By Cliff Rold

Faster than a Francisco Lorenzo flop, 2008 has arrived at its halfway point and it’s tough to tell where the sport is headed in the second half.  The pay-per-view calendar is filling up with a whole lot of whatever by way of an old-timers tour featuring Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones and Shane Mosley-Ricardo Mayorga. 

Strange as it might seem, that could be good news.

While the graying go looking for the paying, it will free up capital at the premium cable networks to make fights that promise equations of name and fistic value that more favorably shine on the latter. 

The first half of the year saw a solid mix of both.  Calzaghe-Bernard Hopkins and Oscar De La Hoya-Steve Forbes somehow wound up of regular HBO while Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez II and Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor II went the pay route.  In almost every head to head match-up, Showtime out-programmed HBO with fights like Arthur Abraham-Edison Miranda II and April’s stellar Light Heavyweight doubleheader.  Oh, and unopposed they provided one other fight that we’ll get back to. 

That’s not to say HBO had a bad first half, offering up the excellent first bout between Welterweights Paul Williams and Carlos Quintana and the Lightweight war between Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis. 

As the sum of its parts, the first half of 2008 has proven to be an extension of the outstanding second half of 2007.  We can all cross our fingers that the overall quality momentum continues.  We can use those same fingers to take the pulse of the game at the mid-year mark.

Fighter of the Half-Year: Manny Pacquiao

If voting stopped today, two fighters with two wins apiece would stand above the crowd as 2008’s finest.  Each could have their chances to close the show before voting actually begins around 12/31.  Will World Jr. Lightweight champion, and WBC Lightweight titlist, Manny Pacquiao (47-3-2, 36 KO) still hold the edge over dual Jr. Bantamweight titlist Cristian Mijares (35-3-2, 14 KO, WBC/WBA)?  That could depend on whether Mijares can get, and defeat, fellow titlist Fernando Montiel (37-2-1, 28 KO) before the calendar passes him by.

For now, Pacquiao stands above the crowd.  In his first fight of the year, he narrowly defeated his defining rival Juan Manuel Marquez (48-4-1, 35 KO) to capture nearly universal recognition as the Jr. Lightweight champion, making him the first former World Featherweight champion to do so since Kuniaki Shibata traded the lineal crown at 130 lbs. with Ben Vilaflor in 1973.  Pacquiao adds that accomplishment to his being the only man in history to capture the lineal Flyweight and Featherweight crowns.  Now he’s moved to Lightweight and bludgeoned David Diaz for a belt at 135 lbs. and the slow build to a showdown with Jr. Welterweight champion Ricky Hatton (44-1, 31 KO) is hard to miss.

Former Flyweight champions don’t move to Lightweight and knock out titlists.  They certainly certainly don’t win the Jr. Welterweight championship.  Pacquiao did and just might.  He’ll probably deal with Jr. Lightweight banger Edwin Valero (24-0, 24 KO) this fall before we find out if he will.

Other Notables…As noted, Mijares had an outstanding first half with a near-shutout win over former U.S. Olympian Jose Navarro before unifying with then WBA-titlist Alexander Munoz and working his way onto nearly every pound-for-pound list…Lightweight Nate Campbell put forth the best performance of his career to outpoint Juan Diaz and earn recognition in some circles as the ‘real’ champ at 135.  He could become a serious contender for end of year honors depending on the who he fights and the if he wins...and of course there was one Israel Vasquez, leading to ‘award’ number two.

Fight of the Half-Year: Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez III

Nothing else has even come close yet.  If anything does, then every fan of the sweet science is a Graziano because somebody up there likes Boxing.  For twelve (more) rounds, these two Mexican titans tore into each other with a greed for blood and violence that was awe-inspiring.  For the first time in their series, Vasquez hit the deck only to get up find a way in the final round to let loose an epic assault and a scored knockdown that secured the most significant victory of his career.  Like Ali-Frazier, Zale-Graziano, and Holyfield-Bowe before them, Vasquez-Marquez has become a noun, verb and adjective for Boxing fans. 

It is transcendent.

Other Notables…Pacquiao-Marquez II was excellent stuff, with Marquez again rising from the floor only to see victory slip narrowly away…Casamayor showed he still had something in the tank, trading knockdowns and knocking out the much younger Katsidis while at least slightly quieting critics of his claims to the World Lightweight title…Glen Johnson may or may not have been robbed, but no one can argue against his struggle with Chad Dawson as a classic…Finally, Lightweight contender and former British Olympian Amir Khan and Michael Gomez traded knockdowns and heavy leather in a crowd pleasing bit of nasty.

And a Few Others…

Knockout: Juan Urango KO4 Carlos Vilches (Jr. Welterweight)

Upset: Carlos Quintana W12 Paul Williams (Welterweight)

It won’t be known until the end of the year whether or not these picks have the mustard to hold through a full twelve months.  If they don’t, be assured that you saw one hell of a second six months in 2008. 

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com