Boxing’s Second Half Of 2008 Begins To Take Intriguing Shape

There are a couple developments on the horizon that could make the second half of 2008 almost as good as the first. On the down side, there are also a few big-name ex-boxers nearing 50 years old who may well soon fight each other. There are even some very awesome fighters rumbling besides my boy Yuriorkis Gamboa this weekend (and I paraphrase myself, “It’s Yuriorkis Gamboa Week at Ring Report, suckas!”) as we near the halfway point of the year and transition into the aforementioned second half of 2008. So let’s jump right in, shall we? The big-money fight of 2008, is, of course, Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather II in September. Let’s skip that one, for all the usual reasons — it’s a rematch no boxing fan is very interested in, De La Hoya still isn’t going to win, it’s more spectacle than fight, etc. — and get to the good stuff. Besides, the fight still isn’t signed for some reason. Topping the good stuff is that welterweights (147 lbs.) Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito have finally signed to fight one another, a fact that has any boxing fan salivating and should make even non-boxing fans circle the date “July 26” on their calendars. It’s hard to imagine a better match-up: two power-hitters who like to brawl but also have exceptional (and underrated) skill levels. Once upon a time, I posited that Margarito, with his height, style, power and undentable chin, looked like Cotto’s kryptonite. But Cotto’s shown, in his last two fights, that he is more sophisticated than I previously thought, and now I’m not so sure about whether Margarito’s got Cotto’s number. All the better. Cotto’s team had been delaying as they negotiated for some more cash flow, but now his name’s on the dotted line. Depending on who wins, Margarito could get to prove if he’s worthy of his cult following, while Cotto could propel himself into another, higher bracket of stardom if he wins and wins entertainingly. Both men are on my list of the 20 best boxers today, with Margarito just making the list and Cotto hanging out at #4. I’ve never once been bored by either combatant’s fights. The surprise on the agenda is that, after seemingly being focused entirely on Roy Jones, Jr., Joe Calzaghe has turned his attention to Kelly Pavlik. Calzaghe-Jones is an interesting fight; Calzaghe-Pavlik is an interesting and an important one, and probably more fun, to boot. The difference is, I give Jones the off-chance of beating Calzaghe, but Calzaghe — ranked the #2 or #3 best fighter in the world today by most observers — would be the heavy favorite over Jones, whose days as pound-for-pound king are well behind him. Pavlik? He’s a rising commodity. He’s in everyone’s top 10. He’s the universally recognized middleweight (160 lbs.) champ. Calzaghe just won the Ring magazine belt at light heavyweight (175 lbs.) and already had the super middleweight title, so we’d be talking about finding out who’s the best fighter over the span of three divisions, between two of the 10 best overall. Now, Calzaghe may just be playing negotiating games by bringing Pavlik into the picture, because Jones, apparently, is going back to his old ways of demanding too much money. Still, if Calzaghe-Pavlik happens, Calzaghe can add another impressive scalp to his collection over the last two years and maybe cement himself as the best British fighter ever, and Pavlik, like Cotto, can move into a higher stardom bracket. This one offers the classic boxer-puncher match-up, and Pavlik’s always exciting, while Calzaghe is usually exciting unless his opponent is uglifying things up, as Bernard Hopkins did. In the meantime, we’ll see Pavlik in two fights this year that are easy on paper, but I enjoy him enough to watch anyhow. That’s three HUGE fights, right there, that are likely to get some play with the broader public. But there are intriguing things happening among elite boxers that, while they may not get some mainstream love, are sure to get plenty from the die-hards. Some of the business for hardcore fans is happening at lightweight (135 lbs.), which has, just over the past couple months, suddenly become one of the sport’s hottest divisions. Anytime Manny Pacquiao fights, it’s an EVENT, and he’s making his lightweight debut June 28 against David Diaz. Pacquiao nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez is going to chase his foe up to lightweight. Joan Guzman is moving up to the weight, too. Top-tier lightweights Joel Casamayor (the Ring champ), Nate Campbell (a guy with three belts), Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis are all holding down the fort already, and the second tier, with guys like Jose Armando Santa Cruz, ain’t bad, either. Pacquiao and Marquez are two of the five best fighters around today, and you can make a case that Campbell, Guzman, Casamayor and Diaz are all in the top 20. The number of potential, discussed and signed fights in this division is getting pretty dizzying. Marquez and Guzman both want Campbell. Both of those fights are good in and of themselves, but Marquez wants to beat Campbell to force Pacquiao into a third fight for what would surely go down in history as a classic trilogy. Campbell wants Casamayor in a rematch of what was a good first fight. Casamayor-Diaz is almost assuredly a go for September. Katsidis vs. anybody is a summer popcorn movie. Oh, and don’t be surprised if some of the other fighters in nearby divisions drop by to get a piece of the action — like knockout artist Edwin Valero, my boy Gamboa (who’s already called out Pacquiao) and others. Then Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV could happen later this year. The mayhem those two 122-pounders have wrought is already legendary, so much so that I’ve repeatedly wondered whether they should fight each other again for fear of their health. It wouldn’t be boxing without some embarrassing monstrosity, so Jeff Fenech, age 44, and Azumah Nelson, age 49, are going to fight June 24. If Nelson wins, he wants to lure Julio Cesar Chavez, age 46, out of retirement. Thank you, boxing, for always giving the critics ammunition. Two bouts featuring guys pushing 50 over the next year or so is a unique way of doing it, but then, nobody quite does “unique embarrassing monstrosity” like the sport of kings. Now, putting that Fenech-Nelson-Chavez mess aside for a bit, I look at the lineup of potential fights in the second half of 2008 and say, “Pretty good, but not quite up to snuff with the first half of 2008 or the second half of 2007.” There’s still more time, of course. The second half of 2007 didn’t start picking up some of its serious steam until after May. It’s just not a good time for slacking, boxing’s Powers That Be. But first, we need to finish off the first half of 2008. This weekend brings a good HBO “Boxing After Dark” card. Gamboa’s the headliner of the triple-header in my book, but you’ll find plenty of fans — and I count myself among them — of heavy-punching junior middleweights (154 lbs.) James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo. All three men are in against moderately credible opponents, but all three men are great, hard-hitting television-friendly boxers you’d be wise not to miss. I’ll leave it to my homie Sean to speak up about Kirkland and Angulo. I’ve spent three days hyping Gamboa, so I’m gonna buy myself some insurance and sound some notes of caution about him. Most obviously, he needs to keep his hands the hell up. He’s so confident that his attitude often bleeds into arrogance, and since his reflexes and comfort level in the ring mean he’s unhittable when he decides to be, he often flaunts that fact. That said, I’ve not seen him get caught by punches with his hands down; he tends to get hit most when he gets over-eager on offense. So far, his chin has stood up extremely well, but he’s not fought anybody with world class power, so either lapse — arrogance, over-eagerness — is dangerous. Either could prove as much with Darling Jimenez, his opponent for the night, who was expected to roll over for a comebacking Mike Anchondo, but instead beat the tar out of him. Jimenez could be the opponent who finally rises above the “we thought he’d be the guy who would test Gamboa a little, but not even an iota” bar. Lastly, I’ve read that Cuban boxers who suddenly find themselves in the bosom of democracy, especially in Florida, where they are treated like heroes to the local Cuban community, tend to drink too much from the horn o’ plenty. That’s my biggest fear, actually. I think Gamboa’s smart enough to keep his hands up against the best of the best and has a strong enough chin even if he gets hit, and I don’t think Jimenez coming off a 13-month layoff is the one to undo Gamboa. I think the good life is. Friday night comes the light heavyweight debut of Chris Byrd, the little heavyweight who could. This story’s gotten far more attention than I think is warranted, but then, I like Byrd outside the ring better than I do in it, because he’s been a little boring in the latter and seems like he’d be a good pal in the former. But there’s a case to be made that if he wins a couple key fights at light heavyweight, he’s Hall of Fame material. I will confess that his transformation is neat. If you look at him as a heavyweight and look at him as a light heavyweight, he almost looks like a different man. His opponent for the night on ESPN2 will only establish whether Byrd is going to totally suck at this weight. It won’t prove if he can handle Jones or Calzaghe or the like. The most important fight of the weekend? That’d be Cristian Mijares against Alexander Munoz on Saturday. Sure, I’d rather see Mijares against Fernando Montiel to determine who’s the best 115-pounder, but the winner of Mijares-Munoz will be able to make the argument. One problem: This one’s on pay-per-view. Thanks, but no thanks. Lastly, Ricky Hatton has a challenging fight to close out May that just got more challenging. Hatton, the 140-pound champ, is already in against a guy that myself and others think has a decent chance of pulling the upset in Juan Lazcano next weekend. But word out of Hatton Wonderland is that Ricky has come down with an illness and is missing some valuable sparring time, making matters worse. I’m this close — thisclose — to predicting the upset. But I’m not there… yet. (To avoid hyperlinking half to death, I’ll just give h/ts to ESPN, Maxboxing and BoxingScene and my previous posts)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.