Flaws Are Overrated, Plus Other Weekend Afterthoughts

There are three notable televised boxing cards ahead this weekend — Lucian Bute-Fulgencio Zuniga at super middleweight on Shobox, the pay-per-view card headlined by lightweights Amir Khan and Marco Antonio Barrera, and Cesar Canchila-Giovani Segura II at junior flyweight on Azteca America — but there’s a little bit of unfinished business to attend to from the past weekend.

The HBO-headlining junior middleweight clash betwixt James Kirkland and Joel Julio shall receive the bulk of my attention. It is that fight which prompts me to say in the headline, “flaws are overrated.”

James Kirkland

Kirkland, you see, has flaws. Defensively, he clearly has the capacity to move his head side to side, duck shots, block punches with his gloves and take a step back. Defensively, he clearly has very little interest in all of the above.

There are other problems. His footwork is not ideal. On offense, he is so interested in landing punches that he squares up often. He is wild with some of his shots, leaning and reaching in his unquenchable desire to hurt, hurt, hurt. And he often abandons his jab in favor of an all-power-all-the-time approach.

But flaws are overrated, as I said. He forced Julio to quit (more to come on that in a moment) with his relentless pressure, big punches, body work and a refusal to back down even when assaulted with the most destructive right hands Julio had to offer. Every one of Kirkland’s flaws were there to be exploited by Julio, and at times, exploit them he did. It was no use. Kirkland would not be denied.

Every fighter — every single one, without exception — has flaws. The best fighters are often the ones who not only have very specific assets like speed, power, etc., but just as importantly, who have the proven ability to overcome their flaws. From time to time, on other boxing sites, bulletin boards and chat rooms, I’ll see a fighter dismissed entirely because of his flaws. People will say something like, “Chad Dawson is no good. He can’t take a punch.” It’s true that Dawson’s ability to take a punch deserves questioning. But he’s managed those flaws just fine, so far. He’s gotten shook, he’s gotten dropped, but he’s always won.

Which brings us to Kirkland overcoming his flaws. No one would want to change Kirkland much, I imagine — he’s fun just the way he is, and he’s clearly done well with his flaws if he’s  gotten this far, which is, as of Saturday, to the best win of his career. The question becomes how much further he gets with his current set of flaws. I think if he moved his head, held his gloves high and worked his jab, he’d be just as much fun as he is now, but better. He’ll still get hit a lot with his style, but he’ll get hit a lot less.

I’m far from alone in my sense that Kirkland might find himself in trouble with a slick boxer as he is currently constituted. But even if a slick boxer gave Kirkland fits, I’m pretty confident Kirkland would give him him fits right back.

That’s why I suggested that it might be just fine to throw Kirkland in against one of the junior middleweight wolves, because I look at the entire weight class, and I don’t see anybody I’d pick to beat Kirkland very easily. But since he’s just 24, and since he still has room to improve, I’ve also got no problem with his team taking it a little slower for a while with Kirkland. That’s precisely what his manager said he intended to do, on the reasoning that “he’s still getting hit too much” and needs to work on his defense.

That means, of course, no Alfredo Angulo fight, which even Kirkland now says he wants to let marinate. It’s a fine decision from a business standpoint for that fight to wait, but man, I want to have seen it yesterday. It means, more likely, that we’ll next see Kirkland on May 2, on the undercard of the junior welterweight championship fight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao, in a fight against competition that’s a notch below Julio. I’m all for Kirkland getting a big, big, spotlight. I just hope his May 2 opponent is a live body when he gets that spotlight, because it’s hard for anyone to make new fans when those prospective fans can see that they’re getting hoodwinked with uncompetitive fights.

Joel Julio

To me, the most damning news to come out about Julio since the loss to Kirkland is that some of (ESPN) Dan Rafael’s sources said he had to lose 30 pounds in four weeks. Julio, who fought in November, and whose next fight was announced in mid-January. How much weight can a dude put on in that period of time from one fight ending to the next fight announced? It’s almost like he’d have to be trying, which makes me wonder if the information is true.

But if it is true, shame on Julio. Why in the world would he have put himself in a position like that? It would explain why he looked as though his conditioning wasn’t tip-top, and like his balance was a little bad, even if you can blame some of that on Kirkland’s car compactor-like pressure. And it raises questions about whether he can even get back down to 147 lbs., as some have recommended for Julio’s rehab effort.

Reports about how the fight ended have been exceedingly contradictory. There have been stories that said the corner called a halt to it, there have been reports that said the referee called a halt to it, but what I saw is that Julio called a halt to it. I rewatched the sequence again today, and because of what my eyes tell me — Julio kind of shook his head, at which point the ref waived it off — I’m going to conclude that Julio quit, even if announcer Michael Buffer said the referee called it off after he went to Julio’s corner and he, the referee, “decided he had had enough.”

The thing is, I’m not even sure Julio has it in him to rehab himself. I’m not just talking about him quitting in this fight, which, standing alone, was a reasonably defensible decision; his eye was a mess, he reportedly couldn’t breathe, he was running out of steam and nothing he was doing was backing Kirkland off. It looked like the only point in continuing was to get his ass kicked for a little longer. What I’m talking about is this: I’ve seen defeated fighters before, but looking at Julio’s dejected expression in the corner after the loss, simply letting water dribble out of his mouth, made me think, “this may be a fighter who’s now been defeated by the sport entirely.” I could be overreacting, but taken with the fact that he asked out, taken with his apparently poor preparation, it’s hard to see where Julio’s heart is in this right now. It happens. It’s a tough game. If Julio has hit the ceiling, his career is already better than the vast majority of fighters who roam the ring today.

One more point. There has been some suggestion on a couple different sites about the wisdom of Julio not sitting down on his punches. One site said if Julio had done so, he would’ve gotten knocked out, while another said his punches were basically hard enough the way he threw them. I must disagree. Of course Julio’s punches were hard the way he threw them — he’s a heavy-handed sumbitch. And maybe he would’ve gotten knocked out if he’d been more stationary. But A. Julio’s record reads “L-TKO6” now anyway, and B. he would have definitely punched harder had he really planted. I really think committing more fully to his shots was about his only chance, actually. I still think he probably would have gotten knocked out, but I always recommend the strategy that gives one the best chance of winning.

Announcing Team

Everyone jumps on Max Kellerman; I see why, but I’m OK with the man. Bob Papa will make mistakes, like continually calling Julio “Ortiz,” but he’ll have a good line every now and then like “Kirkland got hit with the kitchen sink, and he picked the sink up and threw it back at Julio.” We’re talking about the HBO B-team here for Boxing After Dark, and with those two, it’s a mixed bag.

There is no redeeming Lennox Lewis.

He is atrocious.

I rewatched the Saturday night card with a partial intent on paying attention to the commentating team, especially since Kellerman gets so much guff.

But all I could hear was Lewis, easily the worst major commentator in all of sports.

I took down a few of his most inane, insightless comments, just because I think the inanity and insightlessness of these comments might escape us in the moment-to-moment drab background noise of it all.

Of Yordan, Lewis said: “We don’t know much about him, but he looks pretty good right now.” He F
saying this 21 seconds into the 1st round. I could look good for 21 seconds.

“When you don’t know your opponent, you have to go out there and check him out.” This is as idiotic as saying, “When you’re walking around in life, you have to breathe oxygen.”

“That’s what we call a well-rounded boxer, when they can do everything.” Roughly: “That’s what we call a triangle, when there’s an object with three sides.”

“When you have an outstanding amateur career, it really helps when you’re turning pro.” Ugh. I mean. Just. UGH.

And that’s just the inane, ridiculous stuff. There’s so much he just plain gets wrong. When the ref wanted Arnaoutis to tie his shoe laces, Lewis said, “What does it matter if his laces are flapping around?… That’s silly.” Honestly, in what grade does one learn that having untied shoes is dangerous? And it’s not more dangerous in boxing?

Lewis’ performance was so hideous I’m going to institute a semi-regular feature where Lewis’ least useful and/or correct remarks are held up for scorn. I’m still deciding on the format, but watch for it, and please submit your nominees after each Lewis fight, K?

The Rest

Why did no one strangle the woman who kept shouting “woo” every couple seconds during Kirkland-Julio? It was that annoying on TV, I can only imagine how annoying it was live…

Liked the Kirkland feature. Love the combo of Kirkland and Wolfe. I talk sometimes about fighters needing stories as much as they need talent, and Kirkland and Wolfe is a story…

Love, love, love that Kirkland was mouthing to Julio between rounds, “I’m coming. I’m coming”…

Kirkland did hit Julio at an inappropriate moment in the 4th, but it looked to me like an honest mistake. The ref was trying to bring them together to touch gloves, but when he said “let’s go,” Kirkland heard all he needed to hear. He’s like an antsy football lineman easily getting fooled into an offsides or false start penalty…

In the immediate aftermath of the fight, I said I thought the ref’s stoppage of the Victor Ortiz-Mike Arnaoutis junior welterweight bout was a judgment call. A lot of fans and writers have debated that judgment call. Looking at it again, I now think it was a very good stoppage. The key was what Kellerman pointed out: Arnaoutis’ hands dropped involuntarily. When he came to, he seemed to think it was a standing eight count or something, but a few seconds in, he began to protest. Given that there was no count, Arnaoutis was clearly blitzed. Even if my call on his assumption is wrong, it still took several seconds for Arnaoutis to protest, so Arnaoutis was clearly blitzed. Arnaoutis trainer Buddy McGirt complained about the stoppage, and Arnaoutis himself complained to Ortiz about the stoppage; Ortiz respectfully disagreed with Arnaoutis in the ring when he said that. I guess I understand why Arnaoutis and McGirt were complaining, but like Ortiz, I respectfully disagree…

Ortiz is one likable kid. Sure, he seemed to get confused during the post-fight interview at times, but I don’t care. He talks like a real person, not an autopilot athlete. “I just want to thank everyone and stuff.” And does he already have an endorsement deal, or was he trying to get one?…

Ortiz may have been a tad over-respectful of Arnaoutis there in the interview, though. Why talk about how tough Greek fighters are after easily rolling over one who only landed three total punches in 1.5 rounds? Still, I guess I’d rather have overly courteous in victory than overly mean…

Junior lightweight Robert Guerrero is catching a lot of hell from fans and writers — although he, too, has his defenders — for begging out of his fight with Daud Yordan because of a cut. There have been a few more committed defenders who have said “No, Guerrero didn’t want out. He’s too tough for that.” Those people are wrong. Guerrero tried to get the ref’s attention at least twice to get the cut examined, and he told the ringside doctor he couldn’t see. If he wanted to keep fighting, he would have said he could see. I remain somewhere inbetween the defenders who called it a practical decision on Guerrero’s part and the critics who are saying he’s a pussy…

Yordan, however, is getting universal love, even with a slight asterisk from me for his excessive holding. Clearly, Yordan can fight a little, and everyone recognized it. He says he wants Steve Luevano at featherweight next. I can endorse that idea…

According to Rafael, all three fighters — Kirkland, Ortiz, Guerrero — could be back on one card on June 27…

Every time HBO hyped its upcoming boxing schedule between fights, my eyes went to April 11, when we get the Thrilla in Manila documentary, the first episode of Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7 and the middleweight fight between Paul Williams and Winky Wright. That’s going to be a great day for boxing fans. And as a Williams booster, I love his time slot. He should get a very nice influx of boxing fans from those two shows.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.