By Jake Donovan
In less than a month, the two biggest promotional outfits in the sport will work together to present the biggest event of the year. Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao will collide in what many regard as the year’s first true superfight.
The past few major events have been all about the headliner, and perhaps for good reason. Boxing fans always complain about the lack of quality undercards to be found on pay-per-view shows in recent years, but the numbers truly show that the main event is the be-all end-all in measuring an event’ s success.
That was, until we were hit with a recession. Mess with a man’s money, and you’re forced to reconsider what you’re trying to sell him.
To its credit, the sport has responded so far in 2009. Promoters have made a conscious effort to bring the sport back to the people. Yes, much of the motivation has to do with casinos proving to be as dry as the deserts which surround them. Whatever the case, boxing has been brought back to real cities, and real fans have been brought back to the sport.
A huge litmus test came in the past four weekends. In that span, HBO went completely dark, while Showtime offered one event each in its Shobox and Championship Boxing series. If it was quality boxing on a Saturday you sought, you were forced to go the premium route. Four straight weekends of pay-per-view cards ran you $135 (plus tax) if you are the type of fan who must watch every televised card as it happens.
Looking back over that stretch, anyone who watched any given event offered little in the way of bitching.
Of the four cards offered, only one received more criticism than praise – the March 21 telecast featuring Roy Jones’ stoppage win over Omar Sheika in an evening that combined boxing and MMA on one telecast.
There wasn’t enough praise to go around for the other three shows during that stretch. The strange thing about each was that there was plenty to complain about in all three main events.
Amir Khan’s headliner with Marco Antonio Barrera lasted four rounds than medically should’ve been the case. Barrera suffered a bone-deep cut in the opening round, only to be forced to linger until after the completion of the fifth round before the bout was stopped just in time to go to the scorecards and give Khan the technical decision win.
March 28 saw Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. headline his umpteenth pay-per-view event against a non-descript opponent.
Last weekend’s big event featured cult hero Edwin Valero in a main event that lasted all of two very one-sided rounds against aged puncher Antonio Pitalua.
Yet ask any given boxing fan about any of the three aforementioned shows, and their reviews will be of the glowing variety.
What’s the common thread, you ask?
All featured the same thing that Jones’ hybrid boxing/MMA card lacked – an undercard that gave boxing fans something favorable to talk about before, during and after the show.
Well before Amir Khan set foot in the ring, boxing fans were treated to not one but two bouts worth discussing around the water cooler on Monday morning. Two stars were born on the March 14 undercard, as Rocky Martinez and Ola Afolabi posting the biggest wins of their respective careers.
Afolabi went back and forth with Enzo Maccarrinelli before dropping and eventually stopping the former cruiserweight titlist in the ninth round of their scheduled twelve. The result came on the heels of undefeated super featherweight Martinez lifting Nicky Cook’s alphabet title in the show’s opener.
The memorable results of each fight that the crowd – and viewers at home – even more amplified for the main event than was already the case. It mattered little that Khan’s win over Barrera should arguably carry an asterisk; there wasn’t a single fan who felt cheated by the end of the show.
Amidst concerns over a brutal drug war claiming thousands of lives in Mexico, promoter Bob Arum promised that “Latin Fury 8: Tijuana Thunder” would be his best independent pay-per-view event yet. Many in the media took the cynical approach, finding fault in the Hall of Fame promoter’s plea to draw fans to the Tijuana bullring in which the event was held.
Sometimes, it helps to simply stick to the subject at hand. For example, if you’re a boxing writer, then write about… boxing.
For those who kept their eye on the ball, there was plenty to be gained from the March 28 show. Four fights aired on Top Rank’s independent show, none of which featured a dull moment. Comebacking former title challenger Antonio Diaz opened the show with a spirited ten round decision over Javier Castro.
The bar was already set high for the rest of the evening, yet still easily surpassed by both Fernando Montiel and Humberto Soto, both of whom looked spectacular in making major statements in front of their enthusiastic countrymen in separate title fights.
Those with a glass-half-full view of the world saw Chavez Jr’s narrow win over Luciano Cuello for what it was: a non-stop action fight with few lulls and plenty of drama. But even if you’re fed up with the lack of progress in the career of the son of Mexico’s greatest fighter whose name he bears, you still ordered the $39.95 show for a reason.
That reason: the supporting cast.
It was for that same reason that fans have discussed for weeks the value to be found in Golden Boy Promotions’ “Lightweight Lightning” card, which aired last weekend.
While Golden Boy benefitted from HBO distributing the card, it was still their own from a production and presentation standpoint. Even with the show changing shape – two separate fallouts in the weeks leading up to a night dedicated to lightweights, they still managed to deliver a show that stacks up against any pay-per-view card offered in recent memory.
The show opened with a significant upset, when career underachiever Rolando Reyes stopped former titlist Julio Diaz in five rounds. Reyes was brought in as a late sub for injured former lineal lightweight champion Joel Casamayor, and made the most of the opportunity after having previously fallen short whenever he stepped up.
Vicente Escobedo was another of the show’s fill-in fighters, agreeing to take on Carlos “Famoso” Hernandez after Jorge Barrios also suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw. Many saw Escobedo-Hernandez as a major upgrade from Barrios-Hernandez, certainly justified by the ten rounds of warfare that came of Saturday’s preliminary battle. In the end, it was Escobedo who emerged with the biggest win of his career, this following his thriller over previously unbeaten Dominic Salcido last September.
Fans were already given their money’s worth by the time Michael Katsidis and Jesus Chavez stepped foot into the ring. The price of admission was further justified following their all-action co-feature, which saw Katsidis post his first win in 21 months after Chavez was forced to concede defeat after seven thrilling rounds.
The stacked show made for a rabid crowd from beginning to end, sweet music to the ears of the main event players, particularly Edwin Valero. The standards were set high for the free-swinging Venezuelan, as evidenced by the chorus of boos that rained down in a relatively tame first round after such a lively undercard. Valero changed that in a hurry, thrice sending Pitalua to the canvas in forcing the stoppage early in the second round.
All told, the three aforementioned shows featured supporting performances that now has boxing fans anxious to see the next step in the careers of at least eight more fighters, excluding those in the main events.
As Hatton-Pacquiao draws nearer, the debates continue to gain steam as to who boxing fans believe will win. The main event is that tough to call to where it generates plenty of interest on its own.
But even with a pick-‘em bout between the sport’s two most popular fighters, there’s one more thing inquiring minds want to know: what else will we get for our $50 investment?
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Please feel free to contact Jake at