No cuties: On ‘SuperFly’

 

It’s seldom that a fighter winds up talking more about his peers rather than his own merits and achievements but that was the case with Brian Viloria during a press conference earlier this month at the Westin Hotel in Los Angeles, to announce the terrific September 9 card, “SuperFly.” On that evening, five of the world’s best super flyweights – Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Juan Francisco Estrada, Carlos Cuadras and Naoya Inoue – will gather at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, for what stands to be a night of donnybrooks. “We all, at one point, faced each other,” Viloria said, pointing to his cohorts seated next to him on the dais. (Viloria has fought both Estrada and Gonzalez, in losses). “To be on the card on  September 9  with these guys, I’m very, very honored to be there.”

 

To be sure, Viloria is as humble and courteous a prizefighter as they come but his remarks seemed especially gracious on this day, in light of the knowledge that he will not be part of the telecast on HBO, whose imprimatur, despite rumors of its retreat from boxing, can still be said to be the lusty target of most ambitious fighters. But Viloria’s deference to his fellow fighters wasn’t simply out of habit. It was the proper response to an event that has some perspective on the sport’s future, that subscribes to the belief in excellence. There is a general feeling – from fight fans to industry insiders to the fighters themselves that  September 9  stands to become a special night, a watershed moment for the historically overlooked 115-pound division. It’s an opinion that Gary Gittelsohn, Viloria’s longtime manager and relentless advocate for the lower weight classes, endorses heartily.

 

“I have been screaming for this kind of show all my life,” Gittelsohn told UCNLive.com. “I have always loved the lighter weight fighters. I feel that they are the most exciting fighters to watch and I’ve seen it all in the course of my career in boxing.

 

“If you’re smart and your representatives are smart, you’re going to invest in (the flyweights) and their future.”

 

To be sure,  September 9  is the sort of card every competitive fighter wants on his ledger. Even without HBO airtime on the table, Gittelsohn was going to ensure his charge joined elite company.

 

“I’ve known Tom Loeffler (Managing Director for K2 Promotions and lead promoter for SuperFly) for many years and I knew what he was trying to put together,” Gittelsohn explained. “I expressed my interest early on, if there was an opportunity for Brian to participate on the card, it would make sense because Brian has a nice following here locally and he also brings a nice Filipino audience to the card. And although he’s not going to be one of the HBO-televised fighters, he adds additional credibility to a card that is chock-full of what I believe is the best talent in boxing.”

 

While there is good reason to believe that attention to boxing’s diminutive prizefighters would not exist today, were it not for the vicious, blood-soaked battles waged among Manny Pacquiao, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez, the possibilities of the lower weight classes were made apparent to Gittelsohn much earlier, specifically in 1993 in Las Vegas, when Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez took on Michael Carbajal in a thrilling junior flyweight superfight that guaranteed both competitors a million dollars each – an unheard of purse, in those days, for that weight class. (By comparison, then-WBC super lightweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez’s purse that year against Greg Haugen was $2.5 million).

 

“I remember that fight very well. I was there. For many years, I spoke with (Top Rank CEO) Bob Arum – and he promoted that fight – about why can’t we get that kind of attention to the flyweights again, and he said, ‘Because there are no more Chiquita Gonzalezes left.’ And now, if you were to speak to him, he would say, ‘They’re back. They’re here now.’”

 

Of all the top flyweights today, continuing where Chiquita Gonzalez and Michael Carbajal left off, no one deserves more credit than Roman Gonzalez in capturing the boxing media’s imagination. The media, contrary to popular belief, is not always necessarily adversarial.

 

“It hasn’t hurt that Roman Gonzalez has been given wonderful exposure and that the boxing cognoscenti has dubbed him one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world,” Gittelsohn said. “People who otherwise wouldn’t pay attention to the lower weight classes are saying, ‘Who is this guy that people are saying is number one pound-for-pound?’”

 

Of course, it’s one thing to be adored by the aficionados; it’s quite another when a major player in the corporate echelons of the industry decides to have your back. This is to say that HBO’s investment in Gonzalez is the single most determinative factor in the weight division’s rise to prominence.

 

“Peter Nelson – God bless him,” quipped Gittelsohn. “He sees what’s out there. He sees that (the lighter weight classes) are a new market. I think he sees an opportunity to broaden (HBO’S) international base through these lighter weight fighters.”

 

Still, even with HBO’s commitment, there were many moving parts to consider. Six promoters – including K2, Teiken Promotions, Salita Promotions and Zanfer Promotions – had to come to the right terms of agreement, not to mention the managers, whom, as Gittelsohn cites with knowledge, drove a hard bargain in negotiating the purses for their fighters. In many ways, September 9 typifies the perfect storm.

 

“It’s one of those rare things, where you have the talent; you have an open-minded television executive and you have a promoter like Tom Loeffler, who is liked by everyone. It’s one of those rare situations where everything aligns perfectly. Everyone recognizes that it is a heavily talent-laden division and people want to see them compete against each other. I mean how often do you see flyweights on an HBO card?”

 

While it’s a rare feat for anyone working in the fractious, territorial realm of prizefighting to corral five of the best talents in a single division under one card, the true value of SuperFly lies in the fact that all the fighters are entertainers, go-getters with a natural inclination to finish their opponents. No cutie southpaws and powder-puff punchers here. For Gittelsohn, sincerity comes to mind.

 

“This division is, I…I’ve rarely seen anything like it,” Gittelsohn said, with a hint of disbelief. “Every one of these guys gives you an honest account of themselves for as many rounds as they are in that ring.”

 

For a debauched sport that operates on bad faith, preys on goodwill and routinely resembles heists orchestrated in broad daylight, it could use a little honesty to wipe away some of the slime from its face.

 

 

Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.

 

 

 

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