6 Things We Learned from Frankie Gavin vs. Leonard Bundu
Last night in Wolverhampton, former amateur standout Frankie Gavin lost for the first time as a professional in his challenge for the European welterweight title, against the long-time champion Leonard Bundu of Italy.
It was a notably absorbing contest as, just when Gavin seemed to be taking control of the action, Bundu dropped the local favourite with a sickening body shot in Round 6, and that swung the momentum back in his direction.
Gavin rallied late on, but it was not enough to win the day—one judge had him winning 115-112, overruled by the other two who both had it to Bundu on cards of 114-113.
From ringside, I scored the bout 115-114 to Bundu, with the first and eleventh rounds even. On that card, Gavin took Rounds 3, 4, 5, 10 and 12, while Bundu took Rounds 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9, so it was the knockdown which decided the outcome.
You could certainly make the case for the draw and perhaps even for a Gavin victory, but, overall, it is hard to feel aggrieved for the challenger, who did not offer enough over the distance to take the title from Bundu.
This was the second time in the last 12 months that the Italy based champion has come to the UK and beaten a domestic challenger, knocking out Lee Purdy late in December. However, Gavin was believed to be a level or two above Purdy and entered as the clear betting favourite last night.
Here are the top things we learned from the upset.
1. Gavin Will Struggle to Win a World Title
There is no shame in losing to Leonard Bundu, who remains undefeated aged 39, although, admittedly, he has never crossed the Atlantic to face top American opposition.
Even so, it is hard to see how Gavin could go from this defeat to winning a world title because you have to believe Bundu is a level below the IBF champion Shawn Porter, let alone the kingpins of the welterweight division—Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
After all, Lee Purdy gave Bundu a competitive fight, and Purdy was pulled out of his challenge to Devon Alexander after Round 7, having been thoroughly outclassed. And Alexander, who later lost to Porter, is not seen as even a top-five fighter.
Of course, there is always the possibility of some nonsense with the sanctioning bodies affording Gavin an easy opportunity at a vacant title, or a fighter with a style that suits Gavin winning a belt—but in the normal course of things, it looks like Gavin simply won't measure up.
This is partially because the welterweight division is so strong, surely the deepest division today, which is reflected in the UK where both Amir Khan and Kell Brook rank above Gavin, and the Birmingham man is a solid, European level guy himself.
Before the Bundu fight, some people thought Gavin was above European level, and although he had put in some poor performances against over-matched opposition, he had equally risen to the occasion in his last decent challenge, retiring Denton Vassell after seven rounds.
When a fighter is unbeaten, they can seemingly have the potential to go all the way to the top, but when they lose for the first time, reality comes crashing down.
The reality for Gavin is that he looks like a potential top-10 fighter (and in boxing's toughest division) but no world champion.
2. You Can't Question Gavin's Heart and Toughness
Prior to this fight, Frankie Gavin had it all pretty much his way as a professional.
His fight with Curtis Woodhouse in 2011 was close, but neither fighter inflicted much damage, and although he hit the canvas against Sacky Shikukutu last time out, it was nearer a slip than a heavy knockdown.
We really didn't know if Gavin had the necessary heart and toughness to hang in there and overcome genuine adversity or if he would fold under serious examination.
For all that, it wasn't a disappointing night for the Birmingham man. He won the respect of the fight crowd for the guts he showed last night.
The body shot which floored Gavin in the sixth landed exactly where you don't want to be hit, and Gavin didn't see it coming, so he was unable to brace himself for its impact.
When he hit the canvas, writhing face down, it looked like the contest would be over then and there. In front of a passionate home crowd, Gavin simply would not let it end like that, and he willed himself to his feet even as his body betrayed him.
The fight resumed, and Bundu came straight in for the kill, wielding big punches. Gavin, clearly not recovered, traded back and won the biggest cheer of the night when he hurled the Italian into the ring post during one of the dying exchanges of the sixth.
Gavin was perhaps not back to his full self until Round 9, and in the seventh and eighth, he took some serious leather on the ropes as Bundu pushed for a stoppage.
Despite that onslaught and a cut suffered in Round 7, Gavin hung in there and was able to wrestle back control of the fight in the last three rounds.
If fights were scored on heart and toughness, Gavin could not possibly have lost this one—and that will stand him in good stead on the comeback trail.
3. We May See Bundu Back in the UK
One thing not immediately recognized is that this was the best win of Leonard Bundu's career.
The Sierra Leone born fighter has had an unusual career, turning pro at age 30 and not fighting anyone of note until 2009, the year he turned 35.
Although Bundu has held the European welterweight title since 2011, the standard of opposition has not been particularly impressive, and Gavin, with such great amateur pedigree and home advantage, was expected to prevail.
But the 39-year-old did not turn up to lose, and he repeatedly had Gavin in retreat, forcing him to sit on the ropes where Bundu ripped in combination after combination.
Although Bundu is not particularly fast and his footwork doesn't catch the eye, he feints well and has an awkward, rugged quality about him.
It will be interesting to see where he goes from here after two straight wins in the UK. Fighting nearly all his career in Italy and without a promoter with international clout, Bundu is unlikely to get a world title shot in the US or even a TV date with a top contender.
In post-fight interviews, Gavin's promoter Frank Warren talked of wanting to set up a rematch, and given the closeness of the contest, that would make a lot of sense, even if it would be a slightly deflating sidestep for Bundu.
Given the Italian's two impressive showings in the UK, he could also be a possible opponent for Kell Brook, who faces Shawn Porter for the IBF title in two weeks time.
If Brook wins the belt away from home, Bundu would be an acceptable homecoming opponent, whilst if he loses, Bundu would be the right sort of test on the rebound.
However it pans out, don't be surprised to see Bundu back in a British ring, where he can likely earn a better payday than his adopted home.
4. Gavin Still Boxes in an Amateur Style
Amateur boxing gives a good guide to the future of the professional ranks but not a perfect one. Speed, technique and cuteness translate easily one from one to the other, but there are intangibles necessary for professional success that aren't always scrutinized prior to turning over.
As Britain's first ever world amateur champion, and a likely 2008 Olympic medalist if not for weight issues, hopes could not have been much higher when Gavin went pro in 2009.
But since then, he has looked good rather than great. Weaknesses that have long been apparent, if not especially costly, became decisive against Bundu.
While the action was in the centre of the ring, Gavin largely controlled it, outlanding Bundu through the use of angles and footwork.
But far too often Gavin could not stop the champion from bullying him back on the ropes where superior technique can count for less than just pure volume, as even Floyd Mayweather found at times against Marcos Maidana.
To discourage the Italian, Gavin needed to throw either more punches or more hard punches. In his amateur days landing quick, single shots and retreating quickly could open a big points lead, but it doesn't work like that in the paid ranks.
Gavin also needed to throw more punches at the same time as Bundu threw his own so as to time the champion coming in. For all the occasions Gavin was caught on the ropes, it was not until Round 11 that he landed a significant counterpunch when cornered.
Bundu made the point that Gavin still boxes in an amateur style in the post-fight interviews, and the Sierra Leone fighter seemed to perceive this as a source of strength and confidence for him when boxing the Birmingham man.
It is an area where Gavin needs to make adjustments to progress his career.
5. That's How 1 Punch Can Change a Fight
When you think of one punch changing a fight, it's inevitably the single shot KO which comes to mind.
Last night, however, showed that even in a distance fight, the result can turn on a singular action.
The first three rounds had been cagey with both fighters feeling each other out and few significant punches being thrown let alone landed.
But by the fifth round, Gavin seemed to have begun to take control, measuring Bundu well and dictating the pace and range of the fight.
In Round 5, Gavin brought the uppercut into play for the first time and had the Italian looking rather predictable.
That made it all the more shocking to see Gavin crumpled on the floor in the next round, a stanza he had been winning until then.
Bundu's brutal body punch gave him a two-point round in the sixth, and he won the next two rounds clearly as Gavin struggled to recuperate.
In a close fight, the four points Bundu took on the cards as a direct consequence of one punch were what helped him prevail.
In the first five rounds and then the last three, Gavin had the better of it, and he would surely have won if Bundu had not connected with such a devastating shot.
If a rematch is arranged, you could even see Gavin again starting as the favourite (at least if it's held in the UK) because he would likely win rounds in the same fashion as yesterday, whereas Bundu may not find such a sweet punch again.
But last night, Bundu found the equaliser against a more vaunted opponent and found a way to win.
6. Gavin Should Have Fought Tougher Opposition Sooner
For quite some time, it has been possible to question the development of Frankie Gavin as a professional fighter. For such a top prospect, he has had too many meaningless fights, coupled with a slow progression through the ranks.
Fans were therefore glad when Gavin signed to fight Bundu, which was an appropriate step up and a showcase for him to demonstrate just how good he is.
A win over Bundu would have propelled him into global contention and smoothed over doubts about his career to date.
However, a loss is now particularly devastating because Gavin has achieved so little with his other fights. He will be 29 before he enters a ring again, hardly a young lion, and unless an immediate rematch can be arranged, he will be caught in no man's land.
Gavin made a big jump in opposition to face Bundu, which looks rash in retrospect, especially after such soft competition prior to it.
He would have been better to fight a couple of top-25 fighters after the Vassell fight to prepare him for Bundu.
Alternatively, he could have fought Bundu two years ago, and whilst he would have lost, you would still envisage a close contest from which he could recover with more time on his side.
He would then have learned the lessons he should learn now much sooner—both the requirement to adjust his style to the pro ranks, as well as the need for better strength and conditioning to stop the likes of Bundu bullying him around.
Gavin's career is not over, and at 28, nearly 29, this is not a hopeless disaster—but it is still a bad situation which could have been different had his matchmaking been tougher, sooner.