by David P. Greisman
I stood in a Massachusetts concert hall. So did 1,129 others, rising from their seats in response to the action in the ring.
A regular at New England boxing shows might have recognized three of the 12 names on the card. Someone who follows boxing closely might have heard of just one, the headliner, Edwin Rodriguez, an undefeated super-middleweight prospect out of Worcester, who was fighting that night in his adopted hometown. A casual boxing fan not from the area wouldn’t have known of any of the fighters.
It didn’t matter.
They roared as Sonya Lamonakis, a female heavyweight making her pro debut, threw hard hooks at Kasondra Hardnette, an Ohio resident who had lost both of her two fights. They clapped at the end of a give-and-take round between Isiah Thomas, a light heavyweight from Michigan, and his opponent, Larry Pryor of Texas. And they jumped to their feet when Ryan Kielczewski, a 130-pound prospect from an hour away in Quincy, Mass., scored a knockdown against a Miami fighter named Juan Nazario.
Boxing fans are an assortment of critics, skeptics and pessimists, conditioned to evaluate speed, power, skills and smarts, to evaluate who could develop into a contender and who could someday be champion. They are logical questions to consider. The dream for fighters, after all, is to be the best.
Boxing, in a way, is like music. Most people prefer to follow a select number of performers. The talented ones stand out, get more airplay and earn more money. But there are those people who enjoy music in general. They turn on the radio and go to concerts and are moved by the notes even if the musicians aren’t notable.
They don’t need to be great to be good.
The natural storyline of the fight game can detract from our enjoyment. This fighter is being overhyped. That fighter has been exposed. This fighter is being protected. That fighter hasn’t beaten anyone.
The biggest fights will always be those pitting the best against the best, and those fights are the ones fans should demand. We can continue to ponder fighters’ places, to consider how they measure up to other combatants. We want clarity with our competition. But we also want entertainment.
The best fights, however, don’t always involve the best fighters.
In 2004, the Cleveland Browns were 3-7 and the Cincinnati Bengals were 4-6 when they had a shootout that ended 58-48 for the Bengals. It was much the same in 2007, when the Bengals and Browns met in the second week of the season and combined for 96 points, 51-45 for the Browns. Neither team was terrible that year, but neither went on to make the playoffs.
Neither Micky Ward nor Emanuel Augustus ever won a world title.
They at least received respect, though. Others that have accomplished less than Ward and Augustus have still work hard even though they receive less play.
Bouts involving star boxers or main event fighters produce excited calls from ringside announcers and standing ovations from arena audiences. The action needs not be sustained so long as the suspense is intense. But fights involving preliminary fighters often are received with detached emotion and lessened interest – except, that is, for the most exceptional brawls. How many good undercard fights have been ignored while commentators discuss the coming feature attraction?
We appreciate and turn our attention to great fighters precisely because they are so rare. Still, there is boxing beyond what is shown on HBO, Showtime and ESPN2, beyond what takes place in Vegas casinos and sports arenas. Most of those boxers never make national television, never fight in the main event surrounded by several thousand. Rather, they swap leather in ballrooms and bingo halls, in bars, clubs and hotels, smaller venues with smaller audiences. Those audiences are nonetheless appreciative.
And so there are the thousands who turn up at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster, Md., to see light heavyweight Mark Tucker. There are the thousands who buy tickets to the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., to see junior middleweight Jimmy Lange. There are local cards where competitive matchmaking means butts in seats, and there are local cards where hometown heroes are given designated opponents so the crowd can be sent home happy.
It is about getting your money’s worth. Sometimes that means a critically acclaimed movie. Sometimes that means a blockbuster popcorn flick.
That is why there were those of us who ordered the pay-per-view this past Saturday featuring Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and John Duddy, expecting a great fight even thought it didn’t involve great fighters. While they did play to a stadium audience at the Alamodome in San Antonio, they performed on an independent pay-per-view, one where the buy rate will be in the tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.
Chavez Jr. has been written off as an ordinary fighter who receives attention merely because of his famous father. He lacks an amateur pedigree and has learned on the job while fighting as a pro, facing opponents who are at a disadvantage in size, power or class.
Duddy had once been touted for a title shot even though his selling point was his heavy hands, not his skills. When the unheralded Walid Smichet busted his face up in 2008, and when the ordinary Billy Lyell handed him his first loss in 2009, some saw it as only right that someone had finally deflated any Duddy hype.
Neither will ever enter the Hall of Fame. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t enter a ring. Neither will headline HBO. That doesn’t mean they mustn’t be seen on TV. Chavez-Duddy was an entertaining brawl. They didn’t need to be great to be good.
The 10 Count
1. This is a dangerous way of putting it, but:
Don’t believe everything you read on a boxing website.
Publicists sometimes send out press releases with manufactured quotes. This is no problem when these exceptionally creative and generally hilarious emails merely sit in writers’ inboxes. But a pet peeve of mine is when those press releases are posted on websites or when writers incorporate these quotes as if they were actually said by their purported sources.
And so last week we got welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu calling out his fellow Argentine Marcos Maidana, talking about Maidana’s fight with Timothy Bradley falling out – strange, considering that Maidana not fighting Bradley means Abregu will do so in July.
“Lady Maidana and his promoter keep changing their tune,” Abregu supposedly said, as if he would reference The Beatles song “Lady Madonna.” Later in the release, Abregu supposedly suggested of Maidana and his now-former manager, “Prescribe these guys a few doses of Truth Serum!”
Of course, Abregu didn’t say this stuff. But it was published as if he had. Maidana wasn’t happy about it, apparently, as evidenced by the press release circulated around on Sunday - entitled “Abregu denies bashing Maidana.” That release called out Abregu’s promoter, Gary Shaw Promotions, for attributing such quotes to the fighter.
Interestingly, as Tim Starks of The Queensberry Rules boxing blog pointed out, there are no actual quotes from Abregu in the press release, but rather from Maidana, who responded to the original press release and also recalled what Abregu supposedly told him in a subsequent phone call.
2. The publicist who put together the “Lady Maidana” press release is Fred Sternburg, one of the top PR guys in boxing. What he does is no different in idea than what PR folks do for politicians and corporate executives. But those PR people write what their clients or bosses would or should say. I don’t mean to say boxers and trainers aren’t witty or intelligent. Yet some of these boxing press releases include quotes that they never could have uttered.
Looking through my inbox, here are some of the funniest of what I presume are pseudo-quotes from Sternburg:
Supposedly from Chad Dawson: “Drill baby, drill! That's what I'm going to do to Anphonyo Tarver when I finally get that 14-carat chump into the ring.”
Supposed from Jack Loew, Kelly Pavlik’s trainer, timed to coincide with Columbus Day and Pavlik’s fight with Bernard Hopkins: “Bernard is going to discover on October 18 that his new world really is flat ... flat on his back. Kelly has had his best training camp ever and he is ready to shiver Hopkins’ timbers from stem to stern.”
Supposedly from Freddie Roach prior to Manny Pacquiao’s bout with Oscar De La Hoya: “I can see when the paperback version of Oscar’s autobiography comes out. It will begin by paraphrasing the opening line of Moby Dick. Only instead of starting with ‘Call me Ishmael,’ it will be ‘Call me Ishtar,’ one of the biggest box office flops in motion picture history. Mark my words, he will flop too.”
3. Johnny Damon went to the New York Yankees. Brett Favre quarterbacked the Minnesota Vikings. Donovan F. McNabb will be lining up behind center for the Washington Redskins.
Erik Morales is working with (but not part of) Golden Boy Promotions. Marco Antonio Barrera is signed with Top Rank.
Blows your mind…
4. Marco Antonio Barrera should fire whoever made his trunks; the “R”s on the trunks he wore for this past weekend’s bout against Adailton De Jesus looked like “A”s.
There he was, the Baby-Faced Assassin, the future Hall of Famer, the living legend in-person: MAACO BAAAEAA.
5. Just a thought: Barrera’s long had his mother’s maiden name, Tapia, sewn into his trunks. So much for that credit card security question…
6. Four statistics, which will be followed by a point:
Latin Fury 15, June 26, 2010, a Top Rank independent pay-per-view – five fights, 38 rounds of boxing.
Kelly Pavlik-Miguel Espino, Dec. 19, 2009, a Top Rank independent pay-per-view – six fights, 34 rounds of boxing.
Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya, Dec. 6, 2008, an HBO pay-per-view – four bouts, 13 rounds of boxing.
Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones Jr., Nov. 8, 2008, an HBO pay-per-view – four bouts, 42 rounds of boxing.
7. When Top Rank has put on pay-per-views, it has filled airtime if undercard fights end early, showing additional bouts taped earlier in the night. When HBO broadcasts pay-per-views, it doesn’t have that luxury – the network is stuck with what HBO agreed to pay the promoter to have on-air.
Often the timing works out perfectly. On rare occasions it does not, such as with the dreary Calzaghe-Jones card in which all four fights went the distance and the broadcast dragged, barely fitting in its four-hour slot. With Pacquiao-De La Hoya, every undercard fight ended exceptionally early, five rounds total for three fights, 11 minutes and 41 seconds of boxing in the two-and-a-half hours before the main event. The commentators and producers scrambled to fill time.
On such occasions, HBO should have the luxury of showing preliminary bouts if it so chooses. I don’t believe HBO is not to blame here, though – the promoters should agree to this, at no additional cost. Wouldn’t it actually be worth it for the promoters to give such a thing away? It’d be free publicity for other fighters in the promoter’s stable.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part one: Retired welterweight Eamonn Magee has been sentenced to a year behind bars after being found guilty of assaulting his ex, according to Northern Ireland newspaper the Belfast Telegraph.
Magee, 38, had been accused of grabbing the woman by her hair and attempting to throw her down a set of stairs. He is out on bail pending an appeal. Earlier this year, Magee won an appeal that overturned a guilty verdict on a charge of assaulting a man in a social club.
Magee left the sport in 2007 with a record of 27-6 (18 knockouts).
9. Boxers Behaving Badly update, part two: Staying in Northern Ireland… Kevin Maxwell, who has all of two pro bouts on his record, was referenced in the Belfast Telegraph as a “professional boxer” who has pleaded guilty to punching a man and breaking his jaw.
Maxwell, 26, is out on bail until his September sentencing hearing.
He fought once in 2007, winning a four-round decision, and once in 209, losing a four-round decision.
10. Is everyone else getting tired of Carl Froch’s kvetching? We get it: You think that if the Kessler fight hadn’t have been in Denmark, you’d have won a decision. And you’re not fighting Arthur Abraham in Germany or anywhere else that could give you a similar supposed competitive disadvantage.
Carl, you’re being a diva… have a Snickers.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org