Egidijus Kavaliauskas got the win he needed, a unanimous decision that kept his undefeated record intact and kept him in position in case a big fight comes his way at 147 pounds in the future.
Kavaliauskas also got the experience he needed, going 10 rounds for the first time in his career, getting taken the distance by an opponent whose foot movement, counter punching and awkward offense gave him fits.
But there’s one more thing Kavaliauskas still needs, and he needs a lot of it. The “Mean Machine” needs plenty of tuning up.
Kavaliauskas defeated Juan Carlos Abreu on Saturday night, yet it wasn’t pretty, nor was it good. There was talk that Kavaliauskas could go on to challenge Terence Crawford for his welterweight world title.
No one should talk about that at this moment. Kavaliauskas is not at all ready for someone as greatly skilled and brilliant in the ring as Crawford.
Lots of great fighters run into trouble on their way up, learn from the experience and get better. Plenty of others don’t. While they are able to get past whomever exposes their limitations early, they fail once they step up too far.
Whichever category Kavaliauskas ends up falling into, the 30-year-old from Lithuania will need more time in order to have more seasoning — which he’ll need in order to face more talented opponents.
Abreu, a 31-year-old who hails from the Dominican Republic, had an extensive amateur career but has reached his own ceiling in the pros in recent years. He lost to Humberto Soto in 2014, dropped a decision to a prospect named Jamal James in 2015, and fell short against Alex Martin in 2016. None of those fighters is a player in the 147-pound division.
But Abreu isn’t a scrub either. He had the skill and timing to look for counter opportunities from the outset and land them on occasion. He also had plenty of movement, going side to side as well as in and out, dodging punches and frustrating Kavaliauskas on the inside, where Kavaliauskas wanted to work once he finally had Abreu in range. Instead, they tended to tie up and wrestle. And their heads would occasionally collide.
An accidental head butt brought blood from over Kavaliauskas’ right eye in the first round and also opened a cut over Abreu’s left eye. It’s hard to say how much the injury affected Kavaliauskas. The action seemed to reflect not the clash of heads but rather the clash of styles.
Kavaliauskas preferred to come forward. Abreu wanted to move and make him miss. Kavaliauskas was rarely able to cut off the ring or catch Abreu with his punches. He was just 119 of 373 on the night, according to CompuBox, throwing an average of only 37 punches per round, landing about 12, meaning he was successful just once out of every three shots.
Abreu wasn’t statistically satisfying either. He was credited with landing 72 of 402, meaning he was, on average, just 7 of 40 per round, barely better than one landed shot for every six punches he threw.
One of Abreu’s shots was at least able to open another cut up on Kavaliauskas, this one over his left eye. Perhaps because of that, and also from frustration, Kavaliauskas began to throw wildly while in the clinch, trying to at last land something of note.
Kavaliauskas was able to score with a good left-right counter combination toward the end of the sixth, his best shots of the night at that moment. Kavaliauskas also had a good sequence in the seventh, which drew heated retaliation from Abreu, who dropped his gloves to his sides and fired back with extended emphasis.
Abreu seemed rather confident for someone who was in against an undefeated contender. He likely wasn’t impressed. But he also wasn’t doing a good enough job impressing the judges. He looked in the 10th and final round as if he thought the fight was his.
It wasn’t. When the scorecards were read, it was Kavaliauskas who was rightly ruled the winner in what was otherwise a close, competitive and downright ugly fight. Two judges had Kavaliauskas ahead 97-93, or seven rounds to three, while the other judge had it 96-94, six rounds to four.
Kavaliauskas is now 20-0 with 16 knockouts. Terence Crawford needs a dance partner for later in the year. Here, then, comes the conundrum if you’re Kavaliauskas’s team.
If they somehow believe he can beat Crawford, then they’ll put him in with one of the best boxers in the world. If they don’t believe he can beat Crawford, they might still try to get him that fight anyway — there’s more money to be made in losing to a big-name fighter than there would be in losing to someone else, which is a distinct possibility.
Abreu is now 21-4-1 with 19 KOs.
Jose Ramirez Left Without an Opponent After O’Connor Unable to Make Weight
The Kavaliauskas-Abreu fight wound up as the main event on ESPN at the last minute. The true headliner was supposed to be Jose Ramirez — the hometown hero who’s been drawing good crowds in Fresno, California, for some time.
Ramirez was supposed to defend his junior welterweight belt against Danny O’Connor. But O’Connor had to pull out of the fight while trying to drop the last couple of pounds to make the 140-pound limit.
The weight apparently just wasn’t coming off. O’Connor remained in the sauna far too long, and a body that was already dehydrated and weakened by dropping weight was damaged by the heat. He was taken to the hospital and has since been treated and released.
Ramirez, 22-0 with 16 KOs, won the vacant title in March with a decision over Amir Imam. This was supposed to be his first defense. He’s expected to return in September instead.
Even if O’Connor is somehow able to make 140 safely, he’s not the kind of opponent Ramirez should be facing. O’Connor had done nothing of note to earn a shot. And we’d prefer to see Ramirez in against the other top junior welterweights.
Unfortunately, Ramirez has not joined up with the upcoming World Boxing Super Series tournament, which will feature top names in his division such as Josh Taylor and Regis Prograis.
Boxing is at its best when, well, the best fight the best. In lieu of that, let’s hope that Ramirez ends up in the ring with the best of what’s left.