TQBR Roundtable (BETA): Featuring A New Premium Player, Thoughts On Miguel Cotto And More Speed Than You’ll Find In Charlie Sheen’s Medicine Chest

Welcome to the inaugural TQBR Roundtable, where your favorite TQBR staff writers will express their thoughts and opinions on select current topics in boxing in their own inimitable way. Disagreements will be had, punches will be exchanged, and good times will be enjoyed by all.

This edition’s participants include Andrew Harrison, Paul Kelly, Alex McClintock, and Tim Starks. I, Scott Kraus, will be your host and moderator. Please stop throwing your shoes at me. We will cover the impact of EPIX on boxing broadcasting, where Miguel Cotto fits in the boxing landscape in the near future, and whether Yuriorkis Gamboa would be competitive in a race against a beam of light.

So enough of the preamble, we don’t get paid by the word. Let’s take our seats around the table and begin the conversation!

(Ed. note: this beta edition is pretty long, so we’ll be looking to do shorter versions in the future. For now, enjoy the horn o’ plenty. –Tim)

Topic 1: With the telecast of the Vitali Klitschko-Odlanier Solis fight on March 19, EPIX became the third active premium network to air boxing in the United States, joining HBO and Showtime. What role do you think EPIX will play in televising fights in the near future? Do you think this will benefit EPIX? Do you think boxing will benefit from increased exposure? Is the premium channel model still a good fit for boxing?

Andrew Harrison:

I’ve had to Wikipedia this sucker, which means I’ll either be chugging along on the right lines, or alternatively rabbiting on about some Lithuanian knobs and knockers channel (fingers crossed then). Klitschko-Solis plainly isn’t a contest liable to rouse the interest of the casual fan — especially with Solis looking petrified of the old boy in the lead up and all – I guess it’s a novelty outlet for the hardcore (there we go) and not a lot more – although, I can’t admit to being remotely clued up about viewing habits Stateside, which is as good a point as I’ll find to duck out of this one with my tail between my legs (and there we go again).

Paul Kelly:

When I first heard of EPIX last month, the name sounded like a producer and distributor of porn videos or a bad disco band from the 1970s. Not the greatest mental start.

I also thought it was a bad idea for boxing to drive even more bouts away from network or free cable TV, and those sentiments still stand. Premium cable networks have become the root of many of the evils of boxing today, from promoters simply accepting rights fees and not promoting, to networks showing favoritism toward certain promoters and extending return match clauses to fighters who don’t deserve them.

But every boxing fan knows the sport without premium TV would be more lost today than Lindsay Lohan. Network and cable have all but given up on boxing because they think (incorrectly) that they can’t sell boxing to advertisers and also because only a few boxing promoters still know how to do their jobs, so networks doubt their ability to generate interest and sufficient ratings for a fight.

So, we’re stuck with premium cable and pay-per-view. A third player to the party like EPIX could be seen as splintering the sport’s television foundation even further, but there’s a difference between EPIX and Showtime and HBO that excites me: EPIX appears to “get” the Internet.

EPIX is showing its programming on TV and online, including on-demand replays on both mediums. This has HUGE present and future potential, as the under-30 demographic – widely perceived to be lost from boxing to MMA – consumes most of its content these days on the Web or on mobile devices, not on TV. So EPIX could help recapture the younger demographic, which is vital to boxing’s success.

EPIX also has a shot to succeed because it’s a joint venture of Hollywood heavy hitters –Paramount Pictures, MGM, and Lionsgate – with carriage deals on Verizon FiOS and Dish Network. DirecTV and Comcast both have said they won’t carry EPIX, but money and increasing viewership numbers can change that. TimeWarner also needs to be added to that carriage lineup for EPIX to be a legitimate player, but there’s time.

It’s also encouraging that former HBO and Showtime executive Mark Greenberg leads EPIX. Greenberg worked at both networks during their respective zeniths as boxing programmers. Let’s hope he took good notes.

Alex McClintock:

I can’t say I know what role EPIX will end up playing in the boxing biz, but more competition has to be a good thing, right? Unless we end with three-way scheduling conflicts instead of your garden variety two-way. That would suck. Whatever happens, I like their attitude (the free online trial is a great idea) and they already seem to be trying to promote the sport. Can’t really ask for more than that.  

The big screen is kinda cool, but I’m not sure whether this means that boxing will reach more homes. I don’t exactly understand the American television market, but from what I can gather, EPIX isn’t carried by the biggest providers. So that’s a problem. Still, if there’s enough demand from boxing fans, I s’pose that could change. If that happens, and EPIX retains its current promotional zeal, then consider me a convert. 

As for the premium channel model itself, it has its pluses and minuses. Obviously, it shuts a lot of boxing fans, who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, out of the sport and possibly limits coverage. At the same time, it means that elite boxing doesn’t have to whore itself out for advertising. Not to mention it’s a stable source of revenue. Then again, having all our eggs in one basket might be a bad thing, as Thomas Hauser suggested recently. Colour me undecided.

Tim Starks:

From what I’ve read EPIX hasn’t made clear its future boxing broadcast plans. Obviously having a former HBO/Showtime exec on board will help them figure out how to do it, if they want to keep doing it. I imagine if they continue, they’ll end up with their fair amount of fights that HBO or Showtime passed on but that ESPN2 can’t afford – or if they want to make a big splash, they’ll outbid someone for a fight that is highly desirable. Klitschko-Solis wasn’t a bad fight for them to pick up, as far as its profile goes, but it wasn’t a great one, either, since so many American fans dislike the Klitschkos. Ideally, there’d be more boxing outside the premium channels, but that’s the business model that generates the biggest paychecks for the fighters and promoters. We’ll see if CBS’ entry into the boxing arena doesn’t change that.

Topic 2: After defeating Ricardo Mayorga on Showtime PPV on March 12, what do you think the future holds for Miguel Cotto? Who would you like to see him fight? Is the Boricua Brawler still an elite fighter? Will he beat another marquee fighter before the end of his career?

Andrew Harrison:

In my head I often form ideas and opinions on the sport which can be difficult to put into words or print – but I sort of know where I’m coming from, if you know where I’m coming from. It’s a bit like drunk talk – there’s some truth there somewhere, if you dig a little bit. I have a fancy that Cotto is in the autumn of his career – he’s no longer an elite fighter, he’s probably taken too much leather, he’s fighting above his optimum weight – yet the great stuff he once held in abundance still lingers and it remains just potent enough for him to wallop the B-Grade type fighters he’s been having success against of late. He’s Tommy Hearns against Juan Roldan, Ray Leonard against Donny Lalonde, Marco Antonio Barrera against Robbie Peden. I’m doubtful he has a great performance lurking someplace either — I think Cotto will wind down to an eventual crawl. I’d like to see him in against Alfredo Angulo after ridding the world of JC Chavez Jr. I’ll vomit if they put him back in with that Pacquiao chap.

Paul Kelly:

Cotto’s stock is falling, for the most honorable reason: The guy has some seriously hard miles on his odometer even though he’s only 30.

Unlike some other pampered fighters, Cotto has been matched and taken on some of the monsters of the sport in the last four-plus years. The list reads like a Murderers’ Row from 140 to 154 pounds: Pacquiao, Margarito, a young, dangerous Malignaggi, Judah, Mosley, Gomez, Quintana and Clottey. Those are tougher challenges than many fighters take in a career, let alone four years.

Cotto is a small junior middleweight, so any talk of a true middleweight like Sergio Martinez dropping to fight him is folly. Martinez would destroy Cotto, almost certainly launching his career into an uncontrollable spiral.

But Cotto has bravely fought so many contenders that he deserves any payday fights that either Top Rank or premium networks can deliver, even if it’s against soft, aging, fading competition like Mayorga or overrated, young competition like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

I think a fight against Canelo would be intriguing, on many levels. Both Cotto and Canelo are similar because they’re bloated welterweights trying to avoid the stacked 147-pound class for differing reasons. Cotto deserves a break from the leather he has absorbed fighting nearly every top 147-pounder in the world, while Canelo is being protected from the same savages because he’s simply not that good.

A Cotto-Canelo fight would generate big ticket sales and hefty pay-per-view numbers, as I don’t think 800,000 to 1 million buys are out of the question. It’s a dream rivalry matchup of Puerto Rico versus Mexico, and the bout would show just how legitimate Alvarez is as a belt holder. I doubt the fight would be made because it would be too risky for and expose Alvarez, who is the WBC’s golden boy.

In other words, I think Cotto wins that fight.

A Cotto-Berto fight would be fun for nearly all of the same reasons as the fight with Alvarez, minus the Puerto Rican-Mexican rivalry angle. Like Alvarez, I think Berto is overrated. But unlike Alvarez, Berto has significant speed that could pose real problems for Cotto.

Alex McClintock:

I don’t think Cotto is elite anymore. But that’s more an eyeball test than anything. I really think he should have been able to put a guy like Mayorga away pretty quickly. Twelve rounds was just a few too many. I also don’t think that he’ll ever beat another elite fighter. He’s got Margarito lined up, which will be punishing, even if he wins, no matter how much Margs has left. Add that to the punishment he’s taken, and I think the Bobfather will sacrifice him to create a draw out of some young up and comer in around mid 2012.

Tim Starks:

What would be just swell is if Cotto would move back down to 147. I don’t think he’s a junior middleweight, and if there’s any elite left in him, it’s not at 154. As for next opponents, while I “get” the idea of a rematch with Antonio Margarito, I’m still turned off by Margs. Then, the idea of a rematch with Manny Pacquiao after that… ugh. It’s not that there aren’t good opponents for Cotto at 154, like Alfredo Angulo, but at this point I think Angulo is all wrong for Cotto and so are most of the rest of the top junior middles. At 147, he could face Kermit Cintron, who could move down in weight, or the winner of Andre Berto-Victor Ortiz, or Mike Jones. Those are all good, winnable fights for Cotto. None of what I want will happen for Cotto, though, I expect.

Topic 3: Yuriorkis Gamboa fights Jorge Solis in Atlantic City on March 26. Do you believe Gamboa is the fastest fighter in the sport today? Is he the fastest fighter ever? What will it take for  Gamboa to ascend the pound-for-pound list? Will a matchup with fellow undefeated young featherweight Juan Manuel Lopez take place while both fighters are undefeated and building momentum?

Andrew Harrison:

He probably is the fastest gun in the sport, alongside Amir Khan in any case — it’s one from that pair to my eyes. Fastest fighter ever, though? Not for me, I’m afraid. Meldrick Taylor would be my pick, then there’s Roy Jones to consider, Robinson, Ali (of course), the lightweight version of Shane Mosley, Hector Camacho, Floyd Patterson and no doubt a long list of others I didn’t immediately consider.

Gamboa HAS to have made one of the myriad pound-for-pound lists doing the rounds already, surely? But in order to crack the rankings of something like Ring Magazine for example it’s pretty simple: He has to fight the crème de la crème. The Lopez dalliance has bored me to death. It was a hot match-up a couple of years back but I’ve since lost interest. We always seem to be discussing pet hates in boxing – well my special, treacle-covered sweethearts are ballsy match-ups between young, up-and-coming fighters who’ve yet to purchase their first mansion. The ambition, superior fitness, in some respects ignorance and, indeed, the lack of control these fighters can exhibit makes for a distinct drama which has been absent from some of the “mega-matches” we’ve been fed over recent years. It’s the reason I almost wet myself earlier today after stumbling across the announcement that JAMES DEGALE VERSUS GEORGE GROVES has been made for May (it’s Britain’s Tommy and Ray, a retread of Nigel and Chris, a real happening). Fights like these offer a different type of intrigue in comparison to something like Manny versus Floyd, a bout where we know the fighters so well that we’d have a pretty accurate picture of the way a fight between them would likely pan out. We still don’t know how high Gamboa and Lopez can soar.

Will Gamboa vs Lopez happen anytime soon? I’m extremely doubtful. Shame. A mist-shrouded, bell-tolling, melancholy shame.

Paul Kelly:

Gamboa is among the fastest fighters in the game today. Is he the fastest? It’s too close to call. Amir Khan has super-swift fists, and how easily everyone forgets speed as one of the many prodigious gifts displayed by Manny Pacquiao. Floyd Mayweather also is silly fast, but it’s hard to call him an active fighter these days. Zab Judah isn’t as fast as he was in the mid-2000s, but he’s still plenty quick.

El Ciclon de Guantanamo is not the fastest fighter ever. Ali, Roy Jones Jr., Ray Leonard and Meldrick Taylor all had a higher speed limit than Gamboa. Sugar Ray Robinson and Bob Foster both have hands that resemble egg-beaters at full whirl from what I’ve seen in old fight films.

The blueprint for climbing the pound-for-pound ranks is no different for Gamboa than any other fighter: Beat the elite. A victory over Solis will be a strong first step, but Gamboa needs to beat Juan Manuel Lopez — a matchup that P.T. Arum has let “marinate” far too long — to be considered among the world’s overall elite.

Gamboa is a lot like the 2010-11 New York Knicks, pre- and post-Carmelo trade. He’s very, very explosive and gifted offensively but has serious defensive deficiencies. If the Knicks are going to contend for Eastern Conference and NBA Finals’ victory next season, they’ll need to shore up their defense. Same with Gamboa if he wants to beat JuanMa and earn a place in the top 10 pound-for-pound list.

Alex McClintock:

Gamboa is sensational. Personally, I can’t split him and JM Lopez. I understand why Tim has Lopez much further ahead P4P (because he’s fought the better competition), but to me they’re two sides of the same coin. Dangerous, fast, powerful guys who are really, really vulnerable. Gamboa’s amateur tendency to square up and JM Lopez’ tendency to get decked would make an amazing fight. Unfortunately, those are factors that could mean that one of them gets knocked off before they ever meet. I’m not holding my breath… 

Tim Starks:

How dare you question YURIORKIS GAMBOA!(?) He’s clearly not only the fastest fighter ever, but also the fastest person ever. Nah, I think there are some people who challenge him in the speed department, like Amir Khan and Sergio Martinez, but right now he’s the fastest. “Ever,” not sure. I can’t think of anyone faster off hand, but this stuff can be hard to assess because of weight divisions; recently, I might give the 130 pound version of Floyd Mayweather the edge, or even smaller versions of Pacquiao. For him to go from “fast, exclamation point-producing guy” to “pound-for-pound guy,” he has to beat top competition, and Solis ain’t it (although he’s a credible opponent at this point in Gamboa’s pro career). Chris John or Juan Manuel Lopez are it. I doubt the latter will ever happen. I doubted Top Rank would make Nonito Donaire-Fernando Montiel ever happen, and I ended up being right for two years. I bet I’ll be right longer than I am wrong about Lopez-Gamboa.

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.