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Takeaway Spray: Things Learned and Seen On DAZN, Showtime and ESPN Fights

Michael Woods

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I slept on it, and I went back and watched some of David Benavidez‘ fight with Alexis Angulo. I wasn’t blown away, and hey, maybe I shouldn’t have been.

I think the pandemic must be factored into, well, not everything, but almost. You really can’t get a pure handle on many matters, because the coronavirus is throwing people off their games. Not everyone gets a pass–like, the leadership in DC can be judged on their conduct during this period, because they are supposed to rise up, and lead the charge during times of uncertainty. But everyone else? Most of us are just poor schlubs making it up as we go, and doing the best we can. Yep, that even goes for boxers.

Some 23 year old boxers, you’d maybe think they’d have learned all the hard lessons by now, and would be planning ahead, on how to make weight, in that last crucial three days to weigh in. But no, for boxers and most of us, lessons keep getting learned, later in life than you might think when you are a young gun.

That stuff was ricocheting in my head the day after the fights which ran on ESPN and DAZN and Showtime. Here are a bunch of takeaways, in no particular order, because I think that format fits the time we are in.

–If I didn’t know better, and came in with no intel, I’d have thought Jessica McCaskill (below) was maybe 24, and Cecilia Braekhus was about ten years old than her. Like, in round eight, they are clinching, both could use a rest. But McCaskill digs down, in the way an 8-2 fighter who hasn’t held a title since 2009 might do. She summoned something from the dwindling energy reservoir. She thought about it: Should I just let the ref break us, or send a message to the judges that I deserve this fucking round? You know the answer, she threw about 200 more punches than the long-time champ, and that won her the fight.

And her post-fight chat with Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora is worth tracking down, for the record. She started getting a little teary, and said that gets it, how far she’s come.

“So this is for the fourth grade homeless Jessica, this is for the little girl that just didn’t care what people thought of her, and didn’t care what people thought of her, even though she was really weird.”

Amen, McCaskill, that’s a spot on message for all those who feel like they don’t quite fit in. Keep on punchin.’

–Props to McCaskill for being a role model of perseverance, she used being homeless at age 8 as a fuel to help her focus. And props, too, to Braekhus, for her class in the loss. She asked that all due credit be given to McCaskill. On her performance: “I don’t want to talk about that right now,” Braekhus said. “I want to congratulate Jessica, she really wanted it. She did a great match. I am proud and happy to pass the torch to her. I have to say, I am so proud to be part of women’s boxing right now. If this is my last fight, I am proud that I was part of taking women’s boxing to this level. That will be my biggest achievement. Jessica just threw more punches and really, really wanted it. I am not going to say anything more. I am just going to congratulate her. Take good care of those belts.”

Class, 100% class. She didn’t whine, act entitled, throw shade on the deserved victor.

On if she’ll retire: “I’ve done so much,” said Braekhus (36-1), turning 39 in September. “I miss my friends and family. Women’s boxing is in such a good place right now – they will be fine without me.”

Oh, but plenty, female and male, can learn from her dignity after taking the L. I’m more of a fan of Braekhus now than I was coming in. (Click here, for an archive special, John Gatling calling Cecilia TBE.)

Caecilia Braekhus won as many fans with her class shown after the loss as he did when she started fighting in the US, among American fans.

–Takeaway question: With McCaskill likely to meet the winner of the Katie Taylor-Delfine Persoon rematch, where the heck does that leave Amanda Serrano? Is she and management going to shoot herself in the foot by trying to play hardball and negotiate herself into losing out on the largest opportunity of her career?

Manager Jordan Maldonado and Amanda–do they have a plan up their sleeve that will pay off quite handsomely in the last half of the year? (Photo from Serrano Twitter)

–I said in the intro, most of us keep learning late lessons. Here’s an example–in assessing fights, I often give too much credit for someone being experienced. Think about it, Braekhus has been there, done that, gotten tons of belts and solid paydays. Does that make it more or less likely that she’d be inclined to get up for the 6 AM road work….or hit snooze, and sleep in till 8 AM? Yeah, fewer fights, and a couple losses, sometimes I don’t see the matchups from all the right angles. “You can’t put a price on hunger,” said analyst Sergio Mora after the decision was announced. He also rightly noted that anytime anyone talks of retirement looming, take that as a bright light warning sign.

—We pundits and fans don’t generally comprehend the immensity of the decision to fight on, or retire. Fair to say? We are pretty flippant in discussing whether a boxer should hang up the gloves. But we either don’t understand, or forget, that a guy like Travis Kauffman has been doing this for the better part of his life. And when he says, after losing to Otto Wallin in the Showtime opener (see below),  “I’m done. I’m retiring. I have kids. I’ve been doing this a long time,” it’s a big deal.

—It will be interesting to see what people hold on to post pandemic, and what they want. Mostly, people revert to form, and will fall back into old habits. Generally, the path of least resistance is chosen. But we can hope some lessons will be learned, and in boxing, the powers that be will make the sport better. OK, so did Tulsa, Oklahoma blow you away, as a fight site, for that DAZN card, put together by Eddie Hearn and Matchroom? Tulsa isn’t Vegas, it didn’t pop with color and vibrancy–but bringing the scraps somewhere different, and placing it outside, in theory is a good thing. Why? Because the formula gets stale, and the sport needs to grow, because no, it hasn’t been picking up new fans to make up for the old ones dying off these last five or so years.

—Over-reach sometimes works, but not as often as some people think. Raise your hand if that push to compare Cecilia Braekhus to Joe Louis, in the context of title defenses, resonated with you? Yeah, me neither. The Colombian born Norweigan made 25 defenses of a welter crown, until McCaskill snapped the streak. But even a total newbie understands that Louis had plenty of challengers to choose from, and that the pool of talent in the women’s sphere is much more limited. Yes, the profile of the women’s game has been upped the last few years. But it’s a slow grind to grow the appeal and allure of the women’s side and I don’t think that over-shooting, and trying to conjure buzz by comparing a Cecilia Braekhus to a Joe Louis comes off as best-practice PR efforting. Better to let good fights speak for themselves.

–“Boxing in studios is absolutely rubbish,” said promoter Eddie Hearn in a taped chat with Chris Mannix on DAZN.. It’s hard to present boxing as a “major sport” when it is presented in a studio, Hearn argued. Now, I thought the vibe wasn’t dark and dreary in the MGM “Bubble,” for the Top Rank events, and I think Hearn is being a bit too clever for his own good with that argument. Why? Because it’s about fights, it’s about matches.

And whether they are staged in a studio, or Eddie’s back yard or on a Tulsa crossroads, if a compelling match is made, the action will speak for itself. Maybe I’m in the minority here–talk to me, are you in Eddie’s camp, and agreeing that the site is of paramount importance…or you think they could hold Fury v Wilder 3 in the Walmart parking lot in Tulsa, and the action would speak for itself?

—It was great to hear Benavidez, after having slept on it, lose the sauna excuse for not making weight. He almost got it when he told Brian Campbell and Luke Thomas that it’s on him for missing weight, but he then said he effed up because he couldn’t use the gym in the Bubble for more than an hour a day, and he couldn’t use a sauna to sweat down to 168. The next fight, he was more so letting the buck stop with him. “Everything everyone said about me is true,” Benavidez said to Brian Custer post-fight. “I should be a professional and come in on weight, but this time I couldn’t do it. It’s my first time not making weight in eight years of being a professional.”

-I almost didn’t write this one, because I like to try and know what my lane is, to stay in it…But here goes anyway. I think David could benefit by having a vet trainer come in, and augment his dad/trainer Jose Benavidez Sr. Notice I say AUGMENT, not dump. I think family sticking together is to be encouraged. But David could be switching tempos, giving some different looks, and that will work to throw off tough guys like Angulo, and help him win easier.

Carl Frampton, a former world champ at junior featherweight and featherweight, stopped Darren Traynor in London on Saturday. Frampton rose to 28-2, 16 KOs and rust was a factor, this was just his third fight in three years. “It was far from my best, but it’s not going to harm me to do the rounds,” the 33 year old Frampton said after.Let’s hand the takeaway on this one to the 34 year old Jamel Herring (21-2, 10 KOs). What did the WBO 130 pound champ, likely to fight Frampton by the end of the year, think of the seventh round stoppage W on ESPN? 

“Once we handle business with Oquendo, Frampton is definitely next,” Herring told NYF, referring to his Sept. 5 Bubble clash against Jonathan Oquendo (31-6), a 37 year old Puerto Rican. “I didn’t think much of it. He, himself basically admitted that’s he going to have to come better once we meet up. He did what was expected overall. Around the fifth he seemed winded, and you can tell the jab was bothering him early in the fight. But again, he eventually picked it up and got his man out of there.” And I wouldn’t even hint at the possibility that The Fighting Marine is looking past Oquendo to a Frampton scrap…”At this point it’s like a competition thing between Frampton and I,” Herring continued. “More importantly, I want to see how I feel once I get back in the ring against Oquendo. But I like my chances in both fights! I just have to focus on the man in front of me first, but I’m excited, and even more motivated now!”

–Hear ye, hear ye, Brian Custer has come to the fore, and in the last couple years, really and truly found his comfort zone and it’s showing. The host of the their shows is now the very best at querying fighters live, and if you don’t believe me, take a look at home he quizzed Rolando Romero after he was bestowed too much judge love in his fight with Jackson Marinez. Custer in so many words set Rolly straight, and told him that Marinez out-worked him. But the low key way he does it is so skilled, and so rare, that it must be pointed out. It is soooo not easy to do that, to ask the hard questions, but with political deftness, like Custer does. Watch for his smooth style in the next show.

Watch for the calm authority Custer exudes in his interviews. Don’t tell Jim Gray, but the harsh interrogator could turn out to be extraneous, because BC can ask the real hard queries, and not come off as prickly.

–It will be interesting to see how Romero handles this outing moving forward. He told media that he won the fight, no ifs or buts, in the Zoom chat presser.

And he posted this to IG on Sunday:

In this age, it’s really not easy to decipher what is fronting and what is pride overflowing, so I don’t know what’s in Rolly’s head.

But outside looking in, I think it will be more helpful to his development to dial back the defensiveness, and watch that tape, see what he can do better next time. And what do you all think, I think in this sort of case, an immediate rematch should be called for, he said he’d be open to it, let’s hope the sanctioning body demands it. Marinez deserves it, yes?

Leave your takeaways from this weekend on Twitter, won’t you?

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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