by David P. Greisman
You need only attend a few undercards to recognize that most matchmaking isn’t primarily for the fans’ enjoyment — largely it is for the preliminary fighters to get experience so that the promoters can eventually be enriched.
This is why it’s no surprise that so many fans shell out upwards of hundreds or even thousands of dollars for tickets but will not be in their seats until later in the show. They have been conditioned to skip out on the mismatches, as prospects (some of whom are suspect) do what is expected, padding their records, applying what they have been working on in the gym, picking up paychecks and then stepping up ever so slightly in competition their next time out.
That approach is often extended to the co-feature and main event.
Rare is the bout without a clear favorite. That’s because a promoter will only risk his investment if he has to, or if he has contracts with both combatants and can foresee profit no matter the winner.
That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised if Adrien Broner beats Paulie Malignaggi this coming Saturday in a match that will see the 23-year-old lightweight titleholder make his debut in the welterweight division.
Though this can be described as a gamble by Broner and his team — a gamble that Broner can comfortably add pounds to his frame without sacrificing too much of his offensive and defensive abilities, and a gamble that the 32-year-old Malignaggi does not have the skills, styles or size to trouble him — it is also a calculated move.
There wouldn’t be too much harm caused were Broner to lose to Malignaggi, so long as the defeat were spun the right way. They could say that Broner doesn’t yet belong at 147, that he was challenging himself by moving up two weight classes while waiting for there to be viable and available opponents at either 135 or 140.
Broner’s first defense of his lightweight title came in February, when he scored a technical knockout over Gavin Rees. Not too long afterward, during the post-fight press conference, Broner was already being asked about a move to junior welterweight. Yet that division’s top names have been tied up; Danny Garcia would soon beat Zab Judah and is likely going on to face Lucas Matthysse, who recently defeated Lamont Peterson. Meanwhile, Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado met for a second war — though their affiliation with Top Rank precludes a pairing with Broner.
Broner is a rising star whose boastful personality and boxing ability have led to predictions that he will someday take over for Floyd Mayweather as the sport’s top attraction. His handlers want to keep him in the public eye, to keep building him up. Rather than make Broner wait for an opponent, they made this match with Malignaggi.
They did this because there is plenty to gain with a victory — and because they are confident that this is a pretty safe bet.
There are indeed numerous other fighters at 147 who perhaps would pose more of a challenge than Malignaggi might. That fact doesn’t matter so long as the public perceives there to be a somewhat significant accomplishment. This isn’t quite Roy Jones taking a heavyweight title from John Ruiz — which was notable despite Jones not opting to challenge champion Lennox Lewis.
But the marketing machine would be able to say that Broner jumped to welterweight and won his third sanctioning body belt in as many divisions. Hollow accomplishments can be gussied up with the proper spin.
Nevertheless, this is a fight with the appearance of intrigue, helped by continual exchanging of insults through the media outlets.
It’s a fight that has been designed to capitalize on that appearance, and that press coverage, while Broner goes on to win.
Broner appears on Golden Boy cards. Malignaggi belongs to that promoter’s stable, but it has not positioned him in a main event role. Instead, Malignaggi fought on a pair of pay-per-view undercards before traveling across the globe to Ukraine to challenge for a world title. He won and returned home to defend that belt in his home borough of Brooklyn, though underneath a Showtime main event featuring Philadelphia’s Danny Garcia.
Malignaggi is a good boxer who has won titles in two divisions. Three of his four losses were against foes who physically outmatched him. He is a great interview, a good commentator and has gotten much of what he’s achieved in the ring the hard way, given his lack of power, which has required 25 of his 32 wins to come by decision.
Malignaggi has accused Broner of beating handpicked foes, and there is some truth to that critique. It’s also true that Malignaggi’s title wins weren’t against the highest echelon of opponents.
There’s a limit to what a promoter can do with him, and Malignaggi apparently has realized this. Last week, he told Anson Wainwright of RingTV.com that he hasn’t been completely satisfied with his dealings with Golden Boy, dissatisfaction that led to a proposed bout with Shane Mosley falling through.
“There were things in the contract I didn’t like,” he was quoted as saying. “They weren’t being honored. The purse was fine, but there was a lot of options in my promotional contract that I wasn’t getting, that I’m owed by my contract that I’m supposed to get ... I want my contract honored, so we couldn’t come to a deal.
“They didn’t honor them for the Broner fight, but they offered me a lot more money, so I guess it was a trade-off. So I took the Broner fight. Rest assured that after beating Adrien Broner I’m going to have a lot to say, and if people don’t honor my contract, I have no problem sitting it out and retiring. It becomes a matter of principle at that point.”
Golden Boy isn’t going to risk its investment in Broner just yet. Company executives wouldn’t be putting him in with Malignaggi unless they were confident in the outcome.
Promoters don’t just make boxing matches. They make business decisions.
The 10 Count will return next week.
“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 @fightingwords2 or send questions/comments via email at [email protected]