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Bad Left Hook Scouting Report: Konstantin Ponomarev

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Top American prospect Errol Spence Jr has been ordered to face Konstantin Ponomarev. Who is Ponomarev, and is he a threat to Spence? Radu breaks down the Russian welterweight.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Welcome to Bad Left Hook Scouting Report, the column where we have a look at some of boxing's young up-and-coming talents and try to pick out their strengths and weaknesses. We are considering a Rambo-themed spinoff, a 16th Century Flemish School Of Painting spinoff, or a rural tourism-themed spinoff. Any votes or suggestions for new and exciting concept-articles are welcome in the comments below. So far our regular articles have covered the following young boxers:

Recently, the IBF announced that highly ranked prospects Errol Flynn Errol Spence Jr. and Konstantin Ponomarev are to meet in a title eliminator to determine Kell Brook's next mandatory challenger. Since we've already covered Errol Spence in this series, I thought we'd also have a look at Ponomarev to see how he compares to Spence.

Konstantin Ponomarev v Brad Solomon Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Konstantin Ponomarev is from a very tough region of Russia, with a very good boxing tradition. He is from the Miass, a city in the Ural Mountains, 60 miles from Chelyabinsk. You might recognize Chelyabinsk as the city where Sergey Kovalev is from, and also as the city that was hit by a goddamn superbolide meteor in 2013. How tough of a town is Miass? How about the fact that it's the site of the huge UralAZ factory, where they make those famous 3-axle full-drive offroad Russian trucks they drive in the Siberian muds and whose engines never stop because you can restart them in the Siberian cold? Or how about the fact that they make ballistic missiles for nuclear submarines in Miass? Anyway, Ponomarev got into boxing at a very young age but unlike most Russian boxers, he abandoned the amateur ranks early and turned pro aged only 17, spotted and encouraged by the fledgeling 'Ural Boxing Promotions' company. They always intended to guide his career and his development onto American soil. They started sending him into training camps in Mexico City with Nacho Beristain as early as his 18th pro bout and then moved him to the States in late 2013.

Ponomarev was eventually signed by Top Rank, but after a more taxing than needed bout against Steve Claggett early last year, he switched trainers, relocating to California to work with GGG's trainer Abel Sanchez. It has apparently been paying dividends, as he has since managed his two biggest wins. So let's have a look at 4 recent, full-distance bouts of his:

The Very Best

1) Work Rate. Ponomarev's bread and butter is his ability to constantly throw hails of punches and keep opponents covering and ducking at all times. I think an argument can be made that he has the highest workrate in the entire welterweight division as it stands right now.

2) Angles and surprise factor. Ponomarev shifts and changes angles on his punches constantly. He punches from different levels, different distances, sometimes punches going backwards or side-to-side, off of one foot or another, makes quick jumps left and right to get an angle for a different punch, he either sets up punches with a jab, a feint or nothing at all, he switches stances for brief periods mid-round etc. He doesn't seem to have any discernible patterns and there's no position he may be in where an opponent can feel confident that he won't lunge into a punch.

The Good

3) Ring Movement. It's more flash than substance, but Ponomarev moves about the ring a lot: back-and-forth and side-to-side. He varies speeds and directions constantly, sometimes for little discernible reason. He also both cuts off the ring well and avoids being cut off himself. Honestly the biggest benefit of this strategy is that it confuses and messes up the opponent's timing and footwork. However, this skill seemed a bit stifled in his last bout, so maybe something to keep an eye on going forward.

4) Punch arsenal. While none of them is a killer, Ponomarev frequently employs every punch in the book: hooks, crosses, jabs, body punches, uppercuts...

5) Length. Ponomarev is most certainly both taller and rangier than listed on boxrec (5′ 10″ and 70"). He looked to be the longer fighter in all of the bouts above. He also generally uses that length advantage pretty well.

6) Stamina. The kid can clearly keep up a high punch output for 10 and probably more rounds. He's got a really good engine. The thing that does slow him down a bit is returning fire, which is natural. But if, as an opponent, you're waiting for him to punch himself out, good luck with that!

The Decent

7) Offensive timing. We've talked before on Bad Left Hook about 'Broken Rhythm' , the ability to throw combination punches at uneven intervals to confuse opponents into expecting punches to a certain 'beat' or in a certain sequence and then alter that rhythm ever so slightly, throwing a punch slightly later to misdirect the opponent to twitch or initiate a defensive stance before the punch has actually left, giving yourself the chance to change the angle at the last minute. Ponomarev does this from time to time and when he does do it it improves his punch accuracy.

8) Jab. This is one of the areas that has visibly improved under Abel Sanchez. It used to be tentative, weak and frequently forgotten, but it has now become consistent and accurate if nothing else. Which is great because it is a major part of his 'fighting at a distance' game.

9) Fighting going forward or backward. Ponomarev frequently alters his strategy mid-round, taking or ceding initiative, pushing the opponent around then letting him come forward for no apparent reason. Whether he is just exercising different fight situations, taking a breather or is trying to confuse the opponent, it's working for him. He is better at being the aggressor but the fact that he is used to both circumstances will certainly serve him well in the future.

10) Inside fighting. He is clearly not as fluid and offensively minded when fighting inside, but the good news is that he seems poised and not desperate to get away. Perhaps a function of his experience (183 pro rounds already as a 23-year old!).

The Not So Great But Improving

11) Punch Technique. This is perhaps the area where he had the biggest problems and at the same time has made the biggest improvements. Ponomarev used to arm-punch a lot, push or clobber with his fists instead of digging with them. Oftentimes he didn't put his bodyweight into his punches or got inconsistent torque on his hooks from his shoulders / upper body. The situation has definitely improved since he hooked up with Abel Sanchez.

12) Anticipation. He too often doesn't see opponents' punches coming and frankly doesn't seem to learn opponents' angles and favoured punches. You can call it lack of mid-fight adjustments but personally I suspect he loses concentration on the opponent's actions when he is focusing on his own offense.

13) Body Punching. This shouldn't be a issue. When he (sometimes) remembers to go to the body, he seems pretty good at it. The problem is that he totally forgets about it for very long stretches every fight. This one has seen some major improvement in his last fight against Solomon.

Boxing: Ponomarev vs Solomon Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Bad

14) Power. This seems trivial, and we geek out so much over subtle stuff like punch angles, footwork, rhythm, timing. But the simplest, most obvious concept in boxing is a big question mark for Ponomarev: his punches never really seem to hurt anybody. He is annoying and bamboozling opponents 3 times as much as he is actually beating them up.

15) Left Hand Down. Ponomarev seems to like protecting the right side of his face. He rolls with incoming punches on that side decently and he keeps his right hand up often enough. The left part of his face however is wide, wide open and he eats a lot of right hand punches.

16) Handspeed. Ponomarev's power punches are anything but snappy, at least for a welterweight. If it weren't for his angles, you would normally be able to see them coming a mile away.

17) Lack of defensive plan. Ponomarev just can't seem to find a defense that works for him. Over time he's tried the hands-down Sergio Martinez defense, he's tried rolling with punches, he's tried bobbing and weaving under punches, he's tried stepping back out of trouble, he's tried a tight high guard. Most of these work about 30% of the time at best.

18) Head movement. Ponomarev moves a lot, he constantly changes directions and he bobs with his body quite a bit so to some degree he is a constantly moving target. somewhat difficult to hit. But as much as he moves his feet and his upper body, his head is stuck stiff on top of his shoulders. If you only follow his head, it is constantly moving in straight lines and is rarely tucked behind his shoulder. A lot of punches that are not thrown from very far out tend to find his chin, which really shouldn't be the case for a fighter this mobile.

The Downright Horrible

19) Lack of concentration when attacking. When he focuses, Ponomarev can follow a gameplan. He can even implement a passable defense when he decides to take a step back for a few minutes. But the more he attacks, the wilder he gets. When he starts throwing for all he's worth and has his opponent covering and retreating, he really immediately gets away from everything he has been taught: head high, chin out, arms all over the place, crappy punch technique, no body shots, no jabs etc... This is especially dangerous since his opponents, even under sustained attack, are almost never really hurt. He pounces on them like they are about to go down and out and in reality they are quite far from it.

Overall Impression

There are two important things to note about Ponomarev:

1) He is still in the middle of a transformation after changing trainers. His punch technique, his jab, his body punching have improved, while his constant movement has decreased. It's probably a change for the better but it also means that he has had to take a few steps back. To my eyes he is far away from where he could be as a welterweight contender. It's too bad he's already being mentioned in the title picture because if I were his manager I would want at least another year (and 2-3 fights) with Abel Sanchez before throwing him in there with the wolves.

2) It's strange to see a fighter so versed in the subtle aspects of boxing (angles, timing, movement, gameplan variation) but at the same time so off in the very basic stuff (power, technique, jab, guard). This makes him, at the same time, a high-potential prospect and at the same time very raw, in a certain sense.

As it stands right now, Ponomarev is a perfect prospect tester, but should be easy work for true contenders. By far his biggest asset is his unusual and highly mobile style. Any young fighter who's never seen angles, movement and constant aggression is very likely to be very puzzled and unable to let his hands go against Ponomarev, just like Zewski was. But if a veteran fighter keeps calm under pressure, they should easily find that Ponomarev, at least at this stage in his career, is all style and no substance. I can't imagine Errol Spence having too much trouble with Ponomarev. Spence hurts people really bad and Ponomarev is there to be hurt. I also think the best bet to beat Spence is power, which Ponomarev does not have. Steve Claggett, Mikael Zewski and Brad Solomon all managed to land big power punches on Ponomarev in at least 3 or 4 rounds each. He outworked them but didn't shut down their offense completely. And when Spence lands, he lands with big power and deadly accuracy. Spence by mid-rounds stoppage.