Despite its depleted press ranks who continue to deliver a procession of poison-tipped darts — at times with the eagerness of a kid armed with a plastic toy bow; sometimes withering, occasionally humorous, generally ineffective — boxing continues its descent into a state as indecipherable as Hilbert’s sixteenth problem. A case in point unfolds this weekend, at the Salle des etoiles, Monte Carlo, where two unranked fighters, one from the northeast of England, the other from Coachella in southern California, contest a bantamweight world title. Should the former, Stuart Hall, 16-3-2 (7 KOs), 34, triumph over 24-year-old American Randy Caballero, 21-0 (13 KOs), he’ll qualify as a two-time world titlist. In addition, he’ll become one of Britain’s most decorated professional fighters ever. This, despite the fact he isn’t currently rated as one of his country’s top two bantamweights — both of whom, incidentally, have defeated him. He was also beaten as recently as the summer by a junior bantamweight from Merseyside. Fans in attendance might be better served trying to outfox the local casino’s roulette wheel than trying to ponder this set-up unduly.
But what say we head down that rabbit hole anyway? Hall (above left) is a direct beneficiary of Jamie McDonnell’s itchy feet. Last year, McDonnell, a world-rated bantamweight from Hatfield, secured the very belt Hall and Cabellero (above right) will now contest after Sheffield tycoon Dennis Hobson bankrolled a home tie for McDonnell — a loss-leader of a promotion — against Mexican puncher Julio Ceja. McDonnell won a competitive fight, only to be stripped of his title six months later while in the midst of a bothersome gambol with promoter Eddie Hearn. After McDonnell announced he was severing ties with Hobson in order to agree a promotional deal with Hearn, Hobson appealed to the British Boxing Board of Control. In the meantime, the world governing body in question invoked a technicality to render the title vacant before the board’s gavel had even been raised. McDonnell went on to win an alternative, vacant world title in May.
Hobson drafted in Hall to pick up the pieces, who out-gutted South African Vusi Malinga (Malinga tackles McDonnell’s twin brother Gavin on Saturday). Then, after his maiden defence ended unsatisfactorily on Tyneside — when he bumped heads with Durham’s Martin Ward before the fight had come to the boil — Hall returned to Newcastle to face talented junior bantamweight Paul Butler in June. Butler, whose travelling support helped save the show from the ignominy of a dismal attendance, edged Hall over 12 rounds to clinch the belt (which he promptly discarded).
Hobson moved quickly, crucially positioning Hall for an instant return before then trumping Golden Boy Promotions by $261,750 to $127,000 at the purse bid stage. Which brings Hall full-circle again: beating Caballero would be his riposte to those who question his merits. With Caballero and Hall set to earn close to £77, 000 apiece, both will earn handsomely (for bantamweights at least) and one will head home with a belt; what does the rest of it matter?
Well there’s this: Consider a FIFA splinter group arranging its own World Cup final between Greece and Scotland. Ridiculous, right? How absurd would it then be for a terrestrial TV network to advertise and then present it as if the winners were authentic world champions? Not only that, but for them to be backed by other major media outlets, who also reported it as such. It couldn’t happen, could it?
From Hobson’s viewpoint, it is a promotional power move — a heavy investment to increase future revenues (a tactic he used to promote Ricky Hatton after the Manchester star split with Frank Warren in 2005). Should Hall triumph, a unification bout with McDonnell (something akin to the Emperor’s New Clothes) would sell in the U.K. — despite the fact that neither are ranked in the top three at the weight (a fact few potential customers would be aware of or even interested in). In that regard, Hobson can be seen as merely responding to his environment. Whether it is pride, ambition or a magnate with an altruistic streak, it is explicitly Hobson’s desire to promote a world title-holder that gifts Hall — who boasts only a modest fan-base and world ranking (he is rated the 29th best bantamweight in the world by BoxRec.com; Caballero is ranked 14th) — this opportunity. Quite what his influence is with this organization — one that has allowed him to work as one of their preferred partnership workers for the last 17 months — is another matter.
From Hall and Cabellero’s outlook — the fighter’s perspective — winning a world title remains a lifelong ambition. Prizefighters set out to win world titles — however devalued they’ve become — and big purses. Their motives need no explanation, yet predictably it is the fighters themselves who will be labelled fakes, more so perhaps than the organisations that feed off them.
And so with fighters, promoters, TV networks, ringside officials and the audiences who pay their wages complicit in this grimy charade, it is left to boxing’s remaining diehards — the amateur historians, the bloggers, the forum posters, the tweeters — to bristle with outrage, a sea of Walter Sobchak’s pulling out pieces on the lanes (“Doesn’t anyone give a shit about the rules? MARK IT ZERO!”).
It is this contingent — bloggers in the main — that anyone still concerned with logic must turn to for however long major media outlets remain content to collude on fallacies and blurred lines — whether that is born from sloppy semantics, complete ignorance or something entirely more worrisome. They act as boxing’s interpreters — unofficial trading standard officers armed with Wi-Fi and a keyboard. Quite how this plays with genuine regularity organisations such as Ofcom is baffling. Has boxing become so marginalised it fails to even register when sackcloth is peddled as silk?
Once rinsed of the mess around it, the fight itself is actually a compelling match-up. Both fighters press forward, both seek to engage. Caballero is more compact and appears to carry a sharper dig in his left hook. Hall, huge at the weight, has size, stamina and a grit that the American may struggle to wear down. Here, though, his long arms could work against him: if both enter one another’s wheelhouse, Caballero will get the jump on Hall, on the inside, where he can wreak havoc.
Still, the 3-to-1 odds offered on the Darlington man looks the value bet of the weekend. Caballero is greener — despite having had the same number of fights — and can be hit far too readily to make him a prohibitive favourite over an opponent who, after coming to the sport late, is improving with each outing. While Caballero may well win enough rounds to be hailed the winner on Twitter, convincing contemporary judges is just another pitfall for today’s boxers in a sport where “world champions” can be contenders, sportsmen can be drug cheats, ratings can be illogical and judges can be unqualified – while the rest of us are left to protect ourselves from a perpetual state of bewilderment.