By Cliff Rold
Size matters, except when it doesn’t.
This Sunday, wrestling will center its “Wrestlemania” storytelling on a guy who is between 5’8 and 5’10, and might weigh 200 lbs. Daniel Bryan grew a beard, found a catchphrase, and wrestling fans had their eyes opened to a man hardcore aficionados had been calling the best performer in the world long before he got to the big stage.
Wrestling fans might see size first, but ultimately they want to be entertained. Bryan is fulfilling that in his controlled, scripted environment.
The unscripted equivalent for boxing fans is just sitting there, plain as day.
Any discussion in 2014 about the best division in boxing is going to have plenty to say about Jr. Welterweight and Welterweight, both of which remain hot right now. Super Middleweight remains solid, even as some of the big names age or are inactive. Seldom heard in discussions about exceptional divisions on networks like ESPN, HBO, and Showtime is mention of the weight class that might have the best combination of depth and action in the game.
The current crop at Flyweight might be as good as its been since the time of Miguel Canto in the 1970s. At worst, it is the best it’s been since the 1990s primes of Mark Johnson and Yuri Arbachakov.
Flyweight has been delivering big for a few years. Fights like Tyson Marquez-Luis Concepcion, Brian Viloria-Marquez, Giovani Segura-Edgar Sosa, Segura-Marquez, Roman Gonzalez-Juan Francisco Estrada (contested at 108 but with both men now at 112), and Estrada-Viloria were as good or better than almost anything seen on HBO or Showtime in recent years. The closest any of them has been to HBO or Showtime was Estrada’s two appearances on HBO2 last year.
On both those occasions, Estrada was in the best fight of a show headlined by China’s Zou Shiming. They were the sorts of performances that could have led to at least a spot on a Boxing After Dark undercard.
Harold Lederman has tweeted that he’d love to see Roman Gonzalez up close.
Crickets so far.
Given the current climate, HBO seems like the place where these little warriors could best find a home. HBO is in the headlines for the last week over the one that got away: Adonis Stevenson-Sergey Kovalev at Light Heavyweight. Isn’t there room to go after some great fights now where asking prices are likely to be easier to control?
Let’s be honest: in the US market, size does matter. There have been very few major stars to emerge south of 122 lbs. in the last twenty years. Occasionally, a Rafael Marquez will break out at Bantamweight. Jorge Arce, Nonito Donaire, and Vic Darchinyan all received attention and TV time low on the scale.
But Donaire, Darchinyan, and Arce only were able to rise because they built followings first lower on the scale. Someone was watching. Before them, Michael Carbajal sold pay-per-view in the 1990s as a headliner and co-feature for years. By the end of his run at 105 lbs., Ricardo Lopez had worked his way into Showtime main events and prominent pay-per-view undercards.
Instead of assuming boxing fans won’t watch a new investment in Flyweight, which one must assume is part of what goes on, isn’t it time to find out if that’s true?
The cast of characters is certainly there to be capitalized on. Estrada holds two belts in the division. Viloria returned to action last weekend and Segura will headline on UniMas this Saturday.
Take a look at the top tens for Flyweight here at BoxingScene, at the Transanational Boxing Rankings Board, at Ring or ESPN. The story is in the names found. The level of quality is eye catching. Underneath lineal champion Akira Yaegashi, one finds Viloria, Estrada, Gonzalez, Concepcion, Sosa, Segura, and Moruti Mthalane among a core of more than ten current or former beltholders at Flyweight and below. Almost all of them make wars in the ring. Some are aging, some are just hitting their peak, and there will be more quality arriving from 108.
There are boxers, boxer-punchers, and plain old punchers. In other words, there is something for everyone stylistically and aesthetically. Investing in these weights now, striking while the iron is hot, could be a bold stroke. Maybe the ratings don’t fly right away, but let’s look at it another way: if, say, Boxing After Dark had shown the Viloria-Marquez/Gonalez-Estrada double header in 2012, would any HBO subscribers have been disappointed?
Would they be less interested than they’re been in things like Guillermo Rigondeaux-Joseph Agbeko?
Would they have tuned in for more?
History says making great fights gets more people to tune in for more of the same. Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado sizably grew their audience from their first fight to their second. Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales went from B.A.D. to PPV over the course of their careers, but spent years on the former first.
A golden era is already happening in one of boxing’s oldest divisions. All it needs now is a little push from the biggest stages to share it with the larger audience.
WWE released Daniel Bryan several times before hiring him for good and probably figured they got a solid hand at best. Ultimately, they might have their next Steve Austin.
Flyweight is unlikely to deliver that level of success to any network but where great things are happening, boxing fans will follow. Wouldn’t it be great if the next time Segura is set for a Saturday showdown, if say he gets his mandatory crack at Estrada later this year, Jim Lampley was on the call?
In the words of one bearded wrestler…
Heavyweight Luis Ortiz gets some national spotlight in a bout with Monte Barrett and it’s time to make his move. At 35, time might not be on his side but, at 20-0 with 17 stops, he might be the best Heavyweight no one is talking about…Gennady Golovkin-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez-Miguel Cotto should finally get us to Martinez-Golovkin, right?...Steve Cunningham-Amir Mansour looks like a fun Heavyweight scrap. Cunningham is in a must-win spot here.
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]