Friday, November 30, 2007

Mayweather/Hatton: Keys To The Fight, Part I

HBO's Mayweather/Hatton 24/7 reality series is doing an amazing job of spotlighting the back story and personalities of both Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton and their respective families, camps and assorted hangers-on. I recommend everyone -- boxing fans and non-boxing fans alike -- tune in Sunday, next Thursday and even hit HBO On-Demand for the previous two episodes. It's great television, artfully done.

What it's actually doing reasonably little of is focusing on the boxing itself. There are a few reasons I can imagine for this. They're clearly trying to lure the general public into buying this fight Dec. 8, and a technical analysis of who has the better left hook would siphon away some of the drama. Another reason, I suppose, is that hardcore fans know this fight could completely blow, so focusing on that aspect of it would make anyone watching ask, "Why should I pay $50 for this again?" It could be a fantastic battle, don't get me wrong. There's just a distinct possibility that it won't be.

So assuming the next two episodes won't delve into such matters, I'm taking it upon myself to try to educate any neophyte who wants to arrive for the show briefed about what will make the fight entertaining or not, a blowout for Mayweather or a real competition. More experienced fans can read this and hopefully find something enlightening, or just take it as a starting point for debate.

Part II, coming Monday, will look at all the tools both Mayweather and Hatton have that are important in every fight, no matter the gladiator: who's faster, who's stronger, etc. Part I, below, will focus on some of the things that are unique to this fight and these fighters.

How Mayweather chooses to fight. Mayweather is a strange avatar for the renaissance of boxing. No active fighter has the combination of physical gifts and ring intelligence that Mayweather possesses. As he's moved up in the weight classes to welterweight (147 lbs.), it's zapped some of his knockout power, but otherwise, Mayweather can do virtually anything he wants in the ring. Alas, his extraordinary defense and ability to hit his man more frequently than he gets hit means that should he choose to do so -- and, all too often, he has made this choice -- he can coast to an easy victory on the scorecards without ever putting himself in harm's way enough to create a lot of action or deliver a KO. It's not as if I don't understand the rationale, but it sometimes makes for boring viewing. On the flip side of the coin, any time Mayweather has made the decision to take risks, he has usually looked spectacular. It's a little like watching Kobe Bryant: an otherworldly athlete plying his craft at a high level and dominating all comers. Even when Mayweather has decided to amp up the offense by putting himself at a distance where his opponent can hit him, he has slaughtered his competition. That's because his reflexes and anticipation are so extraordinary he can stand inches from his opponent and block or dodge incoming punches without sweating. These one-sided affairs -- Mayweather hasn't even lost many rounds of his career when he's opted to take risks -- have been wildly viewable. What he did to Arturo Gatti in 2005 was about the most watchable shellacking imaginable. What he did to Diego Corrales in 2001 was a dream of both boxing purists and even some fans who only want to see knockouts. It's boils down to this: When Mayweather wants to win easy, he does, and fans are more likely to go to sleep than his opponent. When he wants to make it a little harder on himself, he at least creates the impression that his opponent has a chance, and he often wins by a far more aesthetically appealing landslide. Against Hatton, Mayweather has pledged to stand in front of him and trade blows, but we've heard that from Mayweather before only to be left wanting. Yet, given his advantages over Hatton, I see no reason he couldn't take the latter approach and still win.

How Hatton choses to fight. Hatton, too, has alternated between being fun to watch and being abysmal. When he's at his best -- as he was in 2005, when he was the Ring Magazine fighter of the year for conquering Kostya Tszyu and Carlos Maussa -- he's all out energy and commotion. Even the best version of Hatton is a little too prone to wrestling and fouling, but it's better than the lesser version of Hatton, the one who throws one punch, then grabs and holds his opponent so he doesn't get hit. Anyone who could watch his "hook and hold" approach to scoring a clear victory in the eyes of the judges this year over Juan Urango is a far more patient and tolerant boxing fan than I. If there's good news here, it's that in his biggest fights, Hatton has usually put on his most entertaining displays. When Hatton beat Jose Luis Castillo in May, he was plenty watchable. Hatton seems to take some pride in pleasing fans, so I would expect Hatton will try to put on a good show. Mayweather, by contrast, performed on the biggest stage of his career against Oscar De La Hoya this year and showed little interest in looking good doing it, perhaps because De La Hoya was significantly bigger than him and he wanted to minimize the chance of getting knocked out. I'm not sure which version of Hatton stands a better chance of actually beating Mayweather, though.

The referee. Yes, that's right, the referee. Hatton has benefited frequently from permissive referees who let him foul, wrestle and generally maul has opponent in ways that aren't quite legal. It's legal to hold, for example; it's not legal to hold excessively, as Hatton often has. A referee who cracks down on some of Hatton's antics will multiply Mayweather's chances of winning and take away a significant chunk of Hatton's. Getting held and pushed around saps a fighter's energy. Getting hit below the belt does the same. With speedy, light on their feet types like Mayweather, the best hope of victory is to drain them of the energy they need for optimal movement, making them more hittable. Ideally, the referee won't err too far in either direction -- letting Hatton get away with too much, or implementing a zero tolerance policy. Letting Hatton run free would taint the fight with too much foul play. Getting fascist about it would rob Hatton of opportunities to win, and unfairly swing the fight too far in Mayweather's direction.

Mayweather's conditioning and brittle hands. Mayweather, in addition to his stratospheric talent, has shown a devotion to preparation that has him training into all hours of the evening. He stays at around his fight weight year-round, a rare trait for any fighter, which means he never has to be worried about shedding pounds quickly, which can be draining come fight night. But Mayweather is coming off a run on the TV show "Dancing With The Stars," which every past participant has said requires hard work that was intense beyond what they could imagine. Mayweather already trains so intensely that the combination of the show and training camp could leave him "overtrained," which also tends to leave fighters with a deficit of energy come fight night. This probably is a minimal worry, but it's something to consider. More worrying is Mayweather's tendency to break or otherwise injure his hands during fights. When he has suffered such an injury, he usually goes into "win easy" mode. That hand injury tendency has never put him in much jeopardy before, but against a world class fighter -- and lest we forget, that's what Hatton is -- it could be dangerous.

Hatton's conditioning and tendency to get cut. Hatton is on the extreme opposite end of the ledger when it comes to between-fight discipline. He often swells up some 40 lbs. in weight when he's not preparing for his next payday, leading to a lot of self-deprecating "Ricky Fatton" jokes. In the ring, this habit has resulted in some problems. For instance: Fighters who have to lose major weight between fights tend not to take body punches very well. Against Urango this year, Hatton was doing some pretty work in the ring early, at least until Urango nailed him with a major body shot that clearly hurt him. To win, Hatton felt compelled after that to go into "hook and hold" mode. Mayweather isn't a slouch when it comes to body punching. Despite his weight issues, Hatton has shown a knack for getting stronger as the fight goes on, which is a pretty remarkable tribute to his own training regimen. Punches to the face present a whole different dilemma for Hatton. Early in his career, particularly, Hatton suffered any number of cuts. A bad enough gash will lead a referee to stop the fight, and, given the rules of boxing on the result of such a stoppage, depending on what round he stops it in and whether the cut is the result of a punch as opposed to a head butt or elbow, a cut Hatton could equal a defeated Hatton. Not long ago, Hatton had some plastic surgery that reduced his tendency to cut, but this could become a factor again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Quick Jabs: Mayweather/Hatton 24/7 Continued, Fights That Must Happen, Fights That No One Cares To See, A Must-See Prospect And A Bad Idea

All right. It's settled. I think I'll just go with "Quick Jabs" for these collections of musings from now on. Until I think of something better. Maybe I'll even come up with a logo or somethin'.

  • The final scene in the most recent episode of HBO's Mayweather/Hatton 24/7 documentary series was absolutely spine-tingling: A palpably intense Ricky Hatton sitting in his car, bucking his playful image and declaring resolutely that he wanted to win more than Floyd Mayweather. Summarized, it doesn't sound very special, but the contrast, both in Hatton's tone compared to his usual nature and in the photography itself, was really something. My affection for Hatton continues to grow, as does my disinterest in Mayweather's constant harping about how much money he has. It's fascinating to see how the series has a number of writers hedging their bets about Mayweather blowing out Hatton. I've never thought this was going to be as easy as some predicted; snide remarks that Mayweather would dispatch with Hatton as easily as he did Arturo Gatti have been way out of line. Hatton is significantly more versatile, having proven he can win via all-out mauling or controlled, safety-first boxing, and has beaten significantly better fighters than Gatti ever did. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. The point of the series is to promote the fight, and it's easier to promote if the show emphasizes Hatton's chances. Scenes like the one in the car do that incredibly well.
  • We'll find out by the end of this week whether Manny Pacquiao fights Juan Manuel Marquez in March or David Diaz. On the off-chance that Google search algorithms pick up this post when an official with Top Rank, Pacquiao's main promoter, is playing on the web, let me once again stress that Pacquiao must, must, must fight Marquez. There is not a more important fight in boxing right now than a rematch between these two top-five "pound for pound" best, to settle unfinished business from their mightily entertaining 2004 draw. Last time Marquez was to blame for the rematch falling through, when he demanded too much money. This time if it fails, the blame is entirely with Pacquiao. Even Top Rank head honcho Bob Arum admits that Marquez promoter Golden Boy has been "reasonable" in contract demands, and Marquez is willing to move up in weight from 130, where Pacquiao has begun to strain, to 132 or 135. While I'm at it, I'd like to again lobby for Bernard Hopkins to take on Joe Calzaghe at light heavyweight (175 lbs.); it's arguably the second most important fight yet to be scheduled. The two remarkably spry old men are two more of the top-five pound for pound fighters, with Mayweather rounding out the other slot. Word is that Hopkins is being difficult, and no surprise there. His handlers want a rematch with Roy Jones instead, which may make sense financially and aesthetically but is far less preferable in terms of settling legacies. Boxing's on too much of a hot streak not to make Hopkins/Calzaghe and Pacquiao/Marquez happen. Should one or both falter, all this great momentum will have been for naught.
  • Light heavyweight Antonio Tarver is the rare culprit in not making a big fight happen in 2007, when he ducked Chad Dawson by insisting on absurd money. He's up against an unknown Saturday night in a Showtime triple-header also featuring junior middleweight (154 lbs.) Vernon Forrest and flyweight (112 lbs.) Nonito Donaire in against heavy underdogs. I'm not sure where anyone got the idea that this was a good card, but I'll probably watch if I'm around and root for Tarver to lose. This is a bizarrely atypical card in a year loaded with amazing ones, although, at least Donaire's opponent is recognized as something of a contender. I'm predicting victories for the guys I know.
  • While I'm dispensing advise, if you haven't had a chance to ogle prospect James Kirkland yet, I highly recommend you tune in to Showtime Friday night. Mike Tyson comparisons are thrown around so much in boxing as to be meaningless -- witness Joan Guzman's nickname "Little Tyson," even though he fights nothing like him and hasn't knocked anyone out in forever -- but Kirkland, a junior middleweight, does a lot of what Tyson did. Crushing power. Underrated speed. A single-minded adherence to destroy, destroy, destroy. While Mike Tyson is getting more headlines with his jailtime lunch menu than all of what's good in boxing these days, Kirkland's doing what Tyson used to in the ring. His opponent Friday is another nobody, but Kirkland isn't far away from a title shot or at least a fight where we find out if he's for real.
  • It's old news, but Jermain Taylor's decision to go with Ozell Nelson as his trainer for a 166-pound rematch with Kelly Pavlik in February is out of the frying pan, into the fire. I'd lobbied for Taylor to part ways with Emmanuel Steward, given the unproductive nature of their relationship thus far, and everyone thought former Taylor trainer Pat Burns would return, since Burns led him to the middleweight (160 lbs.) championship. Instead, the unproven Nelson, a close Taylor adviser who had a bad relationship with Burns, is in the driver's seat. This is an awful decision. Awful. By the sound of Burns' interview with ESPN, Taylor wanted Burns to return and told him so. Taylor just keeps making the wrong choices in the end, from settling with Nelson for reasons no one yet understands to not throwing the uppercut in the 2nd round against Pavlik when that would have ended Taylor's night in a victory instead of in a heap, slumped over unconscious. It's sad, because Taylor has a gift and he's immensely likable, but this bodes for another devastating KO in his near future.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Taking On The Ring 100

I'm a sucker for subjective lists. Every time VH1 airs one of its endless lists -- top 100 one-hit wonders, top 100 heavy metal bands -- I rail against its injustices. The Pixies are the 81st best "hard rock band" ever, while Living Colour is the 70th? Screw you, VH1. But I can't stop watching them. Therefore, I = sucker.

As lists go, I'm in substantial agreement with The Ring's annual enumeration of the 100 best fighters, published in the January issue but compiled in September. Theirs is a subjective account, like so many others, of the best active "pound for pound" boxers -- that is, who's best/most accomplished regardless of what weight class they fight in.

My substantial agreement aside, there are two howlers on the list.

Vladimir Klitschko is ranked 55th. Nuh-uh, no they di-int. I'm by no means a Klitschko loyalist. But Klitschko looks to be the best heavyweight by a country mile, with only Sam Peter in shouting distance. And Peter lost in 2005 to the version of Klitschko whose confidence was in the dumpster and was far more mentally fragile than the Klitschko who is fighting now, while Peter looked shaky in his most recent outing. This Klitschko is very, very good, if flawed -- I suspect he's one really nasty punch away from wondering whether he will get knocked out and fighting scared again. But no matter. He's top-25 "pound for pound" material on a great many lists. A recent poll of top boxing writers at Yahoo! Sports won him enough votes for top-10 status that he placed, in effect, 13th. Yeah, 55 is way too low.

Another big man, Jean-Marc Mormeck, gets ranked at just 48th, another robbery. Now, granted, Mormeck just lost his cruiserweight (200 lbs.) crown this month to David Haye. But this list was compiled well before that defeat. Prior to that in 2007, he'd avenged his loss to O'Neil Bell, ranked 40th last year, to resume his reign as Ring Magazine's official 200-pound champ. And prior to that, he'd whooped the cream of the cruiserweight division. I'm not sure if Mormeck cracks the top 25 on my list, but he's significantly higher than 48th.

My complaints would be totally lame unless I suggested moving someone down. I can name a few. My first nominee is Nobuo Nashiro, ranked 42nd. The junior bantamweight (115 lbs.) is a mere 9-1, with his only significant victory coming via upset over Martin Castillo this year. That's a very nice win, but the next time Nashiro faced a high-caliber opponent, he lost to Alexander Munoz. So how is this guy better than Mormeck, let alone Klitschko, both of whom stood atop their respective divisions when the magazine went to print and both of whom are significantly more accomplished (26-2-1 and 49-3, respectively) over their careers and have proven themselves more than once against top competition? Want another? How about Zsolt Erdei, ranked 43rd? The light heavyweight (175 lbs.) titlist defeated absolute nobodies since last year, yet he moved up in the mag's rankings from 49th. Even Ring acknowledged that he fought nobodies. So far as I can tell, Erdei only has one good win in his career, too.

The discrepancy may be a result of Ring's explanation that its rankings incorporate "perceived potential" as one measure. "So a semi-unproven fighter with a tantalizing upside may get the nod over a proven veteran whose limits have already been established." That's fine to consider, but I don't think it much applies to picking Nashiro and Erdei over Klitschko and Mormeck. How can anyone assess the perceived potential of Nashiro after just 10 fights with one good win and one loss against proven opponents? The magazine even concedes that: "Hard to say how good he really is after going 1-1 against Castillo and Munoz, and at 25, hard to say how good the Japanese fighter can be." I'm not knocking the kid, I'm just saying nobody, not even The Ring, has a feel for whether he's really good or not. And amazingly, they ranked him 37th last year. Meanwhile, Erdei "gets points for consistency," because he's successfully defended the WBO's title belt eight straight times, according to The Ring. Which is weird, because Erdei's mediocre title reign seems to me like an indictment of the very "alphabet soup" belt system which The Ring is in mortal combat against. There's not even any mention of Erdei's "perceived potential."

Still, when the standard is "perceived potential" versus "established limits," Klitschko and Mormeck rank pretty well. Both have navigated their faults to the top of their respective divisions, with Klitschko the consensus best heavyweight and Mormeck having twice taken the cruiserweight crown. Would that everyone's limits be "best in class." Apparently, though, their most established limits are in The Ring 100.

Next I will take on this totally bogus list about why I should buy a University of Waterloo Food Services Meal Plan.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tragedy And Triumph

Fernando Vargas fell into the same category for me as Erik Morales. Both boxers fought with tremendous bravery. Both had massive fan bases that stuck with them through thick and thin, both literally and figuratively, since both had gluttonous impulses that frequently forced them to shed ample pounds before going into battle. Both, for reasons that are fairly arbitrary, rubbed me the wrong way. Both, however, won my respect.

Vargas, after losing Friday night to Ricardo Mayorga, will join Morales in retirement now. Vargas was never as good as Morales, even if they ended their career on similar notes: Losing streaks, and one last losing hurrah. When 2007 is said and done, there are a lot of labels we might be able to slap on it. "The year of British fighters," perhaps, especially if Ricky Hatton beats Floyd Mayweather. My vote is going to be for "the year boxing definitively proved it's back," even if it never really went away. But another contender is going to be "the year a generation of warriors departed." Arturo Gatti, Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera all retired in 2007, leaving behind them a wake of some of the most thrilling battles of all time. Diego Corrales, who won what I consider the greatest fight of all time in 2005, died this year. Vargas may be a notch lower than those four, but he fought in the same "never say die" style, and his pyrrhic 2000 loss to Felix Trinidad was truly great; one scribe called it today the greatest junior middleweight (154 lbs.) title fight ever.

It's tragic that Vargas' bravery in that fight probably left him in that dreaded boxing state: "Never the same." Against one of the hardest punchers ever, Vargas just kept getting up over and over again. Nobody can do that and not pay in the long-term. I'm not saying Vargas would have beaten Oscar De La Hoya or Shane Mosley later in his career if his corner had thrown in the towel sooner against Trinidad. But he probably would have had a better chance. That Trinidad battle, combined with Vargas' ongoing war with the scale -- he lost 100 pounds and gained some anemia along the way to his 164-pound matchup with Mayorga -- put wear and tear on his body that leaves him old, physically, at 29 years. It's wise that he's leaving now, when his body has absolutely nothing left to give him and he apparently has an acting career ahead of him. Quitting here should leave him the wits he'll need for the movies, and may they serve him with fans the way his bravery pleased them in the ring.

As for Mayorga:

He lives to fight another day. Beating a plump-looking Vargas is going to give him just enough cache, undeserved or no, to serve at least once more as the sport's premier "opponent" -- a fighter who is not good enough to beat the elite but dangerous enough, credible enough, and entertaining enough to up the pay-per-view numbers. If that's the path he plans to ply, then the start-studded welterweight (147 lbs.) division is the one for him, and he's already called out Mayweather and Miguel Cotto. If, however, he wants to make a case for respectability (it's hard to remember he ever had it once, after twice defeating the significantly higher-regarded Vernon Forrest) he could try to make something of himself at junior middleweight, where he could fight Forrest again or avenge his loss to Cory Spinks. Maybe win a title or something. But something about the demeanor of the beer-swilling, incorporating-his-opponent's-dead-mother-into-his-trash-talk Mayorga suggests to me he'll skip the respectability business. Even after his apology to Vargas for all that talking he did about his wife and child.

Too soon, a young Vargas (left) fought Trinidad (right). Too late, the fight was stopped. It will be the first fight people think of when they remember Vargas, but it was the beginning of his end.

Monday, November 19, 2007

An All Over The Map Win And Fighting The Battle Of Who's Got Anything Left

A short holiday week means I'm going to say everything I have to now just in case I don't get a chance later; see below for my thoughts on Joan Guzman-Humberto Soto, the upcoming crane-your-neck-at-the-car-crash brawl between Fernando Vargas and Ricardo Mayorga, and more.

Still absent a permanent name for my random musings, I dub today's post Shoe-Shinings (see comment #4817 here for a definition):

  • Wrap-up: The reviews of Joan Guzman for his win over Humberto Soto in a highly anticipated 130 pound showdown are all over the map. Put me in the "mostly displeased" category. Round 2 was awesome, and there were some other great exchanges at times, but my guess is that Guzman at some point just decided he was more likely to win if he switched from slugger mode to hit and run mode. There were rounds where Guzman did some beautiful hit and run work -- where he was aggressive, took risks, but still looked mainly to score points then get out of harm's way. There were other rounds, alas, where he embodied the negative connotations of stick and move -- where he barely touched Soto and then plain old ran away. If Guzman hoped to get a big-money fight with Manny Pacquiao by merely scoring a victory, he failed. Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, said
    nobody would want to see Guzman fight Pacquaio after the way he barely fought Soto late in the bout. It's too bad, because Guzman has unearthly natural athletic ability and clearly can stand and trade with big punchers if he so chooses. He clearly can be an entertaining fighter, as he was to about half the people who watched him Saturday night and as he was to me for about half of Saturday night. Now, in addition to being avoided because he is dangerous, he stands the risk of being avoided because he's polarizing. I think if he keeps fighting and beating good opponents, he deserves a big money fight no matter how much he bores the viewers. But he would've gotten it a lot faster, and would have had me calling for it this morning, if he had ended that fight with an exclamation point instead of a series of semi-colons. Overall, the fight wasn't what anyone hoped, but it was a good, solid battle, and as for Soto, despite some mistakes, I wouldn't mind seeing him again at all. The question, though, of "who's next" for both Soto and Guzman is just as murky and complex as it was beforehand. And, while I'm at it, here's my view on the dispute over the wide scoring margin issued by the judges: I had it eight rounds to four for Guzman.
  • Preview: This Friday's clash between faded star Fernando Vargas and faded super-villain
    Ricardo Mayorga is probably going to break the record for "most entertaining hype doled out before two severely diminished fighters find out who's the most shot." First there was the highlight reel brawl at a news conference, prompting some wags to quip that based on his victory in Vargas-Mayorga I, they like Vargas in the sequel. Then there is the mountain of trash talk these two have heaped up, with Mayorga, the master, probably getting the better of Vargas, who's fared pretty well, really. "He's got a face only a gorilla mother could love" is a decent line for Vargas, but it doesn't compare to Mayorga's numerous "fat pig" jabs. This fight is at 166 lbs., higher than either have ever gone, largely because Vargas has struggled making weight at 154 lbs., 160 lbs., even 162 lbs., the original contracted weight. Egads. I'm leaning toward a Mayorga win, since his savage knockout losses haven't seemed as frequent or debilitating as Vargas', but Vargas has shown more in his recent losses than Mayorga did versus Oscar De La Hoya. My call is Vargas by late round knockout, since I have my doubts either man will carry much power up to weights that high. My confidence is low. My allegiance is to neither man dying in the ring.
  • More Wrap-up: I liked the looks of bantamweight (118 lbs.) prospect Abner Mares in his very competitive and action-packed bout against unknown David Damian Marchiano. Marchiano lost decisively on the scorecards, but he gave a very talented young fighter all he could handle and more. Good show by both men.... If former heavyweight champ Hasim Rahman can't handle feather-fisted Zuri Lawrence, who has suffered back to back nasty KO losses, with ease, then he's far more diminished than even I had guessed, and I didn't have much faith in Rahman to begin with.... Jesus! That Jesus Soto Karass welterweight (147 lbs.) fight against Juan Buenida featured so much heavy fire it was like an early John Woo movie. I only caught a few rounds because I didn't know it was even on, but Soto Karass landed the CompuBox record for most punches landed, I learned, and I wasn't surprised. I now see why this Karass has a little bit of a following.
  • Random: Why in the world anyone would want to see Pacquiao, a 130-pounder who is stretching the limits of how high he can move up in weight as it is now, go up to 147 lbs. to fight Oscar De La Hoya is beyond me, but Arum's apparently really trying to make it happen... Allan Green is way, way, way, way too big a step up for super middleweight (168 lbs.) prospect Andre Ward, if that really is the discussion. Really, I want Ward to step up his competition, but let's not get ridiculous. The talk of fighting Edison Miranda made more sense. On the other hand, I really like the idea of welterweight prospect Victor Ortiz taking on junior welterweight (140 lbs.) titlist Ricardo Torres. One guy, Torres, is more of a veteran and can punch really, really hard, and Ortiz, the other guy, is younger and a more all around fighter. I think it'd be a fun one to see and a good test for both... What I don't care to see is a rematch between Joel Casamayor and Jose Armando Santa Cruz. No matter what the blind judges saw in their first meeting, I know and anyone else who can see knows Santa Cruz won an incredibly boring affair, not one I'd care to like to revisit and that I doubt anyone would pay to watch. Here's hoping some kind of justice can come Santa Cruz' way somehow... I already love HBO's Mayweather/Hatton 24/7 documentary series. The more I see of Ricky Hatton's personality, the more I like him. The more I see of Floyd Mayweather's personality, the less I like him. If Mayweather stinks out the joint in a boring decision victory again in their Dec. 8 fight, I'm officially no longer a fan.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Possible Cult Classic, Or Maybe A Big Hit In Its Own Right

Dangerous. Avoided. Underrated. Boxers with that kind of reputation often find themselves stuck in an unpleasant limbo where they can't lure big names into the ring. So if there are two of these feared types in one division, why not fight each other? That's the choice junior lightweights (130 lbs.) Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto made for Saturday night, in the kind of battle that usually creates a lot of action. Lots and lots. And, maybe, forces the big names to face the winner when the public says, "Wow, he's for real. He deserves a big shot."

Soto actually did lure a big name into the ring, in 2005, but he wasn't supposed to win. He was supposed to be a mere stepping stone for Rocky Juarez, a hot prospect with big knockout power. With five losses on his record, and with a lot of mediocre competition in a three-year winning streak leading up to the Juarez fight, who could have expected Soto to be such a big obstacle? When the tall-for-a-featherweight (126 lbs.) Soto stood and traded with Juarez in a slugfest, it became apparent that he was as for real a five-loss fighter gets. But nothing much happened for Soto after that. Suddenly, he was "dangerous." He won a rep for being "rugged" as a result of taking Juarez' big punches with relative ease, another label that makes big name boxers shy away. In a six-knockout barrage since his fight with Juarez, Soto has only lured one other big name into the ring, but he had the wrong first name: Bobby Pacquiao, the less talented brother of superstar Manny Pacquiao. Soto knocked him out.

Guzman got avoided, in part, because of his nickname: "Little Tyson." He also has the natural gifts that the workmanlike, disciplined Soto can only dream of -- speed, power, boxing ability. Lots of knockouts, too. The closest name to "big" that he's lured into the ring is Jorge Barrios, but Barrios ain't built like anyone else. He's as fearless a face-first slugger as you'll ever see, at any given moment likely to be on the delivering or receiving end of a huge knockout, and what's more, he wears these crazy goggles into the ring. In a fight that was competitive, but that most people thought Guzman clearly won, Guzman pulled out a close decision victory. That was last September, and it didn't get Guzman a big fight, either. His style presents some difficult challenges for the big names, which is why he's fighting at 130 lbs. these days instead of his apparently more natural 122 lbs.

With 130-pound stars Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez contemplating a move up to 135, career-wise, this may all be for naught for both Soto and Guzman. But it almost certainly won't all be for naught for the knowledgeable fans. Late 2007 has brought a remarkable series of quality match-ups, most of which have fully delivered on their hype. Soto-Guzman is the match-up that could be like the summer movie people in the know thought could turn into a big hit, but that nobody else could have guessed until it happened. We'll find out Saturday if the people in the know were right.

MY PREDICTION: Soto by clear, but competitive, decision. Soto has carried his power with him as he's moved up in weight. It's less clear that Guzman, without a knockout since 2004 but 17 at mostly lighter weights, has. Soto, too, seems to be the more solid, disciplined technician.
CONFIDENCE: 25%. I probably shouldn't be making a prediction on this one, truth be told, having caught very few of each man's fights. Guzman is the betting favorite, and his speed could be troublesome. Barrios said he felt Guzman's power, so maybe it's still there. But Barrios was weight-drained for their fight, so I'm giving the edge to Soto still.
ALLEGIANCE: None. I'm just looking forward to a big ol' brawl. This is one of the more hotly anticipated of the year among hardcore fans, pitting two boxer-punchers -- guys with skill, but guys who hit hard -- against one another. Ring Magazine ranks Guzman the third best junior lightweight and Soto the fifth best, in a division that's a notch or two below welterweight (147 lbs.) in overall quality but still pretty loaded. Best of all, while both guys can do some of the pretty stuff -- dodging punches, fighting smartly -- they both have exhibited tendencies toward slugging it out.

Way more colorful than the sepia-tone posters that seem to be in vogue, yeah?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What's With All Those Freaking Belts, Anyway? The Case Of The Sanctioning Organizations And Diaz V. Ring Magazine And Casamayor

A quick primer for the uninitiated, before the court gets to the case of Casamayor v. Diaz et al:

"Alphabet soup" is delicious, save when it comes to boxing. One of the sport's most debilitating diseases is the advent of an almost endless number of title belts in each weight division awarded by the likes of the sanctioning organizations named things like "WBA" and "WBC." The end result of this alphabet soup is that there are often four "champions" per weight class, not to mention the various befuddling "super champion" and "champion in recess" titles that these sanctioning organizations award. The cynical among us suspect that a great many of these bizarre designations are intended only to squeeze sanctioning fees out of the boxers who fight for them, and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unfathomable alphabet soup politics. For instance, terrible, undeserving fighters often end up becoming the "mandatory" challenger for a belt-holder, something that arouses suspicion of incompetence or worse, and sometimes belt-holders are stripped of their titles for what seem to be no reason whatsoever.

Into the confusing breach of the IBF, WBO et al championship belts came Ring Magazine in 2002, with the invention of something like a people-powered champ. It was, and remains, a highly commendable effort. The Ring Magazine started awarding belts in each of the weight divisions to people who were in essence the "linear" champs, a policy that meant the only way to get the belt was to beat the man who had the belt. In the event someone abandons it by retiring or changing weight classes, the belt becomes vacant. When there are vacancies, the top two fighters usually have to fight one another to become Ring champion.

If you follow boxing closely, you know all this already. If you don't, the Ring belts are probably sounding like a grand idea right about now, since one of the reasons boxing turns a lot of people off is that it's too hard to understand who the "real" champ is and who's a phony.

But for the last few weeks, ever since lightweight (135 lbs.) Juan Diaz defeated Julio Diaz to obtain three of the four available alphabet soup belts, a long-simmering debate in the boxing world over the Ring belt has picked up a little extra fire. And when the Ring's lightweight champ, Joel Casamayor, ended a 13-month layoff and looked terrible against a borderline top-10 lightweight named Jose Armando Santa Cruz Saturday -- then to make matters worse, when the judges awarded him a decision victory that people like myself consider the worst they've ever seen -- the fire built to an inferno. Critics of the magazine's belt policy have pounced. Everyone who knows boxing knows Juan Diaz is the best, most accomplished fighter at lightweight. He's beaten more high-caliber fighters in recent years. After Saturday's stinkfest by Casamayor, which, had he not won, would have placed a guy who's a borderline top-10 fighter in Santa Cruz as the "real" champ of the division, no one doubts that Diaz would stomp Casamayor. (Unless, of course, the same good fortune that lifted him to a decision victory of Santa Cruz again raised a historic wind beneath Casamayor's wings.) So how, they ask, can Casamayor be the "real" champ?

No matter how vociferously the Ring's defenders are maintaining that Casamayor's the real champ, what we have on our hands here is a mighty big loophole. (A caveat: I've always been better at identifying problems than fixing them. That's not a cop-out, I promise. I'm going to give it a try.)

There is, as HBO broadcaster Emmanuel Steward laid it out, a case to be made for the sanctioning organization belts. When no one's the mandatory challenger, the champ can strut around in his belt and take on chumps and still pretend he's a real champion. Without a system for establishing a mandatory challenger, really amazing fighters who pose horrific style match-ups or the promise of inflicting tremendous pain with little potential reward -- say, a southpaw who has a reputation for boringly but efficiently grinding his opponents into pulp -- will spend their entire careers being avoided.

It is my opinion that the Ring system is a better reflection in most cases of the "real" champ than some random sanctioning organization. But one can see the potential for abuse in both directions: the WBC's ability to strip belt-holders willy-nilly and force its champs into fights against undeserving contenders leads to all kinds of unfairness; and Ring's rejection of that practice permits its champions to be champions in perpetuity, regardless of whether they take on anyone who can fight a lick.

So how about this as a compromise? Ring already rates the top 10 fighters in each division. Why not give the Ring champ some kind of very loose mandate to fight a #1 contender within, say, two years from the last time he fought a #1 contender? That's not too crazy, is it? And, of course, create an exception for injury or other unintentional delay. I realize it's not that far away from what the sanctioning organizations do, but it's not so close, either. Look, if you can't make a fight with a #1 contender in two years, you're either an insufferable jerk who's impossible to negotiate with (like Casamayor) or you're a coward who doesn't want to risk losing the title. Either way, you don't deserve it after two years of avoiding the next best fighter in your division.

Because right now, I look at Casamayor, and I don't see a champion. Once, sure, in his younger days. Maybe even before the Santa Cruz debacle. But if he hasn't fought Juan Diaz or whoever Ring's #1 contender is by seven months from now, I sure as hell won't see him as a champion then. And if Diaz doesn't want to fight Casamayor anymore after he looked terrible against Santa Cruz and had spent the last year badmouthing Diaz, well, Casamayor dug that hole, didn't he? The remedy for that affliction is for Casamayor to get back into the ring for cheap and beat somebody who's dangerous convincingly and entertainingly, and then, maybe, Diaz would want win the Ring belt fair and square because he might make a little money doing it. If Casamayor can't muster that? After Saturday, I'd rather see Juan Diaz fight, say, the Ring's #2 ranked lightweight David Diaz for the vacant Ring belt anyway. The winner of that fight is a champion I can endorse without question.

And yet, loopholes beget loopholes. Under this idea, maybe after a difficult fighter becomes Ring champion -- our aforementioned boring-but-scary southpaw -- nobody wants to fight the Ring champ, and we're back to square one, and even worse, the whole Ring belt is completely devalued.

The only solution I can think of for that one is, and here's where things get circular: Make the Ring belt so unquestionably THE belt by stripping the policy of loopholes that it's the only belt boxing writers and broadcasters even bother to mention. Because right now, it's difficult to shame reasonable people into touting Casamayor as the "real" champion.

(I'm torn on whether to keep one of the sanctioning organizations around, just in case Ring Magazine gets chippy and decides to take payoffs for its rankings again. Ring's only done it once, while the sanctioning organizations have a longer history of it, but then, none of the sanctioning organizations are officially owned by a boxing promoter. I'll defer judgment on this idea for now.)

An alternative proposal is just to not give a toss about any of these belts anyway and just hope the best end up fighting the best in a way that gives fans what they deserve so that everyone can see with their own eyes who's the top dog, and the rest of 'em can scrap it out for our affection and hard-earned dollar. This happens every now and then -- who cared that there was no belt on the line when Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward gave us one of the all time best boxing trilogies? -- but I don't want to get too utopian on anyone.

In other belt-related matters, I'm pretty sure I have an uncle who would've worn this belt buckle.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Decision Worse Than Making The Matrix Sequels, A Pair Of Uninformative Blowouts And A Dicey Career Move Off An Impressive Victory

I wrote this Sunday, but I thought we all might let the Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley thriller soak in for a day and a half or so before I turned my attention to other things. Particularly, there was some talk before Saturday night that the Cotto-Mosley fight card was the best of the year, top to bottom, so I want to give my take on the other match-ups, then visit the other major fight of the night.

So here, in my ongoing roving-named series of quick thoughts, find my
Turbo Punches:
  • The Joel Casamayor win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz featured by far the worst decision by three judges I've ever seen with my own eyes in real time. I scored it 119-107 for Santa Cruz, and most everyone who scored it on press row had it about the same. That's 11 rounds to 1 against Casamayor, folks, with Casamayor losing an extra point for the 1st round knockdown. Were I feeling generous toward Casamayor -- and given what a jackass he is, I wasn't -- I could have, at most, give him another couple rounds. How two judges saw it as even a narrow victory astounds me, and how one judge saw it as only a narrow win for Santa Cruz is only slightly less astounding. Casamayor did nothing. Nothing. Since when do you get points for running away from someone? His punches, when he bothered to throw them, lacked steam. He was rusty from a 13-month layoff, and, maybe, just plain old at 36. The only thing Casamayor did of note was avoid getting clobbered when he accidentally got caught between the ropes at one point and dodged Santa Cruz's punches Matrix-style by bending halfway over. Plus, Santa Cruz was the aggressor throughout and landed plenty of hard shots against a Casamayor who usually is a defensive maestro. It's shameful that Santa Cruz, a nice, strange little fighter who is always entertaining despite being limited, has a loss on his record because of this decision. This decision is far worse, for me, than the Almazbek "Kid Diamond" Raiymkulov-Miguel Huerta decision this year, because, as Bad Left Hook correctly noted, at least Kid Diamond fought in that one, even though I and everyone else in the world thought he lost. I didn't see the Steve Forbes/Demetrius Hopkins fight this year that everyone thought was a solid Forbes victory that Hopkins somehow won on the scorecards. Hopkins and Casamayor are both Golden Boy-promoted fighters who got gift decisions on Golden Boy-promoted cards (as did, I hear tell, Golden Boy-promoted Daniel Ponce De Leon against Gerry Penalosa this year). I refuse to make allegations where I don't have evidence, and it'd be about the stupidest thing in the world for Golden Boy to be involved in any kind of judicial tampering, but if I were Golden Boy brass, I'd be taking a good hard look at myself about how it is that two of my pay-per-view cards featured three of the consensus three worst decision victories of the year. (Bad Left Hook's got an interesting theory on how the Casamayor decision debacle happened. I recommend checking it out, even though I don't endorse it myself.)
  • Speaking of Casamayor: There was a lot of good, frisky debate before the fight, during the broadcast and afterwards in some of boxing's chattering class about whether Casamayor deserves to be called the "true champion" of the lightweight (135 lbs.) division. He holds the Ring Magazine belt, which you earn by beating the man who beat the man who beat the man etc., Ring's commendable attempt to slice through the multi-belt/sanctioning organization morass. I have some thoughts on this, but not the time to give them this second, so I'll be delving into this later in the week.
  • Former welterweight (147 lbs.) champ Antonio Margarito did, truly, look sensational blowing out Golden Johnson in one round. Those were, truly, some of the best left uppercuts you'll see a right-hander land, and one of the most eye-popping power-punching combinations you're likely to witness. Margarito did, truly, start fast, learning his lesson from the Paul Williams defeat earlier this year where he dug himself about a six round hole on the scorecards just by getting outworked. But let's put this in context. We're talking about Golden Johnson here. Sure, he was a promising lightweight up until about 1998. But he got this fight by upsetting Oscar Diaz last year, who, so far as I can tell, was a prospect whose best win was over freaking Jesse Feliciano in 2005. Jesse Feliciano? Johnson before that had gotten his ass handed to him in three rounds by Vivian Harris in 2001, and has a few other not-so-impressive losses on his record to journeymen like Cosme Rivera, albeit some tough journeymen. One of boxing's best cliches is that "styles make fights." I really think Margarito would cream the shorter and vulnerable Cotto, I do, and Margarito is a good, good fighter. But the fleet-footed Mosley or Floyd Mayweather, Jr. would very likely pick Margarito apart, even with Margarito's height advantage. Nothing I saw in this win over Johnson changed my mind in any way about Margarito, other than to think that maybe if he got a rematch with Williams he wouldn't fight so poorly to start.
  • Likewise, Victor Ortiz' first round blowout of Carlos Maussa proved very little, mainly because Maussa looked so terrible. I didn't think that knockout punch was all that convincing, but Maussa responded to it very poorly. He's clearly a spent bullet, having been in some tough fights over the years, including an extended beatdown, albeit one in which Maussa was competitive, at the hands of Ricky Hatton in 2005. Maussa was, in theory, a good step-up fight for a hot young prospect on the verge of becoming a contender in the vicinity of the junior welterweight (140 lbs.)/welterweight divisions. It didn't work out being that way in reality, through no fault of Ortiz' own.
  • Switching gears to action across the ocean... David Haye's knockout of Jean-Marc Mormeck in France Saturday did prove quite a lot. This is a win over the legitimate champion of the division that proves Haye isn't just a boxing specimen; he's a real fighter. He showed some heart along the way by battling back from a 4th round knockdown and some other hairy moments. Now, he says, he's on his way to heavyweight. But if he's getting wobbled and/or dropped by the likes of Mormeck, and, before him, some dude named Giacobbe Fragomeni, and other naturally smaller men at the cruiserweight limit of 200 lbs., what's Haye gonna do when he gets hit by someone who's tipping the scales at around 260? He said before that he'd only gotten knocked out by Carl Thompson because he struggled so mightily with his weight that his stamina suffered. But before this fight with Mormeck, Haye claimed he'd worked the weight off more studiously, and therefore wouldn't have any stamina problems. What's his excuse for getting decked by Mormeck, then? I'd like to request that Haye stay at cruiserweight. There are some nice money fights for him there, such as a matchup with fellow countryman Enzo Maccarinelli. If he proves during his reign that he truly can take a punch from a 200-pounder, maybe I won't be so skeptical. I think Haye has a heavyweight punch and the kind of speed that could make him an interesting heavyweight contender, but I think those two factors could make him the cruiserweight king for a long time to come, if he devotes himself to his craft.

May the judges of the Casayamor-Santa Cruz fight be forever confined to this restaurant. "Fine eats" or no, it'd get old after a while. Plus, there's the humiliation factor.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do Believe The Hype

A fight, with power. Mosley, left, Cotto, on the right and with the right.

Another night in November, another fight that glorified boxing.


Yessir, that sure lived up to the hype.

Rarely will you see that many punches landed in fight that were clear knockout punches without anyone going down. It was exchange after exchange as Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto did what all great, exciting fighters do: refuse to let a blow go unanswered. And they weren't pitty-pat punches, either -- both men were putting everything they had into almost everything they threw. Strategically, it was a marvel as well. How's this bit of strategy for entertainment: Cotto, the ultimate pressure fighter, spent the second half of the bout going backwards, circling and counter-punching. You know, like Mosley was supposed to do. And you know what? Cotto did it pretty well.

In a fight I scored a draw, Cotto won a close unanimous decision in the eyes of the judges. And in a year filled with legitimate fight of the year candidates, I think this warrants consideration, but ultimately it's behind in my race. Still, with all the hard, clean punching, the back-and-forth and the surprising tactical flip-flop, it was definitely worth the $50 I paid for it.

Consider, besides the bizarre sight of Cotto dancing away from Mosley's shots, the following points of intrigue. 1. Cotto was the far superior jabber. Now, Mosley's never been a true believer in the jab, but you have to admit, despite the good jab Cotto demonstrated against Zab Judah, you wouldn't have predicted that Cotto was going to outjab Mosley. 2. Mosley more or less neutralized Cotto's body attack with his movement and by concentrating on defending his torso. In fact, I'd argue that Mosley was the better body puncher Saturday night. Come on. No way you foresaw that, right? Even though Mosley always has been a good body puncher. 3. Mosley nailed Cotto with every punch he's vulnerable to and then some, including the uppercut (good idea, considering Cotto always comes forward with his head down) straight punches down the middle (which he seems to have trouble defending against for some reason) plus right hooks and lefts to the body (Cotto's hittable, but I can't recall him getting pasted much with those kind of punches before). And Cotto never went down. Never even looked like he would. Even though I questioned Mosley's power at welterweight, he really caught Cotto with some amazing stuff that made me go, "How's Cotto still standing up?"

I think we need to reexamine one very serious knock on Cotto. And despite all the evidence available to me before last night, it's a stereotype I've embraced. That is, Cotto allegedly just does one thing -- pressure, punch to the body, systematically break down his opponent -- but he does it so well it's hard to stop. There's some truth to that. But think back. How cleverly does he employ the constant switching from conventional to southpaw stance? And hasn't he been doing it for a while? Mosley said it after the fight, but I'm going to second it: Cotto's not just a good brawler, he's a good boxer as well. Cotto's got decent speed, or he never would have hit the version of Mosley that was up on his toes in the middle rounds. And he showed he can adjust mid-fight and try new things -- the aforementioned back-pedaling/counter-punching -- so he's got some good ring smarts, too. This is something like the revelation that was Manny Pacquaio's emergence as a great combination brawler/boxer around the time of the second Erik Morales fight; there may have been signs that the fiery young gun could win a chess match, but now there's proof of it.

Cotto's a superstar now. In beating Mosley, he has finally defeated a truly great fighter. I feel like I've not paid much attention to how well Mosley performed here. But I wouldn't be singing Cotto's praises so much if he'd defeated a once-good, now-old fighter. Mosley looked fantastic. It was so close they even landed the exact same number of punches. It was ridiculously even. And Cotto looks better for having come out ahead of a Mosley who was at the top of his game.

Now, if only Cotto could somehow work on that chin of his, because even after the firestorm of Mosley punches Cotto walked through, I think there are bigger-punching welterweights who could seriously rearrange Cotto's world.

Next for the winner: It really ought to be the winner of the Dec. 8 fight between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Ricky Hatton. I don't think either Hatton or Mayweather are the kind of welterweights who could rearrange Cotto's world with their punching power. But both pose a threat to him in a different way. And he poses a threat to them. Mayweather, as the supreme thinking man's boxer in the sport today, might very well easily dismantle Cotto; he's like Mosley 2.0. But then, Cotto, as an expert at cutting off the ring, could give Mayweather a run for his money, and with his newly-indisputable boxing skills, might chase down Mayweather, who probably doesn't hit as hard at welterweight as does Mosley. Anyway, I'd like to find out. It wouldn't be a bad consolation prize to see Hatton and Cotto square off. They're very similar, and as an admirer of body punching, I'd have to make sure I wasn't eating any Frosted Flakes during the fight, because I might spit them all over my living room as I felt sympathy pains and winced at some of the hard shots to the ribs those two would be throwing. If Hatton or Mayweather fall through, I sure wouldn't mind seeing Cotto getting a big payday against Oscar De La Hoya. And even though I think Cotto would very likely meet his maker in a fight with Antonio Margarito, it'd be an entertaining affair if it happened. Since Margarito lost to Paul Williams, though, I think he needs to win another fight or two before he gets a money machine like Cotto, since Mayweather, Hatton and maybe even De La Hoya are more deserving. Cotto seems to think the same. No matter which of those four Cotto faces next, it'll be a big, big fight.
Next for the loser: Mosley sounded very much like a man about to retire after the loss to Cotto. I can't blame him. Who needs all this kind of stuff at 36? And Mosley's a warrior who, despite his excellent boxing skills, has stood and traded fearlessly throughout his entire career. Eventually, the miles will catch up to him. The class he showed after the fight in acknowledging Cotto's excellence, plus Mosley's sterling exhibition of bravery and skill during it, mitigated my resentment of his Shane's steroid shenanigans. I have no problem with him retiring after Saturday night. I don't think he's going out a loser -- as I said, I think it was a draw. Still, if he's worried about "getting back in line" at his age, as he said, I can think of a pretty direct path. How about fighting Margarito? Or the loser of Mayweather-Hatton? The winner of either fight would be able to make an excellent case that he deserves a shot at whatever names emerge on the top of the welterweight heap by the middle of next year.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Formula For Greatness

Every so often comes along a fight so rife with potential drama, so varied in its possible outcomes, so perfectly matched that you could spend months thinking about it and never have a strong feeling of what might happen until it actually does. And that's why you have to see it. It's why I have to watch Shane Mosley versus Miguel Cotto Saturday. Making matters even more mandatory? There simply isn't a more meaningful fight in all of boxing in 2007. Period.

I visited the respective histories of Cotto and Mosley at length here, so excited was I that the fight was even going to happen at all. The short of it: Mosley's a legitimate, established superstar. Cotto is the next generation. Throughout their careers, both have responded to getting knocked down -- literally and figuratively -- by getting back up and fighting better and harder. Both are among the 10 best fighters in any weight class, in my opinion and in the opinion of many, but they also happen to inhabit the best, deepest and most important weight class (welterweight, 147 lbs.) in the sport. This is the prototypical crossroads fight. If the 36-year-old Mosley wins it, he would garner one of the most astounding victories of his storied career by beating the most dangerous young gun around. If the 27-year-old Cotto wins it, he won't just be on the verge of superstardom, he will have fully arrived by beating a sure-fire hall of famer.

Now, let's talk about styles, because that's what deeply enriches all that import.

If you had to build the perfect fighter to beat a quick-footed, fast-fisted technician like Mosley, you'd build him like Cotto. You'd give him the ability to cut off the ring, you'd give him a knack for throwing a lot of hard leather, and most importantly, you'd give him a terrifying lust for body punching. Nothing slows down the quick ones like body punching, which makes it harder for them to skip around and land fast blows at will. And nobody punches the body like Cotto. Likewise, if you were trying to build a fighter from scratch who could unsettle Cotto, you'd give him most everything that Mosley has. You'd give him quick counter-punching skills that would make it so when Cotto lunges in, he gets hit three times for even daring. You'd give him enough power to rattle Cotto's chin, prone already to rattling, and enough all-around technique and height advantage to make it so Cotto doesn't land so many punches that he wears his man down like he does everyone he's ever fought. Those are the qualities that Mosley has used to make himself one of boxing's best for going on a decade.

This outcome of this fight turns on boxing subtleties that, regardless of how they play out, are sure to make for a dramatic fight. Take just one question: Does Mosley, who terrorized the lower weight classes with his power but has not knocked out many men as a welterweight, have the strength to knock out Cotto, who has been knocked down by lesser punchers than Mosley but has always recovered? Like I said: We won't know for sure until we watch it. And that's why it's must-see TV.

My prediction: Cotto by close decision. I see Mosley having the speed, power and fancy footwork to win most of the early rounds, and maybe even put Cotto on the deck. But Mosley doesn't have the one-punch authority at welterweight needed to stop the young tank-like Puerto Rican, who will recover and set about steamrolling the older man. Mosley's too proud and determined to get KO'd, so he'll hang on til the final bell, but he'll lose in the end.
Confidence: 55%. There are those, including Mosley himself, who think that Mosley has everything he needs to exploit Cotto's weaknesses. I don't think they're crazy. In fact, I've driven myself crazy wondering whether I should be a member of that crew. But when in doubt, go with younger and stronger over older. I'm in doubt, so that's what I'm going with.
My allegiance: Cotto. Sure, his tendency to hit below the belt when he gets in trouble offends the sportsman in me. I like everything else about him, though. And as nice as Mosley seems, I don't buy his explanation for how he really, really didn't take steroids "on purpose," and it's far less sportsmanlike to drug one's self to victory.

Cotto, left, Mosley, right. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Colonial War

Two big, big men in the "search and destroy" mode of fighter, both vulnerable to big punches themselves, in a fight against one another that's a dark horse candidate for fight of the year in 2007... sounds like something you'd wanna watch on TV, huh? No such luck, despite rumors that the MSG Network may broadcast it. When Jean-Marc Mormeck and David Haye do battle this weekend, you'll just have to imagine it in your head, then read about it afterwards.

Here's how it looks in my head:

Jean-Marc Mormeck is the acknowledged boss at cruiserweight (200 lbs.), the division just south of heavyweight. He is, more or less, a human battering ram. A French one. He splashed onto the scene in the United States when he toppled well-regarded Wayne Braithewaite in a rare unification fight by stalking him and hitting him until he couldn't take it anymore. Before that, he had quality wins over top-flight cruiserweights Dale Brown and Virgil Hill. When I saw him against Braithwaite, I thought, "I don't know how you beat a guy like that. He just keeps coming and doesn't care if you hit him." It was an appealing style, since most boxing fans want to see a lot of leather traded. Turns out the way you beat him is to push him off you and keep him at a distance with power shots, which is what O'Neil Bell did to him in 2006 in a fight of the year candidate that had numerous potential rounds of the year within. Bell stood up to the blows Mormeck landed then knocked him out late, but in a rematch, Mormeck overcame exhaustion and some moments where he was stunned to win a decision.

Brit David Haye is less of a grinder, but he brims with natural talent. He's knocked out 16 of his 17 victims. He's got a lot of speed, the thing he thinks will make him stand out when he makes a permanent move to heavyweight. When he hits people, it's like he erases them. He's young and fresh, but he's also been knocked out himself. But I've run into a problem here: I can't say much about Haye's experience, because he hardly has any major victories on his record. When your "best career win" is against a fighter who was 37 and had defeated no one of note and didn't turn pro until he was 31, I'm not terribly impressed. Knocking out someone in the first round in your heavyweight debut who'd lasted nine rounds against a more established heavyweight three years earlier is kind of neat, but again, it doesn't prove all that much much. That Haye fought at heavyweight earlier this year and had to shrink nearly 30 pounds to get back down to cruiser will resurrect long-held questions about Haye's stamina, although Haye says he's slowly shed the pounds over a five-month period.

That said, Haye's a dangerous man for Mormeck. Mormeck's 35. Haye is 27. Haye is hittable, but he could ably mimic Bell's successful formula of power + distance = Mormeck sleepytime. Mormeck can fight from a distance if he has to, but he's clearly more comfortable fighting on the inside, and he's going to have to walk through some big shots by Haye to do so. The briefest of contemplations of this dynamic reveals its inherent potential for drama. But since it's up against one of the two or three biggest fights of the year -- Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley is also Saturday -- I suppose it would have been hard for a U.S. station to counter-program. I beg of someone to put this Mormeck-Haye thing on YouTube when it ends.

My prediction: Mormeck by late-round KO. Mormeck doesn't overwhelm people with one-punch power, but he does put a hurt on them over time. He's way more experienced than Haye, which I think will work to his advantage rather than his detriment. And it's unsettling the way Haye struggles to make weight and fantasizes about moving up to heavyweight. I think even if he's made the cruiserweight limit easier this time around, it's still a struggle and he doesn't much want to make weight anymore, which means he may be distracted and tired.
Confidence: 70%. No, I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Haye caught Mormeck with something big early and finished him off quickly. I just think it's significantly more likely that Mormeck's experience beats Haye's youthful assets and vulnerabilities.
My allegiance: Mormeck. What's not to like about a really good French fighter? Die, stereotypes.

Who said the French can't fight?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Grading The Divisions

Aficionados of other sports -- the NFL, college basketball -- regularly rank which conference or which division is best. Contrary to the general public's belief, there are divisions in boxing other than heavyweight, so I thought I'd give this grading thing a try for the sweet science.

It's a timely endeavor: This week is bookended by mega-fights in boxing's best division, the welterweights (147 lbs.), and perhaps the sport's second-best division, the super middleweights (168 lbs). As good as this past Saturday's super middleweight bash featuring Joe Calzaghe and Mikkel Kessler was, the upcoming Saturday welterweight bash between Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley should be even better. But the super middleweights bolstered their case Tuesday night when "The Contender" finale produced a legitimate fight of the year candidate.

My criteria in ranking those two divisions and all the rest: How many truly good fighters are in the division? Where are the best potential match-ups? Are those potential match-ups coming to fruition or likely to come to fruition? How many of each division's boxers are stars with big names, deserving or no? How good is the division now compared to its history?

If there's a flaw in this list -- OK, there might be many, but if there's a flaw I see fit to note -- it's that it's nearly impossible to get a look at some of the lowest of the low weight divisions, since they aren't often featured on television in the U.S. So, I may be missing some of the evidence required to accurately assess them. But given that one of my measures is the number of big names, and there are few truly big names at strawweight, I think I'm doing this as fairly as it can be done.

Now: A+
Welterweight is home to the sport's biggest superstar, Oscar De La Hoya; its best all-around fighter and a crossover star in his own right, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.; the fastest rising commodity in boxing, Cotto; 2005 Ring Magazine fighter of the year and British national hero Ricky Hatton, who's moving up from junior welterweight to fight Mayweather Dec. 8; and another well-established boxing superstar in Shane Mosley. How's that for starters? Then there are potential superstars in Kermit Cintron and Paul Williams; formidable former division champs Zab Judah and Antonio Margarito; ascending youngsters Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz, Alfonso Gomez and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.; and tough contenders Luis Collazo and Josh Clottey.
All of them are fighting each other already, but the mathematical possibilities for marquee fights over the next year or two are mind-boggling -- Mayweather-Mosley, anyone? How about De La Hoya-Cotto? Even if some of the division's best move up or down in weight soon, there's enough young blood to replenish the welterweight ranks.

Now: A
Kessler, whose stock should not be much diminished for fighting valiantly in a loss to Calzaghe, is still here. Big name middleweights Kelly Pavlik and Jermain Taylor are technically fighting a rematch next year of their dramatic first clash at super middleweight, since the contracted catch-weight of 166 lbs. is above middleweight. For one night later in November, the division will host Fernando Vargas, one of the most popular fighters of his era, and his opponent, flamboyant Ricardo Mayorga. A slew of contestants from this season of "The Contender" will soon flood the division with popular names. Lucian Bute is making waves in Canada and may be ready for tougher assignments, while mouthy power-punchers Edison Miranda -- slated for superstardom by HBO before Pavlik derailed the plan, but still entertaining -- and Jean Pascal could soon fight one another. And don't forget Jeff Lacy, on the comeback trail to stardom, popular ex-"Contender" contestant Peter Manfredo Jr., and the talented Allan Green.
Losing Calzaghe to the light heavyweights will hurt the division's star power, but there's plenty left to like here for the next couple years, especially if Pavlik and and Taylor put down stakes soon after their rematch.


Now: A-
Pound-for-pound brawlers Rafael Marquez and Israel Vasquez have lifted the division with two straight all-action slugfests against each other, and both are strong nominees for 2007 fight of the year. Knockout artist Daniel Ponce De Leon is an HBO favorite, and lower-profile Steve Molitor and Celistino Caballero would be tough outs for anyone.
Future: B
Marquez and Vasquez will fight once more in 2008, but Vasquez will probably leave for higher weight classes thereafter, and Marquez may be nearing the end of his career. Still, gifted young Juan Manuel Lopez may be boxing's best prospect, and green power-punching Rey Bautista will likely rebound from a tough KO loss to Ponce De Leon. Then rugged veterans Gerry Penalosa and Jhonny Gonzalez will likely step up from bantamweight, Penalosa for a rematch with De Leon, and Gonzalez because he can't make 118 lbs. anymore.


Now: B+
The entertaining and engaging Juan Diaz holds all the straps here, and he could be a big ticket-seller sooner rather than later. Joel Casamayor may not be the most likable or watchable fighter out there, but he's one of boxing's underrated best. Hit-and-get-hit Michael Katsidis is making a bid to replace Arturo Gatti as his generation's "Human Highlight Film." The division's other two Diazes, David and Julio, are still in the mix, with David being popular in Chicago and Julio looking to rebound from his defeat by Diaz. And the talented Nate Campbell is lurking here, too.
Future: A
Casamayor is getting long in the tooth, but most of the other division talent is in its prime or very young. If Filipino sensation Manny Pacquiao moves up soon from 130 lbs., and he will eventually no matter what, watch out. And British prospect Amir Khan is on the verge of becoming a contender.

Now: B
Two of the world's pound for pound best, Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, lace up their gloves at junior lightweight, at least for now. Later this month, lesser-known but fan-friendly Joan Guzman and Humberto Soto will engage in one of the year's most promising fights. Cult favorite Edwin Valero is a contender for the hardest-hitting boxer in the sport.
Future: B+
That's assuming Pacquiao stays for another year to take on the likes of Valero or the winner of Guzman-Soto. If not, it's a C. And with Marquez nearing retirement, and Valero confined by medical problems to fighting outside the United States, there will be difficulties in cementing junior lightweight as an elite division. The rise of Anthony Peterson could help, though.

Bernard Hopkins just keeps chugging along down the path of greatness, ignoring Father Time. Calzaghe, coming off his win over Kessler, is the kind of fighter who can draw 50,000 Brits to a stadium and Wales, and now he's on the verge of conquering America. A faded -- but still somewhat popular -- Roy Jones, Jr. will soon square off against fellow all-time great Felix Trinidad at a fight that's technically a light heavweight battle at the catch-weight of 170 lbs. Chad Dawson is among the best younger fighters there is, and he's plenty fun to watch, too. Proven veterans Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson and Clinton Woods are still around, each popular to some degree or another.
Future: C
Outside of Dawson, it doesn't look very good after early 2008. It's a severely aging light heavyweight division. But if promoter Gary Shaw pulls off his audacious reported plan for a mini-tournament featuring Dawson, Johnson, Tarver and the winner of a super middleweight fight between Lacy and Manfredo, it looks much better.

Now: B-
A year or two ago, junior welterweight was the hottest division of all. Mayweather, Cotto and others went up to welterweight, but the division has reloaded quickly. Some of the division's best have been fighting each other,, and will continue to -- crafty Junior Witter defeated lanky, powerful Vivian Harris in September; KO specialist Ricardo Torres controversially defeated slick Kendall Holt the same month; charismatic Paulie Malignaggi is the most captivating feather-fisted boxer around, and he's defending his title against the game Herman Ngoudjo early in 2008.
Future: B+
Some of the best junior welterweights are only beginning to make a name for themselves. It doesn't look like division champ Ricky Hatton will be returning anytime soon from his adventure at welterweight, which hurts some.

Now: C+
Too many people forget about the cruiserweights, but there have been some great battles there in the last year or two. Another is coming up Saturday, when two vulnerable brawlers in Jean-Marc Mormeck and David Haye face one another. Darnell Wilson may have scored the knockout of the year for 2007. The names may be unfamiliar to some, but hardcore fans know that O'Neil Bell, Steve Cunningham, Enzo Maccarinelli are pretty legit fighters, and Tomasz Adamek has a chance of making some noise here after leaving the light heavyweight ranks.
Future: C-
Age and departures could soon diminish the cache that the cruiserweights have built up of late, with Bell and Haye both flirting with heavyweight, and with Mormeck having gone through a lot of wars at 35. Still, Maccarinelli's best days are probably ahead of him, prospect Matt Godfrey has a chance of breaking through soon and there is a chance someone like Dawson could move up to cruiserweight from light heavyweight. Chris Byrd may move down from heavyweight, but he's getting old and may not stay for long.

Now: C
There are some good fighters here -- Robert Guerrero has put some of his troubles behind him, Olympian power puncher Rocky Juarez is returning after some misadventures at 130 lbs. -- but arguably the best, Chris John, is difficult to lure away from his home in Indonesia.
Future: B-
Jorge Linares is impressive, and Vasquez and others could soon move up from junior featherweight.

Now: C
If you take away Taylor and Pavlik -- and Taylor looks like he's gone for sure now, while Pavlik may return after he and Taylor rematch at 166 lbs. -- there's a big drop off at middleweight. Sure, Winky Wright is still one of the toughest outs in boxing. And Arthur Abraham is pretty good. Let's assume Pavlik comes back for a little while; otherwise, the middleweight ranks are getting awfully thin.
Potential: D-
Pavlik is leaving sooner or later, and Wright's nearing the end of the road. Causes for hope -- um, Andy Lee is a great prospect...?

Now: C-
Junior bantamweight is a deep division, if not one loaded with amazing pound-for-pound fighters. Jorge Arce is the biggest star, but Martin Castillo, Fernando Montiel, Cristian Mijares and others are for real.
Future: B-
An Arce-Castillo fight would be pretty big, and Mijares, Arce's recent conqueror, is young and promising. Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire may soon make a permanent home at junior bantamweight.

HEAVYWEIGHTS (unlimited)
Now: C-
There's probably only one truly good heavyweight who could stand up against those in previous eras, Vitali Klitschko, but he's also flawed. The rest are flawed-to-deeply-flawed. But, give them credit -- at least they're all finally fighting each other, for the most part. The IBF's tournament, the likely unification fight between Klitschko and Sultan Ibragimov and a few other developments are positive.
Future: D+
There are a number of good, young heavyweights -- Sam Peter, Chris Arreola, Eddie Chambers, Alexander Povetkin -- but are any of them significantly better than the reigning crop? The magic eightball says "probably not."

Now: D+
Ivan Calderon, boxing's best tiny warrior, finally moved up to 108 and knocked off Hugo Cazares. Ulises Solis had an amazing knockout recently. Brian Viloria and Omar Nino had a close, enjoyable fight. But it's hard for boxers this little to captivate the public.
Future: D+
Calderon looks like he's going to make his home here for a while, and may rematch with Cazares.


Boring-but-good Cory Spinks is probably the best at 154 lbs. Vernon Forrest might be, and performed well against Carlos Baldomir this year, but he's been too injury prone to sustain excellence. There are some fighters on the borderline, like Joachim Alcine and Roman Karmazin, but they've not captured much of anyone's attention.
Actually, the future's quite good. Top prospects Joel Julio and James Kirkland have demonstrable fan appeal, and it's only a matter of time until giant-sized welterweights Cintron and Williams move up to the division.

FLYWEIGHTS (112 lbs.)

Now: D-
Donaire, a flyweight, scored the other major contender for KO of the year when he decked Darchinyan. Still, Darchinyan remains a draw for fans, and there are few other decent names here.
Future: D-
Donaire and Darchinyan -- Darchinyan in particular -- may not last much longer at flyweight. Darchinyan's already had one fight a division higher.

Now: D-
Good luck naming many bantamweights besides Penalosa, who will depart as soon as De Leon agrees to a rematch, and Gonzalez, who's already announced his intentions to leave.
Future: D-
Good luck naming anyone on the bench, either.

Now: D-
With Calderon gone from a division he thoroughly dominated, there's very little left.
Future: D-
I can't even imagine it.

I'm on a math joke hot streak.