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HITS and MISSES: AJ's Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev and More

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  • HITS and MISSES: AJ's Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev and More

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    By Kelsey McCarson

    It was another big weekend in boxing. While most of the world was glued to their seats at home watching Anthony Joshua climb back into the ring for the first time since the pandemic struck, there were several other important fights and high-profile prospects on display.

    With all that in mind, here are the biggest and best HITS and MISSES from another busy weekend on the boxing beat.

    HIT: Anthony Joshua's Mandatory Destruction of Kubrat Pulev

    Unified heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua seems to be on his way to making the biggest fight in British boxing history happen, but the 31-year-old first needed to take care of business against 39-year-old Bulgarian challenger Kubrat Pulev on Saturday in London.

    AJ dominated and stopped Pulev in nine rounds. Pulev had entered the fight having won eight straight contests since his lone defeat to Wladimir Klitschko in 2014, so it was a solid win over a notable challenger.

    Now, Joshua appears to be all the way back from his upset loss to upstart Andy Ruiz back in 2019. Sure, Joshua had already avenged that shocking defeat later that same year, but there was still at least some cause of concern among the masses that maybe it was more than just a blip on the radar. Maybe Joshua just wasn't what people thought he was.

    But now? Joshua is quite clearly one of the two very best heavyweight boxers on the planet, so it's high time for him and WBC titleholder Tyson Fury to meet in a winner takes all superfight.

    MISS: WBO's Ridiculous Position on Boxing's Biggest Fight

    If Joshua and Fury do fight next as many hope, there's a chance that the important heavyweight battle will crown the first undisputed heavyweight boxing champion since Lennox Lewis pulled off the feat way back in 1999 against Evander Holyfield.

    Well, that's what everybody thought until Joshua beat Pulev on Saturday, and WBO president Paco Valcarcel went on social media to suggest that his alphabet organization wouldn't be allowing its champion (Joshua) to fight anyone but Oleksandr Usyk next.

    Huh?

    Look, Usyk is one of the most intriguing storylines in boxing, but there's not a bigger fight to be made in the world right now than Joshua vs. Fury. So Valcarcel essentially saying on social media that his organization would stand in the way of crowning the undisputed champion in boxing's glamour division is ultimately just another example in a long line of them of why it will always be in boxing's best interests to figure out a way to kick these sanctioning organizations to the curb.

    HIT: Shakur Stevenson's Masterful Boxing Skills

    Shakur Stevenson won every single round against Toka Khan Clary on Saturday. His immediate hopes for superstardom notwithstanding, the southpaw is as good as it gets inside a boxing ring.

    According to CompuBox’s Dan Canobbio, Stevenson has out-landed his opponents 1,249-351 through his first 15 fights. That level of superiority on defense is an incredible skill to have, one I've anecdotally heard in Houston-area gym stories which say that some of the best and brightest prospects in the sport have been reduced to tears and anger over not being able to land a single punch on the guy during sparring.

    None of those things will pay immediate dividends for the 23-year-old, but Stevenson's consistent excellence over time might someday put him in a position to become boxing's next big thing.

    Look, everybody loves the knockout, and Top Rank's 23-year-old prodigy Edgar Berlanga is a guy that will continue to gets all sorts of attention so long as he keeps dropping his opponents in under three minutes. But Stevenson's ceiling is as high as they come.

    Is he the next Floyd Mayweather? That's a big ask, but Stevenson surely appears to be on his way to having a chance.

    MISS: Clay Collard's 'Fighter of the Year' Push

    Much was made on social media about someone at the latest Boxing Writers Association of America meeting nominating ex-UFC fighter Clay Collard as boxing's Fighter of the Year for 2020. That motion did not pass, but people made mincemeat over it anyway.

    At the time of his nomination, of course, Collard had won five fights during 2020, a few of which came quite surprisingly.

    So, despite the vitriol spewed by some people who didn't quite share the same opinion about the matter, Collard was entering his final fight in 2020 with at least the chance of being considered one of the most remarkable stories of the year in the sport.

    How could he not be in the running for Fighter of the Year?

    Regardless, Collard didn't appear to fight with the same kind of energy he used in his five other previous fights as a professional boxer on Saturday. Perhaps the MMA star has simply had enough of limiting himself to just two fists and is ready to jump into next year's Professional Fighters League MMA tournament.

    Or maybe his opponent Quincy LaVallais was just too slick.

    Whatever the case, Collard missed a huge opportunity to keep his undefeated run going as a professional boxer. He might not have been the BWAA’s Fighter of the Year, but he would have surely been mine.

    HIT: Masayoshi Nakatani's Thrilling Comeback

    It didn't seem like the 31-year-old from Japan was brought to The Bubble at MGM on Saturday to win his fight, but Masayoshi Nakatani scored a thrilling comeback knockout victory of Felix Verdejo anyway.

    Verdejo, 27, was on a redemption tour of sorts. The Puerto Rican had shockingly lost his undefeated record back in 2018 via 10th-round stoppage to an even more unheralded opponent than Nakatani, but the former Olympian had righted the ship by reeling off four straight wins.

    Things appeared to be heading toward a fifth straight victory when Verdejo dropped Nakatani in the first round and again in the fourth. But Nakatani kept employing his craft over all other available options, most notably quitting, and eventually turned the fight around to score the dramatic knockout win in the ninth.

    The best part? Nakatani's only other loss was to Teofimo Lopez last year in a 12-round decision. When that happened, most observers (including me) chose to blast Lopez over his effort and focus rather than give credit to Nakatani.

    In hindsight, maybe Nakatani is just a whole lot better than people thought.

    Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel
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