Quick Jabs: Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton On Deck; Retirement For Israel Vazquez?; More

Welcome to boxing’s weekend of disgrace! You’ve got the “Will this be the day Evander Holyfield’s gets really bad brain damage?” bout with heavyweight titlist Nicolay Valuev. You’ve got Joan “I can’t make weight for a fight and don’t even want to but didn’t tell anyone until the last minute and now my scheduled opponent is bankrupt” Guzman making his return from that unsavory affair in a stay-busy lightweight (135 lbs.) bout — and somehow, it’s a title eliminator. And Humberto Soto and Francisco Lorenzo are set to duel it out for the same junior lightweight (130 lbs.) interim title belt that Soto was robbed of because of some extremely poor refereeing in their first match.

But there’s good news ahead in 2009, most notably, the biggest fight that can be made in boxing right now: Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton. We’ll explore that in this edition of “Quick Jabs,” then go “Round and Round” to talk about some other bouts in the works before hitting some odds and ends. There’s a lot of material, because our year-end awards round-ups have consumed a lot of our energy…

And Now, Pacquiao-Hatton

When friend of the site Bob saw SportsCenter saying that Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton was nearly a done deal, he texted me to let me know that Pacquiao would “kill” Hatton. I think Pacquiao should be the heavy favorite, no doubt. What we didn’t chat about was whether the fight should happen anyway.

I say “yes, absolutely.” It’s the biggest event that can be made in the sport right now, at least among guys currently fighting. Pacquiao’s the #1 pound-for-pound man in boxing, and Hatton’s borderline top-10. Hatton’s the clear champ at junior welterweight (140 lbs.), and while there are some very good fighters in that division, Pacquiao would have to be his clear #1 opponent if you consider him a junior welterweight. I’m not sure WHAT to consider Pacquiao, but trainer Freddie Roach considers him a junior welterweight, anyway.

And I do think that Hatton will give Pacquiao more of a fight than Pacquiao’s last two opponents, Oscar De La Hoya and David Diaz. Hatton really did look very good in his last fight, a near-shutout TKO of previous #1 challenger Paulie Malignaggi. Moreover, he fights in a come-forward style that means we should see plenty of engagement. A quick Pacquiao win is not out of the question, but you know Hatton will come to win, and since De La Hoya never laid a mitt on Pacquiao, we still don’t know whether Pacquiao can take the punch of a natural 140+-pounder. Again, it’s my assumption that he can, but it’s not a certainty. If Hatton can hang with Pacquiao, it could turn into a Fight of the Year candidate.

There are some details yet to be worked out. It looks like the fight will be on May 2. I wish it were earlier. Both Pacquiao and Hatton are coming off bouts where they barely suffered a scratch, so why not go in, say, March, and leave options open for both men to fight a couple more times in 2009 if they want? It looks like it’ll be in Vegas, which, for my griping about Vegascentricity not being such a great thing for the sport, I don’t particularly object to because it’s neutral ground and Vegas IS a good location for the biggest of the best fights. Hatton’s team is grumbling about having to come to America all the time, and I can see the argument for holding the fight in the United Kingdom, what with all the fans it’d draw, but dude, Hatton should have fought Malignaggi in the U.K.; a neutral location for Pacquiao-Hatton makes a lot more sense.

If the fight falls through, the options for both men are a little unclear. Hatton’s dad has raised the possibility of (ugh) De La Hoya, citing the weight problems he had making 147 pounds. I hope it’s just a negotiating ploy, because De La Hoya is toast and Hatton can’t fight anywhere above 140 pounds, so — just to be crude for a bit — De La Hoya-Hatton is basically a cripple fight. Floyd Mayweather’s team is saying they don’t want either man, which raises the question of who the hell exactly would get Mayweather excited about coming out of retirement; Pacquiao and Hatton are the biggest draws in all of boxing right now, and Mayweather has turned his nose up at both Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito. Now his team is saying he’s going to start looking at offers, just to see what’s out there. Maybe it’s just more Mayweather mind games, but I get sick of psychoanalyzing the man. And you’d have to think Juan Manuel Marquez would be in the running for either Hatton or Pacquiao, assuming he emerges from his early 2009 bout(s) unscathed.

Round And Round, 2009 Edition

By the looks of things, 2009 is shaping up very well on the matchmaking front — lots of bouts that either promise exciting fights, or pit the best against the best, or both. So far, we’ve got sure things or bouts just inches away from being finalized in Pacquiao-Hatton; David Haye-Vitali Klitschko (heavyweight); Margarito-Shane Mosley (welterweight, 147 lbs.); Marquez-Juan Diaz (lightweight, 135 lbs.); Vic Darchinyan-Jorge Arce (junior bantamweight, 115 lbs.); Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire (junior bantamweight); and Alfredo Angulo-Ricardo Mayorga (junior middleweight, 154 lbs). There have been other fights confirmed that we’ve discussed in this space, like the return of Cotto and Kelly Pavlik (middleweight, 160 lbs.), and there are others that are very likely to happen, like Margarito-Cotto II, but that list is what I see as the highlights among the bouts on the slate.

There are a few more popping up that are a little bit of a mixed bag.

We start with the good: If Marquez beats Diaz, he wants Nate Campbell next. That is one of the best and most important fights that can be made in the sport, since it’s for all the lightweight marbles between two smart and exciting fighters. Unless Marquez can get Pacquiao or Hatton, that’s as good as it gets. But Marquez would be wise not to overlook Diaz. He’s a highly dangerous opponent.

Marquez’ bro Rafael has discussed a fight with Celestino Caballero, and if you don’t already consider Marquez the very definition of a fighter, then that tells you everything you need to know. Caballero’s name rarely escapes the lips of any elite 122-pounder, because he’s so giant and difficult at the weight. We don’t know how much the trilogy with Israel Vazquez took out of Marquez, so that adds yet another element of danger. With Vazquez’ injury-induced layoff, maybe Caballero is the biggest-money bout out there for Marquez, but that hasn’t stopped other people from avoiding him.

Joseph Agbeko, coming off a seriously good bantamweight (118 lbs.) alphabet title belt defense against William Gonzalez, is targeting Gerry Penalosa and Silence Mabuza for his next fight. If you know those fighters, you know that Agbeko-Penalosa or Agbeko-Mabuza would be highly watchable affairs.

And we move to the bad: HBO is on board with a Chad Dawson-Antonio Tarver rematch, for some reason. Apparently, they just want a piece of a rising young American star-in-waiting in light heavyweight (175 lbs.) Dawson, because Dawson-Tarver II probably is as much of a blowout as Dawson-Tarver I. They’ll try to market it as “Tarver always wins his rematches,” but in all of them I’ve seen, Tarver was competitive in the first match, making a rematch a viable fight. Also, Tarver is still going to be old. And older. Dawson is still going to be young. And, probably, better. Tarver’s rematch clause makes it so Dawson apparently has little choice, so if HBO wanted to get on the Dawson train — and word is they offered a two-fight deal — then maybe they thought they had little choice but to take Dawson-Tarver II. But I don’t see why they couldn’t have just waited until AFTER Dawson-Tarver II to try and steal Dawson away from Showtime, the network that has nurtured him. Or maybe they’re thinking they’ll give Dawson a little bit of a showcase before insisting on a bigger bout. Whatever their motives, it’s good that they want Dawson and terrible that Dawson-Tarver II is happening.

HBO is reportedly saying no to Jermain Taylor-Carl Froch, which any hardcore fan knows has the makings of a very, very good clash between two top-level super middleweights (168 lbs). Why would they do such a thing? They’d rather have Taylor in a rematch against Winky Wright. Again, this is a fight they seem to be making, like Dawson-Tarver II, because of contractual reasons rather than because it’s a fight fans want to see. I’d have bitten on Taylor-Wright II in 2006, or 2007. But 2009? It’s not that it might not be a good fight, but we don’t know what Wright will be like because he’ll be going on nearly two years out of the ring altogether by the time the fight happens. But they apparently promised Wright a date and keep bumping it back. Question is, why would they even promise Wright a date? It’s not like he puts asses in seats all that much, and I can’t for the life of me understand what reasoning they’d have for promising something to him when I’m unaware of any impetus for them to make a promise. It seems apropos of nothing.

The other option at HBO for Taylor is Mikkel Kessler. I’m not saying that’s a bad fight, but if the concern is that no one in the U.S. knows Froch, it’s hard to imagine Kessler is that much better known; but both Kessler and Froch have title belts and Kessler’s probably more unreliable and costly than Froch. Furthermore, there’s a chance they’d just be throwing Taylor to the wolves against Kessler, and Taylor would need another win against top competition before he’s confident enough to be competitive against the Dane. I just don’t get this one. Kessler, for his part, is reportedly in talks to short-circuit the whole thing to make a fight with Froch himself, and I doubt that fight would air in the United States unless Showtime picks it up. Kessler is also calling out everyone under the sun and saying (somehow, bizarrely, in a kind of street English) that they “don’t want none.” Or, maybe they “don’t want none” of Kessler making a deal then pulling out, much as he did when he screwed everyone over with the Edison Miranda bout.

Then there’s Chris Arreola wanting a slice of Wladimir Klitschko. I know boxers want title belts and all, and I suppose Arreola’s interest in fighting the #1 ranked heavyweight proves he’s rather brave. But I’d hate to see Arreola get slapped around by Klitschko at this point in his career, when I think if he worked on his game and especially worked on his conditioning he could make a more credible (if still mostly hopeless) stab at the big Ukrainian.

Tomasz Adamek’s next apparent bout will be a defense of his cruiserweight (200 lbs.) alphabet title belt against B.J. Flores. There are few fights I’d rather see than a rematch between Adamek and Steve Cunningham, and in an ideal world, dude would just drop his belt and say, “Hey, I’m the real cruiserweight champ because I’ve got the Ring magazine lineal title belt, and I’ll defend that against the best possible opponent.” That would be Cunningham.

And we finish with some bouts that are neither in the particularly good nor particularly bad category. Lightweight thrill-meister Michael Katsidis is looking to make his return against non-descript opposition in the Philippines. As much as I love Katsidis, I don’t have a big problem seeing him take a breather, because he’s lost two straight and has been in three of the last two years’ best fights. But if he hopes, as his trainer says, to lure Pacquiao into a bout, I don’t see how he gets it merely by having a fight in the Philippines. I suppose it’s possible Katsidis becomes a breather-type opponent for Pacquiao himself, but I wouldn’t count on it.

And two former Tarver victims, Clinton Woods and Elvir Muriqi, are looking to square off in what could be a very good battle. That’s if Woods has anything left after his strangely lethargic showing against Tarver earlier this year. Muriqi’s a good enough fighter that he will surely test whether Woods has anything left.

Quicker Quick Jabs

Kevin Iole reports that Vazquez may retire because of his eye surgeries. It’s not clear if he’s merely speculating, but even if there’s no reporting there, it’s legit speculation. It would be sad to see Vazquez, the most exciting fighter in the entire sport, retire. But it would be sadder to see him fight on with health problems, and two eye surgeries suggests he may have some rather severe health problems. My only hope is that he has enough cash stowed away from the Marquez trilogy to not have to fight if he shouldn’t. He’s a tremendous warrior, really great for the sport, but he’d be no good to boxing if his health is no good…

The backlash against Joe Calzaghe for his “boxing is dead” remark has really been remarkable to behold. We’ve excoriated him here in this space, but he’s received similar treatment everywhere, deservedly. It’s a strange kind of betrayal of the sport that made him what he is, and if he doesn’t retire, I bet he loses some juice as a result of this; he already divided boxing fans considerably with his style, but how many people who care about boxing would root for him now save for especially forgiving types or people from Wales? If there’s a remark I wish I’d made about Calzaghe’s rant that others have and which I’d like to second, it’s that he was especially hypocritical about there being too many title belts. There are too many title belts, but Calzaghe sat over in England for most of his career and defended his super middleweight title belts against weak mandatory challengers rather than trying to become the one, true champ of the division, and never once that I know of did he criticize the alphabet sanctioning organizations…

I finally got a chance to check out this season of “The Contender,” after twice failing, stupidly, to set my DVR, especially given my interest in the cruiserweights. I have to say, upon watching, that Sean’s piece on the initial episode was effectively perfect in its observations about this season, like about how Tony Danza is just a tad too chipper for the show. A couple of my own observations to add: The final round of this week’s fight, Erick Vega vs. Akinyemi “AK” Laleye, actually would have made our “Round of the Year” honorable nominees list — both guys showed some serious heart to stay up in that one. Another thought: The show being staged in Singapore takes the boxer’s families out of the equation, and while I know some people hate all the family emphasis, I think it probably helps non-hardcore fans relate. On the other hand, they essentially showed the entire fights, really, and that’s a plus — but no reason they couldn’t do that on the Internet or in a subsequent broadcast, sans cutting to the crowd or the miked trainers…

Stephen A. Smith, perhaps the most loathed sportswriter/commentator alive, brought his particularly lame commentary to boxing in a column this week. It’s hard for me to imagine how someone who could type something as corny as “I mean, come on people!” or “Help, someone! Pretty Please!” could have a job writing anywhere, let alone for the biggest sports network in the world. Read the column here only if you enjoy being annoyed, which, now that I think of it, must be the target market ESPN has in mind for Smith…

Robert Guerrero, the very talented and exciting junior lightweight, is signing with Golden Boy Promotions. Again, GBP needs as many youngsters as it can snag, but increasingly, it looks like we’re going to end up with two promoters, so consolidated have things become: GBP and Top Rank. A lot of other promoters are increasingly being pushed the margins, and while promoters’ games are to blame for a lot of flaws in boxing, I’m not sure we want a near-monopoly, either…

The WBC is investigating Mosley over his testimony about unwitting (cough, cough) steroid injection. It’s hard to imagine why they’d start now, long after Mosley has admitted to unwitting (cough, cough) steroid injection. Oh, other than that the WBC likes to hold itself out as the sanctioning organization that cares about integrity, and what’s this!, suddenly Mosley’s steroid use is in the news…

A few notes on other results last weekend: 1. Heavyweight Fres Oquendo is filing a protest of his decision loss to James Toney; he won’t win, and I always wonder why guys file protests that are on weak grounds, but again, he SHOULD HAVE gotten the decision and everyone knows it, so if he’s looking for vindication, he should know the fans have his back. 2. The undercard on that Versus show was terrible. Although nobody should be surprised that super middleweight prospect Shawn Estrada got a soft touch in his second professional bout, you’d think that they could do better than even the guttiest ex-Toughman Contest winners, or, at minimum, they’d not broadcast it. 3. Junior middleweight Yuri Foreman… not fun to watch. Not fun at all…

Don King thin
ks that George Bush’s shoe-dodging performance suggests he could be a boxer. It was fairly Mayweather-like, I have to agree. My day job covering politics precludes me from saying anything more on this subject.

(Sources: ESPN; AP; New York Daily News; BoxingScene; Yahoo!; AOL)

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.