Quick Jabs: Boxing Finds And Keeps The Spotlight; Professional Hazards; Fights In The Works; More

February feels like the hardcore boxing fan’s month. Every weekend, it’s one or more bouts that are almost certain to dispense with the pretty stuff and turn into a brawl, from Saturday’s junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) battle between Jorge Arce and Vic Darchinyan to Feb. 28’s lightweight (135 lbs.) fight between champion Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz. And that second one right there is as pretty as it gets for the whole month, in terms of slick boxing.

Before we hit this edition of “Quick Jabs,” let’s cycle through some other televised bouts of interest this weekend other than Darchinyan-Arce. ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights features light heavyweight (175 lbs.) Chris Henry against Yusaf Mack, and it’s a great way to start the month. Both men put on a good show, and I suspect their styles will mesh to make the overall show even better. Then there’s a pay-per-view card headlined by heavyweight Ruslan Chagaev, although it’s the bout between two top-10 junior welterweights (140 lbs.), Andreas Kotelnik and Marcos Maidana, that might make it worth the price of entry for some. I’ll still pass, but I’d be remiss not to at least remind those who are potentially interested.

There. Quick Jabs time is afoot.

Boxing In The Spotlight

Even as new books come out that foretell boxing’s demise and mixed martial arts’ rise (and the reviewer in the link, to his credit, defies the pronouncements of the headline to give an even-handedish treatment of the question), it’s been an excellent few weeks for the sweet science’s profile and for signs that it is alive and kicking. Well, maybe not kicking, cuz that’s not allowed. Alive and punching.

Some examples of what I mean:

  • On March 21, ESPN — that is, ESPN, not ESPN2 — is going to broadcast an important boxing match for the first time since… does anyone remember the last time ESPN itself broadcast a boxing match? The heavyweight battle between Wladimir Klitschko and Juan Carlos Gomez somehow landed on ESPN proper, and it’s fantastic that it did. The best figures I can find, which are a couple years old, suggest that ESPN2 brings in half the audience ESPN does. This is part of a continued and largely unexplained upward trend in ESPN’s interest in boxing, even as ESPN2 slashed Wednesday Night Fights.
  • Tickets everywhere are selling like gangbusters. Most notable were the record numbers of Staples Center tickets sold for the welterweight (147 lbs.) bout on Jan. 24 between Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito, although a pal of mine pointed out, as did a recent Ring magazine column, that the record numbers can be attributed in part to the fact that tickets can be sold in more areas of a stadium for a boxing match than a Lakers game. Still, it was a sellout and huge success that brought out Hollywood glitterati. Mosley-Margarito is not alone, though. Golden Boy Promotions is trumpeting the huge numbers for the Marquez-Diaz card, with 10,000 tickets sold weeks away from the day of the event. Per the news release: “Due to the extreme ticket demand for what is on track to become the highest grossing fight in Texas in the last seven years (Pacquiao vs. Solis on April 14, 2007 grossed $1.35 million in San Antonio) and one of the highest grossing fights ever, more tickets for Golden Boy Promotions’ upcoming February 28th event at Toyota Center in Houston, Texas have been released to the public for sale.” And Main Events, the promoter for cruiserweight (200 lbs.) champion Tomasz Adamek, said ticket sales for his Feb. 27 bout in Newark, N.J. against Jonathan Banks are outpacing those for Adamek’s bout with Steve Cunningham, even though Cunningham had a local following. Lower ticket prices have something to do with this, but the fact remains that a lot a lot a lot of people are going to live boxing events these days.
  • There are subtler measures. The aforementioned Manny Pacquiao is getting his own day in April from the San Francisco Giants where he will throw out the opening pitch a few weeks before his fight against junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton, and he earned some nominations from savvy sports generalists for Athlete of the Year. ESPN named a picture of Mosley clocking Margarito its Image of the Week.

There’s a chicken and egg question here — is boxing’s recent surge of above-and-beyond success the result of its increased visibility in the mainstream media, or is the mainstream media attention the result of a perceived uptick in interest in the sport? To me, it looks like a snowball effect. One is contributing to the other. But that’s just a hunch, really.

Whatever’s going on, I like it.

Quicker Quick Jabs

Following up on yesterday’s post about the quality Darchinyan-Arce trash talk, it must be mentioned that there have been some other excellent verbal smackdowns in the last couple weeks. First up is lightweight Nate Campbell, speaking of Feb. 14 opponent Ali Funeka, whose rather mild trash talk apparently ticked Campbell waaaay off: “I’m going to beat him like he stole something. I’m going to do things to him that border on criminal. … I’m going to hit that 6-foot-1-inch body everywhere that’s legal. And if the referee ain’t looking, a few places that ain’t.” Half of that is funny, but the other half is uncool. Hell, it may even invite a strategic disadvantage in the ring if the ref is on the lookout for borderline tactics. Keep it clean, Nate. Next up is an exchange between middleweights (160 lbs.) Anthony Mundine and Shannan Taylor. Taylor got the best of it: “That’s why little old ladies hate you. That’s why you are hated in the street. That’s why 95% of the country don’t like you.” Read the rest of the entertaining exchange here

Some more Margarito hand wrap updates: First, my own experimental gauze-hardening experiment is not vindicating Margs yet. The gauze I got wet to simulate the “damp gauze which hardened” excuse of a member of his management team isn’t hardening. It’s just as soft as it was one week later as it was when I first got it wet. One more week to go before I match the “couple weeks” duration of the excuse. Second, two people have spoken on this whose opinion counts for something — Kermit Cintron, the two-time Margarito victim, and Billy Collins, Sr., whose son became a tragic figure after the most infamous of loaded glove incidents. Third, Bernard Fernandez makes this provocative point about the commissioner who oversaw the wraps but didn’t protest anything as untoward — “I don’t know the identity of that commissioner, but this smacks of
something more than incompetence. It has the taint of collusion, and if
that is proven he should be dealt more than a lifetime ban from boxing.
He should be criminally prosecuted.” That goes a little further than I would, since collusion is a big word that I think has to have proof more than a whiff. But I do think that the person who oversaw the wraps needs to explain him or herself…

Marquez has succeeded in sidelining Joe Cortez as the referee for the Diaz fight, saying that he is “the enemy of Mexican boxers.” I wasn’t aware of that. I wonder how Cortez would have decided which Mexican boxer of the two he would have picked as his enemy, considering Diaz tried to be a part of the Mexican boxing team. I guess since Diaz lives in America and is therefore a Mexican-American, Marquez would have been the more Mexican of the two? I make no pretenses about my Marquez-love, but this is a strange thing for him to have done. If he doesn’t think Cortez is a good ref, he should just say so, instead of suggesting the guy has it in for fighters of a certain country. That Cortez incident with junior lightweights (130 lbs.) Humberto Soto and Francisco Lorenzo didn’t seem to have been related at all to heritage, and his refereeing in Ricky Hatton-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. doesn’t suggest to me that Cortez has it in for British fighters. Anyone can be the beneficiary or victim of a bad Cortez refereeing decision. Cortez has justifiably gone public to defend himself — no kidding, he said some of his best friends are Mexican — against the Marquez charge (and offered a limp excuse for his Soto refereeing)…

As for Mayweather-Hatton II, Hatton says his trainer, Mayweather, Sr., would want to be in his son’s corner should a second fight happen. Hatton’s cool with that, and I guess he doesn’t have much of a choice, what with his own close relationship to his pa, even if Mayweather, Sr. might be able to pass along a few secrets to Junior about Hatton’s new wrinkles. But as if the whole Mayweather clan wasn’t complicated enough, that sure would toss another layer of divided loyalties on top, and if the reconciliation didn’t last, I wonder if Hatton would end up so laid back that a trainer who has revitalized his career a bit was out of the picture for no good reason…

It seems like at some point, someone is going to explain why Pacquiao thinks he’s getting a 52-48 split for the Hatton fight and Hatton thinks he’s getting a 50-50 split for it, right? I know word has it that Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum threw in a little extra to get Pacquiao re-interested in the fight, but even then, I don’t see how that affects a percentage split. A pie is a pie. Unless the deal is that Hatton and Pacquiao split the pie 50-50, then Arum threw in some extra pie on top of it and gave enough of it to Pacquiao to make the pie bigger and add an extra slice to his plate, thereby increasing his percentage of total pie intake. I better stop before I get any hungrier for pie. Also, for all the fighting Pacquiao did over money for this fight (I know, I know, it was pride), there’s something mighty amusing to me about him being robbed, allegedly, by his wife’s driver from a $200,000 deposit HE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT…

A couple leftover thoughts from the recent FNF card. All praise due to junior welterweight Herman Ngoudjo for fighting with a broken jaw for most of the fight, which is all the more impressive considering that Juan Urango is a slugger who hit him plenty more the rest of the night. I may not have given Ngoudjo many points on my scorecard, but the guy is a real fighter, I have to give him that. Second, I couldn’t even watch the lead-in to the main event after a few rounds. One-sided slaughters like that, where one fighter takes the bout on late notice, at an uncomfortable weight, and at an advanced ring age, really make boxing hard to stomach sometimes. Someone should have stopped the thing around round 6 or 8 instead of it going all 12…

I’ll get into the lightweight Marco Antonio Barrera-Amir Khan bout more in a second, but I wanted to address the apparent dilemma between fans wanting boxers to keep busy and criticizing one boxer’s decision to take a tune-up fight. A BoxingScene columnist raised the point, but I think it’s a false choice in this instance. Adamek deserves praise for wanting to be a “busy champion,” given his intention to fight three or four times this year. Barrera does not deserve praise for taking a tune-up bout against a 1-7-1 opponent when he has a fight deal in place for two months later. My objection is not to tune-up bouts, but I do think it’s a little lame to take such a tune-up against an opponent who apparently has had trouble getting licensed in some states and probably won’t help a future Hall of Famer like Barrera prepare any better than if he’d just sparred a little more. Be busy, by all means, but with purpose. And it’s just a professional hazard that you can get cut or injured in any fight — it doesn’t mean you should have fewer of them because of it.

Round and Round

Now, to the fights in the works.

Or not. Ricardo Mayorga’s decision to pull out of a Feb. 14 bout with junior middleweight (154 lbs.) up-and-comer Alfredo Angulo is depressing. There’s been no explanation about Mayorga’s decision so far — he doesn’t strike me as the timid type, and I’m going to notch it up to his being erratic more than him being scared. But a potential Fight of the Year candidate just got taken off the slate, and the potential replacement opponents thrown out there — Cornelius Bundrage, for instance — don’t stand as much of a chance of winning or exciting, in my opinion.

Despite the cut he got from the tune-up, Barerra is on for the March 14 fight against Khan. The news release says Barerra’s medical exam came up roses. I have no reason to doubt it did, even though that cut was deep, so I’m going to accept the claim that he’s good to go. But if he gets busted open early, I’ll have a lot of questions about the wisdom of not pushing the fight back a month or two. They’ve got 15,000 tickets sold for this one already, which goes back to the point of my opening section there about boxing’s ticket sales, doesn’t it?

Negotiations for the proposed June bout between heavyweights David Haye and Wladimir Klitschko are dragging out, and Haye’s worried it’s not going to happen. One issue appears to be whether to have the fight in the U.K. or Germany. I have a rough sense that because of his accomplishments in the division, Klitschko ought to get home field in Germany, but if Haye brings in more money for both of them on his home turf, then make it in the U.K., right? Humorously enough, Wladimir and his brother Vitali settled on Wladimir getting the Haye fight based on a coin flip. If Haye-Wladimir doesn’t happen, I’ll be feeling unlucky.

Sticking with the Klitschkos — Vitali is peeved he can’t get his mitts on Nicolay Valuev. He claims Valuev wants it as much as he does, but Valuev promoter Don King is standing in the way by making absurd demands for rights to Vitali fights and throwing up other hurdles. It sounds like King, but I suspect he has his reasons; I think Vitali would chop down the giant with relative ease, and that could damage his money-making potential.

The junior lightweight division has some talent, but not much of anyone’s fighting each other yet. That could change now that Soto and Robert Guerrero are talking about a fight. This is a fantastic match-up that deserves major television play, although I fear that the relatively low profiles of both men may not result in the exposure it deserves.

Andre Berto is nothing if not brave. The welterweight says he’s happy to step in and fight Miguel Cotto this summer if Margarito is suspended. I don’t like this if I’m Berto’s management, but as a fight fan, I think it would be a very interesting match-up. I might heavily favor Cotto, but I think it would be a good fight for as long as it lasted.

Despite the fact that Zab Judah is talking about moving down to junior welterweight and Carlos Quintana is talking about moving up to junior middleweight, there’s discussion about a fight between the two w
ith the winner getting Berto. Considering that I’ve said before that I think Judah and Quintana are ideal next opponents for Berto, I would totally enjoy watching the two of them fight each other to decide who gets the honor. Judah’s also taking a look at Urango, and I like that fight, too.

For the two men in the epic Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez trilogy: Marquez has no interest in fellow junior featherweight (126 lbs.) Daniel Ponce De Leon, although I think he should. The idea is for Marquez to return in late or mid-March, but against whom is the question. Vazquez, meanwhile, has reportedly reached out to a Rolly Lunas for an April fight, who sounds like a tune-up opponent if there ever was one, although maybe it’s a title eliminator somehow. Look, if Vazquez or Marquez come back soft, nobody should criticize them. I just like both of them so much I’m eager to see them in against quality opponents again if they get through tune-ups well.

Light heavyweight Chad Dawson continues to search for a foe, with Paul Williams the latest to make his list. Dawson says his best weight is probably super middleweight (168 lbs.) and I believe him, and that’s where he’d like to fight Williams. But I defended Dawson when he said he didn’t want to come down there for Mikkel Kessler. Now it just kind of looks like Dawson doesn’t want any Kessler.

Super middleweight Andre Ward wants to meet light heavyweight Glen Johnson at about 170, and I’m all for it if it can be arranged. Ward’s ready to step up, or if he isn’t I’ve gotten impatient waiting. Johnson’s about as good a trial by fire as is available.

I’m already getting sick again of the Jermain Taylor sweepstakes. The latest opponent for the super middleweight is Allan Green. Whatever, that does the trick, just pick someone to fight already.

We already had a little discussion yesterday about one of the proposed Pacquiao-Hatton undercard bouts, featherweight (126 lbs.) Steve Luevano against Bernabel Concepcion. I’m not saying I’m sold on either man, but I like the fight. Concepcion is probably ready for a step up, and Leuvano can make good fights against the right opponent, which I suspect Concepcion is. If it’s the best fight on the undercard, though, I’ll be disappointed.

John Duddy is a junior middleweight who makes good television and has a devoted ethnic following but may not be world class. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is a junior middleweight who makes god television and has a devoted ethnic following but may not be world class. There’s talk of putting them in against each other this summer. Sounds great. I bet that would be one hella loud crowd.

Middleweight Giovanni Lorenzo is getting another television date on the Adamek-Banks undercard against Dionisio Miranda, and he’s talented enough to have deserved it. Miranda’s an ideal opponent for him, coming off his first loss.

Add another good fight to the early ESPN2 stretch of good Friday Night Fights — welterweights Delvin Rodriguez and Shamone Alvarez go at it on March 6. They are not in the upper upper tier of welterweights, although in another era, they might crack the top 10. The main point is, they’re both pretty good fighters and it’s a fairly evenly matched proposition, and ESPN2 deserves props for snagging it.

And just because I have a soft spot for bantamweight (118 lbs.) Silence Mabuza, he’s getting another shot at a title belt if he wins his April 18 fight against Yonnhy Perez. Good for Mabuza that it’s on his turf in South Africa, but bad for me since I want to see it; I think it’d be a good one.

(Sources: ESPN; news releases; Maxboxing; SecondsOut; BoxingScene; Palm Beach Post; The Ring; NewKerala; Salon; The Sweet Science)

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.