It’s early, but 2009 is starting to look like The Year Of The Withdrawal.
The biggest and best fight on the tentative schedule, Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton May 2 in Las Vegas, is now in trouble. It’s not alone. Some of the troubled fights might be replaced with superior bouts, but some might not. It’s a disappointing way to greet the new year.
Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton
That this one’s in trouble is a bummer as of now, but it could work out for the best.
Pacquiao’s team reportedly wants better than a 50-50 split, thinking he’s the bigger star and deserves 60-40. You know what I don’t get? The fight’s been nearly signed, sealed and delivered for weeks. Why didn’t this issue arise earlier? If I’m Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum, knowing that the Oscar De La Hoya fight almost fell through over a similar dispute with the Pacquiao team over the split, the first question I’m asking to his management before I even go into negotiations for the fight is, “What split do you want?” Or maybe this did happen and Arum just tried to strong-arm Pacquiao into a split he didn’t want? At any rate, that’s reportedly the hold-up.
I think it’s unwise to set aside this fight over an ego issue like that, if you’re Pacquiao. It’s eminently winnable fight and it’s a lot of money. And I think it’s arguable whether he’s the bigger star anyway. He did just beat De La Hoya and he is the best fighter alive, but Hatton can draw 55,000 fans to the live gate in England fighting no one. He’s also the one with the linear Ring magazine championship belt at junior welterweight (140 lbs.), which usually counts for something in negotiations. I’d say 50-50 is just about right, even if I’d say Pacquiao’s a slightly bigger attraction.
The alternative Pacquiao’s team is floating is Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and when I said that some of the fights in trouble might end up with an upgrade, I meant this was one of them. To me, Pacquiao-Mayweather is the best possible fight in boxing. But you best believe Mayweather’s going to want at least a 50-50 split, and I’d wager he’ll want to be the A-side. Then again, maybe this fight sells better than Pacquiao-Hatton and the pie is bigger so the split doesn’t matter as much. And everyone on the Pacquiao team seems interested.
So let’s play matchmaker, if Hatton and Mayweather don’t end up as Pacquiao’s next opponent.
You’ve got Juan Manuel Marquez, the lightweight (135 lbs.) champ. I’ve been squealing about the necessity of a trilogy for about, oh, 10 months now, and you have to think Marquez, given how much he wants this fight, would be a more pliant negotiating partner. It probably wouldn’t do the same business as a Hatton fight, but it would do plenty, and it would also probably be harder than the Hatton fight, if the past Pacquiao-Marquez bouts are any indicator. Marquez, of course, would have to make it past Juan Diaz next month, which is doable but not a certainty.
You’ve got Antonio Margarito, whom Pacquiao wants to fight but some on his team — including trainer Freddie Roach — have said they don’t want him to fight, because he’s a big welterweight (147 lbs). But Roach did sound more open to it recently. I also imagine this fight would make pretty good cash, but as we’ve discussed in this space, Margarito’s a little bit more of a prima donna at the negotiating table than you might expect. There’s also this weird hypothetical out there that Andre Berto could fight Pacquiao with the winner getting Margarito, but that’s according to Berto’s promoter and I don’t put much stock in that just yet.
Who’s after that? I think any other potential Pacquiao opponent would be a major step down on the stardom scale: Nate Campbell, Michael Katsidis, Amir Khan, the winner of Kendall Holt-Timothy Bradley and a few others have all either said they want some Pacquiao or have been mentioned as potential future opponents for the Pacman. But I’d be let down by any of those opponents compared to a Hatton bout.
Wise up, team Pacquiao. For its ratio of risk, reward and potential split, Hatton’s the best fight out there for you, and 50-50’s a fine division.
Sergio Martinez-Daniel Santos
It seems like only yesterday — actually, it was Friday — that Martinez-Santos looked like it was going to happen as part of a blockbuster Valentine’s Day triple-header featuring Alfredo Angulo-Ricardo Mayorga (junior middleweight, 154 lbs.) and Campbell against Ali Funeka. I got a little news release, ESPN reported it, everybody reported it. Now, though, reports out of Santos’ homeland of Puerto Rico are that the junior middleweight titlist won’t be ready for the fight.
Why? Because he reportedly didn’t agree to the deal and his promoter Don King jumped the gun, and because he’s is overweight and needs more time to get ready before Feb. 14. Maybe I’m crazy but unless Santos is way out of shape, I have a hard time imagining how he couldn’t get down to 154 by then. I’m beginning to get the impression that Santos doesn’t like fighting very much. He has these long layoffs, and now he can’t get down to 154 in a month and a week? It’s too bad, because I really like his talent. And Martinez-Santos is a helluva good fight between two guys who have skill, speed and power.
Let’s hope the reports are wrong. But here’s another case of a fight in trouble that could have a safe landing.
Martinez, everyone may recall, is the mandatory challenger for Vernon Forrest’s alphabet title belt. Forrest-Martinez is roughly as good, if not better, than Martinez-Santos.
On the other hand, Forrest doesn’t appear to have much interest in that fight, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he vacated his belt rather than take on Martinez.
Fernando Montiel-Nonito Donaire
There’s pretty much nobody anymore who thinks this one’s going to happen in March as planned, which means you should probably go ahead and cross it off your list. It was on mine as a fight that MIGHT fall through, but I’m pessimistic it’ll happen despite the lack of anyone reporting conclusively that the fight is definitely off.
It’s really too bad — I’m obviously a fan of Donaire, but I really like Montiel, too. Both guys are top-20 pound-for-pound fighters or very near it, and like Martinez-Santos, it would’ve been a great match-up of guys who can punch, who are fast and who box skillfully. Alas, the reports of Montiel having trouble making the junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) limit are beginning to pile up.
What we’ll end up with here is an almost certain downgrade. On the plus side, a series of dominoes related to Montiel-Donaire means that Gerry Penalosa increasingly appears to be the likely opponent for junior featherweight (122 lbs.) titlist Juan Manuel Lopez, which is a decent bout. Montiel would replace Penalosa as an opponent for bantamweight (118 lbs.) Eric Morel, and maybe Morel’s good — I’ve read that he is — but I don’t know him and doubt much of anyone else does because he’s not gotten much U.S. air time, and therefore I’m less interested in seeing that fight. And Donaire’s currently out in the cold — even unworthy Jose Lopez, one of the rumored replacement opponents, may not be available.
There are some other good 115-pounders out there for Donaire — Alexander Munoz, Jose Navarro, the like — who could make this so it’s not too far a fall, but if Donaire’s next opponent is not Montiel and it’s not Lopez, his team better get to work fast. You never know when someone will think he hasn’t been given enough time to make weight, and you never know when someone will decide he doesn’t like the split.
[Update] I could make a living conveying all the people pulling out of fights these days. From Maxboxing: “And then February 27th sees the return of cruiserweight king Tomasz Adamek. However, he will not be facing BJ Flores, who has backed out of the fight.”