Rivalries Should Be At the Heart of Boxing

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Rivalries Should Be At the Heart of Boxing
Al Bello/Getty Images

If it's true what they say, that familiarity breeds contempt, then boxing needs more familiarity.

Much more familiarity.

All other sports are built on great rivalries.

The Red Sox and the Yankees.

The Tar Heels and the Blue Devils.

The Fighting Irish and pretty much everyone else.

Yet, in boxing, seemingly when two fighters are evenly matched and highly competitive, they almost always fight just once.

Why?

Other than the garden variety names known by even the most casual follower of the pugilistic arts (Ali, Leonard, Tyson, De La Hoya...), some casual fans have actually heard of Ward-Gatti and Marquez-Vasquez.

Rivalries are what we tune in for, and boxing needs more of them.

For instance, last night I witnessed at outstanding fight between Yonnhy Perez and Abner Mares. These guys went at it for all 12 rounds, standing toe to toe, dishing out, and taking a lot of punishment. Not surprisingly, they were roommates during their amateur days and this was their fourth time fighting one another (Mares took two out of three in their amateur bouts).

They need to fight again, and again after that.

And possibly again.

The fact is, many great fighters are made because of their rivalries.

Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake La Motta fought an unbelievable seven times because their fights were so competitive.

Ali fought Frazier three times.

Yet, in today's world, rematches are seldom made, even if the fight was competitive.

Already this year, there have been a number of fights that deserve a rematch.

Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez should undoubtedly face each other again. The first fight was extremely competitive, many thought Martinez should have won.

Carl Froch and Mikel Kessler may be onto something after Kessler handed Froch his first loss in Denmark. Froch felt he was robbed, and I'm sure would like an opportunity to face Kessler on neutral ground.

Vic Darchinyan and Nonito Donaire should have fought a couple more times by now (you can blame that on Gary Shaw, the unscrupulous promoter that refuses to let Darchinyan fight Donaire).

Rivalries are good—no, they're great—for the sport of boxing.

If Gatti-Ward had stopped at one fight, would anyone have even heard of them? Same with Marquez-Vasquez.

I always thought Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard should have fought one more time. Same with Leonard-Hearns. As a matter of fact, I thought Hagler should have been given another shot at Leonard. 

There are a myriad of reasons why there aren't more rivalries in boxing, starting with the simple fact that two evenly matched guys just don't want to square off. Not only are the fights generally pretty tough, there's a real chance that either fighter could lose.

Many times, the winner realizes he won by the most narrow of margins and just doesn't want to take the chance of losing.

Politics always has a lot to play in rematches. That's the case in Darchinyan-Donaire. This promoter doesn't like that promoter, so the fight never gets made.

Then, there are the perfect circumstances that must align for a great rivalry to happen.

The first fight must be competitive, and the loser must feel they have been robbed or capable of being the winner. The second fight must always be competitive, this time the loser of the first fight must win and, the now loser, must feel they had been robbed or capable of winning.

And around we go.

The main word for every great rivalry is "competitive." Every Robinson-LaMotta fight was competitive, as was every Ali-Frazier fight.

Actually, the Peter Manfredo Jr.-Sergio Mora fights (both from the Contender series) were extremely entertaining. I thought Manfredo was robbed in the second fight and a third fight should have been made.

I feel the same way with the Pacquiao-Marquez fights. Marquez deserved the second fight and should have been awarded a trilogy.

I can't remember a recent rivalry where two boxers just hated each other. I think the ingredients were there for a De La Hoya-Vargas trilogy, except De La Hoya was much more skilled than Vargas. Maybe after two guys try to kill each other for 36 minutes, the hate turns into respect?

Pavlik-Taylor looked to be a great rivalry but Pavlik won both fights, pretty convincingly.

There's another compelling reason for rivalries.

Money.

Promoters almost receive twice the amount of exposure for a rivalry. Marquez-Vasquez was a great example. By the third fight, there wasn't any need for publicity, everyone knew who the fighters were and couldn't wait for the two to touch gloves for the third time.

Rivalries bring familiarity, so boxers are much more comfortable with one another. They're more willing to be aggressive and take chances. There is no "feeling out" period. If one fighter feels he was robbed, that only brings the tension and competition up another notch.

I hope to see Perez-Mares fight again. The first one was a draw (deservedly so), and they should fight again, and again.

 

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