Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Two Winners, Two Worries

On Saturday night, Manny Pacquiao picked up another big win against one of the best in boxing history, and Sam Peter returned for his own victory that, due to the peculiarities of title belt politics, means he made his first defense of an "interim" championship. Were the circumstances different, this might be cause for celebration for what were, going in, one of boxing's biggest superstars in Pacquiao and a potential savior of the desert-like heavyweight division in Peter. But circumstances matter.

What their opponents do next is moot. Marco Antonio Barrera is retiring following his second loss to Pacquiao, and Jameel McCline -- well, I don't really care what McCline does. Having watched the fight on replay, it was maddening to watch him backpedal in the fourth round after dropping Peter twice in the third, then refuse to throw the uppercut considering that Peter was practically begging for it by leaning down.

What Pacquiao did Saturday may very well have been about what he does next. All agree that Pacquiao fought cautiously, nothing like the whirlwind of fists we've come to love. Likewise, all agree he looked gaunt at the weigh-in the day before. One of his promoters, Bob Arum, is talking about Pacquiao fighting at lightweight (135 lbs.), up from the junior lightweight division (130) that he's dominated for the last couple years. His trainer, Freddie Roach, said: "We're trying to make him a better overall fighter, with a longer, better career." That goes hand in hand with Roach's confession that he knows Pacquiao, at lightweight, won't have the same power edge. Usually, I'd be in favor of a fighter having a longer, better career, but there are thought undercurrents here that have my furrowing my brow. I must start by saying the only fight I want to see Pacquiao in next is a rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez who fought Pacquiao to a dramatic draw in 2004. That's assuming Marquez gets through his Nov. 3 meeting with Rocky Juarez, it almost goes without saying. Not only do Pacquiao and Marquez have unfinished business, but they're two of the sport's five best fighters, pound for pound. Marquez only recently moved up to junior lightweight, so it could be a stretch to move up again soon at all if ever, no matter what Arum is saying about a possible Pacquiao-Marquez rematch in that division. No, I don't think this is about whether Pacquiao can make 130 anymore. I think it's about whether Pacquiao wants to make 130 anymore. Middleweight Jermain Taylor recently showed that his main problem making 160 lbs. was how hard he wanted to train making it, since he did it easily after concentrating full-time on doing so for one of the first times in his career. I think Pacquiao is in a similar situation; his distractions outside the ring prior to this weekend are well-documented. Worse still than the likelihood that a Marquez rematch may not happen anytime soon is the possibility that we've now seen the last of the Pacquiao who tries to blast out everyone he fights, replaced by a heavier, less powerful, more tactical thinker. Barrera pulled off the whole brawler-turned-boxer thing, but I doubt it will suit Pacquiao as well. Explosiveness is what made Pacquiao special. If he abandons it, 2007 won't just be the year we witnessed the ending for great warriors like Barrera, Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo, Eric Morales and Fernando Vargas. We can add Pacquiao to the list, if only figuratively.

Peter, also from the seek and destroy school of fisticuffs, never stopped trying to do just that to McCline, even after landing on his back three times early in the fight. The worry about Peter is of a different variety -- that he was on his back to begin with. On one level, that he got back up showed considerable fortitude. Peter is still green, by heavyweight standards. Maybe he will learn lessons from the McCline knockdowns. But a granite chin is one of the traits, with his nasty knockout power, that made Peter such a formidable heavyweight, viewed as no worse than the second best behind Vitali Klitschko, whom Peter barely lost to in 2005. Anyone can "get caught," but regardless of Peter's claims that his knockdowns were mere slips, he was badly hurt in the third, and not by some lucky punch. Peter never figured out that the uppercut was his huckleberry, and never adjusted as such. A less reticent fighter than McCline, or a better conditioned one, would have made Peter pay. Fortunately for us, Peter has shown the ability to learn, as he showed in his rematch against James Toney last year. Nor should a Peter loss as a result of some of these mistakes be the end of him as an upper-tier heavyweight; he's still young, and could rebuild. Just one question: Can anyone still say, after Saturday night, that Peter has a granite chin, badly hurt as he was by a three-time also-ran? I, for one, am worried.

This is Peter Cushing. His name is Peter, like Sam, and he was gaunt, like Manny was on Friday. How I tied this all together is nothing short of a miracle, but maybe a bit of a stretch.


beetqueen said...

Peter Cushing also played both Dr. Who (in two movies) and General Tarkin in Star Wars. He was gaunt in both of those as well.

Tim -- tstarks2@gmail.com said...

He's a gaunt kinda fellow.