So boxing got the result that almost all non-affiliates in the sport wanted, a Deontay Wilder victory on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Not only that, the watching public got to see several questions answered as Wilder boxed like an accomplished veteran to easily defeat the overmatched Stiverne. The fact that Wilder won a wide points decision actually proved more than had he blasted Stiverne out inside the first four rounds, as most of us expected him to. He showed good stamina, patience and plenty of ring smarts in outboxing his plodding foe. Some credit must go to Stiverne for forcing Wilder to display those qualities where none of his previous opponents had been able to.
Wilder boxed a superb fight, with the left jab being the dominant punch, frequently spearing Stiverne’s head back on his shoulders. The three judges had wide scorecards and rightly so. I scored it 118-110 for Wilder, giving Bermane Stiverne only the sixth and eighth rounds. The action slowed in the last 3-4 rounds as both men tired, but Wilder still controlled these rounds with his jab. Any closer scoreline would have given a misleading impression of the fight, as Wilder dominated for the most part. Stiverne said afterwards that he couldn’t get his punches off and he didn’t know why. There is an axiom which holds true for most sports and it is that you are only as good as your opponent allows you to be and Wilder wasn’t allowing Stiverne to do anything. Wilder said in the post-fight interview that 12 rounds was nothing and that he could do 15 or even 20 rounds. However, he looked pretty spent in the last round as both fighters leaned on each other for the most part.
Stiverne’s cornerman Don House was clueless as to what advice to give his man in between rounds. Not surprising when House is usually seen as the cutman at UFC shows. How he was the main voice in a WBC heavyweight champion’s corner beggars belief. After this performance, Wilder now joins the elite list of heavyweights, which at the moment stands at three, with the other two being, of course, Klitschko and Fury. They are soon to be joined by Anthony Joshua and a fight between any of these four would create massive hype and excitement in the sport. These men are like a new strain of heavyweight, all standing at least 6 feet 6 inches tall, with long reaches and no fat to be seen. No more roly-polys like we had in the 80s – this is a super-breed.
Wilder suggested after the fight that he would like to face Tyson Fury next. Surely that fight will not be made. Wilder versus Klitschko in the USA would be the biggest moneyspinner for Wilder and his team and a hugely risky match with Fury would certainly not appear to be on the agenda for Wilder’s manager Al Haymon. A safe option will likely follow then, whilst Wilder waits for Klitschko to see off his next challenger, Bryant Jennings, in April, with the blockbuster hopefully to follow in the autumn. That is, of course, if Haymon does not want to wait for Klitschko to deteriorate more with age and signs Wilder to a succession of easy defences. Let us hope that is not the case.
What a disappointing turn Leo Santa Cruz’s career has taken of late. His nondescript victory over no-hoper Jesus Ruiz did not belong on Showtime and shame on them for buying it and feeding it to their subscribers. Of course, this is the second “gimme” fight in a row for Santa Cruz, following his easy stoppage of Manuel Roman last September. People will argue that Santa Cruz is having to fight whoever Al Haymon tells him to. Still, Santa Cruz signed the contract with Haymon which ultimately relinquished any say he had in the future of his own career. He certainly looked embarrassed to be in with such weak opposition in Las Vegas.
Watching Leo on Saturday made me even more convinced that Carl Frampton would have too much guile, punch power and overall ring generalship for him. Leo would not be able to trundle forward with impunity letting go his body attack against Frampton. Carl would be catching him coming in with his hard and fast counters and Carl’s speed of foot would give Santa Cruz nightmares. In fact, I would venture to say that Santa Cruz is just not as effective at super-bantam as he was at bantamweight. He has not looked anything special for some time now. Listening to Santa Cruz both before and after this fight, it would seem that the fight he is chasing is against fellow Mexican Abner Mares. There is no way that Cyclone Promotions could tempt Leo to Belfast, with the huge paycheques that he is commanding at the moment. It just would not make financial sense. Expect the Mares fight next for Santa Cruz then and at this time I would favour Mares in that particular shoot out. With little hope that Frampton or Quigg will have a superfight with either Santa Cruz or Rigondeaux any time soon, it brings the prospect of them meeting each other later this year that much closer.
Amir Imam did his career prospects no harm whatsoever, being involved in the fight of the night at the MGM Grand in his thriller against Fidel Maldonado Jr. His trainer has previously evoked the names of Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson and Felix Trinidad whilst waxing lyrical about his fighter’s abilities. This type of hyperbole should always be taken with a pinch of salt. What Imam does bring to the table though is hammer-like power in his right hand. He scored five knockdowns against Maldonado, and each time his opponent went down it was as though his legs had been swept from under him. The referee did the right thing in stopping the fight in the fifth, as Maldonado was taking some hellacious shots to the head.
Of course, on the flip side, the worry is that Imam is very easy to hit. Maldonado, no great boxer and at least two inches the shorter man, could not miss him with straight left leads throughout the fight and of course scored the shocking third round knockdown against the favourite. I also recall Imam being quite badly hurt during the second round of his otherwise easy victory over Cuban Yordenis Ugas in May of last year. A long career at the top level does not look likely then. Having said that, with the right matches made, Imam could soon be knocking on the door of the light-welterweight top 10 and, in fact, I think he is already a threat to the workmanlike WBA champion Jessie Vargas, who does not carry the power that would threaten Imam. With Amir’s promoter Don King having his main fighter, Stiverne, knocked off, it is hoped that Imam’s career doesn’t go into limbo with Don. Surely, though, Showtime Television will want to feature him on their air again, bearing in mind that he looked similarly sensational when he appeared on their ShoBox broadcast in April 2013 when blasting out Jeremy Bryan.
On Friday night, in Verona, New York, we were treated to another masterful boxing display by the fast rising middleweight Willie Monroe Jr., who completely outclassed and thrashed veteran gatekeeper Bryan Vera over 10 rounds. Prior to this fight Monroe was ranked at no.3 by the WBA and no.7 by the WBO, which may have seemed somewhat premature. However, on the evidence of this performance and all three of his performances last year in ESPN’s Boxcino tournament, it would now be difficult to argue that he does not, indeed, belong in the world’s top 10. I liken Monroe Jr to our own Billy Joe Saunders. Both are classy boxers who perhaps lack a bit of punching power, certainly at top level. Even so, Billy Joe has been able to knock over some B-level opponents, whereas all of the meagre six stoppages on Monroe Jr.’s record have been against journeymen. Against that, Monroe does have the edge in speed and footwork on Billy Joe. Both are welcome entries onto the world stage though.
In my preview to Friday’s fight, I suggested that Monroe may have to come through some anxious moments against known warrior Vera. That was certainly not the case as Monroe treated his opponent with contempt and made Vera look as though he had cement in his boots. I scored the fight 99-91 for Willie, not scoring the spurious knockdown that was called against Vera in the fifth round. The only round that Vera won was the fourth, when Willie took the round off and allowed Bryan to whack away at his body for most of the round. Somehow, Glenn Feldman had Vera winning three rounds for the “bad call of the night” award. It must be said that Vera looks like a completely shot fighter now. He takes far too many clean head shots and perhaps now would be the time for him to call it a day. He has even slipped from gatekeeper status.
Just a word closer to home and it was recently announced that Scouser Derry Mathews would challenge Richar Abril for his WBA belt on the same card as Paul Butler’s challenge to IBF beltholder at super-flyweight, Zolani Tete, in March. If those two fights do indeed take place it will be a sensational night for the locals attending and the armchair fans watching on BoxNation. I cannot remember a card on which two such accomplished overseas fighters came and fought in the U.K. Make no mistake, Abril and Tete are right at the top of their respective divisions and both Derry and Paul have their work cut out.
Following on from his outstanding show in London in November of last year, this marks the continuation of a remarkable “comeback” for promoter Frank Warren. At some points during the last couple of years, with fighter defections to his great rival Eddie Hearn, and financial worries over the feasibility of his BoxNation television channel, Frank has looked almost down and out. We should have known better though. This man has been at the pinnacle of the British game for many years now and even a gunman’s bullet back in the day was unable to faze him and knock him from his perch. It is great to see him competing again with the juggernaut that is Matchroom/Sky Sports and this can only be good and healthy for the domestic game.