by Cliff Rold
No sport has delivered better in 2013 than boxing.
That’s not hyperbole. It’s not overstatement. It’s also not a comment on other sports not delivering this year. Far from it. The Super Bowl was exceptional. Tiger Woods is almost all the way back. The Miami Heat and New York Knicks put together special winning streaks to build anticipations for the NBA Playoffs.
It’s perfectly fair to make a case for many other sports delivering as well, in their domain, as boxing has.
Not this year.
And not in the last two months.
Boxing has been off its ass.
Its fans really don’t ask for much. When they give their time, their money, their attention, at the end of the day they want to see fights break out. They want to see their investment rewarded. They have been receiving a wealthy return.
Bernard Hopkins and Guillermo Rigondeaux delivered for the purists in technical victories over Tavoris Cloud and Nonito Donaire. Timothy Bradley-Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II unleashed potent “Fight of the Year” contenders. Robert Stieglitz-Arthur Abraham filled the revenge quota. Tyson Fury-Steve Cunningham saw Heavyweights trade knockdowns in a thriller on network television. Canelo Alvarez-Austin Trout and Sergio Martinez-Martin Murray delivered both thrills and massive crowds, giving the sport an air of spectacle to go with the action.
All of this is without the usual volume of god-awful officiating or scoring controversies. Sure, there have been rough moments, but it’s been muted and that’s a good thing.
And now, this Saturday marks the return of the kings.
Floyd Mayweather (43-0, 26 KO) is the revenue king of the sport. At 36, the lineal Welterweight Champion of the World is still regarded by many as the finest pugilist on the planet in mythical pound-for-pound terms. 21-0 in title fights across five weight classes, if he remains unbeaten he is closing in on, statistically, the greatest title fight records of all-time.
Wladimir Klitschko (59-3, 50 KO) is the literal king of the sport. As much silly fun as arguments about ‘pound-for-pound’ can be, the Heavyweight Champion of the World is and always will be the in-ring peak of the game. If Klitschko and (insert smaller man’s name here) were the same size, Klitschko might not win.
They ain’t the same size.
That’s okay. Boxing has always had weight divisions and stars of different sizes. Sometimes, the smaller men are where the most money resides. It happened when Ray Leonard overshadowed Larry Holmes. In the U.S., it’s happening now. Klitschko, despite his dominance at Heavyweight, is barely recognized outside fight circles. He isn’t universally beloved in those, but he has earned respect.
It’s not the same globally. Klitschko draws big money and ratings in Europe. His fight with David Haye did absurd multi-national viewing numbers. This weekend, the 37-year old attempts his 14th defense of the IBF belt he won in 2006 along with the WBO, WBA, and lineal crowns he’s picked up along the way. Untested younger man Francisco Pianeta (28-0-1, 15 KO) will try to upset the apple cart, will try to stop Klitschko as he closes in on Larry Holmes 20 consecutive defenses of a Heavyweight title (spread across WBC and IBF holdings).
Joe Louis’s 25, likely unattainable in a lineal sense, is out there too.
Mayweather, of the two, appears to have the tougher test. Robert Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KO), with titles at Featherweight and Jr. Lightweight along with interim titles at Lightweight and Welterweight, has more bona fides than Pianeta. While a decided underdog, he earned his crack at Floyd with two serious wins at Welterweight over Selcuk Aydin and Andre Berto. Pay-per-view revenue might make it the richest fight of the year.
Regardless of who ends up having a tougher go of it, the question to be asked in the context of boxing’s hot streak is simple:
Will either, or both, of these fight prove memorable?
It might not matter that much in another year. It matters right now. Klitschko (Epix, 4:30 PM EST) and Mayweather (Showtime PPV, 9:00 PM EST) share the stage for what will be boxing biggest day of the year so far.
If Klitschko and Mayweather provide fireworks this weekend, it takes boxing’s hot year to a whole other level. Maybe they provide sensational beatings to their foes; maybe they end up in two-way classics. That’s not as important
Shortly after the first epic clash between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo in 2005, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote, “fight fans belong to an exclusive club. Either you care or you don't. We don't have to deal with casual fans, overexposure or media members with no clue. When a Castillo-Corrales comes along, it belongs to us, and us alone. That's the way it was 30 years ago, and that's the way it is now.”
Of course, that’s not entirely true. There was a time where boxing belonged to everybody. There are still times where it can reach out and bring in the world at large. Those are good times. More eyes means higher ratings. Higher ratings can mean more money. More money often equals incentives to maintain high standards in matchmaking.
And, on a base level, it can mean the chance to talk boxing with more people, to not have to stare at blank expressions when explaining just how good a fight one just saw to the uninitiated. There are always fools claiming boxing to be dead or dying. That’s never the case. In the U.S., it has certainly been mitigated from its highest times and that’s bad enough.
Boxing is hitting on all cylinders right now. The slate of fights following this weekend includes Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler II, Lamont Peterson-Lucas Matthysse, and Jean Pascal-Lucian Bute. All of those scraps indicate boxing should stay hot regardless of what goes down on May 4.
If the two men who represent the pinnacle of the sport can get in on the act, the thrill ride of the last couple months might turn out to be much more than that. It might signal that we will really are on the precipice of the sort of broader fistic renaissance boxing has been due for a long time.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]