(Timothy Bradley, left, Diego Chaves, right; via @HBOBoxing)
Timothy Bradley (31-1) vs. Diego Chaves (23-2)
Timothy Bradley entered the ring on a mission to reestablish himself amongst the sport’s elite, and largely cruised against the tough Diego Chaves in a fight that at times threatened to turn into something special, before ultimately throwing up another set of poor scorecards, including a quite outrageous final tally from the usually reliable Julie Lederman. This was Bradley’s first outing since his loss to Manny Pacquiao earlier this year, while Chaves was also coming off a loss, two in fact, against Keith Thurman and Brandon Rios in his previous appearances on American soil, with the latter a foul-filled bar fight that ultimately ended in his disqualification.
The question looming before the opening bell pertained to which Bradley would emerge: the boxer who so impressively outmaneuvered Juan Manuel Marquez in 2013, or the reckless brawler who entered the trenches against Ruslan Provodnikov and the aforementioned Pacquiao? The answer, in the end, was a bit of both, during a fight in which both participants exhibited a willingness to engage that stood in stark contrast from to the preceding two bouts.
Bradley had quite a major reach advantage, but you’d never have guessed it given the skirmishes that were breaking out, as well as the return of the frequent clashes of heads that once so dominated the American’s career. Yet despite these distractions he enjoyed success with the right hand throughout the fight, and only a chronic lack of power prevented him from doing major damage to his Argentine opponent, such was the fury with which he unleashed the shot.
Chaves was caught with some bonafide haymakers, but took them and continued to stand tall in the centre of the ring as the dog in Bradley made its presence known. In turn, he was also able to return fire with some good body work at times, but remained largely unable to slow his supremely conditioned opponent, who continued to put everything into his power shots and throw wide sweeping punches on the inside.
With swelling evident on both men’s faces by the halfway stage, Bradley’s hand speed began to tell, as well as his ability to duck and roll under Chaves’s shots and retain his composure when needed. Switching to a purer form of boxing from about the midway point on, Bradley eased into a commanding lead and dictated the next handful of rounds, choosing when the two fighters engaged and when he remained tantilisingly out of the Argentine’s modest reach.
It wasn’t until the 10th round that Chaves began to hint at imposing himself, as the left side of Bradley’s face had now swelled to grotesque proportions, leaving the Argentine able to put together some nice combinations and even outthink his adroit opponent for a spell. However, Bradley’s athleticism was able to mitigate this for the most part, and despite a closed left eye he continued to circle and stay out of danger.
Chaves rallied as much as he was able, but fleet footedness and his customary talent for grinding out performances ensured Bradley was able to finish relatively comfortably. That is until the scorecards were read, and what seemed a wide points win startlingly mutated into a split decision draw. A bizarre set of scorecards reading 115-113 Bradley, 116-112 Chaves on the Lederman card, and 114-114 marked a thoroughly dissatisfying finale to what had been an excellent comeback performance by Bradley, not to mention a hard and well fought effort from the game but slightly overmatched Chaves, in stark contrast to the ill-feeling generated by his previous trip Nevada.
TQBR had it 118-110 Bradley.
Matt Korobov (24-0) vs. Andy Lee (33-2)
In an intriguing battle for the title of third best middleweight in the world, former amateur standout Matt Korobov was finished on his feet in the 6th round by Ireland’s Andy Lee while contesting the vacant WBO belt. Lee, a rangy southpaw and star pupil of the late Emmanuel Steward, was coming of arguably the best punch of his career (and the finest KO of 2014) in the form of a short right hook that dropped John Jackson earlier this year, during a fight Lee was losing badly up to that point. Korobov, meanwhile, was trying to kick his career into forward motion having plateaued quite markedly given the high hopes that surrounded him when he turned pro.
Adam Booth, the trainer of Lee, was adamant that they had a plan, but the opening rounds passed them by and saw Korobov doing the marginally cleaner work in a manner that suggested otherwise. Although clearly wary of Lee’s power, the Russian appeared the stronger of the two in the early stages and was coming forward and engaging while his opponent circled patiently and sought to establish his jab by working off the back foot.
Compared to the proceeding bout, there was barely a flicked of inside fighting as each man launched potshots and waited a little too patiently for an opening to present itself, and it seemed more than a little odd that the fight was of such aesthetic significance within the division. Lee would occasionally let the left hand go, but with insufficient frequency for it to ever be a decisive factor, and with each man operating marginally outside the other’s range the contest was excruciatingly dull at times.
That is, of course, until a scuffle emerged in the 6th round and Andy Lee did what Andy Lee does. That is, land a huge counter right hand that shook Korobov all the way down to his boots, yet somehow failed to take him off his feet. Eighteen unanswered punches followed from the Irishman as his opponent staggered in a daze and desperately tried to cover up, until referee Kenny Bayless was forced to step in and signal the end. Lee is unlikely to unify the belts any time soon, but his victory sets up a huge domestic clash with mandatory challenger Billy Joe Saunders, and should buy one of the sport’s genuine good guys at least a few months grace before GGG comes knocking.
TQBR had it 49-46 in favour of Korobov at the time of the stoppage.
Mauricio Herrera (21-4) vs. Jose Benavidez (21-0)
In the first bout of an HBO tripleheader from Las Vegas, Mauricio Herrera, who’s still cresting a wave of good will following his controversial majority decision loss to junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia in March of this year, found himself on the wrong end of another debatable decision as he took on the undefeated Jose Benavidez, 12 years his junior and something of a blue-chipper within the Top Rank stable. The Arizona native had never seen anyone really close to Herrera’s level, who’s about as tough a gatekeeper as exists in the sport today, if that’s not too harsh a tag to attach to him, but was expected to provide an interesting proposition at the very least.
Herrera came out swinging, somewhat surprisingly, and backed up his taller opponent. Benavidez timed him about as well as it’s possible to time Mauricio Herrera, whose style lends itself to awkward, jerky motions on the way in, and has befuddled plenty of would-be contenders in the past. But he couldn’t do any serious damage, with the opening rounds featuring plenty of jabs to the body, as well as the odd sight of the rangy Benavidez willingly going to the ropes and allowing his much shorter opponent to swing away.
Benavidez appeared nervous in the early going, flicking out his jab and wearing a puzzled look on his face, while Herrera bulled forward in his usual manner, presenting an awkward target and working the exposed midsection of his opponent. At times Benavidez seemed to be looking for a single counter shot, a foolish strategy against a guy who’d previously gone to war with the likes of Mike Alvarado and Ruslan Provodnikov and lived to tell the tale. Yet the younger man’s superior speed was on display, and he was landing the occasional clean shot up the middle.
The lack of urgency in the Benavidez corner suggested their man was pacing himself, mindful of the fact that he’d never previously completed 12 rounds, and his output picked up as the fight passed beyond the halfway point. For the first time Herrera found himself pinned against the ropes, with the jab of Benavidez becoming more effective as the minutes went by. Yet, to the enormous frustration of his team, he would still take pit stops on the ropes throughout the evening. Whether he was wisely pacing himself or desperately catching his breath, it was difficult to tell, but during the bursts of activity his hand speed was significant, and he was able to land on Herrera cleanly when he committed to punches.
Herrera’s face usually tells the tale of the fight, and he was more or less unmarked heading at the final bell. By the last few rounds Benavidez had settled into a pattern of starting fast and unloading smooth combinations, before allowing himself to become trapped on the ropes and having no answer to the bodywork and pressure of Herrera. Down the stretch, the rounds could arguably be scored on the ratio of these two eventualities, with Herrera appearing to force more sustained periods of dominance and seeming to do enough in what was at times an agonisingly tight contest. But this is Vegas, and Benavidez got the benefit of the doubt to win on questionably wide scores of 116-112, 117-111, and 116-112.
TQBR had it 116-112 Herrera.