It’s not as if I spend much time grading myself on how my opinions match up with those of other thoughtful types — if I may be so bold as to give myself that designation — but I can’t help but notice how at odds my views have been with respectable boxing writers and commentators on a few issues of late.
I say Roy Jones-Felix Trinidad (170 lbs., Jan. 19) is an intriguing curiosity that has a chance of helping boxing. Others say it’s a disgrace and a sham, or else way more important than commonly thought. I say I’m fine with welterweight (147 lbs.) star Miguel Cotto fighting Alfonso Gomez in April as a stepping stone to a summer brawl with Antonio Margarito, others say it’s a travesty for Cotto to be pursuing a Gomez fight at all, since Gomez would be crushed. I say I can live with a Floyd Mayweather-Oscar De La Hoya rematch in May, others spit upon the general notion.
So amid this tidal wave overwhelming my Minority Report, let me address where I still think I’m right, clarify where needed and concede (gasp) where I’m wrong.
Is Jones-Trinidad meaningful? I still say, “Not particularly.” Eric Raskin makes a good case for what meaningfulness is there — that even the faded Jones and Trinidad are big names who could be in line for big fights after Saturday night, against the likes of current great Joe Calzaghe. Problem is, that requires some big “ifs” to swing in the direction of meaningfulness. If Jones beats Trinidad but looks bad, or vice versa, it’s going to be hard for anyone to justify to the public the idea of a sloppy Jones or Trinidad being worth Calzaghe’s time. Both do still have big names, but if the pay-per-view numbers are low — and there’s a lot of evidence that the live gate is going to underwhelm, which also would sway matters (even though the pricey-ness of the seats is as considerably to blame) — then why would it even be in Calzaghe’s interest to take on Jones or Trinidad? He could make a pretty penny fighting Clinton Woods in his backyard, Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor have proven their own lucre-making potential as possible opponents for Calzaghe, and so on.
Worst case scenario for Jones or Trinidad? The winner of Jones-Trinidad looks terrible even in victory, you can hear the crickets in Madison Square Garden, the pay-per-view numbers suggest that only the respective families of Jones and Trinidad watched and no other big names want to fight the victor. I don’t think it’ll be that bad, but who’ll give Jones much credit for beating Trinidad, who’s never fought above 160 pounds and didn’t have as much power at that weight? Even if he looks good, that would diminish the earning potential of Jones vs. a big name. And that’s not even taking into account Jones’ trademark “talk big about fighting the best but then get silly” negotiation tactics. If Trinidad wins, he’ll get a little more credit, but everyone knows Jones isn’t what he once was. Would anyone in the whole, entire world give Trinidad a shot at defeating a current pound-for-pounder like Calzaghe? So who would watch it? Blindly faithful Puerto Ricans, those who just want to support their homeland’s living legend in Trinidad no matter how obvious it is that he would fail?
In the unlikelihood that Trinidad or Jones get a nice, big fight next, I still think it’s got a ways to go to get to “meaningful.” The winner is going to have to look exceptional in there, so exceptional that skeptics won’t call it an illusion given the faded nature of each fighter. Because anything short of a truly exceptional version of Jones or Trinidad is going to get hammered by a Calzaghe. A faded Jones or a faded Trinidad vs. a prime someone else almost always is going to equal meaninglessness. There are just too many qualifiers for what has to happen for me to think of this fight as “meaningful.”
But is Jones-Trinidad a debacle? I wouldn’t go that far. It certainly has its share of debacle-like elements. It’s six or seven years too late. There’s the size differential. There’s the fact that one guy hasn’t fought in years and the other guy hasn’t won a meaningful fight in years. And there’s Don King comparing it to Muhammad Ali-George Foreman, or the advertisement sorta comparing it to Ali-Joe Frazier. But like I said before, and I stand by it, there’s a chance that this could boost boxing’s profile in a positive way. It’s a long shot, sure, but it could happen. From the standpoint of a pure boxing match, it intrigues me. It doesn’t intrigue me enough to pay for it, although I might if I was rich. Crossroads battles between aged, faded stars can be intriguing — case in point, the recent Fernando Vargas-Ricardo Mayorga 166-pound fight. (I dissed that fight to the high heavens, and it turned out better than expected, so I’m not as quick to shoot down the potential of Jones-Trinidad.) I do wonder whether Jones will be able to take Trinidad’s punches. I’ll get to my prediction later in the week, but suffice it to say I don’t think this is the certified Jones victory a lot of people believe it is.
I think if there’s anything I wish I’d said more explicitly it’s this: Jones-Trinidad comes at a very inopportune time for boxing, and the odds are in its favor that it will actively set back some of the sport’s recent gains. I focused instead on its chances for doing good. My bad.
Now, Cotto fighting Gomez — there’s a debacle, right? Nope. I still don’t think so. I still think it’s an acceptable appetite-whetting fight for a Cotto-Margarito showdown, given Gomez’ popularity and the fact that he’s at least debatably a top-10 welterweight (my position in the debate: He is, but only barely, at #10, like ESPN has him). I didn’t elaborate, and will now, that while it’s a good thing to demand only that the best fight the best always ever, it’s not unreasonable to give a fighter a break every now and then. Cotto’s earned a break from me. He fought two grueling fights in his last two outings, against Shane Mosley and Zab Judah. If Cotto’s every single fight is a brawl, and he has any ambition of extending his career, he’d either need to 1. take very long rests between battles, thereby risking getting ring rust; or 2. take the occasional “lighter” fight, but one that is still credible. I say Gomez is credible enough, if not by much.
I should elaborate on one more thing. I’d be angry if Cotto and Mayweather didn’t scrap this year. It is far and away the most important fight that can be made in boxing. I’ve said it many times. My discussion of Cotto-Gomez/Cotto-Margarito came only after I saw what I perceived as the writing on the wall — Mayweather and De La Hoya are headed toward a rematch, and Cotto’s out of their picture. Given that fact, Margarito is probably the second best fight out there for Cotto, because of the compatible styles of both men and Margarito’s abilities, followed closely by Paul Williams, then more distantly De La Hoya, a Mosley rematch, Kermit Cintron and any of the other top welterweights.
What’s the appeal of Mayweather-De La Hoya II? If you saw the first one, you know it wasn’t action-packed. “Better than feared” isn’t a very high standard, but it at least met that. The primary appeal, for me, is more on the business side of things. I like the idea of boxing’s standing with the general public rising once more.
But once more into the elaboration breach: I think there’s a chance that Mayweather-De La Hoya II will be a good fight. I had my opportunity to say this in the comments section here when challenged about my reluctant nod toward a rematch, and didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I still expect the fight won’t be much different. But there are some reasons it could be better. Emphasis on the word “could.” One is the possibility of Floyd Mayweather, Sr. training De La Hoya, as pops himself has discussed. Could it give De La Hoya an edge he lacked last year? Maybe. At any rate, it certainly adds another layer of drama, if it comes to fruition, because the sideshow of Mayweather-Mayweather squawking is a perversity I wouldn’t be able to stop watching. Another is that at 147 lbs., if it happens at that weight, Mayweather may be more inclined to stand and trade. He demonstrated a surprising candor after knocking out Ricky Hatton in December about his boring performances of the past, so pride might compel him to look better and win more definitively. I understand him keeping his distance against a 154-pound De La Hoya, because it’s nowhere near Mayweather’s ideal weight. Against a similarly-sized De La Hoya, Mayweather would have less to be afraid of. And an offensive-minded Mayweather is as pretty as boxing gets.
At any rate, it reaches my hurdle of “acceptable,” and just barely, because it was a legitimately close fight the first time around. De La Hoya tested Mayweather. Size was only one factor. The other was De La Hoya’s effective jab and a few other style things that make it so that De La Hoya won’t be easy for Mayweather at any weight. I disagreed with the judges on the margin of victory in the first fight, but De La Hoya surely came as close to beating Mayweather as has anyone since Jose Luis Castillo in 2002, by the measuring sticks of my own eyes and of the scorecards. Would I rather see Mayweather-Cotto? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Do I think Mayweather would beat De La Hoya again, this time more easily? Yes, I surmise that’s the most likely result. But I can live with Mayweather-De La Hoya II, and I would assuredly buy it.
I have been, and no doubt will be again, nastily negative toward certain fights. It just so happens that in the case of Jones-Trinidad, I’m mostly pessimistic with a side of optimism; with Cotto-Gomez, I find no deep fault; and with Mayweather-De La Hoya II, I’m disappointed but reluctantly accepting and un-outraged.