Enough pessimism and sadness. We’re about a month and a half away from boxing kicking off an exciting fall season, a season that just got a little plumper with the agreement reached for Vitali Klitschko-Chris Arreola on Sept. 26, one of the best heavyweight fights that can be made right now.
But the fall could get even better than it is where we stand today, with all the fights that are being juggled for the 2009 stretch run. If enough of these fights happen, 2009 could be the best in a trio of good years for the renaissance of quality boxing match-ups that really took off in 2007.
Sept. 19 pay-per-view, FLOYD MAYWEATHER VS. JUAN MANUEL MARQUEZ
Status: It’s on, but its undercard is in flux, and there’s a potential hitch
By itself, Mayweather-Marquez is a fight that some are looking forward to and some aren’t. Mayweather and Marquez are two of the three best boxers alive, assuming Mayweather’s skills haven’t eroded with his recent retirement; Mayweather is one of the best-known boxers in the sport and Marquez is the current standard-bearer for Mexican boxing heroes; but Mayweather is a welterweight and Marquez is a lightweight, so opinions are very mixed about whether it will be competitive. There’s the remotest chance the fight could get postponed again if Mayweather’s trainer, uncle Roger, ends up in jail as a result of his recent arrest for assaulting a woman, and if Mayweather wants to avoid going head-to-head with UFC 103, but I doubt that’ll happen.
The undercard that’s planned, however, is exactly the kind of thing boxing needs to be doing more of, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bunch of Mayweather haters — or just people who hate this match-up — buy it for the undercard. Featherweights Chris John and Rocky Juarez are slated to meet in a rematch of one of 2009’s best fights, and a bout between lightweights Michael Katsidis (an Arturo Gatti-like warrior) and Vicente Escobedo (a crafty counter-puncher who matched up well with a come forward slugger, Carlos Hernandez, in another of 2009’s best fights) appears likely. A super middleweight clash between Allan Green and Sakio Bika was in the running, and it had everyone excited, but Green serially shoots his career in the foot — he’ll be taking a fight on Showtime against Victor Oganov that’s less risky and pays about the same, but doesn’t offer the exposure he’s needed to get bigger names in the ring. In its place might be a very meaningful lightweight fight between Joan Guzman and Ali Funeka.
This card could be stacked, and well worth the $50 — something that boxing hasn’t been able to say very often.
Sept. 26 HBO, KLITSCHKO VS. ARREOLA
Status: Agreed to, but not signed
Any Klitschko, be it Vitali or Wladimir, against any other heavyweight, even if it’s a rising young Mexican-American gun like Arreola, has to be favored. What juice Vitali-Arreola has is due to the fact that Arreola is as exciting as heavyweights get right now, and if there’s anyone who won’t be tamed by the Klitschko family jab-to-safety approach, it’s Arreola. If he loses, it won’t be boring. If he wins — and there are some who think he can — the heavyweight division in America, upon which so much of America’s interest in boxing resides, will suddenly have a savior… for at least one fight, anyway.
The fight, according to all accounts, is agreed to. But so was Vitali’s last fight, against David Haye, and that still fell through.
Oct. 3 HBO, KELLY PAVLIK VS. PAUL WILLIAMS
Status: On-again, off-again, but today it looks likely
Middleweight champion Pavlik hasn’t capitalized on the megapotential he has to be a star in the sport — white guy from the Midwest, huge knockout puncher, good personality, but a career that’s stagnated — and Williams is in the same spot — a unique physical specimen who fights in an entertaining way and has pound-for-pound #1-level talent but can’t get anyone with a big name to fight him. If Williams beat Pavlik or vice versa, both of those situations would be rectified. Pavlik would silence his doubters by beating a top foe, and Williams would finally have a marquee name’s scalp that would translate into other big fights.
The two sides have been locked in protracted negotiations, with Pavlik’s team leveraging the fact that he’s the one who sells tickets and Williams’ team leveraging the fact that he’s the one who has the backing of HBO. Commentators (including yours truly, a big Williams fan) think that Williams’ team needs to take the short end of the stick and live with it. The good news is that the Twitter feed of Top Rank, Pavlik’s promoter, said today that a Pavlik-Williams fight was probably going to happen.
Oct. 10, TOMASZ ADAMEK VS. STEVE CUNNINGHAM II
Status: Adamek has the date reserved at the Prudential Center, but his opponent and television network is less clear
The first Adamek-Cunningham fight was the 2008 Fight of the Year to some, a rock ’em-sock ’em war for the vacant Ring magazine cruiserweight championship of the world. There isn’t a real boxing fan out there who doesn’t want to see them do it again, even if some are more interested in seeing Adamek mix it up with Bernard Hopkins first. Adamek has grown as a fighter and keeps producing exciting knockouts, while many believe Cunningham would do better in the rematch if he fought in a more controlled style. Alas, neither HBO nor Showtime had showed the proper financial interest in broadcasting the do-over, but Adamek’s team still is holding out hope.
Adamek-Hopkins is still very much a possibility instead — or perhaps in addition to? — in January on HBO.
Oct. 17 Showtime, “SUPER SIX” SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT DOUBLEHEADER
Status: Signed and solid, although there are questions about the rest of the tourney
This tournament has everyone in boxing fired up, rightfully. With but one major exception, this is the cream of the crop in a
stacked division — the best fighting the best in three round-robin legs, followed by semi-finals and a final. Every single match-up is interesting, and the opening segment is no exception. Former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor of America goes against fellow former middleweight beltholder Arthur Abraham of Germany in Abraham’s homeland, then Brit Carl Froch goes against American Andre Dirrell.
Nothing looks to keep this night from happening, and by itself, it’s plenty enticing. It’s the later sections of the tournament where there are questions.
Nov. 7 HBO, CHAD DAWSON VS. GLEN JOHNSON II
Status: Signed, but it needs a location
Both men (inexplicably, in my opinion) lack a fan base, but no one can deny that when Dawson and Johnson met in a light heavyweight fight in 2008, it was all fireworks. Some critics thought Dawson, who got the decision win, should have lost and Johnson deserved a rematch. Dawson’s team tried to hide from a do-over, but market pressure worked its magic and Dawson had no choice but to man up, so man up he did. If the fight’s anything like the first, it should be excellent. If Dawson is too improved for the aging Johnson, it might not be quite as good, but would at least answer lingering questions about the young American talent.
There’s no risk the fight won’t happen, but that it doesn’t have a venue yet is kind of weird. Gary Shaw, Dawson’s promoter, has talked about putting it in Dawson’s home state, Connecticut, which is where it SHOULD go, since Dawson needs to have a regional fan base built up and as the winner of the first fight, he gets to dictate terms (the first bout was in Johnson’s adopted home state of Florida).
Nov. 14 pay-per-view, MANNY PACQUIAO VS. MIGUEL COTTO
Status: Agreed to, except a feud over Cotto’s belt could complicate matters
Rarely has the biggest boxing event of any given year proven to be the best boxing event of any given year. Such are the vagaries of the sport, where the biggest names aren’t always the most exciting fighters. Pacquiao-Cotto has a chance of breaking that trend. Both are action stars of the highest order, with Pacquiao, the pound-for-pound #1 man in boxing today and the junior welterweight champion, having an edge in talent over Cotto, a natural welterweight who will have a size advantage. There has been talk of making the undercard rival the undercard for Mayweather-Marquez, which would make this potentially the most satisfying boxing event in years. So far, though, the biggest idea thrown around — like a slugfest between lightweight Edwin Valero and junior lightweight Humberto Soto — has fallen through. It still could end up being a good undercard, however, if some of the other ideas Top Rank has bounced around end up coming to fruition.
What’s strange is that Top Rank’s Bob Arum apparently didn’t resolve a key issue for the Pacquiao team, which is that they want Cotto’s title belt to be on the line so he can make a claim to winning belts in an unprecedented seven different weight classes. Cotto doesn’t want to put it on the line, citing the expense of the sanctioning fee and the fact that the fight is at 145 lbs., less than he wants. After Pacquiao made some noise about pulling out, Arum assured Pacquiao that the belt would be on the line somehow, although the “how” isn’t clear.
Nov. 21 HBO, ANOTHER “SUPER SIX” SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT TOURNAMENT BOUT
Status: The threat of a lawsuit hangs over its head, otherwise solid
The final bout of the first leg of the tournament pits Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler against America’s Andre Ward, a match-up of the top-ranked fighter in the division against arguably the best young fighter in the division.
Kessler’s involvement in the tournament, however, has prompted promoter Morgen Palle to claim his contract with Kessler has been violated. If Kessler’s bout is delayed, or, worse, if he has to pull out entirely, the tournament frankly loses a ton of its cache. Some already have knocked it for leaving out Lucian Bute, the #2 man in the division, so if the #1 man goes, things would go really downhill, even with the addition of someone like Green (who may have taken the Oganov fight in hopes that it would get him in Showtime’s good graces for a spot in the tourney).
Early December HBO, SHANE MOSLEY VS. ANDRE BERTO
Status: Talks ongoing
Mosley, a top five pound-for-pounder, may be too much for Berto, one of the most flashily talented young men in boxing, at this point in their respective careers. By the same token, it’s the most attractive match-up for both men at this point in their respective careers in boxing’s best division, welterweight. Both are fast, skilled, hard-punching Americans who deserve more fans than they have now.
The hold-up has been that HBO’s budget is not so flush right now, and Berto would end up getting less than he did in his previous two fights against softer opposition than he would in the fight of his life. Fortunately, Golden Boy, Mosley’s promoter, and DiBella Entertainment, Berto’s promoter, are going to have face-to-face talks about making it happen.
Oct. 17 pay-per-view, Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez IV — ESPN’s Dan Rafael recently reported that a fourth fight pitting the two combatants of what is arguably the best trilogy in boxing history is unlikely for 2009, if ever. But Marquez recently held out the possibility that it could still happen on this date, so who knows.
Nov. 7 British broadcast, Nicolay Valuev-David Haye — Haye has hurt himself with his recent career moves and the enormous Valuev is a better idea than he is a boxer, but this remains an intriguing heavyweight match-up because of Haye’s thrilling style of battle and Valuev being a legitimate top heavy.
Nov. 28 HBO, Lucian Bute-Librado Andrade II — The first fight had one of the most controversial endings I’ve ever seen, as Bute was bailed out of a potential knockout loss on his home soil by a bad refereeing decision. A more definitive conclusion in a rematch therefore became a must. Bute may be the better boxer, but Andrade, as he showed in the 12th round of their first bout, doesn’t know understand the meaning of the phrase “give up.”