Review: Salido vs Lomachenko

Vasyl Lomachenko’s amateur boxing record is 396-1, including two Olympic gold medals (2008 and 2012). And this is in the lighter weight divisions where boxing is at its most competitive. The guy might be the greatest amateur boxer ever. He’s the most anticipated prospect in years.

It’s conventional wisdom, though, that boxers should ‘move up the ranks’ (fight progressively stronger opposition) slowly no matter how much amateur experience. That means we’d normally have to wait a while to see him fight the best.

But Vasyl’s a ballsy guy and thought he’d challenge this tradition. It makes sense: why, might ask a decorated amateur boxer, should I wait around and fight bums? Because some old trainer says so? Because some promoter’s trying to keep me down?

Well, last Saturday night Vasyl Lomachenko found out why when he lost his second pro bout to a well known but distinctly non-elite fighter in Orlando Salido. Does this mean that Lomachenko is not the real deal? It might, though it’s probably more likely that conventional wisdom is so named for a reason.

The fight started out very slow. I think Salido was intimidated by Loma’s reputation while the latter probably deliberately kept the brakes on to pace himself (he’d never been past six rounds in his career and this was to go twelve). Eventually we learned some lessons in the differences between amateur and professional boxing.

1. Body blows don’t matter in the amateurs. That point is made both literally (points aren’t awarded) and figuratively. An investment in body work will never pay off inside of a three-round fight so why bother worrying about your body? Loma’s body defense is deplorable.

2. Size matters. Salido weighed 147 pounds to Loma’s 136. Is that against the rules? In this case, yes: Salido missed weight. Yet the fight went on. When you’re fighting in a 5-day tournament or whatever, you need to actually be your weight. Strategic rehydration is a real part of professional fighting. And when money is on the line, sometimes you ignore transgressions.

3. Life ain’t fair. The refereeing was atrocious. Salido landed a LOT of low blows. And to be fair, Loma’s holding was just as egregious. Eventually Salido, hurt in the 12th, held Loma for all he was worth and stayed on his feet. Painful to watch.

4. Game plans matter in longer fights. For a guy with poor body defense, moving in and holding is not an awesome strategy. Loma didn’t trust his speed and movement for some reason and felt he needed to lock down Salido. What an immensely weak play for a guy with stratospheric physical gifts. Loma should be able to dance around just about any fighter at any level.

So Lomachenko lost. Maybe he figures these things out and fulfills his potential. He’s 26 so it’s possible he can only learn so much in time to rise to the top. He does need a lot of work.

For no particularly good reason, though, I hope he sticks to his plan of learning on the job. Here’s to an immediate rematch!

 

 

Thoughts on Pacquiao vs Marquez IV

I hate Pay-per-Views and it’s not just the 70 bucks. The bigger the fight the later the main event: the biggest of all don’t really get into the ring before midnight. Most of the time I’d rather have been asleep for two hours by then. Every time I’ve skipped buying one I’ve been glad I did the next day.

Until Pacquiao Marquez 4, anyway. Oh, man did I wish I had stayed up: what awesome live TV that would have been.

ESPN re-aired it last night so I’ll do a write-up. This match touches on many interesting and controversial topics in boxing:

  1. Up until and including the knockout this fight was, technically speaking, a marvelous display of skill.
  2. We see a reversal of roles from their previous fights: Manny, once the one-armed power merchant, is now the skilled technician and got knocked out.
  3. And, generally speaking, aren’t knockouts just… horrifying? They often make my stomach turn.
  4. Is Manny, one of the most popular athletes in the world, done?
  5. Is Marquez on drugs? He wasn’t so big-looking before and never came close to this kind display before.

Here’s Bill Simmons making the point better than me:

My favorite recent look-the-other-way example: Juan Manuel Marquez couldn’t knock down Manny Pacquiao for 36 solid rounds over three of their fights. Before their third fight, the 39-year-old Marquez aligned himself with a disgraced strength-and-conditioning coach named Angel Heredia (Google his name and PEDs; it’s a fun 10 minutes), arrived in Vegas so ripped that he weighed in four pounds under the 147-pound limit, knocked Pacquiao down early with a vicious power punch, then coldcocked him a few rounds later with one of the single greatest knockout punches ever thrown. What did we do? We bought the fight, gathered in our living rooms. We oohed and aahed, tweeted our disbelief and forwarded the YouTube clip around. And when Marquez passed the bogus post-fight drug test — for the record, Keith Richards in 1978 after a night at Studio 54 could pass one of boxing’s drug tests — everyone let the moment go.

Know this: Every boxing fan I know believes that Marquez enhanced his chances that night.

Well, clearly Bill and I aren’t friends because I don’t agree. Here, read this awesome interview with Marquez:

Sanchez: You practiced that counterpunch a lot. Many people think it was a lucky punch. How did you decide that it was the right moment to throw it?

Marquez: We were waiting for the right moment. Manny Pacquiao always makes a fake move that I know too well. He fakes a charge forward and then looks like he is going to follow with a one-two. That’s a common fake he has. What I do is, I wait for the moment, he fakes the punch … that one-two. Then I go for his right hand as he throws it as a jab — I go toward his right hand. He comes forward with all his weight, and that’s why the fall becomes more forceful and spectacular — because he is coming straight to me and I make my body twist and turn, and the right hand wasn’t in a straight position. I believe that this movement made the hand even stronger. … The clash of two body masses full-on makes the punch even stronger.

Sanchez: You didn’t even have the chance to finish that punch; you were left hanging in the middle. If you had stretched out your hand, the punch would have been much more violent.

Marquez: He didn’t give me the chance to stretch out my arm because he was charging forward. That’s what helped me finish the fight by KO, and it helped make the punch even stronger — because he was charging forward. I seized that opportunity, because after three fights I know that any changes made by the other fighter, however slight, are very important. That’s why we worked on that, waiting for him to make that fake move that I know so well. And when he made that move right then, I wait for his jab and then I jump right into his punch, and that’s how I did it. A strong punch. A very strong punch, which wasn’t completely straight; it was sort of between a straight right and a hook. That made it even stronger.

Marquez didn’t knock Manny out with illegal muscles, even if he had them. He used weight, leverage, technique and, most importantly of all, strategy. None of these things are enhanced by drugs, only by hard work.*

It’s an amazing punch, have a look.

And if you get to watch the full replay you can see that Manny made that same fake two times before moving in for real. Marquez never bit. He knew to wait until Manny followed the fake with a jab. The patience and skill are astonishing.

He talks of speed in his interview but the fact is that he was the slower man all along in this fight, which he normally is against Manny. But this time he was also getting outboxed. He was losing.

There was probably a 15% chance that this fight would end this way: such a perfect shot is extremely uncommon at this level, which is why it didn’t happen in any of their other fights.

So my view is that the result was as dependent on chance as anything, but stories about randomness are incredibly unsatisfying (see this superbowl recap by Bill Barnwell). We ask why the outcome was deserved or inevitable, which doesn’t make sense unless all actions are deliberate. Response: Marquez is on PEDs.

For what it’s worth, I do think this is a career-ending loss. Knockouts scar fighters. They make them more susceptible to concussions, to be sure, but they also blunt their mental edge. The term for this is “shot”. Shot fighters are unpleasant to watch, too commonly there only to cash in on their name, fight tentatively and get knocked out some more.

I hope, for the sake of Manny’s family and himself, that he hangs ’em up.

*Incidentally, notice Marquez’ use of the plural first person “we” when describing the fight. There is no more individual sport than boxing yet he thinks in terms of his team.

NFL Cities Buy Status

Of the 20 stadiums built since the Georgia Dome opened, four have been privately financed. Of the rest, the average public share is 73% of the total cost.

That’s the Economist on football stadiums. The impetus is the recent plan for the new home of the Falcons: $1bn split more or less evenly between taxpayers and the team. Why do taxpayers want to spend this kind of money on white elephants?

Well, mainly because there are only 32 football teams and economic capacity for a lot more than that. Forgetting ridiculous Green Bay and Canada-sapping Buffalo, the two low-end economic outliers, you get an effective minimum GDP for a mero area of about 60bn. Here’s my data and here’s my source.

Even ignoring LA (and San Bernardino and San Jose) there are no fewer than 15 metro areas with over 60bn GDP and no gridiron. Think any of these cities would chastely hold back if LA starts screwing up its next shot at an NFL team?

Remember, this ain’t the slums of Bangalore: the #1 job of a politician in the USA is to make his/her constituents feel like they’re high status. NFL owners, scarce asset firmly in their grips, are happy to play bidders off each other.

Addendum: here are the cities (note I added San Jose and San Francisco together in the San Fran row):

City 2010* Teams GDP/Team
New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 1,280,517 2 $640,259
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 735,743 0
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL-IN-WI 532,331 1 $532,331
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 425,167 1 $425,167
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 384,603 1 $384,603
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 374,081 1 $374,081
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 346,932 1 $346,932
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 494,444 2 $247,222
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 313,690 1 $313,690
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 272,362 1 $272,362
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 257,560 1 $257,560
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 231,221 1 $231,221
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 199,596 1 $199,596
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 197,773 1 $197,773
Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 190,601 1 $190,601
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 171,568 1 $171,568
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 168,517 0
Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 157,567 1 $157,567
Baltimore-Towson, MD 144,789 1 $144,789
St. Louis, MO-IL 129,734 1 $129,734
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 124,683 0
Pittsburgh, PA 115,752 1 $115,752
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 113,702 1 $113,702
Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 113,568 1 $113,568
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 109,818 0
Kansas City, MO-KS 105,968 1 $105,968
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 105,625 1 $105,625
Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 105,163 1 $105,163
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 104,107 0
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 100,594 1 $100,594
Columbus, OH 93,353 0
Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA 92,873 0
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 89,799 0
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 87,963 0
Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 86,029 0
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 84,882 0
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 84,574 0
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 82,036 0
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN 80,898 0
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 80,518 0
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 71,476 1 $71,476
Salt Lake City, UT 66,456 0
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 66,334 0
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 65,025 1 $65,025
Richmond, VA 64,321 0
Jacksonville, FL 60,303 1 $60,303
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 58,572 0
Oklahoma City, OK 58,339 0
Raleigh-Cary, NC 57,278 0
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 53,834 0
Honolulu, HI 51,327 0
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 47,556 0
Rochester, NY 45,742 0
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 45,150 1 $45,150
.
.
.
Green Bay, WI 15,270  1  15,270

This Is Your Brain On Sports

My mother in law was over once while I was channel surfing and when I came to rest on a boxing match, said “Why would anyone want to watch this kind of brutality?” Sheepishly, I turned the channel.

There really is something a bit ridiculous about watching dudes punch each other in the head for fun. “But other sports are violent, too!” is usually my limp defense. Doesn’t even address the charge. If there was a way to limit the damage without really disrupting the sport, I’d support it.

BLH has a piece discussing some recent concussion research. Here’s the gist:

Preliminary results from a new brain study suggest that there might be a point of no return for some combatants. Essentially, there becomes a point where the brain can no longer repair itself and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) becomes inevitable. The symptoms of CTE include personality changes and general cognitive difficulties, much like Alzheimer’s disease.

So boxing is probably the most concussive of sports and it’s pretty easy, and accurate, to point the finger at that community first. But remember Ted Johnson, the subject of the NYT article about concussions in the NFL?

Asked for a prognosis of Mr. Johnson’s future, Dr. Cantu, the chief of neurosurgery and director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital in Concord, Mass., said: ”Ted already shows the mild cognitive impairment that is characteristic of early Alzheimer’s disease. The majority of those symptoms relentlessly progress over time. It could be that at the time he’s in his 50s, he could have severe Alzheimer’s symptoms.”

Ted has CTE. And Sidney Crosby missing almost a whole season’s worth of hockey over two years for “concussion-like symtoms”? Here’s an important part of the research cited by this article and BLH:

As part of an ongoing study on brain health, the researchers divided 109 licensed boxers and mixed martial artists into three groups: those who had fought for less than six years, six to 12 years or more than 12 years. Their average age was about 29.

Participants underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volume and tests of their thinking and memory.

“In those that fought less than six years, we didn’t find any changes,” Bernick said. For that group, he said, “the more you fought didn’t seem to make any differences in the size of brain structure or their performance on some of the tests like reaction time.”

But for the other two groups of boxers and combat athletes, “the greater number of fights, the sizes of certain volumes of the brain were decreasing,” he said. “But, it was only in those that fought more than 12 years that we could detect the changes in performance in reaction time and processing speed.”

Concussive sports are for the young only. Most people think of athletes playing in a sport until their reactions slow, their strength wanes and they loose their speed.

The reality is that most athletes are ‘bubble’ players who only barely make their teams and retire after a season or two. Only the best of the best, who are overrepresented in our minds and on the sports pages, play until their bodies tell them to stop. And the reality for them is that the brain may be the first thing to go.

Forcing retirement from too many concussions would be a tragedy for the player and fans. Imagine if Crosby was forced to retire at age 23? Things like this will begin to happen. And rightly so.

It’s the concussion awareness era. If it’s true that the damage can be identified early enough to limit long term problems by forcing retirement then that’s what should happen.

Martinez vs Macklin Fight Review

Excitement can be had with any sport, really; I like watching boxing because it’s my preferred way of working out. There’s a heavy bag in my building’s gym and I bought my own double-end bag a few weeks ago to spice up the routine*.

Another nice aspect of boxing is that it happens year-round, every weekend. Surprised? Don’t worry, you haven’t been missing much lately.

But I just caught one I enjoyed enough to report back on.

Last night Sergio Martinez defended his Middleweight Championship (and by that I mean that nobody in his weight class can touch him: belts in boxing mean about as much as they do in professional wrestling) against a little-known challenger in Matthew Macklin. Read the (excellent) BLH and ESPN reviews.

Here’s mine:

It was a bit confusing at first. Macklin, the 10-1 underdog, was comfortably making Martinez look uncomfortable. Now, calling a fighter awkward or saying he makes another uncomfortable is extremely high praise in a sport dependent on rhythm. Macklin was doing just that, to the consensus #3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

Impressive as it was to me, the crowd booed its restlessness over this odd chess match as each fighter looked for… something, I guess. Exchanges were infrequent and most commentators had it even through 7 rounds. Very surprising. But there’s drama in a champ’s struggles, too. Might he lose? Might this be it?

Suddenly, late in the 7th, Macklin scored a cheap, legal knockdown as Martinez tripped after taking a shot.

And the sleeping giant awoke.

What ensued was no crass telephone booth war, mind you. Martinez went from landing tentative shots, mostly jabs, to hammering home straight crosses and hooks at every opening, which were suddenly abundant. Even those same jabs were finding the mark with real, thudding force. His footwork and ring movement are something to behold, better even than Pacquiao’s, who’s slowed a bit.

Macklin’s face started looking like he was getting hit. And he was. Two or three knockdowns later and he’d had enough, not answering the bell for the 12th. TKO.

The story of the first few rounds became clearer in retrospect. In camp, Martinez studied a very different opponent than the one facing him in the ring: Macklin came up with a game plan very different than his normal aggressive style and stuck with it. The plan was no surprise, he stole it from the last guy that Sergio fought. Same tentative first few rounds, same lack of engagement.

Same late-round knockout.

Spare a moment for Macklin, though. Changing your style effectively is impressive stuff: think leopards changing their spots. Macklin was an aggressive attacker and, to his credit, realized this was not going to work against Sergio. No wonder Martinez was confused.

Martinez wasn’t waiting. He wasn’t scared or losing his skills. He was thinking. Often we criticize athletes for thinking too much and freezing. Or thinking too little and not adjusting. Sergio thinks exactly enough. He’s probably the smartest boxer I’ve ever seen.

What he figured out was Macklin’s timing. He started calibrating his punches to an astonishing precision. Macklin’s head slipped slightly to his left when throwing his bigger shots, which helped him avoid the counters. For 7 rounds, anyway.

It’s wonderful to watch the best be awesome at what they do. Martinez is an outstanding boxer and athlete. Can’t wait to see him again.

*I do 3 minute rounds with 30 second breaks. Two warm-up rounds of shadow boxing (usually nobody around to make me feel as stupid as I doubtless look), three rounds on the double-end bag, four rounds on the heavy bag and one more round of shadow boxing. I’m usually completely exhausted by this point. Then I putter around the gym a bit doing some physio exercises for whatever injury’s bugging me at the moment and head back to the apartment. Total time is never more than 45 minutes. Three times a week.

I Wouldn’t Eat There

A restauranteur is miffed:

Yelp reviews of my restaurant, Fior d’ Italia, are a perfect example of the flaws in the Yelp system. The Fior has been around for 125 years and has been successful because of great food and service. But if you look at the Fior Yelp site today, the restaurant has 218 posted reviews averaging 2 1/2 stars, with many terrible one-star reviews.

What you don’t see (unless you look hard for them) are the 115 “filtered reviews,” which average out to a ranking of more than four stars. That is a current problem for the Fior, and in the long term, a problem for Yelp.

Not even a whisper of the incredibly obvious point of Yelp’s policy? They’re accusing you of padding your reviews, bud, and feigning ignorance of this very obvious point makes you look super guilty.

First Italian restaurant in the US, eh? They must be taking tips from the soccer team. (BAM!)

Boxing’s Great Weakness

In every other sport, we see the best vie with the best for props and trinkets. In boxing, the best control their own fate.

The downside? No champs.

Here is Kevin Iole interviewing Manny (via BLH):

Mayweather, it was suggested to Pacquiao, is winning the public relations contest handily, at least in the U.S. At that, Pacquiao looked up from his plate and put down his fork. His eyes widened and he leaned forward, staring intently across the table.

“He talks, he says all this, but you know what: He doesn’t want the fight,” Pacquiao firmly told Yahoo! Sports in an exclusive interview. “I want the fight. I’m the one who has wanted this fight all along.”

Not long after he was granted a conditional boxing license by the Nevada Athletic Commission to fight Cotto, Mayweather made a big deal of Pacquiao turning down a $40 million guarantee to fight him.

But Pacquiao said that was simply a bluff, a public relations stunt that didn’t bear any semblance to reality.

“He offered me $40 million, and no pay-per-view [money],” Pacquiao said, breaking into a laugh. “No pay-per-view. Can you believe that? Would you do that? Come on. What would he say if I offered him $50 million – not $40 million, $50 million – and said ‘No pay-per-view. Take this money and be happy, but no pay-per-view.’ He wouldn’t do it, either.”

This song has been on repeat for three years.

I’ll spare you the effort, here are your likely responses:

  • Why not just fight for the money? That’s so much money!
  • That blood test thing made me think Manny was scared (or worse) and wanted an excuse. Now I think maybe Mayweather does!
  • The fans want this fight! Don’t they want to see who is the best?
  • These prima donnas are so greedy. That’s so much money!
  • etc…

Unfortunately, you’d be missing the point.

It’s a old lesson, but Mike Tyson made me think of the psychology of ultra-high performance. He believed you can literally intimidate another fighter into folding under your knockout blow. One’s confidence must be unshakable to be champ.  In any sport.

Now consider Mayweather. He prides himself as much on escaping from Top Rank boxing to self-promotion as his boxing ability. He’s endlessly talking about his negotiating triumphs.

He’s so into it that taking a 50-50 deal means stamping a big ‘L’ on his own forehead. And if he loses at the negotiating table does that dent his confidence in the ring?

Tiger teaches us that a champ’s sense of invincibility must be complete. Would a wiser champ not expose himself to failure in so many arenas? In the mind of a champ, perhaps such admission of fallibility is just as deadly.

Manny, newer to the uber-champ game, probably feels this less keenly. He does sense, just like Haye and Chisora in that video, that the other guy is trying to push him around. And he’s pushing back. It’s the blood testing thing all over again: Mayweather’s mind games and Manny calling BS.

So now we have two alpha dogs angling for initial advantage. A 50-50 deal is a Manny victory, so Mayweather will happily never take the fight at those terms.

This is why you employ third parties to negotiate, by the way. These two have probably locked themselves into classic no-back-down positions. Their intermediaries should be ashamed of themselves. This is the richest opportunity on the table and they effed it up.

A caveat, of course, is that this fight becomes irrelevant the minute one or both of these guys loses his edge. Ironically, that’s all that will make it happen.

There’s plenty of precedent suggesting it’s just a matter of time.

Not From Jersey Shore

Ho, man.

Imagine a bar fight between two top-10 heavyweights?

Nearly happened tonight after Chisora lost to Vitali. I mean a literal barfight. During the post-fight presser.

(and it was a good main event, despite the laggy Epix livestream)

The dirt squirrel in me giggled through the whole 6:27. The rest of me is embarrassed to be a fan of this sport.

What a bunch of [bleep].

Paying College Athletes

Here’s a video of a top-ranked high school football player choosing his college on live tv. The upshot is that he is from Louisiana and his mom voices discontent of his choice of Alabama over LSU.

Ben Casnocha says: “pay the athletes”

I say that impossible:

To get paid, the players will immediately form a union. Here is going to be their list of demands:

1. Pay us (fine).
2. Don’t make us go to school (uhhhh).
3. Let us play longer than 4 years (what?)

Here’s the student body response:

1. These aren’t students
2. I want to play football (or basketball) for my alma mater
3. Set up a parallel system for me to play in

The problem with this system isn’t that student athletes aren’t getting paid. The problem is that the NBA and the NFL don’t have a feeder league system like every other major professional sport. This means that the NFL and NBA are less popular than they otherwise would be.

Think about the difference between fan followership of college football and basketball vs all the other lower-tier sports leagues on earth. Orders of magnitude larger. Why? Because they’re piggybacking on college support. These are fans that would otherwise pay more attention to the pros.

The winners in today’s arrangement are, first, sports administrators and, second, sports fans. The losers are the NFL, NBA and lower-tier college athletes.

One interesting possible externality of sports administrators winning so big is that sports administration and so sports itself probably wins. Gigantic sports facilities support more than football. I bet you that the quality of the US Olympic team would decline demonstrably if you killed the college sports money machine.

And paying the athletes would kill it.

Hockeynomics

Much as I am on board with more Canadian hockey teams, I’m not convinced these halfanalyses. Here’s the point:

“A secret National Hockey League report detailing the ticket revenues of its 30 teams provides additional ammunition for those suggesting more struggling U.S.-based teams should be relocated to Canada.”

Then this paragraph invalidates much of the whole point:

Unlike other pro sports leagues such as the National Football League, which generates billions of dollars in revenue from huge TV and sponsorship contracts, the NHL is a so-called “gate-driven” league where ticket revenue accounts for close to half of the league’s total revenue.

WCI adds the effect of FX rates:

While there are other revenue streams other than gate revenue, it would appear that a new team in Canada could survive all but the most extreme of exchange rate fluctuations.

So we conclude everything from and analysis of half the revenue? Take any financial statement, cut out half the revenue and EVERYTHING else. Now pick a company to invest in.

Look, I’m not saying that it isn’t a good idea. I’m biased towards it, if anything. But this is sports writing, not financial journalism.