Francisco Vargas is your new favorite fighter!
While there's much to discuss on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto front, plus some other topics that might be more fun to talk about because they allow for more bitching, the lead for this week is Francisco "Bandido" Vargas and his stirring comeback stoppage of Takashi Miura.
Miura-Vargas may have been the Fight of the Year. There are a few other decent candidates, but this was a really great action fight, brutal but with some skill, big swings of momentum, the ol' ebb and flow, and a couple of fellas punching each other real hard, right in the face and stomach.
When Vargas (23-0-1, 17 KO) cracked Miura with that thudding right hand early in the first round, I immediately thought the fight was over. It was one of those punches that happens fast, and everything after happens fast, but time almost seems to stop. I felt like I watched Miura in slow motion as his legs buckled and he appeared to be heading to the canvas, only for him to straighten back up, find his legs, and survive the onslaught for the remainder of the frame.
Miura (29-3-2, 22 KO) proved he wasn't some protected home fighter -- not that I thought he was, but, hey, it does happen -- by recovering nicely in the second and third rounds. Early in the fourth, he started really connecting hard with some clean left hands on the button, shaking Vargas up. The commentary was talking about God knows what, maybe still arguing about Rigondeaux's entertainment value or noting that sometimes when southpaws fight orthodox opponents their heads touch or whatever, but Vargas was hurt in that round before he got put on the canvas late.
From there, Miura had the fight in hand, but there was a looming sense that a big Vargas shot could change things at any time, which kept the fight interesting even as the titleholder seemed to have things going his way. Late in the eighth round, Vargas got hurt again, and like Miura in the first, had to basically survive the round. Then in the ninth, it all changed on a dime, as can happen in boxing. Vargas crushed Miura with a clean right hand, then followed up with two shots that put the defending titlist on the mat. Miura was done, though he bravely tried to weather the storm before referee Tony Weeks stepped in.
I saw at least a few people say the stoppage felt premature, and I can see the argument. Not so much because I think Weeks was wrong to stop the fight, he did his job. But this was also the sort of fight where, jeez, who knows? Maybe Vargas would have found himself back on the floor before too long. Weeks made a decision and I'm not arguing with it, but I do have a lingering question of what may have been had it continued. Of course, what might have been could have also been less incredible boxing drama than Miura getting his skull rattled until it was too late, so again, hard to argue with Weeks' decision.
This is a fight that deserves a rematch. These two guys really put on a great show, and seeing them go for it again would be most welcome.
Canelo Alvarez: "Elite Fighter"?!
Is Canelo Alvarez now "elite"? Hey, man, I don't know. I know he's a damn good boxer-puncher. I know he's made big, necessary improvements since 2013, or even 2014. I know that Miguel Cotto and Freddie Roach had a good, logical game plan that would have probably worked better one or two years ago. I know that today's Alvarez wasn't so easily outboxed.
I've always been on the Canelo train, though. Not overhyping him to death, but I've felt his skills have often gone underrated. He's a good combination puncher with solid hand speed. He's patient and doesn't rattle easily. Is he fleet of foot? Nah, but he didn't look quite so brick-heeled on Saturday night, either, and it appeared his team specifically prepared to counter exactly what Cotto did in there.
Once Plan A failed for Cotto, he was up the old Dung Creek. He had a paddle, but he was still in a creek filled with dung. If he couldn't frustrate or outbox Canelo, he had to fight him, and that left the older, smaller Cotto at a disadvantage. As we saw repeatedly, and as was made clear on commentary and in every recap you've read, watched, or listened to, Canelo could hurt Cotto, and Cotto appeared unable to hurt Canelo.
I don't mean to take anything away from Canelo, though, by saying he was the bigger man. He is. They agreed on 155 pounds, they both made the limit, it was a fair fight. Miguel Cotto still looked like a good fighter. How many guys at 154 or 160 would you pick to beat him, really? A handful? Maybe? Alvarez is now better than Cotto. Simple as that.
But some are giving Alvarez some guff about "fighting smaller men," and I just don't really see it. Not even necessarily that it's untrue, but because these stances aren't always consistent. The passing of the great Bob Foster on Saturday morning made me think of this on Sunday, too, because when Foster, a devastating puncher and one of the best light heavyweights ever, won the light heavyweight world championship, he beat Dick Tiger. Foster was a 6'3" light heavyweight, long and lanky, with dynamite in his fists. Tiger, another great fighter, was a 5'8" natural middleweight. He was the defending champion at 175. Tiger never weighed in at 170 pounds, let alone 175. On the scales for the Foster bout, Tiger checked in at 168. But nobody looks back and says, "Oh, but Foster was so much bigger than him." It is remembered as a great and important win for Foster. Maybe the newspapermen of the day, with their stupid fedora hats and ink-stained hands and other romantic stuff, pointed it out, but in the long run that's not what gets discussed.
I don't know that I think Canelo is one of the ten best in the sport pound-for-pound right now. He might be. He's very good. And more than subjective lists, that's probably what matters most.
Guillermo Rigondeaux may suck to watch, but it's not all his fault!
While I spent part of my Saturday evening on the BLH Twitter account trying to figure out as many ways as possible to say that Guillermo Rigondeaux is abysmal to watch, and was especially so on Saturday night, I, too, received criticism for my approach. So really, Rigo and I are very similar. We are both exceptional craftsmen having to absorb heat from our lessers.
I do not actually think this. I don't think anyone is wrong for enjoying Rigondeaux, if they're in the minority that does. I understand. I appreciate his talent and his skill. I believe he is one of the best boxers in the world today. And he is the absolute pits to watch some nights, and Saturday was a bottom of the barrel performance.
Admittedly, Rigondeaux was fighting on short notice. Very short, in fact. And while cosmetically he appeared to be in terrific shape, I don't know where his cardio was or how much serious training he had been able to get in for his 10-round slog victory over Drian Francisco, so I'm not going to pretend that I do, or that "well he has abs" is a sure sign that he's in peak fighting shape.
Objectively, though, that was a bad fight. "Hit and don't get hit," one fellow said to me. The problem is that Rigondeaux wasn't hitting anyone. His accuracy was lousy, and he averaged seven punches landed per round. What we sat through on Saturday was Rigo being paid a $350,000 purse to have a half-speed sparring session.
But when Rigondeaux is exceptionally boring, it's not all his fault. Look, Guillermo Rigondeaux fights the way he fights. We all know it. The onus is on promoters and matchmakers to find someone who can make exciting enough TV, or to at least try. Obviously, not everyone has been lining up to fight Rigondeaux over his career. But you don't necessarily need THE BEST opponents, because it is what it is and all that, and that's hard to do in this case. Just find fighters who will attack.
Of course, that's no guarantee, either. Joseph Agbeko was always a pretty entertaining fighter before he got in there with Guillermo Rigondeaux and basically refused to engage for 12 rounds. Even as a Rigondeaux "hater," I have always blamed that fight's crumminess far more on Agbeko than on Rigondeaux.
It can also be difficult because Rigondeaux seems to think he's worth a lot more money than he may be. I thought his best option might have been signing with Al Haymon's PBC outfit, where there are so many fights and so many TV slots that he was going to be able to get on TV no matter what. But with promotional freshmen Roc Nation struggling to figure out how to, like, do boxing good and all that, he may wind up stuck in the same neutral gear he's been in for much of his career.
It's not easy to promote Rigondeaux, but we're at a point where everyone understands exactly who he is and what he's about.
Anthony Crolla wins one for the good guys!
The feel-good moment of the weekend came on Saturday in Manchester, when Anthony "Million Dolla" Crolla won the WBA lightweight title by knocking out Darleys Perez with a vicious body shot in round five.
I don't have a whole lot to say about this other than Anthony Crolla is a nice guy, a good fighter, and someone very easy to root for. Fellow fighters who know him were over the moon in praise of Crolla as a person, and delighted to see him win the belt at home. A year after having his career nearly ended when he attempted to stop a burglary at a neighbor's home, leaving him with a fractured skull, Crolla made the fairy tale ending come true. Every once in a while, it's good to see something like this in what can be such a dark, ugly sport.