Ask 100 boxing fans to name the fights they want to happen most, and you’d end up with a pretty consistent top five: Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao (welterweight), Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye (heavyweight), Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander (junior welterweight), Paul Williams vs. Sergio Martinez II (middleweight), Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Yuriorkis Gamboa (featherweight).
Here’s what they all have in common: We’ve been waiting for them for a long time, or we’re being told we’ll need to wait for them for a while.
It’s a deeply troubling condition.
More often than not since 2007, boxing has given fans the fights they want. And in spots in 2010, it still has. The best are fighting the best in the super middleweight division (minus Lucian Bute) via Showtime’s super middleweight tournament. When Mayweather fought Shane Mosley, there was an argument that they were the two best welterweights in the world (although I would disagree). Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and Koki Kameda met to crown a lineal flyweight champion (Wonjonkam) and in August, Chad Dawson and Jean Pascal will fight to crown a lineal light heavyweight champion (by the terms of Ring magazine’s championship policy, a vacant championship can only be claimed by a fight between the #1 and #2-ranked fighters, or sometimes #1 vs. #3). There have been some fun events, like Miguel Cotto-Yuri Foreman in a junior middleweight fight at Yankee Stadium last weekend.
But how many Mayweather-Mosleys would you trade for Mayweather-Pacquiao? How many Andre Ward-Allan Greens would you trade for Klitschko-Haye? How many Wonjongkam-Kamedas, Dawson-Pascals and Cotto-Foremans for Bradley-Alexander, Williams-Martinez II or Lopez-Gamboa?
I’ve wanted Mayweather-Pacquiao since 2008. Same with Klitschko-Haye. Mayweather and Pacquiao have tested the patience of hardcore fans who are so sick of hearing about who’s going to agree to what terms; some writers have expressed open disdain for even mentioning the fight. Haye talked up a storm about the Klitschko brothers, then pulled out of two different fights with them and has suddenly gone quiet with a generous-sounding offer on the table. Immediately after Williams-Martinez I, both sides said they wanted a rematch, only not immediately; each have had a fight since, and neither is talking about wanting to fight the other as a high priority (Martinez’ promoter Lou DiBella was griping recently to BoxingScene that HBO only wanted Williams for Martinez, but said something different later). Alexander wants to fight Bradley now, but Bradley’s promoter Gary Shaw said the fight needs to “build.” Bob Arum, the promoter of Lopez and Gamboa, has repeatedly dangled the prospect of Lopez-Gamboa before fans’ faces, only to keep pushing back the date of when it would happen, famously saying that the fans should “go fuck themselves” if they want it sooner.
All of these are terrible explanations for these fights not to happen. I want all of these bouts now, some of them yesterday. I don’t care about who agrees to what drug testing or purse splits in Mayweather-Pacquiao — just fight. I don’t need Bradley-Alexander to “build.” Both of those men will enhance their paychecks later by taking that fight now. Just fight. Some of it sounds bunk — like an excuse, not a reason.
I’ve searched for explanations about the real reasons this is happening, and what to do about it. Maybe after tasting a little bit of mainstream success, boxing has forgotten how it got here: matchmaking. Maybe one or both of the people in the match-up I mentioned are scared of losing, or their promoters are scared of their prized fighters losing — even though the penalty for losing these days isn’t as steep as it once was, with the networks less afraid to put on a fighter who lost in a big fight and fans more willing to buy tickets to watch a boxer who lost a big fight. And as far as remedies, HBO can use its might to push certain fights, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
But as answers go, none of those are really compelling, either.
This might be an overly pessimistic take; maybe Mayweather and Pacquiao work out their differences, maybe Haye is being quiet because he’s studying the offer closely, maybe we get Williams-Martinez II and Bradley-Alexander later this year, and maybe when Lopez fights Gamboa in 2011 it’ll be worth the wait.
Hell, I hope I’m being overly pessimistic. I’d rather this not be such a trend. Right now, though, it feels like boxing has lost its way when it comes to giving fans the most important fights they crave.