by David P. Greisman
It’s not often that we get the right fight at the right time, not in a sport that is also a business, not when one must navigate promotional interests, sanctioning body politics, network contracts and the not-so-simple matters of money, location and other non-negotiable obstacles.
We’ve been reminded of this far too often, after the time it took to get Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye in the ring with each other; after the battle between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson came when Lewis’ victory brought less validation; after the failure to make major matches, including but not limited to Lewis against Riddick Bowe, and, of course, Floyd Mayweather against Manny Pacquiao.
We’ve seen fights marinate until they were spoiled, as with Juan Manuel Lopez losing and taking the proverbial wind from the sails of a featherweight fight between Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa.
We’ve waited a while for middleweight champion Sergio Martinez to face middleweight titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., for a man who is a legitimate champ without a sanctioning body belt to meet a boy beltholder once seen as having a paper title. Martinez once had the World Boxing Council belt, which he felt has been unjustly stripped away. Chavez took the title and seemed to be keeping it away, then, from its rightful owner.
We’ve waited for Martinez to get the justice he called for.
We won’t be waiting much longer.
Chavez’s technical knockout victory over Andy Lee had barely been inked into the record books on Saturday night before Chavez’s next fight was announced — a Sept. 15 fight on the boxing-rich holiday weekend coinciding with Mexican Independence Day, a pay-per-view battle with Sergio Martinez in Las Vegas on the same day and in the same city that another young Mexican icon, Canelo Alvarez, will be defending his junior-middleweight title on pay-per-view against Victor Ortiz.
There was a time when we sought Martinez vs. Chavez just to see Martinez’s quest fulfilled and Chavez’s hype deflated. We saw Martinez as too skilled, too experienced and too good. We saw Chavez as a younger fighter whose name had allowed for a pro boxing career, whose connections and genetics and abilities allowed him to be maneuvered to and come out victorious in a title shot.
We saw a mismatch, and yet we wanted to see the match anyway.
Yet the situation changed along the way.
Chavez, after 47 pro fights, has spent nearly nine years in the sport. He is no longer a gangly teen getting by against lesser foes, but a filled-out 26-year-old man taking out skilled contenders. His size played a key role in defeating Marco Antonio Rubio in February, but Chavez had to know how to use it.
It was Chavez’s skill that showed in his stoppage of Lee.
Granted, his size is an asset. He drains from about 180 pounds down to the middleweight limit but for a moment before rehydrating and rejuvenating himself. Yet Lee was taller than Chavez and has also shown himself capable of bulking up between the weigh-in and fight night.
Lee would be at a disadvantage in power and would need to be disciplined against Chavez, boxing against him as he’d done last year against Brian Vera, winning a decision in a rematch with a fighter who’d wobbled and defeated him by technical knockout years before.
Lee sought to box against Chavez, initially successful but inevitably drawn into the war he was trying to avoid. Chavez pressured Lee, walking through his shots, digging into Lee’s body with thudding blows that seemed to have been passed down from his father, then setting up hard punches to Lee’s head.
He was also setting Lee up for counters.
From in close, Lee would retaliate to Chavez’s body attack by directing punches upstairs. Chavez began to time those shots, looping in harder blows to an exposed chin. A similar sequence brought Chavez-Lee to a close, a heavy right hand leaving Lee hurt, bringing the referee jumping in as Chavez slugged away at his defenseless opponent.
The winner of this fight was destined to meet Sergio Martinez. Lee is promoted by Lou DiBella, who also has Martinez in his stable. Chavez had previously agreed to a Martinez fight in principle.
It is the right fight at the right time. Chavez is now skilled enough to attempt to put forth a competent challenge. He will be bigger than Martinez, whose body belongs between junior middleweight and middleweight, and who has had to dig deep in order to beat bigger foes this year in Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin.
It is a fight that must happen now.
Chavez might not be able to make middleweight comfortably much longer. Martinez is 37. Their September clash will pit Chavez at what is probably his peak 160-pound form against a Martinez who could soon begin to show the signs of age.
Martinez is still skilled and experienced. Chavez is still but a titleholder who will be facing a champion. It is not an even bout, but it’s also not necessarily the rout that once was guaranteed.
There was a time that putting Chavez in with Martinez seemed equivalent to leading the lamb to slaughter. Not now.
Chavez is now more willing to face Martinez than he’d ever been before — and he’s also more able.
The 10 Count
1. Much debate is sure to come about which promoter and network will “win” on Sept. 15 when Canelo Alvarez and Victor Ortiz are set to fight on a Golden Boy/Showtime pay-per-view and when Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. will apparently fight on a Top Rank/Lou DiBella/HBO pay-per-view.
Both bouts are slated for Las Vegas, a big fight city that nevertheless failed to sell out the arenas for Floyd Mayweather’s fight with Miguel Cotto and for Manny Pacquiao’s fight with Timothy Bradley (Mayweather-Cotto came close, with just 440 unsold tickets). Both of those cards still did exceptionally well at the gate. The prices will need to be lower at these Sept. 15 cards in order for attendance to be higher.
(Admittedly, it’s possible that enough fight fans, particularly those of Mexican heritage, could flock to Vegas for the chance to see one of two shows rather than being blocked out by the inflated ticket prices seen on other pay-per-view fight weekends.)
Also, both broadcasts are set for the same night, fragmenting an audience that might otherwise be willing to dish out $60 one week and another $60 the next, but now will be forced to choose.
Some fans like to latch onto aspects of the business as if it is a competition worth winning. Nothing good can come from boxing consuming itself. This isn’t professional wrestling’s Monday Night Wars.
Someone needs to blink. And there shouldn’t be any shame in blinking if it’s better for business and better for the sport.
2. Josesito Lopez should feel insulted that Victor Ortiz was announced last week as Canelo Alvarez’s Sept. 15 pay-per-view opponent, this despite the fact that Ortiz still must meet Lopez this coming Saturday.
But he shouldn’t be offended.
More people will care now about Ortiz-Lopez, which previously might’ve been glossed over as a keep-busy bout for Ortiz, who needed a fill-in opponent after his rematch with Andre Berto was called off due to Berto testing positive for nandrolone.
More people will now tune in to see Lopez show just how insulted he is — and just what he’s going to do about it.
3. It’s unorthodox but not unprecedented in this era to have a fighter participate in a lesser bout before he takes part in a much bigger event. But let us not forget that Canelo Alvarez was originally paired up with Paul Williams before Williams’ motorcycle crash, then he was going to meet James Kirkland before Kirkland pulled out.
Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao shared a doubleheader prior to their second fight; Pacquiao dispatched Hector Velazquez, while Morales lost to Zzzzzzzzzzahir Raheem.
And Zab Judah lost to Carlos Baldimor just a few months before Judah’s pay-per-view bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Morales-Pacquiao 2 went on. So did Judah-Mayweather.
4. It might be tempting to some to make fun of Floyd Mayweather Jr. for his attempt to get out of jail early and moved into home detention or placed into general population — after all, it was revealed last week that one reason Mayweather appears to be dehydrated is that he prefers bottled water, and that Mayweather’s limited diet behind bars is self-imposed as he picks at his food.
For once, I’d rather think about the humanity than the humor. Maybe it’s just the former crime reporter in me, but I worry that while jail is the right punishment, it’s also meant to lead to inmates reforming their lives rather than failing to do so and then falling into recidivism.
Mayweather’s isolation in jail unfortunately makes sense — putting a celebrity or other notable inmates in general population can be dangerous both to that person and to others. It’s hard to imagine being so isolated from humanity for such an extended period of time. Yet it’s incumbent upon Mayweather to make as much of it as he can, whether that’s reading (as Don King did) or writing or working out in his cell (or in his limited time outside).
He should be in jail and stay in jail. He also needs to emerge a humbled, better man than he was before.
5. This sentence from the Las Vegas Review-Journal best summed up why home detention wouldn’t make sense:
“Mayweather lives in a 12,000 square foot mansion … The mansion sports a walk-in closet bigger than his jail cell.”
As Jimmy Tobin of the “In Between Rounds” boxing blog wrote on Twitter: “Is a room’s door locked if you don’t want to leave? What if you’re doing house arrest in a mansion, wanting for nothing?”
6. Boxing fans tend to be quick to claim cover-up or conspiracy. Brandon Rios is the latest for that label, though his reputation doesn’t do him any favors.
Rios was scheduled to face Mauricio Herrera in just a few weeks on a July 7 HBO card. Last week, however, Rios pulled out, citing an injury. “Rios has tendonitis of the elbow on his right arm, and the doctor told him to rest his arm for four weeks,” reported Rick Reeno of BoxingScene.com.
Then came the reports of those who saw Rios in Las Vegas during fight weekend for Manny Pacquiao vs. Tim Bradley, saying that Rios looked very overweight about a month out from his bout.
Whether an arm injury sidelined Rios or whether weight concerns were the cause, it’s nothing new to state that weight has been a problem for Rios in the past — and will be as he continues in his career.
Rios had been struggling to make lightweight, finally losing his title on the scales in December when he came in overweight for his fight with John Murray, then missing weight again in April, coming in at 137 pounds for his fight with Richard Abril.
Rios-Herrera wasn’t even to be at junior welterweight, but with a weight limit of 141 pounds. If even that proves to be too difficult to make — and that’s still an unproven “if” at this point — then his time at the top could quickly be brought to an end due to his body.
Some fighters have the frames to move up in weight and still be effective. I see Rios as having the same problems that Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales confronted. They were great lightweights who just couldn’t compete at welterweight.
7. The United Arab Emirates is a land of riches. And so just as former Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski thought nothing of spending $6,000 on a gold shower curtain, promoters in the emirate of Dubai apparently don’t think twice about the idea of putting out money to host former heavyweight titleholder Shannon Briggs in a fight next year in which the winner would get a belt “made of real diamonds and solid gold,” according to Fightnews.com.
This is the promotional equivalent to Floyd Mayweather burning a $100 bill…
8. And that one belt is probably worth more than the combined value of the 33 title belts the World Boxing Association presently has on its super champions, world champions, interim champions and champions in recess in boxing’s 17 weight classes.
9. “Cameron Dunkin,” manager to Timothy Bradley, Nonito Donaire, Kelly Pavlik and Brandon Rios, among others.
“Cameron Diaz” — an actress, or what promoter Bob Arum mistakenly called Dunkin in the days before Pacquiao-Bradley.
“Cameron Duncan” — what HBO listed Dunkin as during his appearance this past weekend on Jim Lampley’s “The fight Game.”
From a writer whose last name gets slaughtered both in pronunciation and spelling, my sympathies to you, sir…
10. Timothy Bradley’s victory over Manny Pacquiao, however dubious it was, will have to go down in the “Athletes With Bum Wheels Record Book,” considering that Bradley fought competitively down the distance despite a sprained right ankle and what’s been reported as ligament damage in his left foot.
If only Bradley had jumped into his father’s burly arms afterward a la Kerri Strug and Bela Karolyi…
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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