(Apr 27, 2013; Brooklyn, N.Y — Danny Garcia [green trunks] and Zab Judah [black trunks] hug after their junior welterweight bout at the Barclays Center. Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)
It takes a weekend of boxing like the last one to overshadow a weekend like the one up next, headlined by the world's biggest pay-per-view attraction and consensus best fighter, Floyd Mayweather. Everywhere you looked, there were closely-fought, dramatic, action-filled bouts featuring top fighters getting seriously challenged, foremost among them (in no particular order) Sergio Martinez-Martin Murray; Danny Garcia-Zab Judah; Amir Khan-Julio Diaz; and Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola.
It's too bad, then, that approximately half of the viewing audience couldn't watch both of the competing HBO and Showtime cards. With so many people having DVRs in their homes, it's easy to assume that everyone does. They don't — as of the last survey in November, only about half of all U.S. homes do. Maybe the people with HBO and Showtime subscriptions are skewed a little higher than the average, but DVRs are expensive to own in an economy like this one, and not everyone can afford them. So determined are HBO and Showtime — and, often in conjunction, Top Rank and Golden Boy — to wage full-on war (as Scott Christ recently wrote, it's no longer a Cold War) against each other that they don't care how many fans they snag so long as they hurt the other guy. In the short-term, the competition can boost both sides' products. In the long-term, they're still dividing a very sizable contingent of the boxing audience in a way that is hard to imagine not doing damage.
That's just about the only down note you can strike when reviewing the weekend that was, though. Sure, you could castigate a couple young heavyweights feasting on the carcasses of old heavyweights, and we'll mention one of them below, not so much the other. But if you like boxing, you almost surely found an awful lot to enjoy about what you witnessed.
- Martinez-Murray. The middleweight champion of the world is winding down his career, I have to believe, but while Martinez likely won't fight again in 2013 after his latest physical breakdown, he gave us another great show Saturday on HBO. He had a great deal of help from Murray, who showed in his second appearance against a world-class fighter — the first was a draw against Felix Sturm — that he's one of the very best middleweights himself. Martinez resembled his old self early on, even if Murray was competitive, but by the 4th he was clasping his knee and at some point he broke his left hand. I had feared after some sharp (as in, insightful) remarks by Rafe Bartholemew that I had overstated the risk of Martinez's knee injury handicapping him, but as it happens Martinez's promoter Lou DiBella said his surgically repaired meniscus became a problem during training camp. Murray was right there to capitalize on it, too — he fought a smart pressuring fight, decking Martinez in the 8th and, in a missed call, the 10th. I scored the bout 114-113 for Murray, but it was a bout that could honestly go either way and was bound to go Martinez's way with the cheering Argentinian home crowd. I've seen some back and forth on Twitter over the job done by Murray's trainer Oliver Harrison entering the 12th round, with some noting that he said to "be careful" and others hearing him trying to stir up Murray by telling him to do it for his family. My view is that Harrison gave Murray a good game plan to win the fight, and both bits of advice after the 11th were good — Murray might have hurt his chances of winning in the 12th against Sturm, but he also got wobbled, and I thought Martinez staggered him for a moment, too. As for what's next for both men: With the way his body is breaking down at 38, I wouldn't pick Martinez over a number of top 160-pounders anymore, like old foe Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. or up-and-coming Gennady Golovkin. Murray would make a great opponent for either man, or Peter Quillin, or maybe he could take on some other British middleweights, namely Matthew Macklin or Darren Barker.
- Garcia-Judah. Judah can't and won't beat guys on Garcia's level, but he'll alternate between shabby performances like his 2011 effort against Amir Khan, and gutsy, exciting, competitive showings like this one on Showtime. And Garcia, the best junior welterweight out there, is definitely on the elite level. I thought he was underrated before this, and have been in the minority of folk who would be inclined to pick him over Lucas Matthysse should they meet. Judah started slowly — I initially suspected his traditionally gaudy speed had abandoned him — but he found his quickness and was taking it to Garcia by fight's end. Judah doesn't put enough punches together, though, at age 35, and Garcia was able to hang on despite being wobbled. The excellence of Judah's performance — perhaps inspired by the disrespect he felt from the Garcia/Golden Boy side, probably a strategic blunder on their part which got the sometimes-undermotivated Judah fully-motivated — confirmed to me anew that Garcia, while nothing flashy, is a mighty fine boxer. He's talking about moving up to welterweight soon. It would be enormously disappointing if he did so before taking on the winner of Matthysse-Lamont Peterson this month.
- Khan-Diaz. Also on Showtime, an early-round shimmering performance from Khan turned into his customary life-and-death, ill-advised slugfest, some of which you can attribute to Diaz reviving his career some at 140-147 — he last gave Shawn Porter a heap of trouble — and some of which you can attribute to Khan simply not being able to break his bad habits. New trainer Virgil Hunter has instilled virtually no good ones in him, as Khan, who ought to be fighting like he did against Andriy Kotelnik (sticking and moving, jabbing obsessively, keeping his guard high at all times, not worrying about doing major damage so much as making contact) but instead fights like he thinks he's someone with punching power, which he had back at lightweight but doesn't anymore. Meanwhile, he was able to stay conscious against Diaz, but again couldn't stay off the deck. That chin of his isn't china, or he'd go down and stay down more often, but it ain't Toughbook, either. There's some talk of Khan facing Mayweather in "18 months," but at this point, without a complete transplant of his boxing brain, he probably won't have a career in 18 months. He's talking about pitching his tent in the Bay full-time to learn from Hunter, but at this point, all of Hunter's big acquisitions after the success of super middleweight champ Andre Ward aren't showing any tangible progress. In theory, Hunter should be able to give some of Ward's defensive mojo to Khan. We'll see if it goes that way in practice.
- Stiverne-Arreola. This was a composed, polished performance by Stiverne on HBO, who has at times hinted at being a heavyweight contender and on Saturday proved he was. He was unflappable and withstood every passionate assault from Arreola by responding with pinpoint power punching. The 12th round showed off that mentality — Arreola needed a knockout and came hunting for one, but Stiverne hit him harder and more accurately, newly bloodying the grisly Arreola to the point that he couldn't see, then backing him up and pounding him to the body to take whatever steam he had left out of him. Arreola will always be a good show, as he was with Stiverne here, which is why we sometimes forgive him his trespasses, namely that body of his. Stiverne's corner advising him to hit him in the bread basket because Arreola has a lot of bread was the right advice. After spending so much time as a full-on fatty, Arreola getting to "acceptable" physique-wise was a noteworthy accomplishment worthy of some praise. But "acceptable" isn't the same as "good" or "optimal," and whatever the talk of how Arreola will never have a "body beautiful," you're telling me he couldn't get any better than that? And you're telling me it might not make a difference? I doubt you are. And just like that, promoter Don King, on his last legs, gets one more "live" fighter, with Stiverne now in line to face Vitali Klitschko, one of the biggest money men in the division, should Vitali not retire as threatened.
- Peter Quillin-Fernando Guerrero. When last we saw Quillin against Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, he was getting backed up too often, demonstrating questionable stamina and punch output and lacking the ability to finish a hurt opponent. Against Guerrero — admittedly, no N'Jikam, despite a fierce effort in the 6th, albeit one marked by a bunch of slapping blows — Quillin showed improvement in all of those areas. With his speed and power, he was able to back Guerrero off with big counters, and when he did, he kept Guerrero on the defensive. Guerrero, too, defied his nature by trying to box too much rather than pour on the volume, and maybe this is another letdown in the making for a recent Virgil Hunter convertee. Quillin's defense still needs some work, as he's especially vulnerable during some of his offensive salvos, but he's really come along. This was an acceptable bout for Quillin coming off the difficult N'Jikam win, but far from an ideal one. I'd love, love, love to see him against Golovkin, because I think that's a difficult style match-up for both men, but the division is pretty top-heavy and it's time for him to step up against the division's true elite, because he's fighting like he is in that class.
- The rest. Although I haven't witnessed many of heavyweight Deontay Wilder's recent bouts, I've heard good things about his advancement. I didn't see much good in how he took out Audley Harrison. Yes, Wilder is big, fast and powerful. Yes, he hurt Harrison with the first solid punch he landed, but so has everyone who's fought Harrison in the last couple years. What stood out, though, was how horribly he threw those punches after he had Harrison in bad shape — the old metaphor about chopping an opponent down got real life with the way Wilder slung his arms overhead like an ax. It's too early to call out Tyson Fury, for all his flaws, and Fury had an expected vulgar and hilarious rejoinder to Wilder. Wilder might yet be a top heavyweight, but he has a loooooong way to go… Lightweight Raymundo Beltran's win this weekend was supposed to line him up for Terrence Crawford soon, a very solid bout between a hard-nosed vet in his prime and a talented prospect, but reportedly he won't be in any condition to take that fight now… The more I see of welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu — and admittedly I haven't tracked down his whole fight with Antonin Decarie yet — the more convinced I am that he's not some trial horse or gateway to contender-dom; he is a contender-quality fighter himself. Check out how the 8th round got cut short and may have robbed Abregu of a stoppage win rather than a decision.