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5 burning boxing questions

16
Nov

Andre Ward (pictured), of Oakland, Calif., shadowboxes during a media workout to publicize his showdown with 168-pound titleholder Mikkel Kessler at the Oracle Arena in Oakland this Saturday. Columnist Eric Raskin asks which trend of Showtime's Super Six tournament will hold up, the European guy (Kessler) winning or the hometown guy (Ward) winning? Photo / Jan Sanders-Goossen Tutor Promotions

It was German poet and novelist Johann Wolfgang van Goethe who famously said, “If you want a wise answer, ask a reasonable question.” And it was American boxing writer Eric Raskin who less-famously said, “If you’re writing a column about asking questions and you can’t figure out an interesting way to introduce it, Google search for famous quotations about questions.”

As the boxing year nears the winding-down stage, several questions are rattling around in this boxing writer’s mind, so here are five worth exploring:

1. Which trend will hold up in Mikkel Kessler vs. Andre Ward: the European guys sweeping, or the hometown fighters sweeping?

As we head into this Saturday’s showdown that concludes Stage One of Showtime’s Super Six tournament, the natural thing to note is that all three fights have paired Americans against Europeans, and the Europeans are two for two. But what distinguishes Kessler-Ward is that the European fighter doesn’t have the hometown advantage this time.

Location probably made no difference in Arthur Abraham vs. Jermain Taylor. But many observers will argue that it made a significant difference in Carl Froch vs. Andre Dirrell.

As we saw on the first episode of Fight Camp 360, promoter Dan Goossen was on a mission to land this fight in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, and let’s face it, if it’s a close fight that goes the distance, Ward has a much better chance of winning at home than he would in Denmark. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist isn’t a big knockout puncher, and Kessler has never been stopped. If Ward is planning on winning, his best bet is to use his speed and timing, keep Kessler off-balance and pile up points. It won’t be easy, but it’s do-able, as long as Ward believes that winning the majority of the rounds is enough. At home, he should believe that. When you’re the visiting fighter, the difference between winning rounds and dominating rounds often becomes pronounced, and the pressure to get away from your ideal fight plan and pursue the knockout can sometimes alter your approach.

In the build-up to the fight, much of the talk has been about the Europe vs. U.S.A. angle.

“He’s a typical European fighter, with a little flair,” Ward said of Kessler. “He has a few more special effects than most European fighters.”

“He’s a typical American fighter,” Kessler responded. “I know how they fight, I know how they try to move their head.”

Both boxers might be “typical” of pugilists from their local regions, but Ward having the hometown advantage makes this fight atypical of the Super Six so far. So which trend will hold up?

The guess here is that Kessler makes it 3-0 for the Europeans. He certainly doesn’t seem to mind fighting on the road. “You come in, and they hate you. And if 20,000 people hate me, that’s just better for me,” Kessler said on the latest installment of Fight Camp 360.

It’s not better for Kessler, however, if the crowd noise influences the judges. He’s the favorite to win, but he’d better prevail more decisively than Froch did against Dirrell if he wants to earn Super Six points.

2. Is it fair for a replacement fighter in the Super Six to enter the tournament with zero points?

Commendable as this Super Six effort has been from the promoters and Showtime, particularly Ken Hershman, we all feared before it began that the integrity of the competition would be compromised by an injury. Keeping six fighters healthy for a year-and-a-half is about as easy as keeping Cris Arreola on an Atkins diet. So naturally, in the very first fight of the tournament, Jermain Taylor got knocked out in brutal fashion ÔÇö his third KO loss in two years ÔÇö and plans for a smoothly executed tournament were foiled.

If Taylor remains in the competition, it’s unfair to the two guys who don’t get to fight him in the qualifying rounds. If he exits the competition, then there could be unfairness based on whether or not his replacement is on a level comparable to the other fighters in the tourney.

But the most interesting point to ponder is how unfair it is that someone will be entering the tournament with 33.3 percent fewer opportunities to accrue points. Taylor is scheduled to go up against Kessler and Ward. Those are tough fighters to tally points against. Say a fighter comes in and scores a decision win over Kessler but loses to Ward, or vice-versa. Two points likely won’t be enough to advance to the semifinals. A fighter who went 1-2 with a knockout win will advance over a fighter who went 1-1 with a decision win. How fair is that?

There’s no simple solution, but I think whoever replaces Taylor should get an “average” score of one point heading into Stage Two. Or, at the very least, he should get a half-point so that he wins a tiebreaker against another fighter who scored the same number of points he did in more bouts.

Again, you have to love the ambition and the energy behind the Super Six. But it has already become imperfect, and if a second fighter falls out, it will turn into an outright mess.

3. Is it more depressing to have Kelly Pavlik fighting a tuneup on Dec. 19 than if he wasn’t fighting at all?

By far the most anticipated fight on the boxing calendar beyond Pacquiao-Cotto was Pavlik vs. Paul Williams, which was scheduled for Dec. 5 until Pavlik came to the conclusion that an inability to make a fist would be detrimental to someone in his line of work. That sucked for fight fans, obviously, but Williams found a top-notch replacement opponent, Sergio Martinez, and the show forged ahead.

More recently, we received the news that Pavlik’s hand is improving and he’ll be ready to fight on Dec. 19 against Miguel Espino. You can’t blame Williams for not wanting to wait around; this was the second time Pavlik had pulled out on him, after all. But how frustrating is it that Pavlik will be ready to go two lousy weeks later? Instead of a filet mignon from a world-class steakhouse, we get a sampler platter of chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks. Sure, the bite-sized appetizers provide a small dose of deep-fried goodness. But we just had a filet sitting in front of us. And with the fights just two weeks apart, the mouth-watering smell of the filet lingers in the room.

Ultimately, it’s good for boxing that Pavlik, who hasn’t fought since February, will be staying active and defending the middleweight championship of the world. And we get why he’d rather face Espino with a questionable hand than a pound-for-pounder like Williams. But there’s just something about the scenario that makes you angry, because as a fan, you want both Williams and Pavlik to ditch their new dates and dance with each other.

In the end, if Williams and Pavlik both win and we get to see them fight each other next, then this depression will pass. But for now, the bummer feels bigger than if Pavlik was taking the rest of the year off.

4. Is a one-year layoff going to be an issue for Shane Mosley heading into his fight with Andre Berto?

It’s hard to believe, but after scoring possibly the greatest win of his Hall of Fame career over Antonio Margarito on Jan. 24, 2009, Mosley will go 371 days before capitalizing with another pugilistic payday. Margarito tried to use loaded handwraps, got busted and got served a one-year license suspension. And somehow Mosley, the hero who knocked out the cheater, has served the suspension right along with him.

Mosley wanted to follow up with a superfight, against someone like Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather or Miguel Cotto. But Pacquiao and Cotto chose each other and Mayweather chose a fight he knew he couldn’t lose.

“The reason they won’t fight me is because I’m the most difficult. I’m the best,” Mosley said last weekend at the press conference to announce his fight with Berto. Whether he is or is not the best at 147 pounds, Mosley certainly provides a worse risk/reward ratio than the other superstars do. So he held out for a full year and ended up signing for a fight with a worse risk/reward ratio than he might have preferred, against the young, unbeaten Berto.

Berto is a fighter who’s shown plenty of potential but hasn’t yet put it all together against a world-class opponent. The general feeling is that if Sugar Shane is still Sugar Shane at age 38, he should be able to get the better of the 26-year-old. But what if he grows old overnight? Or in this case, over 371 nights?

Or ÔǪ what if he grows younger over 371 nights? Long layoffs sometimes prevent a fighter from growing old. Mosley’s had a long career loaded with tough 12-round fights. For some older fighters (see “Hopkins, Bernard”), extended vacations do no harm at all and can even serve to rejuvenate.

Mosley seems to be a young 38, based on both the performance he gave against Margarito and his prolificacy on Twitter. (Old men don’t Tweet.)

It’s unfortunate for fight fans that Sugar Shane fought only once in 2009. But I suspect it won’t adversely affect him when he steps into the ring against Berto.

5. Is there anything Manny Pacquiao can’t do?

While only a fool wouldn’t have given Pacquiao a realistic chance at defeating Cotto, quite a few level-headed fans and media members opined that they couldn’t envision Pac-Man hurting Cotto. Those who expressed that opinion were proven dead wrong. At 140 and 147 pounds, Pacquiao is every bit the knockout threat he was in the lower weight classes. In fact, that’s an understatement. He’s more of a knockout threat against the bigger, slower guys, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

They said he’d get crushed against Oscar De La Hoya, he’d have his hands full with Ricky Hatton and he wouldn’t be able to hurt Cotto. Wrong, wrong and wrong. By now, we should stop thinking anything is beyond this living legend’s grasp. Many will opine that he can’t outbox Mayweather. I’ll believe that when I see it. For now, I leave open the possibility that he’ll not only outpunch the best defensive boxer on the planet, but that he’ll out-skill him also. With Pacquiao, anything is possible.

Outside the ring, the Filipino has limitations. He isn’t good at assembling a harmonious team. His singing, while endearing, isn’t going to make anybody forget Jeff Buckley. It doesn’t appear as if Wapakman will bump The Dark Knight down a notch on the superhero movie rankings.

But in the ring, Pacquiao can do it all, he can do it against any level of opposition and he can entertain while he does it. He’ll soon win his third Fighter of the Year award this decade and he’s the only choice for Fighter of the Decade.

If there’s anything Pacquiao can’t do, the onus is on Floyd Mayweather to demonstrate that to us.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó As someone who has attended many great fights live and seen many greats on TV, I know full well that being ringside sometimes distorts the reality of how good a fight is. You get caught up in the moment, in the energy of the crowd, and you go a little overboard. And that’s the excuse I’m going to offer up on behalf of Brian Kenny for saying on ESPNews shortly after Pacquiao-Cotto, “Rounds two, three, and four, I put up against Hagler-Hearns rounds one, two, and three ÔÇö it was that good.” Eeeeaaasy, big fella.

ÔÇó What a terrible stoppage by Kenny Bayless ÔÇö he should have let it go another two minutes and five seconds so that I could have advanced to a perfect 10-for-10 on points in the Ring Theory “Quick Picks” competition. How dare he value a fighter’s health over my perfect record?

ÔÇó It’s bad enough that so many of these boxing wives insist on torturing themselves by sitting ringside, but there’s truly no excuse for bringing a fighter’s kids along. This is real life, not The Contender, and Miguel Cotto Jr. didn’t need to be there.

ÔÇó Text message sent to me Saturday morning by my brother Fred: “I think the fourth ep of 24/7 is the strongest argument against plastic surgery I could imagine. Who looks the worst: [Sylvester] Stallone, [Mickey] Rourke or [Wayne] Newton?” Excellent question, but Carrot Top is deeply offended to have been left out of the discussion.

ÔÇó How much do you want to bet that before they let the cameras roll for Stallone’s scene, he insisted they set the shot up so that the camera was low to the ground, angled up, with Freddie Roach in the foreground and Sly behind, to create the illusion that the 5’7″-ish Stallone was several inches taller than Roach?

ÔÇó Thank goodness for that shot of Cotto’s bare butt on the final episode of 24/7. Way to know your audience, HBO.

ÔÇó Upset of the year: Yuri Foreman-Daniel Santos didn’t totally suck.

ÔÇó Speaking of Santos, as long as he’s decided to go tattoo-crazy, maybe he should have tattooed a six-pack onto his stomach, so he could have tricked the public into thinking he’d trained hard.

ÔÇó I thought David Haye beating Nikolai Valuev was a good thing for heavyweight boxing. But if it has inspired Audley Harrison to try to make another run, then I might have to reconsider.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]

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