That’s the heavyweight fight people were gaga about this weekend: Steve Cunningham winning a tight battle against Amir Mansour on NBC Sports, one bloody, the other swollen, a power puncher vs. a boxer, both men on the canvas, a close decision win for Cunningham. It was more consistently good than the undercard bout, between middleweights Curtis Stevens and Tureano Johnson, which had higher highs in the 4th and 5th rounds. Both bouts shared this quality, though: The losers, Mansour and Johnson, elevated their standings. The “W” matters, of course, so it’s small consolation. But at minimum, Johnson and Mansour proved they belonged on this level, and proved as well that they deserved more opportunities.
It was nice to get some actual quality boxing matches this weekend; the flyweights delivered pretty well, too. Mostly boxing has been dogshit in 2014.
- Steve Cunningham vs. Amir Mansour. Cunningham is no true heavyweight, yet he’s established that he can compete in the division. He was prone to hitting the deck or getting in trouble at cruiserweight, even, so I never expected him to get much done with the biggest boys. Yet here he was, climbing off the deck after two nasty knockdowns in the 5th and outboxing Mansour. Mansour was indeed faster than he has looked in the past, and it made a difference early as he put his punches together well. NBC Sports’ B.J. Flores was living up to his first initials in assessing Cunningham’s performance, but when he’s not getting stuck in a rut on the “story” of a fight, he’s a decent analyst who observed correctly the following: What changed, in part, is that Mansour went to loading up his shots and not punching in combination, and Cunningham was better able to pick him off that way. Cunningham’s toughness is not in question — cripes, that story about his daughter’s illness was heavy — and that, too, made a difference as he scored a last-round knockdown that swung the fight his way on my scorecard. Cunningham might’ve benefited from a couple slow counts by referee Steve Smoger (I got to 10 before he got to eight and seven, in both cases), but he counted the same way against Mansour, FWIW. At this point both men are still worthy of an HBO or Showtime date, if the likes of Bryant Jennings or Deontay Wilder, say, were looking for a challenge. I know, both of those guys are on target for other fights (Jennings for Mike Perez, Wilder for the winner of Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola II), it’s just a “for instance.”
- Curtis Stevens vs. Tureano Johnson. Johnson was in control for most of the fight, winning all but a couple rounds through 10. What that says is that, in part, the inexperienced 30-year-old, who had only gone eight rounds before, is for real. It doesn’t say that Stevens is overrated so much as it says that he has a track record of being beaten by the game plan originated by Jesse Brinkley and continued by Gennady Golovkin: If you can back him up and take some of his best shots, you can dilute some of his power. (Stevens is a bit stubborn about that power; his corner told him to clinch and spin with his back on the ropes, but he refused.) Unfortunately for Johnson, he couldn’t take one of Stevens’ best in the final round, and he got rocked. The stoppage was premature, perhaps actively bad, although I’ve seen much worse. There’s no harm in criticizing a stoppage if it’s worthy of it, despite the deserved focus on referees needing to be a bit quicker with their triggers post-Magomed Abdusalamov; the harm is when you go nuts with anger over borderline stoppages, which this one wasn’t. Stevens still would be a better opponent for Peter Quillin than the kind of guys he keeps fighting, while Johnson deserves at least a headlining shot on NBC Sports in his next bout.
- Flyweight action. This division is pretty special these days, so if you have hang-ups about watching dudes this little get down, get over it. I haven’t caught all the footage from this weekend — some complete fights, some snippets. Champion Akira Yaegashi got an unexpectedly spirited challenge from Odilon Zaleta before stopping him. Roman Gonzalez had an easier time with Juan Purisima. They are going to meet next, it looks like. That’s a dynamite fight. As for junior flyweight: We all knew 20-year-old Naoya Inoue was a serious talent, but holy moly, the way he carved up the #1 108-pounder in the world, Adrian Hernandez, was beyond my expectations. This was just his sixth pro fight. The lower weight divisions have yet another menace.
- Carl Frampton vs. Hugo Cazares. Our man Andrew Harrison had a full account of the fight and Cazares’ mystifying count-out, so I won’t add much other than to say Frampton is a monster. He’s the total package — good-to-excellent speed, defense, boxing technique, chin and power. Should the junior featherweight fight with Leo Santa Cruz happen, we’ll be in for a real treat.
- Luis Ortiz vs. Monte Barrett. On paper, Barrett, nearly two years from his last fight and nearly three from his last win, shouldn’t be the headliner on any card, but then, this is Fox Sports 1 we’re talking about, which ought to change its motto to “Lowering the Bar.” That said, Barrett was better than anyone Cuban heavyweight prospect Ortiz has fought by a mile, and didn’t appear as shot as I feared he might be. Odlanier Solis, another Cuban heavyweight, took out Barrett earlier than did Ortiz, and the 4th round stoppage was a bit odd as the referee waved it off immediately with Barrett on his knee, not that Barrett protested. But Ortiz passed the test easily, such as it was, and is moving along at a nice pace.
- Juergen Braehmer vs. Enzo Maccarinelli. I haven’t caught this light heavyweight fight yet — I’m overseas for a spell and time zone differences and lack of access to past bouts is a problem — but it was hard to escape Maccarinelli’s swollen eye. It looks like his socket is trying to give birth to a hamburger. Naturally, it’s why the fight was stopped for a Braehmer win.