This wasn’t supposed to be a blog post about Floyd Mayweather. The Lucas Matthysse–Lamont Peterson fight on Saturday night at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall had nothing to do with Mayweather. This was a fight between two of the best three junior welterweights (the division below where Mayweather fights) in the world, designed to produce a September opponent for Danny Garcia, the other member of the 140-pound division’s top three.
According to official sources, as of now, that’s precisely what it did. Matthysse defeated Peterson, and Golden Boy Promotions reportedly has September 7 reserved for Matthysse-Garcia.
But money, and "Money," are always the top priorities for Golden Boy. After Mayweather dominated Robert Guerrero in a fight that proved wrong any misguided fools who thought Floyd might have lost a step, Mayweather again finds himself with a short list of potential attractive opponents. Especially given Mayweather’s $30 million–plus guarantee for every fight and widespread doubts as to whether Mayweather-Guerrero was profitable for Golden Boy and Showtime, not just any old dance partner will do. You can probably count on one hand the number of opponents with a shot at getting Mayweather over the million-pay-per-view-buy mark. So when a new name sneaks onto that hand, executives, lawyers, and accountants start scheduling conference calls.
With apologies to Bernard Hopkins, Richard Alpert, and the girls of Lee High School, everybody gets old. The notion of an athlete growing old “overnight" is mostly a myth; it almost always occurs gradually. In the case of boxers, sure, one punch can ruin a man. But typically, that one punch was the logical successor to dozens of other punches, spread over several fights, that the boxer in question would have slipped in his younger days.
Floyd Mayweather is 36 years old. He’s 43 fights and 315 rounds into a professional career that began in 1996, when he already had 90 amateur fights to his credit. And none of those numbers account for sparring, the silent assassin in the boxing aging process. That Mayweather remains undefeated after all this time is remarkable. While his detractors will point out that he frequently found excuses not to fight the most threatening opponents, only a boxer with all-time, stratospheric skills could have run the particular gauntlet that Mayweather has and never once experienced defeat.
May Day (proper noun): The name recently given to an unofficial boxing holiday, so called because Floyd Mayweather is about to headline a boxing pay-per-view event on the first Saturday in May for the fourth time in seven years.
Mayday (noun): The international radio distress signal, from the French m’aider, or “help me.”
We won’t know for sure until the PPV purchase numbers come in following Mayweather’s May 4 bout with Robert Guerrero, but it’s starting to feel like both definitions might apply to this fight. Mayweather’s previous Cinco de Mayo weekend showdowns against Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, and Miguel Cotto drew 2.4 million, 1.4 million, and 1.5 million buys, respectively. ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael estimated last week that Showtime, which is entering the first fight of a possible six-fight deal with Mayweather, needs slightly more than 1 million buys to break even on the Guerrero fight. Showtime will not reveal its actual break-even point; Showtime Sports executive vice-president Stephen Espinoza told me that considering the ancillary factors associated with having Mayweather under the network’s banner, “the deal is worth every penny” no matter how many PPV sales the fight generates. Regardless, there’s a growing sense among boxing insiders that 1 million buys is no sure thing.
On Saturday night, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez won a unanimous decision against Austin Trout. We asked four questions about the fight.
Before the fight, many boxing pundits thought Canelo was all hype. Do you believe in Canelo now?
Jay Kang: I believed in Canelo before Saturday night, albeit for a somewhat arbitrary reason. I attended Canelo's last two fights in Las Vegas and was struck by how his body shots just sounded different. At some point during Canelo's fight against Josesito Lopez, I actually got a bit nauseated after hearing another thudding shot to the liver and Josesito's long, pitiable exhale. Sportswriters get in trouble these days for making facile and possibly apocryphal distinctions like these. When I was in college, I recall trolling a baseball writer who had written something about how the crack of Andres Galarraga's bat was somehow crisper than every other player in the major leagues.
In retrospect, building an opinion on a fighter based on the sound of his body shots was just as silly, especially when stacked up against the more concrete things we knew about Canelo. He does not move particularly well. He mostly staggers around in the ring, his lower lip stuck out like a petulant child. He keeps his body coiled up so that once he finds an opening, he can launch straight into his opponent with a barrage of heavy shots. The problem in the past has been Canelo's inability to really find those openings. Before Saturday night, I don't think many fight fans would have doubted Canelo's abilities in a slugfest, but Austin Trout is an active, smart opponent who had just used relentless movement and activity to humiliate future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto. It stood to reason that if Cotto could not figure out Trout, then Canelo, who, at the age of 22, still has quite a bit of learning to do in the ring, would probably get outclassed. Before the fight, the conventional wisdom went something like this: Canelo would have to hurt Trout to the body and cut down on his movement, but as long as Trout kept his head — and there was no evidence going into Saturday night that he wouldn't — and avoid the big shot, he would probably cruise to an easy decision victory.
If boxing is sometimes stupid and always macho, there’s no better example of the magnetism of stupid macho than Brandon Rios. He is boxing’s early Ironclad, a slow-moving, indestructible and arguably ugly fighter who advances upon his opponents without a hint of subtlety or trickery. When he gets close, he blasts them to hell.
This is not to say that Rios is unskilled or lacking in intelligence, but his plodding feet and his static stance offend the eyes of fight fans who see boxing as a brutal, balletic act. His considerable popularity instead comes from his refusal to engage in anything but a brawl — there isn’t a fighter out there who enjoys getting punched in the face more than Rios. Guys like that tend to have short careers marked by epic bouts against other guys like that. After watching his first fight against Mike Alvarado from ringside, I didn’t think much of Rios's chances as a legitimate pound-for-pound contender — sure, he was exciting and he certainly had the ability to put together tight, powerful combinations on the inside, but I couldn’t see him ever beating a fighter who could dictate the pace and the distance of the exchanges. It seemed that if you could just keep your cool and circle around Rios’s slow advance, you could win a pretty easy decision.
Let’s play the bonus round on Pyramid: “I’m in the best shape of my life” ... “This has been the best training camp of my career” ... “I’m not looking for a knockout, I’m just looking to win” ... “He’s never fought anybody like me before” ... “I have to fight three minutes of every round.”
And the category is, “Stock Answers Every Single Boxer Gives When You Interview Him During Training Camp.”
Perhaps the most annoying answer of all, however, is the one that comes when you dare ask whom the boxer wants to fight next if he wins this bout. Almost every fighter says the same thing: “I’m not looking past the opponent in front of me.” Then they make like well-trained Russian spies and refuse to name names.
But Brandon Rios is not like other fighters and he definitely wouldn’t last long as a spy. Rios has no filter. A couple weeks ago, as he was deep in the rhythms of camp for his March 30 rematch with Mike Alvarado, I asked Rios whom he wants to fight next if he beats Alvarado, fully expecting to come away with an unusable quote. Instead, I got this: “Honestly, hopefully, Golden Boy and Top Rank can end their feud so I can fight Danny Garcia and win his belt.”
Jay Caspian Kang: It’s only early March and the big fights of the fall haven’t been lined up yet, but should we go ahead and proclaim Saturday’s brutal 12-round welterweight battle the Fight of the Year? For those rightfully rolling their eyes right now, let me clarify the question. Given the ongoing feud between Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank, the age of some of the top fighters in the sport (Sergio Martinez, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and Juan Manuel Marquez are all at least 34 years old), and the general putridity we’ve seen so far in 2013, are there any potential matchups that could possibly match the skill, power, and heart we saw on display Saturday night in Carson, California? Great fights often come out of nowhere, with Bradley vs. Provodnikov being the most recent example of that truth. But given the protection of some of the top young contenders via their promoters’ matchmaking, will we really see a fight where a top-flight fighter like Bradley gets seriously tested by a guy who has absolutely nothing to lose? What would that fight even be?
The smart money lies with Canelo Alvarez’s upcoming bout against Austin Trout in San Antonio. I suppose there’s a chance that Trout’s speed and the sheer volume of his punches slows down the unstoppable Canelo machine, but count me as maybe the only boxing writer out there who doesn’t really buy all the talk that has circulated about Canelo taking the fight against the wishes of his handlers and Golden Boy Promotions. Someone sees a real weakness in Trout that the rest of us who watched him beat Miguel Cotto do not. If Trout’s as dangerous as he seems, there’s no way Golden Boy would risk their big golden Canelo baby at the tender age of 22.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Floyd Mayweather’s ascent to his position as king of the boxing box office is that he’s done it without being an exciting fighter. Rather, he convinces fans to pay for his fights by distracting them from what will actually happen in the ring. He’s a master manipulator, the likes of which boxing hasn’t seen since Muhammad Ali. And with the official announcement on Tuesday of his next fight, Mayweather has done it again. He’s whipped the boxing world into a frenzy despite choosing the modest-profile opponent we assumed all along he was going to choose.
On May 4, Mayweather will take on Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero. What makes the announcement worthy of talking-head analysis 10 weeks before the fight is that he’ll face Guerrero on Showtime pay-per-view. After a 15-year relationship with HBO, the network that aired 25 of his last 26 bouts, Mayweather, the biggest draw in boxing, has signed a six-fight deal with the top contender to HBO’s throne. His defection forces us to ask: Is HBO now the top contender to Showtime’s throne?
Rarely does the mere announcement of a fight pack as many angles and sub-angles as this one, but damn you, Floyd Mayweather, you’ve manipulated us into breaking down five questions worth exploring in the run-up to Cinco de Mayweather weekend, 2013:
Numbers never lie, right? Well, in boxing, at the very least, they fib. Numbers can misrepresent and misdirect. And that’s dangerous because, in boxing, until you’ve won enough big fights to become a name, all you really are is a number — or, more accurately, a series of three numbers: wins, losses, and knockouts.
All assumptions about an unknown fighter are based on his record. There is no boxing equivalent of baseball’s WHIP or BABIP, so when fight fans need to make a snap judgment on whether a fighter matters, they use these traditional stats. And if the number in the loss column is too high or the number of knockouts doesn’t closely resemble the number of wins, good luck getting people to tune in.
Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Miguel Angel “Mikey” Garcia are on the right side of that equation. You might not know who they are, but the numbers tell the story their promoters want you to hear. Golovkin’s record is 24-0 (21 KOs). Garcia’s is 30-0 (26 KOs). They always win and, a collective 87 percent of the time, they score knockouts. What more do you need to know?
It’s been a rough couple of years for athletes nicknamed “Macho.” In May 2011, pro wrestling legend Randy “Macho Man” Savage suffered a heart attack while driving, crashed his Jeep Wrangler, and died at age 58. Last week, 50-year-old ex-boxer Hector “Macho” Camacho was shot while sitting in a parked car, declared brain dead, and taken off life support four days later.
But for both Camacho and Savage, the “Macho” nickname came with some irony. Savage was a star in a fake combat sport, and in his heyday, his heel gimmick included putting his female manager in harm’s way to spare himself. Camacho squeezed out a 30-year career in boxing by developing perhaps the least macho in-ring style among high-profile fighters of his era.
It’s all relative, of course. In boxing, the bar for “macho” is set unreasonably high. And it’s set there because of fighters like Miguel Cotto. Seven days after Camacho’s death, his Puerto Rican countryman Cotto will step into the ring at Madison Square Garden (the Spanish-Harlem-raised Camacho fought there 15 times). Cotto is as earnestly macho as they come. Even Camacho himself wouldn’t deny that he was a showman first and a rare talent who left a sizable slice of that talent untapped, unlike the hard-earned, authentic “macho” of Cotto.
Seth Mitchell was yesterday's news. It was about five minutes after midnight, meaning it was now the day after Mitchell got knocked out in two rounds by 5-1 underdog Johnathon Banks. Mitchell, the man projected just a couple of hours earlier as the brightest hope for American heavyweight boxing, was invisible to the reporters trickling into the postfight press conference. Had Mitchell defeated Banks, he would have been swarmed by writers looking for exclusive quotes before the formal presser began — or just looking for an excuse to talk with a possible future heavyweight champion.
But Mitchell lost to Banks. So he was left alone to swipe at his smartphone. That's boxing. That's sports. It gets very quiet when you're no longer "hot" or "next" or "it."
Our century-long search for the Great White Hope is over. We found him. Two of him, in fact. And we can’t wait to be rid of him.
The pronouns in play here could probably use some clarification. The “our” of the first sentence refers to a racially charged segment of America. The “we” of the second sentence is the sport of boxing and its fans. The “hims” are Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, the fair-skinned Ukrainian brothers who, together, have ruled the heavyweight division since Lennox Lewis retired in 2004. And the “we” of the final sentence refers to the millions of fight fans who find no pleasure in watching the Klitschkos ply their trade.
Just last weekend, Wladimir took part in the most entertaining fight either Klitschko has had since 2005. He hammered chin-tastic Mariusz Wach for the entirety of 12 rounds, got wobbled momentarily in the fifth to create a rare moment of drama in a Klitschko fight, and spent the eighth round emptying every chamber in pursuit of a knockout. It wasn’t a great fight, but it held your interest for 47 minutes. That alone made it an anomaly in the Klitschko age of heavyweight championship boxing.
It was too late by the time I arrived at the Montgomery County Boys Club — I’d just missed a historic gym war between two boxers who would eventually be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Thomas Hearns was still in the ring having his headgear removed and Matthew Saad Muhammad (then Matthew Franklin) was sitting on the apron unwrapping his hands. Both were scuffed up, breathing hard and drenched in sweat. While I had no way of knowing at the time, there was another future Hall of Famer in the gym that day: Hearns’s trainer, Emanuel Steward.
It's unclear whether Nonito Donaire's opponents enter the ring afraid of the 122-pound super bantamweight champion's power, or if they realize sometime early in the first round that they've bitten off more than they can chew. In fact, since Donaire's last six opponents have all been well-regarded current or former world champions, we know that these fighters could take a punch and most likely believed they had a chance to beat the Filipino American pound-for-pound contender.
Well, some of Donaire's opponents, most notably Vic Darchinyan, Volodymyr Sydorenko, and Fernando Montiel, have tried to fight aggressively against the Filipino Flash. Their attacks earned them a trio of knockouts that are worth re-watching. Darchinyan went down for the first time in his career and ended up with the same dazed look as the folks who spin around on baseball bats during timeouts at NBA games. Sydorenko, in fewer than four rounds, looked like he'd been ejected face-first through a car windshield. And Montiel performed a horrifying, unconscious spasm dance while lying flat on his back.
It doesn't matter if you follow boxing. It doesn't matter if you've never seen an Arturo Gatti fight. (Although your life has kind of been wasted if that's the case. Here, enjoy the first four and a half minutes of this creepy tribute video set to that Goo Goo Dolls song you never want to hear again. No, the other Goo Goo Dolls song you never want to hear again.) The question of whether Gatti deserves to be voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York — he's in his first year of eligibility on ballots that voters received today — is not really a specific question of interest only to boxing geeks. It's an interpretation question of interest to all those people who allow themselves to become irrationally invested in halls of fame. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those people.)