Everywhere you turned this past weekend, some fight was ending too early or too late, as the New Yorker's Kelefa Sanneh touched upon here in examining the struggle pitting quality boxing against boxer health, a subject the sport can't get away from post-Frankie Leal and post-Magomed Abdusalamov. The balance isn't easy. But let's go case by case.
- Carl Froch vs. George Groves: My initial reaction was that the referee stopped the fight too early, but cognizant of the effect of fans and writers overreacting to a borderline stoppage where the ref erred on the side of caution, I needed to see it again before flipping out. On replay, it was an obviously bad stoppage, the worst I can think of in some time. There was nothing borderline about it; Groves was hurt, certainly, but he had not taken an extended beating, he was punching back and there was no clear threat to his long-term health beyond the simple act of a knockout. He wasn't defenseless nor hopeless.
- Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios: Robert Garcia, Rios' trainer, notoriously failed to protect Antonio Margarito against Pacquiao, but this was a less clear call. Rios, though, had no real chance of victory after a certain point and was only soaking up punishment. Unlike with Magomed, I never had the thought that it should've been stopped in real time, so to me it's a borderline call. It is nonetheless surprising that Pacquiao himself deliberately avoided knocking out Rios out of a spirit of compassion, by his own admission. He did more damage by letting Rios make it 12 rounds and take more shots than if he had put him to sleep. Someone should inform him about how boxers tend to die in the ring.
- Andy Ruiz vs. Tor Hamer: There was no obvious injury to Hamer before he quit, although he did somewhat wobble back to his corner. That we haven't heard anything from Hamer about why he quit, I don't want to jump to some conclusion where I damn him as a coward for this specific decision without knowing why. Remember, Magomed was complaining about his injuries from the very 1st round, so maybe Hamer felt something we can't know about whether he was "right." The problem for Hamer is that he quit in his last fight on the national stage. Promoter Lou DiBella cutting him via Twitter was classless, but maybe Hamer should take it as a signal — boxing probably isn't the right career choice for him if he's going to quit repeatedly.
- Zou Shiming vs. Juan Tozcano: This could've been stopped well before the 6th round. Zou was dominating and had Tozcano bloodied. Showing more spunk and power and sitting down more on his punches, Zou was really beating up Tozcano, who landed a few shots early but was not competitive or close to it by midway through the bout. The only real standard for when a fight should be stopped is fighter safety, but a fighter's circumstances should be taken into account, and here Tozcano was only in his fifth career fight. He wasn't some proven veteran who had a track record of being able to handle this kind of thing. Fighters at the beginning of their careers like this in against high-level former amateurs ought to be bailed out earlier than this, and either his corner or the ref should have rescued him.
- Evgeny Gradovich vs. Billy Dib: At least the rematch of a bout earlier this year was stopped at all. It could've been stopped a couple rounds earlier. I would've pulled the plug in the 7th. Dib wasn't the same after the 6th round knockdown, and was reacting exceptionally poorly to the punches he was taking. He was defending himself and fighting back, sure, but it was pretty clear from his reactions that he was feeling the damage. Gradovich is not only the exact kind of boxer to hurt someone badly — he punches hard enough to hurt, but rarely hard enough to start — but he put Leal on a stretcher to prompt people to suggest Leal quit boxing well before his fateful bout.
It feels weird to criticize any of this when a fighter's life is on the line, but the main thing, I think, is to keep a level head about it all and look at what we can learn from it. The Froch-Groves stoppage was bad, and deserves jeers, but if a ref has to fear for his life for making a decision like that, we're going a little too nuts. Basically, my philosophy on this is that any borderline stoppage should get the benefit of the doubt if the call is made with a fighter's health in mind. Bad stoppages can be labeled bad ones when they're really obviously bad. And stoppages that are borderline late to egregiously late should get more negative feedback in hopes that they'll sway judges to err on the correct side of things.
Now, on to the other Afterthoughts.
- Pacquiao's performance and meaning. What everyone can agree on is that the Pacquiao we saw Saturday was not the Pacquiao we saw before. They differ over why and to what degree. I'll stand by my earlier assessment that the speed was right but the power was not. Others have seen a Pacquiao who consciously fought more cautiously, perhaps wary of being knocked out again like he was against Juan Manuel Marquez or aiming to extend his career. Could be something to that — he said he was hurt in the 5th round, not that I noticed. Others have seen a Pacquiao whose killer instinct has disapated, but I've thought his killer instinct has been gone for some time, the most recent Marquez fight exempted. Others have varied between extremely bullish and bearish on how "back" he is. That Rios was such a perfect opponent, as it turned out, for Pacquiao to look "back" means that one's eyes can tell the story of a fighter who should've done more against a limited opponent or who appeared sensational beyond what he actually was given that opponent's limitations. We'll need to see him against a different kind of opponent before we can draw any solid conclusions about where he is, I'm afraid. One thing is for sure: His performance meant the world to the Philippines, as Rafe Bartholomew spelled out here. That and his at least plausibly "back" performance is more than enough to keep him viable as an attraction for a while longer, despite the odd situation of Pacquiao-Rios being a welterweight pay-per-view meeting between men coming off losses. I'd guess Pacquiao-Rios did approximately 1 million buys, a little plus or minus. And it sounds like he might need the money. This tax snafu in the Philippines sounds like it could've been avoided but for now he's dealing with a $50 million back tax bill.
- Next for Pacquiao. Omigod please anyone who's giving it even an iota of faith, drop the notion that Pacquiao will face Floyd Mayweather ever. Mayweather isn't any more interested than before and both are guaranteed so much money via separate networks that it would take one side making monumental concessions, which won't happen. Pacquiao's side says they want it but they're more interested at this point in using the prospect of Pacquiao-Mayweather as something to be offered later to sell whatever's next. What trainer Freddie Roach has always said he has wanted is another Marquez match, something Pacquiao deserves by any measure of sportsmanship (Pacquiao gave Marquez multiple rematches despite Marquez not winning any of them until IV, Marquez owes him the same privilege) and marketability (Pacquiao-Marquez V is worth more than any other Marquez fight, period). Except Marquez is an asshole, so he is saying he'll only do a Timothy Bradley rematch, only Bradley has yet to express interest and he'd probably go with a Pacquiao rematch if he could. There's also been some talk here and there of a Miguel Cotto rematch for Pacquiao or a bout against Ruslan Provodnikov, with the problem on both of those bouts being that Roach trains each man. All of the hurdles to Pacquiao-Marquez, Pacquiao-Bradley, Pacquiao-Cotto and Pacquiao-Provodnikov can be overcome with quantities of cash, unlike those of Pacquiao-Mayweather, which cannot. Abandon, repeat, abandon.
- Next for Rios, Rios' performance. Whatever Rios' beef with HBO commentator Max Kellerman and his awkward post-fight demand that Kellerman tell him whether he was merely a punching bag for Pacquiao as Roach had said he would be pre-fight, it's hard to see Rios as much more than that in that fight. Rios is a quality contender at 140, and maybe he can become one at 147, but he was outclassed and dominated against Pacquiao. Why Rios thinks he needs to move up to 147 is hard to say, because it's giving away some of the size and strength he has in lower divisions. Provodnikov, who says he doesn't want to fight his friend Pacquiao, is interested in Rios, and will move back up to 147 for the honor. Given Provodnikov's improvement and Rios' lack thereof — any bid by trainer Robert Garcia to turn him into a smarter boxer has failed miserably, and Rios fought with the completely wrong gameplan early on — it would be hard to favor Rios in that one, especially with all the punishment he endured against Pacquiao. But it would be a damn good fight. A grudge match between hated enemies Rios and Victor Ortiz (which some people have said they want, and I do, too) is more unlikely, given that they're promoted by rivals Top Rank and Golden Boy, respectively.
- Froch-Groves. No, this wasn't a fight Froch was close to winning on the scorecards prior to it being stopped. Froch acted after his difficult super middleweight bout with Groves like he'd be down for a Groves rematch, playing to the crowd in a post-fight interview about doing it again. It would be the honorable thing to do for a fighter who has all kinds of fighting spirit but has been known to be a bit petty here and there. We'll see if his promoter goes along with it. Eddie Hearn told us a while back that he would have preferred a third Froch-Mikkel Kessler bout over a George Groves fight, but Froch didn't want to drop his belt and Groves was the mandatory. As much money as Froch-Groves made and as much as it ended up a quality bout, then, it wasn't even the most marketable or richest fight for Froch, which shows once more how uncertain the alphabet belts are likely to produce the fights that are best for the bottom line of the boxers who have them. So it's conceivable that we see Froch pass over Froch-Groves II for a meeting with the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or (again) Kessler. That said, the ambiguous outcome of Froch-Groves makes me want to see the rematch more than either of those bouts, which conspiracy theorists might be inclined to think was the point. This outing also makes Froch-Andre Ward II less compelling, because Froch, frankly, showed signs of being on his last legs and Ward would eat him alive even more voraciously than the first time.
- Pacquiao-Rios undercard. Part of me hopes the PPV buy rate was low because of the astoundingly shitty undercard, since that might make Top Rank get off its streak of worthless undercard bouts that make it so you're paying $60 or $70 for one fight. I saw people complain beforehand about how they couldn't bring themselves to pay that much for one fight. Oh, sure, Felix Verdejo is a fine prospect to watch, and maybe Zou is getting there. Ruiz provides some heavyweight slugging that's watchable, but when the main undercard bout is a rematch of a decent ESPN2 fight, you're doing it very, very, very wrong.
- Yoan Pablo Hernandez-Alexander Alekseev. The #2 man at cruiserweight returned to the ring after a long layoff and he did it against a more adventurous opponent than some might have chosen to beat off the rust, Alekseev. Alekseev recently beat Garrett Wilson, who himself was recently seen giving a tough time to heavyweight Vyacheslav Glazkov. Basically, Alekseev is a dangerous sort who has hovered around cruiserweight contendership but has issues with punch resistance. And he gave Hernandez a scare by wobbling him in the 7th. But Hernandez did more wobbling, dropping Alekseev three times, the last time in the 10th to force the ref to wave it off. It wasn't a 100 percent resounding comeback but a reasonable one for a fighter who hadn't been in the ring lately and chose someone of Alekseev's difficulty level for the assignment. Too bad we probably won't get to see Hernandez against the #1 man in the division, Marco Huck, to crown a new Transnational Boxing Rankings Board champion, because the pair share a trainer. Only in boxing. (I haven't caught up to Alex Leapai's upset of Denis Boytsov yet, but congrats to the Aussie heavyweight on the shocker.)