Friday, October 12, 2007

Medicinal Mouthwash

Nothing to wipe the bitter taste out of my mouth left by yesterday's contemplation of Evander Holyfield-Sultan Ibragimov than looking forward to a far better fight, one that shows what's right about boxing these days: ESPN's Dan Rafael is reporting that two young, crowd-pleasing, pugilists with star potential are in discussions to meet in the ring early in 2008. That means the incredible string of fall and winter fights continues unabated, a string that some long-time boxing writers are calling the best in history. For a second, I'll defer the names of the two latest boxers to enlist for a great match-up, and ask you to follow along.

Many of the people I know will be more inclined Monday to ask my opinion of Saturday's Holyfield fight than of the much more interesting Juan Diaz-Julio Diaz fight also happening this weekend. That they will comes from a natural place -- they know Holyfield, but they don't know the Diazes. Likewise, when I mention to these same people some intriguing fight coming up, more often than not, they shrug it off and say, "Never heard of 'em."

There are only a few ways they will ever hear about a great fighter who began his career prior to the mid-90s, or hear about a thrilling fight that happened after the masses began tuning out in droves. One is me talking the ear off of everyone will listen, on this blog or elsewhere, and other boxing fans doing the same. People buzzed about the Jermain Taylor-Kelly Pavlik fight, and as a result, I was happy to find people asking me about it that following Monday morning.

Another way is if the sport handles its business properly. That's what it's been doing of late. Threatened by mixed martial arts, boxing has gotten savvier about promoting itself, but most importantly, the best are fighting the best almost every weekend these days -- something that the UFC was having no problem arranging, but that boxing was failing to do until recently. In the end, it's the chief way to break through people's unwillingness to give new fighters a chance. Forget that they would do it for another sport; people become fans of basketball players when they are no-names in high school, even. Forget that a general lack of open-mindedness prevents a great many people from wanting to listen to any band they haven't heard of until a radio station jams it down their throats. It is what it is.

The best way for fighters to become known is just to be in good fights. Word of mouth helped get people interested in Taylor-Pavlik, as I said before, but people now are going to want to see what Pavlik does next because it was a helluva fight.

I doubt most non-boxing fans have heard of Kermit Cintron or Paul Williams, both welterweight (147 lbs.) belt-holders. Maybe they caught Cintron's unbelievable knockout of Walter Matthysse on YouTube, where it was disseminated wildly. Maybe they've heard of him because he's willing to take on someone from the UFC to settle which sport is best. But probably most haven't heard of him. Williams is even lesser known.

If and when Cintron and Williams fight in early 2008, as ESPN reported they might, it should be riveting. The 27-year-old Cintron is one of the most powerful punchers in all of boxing, always a fan-friendly trait. The 26-year-old Williams puts on a good show, too -- at 6'1" and with a freakish 82-inch reach comparable to Muhammad Ali's, he has knocked out about two thirds of his opponents and embodies the phrase "action-packed," since he throws punches nearly every second of every round. Both are taking risks by fighting each other, since neither are the kind of foe anyone looking for an easy title reign might want to take on. That they are in talks to rumble is just one more reason the welterweight division is in the midst of a renaissance unlike any period since the days Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns roamed the weight class, captivating the public at large. Oh, and everyone in the division is fighting everyone.

In 2007 alone, Puerto Rican superstar-to-be Miguel Cotto defeated the ultra-talented Zab Judah in a sold-out Madison Square Garden. Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, both now welterweights, fought at the super welterweight limit (154 lbs.) in the biggest money fight of all time. An HBO tripleheader headlined by Paul Williams' gallant win over the tough, oft-avoided welterweight standard-bearer Antonio Margarito did good business in California. Next, in November, Cotto's fighting Shane Mosley, one of the last remaining big-name fighters from the 90s, in what on paper is the best fight of the year. And in December, Mayweather's fighting Ricky Hatton, a national hero in Great Britain, in a fight that's already sold-out one stadium and a closed-circuit facility to boot.

I apologize for sounding like a broken record by constantly revisiting some of these themes of how great the welterweight division is these days, and how great the fall and winter look for boxing fans. But, hey, it's a good record. And I'm trying to do my part by playing the role of a radio station trying to ram a great track down the throats of anyone out there in hopes that'll catch on and become a smash hit. Right now, boxing deserves it.


Dammrod said...

It's good to see boxing step it up. MMA has suffered a serious blow recently. Actually, a couple of blows. Randy Couture, the very popular UFC Heavyweight champion, has suddenly retired, and Fedor Emelianenko, who is considered the "Baddest" man in MMA has signed up with a fighting league that will have him fighting tomato cans. I'm an MMA fan, but the depth of MMA is nowhere near as deep as boxing, and they foolishly choose to ignore the little guys, which means boxing's lighter weights will not be attracted to MMA. And while best usually do fight best in MMA, politics still gets in the way many times.

Anyways, long live boxing!

Tim -- said...

I thought about mentioning the Couture thing. Everyone predicted that once MMA started getting some success, it would get some of boxing's problems. Looks like a smart prediction. Mo money mo problems.