By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s not always indicative, but it helps.
So, while sports history is littered with entities that rose up to produce greatness after inglorious stretches, it’s surely more comforting to approach a career-defining night while on a roll.
And that’s precisely how Jim Lampley is feeling as he and his HBO colleagues prep for Saturday night’s long-awaited showdown between premium cable mainstays Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.
Lampley and Co. arrive in the Nevada desert on the heels of a spectacular performance on last weekend’s “Boxing After Dark,” which originated just 274 miles down the road in Carson, California.
There, alongside frequent ringside cohort Max Kellerman and periodic drop-in Andre Ward, the “Network of Champions” team executed a final tune-up broadcast as well as anyone could have hoped as it heads toward the most eagerly anticipated pay-per-view boxing match of the year.
“Sometimes. Not all that often,” Lampley said, when asked if he ever walks away from the mic thinking a show has gone especially well. “But I agree (Saturday) night was an A broadcast from a commentary standpoint. Big improvement from Andre, who is learning to be less a perfectionist and just let it flow.
“Saw the Chocolatito thing coming after fighter meetings Friday. That happens about once a year.”
Indeed, the bow-tied trio was all over the compelling drama in the main-event rematch at 115 pounds, where recent pound-for-pound king Roman Gonzalez – having lost a disputed decision six months earlier – never looked right as he again met Thai conqueror Srisaket Sor Rungvisai.
Gonzalez was outpunched and outhustled in the first three minutes against the new champion, and was shown on HBO’s cameras before Round 2 looking as if he’d have preferred to be nearly anywhere else.
Lampley instantly seized on the images, correctly labeled them “jarring” and added that the Nicaraguan was far too focused on his southpaw opponent’s headbutts than on his own offensive arsenal.
His overall discomfort continued in rounds 2 and 3, and he was brutally erased in the fourth with a highlight-reel KO.
“As we said going in, when you are focused on avoiding butts you are headed down a negative path,” Lampley said. “(Sor Rungvisai) is like Holyfield or Bradley. It is going to happen. You have to focus on what you can do. It is not easy.”
The upset in the final fight capped off a night in which the broadcast crew had already added insightful and pertinent context to an ebb-and-flow 12-rounder between Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Cuadras, and provided a strong introduction to the American audience for Naoya Inoue – who was making his U.S. debut against outgunned challenger Antonio Nieves.
Kellerman and Ward shone particularly brightly in the Estrada-Cuadras fight, dissecting Estrada’s patient style and forecasting the dramatic stretch run long before it took shape. The cohesiveness continued into Inoue’s appearance, which began with fanfare, grew tedious as the rounds began looking repetitive but finished with a bang that the ringsiders said would occur thanks to the champion’s body work.
Ward will drop out for the Golovkin-Alvarez fight in favor of regular “World Championship Boxing” analyst Roy Jones Jr., and Lampley said it’ll be incumbent on him to again hold up his end of the fight-night banter – while making it clear there was no time to celebrate the performance in Carson.
“Just move on to the next,” he said.
“Roy will be back. Different rhythm. I love to listen to Roy and Max. Producers have to remind me to be in the flow.”
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior featherweight title – Osaka, Japan
Yukinori Oguni (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Ryosuke Iwasa (No. 3 IBF/No. 26 IWBR)
Oguni (19-1-1, 7 KO): First title defense; Enters on 10-fight unbeaten streak (9-0-1, 5 KO)
Iwasa (23-2, 15 KO): First title fight; Lost by TKO in most recent 12-round fight (June 2015)
Fitzbitz says: The old boxing suggests a fighter gets markedly better after winning a title belt, and it seems Oguni may follow the blueprint. He’s flourished as his foes have improved. Oguni by decision
WBC junior flyweight title – Osaka, Japan
Kosei Tanaka (champion/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Rangsan Chayanram (No. 13 WBC/No. 16 IWBR)
Tanaka (9-0, 5 KO): Second title defense; Three of five KO/TKO in scheduled 12-rounders (5-0, 3 KO)
Chayanram (14-1, 8 KO): First title fight; Lost only fight outside of Thailand (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Tanaka is another in a run of small fighters who’ve picked up titles early in their careers. And, matched with a foe who fought a guy with 41 losses his last time out, he’ll be OK. Tanaka in 9
IBF/IBO/WBA/WBC middleweight titles – Las Vegas, Nevada
Gennady Golovkin (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Saul Alvarez (No. 3 WBA/No. 2 IWBR)
Golovkin (37-0, 33 KO): Sixteenth title defense; Fifteen KO/TKO in 16 career title bouts (16-0, 15 KO)
Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KO): Twelfth title fight (10-1); Tenth fight in Las Vegas (8-1, 4 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The closer it gets, the less clear the result seems. But even though Golovkin was less fearsome in his most recent fight, he’s still the more proven commodity at 160. Golovkin in 10
IBF junior flyweight title – Cebu City, Philippines
Milan Melindo (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Hekkie Budler (No. 6 IBF/No. 5 IWBR)
Melindo (36-2, 13 KO): First title defense; Won championship in third career title fight
Budler (31-2, 10 KO): Seventeenth title fight (14-2); One loss in 19 fights in weight class (18-1, 6 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Budler hasn’t always won when he’s supposed to, but he’s been close to a lock in the 108-pound ranks. Melindo is a good pro and won’t make it easy, but there are levels. Budler by decision
WBO middleweight title – London, England
Billy Joe Saunders (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Willie Monroe Jr. (No. 2 WBO/No. 8 IWBR)
Saunders (24-0, 12 KO): Second title defense; Second fight at Copper Box Arena (1-0, 0 KO)
Monroe (21-2, 6 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Two straight wins since lone career loss (May 2015)
Fitzbitz says: Monroe seems like he’s past the humbling loss to Golovkin two years ago and he likely won’t be brutalized here, but Saunders is no cakewalk – especially at home. Saunders by decision
Last week's picks: 3-2 (WIN: Benavidez, Inoue, Usyk; LOSS: Kalenga, Gonzalez)
2017 picks record: 62-23 (72.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 884-297 (74.8 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.