by Cliff Rold
Two interesting fights on paper ended up being a little more interesting in theory than in execution.
At welterweight, Shawn Porter-Yordenis Ugas ended up being the sort of difficult to score contest many envisioned. For some, the final outcome may have been controversial. Porter retains the WBC belt. There was certainly some debate to be had about how the official judges scored the fight. In particular, the difference between a loss and a draw for Ugas was Max DeLuca somehow scoring the final round, one of the few that appeared to be clear for either man in the fight, for Porter. That made the fight 7-5 from him, or a win for Porter.
That scoring was compounded by debate about whether or not viewers thought they saw a knockdown in the final round. Referee Jack Reiss ruled Porter slipped. It looked in real time like the slip happened with a heavy assist from an Ugas right and Porter appeared to react like he’d been dropped. If that knockdown is scored, it may have slipped DeLuca’s card and could have changed the fight to an Ugas win.
Despite the official scoring issue, this corner saw the fight dead even at the end, giving the last two rounds to Ugas. There were spots of the fight where it looked like Ugas was going to take over and he appeared to be the more skilled fighter in the ring. However, the fight featured long stretches of both men staring and waiting for the other to press the issue. In a lot of rounds, that meant a premium on landed punches. The judges disagreed on 10 of 12 rounds and, outside the final round, that made sense. Porter was often ineffective, Ugas often ineffectual, and fate was left to a flip of the coin in too many frames.
At light heavyweight, Dmitry Bivol-Joe Smith was a fight where one guy held a clear technical edge while the other had a decent puncher’s chance. Both those elements played out but not always in the most crowd-pleasing fashion. Bivol is as technically sound as it gets, and responded with calm and intelligence to being badly rocked at the end of the tenth round. He also showed some killer instinct in the final moments of the fight. There was a lot of rinse and repeat in the rest of the fight and, while successful for the WBA titlist, it was another in a string of performances that was less than compelling,
So what comes next?
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Porter: Porter won and in the end it was all he really needed. As part of the PBC, he’s got options at welterweight. In 2019, how much fans can hope for in a given weight class has an awful lot to do with where talent is signed. If one is a middleweight, for the moment DAZN is where the best action is. At welterweight, it’s in the PBC. Top Rank has WBO titlist Terence Crawford. The PBC has everyone else with a belt. Rematches with Keith Thurman or Danny Garcia, a unification clash with the winner of Errol Spence-Mikey Garcia, or a showdown with living legend Manny Pacquiao are all realistic options for Porter.
The Future for Ugas: The Cuban sees his eight-fight win streak snapped and, when he watches the tape back, he’ll see opportunities he let get away. Ugas got the fight at a pace and space that favored him but there’s no one who could say there wasn’t more he could have done. It was the latest case of a talented product of the Cuban amateur program who is so fundamentally sound, so sure of his style, so locked into his game plan, that the simple act of punching more to persuade professional judges seemed to get past him. There are fans that see the chess match being played, appreciate the style, and feel they’ve witnessed injustice when it goes the other way. Yet whether it’s Acelino Freitas-Joel Casamayor, Saul Alvarez-Erislandy Lara, or Saturday’s contest, all ended with a defeated man who has to ask himself what might have been if he’d moved his hands more. At 32, Ugas has time to ask that question in the ring again before he’s done. Ugas would be an interesting opponent for the same pool of PBC welterweights noted above and added to the depth chart this weekend.
The Future for Bivol: Let’s be frank: Bivol is basically in the Crawford spot at light heavyweight. Lineal and WBC titlist Oleksandr Gvozdyk and IBF titlist Artur Beterbiev are both with Top Rank and WBO titlist Sergey Kovalev fought last on ESPN. Interim WBA titlist Marcus Browne is with the PBC and the WBA has shown they’re more than happy to let their belts stay fractured for years and let the fees roll in. Bivol is going to need to be able to create pressure in the market to get a big fight at light heavyweight and fights like Smith, Jean Pascal, and Isaac Chilemba, while fundamentally impressive, aren’t building a groundswell among fans going by social media reactions. Bivol has discussed moving down to super middleweight but he’s never made that weight and moving down the scale is often folly. Bivol’s best option, and a hell of a fight if it could be made, might be luring WBA and Ring Magazine super middleweight titlist Callum Smith up the scale. Smith won the WBSS on DAZN last year, is with DAZN content provider Eddie Hearn, and is big for 168 lbs. Bivol-Smith would be a hell of a fight.
The Future for Smith: Smith will always be the man who retired Bernard Hopkins. In defeat Saturday, he may have more options than the victor. Big punchers from New York are always going to find work and Smith probably hasn’t had his last title shot. A rebound win or two and Smith, still only 29, can find himself with more opportunity as the rest of the division looks to fill dates. For now, Smith can wonder what might have been if he’d landed his big tenth round shot a minute or so earlier.
Rold Picks 2019: 13-7
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]