- Kosei Tanaka defended his flyweight strap by an exciting stoppage again, defeating Jonathan Gonzalez. Tanaka went through several rough patches during the fight but rallied. Do you think it’s a matter of him fighting down to a level of his opponent, his own ceiling, or something else? And with talk of him moving up in weight, how does he stack up against the absurdly deep 115 and 118 pound classes?
Brent: I don’t think we’re telling tales outside of school by saying Tanaka fights down to the level of his opposition. That’s not necessarily a knock on him as plenty of great fighters have done the same thing (Juan Manuel Marquez and Winky Wright come to mind) but in the lower weight classes, just winning isn’t enough. You need to put exclamation points anywhere you can to even hope for a chance of crossover success. I don’t like his chances against the likes of Inoue but that’s because I don’t like anyone’s chances against Inoue. It would be fascinating to see him in with Juan Francisco Estrada or even Srisaket Sor Rungvisai just to see where everyone is at.
Tim: To me it’s more like a combination of a few things. 1. Tanaka isn’t exactly a slugger but he does tend to take risks to get his shots off. So he gets hit a lot. 2. Gonzalez is a quick-handed, southpaw counterpuncher. Most boxers would probably rather down a few bottles of ipecac than fight that type. They’re hard to handle. 3. Flyweight is a good division, but it’s not like there’s that big a gap between #1 (where the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board had Tanaka) and #10 (where TBRB had Gonzalez). Tanaka might be hovering near the pound-for-pound top 10 but it’s on resume more than the kind of elite skills you often see winning that designation. He’s really good, don’t get me wrong, he’s just not that much better than the best 10 guys in his division. As for elite junior bantams and bantams, that sounds like a bridge too far. He started at 105. And he has flaws that the likes of Estrada and Inoue would exploit.
Swain: It’s a weird case, because I’m really not fucking sure what the issue is, but I imagine it’s a combination of things. Tanaka is wildly talented and tough as hell, but you can’t keep letting people back into fights forever. He really has to break people down before he stops them, so eventually, he’s going to meet someone who won’t break. The top guys at 115-118 are all his equal in talent and skill and are known quantities at the weight. Tanaka is only 24, so the odds are very good that he’ll move up. I do know that he can’t give away rounds against the Estradas, Sor Rungvisais, and Naoya Inoues of the world and expect them to wilt. When he moves up, their judgment cometh, and that right soon.
Jason: Gonzalez is a quick, squirrelly opponent who makes himself tough to pin down, yet in the end Tanaka did just that — and in spectacular fashion. I think we sometimes expect elite fighters to operate like Swiss timepieces, but some (just like the rest of us schmucks) are more consistent than others. Still, the air gets thinner the higher you climb; as Swain mentions, there’ll be less room for error as Tanaka moves out of the division.
- Tanaka won with a vicious body attack. Who are your top five body punchers in the sport, and why is it such an underutilized weapon?
Brent: Off the top of my head, in no particular order, it’s some combination of Canelo Alvarez, Inoue, Gennady Golovkin, Errol Spence and Vasyl Lomachenko. You may have noticed that that’s a murderer’s row of the top guys in the sport which is people’s exhibit A in the case of why bodywork is a crucial element of an elite fighter’s arsenal. It’s underutilized by lesser fighters because there’s such a high price to pay and it takes a fight-long commitment to pay off.
Tim: Besides the best explanation of why it doesn’t happen much, Brent also has some good names. Others: Mikey Garcia. Murat Gassiev. Rungvisai. Badou Jack. Artur Beterbiev. Adding a niche reason some guys don’t work the body: They’re tall. It’s especially risky for them. Super-tall Paul Williams was so fun because he just didn’t care. It caught up to him, obviously.
Swain: I’m gonna go in reverse order, despite writing this goofy question. You have to get close to land body shots, and you’ve got to drop your hands to do it. A goodly chin and/or a seriously dense chin are required. Also, it requires a different kind of balance. You need torque on the punch to do any damage, and oh, by the way, you have to do it repeatedly for many rounds. So if you aren’t willing to get turned into room temperature jello to win, body punching probably isn’t for you. Top 5, in no order whatsoever: Tanaka, Canelo, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Naoya Inoue, and Terence Crawford. There are another 3-4 fighters (Tim mentioned them) that could supplant any of them with their next fight.
Jason: Got heavy hands and rhino balls? Then you, too, can be a devastating body puncher! Technique matters less than commitment here, but it sure helps to punch with enough power to keep an opponent’s elbows pinned to his sides (the better to avoid his hands countering you in the face). Lots of fighters can be effective body punchers in a given matchup, but the current best of the lot — the aforementioned Inoue, Canelo, Errol Spence, Golovkin — make it a lifestyle choice. Among the up-and-comers, I dig Josh Taylor’s dedication to (and apparent glee in) going to the body.
- Speaking of body punching: Sergey Kovalev appeared badly hurt after Anthony Yarde landed some brutal body punches in the 8th. What did you make of their respective performances, and is the proposed Kovalev vs Canelo fight anything more than a retirement cash out for Sergey?
Brent: Kovalev is 36 years old and lives HARD. As his career goes on there’s going to be more and more moments like that 8th round against Yarde. Ido give Yarde credit for forcing a fighter of Kovalev’s caliber into that position (He doesn’t like it to the body, did you guys hear about this?!) but Kovalev deserves a huge pat on his psychotic back for surviving it. As for him and Canelo, I’ll never understand why the bigger guy takes a fight like this. If he wins, great, he was supposed to. If he loses, holy shit, beat by a smaller guy. Mortifying. There’s nothing to be gained except money so to answer the question, yes, this a going away present for Kovalev and his team.
Tim: For what it’s worth, “doesn’t like it to the body” sounds like ineloquent shorthand for “more than other fighters, doesn’t take body punches well.” And that’s true of Kovalev. More so than many top boxers, his fights have several times turned upon a sustained body attack. Either way, Kovalev is on a clear decline despite his nice return against Eleider Alvarez. Yarde isn’t a bad fighter at all. Pre-Andre Ward Kovalev probably destroys him utterly. And yeah, Kovalev-Canelo is precisely a retirement cashout. Unluckily enough for both parties, everyone knows by now that’s the case, or at least they should. That makes the cashout smaller.
Swain: Sergey likes hanging out with monks, but he’s more a Chaucer’s Monk than St Francis of Assisi like Brent and Tim said. Everyone has one thing that makes them come completely unmoored. Some guy’s panic when they bleed, some guys can’t make themselves get in shape. For Kovalev, it’s getting hit in the gut. Let’s be realistic: 36 is really fucking old for a fighter. It’s the years, AND it’s the miles. Yarde is talented, but his balance is absolutely atrocious and his basic craft is laughable. Cool muscles, but being a great athlete isn’t enough. Ask Anthony Joshua if being a great athlete is enough against someone who’s been living and breathing this shit so long they think they were born with gloves on. Kovalev looked old and slow for long stretches, but down the stretch (8th -11th rounds), he landed 116 punches. And he can fucking punch. Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. Kovalev was simply a better fighter on Saturday. As for Kovalev-Canelo, come on. Canelo hasn’t stopped getting better in the last decade. He’s built like a bull, so 175 just means he doesn’t have to diet so strictly. If Kovalev’s end goal is to set his family up for life, he wins no matter what.
Jason: If Yarde has the good sense to clean house and assemble a team that recognizes getting ready for a fight should include some actual fighting, he should have at least a solid run as a contender ahead of him. He’s still young enough to turn that into a prolonged success story. Kovalev, on the other hand, is a half-pack of Marlboros shy of shot. He made quite a career for himself out of a stiff jab, cataclysmic power and an extra helping of crazy eyes, but nothing has been the same A.W. (After Ward). Go ahead, Krusher: Get that Ginger money and ride off into the gulag.
- Tanaka-Gonzalez & Kovalev-Yarde were on at peak times for their locale, but not for us. Years past, we’d have only seen such fights on tape delay or not at all. Is access to great fights like this, in HD no less, important to you as a fan? And does knowing the result spoil them for you?
Brent: As someone who’s been illegally streaming fights of various and sometimes unwatchable quality for decades it’s nice to have access to international broadcasts in HD. I’m like a divorcee now where I’ve gotten used to a certain lifestyle and am incapable of going back. As someone who’s been an irredeemably selfish fuck for most of his existence, finding out the result of a fight beforehand doesn’t really bother me because it saves me the time of having to pay attention to anything beyond what I want to. I suck.
Tim: I’ve never committed the crime of illegal stream, not once, coppers, and I won’t snitch on anyone who has. It has been a fine way for some (not me, of course) to see fights that might’ve taken an overseas write-up to track down. It’s way, way better to have the option to watch a fight unspoiled, at least for me. So yeah, this is a terrific thing, the global democratization of fight access. Let’s face it, some countries are stronger in some divisions than others. I’m looking at you, Japan.
Swain: Not being a complete child, if I really want to see something unsoiled, I simply stay off social media or block the words associated with it until I’ve viewed the fight in question. It takes less than a minute to accomplish that. I forgot to drink water for like 12 hours today because I was pretending to be an adult while making sure my girlfriend’s kids didn’t light themselves on fire. Ignoring my phone is easy as hell. Combine that with my own inherent laziness, and I’m seeing new fights in 4k whenever I want. Like pretty much everyone else over 30, I’m busy doing what I have to do rather than what I want to do, so being able to watch things when I’m available is huge.
Jason: Look, let’s not forget that the good old days actually blew. I don’t like paying for multiple streaming services any more than the next guy, but how is that different than being bent over a barrel by my local cable provider because I want to watch my fights? (Incidentally, “Bent Over a Barrel” premieres next month on Starz East.) Save for the occasional pixilation or rare transmission glitch, the feeds for DAZN and ESPN+, in my experience, have been clean and reliable. Hell, I’ve even enjoyed the random Facebook card. (Much love, Rooster!) The timing of those broadcasts? Comes with the territory in a global sport. Besides, I’ve got kids, a 40-hour and a flatbed full of personal demons — I’m glad to get the chance to watch any fights, spoiled or otherwise.
- Some people accused Estrada of fighting down to the level of his opponent, to my eyes he appeared to be playing with Dewayne Beamon. How did it look to you, and where does Estrada go from here?
Brent: I think sometimes guys like to play around when they know they have a guy in front of them who can’t hurt them. It’s like switch-hitting at the batting cages just to see if you can do it. Nonito Donaire used to do this in his prime. He was so good that he’d just fuck around and try weird things simply to keep himself interested. It’s not that worrisome to me. Estrada is in that purgatory-like position where he’ll always be a viable TV fighter because he makes fun fights but he might be just a notch below the elite level. If I’m him I keep doing what I’m doing while I can and hope the paydays and TV dates keep rolling in.
Tim: Insofar as Estrada was taunting a bit more than we’re used to seeing for a fairly low-key customer, yeah, he was toying with him a bit. More so, it seems to be a permanent condition of Estrada’s that, he indeed fights down to the level of his opposition, yet we can diagnose it a bit more specifically: He tends to fight about as much as he feels he needs to. On the charitable end, you could call this “patience.” On the less charitable end, you could call it “a sometimes mistaken estimation of how things are going.” He’s had closer fights than often necessary. However hungrily Beamon attacked, there was a massive class difference here and if Estrada decided he wanted an early night, he could’ve had one. It’s not his temperament, for better AND worse.
Swain: I’m relatively certain that I’ve mentioned that Juan Manuel Marquez is my all-time favorite fighter. I gravitated to Estrada because he is an even more dwarvish version of JMM. The similarities are temperamental as much as they are technical. He absolutely fights down to his opponent’s level, AND he’s playing around when he does it. That overconfidence in your ability to discern how other people see the fight going can get you some losses on your record, but that was never on the table Saturday night. Beamon is a phenomenal athlete and a good fighter. He’s just not on Estrada’s level. I’ve seen Beamon fight live a couple of times (Goldsboro, N.C. is an hour from where I live, and he’s fought 15 minutes from my house several times), and he’s legitimately good. I loved that fight. Some guys play with their food, and it’s boring. Juan Francisco Estrada did it and made it entertaining. He’s beautiful to watch. As for next, bring on the rubber match with The Rat KING!
Jason: Don’t get it twisted.
- Between ESPN, DAZN and PBC on FS1, the promoter’s announce teams reached a new Laurentian nadir of stupidity Saturday. We’re likely never getting back good announcers who are even borderline neutral, so what can be done to fix it (apart from using multichannel stereo and muting only their channel since that’s nearly impossible to do on a computer or app)? Who are the worst offenders in your mind?
Brent: The multitude of networks and their accompanying broadcast teams have suffered the same fate as a lot of the fight cards. If you flood the market you’re going to dilute the talent pool and there’s simply not enough star power to go around. I’m being judicious with some of the
newer guys and allowing them to find their groove before writing them off but the descent into shill-dom from some of the old guard has been nothing short of mesmerizing. I’m tiptoeing around saying Joe Tessitore but yeah, it’s Joe Tessitore. He’s the worst right now. Sergio Mora, Ray Leonard and Mauro Ranallo are longtime contenders for the crown as well. The mute button and Weird Science setup Swain just explained are blessings to contemporary boxing fans.
Tim: I feel like I’ve complained in this space too much about the current crop of boxing announcers, who might as well get in the ring and team up on the non-house favorite to revert matters to the preferred narrative. I’ll try to accentuate the positive. Al Bernstein is still good. Paulie Malignaggi — as much as the mere sound of his voice is like getting my fingernails pulled out — often has insights. The ShoBox team does a good job. Oh, dammit. Showtime just doesn’t air that much boxing anymore. There are other guys who have their moments (yes, including Ward) but overall it’s a dismal thing that can’t be repaired in this era of hyper-explicit promoter/network deals.
Swain: The announce crew has a devil’s bargain. They can’t make a fight better, but they can damn sure fuck up a great one. Ray Flores holding up a local paper on FS1 as proof that Brandon Figueroa is a star might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. And I once saw a 220-pound man in a pink junior (women’s) sized leotard chase a beach ball into a dust devil and get flung 30 feet like a dishrag. Used car salesman are calling fights and it’s fucking insulting.
Jason: I’m tired of bitching about these guys. We know who the clowns are at this point, and yes, the car is filled to capacity. But allow me to blow a ray of sunshine up your keister: Tim Bradley is the truth. He’s fun, engaging, comes off well in any format and absolutely knows his shit. And on that last point: Most fighters, for obvious reasons, fit into this category. What makes Bradley rare is his ability to convey boxing’s finer points to a lay audience. Think of him as an AXE-product-free Malignaggi.
- The ring walks for Kovalev vs Yarde took damn near 15 minutes. The argument is often made that casual fans eat that up, and they’re important for the sport to grow. My counter-argument has always been that a. I don’t give a shit what they like since they only watch the stupid cash grab fights. And b. The sport loses more hardcore fans through its endless fuckery than it could ever hope to gain with WWE tactics. Where do you come down in this argument?
Brent: If it’s a case of a large arena and the dressing rooms are in a different zip code than the ring, it’s slightly less forgivable. On the whole though, I’m not a fan of theatrics. Give me a kickass fighter with a natural charisma over one with a manufactured personality and a muffled rapper you can’t hear accompanying him to the ring. I’ll never understand this sport’s pandering to “potential” fans while simultaneously shitting on “actual” ones. People wonder why boxing fans are so negative toward the sport but maybe it’s because of the sport’s absolute disregard for the people keeping the fucking lights on.
Tim: This. This is so obnoxious. There have been times where the pageantry of pre-fight hype was undercooked. A good ring walk can build anticipation. These days, it’s usually some B-list rapper who apparently can’t hear his own music because he’s off the beat, spitting incomprehensible bars into a muffled mic. Then the multiple announcements of the fighters. And the videos on the jumbotron. And the national anthems for every country in the United Nations. We’ve swung way too far in this kind of pre-fight hype. Nobody -— not casuals, not hardcore fans -— want to watch a three-fight card that lasts six hours.
Swain: There’s not a secret recipe to getting people to pay attention. It’s violence, and the more skillfully violent the better. That’s what boxing is: Legally sanctioned violence at the highest skill level. This “durr durr but the casuals” bullshit needs to go away. It’s a cash grab that promoters use for not doing their goddamn job, and people just accept that goalpost getting moved further and further because the promoters bitch that they can’t make money otherwise. If you can’t make money otherwise, get out of the sport or be better at your job, but this Stockholm Syndrome shit from fans and media needs to end. I’m completely over entertaining it. Here’s my question for anyone going Chicken Little: Do you really think that the assholes spinning the tales of woe about their poverty -— while hiding behind the fighters who are actually taking the risk -— have any fucking where else to go? They need us way more than we need them.
Jason: I dunno. The walkout in Tyson Fury’s fight a month back was good times. The World Boxing Super Series light show is pretty bitching. I guess I don’t like being up to catch the “Full House” reruns on Nick at Nite, but on the other hand, I value my alone time. The house is pretty quiet at 3 a.m. I’m conflicted, is all I’m saying. Just bring back Skull Guy and we’ll pretend this conversation never happened.