Fights make fights, the matchmakers like to say, but sometimes, to our everlasting delight, they also unravel them. My favorite was when Tommy Morrison had a multimillion-dollar payday set up to challenge Lennox Lewis but decided to take a "tuneup." My buddy, Michael Bent, tuned him out with a first-round knockout.
Ray Mercer had only to get by journeyman Jesse Ferguson to earn a shot at the heavyweight title against his old Olympic roommate and rival, Riddick Bowe. Ol’ Sarge forgot to train, however, and Bowe got to pick on Ferguson himself.
It happened the other night in Atlantic City where Ricardo Mayorga, the "hottest" commodity of the year, had only hammer the light-hitting Cory Spinks to get to Sugar Shane Mosley on March 13. A funny thing happened on the way to fighter of the year consideration. Spinks continually sidestepped the novice rushes of Mayorga and boxed his way to a deserved decision.
It is unlikely, at this writing anyway, that Leon’s kid will be replacing Mayorga on Mosley’s dance card. Mosley’s looking for prima ballerinas, like Oscar de la Hoya. Too bad, because Mosley vs. The Next Generation intrigues me. Mosley had trouble with Vernon Forrest’s height ”” I believe he would have trouble with Spinks.
The good news, however, is that 2004, with or without a March 13 blockbuster, could be an interesting year. Now that we have a couple of weeks of inactivity to lick our wounds ”” did I really bet Kirk Johnson? ”” we can lick our chops over what could be on tap.
Mosley-de la Hoya III probably won’t take place until the fall, according to Oscar’s wishes, which means a Spinks fight, or one against Winky Wright could be squeezed in. Bernard Hopkins, who showed at 38 he is still the middleweight king with an almost insultingly easy decision over William Joppy, is in line for a big fight after he turns 39 next month. De la Hoya is a possibility, but that could be in 2005. There are Winky and Shane and two days of rain. Okay, so maybe Hopkins is again in limbo, but let’s not run him a benefit after he failed to negotiate big fights with James Toney and Roy Jones Jr. who are now too far removed from his weight class.
Jones, with little chance of getting Mike Tyson to stop smoking long enough to want to fight, is now considering a rematch with Antonio Tarver after his toughest pro bout Nov. 8. This time, though, it won’t be for any title. Jones, who said he was weakened by having to lose 25 pounds of muscle after moving up to heavyweight, would probably ask for a 190-pound limit. Tarver, noting that Jones had said the last 10 pounds were the toughest to lose, would ask for 185.
Certainly, John Ruiz’s victory over Hasim Rahman, which made him the mandatory challenger for Jones, cannot expect a rematch. Nor does he deserve one. We have seen that fight once, and it was enough. Let Ruiz try David Tua again.
If Jones wants to prove his first effort against Tarver was a mirage, then Lennox Lewis might feel the same way about his performance last June 21 against Dr. Vitali Klitschko. Expect Lewis, who has dumped lawyer Judd Burstein, to listen to his once-again advisor Adrian Ogun, and trainer Emanuel Steward, and make $20 million, some of which they will be glad to share, for a Klitschko rematch.
As early as Feb. 7 there is a major fight, certainly the biggest in Moscow since the Germans last visited, with The Russian, Kostya Tszyu, giving a rematch to the always-tough Sharmba Mitchell, who could well blame a wrenched knee for his loss to the 140-pound king. Fights make fights, so the winner will have such as Zab Judah and maybe even one of the rising stars, Floyd Mayweather Jr., waiting.
Mayorga will not disappear. A rematch with Spinks is attractive. Vernon Forrest will be back, so too Fernando Vargas, and thse last two could be facing each other by spring.
James Toney has enlivened the heavyweight division and, after Vasilliy Jirov and Evander Holyfield in 2003, faces an altogether different problem in Jameel McCline soon. Wladimir Klitscho and Dominick Guinn give the division a semblance of depth. Dino Duva is willing to risk his Nigerian novice, heavy-handed Sam Peters, against the slick Cuban, Juan Carlos Gomez. Yes, and with Chris Byrd, Fres Oquendo and, dare I say it, Baby Joe Mesi, there may be no reason for George Foreman to make a comeback. Or Max Schmeling.
But the best stuff will, as usual, be in the lighter weight, 135 pounds and blow. Right away, Jan. 3, we have Acelino Freitas moving up to lightweight to challenge for the WBO title against the long-reigning champion nobody has seen, Arturo Grigorian. Freitas, of course, is making a career of ducking a rematch with Joel Casamayor, who instead will get a chance to knock out Diego Corrales again.
Erik Morales will enliven the 130-pound division, but featherweight followers will not be wanting, not with both Manny Pacquiao, conqueror of Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez around. Marquez’s kid brother, Rafael, will be looking for some meaningful work at bantamweight.
It figures to be a good year. There are hardy perennials, from Evander Holyfield to Paulie Ayala and Johnny Tapia, and some rising stars, like Jermain Taylor, Rocky Juarez, Miguel Cotto and Jeff Lacy.
First, have a happy holiday season, but don’t waste all your money on gifts. Save some for the underdogs.