3 Punch Combo: Remembering Foreman-Briggs, Kovalev’s Road Map and More

THREE PUNCH COMBO — November 22nd marked the 20th anniversary of the final fight of George Foreman’s storied career when he dropped a majority decision to Shannon Briggs in Atlantic City, NJ. Most boxing experts and fans who watched that bout thought that Foreman was on the wrong side of a classic bad decision. But was it really a bad decision? Let’s look back 20 years later on the Foreman-Briggs fight.

On November 5th, 1994 Foreman shook up the boxing world with one straight right hand that lifted the heavyweight crown from Michael Moorer. However, in a short period of time Foreman would lose all the belts associated with that win for failing to meet mandatory obligations though he remained the “lineal” heavyweight champion since he hadn’t officially retired.

Briggs was a highly touted prospect early in his career, but a shocking knockout loss to Darroll Wilson on March 15th, 1996 led many to write him off. Despite rattling off four straight wins, the consensus among boxing experts was that the suspect chin and stamina issues displayed in the Wilson fight would continue to haunt him when he stepped in with any sort of decent competition.

Foreman had three decision wins after beating Moorer – out-pointing Axel Schulz, Crawford Grimsley, and Lou Savarese — and all were performances that did not meet expectations. To drive demand for a big fight, potentially against Lennox Lewis, Foreman needed a decisive knockout win. And Briggs seemed to be the perfect opponent to get that result.

The first round began with the heavy underdog Briggs using good lateral movement to outbox Foreman. The second round saw Briggs’ movement slowing and Foreman starting to land his trademark telephone pole jab with more frequency in what was a clear round for Foreman.

Rounds three and four were big rounds for Foreman. His effective aggression behind the jab neutralized Briggs’ offense and Foreman landed many telling blows in these rounds.

As we entered round five, all the momentum was with Foreman. And maybe this had some impact on how experts viewed the fight as it appeared Foreman was on his way to steamrolling Briggs as expected. But fights are scored round by round and in round five Briggs consistently beat Foreman to the punch to win that round.

Rounds six and seven were clear rounds for Briggs as he used his legs to easily out-box and out-work Foreman. Following round seven, Briggs was ahead on my card 67-66.

In round eight, Foreman landed a big right to start the round and raked Briggs throughout with power shots. Briggs suddenly stopped moving and became a stationary target. It was a big Foreman round and he appeared to once again be seizing control of the fight. Foreman also had a good ninth as the movement of Briggs that was giving Foreman issues had suddenly stopped.

The tenth was close as Briggs began to use his legs again and score effective combinations. A strong rally at the end of that round by Briggs seemed to swing the round in his favor. Briggs also had a decent eleventh round, out-hustling Foreman who seemed to be conserving his energy.

Foreman closed the show strong in round twelve. It was another big Foreman round as he landed big shot after big shot on a clearly exhausted Briggs.

When I added my card up, it was dead even at 114-114. This matched the card of judge Steve Weisfeld. The other judges had it 117-113 and 116-112 for Briggs. In many of the rounds that Foreman won, he did so by a wide margin. But Briggs won rounds and though they were not as dominant, they were still rounds that went in his favor. And, how boxing is scored, they count as much as the rounds that Foreman dominated. As such, it was a close fight but not one that should be viewed as a bad decision…at least that’s the verdict from here.

Sergey Kovalev’s 2018 Road Map

Following back to back losses, Sergey Kovalev (31-2-1, 27 KO’s) got back in the win column this past weekend with an emphatic two round destruction of Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-2, 16 KO’s) to capture a 175-pound title. Kovalev appears earmarked to return to the ring sometime early in 2018. But who will he fight and what does his road map going forward look like?

One of the issues with finding an opponent is the current state of the 175-pound division. It is deep but many of the fighters are just starting to build their resume. As such, their marketability does not match their talent and skill at this time. And the one big name who is well known, Adonis Stevenson, wants absolutely nothing to do with Kovalev. So for Kovalev to get the big fight and payday he desires, another 175-pound fighter will need to build their resume. The likely fighter here is Dmitry Bivol given Bivol’s close relationship with Kovalev promoter Main Events. However, it is a fight that probably needs to be “marinated” some and this likely puts Bivol out as an opponent in the immediate future.

A likely scenario for Kovalev’s next bout is a return to Madison Square Garden with Bivol fighting on the undercard. Some have suggested that Kovalev would face Sullivan Barrera and though this is possible I think Barrera is more likely ticketed for Bivol to help build Bivol’s resume. Plus, Barrera’s hand speed and movement could present Kovalev with issues similar to what he saw when he faced Andre Ward and Kovalev’s team is more likely to seek a more aggressive plodding fighter in the mode of Shabranskyy to help continue to build up Kovalev’s confidence. There is a 175-pound contender who is popular in New York and fits these outlined criteria. And that is Joe Smith.

Think about it. Smith is a guy who can sell tickets and drive eyeballs to television sets. His aggressive go for broke style would play right into Kovalev’s hands and increase the likelihood of him scoring another spectacular knockout. Plus, those who buy tickets and tune in would get the opportunity to see Bivol perform on the undercard. The marination would be complete and the table would be properly set for a big fight between Kovalev and Bivol later in 2018.

Notes on Yuriorkis Gamboa and Devon Alexander

Boxing is a unique sport for many reasons. One area that makes the sport unique is that fighters are often just a win away from turning their careers around overnight. Earlier in this column, I wrote how Shannon Briggs was once written off following a knockout loss early in his career. The win against George Foreman turned Briggs’ career around in an instant, serving as a springboard for bigger things. This was also in evidence this past week with wins from Yuriorkis Gamboa (28-2, 17 KO’s) and Devon Alexander (27-4, 14 KO’s) that got them instantaneously back into contention after many had written them off.

Gamboa was having a bad 2017. He was unimpressive in beating Rene Alvarado in March and suffered a shocking TKO loss to Robinson Castellanos in May. Gamboa then bounced back, defeating Alexis Reyes, but his performance was less than stellar and Gamboa’s relevance as a contender seemed done. But an opportunity arose and Gamboa sprung an upset in winning a majority decision against 130-pound contender Jason Sosa on Saturday night. Although the decision was controversial, the win catapulted Gamboa back into contention overnight. And think about this. We have a big fight coming up in a few weeks between Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux in the 130-pound weight class. The win for Gamboa puts him well in line to face the winner or loser in what would be a big fight in 2018.

Two years ago, Devon Alexander suffered a bad decision loss to journeyman Aaron Martinez. It was Alexander’s third loss in four fights and his performance that night had many writing him off. After two years away from the sport, Alexander returned last week to decision fringe contender Walter Castillo. In this fight, Alexander showed the boxing ability and hand speed that was once a staple of his game. The win instantly erased the bad fight against Martinez and firmly put Alexander back in line for a big fight in the deep 147-pound weight class.

In boxing, unlike most other sports, one win in the right situation can quickly erase past disappointments and put the fighter back on the map. Wins by Yuriorkis Gamboa and Devon Alexander this past week are examples of how quickly things can change.

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