By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Every now and then, the tinkering mood just hits.
I’m feeling bored, introspective, forward-thinking… whatever, and I begin pondering ways in which I can make the things I truly enjoy even better.
For a lot of guys, that probably means loading up the pickup truck and heading to the nearest Lowe’s or Home Depot location. But to guys like me, who are far more capable with a keyboard than a screwdriver, it becomes far more a cerebral pursuit than a hands-on one.
And in this case, the thing I’m angling to improve is boxing.
Now, some things about our sport are simply unchangeable through the actions of one middle-aged writer on the Southwest Florida coast. Big fights are still going to be constructed by executives in corner offices as much as they’re made based on logic. And broadcasters will still lean toward car-crash titillation far more than sublime brilliance when it comes to where they point their cameras.
Examples of those two points are clear enough without naming names.
Anyway, a new idea popped in my head over the weekend as I watched a 30-year-old replay – for probably the 30 millionth time – of the second fight between my all-time favorite, Tommy Hearns, and his career’s most signature win-loss nemesis, Ray Leonard.
It was a lousy decision if you ask me, and I was chagrined to realize that the annoyance I felt upon hearing it hadn’t changed on viewing No. 30,000,000 any more than it had from Nos. 1 to 29,999,999. But that’s not why it struck me this time. In fact, the fight itself was merely a catalyst because of its so-called “draw” result, not because any other specifics about it link to my subsequent brainstorm.
Instead, while hearing tired phrases like “you’ve got to take the fight to a champion” and “you’ve got to do more than a champion to win his title” ring in my ears, I came up with something else entirely.
How about, in cases where championship fights end in draws, the titles are declared vacant?
My logic is simple. Once a champion unwraps the title belt from his waist or pulls it down off of his shoulder before a fight, he’s no longer in possession of that trinket. It’s up for grabs. So the two fighters subsequently competing for it in the ring should be viewed as equals, not in a pecking order based on their past results or accomplishments.
If the Super Bowl is tied after four quarters this February, the refs won’t hand the Lombardi Trophy back to the New England Patriots thanks to their incumbent status. Nor, in play for hockey’s Stanley Cup – for the eight people out there that watch hockey – will the St. Louis Blues be again awarded the silver chalice at the end a tied Game 7, simply because they earned the championship last June.
Instead, those champions would have to play to maintain their kingdoms.
But even in the absence of a suitably, similar OT mechanism in boxing – unless we’re resurrecting the old 13th-round idea from the ESPN tournaments of the 1980s, that is – it’s still a simple fix.
If assigned judges can’t come up with a verdict sufficient to declare one of the fighters as superior, then they should continue to be viewed as equals afterward. Automatically make them contenders 1 and 1a for the title and order an immediate rematch before either moves on. And if one balks at the idea of another get-together, bump him out of the queue and promote contender No. 2 for a shot.
Still, if the status quo isn’t quite ready for vacating titles in the event of draws, I get it.
And if that’s indeed the case, then the only remaining solution is to discard the draw as an option.
Toward that end, have an additional judge in the building scoring the fight in real time along with the official trio. And if the verdict is locked up after the tallying of the first three scores, go automatically to No. 4 to break the tie. Or if folks are feeling particularly progressive, have a media pool cast the deciding vote – with the consensus tally of a predetermined collection of media scorers serving as a unified scorecard to be used in the event of the, errr… most hung of hung juries.
Anything would be a better ending than a draw, and they’re all better, too, than Hearns-Barkley I and II, which just make me want to hang myself instead.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBC super flyweight title – Hermosillo, Mexico
Juan Francisco Estrada (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Dewayne Beamon (No. 14 WBC/No. 25 IWBR)
Estrada (39-3, 26 KO): First title defense; Held WBA/WBO belts at 112 pounds (2013-15, five defenses)
Beamon (16-1-1, 11 KO): First title fight; Zero wins in fights beyond nine rounds (0-0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The 34-year-old from North Carolina has a cool nickname – “Mr. Stop Running” – and abs that a sportswriter would die for, but he’s out of his league against the best at 115. Estrada in 8 (99/1)
WBO light heavyweight title – Chelyabinsk, Russia
Sergey Kovalev (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Anthony Yarde (No. 1 WBO/No. 15 IWBR)
Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in three fights in Russia (3-0, 1 KO)
Yarde (18-0, 17 KO): First title fight; Three fights have gone past Round 4 (51 total rounds, 2.83 average)
Fitzbitz says: The older “Krusher” gets, the more vulnerable he seems. It could end here in violent fashion, but the vibe is that he gets it done on home turf at least once more. Kovalev in 10 (51/49)
WBO flyweight title – Nagoya, Japan
Kosei Tanaka (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Jonathan Gonzalez (No. 1 WBO/No. 20 IWBR)
Tanaka (13-0, 7 KO): Second title defense; Held WBO belts at 105, 108 pounds (2015-17, three defenses)
Gonzalez (22-2-1, 13 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled for 12 rounds
Fitzbitz says: Gonzalez has won four straight to return to relevance since his most recent loss in 2016, but Tanaka at home seems a bit more than the Puerto Rican is ready for. Tanaka in 10 (99/1)
WBO mini-flyweight title – San Juan, Puerto Rico
Vic Saludar (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Wilfredo Mendez (No. 1 WBO/No. 27 IWBR)
Saludar (19-3, 10 KO): Second title defense; Fourth fight outside the Philippines (2-1, 0 KO)
Mendez (13-1, 5 KO): First title fight; Never lost a fight in Puerto Rico (5-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Saludar seems one of the more vulnerable champions on the scene today, and the fact that he’s taking his belt to Puerto Rico doesn’t help. Home cooking wins out. Mendez by decision (55/45)
Vacant IBO flyweight title – Quezon City, Philippines
Carlo Penalosa (No. 33 IBO/No. 52 IWBR) vs. Maximino Flores (No. 56 IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Penalosa (14-1, 7 KO): First title fight; Four consecutive wins by KO/TKO (14 total rounds, 3.5 average)
Flores (24-4-1, 17 KO): First title fight; Never won a fight outside of Mexico (0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: What do you like? Flores has experience. Penalosa is younger. Neither has a particularly worldly resume, so we’ll say momentum and home turf win it. Penalosa by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Navarrete)
2019 picks record: 64-13 (83.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,075-356 (75.1 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.