By Cliff Rold
‘Tis the season…
While there remain some solid fight cards before the curtain falls on 2012, most of them abroad but with Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham II on NBC this weekend, boxing fans are at the epilogue stage of their twelve-month season. They’ll pay attention where they can, but other issues take center stage.
Family beckons, turkey roasts, the lines of “Auld Lang Syne” get mumbled, Fantasy Football leagues conclude, hangovers commence.
It’s been a good year.
Well, so far. As these words are being read, Facebooked, and retweeted, we are all of course obliviously awaiting our doom. The Mayan calendar hits zero on Friday.
RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!
Assuming we’re all still here Saturday, things will go as expected for the next couple weeks.
So, before joining the staff to wrap up the year with all the of awards one can think of (okay, really like five or six big ones), and unveiling the annual “Champ for Champ” list next week, here is a collection of thoughts about events both recent and possible.
The Big Fights in 2013: The future is typically the most exciting thing to talk about in boxing and, after a strong 2012 full of upsets and excitement, the early prognosis for 2013 looks good.
The key is the right matches being made.
At 122 lbs., lineal World Champion Nonito Donaire followed up an easy win over Jorge Arce talking about the two Jr. Featherweight rivals he didn’t get to this year. There was nothing in his post-fight interview about Guillermo Rigondeaux needing to get his juices flowing. He stated plainly he prefers an inter-promotional clash with Golden Boy’s Abner Mares and that, if it can’t happen right away, he’d be fine with Top Rank stable mate Rigondeuax.
Nothing was said about a move to Featherweight. That’s a positive worth keeping an eye on. So is the budding war of words between 135 lb. titlist Adrien Broner and Yuriorkis Gamboa, a high-speed clash of mega-talents if it happens. At Heavyweight, the Klitschko’s may both get big fights that have eluded them to date: Wladimir versus Alexander Povetkin and Vitali against David Haye.
Book your Euro stadium seats early.
At 168 lbs., Andre Ward doesn’t look in any danger of losing his belt but the division, one of the game’s best in recent years, looks like it will keep an action pace. The contracted rematch between Lucian Bute and Carl Froch could go away; a rematch between Froch and Mikkel Kessler may emerge instead. Their first fight was a war with a still debated outcome. The winner of that, while a heavy underdog to reverse their first encounters with Ward, would have a real mandate for a rematch.
Get used to that word. Rematches could be the flavor du jour for much of the coming year. The hype is already starting for Danny Garcia-Amir Khan II at 140 lbs. World Middleweight Champion Sergio Martinez would love another Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. payday, though how Jr. is going to stay disciplined enough to stay at 160 lbs. is anyone’s guess. That rematch of an 11 round and 1 minute whooping topped off by a flair of late drama might push the best young Middleweight in the world, Gennady Golovkin, away from the title picture longer than his talents demand.
That sucks. Start bitching early and often. If Marvin Hagler could tackle John Mugabi before he’d really ‘proved’ he deserved it, surely Martinez can step up to the plate sooner than later.
Of course, the biggest rematch to consider is at Welterweight. Fight four fatigue turned out to be more myth than reality as Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao again blew the doors off in terms of revenue. Given its shocking ending, five is all the buzz. Marquez is playing coy and, hey, why not? After taking the short money in just about every big fight of his career, this is his turn to get what every fighter dreams of during those long gym hours and post-fight recuperations:
Long-term financial security via a career high payday.
Floyd Times Two: Staying on 2013: will boxing’s undisputed U.S. cash king go to scratch twice in the same year? It hasn’t happened since 2007, but Golden Boy has booked two dates for Floyd Mayweather in May and September and “Money” is talking like he intends to use them. The two names rumored are Robert Guerrero and Saul Alvarez.
They would both generate mad income. Guerrero’s personal story is tailor made for the “24/7” infomercial format. Alvarez is already a draw on his own and, if they can marinate the event just a little longer, could make for Floyd’s biggest fight since his monster Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton showings (foreign and domestic pay-per-view taken into account for the latter).
Both fights will have their critics if they come off. Floyd would be a heavy favorite against either. It doesn’t matter and the critics should get over it. As boxing continues its creep back onto network airwaves, as the new HBO/ESPN deal provides the sort of highlights packages boxing has lacked for a generation, it’s biggest star needs to be in the ring. Guerrero and Alvarez would make for events and, unless Floyd is going to move up to face Martinez, it’s plenty good enough.
And what about those highlights?
ESPN Without Stills: It’s been a joy to watch ESPN on the night of fights like Martinez-Chavez and Marquez-Pacquiao IV. The sports news leader has always been fair on mega nights as far as coverage, but for decades that coverage has been lacking.
It wasn’t ESPN’s fault.
For years, boxing has sat on the sidelines and let other major sports give fans a potpourri of highlights of their finest moments while providing the bare minimum to post-fight coverage. Year and year, fight after fight, potential new customers have been treated to weak fight moments and still photos of what counted to protect replays.
It’s always been stupid. What matters after a big fight isn’t that someone watches the rerun. It’s that more people, people that might not have bought a fight this time, will have their curiosity piqued to pay to see the winner (and often the loser) next time around. Getting to see the wild conclusion of Martinez-Chavez, getting to see over and over the shot that left Pacquiao prone for days afterward in flowing HD, went farther in that pursuit than any set of photos and talking heads could have. It was a great way to top those Saturday’s.
But, seriously, why always Saturday?
Seven Days in a Week: It’s been written before but not nearly enough. Boxing limits itself by locking almost all of its big events into Saturday nights. On the East Coast, it’s often actually Sunday morning. A few times a year, the key demographic needed for the sport to persevere in a glutted market might give up those precious weekend nights.
Boxing needs regular growth in the 18-35 year old male market. So does UFC. UFC asks fans do it about once a month. Boxing has no centralization and can ask for up to 20-30 Saturday’s a year. It’s not winning that fight.
A heavy chunk of 18-35 year old males have goals on Saturday nights, many of them involving partying and sex. Asking them to sacrifice the key party and sex night of the week on a regular basis means only hardcore fight fans are catching some of the best new faces on the way up. It makes it more difficult to grow.
Boxing used to have fights on all sorts of other days. Leonard-Hagler was on a weeknight. So was Ali-Frazier. The fights didn’t suffer for coverage or money. Japan regularly does big fights at mid-week now. Timed right, in moments where playoff races for other sports are not at critical mass, coverage could even be amplified. At the least, a return to Saturday shows at earlier hours needs to be embraced.
A generation ago, fans could see scraps like James Toney-Reggie Johnson and Nigel Benn-Iran Barkley before the grill was ready for the meat. This weekend, Adamek-Cunningham will be over before its time to shower and hit the town. Imagine if that fight is half as good as the first? Imagine how many more bars and clubs will include a conversation starting with, “I saw a crazy fight, like a boxing fight, earlier today…” before turning to, “dude, I think she looked over here.”
It’s a dream worth dreaming for 2013. One thing not worth worrying about next year is a 2012 debate still raging.
The Hall of Fame: It might be safe to consider the voting for the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) Class of 2014 already closed. The ballots won’t come until next fall. The three names expected to join the ballot as first-year eligible are Oscar De La Hoya, Joe Calzaghe, and Felix Trinidad. Barring a big surprise, they should easily enter under the cap of three new entrants per class in the Modern category.
On to the Class of 2015, with some last thoughts on the class of 2013.
As evidenced in headlines at this site and others, the induction of Arturo Gatti elates some and infuriates others. Virgil Hill’s induction has also raised some points of contention. While this scribe’s ballot didn’t choose either (but did mark for the long overdue and finally elected Myung Wuh Yuh), their inductions are hardly the end of the world.
With an Olympic Silver Medal, twenty title defenses in two reigns at 175 lbs., including partial unification and a lineal crown, and additional belts at Cruiserweight, Hill being able to say he had a “Hall of Fame career” isn’t far fetched.
Gatti is Gatti. If one favors items like big name wins, deep resumes, or divisional excellence, he’s not a Hall of Famer. If one favors other intangibles, and weighs heavy involvement in multiple Fights of the Year and significance as a regional draw, Gatti left Hall of Fame memories galore. It wasn’t an easy question and some highly knowledgeable voters were as adamant in favor of Gatti as against. The pro-Gatti crowd won.
Hall of Fame voters come in all different stripes. Some think Joe Frazier didn’t have a Hall of Fame career and Sven Ottke did. No one is stripping them of voting privileges for it. It takes all kinds.
Whether that means a majority of voters elected him or just a plurality, given that the vote is simply a matter of top three vote getters, we don’t know. Vote totals aren’t public. BoxingScene’s David Greisman had an excellent piece this week dealing with some of this. Does it mean we need a change?
Here’s another question: since boxing isn’t tied to a specific league or funding entity, can the IBHOF continue to exist without fresh induction classes? Induction weekend goes a long way in giving boxing fans the luxury of a Hall of Fame weekend it didn’t always have. If that means every once in a while someone gets in who isn’t universally embraced as a Hall of Famer, and there have been very few who didn’t meet that standard since the Hall of Fame went to a cap of three, is it that big a deal?
Isn’t the bigger deal the fighters who should be in and aren’t? The fighters that linger on the ballot for years and suffer because they fought in the wrong market or too long ago to really feel ‘Modern?’ It’s criminal, for instance, that Harry Jeffra remains outside the Hall. He beat Hall of Famer Sixto Escobar more than once, won titles in two weight classes, and was a member of the old Ring Magazine Hall of Fame.
It’s also hard to explain outcomes in a comparative analysis. Hill is in. What about Dariusz Michalczewski? He was on the ballot before Hill, defeated Hill decisively one fight off the best win of Hill’s career (Henry Maske), and set the record for consecutive defenses at Light Heavyweight generally (as WBO titlist) and tied the record for lineal defenses set by Bob Foster. Those numbers, his level of opposition, and his longevity, rate favorably with Hill.
Of course, his never having faced Roy Jones is a detriment. Michalczewski was never seen as the definitive best in class while posting his numbers. Hill did almost all his work before Jones moved up.
It’s not to say either should be in the Hall of Fame (neither has been a choice here), but it’s odd that one is and one is not an inductee. Does this speak to a too-heavy slant of U.S. bias in the voting pool? Considering that a sizable chunk of the vote comes from the Boxing Writers Association of America, it might.
And what of someone like Naseem Hamed? Again, his numbers and accomplishments at Featherweight rate favorably with Hill. Unlike Hill, he beat every reigning titlist in his class at some point short of the WBA beltholder and that’s because Wilfredo Vazquez was shorn of his belt before his Hamed clash. While he lost badly to Marco Antonio Barrera, and ducked Juan Manuel Marquez, the evidence says it took a great fighter to beat Hamed in his prime and he beat plenty of good fighters during his run.
Unlike Hill, Hamed was also a genuine star. He changed the game at Featherweight in terms of money and did it on two continents. If Gatti’s impact on the U.S. East Coast market is a factor in his election, and one can assume it was, and Hill’s overall lack of economic impact can be ignored, as it had to be, then what is Hamed missing?
What makes Virgil Hill and Arturo Gatti first ballot Hall of Famers and Hamed a multi-year bridesmaid?
These are the questions more voters may want to consider going forward and provide plenty for fans to grouse over while we wait for the next class of debatable contenders two years from now.
Until then, let us bask in a fascinating 2012 and prepare for another wild season. Boxing 2013 is almost here.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]