Boxing's Best, Worst and Most Ugly So Far in 2011
Note–Is there any significance or reason for a retrospective on the year at the utterly random date of August 26th? No. But I guess I felt like ramblin' again, so here goes:
Boxing has provided some of the most memorable and inspiring athletic achievements of the modern era. From Joe Louis’ first round pummeling of Max Schmelling that captivated a nation to Diego Corrales’ incredible off-the-canvas stoppage of Jose Luis Castillo that captivated a small television audience.
Moments like these transcended the simple confines of the ring and touched something so deep and profound in us we could never properly explain it: one word would be too many and a thousand not enough (a paraphrase of Ray Milland’s hopeless alcoholic in The Lost Weekend for all you cinema buffs).
Boxing is also the sport that’s given us the “Long Count”, Don King, and Fan Man. For every noble pinnacle there’s controversy, unsavory character, or a bizarre twist waiting to emerge. This year has already given us a fair share of thrilling action and maddening frustration.
IN THE FINE TRADITION OF JOHN L. SULLIVAN
1) Victor Ortiz defeats Andre Berto
Boxing lends itself to hyperbolic statements.
It’s no stretch to say that Ortiz showed real heart in coming off the canvas twice to maintain his aggression and pretty clearly outpoint then-undefeated Berto.
But credit must be given to both men. They came to fight and delivered the best HBO contest to date this annum.
Downside: A somewhat legitimate alternative to Manny Pacquiao emerged in Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather wasted little time booking the newly crowned WBC titlist for a fall date.
Cool, it’s going to be a good fight, but it’s not a fight that anyone outside of hardcore boxing fans is clamoring for. It’s second-rate at best and we know it.
2) Hernan Marquez defeats Luis Concepcion
You probably wouldn’t want to run into either of these two diminutive fellows in a dark alley.
They traded savage blows in the center of the ring for ten rounds. Concepcion was finally stopped by the ringside physician, bloodied and beaten, in the eleventh.
Both showed tremendous courage and gave the fans more than their money’s worth.
Downside: Anyone who didn’t have the pleasure of being in the Roberto Duran Arena in Panama City that night, was probably relegated to catching the fight in grainy, four-part YouTube installments. With an announcing crew you may or may not have understood. You probably also knew the outcome because you were only watching it after hearing how much of a ridiculously epic bloodbath it turned out to be.
Boxing is one sport I can certainly re-watch. I’d be lying if I said that knowing the outcome of a fight doesn’t alter the dramatic impact. As such, aside from appreciating the brutality and intensity, it didn’t resonate with me the way the Ortiz/Berto fight did, where I truly had no idea what was about to unfold as I took in the action.
3) Erik Morales goes the distance with Marcos Maidana
There were better fights this year than Maidana/Morales. The ones I named above, Pawel Wolak vs. Delvin Rodriguez, Orlando Salido vs. Juan Manuel Lopez, Jorge Arce vs. Wilfredo Vasquez Jr., among others. But few were as satisfying for me as watching the once-great Morales defy the odds and actually outfight the relentless Maidana for a substantial portion of their fight. Whether it was a testament to Morales’ sublime craft or an indictment of Maidana’s limitations, it was boxing entertainment at its most unpredictable and riveting.
Downside: The old axiom, every great fighter has one last great fight…well I think this was it for old El Terrible Morales. Amir Khan vs. Morales would be a disgraceful mismatch, especially when Khan has a slew of more worthy challengers to choose from. Thankfully, Lucas Matthysse will likely put an end to that talk when he goes to battle with Morales on September 17th.
CARMEN BASILIO IS SPINNING ON HIS ROCKING CHAIR
1) Devon Alexander vs. Timothy Bradley
This fight was hotly anticipated by fight junkies (and just about no one else) and turned to out to be a massive, steaming-hot elephant dump. Neither guy was particularly effective. There was little action.
Alexander seemed completely reluctant to engage. Bradley charged in head-first and threw a few combinations here and there. It wasn’t a boxing match or a brawl. It was an awkward dance between two unwilling participants.
And just when there appeared a glimmer of hope that things would heat up, a Bradley head-butt opened up a gushing wound on Alexander’s forehead. With little to no resistance from Alexander, the fight was over. I hadn’t been this disappointed since Cop Rock was canceled.
Upside: I’m trying to look at both sides of every issue and this is a tough one. Umm…that the Ring magazine didn’t sanction it for the lineal championship? Let’s move on.
2) Shane Mosley vs. Manny Pacquiao
Most pundits rightly predicted that Pacquiao would breeze past the older, shopworn Mosley with relative ease.
What no one expected was that Mosley, a man with a solid chin who’s always fought with pride, would wilt away after a few rounds. Mosley did everything he could to avoid any kind of punishment, sucking all the drama and intensity out of the biggest fight of the year to that point.
The only contact Mosley seemed to embrace were the loving glove-taps he gave Pac-man to kick off every round.
Upside: Scoping Shane’s super-hot girlfriend in the crowd and making jokes about him getting cuckolded by Manny was enjoyable. More redeeming was the Arce/Vazquez Jr. fight on the undercard. Which was a seesaw, violent affair that will probably end up an honorable mention fight of the year candidate.
3) Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye
The ring-walks were amazing. The fight was the anti-thesis of that.
But who can blame the much-maligned Haye? His pinky-toe was broken. He bravely trudged forward and still went through with the fight, courageously risking doing even more damage to his hobbled digit. Riiiiiiight.
Upside: The pinky-toe excuse ranks up there with the best of them.
Still, the comic relief from Haye’s post-fight interview was a minor salvo after the dreadful twelve rounds that preceded it.
EUGENIA WILLIAMS AND LAURENCE COLE WOULD BE PROUD
1) Paul Williams’ gift decision over Erislandy Lara
In one of the more befuddling decisions in recent years, after taking a pretty clear boxing lesson with a free beating attached, Williams was deemed the winner by majority decision over Lara.
Giving Williams the benefit of every possible doubt and then some, you might have found a way to rationalize a draw.
Instead, two judges saw him winning. In the uproar that followed, all three judges were suspended and sent back to boxing judges’ school.
Upside: Lara became a cause célèbre and his stock wasn’t exactly diminished by the injustice. Also, the Williams win keeps him fighting which means the “knowhamsayin” drinking game lives on!
2) Russell Mora’s Bad Nights at the Office
Mora had a disastrous night refereeing the Abner Mares vs. Joseph Agbeko bantamweight fight on August 6th. That has been well-documented.
Mares threw anywhere from twenty to two-hundred low blows and walked away with just a few lukewarm rebukes from Mora.
To make matters worse, a clear low blow that put Agbeko to the canvas in the eleventh round was ruled a knockdown. The potential points swing with a different third man in the ring that night may have resulted in an Agbeko victory.
But low blows are a split-second judgment call, a painfully obvious one in this case, but nonetheless. If we give him the benefit of the doubt, Mora was merely incompetent on that evening.
What Mora did with Fernando Montiel against Nonito Donaire in February was far more insidious in my opinion.
Donaire knocked Montiel senseless with a striking left hand in the second round. Mora somewhat justifiably allowed Montiel several chances to come to his feet and beat the ten-count. When he instructed Montiel to come forward, the wounded fighter clearly was unable to and did not respond to the instruction.
Mora, at the great risk of Montiel’s health, disregarded his own criteria and allowed the fight to continue. That was a conscious decision that put a fighter’s health in serious jeopardy.
Upside: A rematch has been mandated between Mares and Agbeko. Since the first go-round was actually a very good fight, low blows aside, this is not an unwelcome development (and of course more importantly, it will provide closure to the bantamweight tourney which did not happen thanks to Mora’s incomprehensible obliviousness). It would be unfathomable if the referee for the rematch does not pay particular heed of Agbeko’s belt-line.
The lone gem from that night was Jim Gray’s ambush interview of Mora after the fight. Unprofessional as hell? Yes. Entertaining as hell? Absolutely.
3) The WBC’s antics with Tim Bradley and Erik Morales
The World Boxing Council (WBC) is one of four major bodies that rank fighters and sanction championship fights.
Bradley became the WBC titlist at junior-welterweight when he beat Alexander in the horrendous fight that I recalled earlier. Bradley has been on the sidelines ever since, in part because of a promotional squabble with Gary Shaw that’s going to litigation.
Apparently citing inactivity and unavailability to defend his newly won trinket, the WBC stripped Bradley and sanctioned a new fight for the belt. But not between the next top two contenders in their rankings.
Instead, Erik Morales vs. Jorge Barrios was announced to decide the next belt-holder.
Barrios has never fought at junior-welterweight and wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire at the lower weights. Morales is coming off a loss.
How could this be sanctioned as a championship fight, even a meaningless alphabet one?
The move sparked furor in the boxing community, seen as little more than an obvious ploy to get Morales a shot at being the “first Mexican four-division belt-holder” and set up a bigger fight (which the WBC would take their percentage of) with Amir Khan in December.
But in an ironic twist, Barrios has visa issues that couldn’t be resolved in time. So in stepped Lucas Matthysse to take his place, a genuine top-5 guy in the division. Suddenly the championship fight was somewhat legitimized, although ‘championship’ is a stretch.
Let’s not forget, both of these guys lost their last fight. And they are fighting for a belt which was held by a guy who has never lost and is still active. That’s boxing for you.
Upside: Gave everyone another chance to point out the inanity and hypocrisy of the alphabet soup sanctioning bodies and provided some minor comedy in the form of WBC president Jose Sulaiman’s farcical explanation letter.
The fact that Morales went from Anthony Crolla (his first reported opponent before it was a ‘championship’ fight) to Barrios to Matthysse is striking. I do wonder if perhaps Golden Boy suggested Matthysse as a replacement to help diffuse the controversy with a more credible contender. Probably just coincidence.
I truly have no problem with Matthysse fighting for a belt. I expect he will win the WBC strap and it will lead to some opportunities he may not have had otherwise, a shot at Amir Khan his best potential reward.
But would it shock anyone if Matthysse beats Morales and suddenly Khan decides he has to defend his newly won IBF belt against Lamont Peterson instead? After all, why take on the most dangerous opponent when Khan’s big Floyd Mayweather payday is just around the corner?
All in all, it’s been a good year with plenty of memorable action in the ring to go along with the usual dose of lackluster efforts, judging miscues, refereeing debacles, and boxing politics.
If it wasn’t for the Bradley-Alexander flop, we never would have heard Larry Merchant utter the immortal “you never know what you’re gonna get when you open up boxing’s box of chocolates." I think I know what he meant.
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