Mismatches where the underdog is a two-time world champion may be somewhat rare, but it’s all we have to look forward to next weekend.
That’s when Sharmba Mitchell, the "Little Big Man" from Washington, D.C., faces Pretty Boy Floyd Mayweather Jr. in that hotbed of boxing, Portland, Ore.
At least, it will be another glimpse of boxing’s best practitioner. At most, it will be a sparring session without headgear.
Mitchell, at his peak, might have been a match for Mayweather. But in the last couple of years he was blown out by Kostya Tszyu, was lucky to get a "technical" victory over the ordinary Chris Smith and, at age 35, he deserves to be more than a 7-1 or 8-1 underdog.
Mayweather could bust both of his brittle hands in the opening round and probably still be able to outbox the not-so-slick-anymore southpaw. There are those who believe Mitchell caps a wasted year for Pretty Boy. Yes, beating Henry Bruseles, Arturo Gatti and Mitchell should not constitute a year’s work for someone that talented.
However, 2005 won’t be an entire waste. In beating Gatti, Mayweather not only got his first taste of pay-per-view action, he gained the WBC belt at 140 pounds. Plus, with Bernard Hopkins losing to Jermain Taylor this year, Mayweather assumed the No. 1 position in most — but not all — pound-for-pound ratings.
But, unfairly I believe, the comparisons are starting with Hopkins’s predecessor, Roy Jones Jr. The accusation is that Mayweather is not looking for dangerous fights. Let’s back up here, fellows.
Back when he was a virtual neophyte in the pro ranks, he and his father — since estranged — went to their Top Rank promoters and begged to challenge Genaro Hernandez, the best of the 130-pound champions. Bob Arum and company were hesitant to risk their young talent against such a smooth veteran. The Mayweathers proved there was nothing to worry about.
Then they demanded one of the toughest junior lightweights out there, Angel Manfredy, and Pretty Boy went through him in less than two rounds. He destroyed a pretty good 130-pound champion in Diego (Chico) Corrales. It wasn’t close and we all know how good Chico is.
Even with bad hands, he managed to get by such stalwarts as Jesus Chavez and Carlos Hernandez, then moved up to 135 and went after the toughest lightweight out there, Jose Luis Castillo. He won a narrow decision and when the critics complained, Mayweather said, okay, give me Castillo again. Pretty Boy clearly won the rematch and Castillo has gone on to prove his real worth, with the help of Corrales, in two fights this year.
Mayweather would of course prefer to be fighting one of the other 140-pound titlists, especially the real champion, Ricky Hatton, who earlier this year dethroned Kostya Tszyu. They have not been available, although now Hatton, trying to break the apron strings British manager Frank Warren was strangling him with, is talking up the biggest possible fight at junior welter — hopefully in the first quarter of 2005.
Top Rank, of course, is not about to risk its other 140-pound titlist, Miguel Cotto, against Mayweather, who started calling out bigger guys — like welterweight champion Zab Judah and junior middleweight king — and leading middleweight contender — Winky Wright and Oscar de la Hoya. A Mayweather—de la Hoya match could be the greatest money-making fight out there these days of stagnant heavyweight divisions.
It’s not as if he’s ducking anyone. Someone asked him about facing Junior Witter, a legitimate 140-pound contender from England who embarrassed himself once against Judah by running all night.
Who he?" said Mayweather. "If I don’t know his name, I know I ain’t making millions against him."
That same logic applies to Antonio Margarito, the WBO welterweight belt holder. Margarito is Tijuana tough, and I don’t mean he’s a cab driver. But he has a loss to Daniel Santos recently and is not exactly a household name outside of Bob Arum’s office. If Mayweather is going to fight a 147-pound champion, he wants it to be the "real" champion, and an old bling buddy, Judah.
I’m ready to give Mitchell three or four rounds in Portland, but I’m more anxious to see what 2006 brings to Mayweather’s platter. If de la Hoya doesn’t chicken out, it could be Hatton, Cotto, Judah and even Oscar himself.