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Dawson-Pascal ignites the search for more real champions

09
Aug

Chad Dawson could win THE RING light heavyweight championship if he puts this kind of hurt on Jean Pascal on Saturday in Montreal. Photo / Emily Harney

If you recognize everyone who holds a title from the four main sanctioning bodies as a “world champion,” that means that, as of the most recently released sets of rankings, you recognize 90 world championsÔÇöor, 82 more than your grandpappy did. With 17 divisions in boxing, that breaks down to 5.3 fighters per division whom you’re calling champion of the world.

And if you can name them all, it takes just three simple words of advice to sum up your situation: Get a life.

Of course, back in the pre-alphabet days, it used to be a positive sign if you could name all the reigning champions. And it still can be – provided you use a different set of criteria for determining what a world champion is.

Off the top of this boxing writer’s head: Wladimir Klitschko ÔǪ Sergio Martinez ÔǪ Juan Manuel Marquez ÔǪ Pongsaklek Wonjongkam ÔǪ Ivan Calderon. There. Done. Doesn’t that feel good?

Those five men, of course, are the reigning champions of the world as recognized by THE RING. And on Saturday in Montreal, a sixth member will join their exclusive club: the winner of the Chad Dawson-Jean Pascal light heavyweight fight.

As has been stated many times since the current RING championship policy launched in 2001, the fact there are so many RING title vacancies is an unfortunate side effect of the high standards required for crowning champions and serves as evidence that THE RING championship policy is an imperfect solution. But ask yourself what’s better: six world champions, or 90? Hey, a rare commodity is a valuable commodity.

And if all those vacancies are one of the flaws in THE RING championship policy, at least they spawn a compelling ongoing discussion: What it will take to fill the remaining title gaps.

Last week, I spoke to THE RING magazine Editor-in-Chief Nigel Collins to get his opinions on what might qualify as a title fight in the 11 weight classes without true champions. Note that these are not necessarily the official decisions of THE RING, but rather one man’s opinions (which generally provide a sense of how the official decisions would play out). Once we have Collins’ input, we can speculate on how likely each title vacancy is to get filled in the near future, which is precisely what I’ll do in this article:

Cruiserweight: The rule for filling vacancies is simple. If THE RING’s No. 1-rated fighter takes on the No. 2-rated fighter, that’s a title fight. If No. 1 takes on No. 3, that might be a title fight, depending primarily on whether it’s fair to exclude the No. 2-rated fighter from a title fight.

At cruiserweight, we have the unusual situation where the No. 1-rated fighter, Steve Cunningham, holds past wins over both of the fighters immediately beneath him, No. 2 Krszystof Wlodarczyk and No. 3 Marco Huck. Collins said that magazine would most likely recognize a fight between Cunningham and either European contender as a vacant title fight, noting that both have been undefeated since losing to Cunningham. “The fact that he’s beaten them both, that helps make you feel as if you’re not screwing the No. 2 guy if it’s No. 1 vs. No. 3,” Collins explained.

As it turns out, a fight between No. 1 and No. 3 would be more realistic to make, since Cunningham and Huck now have the same promoter, Sauerland Events. However, Huck has a tough fight coming up with Matt Godfrey on Aug. 21, which could either send Godfrey soaring into the top three or possibly elevate Huck to No. 2. So there are some variables to consider. But in the end, with Cunningham now fighting for a European promoter, it’s realistic to believe we’ll crown a cruiserweight world champion in the next 6-12 months.

Super Middleweight: At 168 pounds, it’s considerably less realistic to expect a champion to be crowned within the next year. That’s because the No. 1 super middleweight, Lucian Bute, isn’t involved in Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, whereas the No. 2 fighter, Andre Ward, is, and that tournament has about a year to go before it’s completed. And with the rankings as they are right now, we need Bute vs. Ward to crown a champion, since Mikkel Kessler is rated No. 3 and has a recent one-sided loss to Ward on his resume.

Nothing really changes even if Ward keeps winning impressively and switches spots with Bute. The only way we’ll get a RING champion before the Super Six is complete is if Bute loses and falls out of the top two; then a Super Six fight could conceivably crown a champion. But don’t count on that scenario playing out because Bute’s next opponent is Jesse Brinkley.

Junior Middleweight: This is one of the trickier divisions to consider, since the No. 1 rated fighter is the reigning RING middleweight champion of the world and he might not compete at 154 pounds again anytime soon. Still, Sergio Martinez, despite being stripped by the alphabet buffoons, deserves his RING ranking for the time-being, and any vacant title fight at junior middle would have to go through him.

Kermit Cintron is rated No. 2. So a rematch of the 2009 draw between Martinez and Cintron (in which Martinez was jobbed) would automatically be a title fight. But that fight isn’t on any matchmaker’s radar. There has been some talk of Martinez facing No. 3 Alfredo Angulo, but that would likely be at middleweight, plus Collins said, “It wouldn’t be fair to Cintron, as it stands now, to recognize Martinez-Angulo as a title fight, because Cintron defeated Angulo. And my overriding policy is to be fair to the fighters.”

One more wrinkle: What if Martinez fights Paul Williams at 154 pounds? Williams was once the top-rated man in the division but hasn’t scored a win at the weight in almost two years, so he isn’t currently rated at 154. Could he be re-inserted in the top two if he signed to fight Martinez at junior middle? That’s a bridge Collins will cross when he comes to it, but for now, it’s irrelevant because all the talk regarding Martinez-Williams II suggests it would be a middleweight bout.

Back at junior middle, everything hinges on whether Martinez decides to abandon the division (and, no, being coerced into releasing his alphabet belts doesn’t count). If he does, the picture changes dramatically, and a fight like Cintron-Angulo II or Cintron-Miguel Cotto could become a title fight.

Welterweight: Floyd Mayweather is ranked No. 1. Manny Pacquiao is ranked No. 2. Andre Berto is ranked No. 3. There’s really nothing to discuss here. As Collins insisted, “It’s got to be Manny and Floyd.” (And you have to admit, it adds one more cool layer to the fight if it finally gets signed and it’s for both the intangible pound-for-pound title and the very tangible RING welterweight championship.)

Junior Welterweight: Going into last weekend, it was Tim Bradley at No. 1, Devon Alexander at No. 2 and Amir Khan at No. 3. Based on Alexander’s narrow escape Saturday night against Andreas Kotelnik, Khan and Alexander switched places. But the decision over whether to recognize No. 1 vs. No. 3 as a title fight is the same either way.

“They’re pretty closely grouped,” Collins said, “and I think in a case like that, I’d send out an e-mail to all the RING Ratings Panel members asking for their opinion. I’d want a lot of input before making a decision.”

That e-mail might just be going out soon. HBO is interested in televising Bradley vs. Alexander next Jan. 29, which means a title vacancy could be filled if enough panelists believe the divide between Khan and Alexander is insignificant enough that you can have a championship fight without Khan. (By the way, sorry Khan fans, but you can’t use his victory in last week’s mock junior welterweight tournament on RINGTV.com as an argument in his favor.)

Junior Lightweight: This is one of the shallowest, least appealing divisions in boxing, but there still have to be fighters ranked No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3. In this case, they’re Mzonke Fana, Roman Martinez and Malcolm Klassen, respectively. Fana is currently scheduled to fight No. 4 Cassius Baloyi, while Martinez is slated to face unrated Ricky Burns. So the rankings could change. When it comes to filling the vacancy, we know the three South African fighters near the top aren’t shy about fighting each other, while Martinez would likely be the odd man out.

Ultimately, here was Collins’ unofficial decree: “As nobody at the top jumps out at you as being significantly better than everybody else, we might recognize No. 1 vs. No. 3, depending on who they are at the time.”

Featherweight: Based on the current rankings, Collins said it would have to be No. 1 Chris John vs. No. 2 Juan Manuel Lopez to fill the vacancy, and that fight definitely isn’t going to happen in 2010 and isn’t likely for early 2011 either. But featherweight is a division deep with quality fighters, many of whom seem willing to take risks, so we could see the rankings change in the coming months.

“I could see JuanMa moving into the top position even without Chris John losing,” Collins said. “I’m not saying that’s going to happen, but because of John’s injuries, inactivity and quality of opposition, it’s possible. And if Rafael Marquez defeats Lopez, that changes things, obviously. You have John, Lopez, Marquez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Elio Rojas, Celestino Caballero – lots of excellent, exciting fighters. So I could see some shakeup in this division in the months ahead.”

Junior Featherweight: This is a division in which the gap between Nos. 1 and 2 (Poonsawat Kratingaenggym and Toshiaki Nishioka) and No. 3 (Steve Molitor) is fairly sizable, so the only immediate means of filling that vacancy would be for the top two to face each other. And according to veteran Japanese matchmaker and journalist Joe Koizumi, we shouldn’t count on that happening.

“It is very unlikely that the Poonsawat-Nishioka [alphabet] unification bout will take place in the near future,” Koizumi explained. “In Japan, a unification bout can not be [good] business, since it costs double, but ticket sales and/or TV broadcasting rights fees won’t become double. It might be interesting if Nishioka faced Poonsawat, but there will be no promoter who dares to stage such an expensive venture.”

Bantamweight: The 118-pound division is heating up, but at all weight classes from here on down, most of which are separated by three pounds, the fighters tend to jump quickly from one division to another, which means the best fighters haven’t always done enough in a given division to earn a high ranking. In this case, Fernando Montiel vs. Nonito Donaire is a fantastic fight that’s being discussed for later this year. Montiel is ranked No. 1 at bantamweight. Donaire is not ranked in the division. So it’s not a RING title fight.

Anselmo Moreno is ranked No. 2, and the fighter ranked third, Hozumi Hasegawa, has already been knocked out by Montiel. Therefore, Collins is disinclined to recognize No. 1 vs. No. 3 as a title fight. It’s going to have to be Montiel vs. the Panama-based Moreno, which, unfortunately, is a fight that makes little financial sense for anyone.

Junior Bantamweight: As No. 2 Hugo Cazares already defeated No. 3 Nobuo Nashiro just three months ago, only a fight between Cazares and No. 1 Vic Darchinyan would make sense as a title fight. Will Darchinyan even stay in this division, or will he soon be hopping back to 118 pounds, where the bigger names are? That’s hard to predict. But if Darchinyan were to leave, that would mean Cazares-Nashiro III (they fought to a draw the first time around) could fill the vacancy. For the moment, however, all roads to the title go through “The Raging Bull.”

Strawweight: Boxing’s tiniest weight class happens to be full of tiny numbers in the loss column, as the top three in THE RING ratings, Roman Gonzalez, Oleydong Sithsamerchai and Nkosinathi Joyi, respectively, are all undefeated. According to Collins, however, despite their common undefeated status, there is some degree of divide between Oleydong and Joyi.

“I had a look at Oleydong and Joyi’s records,” Collins said, “and Oleydong has more wins over good opposition. So it would have to be Gonzalez vs. Oleydong to fill the vacancy as things currently stand.”

Gonzalez has fought twice in the Far East before, but as Koizumi explained, alphabet unification bouts aren’t big in that part of the world. And there’s probably not much financial incentive for Oleydong to go from Thailand to Nicaragua.

At cruiserweight, junior welterweight and, maybe, just maybe, welterweight, it’s logical to think real champions could be crowned within the next year. For those dying to see the strawweight vacancy filled, however, you’ll probably have to live with multiple titlists instead of a single world champion for a little while longer.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó We’re about 8¾ years into the current RING championship era, and the architect behind the policy concluded our conversation with something of a state-of-the-union rant. “The fans and fighters are our biggest supporters,” Collins said. “The managers, promoters and [pay-cable] TV networks have been our biggest stumbling blocks. I think it’s a shame that the people who have not been at all supportive are not looking at the big picture or the long-term health of the sport. The lack of foresight on their part has been monumentally stupid. They bitch and moan and groan about the alphabets, and then they’re in bed with them the next time they think it benefits them. But the people who support everything with their money – the fans – and the people who take the punishment – the fighters – mostly support it. That speaks very loudly.”

ÔÇó If I were writing the “Biggest Loser” paragraph for Michael Rosenthal’s “Weekend Review” column this week, I’d give the dishonor to HBO’s unofficial judge, Harold Lederman. On a personal level, I like Harold immensely. He’s a friendly guy, a knowledgeable fight enthusiast and an excellent interview subject. But boy did he butcher his scorecards on Saturday night.

First, in the Tavoris Cloud-Glen Johnson fight, how did he give the 12th round to Johnson? How many times did Cloud need to rock Johnson in that round to convince Lederman he won it? How many times did an exhausted Johnson need to hold on to Cloud to convince Lederman that he lost it? That wasn’t a tough fight to score – it was either 116-112 or 115-113 for Cloud, with Round 6 the only real swing round. Lederman’s 114-114 card was unjustifiable in my view. I had it 116-112, the same as all three judges.

But Lederman’s three-minute blunder there was just an appetizer for the 36 minutes of myopia he delivered in the Alexander-Kotelnik main event. Since when does the number of punches thrown matter more than effective punches landed? Since when is it more important to move your arms than to control the fight? While the fighters in the ring, their cornermen and broadcasters Bob Papa and Max Kellerman were telling one story – of underdog Kotelnik pushing Alexander to his limits, or possibly beyond his limits – Lederman’s scorecard told a completely contradictory story. He only gave Kotelnik the rounds in which CompuBox saw him outlanding Alexander by a 2-1 or 3-1 margin.

I’m not saying the decision in Alexander’s favor was the worst robbery in history. I felt Kotelnik clearly won, 116-112, but I acknowledge that there were some close rounds and a draw or maybe a score of 115-113 for Alexander wouldn’t have reeked of hometown bias. But the 116-112 cards from the judges may as well have been filled out in advance, and Lederman somehow topped them with a score of 117-111 for Alexander. Nothing personal, Harold, but you’re one bad scorecard away from earning a license to judge fights in Texas.

ÔÇó Since he wasn’t all that great on Saturday night but he was plenty loud as he threw punches, can we change Devon’s nickname from “Alexander The Great” to “Alexander The Grunt”?

ÔÇó Did Bob Papa really open the Boxing After Dark broadcast by saying of Johnson “He’s like a fine wine, he’s getting better with age”? Come on, Bob, you have weeks to plan out your opening line. How do you settle on the most clich├®d simile possible? (Never mind that Johnson isn’t even getting better with age anymore as he was a few years ago.)

ÔÇó Here’s how long I’ve been on the boxing beat: I once sat ringside for a fight that Edel Ruiz was favored to win.

ÔÇó If you missed last week’s episode of Ring Theory, you can still access it here. If you like the episode, shout “Tippy toe!” If you don’t enjoy it, yell “Lemon tree!”

ÔÇó I hope Bob Arum does indeed put Montiel vs. Donaire on the Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito undercard, not only because I’d love to see that fight, but also because it would be fascinating to see how the boycotters respond.

ÔÇó How bad is the heavyweight division right now? It’s so bad, I’m legitimately curious to see if the comebacking Mo Harris can make some noise.

ÔÇó So Prenice Brewer fancies himself as a cross between Pernell Whitaker and Roy Jones, huh? Switch it to Lance Whitaker and Bridget Jones, and I’m on board with the comparison.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles each month in THE RING magazine and follow him on Twitter @EricRaskin.

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