Manny Pacquiao – Ricky Hatton: The (Disgraceful) Undercard

So continues our marathon coverage of the biggest fight of the year, pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao against junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, culminating in a live blog of the bout Saturday. Today — here, a note on the undercard, and later, my final prediction. Previously — keys to the fight parts I and II. Tomorrow — the Ultimate Guide, and an open thread.

If you didn’t think big event pay-per-view boxing undercards could get any worse than the one that was a pox upon December’s welterweight bout between Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya, allow me to introduce you to the worthless trash that is the undercard of Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton. And it’s emblematic of a severe problem with the sport. Rant commences… NOW.

There isn’t a single competitive fight of the four undercard bouts for Pacquiao-Hatton. At least with Pacquiao-De La Hoya, I was able to convince myself that, while the favorites were almost sure to win, the underdogs would put up some token resistance. I was a fool. It’s one of my worst-ever calls. But for Saturday night’s undercard, I couldn’t be optimistic if I tried. It’s horrid. It’s atrocious.

Here it is:

  • Top junior lightweight Humberto Soto will be “challenged” by Benoit Gaudet. Gaudet’s credentials: He fought for Canada in the Olympics, and lost to the eventual bronze medalist. He has 20 wins against no one you’ve ever heard of. The scouting report on Gaudet is that he’s fast, quick feet, but with nine seven knockouts, doesn’t hit very hard, and that’s against home cooking competition fed to him most likely to make him look good. He was once knocked out in the 1st round by an opponent nowhere in Soto’s league. Soto has been in against the top men in his division, and he’s a tough, tough fight for any top men in his division he hasn’t fought yet. He’s a grueling, stalking punching machine. Maybe you recall a fight earlier this year when established welterweight Miguel Cotto beat up underqualified Michael Jennings with ease? This fight looks exactly like that one, only Soto, unlike Cotto, isn’t bouncing back from a taxing knockout loss. Soto’s fighting his underqualified opponent for… well, no good reason I can imagine.
  • Daniel Jacobs, an elite super middleweight prospect, will fight Michael Walker at middleweight. Walker is a notch above the competition Jacobs has been fighting of late, although that’s not saying much. Jacobs has been a pro for a little more than a year and he’s been busy, but one-yearish pros rarely fight anyone with a pulse. This will be Jacobs’ first full, 10-round fight, in fact, a move up from eight. Walker has a little bit of a pulse, but consider this: Two fights ago, in early 2008, he fought to a draw with the beyond shop-worn Antwun Echols. Echols hadn’t won a fight since 2004. In late 2008, after Echols and Walker each lost fights against different opponents, this worthy grudge match was revived for Walker-Echols II, upon which one judge scored it a draw, another judge scored it by one round for Walker and the third judge gave it to Walker by a more credibility-enhancing four points.
  • In the other two bouts, 2008 Olympians Matt Korobov, a middleweight, and Erislandry Lara, a junior middleweight, will each have their fifth pro fights against competition that… well, put it this way: Remember what I said about one-yearish pros rarely fighting anyone with a pulse? The pulse doesn’t get stronger for half-yearish pros. Something the Korobov and Lara fights do have going for them is that they’re each only scheduled for four rounds.

Let me offer a few caveats to my derision. I like Soto a lot. I think he’s one of the most underappreciated fighters in the sport. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a trio of more promising and entertaining prospects than Jacobs, Korobov and Lara. Furthermore, the undercard did originally have one potentially competitive fight on the schedule, featherweight Steve Luevano vs. Bernabe Concepcion, before Luevano pulled out with a training injury. Jacobs, too, is a substitute, for the legally troubled junior middleweight James Kirkland, but if anything, Kirkland’s departure from the card enhanced the competitiveness of one of the fights. Kirkland stacked up far more imposingly against Walker than does the more unproven Jacobs. Lastly, this being boxing, one punch can change a fight, and drastic underdogs do win sometimes, somehow.

But this undercard is junk, no matter how you look at it. It’s abyssmal. It’s the worst big fight undercard I have ever encountered. There’s no good excuse for that.

The excuse we’ll probably be offered, should anyone defend the undercard, is that no one is paying to see this event for anything other than Pacquiao-Hatton, and nobody was more likely to buy the ppv if the undercard was better. This is tragically short-sighted. As with any big fight, I can personally tell you that people who usually could not give a damn about boxing will be at my apartment watching with me. For Pacquiao-De La Hoya, the woeful undercard distinctly turned them off. They said so. Some people who hadn’t watched a boxing match in years actually spoke things to me like, “Why do you like this sport again?” Constrast that with the last viewing party I had, when both the main event, lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Diaz, and the undercard fight, featherweight Chris John vs. Rocky Juarez, produced competitive and exciting bouts. People left my apartment asking when the next boxing party would be. Boxing fans are built one good fight at a time. If they are going to spend the night watching a sport they don’t usually watch and three of the four hours they spend watching it one night are terrible, why would they become boxing fans?

It’s also erroneous thinking, by the way, to suggest that people don’t buy pay-per-views because of what’s on the undercard. I’d advice the powers-that-be in boxing review the live blog I did for Pacquiao-De La Hoya and see how many people were seeking help finding pirated feeds and saying things like, “I can’t justify spending $55 to watch one fight when the undercard is so crappy.” And if the powers-that-be in boxing believe that these same thieves would have stolen their product even with a good undercard — that cyberspace denizens who are inclined to take something that isn’t theirs when it’s free aren’t any more likely to buy it when it’s of higher quality — I’d direct those powers-that-be to a little band called “Radiohead” or or any other number of bands who have made their records available online and allowed people to pay what they wanted for it. Radiohead was laughing all the way to the bank on that one. Not everyone is so upstanding about this, but many people will pay for a good product because they understand that their money goes directly into the pockets of the people who have entertained them so.

Nor do “showcase” fights help build up fighters who need a boost in visibility. Even non-boxing fans can see it with their own eyes when one fighter doesn’t belong in the ring with another. It’s not hard. Just because someone doen’t follow the sport regularly doesn’t mean he or she is stupid. For hardcore fans like me who can tolerate the occasional non-competitive fight if it offers a young prospect a teaching experience — say, a brawler who has never fought a slick boxer before — I can see through it when that’s not the case. And at any rate, I don’t need three of those kind of fights on one undercard. And I definitely don’t need to see Soto beat up a no-hoper. I know Soto’s awesome. People who don’t know about him yet, or don’t believe in him yet, need to see him against someone who has a chance of beating him before they’re convinced.

Even if Soto loses to Gaudet, or any of the other undercard fighters lose to their opponent, it’s not because of matchmaking so brilliant that only a true expert on the sport could see that Soto was RIPE for the upset by Gaudet. If Gaudet upsets Soto, it’s not because anyone wanted that to happen. Gaudet is there to get beat, not to offer competition. Again, anyone with eyeballs can see this.

And lastly, money isn’t some insurmountable barrier to making good undercard bouts. Clever promoters like Lou DiBella have routinely spent less money on competitive undercards than others have spent on stupendously awful mismatch-oriented undercards.

When people say boxing is being replaced by mixed martial arts, I routinely get angry about that notion, and I’ve explained why many times before. But there are times — and this is one of them — where I wish I could do a massive transplant of the UFC business model into boxing. And there are times where I understand why MMA is growing and why MMA fans are so fiercely loyal to MMA and so fiercely dismissive of boxing. MMA undercards are routinely competitive. MMA undercards routinely offer value for the fan’s dollar. I can’t defend the sport I love when it pulls stunts like this, where the laziness, or the ineptitude, or the myopia, or the almost willful disdain for fans, or all of the above, is so pervasive that it’s impossible to justify.

About Tim Starks

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