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The HBO and NBC Sports Network TV Cheat Sheet- June 16, 2012

It is a relatively slow weekend of boxing; perhaps a good thing since the sport is recuperating from a tough week of second-guessing and mainstream sports media assault over the controversial Tim Bradley-Manny Pacquiao decision. Only the HBO and NBC Sports Channel cards stand out and there is no co-main event for HBO’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Andy Lee bout with HBO replaying the Pacquiao-Bradley bout instead. I am disappointed by the NBC Sports opener, featuring the first seemingly obvious mismatch of the series. In it, heavyweight revelation Bryant Jennings faces Texas toughman Steve Collins, a big step backward in terms of competition for Jennings after impressing nearly everyone against quality foes in previous appearances. Judging by this, Jennings is now a commodity and the American heavyweight mentally has set in where Jennings will be guided to a title shot by facing mediocre foes with blown-up records.

At the Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
(NBC Sports) Tomasz Adamek (45-2) vs. Eddie Chambers (36-2)
(The Ring magazine #3 heavyweight vs. unranked)
(NBC Sports) Bryant Jennings (13-0) vs. Steve Collins (25-1-1)

Steve Collins- Texas-based puncher has not faced a boxer above trial horse level but was still held to a draw in his last fight against a 7-5 foe and has been stopped early in his career. Indiana-born brawler lives and fights out of Houston and at 6’ 3” with a 74-inch reach is an average-sized heavyweight with a lot of natural strength. However, because of a limited amateur career, he does not have the experience or proper form to turn that strength into punching power. I say that despite Collins’ 67% kayo ratio, inflated by poor opposition, but also note Collins has improved a lot after joining forces with veteran trainer Bobby Benton, bettering his balance and style. YouTube footage shows a flat-footed plodder displaying average hand speed at best, with Collins taking small steps to opponents, throwing a semi-accurate jab that is impactful when it lands at full extension. When Collins gets inside, he holds instead of taking advantage of his natural strength to work the body with thudding shots. Best asset is an attacking attitude and when Collins senses he has an advantage, he follows up immediately, swarming foes with combinations. Even when ineffective, it is the right strategy and builds points with judges. When Collins does get close enough to throw, he will do so with either hand but balance is not optimal and they tend to be shoulder-level looping hooks. On defense, Collins holds hands dangerously low, at chest level, but does seem a decent judge of distance, getting his arms up to block against admittedly weak foes. Collins’ chin seems sound but he was stopped once and that could show his level of opposition is just weaker than his chin. At 28, Collins is in his physical prime but lacks ring activity only fighting twice in 2010 and 2011. Two months ago, reportedly got a debatable hometown draw against 7-5 Hector Martinez. Collins was a career-low 226½ pounds for the fight (260 in his previous outing), so he was in shape but obvious rusty from an 11-month layoff. A mild-mannered, religious person who is a fine representative for boxing outside the ring but Collins likely lacks the skill set to shine on a nationally-televised card against a quality opponent.

Bryant Jennings- An athletic boxer who has taken an all-too-familiar route to our sport for American heavyweights, not entering a ring until age 23, concentrating on basketball, football and track before trying boxing. Success in other sports rarely converts to boxing since it is a singular sport with most champions introduced to boxing before their teenage years. Jennings has reassigned his athletic ability to boxing, reaching the finals of the national PAL (losing to American Olympic representative Lenroy Thompson) and US Golden Gloves competitions. However, the fact that Jennings only had 17 amateur bouts shows that breaching the finals is no longer the arduous process or achievement it once was. At 6’ 2” with an 84-inch reach and 220 pounds, Jennings is not a big heavyweight, relying on footwork and timing rather than punching. A lot of Jennings’ success is predicated on movement but everything still seems a bit reactionary instead of exploitive of his physical skills. Jennings is a mature 27 but only four years of boxing experience gives pause as to what will happen when he faces adversity for the first time. Jennings has a good right hand and is most comfortable playing the role of moving counterpuncher. Quick to clinch on the inside- given slender physique, is not a bad idea- and keeps both hands high using them well to slap punches away. Jennings delivers awkwardly effective jabs, leaning to his right and pushing it straight out with decent speed and accuracy. Has a wide stance and bends his knees deep to shoot straight punches, which can take power out of the punches but Jennings wins fights on volume and sound defense. Reflexes are great but he loses sight of opponents at times with high guard and quick lateral movement. Because he came to the sport late, Jennings is either full offense or defense, punching or covering up, and lacks fluidity changing from one to the other. I do like that when Jennings gets hit solidly, he tries to counter immediately and take the play away from an opponent. Nickname of “Bye-Bye” is not for 46% kayo ratio but Jennings can pull away on the scorecards quickly with fast starts. A quality prospect who fights to his strengths, Jennings received an ego boost when Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach said he is the best prospect America has right now in the heavyweight division.

Verdict- There should be no surprise about who wins this fight, only how the end result of a Jennings victory is achieved. Collins should be frustrated and busted up by the fourth round with Jennings’ domination a replay of Kelly Pavlik’s destruction of limited Scott Sigmon last week. Jennings will win every round until the referee or ringside doctor steps in to stop the one-sided bout and Collins’ ability to absorb punishment will be the deciding factor of how long the fight goes. My guess is five to seven rounds but it won’t be particularly fun or exciting to watch.

Eddie Chambers- At age 30, we still don’t know if Eddie Chambers will mature into a force on the American heavyweight scene or become a footnote in an unexciting heavyweight era. Losses to championship caliber foes and subsequent inactivity had made the talented Chambers irrelevant until this fight brought him back to our attention. Chambers beat quality opponents Alexander Dimitrenko, Samuel Peter, Calvin Brock and Raphael Butler but also showed lack of combativeness against elite foes Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin. So, which is the real Chambers? Initially blew a chance to be a player on the world stage by allowing Povetkin to defeat him in Germany back in 2008. I say “allow” because Chambers seemed to control the action early, flashing his fast hands and quality footwork to an international audience. However, Chambers let off the gas pedal and the talented Povetkin took advantage by working the body and sweeping the championship rounds for a well-deserved comeback win. Chambers rebounded from the setback, dismantling bomb-throwing Samuel Peter with smart movement and in spots, exchanged with the bigger man to ensure he would not lose on the judges’ scorecards. Then Chambers surprised most in his second trip to Germany, handing undefeated prospect Alexander Dimitrenko his first loss. Weighing a then-career-low 208¼ pounds, Chambers landed clean punches, darting in and out, against a foe over 40 pounds heavier and controlled the fight throughout. At 6’ 1” with a 75-inch reach, Chambers is a small heavyweight, making up for it with intelligent movement and timely combination punching. Could not defeat Wladimir Klitschko, who mastered the distance and pounded Chambers into a 12th round stoppage, leaving Chambers’ body sprawled over the bottom rope at the end of the fight. There is no shame in that and Chambers is in good company where that is concerned. Layoffs are Chambers’ recent enemy, only fighting once in 2010 and 2011, entering this fight on a 16-month ring absence. Chambers’ wins and losses show him to be in that nebulous in-between, “good enough to beat top 10 opposition” category but not possessed of enough qualities to beat the elite. At his best, Chambers has an understanding of how to use his quickness-based style and infuse it with the right amount of risk to achieve victory. If Chambers can defeat similar sized Tomasz Adamek, he can use the newfound momentum to become something akin to this decade’s Chris Byrd.

Tomasz Adamek- The Polish legend was an offensive force at light heavyweight and cruiserweight, surprising many by beating quality heavyweights like Chris Arreola, Michael Grant and Andrew Golota to earn a heavyweight world title shot. Multifaceted champion is dangerous because of the many options he possesses on offense. Adamek works his speed and angles, producing the power to stun foes, or he can fall back on a high work rate to get the job done on the scorecards. Like most Eastern European boxers, Adamek was expertly schooled in the amateurs, winning two Polish titles and finishing third at the European championships. Never won an international competition but ended with an exceptional 108-12 record. Took up boxing at age 12 and because of aggressive style of fighting, should be considered an old 35. I do categorize Adamek as a technically adept fighter but he is the type of fighter who gets caught up in exchanges when he could use his swiftness and knowledge of angles to win fights easier. Will probably never show dedication on defense, where his jaw and determination have combined to save him from losses. Has the ability and technique to be a good defensive boxer but urge to land his own punch overrides self-preservation instincts to fans’ benefit. Adamek is a mentally tough road warrior, winning fights in Germany, England, Finland, Spain and America. Only loss below heavyweight was to a speedier Chad Dawson (who Adamek still knocked down), after which he immediately moved up in weight and scored nine consecutive wins against good opposition among 13 consecutive opponents. Dominated physically- but never gave up- by a huge Vitali Klitschko, taking a beating for 10 rounds before falling to the champion’s power and unable to hurt his pound-for-pound foe. Wars with Steve Cunningham and Johnathon Banks made him a cult figure in America but back in Poland (and among America’s Polish population) Adamek is a bona fide hero. A respected champion at light heavyweight and The Ring magazine cruiserweight champion, Adamek made the jump to heavyweight, stopping Andrew Golota and defeating Chris Arreola on points. Trained down from 215 pounds at cruiserweight and that is where he settled, weight-wise, at heavyweight to date. Has right attitude about moving to heavyweight, “I was looking for challenges. I got the championship at cruiserweight. There were no challenges left for me. My life is about challenges.” A proven blood-and-guts warrior, Adamek has brought excitement to a division in desperate need of his dynamic brand of boxing.

Verdict- I am tempted to pick Chambers and would not be surprised if he does enough to have the result still in question entering the championship rounds. My argument against Chambers is that everything he does well, Adamek is slightly better at, plus Chambers will have some ring rust to shake off in the first four rounds. Given those factors, I am picking Adamek to do well early and need that lead to edge it on the scorecards by two points across the board. Another issue is that Chambers gets lazy on defense, allowing himself to be drawn into the trenches where Adamek’s superior fighting spirit and punch volume aids him. This should be an entertaining fight with Adamek’s superior mental strength the intangible leading him to victory.

At the Sun Bowl, El Paso, TX
(HBO) Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (45-0-1) vs. Andy Lee (28-1)
(The Ring magazine #3 middleweight vs. unranked)
(WBC middleweight belt)

Andy Lee- The Irishman has been hyped since turning pro, moving to America and maturing under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward. Lee earned his stripes at the legendary Kronk Gym and understands what it takes to become a champion, following Steward to training camps with champions like the Klitschkos, Miguel Cotto and Jermain Taylor. Comes from a boxing family, starting to box age eight, quickly finding his way around a ring. Represented Ireland in international competitions, beating Alfredo Angulo, Ismayl Sillakh and Darren Barker. Advanced to the Olympic Games where he lost controversially to current middleweight contender Hassan N’Jikam. The southpaw lists his favorite boxers growing up were Roy Jones, Winky Wright and Wladimir Klitschko but boxes in a physical fashion, getting drawn into brawls like a Diego Corrales, who fought against his physical strengths (at 6’ 2” with long arms, Lee is a huge middleweight). Lee was moved quickly as a pro, beating faded former world champion Carl Daniels in his eighth pro fight. Then came Lee’s one career misstep; after scoring an early knockdown, Lee spent his energy trying to finish the rugged Brian Vera and was halted in the seventh round. The stoppage was mildly controversial, with Lee winning on points and punching back when referee Tony Chiarantano stepped in. Regained the public’s faith with a thrilling slugfest against Scotsman Craig McEwan (trained by Freddie Roach), persevering through a physical beating to score a sensational 10th round kayo. Also avenged his loss to Brian Vera with a wide 10-round decision. At age 28, is in his physical prime but because of defensive flaws, has taken more punishment then needed and could have more miles on odometer then 156 pro rounds suggest. Is blessed with great size for a middleweight but often fights against those strengths by digging his heels in and fighting on the inside, forgetting about his searching jab and physical upper body strength. In a recent interviews, Emanuel Steward described Lee, “He is a big middleweight, a southpaw, has vast experience as an amateur and professional, can box on the outside and fight at close quarters and has the power to take a fighter out with either hand.” Lee said he is ready for the championship challenge, putting in a 10-week camp, sparring with Adonis Stevenson, Edwin Rodriguez, Don George and Brian Vera to prepare for Chavez Jr.’s vaunted body attack.

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.- Because of his name, Chavez Jr. grew up on pay-per-views without ever facing a PPV-worthy opponent and I joked that Chavez Jr. headlined more pay-per-view main events than his Hall of Fame father before becoming a champion himself. I have softened my stance on Chavez Jr. since he has registered quality wins over Sebastian Zbik (though I scored in favor of Zbik), Marco Antonio Rubio and Peter Manfredo. Before that, Chavez Jr. was an inexperienced boxer struggling against mediocre opposition with fans forgetting he was learning on the job, having never fought as an amateur. Little Chavez has shown a lot of improvement since joining forces with trainer Freddie Roach; his work rate escalated as he dedicated himself to becoming a professional in the gym at Roach’s insistence. Junior has one ability his father did not; this Chavez can shrink his body down to make middleweight and rehydrate up two full weight classes in 24 hours. A lot of work remains defensively but Chavez Jr. is solid on offense with more than a passable imitation of his daddy’s fearsome body attack! Little J.C. is 26 and his body looks like it is slowly morphing out of middleweight and into the 168-pound division. Junior’s fundamentals are sound and his punches pack a thud; these are the causes for his rolling over opponents as the rounds ratchet upward. Seemed lacking in that regard earlier, probably draining himself physically to make junior middleweight early in his career. It is no coincidence that Chavez Jr.’s best fights have come lately with Roach’s influences taking hold in straighter punches and cutting off the ring with lateral movement. Chavez tore apart a tough Peter Manfredo and I harken back to Chavez Jr. looking like a freight train steamrolling Sebastian Zbik with his late work rate. Chavez displayed that he can be versatile; when not able to overwhelm John Duddy, he sidestepped the Irishman’s charges and countered like a capable matador. Showed toughness standing and trading with Duddy early, able to roll with the looping punches since he saw them coming, not allowing Duddy to build momentum. Unlike his father, Chavez Jr. did not counter immediately or throw simultaneously with a foe but that will come under Roach’s influence. What Chavez does when an opponent does not play by the rules - bullying him and forcing the youngster to think instead of react - will be key to his escaping his daddy’s immense shadow.

Verdict- I will be rooting for Lee (my heritage demands it from me) but I cannot pick him to win logically or using any of the multitude of boxing axioms. Chavez is a little bit faster, a little bit stronger and a little bit more capable of absorbing punishment compared to Lee. In boxing, a little is a lot and is why common sense as well as rational dictates I chose little Chavez. This is going to degenerate into a slugfest rather fast and given how Chavez gets stronger as fights progress and Lee wilted in the past, I think Chavez and his thudding body punches take over after seven spirited rounds. Lee never switches into survival mode and, unable to escape Chavez with his legs, will stand his ground until dropped in the 10th round. From there, he’ll rise exhaustedly twice before referee Laurence Cole looks into his blood-splattered face, waving the fight over. Irish eyes will not be smiling on this night but the pride and fighting spirit remains.

Prediction record for 2012: 82% (54-12)
Prediction record in 2011: 88% (138-19)
Prediction record in 2010: 85% (218-40)
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