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Examining the blueprints to beat the best

Deontay Wilder Gervonta Davis Terence Crawford

By Rob Maclean: Since the dawn of time, Boxing fans the world over have theorized and publicized what are, at their very essence… opinions, but are often considered factual evidence on how to beat the unbeatable.

Throughout the late 2000s and beyond, every Floyd Mayweather Jr article or video came with the inevitable “fight Pacquiao” comment, frequently followed up with a multitude of supporting or contrasting hypotheses.

Often these conclusions are drawn from a moment of weakness or a sub-par performance, but that doesn’t derail the traction that some seem to generate.

The buzzword for most fight fans is deeming a fighter to be “exposed.” It is amongst the most overused and irrational of comments to make.

Admittedly, on a few occasions, the “blueprint” to beat a fighter can be completely on the money. Most, however, are vastly overinflated nonsense that helps to keep debate forums active. Below I will try to access four of the most common ‘blueprints’ and, hopefully, weave through the illogical and locate the viable.

Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (56-1-2, 38 KO’s)

Blueprint: Alvarez can be outboxed with movement and speed.

Deontay Wilder Gervonta Davis Terence Crawford

Analysis: Since the Mexican’s loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr (50-0, 27 KO’s) in 2013, many fans felt ‘Canelo’ was exposed as a fighter who struggled with awkward, hard to hit or moving targets. This was further exaggerated with the difficulties he endured when facing the Cuban Erislandy Lara (28-3-3, 16 KO’s) in 2014, with some believing that he lost that fight.

Since these contests, Alvarez has moved through numerous divisions, leaving behind an impressive resume of fighters. Alvarez has adapted his style to adjust to the heavier divisions and often bases his game plan on the opposition he faces. For example, in the Miguel Cotto (2015) and Daniel Jacobs (2019) fights, Alvarez opted to box, using elusive maneuvers and head movement, limiting the opportunities to be hit and focusing on countering.

When the Mexican pound-for-pound star moved up to light-heavyweight to face an experienced champion in Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1, 29 KO’s), Canelo implemented an effective pressure
strategy. His front foot pressure forced Kovalev to work. With each round, Alvarez mixed in body shots and slowly closed the distance before landing a devastating knockout.

In his last outing against Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders (30-1, 14 KO’s), Canelo came up against that very same blueprint that detractors had developed back in 2014. In this fight, Alvarez applied much more intense pressure from round one. During the mid-rounds, it appeared Canelo was slightly tiring, with Saunders growing into the fight. Yet in the eighth round, Canelo evaded a leaping hook from Saunders and unleashed a ferocious counter uppercut that fractured the Brit’s eye socket. Saunders didn’t return for round nine, extending Alvarez’s win streak, but most importantly, he laid to rest his demons from 2014.

In the many years since his loss to Mayweather Jr and struggles against Lara, Alvarez has developed patience. He mixes throwaway punches with clinical punches and has a much better understanding of controlling his stamina. For that reason, merely suggesting movement and speed is enough to dethrone Alvarez is vastly underestimating the skills of the Mexican.

Blueprint Conclusion: False. It clearly takes much more than elusive movement and skill to beat 2021 Alvarez.

Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KO’s)

Blueprint: Crawford is not big enough to compete against a genuine threat at Welterweight and will lose once he does.

Deontay Wilder Gervonta Davis Terence Crawford

Analysis: Since turning pro in 2008, Terence ‘Bud’ Crawford has boxed at a mix of Lightweight and Light-Welterweight, all but clearing out the reigning champions and contenders in both divisions. Particularly at Light-Welterweight, Crawford managed to capture all the world titles with little resistance, even against recognized champions like Victor Postol and Julius Indongo, both were undefeated at the time.

The American switch-hitter decided to move up to Welterweight in 2018, with many fans hoping he would test his skills against a much more talent-rich division. Sadly, in his five contests at Welterweight, he has beaten a widely received paper champion in Jeff Horn, two passed prime Brits in Kell Brook and Amir Khan, and two undefeated yet untested contenders in Kavaliauskas and Benavidez Jr.

Fight fans were hoping to see Crawford matchup against experienced world-level and prime operators like Errol Spence Jr, Shawn Porter, and Danny Garcia. Sadly, until these contests are made, it’s impossible to disprove any beliefs that Crawford will be ‘exposed’ against the larger fighters, particularly Porter and Spence Jr. Understandably the politics always play a part in these fights, with Crawford lining up with Top Rank, however recently, it appears negotiations have broken down with Shawn Porter as well as Spence Jr.

Blueprint Conclusion: Unproven yet possible. In my personal opinion, I think Crawford has the skill (very much like Floyd Mayweather Jr had) to match up with larger men at 147 and win.

Gervonta Davis (24-0, 23 KO’s)

Blueprint: Davis is a weight bully, a puncher with no stamina. He will lose when conceding his natural advantages.

Analysis: Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis has been a big Super Featherweight. That’s a fact. At around 5’6, he’s clearly the right height for the division… if you compare him to fellow American Jemel Herring (5’10), for example, who is a genetic freak to make that weight, in my opinion. This issue is, as his nickname suggests, he’s a big strong young man, he has large muscle mass and, on fight night, he looks like a Welterweight.

He struggled to make weight against Liam Walsh when he traveled to the UK in 2017. He also missed weight against Hugo Ruiz in 2019. ‘Tank’ eventually went up to 135 after that Ruiz fight, to fight Cuban former Olympic Gold Medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa (where again he missed weight initially), but yet went back to 130 to meet Leo Santa Cruz later in the year.

Gamboa managed to take Davis into the 12th round, where he was ultimately stopped, but it was much-needed fuel for the critical fire of ‘Tank’ doubters. Was the Gamboa performance at 135 a brave display from the Cuban? Or did Gervonta’s power not transcend to the new weight division?

However, it appears this blueprint (unlike the Terrance Crawford one) will soon be put to the ultimate examination. Davis meets the unbeaten Super Lightweight Mario Barrios (26-0, 17 KO’s) next month. Although Barrios has boxed under 140 and is not the top of the pile in that division, he’s 5’10 and a big puncher; he’ll also be much bigger than Davis on the night.

Blueprint Conclusion: Unproven. My personal opinion is Davis was generally unprepared for the Gamboa fight. Barrios is a good stepping stone before he matches up against the likes of Regis Prograis, Josh Taylor, and Jose Ramirez. I may well be wrong, but I think Davis is immensely skilled and very dangerous, potentially a future American star at just 26-years-old.

Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KO’s)

Blueprint: Wilder has no chin and a cherry picker. Once he is hit by a true world-class fighter, he will be knocked out.

Analysis: In November 2008, Deontay Wilder turned to the professional game, just months after winning a bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics. However, earlier in 2008, Wilder suffered a devastating KO defeat to Evgenyi Romanov, who was a high-level Russian amateur and is currently an undefeated professional prospect. To put this defeat in perspective, however, Wilder had only entered a boxing gym for the first time in 2005 and was a relative amateur to the fight game, showing promise in Basketball and American Football in his youth.

However, this would not detract the naysayers and reputation he gathered from this fight as a ‘chinny’ heavyweight, and as he began to build up a profile of devastating knockouts, the noise coming from detractors grew. By 2015 Wilder had amassed an undefeated record, albeit against low-level competition, however when faced with devastating puncher Bermaine Stiverne, a large portion of skeptics felt a knockout loss was all but inevitable. To the shock of many, Wilder claimed the WBC Heavyweight Title in a shutout, absorbing some decent punches along the way.

Wilder would go on a five-year unbeaten run defending the WBC title, but the opposition was questionable. This, along with being rocked by Eric Molina and seemingly hurt in a David Haye promotional video, fueled the flames that Wilder’s demise was soon. In 2018, Wilder took on his biggest threat to date in the aging Cuban Luis Ortiz. By round 7, Wilder was looking to finish Ortiz but was caught hard coming in by a counter right hook. It was flush on the jaw. Wilder did everything to survive but took many more hard punches and was completely out on his feet. Between rounds (and given a bit too much time), Wilder was able to recover and regroup. He eventually won by TKO in round 10.

Wilder would struggle badly against Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21 KO’s) in that same year, missing wildly at times, but he landed two hard knockdowns in the fight. This bizarrely prompted a draw on the scorecards, and Wilder would rematch Fury in 2020.

This time Fury was much fitter (he had to cut an incredible amount of fat in the first contest) and would box a completely different strategy. He put pressure on Wilder from the opening bell, combining good footwork with feints, and Wilder was looking clumsy moving around the ring. Fury would land hard jabs, body shots, and clean one-twos straight down the middle. Remarkably a battered Wilder lasted till round 7 when his corner offered him mercy in correctly throwing in the towel.

Blueprint Conclusion: Incorrect game plan. Look at Wilder’s best performances against the likes of Stiverne, Arreola, and Washington. All of them can punch hard, but none of them are good movers and are fairly stationary targets. Fury’s win proved Wilder can be knocked out, not by devastating one-punch power but by effective footwork and pressure. I think merely suggesting a hard puncher can defeat Wilder by landing on his chin is incorrect. Ortiz and Fury have proven Wilder can be beaten by effective boxing.

This writer is a regular on The Perfect Record – A Boxing Podcast, available on Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.

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