Category Archives: Sports

The Promoter: The Barn’s Already Burning

“This is a PHONEBOOTH war,” blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley will say at some point during HBO’s pay-per-view broadcast this Saturday, and while the kids watching on their iLives won’t know what a phonebooth is, he will be correct.

There’s a whole slew of fights this weekend that promise Serious Action. Breadbaskets will be invaded, fighters will visit each other’s kitchens, chins will be tested, and yes, two sweaty shirtless men will attempt to occupy the same phonebooth.  There’s nowhere in those trunks to keep their cell phones, you see, and even if they did, they have no use of their digits to text away.  Please suggest some some new cliches.

Whatever you call fighting-in-close-proximity, this isn’t speculation: A lot of these guys have gone at it before, and produced some spectacular fights.

The headlining fight on the HBO show is a rematch between Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto and Mexican Antonio Margarito, and their first bout was a thriller. Margarito fights like the Terminator-not all that agile, but he keeps coming and absorbs blows, and he took plenty of them from the skilled Cotto through 11 rounds in 2008 before his pressure and left uppercut stopped the pound-for-pound top 10 boxer.

In an alternate universe, this is a good rematch that happened too late; Cotto and Margarito were both whipped by Manny Pacquiao.  Either or both of them could be shot, done, and Margarito has the very real concern of a right eye destroyed by Manny that gave the New York State Athletic Commission a long pause before it gave the go-ahead.

But this is a grudge match, full of Bad Blood: Six months after he stopped Cotto, Margarito was found with a sticky plaster of Paris-like substance in his hand wraps before he fought, and looked very unTerminator-like, against Shane Mosley.

No one’s sure if one or the other of these guys is done, but someone is getting bloody.  A sampling of quotes in the lead-up include Cotto calling Margarito a “criminal” and saying he’ll play with his health, as Antonio plays Super-Heel, in sunglasses and track suits and calling Cotto “little girl” and “crybaby.” The two episodes of HBO’s promotional series, 24/7, are well worth watching.

The undercard features three more fights with guaranteed action.  Brandon Rios is a mini-Margarito; the two Mexicans train together, and Rios is a similar sort of come-forward action fighter who can be an asshole, although he’s more skilled. His last fight he dispatched the solid Urbano Antillion in three. His opponent is John Murray, and while it’s unclear why he’s getting the title shot over countryman Kevin Mitchell, who stopped him in 8 in a UK Fight of the Year candidate, he’ll be throwing punches until he can’t anymore.

Philly welterweight Mike Jones has a near 80% KO rate and and has put on two straight hearty fights with Jesus Soto Karass.  He faces Argentine Sebastian Lujan, a thick welter who’s never been knocked out cold and is coming off a KO victory on Friday Night Fights in July.

Yet the most anticipated fight on the card among hardcore fans might be the opener, a rematch between Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez.  These are two good but unspectacular fighters who put on an absurdly good fight in July on ESPN.  In one of those odd occurrences where what should happen happens, they’re getting paid good money to do it again on a big stage.

Wolak had a hematoma over his right eye that looked like a ripe apple by the end, but ref Steve Smoger let them go, since the ring doctor said “let them roll.”  Smoger is famous for his laissez-faire approach to stopping fights, and he’ll be in the ring for the main event.  As if it needed anymore guaranteed excitement.

As an added bonus for those with premium cable but not looking to shell out PPV money (or with the broadband capability to find it on Google, WHICH IS HIGHLY ILLEGAL), Showtime’s got a two-fight bantamweight show with its own punchers and backstory.  Ghanian Joseph Agbeko and Mexican-American Abner Mares headline in a rematch of their August fight, where Agbeko got crotchshotted all night long, with ref Russell Mara doing jack about it.   Besides the empathetic pain experienced watching, it was otherwise a good fight.  The left-hand slinging Armenian-Australian Vic Darchinyan is in action with his great power and slowing reflexes against rangy Panamanian Anselmo Moreno, making his U.S. debut.

Hope Springs

Since there is a school of wisdom that says all you care about is Pacquiao-Mayweather, it’s my duty to tell you that those talks are looking better than they have in a long time.   But don’t get your hopes up!  However, neither guy really has any better options.  Plus, they’ll each make like $50 million for the fight, and that would be cool for them, I guess.

Further Reading

Eric Raskin has a pretty good contribution at Grantland to the ever-present for boxing writers genre of  “reconciling brute violence with my secular humanism.”

Till next weekish, stay in that kitchen boys and girls.

 

The Promoter: Won, Lost, Who Knows? You Do.

Juan Manuel Marquez won his fight with Manny Pacquiao last weekend, and it wasn’t close.

The fight itself was close. But the big winner was Marquez, and it might have been better for Manny if he had lost rather than won.

Do you follow?

The short of it, the Bottom Line style takeaway, was this: Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez on a majority decision, with scores of 116-112, 115-113, 114-114; CompuBox had Pacquiao landing 117 power punches to 100 for Marquez.

Those numbers don’t mean jack in the overall picture, which is a source of frustration for the casual fan and provides plenty of conversational fodder for the initiated.  They aren’t points scored or goals allowed.  The judges’ decision is legally binding and goes on a boxer’s record, but doesn’t determine the next fight he takes.  Despite the futuristic name, CompuBox “statistics” are nothing more than the judgment calls of a ringside punch tracker.

Someday electrodes implanted under fighters’ skin will register punches and declare winners on cell damage differential.  For now, boxing is one of the few sports left where your opinion counts.

It’s my humbleish opinion, after three viewings, that Marquez won a close decision. I scored it twice for him and once for Pacquiao, while admittedly trying to give Manny rounds.  This opinion puts me in a  majority among the fans who felt that the Mexican won a close decision, and that the judge giving Pacman eight rounds (116) to Marquez’s four (112) was way off base.

Why did I see it this way?  I’m looking for clean, hard punches.  Marquez landed a few more; a number of those scored by CompuBox for Pacquiao were from his sometimes slappy right hand.  I’m also looking for not getting hit (ie “defense”), and Marquez did plenty of that too.  Finally, if it’s close on those factors (and it was), I do consider what is broadly termed “ring generalship,” or who controlled the action.  Although Pacquiao moved forward a lot more, it wasn’t moving with purpose; Marquez kept stepping out and to his left just enough to keep Manny off-balance and uncertain about when he should attack.

Why are people screaming robbery?  Besides the fact that Marquez was guaranteed $10 million in a rematch clause should he have won, I think it’s mostly because Marquez made it his fight, scoring with counterpunches all night.  He never let Manny come forward in the rushing demonry that made the Filipino a star, making him look frustrated and confused.  In addition, Juan Manuel was such a massive underdog going in that he vastly exceeded expectations, so even a fight that could arguably be scored a draw seems like a big win.  All the talk leading up to the fight from the Pacquiao camp was “we’re going to put this guy out for good.”  He didn’t.

Also, it’s fun to yell.  We can argue over the merits of quarterbacks or point guards, but eventually someone will go to “Scoreboard!” or “Count the Rings!”  Percentages and counting stats are endlessly cited.  In an age of high-definition instant replay, the results of individual games in the team sports are open to little interpretation.  Outrage has been mostly eliminated at the rules and officiating; venom for poor outcomes must be turned on players and coaches.  Boxing fandom allows one to access that fount of scorn for misguided authority that otherwise must be directed into the political sphere, and who wants to talk about that.

If you only know these three fights from the record books Marquez has lost twice and drawn once, in a fight he was knocked down thrice in the first round. That these two might very well go at it a fourth time might seem strange, but it means that Juan Manuel Marquez has again shown himself to be one of the best in the world. At 38.  That’s winning.

Moving forward

Not only did Marquez win in the Court of Public Opinion, but promoter Bob Arum announced within 24 hours that he was planning on making Marquez-Pacquiao IV, rather than aiming for a Mayweather fight.  Not only did this confirm the bias of many after Saturday’s fight that Manny would get picked apart by Floyd Jr. (like Marquez, a counterpuncher, except bigger), it gave Juan Manuel all sorts of leverage in negotiations.   Not that he needed more: 37 million households tuned in from Mexico.  Percentage-wise, those are Super Bowl-type numbers.  Say boxing struggles in the States, even call it dead, but it has plenty of homelands worldwide where it’s doing just fine.

It might not be fair to Pacquiao, but his close win, perceived to be a bit of Vegas favoritism by many,  and the fact that he didn’t explicitly admit defeat in post-fight interviews turned him into something of a villain, in the course of an hour.  Redemption cycles happen quickly in the fight game, though, and a vintage performance in his next outing can put him right back in the public’s good graces.

Marquez put a cherry on his his good night early Sunday morning, when he left the ring immediately and only deigned to give the HBO interview in his locker room, naked, with a sombrero covering his nether regions.  Super cool.

This week’s celebrity sightings

Brad Pitt took a break from his adoptive menagerie to knock out Victor Oganov in Australia, in a cruiserweight bout.

I’ve never actually heard of Tony Conquest, but it’s a pretty great name for a boxer, as well as a Roman emperor or a porn star.  He needs a writer, though: his given nickname is “Conqueror.”

Quick Hit Destruct-o Fun

Featherweight Luis Zarazua fights as a pro for the second time on the undercard of this weekend’s Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.-Peter Manfredo fight.  Zarazua’s first pro fight didn’t last too long.  You don’t need to watch anything past a minute in this video.

Till next week-ish, keep those feet moving.

 

 

The Promoter: After the One-Two Comes Pacquiao-Marquez III

Let me introduce myself.  The name’s  Josh and/or Brokaw.  The  game?  Words, on a good day.  We’ll not discuss the bad.  My purpose in these pages is celebrating and promoting the Sweet Science; exhorting the beautiful, ignorant masses into a passing awareness of the sport that serves as metaphor for all others.

Like all promoters, I might fall into the trap of getting a bit too excited about my subject. If your municipality hasn’t already banned the deadly substance, keep your salt ready.

This coming weekend’s biggest and best fight boasts something most bouts cannot: One Manny Pacquiao, a guy you’ve probably heard about even if your news comes exclusively from ESPN and Time magazine, you poor, uncultured sap.  Manny is mainstream enough that he participated in an advertising campaign that also featured a girl from that Glee show.  He smiles big, he speaks adorable Tagalog-accented English, and he’s going to be the president of the Philippines someday. There are many people who believe this marketer’s dream will win on Saturday in impressive knockout fashion.  The books right now have a wager of $100 on Manny returning $10 in profit.  He’s favored.

Why watch? you say.  It’ll be a stomping or a runaway.

A fair point.  Most recent ‘megafights’ have fed Pacman or ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather a name opponent who no one thought going in had any real shot at a win.

Yet in the underdog’s corner this Saturday there is a future Hall of Famer, who has in two previous fights drawn and lost a close split decision with the Philippine hero.  If you haven’t seen Juan Manuel Marquez, at 38 he’s still arguably the second-best technical boxer in the world; he might not have the most pop, but he can counterpunch you to death.  In recent years he’s come out of the shadows of countrymen Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera to become a quintessential Mexican action star in his own right, knocking out Juan Diaz, Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis

Wait, what? you say.  Wasn’t that one of the dudes Mayweather stonewalled a while back? And didn’t you feel dumb for inviting friends over to watch a Money May fight, because you should have known better than to count on him for action?

Well, yes, but Marquez was outreached and outweighed in that fight…

And isn’t Pacquiao-Mayweather supposed to be THE fight that we all want to see? Fight of the (Young) Century level?  So isn’t Manny just going to run through this old guy?

Well, yes, Manny and Floyd going at it is the Ideal.  But no, I don’t think those $10 to win $1 odds on Pacquiao are quite right.

This rivalry wouldn’t exist if Nevada ever used the old three knockdown rule; Marquez came back from getting flattened thrice in their first round of ring acquaintance to win the fight on a whole slew of observers’ cards.  Listen to the intro talk from that 2004 fight, and you can hear storylines that’ll be coming at you on Saturday: Is Marquez too old?  Too slow?  Pacquiao too fast and strong?

Round One of Fight One starts around 7:00

The second fight was a similar story: Pacquiao scored one knockdown, and Marquez took more rounds.  How many more, I don’t know. It’s a back-and-forth every time you watch it sort of fight.

Fight Two

The bloxosphere’s communal wisdom, like the books, has Pacquiao winning this fight, but no one’s sure how it’s going to happen.  Some say in quick knockout fashion (like he did to Ricky Hatton), some say in the later rounds after beating Marquez down (see Miguel Cotto), some think he’ll take a tough decision, perhaps busting Marquez up in the process (reference the remnants of Antonio Margarito’s face).  No one thinks the fight will be boring, like Manny’s outings against the Shell of Shane Mosley and honorary Ninja Turtle Josh Clottey.  Like any honorable Mexican fighter, Marquez is coming to win or go home flat.

It is fair to say that Manny is bigger, quicker, better, and younger…

Those might not be the right words to spark your interest. Let’s break down those advantages, with a little in-my-head summary of the arguments for the inevitable Pacquiao victory, followed by my counterattack.

Manny has superior size: He has shown comfort fighting at welterweight (147 lbs.).  Marquez, in his only foray into the class, looked crappy against Mayweather and hasn’t proved he can hang at the weight.  He’s like, way stronger.

Yeah, But: Their weights at fight time in March 2008 were both about 145 lbs. Manny has gotten stronger, but Marquez has seen him at this weight before. More importantly, Mayweather outreached Marquez by five inches. Manny has him by an inch.  I doubt this difference has changed in the last three and a half years.

Manny is too quick:  Marquez is slowing down, and straight-ahead fighters like Diaz and Katsidis got to him in the past two years, whereas they wouldn’t have got close back in ’06 or ’07.

Yeah, But: Manny might be a tad slower too, these days.  Furthermore, he was quicker in both of their previous fights, and it didn’t earn him decisive wins.

Manny is way better : He has improved tremendously since their last fight, becoming a two-handed fighter with real boxing skills.

Yeah, But: Manny’s definitely got more of a right now and throws in a shoulder roll here and there.  How much improvement he’s made, though, is hard to tell. While Pacquiao’s skills certainly have had plenty to do with his wins, there’s an argument that since he last fought Marquez, he’s seen nothing but guys who were already well past their best days.  His ring intelligence has increased, but it still pales in comparison to Juan Manuel’s.

Manny will win because: He’s younger.

Yeah, But: Sometimes fighters get old.  Don’t blame me if it happens here. Could happen to Manny, too, but I doubt it.  At the very least, that Marquez drinks his own piss in training has to come with some sort of record-setting placebo effect, even if the beverage doesn’t have an actual salutary effect.

What 2 Watch 4

Please note that I’m not begging you to buy this fight; it’s expensive, and the undercard isn’t nearly as good as next month’s Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch.  Google is your friend if your Saturday night plans go awry; YouTube is helpful in the first 24 hours afterward.  HBO will replay it a few times in the next week or two.

What I’m watching for in the early going is both fighters’ front hands. If Manny’s getting jabs through early, some combination of his improvement and Marquez’s slowing has happened, and it will be an easy night for the Filipino. Conversely, if Juan Manuel gets through his hook-uppercut hybrid left to the body early, he’s in it.

If Marquez gets through round 3 without his trunks touching canvas (and if he does go down, it will be on a short, sharp left while he’s throwing a too-wide right) and he’s not otherwise overwhelmed, it will be the Mexican’s fight to lose. The early knockdowns were the difference in the scoring outcome of the first two fights, and weathering the early storm got Marquez to middle rounds where he controlled the action and racked up points.  If you can find a prop bet after 4 or so on the winner, even odds on Juan Manuel is plenty fair in my view.

Promotional Whimsy
Manny and Juan Manuel show their singing chops on Mexico’s Big Brother/American Idol mash-up La Academica. Someone with better Spanish skills can tell me what Marquez’s song is, but Pacquiao does “Imagine.”

The Week That Was
James Kirkland obliterated Alfredo Angulo in 6 last weekend, in a light middleweight fight that was a long time in coming. Kirkland, one of boxing’s hottest properties before going away on a firearm charge in Texas in September ’09, was knocked down by the heavy-handed Angulo in the first and looked finished after one. HBO has destroyed all extant online versions of the video, but when it comes up again you gotta see it. If Manny and Juan Manuel beat that fight for excitement on their huge stage, they put themselves in the all-time trilogies discussion.

Required Reading
Former Heavyweight Champion of the World and inspiration for the Rocky series Joe Frazier passed away Monday night at 67.
SBNation’s Bad Left Hook has about all the boxing coverage you need, and it is all over the Frazier tributes, interviews and fights. If you really want to despair over the current state of sports letters, though, put on your polyester and read Mark Kram’s 1975 Sports Illustrated story on Ali-Frazier III, the Thrilla (in Manila).

Till next week, keep your hands up.