Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reflecting On Thabiso Mchunu's Shocking (?) Domination of Eddie Chambers, Matters of Heavyweight Size Disparities and Wladimir Klitschko's Career As A "Super" Heavyweight

Mchunu VS Chambers:

In a huge breakout performance this month, Thabiso "The Rock" Mchunu had a close couple rounds that I gave to Chambers to start the fight, but on my card he took all eight following rounds in a very impressive clinic. Class was in session. What was the lesson? It was about making a counter-puncher take the lead, following aimlessly without a target. Eddie Chambers has made a career developing a style to use hand speed and counter-punching against significantly bigger and slower men and last night he was completely, almost ironically, jinxed by a short, stubby southpaw, built like a refrigerator, who gave away no speed disadvantage to speak of, and made him take the lead for the majority of the night, giving him no significant countering opportunities. Mchunu was extremely impressive in an enormous step up in his level of opposition.

Chambers was absolutely baffled by this stylistic challenge and no longer had a speed and maneuverability advantage to apply his style-a style, to say again, which he developed over an entire career, and one which was useless against this smaller man. He could not take the lead. He was frustrated nearly every minute of every round. Mchunu's punches, every one that seemed to land anywhere- gloves, body, head, elbows, seemed to make loud, belting noises. This guy is powerful, quick, smart; he could be the next man to earn a major world title at cruiserweight. Time will tell if Chambers would do much better with a rangier, orthodox cruiserweight (Lebedev comes to mind), or if he simply shouldn't have moved down from heavyweight to begin with, like fans aplenty have assumed he should for years. Or even, sad to say, if he's not close to the end of his career, rather than entering a second phase.

I won't rush to assumptions. It's just one fight, one night. Mchunu could turn out a special fighter at this weight. He's merely 25 now and I hear he's getting many deserved offers on the back of this performance. Chambers could still turn out a championship caliber there, at cruiserweight, as well. We simply do not know. Styles make fights, attributes make fights, and I feel both the supposed size "advantage" Chambers had worked against him as much as the style that was executed to perfection by The Rock.

Aside from the fact that I'm assuming styles played a large part in this outcome, Mchunu really had the performance of the night for me on his NBC Sports card, because only Wladimir Klitschko has dominated Chambers in any way. His other losses (against two championship names in Adamek and Povetkin) were far cries from being dominated. That brings me to a thought on reigning heavyweight champion and former Chambers conqueror Wladimir Klitschko.

Wladimir's thankless job as a big champion:

The thought Chambers VS Mchunu set me to, albeit not for faithfully direct comparison, is that of the all-shapes-and-sizes challenge of the heavyweight division fighters. This challenge can't be found to such extreme physical differences between opponents at any other weight classes. It is also the challenge that many can't understand to be a challenge at all, for a large heavyweight. Wladimir's often not getting credit so much as grumbles and groans for out-finessing smaller opponents (as opposed to blame for not having the unrealistic ability to put them all to sleep in the first round by overpowering them with size, when his "advantage" is large) is something I find funny. Having to fight men of all shapes, sizes, attributes and styles is something that a long-reigning heavyweight champion must usually do with far greater physical extremes than a champion from any other weight class. In doing so, the larger size is not always, and I repeat, not always advantage only, when discussing the larger heavyweights. The assumption that it's simply easier and only easier, without question, across the board, the more height, reach and weight (good weight) you have over your opponent, is a faulty assumption. Because they can pose their own challenges. It's also this faulty assumption I find more often than not when boxing fans discuss his matches, as many of the best contenders have been significantly smaller than Wladimir.

I've heard some people say that it's only a matter of size that makes many of Wlad's fights uncompetitive. Because he is a naturally very large heavyweight. I think about this in seeing a man he dominated and obliterated in Chambers just having been attacked with a similar back-foot, small man game plan which Wladimir has dominated multiple times, including with Chambers, and Chambers couldn't come close to cracking the riddle. Because it takes something in the skill department that many refuse to recognize, in order to not be outmaneuvered and out-hustled by smaller men with presumably more speed of hand and foot and higher capacity for output, as well as flat out having less of a target to offer and an unusual ability to cause the opponent to over-extend and unbalance themselves trying to meet that smaller target.

Smaller men have options to do many things to offset disparities in overall size, the strategies available when the skill level is there. Skills are the issue, not the size alone. Part of boxing success is learning what parts of your game to emphasize, according to your measurements, and that of your opponent. Presumably, in strategy to offset a significantly larger man's strength and range, the option tends to exist in an offensive sense, with the ability to put pressure on a significantly bigger man by using more energy than he's likely to be able to keep up with via punch volume and/or in a defensive sense, exerting more energy in movement than he can in chasing you down, as well as exercising what is normally a higher degree of coordination, with such required mobility. You can reach the targets faster on the inside, where longer arms are a liability or force them to chase you from the outside and give up their height by coming to you in any number of overaggressive mistaken movements that chasing can and usually does lead to.

There's a reason why the heavyweight division is unlimited in weight. Because size is, at this upper level, this maximum level, a self-limiting matter which does not need further regulation by way of more weight classes. It's never proven to, and likely never will, especially after the fully fledged inception of the cruiserweight division in the nineteen-eighties, or at least after its subsequent increase in weight limit. You trade one advantage for another, the larger you are, in the fight game, in its King Division. It's the skill that makes the difference, and the know-how for which skills to use when the man opposing you is drastically changing sizes from fight to fight. Klitschko's skill and know-how (as well as the late Emanuel Steward's know-how)  is what has allowed him not to, at any time in the past nine years' streak without defeat, have a night with an Eddie Chambers type- the type that, in a way, Chambers just had with Mchunu. A night where a smaller man using a size disparity to his advantage completely unhinges your game.

For years, we've seen men try to use their smaller stature to advantage with Wladimir, to aid bait-and-counter plans, tucker him out, run him around the ring, or bore their way inside where the lanky Klitschko hates it, or, as I said earlier, to outmaneuver and out-hustle. What's happened in these instances is Wlad has used his incredibly focused skill to defeat them, while tying them in knots on the inside, picking them apart with his jab and long straight rights on the outside, often ripping them up with short left hooks when they can no longer do anything but stand at mid-range, busted up, frustrated, lost and immobile. For years, Wlad has been making these guys look like an assortment of sitting ducks or running fraidy cats by the time of the knockout blow or final bell's ring. The idea that he's only had advantage from being a large heavyweight (one that was known to have stamina issues, mind you, once upon a time), and advantage only, despite watching him skillfully and repeatedly nullify the standard most effective attempts from the top contenders and titlists to offset size disadvantage from men who've made whole heavyweight careers of this brand of offsetting (Haye, Chagaev, Chambers, Byrd, etc) is as wrongheaded as it is strange. You must recognize the result as part of a broad range of challenges, not pushover by way of size disparity.

There are reasons why Nikolay Valuev is not the division's king for the second longest reign with a major title in the division's history and Wladimir is. There are reasons why Eddie Chambers dazzled in possibly his most impressive performance against a Wladimir-sized, undefeated heavyweight in Alexander Dimitrenko, then followed that with a lopsided loss to Klitschko himself. There's a reason why Ray Austin got a draw with Sultan Ibragimov and both Ibragimov and Austin were dominated by Klitschko afterward. There's a reason why there are dozens of Klitschko-sized and bigger names fighting since Klitschko's debut to not come near his performance record in that time. Skill. Not size. Because size is self-limiting and part of a give and take when it comes to advantages in the heavyweight division.

Why didn't Jameel McCline, Michael Grant, Audley Harrison, Francesco Pianeta, Mariusz Wach, Tony Thompson, Alexander Ustinov, Ray Austin, Lance Whitaker, Henry Akinwande, Derrick Jefferson, Tye Fields, Timo Hoffman, Nicolai Firtha, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, Paea Wolfgramm, Julius Long or any of these other dozens of Klitschko-sized men, having wildly varying degrees of success, perform with similar results against top shelf smaller contenders or otherwise? Not only did Wlad even beat several of those men, and several men to beat several of those men, but his record against the better smaller men is quite a bit above theirs. Skill. It takes skills of all kinds to dominate all sizes. And whether anyone's ready to admit it or not, Wlad's skill has been impressive and praiseworthy in the matches with his smallest opponents, just as much as those of his large stature. He's usually beaten them in ways no one else his size or any size has. 

In closing, hearty congratulations to Mchunu, an exciting new face to the cruiserweight division and boxing television, hopefully, a long tip of the hat to our long-reigning heavyweight champion in Klitschko The Younger and all the larger heavies that have a similar appreciation issue with fans, and a "let's wait and see, chin up" to new cruiserweight and former heavyweight contender Eddie Chambers, coming off a surprisingly (?) difficult night. Most everyone has a horrible day at the office, eventually. I'm just glad mine haven't been televised. 

Work that bag,
Basement Gym Boxing 

Thanks for stopping by our place. Here are some other pages you might enjoy:

Bulgarian Jab Artist Kubrat Pulev Takes Ugly Win Over Tony Thompson, Earns Challenge For Heavyweight Title  

No comments:

Post a Comment