By Jake Donovan
Strike while the iron is hot. If there’s a fight to be made, then by all means make it. The longer you wait for it to build up before making it a reality, the greater the chance that something goes wrong.
There are plenty of examples to be cited, but doing so would only conjure up endless – and pointless – debates over why it hasn’t yet happened, who’s to blame, whose is bigger and all that nonsense.
However, there are those fights where perhaps putting a little bit of time between concept and reality isn’t such a bad thing.
A pending junior welterweight showdown between Timothy Bradley and Amir Khan is rapidly shifting towards that category.
When HBO first floated the idea of an unofficial junior welterweight tourney, the aforementioned matchup was one that most experts envisioned as its grand finale.
Khan had long ago put in the rearview mirror a humiliating first round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott, rattling off seven straight wins. His last five have catapulted him towards the top of the junior welterweight rankings, including wins over Andriy Kotelnik, Paul Malignaggi and his thriller with Marcos Maidana last December.
The only remaining road block between Khan and divisional supremacy, is the level of superiority exuded by Bradley over the course of the past three years. His reign began with a well-earned road win over Junior Witter in his first ever fight outside of California, never mind traveling to the titlist’s backyard to score what at the time was regarded as a considerable upset.
As time marched on, fans have come around to recognize that the title win was no fluke. Victories over Kendall Holt and previously unbeaten Lamont Peterson bookended a super 2009 campaign, and has since snatched two more “0’s” with HBO-televised wins over Luis Abregu and Devon Alexander.
What’s been missing from Bradley’s career, however, is the ability to wow his viewing audience, or even bring them to the arena.
As talented as he is, the California native remains a prototypical TV fighter – one that’s worth the watch from the living room couch, but yet to find the market where he can put asses in the seats.
That part was where Khan was supposed to step in and help transform their proposed July showdown into a blockbuster event, whether it was staged in Las Vegas, Southern California or jolly old England.
For the moment, there is no such fight of which to speak. As recently reported by Boxingscene.com’s own Lem Satterfield, the two sides have yet to agree on the size of the slice that Bradley deserves for the event, along with other issues that need to be worked out before both sides can put ink to paper.
The question that needs to be asked, however, is how many people would feel cheated if the fight didn’t happen next?
There was an argument made that Bradley’s fight with Devon Alexander happened too soon, that the fight was unnecessarily pushed for the date on which it landed and that the end result was the disappointing event that it became, in and out of the ring.
The truth was that there was never going to be a truly right time to make the fight happen from a marketing standpoint. Even if you spent the past year building up the fighters, it wouldn’t have been any bigger of an event as it was on January 29, 2011.
In other words, it was always going to be a bigger fight than it would a big event.
Not to mention that the buildup towards it landed on shaky ground. Bradley looked good but not great in a brief trip to welterweight when he beat Abregu in what served as his HBO debut. Three weeks later, Alexander struggled mightily with former titlist Kotelnik, taking a unanimous decision that several suggested was partially due to home cooking.
Neither looked like the type of fighter that deserved to command millions for a fight against each other, and there strongly existed the possibility that they would never become that fighter.
Instead, they cut right to the chase and showcased the fight for what it was – two undefeated titlists going head to head in the heart of their respective primes.
Conversely, Khan managed to delay his mandatory defense against Marcos Maidana for as long as possible before finally agreeing to face the hardened Argentinean late last year.
If the fight happened four months sooner, chances are it would’ve drawn the same dismal crowd that turned out for their eventual Fight of the Year candidate. The fight was well worth the wait, but certainly didn’t benefit from the delay.
A Khan-Bradley fight, however, can stand to remain in the hopper for a little while longer.
While Bradley hardly looked spectacular against Alexander, Khan’s anticlimactic waltz with Paul McCloskey earlier this month was even more disappointing.
Granted, Khan was far more dominant in this fight than Bradley was against Alexander, but that’s to be expected. The latter bout featured two fighters who didn’t know how to lose, and whose styles made for an awkward matchup.
Khan-McCloskey was a showcase through and through. While it’s true that McCloskey was undefeated going in, the scouting report read that he was merely a regional-level fighter being thrown in against a world beater. All of that was supposed to add up to Khan looking spectacular.
Instead, fans were left with a fight that disappointed in action and in the way it ended. Khan dominated, but hardly in entertaining fashion and the win did nothing to enhance his ranking or popularity.
On the one hand, you can argue that the results of their past respective fights – both oddly enough ending via injury well before the final bell – should motivate both fighters to simply cut to the chase rather than risk another disinteresting performance or even a loss before they are able to meet in the ring.
Others will argue that perhaps they should seek the type of fights that will make them look spectacular, and that will make fans demand a Bradley-Khan showdown, rather than merely hope it one day happens just for the sake of happening.
The good news for both fighters is that plenty of options exist, and mostly winnable situations. That’s the beauty of the junior welterweight division, which has long remained among the deepest in the industry. When contenders are done, prospects are ready to step up and advance to the next level.
Allowing a fight like Bradley-Khan to properly build isn’t as great of a risk as was the case in the budding featherweight rivalry between Yuriorkis Gamboa and Juan Manuel Lopez.
More than a year had passed by since the idea was floated to match the two together, and all that came of the buildup was a trail of broken promises. The idea was to have the two clean out the featherweight division and grow in popularity, but neither of those ever came close to happening.
Even if Lopez managed to get past Salido earlier this month, the likelihood was that he was going to outgrow the featherweight division, which meant they would have to start all over at junior lightweight, a division that boasts very few options if the plan is profile enhancement.
There are no such concerns when it comes to a Bradley-Khan matchup, other than a list of contenders who boast a puncher’s chance of pulling off an upset.
Both fighters are dug in at junior welterweight, with the only concern of leaving the nest being of the one-and-done variety – namely a lucrative payday. But with the money HBO is willing to put up to eventually bring closure to the junior welterweight division, there’s no such reason to seek such larger risks for comparable or lesser reward.
Nor is there any reason to rush a matchup between the two. The division is already theirs for the taking, and both have plenty of reasonable options to remain busy. There’s time for each to look better and grow in popularity.
Even if neither instance happens, both fighters have already proven to be better than the rest of the field. Closure would be grand, for this or any other division in which there exists a healthy debate over who’s the man.
But even better would be the day when interest is greater than wanting a fight to happen just for the sake of it happening.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]