Sunday, July 29, 2007

Praise Be Low Expectations

HBO this weekend re-aired the light heavyweight title fight between ancient, savvy, mostly-boring veterans Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright, pairing it with a junior middleweight bout pitting aging, damaged Vernon Forrest against slow-footed, light-hitting Carlos Baldomir. Both exceeded my exceptionally low expectations, although Forrest-Baldomir was legitimately exciting and Hopkins-Wright was better than horrible, maybe even better than mediocre.


I contend that Hopkins won the fight, albeit not by much, using guile, excellent foot movement for a 42-year-old, size, harder punching and a head butt. Wright landed more punches in most of the rounds, but mostly his patented jab. When one guy hits harder than the other guy, and the other guy mostly jabs, my feeling is that the jabber better land a ton more jabs than the power puncher lands power punches. Granted, Wright's jab is a nastier jab than most -- whereas most boxers use the jab to establish distance, throw an opponent off-rhythm or set up another punch, it is Winky's main weapon. It's just that Hopkins landed plenty of big shots, enough to overcome what Wright was dishing out.

This might have been a significantly better fight if not for Hopkins' excessive clinching, unpunished by the referee. Again, no one should ever be surprised that Hopkins, an ex-con who prides himself in the skills he learned surviving on the street, would win ugly by breaking the rules. Hopkins tied up Wright after every series of punches he landed, making it difficult for Winky to establish his jab quite as well, a tactic Hopkins enhanced with tricky footwork. That said, it certainly would have moved from better-than-mediocre all the way to good had Hopkins opted to fight straight up. He probably still would have won, making the dynamic all the more lamentable.

Next for the winner: Having conquered the light heavyweight division (169-175 lbs.), Hopkins is now looking to take on the king of a lower weight class, super middleweight (161-168 lbs.) champ Joe Calzaghe. I don't know who I would pick to win that fight. Whenever I have sided against Hopkins, he has won. Whenever I have sided against Great Britain's Calzaghe, he has won. Calzaghe is faster and more powerful than Wright and throws awkward-angled combinations in bunches, but Hopkins has an answer for most everyone. The catch is that Calzaghe first has to get by Mikkel Kessler, a Dane of tremendous skill, in what could be a fight of the year candidate. That means Hopkins will be waiting a while and the fight's buzz could fizzle if Calzaghe is defeated. That would leave Hopkins with few options, since match-ups with some younger bulls like Chad Dawson would not capture enough public attention for Hopkins at this stage in his career. Kudos to him, though, if he's willing to take such fights.
Next for the loser: Wright wants De La Hoya, but who doesn't? And De La Hoya wants little part of a fighter who has a tendency to make his opponent look bad, win or lose. Wright's style is so difficult that you don't get to land many punches against him and he can really embarrass you with his jab. I don't see many big-name options for Wright left, so the choice seems between retirement or bouts with second-tier veterans like the below-mentioned Vernon Forrest or a dangerous younger fighter like Kelly Pavlik.


This, clearly, was the Vernon Forrest who upset Shane Mosley a few years ago, the one who stung Sugar with a rangy jab and hard, fast combinations as he danced and managed his distance perfectly on the way to becoming Ring magazine's fighter of the year. It was not the Vernon Forrest who last year slung an injured arm at Ike Quartey in such a manner as to somehow convince the judges he won their fight, although the lusty boos at the decision betrayed their error. I prefer the first version of Vernon Forrest, a.k.a. the new version of Vernon Forrest, the one who fought brilliantly on his way to an in-reality convincing victory over the hard-nosed and hard-headed Carlos Baldomir.

Baldomir's noggin must be made of adamantium. He took one knockout punch after another and never stopped coming after the man delivering them. I figure he won three or four rounds on sheer willpower. He might have knocked out Forrest in the ninth round, but for Forrest's seemingly intentional low blow to bail himself out, the only tarnish on what was a rousing slugfest between two courageous combatants.

Next for the winner: Dominion over the barren wasteland that is the junior middleweight division (148-154 lbs.) or a risky move up to the more target-rich middleweight ranks (155-160 lbs.). The biggest name at junior middleweight is Cory Spinks, a draw in his hometown of St. Louis but not much anywhere else, owing to his feathery fists and concentration on defense. I wouldn't mind seeing them fight, I suppose, if only because they're probably the two best in their division and a St. Louis fight would give Forrest a shot at making some cash. A better style matchup -- one that I think would be a cracking good scrap -- would be with Kassim Ouma, once the diminutive non-stop puncher realizes he shouldn't be fighting at middleweight and returns to his more natural division. Forrest wants to avenge his two losses to Ricardo Mayorga, but the Mayorga who beat Forrest has since been ravaged by Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya and is clearly worse for the wear, so I'm not sure what that would prove.
Next for the loser: Retirement, it looks like, according to Baldomir himself. Sure, he could get a few more good fights and maybe even win a title at junior middleweight. I would watch him again, gladly. But there's not anyone he could make much money fighting in the division besides Forrest, and he's accomplished plenty in the last year and a half. He knocked off Zab Judah in 2006's upset of the year, becoming the recognized welterweight (141-147 lbs.) champion, not some random belt-holder. He then upset boxing folk hero Arturo Gatti. Despite getting blown out completely, he earned the respect of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in their bout, not an easy thing to earn from a guy who is contemptuous of pretty much everyone he battles. And he just pushed a rejuvenated Forrest to the brink of defeat in a nice action fight. Baldomir went from mop salesman in the streets of Argentina to millionaire and national icon in Argentina. Who could ask for more?

No comments: