World Boxing Super Series Super Middleweight final set… or is it?
First things first, I have to hold up my hands and say I got it wrong - very wrong, predicting the outcome of last night’s second semi final bout of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) Super Middleweight tournament.
Most didn’t know or frankly respect who Nieky Holzken was and when he was announced as the substitute for Juergen Braehmer he was met with a hand wave. As an unapologetic fan of the Dutch kickboxer I took it upon myself to present his CV and if you would like more information on who Holzken is and what are his qualifications, read Natural Born Killer - the article I wrote about him.
However the realities of the contest played itself out over the course 12 rounds at the Arena Nuremberg in Germany.
The contest never really caught fire and from almost the beginning the outcome would not be in doubt.
Callum Smith, undefeated WBC Silver Champion fought a disciplined fight working behind his jab for all 12 rounds. Holzken followed Smith around for much of the fight eating jab after jab from long range as Holzken failed to close the distance. Holzken managed a few flurries and to his credit constantly came forward, at no point did he seem hurt or even particularly bothered by smith’s jab besides being unable to cope with the range and having to constantly reset his position.
Smith used every bit of his size advantage, appearing like a heavyweight against a junior middleweight Holzken was thoroughly out gunned. The rounds ticked on and by the end of the 10th round Smith had landed nearly 9 times as many jabs, 223 to Holzken’s paltry 25.
As such despite Holzken’s overall experience advantage in combat sports, Callum Smith proved once again, just like Floyd Mayweather had against Conor McGregor last summer that despite MMA sharing aspects of all combat arts regarding the striking realm, true high level boxing is a seperate animal all its own.
One beautiful sequence summarized the gulf between the two men beautifully - late in the 11th round Holzken walked onto a beautiful rear upper cut by Smith, knowing that the lead hook counter was coming, Smith expertly rolled under it and pivoted out of harm’s way.
The final scores were more than fair: 118-110 and 117-111 twice.
After the dust settled George Groves, the winner of last week’s semi final who was sat at ring side scouting his future opponent entered the ring and was presented with Callum Smith for their first face off. Again Smith’s significant size advantage was readily apparent.
Currently the date for the WBSS Super Middleweight finale is set for the 2nd of June, however Groves’ participation at least is in doubt despite the show of confidence. While being interviewed inside the ring Groves did admit that he had suffered a separated shoulder in the his fight against Eubank Jr., however denied that a definitive diagnosis had been reached.
I’m deeply skeptical. I believe the whole reason why Team Groves has been tight lipped is the injury to Groves’ shoulder is quite severe and they are angling behind the scenes to get the fight pushed back considerably. The Sauerland brothers however have been adamant thus far that the bout could be pushed back a matter of weeks perhaps - but no more than that.
The issue being that all parties involved want a swift end to the WBSS as it was laid out in its original nine month plan and not to drag on like the Showtime Super Six tournament did some 10 years ago.
The contingency plan seems to be that if Groves can not make the date this summer in his stead will be none other than Chris Eubank Jr. who presented no problems for George Groves last week and would likely see himself get stopped against the unit that is Callum Smith.
The story continues to unfold and it is quite a dramatic story now at that!
Sor Rungvisai Nicks it In Another Fight of the Year Contender
Yours truly once again got it wrong, I figured Srisaket Sor Rungvisai would fall to the talented Mexican Juan Francisco Estrada.
I thought Sor Rungvisai had exposed Chocolatito, able to catch the brilliant little fighter on his way down and in a weight class that he simply could not live at despite his toughness and power.
Estrada I thought was too tough - he would not get bullied.
Estrada I thought was too talented and would not get dragged into a gunfight which is where Sor Rungvisai makes his living as a tough but relatively limited boxer.
I was wrong - in the sense that Estrada did all of those things and lost on the judges cards anyway.
I say this in no way to malign Sor Rungvisai, I think he got a bit of gift decision here because people love his story, they love that he is a nonstop, buzzsaw action fighter, somewhere between Manny Pacquiao and Arturo Gatti, Sor Rungvisai is a fighter who has risen to a level far greater than his talent or record would seem to indicate him capable and who can begrudge him of that.
The bell rang for round one and there was no feeling out process, both men came to fight, it is clear to me that Estrada and long time trainer Jose Caballero knew what they had in front of them and would not be bullied, instead they would make Sor Rungvisai taste leather for every inch of ground he tried to claim.
In rounds one and two Sor Rungvisai seemed off his game, he was off balance - more so than the hyper aggressive southpaw typically is. Estrada turned Rungvisai and pivoted out of danger to his left while working behind a snappy jab.
From round three on into the middle rounds Sor Rungvisai found his rhythm - which is to say creating chaos for his opponent, his pressure was unrelenting and often wild. Estrada still had moments when he was able to counter successfully but he was drug into the quicksand of a beer city brawl with the Thai fighter.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai is just this side of being a dirty fighter, leading with his head, over throwing some punches to land elbow strikes and tying up Estrada and attempting to trip him all in the service of making the Mexican boxer uncomfortable and tired.
Estrada was clearly more uncomfortable in those rounds, pulling punches and falling short on others, meanwhile Sor Rungvisai was connecting hard and building up a sizable lead.
Caballero regained control of his fighter and after round seven got Estrada back on his jab and moving to his left, drawing Sor Rungvisai in and catching him with the right straight over and over again and the right hook as well as Sor Rungvisai did not maintain a tidy defense. Caballero would have loved to see Estrada land the rear uppercut with how far forward Sor Rungvisai leans as he plows forward, however Estrada was never able to let the punch go.
I had Estrada firmly ahead in the back half of the fight, he was landing the far harder, more accurate punches and was more mindful of his defense down the stretch, Sor Rungvisai characteristically charged forward again trying to draw Estrada into a war, though was largely unsuccessful.
Sor Rungvisai seemed to grow more weary down the stretch, his punches where hitting air or landing ineffectually on Estrada’s hips and elbows. Sor Rungvisai attempted to nick rounds late doors by trying to mount a furious attack in the closing ten seconds, Estrada seemed content to work behind his jab and pick his shots.
Round 12 is an early contender for round of the year as the two men stood toe to toe for virtually the entire three minutes attempting to decapitate the other. I was thinking before the scores were read that was probably a mistake as again, that plays right into the hands of the tough little Thai slugger.
All in all I scored the fight eight rounds to four, 116-112. Estrada was the cleaner boxer who nullified most of Sor Rungvisai’s ruthless aggression.
The judges saw it differently as Sor Rungvisai retained his WBC Super Flyweight title by majority decision with scores of 115-113, 114-114 (Dave Moretti likes his draws) and the harshest card 117-111.
Billed as the main event for Superfly II the card once again lived up to expectations featuring the best of the smaller fighters on bigger stage than they are typically featured as a tent pole event for HBO boxing. The Superfly cards feature a version of an unofficial round robin tournament where the best in the 115 pound division clash.
On the undercard McWilliams Arroyo handed Carlos Cuadras his second straight defeat, the third of his last four fights. Cuadras fell at the hands of Juan Francisco Estrada at Superfly I last September.
Conspicuous by his absence was The Monster - Naoya Inoue. The Japanese KO merchant known for his vicious body attack was not on Superfly II despite speculation that he was in the mix for the 115 pound title shot and possible unification with his WBO Super Flyweight belt.
Inoue is all wrong for Sor Rungvisai - huge for the weight class, incredibly powerful and fundamentally strong I could see Inoue stopping Sor Rungvisai. However, the buzz seems to be a move up to bantamweight next for Inoue who was last in the ring at home in Japan for their annual New Year’s eve boxing event where he scored an easy 3rd round TKO.
The take away in the final analysis for me is the similarity between the bouts featuring Eubank Jr/Groves and Sor Rungvisai/Estrada. Both Eubank and Sor Rungvisai are hyper aggressive fighters with unorthodox and frequently sloppy technique that neglects fundamentals and defense.
The difference I suppose, is Sor Rungvisai makes it work for him in a way that Eubank evidently can not.
The difference in outcomes also highlights what a subjective game judging boxing is and how any of us in any given fight can get it very, very wrong.
Hard to begrudge, Sor Rungvisai though. A police officer in Thailand who grew up on the streets rummaging through garbage to survive is still the WBC Super Flyweight champion of the world and if anyone wonders whether a taste of success and material comfort has softened his killer instinct or rounded those tough edges the answer is categorically no.