July kind of drags. For most of us, it’s hotter than Satan’s taint, and everything tends to find itself in a bit of a holding pattern. Typically there aren’t a lot of fight cards either. So, in what has been a surprisingly entertaining year to date, now feels like the exact right time to take a look back, shoot the shit about the things we enjoyed the most, and because this is boxing, the things that were awful and/or hilarious.
- What has been the most entertaining round, fight, and card so far? And if you’ve got to pick, which one of those is most important to you in terms of your overall experience?
Tim: Best Round is Round 3 of Andy Ruiz Jr. vs Anthony Joshua and I’m not sure it’s even close, although the 1st Round of Ryoto Murata vs Rob Brant was very good, and every round of Julian Williams vs Jarrett Hurd was vicious. In the case of Ruiz-Joshua, traded knockdowns are always great, but this one was special because it went from a fight where it looked damn near over only for the underdog to storm back and completely swing the fight in his favor. Best fight is where it gets a little trickier: Williams-Hurd was the better pure brawl, but Ruiz-Joshua was so ultra-dramatic. I’ll go Williams-Hurd, reluctantly. And the best card was Juan Francisco Estrada vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai II, a good fight all by itself with an undercard fight that was even better: TJ Doheny vs Daniel Roman. Even the third fight on the card was plenty good: Jessie Vargas vs Humberto Soto. Generally speaking, I’m gonna value the experience of a truly excellent fight over a good single round or a solid all-around card. There’s an exception here for reasons I’ll be discussing very, very shortly.
Brent: I’m on record as having one, single rooting interest in this sport and that is total and absolute chaos. With that as my guide, Andy Ruiz runs the table. By every conceivable metric, at least in terms of what I want and hope to get out of this sport, his win over Anthony Joshua scratched itches I didn’t even know I had. The underdog storyline and the actual fight itself were outstanding but it’s the ripple effect outside the ring that brings me ever so much joy. The heavyweight division had become a god damn staring contest and Andy Ruiz forced everyone to blink. Rankings were reshuffled, expected earnings were dashed and certain promoters’ dry cleaning bills went through the roof as their pants overflowed with their own shit. We got to dunk on the various heavyweights who passed on the fight after Jarrell Miller pissed hot and in turn forwent a paycheck they’ll never come close to seeing again. It was a perfect moment and one that may never be topped in my lifetime.
Honorary mention to Guillermo Rigondeaux/Julio Ceja for fight of the year because mentioning Rigo in that capacity is something I’ll never get the chance to do again if I don’t do it now.
Swain: I tried really hard to find a better round, but the third round of Ruiz-Joshua is just fucking spectacular. The shrieking right hand that Ruiz eats like a tic tac right after he got dropped is probably the single hardest punch of the fight, and it’s the moment Ruiz takes over completely. And then it gets even better.
I’ll go with Hurd-Williams for best fight thus far. Starts fast, stays fast, and the momentum is always contested.
Juan Francisco Estrada vs Srisaket Sor Rungvisai II is absolutely the best overall card of the year like Tim said. The last two and a half hours of the card were terrific. I always want to see something fight of the year level, but if I have to pick one thing, good top to bottom cards are more important to me than anything else.
Jason: Six months? Jesus, it’s been only six hours since breakfast, and for all I know I ate avocado on asbestos shingles. How am I supposed to recall that far back? My aneurysm is on your conscience, Swain. Round: Joshua-Ruiz, Round 3. It had everything. Fight: Hurd-Williams. Fierce and fun. Card: Has to be Joshua-Ruiz. In addition to the tectonic upset in the main event, we were treated to 1) the best women’s bout these eyes have seen in Katie Taylor’s tight decision win over supercop Delfine Persoon; 2) the continued rise of Callum Smith (and, simultaneously, the ongoing falls of Hassan N’Dam); and 3) the sweet, sultry stylings of everyone’s favorite lip-balm-model-in-waiting, Chris Algieri.
- Is there a moment from this year that you imagine you’ll think about in ten years? If so, why?
Tim: Ruiz upsetting Joshua, absolutely. It’s not often you get to think a phrase like “biggest heavyweight upset since Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson,” and it’s wholly plausible. That fight was 29 years ago now! That’s nuts! This was by far the coolest thing that has happened so far, despite me ranking Williams-Hurd slightly ahead of it as a nuts-and-bolts fight.
Brent: At the risk of sounding like a drunken parrot in echo canyon, I’m gonna go with Ruiz/Joshua again but I’ll say round 7 and specifically the stoppage. Even though Ruiz was in total control after the third round and Joshua was a spent bullet after the knockdown he scored, this is god damn heavyweight boxing and nothing is guaranteed. This was like a horror movie where no matter how many times you stab the bad guy or cut his fucking head off, he keeps coming back until you burn the Ouija board you used to conjure him. Yeah, sending Joshua’s mouthpiece helicoptering into the ninth row would be cool but getting stopped on his feet somehow felt more suspenseful. Every joyful, spring shattering leap of celebratory exuberance from Andy Ruiz felt incredibly earned. It was a special night for anyone lucky enough to have it as a memory.
Swain: I desperately want to say it’s Andrew Cancio getting off the deck to stop Alberto Machado and then beating him in the rematch because it’s a fantastic story, but it’s Andy Ruiz.
Jason: Truthfully? It was the surfacing of footage from a June 2018 brawl starring Shakur Stevenson. Throw that weak left-handed swipe in the ring, and the world laughs with you. Throw it at a woman in a Miami Beach parking garage and, well … I’ll do whatever I can to make sure the world doesn’t let you forget it.
- Best & Worst judging, refereeing, announcing performance?
Tim: I’ll take the first one, and weigh in on the last one… Canelo Alvarez vs Daniel Jacobs was so on the money (116-112, 115-113, 115-113) that even Jacobs’ promoter, Eddie Hearn, scored it 115-113 for Canelo. Some rare kudos for good judging, which doesn’t often stick out: Glenn Feldman, Dave Moretti and Steve Weisfeld, cheers. Announcing performance… There are no more good announcing performances. There are only cheerleading performances in the age of the exclusive deals where each network is tied so closely to promoters PBC, Top Rank and Matchroom, a thing we saw with a different era of networks only not nearly as atrocious. Maybe “cheerleading” is generous, too. Some of these commentators should be up for AVN Awards.
Brent: This has been a bad year for almost every aspect of boxing that doesn’t involve punching. You’ve got Adelaide Byrd back at ringside, Russell Mora taking an asparagus piss all over the rulebook inside it and somehow Laurence Cole is still getting gigs on both sides of the ropes. I mean, I know I said that thing about welcoming chaos but dude, what the fuck? It sure seems like this sport has a death wish at times.
The decision that sticks out as being the most odious is Shawn Porter’s decision over Yordenis Ugas. It wasn’t the worst on a fundamental level, as there were many close rounds, but the fact that you didn’t need to hear the scores announced to know that all those rounds were going to the house fighter. There were definitely more egregiously bad scorecards handed out this year but Porter/Ugas was symptomatic of everything that people hate about this sport. No one will remember this fight in six months except for Yordenis Ugas and that’s the worst part. It’s boxing’s version of the Pump and Dump, and nothing is ever going to change.
Swain: Best Refereeing? I bet there have been a half dozen times I’ve remarked that a referee has done a good job or handled a situation well, but I’ll be damned if I can remember who it was. That’s normally the thing about a good referee, they stay out of the way. For the worst refereeing, I can give you 3 from the same day (June 15): Phil Edwards in Kid Galahad vs Josh Warrington, Robert Byrd in Mairis Briedis vs Krzysztof Glowacki, and Jay Nady in Sullivan Barrera vs Jesse Hart. That’s the double-edged sword here, unless you’re entertaining like Steve Willis, twice the size of most fighters like Tony Weeks, or a mustachioed living God like Steve Smoger, people don’t really remember the good refs.
I definitely agree about the Canelo-Jacobs judging. It was right on the money.
I’m going to go specific and say that the absolute nadir of announcing this year was Tyson Fury vs Tom Schwarz. I didn’t think it would get worse than the DAZN team’s histrionic oral technique during Canelo-Jacobs, but ESPN absolutely blew them out of the water on June 15. And I swear to Gaia that if I hear another fucking story about a boxer and his Dad/Father Figure, I’m going to yank out my beard and wear it as a bushy silver hat.
Jason: For once, a “worst of” boxing category is absolutely dominated by a Byrd and it’s not Adalaide. Last month it was Robert who turned in a signature performance of referee negligence in Mairis Briedis’ stoppage of Krzysztof Glowacki. Byrd was slow to react to Glowacki’s rabbit punches during a second-round clinch, which led to a retaliatory elbow from Briedis that floored Glowacki. Byrd docked a point from Briedis, but only after rushing a still-woozy Glowacki to his feet. “Both you guys know: We gotta keep this fight clean,” Byrd told the fighters. “I don’t want to be a part of it.” And he meant it. Moments later, after Breidis had dropped Glowacki again – this time legally – and Glowacki beat the count as the bell sounded, Byrd was oblivious. Briedis seized the moment, and as those at ringside tried frantically to get Byrd’s attention and the bell sounded over and over, Breidis hammered Glowacki back to the canvas (and finished him off a round later). It wasn’t just a bad night at the office for Byrd. It was an epically incompetent showing that profoundly affected the outcome.
Announcing? Al Bernstein and Steve Farhood continue to set the standard, and Tim Bradley is slowly emerging as a difference-making color commentator. But who’s got next? It’s a hard job, but for every decent voice in the booth, there are a half-dozen shills, weirdos and deers in headlights. Hate to keep banging this drum, but can we please send Mauro Ranallo back to the rasslin’ circuit?
- DAZN & ESPN+, and the promoters who get paid by them, have done a good job of putting on fights with full venues and loud crowds. How important is the atmosphere for you when watching a fight on TV?
Tim: This has never been a huge priority for me. It’s better to have it than not. There were probably only between 3,000-4,000 people attending my favorite fight ever, Jose Luis Castillo vs Diego Corrales. Would an even louder, fuller crowd have helped? Sure. That means it’s a worthwhile thing. It tends to matter for me more when I attend in person, because the FEELING of a live crowd when you’re in it is a much, much more visceral experience; on TV, the loudest part is still gonna be the announcing team.
Brent: I have a punk rock mentality when it comes to fight atmosphere. I want intimate but passionate. I want The Replacements at the 7th Street Entry in 1984. Some of the best shows I’ve ever seen were in venues that held less than 50 people but everyone there knew every word to every song and the floor was ankle-deep in sweat and beer. You can’t dogpile a singer and grab the mic at The Target Center and that same mentality translates to boxing in my book. Empty seats and roped off sections look like ass on tv and even worse in person. On the same token, watching the fight from section 225 is about as boring as it gets. Give me the StubHub Center (or whatever the fuck it’s called now) or something of comparable size, packed to the absolute gills on a hot Saturday night where the main event fighters enter the ring at dusk and night falls as the bell for the sixth round rings. Not one single person in attendance would pass a field sobriety test and you can barely talk over the mariachi music. That’s a fight card, baby. Grind it to a fine powder, heat it up in a dirty spoon and inject it into my fucking femoral artery. Let’s go.
Swain: I love a loud audience. It makes a good fight even better. And if you’ve got a good audio set up, you can separate the announcers onto a single channel, mute those motherfuckers, and crank up the ring sounds and audience louder than Pantera on the second day of a coke binge. It is magical. You get the live atmosphere without the hassle of having to be near other human beings.
Jason: I don’t need audience participation to enjoy a fight, but I can get swept up by one of Bud Crawford’s Omaha crowds or even a small room that brings good energy. (ESPN generally gets the most out of the latter situations.) DAZN has been hit or (big) miss in its World Boxing Super Series, with some real crypts for venues. For what it’s worth, though, props to the production value.
- The rapture is nigh. You are the leader of the vestige of our species. Using technology stolen by descendants of Dennis Anderson, and delivered by Gravedigger herself, you must assemble a fighter that is made of components of performances in the first half of 2019 to face the reanimated corpse of Victor Ortiz that has been infused with Ruslan Provodnikov’s chin and brain in a winner take all battle. The combatants will be the scaled so they are the exact same size. Go!
Tim: I fear I’m going to have a letdown of an answer here. A Victor Ortiz/Ruslan Provodnikov hybrid probably matches best against a pure brawler (although Ortiz would give him a bit more speed and technique?) and it feels a little like we’re between generations of fighters who have truly established themselves as that kind. Building blocks of Hurd’s performance vs Williams might qualify? Maybe some components from performances by Emanuel Navarrete, TJ Doheny, Callum Smith or Gilberto Ramirez? I’ll just say “every single piece of Naoya Inoue” because I want to see him all the time, against everyone, forever.
Brent: Give me Deontay Wilder’s right hand against Breazeale, Julian Williams’ jab against Jarrett Hurd, Inoue’s hand speed against Emmanuel Rodriguez and Nonito Donaire’s god damn adorableness against Stephon Young. Even all that might not be enough to combat a Victor Ortiz powered by the stress of pending rape charges but I’m willing to risk the money to find out.
Swain: I’ll take Vergil Ortiz’s right cross that liquified Mauricio Herrera, Juan Francisco Estrada’s jab against The Rat King, Josh Taylor’s footwork and hand speed against Ivan Baranchyk, Naoya Inoue’s left hook that crumpled Emmanuel Rodriguez, Julio Ceja’s body punching against Rigo, Canelo’s chin and upper body movement against Jacobs, and Miguel Berchelt’s volume. against Francisco Vargas.
Jason: I don’t know if I’m Gary or Wyatt or the C-cup headgear in this little wish fulfillment, but I’m not gonna lie: I like it. Give me Julian Williams’ brain, Josh Warrington’s work rate, Vasiliy Lomachenko’s footwork, Naoya Inoue’s righthanded power, and Ruiz’s self-belief. Give us a sec here, Chip. We’re ’bout to send Victor to hell.
- What’s the biggest thing you’re looking forward to in the second half of 2019?
Tim: Hmmm, I’m torn between what I wish will happen and what I think might actually happen. I still pine for Terence Crawford vs Errol Spence Jr, or Inoue vs Luis Nery as a consolation prize, and yet there’s very little chance of them happening. You can imagine I’d be down for Ruiz-Joshua II. I’m worried Joshua needs some work before then or it’ll be a near-repeat, which is not to say I’m utterly opposed, and that fight is, at least, likely. As far as surefire, it’s hard to see anything on the calendar as good as Regis Prograis vs Josh Taylor. That one’s delicious.
Brent: I know I’m in the (vast!) minority here but I’m hoping we get GGG/Canelo 3 sorted out by the end of the year. Not the fight itself necessarily but at least get it on the god damn books. I understand the exhaustion and outright antipathy towards this fight but get over it, you know? It’s two of the best middleweights of their era attempting to once and for all settle a score before the window slams shut on their primes. And besides the enjoyment of the fight itself (and the first two were fun ass fights) it clears up the logjam this shit is causing in and around 160. Grip it, rip it and get it on the record so we can all move on to bigger and better things. Coincidentally that’s that same thing I said about my morning shit today which you didn’t need to know but feels oddly appropriate for this topic.
Swain: The finals of the WBSS for me. Two high skill action fights and an aging human hug emoji against Godzilla.
Jason: Aside from the (perhaps misguided) hope that the heavyweight picture will gain some clarity, I’m just looking forward to watching the next generation of superstars come to light. With Bernard Hopkins and Miguel Cotto gone, the door all but shut on Floyd Mayweather and the clock ticking down on Manny Pacquiao, who’s left? Gennady Golovkin is 37. Lomachenko is already 31. Canelo Alvarez may be a government drone. Crawford is an extraordinary talent, but will he find an opponent who can help elevate him to crossover star? Is Errol Spence Jr. who we think he is? How about Inoue? Teofimo Lopez? C’mon, let’s see it.
(Photo by Melina Pizano/Matchroom Boxing USA)