Quick Jabs: “The Contender” Canceled, But Not Gone; Mosley’s Steroid Woes; A Wasted Talent

This weekend should be great, what with the nasty-good double-headers on HBO and Showtime I previewed here and here, but I find myself strangely looking forward to April 19’s light heavyweight (175 lbs.) contest between two living legends, future Hall of Famers and top-five fighters of any weight, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe. I know it sounds totally awesome when it’s described like that, but then, if you’ve seen Hopkins fight, you know he can really put the cobwebs on things. That said, I’m becoming more convinced it’s going to be a highly interesting, tactical and at times exciting affair. I bet Calzaghe makes Hopkins fight more than he has in years, and make no mistake, Hopkins can fight. Anyway, until then, here are some “Quick Jabs.” It’s been a busy week for major news developments in boxing, including a couple that have worked their way into the minds of the general public. “The Contender” Canceled, But Not Gone So ESPN canceled “The Contender,” boxing’s resident reality show. Before anyone goes writing its obituary, it’s worth reading the news closely. The show’s producers intend to find a new home for it. I don’t doubt they will. It’s not a good sign that it’s been bumped from NBC to ESPN to now God knows where, but I expect we’ll see it around for at least a little while longer. Two recent good pieces, over at ESPN.com and The Ring, gave some overdue praise to grads of “The Contender” for their success of late in the sport, and for their willingness to lay it all on the line of late. Ex. of the first: Cornelius Bundrage and Brian Vera upsetting Kassim Ouma and Andy Lee, respectively. Ex. of the second: Upcoming fights for Steve Forbes and Alfonso Gomez against Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto, respectively. I completely agree with the thrust of both pieces. I was one of the doubters of the TV show, and I’ve mocked it at various points. In other words, when “Contender” grad promoter Jeff Wald complains about people “trash talking about them being reality show guys,” he’s speaking of my ilk. I’ve gradually and begrudgingly grown to respect the “Contender” fighters, as I did here when I renounced my skepticism in full, but I think it’s important to own up to one’s words. However, I’ve never questioned the guts these guys have. What Bundrage did against a former junior middleweight titlist (154 lbs.) in Ouma and what Vera did against a heavily-hyped middleweight (160 lbs.) prospect Andy Lee was done largely with heart and determination. What’s more, some of the more popular contestants could make decent money off their names alone, fighting non-dangerous opponents before local crowds. They have not, and I’ve given them credit for it. They have proven themselves better than I ever expected they would. But I do think it’s worth cautioning that, for all their heart, none of them have proven themselves elite fighters yet. There is only one “Contender” grad ranked in Ring’s top 10 in any weight class, that being Sakio Bika at super middleweight (168 lbs.), who was ranked in the top 10 before he was on the show. You can make a case for Gomez as a top 10 welterweight (147 lbs.), as ESPN’s rankings do, but that’s it out of three seasons of the show. Until more of them establish themselves as top 10 fighters, I’m probably still going to continue to doubt their chances, as I do Gomez’ and Forbes’, albeit less so for Forbes. And if they use it for inspiration, as Wald suggests they will, more power to them. (P.S. I said in the aforementioned preview piece that really, Gomez’ only hope of beating Cotto is if he has an off-night. All this drama with his uncle and trainer, Evangelista, is the perfect recipe for it. Even if Cotto’s version of events — there is no problem, everything’s fine — is true, which I doubt, there’s still been some turmoil in Cotto’s camp, since someone in that camp, according to reports, leaked the rumors of a falling out. That ain’t exactly harmony. It’s become a distraction. Cotto’s career has been marked by a certain steely focus, so he’d be able to overcome such a distraction if it’s in error, but if he’s had a bad training camp because of some family feuding, I would boost Gomez’ chances of pulling off the upset by about 10%.) Shane Mosley And BALCO Shane Mosley’s hole on this whole steroid tip keeps getting deeper and deeper. Victor Conte, of BALCO infamy, says that Mosley, contrary to his “I took steroids but didn’t know that’s what they were” claims, most assuredly knew what they were, because Conte says he told Mosley that’s what they were. Mosley has sued Conte for slander, so now we’ve got a Mexican standoff here, since Mosley’s old strength and conditioning coach is suing Mosley for defamation, what with Mosley using the coach as the scapegoat here. My position on all of this remains the same — I don’t buy Mosley’s story. I buy it less every day. A couple different Ring columnists have raised the question of how boxing’s going to handle the steroid woes/Hall of Fame dilemma that have plagued every sport. It’s very pertinent to our sport, alas. Mosley’s a Hall of Famer, resume-wise, as are Roy Jones, Jr. and James Toney. All have been caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. With all three of those guys getting toward the end of their careers, there’s not long left to figure it out. I can’t. My moral compass tilts toward denying them entry. That’s where I stand now, but I haven’t thought about it in-depth like I should. What’s everyone else thinking? Let me know. The Curious Case Of Chris John So Chris John’s next opponent is officially “nobody,” now that a fight with a de facto nobody, Jackson Asiku, is off. John is one of the most talented featherweights (126 lbs.) around, and, according to some, one of the 20 or so best fighters around period. But when is he going to step up and fight someone real? He last did it against Juan Manuel Marquez two years ago. Two years ago! I hate wasted talent overseas. The featherweight division has plenty of people he could fight — Robert Guerrero and Jorge Linares, for starters — but how you go 41 fights with only a couple big names on your ledger as a credible upper-tier boxer is beyond me. He’s only fought outside Indonesia three times, twice in Japan and once in Australia, and since he makes money being a star there, he’s unlikely to ever leave. In an ideal world, the WBO would appoint a mandatory challenger for his belt who actually deserved the shot, but that hasn’t happened. What good are the freaking sanctioning organization belts if they don’t even solve the problem they theoretically should be solving, i.e., making it so that worthy contenders aren’t frozen out from title shots? If the weekend permits, I’ll get to some upcoming match-ups of interest that are under discussion in a “Round And Round” feature…

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.