Quick Jabs: More Margarito-Cotto; De La Hoya-Pacquiao; 2008, So Far And Ahead; More

Plenty to discuss, so I’ll discuss it all in this edition of “Quick Jabs.” I’ll size up 2008, review the aftermath of the big welterweight (147 lbs.) fight last weekend between Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto and take a look at the machinations behind Oscar De La Hoya’s possible welterweight clash with Manny Pacquiao in-depth (maybe TOO in-depth), then touch the rest of it in pitty-pat fashion…

2008: Strong Year, But Not As Good As It Could Be
If you look at 2008 so far and even with what’s ahead, it’s clear that boxing has kept some of the momentum from 2007, when champions fought their top contenders, big names fought big names, fights drew big crowds, combatants produced classics and promoters got along well enough to make it all happen. What I was hoping for, though, was that the sport would not just keep momentum, but build on it. And I think it’s fair to say that as good a year as this has been in some ways, it’s not better than 07, nor has it even been good enough.
I’ve already run down before many of the top fights that have happened this year, and I won’t do it again; you can read it here. Add Margarito-Cotto to that list. It was an amazing battle of great significance, one that drew much-needed mainstream media attention to a fight that, for all its apparent lack of “names,” got that attention the right way: by promising to deliver high-level action in an important bout between important combatants.
There are many things promising about 08 yet to come. De La Hoya-Pacquiao pits the world’s most popular fighter against the best, if it comes off Dec. 6 as it looks like (more on that later). Kelly Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins at 170 lbs. features two more top-10 pound-for-pound dudes going at one another Oct. 18, and Pavlik’s as hot as they get right now. The unsurprisingly-postponed light heavyweight clash between Joe Calzaghe and Roy Jones has been rescheduled for Nov. 8, and it pits one of boxing’s biggest worldwide stars and its #2 pound-for-pound man in the sport against one of America’s most recognized boxing names. Ricky Hatton, the recognized top man at 140 pounds and, like Calzaghe, as huge as huge gets in the U.K., is facing the #2 man in his division, Paulie Malignaggi on Nov. 22. Antonio Tarver-Chad Dawson is another light heavyweight bout pitting an established star against a rising one in a clash of two of the division’s best on Oct. 11.
There’s a second tier of lesser-known names out there, too, but that are important match-ups. The lightweights (135 lbs.) are tearing things up, in particular. There’s lightweight champ Joel Casamayor vs. Juan Manuel Marquez, the top man at 130 and a top-five pound-for-pounder, on Sept. 13. That same night, there’s Nate Campbell, arguably the division’s best, against the ultra-talented Joan Guzman, probably the #2 man at 130 — and both are in my pound-for-pound top 20. Juan Diaz and Michael Katsidis may be coming off losses, but they’re still among the division’s finest and among remaining fights out there, they are the team most likely to produce a Fight of the Year candidate on Sept. 6. The heavyweights might produce a quality bout with Sam Peter versus Vitali Klitschko on Oct. 11. A rematch of boxing’s best little men, 108-pounders Ivan Calderon and Hugo Cazares, is on Aug. 30.
Not a bad line-up, right? But tell me this — how many of those fights are anyone genuinely looking forward to? There are a lot of potential stinkers in there, and you have to pay for too many of them. De La Hoya-Pacquiao may be a mismatch, size-wise. It’s on pay-per-view if it happens, and I can’t fault that one too much. Pavlik-Hopkins has Hopkins in it, always a recipe for a bad fight. Shouldn’t be on pay-per-view. Calzaghe and Jones need aggressive leading men to look good, and neither fit the bill at this point in their careers. Shouldn’t be on pay-per-view, although it might make some decent cash. Malignaggi can be exciting, but will he risk much against Hatton? Tarver’s stunk out more than a few joints himself. “Two counter-punchers” is often a boring fight, so no way should Casamayor-Guzman be on pay-per-view. Campbell was exciting in his last bout; Guzman wasn’t, and if he runs again, Campbell may be forced into a boring bout. Klitschko is injury-prone, so his potential slugfest with Peter may not even happen.¬† And no way should Calderon-Cazares II be on pay-per-view.
Furthermore, think about what fights we aren’t getting. Pacquiao-Marquez III is perhaps the best unsigned bout that could happen in boxing right now, and it’s nowhere on the map. Pavlik-Calzaghe is way better than either Pavlik-Hopkins or Calzaghe-Jones. Floyd Mayweather, before he retired, was going to waste all our time on rematches with De La Hoya and Hatton, instead of fighting, say, Cotto. Paul Williams can’t get the time of day, despite being such a promising young talent (another topic I’ll get to in a second). Cristian Mijares-Fernando Montiel, the best fight that can happen in the ultra-loaded 115-pound division, is but a passing fancy with no obvious means for happening.
And per this piece about 2007, has boxing shown any great innovations in promoting fights this year? Is there any real progress in getting boxing back on the networks, something mixed martial arts has managed to do? Obviously, I could go on and on. The fact is, 2008 has been an excellent year so far, but, for me, ultimately a let-down given what it needed to be.
Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto
Plenty left to discuss about Saturday night’s fantastic, fascinating brawl. First, let’s look at how Cotto lost. Part of the reason Cotto fell short, who’s been as classy in defeat as you can ask for in not making excuses, has come to light. That is, according to one of his team members, Cotto’s nose was broken and he had trouble breathing, which partially explains how he slowed so tremendously as the fight entered its second half. When you combine that with Margarito’s nasty body-punching and endless pressure, you have a recipe for Cotto’s collapse. None of this, by the way, amounts to an “excuse.” After all, isn’t punching your opponent’s nose until it’s broken fair game in boxing? Yessir. So Margarito won cleanly, no matter how you look at it. However, it does make you wonder if Cotto might do better in a rematch. Cotto also says he tried to do more body punching himself, but didn’t have any openings. I question that. Margarito’s extremely hittable everywhere. Another thing to wonder: Would Cotto do better without another trainer? Maybe. Commenter FightFreak suggested Freddie Roach, and it’s not a bad proposal. Cotto, though, says he’s sticking with his uncle Evangelista. I can’t see anything his uncle’s done poorly, specifically, but I do think Cotto might have benefited from tying up at times, as I said before. That’s a pretty basic maneuver in boxing, easily teachable, I’m guessing.
Secondly, more on what’s next: Both Margarito and Cotto want to return to the ring before the year is over. Margarito’s open to a rematch; I haven’t heard whether Cotto is. I think Cotto’d benefit from a long rest, and maybe Margarito would, too, but if anyone’ll be ready by then it’s Margarito, with his invulnerable chin. Besides the winner of Zab Judah-Josh Clottey, Margarito’s looking at Shane Mosley. I have no clue why Margarito’s not looking for a rematch with Williams, so he can avenge his loss. The first one also was a helluva good fight. Maybe Margarito promoter Bob Arum thinks that’s a difficult match-up for his man? I would probably favor Margarito in that rematch, which is why I rank Margarito #1 at welterweight. If that fight doesn’t happen, I’d be interested in Margarito-Mosley and Margarito-Clottey, in that order.
Lastly, I’d mentioned something in my last post about how people in the boxing press may have just been holding out on calling Margarito-Cotto the Fight of the Year. Nope. The reviews are in, and, while they are justifiably stellar, it is the wide majority’s collective opinion that the Fight of the Year honors thus far still belong to Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III. Here is one such assessment. Large offers the minority view here. I’m not sure which members of the “boxing blog universe” he’s talking about when he refers to “tribal protectionism” and lobs the label “boxing snob” at people who weren’t as overwhelmed by Margarito-Cotto as he was — I only know of a couple boxing blogs, the other being BadLeftHook.com, which shared my enthusiasm for the fight while simultaneously favoring Vazquez-Marquez III — but I speak solely for myself when I say that I loved the fact that Margarito-Cotto got some decent-sized mainstream pop. I spend a lot of time shouting into the void, demanding more media attention for the sweet science. I’m a boxing evangelist who’s personally converted many non-fans into fans. At any rate, I don’t think a rather minor, subjective difference of aesthetic preference warrants name-calling or conspiracy theories. Unless it’s some deliberate attempt to be disingenuously provocative, in which case, it’s the blogosphere — that kind of thing’s encouraged here, right? (I say all this despite the fact that he maybe wasn’t referring to yours truly. I did, after all, call the fight “great” and say it “lived up to its promise,” and Large was taking aim at those who said it was only “very good.” Still, the points stand.)
De La Hoya-Pacquiao
OK, so De La Hoya-Pacquiao is looking like it’s going to be for real, unless some hitches don’t get cleared up. Let’s examine them.
Pacquiao wants $20 million for the fight, after being offered $10 million. That ain’t going to happen. But if you’re looking for $15 million, this is a good way to get it, I guess. While there’s a lot of appeal in any Pacquiao fight, and a lot of appeal in any De La Hoya fight (especially his farewell fight), and a lot of appeal in any match-up of “best fighter” versus “most popular fighter,” I cannot imagine this one being as big a money-maker as De La Hoya-Mayweather. Paquiao’s not as well-known in the U.S.A. as Mayweather was last year. Yes, there was a size gap for that fight, too, but the average boxing fan is even more skeptical about Pacquiao’s ability to bridge that than Mayweather was, and that could hurt promotion and subsequently sales. Then there’s the lackluster economy.
Pacquiao’s team also wants to be very sure De La Hoya isn’t too big. Think of it this way. Pacquiao looked good at 135 in his debut there, and he’s looking to come in around 140, 145 and go up just a little after rehydrating. But if De La Hoya comes in at 147, he’s going to rehydrate to a far bigger weight. De La Hoya’s 6’10” with a four inch height and six inch reach advantage. And while Pacquiao looked masterful picking apart David Diaz, Diaz was probably slower at 135 than De La Hoya would be at 147, so the height and speed of De La Hoya means Pacquiao is almost certain to get hit more, and harder, by De La Hoya than he did by Diaz. Pacquiao’s wife, and even some of his biggest boosters on his team, are worried that Manny could get hurt badly. So Pacquiao’s reportedly asking for penalties of as much as $750,000 for each additional pound De La Hoya’s over weight. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable request.
Obviously, I’ve said before I’m not sold on this fight. It’s more credible than it was before Pacquiao looked so good at lightweight, sure. I suppose it’s possible Pacquiao outquicks the hell out of De La Hoya. As always, I just would much rather see Pacquiao finish his business with Marquez, should Marquez get past Casamayor. I think that does more for his legacy if he beats Marquez, and I’ll take the #1 pound-for-pound fighter versus another top-five pound-for-pounder any time over “the best” versus “the most popular.” And let De La Hoya have Sergio Mora, a winnable fight for him with an all-L.A. angle that offers one of the most popular grads of “The Contender” for promotional purposes.
Still, De La Hoya-Pacquiao is looking inevitable. De La Hoya’s company, Golden Boy, has said a decision will be finalized in 10 days — and that was on July 26. Mora’s got a rematch against Vernon Forrest in September, one that he’s not guaranteed to win, so how would De La Hoya look if Forrest beat Mora and Mora was the man he took on in his farewell bout?
Quicker Quick Jabs
I’ve spent some time bashing ESPN for not putting boxing highlights on Sportscenter, but I’ve got to hand it to them — they’ve been doing a lot more of it these days. Featherweight (126 lbs.) Yuriorkis Gamboa’s KO made the show not long ago, welterweight Oscar Diaz’s injury got coverage and Margarito-Cotto, surprisingly, received its own line and a good minute or so of talk. There are still some hitches, like confusing which fighter was Cotto and which one was Margarito, an obligatory “what’s wrong with boxing” caveat and a mistaken assertion that everyone thought Cotto was the #1 pound-for-pound boxer, but progress is progress, and I’m happy about the direction they’re moving out there in Connecticut…
I’ll update my pound-for-pound list this week, 1-20…
Remember when I wrote about boxers who blog? Add Mosley and his wife, Jin, to the crew. The first entry’s all Jin, and I suspect most of them will be, actually. But it’s well-written, insightful and colorful, so far. Check it out here
Two professions, above all others, are marked by sudden retirements and unretirements: the rap game and the fight game. Super middleweight (168 lbs.) Jeff Lacy just set the record for fastest retirement/reversal this week in either profession, lamely, and his bout with Jermain Taylor is now back on. I suspect he’ll regret coming back after Taylor’s through with him…
So all a sudden O’Neil Bell is a heavyweight. This takes some of the shine off the next season of “The Contender,” which he was slated to appear on, because in addition to being a quality top-10 cruiserweight (200 lbs.), don’t forget that Bell once was accused of chasing a sparring partner through the woods with a hatchet. So, he would’ve added that car wreck element to things. I doubt Bell’s the “savior” of the heavyweight division he thinks he is, and it’s probably doubly a bad career move because everyone who’s ever been on the show has made tons of money fighting nobodies afterwards…
Remember the Margarito-Cotto undercard that was supposed to suck? Well, it did, mostly, but at least there was one good fight, the 108-pound Cesar Canchila-Giovnni Segura slugfest. But SC’s right — that should’ve been the opener, and no more…
We’ll preview Saturday’s nice welterweight crossroads fight between Judah and Clottey this week, too, but despite a rather lackluster August, there are a couple other intriguing fights coming up. The aforementioned Calderon-Cazares bout, for starters, on pay-per-view on Aug. 30. Tonight’s the ESPN2 welterweight bout between Sebastian Lujan and Jose Luis Castillo. I’m worried about Castillo continuing to fight, after his years of wars and recent lackluster performances, but I’ll watch and hope he doesn’t get beaten too badly. The other one features the always entertaining Vic Darchinyan trying to take the 115-pound strap from Dimitri Kirilov on Showtime Saturday…
Three lesser bouts in the vicinity of today that I want to say something about. First, I was pleased to see middleweight Buddy McGirt, Jr. rebound with a career-best win last week on ESPN2 after getting knocked out in his previous fight. That isn’t easy to do. I’m not sure McGirt’s all that good, but the fortitude it took him to recover from his worst loss to his best victory is impressive. Second, Joseph Agbeko, coming off his own career best win over Luis Perez to take Perez’ 118-pound strap last year, is finally getting another fight. Did you know Agbeko got a presidential parade in Ghana after that win? Yeah, boxing’s so dead. Third, super middleweight Anthony Mundine is fought and beat someone named “Crazy Kim” today. That one speaks for itself…
Don’t get it twisted. Mora-Forrest II at 154 lbs., on the Casamayor-Marquez undercard, is NOT “the rematch of the year,” as HBO is ludicrously advertising it. It’s not even in the ballpark. Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III (122 lbs.), Marquez-Pacquiao II, Kendall Holt-Ricardo Torres II (140 lbs.), Williams-Carlos Quintana II, Pavlik-Taylor II and basically any rematch this year that has yet to occur or even be conceived are way ahead, so far down the list is Mora-Forrest II…
Featherweight titlist Chris John is probably going to be stripped of his belt for reasons that are still wholly mysterious to me. Wonder if this’ll make him a little more desperate to fight someone with a pulse now. I hate, hate, hate to see talent go to waste…
(As usual, to avoid hyperlinking this piece to death, I will instead give credit to some of the usual sterling sources of boxing news: ESPN, BoxingScene et al)

About Tim Starks

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