R.I.P., Bert Sugar, the great boxing historican and icon we lost earlier this week. We talk a lot in this space about what moves casual fans, and one of the most common topics that come up when I tell people I write about boxing is, “Do you know that guy with the fedora and the cigar?” That’s how fundamental he has been for so, so many years to the sport — when people hear the word “boxing,” they often think of Bert. It’s that big a loss.
To answer the question about whether I knew that guy with the fedora and the cigar: I’ve talked to him several times, and drank with him, same as a great many writers and fans. As an interview subject, he was a dream — deeply knowledgeable, quick with the great anecdote, absolutely quote-worthy with every word. He knew the role he played well (I once asked him where his quips came from; he said it was a mix of formulating them in advance and spontaneity), but despite the self-typecasting, he was such a great character you always liked the performance, the way John Wayne was pretty much always John Wayne in movies and Cary Grant was always Cary Grant. As a man to drink with, he was also a lot of fun, for a lot of the same reasons he was a great interview subject. He managed to be politically incorrect and cranky at the same time he was perfectly lovable, and maybe because.
Despite the big loss, the sport rolls along. In this edition of Round and Round, we look not only at fights in the works for all the men in the headline, plus Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., Mikkel Kessler, Jhonny Gonzalez and others.
A bit more sad news before we jump in, though — our staff writer Gautham Nagesh is departing as an official staff writer. But he’ll still come around these parts from time to time, and of course you can still read him over at Stiff Jab. Oh, and also, his new day job is pretty pimpin’.
Round And Round
So that Chavez chap: He is without a next opponent in the summer, what with Martin Murray unable to get a visa to come here. All signs point to Chavez promoter Top Rank and middleweight champion Sergio Martinez promoter Lou DiBella holding actual negotiations for a fight in the fall, but “actual negotiations” and “sincere negotiations” are two different things, and I doubt we’re getting the latter. From the WBC’s statement about making sure both parties are at the negotiation table, and DiBella constantly saying, “We’re not pulling out!” it sure seems like the WBC is hoping for a moment where Martinez walks away from the table so they can help favored son Chavez out of any kind of mandatory requirement to fight a particularly dangerous opponent. In the meantime, there’s a little bit of drama in Chavez’ camp; he says he’s not going to sign an extension with Top Rank in order to get a June fight. Is it me, or are a fair number of people revolting against Top Rank these days? That June fight could be against Andy Lee or Vanes Martirosyan, and I’d put my money on Vanes as a Top Rank fighter if I could also be convinced that Vanes wasn’t totally, totally unreliable on his ratio of bark to bite.
We all know how Yuriorkis Gamboa has bailed out of the Brandon Rios fight and Richard Abril has stepped in as Rios’ April opponent. What’s far, far more intriguing is that, after Rios and Juan Manuel Marquez face separate opponents on that card, they could meet in a junior welterweight fight on July 14, possibly in Cowboys Stadium. That’s a helluva fight. Before Marquez had such a tremendous showing against Manny Pacquiao at welterweight last fall, I wouldn’t have said the same — I would’ve said that Rios was too big and too strong for Marquez. Now, it’s one of the best fights I can even imagine. I do wish Marquez would relinquish the Ring lightweight championship, since he hasn’t fought there in forever and doesn’t seem to have any plans to fight there; it might be getting close to time for Ring to do the thing they did with Pacquiao eventually, where they ruled that he had functionally ditched his junior welterweight belt by repeatedly not defending it over a long stretch of time.
That Kell Brook sure isn’t looking for much of a dang fight, though. I am high on the welterweight’s talent, but I’m not high on any of the opponents he’s talking about next: Shane Mosley (unlesss somehow Shane beats Saul Alvarez in May, in which case Brook wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting Mosley); Marcos Maidana (who has explicitly rebuked the idea that he’s a welterweight); or Paulie Malignaggi (who, OK, if he beats Vyacheslav Senchenko in a ballsy trip to the Ukraine, might be a worthwhile foe — and kudos again to Paulie for going to the Ukraine for the fight, because it’s not like there was anything for him here and it’s one of those worthwhile risks). Also, apparently, Brook winked at Matthew Hatton’s family as he was beating him up in his last fight. I’m fine with the occasional offensive stunt, but when you bring people’s families into it, it’s offensive in a way I tend not to like. Unless it’s super-funny. And winking at someone isn’t. It’s usually just creepy. Even though I also kind of like winking at people, under the correct circumstances.
In a second bit of British-boxer-with-bad-competition news, light heavyweight Nathan Cleverly was getting his title defense against Robin Krasniqi blocked by the WBO, but they relented so now it’s happening in April. It’s too bad because Cleverly is now contending for “worst paper titleholder” after showing me something against Karo Murat. But then the WBO wants Cleverly to face Dmitry Sukhotsk six months later. As if that’s much better.
All signs point to heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko doing his rematch with Tony Thompson on Klitschko central, Epix, on July 7. I like Thompson as a person and a fighter, but that he’s about as good an opponent as you can find for Wlad right now doesn’t speak well of the division. And just because I haven’t mentioned it, ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who doubles as Epix commentator, sure does go easy on Epix-televised mismatches like Klitschko-Jean Marc Mormeck, don’t he? Also, Klitschko’s brother Vitali is going to run for mayor of Kiev, Ukraine again. Good luck to him. Also at heavyweight, Alexander Dimitrenko will face Kubrat Pulev in May, Pulev being the fellow who’s somewhat inexplicably in the Ring heavyweight top 10 but can prove he belongs if he beats even the limited Dimitrenko.
On the undercard of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.’s pay-per-view bout against Miguel Cotto, it looks like the Mayweather-“promoted” welterweight Jessie Vargas will face Alfonso Gomez. All signs of last year’s revival of quality PPV undercards have fallen by the wayside.
Super-exciting featherweight Jhonny Gonzalez is due to fight Elio Rojas in April, a dangerous fight despite Rojas’ absence from the Ring top 10, because Rojas really is only absent due to inactivity. And after that, Gonzalez wants Orlando Salido. Oh sweet jebus I want that one.
It’s impossible of late to predict who super middleweight Mikkel Kessler will ACTUALLY fight, given chronic injuries (one of which led him to pull out of a bout against Robert Stieglitz) and pure rumor (like the idea he would face Tavoris Cloud at light heavyweight, which isn’t happening). But the current plan is for him to face Allan Green at 175 pounds in May. Kessler is, from what I can tell, the super middle/light heavy version of Chris John, who had a little sojourn where he fought outside of his home country against top opponents but decided he’d rather make easier money back home.
Ulises Solis will have to face Johnriel Casimero at some point according to the IBF, and I like that junior flyweight bout. In the meantime, Casimero will face Sammy Gutierrez in May to stay busy.
Junior middleweights Austin Trout and Anthony Mundine are due to fight because of some sanctioning belt politics or the other, but it’s not like either of them are showing a ton of interest in it. Mundine is nothing more than an annoyance right now, anyhow.
(Round And Round sources: BoxingScene; ESPN; RingTV; FightHype; Wales Online)