Next week marks another of the many lulls in the boxing calendar and we can blame Bob Arum. Of course, I blame Bob Arum for everything from global warming to erectile dysfunction. But I think I am on firmer ground when I complain that the hall of fame promoter indulges himself in cards like next Saturday’s infomericial – fights designed not to attract bettors to windows, but to lay the groundwork for a future big match.
Juan Manuel Lopez is a scintillating talent, one who deserves more than appearances in advertisements for future fights. Ditto for Yuriorkis Gamboa, a Cuban Olympic champion, who appears on the same pay-per-view – imagine, having to lay out cash to watch a commercial! – as Arum dreams of matching the two winners later on.
Even if Arum’s intentions are pure, there is an inherent danger in such plans. Upsets, cuts, managerial changes – all sorts of commercial interruptus. I remember Dan Duva embarked on a "Final Four" in the heavyweight division where the winners of Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis-Razor Ruddock would settle who was the real champion. Sorry, Lennox, but Riddick threw the WBC belt into the garbage and the two 1988 Olympic rivals never did meet as pros.
Missing out on a Juanma-Gamboa matchup would probably not be as bad, although Arum is correct in believing that it needs a lot more seasoning. For one thing, the undefeated Lopez needs to fill out a bit more and become a full featherweight. He has dominated the junior feather division, starting with last year’s one-round blowout of Daniel Ponce de Leon.
But Gamboa, at 30, is a full featherweight and the four-pound difference in their divisions can be telling, especially if one was ringside when the late Salvador Sanchez wrecked Wilfredo Gomez. It makes sense for Arum to hold off on the big match for his little fellows, but why do we have to have them in such non-betting tune-ups as next Saturday’s at the Theater of Madison Square Garden? Yeah, it’s New York, but it’s off-off-off-Broadway.
Lopez, the undefeated Puerto Rican with 24 stoppages in 26 victories, faces Rogers Mtagwa, a Philadelphia fighter from Tanzania. Okay, maybe if Rogers (plural) means Juanma has to face more than one opponent it could be competitive. But Mtagwa, though a full featherweight, has been stopped a couple of times and is unlikely to last 12 rounds with a 26-year-old whiz already on many pound-for-pound lists.
Gamboa is also facing a bigger man in Whyber Garcia – Whyber? Why not – who as a junior lightweight has been knocked out by Jorge Linares and Edwin Valero. There’s no shame in that, but the Panamanian has also been stopped a couple of other times and his 22-6 overall record does not inspire.
Gamboa, 15-0, is rather reckless – a fight against Juanma would be a thriller, no matter how long it lasts. He gets hit, he goes down. But he has blazing hand speed with power and has stopped 13 of his victims.
There almost was a betting fight on the New York card, but Ken Johnson, an undefeated heavyweight prospect, withdrew from a proposed bout against Gamboa’s Olympic brother, Odlanier Solis, in the hopes of getting a bout later this year against Vitali Klitschko. Instead, Solis takes a baby step up in class when he meets the veteran Fres Oquendo.
Johnson should be careful about what he wishes for – Vitali Klitschko was brilliant in shutting out the brave Chris Arreola last weekend and for my money is by far the best heavyweight around.
I would be remiss in not noting another non-betting fight next weekend, the return of Israel Vazquez, who had serious eye problems following his amazing trilogy against Rafael Marquez. Vazquez, idle 19 months since taking the rubber match in the trilogy by split decision, has naturally been put in soft for his return against Colombian Angel Antonio Priolo at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Soft? You can’t get much mushier than someone who has lost his last six fights, including a couple of early stoppages at flyweight. No matter.
It is always good news when a great fighter returns to the ring.
Sometimes, though, even with other great fighters in the same ring on the same night (but not at the same time), good news must be tempered by inaction that prevents us losers from making this a participant sport (yeah, I had money on Arreola, and I still think he could be the future of the heavyweight division).
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz