by Cliff Rold
Who can’t enjoy being part of a good cult following?
Not the bad kinds of course. Rancid Kool-Aid or white sneakers and astro-projection? Nothing sounds fun about any of that.
No, by cult following, what is meant is a good midnight showing of Rocky Horror…discovering Dark City for the first time…being able to compare Marvelman to Watchmen because you were lucky enough to read both…
…watching boxing in the United States when Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao aren’t fighting.
Boxing, like it or not, is largely a sport based on an avid cult following in the U.S. Inside that fairly large cult following, we find sub-sects all the time. They are born often these days on Facebook, Twitter, and boxing message boards.
Take, for instance, what can be called the “Cult of Rigo.” Like the cult of the “Tijuana Tornado” and “Punisher” before it, a notion develops of a man feared universally and avoided by all. Former Cuban amateur God Guillermo Rigondeaux is now a 122-lb. professional titlist. Only 10-0, with 8 stops, Rigondeaux looks as ready for prime time as any ten-fight veteran since Kostya Tszyu.
He’s clearly, already, a threat to anyone at Jr. Featherweight. Before some of the best names in and around his class found foes, it was easy for the “Cult of Rigo” to shout to the heavens that their man is THE man.
So, now, a serious question: if Nonito Donaire is fighting Toshiaki Nishioka and Abner Mares is fighting Anselmo Moreno…
…Who’s ducking Rigondeaux?
For now, the “Cult of Rigo” gives way to the broader cult of hardcore boxing fans and will have to wait their turn.
It’s not official yet but it’s getting in the direction of contracts and signatures. In a bold move, Showtime and Golden Boy Promotions look like they will go head to head with HBO and Top Rank on October 13th, pitting a serious contest against what some have hailed as the best subscriber-based ‘free’ show of 2012. This isn’t September 15th, where a must-see main event (Sergio Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.) is set against what appears a better overall card (headed by Saul Alvarez-Josesito Lopez).
No, this is a pair of main events that, on their own, would have striking appeal to anyone who counts boxing as their primary sporting passion. Head to head, they make for a gut wrenching choice.
Fights like Donaire-Nishioka and Mares-Moreno may one day produce stars that attract broader attention. The former, paired with a scintillating Brandon Rios-Mike Alvardo Jr. Welterweight war waiting to happen, got a notable article in USA Today just for being planned. For now, they are the gems boxing fans can enjoy outside the mainstream echo. These are the fights we can point to as examples of boxing’s best fighting each other, of the good old days not being so far away after all.
And they’ll be on the same night?
The quality of the HBO show has been explored in volume already. Mares-Moreno is of equal stock. The 26-year old Mares (24-0-1, 13 KO) is venturing into Carl Froch territory with this one. Since getting his first title shot, Mares has fought Yonnhy Perez, Vic Darchinyan, and Joseph Agbeko (twice). Solid veteran former titlist Eric Morel is what passes for his soft touch before taking on a fighter with a longer cult following than Rigo in Moreno.
The 27-year old Moreno (33-1-1, 12 KO) is one of the trickiest fighters in the game, a wispy boxer with great defensive skills, accuracy, timing, and a wicked body attack. He is capable of lulling people into thinking he’s not a fighter and then beats the hell out of guys from the pocket. Vic Darchinyan has had some losses in his career, including to Mares, but only two of them qualify as bad.
Donaire gave him one.
Moreno gave the other.
The Panamanian has defended his WBA 118 lb. title ten times. His lone loss and draw came in 2002 four-rounders. He’s as close to unbeaten as a fighter can be without his “0.” While there have been some split decisions in his favor, the bulk of them were a result of being on the road. How good does a slickster have to be for locals not to rob them?
They have to be Moreno good.
Can he be good enough to beat a fighter whose fundamental base and all around game is as developed as Mares’s? That’s a question worth finding an answer too. Mares doesn’t do any one thing great, but he’s good at just about everything. He’s shown he can handle a range of styles and find ways to win.
If the Mares fight has a red flag, it’s that boxing judges sometimes appear to favor naked aggression over craft, especially when one name is bigger than the other and the audience is contained (see: Brandon Rios-Richard Abril). If Moreno doesn’t win going away, can he win at all?
Damn the red flag.
These are two upper echelon talents in their prime. This is a fight both men can win, and lose, a pick ‘em. Let’s assume the best man wins period until proven otherwise and hope Russell Mora isn’t officiating (see: Mares-Agbeko I).
For fans in love with debating things like pound-for-pound ratings, consider that all four men in the main events on the 13th are involved on some level in those debates. After he defeated Rafael Marquez last year, Nishioka was strongly considered for Ring’s Top Ten. Beating Donaire would make him a slam duck. Mares and Moreno flirt with the top ten in various polls floating around. The winner would be a lock for entry on any list worth reading.
Oh, and let’s not forget, while Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank may not always play nice in the sandbox, the night can only create demand for the winners of Donaire-Nishioka and Mares-Moreno to square off sooner than later.
Or fight Rigo.
Win. Win. Win.
It’s easy to complain. It’s easier to be excited. This scribe opined, on the eve of Robert Guerrero-Selcuk Aydin , that if the networks and promoters insist on rampant counter-programming, they needed to make it worth the while of fans sticking by boxing through thick and thin.
There need to be nights demanding the possession of a DVR and forcing fans to get offline so as not to spoil one result over the other. Assuming Mares-Moreno is finalized, October 13th is one of those nights. If the choice, given television date scarcity, is between not getting Mares-Moreno or getting it against Donaire-Nishioka, then, hey, make it a long night of boxing and keep the cooler stacked.
Is it good business? Maybe not. It’s hard to imagine Mares-Moreno, speculated to be taking place in Las Vegas, drawing as much in the way of live gate as it might without Southern California fans who might have made the drive having a reason to stay home already. HBO’s card is already so anticipated it’s just not going to be overshadowed.
That doesn’t mean the options can’t be fun. If fight fans aren’t getting what they want from one show or the other, they are a flick of the remote away from something else they aren’t going to want to miss. Fans with picture-in-picture? They’re just going to be spoiled.
Is it October 13th yet?
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]