by David P. Greisman
Our warriors are underappreciated.
It seems a strange statement to make, particularly in a year in which boxing writers and fans are considering voting Arturo Gatti into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and particularly after a weekend in which two other junior welterweight warriors in Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado put forth a great battle of their own.
But it’s true — no matter how much we pay tribute to those who shorten their careers for our momentary entertainment, no matter how lovingly we speak of the gutsy and gritty performances of Gatti and Diego Corrales, and no matter how much mainstream attention went to Micky Ward after the biopic about his life and career became a hit.
They do not have to fight the way they do. They could be rewarded as much, if not more, for fighting differently. Yet they know only one way, and we are better for it, even if they are not necessarily so.
Fights like Gatti-Ward are the exception, in which the expected war is spotlighted in the main event and in which the fighters receive career-high paydays. More often than not they are on the undercard, there to help sell a show, there because their reputation precedes them. They will fight hard and come forward no matter the opponent, no matter the stakes, no matter the number of zeroes at the end of their checks.
In an ideal world, they would be the richest among their peers. Despite boxing’s description as The Sweet Science, it is the fights in which the momentum swings as much as the boxers do that earn recognition as the best bouts of each year. But most of the sport’s stars are those who need not be vulnerable so long as they are victorious.
The biggest stars are those who draw attention without soaking up punishment. They are the boxers whose skill levels put them above their opposition; excellence can be entertaining, as we saw just last month when Andre Ward dissected and then disposed of Chad Dawson.
However, excellence is also rewarded even when it is not exciting. This is a top-down enterprise: The networks are most interested in featuring the champions, titleholders, contenders and prized prospects. The fans fall into a trap of caring more about earned status and exposing frauds. So many boxers are summarily discarded once they reach their limits. Yes, Amir Khan has a questionable chin. Yes, Victor Ortiz has folded in fights. Flawed as they are, each has made for captivating television.
But entertainment isn’t the only thing that matters. Allegiances are significant. Tens of thousands fill large arenas for Wladimir Klitschko, no matter how one-sided his wins have been. Thousands came out for Ward’s win over Dawson, despite the aesthetically displeasing manner in which many of his recent victories had been attained. They are great, they are popular, they are promoted locally, and they are loved.
They need not even be great; there have been several local draws in the United States in recent years that sell more tickets than a number of the top fighters featured on Showtime and HBO.
Somehow, the best wars sometimes struggle to sell tickets or draw ratings.
“Before a somewhat small crowd for a fight of this magnitude,” reads a fight report on TheSweetScience.com for the first bout between Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez.
For the rematch — after people had already seen just how great the first installment was — “maybe 2,000 people were in attendance,” according to another fight report on that website.
The first bout between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo is one of the most storied wars ever to air on television. Their rematch was put on pay-per-view and pulled in a poor buy rate.
These should have been the easiest fights to promote.
Our warriors need not make war, then. They could prolong their careers, and perhaps add to their bank accounts, by doing what they need to win. Marco Antonio Barrera famously resuscitated his career by adding more facets to his approach. Gatti learned how to box better in an attempt to lessen the number of blows that were swelling his face and opening his skin.
Our warriors could still be aggressive, but with more intelligence. Canelo Alvarez, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Miguel Cotto are popular attractions with fan-friendly fights. They also have incorporated boxing into their bruising styles. After all, winning can cement that the crowd goes home happy.
And losers aren’t guaranteed another spot on television or shot at the title.
Rios and Alvarado knew what the stakes were for their fight this past Saturday; the winner, according to their promoter, could be up for facing the winner of this December’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. Even were that offer not to come true, the winner would be better positioned for the future.
They still went to war. Alvarado incorporated some boxing into his strategy, though his instincts took over. There’s no shame in this. Barrera still was drawn into firefights. Gatti tried boxing with Ward, only to revert to the approach that had made his fights special before and would make their trilogy memorable.
We were better for it.
Let us start making our warriors better for it, too. Let us guarantee that their sacrifices are worthwhile, that Gatti will not be the exception. Let us show up in arenas and in front of our televisions for the great fights, and not just for the biggest events. Let us be visible during the undercards. Let us buy pay-per-views that have great supporting bouts. Let us reward not just the winners, but also the losers.
Let us ensure that our appreciation for them isn’t just in spirit, but in substance, too.
The 10 Count
1. After Rios-Alvarado, we went from war to wariness.
In some ways, Nonito Donaire is becoming the Wladimir Klitschko of the bantamweight and junior featherweight divisions. His opponents are too intimidated by his physical attributes and skills. He is too fast, too powerful, too unorthodox. As a result, they spend too much time on defense and too little on offense.
In turn, Donaire must be more patient instead of overconfident, searches for openings and opportunities.
Toshiaki Nishioka was considered one of the best at 122, but you wouldn’t have known just how capable and accomplished he was by the way he performed this past Saturday. Instead, Nishioka fell into the same very frustrating pattern. His right hand was often affixed high on his own head, guarding against Donaire’s vaunted left hook. It’s never a good sign when your gloves spend more time touching your own face than your opponent’s.
Donaire downed Nishioka in the sixth, and Nishioka opened up afterward. Given Nishioka’s strategy, it’s surprising that being hurt didn’t send him deeper into his shell. Yet Nishioka never really dictated the action, nor did he do anything to stifle Donaire. Instead, he fell into Donaire’s trap. Donaire got Nishioka to become a bit more aggressive in the ninth, positioning himself against the ropes. As Nishioka threw a southpaw jab, Donaire moved slightly to his right and landed a perfect counter right hand.
That was the second time Nishioka went down, and apparently his corner had seen enough, as his trainer stopped the bout mid-round shortly afterward. Nishioka, at 36, is old for a fighter in a lighter division, and he hadn’t fought in a year. HBO’s announcers mentioned that Nishioka had been considering retirement.
It’s a shame that the majority of American audiences — who might not have seen when Nishioka traveled to Mexico to stop Jhonny Gonzalez in 2009, or when Nishioka came to Las Vegas last year to beat Rafael Marquez — won’t know just how good a foe Donaire just beat.
It’s a shame Nishioka didn’t show us. It’s a shame that he didn’t show up…
2. Of course I’d love to see Donaire face the other top fighters at and around his weight class: Abner Mares, Anselmo Moreno, Guillermo Rigondeaux. Given that Mares and Moreno fight for Golden Boy while Donaire is part of promotional archrival Top Rank, those bouts are unlikely. A Rigondeaux bout could come, though it’s doubtful that Top Rank would hotshot into such a pairing without the proper build-up.
At this point, then, I’d settle for a bout in which we’d at least know that Donaire’s opponent wouldn’t be beaten mentally before being beaten physically. A rematch between Donaire and Vic Darchinyan might be even more of a mismatch now than their first meeting five years ago turned out to be — when Donaire’s perfect counter left hook discombobulated Darchinyan. It’d be fun while it lasted, though, and as Darchinyan showed last month against Luis Del Valle, he’s not quite done yet.
Barring that, what about Donaire against a fun featherweight — Mikey Garcia or Orlando Salido?
3. Let’s return for a bit to the topic of last week’s column — in which I explained why I will not be voting for Arturo Gatti to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. I wait to read other writers’ articles when they are covering the same topic that I am. Here’s what other voters are thinking regarding Gatti and his potential entry into Canastota:
Those who are for:
Doug Fischer, RingTV.com (yes): “The sentimental factor of Gatti’s passing, plus the totality of his entire career and what he meant to the sport, combine to form my new opinion that he is worthy of the Hall of Fame. However, I don’t think he should be a first-ballot inductee. Gatti was great entertainer but he was not a great fighter.”
Thomas Gerbasi, BoxingScene.com (yes): “Arturo Gatti was more than a win-loss record or a trophy case full of championship belts. What Gatti brought to the ring night in and night out was something you couldn’t quantify. He brought excitement. Win or lose, he was going to give you everything he had and he would keep swinging until the fight was over.”
Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, meanwhile, without explicitly saying he’ll be voting for Gatti, made a case in support of such a vote during one of his recent weekly chats:
“It's not just that Gatti was a warrior and crowd pleaser. It was that he was THE GREATEST ACTION FIGHTER IN THE FREAKIN' HISTORY OF THE SPORT with so many all-time action fights that he is on another level than everybody else. That means something. What also means something to me is having spoken to many star fighters over the years who would mention his specifically and talk about their utter respect for him. Coming from his peers that tells me something.”
“He gets in, in my view, because he was the greatest action fighter of all time in a sport where that means a LOT.”
4. Those who are not voting for Gatti:
Lee Groves, RingTV.com (no): “Gatti's legacy as boxing's ultimate warrior is as well earned as his fans’ fierce love and loyalty. But when a voter considers the worthiness of a candidate, he must do his best to remove emotion and bias from his deliberations. He must take into account the record in his most notable fights as well as his historical impact on the sport. On the latter Gatti is worthy but on the former he is wanting.”
Cliff Rold, BoxingScene.com (no): “He’s not one of the ten best fighters on the ballot. The end. That said, he’ll get in because the voting threshold is so low. As far as I know, the Modern rule is just top three gets in. That's it. That means, theoretically, even if 60 percent of voters don't vote for Gatti, he could still easily be the top vote getter and be inducted. It's a terrible standard that leaves the voters open to looking bad.”
Jake Donovan, BoxingScene.com (no): “Gatti won't get my vote, and the argument posed for him rings hollow. Everyone who will vote for him is playing semantics with ‘Hall of Fame.’ If it's only about fame, then start reserving a spot for Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez.”
Lyle Fitzsimmons, BoxingScene.com (no): “Gatti’s admirable accomplishments – five defenses of alphabet titles in two weight classes – are raised to legend by the Jersey Shore set because he tended to wobble and bleed a lot before rallying to beat fighters who’d never caught a whiff of a pound-for-pound list.”
Also: Eric Raskin, writing for Grantland about the arguments for and against inducting Gatti into Canastota, concludes by saying he “can’t quite justify voting for” him this year.
5. My ballot for the 2013 International Boxing Hall of Fame class will include votes for:
- 108-pound titleholder Yoko Gushiken
- 126-pound champion Naseem Hamed
- 112-pound champion Pone Kingpetch
- 108-pound titleholder Myung-Woo Yuh
- 108- and 112-pound titleholder Hilario Zapata
Voters can pick as many as 10 names. The top three vote getters will be inducted into Canastota in June 2012.
6. You can’t have it both ways when it comes to criticizing Jermain Taylor.
It’s tempting to denigrate his comeback — which followed his losing four of five, including three by knockout, and his spending more than two years on the shelf — by noting that his most recent outing wasn’t even featured on “ShoBox,” but rather was relegated to the non-televised undercard and shown only in brief highlights later.
But we had also criticized Showtime for putting Taylor on its “ShoBox” platform to begin with. That was contrary to the series’ mission, and it was wasteful to see Taylor spotlighted in stopping Jessie Nicklow and then shown needing to come off the canvas to beat Caleb Truax.
Taylor’s most recent opponent this past Friday, Raul Munoz, was a no-hoper, a much smaller fighter who in recent years had been fodder for everyone from actual titleholders and contenders in Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., Mike Jones and Austin Trout to former “Contender” contestants Alfonso Gomez and Jimmy Lange. Taylor-Munoz definitely didn’t belong on television in full, and so it wasn’t.
Taylor knocked Munoz out in two. He’s now fought three times in the past eight months. If this comeback is going to continue, he needs to stay busy. Better to take short money than to stay on the shelf.
I still worry about what happens when he steps back into the ring with a true threat.
7. Speaking of worries, we no longer need to be concerned about former junior welterweight titleholder Vivian Harris taking further punishment. He announced his retirement earlier this month after being knocked out in the third round by a British prospect named Brian Rose.
The 34-year-old Harris had won once — ONCE! — in the past five years, dating back to his September 2007 defeat at the hands of Junior Witter. The names had become less and less prestigious since then, and during that span he went 1-7 with one technical draw and one no contest. Even that sole win, over a 7-4-1 fighter named Octavio Narvaez, was marred with controversy.
8. If only we can get Antwun Echols to retire, as commissions are still licensing him. The damage has already been done, sadly, over the course of the past several years. Including his stoppage loss to Kingsley Ikeke in April 2005, Echols has won once — ONCE! — in seven and a half years. He has gone 1-13-3 in that stretch, and that sole win was over a fighter named Fred Thomas with a distinguished record of 0-8-2.
9. Evander Holyfield turns 50 this Friday.
How long has he been a pro? Well, let’s put it this way: Since debuting in 1984, he has lost 10 times to nine men: Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Lennox Lewis, John Ruiz, Chris Byrd, James Toney, Larry Donald, Sultan Ibragimov and Nikolay Valuev. Only one of those — Toney — is still active in the sport today (at age 44, and far removed from contention).
He turned pro before 21 of today’s titleholders were even born: light heavyweight Nathan Cleverly; junior middleweights Canelo Alvarez, Zauerbek Baysangurov and Austin Trout; junior welterweight Danny Garcia; lightweights Antonio DeMarco and Miguel Vazquez; junior lightweight Juan Carlos Salgado; featherweight Billy Dib; junior featherweight Abner Mares; bantamweights Koki Kameda, Anselmo Moreno and Leo Santa Cruz; 115-pounders Juan Carlos Sanchez Jr. and Tepparith Singwancha; flyweight Hernan Marquez; junior flyweights Johnriel Casimero, Roman Gonzalez and Adrian Hernandez; and 105-pounders Moises Fuentes and Mario Rodriguez.
10. Holyfield is closer in age to Don King than he is to America’s only gold medalist in this year’s Olympics, Claressa Shields.
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]