By Cliff Rold
Fights make sense in a certain time and place.
In 2001, after Bernard Hopkins defeated Felix Trinidad, a rematch with then-light heavyweight kingpin Roy Jones made all the sense in the world. It was a rematch that no one knew they really wanted until then. Sure, it had come up before, but it wasn’t red hot like it was then.
Of course, boxing being boxing, it didn’t happen. We got the rematch much later. It stunk.
It was a case of marinating until spoiled.
Boxing is like that sometimes. A fight that appears to make sense doesn’t happen because there is money to be made elsewhere. Matches get hip pocketed, a rainy day paycheck to be cashed later.
In 2009, Wilfredo Vasquez Jr. was on his way up at 122 lbs. and Juan Manuel Lopez was racking up title defenses in his first title reign. Vasquez didn’t win a title at the weight until 2010, right around the same time Lopez moved up a division and added a belt at 126. With both holding titles, both from Puerto Rico, that might have been a sensible time to make a showdown.
Vasquez would have had to move up but, with both men undefeated, it could have done some solid business.
Instead, they continued on their own distinct career paths. Those paths ran them into Mexican roadblocks in 2011. Vasquez was stopped by Jorge Arce, Lopez by Orlando Salido.
Neither ever really got back on track; neither proved to be up to the early promise some saw in them. Beginning with the loss to Salido, Lopez has lost five of nine fights and been stopped in all of those losses. Including the Arce defeat, Vasquez has lost six of ten. To his credit, he’s still only been stopped once.
Lopez is now 33. Vasquez, the son of three-division champion Wilfredo Vasquez Sr., is 32. Both continue on with their careers far removed from the titles of years ago and even the hint of title contention. Their bodies would probably be better off if they didn’t fight any more at all.
But since they are…
…well, they’ve found a fight that makes perfect sense for them.
This Saturday at the Coliseo Roberto Clemente in San Juan (PPV, 9 PM EST/6 PM PST), Vasquez and Lopez will face off in their professional twilights. No titles will be on the line but local pride will be.
In a month that has been as dry as any in recent boxing memory, this is the sort of fight that boxing aficionados can look down their nose at while also keeping a side eye on the action. It has the possibility of being a fun scrap.
It is also part of a long tradition in boxing, though often with older men than these.
When a fighter is past the point where they belong in the ring with the real tigers of their day, and they still have some name value, they can find others in a similar position and hope to make some coin.
Roberto Duran, Vinny Pazienza, and Hector Camacho did a lot of this in the 90s. Duran faced both Pazienza and Camacho twice; Camacho faced Ray Leonard. All of them were past their sell by date but found at least some audience to sell to against each other.
Larry Holmes, towards the end of his career, acted similarly. Before closing out one of the great heavyweight careers with a win over Butterbean, Holmes had rematches with Bonecrusher Smith and Mike Weaver decades after their original meetings.
There were butts in the seats.
The downside to these kinds of fights isn’t what happens when the faded names face each other. It’s the value their names get from staying marginally relevant in victory. In makes them too often enticing for subsequent acts of ritual sacrifice.
Camacho’s wins over Duran and Leonard got him a date with Oscar De La Hoya, on pay per view no less. Duran got a late career crack at William Joppy. Pazienza got a prime Roy Jones Jr. All of those fights resulted in ugly, pointless beatings.
It happened to the great Joe Louis too.
After losing in a return bout to Ezzard Charles, a cash strapped Louis continued on with his career. Along the way, he faced some of the names he’d missed in his record setting title reign. Fans finally saw him with Lee Savold and Jimmy Bivins.
It ended with Rocky Marciano.
If there is a ‘why not’ to this weekend, it would be in those lessons from history. The winner of Lopez-Vasquez will be coming off a victory over someone whose name is recognizable. Boxing promotion is rarely about nuance or context. Some young gun’s management team will see a mark and make an offer.
The cycle of ritual sacrifice is strong.
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 protected]