By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Don’t get me wrong, folks. I’m all for excitement.
When two guys meet in ring center, drop all pretense about a battle of skills and simply stand toe to toe with designs on bashing each other into submission, I get as into it as the next guy.
I appreciated Gatti and Ward. I was in awe of Corrales and Castillo. And I watched with admiration on Saturday night when Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado woke up their predecessors’ brutal echoes.
I humbly concede that the amount of heart, soul and guts that it takes to engage in such a competition – win, lose or draw – goes far beyond the capacity of keyboard-bashing wannabes like me.
In fact, none of us with a shred of integrity would even try to imply otherwise.
But excitement is one thing. Excellence is quite another.
And as titillating as the 1,316 throws and 337 lands might have been to the thousands in attendance and millions tuning in, they weren’t close to proving either the Coloradan or Californian were at all capable of handling a qualified foe whose skills had evolved much past a caveman’s.
Lest anyone forget, the Rios who’s being so breathlessly celebrated today is the same guy whose acumen was in doubt only six months ago, when an opponent with a strategy beyond smash and grab did everything but win on two of the year’s most nose-curdling scorecards.
Heck, that was only Richard Abril – a 29-year-old Cuban with a middling resume – and the springtime odor in Las Vegas was so bad that even the fairness-challenged WBA allowed him to keep hold of an interim title belt in spite of a decision officially split in the direction of his opponent.
But now, after 20 minutes of lumpy mayhem against a 32-year-old with a career’s worth of mid-card victims, Rios has somehow been vaulted past the guy who schooled him and into the high-end element of legit multiple-division entities like Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao.
To the blood-spattered demolition derby set, it’s construed as good for the sport. As if two guys pounding each other bloody with bats would elevate the level of America’s pastime, just because knuckle-draggers in Philadelphia or elsewhere might find it entertaining.
To me, it’s a lot more like Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis being picked to start the All-Star Game.
No matter how many homers he hit in Durham – like the myriad scalps Rios has collected so far in California – it never meant a thing when the pitcher brought something beyond a straight, flat fastball.
A nondescript Abril did that, and a befuddled Rios couldn’t do a thing with him.
But because Alvarado brought fewer pitches to the mound, Rios is christened the next Babe Ruth.
It’s the condensed version of last week’s Canastota debate, in which fans bedazzled by micro honors like “fight of the year” too often equate the frenetic combatants’ career achievements with the macro stratosphere reserved for “fighter of the decade” types.
And ultimately, just like “Thunder’s” flameouts against the elites of his era, I’d expect nothing short of similar dominance when “Bam Bam’s” enablers suggest he’s earned a similar PPV promotion.
I like the big leagues as much as anyone, but if it were my kid…
I’d tell him to stick to tee ball.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior bantamweight title – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. Johnny Garcia (No. 15 contender)
Narvaez (36-1-2, 19 KO): Fifth title defense; Held WBO title at 112 (2002-09, 16 defenses)
Garcia (16-3-1, 8 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside Mexico (1-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran belt-holder was proven not ready for the world’s elite at 118 pounds, but he’ll once again show superiority against relative novice in defending turf at 115.” Narvaez by decision
IBF welterweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Randall Bailey (champion) vs. Devon Alexander (No. 4 contender)
Bailey (43-7, 37 KO): First title defense; Held WBO title at 140 (1999-2000, two defenses)
Alexander (23-1, 13 KO): Fifth title fight (3-1); Held IBF/WBC titles at 140 (2009-11, two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran KO artist got back to title-holding fraternity with sudden stoppage, but more-seasoned Alexander will avoid big shots and add second weight-class jewelry.” Alexander by decision
WBA/WBC super lightweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Danny Garcia (WBA/WBC champion) vs. Erik Morales (No. 2 WBA/WBC contender)
Garcia (24-0, 15 KO): Second WBC defense/first WBA defense; Beat Morales (UD 12) on March 24
Morales (52-8, 36 KO): Twenty-third title fight (18-4); All eight career losses in United States (23-8)
Fitzbitz says: “Youngster established himself in division with the shocker over Khan, but he handled Morales with little life-and-death difficulty last time – and should do so again here.” Garcia in 9
WBA welterweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Paul Malignaggi (champion) vs. Pablo Cesar Cano (No. 10 contender)
Malignaggi (31-4, 7 KO): First title defense; Fourteenth fight in New York (11-2)
Cano (25-1-1, 19 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost only fight in United States
Fitzbitz says: “Young Mexican gets title shot as consolation prize for rousing battle with Morales a year ago, but he’s probably in over his head skill-wise in new champ’s initial defense.” Malignaggi by decision
Vacant WBO bantamweight title – Pasay City, Philippines
AJ Banal (No. 1 contender) vs. Pungluang Sor Singyu (No. 2 contender)
Banal (28-1-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since lone career loss in 2008 (11-0)
Singyu (42-1, 27 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since lone career loss in 2009 (19-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Thai challenger has been on impressive run, but Filipino’s better grade of competition will prove decisive when this bout gets to deep water.” Banal by decision
WBO middleweight title – Brooklyn, N.Y.
Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (champion) vs. Peter Quillin (No. 1 contender)
N’Jikam (27-0, 17 KO): First title defense; First fight in United States
Quillin (27-0, 20 KO): First title fight; Nineteenth fight in New York (18-0)
Fitzbitz says: “American-born slugger looked title ready while working over a veteran in his last bout, and should be plenty ready for challenge provided by dubious incumbent here,” Quillin by decision
Last week’s picks: 1-0
Overall picks record: 343-115 (74.8 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.