There are at any given time, a handful of truly complete fighters in world. These are the fighters that aren’t just in the conversation as the pound-for-pound best, but the guys that transcend that conversation entirely. Andre Ward, Terence Crawford, Vasyl Lomachenko – these are our most recent examples of complete fighters. Floyd Mayweather, for part of his career, fit that bill. Perhaps the best example, Sam Langford, is lost to history.
What defines a complete fighter? In short, it is the absence of mistakes. A very good fighter will have holes in his game ripe for exploitation by better or differently skilled fighters. Complete fighters have a self-awareness that does not allow for these holes to exploited, if they even exist. It is namely an ability to always make the right choice.
I (and several others) have said this before, but it bears repeating. Boxing is a series of endless choices that must be handled with care and without delay. Do I jab, or do I pull back? Do I move right and counter, or do I slip and turn him? Do I pursue my advantage, or do I maintain distance? Complete fighters make these decisions in microseconds and they are almost always right. Watch Murat Gassiev slowly begin to dominate Yunier Dorticos, and you begin to understand what it means to make the right choices.
I, like other writers and analysts, were initially of the opinion that Gassiev had lost the first few rounds because he was getting outworked by Dorticos. It became clear midway through the fight that this was all part of the plan, which was to bring Dorticos into the deep waters and drown him.
Gassiev may have been backing up, a new motion for him, but he was certainly not getting tagged clean by the mighty Dorticos. A very simple combination of head movement, footwork and his always-present peekaboo guard made him hard to hit. Not just hard to hit, but a ghost right in front of Dorticos.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of Dorticos, who is surely clever enough to realize what was happening to him. The other man is right there, right in the pocket, but your punches seem to always just miss, or just land on a glove. He times his movements so precisely that even the shots that land have the steam taken out of them. Imagine the frustration of doing what you wanted to do, only to find out it was meaningless.
After a few rounds of backing up, Gassiev began putting his hands on Dorticos. Always in range, Gassiev is a devastating puncher. Part of this is his physical strength, but much more of the force is due to the precision of his shots. Like a lot of Abel Sanchez trained fighters, Gassiev is careful to not let his hands go wildly. He believes in his power, and for that reason he only throws when and where it is sure to land. Dorticos did well to absorb a lot of those blows without having his consciousness switched off, but they all go when you hit them right. In the 11th round, Dorticos ate a series of increasingly unnerving shots that would have taken down an elephant. He had been hit right, and it was time to go.
Those shots were the product of a perfectly executed plan that allowed Gassiev to learn exactly when it was time to pull the trigger. We see Terence Crawford do this, we saw Andre Ward do this, and now we’re seeing Gassiev do this. Despite his lack of hand and foot speed, Gassiev is turning himself into a fighter that can craft the perfect the plan for his opponents.
It’s too early to say if Gassiev is definitely on this level. He’s showing clear signs – defeating the toughest opponent of his career the way he did speaks to that. After his fight with Usyk, we’ll know even more about Gassiev as a boxer. I’m betting on him joining the vaunted company of complete fighters.