Hey boxing, give us big fights!

May 19, 2009 5:09 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

And so here we are, in that gray area that every tout fears to tread – a week with nothing to tout and no action, unless you like betting on ping pong or watching 50-1 shots upset your Derby calculations.

But while boxing takes a week off and columnists scrounge for something to do other than trotting out their latest lists of pound-for-pound rankings or midyear awards, let us throw some cold water on the notion that the game is not quite dead.

In fact, the figures on the pay-per-view sales for the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton mismatch (pictured) were a strong indication that boxing is doing very well, thank you. A fight between 140-pounders, one from the Philippines, the other from Manchester, England, did remarkably well – about 850,000 buys. That’s not counting a sold-out Vegas arena, sponsorships, closed-circuit TV, pay-per-view in England, foreign rights and HBO’s $1 million or so for the right to show the tape a week later.

Considering the overall economy, it would seem that the presence of exciting fighters like Pacquiao and Hatton demonstrate that the post-Oscar era, without any heavyweight leadership, is off to a great start. The news gets better when you return Floyd Mayweather Jr. to the mix.

No, boxing is not dead, but I think it is suffering from something more serious than swine flu, and I don’t mean pigs flying too close to the sun.

Despite next weekend’s recess, this had already been a pretty good year for big fights. Pacquiao’s two-round demolition of Hatton gives the 2008 fighter of the year a leg up on the 2009 prize. But if the vote were today, there might be some ballots for Sugar Shane Mosley, who in January put on a scintillating exhibition against the defrocked Antonio Margarito.

There have been other worthwhile performances. Juan Manuel Marquez gave his usual scientific dissection in stopping Juan Diaz. Paul Williams jumped into the fray with a one-sided whipping of the still dangerous Winky Wright.

So what is wrong? Outside of Marquez, none of the other fighter-of-the-year candidates has anything else lined up. That’s been a big problem for the game. Just when fans’ appetites are whetted, someone hits the pause button.

Marquez, who knows all about patiently waiting for someone to fight him, has taken on a giant task in facing the returning Mayweather, an early 4-1 favorite for their July 18 bout. But Pacquiao, Mosley and Williams – who could have their own round-robin since they are not far apart in weights (the PacMan being the smallest, Williams the biggest) – have to play wait-and-see.

The biggest fight of all would be a showdown between Mayweather, if he should get by the much smaller Marquez, and Pacquiao – the returning pound-for-pound leader against the current one. But Freddie Roach, who seems to be on the way to another trainer of the year award, bemoans the fact that Mayweather chose Marquez before Pacquiao’s compelling demolition of Hatton, which he accomplished in eight fewer rounds than Pretty Boy Money had a couple of years back.

Roach thinks Mayweather wants no part of Manny. Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, said the summit meeting will not take place this year.

I think Bob and Floyd want to build up the fight, Mayweather by first whipping Pacquiao’s nemesis. That takes time. It also risks injury. Too many big fights in the past did not happen when they were supposed to and were forever lost (think Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe).

And while Mayweather and Pacquiao begin the long negotiations – including what will be the weight limit, the purse shares, the color of the trunks – Mosley and Williams will be sitting on the sidelines with nothing much to do.

Their natural opponent, Miguel Cotto, is still in the process of rehabilitating his reputation and has a dangerous foe in Joshua Clottey next month. Arum said Pacquiao would probably fight again in October, and he said a possible opponent could be Cotto. Or Mosley.

Note: No one wants to fight the 6-foot-1 Williams, not even Mosley, whose weakness in the past has been against much taller opponents.

If Mosley, Williams and Pacquiao are inactive for much of the second half of the year, boxing had better stop patting itself on the back about its recovery from paralysis before it pulls a muscle.

There is a lot of talent around, especially among the smaller divisions. For the moment the big matches, while appealing to us hard-core fans, will not necessarily take the game across main street to the larger sports population.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz