kovalev who was at total ease with the pace of the bout. There was no reason to rush, no reason to get reckless and no reason to even think about stepping up the pace. In many ways it seemed less like he was fighting Hopkins's tempo and more like he was fighting his own controlling everything about the contest.
Despite being in total control Kovalev was given a reminder that he had to keep his concentration up in round 7 when Hopkins landed a couple of clean shots. Sadly for Hopkins it really was just a couple of clean shows whilst he was out worked, out landed and completely shut down for the rest of the round. It was true that Hopkins landed the 2 best shots of the round but that was all he did in the fight's closest round. Sadly for the American legend he was punished in the next round as Kovalev detonated a monstrous right hand that had Hopkins shaken momentarily and left everyone wondering how he remained up right. The huge right wasn't the only notable connect from Kovalev in the round with the Russian landing some notable counters late in the round and it seemed like he was really breaking Hopkins down.
If the 8th had been bad for Hopkins then the 9th was worse as Kovalev seemed to put his foot on the gas and landed several eye catching and hurtful shots that would have seen off lesser fighters than Hopkins who took them amazingly well but seemed to be sent into survival mode by them. It was a time where a corner may have considered pulling their man out, after all Hopkins was needing a KO by that point and, apart from a single bit of success in round 7, it never really looked like he had what was needed to even rock the Russian.
Hopkins knew he was in a hole by the start of round 10 and seemed to show fire in his belly for the first time as he landed several big looking shots, unfortunately for him they bounced off Kovalev who landed far more shots than Hopkins and landed the more impressive shots. It was almost like seeing Kovalev go "I can do anything you can do, better than you".
Typically in a Hopkins fight we see some messy action, some wrestling, some holding and some spoiling. We didn't really see much of that until round 11 when both seemed happy to partake in some wrestling. The reason we saw so little of it was due to the fact that Kovalev was a stronger man than Hopkins and it was shown the few times they did clinch with Hopkins being the one who looked uncomfortable.
The discomfort Hopkins felt in the clinch was nothing in comparison to the discomfort he felt through much of the final round. Hopkins began the round well and appeared to rock Kovalev early in the round. The Russian must have felt disrespected by Hopkins hitting him and the Russian went on an all out offensive onslaught rocking Hopkins time and time again. It was as if Kovalev had said to himself that he wanted to stop Hopkins and really unloaded shots that bounced Hopkins around the ring. It seemed both were tired but Kovalev wanted the stoppage regardless. Sadly the Russian was against the clock and the clock won with Hopkins just seeing out the round. Had their been another minute left we suspect the referee would have had to have saved Hopkins.
Although the bout went the distance there was no real question as to who won and for once the judges all got it right scoring the bout 120-107, 120-107 and 120-106, presumably scoring the final round a 10-8 round.
For Kovalev this is a win that gives him a fantastic claim to being the best Light Heavyweight on the planet. It's clear that Adonis Stevenson is the "linear" champion but Stevenson has shown no inclination to get in the ring with the Russian and with that in mind, and with this performance in the bag, there is no real argument against having Kovalev as the #1 Light Heavyweight out there. For Hopkins this loss probably spells retirement. Aged 49 this was likely the last time Hopkins will fight as a professional boxer and although he lost here he showed what a tough son of a gun he was, whether you like him or not it's hard not to respect him for what he's managed to do in a long and impressive career
It's often said that Thailand is the hardest country to travel to and win a fight. Sometimes it's a statement that perceived to mean that visitors get screwed on the scorecards and whilst that does happen it's not the only reason that winning in Thailand is so difficult. Another reason is the conditions which are genuinely hellish for a visiting fighter.
Thailand has many big fights fought outdoors in sweltering daytime heat with humid and sticky hot air, a crowd baying for blood and generally the nastiest conditions in boxing. It's something that the Thai's use to give their fighters home advantage and whilst it seems "unfair" in some ways it is why their promoters pay big money to get fights at home and why so many Thai's do so well when fighting in their homeland.
Whilst the conditions are nasty to say the least that's not the only reason they win fights, but it does help as evidenced again earlier today when unbeaten Thai Wanheng Menayothin (36-0, 12) claimed the WBC Minimumweight title and stopped Mexican visitor Oswaldo Novoa (14-5-1, 9), who refused to come out for round 10.
The fight started at a great pace, as do most top level Minimumweight contests. Wanheng tried to impose his pressure whilst Novoa fought back with bursts of attack that seemed to catch the eye but not quite do enough to win the rounds. It was clear that we were in for a good one as soon as the first round had ended and things seemed to just get better with the second being fought at an even better pace than the first with some great action on the inside as the distance was quickly cut between the two men.
When we had the first batch of open scoring the cards read 40-36, twice, and 39-37 with all 3 cards favouring the Thai. The two shut outs seemed slightly harsh on the Mexican though they seemed to act as as fire in his belly as he put his foot on the gas in the middle rounds and fought back excellently as he found a new gear. They saw the defending champion claw back some rounds and by the end of the 8th round, a round in which both men were rocked, the fight was very nicely poised with cards that read 76-76, 77-75 and a frankly ridiculous 79-73. Ignoring the one poor card it seemed that the fight was all to play for going into the final few rounds.
Unfortunately for Novoa it seemed the effort he had put into the middle section of fight was beginning to tell on his as he began to slow through round 9 and Wanheng stepped it up again. Suddenly what was looking like a really competitive fight began looking less and less competitive with the Mexican clearly wilting in front of our eyes. He still looked like he had some fight in him but wasn't the fighter he had been in the middle section of the fight and he seemed to know it as he remained in his corner at the end of round and refused to come out for the tenth.
The result was somewhat anti-climatic given some of the exciting action we had seen earlier in the contest however we suspect that had the bout continued then Novoa would have been stopped in the championship rounds had he continued to feel the pace of the fight.
For Novoa this ends a relatively short reign that began in China when he stopped Xiong Zhao Zhong earlier this year whilst for Wanheng this win gives real substance to his record which was looking rather thin prior to this win. Hopefully we'll get a strong reign from Menayothin though we wouldn't be surprised to see him becoming the target of fighters like Kosei Tanaka who we suspect be in the hunt of a world title in 2015.
(Image courtesy of our great friends at Thairec.com)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.