By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s that time of year again.
Hope is springing eternal at National Football League training camps. Short-term pretenders are being revealed by distance-worthy contenders on major-league baseball diamonds.
And premium cable TV announcers are going medieval on boxing sanctioning bodies.
OK, I’ll concede that the latter one is more year-round than seasonal, but it certainly seems as if the vitriol has been ratcheted up amid summer’s doggest days in the last month.
Jim Lampley took a roundhouse swipe at the sport’s amorphous alphabetical mass during an HBO broadcast a few weeks ago, and Showtime’s Mauro Ranallo and Brian Kenny had their own individual tilts at the windmill during their network’s three-tiered card from Brooklyn this past Saturday night.
It always makes for eloquent commentary, especially with guys on the level of those three.
And it’s a guaranteed win with fans who’ve long been programmed to reject all things presented to them that don’t bear the precious magazine stamp of championship approval.
Funny thing, though, upon returning from the oratory Valhalla where titles don’t matter, no one ever gets around to suggesting what should be done with baby once the bath water has been dumped.
My guess… because it’s not quite as simple as that seems.
While the alphabets make a worthy target thanks to missteps too numerous to list, it’s a naïve overreach to assume flicking them off like a light switch will cure the sport’s championship-sopped ills.
Like it or not, structure is necessary. And unless a wannabe substitute blends substance along with its self-righteousness, the rhetoric generated is little more than glossy lipstick on a still-unsightly pig.
For example, let’s suggest that Miguel Cotto – who owns both the WBC and Ring belts at 160 pounds – decides to chuck the gaudy green trinket to serve as champion of a brave new alphabet-free world.
Though lemmings would exalt that a Satan had been toppled, the framework in place at the would-be Biblical savior these days no more ensures a high-profile title-fight showdown – i.e., a date with Peter Quillin or, preferably, Gennady Golovkin – than fondling Rosary beads or praying toward Tim Tebow.
So, presuming Cotto fought every 18 months, didn’t lose to a middleweight and managed to mix in a top-five contender at 160 every two years, he’d could steer clear of guys like Triple-G and Kid Chocolate until the rapture and never once have to answer to a supposed sport-saving authority.
If your idea of salvation is a steady diet of Cotto vs. Sam Soliman or Daniel Geale, congratulations.
But if you were hoping for something a little meatier, the fast-food solution won’t easily satisfy.
As much as the disgust-mongers might hate to admit it, boxing without an apparatus of mandatory challengers and title-stripping teeth is no better off than boxing now. And rather than simply handing the keys to the loudest source of indignation, the real solution is to fix the existing system, not trash it.
Funny, when you get beyond ranting and actually start thinking, it’s not an impossible renovation.
Take the bats of out biased hands and rank contenders by a computer. Ditch the silvers, supers and interims and install one champion per weight class. And make sure those champions fight a No. 1 challenger at least once every 12 months, lest the title belts be handed over to someone who will.
And if the existing bodies won’t do it by public demand, create one that will.
Maybe it’s not as clever as a new catch phrase for sanctioning acronyms on Twitter and it didn’t warrant anyone applying pancake makeup and haranguing in a tuxedo, but it’s as much a remedy in 60 seconds as the pseudo-holy rollers have generated in all the years it’s taken to establish a shoddy status quo.
Don’t get me wrong, I like thumbing through a Bible as much as the next guy.
But if it’s all the same to you, I’ll be taking my pilgrimage business elsewhere.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF cruiserweight title – Erfurt, Germany
Yoan Pablo Hernandez (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Firat Arslan (No. 13 contender/No. 56 IWBR)
Hernandez (28-1, 14 KO): Fourth title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (14-0, 6 KO)
Arslan (34-7-2, 21 KO): Sixth title fight (2-3); Won five of last 10 fights (5-4-1, 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The tall, effective Cuban has carved a successful niche for himself at 200 pounds, which figures to make Arslan’s parting gift a painful one at age 43. Hernandez in 10
IBF welterweight title – Carson, Calif.
Shawn Porter (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. Kell Brook (No. 1 contender/No. 7 IWBR)
Porter (24-0-1, 15 KO): Second title defense; Third fight in California (1-0-1, 0 KO)
Brook (32-0, 22 KO): First title fight; Second fight in United States (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There’s a lot to like about this fight from both guys, but I’m a believer in the Porter who’s walloped a pair of quality veterans in his last two – until proven otherwise. Porter by decision
WBC super middleweight title – Carson, Calif.
Sakio Bika (champion/No. 9 IWBR) vs. Anthony Dirrell (No. 6 contender/No. 16 IWBR)
Bika (32-5-3, 21 KO): Second title defense; Held IBO title at 168 pounds (2008, zero defenses)
Dirrell (26-0-1, 22 KO): Second title fight; Split-decision draw with Bika in first meeting
Fitzbitz says: Bika’s a rugged and difficult customer, but I thought Dirrell was the better man the first time and I think he’ll make it official now that he’s gotten a second chance. Dirrell by decision
WBC lightweight title – Carson, Calif.
Omar Figueroa (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Daniel Estrada (No. 1 contender/No. 19 IWBR)
Figueroa (23-0-1, 17 KO): Second title defense; Seventh fight in California (6-0, 5 KO)
Estrada (34-2-1, 24 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2010 (9-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The blueprint is out there to contend with the active young champion, but chances are good that Estrada won’t be the one to put it into practical use. Figueroa by decision
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Peterson, Sonjica; LOSE: Takayama)
2014 picks record: 55-15 (78.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 602-209 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.