Let’s hope boxing has a strong finish in ’09
One of the biggest fights of the year, Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14, appears on paper to also be a very competitive fight. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank
At the risk of contradicting noted British philosopher William Idol, the opinion in this corner is that dancing with oneself isn’t all that much fun.
The same goes for boxing, at least from a fan’s perspective. Watching one man hit and one man get hit isn’t all that compelling; watching two men hit each other is the ultimate in sports entertainment. In other words, continuing the referencing of ’80s pop songs, it takes two to make a fight go right.
The year 2009 got off to a great start in terms of fights with two-way action. In each of the first three months, we got a legitimate Fight of the Year contender: Andre Berto-Luis Collazo in January, Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz in February, Bernard Dunne-Ricardo Cordoba in March. But as the year has worn on, the entertainment value has plummeted, bottoming out with a highly disappointing summer and one-sided exhibitions in September that saw Floyd Mayweather and Vitali Klitschko win with hardly a scratch on their faces. That was great news for Mayweather and Klitschko. It was quite the opposite for fans hoping to be thrilled.
However, the last three months of the year have the potential to pick up where the first three months left off. There are several upcoming bouts likely to produce legitimate two-way action, and even a few that might shake up the Fight of the Year race. Of course, there are also a handful of fights that, on paper, appear bound to provide only one-way traffic. So what follows is a breakdown of each category: The two-way action fights we hope will redeem a mediocre year in boxing, and then the one-way action fights that we can probably live without.
(Oh, and if you’re looking for Daniel Santos vs. Yuri Foreman in this article, well, we decided not to bother with fights that promise zero-way action.)
TWO-WAY ACTION FIGHTS
Arthur Abraham vs. Jermain Taylor, Oct. 17, Showtime: Taylor is the underdog in this fight and in Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, and with good reason; he has three losses on his record, and the other five fighters combined have one loss. Still, not a single fight in this tournament is a mismatch, not even Abraham vs. Taylor. Consider: Taylor has been highly competitive – just one round or one punch from victory, in fact – in all three of his losses. Also, Abraham is a slow starter sometimes. If you don’t think Taylor can reach the midway point of this fight with a lead, you haven’t been paying attention. Additionally, as Taylor trainer Ozell Nelson noted last week, “Speed kills, and we have speed on our side against Arthur.” Abraham is still the logical pick to win the fight, but don’t be surprised if this turns out to be the best action bout of the first round of Super Six, since neither Abraham nor Taylor place as much emphasis on defense as some of the other super middleweights involved do.
Carl Froch vs. Andre Dirrell, Oct. 17, Showtime: This Super Six showdown could get one-sided. If Dirrell is as gifted as he has looked against third-tier opposition, Froch might be overmatched. If Dirrell is a mirage created via deliberate matchmaking, then Froch might dominate him. But if the reality lies anywhere between the two extremes, this is a fascinating matchup of unbeaten fighters, one with great athletic talent and one with proven willpower and punch resistance.
Joseph Agbeko vs. Yonnhy Perez, Oct. 31, Showtime: With this fight on Halloween night, let’s go with the obvious metaphor and predict that it’ll be more treat than trick. In fact, with little guys who aren’t American, there’s no hype in place, so there’s nothing to get tricked by. Both guys have proven themselves at the world-class level – “King Kong” Agbeko by beating Luis Perez and Vic Darchinyan, Perez by knocking out Silence Mabuza. This bantamweight bout is for the hardcore fans, and it’s hard to envision anything but a fast-paced, high-contact battle. It’s a pure treat that should make you proud to dress up as a fight fan, at least for one night.
Chad Dawson vs. Glen Johnson, Nov. 7, HBO: There’s a slight fear that Johnson will suddenly enter the ring one day and struggle like a 40-year-old with 63 pro bouts is supposed to, but that day sure didn’t appear close in April of last year, when he pushed Dawson to the limit in dropping a decision that could have gone either way. The 27-year-old Dawson certainly has the potential to dominate if Johnson lacks the energy to apply the same relentless pressure he did last year, but if the Jamaican doesn’t grow old overnight, why wouldn’t this fight go down to the wire?
Manny Pacquiao vs. Miguel Cotto, Nov. 14, PPV: Easily the biggest fight remaining on the boxing calendar could also be the best of the lot, even if Pacquiao has developed an unfortunate tendency to blow opponents out with one-way demonstrations of superiority. Playing devil’s advocate, with Pac-Man’s ridiculous speed and Cotto’s relative lack thereof, another tornado of torment is possible. But it just doesn’t seem likely. More probable is a fight packed with drama where either man can hurt the other and you never quite know what’s going to come next. When the bigger man is also the better man, as was the case in Mayweather-Marquez, a one-sided bout usually looms. But in this case, the smaller man is better in a pound-for-pound sense, so the fight promises to be competitive.
Alfonso Gomez vs. Jesus Soto-Karass, Nov. 14, PPV: How do you save a disappointing pay-per-view undercard? Pair up two brave guys with second-tier skills and at best a passing interest in defense. The winner is hardly in the mix for a fight with the winner (or even the loser) of the Pacquiao-Cotto main event, but who cares? Sometimes the best kind of undercard fight is an evenly matched brawl that means nothing in the big picture but means everything to the two fighters involved.
Mikkel Kessler vs. Andre Ward, Nov. 21, Showtime: Let’s not mistake a competitive fight for a great action fight – they can be mutually exclusive concepts. From an action perspective, the meshing of these styles in the final fight of the first stage of the Super Six tourney could prove disappointing. Ward is a speedy boxer who does his best to avoid getting hit, and Kessler is a boxer-puncher who prefers to work from a distance. Both men throw straight punches, which is how you’re supposed to do it, but it’s the guys who throw wider, looping shots who tend to provide the most drama. The bottom line is, Kessler-Ward does not necessarily guarantee fireworks. But it is a tricky fight to predict, and a rout for either man would be surprising.
Kelly Pavlik vs. Paul Williams, Dec. 5, HBO: There’s no fight in the remaining months of the year that has fans and experts as unanimously uncertain of the result as the middleweight championship fight between Pavlik and Williams. Can Pavlik get back to the pound-for-pound form he showed in 2007? Can Williams continue to impress against a real middleweight – and a vicious-punching middleweight at that? Based on the quotes the participants provided at the press conference announcing the fight, it could be a lot of fun finding out the answers. “This will be a fight where the last man standing wins. I am not anticipating a decision,” Pavlik asserted. “I know Pavlik is going to hit me with some big shots ÔÇª I am going to weather that storm and come back and hit him with some big shots,” Williams promised. If the fight mirrors the talk, this could be a classic.
Timothy Bradley vs. Lamont Peterson, Dec. 12, Showtime: Like Kessler-Ward, Bradley-Peterson will be fast-paced but not necessarily full of knockdowns and toe-to-toe action. That’s OK. Both guys are more boxer than puncher, which means this will appeal to purists who like a sharp technical display over a wild brawl – and to anyone who likes a fight where the outcome is in doubt throughout.
ONE-WAY ACTION FIGHTS
Juan Manuel Lopez vs. Rogers Mtagwa, Oct. 10, PPV: No disrespect meant to Mtagwa, a tough Tanzanian who carries himself like a true pro, but Lopez is gifted enough to one day top the pound-for-pound list, and this “Latin Fury” headliner is a blowout. Think Shane Mosley vs. Wilfredo Ruiz or Roy Jones vs. Sugarboy Malinga. A talent like Lopez is inevitably going to find himself in his share of mismatches, but this now makes five in a row since he won his alphabet title. His momentum is leveling off and it’s going to take a real fight to elevate him to a higher plateau of relevance and popularity. This is not that fight.
Lucian Bute vs. Librado Andrade, Nov. 28, HBO, : Some people look at this as a two-way fight because Andrade was one punch (or one non-Canadian referee) away from knocking Bute out last October. But for 11 rounds, it was a boxing clinic, and while Andrade deserves credit for hanging in there, he was three minutes away from getting whitewashed before Bute ran out of gas. Andrade is the super middleweight David Izon, a B-level fighter who sometimes finds a way to win with his chin. But most of the time, against A-level opposition, the Izons and Andrades plod forward for 12 rounds and hardly land a punch. There will be a hint of drama every time Andrade throws, but that’s not enough to qualify this as a two-way battle.
Juan Guzman vs. Ali Funeka, Nov. 28, HBO: It’s the guy who couldn’t make weight against Nate Campbell vs. the guy Nate Campbell couldn’t make weight against. That might not be a big ticket-selling angle, but it’s what Guzman and Funeka are primarily known for. But there’s one other thing that distinguishes Guzman: his elite speed and skill. After 29 fights as a pro, he’s really only had one close fight, against Jorge Barrios, and the rest have been monotonous one-sided displays of quickness and technical prowess. Funeka is a solid, world-class lightweight, but he’s probably looking at 119-109 and 118-110 scores going against him.
Vic Darchinyan vs. Tomas Rojas, Dec. 12, Showtime: There’s nothing wrong with Darchinyan getting a relatively safe comeback fight after his disappointing loss to Agbeko in July. And Rojas is a tough little dude who hasn’t lost in six fights and won’t lie down for “The Raging Bull.” But he’s precisely the type of opponent that Darchinyan routinely bludgeons with ease. In fact, Rojas got stopped in 2007 by Jorge Arce, who later became a Darchinyan bludgeon-ee. This is a classic case of a fight that’s reasonable to make and probably won’t be dull, but that doesn’t change the fact that there will be one fighter landing all the punches and one fighter soaking them all up.
ÔÇó Speaking of the differences between one-way action and two-way action, I’m now a father to two children, and let’s just say that I feel a little bit like a CompuBox punch counter tracking both a Manuel Medina fight and a Ray Oliveira fight at the same time. Sometimes I just wish I could pop in my tape of John Ruiz vs. Fres Oquendo and go to sleep. But in all seriousness, I’m thrilled to welcome Eli Maxwell Raskin to the world, and I look forward to watching many fights with him in the years to come. (In the meantime, I’m enjoying watching with my almost-3-year-old daughter, Olivia, who was quick to point out during a clinch in Friday’s ShoBox broadcast how nice it was that the two boxers were hugging.)
ÔÇó I can’t figure out why so many people seem to care that Juan Diaz-Paulie Malignaggi II discussions have hit an impasse. As far as I’m concerned, the first fight was only memorable because of a terrible scorecard and an animated postfight interview. If the rematch happens, fine, but it’s not worth busting anybody’s budget over.
ÔÇó Eleven years after they first fought, Butterbean fought Harry Funmaker on Saturday night, losing an upset four-round decision. Butterbean is 43. Funmaker is 46. Admit it: Doesn’t Roy Jones-Bernard Hopkins II feel anticlimactic now?
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]