A throughbred boxing championship: Brilliant!

Oct 25, 2005 6:03 AM

It is, quite simply, my favorite sports day of the year — better than the Super Bowl or a seventh World Series game, better even than a big heavyweight title fight, which is a lost breed anyway.

It is the Breeders’ Cup, this year back at my old stomping grounds, beautiful Belmont Park, and though injuries and retirements, as always, have thinned the fields of some superstars, such as Afleet Alex and Ghostbuster, it is more and more a collection of the world’s finest thoroughbreds in training, one championship race after another, and 30 to 45 minutes in between not nearly enough time to dwell on what just happened and, more importantly, to handicap what will happen next.

One day a year and horse racing, one of the sports that this country seems to have forgotten except for the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown, returns to its old throne, the sport of kings as the king of sport.

Boxing used to be bigger than football, basketball and even ice hockey in this country. These days, it can certainly use a Breeders’ Cup Day. Jose Sulaiman, the chief bandito of the WBC, recently proposed a meeting of all four of the so-called "major" alphabet sanctioning bodies to emulate soccer’s World Cup every four years with some kind of title unification tournament in all weight divisions. Not a bad idea, though of course it would be better if the four alphabets were not involved.

One of the reasons boxing has lost popularity over the years — certainly not a major one, though — is that the public has no idea who the champions are. You can’t have four champions every few pounds. The proliferation of weight divisions and sanctioning bodies has resulted in such chaos that most boss scribes, myself included, could not name all the "world champions."

Of course it would be impossible. So long as promoters, and TV networks, are allowed to have longterm deals (options) with fighters, there’s no way these fights could be made. For example, HBO isn’t going to allow Showtime to use the Klitschkos any time soon.

But, on a week with no betting fights coming up, why not have some fun and contemplate Breeders Cup races for boxing? The equivalent of the Breeders Cup Classic would historically be in the heavyweight division, but with the current field, that is obviously just a prelim, the equivalent of a cheap claiming race at Podunk Downs. Vitali Klitschko would be the heavy chalk against entries such as Chris Byrd, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, James Toney and Hasim Rahman. You probably couldn’t get a full field.

Move down to such divisions as junior welter and junior light/featherweight, though, and suddenly it would seem this is a vintage year for boxing. At 140, include the burgeoning lightweights Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales, and you have Floyd Mayweather Jr., Ricky Hatton, Kostya Tszyu (if he doesn’t retire to stud), Miguel Cotto, Carlos Maussa (the guy who knocked out Vivian Harris) and a good group of young prospects maybe not be ready for the big one.

The 126-130 race would be where Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez, Jesus Chavez, Carlos Hernandez, Joel Casamayor and the like could compete.

Jermain Taylor, Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright would headline the middleweight class. And if you lump the supermiddles with the light-heavies, you could come up with Antonio Tarver, Jeff Lacy, Glencoffe Johnson and a tough group of Europeans, not including Joe Calzaghe, who probably would be a late scratch. At welterweight/junior middle (the 154-pounders could go up or down, according to their waistlines), you’d have Zab Judah, Sugar Shane Mosley, Antonio Margarito, Kassim Ouma, Cory Spinks, Daniel Santos, Roman Karmazin and a stable of Don King fighters, starting with Ricardo Mayorga.

For all I know, there may be a great group of little guys below bantamweight, too; maybe they could ride the horses in the Breeders Cup. Anyway, the idea, of course, would be for the best to face the best. If boxing would at least adopt this principle, it would succeed in regaining some popularity. It is happening slowly, thanks to guys like Castillo and Corrales, Barrera and Morales, Hopkins and Wright, guys who want to face the best.

It is not quite a Golden Age, but there are more and more cases where the right fights are happening. Of course, Mayweather and Wright are finding it difficult to find meaningful opposition. No manager, promoter or network wants to put one of its fighters into a no-win situation.

But as I enjoy the Breeders Cup Mile and Breeders Cup Distaff, I will wistfully think about a world championship day for boxing. On second thought, no I won’t. I mean, why let boxing spoil the greatest day on the sports calendar? It is not quite a Golden Age, but there are more and more cases where the right fights are happening. Of course, Mayweather and Wright are finding it difficult to find meaningful opposition. No manager, promoter or network wants to put one of its fighters into a no-win situation.

But as I enjoy the Breeders Cup Mile and Breeders Cup Distaff, I will wistfully think about a world championship day for boxing. On second thought, no I won’t. I mean, why let boxing spoil the greatest day on the sports calendar?