By Lyle Fitzsimmons
“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try.
“No hell below us. Above us, only sky.”
Go ahead and ask yourself the last time you read a boxing article that began with a John Lennon song. And then, go ahead and imagine, because it seems that’ll be the only way that anyone will see a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Amir Khan in the late summer.
The Englishman of Pakistani heritage passed the necessary audition for a “Money” match come this September, but he’s apparently going to allow himself to be bypassed – most likely for a rematch of Saturday’s unification with Marcos Maidana – because of religious devotion.
A spokesman said Monday that Khan, who whipped Luis Collazo on Saturday’s undercard, has indeed taken himself out of the running for discussion of a 2014 match with Mayweather. That’s assuming that the now WBA/WBC welterweight champion stays on his typical May/September work schedule.
“He would like the Mayweather fight, but it's not possible for September,” said Amir Rashid, sports PR director at Golden Star Media. “But he will be fighting again near the end of the year.”
So, unless “near the end of the year” reflects a Mayweather desire to accommodate Khan, it’ll instead mean a second go-round of the awkwardly combative dance with Maidana, who far exceeded the level of competition most had anticipated before the weekend – but was still a clear loser on two of three official scorecards and managed no better than a draw on the third, belonging to Michael Pernick.
Results of an informal media poll made the rounds Monday and indicated only nine of 112 scorers saw Maidana as the better man, with 92 giving that tag to Mayweather and 11 splitting the difference for a draw. My ringside card went along with the supermajority, giving the winner a 116-112 nod.
Incidentally, for those tracking the arc of “robbery” cries that seem to follow nearly every distance fight these days, the nine contrarians this time comprise a nominal 8.03 percent of the scores collected. Two years ago, when the overwhelming consensus was that Manny Pacquiao did enough to win his meeting with Timothy Bradley, it was a similarly small 5.45-percent disagreement rate in favor of Bradley.
But while Bradley was essentially forced to earn his rematch with Pacquiao – in fact, Bob Arum bypassed the new champion to first match the Filipino a fourth time with Juan Manuel Marquez – it seems that Khan’s strict adherence to his Muslim faith, specifically the fasting tenets of Ramadan (which runs this year from late June through late July), will mean an immediate second chance for his former foe.
Khan, who beat Maidana in what was seen by many as 2010’s best fight, had said prior to the weekend that he’d not be available for Saturday’s winner in September. And, true to his word, his Rashid-confirmed stance following the smashing Collazo victory was not at all budged from its precursor.
Still, while I admire a kept promise as much as the next guy, I sure do wish he’d change his mind.
Not only is Khan a guy who could help sell a $75 pay-per-view – imagine, if you can, a card with he and Mayweather on top, and Maidana and Keith Thurman underneath – but he’s also got the sort of skill set (hand/foot speed, good welterweight power) that I’d consider the biggest challenge to Mayweather’s 147-pound kingdom not residing in either Clearwater or General Santos City.
It’s the sort of opposition the champion’s not seen since round two of his fight with Shane Mosley. And, contrary to those awed by the decibels of Saturday’s crowd, it’s also a brand light years more daunting than the charge/club/grapple/repeat monotony that so enthralled the Maidana partisans – but did little for those craving a matchup better suited for a boxing ring than a dimly-lit subway platform.
If you’re driven to rapture by rabbit punches, Saturday’s replay during Showtime’s free preview weekend is for you. If you’re more a connoisseur of artistry, though, I’d go ahead and stick to YouTube.
All that said, it’s not that I don’t appreciate Maidana’s effort.
He held true to his aim of making Mayweather uncomfortable and he held up better in the face of a precise counterpuncher than I would have guessed. But doing better than a mismatch doesn’t equal winning, and just because the same people who’d booed every Mayweather appearance on the MGM screens all night stuck around to boo the decision, too, that doesn’t mean it was incorrect.
In fact, to these eyes, it didn’t even meet the two best criteria to make a rematch.
First, with Mayweather winning, it wasn’t a result that defied every expectation and therefore made a sequel a must, as was the case with Liston-Clay, Hearns-Barkley and Tyson-Holyfield, for example. Nor was it such an engaging and compelling fight that once was simply not sufficient regardless of the initial outcome, a la Corrales-Castillo, Gatti-Ward and Pryor-Arguello.
Rather, it was a guy that most folks assumed would win two or three rounds winning four or five instead, and not looking like a rank amateur while losing the other seven or eight. And while that appears to be enough to get a second turn if Khan keeps himself out of the running, I’ll go on imagining what the boxing world would look like if, in the ex-Beatle’s words, there was “no religion, too.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF flyweight title – Osaka, Japan
Amnat Ruenroeng (champion/No. 19 IWBR) vs. Kazuto Ioka (No. 8 contender/No. 4 IWBR)
Ruenroeng (12-0, 5 KO): First title defense; First fight outside Thailand
Ioka (14-0, 9 KO): Ninth title fight (8-0); Held belts at 105 (WBA/WBC) and 108 (WBA) pounds
Fitzbitz says: The Japanese challenger is young, at home and accustomed to winning on a championship level. The rise in weight won’t keep him from adding to his belt collection. Ioka by decision
IBF mini-flyweight title – Osaka, Japan
Katsunari Takayama (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Shin Ono (No. 10 contender/No. 21 IWBR)
Takayama (26-6, 10 KO): Second title defense; Won and lost WBC title in 2005
Ono (17-5-2, 2 KO): First title fight; Six straight wins since 11-5-2 start to career
Fitzbitz says: Takayama resurrected career as WBC champion and shows no immediate signs of relinquishing status, particularly not against foe without top-level cred. Takayama by decision
Vacant WBC heavyweight title – Los Angeles, Calif.
Bermane Stiverne (No. 1 contender/No. 10 IWBR) vs. Chris Arreola (No. 2 contender/No. 11 IWBR)
Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten in 12 fights since 2007 (11-0-1)
Arreola (36-3, 31 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Lost to Stiverne (UD 12) in April 2013
Fitzbitz says: Unless the last time was an anomaly, looks like Arreola is once against destined for bridesmaid status as another contender steps past him to join the belted class. Stiverne by decision
WBO junior flyweight title – Pasay City, Philippines
Donnie Nietes (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Moises Fuentes (interim champion/No. 2 IWBR)
Nietes (32-1-4, 18 KO): Fourth title defense; Held WBO title at 105 pounds (2007-10, four defenses)
Fuentes (19-1-1, 10 KO): Fifth title fight (3-0-1); Held WBO title at 105 (2011-12, two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: The first one went the limit with little to distinguish one side from the other. So, we’ll flip the coin, reverse the outcome and wait for them to sign for the trilogy match. Fuentes by decision
Last week's picks: 3-0
2014 picks record: 32-6 (84.2 percent)
Overall picks record: 579-200 (74.3 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.