What We Learned In A November To Remember For Boxing

The first 10 months of 2010 in boxing resembled a bad Fourth of July fireworks show: a few “oohs” and “aahs,” but you probably could have been just as impressed with a Roman candle and sparkler spinner show in your backyard after stopping at one of the ubiquitous fireworks shops along Interstate 95 on the East Coast of the United States.

Then November exploded like a triple-starburst capping the kind of killer pyrotechnics display that ignites the sky over Disney World’s Main Street each night. Pick your adjective: amazing, awesome, drool-worthy, fantastic – you get the drill. Bouts featuring many of the top names in the sport – Pacquiao, the Marquez brothers, Ward, Froch, Abraham, Johnson, Lopez, Katsidis, Williams, Martinez, Caballero, Berto – were scheduled on all four weekends of the 11th month. More belts were up for grabs during November than a clearance sale at Men’s Wearhouse.

So what did we learn, both in and out of the ring, after such a big month for the sweet science? Plenty. Itemized deductions, in no particular order:

•Lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez is the most skilled active practitioner of the art of boxing on this planet. All of his immense skill was on display in his spirited, 9th-round TKO of a very game Michael Katsidis on Nov. 27 in Las Vegas. What other fighter combines Marquez’s precision with combinations, not just single punches? What other fighter can rally so quickly from a knockdown from a heavy-handed fighter like Katsidis? What other fighter looks like Bobby Fischer or Wayne Gretzky, seeing two steps ahead of the current action? What other fighter can pinpoint-punch from distance or bang in a phone booth like JMM? Featherweight Chris John is a terrific, silky-smooth fighter, and welterweight Floyd Mayweather is arguably the best defensive magician in the ring since Pernell Whitaker. But neither of those guys have the overall ring package, the MENSA-like fistic IQ, of Marquez.

•Who doesn’t want to see a third Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight after both fighters’ scintillating victories this month? The first two fights were epic, but the thought among many after Pacquiao’s junior middleweight win Nov. 13 over Antonio Margarito was that Manny has continued to blossom as a fighter since their last bout in 2008 and that Marquez hasn’t kept pace, as evidenced by his loss to Floyd Mayweather and by getting rocked early in his victory over Juan Diaz. You can throw that conventional wisdom out the window, as Marquez looked sensational and surgical against Katsidis. But finding a mutually agreeable weight class will be a problem. Marquez clearly is at his best at 135, while Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, has made it pretty clear that he wants Pacman to stay at 147. Can we compromise at 140, with the winner eventually fighting the champion of the mini-tournament at 140 between Devon Alexander, Timothy Bradley, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana? But I doubt Pacquiao will resist the lure of full-time politics in The Philippines long enough to face that task.

•HBO Sports President Ross Greenberg should stop throwing the network’s dollars at welterweight Andre Berto and instead funnel more of them to Michael Katsidis for regular HBO feature fights. After watching Katsidis bravely battle Juan Manuel Marquez and Berto whipping another powder puff, this time Freddy Hernandez, on Nov. 27, who would you rather see fight? The marquee trio among Katsidis’ last seven opponents has been Marquez, Juan Diaz and Joel Casamayor. The marquee trio of Berto’s last seven opponents has been Carlos Quintana, Juan Urango and Luis Collazo. Again, who would you rather see fight?

•Not exactly a news flash, but Andre Berto is the most overpaid, overprotected fighter in boxing. He sells no tickets and incites no fan fervor, yet HBO is paying him big money – even as an undercard fighter. Berto’s call to fight the “main courses” of the welterweight division after his destruction of Freddy Hernandez on Nov. 27 was comical. Manny Pacquiao would destroy Berto, and I doubt Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto would be too troubled by him.

•Sergio Martinez could be a star without a marquee. “Maravilla” pulled off the most sensational destruction of an opponent in a major fight since Manny Pacquiao detonated Ricky Hatton in 2008 with his TNT-laden left hand in the second round against Paul Williams on Nov. 20 in Atlantic City. He is the best middleweight in the world, has a great story with his late start in the sport and is Rico Suave telegenic. But what’s his next big fight? I doubt Pacquiao will climb into the 150’s to fight Martinez, and I think a fight against Miguel Cotto wouldn’t be that great since Cotto is a smallish junior middleweight. A bout against either Felix Sturm or Dmitry Pirog would flat-line the pulses of American boxing fans, wouldn’t sell 3,000 tickets in the States and would generate test-pattern ratings on HBO.

•So what will be the next criticism of super middleweight Carl Froch? We knew the guy could bang. We knew he could fight dirty. Now we know he can box after he overwhelmed the supposedly more skilled Arthur Abraham on Nov. 27 in Helsinki. The Cobra dominated, winning by at least 10 points on all three cards, to set up an appetizing Super Six semifinal against the ageless Glen Johnson. A Super Six finale between Froch and Andre Ward would be a dynamite fight.

•Antonio Margarito, Michael Katsidis and Paul Williams still should have solid career options in front of them despite each losing in November. These guys are entertaining fighters – so what if they lost in showcase bouts? Every great fighter has lost in a major bout and returned. A loss should not signify the decline of a boxer’s career, even at a young age.

•We saw this month why Laurence Cole never should referee a major title bout and why Kenny Bayless should be as much of a ring staple as a ref at big fights as Michael Buffer is as the ring announcer. Cole’s finger-flashing eye tests to Antonio Margarito in the later rounds of his beating Nov. 13 at the hands of Manny Pacquiao were just an entrée into his incompetent world. The fact that Cole didn’t stop the savagery and let the fight go the distance was an even greater affront. Cole is living proof of the Lucky Sperm Club, as his father, Dickie Cole, heads the Texas commission. Otherwise, I can’t see how this guy gets to be the third man in any major fights. Compare that with Bayless’ sane and appropriate stoppage of the Juan Manuel Marquez-Michael Katsidis fight on Nov. 27. Katsidis’ head was becoming Marquez’s personal speed bag, and Bayless stepped in at just the right time.

•Andre Ward will be an even tougher out in the final two rounds of the Super Six after his rough-and-tumble decision victory over Sakio Bika. This was no easy breather fight in between Super Six bouts, as Bika is a tough, mean hombre. This fight had more fouls than the last two minutes of a close NBA game, which will steel Ward even more for the semifinals and final.

•The slicker Juan Manuel Lopez fights, the more we forget his near-defeat last year against Rogers Mtgawa. Lopez was brilliant in his victory over a game Rafael Marquez on Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. But there’s one fighter who won’t forget the near-debacle against Mtgawa: Yuriorkis Gamboa. El Ciclon de Guantanamo shredded Mtgawa in a 2nd round TKO in January. The superbout between JuanMa and Gamboa must happen in 2011. Bob Arum can’t let it “marinate” any longer. Both guys are unbeaten and clearly 1-2 in the world at 126 pounds. The boxing world wants this fight. Hell, it needs this fight to prove to the public that there’s more to this sport than the moribund heavyweight division.

•Who wears the crown as the “most avoided fighter in the world” now that Paul Williams and junior lightweight Celestino Caballero, two guys who crowed about that status all year, lost in consecutive weekends this month? Andre Berto? Just kidding.

•Glen Johnson trumped Ponce De Leon on Nov. 6 by drinking from the Fountain of Youth to beat Allan Green by an 8th round TKO in the Super Six. The Road Warrior is making the most of this late-career opportunity, and he’s not going to be an easy out for Carl Froch in the semifinals of the Super Six.

•Allan Green is done as a top-line attraction. He was all talk, no results when he finally stepped into the klieg lights, looking terrible against Andre Ward and awkward and confused against Glen Johnson in two Super Six fights this year. It’s back to “Friday Night Fights” land for Green, where Teddy Atlas amusingly will continue to point out how Green looks at his toes before he throws some punches. Green is a flake; he may have skills, but he lacks has the mental focus to be a champion. The guy has more excuses than hair follicles.

•Some of the most exciting, marketable winners in big November bouts are not controlled by Top Rank or Golden Boy: Sergio Martinez (DiBella), Andre Ward (Goosen Tutor), Carl Froch (Hennessy) and Glen Johnson (DiBella). That’s good for boxing, as it provides an end-around to the senseless Top Rank-Golden Boy feud, of which there’s no cease-fire on the horizon.

•Again, not an earth-shaking observation, but HBO and Showtime should avoid scheduling on top of each other. Which network won with their competing cards Nov. 27? Neither. And fight fans got screwed. An international governing body run by a benevolent dictator would help to prevent this. Or common sense between HBO’s Ross Greenberg and Showtime’s Ken Hershman.

•Guillermo Rigondeaux never will be a major star in the United States, proved even further after his snoozer of a victory Nov. 13 against Ricardo Cordoba, one of the combatants in my 2009 Fight of the Year, against Bernard Dunne. I don’t care how many fights Rigondeaux won as a vaunted Cuban amateur. I don’t care that Teddy Atlas called him the best amateur fighter he’s ever seen. This guy is old, 30 years old just seven fights into his pro career, and he’s boring. Bad combination.

•Guys like Jason Litzau prove the “Rocky” story can be replayed even if Sly Stallone doesn’t inject his veins with a cocktail of steroids and formaldehyde for a seventh film in the series. It was great to see the unheralded Litzau shock a listless Caballero in a split decision Nov. 27 on the Marquez-Katsidis undercard in Las Vegas. I’ve seen plenty of Litzau on ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights,” as he’s almost a house fighter for the Joe and Teddy Show. And his performance against Caballero was no different than his ESPN fights – all relentless heart. A really inspiring result.

•Nate Campbell is right to retire after his loss Nov. 27 at lightweight to Walter Estrada, who entered the bout with a 37-13-1 record. The Galaxxy Warrior has lost his last two fights, to Estrada and Victor Ortiz, and was being shut out by Bradley when the fight was stopped due to a cut over Campbell’s eye. Taking on Juan Diaz, Ali Funeka, Bradley and Ortiz in consecutive fights before the Estrada bout has just taken too much out of Campbell, 38.

•Joe Cortez may be a competent ref, but he’s also the most annoying official in boxing. Good boxing referees are the same as skilled rules enforcers in any sport: You don’t notice them when they’re doing a great job. When is the last time you’ve watched a fight officiated by Cortez when you haven’t screamed either “Shut the hell up, Cortez” or “What the hell are you doing, Cortez?” From his hokey, “I’m firm, but I’m fair” pre-fight schtick to his insistence to lecture fighters constantly in the ring, Cortez can’t help himself from trying to become the third star in the ring of every bout that he officiates. Again, contrast that with the calm, effective work of guys like Kenny Bayless, Tony Weeks or Pat Russell.

•Larry Merchant’s suggestion that Manny Pacquiao should fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez was insane. Lord, I hope Merchant was being flippant. Alvarez isn’t ready for Shane Mosley or Miguel Cotto, let alone Pacquiao. Pacman would turn Canelo’s face the same shade of red as his hair within two or three rounds. Then again, Merchant was the first guy to make the then far-fetched proposal of Pacquiao fighting Oscar De La Hoya. So maybe there is a method to Larry’s madness. But I think this is just madness, at least in 2011.

•Twitter is a great place to compliment live TV fight coverage. Tweeting avidly during the competing HBO and Showtime cards Nov. 27 were Shane Mosley, promoters Lou DiBella, HBO Boxing, and Golden Boy, and noted writers Dan Rafael (ESPN), Steve Kim (maxboxing.com), Kevin Iole (Yahoo! Sports) and Doug Fischer (The Ring). Rafael’s good-natured Twitter joust with Mosley after Marquez’s victory over Katsidis was very entertaining. DiBella tweets with his heart on his sleeve and isn’t above talking smack with fans.

•The first two rounds of the David Haye-Audley “Fraudley” Harrison heavyweight bout Nov. 13 at Manchester, England, were among six of the most wasted minutes of my life. I’ve been watching boxing since the mid 1970s, and I can’t recall two more boring rounds in the heavyweight division. Harrison didn’t throw a punch, and Haye did nothing but dance and paw his jab, ironically in Klitschko style. Haye’s 3rd round TKO did nothing to enhance his status as a worthy challenger to either Klitschko brother. It’s moot, anyways: Haye doesn’t have the lower attachments to fight either Klitschko.

•Matthew Hatton is carving out a nice little career for himself in Europe. He’s still best known as Ricky’s brother, but he’s not a bad fighter, as he knocked out previously unbeaten Roberto Belge in three rounds Nov. 26 in Bolton, England, to defend his EBU welterweight title. Magic probably isn’t ready for prime time in the United States, but he’s more than just a famous last name. Plus it would be cool to hear “Hatton Wonderland” sung again in a U.S. arena.

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.