by David P. Greisman
You would think there would be plenty of reason to give us the fights we want. We are the paying customers, after all, be it with tickets, cable subscriptions or pay-per-view purchases.
The problem is that we are not necessarily discerning customers. Nor are we the only customers.
Boxing promoters are increasingly subsidized by arena site fees and television license fees, as well as other, more secondary revenue streams. Our money begins to matter less once that profit is guaranteed. The venue and the network have bought the card; the onus is now on them instead as to whether to market to the masses.
Promoters, then, need not spend as much money making good fights. Nor do they need to spend as much effort on making them, as we tend to satisfy our hunger for the Sweet Science by lapping up nearly everything, and nearly anything, placed before us. There is a core group of fans that will tune in for every broadcast, and there is a segment of that same group that will shell out for every pay-per-view.
This is why we suffer through the televised silence in the background during undercards that can be as quiet as they are not compelling, as we get matches in which we already know who is going to win, and as we get strung along waiting for better bouts to be made while listening to excuses why they will not happen yet or cannot happen at all.
And so it has been an absolute pleasure that we have been getting more of the fights that we want. The status quo isn’t quite reversing course, nor is a new trend beginning to be established. But the past two years have brought some fights that we had either long sought, or long thought to be impossible.
It began somewhat slowly, from late 2010 through mid-2011, when bouts that had been debated and discussed finally came to fruition. Sergio Martinez got his rematch with Paul Williams. Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander came together at last to put two of the three best 140-pound boxers in the ring with each other. Nonito Donaire was paired up with Fernando Montiel. And Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye finally got the chance to put their hands on each other.
Half of those bouts didn’t live up to what we’d hoped for, not with Bradley and Alexander effectively negating each other’s better traits, and not with Haye’s actions failing to back up his words. The other two fights were brief but spectacular: Martinez sent Williams into unconsciousness, while Donaire literally dented Montiel’s face, both wins coming as a result of perfectly placed left hands in the second round.
It has become too difficult to make the best fights. There’s not always money in it for the promoter or the boxer. Even some of this recent era’s best wars played out in front of smaller audiences in the arena and on television. Promoters see their boxers as an investment and will not gamble when the risk of losing is greater, and when the possibility of reward doesn’t make that risk worthwhile.
This is why we see some promoters put their cash cows in with opponents from the same stable; at least then the cash cow’s potential downfall won’t take away the promoter’s future windfall. Even then, it’s all too rare that we see promoters make great fights between their own boxers.
Just in the past 12 months, though, we’ve had several matches that were potentially risky for the promoters — as well as for the boxers, who now need to be tested less and less before getting title shots and television spotlights — and had the potential to be rewarding for the audience.
Years ago, James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo were both under the banner of Gary Shaw Productions, and it didn’t seem likely that they would be put in against each other, not when two prized prospects are better than one. Then when Kirkland left Shaw for Golden Boy, such a match seemed even less possible. But Angulo ultimately joined Golden Boy as well a few years later. With the combination of his inability last year to fight in the United States, and with Kirkland having suffered a shocking upset loss to Nobuhiro Ishida, the promoter opted to put them together in Mexico and on HBO.
Since then, we’ve had the No. 2 and No. 3 super middleweights face each other in May, with Carl Froch demolishing Lucian Bute. The top 168-pounder and the top 175-pounder fought in early September, with Andre Ward putting on an entertaining clinic and stopping Chad Dawson. A week after that, middleweight champion Sergio Martinez met titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in a collision that had been avoided nearly as long as it had been sought.
Last month brought us two of the most entertaining junior welterweights, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado, as well as two of the best junior featherweights, Nonito Donaire and Toshiaki Nishioka. And this Saturday will bring us an extremely rare bout between Top Rank and Golden Boy fighters, when Vanes Martirosyan faces fellow junior middleweight Erislandy Lara. On that same night, Golden Boy will be putting its 122-pound titleholder, Abner Mares, in with 118-pound titleholder Anselmo Moreno, who also belongs to the stable but is in essence playing the potential spoiler.
These are breaks from the norm, when a promoter such as Top Rank would rather let a fight between two of its top fighters in a division “marinate” — as Bob Arum famously described the delay in putting together featherweights Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa — and when a promoter such as Golden Boy would rather keep a spotlighted titleholder such as Canelo Alvarez away from a potential spoiler it also promotes such as Lara.
We should be happy about what we’re getting. That doesn’t mean we can be happy with merely having that. We should continue to want more.
The status quo isn’t reversing yet. For that to happen, we need to reward promoters and boxers when they take these risks. And to truly make a difference, we should do something far more difficult — change the channels and put away our wallets to show that we don’t have to settle for what they’re selling. But boycotts rarely work, and they won’t be effective when we have a long history of tuning in and shelling out no matter what.
The 10 Count
1. The only way that Nonito Donaire isn’t the Fighter of the Year for 2012 is if he somehow loses to Jorge Arce this December — or if Mariusz Wach somehow pulls off the upset of all upsets this weekend and defeats Wladimir Klitschko.
2. We have major boxing on American airwaves for all but the final weekend of 2012:
Nov. 10: Vanes Martirosyan vs. Erislandy Lara (HBO), Abner Mares vs. Anselmo Moreno (Showtime), Klitschko vs. Wach (Epix)
Nov. 17: Adrien Broner vs. Antonio DeMarco (HBO), Carl Froch vs. Yusaf Mack (independent pay-per-view), Hernan Marquez vs. Brian Viloria (WealthTV)
Nov. 24: Robert Guerrero vs. Andre Berto (HBO), Ricky Hatton vs. Vyacheslav Senchenko (Showtime)
Dec. 1: Austin Trout vs. Miguel Cotto (Showtime)
Dec. 8: Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez (HBO pay-per-view)
Dec. 15: Donaire vs. Arce (HBO), Amir Khan vs. Carlos Molina (Showtime)
Dec. 22: Tomasz Adamek vs. Steve Cunningham (NBC)
3. This has thankfully been another year with very few major pay-per-views. Depending on how you categorize them, there have been three or four: Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Sergey Fedchenko, Miguel Cotto vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley, and the upcoming Pacquiao-Marquez 4 card.
This is a good trend. Frankly, I’d be fine with boxing not developing another pay-per-view attraction. Although something tells me we’re going to see Canelo Alvarez on at least two pay-per-views a year from here on out.
4. We know two names that will be on the International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot in five years — this past week brought the retirement of former 105- and 108-pound titleholder Ivan Calderon and former flyweight champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam.
Calderon, who is nearing 37, is much older than boxers in the lower weight classes typically are. He had lost three of his last four, getting stopped by Giovanni Segura in back-to-back outings in 2010 and 2011, and then losing via technical knockout to Moises Fuentes last month.
Calderon was a technician — literally 5-foot-nothing, with only six knockouts in his 35 victories — but he was very successful, winning his first world title in 2003 and then defending it 11 times before moving up to the junior flyweight division. After winning a belt there in 2007, he held it for three years, defending it with five wins and one technical draw.
Wonjongkam is 35, and he’d already been upset once earlier this year when Sonny Boy Jaro stopped him in March. His most recent defeat, though, was a third round technical knockout against a boxer named Rey Migreno who was listed as 17-20-3.
Wonjongkam won the lineal championship in 2001 and, according to BoxRec.com, defended it successfully 17 times before losing to Daisuke Naito in 2007. He became the true champion again in 2010, though, when he outpointed Koki Kameda.
5. Some who saw Lucian Bute get a perhaps tougher than expected test this past Saturday against the tough, rugged but otherwise less experienced Denis Grachev might think that the bout is a sign that Bute’s contracted rematch with Carl Froch next year shouldn’t happen.
After watching Bute-Grachev, I’m convinced Froch-Bute 2 must happen — if only so that when Bute suffers his next defeat, which I believe he very well will soon, it will come with a lucrative payday against Froch instead of with a more modest sum against a lesser foe.
Yes, this was only Bute’s first fight back since getting stopped by Froch in May. But he didn’t show that he would have any easier time dealing with pressure. Even if Grachev is an improving prospect, Froch is a capable world titleholder who might just get Bute out even earlier in their second fight than he did in their first.
6. And the more I think about it, the more I’m seeing the competitive balance in the super middleweight division as a version of what we see at heavyweight, in that we have a big gap between the No. 1 fighter and then the remaining contenders. With that in mind, I’d love for the clear champion, Andre Ward, to move up to the 175-pound division soon — if only for the fact that it would mean more of the other titleholders and contenders would vie for Froch, with whom we could see potentially more competitive pairings.
It can be beautiful to watch a great fighter do his thing. Ward’s win over Chad Dawson was one such example. I’d like to see Ward against new challenges — and no one at 168 is going to pose him a challenge. Froch, meanwhile, is the clear No. 2 at super middleweight, but his style could make for some entertaining battles with others while they last.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Former middleweight Tony Ayala Jr. will remain in prison for at least another year after being denied parole on a 10-year burglary sentence, according to an article by boxing writer John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News.
Ayala, 49, was sentenced in 2004. This isn’t his first long stint in a correctional facility either. He had turned pro in 1980 but had his career cut short in 1982; he was sentenced the following year to 35 years in prison after being convicted of rape, but was paroled after serving 16 years of that sentence, according to the article.
Ayala returned to fighting in 1999, suffering his first pro loss in 2000 with a technical knockout defeat against Yory Boy Campas, and then lost again several fights later, in 2003, against Anthony Bonsante. That left him at 31-2 with 27 knockouts.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: Keeley Thompson — a former fighter who largely competed at junior lightweight and lightweight, and who once lost to Sharmba Mitchell — is facing federal charges for allegedly embezzling money that was meant for a youth boxing center, according to The Washington Post.
Thompson, 47, was arrested two years ago. Afterward, he had “expressed an interest in negotiating a plea, but later changed his mind, leading to [last week’s] indictment,” the article said. His wife was also charged. They are facing 31 counts.
Thompson largely fought from 1983 through 1991, with one more appearance in 1998, according to BoxRec.com. He retired with a record of 17-9-2 with 12 knockouts and 1 no contest.
9. If the fallout of the broken friendship of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and 50 Cent teaches us anything, it’s that bromance can end with as much ugly immaturity as romance does.
And if the reports are true about the reason for the split — Dan Rafael of ESPN.com said sources told him that Mayweather didn’t give the rapper the 50 percent of investment into their supposed “The Money Team Promotions” venture — then it only confirms the long-given advice that you shouldn’t mix business with personal relationships.
10. Which comes first: Philthy Rich Records releasing an album, or 50 Cent’s promotional company putting on a card?
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]