by David P. Greisman
They stood side by side, paired by pain and pride not long after being adversaries in action. They were positioned nearly as close to each other as they had been over 10 rounds, a distance that had tested their tolerance and their training. The fighters promised excitement. The fight exceeded expectations. There was already talk, naturally, of a rematch.
It was only right that Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward should have a sequel. It is only right that Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak do the same.
Fights like Rodriguez-Wolak and the Gatti-Ward trilogy showcase so much of what is so great about the sweet science, with the momentum swinging as fast and as hard as the fighters – two men giving no thought to excuses or injuries or future paydays and concentrating only on hurt, the distribution and defiance thereof.
Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward fought that way long before they fought each other. They were rewarded with a headline bout against each other on HBO’s “Boxing After Dark” and the sizable payday that came with the spotlight. They understood the physical cost they’d have to endure first.
Gatti and Ward deserved every dollar and still gave HBO more than its money’s worth. Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak got paid much less and still delivered ESPN2 an exceptional bargain for last week’s “Friday Night Fights” main event.
Fights like Rodriguez-Wolak also underscore the questionable decisions made by those in the boxing business.
The cost of making Rodriguez-Wolak was a fraction ¬– perhaps one-fortieth – of the price of making a fight on HBO. The network, in recent years, has been the brunt of criticism from those who make a strong case that it pays too much, that it bids against itself for fights that could have been made for far less, in turn driving up the prices for future, bigger matches.
Showtime, meanwhile, has been the target of praise since it instituted its policy of “Great Fights, No Rights,” a philosophy that emphasized the idea of using its airwaves to spotlight, well, great fights instead of great fighters.
The network has occasionally offered exclusive multi-fight contracts since, most notably having Antonio Tarver fight lesser light heavyweights while attempting to build toward a clash with Chad Dawson, and also signing Lucian Bute to help ensure that he will face the winner of its “Super Six” super middleweight tournament.
Many of the best boxers deserve to be paid well. They arouse interest in the sport, sell tickets and premium cable network subscriptions and perhaps even pay-per-views. In this increasingly global industry, some are box office draws and television gold in their respective regions. They can forgo American network money, face whomever they want and still be paid well. More cash, though, can convince them to get in the ring with tougher challengers.
Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez are good but gritty, exciting but not elite. Rare is a fighter like Arturo Gatti who fans will continue to watch whether he wins or loses. The rest are fighting for attention, and Wolak and Rodriguez fight like they do because they are hungry. There is no comfortable seven-figure paycheck awaiting them. They need the networks to put them back on the air.
Wolak and Rodriguez are willing to wage war for a fraction of the fee given to those who are rewarded handsomely for winning ugly. Couldn’t the networks opt to pay those latter fighters less, a move that would send the message that they are asking their fighters for more?
It is a move that has worked in mixed martial arts. Those who bore rarely return. Fighters are given bonuses for scoring the best knockout, applying the best submission or being in the best fight. But for fans to ask for that would be selfish; it is the fighter who is taking the punishment and who should be paid as much for his efforts as possible.
It is possible in mixed martial arts, where the fighters know that winning and entertaining will get them more money, where the pride matters as much as the pay, and where one organization holds the power.
Not so in boxing. Any unilateral move to cut pay would lead to other networks and promoters attempting to take advantage, persuading fighters with the promise of more money. The nature of competition prevents the possibility of collusion.
And this is not just a hurt sport. It is also the sweet science, where many of the best are those who come closest to perfecting the art of hitting and not being hit. However, logic dictates that those who entertain by going to battle – or those who find a way to compel with their skill – are those fans want to see.
They still want to see great fighters. Manny Pacquiao sells pay-per-views and tickets even when his opponents are significant underdogs.
They still want to see notable personalities. Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. attract attention. And though Paulie Malignaggi lacked power, he still brought in ratings for HBO.
They also want to see great fights. Scaling back the pay, even in the slightest, could leave more money around to deliver such action. Since Showtime began its “Great Fights, No Rights” philosophy, it has delivered three of the past six Ring Magazine fights of the year (though it must also be noted that HBO has aired three of the past six Boxing Writers Association of America fights of the year).
Building great fighters is an investment that does not always pan out. Making a great fight follows a simpler equation. HBO knew it was getting its money’s worth with Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. Showtime knew it was getting its money’s worth with Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, and later with Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez. ESPN2 knew it was getting its money’s worth with Delvin Rodriguez and Pawel Wolak.
But that only concerns the cost to the networks. The biggest price is being paid by the fighters. So while Rodriguez and Wolak did so much for so little, we can know that they can be paid much more for a rematch that will deliver more of the same.
The 10 Count
1. Those of you who went to see the new Harry Potter movie instead of staying home to watch Rodriguez-Wolak should have your boxing fan credentials revoked.
2. By the way, did you notice Pawel Wolak’s cutman using the backside of an ice-cream scoop as an enswell on Wolak’s right eye?
That swelling was so cartoonishly large that Wolak’s cutman might as well have turned the scoop the other way around…
3. A couple of thoughts on the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board’s decision to suspend Al Bennett, Donald Givens and Hilton Whitaker, the three judges ringside for Erislandy Lara’s robbery loss (via majority decision) to Paul Williams.
- It was the right choice, as there was no way that the tallies (114-114, 115-114 and 116-114) could’ve been acceptable. But we need to know more about why those tallies came to be.
The commission brought the judges in to review the scoring. “The NJSACB has not found any evidence of bias, fraud, corruption or incapacity on the part of any of the judges,” commissioner Aaron Davis wrote in a letter to the fighters’ promoters made available online. “However, we remain unsatisfied with the scoring of the contest, even after hearing the explanations from the judges.”
Just what were the explanations, though? It’s not only important for us to know how such a decision could be rendered, it’s also important to get into the mentality that other judges might use in future fights. We should know what went wrong, and why.
- The robbery led to some using the refrain we occasionally hear about judges who are inexperienced in big-time fights. Givens had never judged a title fight before and didn’t even have a notable fight on his record. Al Bennett had judged 19 title fights. Hilton Whitaker had judged seven title fights.
Poor scoring shouldn’t just be kept away from the big fights. Every boxer, no matter his record and no matter the importance of his fight, deserves fair judging.
And experience has to start somewhere. Even the most notable Nevada judges once had zero title fights to their names.
Some major judges have turned in some questionable scorecards. Either the problem is in the training, or it’s in the execution. Perhaps it’s both.
4. Technology has shrunk the boxing world – and, as a consequence, our social lives.
The most hardcore of fight fans have always found ways to get their fixes, from satellite dishes to videotape trading, from searching YouTube to scouring websites for video downloads.
Live streaming video, both legit and illicit, made for a particularly packed Saturday.
The action began with two cards out of Europe: Marco Huck’s cruiserweight title defense in Germany against Hugo Hernan Garay and, in the United Kingdom, a card featuring 130-pound titleholder Ricky Burns against Nicky Cook and a battle between lightweights Kevin Mitchell and John Murray.
Later on came Top Rank’s webcast of a card out of Mexico headlined by Juan Manuel Marquez and Rafael Marquez in tune-up bouts.
And those who were either obsessive or over-caffeinated stayed up to see the flyweight title bout in Hawaii between Brian Viloria and Julio Cesar Miranda.
I’d say you all need help, but we can save that prescription for those of you who watched Evander Holyfield’s pay-per-view outing in January against Sherman Williams
5. A few strange things came out of a few of those fights Saturday:
First, there was the opening-round technical knockout Ricky Burns scored against Nicky Cook. Burns floored Cook with the first right hand he landed. Cook, apparently favoring his back, rose from the knockdown and then went back down to a knee before any more punches landed. The fight didn’t last much longer; Cook’s corner threw in the towel about halfway through the round.
Many immediately assumed Cook had taken a dive, that the fight was fixed, especially as there were reports of a last-minute surge in bets for Burns to win by third-round knockout.
It’s more likely that knowledge got out about just how bad a shape Cook was in; The Telegraph published an interview with Cook the previous day in which he spoke of “a degenerative problem with my back.”
Then there was the strange first-round knockout Juan Manuel Marquez scored in his tune-up bout against Likar Ramos.
Ramos ended up unconscious and flat on his back. But Marquez had only hit him with a jab and then a right hand to the face. It was enough to send the overmatched and out-of-position Ramos back and down, but he seemed to be wholly in the realm of the conscious while staggering backward.
Last, there were the scorecards for Brian Viloria’s decision victory over Miranda. Officially, the tallies were 117-110, 114-113 and 115-113. That’s not how they were announced, though. According to reports, those watching saw a 12-round fight but only heard 10 rounds’ worth of scores announced: 98-91, 96-93 and 97-93.
Doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the local athletic commission, does it?
(Then again, one week The 10 Count had only nine entries…)
6. Juan Manuel Marquez didn’t get cut against Ramos. He didn’t get hurt. And he didn’t get beat. But he didn’t exactly shake off the ring rust with 107 seconds’ worth of boxing.
He needed to get in the ring – his fight with Manny Pacquiao is scheduled for Nov. 12, and his last fight had been his victory over Michael Katsidis on Nov. 27, 2010.
I still think Pacquiao blows Marquez away. And I still hope I’m wrong and we get another exciting, competitive bout between the two.
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Prosecutors have dropped a case against former welterweight title challenger Michael Jennings, citing insufficient evidence, according to British newspaper The (Chorley) Citizen.
The case stemmed from an alleged incident in April involving Jennings’ girlfriend.
Jennings, 33, is 36-3 (17 knockouts). His last fight was in September 2010, a fifth-round stoppage loss to Kell Brook. On American shores, he’s best known for another fifth-round stoppage loss, this one to Miguel Cotto in February 2009.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly, part one: Gabriel Rosado allegedly had two fights in one night, the first sanctioned and within the confines of a boxing ring, the second one illegal and landing him within the confines of a jail cell.
Rosado’s bail, set at $200,000, is no doubt much more than he earned for his July 15 technical knockout of Ayi Bruce. He is accused of punching an Atlantic City police officer later that night.
The officer was helping casino security escort Rosado and others in his unruly group off the premises, according to The Press of Atlantic City.
Rosado, a 25-year-old junior middleweight with a record of 17-5 and 10 knockouts, has been charged with aggravated assault on police and making terroristic threats, per the report.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly, part two: Rosado got in trouble for what he allegedly did after a boxing match. Light heavyweight prospect Sergey Kovalev is in trouble for what he allegedly did during one.
Unlike Rosado, Kovalev wasn’t in the ring himself that night. But he was in attendance at a Carson, Calif., boxing card – presumably the July 9 card featuring the war between Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillon – when he allegedly made off with another man’s iPhone, according to the San Bernadino County Sun.
Kovalev was arrested “on suspicion of receiving stolen property,” the report said. The victim had an application on his iPhone that could allow him to remotely locate it. Kovalev is said to have told police that he hid the phone in his back yard precisely because he it could be tracked.
Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The 28-year-old is undefeated in the ring, though, with 15 wins and 13 knockouts, his latest victory coming in May.
10. Does this incident make Kovalev more or less likely to score an Apple sponsorship?
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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