by David P. Greisman
It was not very long ago that the biggest bouts of the year would dominate all discussion for months before fight night. They were black holes that drew everything toward them. Little else seemed to matter.
Today is November 19, less than three weeks away from one of the biggest bouts of the year. The conversation concerning the fourth fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez has only now begun.
That should be surprising.
Pacquiao and Marquez are two of the best fighters in the sport, in their generation and of all time. They have headlined on pay-per-views and in packed arenas. They have entertained millions and earned millions while doing so. And they have done this three times against each other.
They have history. They have a rivalry.
It’s not surprising, though, precisely because we’ve seen them before — and because we need good reason to want to see them more.
It was not very long ago that extended rivalries were solved over the course of numerous sequels. And it’s not just an occasion that dates back generations, to when Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought six times, or even further into history to when Jack Britton and Ted Kid Lewis met in the ring on 20 different days.
The 1970s and 1980s had Bobby Chacon and Rafael ‘Bazooka’ Limon four times. The 1990s had Jesse James Leija and Azumah Nelson four times. The latter part of this past decade had Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez four times.
None of those fights were contested on pay-per-view. While the first fight between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2004 was aired on regular HBO, each subsequent installment has come at a minimum of $50 or more. Fans are being asked to dig deep again.
It would be easier to shell out if it were worth it — if boxing fans didn’t just tune in out of obligation and addiction, but because they truly wanted to see the show.
They do want to see the show. They just need a reminder of why.
This scribe was also skeptical. There has been a sense of burnout with Pacquiao vs. Marquez, particularly after they fought a year ago in what was supposed to be the conclusion to their trilogy. That bout was less entertaining than the previous two installments, and because of that it ended with less satisfaction.
Just like their first two fights, Pacquiao-Marquez III ended with a controversial decision. But it lacked the great, sustained action that had come before; the scorecards overshadowed everything.
That third fight had been marketed, in part, as the final bout to end the controversy and bring a resolution to the rivalry. This fourth fight also includes several references to that line of thinking — and marketing — but it is not the only important aspect of the story.
The reminder of that came in the form of this past weekend’s premiere of “24/7 Pacquiao-Marquez 4,” the latest edition of HBO’s combination documentary/commercial miniseries. Yet as with the first episode of “24/7: Road to Pacquiao-Bradley” earlier this year, the show was less about being a fly on the wall and more about putting butts in seats.
The subsequent episodes to come will return to the usual form. But for these 30 or so minutes, HBO’s filmmakers gave us a hard, hard sell in hopes of making Pacquiao-Marquez 4 an easy buy.
That’s probably why the episode did not begin with either of their principals or with montages of their home countries, but rather with the face and voice of a promoter.
“To be a great rivalry, it has to be competitive, obviously, because if it’s not competitive, it’s not really a rivalry,” said Bob Arum of Top Rank, which is putting on the Dec. 8 card. As much as his quote sounded like a Yogi Berra line, it made sense.
The footage soon turned to the trilogies between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. It was an attempt to place Pacquiao-Marquez in the same echelons of history, to bestow feelings of importance and excitement.
There is still a need to sell this fourth fight as necessary.
“There is an expectation in boxing that … the most ferocious, the most competitive of conflicts can be settled over the course of the trilogy,” narrator Liev Schreiber said. “Thirty-six rounds over the past eight years have not been enough.”
And so we returned to familiar territory, to Pacquiao and Marquez each stating that they won the previous fights, to trainers Freddie Roach and Nacho Beristain speaking in support of their fighters.
We moved to Los Angeles, to the first press conference for the fourth fight.
“People say, ‘Why again Pacquiao?’ ” Marquez says. “And I said ‘Because I want to prove who’s better, and I want the referee to raise my hand.’”
Says Pacquiao: “I want to erase the doubt of the fans.”
Their first fight was a draw, one point separating Pacquiao from victory, that point being one that a judge failed to take off during the first round, when Pacquiao knocked Marquez down three times. Their second fight was a Pacquiao victory via split decision — one point keeping it from being a draw.
Their third fight was a Pacquiao win once again, this time via majority decision — one point would have made Marquez the winner instead.
The episode followed each stop on the press tour. Each stop leads to an introduction to the action of the previous three fights. The boxers and their trainers watch on tablet computers, commenting for the cameras.
The most time was given to Pacquiao-Marquez I, to the three-knockdown first round and then to Marquez’s amazing comeback, one that would not have come had referee Joe Cortez waved the fight off after Marquez hit the canvas for the third time.
Far less time was given to Pacquiao-Marquez III, the least entertaining. The greatest focus seems to be on the final round, when Marquez took his foot off the proverbial gas pedal and lost a round that would have given him the victory.
The emphasis was on how close Marquez was to winning.
Pacquiao is up 2-0-1, but he hasn’t looked as effective in his past two fights — not against Marquez last year, and not against Timothy Bradley earlier this year. Pacquiao got a decision last year that many felt he didn’t deserve. Pacquiao lost a decision earlier this year that many feel Bradley didn’t deserve.
Pacquiao wants a knockout on Dec. 8, wants to take away any chance of a disputed decision, take away any need for debate.
The effectiveness of the episode is this: We looked at what we loved from the first two fights and hoped that the action returns. We looked at what we hated in the final fight and hope that the drama is confined to the two men exchanging punches in the ring instead of the three people scoring those punches outside of it.
The premise of this fourth fight is in its promise — that the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry will come to a close once and for all.
The 10 Count
1. There had been a time when those doubting Adrien Broner had legit reasons to be skeptical.
He seemed to be another HBO creation, another overhyped prospect placed on the network due to his powerhouse adviser, Al Haymon, and HBO’s fascination with (and perhaps obligation toward) building the next big American boxing star.
He failed to impress in his HBO debut against Daniel Ponce De Leon in March 2011, receiving a decision that some believed should have belonged to the naturally smaller Mexican fighter. Nevertheless, he’d go on to be spoon-fed lesser opponents on “Boxing After Dark” broadcasts, needling less than a round to stop Jason Litzau (who was admittedly coming off an upset win over Celestino Caballero), and then essentially being handed his first world title by meeting a boxer named Vicente Rodriguez for a vacant belt.
That was his 2011. Broner’s 2012, however, should have done plenty to dispel those doubts.
It began with his domination of Eloy Perez. It continued with his dismantling of Vicente Escobedo. And it culminated Saturday night in his dissection of Antonio DeMarco, a titleholder widely considered to be the top name in the lightweight division.
Broner made it look remarkably easy.
At just 23 years old, everything seems to be coming together. He had already shown himself to be gifted in terms of speed, but it’s his skills that have continued to develop and look to now have blossomed.
Now when he speaks of being the next great fighter, it’s more believable.
There’s still plenty more to prove, though. The DeMarco win was just one victory. But the run to greatness has to start somewhere.
It will be a while until we see if he is truly great or just another flashy flash in the pan. For the moment, though, there are many more who believe the hype than there were just a year ago.
2. Any hype that was there for Seth Mitchell, however, is now gone.
He had a good story. He is a college football player who took up boxing later in life, and is one of those elusive big men that the sport is always seeking to convert into the next champion in boxing’s marquee division (particularly, in these days, an American who can challenge one of the Klitschko brothers). Mitchell has a good team surrounding him, can be a good interview, and, befitting his nickname, can go into “Mayhem” mode with an aggressive style in the ring.
That aggression worked against him Saturday. The pedigree of Johnathon Banks was that of a skilled counter-puncher. Banks caught Mitchell coming in, hurt him, floored him and soon finished him.
We can’t close the book on Mitchell just yet, not until he is given the chance to recoup, return and prove that he can improve.
There does appear to be a ceiling on him.
Very few boxers who take up the sport so late in life have the kind of instincts seen in those who first donned the gloves when they were very young. Only Sergio Martinez has been able to make up for lost time — and even he didn’t truly peak until he was in his mid-30s.
Mitchell has had far less time learning to slip and move and dodge punches until doing so becomes second nature. Throw in his aggressive style, and he’s even more likely to be hit.
This is a very dangerous disadvantage, exceptionally so when you are fighting heavyweights who can hurt you with a single shot.
We saw it happen when Mitchell fought Chazz Witherspoon in April. Mitchell got wobbled badly but was able to recover, stopping Witherspoon one round later.
Mitchell never got his legs back against Banks. He wasn’t able to hold on, and Banks knocked him down three times and got the technical knockout.
Some fighters never recover from having their aura of invincibility punctured. Yet as another writer told me in Atlantic City this weekend, Mitchell is a former football player — he’s known defeat, knows that it happens and knows that the priority then becomes one of adjusting and improving.
We’ll see if he can do that. But we’ll probably also see another American heavyweight prospect featured in his place on HBO in the very near future.
3. Dad, on Mitchell: “Did you hear that whoosh? There was a million dollars or more that ran out on the boardwalk, never to be seen again.”
4. It’s easy to pick on promoters — and don’t worry, we still can and will — but it’s also important to give credit where and when it’s due, and to give praise when good things are done.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy and the damage it left behind on the East Coast, Golden Boy Promotions promised to donate money to the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City — $1,000 for every knockout during Saturday’s card, and $2 for every ticket sold.
All seven fights ended before the final bell. And the promoter claims that 4,256 people were in attendance, and of them, 3,882 tickets were sold. The actual attendance looked to these eyes to be far less, though it’s not as if I counted head by head.
Nor does that matter, as Golden Boy donated $14,764 — as did Caesars Atlantic City and Oscar De La Hoya, said De La Hoya himself during the post-fight press conference. That brought the total donation to $44,292.
5. Meanwhile, CompuBox pledged to donate $5 to the Long Island Disaster Relief Fund for every landed punch during the main event and co-feature bouts this past Saturday in Atlantic City.
Adrien Broner landed 241 shots. Antonio DeMarco landed 93. Johnathon Banks landed 38. Seth Mitchell landed 21.
That brings the total for those two fights to 393, which means CompuBox will be donating $1,965.
6. This is also the time of year in which we see those involved in boxing do giveaways for Thanksgiving.
Per a news release, Manny Pacquiao was in Los Angeles this past Sunday (Nov. 18), handing out free turkeys and pumpkin pies.
And this past Saturday (Nov. 17), the Oscar De La Hoya Foundation held an event in Los Angeles with five Golden Boy fighters — Vicente Escobedo, Abner Mares, Victor Ortiz, Daniel Ponce De Leon and Leo Santa Cruz — to “help distribute hundreds of turkeys, fixings and other products to the East Los Angeles community,” per another news release.
7. In the wake of Emanuel Steward’s death, Roy Jones Jr. has been moved into the analyst role for “World Championship Boxing” broadcasts, according to an HBO news release.
I haven’t heard the network’s broadcast from Saturday yet, as I was in the arena that evening and then traveling and writing the following day. But it must be said that Jones has been doing his best work as an analyst in recent fights.
Jones had been hired to do commentary for HBO in 2004, replacing George Foreman, according to an article from several years ago by Bob Raissman in the New York Daily News. I recalled him being OK as an analyst back then, but he wasn’t impressing executives with his behind-the-scenes behavior.
Ross Greenburg, who was running HBO Sports at the time, told Raissman in mid-2005 that Jones had poor attendance at pre-fight meetings he was expected to be at.
"If I can be blunt, it's just a lack of professionalism," Greenburg was quoted as saying at the time. "Roy has to be asked, one more time, are you ready to take this on as a career? If you're not, we'll just part ways."
Jones was gone by 2006. Steward was put on the “World Championship Boxing” broadcasts, while retired heavyweight Lennox Lewis became a commentator on “Boxing After Dark.”
We all remember how the Lewis experiment went, unfortunately.
Jones failed to impress this viewer when he initially returned to HBO. Of late, though, his commentary has been incisive. He breaks down the action well, speaking about what the fighters are doing but also about what they should be doing in response and how to go about doing that.
Credit also must be given to the blow-by-blow men, Jim Lampley (on “World Championship Boxing”) and Bob Papa (on “Boxing After Dark”), whose roles involve throwing to Jones during the action, giving him good prompts that set up his good comments.
8. In my dreams, Mike Tyson becomes the new commentator on “Boxing After Dark.” I’ve quoted this before, but here was one highlight of a non-televised undercard bout he called on DonKingTV.com in October 2009 (the quote comes via the Las Vegas Sun):
“It is so ironic that the jab can be so effective in a fight, in this game, and that’s why it’s more a science than being the big, strong tough guy from a bad neighborhood. A guy who never had a street fight in his life can be a master in here. He can give you an awful shellacking.”
We won’t see Tyson, of course. But I do hope we see Andre Ward join the commentary team on “Boxing After Dark.” He was very good on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” in the past. And it doesn’t hurt that Ward is now an HBO fighter.
9. One final tidbit from the weekend in Atlantic City — a merchandise stand at Boardwalk Hall had been supplied the greatest (and worst) gimmick ever to be sold at a boxing match: “BRONER BRUSH,” the sign said.
They were being sold for $20 each.
They weren’t affiliated with the fighter, though. They weren’t signed by him either. They were Diane Professional 100% Palm Boar Brushes, and a cursory Google search shows that you can get them for about $4.
Perhaps that’s why, as of 9:45 p.m. on Saturday evening — 15 minutes before the HBO broadcast began — not a single person had bought a brush, according to the man running the merchandise booth at the arena.
There were 20 brushes to begin with. There were 20 brushes remaining.
There also were Adrien Broner shirts — for $25, you could get a gray T-shirt with a photo on the front of it of Adrien Broner having his hair brushed in the ring. The shirts also had a small drawing of a brush on the left sleeve. A couple of those had sold as of 9:45 p.m.
I didn’t check back in after the card was over.
10. The only thing I see being Adrien Broner’s undoing is the looming liquidation of Hostess, which could soon be going out of business — and which might mean Twinkies will be available at bargain-basement prices…
“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]