Quick Jabs: Why Pacquiao’s Good For Boxing; The Precise Value Of Mental Strength; More

I want to amplify on something my man Sean just said below about Manny Pacquiao, then delve into three recent/related instances where mental strength was the difference in a fighter’s life, revisit last weekend’s (alleged) post-knockout kicking of Edison Miranda and finish off these here “Quick Jabs” with “Round and Round,” a look at some fights in the works. Manny Pacquiao: Good At Boxing, And Good For It, Too Set aside my titanic battles with Pacquiao fans, initiated any time I say the slightest critical thing about him: He’s taken center stage in the boxing world, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s him. Like Sean said, his fight this weekend with David Diaz, a title fight where Pacquiao is debuting at lightweight (135 lbs.), is generating a lot of attention. My opinion, uttered not so long ago, was that Floyd Mayweather, Jr., for all his crossover appeal, was sucking up a ton of oxygen that might otherwise go to more deserving fighters, boxers who routinely fought the best opponents they could. Considering all the ink Pacquiao’s getting this week — and all the intrigue he’s produced, as Sean mentioned, in gas station conversations and elsewhere — it looks like I was right. Pacquiao’s now benefiting from the void left by Mayweather. (The hype-squad for the Diaz fight have done a good job generating heat, too, by doing things like getting Diaz to throw out the first pitch at the Chicago Cubs game and by bringing a bad omen for Diaz and his Cubs — oh, that photogenic goat — to one of the news conferences.) There are other reasons I couldn’t be happier that Pacquiao has taken center stage, besides his record of routinely challenging himself with quality opposition. Pacquiao’s a charismatic, likable fellow, one whose fights are so regularly thrilling that anyone who gets curious about boxing and tunes into a Pacquiao fight is likely to get hooked. My biggest knock on him for the last few months is that he seemed to be avoiding a third bout with Juan Manuel Marquez. When Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, said after the second fight in March that a rematch needed time to simmer to a boil, I figured he was looking to give Pacquiao a permanent breather from the man who’s proven his toughest opponent by putting it off until it was firmly swept under the rug. Then, just this week, Arum, Pacquiao and his team were speaking quite seriously about a rubber match with Marquez in early 2009. I would have preferred it happen earlier — no Diaz for Pacquiao, no Joel Casamayor for Marquez, just right to the rematch as soon as everyone’s injuries healed up — but it’s commendable that the emphasis has switched from “maybe someday, grumble grumble” to “we want to do it.” It sounds sincere. This removes my greatest criticism of Pacquiao. There was an interesting piece this week arguing that Pacquiao should be considered the Fighter of the Decade. At first, I said, no, it’s gotta be Mayweather. That was just a reflexive reaction. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the Pacquiao argument may be right. Mayweather may have spent years as the pound-for-pound king in these 00s of ours, but Pacquiao has a ton of quality wins on his ledger, and with Mayweather retired at least for the time being, he has more of a chance to prove himself from 2008 to 2009 than does Mayweather. First, though, he has to get by Diaz. Here’s hoping my other biggest knock on Pacquiao — his tendency to under-train against opponents he doesn’t fear — doesn’t come back to bite him on the ass this Saturday. How Mental Strength Has Affected Three Fighters’ Careers Joe Tessitore is a great blow-by-blow man for ESPN, and his columns, while entertaining, rarely strike me as works of art. This column, about the unprecedented ending to a recent ESPN2 bout, is an exception. OK, work of art may be too much, but it’s an excellent piece. Tessitore throws all his trademark enthusiasm into convincing me, and heavyweight Kevin Burnnett, that what happened at the end of his fight was a monumental achievement, not a source for criticism. Burnett got caught by a monster punch in the final second — literally, 0:01 — of a fight he was winning easily and nearly got knocked out. That Horace Ray Grant was able to muster that punch was pretty astounding in itself. All Burnett had to do was stand up to trump Grant. He did. I was wowed, to be sure. Tessitore does a great job of explaining why it’s all the more impressive. It’s true: Burnett probably will never get to the level of heavyweight champ. He’s slow even by big man standards. Yet Burnett was worried people would be talking about what happened to him. So what? If he won that fight without any adversity, I guarantee nobody would be talking about him at all. Now people — me, Tessitore, anyone who saw the highlight on Sportscenter — are talking about his heroic rise from the canvas. It showed once again why the best moments in boxing regularly outshine the best moments in any other sport on the planet. (Don’t even get me started on the “toughness” debate. ESPN’s Eric Raskin handles that well here.) Hopscotch to this piece — yeah, I’m spending some time on ESPN here, but they’ve had some excellent writing this week — contrasting the fates of middleweights (160 lbs.) John Duddy and Giovanni Lorenzo. What Duddy claims is correct: Yeah, he’s had some trouble in the ring and looked lackluster at times, but when it mattered, he found a way to win. You’ll find few bigger skeptics of Duddy’s boxing abilities than me, and still, I must give him that. I’ve always thought Duddy could be a great TV fighter, mind you, a boxer who is not destined for greatness but instead a popular, limited brawler in the tradition of Arturo Gatti. A key component of that formula is the ability to fight through adversity. Walid Smichet might as well have taken a scimitar to Duddy’s face this February, the way he cut him up in their fight. That Duddy figured out a way to pull out a win — some think he didn’t deserve it, but I did — speaks volumes about whether he’s up to snuff in the toughness department. Lorenzo? Well, he’s a different matter. I’d say he’s got more physical talent than Duddy, although I’ve seen just one fight of his, his bout this past weekend against Raul Marquez. And yet he lost that fight largely because when he encountered adversity, he fell short. I was pretty hard on Lorenzo after that loss. In retrospect, he deserves a second chance. In his first step-up fight, he crumbled, lost his cool, fought in one dimension and ultimately gave himself a loss on the scorecards with an intentional head butt that was the result of him losing his cool. Without that head butt and point deduction, it would have been a unanimous draw. Despite this, Lorenzo can bounce back. I hope he learns from it, and from the example of Duddy and Burnett, two fighters who did more with less than Lorenzo has and find ways to win nonetheless. Revisiting “The Stomp” Earlier this week, I repeatedly watched the replay of the final moments of middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham’s knockout win over Edison Miranda to see if I could determine anything from the videotape about whether Abraham’s brother, as alleged, went over to kick the fallen Miranda after the fight was called to a halt. I was surprised that I was able to make anything of it, since no camera angle on Showtime caught the scene in full, but here’s what I came up with: After initially running to greet and congratulate his victorious brother, Alex Abraham disappears from the screen. In fact, he heads exactly in the direction of Miranda. At that moment, the camera pans to Abraham and a member of his team. The pair look in the direction of Miranda and Alex Abraham, and the team member gets a somewhat panicked look on his face for about half a second. Then, Alex walks back past the two, and they continue their celebration. What’s clear is that Alex went over to the fallen Miranda. It’s absolutely clear. It’s also clear he did something strange, based on the reaction from the Abraham team member. The difference between “illegal” behavior — as the police who arrested Alex felt they had reason to believe of him — and “inappropriate” behavior is wide. I can only allege “inappropriate” behavior based on what I saw with my own eyes. Even if Alex just went over to hoot and holler in Miranda’s general direction as he lay prone, blitzed and in need of medical attention, it shouldn’t have happened. There’s no excuse for it, and at minimum, what Alex did was totally without class, because I can guarantee you he wasn’t going over to make sure Miranda was doing A-OK. Round and Round It’s time to examine a slew of upcoming fights in the works, with hat-tips to ESPN, BoxingTalk, BoxingScene and Sentana: Oscar De La Hoya is flirting with a Felix Trinidad rematch, officially. The problem is, De La Hoya doesn’t want to go above 154 lbs., and Trinidad doesn’t want to go below 165 lbs. I’d be surprised if it happened, but if you ask me, it’s a fitting farewell fight for both men, given the controversy that to this day surrounds what was then the biggest non-heavyweight pay-per-view boxing event ever. Certainly, it’s a more winnable fight for De La Hoya than taking on Miguel Cotto, which, honestly, that De La Hoya is even considering it points to what a tremendous fighting heart the guy has. Joe Calzaghe-Kelly Pavlik gets more distant by the day, alas. It’s currently the best match that can be made in boxing — it’s the consensus middleweight champ against the consensus light heavyweight (175 lbs.) and super middleweight (168 lbs.) champ, among tons of other reasons. Calzaghe’s father and trainer, Enzo, has been spouting some serious dadaism by claiming Roy Jones poses a bigger threat to Calzaghe and would make more dough, a fight that now looks to be on for September. I can only hope he’s just trying to build up the fight for next year. Also, Calzaghe doesn’t want to fight below 170. Hmmm. I know Calzaghe’s old and all, but I sincerely hope he’s not ducking Pavlik and trying to make it look like he isn’t. If he doesn’t want to fight a young knockout artist at the tail end of his career, he should just say so, because that’s a more respectable approach than pretending Pavlik doesn’t want the fight when he clearly does. After Pacquiao-Diaz, the other lightweight fights are now on track after some rocky moments. With Casamayor-Marquez, Nate Campbell-Joan Guzman, Juan Diaz-Michael Katsidis all heading to the finish line for the fall, the lightweight division is moving toward fulfilling its potential as the best weight class in boxing right now. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Shane Mosley-Ricardo Mayorga gets to pay-per-view status. Mosley, still a top welterweight (147 lbs.) has a decent following, and Mayorga’s good for 50,000 PPV buys with his mouth alone. The only problem is that Mayorga’s nowhere near Mosley’s league. Free from promoter Gary Shaw at last, potential star Nonito Donaire is preparing to fight on the Cotto-Antonio Margarito undercard (July 26! Watch it or you shall be visited by the Ghost Of Watch That Fight, You Dummy) against multi-title challenger Jose Navarro. It looks like the fight’ll be at 115 pounds. Donaire found himself a pretty prime spot, and pretty quick, to shine, by joining Top Rank. I love me some Nonito. Speaking of Filipino fighters that I love, a list that includes Nonito and Pacquiao in this blog entry so far, veteran Gerry Penalosa is headed toward a very difficult fight against young Abner Mares. Penalosa is one brave SOB, isn’t he? At 35 and like Pacquiao one of the best Filipino fighters ever, the bantamweight (118 lbs.) just keeps going for one hard fight after the other. Mares may be young, but he’s got tons of talent. (To the Pacquiao fans who think I’m racist: I sure do love a lot of Filipino fighters to so anti-Filipino, don’t I?) Tim Bradley, who captured a title against 140-pound belt-holder Junior Witter in what has been one of the best stories of 2008 so far, isn’t sitting on his laurels. He’s in line to fight the winner of the Ricardo Torres-Kendall Holt rematch. The 140-pound division may not be as glamorous as it was just a couple years ago, but with this potential sequence of events and the planned Ricky Hatton-Paulie Malignaggi fight, plus some other recent bouts, the best are fighting the best at nearly every turn. Surprise! Heavyweight belt-holder Ruslan Chagaev has pulled out of a title fight yet again with an injury. This makes the third time he’s done it in a year, and the second time he’s done it to big old hairy Nicolay Valuev. If ever there was an argument for a fighter being stripped of his belt or being downgraded to some kind of “champion in waiting” status, this is it. Chagaev seems too fragile to keep fighting. The promoter for highly-hyped knockout artist Edwin Valero (130 lbs.) said he can’t fight on an HBO undercard in September because he just had a fight in early June. Wha? Someone explain, please. My understanding is that the fight wasn’t a very hard one, and I haven’t read anything about any injuries. Bizarre. In the “not gonna fight” department we find — triple-surprise! — featherweight (126 lbs.) titlist Chris John, who claims Rocky Juarez missed a chance to take him on by not signing the contract in time. It would’ve been the first opponent for John that I’ve heard about in forever. It strikes me that the track record here is 1. John never fights anyone and 2. Juarez fights everyone he can (Marco Antonio Barrera and Marquez come to mind). I’m not saying that John’s excuse is fishy, but… well, yes, wait, I am saying it’s fishy. And finishing in the same department, long-dormant, opponent-searching former middleweight champ Jermain Taylor now has yet ANOTHER possibility for a fight, this one being Carl Froch. What’s that now, about 10 people he’s discussed fighting this year? Fight somebody, anybody, Taylor.

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.