By Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Farina
In sports, it can be a marvel to witness top talents at their peak. If those peaks extend beyond the norm, that’s even better. It can help us to contextualize what we’re seeing. This week in the NBA, the Miami Heat might be well on their way to sewing up a fourth consecutive trip to the Finals.
That’s a good thing.
In general though, in sport, static is bad. We are programmed to accept the broad concept that old gives way to new. It’s long been that way for boxing fans. New is excitement, desire, and the unpredictable.
Now, new doesn’t always have to mean young. Sometimes, we get a late bloomer; we get a Glen Johnson for instance. New can just mean fresh faces and, for US audiences, the established face of boxing could be in for an overhaul this weekend.
Two fights in Macau, China, and another in London, will pit fairly fresh faces on the world stage against three of the most established names in boxing. Vic Darchinyan, Nonito Donaire, and Carl Froch have been fixtures near the top of their respective classes for years. All three of them are matched in fights they could lose this weekend.
Nicholas Walters, Simpiwe Vetyeka, and George Groves are not unknown going into the weekend but they are all fresh.
They may also be ascendant.
Of the three established names, Donaire can probably afford a loss the most. Only 31, and fighting in his fifth weight class, there would be more opportunities. The 33-year old WBA “Super” titlist Vetyeka (26-2, 16 KO) is a fighter with a hot hand. Winning ten of his last eleven since falling short in a Bantamweight title shot against Hozumi Hasegawa in 2007, Vetyeka has already freshened up the Featherweight ranks. His stoppage of Chris John in December 2013 ended the longest active title run in the sport and cleared out a faded champion who’d hung on too long.
A win over Donaire would put even more shine on the win over John, validating Vetyeka completely as a leader at 126 lbs. and stamping him as the man to beat going forward.
The future is less clear for Froch (36) and Darchinyan (38). With physically exacting styles, age isn’t on their side.
Darchinyan (39-6-1, 28 KO) is the only one of the three this weekend one can view as a decided underdog. With losses in three of his last five, fighting well above his prime at Flyweight and Jr. Bantamweight, it may be that the thrilling banger already had his last hurrah.
Last November, after years of waiting, Darchinyan got a rematch of his first defeat at the hands of Donaire. Through eight rounds, he was fighting his best fight and had a commanding lead. Donaire made that all go away in round nine. Is Walters (23-0, 19 KO), the WBA ‘other’ titlist at 126, merely picking the bones of an old warrior on the undercard of Donaire-Vetyeka?
Does it really matter?
Walters is looking to do what so many have before him. Talent gets a fighter so far. At some point, they need to knock over names people know. In the social media age, that might foster conversation about ‘Vic already being past it’ if Walters wins and starts to generate some support.
The fresh face will still be generating conversation if he wins. It’s better than the alternative.
The biggest fight of the week, and based on ticket sales likely the biggest fight boxing will see in all of 2014, is a rematch and Groves (19-1, 15 KO) has already made his presence known. He was winning the first time around before a shift of momentum led to one of the worst stoppages one will ever see.
The IBF/WBA “Super” titlist Froch (32-2, 23 KO) has been the warhorse of a strong Super Middleweight era. He hasn’t been the very best in his field, but he’s been the engine that made the whole era run. While others fell to injury, or inactivity, he kept chugging along fighting the best guys he could find.
From Jean Pascal in 2008 to now, there might not be any fighter who has so consistently faced the best of his division with less tune-up work between challenges.
The controversial nature of the first fight is a testament to how invigorating fresh faces can be. The old lion/young lion dynamic and the projection of real hostility has made this an event that evokes memories of some of the greatest crowds in boxing history. Boxing used to do stadiums more often. Those days are passed but they don’t have to be.
Froch-Groves is a classic example of the potential of boxing to be major league when it does things right (even if, given the stoppage in the first fight, it started out pretty wrong). Should Groves win this weekend, boxing has a major new face and the Super Middleweight division will have new possibilities opened wide.
We may be on the verge of a facelift for boxing’ status quo this weekend. Whether it’s just a nip or tuck, or a full-blown Botox explosion, remains to be seen. For now, we have three competitive affairs on paper and three newer figures in play in each of them.
That’s exciting on its own. It will be even more exciting to see where we’re headed when the day is done.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]