By Cliff Rold
This is a bad weekend for boxing, on paper, if the weekend is measured only by the card set to air Saturday night on Showtime.
It gets better if one looks elsewhere.
Specifically, look south.
On Saturday night in Mexico, to very little acclaim in the US, we get the fight of the week. For those with access to BeIn Espanol (11 PM EST) in their cable packages, with portions of the card expected to air on Azteca America (10 PM EST), a unification battle in boxing’s smallest division might end up being one of the best fights of the year.
Japan’s Katsunari Takayama (27-6, 10 KO), the current IBF titlist at 105 lbs. and a former WBC titlist at the same weight, squares off with Mexico’s Francisco Rodriguez Jr. (14-2, 10 KO), the current WBO beltholder.
They don’t fight in a division particularly followed in the US. Neither man graces any pound for pound lists or is any sort of household name. Even in their own countries, their fame lags well behind some of their more notable brethren.
That has nothing to do with what will occur in the ring.
Both have been in good fights before and they match up in a way that says leather will fly. It is only the fifth unification fight since the division’s birth in 1987. Three of them featured Ricardo Lopez in the 1990s and one of those, the second with Rosendo Alvarez, could technically be considered non-unification as Alvarez lost his belt on the scales prior to the fight. The other, Kazuto Ioka-Akira Yaegashi, took place in 2012.
Needless to say, unification is a rare occurrence this far south on the scale. Thank the opening of Japan to titles beyond the WBC and WBA for the possibility. Thank also the courage of Takayama to travel and Rodriguez to take the risk in his first title defense. Even in the countries that celebrate smaller fighters, the economics aren’t usually what they are in bigger divisions. Both men are risking their guaranteed access to steady title defense revenue this weekend.
It’s a fight worth looking forward to, worth respecting, and worth watching.
Something to look forward to trumps bitching about the Danny Garcia-Rod Salka/Lamont Peterson-Edgar Santana card. Showtime can point to several perceived mismatches in 2014 (Lucas Matthysse-John Molina being the leader in the clubhouse) as far exceeding anticipation. It doesn’t change what this looks like going in anymore than Bernard Hopkins signing to fight Sergey Kovalev made Kovalev-Blake Caparello any less of the gross mismatch it was one week ago on HBO.
If there were nothing else to choose from, so be it. There is this week.
So choose better.
When HBO and Showtime don’t deliver, it makes sense customers would grumble. They are subscription services that come with a monthly price tag. There are lots of reasons to subscribe to both. Game of Thrones, True Detective, and Boardwalk Empire on the HBO side, and Master of Sex on the Showtime side, are all must see viewing for many.
They all have short seasons. Boxing fans that enjoy those shows, and boxing fans that subscribe only for boxing, can always respond with their eyes. Don’t watch in a household that tracks ratings and there can be an impact. Just wait a week until Showtime airs an excellent card headlined by a battle of undefeated talents as IBF Welterweight titlist Shawn Porter defends against Kell Brook.
That, like Takayama-Roidriguez, is a fight worth looking forward to.
Fans can also respond with their wallets.
A great impact could also be felt by cancelling subscriptions between good fights. Why pay for something one doesn’t want? For those who subscribe to the channels individually, rather than in a bundle of premium content, it’s really very simple.
Almost everyone has online account management whether it’s through Comcast, Cox, Verizon or some other provider. With the click of a mouse, a channel subscription can be cancelled until content is available one wishes to pay for. Some cable systems simply pro-rate the channel cost, sometimes with a change fee, for the time the channels are part of a service.
This is good to know in general. Occasionally a foreign language station one otherwise never watches may air a fight they very much want to watch. That channel, or package, can be added to a cable service and subtracted all on the same weekend through some online account management tools for a nominal addition to a monthly bill. In the worst-case scenario, it can be done over the phone. An example of this could be found last year when a German language station available on some US cable systems carried a replay of the Felix Sturm-Darren Barker Middleweight fight.
Like junkies in need of a fix, and aware that anything can happen in boxing, most ardent boxing fans will still tune in to something they really don’t want to see and then be mad if/when it goes according to fears. In a free marketplace, that leaves no impetus for change.
Refusing to buy or watch undesirable matches is a clear statement for change.
The social media culture of fight nights might play a part in refusing to alter ‘view anything’ behavior. When premium fights disappoint, those with Twitter and Facebook accounts seems almost as happy to howl at the misfortune as they are to celebrate good fights.
Consider this Saturday a chance for the learned boxing fan to fight, or snark, back. If Takayama-Rodriguez lives up to its possibilities, and Garcia-Salka lives down to expectations, think of the possibilities.
For every timeline post that reads ‘this sucked,’ the learned boxing fan can reply ‘LOL I was too busy watching the fight you’d have known about if you’d stopped fussing long enough to look around.’
Is that more than 140 characters?
There is no need to view Takayama-Rodriguez in a vacuum either. Watch it as a prelude to what is, on paper, the best boxing weekend of the year one month from now. Checking social media and even some commentary from media, everyone isn’t in on that little secret yet. Hand wringing about whether or not the Adrien Broner show on Showtime slated for September 6th will be any good obscures an important point.
The Broner show, also featuring Matthysse, is just one extra way to kill time amidst a two-day orgy of fights around the globe and across the scale.
Takayama and Rodriguez share a common foe, and common defeat, in one Roman Gonzalez. On September 5th, the undefeated Gonzalez, arguably one of the five best fighters in the world period, will challenge linear and WBC Flyweight Champion Akira Yaegashi in Japan. It is one of the year’s most tantalizing matches. That alone would make it a fine weekend.
It’s not alone.
The next day in Mexico, in the same division, unified WBA/WBO titlist Juan Francisco Estrada defends against former linear and unified 108 lb. tiltist Giovani Segura in what has the ingredients for a savage affair.
Along with those two excellent matches, undefeated Carl Frampton will challenge IBF 122 lb. titlist Kiko Martinez in his native Northern Ireland. The crowd alone should make that a worthy event as Frampton attempts to repeat a 2013 stoppage win. On the same day in Germany, World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko will defend against his leading contender Kubrat Pulev in a fight that has a clear favorite but a worthy underdog.
Broner versus Emanuel Taylor and Matthysse versus Roberto Ortiz don’t even look like bad fights. They might both end up being pretty good. There is the potential for better that weekend if the point is to see the best matches available and not just complain about what’s left.
This Saturday, the same possibility for better exists.
So, again, choose better.
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Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at email@example.com
Tags: Katsunari Takayama , Francisco Rodriguez Jr.