by David P. Greisman
It’s great to be good.
It’s great to be great.
It’s not so good to be thought of as great, however, when you don’t look as great as people think you are.
Boxing is a venture founded in expectations but grounded in reality. A fighter will reach his limit as soon as an opponent becomes an obstacle, and as soon as that impediment becomes insurmountable.
Nonito Donaire and Sergio Martinez are very good fighters whose moments of greatness have set the bar too high. For Donaire and Martinez — or rather for those who now expect the best from them — being very good is no longer good enough.
Those expectations are the product of single shots — left hooks landed twice by Donaire on Vic Darchinyan and Fernando Montiel, and an overhand left landed as a knockout blow by Martinez on Paul Williams.
Those punches ended fights abruptly and promptly kick-started the hype.
Donaire practically disappeared after the 2007 win over Darchinyan, fighting on Showtime broadcasts and independent pay-per-views but never truly capitalizing on the stardom for which he seemed destined. It was unmistakable that he was very good and getting better, defending his flyweight belt, moving up one division and winning an interim title, then moving up once more to bantamweight and plowing through Wladimir Sidorenko.
That set him up for a long-awaited, oft-speculated contest with Fernando Montiel in February 2011. Quickly, and dramatically, there’d no longer be a need for speculation — it was no contest.
Donaire sent Montiel flat on his back in the second round with a picturesque, perfectly timed, perfectly placed left hook. That Montiel desperately kicked his legs in the air while lying on the canvas made it seem as if the fight was over. That Montiel nevertheless was able to rise to his feet was amazing. That Donaire need only land a few more punches to make the referee stop the bout was inevitable.
So, too, was stardom. Or so it seemed.
Donaire-Montiel came on HBO and was replayed again and again on YouTube for those who missed it and those who wanted to relive it. But then Donaire entered a contractual dispute with his promoter, stalling his momentum. And his last three appearances since have gone the distance, decisions over Omar Narvaez in October, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. this past February and Jeffrey Mathebula this past Saturday that have been clear — but far from eye-opening.
Martinez, meanwhile, had already reached the top of his division by beating Kelly Pavlik to become middleweight champion in April 2010. He rocketed into even higher esteem seven months later, delivering Paul Williams into unconsciousness and sending himself into those philosophical discussions about pound-for-pound echelons.
His three victories since have also ended within the distance — against Sergiy Dzinziruk in March 2011, Darren Barker in October and Matthew Macklin this past March — yet some of the talk hasn’t just been about his wins, but about what he had to go through to get them.
Boxing is a venture founded in expectations. It’s great to be good, and it’s good to be great, but it’s not so good to be thought of as great if you don’t look as great as people think you are.
Donaire and Martinez are very good fighters who have followed their moments of greatness with very good wins.
Donaire topped Narvaez in a bout in which Narvez rarely engaged and instead sought to counter, leaving Donaire more wary of what was coming back at him. Narvaez had never lost before then. Donaire then beat Vazquez Jr. in what went in the record books as a split decision but was a bout Donaire truly won widely, picking up a vacant junior featherweight title belt, staking a claim in yet another division and doing so with an injured hand.
And now Donaire has unified two titles by beating Mathebula, fighting through cramps and overcoming a foe who is particularly tall for their weight class.
Both Dzinziruk and Barker were undefeated before meeting Martinez, and Macklin had proven his mettle in challenging, and some believe beating, beltholder Felix Sturm the year before. Martinez was able to triumph against Dzinziruk’s skill and Barker’s and Macklin’s size, finishing his fights precisely as champions are expected to do.
Rare is the fighter who doesn’t falter. Only the greatest of greats— or the most protected commodities — never fail. And even the greatest of greats will have their struggles. Even Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson lost. Even Floyd Mayweather Jr. has had gritty performances and fought through shaky moments.
The bar has been set too high for Donaire and Martinez. One reason that one-punch knockouts are so thrilling is because they are so rare, a combination of circumstances — timing, location, and whether the shot is more powerful than its target’s resistance.
Donaire and Martinez continue to win, though.
A fighter will reach his limit as soon as an opponent becomes an obstacle, and as soon as that impediment becomes insurmountable. Just because the bar was set so high for Nonito Donaire and Sergio Martinez doesn’t mean they’ve reached their limits. They’ve proven themselves to be very good with moments of greatness. True greatness, however, is bestowed over the course of a career, not as a result of a single shot.
Those single shots ended fights abruptly and promptly kick-started the hype. You need not get caught up in that hype, however, to still believe in the fighter.
The 10 Count
1. Nonito Donaire has now gone from the 5-foot-3 Omar Narvaez to the 5-foot-11 Jeffrey Mathebula.
2. While I’m not in favor of ultra-sensitive political correctness, I’m also not comfortable with the idea of hateful or ignorant comments going unchecked.
That was the case last week with Angel Garcia, the father of 140-pound beltholder Danny Garcia, whose comments about Amir Khan got plenty of press on this very website ahead of this coming Saturday’s title bout.
“I have never met a Pakistani who could fight,” the senior Garcia was quoted as saying. “And I’m being honest with you. I ain’t beating around the bush or trying to sound racist. I’m being honest with you.
He also had this: “It’s going to come down to who’s stronger mentally, physically and spiritually. And I know Khan’s god already. Khan’s god is a punishing god. My god is a loving god. And I’m not ashamed to tell nobody that. I don’t care who is listening and who don’t like me because nobody does nothing for me. And I’m not scared to walk the streets either. I walk by myself because I’m a one-man gang like Danny is a one-man gang. I’m not scared of nobody. The truth is the truth and I will die with the truth.”
The problem is that while Angel Garcia is his own man, what he says and does publicly reflects on his son, and in turn reflects on the promotion and all of those involved with it. Yet there seems to be a tacit approval of saying or doing nearly anything that might help market a fight.
Football players who get arrested will get suspended. Boxers still get licensed. Basketball players who use derogatory slurs on Twitter will get fined (Amare Stoudemire just was ordered to fork over $50,000). Floyd Mayweather Jr. can use a slur about his father without facing any repercussions. There’s less sensitivity in the Sweet Science to commercial sponsorships, ticket buyers and the possibility of corporate pressure and boycotts.
In boxing, it seems, any publicity is good publicity. There’s a standard of conduct for other athletes, though, as well as other public figures. If I were a promoter or a network, though, I’d want to distance myself from negative remarks about ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Angel Garcia has a right to think what he wants to think and say what he wants to say, but that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t pull him aside and say: “Not cool.”
3. Much credit is due to Amir Khan for his response:
“It doesn’t really get to me,” Khan told BoxingScene’s own Luis Sandoval. “I let my fists do the talking in the ring and, with whatever I’ve heard, I’m going to let Danny Garcia’s father sit in a corner and sweat buckets when I’m going to beat his son. I think he’s putting pressure on his son and he’s making me want to knock his son out.
“I’m respectful,” Khan said. “I’ll shake hands with anyone. All my opponents I have shook hands with. That’s the thing with me. I will shake his hand, but like I said — when I’m in the ring I will hurt his son.”
4. More boxing on television is always a good thing. And so it was good news when Main Events and the NBC Sports Network announced last week that the cable channel had picked up another season of its “Fight Night” series to be produced in partnership with the promoter.
There will be “a minimum of six telecasts … each year on the NBC Sports Network, and up to two broadcasts will air each year on NBC,” according to a news release.
That’s up to eight shows per year. What really got writers and readers salivating, however, was the idea of boxing returning to broadcast network television.
I hope it works out, but please pardon me if my enthusiasm is tempered.
The last time pro boxing appeared on NBC was close to a decade ago, which Main Events also was involved with, and which didn’t produce enough of a success for that venture to continue.
I also don’t know why there’s a cap of “up to two” dates on NBC, rather than a minimum.
Here’s hoping boxing doesn’t continually get relegated to rough time slots, as seems to begrudgingly be done when the major networks are asked to promote the fights on behalf of their smaller sister stations — the Saturday night/Sunday morning midnight re-airings on CNN of the “24/7” episodes being one prime example of not-so-prime programming.
There will be one “Fight Night” card on “regular” NBC later this year, on Dec. 22, from 4 to 6 p.m. — you know, when everyone is shopping for Christmas presents.
At least it won’t be on at the same time as that evening’s NFL game.
Nevertheless, more boxing on television is always a good thing — and the only way to ensure that we get more and more of these good things is for us to tune in and show the NBC Sports Network and NBC executives that their money was well spent.
5. That said, if you want a lot of boxing to watch, you just need to know where to look — and have the desire to spend an entire Saturday in front of your computer and television screens.
This past weekend, you could’ve spent your afternoon and early evening watching:
- an illegal stream of the welterweight fight between Kell Brook and Carson Jones taking place in the United Kingdom, and also caught the undercard bouts;
- Wladimir Klitschko’s heavyweight championship defense against Tony Thompson taking place in Switzerland and airing on TV and online via EPIX;
- Tyson Fury’s win over heavyweight journeyman Vinny Maddalone, which was held elsewhere in the United Kingdom and was shown in America on a network called WealthTV.
You then could’ve remained on your couch for the night, too, in favor of:
- HBO’s doubleheader featuring Kelly Pavlik vs. Will Rosinsky and Nonito Donaire vs. Jeffrey Mathebula;
- A Fox Deportes boxing broadcast.
- A Telefutura boxing broadcast.
Now just imagine if more major overseas fights aired in the United States, with promoters asking only for a nominal fee, giving broader exposure to an audience that, barring the most hardcore, tends to think boxing only exists between the Atlantic and Pacific and between the Canadian and Mexican borders.
6. Tony Thompson landed 15 power punches on Wladimir Klitschko in the first round of their first fight.
He landed seven total power punches in less than six rounds in their rematch.
7. July 8, 12:09 a.m. Eastern Time, HBO commercial for its July 21 broadcast featuring Adrien Broner vs. Vicente Escobedo: “But first, the explosive power hitter Marcos Maidana wants to reclaim his status against a 23-year-old fast-rising prospect, Keith Thurman, in a welterweight showdown.”
June 29, 4:04 p.m. Eastern Time, news story on BoxingScene.com: “Marcos Maidana … is having second thoughts about the welterweight fight with undefeated Keith Thurman, scheduled to take place as the HBO televised co-feature on July 21.”
July 2, 4:23 a.m. Eastern Time, headline on BoxingScene.com: “Team Maidana Reject Thurman Fight, Explain The Issues.”
July 3, 3:06 p.m. Eastern Time, blog entry on ESPN.com: “So Maidana-Thurman, thankfully, is off.”
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former two-division titleholder Darrin Van Horn was arrested in late June for allegedly calling his ex-wife, which violated the terms of a protective order against him, according to Kentucky television station WLEX.
Van Horn, 43, fought from 1984 to 1994, going 53-3 with 29 knockouts and capturing belts at junior middleweight and super middleweight. His last title defense was a 1992 loss to Iran Barkley, who stopped Van Horn in less than two rounds.
Kentucky online court records show Van Horn as having a pretrial conference set for this Wednesday.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update: A young British pro super middleweight has been found guilty of manslaughter for punching a 19-year-old man, who fell to the ground and later died from his injuries.
Clifton Ty Mitchell, 21, heard that verdict in late June, according to the Derby Telegraph. His sentencing is set for later this month.
Mitchell’s brief boxing career lasted from March 2010 until October 2011. The incident occurred five days after his last pro fight, a loss that dropped his record to 3-2 with 2 knockouts.
10. HBO has brought us several installments of “24/7” and “Face Off, four editions of “2 Days” and two episodes of “Fight Game.” What comes next, however, will be its greatest triumph in boxing programming:
A quiz show in which Roy Jones Jr., George Foreman and Teddy Atlas try to pronounce fighters’ last names…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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