Now we know why there wasn't much buzz going in to the heavyweight consolidation faceoff between Wladimir Klitschko and Sultan Ibragimov at New York's Madison Square Garden on Saturday evening. Because boxing fans knew in their gut that what we saw was likely to happen.
Klitschko, the methodical Ukrainian, spent most of the 12 rounds scouting out his undersized foe, keeping him at bay with karate chop slaps to negate his jab, and tossing a smattering of jabs and the odd right hand to convince the judges that he was the better man.
It was a less than stellar performance by the perfectionist Ibragimov, who gave the comparatively tiny Ibragimov the sort of respect that Sultan gave 45-year old Evander Holyfield last year.
The judges, who all deserve slaps on the back for not breaking into booing as those in the stands did regularly, gave it to Klitschko 119-110, 117-111, 118-110. But there were plenty of rounds that could have been scored even. The hesitant Ibragimov, showing little of the advertised courageousness, or hand speed, or craftiness, and the intermittently effective Klitschko, mired in a defensive mode for 95% of the night, both showed why this division elicits so little excitement.
Ibragimov, who wore the heel tag–he drew boos when shown on the Jumbotron warming up and when he came to the ring–weighed in at 219 pounds , while Wladimir tipped the scale at 238.
At stake were Wlad's IBF belt and Sultan's WBO strap, though Michael Buffer announced that the winner would be deemed the undisputed champion, which would be news to Messrs. Maskaev, Peter and Chagaev.
THE “ACTION” In the 12th round, Wlad played it smart, as Sultan searched in vain for an opening. Some booed, some clapped, but most of the 14,011 at MSG simply were silent after the final bell. This was no classic.
In the 11th, Wlad was on his A game defensively, as he took a few steps back time and again whenever Sultan came forward. Wlad pressed at the end of the round, and Sultan looked to be on jello legs, as he ate three shots.
In the tenth, Sultan scored with a Greco Roman takedown. Maybe he has a future in MMA? Things picked up, as Sultan threw caution to the wind, a bit, but Wlad clutched and grabbed when he felt fearful.
In the ninth, Wlad knocked Sultan into the ropes with a flurry, and it looked like it could have been a knockdown. Four punches landed as Sultan was held up by the ropes.
I hoped Panama Lewis would throw some schnaaps into someone's water bottle, or something before the eighth. No one would accuse either man of using performance enhancing drugs to this point, to look on the bright side. Sultan hit the deck but it was deemed a slip. He then landed his best punch, a left to the gut. Wlad answered with a combo that had the crowd fired up. A straight right to the middle of Sultan's face was the best shot of the night.
In the seventh round, Wlad threw his first meaningful right, signaling an increase in volume and fury, perhaps. Nope, false alarm. Boobirds told the men what they thought of them to close the round, and as they strode to their corners.
In the sixth round, boos poured down at the two minute mark, but both men continued to play it safe, and boring. Sultan took a late run at Wlad, who held on for dear life like it was the ghost of Corrie Sanders gunning for him. The writer next to me looked at his watch after this round.
In the fifth, fans started booing with less than a minute gone, as both men posed and looked for the perfect opening. Sultan tried a home run left but it fell far short against the skyscraper Ukrainian. More boos greeted the fighters to close the fifth. Well deserved, I'd say.
In the fourth, Wlad landed some jabs and took the round, bit it was another snoozer. Four rounds, all snoozers. Yikes. Yuck. Now we know why there was no buzz coming in. But Wlad usually picks it up in the fifth or sixth so fingers were crossed that things would pick up.
In the third, the fans got anxious when Wlad had Sultan caught in a corner, but did nothing with the advantage. Again, fans booed after the round.
In the second, Wlad started to jab more, and close the distance slightly. Sultan threw a couple lefts to the body, but overall, this was too much chess, and too little boxing. Not to mention good old fashioned fighting. Again, if you scored the round even, because neither man truly looked like they wanted to win the round, I'd have no qualm.
In the first round, it was a classic feel 'em out round. Wlad landed some karate chops swatting down Sultan's half hearted jabs. Both men were on a scouting mission, sizing up their foe. Sultan did not look fearful, but his height disadavantage was noticeable from the opening bell.
Wlad said he didn't throw the right because he respected Sultan's sneakiness in a postbout interview. The fans booed when Max Kellerman said Wlad was the No. 1 heavyweight, in all probability. Anyone hoping that Wlad would cap off a pretty boring night by calling out his brother, no dice.
The decibel and excitement levels were high when Klitschko strolled to the ring, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers provided a musical escort.
The numbers didn't tell the sad, snoozy tale. Wlad had the edge in punches thrown (348 to 316) and landed (148 to 97). Wlad averaged a paltry 29 punches per round, while the heavyweight average is 46 per round. I'm eager to hear how Manny Steward spins this win; Wlad cannot hope to leave behind the sort of legacy he desires, despite his fine philanthropic work, if he continues to fight in this style. He is too risk averse, too cautious, too robotic…none of the desired traits in a heavyweight champion. It will not matter if he continues to collect belts, if he fights in this style, because the manner in which he does it is too often too lame.
In the chief support bout, John Duddy had his hands full with Walid Smichet in the first round of their scheduled middleweight tenner. The Irishman ate about 20 clean shots in the opener, and several members of his team looked like they needed a defibrillator. Duddy looked like he might hit the deck, and the crowd went ballistic, smelling a heavy upset. But he kept plugging away, hands low, eating hooks and standing tall.
In the second, Duddy remembered that boxing rules allow one to move one's head, and he slipped a few Smichet shots. He also started hooking to the body and the underdog started to lose steam, and accuracy.
Then, late in the third Smichet tagged Duddy again, with straight rights, right crosses and hooks, and a gash on Duddy's left eye opened up. The Tunisian/Canadaian did not get the memo that Duddy/Pavlik was set for the summer.
It was back and forth in the fourth, too, as Smichet didn't look in over his head in the least.
In the fifth, two Duddy lefs got his peeps buzzing, and he and Smichet went at it toe to toe in center ring. Both were busy, both were up in the other mans' grill, and both were eating shots as well as dishing it out. The cut still leaked, but Duddy is never put off by the crimson, and he went about his business, looking to take Smichet's body. In between rounds, you could see the heavy gash on Duddy's eye looked ugly, but at least it wasn't spilling liquid.
In the sixth, Smichet looked to be tiring, as Duddy kept a fierce pace. Duddy also started moving his feet more, and took the round.
In the seventh, some tape hung from Duddy's glove and trainer Don Turner attended to it with 50 seconds to go. Duddy, now in a groove, still ate the odd shot, even as he kept his feet moving more.
In the eighth, Duddy's left eye was blood smeared but Smichet was most interested in landing left hooks. The underdog had a good, busy round, as Duddy posed more than punched for much of the round, perhaps saving himself for the stretch run.
In the ninth, it was evenly matched, as Duddy looked to escape more, and Smichet plodded forward behind a mediocre jab. Smichet ended the round with a semi-solid left hook.
In the last round, Duddy's tape had to be retouched, interrupting the flow. NY should use duct tape, hello. Duddy looked like he might want to trade, and make it interesting, but he got back to moving, and boxing, and lost the final round.
The judges spoke and gave a majority decision to Duddy, 98-92, 98-92, 95-95. There were plenty of boos raining down on the ring when Smichet didn't get the nod. In Youngstown, there was much licking of the lips and smiling going on, and in many bars in Queens and in Derry, many long faces, as Duddy fans had visions of a title shot going down the drain. Smichet walked to the locker room and ate up backslaps and apologies from fans who thought he had done enough to take the upset win.
Duddy outhrew and outlanded Smichet (850 to 767, 296 to 220). Smichet's first round was a monster one; he landed 52 of 108 total tosses, including 47 of 86 power shots.
“It was hard day at the office,” Duddy said after. “I made it difficult for myself and didn't let my punches fly the way I usually do. I'm happy I won but disappointed with the performance. It was a nice welcome back, but I was pressing, I think I was trying too hard. He was a tough mother.”
Hats off the ballsy judge Frank Lombardi, for his 95-95 card.
Question is now: can Arum sell Duddy/Pavlik? Will Duddy need months of healing time, both for his eye and his rep?
Joe Greene of Queens, NY met Francisco Mora in a middleweight tiff for the NABO/NABA title. Mora, you may recall, lost to Kassim Ouma in early 2006. Basically, any time the Argentine has stepped up, he has stepped in a hole. He hit the deck at 1:50 of the second, and the lefty Greene (18-0) repeated the act ten seconds later.
Mora hit the deck again at the end of the fourth. Greene went low in the sixth and Mora took some deserved testie rest. Mora went down in the seventh as well, and the restless crowd wanted him to finish off the overmatched Argentine. Thing is, the ref looked for spots when Mora (52-13) was just drowning, but the kid kept treading water. The crowd, though, wasn't really getting off on this scrap, feeling like Mora was never really a threat to win.
The doctor called a halt to the bout after ten rounds, feeling Mora had absorbed enough. This was the fourth time Mora had been stopped.
Greene has some solid pop, commits to his punches, and is moving along at a fine pace. Yes, he may hold his hands too low sometimes for some, and have balance issues, but he's a solid prospect at this point.
—-Sorry, fight fans, for the compare and contrast lesson. But after cruiser Johnathan Banks finished off worn out Imamu Mayfield in the second round, there remained only three bouts left on the card. Junior middle Ronnie Vargas had nabbed a UD4 in the opener over Mony Flowers, heavy Alex Ustinov had TKOd Earl Ladson in the first, and super middle Pete Quillen kayoed his foe, Thomas Brown, in the second round. So, by 8 PM, fight fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden were left to sit on their hands, glance around the building for hotties and notties, listen to bad pop songs, and amuse themselves until another fight began. Guys, this wouldn't happen at a UFC event. They pack the card with about 10 fights, and give the fans a bang for their buck. And I'm sorry, but this circumstance could have been foreseen. Mayfield, you had to figure, wouldn't be in it to win it, having won one of his last five, and having been stopped in three of those outings. Earl Ladson is a pro loser, someone you bring in to lose, and lose he did, quickly. Brown has a silicon-injected record, built on neophytes and lay down artists, and Quillin did the expected against him. So after Alexa Joel, Billy and Christie's daughter did the Anthem thing at 8:20, it was back to sitting on your hands time in the audience. Bad planning, bad business, bad for boxing. And bad for the folks who emptied out their wallets, for several hundred or several thousand dollars. They should get a good show, from tip to top, with no heavy downtime. It could have been worse, as Greene/Mora ate up some rounds, luckily. But you can do better, K2 and Seminole. By the way, there was no one matchmaker responsible crafting this hodgepodge lineup. It was a team effort, and in this case, an effort sadly lacking. Too many showcases, not enough coinflippers. Cept for the Duddy fight. Solid scrap, much more even than anyone could have expected. That saved the undercard, bigtime.
–For those wondering, Alexa's Ray's looks apple falls closer to dad's tree, but she has enough mom in her. Her sound? No pitchy problems, though Simon might like her to keep it a bit simpler, not to to overdramatize a classic. All told, she got a solid B.
–Twenty six Iraq war votes got some applause after the Duddy fight. Joe Louis' son got tepid applause, as did Junior Jones. Luan Krasniqi and Regina Halmich got no noise at all. Dmitriy Salita got a clap or two. Edwin Moses got more than two. Carlos Ortiz got no love. Some NY Giants, including Amani Toomer, Michael Strahan and Plaxico got mad applause. Vince McMahon didn't get cheers, or surprisingly, boos. Bob Costas, Brooke Shields and Ruslan Chagaev got nothing. Christie Brinkley got some cheers. Kelly Pavlik got a polite cheer. Thunder Gatti got a few more. Mickey Rourke got zippo. Hitman Hearns got a good yelp. Vitali Klitschko got a legit roar. Lennox Lewis got cheers and many boos. Will Ferrell got some claps. Bruce Willis got nothin' much to Michael Buffer's surprise.
–Couple of cats sat behind me. Not press, just regular Joes. A round card gal paraded. The two cats dissected her appearance. “Too much junk in the trunk,” one said. “That's what the light switch is for,” the other said. No surprise, they both left the arena not with Miss Junk In The Trunk, who I'm guessing would have nothing to do with either man, but with each other.