Thomas Penney

It is in the nature of boxing that things will go against you. Sometimes it’s injury, sometimes it’s business, sometimes you just don’t have it. It is particularly painful when none of those things apply, and your best effort is not enough.

Murat Gassiev defeated Yunier Dorticos in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series last weekend, and as is typical in sports, narratives emerged. Everything from proclamations of Gassiev’s invincibility to teardowns of Dorticos work rattled about the internet after the fight, all of which failed to see the real story. Boxing has a way of bathing the narratives in their own blood. Yunier Dorticos fought the exact fight his corner had to be hoping for, and it simply wasn’t enough in the face of what appears to be one of the most complete fighter north of 160.

Murat Gassiev, just 24 years old, has been described by many, myself included, as a classic pressure fighter. A very good pressure fighter, but a pressure fighter no less. Saturday’s affair proved me wrong on that front, when Gassiev showed the world that he can do any number of things in the ring. He flashed brilliant defense, taking the steam off the vast majority of Dorticos punches, an ability to fight off the back foot, which I had no idea he could do at an elite level, and a supernatural instinct for when and where to fire his own shots. Gassiev announced himself to the world in this fight.

A complete fighter is one that always does the right thing in a fight. It has almost nothing to do with physical attributes – Gassiev has big power, but is otherwise an unremarkable athlete. It is mostly about choosing to do the right thing in each moment, while framing the fight in terms of 12 rounds and not in terms of one exchange. Watching the first four rounds, you might have been tempted, as I was, to believe Dorticos was in control of the fight. Looking back at the tape, it’s clear what Gassiev was doing.

While Dorticos was coming with his own pressure, jabbing and shooting right hands, Gassiev remained calm. He would let Dorticos punch, then return fire with short, damaging punches that seemed always to find a home. It is a credit to Dorticos chin that he remained upright for 11 rounds.

We have become accustomed to watching Gassiev come forward behind his jab, slowly breaking down his opponent, but tonight he broke him down in an entirely new way. While Gassiev was backing up, piling up subtle but savage shots, he was taking in information about Dorticos. The Cuban was doing well, visually at least. It became evident after a few rounds that his punches were almost never landing clean, and when his work rate started to diminish in the second half, Gassiev took over.

The shots that ultimately sent Dorticos to the canvas were inconsequential. They were a product of the work done in rounds one through ten. Gassiev seemed to have an internal switch flipped in round 11, hurting Dorticos with every punch he threw. Gassiev had maintained good distance throughout the fight, which meant Dorticos was always sitting there in the pocket for him. Perhaps Dorticos believed his own fearsome power could win a war of attrition, but he surely realized at some point that he was being stymied when throwing the straight rights that have erased nearly everyone else he’s fought.

Gassiev’s defense was simple but perfect. He used his feet to keep himself at the right distance, and he was able to counter effectively enough that Dorticos could not throw the kind of combinations that split the guard. Gassiev would catch punches on his gloves, circle just enough to create an opening, and land his own punches. It was virtuosic.

Dorticos had to be disappointed. His game plan was executed exactly how he wanted, and he just couldn’t get anywhere with it.