By Lyle Fitzsimmons
For an instant, I was back in San Antonio.
Or maybe Washington, New York, Los Angeles… or the other six cities on the nine-day itinerary of Showtime’s made-for-publicity Mayweather-Alvarez press tour in late June and early July.
Back then, as the fighters, their traveling parties and other dutiful laborers worked their way to and from venues in time zones across the U.S. and Mexico, the goal was to generate a palpable baseline of chatter for the fight that would carry until the final hard sell began in mid-August.
If the number of message-board posts typically generated by any mention of the match in the mean time is indicative, the early buzz had some staying power. So, when this past Saturday arrived and Showtime finally unveiled its initial installment of “All Access,” the suits in Manhattan had to be pleased.
The homestretch is here, and the pay-per-view brass ring – in this case, the 2.4 million buys generated by Mayweather and arch nemesis Oscar De La Hoya when they met six years ago – is within reach.
When I spoke to Showtime’s Stephen Espinoza at the Miami tour stop and asked if this was the main event to challenge for the all-time title, he played it particularly close to the vest – lauding the past fight’s assets and pointing out myriad factors that make it difficult to reproduce such fervor these days.
“It’s hard to predict where we’ll end up,” he said. “De La Hoya/Mayweather was a perfect storm. Oscar was at the peak. Floyd was just starting to make a lot of noise. You had the perfect good guy/bad guy storyline. It’s hard to replicate that. That may be one of those numbers that isn’t approached again, because of the virtue of technology and the division of the audience’s attention and all kinds of things.”
Of course, the ante has been upped since that steamy day in South Florida.
The undercard was given a significant boost a few weeks later with the signing of Danny Garcia and Lucas Matthysse as the final pre-main feature. And the shocking downfall of featherweight champion Abner Mares on Saturday was the latest network advance in a surge that had already featured viable candidates for the year’s best fight (Figueroa-Arakawa) and knockout (Matthysse-Peterson).
Pencil in Gonzalez-Mares as 2013’s biggest upset and it’s easily understandable why Espinoza and colleagues at Paramount Plaza are ebullient about their chances come mid-September.
Episode two will air Saturday at 10 a.m., two weeks before fight night at the MGM Grand.
“The momentum has been created by the wealth of talent at the top of the 140-, 147- and 154-pound divisions,” said Espinoza, formally referred to as executive vice president and general manager, sports & event programming, at Showtime Networks. “The credit goes to the boxers who have stepped up and accepted the challenge of participating in the highest profile and most important fights.
“It's been an incredible run, and there's no end in sight. Our ratings are way up. The excitement from the fans is at a fever pitch, and we are building toward a September event that might be the most significant fight in a decade.”
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Speaking of Showtime, it’s good to know the tough guys are back at it again.
The same keyboard-fondling trolls so quick to toss out words like “coward” and “quitter” when a fighter chooses long-term health over short-term punishment were back at it again in the immediate aftermath of Mares’ first career defeat – which came courtesy of Jhonny Gonzalez’s left fist Saturday night.
“You can’t teach chin” and “Mares was hiding some china” were a couple of the moronic reactions that somehow emerged when a 14-year pro who’d scored 85.1 percent of his victories by KO before Saturday bumped that percentage up another three-tenths by simply doing what he does best.
As for the supposedly glassy Mares – who’d managed to go 12 rounds with Vic Darchinyan (77.1 percent), 24 with Joseph Agbeko (78.5 percent) and nine with Daniel Ponce De Leon (79.5 percent) – he sidled his way into a club that’s already chock full of fellow long-term and multi-division title-holders.
Lest we forget, Canastota-celebrated ex-champs Roberto Duran and Joe Louis were victims of brutal knockouts at the hands of guys named Hearns and Schmeling; and, a little short of nine months ago, even ex pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao took a one-shot nap thanks to Juan Manuel Marquez.
Incidentally, both Duran and Louis fought sluggers and won championships after their KO losses, and “Pac Man” is but 89 days away from meeting a foe with a 74.1 percent stoppage clip – a matchup for which he’s currently installed as a 4.5 to 1 favorite, in spite of a supposedly faulty jaw line.
In other words, the premise is as weak as the wannabe clowns delivering it.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title – Mexico City, Mexico
Adrian Hernandez (champion) vs. Atsushi Kakutani (No. 14 contender)
Hernandez (27-2-1, 16 KO): Third title defense; Also held WBC belt in 2011 (one defense)
Kakutani (13-3-1, 6 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of Japan
Fitzbitz says: “Hernandez has spent several years either beating, or at least competing with, the best in his weight class. A second-tier challenger on a long road trip shouldn’t be a bother.” Hernandez in 9
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full- fledged title-holder -- no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 2-1
2013 picks record: 48-30 (61.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 511-182 (73.7 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.