By Jake Donovan
Photo © Ed Mulholland/FightWireImages.com
Two months, to the date. July 26 is when boxing gets its next highly-anticipated event, when top welterweights Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito throw down in Las Vegas.
Some are referring to the battle as the right to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. Others claim it to be a fight taking place thanks to Floyd's reluctance (or disinterest, if you ask his camp) to face either fighter in the ring.
But given what lies ahead between now and then, perhaps one word best sums it up – relief. Whether or not HBO decides to run a "Countdown To" special (at last notice, they now say "Yea"), fans have already begun counting down the days.
It already seems like a full year has passed by since we were blessed with boxing's version of March Madness, a month that produced no fewer than four legitimate Fight of the Year candidates, along with title changes and upsets galore. It's been a sprinkle here and there ever since, but nothing that's going to bring boxing to mainstream status anytime soon.
Part of the problem over the past two months – and quite frankly, extending through June – is that can't miss fights were replaced with "what's this" showcase fights. Some of the sport's most notable names came out to play in April and May, but hardly a memorable moment among them.
Standing out from the pack was Antonio Margarito's repeat beatdown of an allegedly improved version of Kermit Cintron – rumors that swirled in the same circles that suggested Margarito was entering the twilight of his career. It took Margarito exactly 2 minutes, 45 seconds longer to dispatch Kermit than was the case three years prior, but still managed to put him way with just as much emphasis, a vicious reminder that a loss (or five) does not a career ruin.
The win put Margarito in the same exact position he was in a year prior – in line for a showdown with Miguel Cotto. The fight was on the table for both fighters, only for Margarito to take what he believed to be a calculated risk – taking on Paul Williams for money, in hopes of winning and bringing that much more to the table for a Cotto fight perhaps later in the year.
Those plans were momentarily derailed after the Mexican wound up on the wrong end of a decision loss last summer, with Williams advancing from question mark to overnight success story in the span of 12 very fast-paced rounds.
Many figured Margarito to be left for dead, but the loss prompted promoter Top Rank to rally more than ever before behind their fighter. Two straight bouts have come in the form of chief supports to main events featuring Miguel Cotto, sending a clear message that the two fighters are on a collision course.
If there's been a single criticism in the otherwise spotless career of the undefeated Puerto Rican, it's his reluctance to call out any particular fighter. "I fight whoever my promoter puts in front of me" is often his token response when asked who he'd next like to face.
The message lost among such criticism is that Cotto has gone out of his way to put something behind those words. From his division arrival in December 2006 through, and including, his forthcoming fight with Margarito, no fighter has faced more Top 10 welterweights than Cotto.
Still, the closest many came to taking notice was the one time his level of competition dropped, which happened to be this past April, when he battered overmatched Alfonso Gomez over five rounds. Prior to that, all he did was knock off four straight worldwide ranked welterweights (Carlos Quintana, Oktay Urkal, Zab Judah and Shane Mosley).
The only problem with Cotto's most recent fight was its timing. The glorified sparring session came on the heels of one of the best boxing months in the sports history, and also started the string of high profile showcases that boxing fans have been forced to endure.
Redemption comes in two months. The only problem is, it's been the same amount of time since anything of note occurred in the sport, and most likely another two until our next highlight reel moment.
Tim Bradley's upset of Junior Witter earlier this month was probably the standout of moment of an otherwise ho-hum month. Shaun George's stoppage of Chris Byrd made news not necessarily entirely because of the result, but over the realization that the former heavyweight titlist is completely shot. HBO's "Night of the Rising Stars" gave us a nice peak into the future, but quickly fell out of headlines the moment discussion turned to Ricky Hatton's comeback fight, even with it coming on lesser-viewed VERSUS network, and even if far too many fans were lost in trying to find out when and where on their television set the fight was scheduled to take place.
If May was mundane, then June can hardly be considered jamming. Showtime offers a pair of fan-friendly doubleheaders, but neither of which will force anyone beyond the sport's hardcore fan base to stand up and take notice. HBO, even with its much deeper pockets, also has two cards scheduled – both of which go head to head with Showtime's telecasts, neither of which will do anything to dissuade casual fans from going out on a Saturday night.
The most notable card of the month – Manny Pacquiao making his lightweight debut against current titlist David Diaz – is weighed down by the fact that it comes with a $50 price tag and an extremely thin undercard.
How slow are things right now? There's only one televised fight this week – Monte Meza Clay versus Omar Lizarraga on Telefutura. Plans originally called for a Shane Mosley-Zab Judah PPV headliner this weekend. Had it been scheduled for regular HBO, perhaps the news of Judah coming up short in a fight with a shower door would've been met with greater disappointment. But that so few gave the PPV a fighting chance of becoming anything but a disaster, nothing was really lost. Not even a wasted budget on a Countdown special, as none was ever scheduled to air to begin with.
Nor will there be a high-profile preview for next month's Diaz-Pacquiao card; just a reminder or two during HBO's next couple of telecasts. Cotto-Margarito was once destined for the same fate. But thanks to public outcry, jumpstarted by Maxboxing.com's Steve Kim delivering the bad news in a column early last week, the network has reconsidered its terrible decision to let this fight go without the extra push to which boxing fans have grown accustomed.
Some fights worth sinking our proverbial teeth into somehow surfacing between now and then will surely help cure the summer doldrums that await us. Until then, all we can do is count down the days until Cotto and Margarito stare across the ring at one another, in anticipation of the next – though hopefully not final – can't miss event of 2008.
Jake Donovan is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Tennessee Boxing Advisory Board. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com.