The Most Interesting Debates in Boxing Today
A big part of being a sports fan is talking and arguing about sports with other fans. In the age of social media, the circles of conversation have gotten bigger and, in a lot of cases, more contentious.
Boxing is no different. Sure, the action in the ring is ultimately more important than anything else. But while fans wait for fight night, there is never a shortage of topics to keep them preoccupied all throughout the week.
I see a lot of readers' comments in a week and follow a lot of other boxing media online. My own take on the most interesting debates in boxing today is subjective.
But I do know for certain that these are topics a lot of fans are talking about.
Boxing Judges: Corrupt or Incompetent?
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This one is on the minds of most boxing fans this week, in light of Saturday night's highly controversial unanimous-decision victory for Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. over tough and determined journeyman Bryan Vera. The son of the legend, Jr. won the fight by the following three scores: a questionable 96-94, a dubious 97-93 and a completely scandalous 98-92.
Twitter lit up after the match with members of the boxing media expressing their disgust. ESPN's Dan Rafael summed up the thoughts of many:
Here we go to the cards: 96-94, 97-93, 98-92 all for the winner, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. 98-92? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME???? VOMIT TIME!!!
— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) September 29, 2013
Unable to remotely match Vera's work rate, the poorly conditioned Chavez spent from Round 4 on trying in vain to land a single fight-ending punch. In the critical final two rounds, he spent more time crying and complaining like a spoiled rich kid than actually trying to fight his opponent.
Chavez did land the more solid-looking punches and, in a few cases, dazed Vera enough to justify stealing the round. Judging fights is very hard. There is a lot happening, very quickly.
When a judge enters a fight expecting a certain fighter to win, he or she is going to be more likely to notice what that fighter is doing over what the other fighter is doing. Observational bias needs to be as rigorously controlled when judging prizefights as it does in the scientist's lab.
But some scorecards stretch what's credible. Gwen Adair scoring 98-92 for Chavez is as unbelievable as C.J. Ross' 114-114 in the Mayweather-Alvarez fight two weeks ago.
Is Defense Boring?
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Trying to convince boxing fans they should embrace former Cuban amateur Guillermo Rigondeaux has become something of a personal crusade for me. He's got a great backstory and unbelievable boxing skill.
But I meet more resistance in this than for any other single opinion I assert about boxing. Rigo is boring, many fans complain.
In their mind, Rigondeaux's wizard-like dismantling of Nonito Donaire's normally dangerous offense last April wasn't an amazing accomplishment; it was some kind of ripoff.
To a degree, I get it. I like a thrilling stand-and-trade war as much as any fan does. Fights like that have an immediate emotional appeal that doesn't require any kind of deep thinking or extra knowledge about the sport.
I know a lot of casual fans who don't understand much about boxing and don't especially follow it most of the time but who light up the minute you mention 1980s-era Mike Tyson or Arturo Gatti's three-fight rivalry with Micky Ward.
One reader recently accused me of doing the sports equivalent of trying to force people to like classical music. I think the metaphor is somewhat accurate but a bit imprecise.
When it comes to music, you can listen to simple pop music with basic chord structures and be perfectly content to enjoy it while never bothering to understand music well enough to appreciate the likes of Mozart of Thelonious Monk. You can keep your radio permanently tuned to the top-40 station.
But prizefighting is a sport, not an art form like music with discreet genres. And since it's a sport, whoever executes most effectively within the established rules deserves to win.
So as long as the sweet science endures, there are going to be boxers who manage to beat the best in the world based on defensive acumen. If it's going to be a legitimate sport where the best in the world really do fight the best in the world, you can't simply dump the technical masters on public radio for the aficionados.
So in order to truly enjoy the sport as a fan, it's worthwhile to learn to appreciate the defensive specialists, too, and to understand how incredibly difficult it is to do the things they do.
Boxing is a dangerous sport. A fighter enters an enclosed area where another highly trained athlete attempts to batter him into unconsciousness with his fists. A fighter who can navigate that danger as smoothly as a cat skipping across a rooftop should be celebrated.
Does the Boxing World Even Care About PEDs?
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Obviously, not very many fans are in favor of performance-enhancing drugs. But it definitely seems to me that fight fans as a group care about them a lot less than fans do in team sports like baseball.
Whenever I read a fan's complaint about PEDs online, it is nearly always because the fan is complaining about the possible role PEDs might have played in one of his or her own favorites getting beaten. And failing a test in boxing or MMA simply doesn't seem to carry the same stigma that it does in a sport like baseball.
I don't know why exactly this is, but I am convinced that it's true. Consider the cases of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the greatest hitter and pitcher of the last 30 years, respectively.
Both Bonds and Clemens look very unlikely to make the Hall of Fame in baseball despite never having even actually failed a test. There is credible suspicion, and that appears like it will be enough to blackball them.
Compare their case to that of former light heavyweight champion Virgil Hill, enshrined in the boxing Hall of Fame last June. Hill has not one, but two failed drug tests during his career.
And Hill isn't even remotely close to the boxing equivalent of Bonds and Clemens. He's Jim Rice or Andre Dawson: a high-level competitor but very much a borderline case.
Who's Ducking Who: Manny or Floyd?
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I'm going to qualify this one by saying I don't actually find the "debate" around this subject particularly interesting. Most of the arguing over why Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao never happened is little more than hardcore fans of either fighter (or committed haters of either fighter) simply pointing fingers at cherry-picked evidence.
The truth is, there's plenty of blame to go around for the fight of the century never coming to fruition. And while it's disappointing to contemplate, it's also instructive for analyzing the business side of the sport.
Even combat-sports purists have to accept that a huge pay-per-view prizefight is first of all a major business deal worth $100 million or more. Deals of that size are not negotiated from a position of pure machismo.
I don't believe promoter Bob Arum ever wanted to see this fight happen. It's true that it would have created a record payday. But Arum would have had to give the larger share of that payday to Floyd Mayweather, a person he seems to despise.
I believe Arum has made a lot more money off Pacquiao these last couple years than he ever could have made had Pacquiao fought Mayweather in 2010 or 2011 and lost.
Mayweather, too, has never seemed very interested in making this fight happen. Part of that is no doubt due to his reluctance to do business with Arum. Meanwhile, he has continued to make record paydays fighting much less dangerous fighters.
And "Pacman" has hardly been insistent on seeing this fight happen. His most common refrain during the years of "will they or won't they" was to modestly assert, "My job is to fight who my promoter tells me to fight."
A sports superstar, especially in an individual sport like boxing, has a lot more control over his destiny than the humble Pacquiao has wanted to let on.
Who Should Floyd Mayweather Fight Next?
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On September 14, Floyd Mayweather set PPV records in his unanimous-decision defeat of Saul Alvarez. Aside from perhaps Manny Pacquiao, there was no other fighter the fans had more interest in seeing Mayweather fight than the charismatic "Canelo."
But ultimately, the then-undefeated 23-year-old light middleweight champion was totally outclassed by the pound-for-pound king. Judge C.J. Ross might have scored the fight 114-114, but anybody watching the action with their eyes open would have a hard time honestly giving more than two or three rounds to Alvarez.
Mayweather is now left with four fights on his record contract with Showtime. With a long-awaited showdown against Pacquiao still very unlikely, it becomes problematic to speculate on whom Mayweather might possibly fight next.
Austin Trout, a talented southpaw who lost a competitive fight against Alvarez last spring, might be the toughest likely candidate for Mayweather. But he's never had a huge public following, and he lost to a fighter Mayweather has already toyed with, so selling him as a PPV opponent would be difficult.
Trout would likely have to at least win a rematch with Alvarez before a large percentage of boxing fans would rally behind him.
Amir Khan is one of the few welterweights in the sport with the hand speed to match Mayweather, but he's been knocked out twice in his career, including last July against Danny Garcia. Devon Alexander is among the most talented welterweights with a belt, but it's hard to imagine any fan interest for seeing him against Mayweather.
Ultimately, Garcia is probably the most likely next opponent. After beating Lucas Matthysse on the Mayweather-Alvarez undercard, the WBA and WBC light welterweight champion is among the hottest fighters in the sport.
He's a smart, skilled fighter with a big left hook. But it's going to be tough to convince potential PPV customers that he has the physical tools to move up in weight and make a compelling enough fight with Mayweather to justify a $70 PPV price tag.