Go ahead, boxing fan: Try to find a Saturday night HBO or Showtime main event since July outside of Andre Berto-Jan Zaveck that fully satisfied you. We already know you can’t find any main events on big-time pay-per-views that have done the trick.
But keep digging. It gets worse.
Very few of the best fighters in the world have been in satisfactory bouts in 2011. Taking my updated pound-for-pound list this week as but one measuring stick of who’s best, those 20 fighters have been in 34 fights, and of those, only nine have gotten even good marks from large percentages of fans — let alone excellent ones.
Rather, the exciting or surprising or otherwise dramatic and fulfilling cards have mostly been elsewhere: with lesser fighters on smaller networks (Delvin Rodriguez-Pawel Wolak on ESPN2), on smaller cards (several ShoBox main events), in untelevised bouts (Hernan Marquez-Luis Concepcion) or via unexpectedly shiny gems (Marcos Maidana-Erik Morales).
If this tempts you into thinking that HBO and Showtime should abandon broadcasts of the best fighters in favor of only limited brawlers, I would caution you against jumping to that conclusion too quickly. This is a false choice: Some of the best fighters in the world have been in boring or otherwise unfulfilling bouts in 2011, but if you take 2010’s year-end pound-for-pound list, the top 20 fighters were in 43 fights, 22 of them that got at least good reviews. (And there are other reasons I’d caution you against jumping to that conclusion besides, which I’ll get into at a future point.)
Something’s happened in 2011. But what?
This is part I of a two-part series this week aimed at figuring that out, and proposing solutions. In part I below, we’ll look at what went wrong and what went right with each of the fighters’ bouts, and why. The “why,” summarized: It’s been a combination of poor style clashes, less action-friendly styles from some individual boxers, deteriorated matchmaking, frequent timid efforts and an excessive number of controversial outcomes.
You can help me for part II tomorrow by leaving your answer to this question in the comments section: Assuming a perfect world, what fights do you want to see going forward that you haven’t gotten yet?
What went right/wrong: In May, Pacquiao won a boring, one-sided decision over Shane Mosley. Nobody went home happy.
Why: Mosley was an 7/1 underdog, so a one-sided fight is what everyone expected. That it ended up that way was disappointing, but for everyone but the few who gave Mosley more than an outside/puncher’s chance, there was zero drama to be had in the potential outcome, because it was known in advance. And this isn’t purely second-guessing: Beforehand, a number of people argued there were better opponents for Pacquiao than Mosley coming off a draw with Sergio Mora and a loss to Floyd Mayweather, where he looked his advanced age in both fights — people like the fresher young welterweight and then-unbeaten Andre Berto, or a 140-pound rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayweather, of course, would have been option #1, but whoever you blame most for that meeting not happening (I blame Mayweather), that superfight has been impossible to make so far, a condition that hurts both men. On the other hand, a lot of people at least expected Mosley to provide a little action before his inevitable defeat. Instead, he fought more timidly than he had at any moment in his career, with the constant friendly glove-tapping between Mosley and Pacquiao a symbol of how little fighting they did, mostly because of Mosley but partially because Pacquiao wasn’t his dynamic self. That was an unwelcome surprise.
What went right/wrong: In September, Mayweather knocked out Victor Ortiz in a fight that had been somewhat entertaining prior to a controversial ending that has some defenders but plenty of detractors.
Why: This was widely viewed as a more appetizing match-up than Pacquiao-Mosley, because Ortiz was the #2 welterweight in the world behind Pacquiao, coming off a career-best win over Berto, and style-wise the thinking was that Ortiz could perhaps give Mayweather a little trouble, where Ortiz was the underdog but not as vastly as was Mosley against Pacquiao. Within the bout itself, there are those who thought Mayweather-Ortiz was competitive prior to its ending and those who thought Mayweather was dominating with ease. Regardless, the two men were engaging one another and Mayweather wasn’t doing any of the “running” he’s accused of doing in some of his more boring fights. Then came the infamous “legal sucker punch” where Mayweather defeated Ortiz as he was trying to apologize for the head butt. Poor refereeing is widely thought to have played a role in the incident, but Ortiz and Mayweather each shouldered some blame for that ending. And while it was interesting and unique and controversial in a way that spawned a lot of discussion, it was far most part frowned upon by those who wanted a victory to end on something besides a freak occurrence in a fight that many wanted to see arrive at a more natural conclusion.
What went right/wrong: In March, Martinez stopped Serhiy Dzinziruk in a better-than-expected scuffle. In October, Martinez stopped Darren Barker in a fight where both boxers’ performances came under heavy criticism.
Why: First blood for the “good marks” column comes via Martinez-Dzinziruk, unexpectedly enough. Dzinziruk’s jab-jab-jab/defend style didn’t figure to mesh with that of explosive middleweight champion Martinez, who was a heavy betting favorite besides over arguably the top talent in the division below his. But Dzinziruk came out aggressively, winning a round or two and giving Martinez good competition in the stretches where Martinez wasn’t dropping him five times. The surprisingly good scrap — not a great one — combined with a more competitive than anticipated showing by Dzinziruk, combined with Martinez’ eye-opening destruction of a fighter who had never been down left most people at least moderately happy. The fight probably benefited from low expectations, too. Martinez-Barker was even more of a mismatch among bettors, although Barker surpassed those predictions by doing slightly better than the odds would have suggested. What hurt Martinez-Barker most was a combination of a performance by Martinez viewed as less than his best, and a performance by Barker that was defensive-minded and marked by few punches. Neither Dzinziruk nor Barker were ideal opponents for Martinez, but he’d had trouble luring some of the men he wanted to fight into the ring (Pacquiao, Mayweather, Miguel Cotto, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.) and his promoter Lou DiBella had opposed fighting some of the others that fans and writers had cited as more desirable than Barker (Dmitry Pirog, anyone at 168).
What went right/wrong: In February, Donaire delivered a Knockout of the Year candidate over Fernando Montiel. In October, Donaire won an action-free, shutout decision over Omar Narvaez.
Why: Nobody was complaining beforehand about Donaire-Montiel, a meeting of two of the best fighters in the world. Nobody was complaining afterward when Donaire landed a sensational left hook that was responsible for what might end up as the best KO of 2011. Fast forward eight months, and opinions were decidedly less positive before and after Donaire-Narvaez. Donaire was as much as a 20/1 favorite, although there were few better options available to the bantamweight than Narvaez, the top man in the division below him — fights with Vic Darchinyan, Anselmo Moreno or the winner of Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko simply couldn’t be made, for a variety of reasons. Narvaez only wasn’t competitive outside a couple early rounds, he also was bewilderingly inactive and appeared concerned primarily with not getting hit. Narvaez’ potential to be a spoiler was more obvious than was Barker’s against Martinez, but he was more committed to to tapping that potential than he should have for fans’ sake.
Juan Manuel Marquez
What went right/wrong: In July, Marquez made short work of Likar Ramos in a bout that ended amid suspicions that Ramos took a dive of his own volition.
Why: This was a tune-up bout for which no one had any reasonable belief that it would be much of a fight; it was just to slowly move Marquez up a weight class in advance of his two-division jump for a fall rematch with Pacquiao. Yet, somehow, it was worse even than that, with Ramos appearing to act his way to a knockout loss.
What went right/wrong: A long-desired June meeting between the heavyweight champ and his chief rival, David Haye, resulted in the typical Klitschko uninspiring win.
Why: Haye was viewed as the chief threat, too, to Wladimir other than his brother Vitali, whom Wlad won’t fight. Some of the things Haye could do in the ring were unavailable to previous Wlad opponents, and Haye had most often fought with the kind of abandon that led fans to believe Wlad-Haye would be a kill-or-be-killed affair that would end in a knockout, one way or the other. Instead, as has been too common a trend in 2011, the “opponent” fought like a lamb, not a lion — and Wlad, for all his big talk to match Haye’s, fought his usual safety-first fight.
What went right/wrong: Froch defeated Glen Johnson by relatively close decision in a June bout with a lot of swings in the action.
Why: Froch was rightly picked by most to win this fight, but everyone expected Johnson to give him a tough time and he did. It came within the framework of the Super Six, which virtually guaranteed that the best super middleweights would fight each other more often than not, and Froch and Johnson were two of the best. Style-wise, they matched up well on paper. This is one of the few fights on this list that went almost exactly as well as was expected.
What went right/wrong: Early in their May meeting, Arthur Abraham gave Ward more trouble than his recent performances suggested he could, but Ward took over to win a lopsided decision in a bout that drew complaints about Ward’s fighting style.
Why: The shine had come off Abraham after two consecutive losses and he only got this fight because an early performance in the Super Six gave him a pass into the semi-finals. It wasn’t something anyone was looking forward to, and while Abraham did all right early, it ended with Ward fully outclassing him the way he should have. Ward’s style — intelligent, good defense, hit-and-don’t-get-hit, little power — had prompted complaints before, but they rose to a crescendo here.
What went right/wrong: In March, Vitali got a 1st round knockout after Odlanier Solis shredded his knee, not the note anyone wanted to see that fight end on. In September, he delivered a brutal beating to Tomasz Adamek before getting the late stoppage — a fight where Vitali really impressed some people but left others depressed about the heavyweight division.
Why: Vitali-Solis figured as just another Klitschko vs. Any Heavyweight But Haye Or The Other Klitschko mismatch, so when Solis showed flashes to some of us for being able to hang with Vitali in that 1st round, we got our hopes up. They didn’t last long because of yet another freak ending, when a nice punch from Vitali dropped Solis and Solis injured his knee in the process. Adamek was the last vestige of hope for competition against a Klitschko, but he ended up like all the rest — on the wrong side of a domination, with gripes about whether he did enough to try to win. I’ve filed this one under “unsatisfactory,” by the way, but it’s basically a toss-up.
What went right/wrong: By himself, Pongsaklek skewed the fight numbers a bit because he fought so often, six times so far in 2011 compared to three in 2010. Four were mismatches; two, decisions over Takuya Kogawa in June and Edgar Sosa in October, were good.
Why: Thailand is a strange country. The four Pong fights that were mismatches wouldn’t have been licensed in the United States: a fighter who came into 2011 with 81 pro fights took on four boxers with a combined record of 1-8-0. It’s hard to hold it against a fighter for staying busy, but staying busy against that kind of competition is obscene. Kogawa was inexperienced, but he showed his 17-1 record wasn’t a fraud with a worthwhile effort. Sosa was a top-10 flyweight who definitely belonged in the ring with Pong and had his moments of success. There remain better opponents for Pong, though, like junior flyweight champ Giovani Segura or the winner of this weekend’s rematch between Hernan Marquez and Luis Concepcion.
What went right/wrong: Dawson beat Adrian Diaconu by by uninspiring decision in May. In October, he won by technical knockout in the 2nd after shoving Hopkins off of him, leading to Hopkins being injured and unable to continue.
Why: Dawson, like Ward, has a style that many fans simply don’t enjoy. It was at play in his win over Diaconu — even though it had more punches thrown and landed than the main event featuring Bernard Hopkins-Jean Pascal II, Dawson-Diaconu was viewed as a bad fight and Hopkins-Pascal II was not. Anyway, Diaconu wasn’t even the most popular choice for a Dawson opponent in this fight, with that honor going to someone like Tavoris Cloud or even Librado Andrade. So it had a lot going against it. Dawson-Hopkins is probably the biggest disaster of any fight involving top talents in the sport: Far from a mismatch, it was virtually an even fight with bettors, but it had two boxers with styles than more often than not fail to thrill fans, in styles that specifically wouldn’t mesh with each other’s, with a freaky ending marred by what many viewed as bad refereeing.
What went right/wrong: In May, Hopkins decisioned Pascal in a solid, good fight with a nice storyline. Also, in October, there was the Dawson debacle.
Why: Hopkins-Pascal II had everything going for it coming in — rematch of a controversial bout, divisional champion against #1 challenger, Hopkins vying to become the oldest man to win a championship, repeat of a surprisingly good first fight. And it worked out well. Hopkins-Dawson was hideous, for all the reasons stated under Dawson.
What went right/wrong: Bradley won a bland technical decision over Devon Alexander in January in a fight where fans suspected Alexander took a head butt as an excuse to quit.
Why: Bradley’s lunging head butts and Alexander’s tendency to look his best against aggressive brawlers had the makings of a bad style clash, although some were optimistic it wouldn’t turn out that way. It did. That it was one of the most meaningful match-ups in the sport made it something that needed to be done in the eyes of many fans, but nobody was pleased with the way it played out in terms of excitement, and Alexander’s widely-panned apparent quit job gave it an even worse ending.
What went right/wrong: Segura steamrolled Ivan Calderon in March in a rematch of their 2010 Fight of the Year candidate. He had a stay-busy fight and easy win against Eddy Zuniga in June.
Why: Segura-Calderon II wasn’t a fight anyone wanted all that bad, because nobody thought it would go any differently. Still, Segura was the champ and Calderon still highly-ranked, and the fight had some good exchanges for as long as it lasted. Since a couple of these fights have been on the borderline and I’ve filed them under “unsatisfactory,” I’ll shade this one to “satisfactory.” Segura-Zuniga was a nothing fight. Out of fights people want to see Segura in, Roman Gonzalez or Pong are more interesting than anything Segura has done in 2011, a wasted year so far for one of boxing’s true action heroes.
What went right/wrong: Khan in April won a technical decision over Paul McCloskey that featured a lot of awkward business and a suspect stoppage. Against Zab Judah in July, a semi-interesting fight ended badly when Judah refused to rise after citing a low blow in a knockdown.
Why: Khan-McCloskey was more or less a welcome-home, stay-busy fight for Khan, whose style didn’t mesh with his fellow Brit, the southpaw McCloskey. Khan also didn’t look like himself. Nobody thought the cut McCloskey suffered should have led to the fight’s end. At least against Khan, we were able to appreciate Khan at his best, and a performance like that can be enjoyable, even if Judah’s revival quickly proved more to be hype than reality. (Some saw the fight beforehand as competitive, others saw it for what it ended up being — a mismatch, even though Khan had rightfully gotten himself back into the junior welterweight top 10.) Khan had tried to make a more significant fight with Bradley before signing with Judah, but Bradley’s promotional troubles sidelined the bout.
What went right/wrong: YURIORKIS GAMBOA! put on a spectacular performance in a stoppage of Jorge Solis in March. He was less spectacular in a technical decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon in September that ended on a head butt.
Why: Both De Leon and Solis were both legitimate opponents for Gamboa but big underdogs. The fight everyone wanted to see Gamboa in coming into the year was against Juan Manuel Lopez, but Top Rank talked repeatedly about how it didn’t care what the fans wanted and would continue to “marinate” the match-up until they were ready — but then Lopez lost and the match-up got derailed entirely. At least against Solis he put on a thrilling show. Against De Leon, he got mostly “meh” reviews, and the head butt that caused the ending to the fight was of the variety where some questioned if the fight should have been stopped, while many questioned whether De Leon was looking for an excuse to get out of a fight he was losing.
What went right/wrong: Bute was impressive in stoppage wins over Brian Magee in April and Jean Paul Mendy in July, but both were mismatches of such caliber that Showtime passed on the Mendy fight despite having a three-fight deal with Bute.
Why: Bute gave Magee more difficulty than expected, but it wasn’t a fight that interested anyone going in and wasn’t particularly competitive. Mendy was an even more brutal mismatch. Bute is always fun to watch, so both these fights are on the borderline, but patience has worn thin over the kind of opponents he’s faced. Some of that hasn’t been his fault, because the Super Six has taken up most of the prospective top super middleweights. But when Bute had a chance to fight Mikkel Kessler this year, the two sides couldn’t get a deal done.
What went right/wrong: In March, Cotto stopped Ricardo Mayorga in a pretty good scrap.
Why: Because a number of these are toss-ups, we’ll file Cotto-Mayorga under “satisfactory.” Mayorga was a 10-1 underdog, and that counts against it. But it did have some pretty good two-way action, so at least there was that. As arguably the #1 junior middleweight, there were a number of better opponents who would have presented more of a challenge to Cotto and still delivered two-way action.
What went right/wrong: He lost to Donaire in February in a compelling bout, defeated Nehomar Cermeno when Cermeno quit in June and knocked out Alvaro Perez in a mismatch in August.
Why: Even though he was on the wrong side of the knockout, Montiel gets credit for being in one good bout this year. The Cermeno bout was a worthwhile fight in a step up to junior featherweight, but Cermeno quitting ruined it. Montiel-Perez had a nice finish but the mismatch-ness of it disqualifies it as a fight that was very satisfactory.
What went right/wrong: In August, Mares won a majority decision over Joseph Agbeko in a fight marred by terrible refereeing.
Why: Mares-Agbeko should have been a triumph, the culmination of Showtime’s bantamweight tournament and a sure-fire action bout. It provided action, but an otherwise excellent fight was tainted by referee Russell Mora, Jr.’s refusal to call low blows on Mares, an error that might have otherwise led Agbeko to a draw or even a victory, depending on how many points Mora would have docked Mares or if the 11th round low blow knockdown had been scored a deliberate foul rather than a legit knockdown.
I can show you my work for 2010 as needed, but we’re at several thousand words already and hopefully you’ll take my word that I was as rigorous with 2010 as I was with 2011.
Matchmaking for the top boxers in the world (to which all future references pertain) so far in 2011 has taken a turn for the worse compared to 2010. In 2010, twelve fights featured boxers taking on arguably their best possible opponent — not just the best fight that could be feasibly made, but the best opponent for that boxer at that time, regardless of politics or availability. In 2011, only seven such fights have transpired, although that will improve a little in December with Ward-Froch and Mares-Agbeko II (and if you want to be generous, Antonio Margarito-Cotto II).
There have also been slightly more flat-out mismatches, bouts with odds of greater than the arbitrary line of 6-1 against the underdog, or, where such figures are not available, based on my own estimate. There have been 19 mismatches so far in 2011 — two more as last year.
Where things have really gotten screwed up is in the “passable,” middle category. There have been eight of these in 2011, compared to 14 in 2010.
Again, some of those things will change with a few fights to close out 2011, but no matter how you stack it, there have been fewer ideal-to-competitive fights to be had.
It often will be the case that an ideal or passable match-up is more likely to produce a good outcome than a less-good one, and a mismatch vice versa. Only one mismatch in all of 2010 got good reviews: Tomasz Adamek-Michael Grant. Only one in 2011 got good reviews: Cotto-Mayorga.
But a wider variety of ideal fights in 2011 than 2010 were afflicted by bad style clashes or bouts where one of the boxers was well-known to have an unappealing style. Some expected a nice scrap from Bradley-Alexander, but not many. No one expected a nice scrap from Hopkins-Dawson. As it happens, there are fewer pound-for-pound boxer right now with histories of good fights than at the end of 2010; last year, we had Juan Manuel Lopez, Paul Williams, Jean Pascal and Tomasz Adamek, where now we’ve picked up Floyd Mayweather, Amir Khan, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Lucian Bute. Mayweather, Khan, Gamboa and Bute aren’t all-boring, all-the-time, but they just aren’t as likely to produce action bouts as the other crew.
Controversial outcomes, too, have hurt a number of fights this year. They have marred 10 different bouts in 2011 so far, compared to four in 2010.
And fighters in big bouts in 2011 have been more likely to turn in suspect efforts, where they were widely perceived as either reluctant to engage or showed strong signs of begging out or both. There have been nine such alleged less-than-courageous efforts by my tally in 2011 — Mosley, Barker, Narvaez, Ramos, Haye, Alexander, Judah, De Leon, Cermeno — compared to two in 2010 — Allan Green and Joshua Clottey. You could expand that in 2011 to include Adamek, Hopkins, Solis and Ortiz, since there were some accusations about each of them, and expand in 2010 to include Eddie Chambers, Kermit Cintron and Shannon Briggs, in which case the final tally is 13 to five.
Maybe a different worksheet — say, a different pound-for-pound list — ends up with different figures. But I don’t think it would differ that radically.
Now: Clear your mind of all this and please, list in the comments section which fights you want that aren’t already on the schedule. Don’t limit yourself in any way by kind of fighter (elite and non-elite welcome) or whether you think a deal for the bout can reached.
Part II should come tomorrow.