GERVONTA DAVIS COMES UP BIG — The first weekend of note for boxing fans this year saw a Showtime doubleheader featuring Badou Jack vs. James DeGale and Jose Pedraza vs. Gervonta Davis at Barclays Center on January 14.
The card was a hard sell. None of the featured fighters has a significant fan base in New York. The momentum that promoter Lou DiBella established at Barclays last year with Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter and Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz was lost when the New York State legislature and state athletic commission partnered to impose an irrational insurance requirement that temporarily shut boxing down in New York. And the New England Patriots were playing the Houston Texans in an NFL playoff game televised by CBS opposite the Showtime telecast.
DiBella handled most of the nuts-and-bolts promotional work. But Floyd Mayweather (who promotes Jack and Davis) put considerable time and effort into the promotion. Their efforts were rewarded when 10,128 fans showed up at Barclays Center on fight night.
Pedraza–Davis was the first of the two co-featured fights.
Pedraza (22-0, 12 KOs) entered the ring as Puerto Rico’s only reigning world champion, having won the IBF 130-belt in 2015 with a 12-round decision over Andrey Klimov.
The 22-year-old Davis (16-0, 15 KOs) was recognized as having enormous potential but had been softly matched to get him to his title shot. That raised the question of whether he’d experienced enough of a learning curve to pass the test.
Pedraza was a slight betting favorite.
From round one on – abetted by fast hands, notable power, and the ability to land punches from all angles – Davis evinced an impressive commitment to violence. He went to the body effectively and, over time, raised ugly welts under both of Pedraza’s eyes. There were moments when Gervonta bent the rules. But on those occasions, referee Ricky Gonzalez was reasonably effective in reining him in.
Pedraza fought gamely. When Davis appeared to take the early part of round five off, Jose attacked and it looked momentarily as though the tide might be turning. Then Gervonta resumed his assault. A straight left to the body in round six hurt Pedraza badly. A crushing right hook up top ended matters in round seven.
Pedraza isn’t Superman. In his first title defense, he struggled to a split decision verdict over a shopworn Edner Cherry. But he’s a good professional fighter, and Davis overwhelmed him with a dominant performance.
Gervonta did what he had to do and looked good doing it. In some respects, his skill set is reminiscent of a young Adrien Broner. When Broner was rising in prominence, he looked great against lesser opponents. But as his career progressed, Adrien showed a tendency to look for a way out when things got tough.
Davis may well be the real thing. He looked so good on Saturday night that Jack and DeGale had a hard act to follow.
But follow it they did with a twelve round bout that evolved into an exciting war of attrition.
Johannes Gabriel Badou Nyberg was born in Sweden, moved to Las Vegas, changed his name to Badou Jack, and has been fighting professionally since 2009. His record before fighting DeGale stood at 20 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws with 12 knockouts and 1 KO by. The big win on his resume was a 2015 split-decision verdict over George Groves that brought him the WBC 168-pound title. He retained his belt last year with a majority draw against a faded Lucian Bute (who has won only two of his most recent six fights).
England’s James DeGale (23-1, 14 KOs) won a gold medal in the middleweight division at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, claimed the IBF 168-pound belt in 2015 with a unanimous decision over Andre Dirrell, and had successfully defended his title twice. He was a 5-to-2 betting favorite over Jack.
DeGale started strong on Saturday night and was the busier fighter in the early going, scoring a knockdown in round one with a straight left hand up top. But Jack fought aggressively and had DeGale in retreat for most of the bout en route to a 231-to-172 advantage in punches landed. James flurried effectively at times, but didn’t let his hands go often enough. And when he landed, he often failed to follow up.
At the end of round five, Jack accidentally decked referee Arthur Mercante with a left hook that landed high on Mercante’s cheek. Arthur beat the count. In the following stanza, Jack hurt DeGale with a well-placed body shot and took control of the fight. But DeGale fought back in the late rounds, when both men were tired and dug deep. Then, in round twelve, Jack dropped DeGale with a solid right hand. James was hurt. He’d already suffered a perforated eardrum and a dental bridge had been knocked out of his mouth in round eight, which necessitated a visit to the dentist one day after the fight. But he finished on his feet.
This observer scored the bout 114-112 in Jack’s favor. The judges saw things a bit differently. Glenn Feldman gave the nod to DeGale 114-112. Steve Weisfeld and Julie Lederman scored the bout even at 113-113, leading to a majority draw that allowed each man to keep his title.
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There are times when the New York State Athletic Commission ill-advisedly tampers with standard practice. That was evident at Barclays Center on January 14.
Recently enacted NYSAC medical protocols call for ring doctors to stand on the ring apron and observe both fighters during all breaks between rounds. If a doctor wants to examine a fighter from inside the ring, the doctor asks the referee to call a time out.
This led to multiple occasions on Saturday night (in the co-featured bouts and also on the undercard), when a boxer was examined and the action was put on hold to the dismay of the crowd and the opposing fighter.
Does this practice contribute to safeguarding the health and safety of fighters?
Dr. Margaret Goodman (former chief ringside physician and chairperson of the medical advisory board for the Nevada State Athletic Commission) is a neurologist and one of the foremost advocates for fighter safety in the United States. She’s also president of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA), which oversees the most credible PED-testing in boxing today.
One day after Jack-DeGale and Pedraza-Davis, Dr. Goodman had this to say about New York’s new medical protocols:
“First, as far as standing on the ring apron is concerned, that’s more for show than anything else. If you need to get in there, get in there. As far as extending the one-minute break between rounds; I understand the need to safeguard the fighter. But in my opinion, that one minute should only be extended in extreme circumstances. Otherwise, you’re interfering with the flow of the fight and possibly changing the outcome of the fight.”
“Also,” Dr. Goodman continues, “I have safety concerns with the New York procedure because you’re giving the damaged fighter extra time to recover and exposing him to second impact syndrome. In most situations an experienced ring doctor should be able to do what he or she has to do within the one minute that’s allotted. Except in rare situations, a talented ring doctor doesn’t need the extra time. They have some very good ring doctors in New York, but they’re operating within a flawed system.”
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In touting his network’s Jack-DeGale / Pedraza-Davis doubleheader Stephen Espinoza (executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports) rightly declared, “These fights aren’t mismatches. They aren’t tune-up fights.”
The same couldn’t be said about PBC’s fights on Spike the previous night. Friday the 13th saw a PBC doubleheader that featured two 50-to-1 mismatches.
In the opening bout, Anthony Dirrell, who wore a WBC 168-pound belt for eight months before losing it two years ago to Badou Jack, took on Norbert Nemesapati.
Nemesapati lost two fights within the span of 18 days last summer. Thereafter, he rehabilitated himself to the point of qualifying as a sacrificial lamb for Dirrell by winning three fights in a row. His opponents in those three fights had a composite ring record of 4 wins in 83 outings
That’s not a typographical error.
In the main event, WBA 154-pound champion Erislandy Lara was matched against a badly-faded and hopelessly outclassed Yuri Foreman.
There wasn’t one second in Dirrell-Nemesapati or Lara-Foreman when the outcome was in doubt. Nemesapati’s corner wisely stopped their man’s bout after six rounds. Lara disposed of Foreman with a left uppercut in round four. The only good thing about Lara-Foreman is that it was short, so Yuri was spared a bad beating.
It’s inherent in the nature of boxing that some fighters will get beaten up. We saw that at Barclays Center on Saturday night when three fighters (James DeGale, Jose Pedraza, and Ievgen Khytrov) were taken to a hospital emergency room afterward as a precautionary measure). But when fights are showcased on national television, they should be competitive sporting events, not predictably one-sided beatings.
Lara-Foreman and Dirrell-Nemesapati aren’t what PBC was supposed to be about.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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