Glass half-full: Half-year boxing musings
Aided by the daily drumbeat of White House intrigue, the year 2017 has moved along at a rapid pace. By the end of this month, our yearly sprint will have reached its midpoint. By most accounts, it would seem that, for the sport of boxing, 2017 can already be viewed as a better year than 2016. Better match ups, a more active schedule and a slow but steady embrace of the digital age have all contributed to a sense that boxing might be finally moving out of its recent stagnation. And with a genuine super-fight looming in September, the best of 2017 might be yet to come. But before we take a look at the coming fall spectacular, here are a few random musings on various story lines from around the scattered boxing universe.
The first six months of 2017 saw two of the sport’s more prodigious young talents come of age in fights against more experienced champions. Newly-crowned IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. and IBO/IBF/WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua each seemed to confirm the promise many had envisioned for them. Spence ventured into enemy territory to dethrone former champion Kell Brook, which made his accomplishment that much more impressive, while Anthony Joshua had to rise from the canvas after being floored by a classic right hand from former consensus champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Both Joshua and Spence were forced to overcome a degree of adversity which should prove invaluable to their careers as they move forward. Joshua’s situation teetered on the edge of extinction in the middle rounds against Klitschko, while Spence’s trial by fire against Brook was more of a rigorous exam than a nuclear war. Joshua was already a star in boxing before this performance but he now seems well on his way toward that elusive worldwide “superstar” status. Whatever complaints one has against Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, it seems hard to argue that he has done well shepherding the heavyweight champion’s career to this point. Most promoters would probably kill to have a fighter positioned as Joshua is today.
Spence, on the other hand, seems to have a way to go in order to reach star status, let alone superstardom. As an unfortunate victim of Premier Boxing Champions-induced inactivity and irregular (or nonexistent) promotion, Spence has a bit of legwork to do in order for his notoriety to reflect his talent. One can only hope his effort inside the ring against Brook will be reciprocated with equal effort by his promoter in keeping him busy and relevant.
Speaking of the PBC and activity, one couldn’t help but notice the absence of former IBF super welterweight champion Jermall Charlo over the first half of 2017. After his December demolition of contender Julian Williams, many had hoped to see Charlo return to capitalize on his well-earned momentum. Yet it looks as if boxing fans will have to wait until a future date over the next sixth months for Charlo’s eagerly-awaited return. Whether or not his momentum has dissipated remains to be seen.
Another one of Charlo’s PBC stablemates who has been forced to grow accustomed to fighting only once or twice a year is former IBF welterweight champion Shawn Porter. Porter’s April suffocation of former WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto was a pleasure to watch. As an honest man who seems to apply an honest trade, Porter has become hard not to root for. Porter fights like a coal miner digs or a brick layer builds a wall – what you see is what you get. There is no glitter or pretense when Porter is in the ring, only effort. As he melted Andre Berto away into gatekeeper status, one couldn’t help but feel a small sense of justice. Regardless of merit, Berto has always seemed to be allowed to live high in the castle of the “Haymon Kingdom,” while Porter has been relegated to the streets below. Berto’s destruction at the hands of Porter was ironic, considering we live in a time when the working class thirsts for retribution against the privileged status of the ruling elite. One hopes Porter will indeed return over the next sixth months with a meaningful fight against a worthy opponent.
Another fighter who fans are looking forward to seeing return an impressive performance is current WBC lightweight champion Mikey Garcia. Garcia’s January flattening of former world champion Dejan Zlaticanin remains a solid contender for “Knockout of the Year.” After a prolonged period of uncertainty surrounding Garcia’s career, it now seems like he is finally determined to capitalize on the potential his skills provide him. A high-profile July clash with enigmatic former multiple division champion Adrien Broner awaits. If Garcia is indeed glowingly successful in this bout, one has to believe his profile will rise considerably. As for Broner, my fear is the life his lives outside the ring is unsustainable. One can only walk a certain tightrope for so long before the fall inevitably comes.
There is a lot of talent in and around the weight class in which Garcia fights. However, the one fighter many believe to be the most talented is current WBO junior lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko’s April outclassing of former champion Jason Sosa was a ho-hum affair for many hardcore boxing fans. The one sided bout seemed to be just another rather meaningless fight for the Ukrainian master technician. Yet I’ve gotten the sense from interactions with casual and general sports fans since then that Lomachenko might be making some inroads into their general consciousness.
On a couple of instances, individuals have brought Lomachenko up in conversation unprompted. Each time, they were impressed with his obvious skill and intrigued with his in-ring antics. The investment Lomachenko put into the entertainment aspect of his wipeout against Sosa seems to have paid some dividends. One couldn’t help but notice Lomachenko ramping up his social media presence as well. What seems to be a professionally-run Twitter account has engaged sharply with foes, posted shout-outs from celebrities and even reached out to former President Barack Obama. And with Lomachenko’s promoter Top Rank seemingly poised to announce a major network broadcast deal any day now, “Loma” seems to have aims for stardom. Yet despite all this, what happens in the ring still matters most. And Lomachenko will undoubtedly need to find suitable opponents to build on his current momentum.
Two of Lomachenko’s stablemates under the Top Rank banner seem poised to also benefit from whatever TV venture the company undertakes. One is WBC/WBO super lightweight champion Terence Crawford. The other is WBO welterweight champion (and legend) Manny Pacquiao. The supremely talented Crawford is seemingly one marquee win away from beginning to cross over into star status. The most logical opponent against whom to accomplish this (considering boxing’s “Cold War” politics) is Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao needs paydays; Crawford needs a chance to beat a legend and Top Rank needs the torch passed from its aged star to a new generation. And it would seem that the biggest in-house fight Top Rank could make to promote its new TV deal would be Pacquiao-Crawford. Yet to make such a fight a reality, the compensation Pacquiao might want for risking it all against a young lion might make a deal virtually impossible.
Look, I’m not going to sit here and say Pacquiao has to sacrifice himself for the good of boxing. Fighters risk their lives to entertain us; they can do as they please. However, it’s hard to argue that the sport does not suffer a bit, does not stagnate a bit, when the old champions simply slide out the side door instead of taking center stage one last time. Kell Brook may or may not be at the end of his career, due to injury, but he did not have to fight a young gun like Errol Spence. And Wladimir Klitschko sure as hell did not have to risk his health against a wrecking ball of a heavyweight champion like Anthony Joshua. In fact, I fear, if Klitschko does take a rematch with Joshua, it might be one fight too many for a fighter whose faculties have escaped a long career mostly unscathed. Yet because of what Klitschko and Brook both did, the sport of boxing will be better off.
Pacquiao’s next bout, in Australia (in July against Aussie welterweight Jeff Horn), might already signify that he is well into the twilight phase of his career. Busy with Filipino politics, the fighting fire seemingly doesn’t burn as bright as it once did for the future Hall-of-Famer. Yet even if he did win his next fight and immediately calls for a fall fight against Crawford, the boxing world will not shift its spotlight to Pacquiao-Crawford – for, until Sept. 16, there are only two names that will command the attention of the boxing masses: Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin.
As a genuine super-fight, THE RING Magazine middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez vs. IBF/WBA/WBC middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin should draw considerable interest from hardcore and casual fans alike. After being his maligned for seemingly avoiding the fight last year, I believe Alvarez deserves some praise for facing Golovkin as his first real test at 160 pounds. Facing Golovkin as your first stern challenge in the middleweight division seems a little like being a rookie running back in the NFL and getting hit by Lawrence Taylor for the first time. You’ve obviously been hit before but not by a guy like him.
Whatever the outcome of the fight, it should be more entertaining than boxing’s last mainstream showcase: Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao. This bodes well for the sport in general but, like Mayweather-Pacquiao, it’s rather unfortunate that Canelo-Golovkin ended up in Las Vegas. This fight seemed poised for an outdoor spectacle at a venue like Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Two of the aforementioned fights (Spence-Brook and Joshua-Klitschko) benefited greatly from the atmosphere their outdoor venues provided. But revenue must be maximized, of course, and it remains difficult for U.S. venues to compete for major fights when Vegas wants them. I only hope that many average fans aren’t priced out of a chance to witness the biggest fight of the year in person.
Finally, you might be asking why the potential Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor fight wouldn’t be considered the biggest fight of the year. Well, technically, it would be; I suppose. Yet it seems that a “boxing” match between a 40-year-old retired fighter and a mixed martial artist is more of a sideshow than an actual fight. But make no mistake, sideshows draw plenty of interest in our current culture. Come to think of it, it’s a rather brilliant play by both men. This type of event fits perfectly with our Kardashian, Snapchat and watered-down reality show culture. McGregor has little to lose and a huge payday to gain. Nobody will fault him for losing a boxing match to one of the greatest boxers of the last 20 years. Floyd will get another huge financial windfall and will probably have an easy time dancing his way to a unanimous decision against a weight-drained boxing novice.
Yet, I’m not sure whether this boxing vs. UFC sideshow is good for the sport of boxing. There is a saying that “Any attention is good attention,” so it might be true that, despite the clownish nature of the bout, eyes on the sport are good for the sport. If McGregor, by some miracle, won the fight, then I suppose one might have to reconsider the value of such a display, for the sport of boxing will have suffered a major embarrassment, which we all know McGregor would never, ever let anybody forget.
Mayweather is no more required to sacrifice himself for the sport of boxing than Manny Pacquiao, yet one has to wonder: Which fight would be better for boxing in the long term? Mayweather vs. McGregor or Spence vs. Mayweather? Wishful thinking, of course, and Floyd has every right to make as much money as possible. But a fall boxing schedule that includes Canelo-Golovkin, Pacquiao-Crawford and Spence-Mayweather? Now that would make this truly a year boxing fans would never forget.
That said, fantasies aside, let’s just hope the second half of the boxing calendar plays out as well as the first.
You can follow The President on Twitter @PrezAVK.