A busy Saturday of boxing all over the world didn’t go according to expectations, at least when it involved the heavyweight division. Alexander Povetkin recovered enough from a two-knockdown round to knock Dillian Whyte out cold a few minutes later.
Shawn Porter took care of business and lined himself up for another big fight at welterweight. Katie Taylor won a close fight over Delfine Persoon for the second time. And in a key light heavyweight bout, Joe Smith Jr. demolished Eleider Alvarez to get closer to another title opportunity.
Our panel of Steve Kim, Nick Parkinson, Ben Baby and Cameron Wolfe is here to make sense of everything that happened, take stock of what it means for each fighter, and what the fallout will be moving forward.
Where does Joe Smith Jr. rank in the light heavyweight division after this win?
Kim: Somewhere near the top five, outside of Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol (who has already beaten him).
Smith not only has a set of heavy hands, but now he seems to understand how to put punches together and to change speeds on them.
He showed that his banner year in 2016 wasn’t just a fluke, and at age 30, he still has some dimensions to his game that he is developing.
Wolfe: Smith is definitely a tier below the two champions — Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev — but he belongs in the second tier of challengers with Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal. I’d probably put him fourth in the division below an in-shape Kovalev but above the aging Pascal. But I’d actually like to see him face Kovalev sometime in the next year to see how the two match up. Smith is always an exciting watch because of his power, even though he may never have the all-around game to defeat a Bivol or Beterbiev. But Smith can hang his hat on being a top-5 fighter in the light heavyweight division, and pulling off a highlight victory after demolishing Storm Alvarez.
Baby: Smith improved his stock with an impressive stoppage win over Alvarez, who is certainly no slouch. However, Smith still might be a tier below the top guys in the division — Bivol and Beterbiev. Bivol easily defeated Smith last year and also stopped Sullivan Barrera. Barrera and Bivol represent two of Smith’s three losses as a pro (the other came early in Smith’s career).
Smith can prove he’s a worthy foe if he can win the WBO box-off for the light heavyweight title. With Saturday’s dominating performance over Alvarez, Smith will fight the winner of Maksim Vlasov-Umar Salamov for the WBO’s 175-pound title. But it’s going to take another impressive performance for Smith to show he can crack the division’s upper crust.
What did you think of Porter’s performance?
Kim: While he didn’t get the knockout victory, from a technical standpoint this was a very good outing for Porter. He showed better balance and superior footwork. Oftentimes in his career, when you see Porter, you laud his effort and his energy, but not always his execution of fundamentals or accuracy punching. Saturday, against a game Formella, he was steady throughout in both departments.
A knockout was expected, but you could also argue that after not having fought since last September, perhaps this was the type of extended performance that Porter needed.
Forget the actual result — tonight the 32-year-old Porter still looked like a fighter who has a lot in the gas tank, and is still very much an elite welterweight.
Baby: Porter did what he needed to do as he looks to rebuild his brand following last year’s loss to Errol Spence Jr. Porter never seriously hurt the previously undefeated (and unheralded) Sebastian Formella, but he looked dominant from the opening bell. Porter will certainly lose some style points for not knocking the German fighter out, but it’s worth noting that Formella is a traditionally bigger fighter than Porter. Formella was a middleweight as recently as 2017 — which is two weight classes above welterweight, where Porter usually resides.
My biggest concern about Porter’s performance doesn’t stem from a lack of power. The more pressing issue, in my eyes, is that someone of Formella’s caliber still had a considerable amount of success, especially when he was throwing punches on his way out of an exchange. Porter was fortunate he was facing someone who didn’t appear to generate any power from his legs. Against a fighter of a higher caliber, Porter will be in for a more difficult night.
Here’s the big question: Did Porter do enough to show he’s better than any of the current welterweight champions? I don’t think so. But I’d love to see him against Keith Thurman in a battle between guys who are trying to hang on as contenders in a crowded 147-pound division. I’d definitely take Porter in that one.
Wolfe: Porter looked extremely sharp and he did everything well except knock out a durable Formella. What I really liked from Porter was his movement and focus on boxing, particularly in the first half of the fight. He picked Formella apart with his jab and body shots, and that’s something he should keep in his arsenal for when he gets another big fight. Yeah, we all love rough-and-tough Porter, but adding a little more versatility makes him even more dangerous. Very solid performance for Porter knocking off the layoff and getting some needed rounds. Now let’s see him back in the ring against a true contender.
Can Povetkin defeat Whyte in the rematch? How does Whyte win?
Parkinson: If Whyte wants to rescue his career in the rematch, he needs to tighten his defense. It was probably a combination of complacency and defensive deficiencies from Whyte that allowed Povetkin to land the left uppercut. Whyte was dominating behind his jab and had already found openings to drop Povetkin twice. Whyte just forgot how dangerous Povetkin was, and how good the Russian’s powers of recovery are. Povetkin had done it before on British soil in front of Whyte, when he got off the canvas to knock out David Price with a left hook in 2018. If Whyte is more careful, and continues to work behind his jab as he did up until the start of the fifth, he wins the rematch.
Baby: I don’t know if anyone — including Povetkin — could have anticipated what happened in the fifth round. After Povetkin appeared to be headed to a stoppage loss, he came out in the fifth and landed a devastating left uppercut that instantly knocked out Whyte and altered the boxing landscape.
Obviously, Povetkin can beat Whyte in the rematch. Even at 40, Povetkin showed he still has enough power to flip a fight with one punch. However, Whyte should still be favored in the rematch. He was measured with his punches and dropped Povetkin twice before he was caught with the uppercut that ended his night. If Whyte can stay away from a similar power shot in the rematch, he should be able to avenge Saturday’s loss and continue pushing toward a title fight.
Was Katie Taylor’s performance against Delfine Persoon good enough to overtake Claressa Shields as P4P No. 1?
Parkinson: For me, Taylor is already P4P No. 1 in women’s boxing because she has beaten better opponents than Shields. The two fights with Persoon were close, but I thought Taylor edged Persoon, who’s a pound-for-pound top 10 fighter, by just enough in both bouts. Persoon had reigned for over five years before Taylor beat her in 2019, and Taylor showed again that she can deal with Persoon’s awkward style, energy and aggression. Taylor has also beaten Jessica McCaskill, who recently pulled off a shock win over Cecilia Braekhus to become the undisputed welterweight champion. Taylor’s 2018 decision win over Eva Wahlstrom, who at the time was unbeaten and a world champion for three years, was also impressive. Shields has only beaten one opponent in ESPN’s P4P top 10 — Christina Hammer — and has had six fewer fights than Taylor in her career. If Taylor needs to convince anyone, then it looks like she will have the opportunity to do so in a fight against Amanda Serrano (38-1-1, 28 KOs) later this year or in 2021. Serrano is No. 3 in the ESPN rankings, while Shields is lacking competition around middleweight for similar big fights.
Kim: Taylor gutted out another tough win over the persistent Persoon, but there is still a perception that Persoon deserved the nod in the first fight. Nobody has really pressed Shields the way Persoon has pressed Taylor in the two fights. You could argue that Shields hasn’t faced anyone quite like Persoon, but regardless, this wasn’t the type of dominant outing that would warrant Taylor jumping Shields on the P4P list.
Baby: It was close, but Taylor did enough to edge a victory over Persoon in a rematch of their 2019 bout. Taylor withstood the relentless Persoon and delivered some crisp counter hooks throughout the evening to inflict damage and win 96-94, 94-94, 98-93 (file Victor Loughlin’s wide scorecard under “worst cards of 2020”).
However, it’s still not enough to put Taylor ahead of Shields as the top women’s pound-for-pound fighter. Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, has been dominant since she turned pro in 2016. Taylor already has a win over Jessica McCaskill, who beat Cecilia Braekhaus a week ago to win the undisputed welterweight championship, but another win in a rematch could bolster Taylor’s case to be the top woman in the world.
Who impressed you the most on Saturday?
Kim: Smith. It wasn’t just that he beat Alvarez by TKO, but he beat the fight out of him systematically. Alvarez is one of the toughest fighters in the sport, and yet he was buzzed several times by Smith, and then eventually sent crashing out of the canvas, and nearly out of the ring.
The book on Smith is that he has a prodigious right hand, but early on he was throwing the hook off the jab, and then landing combinations that put Alvarez on the defensive. Then he softened Alvarez up by going to the body.
Alvarez has been outhustled before, but he’s never been physically dominated like he was tonight. Smith showed that he’s more than just a one trick pony, and that 2016 wasn’t an aberration.
Baby: It wasn’t the most spectacular performance of the evening, but Rob Brant’s fifth-round stoppage against Vitaliy Kopylenko was arguably the most important. Brant is a former titlist who switched trainers after Ryota Murata demolished him last summer. Under the tutelage of Brian “BoMac” McIntyre, who trains current champs Terence “Bud” Crawford and Jamel Herring, Brant needed a good win to rebuild his confidence and he got that on Saturday. Brant remains an intriguing middleweight. Even though he’s a former champion, he’s a cut below the top guys in a division that includes Canelo Alvarez, Gennadiy Golovkin, Jermall Charlo and Demetrius Andrade. Chris Eubank Jr., another top-10 middleweight in ESPN’s rankings, could be a good gauge of where Brant is at this point in his career.
Wolfe: Povetkin’s knockout of Whyte was definitely the shocking highlight of the day and probably the knockout of the year. It was a brutal uppercut that you can watch again and again. But I’ll do something a bit different here because I was impressed with Sebastian Fundora’s relentless beatdown of Nathaniel Gallimore. It’s odd seeing a lanky 6-foot-6 junior middleweight enjoy trading blows on the inside, but that’s Fundora’s game and he does it well. He has power, stamina and his chin held up alright too. Gallimore isn’t a scrub, but Fundora sure made him look like just a guy. I’m impressed and can’t wait to see Fundora again — hopefully the 22-year-old takes another step up in a wide-open 154-pound division.