After a wild, split-site telecast of boxing Saturday featuring a light heavyweight title bout in Atlantic City and a pair of controversial endings in Las Vegas, here are five things we learned.
1. If you try, sometimes, you get what you need
Boxing hasn’t been kind to fans when it comes to consistently finding competitive match-ups on pay cable in 2014. Light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev’s bout with unbeaten yet unheralded Australian Blake Caparello was, on paper, par for the course. But a stunning announcement the day before the fight drastically changed the bout’s meaning. With a victory guaranteeing “Krusher” a November title unification bout against Bernard Hopkins, Kovalev carried out his end of the bargain at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a second-round TKO of Caparello. Not only does this guarantee an interesting fight no one saw coming, but it also provides fans with an intriguing style matchup for Kovalev when his opponent pool appeared all but dried up. Hopkins, the ageless wonder whose story doesn’t get the credit it deserves on a mainstream level, surely doesn’t need to go out of his way to make a fight against arguably the sport's most dangerous puncher. But his willingness to dare to be great -- while pushing 50 -- is a credit to his truly special makeup and a gift to fight fans.
2. Kovalev aims to please
The reaction of promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events from ringside as her star fighter, Kovalev, fell to the canvas in the opening round on a flash knockdown was priceless. With her hands separated on either side of her face like Macauley Culkin in “Home Alone,” Duva wasn’t alone, considering what the impact of a Kovalev upset loss would have been. But with the super-fight against Hopkins hanging in the balance for a matter of seconds, Kovalev never wavered. The Russian native dusted himself off and stalked his opponent with the same fury that has led him to to a frightening 88 percent knockout rate. One round later, after a vicious trio of knockdowns led referee Sparkle Lee to mercifully save Caparello from any more punishment, Kovalev added another victim to his growing list of exciting finishes. He’s about as honest, inside the ring and out, as fans could hope for and a knockout fighter who truly wants to test himself against the very best. Following the disaster of seeing his 175-pound summit with recognized champion Adonis Stevenson fall apart in such a back-breaking manner, it’s only right that one of boxing’s most exciting fighters -- and the perfect candidate to be avoided -- finds himself on the doorstep of such a major fight.
3. Referee to blame in Rios-Chaves
The bizarre ending in the welterweight bout between Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas ruined what had the potential to be a memorable action bout. With Chaves ahead on two of three scorecards in Round 9, referee Vic Drakulich, who took away a total of three points to both fighters (including two from Chaves) disqualified Chaves at 1:26 after roughhousing from both. The fight opened with enough toe-to-toe action in a rousing first round that caused an instant stir on Twitter, but it came unraveled round by round thanks to a constant stream of fouling as Drakulich simply lost control and was inconsistent in his policing. He set a bad precedent by taking a point away from Chaves after very little warning for holding in Round 3 while ignoring a steady stream of head-first spearing attempts by Rios. He also began to lose his cool and wasn’t clear or consistent in his addressing of the constant violations. But the timing in which he called the fight off and gave the decision to Rios was the most questionable. Both fighters were dirty throughout, but to single out just Chaves instead of both (or, preferably, none at all) when it came to a disqualification didn’t seem justified. By doing so, Drakulich inserted himself into the storyline and overshadowed what could have been a great fight.
4. The jury is still out on Rios
In his first fight since he dropped a near-shutout decision to Manny Pacquiao this past November in Macau, Rios entered his second fight at welterweight in need of snapping a two-fight skid. While he was able to pull out the much-needed win in unusual fashion, Rios failed to fight off fears that his best days are well behind him. Possessing possibly the sport’s best chin, Rios was able to take Chaves’ best shots while continuing to come forward. But in what has become a recurring theme throughout his all-action run in recent years, Rios continues to take far too many clean punches. It’s a result of his exciting style that was less dangerous at 135 pounds. But now, as a welterweight and a veteran of one memorable brawl after another, lingering doubt remains whether Rios has a bright future ahead of him.
5. Judges way off on Vargas-Novikov
Unbeaten Jessie Vargas seems to have a knack for pulling out contentious decisions in his hometown of Las Vegas, and Saturday was no different. One fight after winning a secondary 140-pound title from Khabib Allakhverdiev in a unanimous decision many felt should have gone the other way, Vargas edged Russian southpaw Anton Novikov in similar fashion. The fight, with Vargas getting out to a quick start and Novikov rallying late as Vargas slowly faded, gave the feeling that it could go either way after 12 rounds. But unlike the relatively close decision he got against Allakhverdiev, this time Vargas took home a much wider one against Novikov by scores of 118-111 (twice) and 117-111. The scores, without question, failed to match the reality of what most fans and media on social media saw at home. It has become almost cliché to expect a bad decision in these spots of late, and more often than not our cynicism is rewarded.