By Keith Idec
The WBA could make a reasonable case for only one of the two televised title fights it has sanctioned on the Lucas Matthysse-Manny Pacquiao card Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The Panama-based sanctioning organization afforded Argentina’s Matthysse the opportunity to fight for its “world” welterweight title in January because Keith Thurman is often injured and hasn’t fought since March 2017. Rather than strip Thurman due to his inactivity, the WBA declared Thurman its “super” champion at 147 pounds and eventually ordered a bout between Matthysse, then its third-rated contender at 147 pounds, and top-ranked Tewa Kiram.
Matthysse (39-4, 36 KOs, 1 NC) knocked out Thailand’s Kiram (38-1, 28 KOs) in the eighth round of their January 27 fight at The Forum in Inglewood, California. Matthysse will make the first defense of that title against Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs) at Axiata Arena (ESPN+; Saturday night at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m PT).
That sanctioning scenario at least makes some sense.
The same cannot be said for the other “title” fight the WBA has approved for Saturday night. There’s simply no justification for sanctioning Jhack Tepora-Edivaldo Ortega as a featherweight championship match, especially since the WBA made assurances in the recent past to stop its ridiculous practice of recognizing as many as three world champions in a single division.
The Philippines’ Tepora (21-0, 16 KOs) and Mexico’s Ortega (26-1-1, 12 KOs) are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, among the WBA’s 126-pound contenders. But the WBA already has a “super” featherweight champion, Leo Santa Cruz, and a “world” featherweight champ, Jesus Rojas.
Puerto Rico’s Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) knocked out the Dominican Republic’s Claudio Marrero (23-2, 17 KOs) in the seventh round September 15 in Las Vegas to win the WBA’s “interim” featherweight title.
At that point, Abner Mares owned the WBA’s “world” featherweight title, which he won when he beat Argentina’s Jesus Cuellar (28-3, 21 KOs) by split decision in December 2016 in Los Angeles. Owning the WBA’s “world” featherweight championship made Mares the mandatory challenger for Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs), who out-boxed Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) to win a unanimous decision in their 12-round rematch June 9 in Los Angeles.
Once Mares lost to Santa Cruz again, two WBA featherweight champions should’ve sufficed. If Rojas continued to win, he eventually should’ve received a mandated shot at Santa Cruz.
Instead, Rojas has since been elevated to the WBA’s “world” featherweight champion in its most recent rankings. And rather than ordering Rojas, who’s also the WBA’s No. 1 featherweight contender, to fight the second-ranked Tepora, the WBA sanctioned a Rojas-Joseph Diaz Jr. fight on August 11 for its “world” featherweight crown and ordered Tepora-Ortega for its “interim” championship.
By definition, interim means temporary. Somehow, though, the WBA has made its interim championship a permanent part of its featherweight division.
AT LEAST IT’S NOT $70: Boxing fans’ frustration with emerging streaming services is understandable.
The last thing this sport’s loyal followers want is to pay more money each month to watch boxing. The launch of ESPN+, which costs $4.99 per month, has been met with resistance from some consumers.
Those detractors don’t want to pay to watch fights they believe should be made available live on ESPN, a basic cable channel that has roughly 87 million subscribers in the United States.
When he was promoting the Terence Crawford-Jeff Horn card last month, Bob Arum urged those reluctant customers to sign up for the ESPN+ app’s seven-day free trial. If they weren’t satisfied with what was made available through the app beyond boxing, they could cancel after seven days and avoid getting charged $4.99 for a one-month commitment.
Even if you’ve used your free trial for ESPN+, you can watch Pacquiao-Matthysse by paying a one-time $4.99 fee and cancel it once your one-month subscription ends. That isn’t ideal, but before ESPN+ existed, Pacquiao-Matthysse would’ve been a pay-per-view event that would’ve cost 13 to 15 times more, depending on pricing ($65-$75 in HD).
It still probably would’ve been a pay-per-view fight if Arum’s Top Rank Inc. were the primary promoter, not just its American distributor through its exclusive content deal with ESPN. Pacquiao’s insistence on his company serving as the primary promoter complicated matters, so much that there were rumors right up until last week that the fight would be postponed.
Now that it’s definitely on, reluctant streamers argue that Pacquiao-Matthysse should be broadcast live on ESPN. More viewers obviously would see Pacquiao-Matthysse that way.
But five bucks for what in the recent past would’ve been a pay-per-view show is at least a tolerable deal.
THE WBS: It seemed odd when various outlets in Europe reported earlier this week that Lennox Lewis would finally grant Vitali Klitschko his rematch in the form of an exhibition at the WBC’s annual convention this fall.
Lewis will be 53 by then and hasn’t fought in 15 years. Thus the idea of fighting Klitschko again, even in a bout that wouldn’t count on their records and would raise money for charity, didn’t appear to make a whole lot of sense for the retired heavyweight champion.
That didn’t stop the WBC from issuing a press release Tuesday that stated Lewis and Klitschko would indeed meet again either September 30 or October 5 in Kiev, Ukraine, the city Klitschko serves as mayor. Problem is, no one informed Lewis of this exhibition, let alone confirmed his commitment to participate in it.
England’s Lewis (41-2-1, 32 KOs) hasn’t fought since his back-and-forth slugfest against Klitschko in June 2003 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Lewis beat Klitschko by technical knockout after the sixth round of their heavyweight title bout because of a disgusting gash over Klitschko’s left eye.
Ukraine’s Klitschko was ahead by the same score, 58-56, on each of the three judges’ cards when their scheduled 12-round fight for the WBC and IBO titles was stopped.
Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs), who’ll turn 47 next week, pushed for an immediate rematch, but he never received a second shot at Lewis. A reluctant Lewis announced his retirement in February 2004 and never boxed again.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.