The Square Jungle: Golovkin-Rubio, Donaire-Walters, Mayweather on De La Hoya, etc.
Veteran power-puncher Marco Antonio Rubio steps into the wild tonight when he faces predatory Gennady Golovkin in an optimistically-scheduled 12 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. K2 Promotions has wisely unleashed Golovkin in back-to-back major media markets, hoping to raise his profile through the enhanced coverage New York and Los Angeles can offer. This is one reason Chris Algieri was chosen to face Manny Pacquiao in November: a New York fighter stands a good chance of not just having Sunday Late Afternoon Boxing Blog and BoxingBozo.com butcher his accomplishments in purple prose but of being written up in the New York Times, Newsday, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post.
If Golovkin can trade in on the star power L.A. is known for, then he is that much closer to becoming a legitimate money man at 160 pounds. Only outsize purses are going to galvanize name opponents into facing him – and even that may not work. With the middleweight division playing Hideaway Pets en masse, Golovkin has had to earn his buzz the old-fashioned way: via bloodletting every time he enters the ring. By setting them up and knocking them down with ruthless precision, Golovkin, 30-0 (27), has set certain expectations that also double as entertainment value for aficionados. There is no fleeing, holding or grappling when Golovkin is between the ropes – at least not by him. As a result, “GGG” comes closer to an ideal than more skilled and less ferocious Fancy Dans who have made a habit of sneering at the public and half-stepping under the lights.
While Al Haymon, Golden Boy, Showtime and HBO have been brawling in the sandbox, fighters have lost lucrative opportunities because of ridiculous and divisive backroom politicking. Hell, even the mafia knew cooperation among all was a boon to the bottom line but in boxing, amazingly there are players even more bumbling than the DeCavalcantes were in real life or Kid Sally Palumbo was in fiction. Other than elusive Peter Quillin, however, Golovkin has fallen outside of the turf wars. Still, Sergio Martinez, Felix Sturm, Martin Murray, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. all found less taxing things to do with their time than try to ward off Golovkin.
As for Rubio, 34, he is a competent fringe contender whose ledger of 59-6-1 (51) reflects his professional acumen in the same way a gaudy undefeated record reveals, at some point, the intrinsic fraudulence of pixel/HTML stars like Gary Russell Jr.
Unfortunately, “El Veneno” has three flaws that will combine to create a critical mass against Golovkin: he is a slow starter with a cold chin who stands up straight most of the time. In addition, Rubio is not mobile enough to keep a rampaging Golovkin at bay for long. Having amassed 51 knockouts in his career, Rubio would like the opportunity to strike from a distance with his jarring right here and there but Golovkin will likely be on top of him like something out of Animal Planet before he can even set himself to punch. Trying to make a case for Rubio – whose sad betting-line status may actually be considered an overlay – is like trying to make a case for a man whose parachute fails at 20,000 feet. But give credit to Rubio, who seems as crazy as Timothy Treadwell was every time he went up to Alaska to rollick among the grizzlies. Until one of them finally mauled him to pieces, though, he saw the savage grace of wildlife in real time and in the raw. Who knows what Rubio will remember about what he sees tonight?
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If ever a gifted fighter could serve as an object lesson about going through the motions in a blood sport, that man may very well be Nonito Donaire. Talented but adrift, the “Filipino Flash” looks to reignite his career tonight by facing undefeated Nicholas Walters for a pair of in-vitro featherweight titles on the undercard of Golovkin-Rubio in Carson, California. But if Donaire slips into autopilot against Walters – who may or may not be a legitimate banger – he will tailspin himself right out of the top-money ranks in boxing.
Although Donaire, 31, has taken little punishment throughout his career, he no longer appears to be at his best. In fact, the last time Donaire looked good in the ring was against faded Jorge Arce in 2012. That night, Arce looked like a Mexican Tom Thumb against Donaire in one of the most appalling headline mismatches of the last two years. It was a set-up designed to make Donaire, who had looked lackadaisical since atomizing Fernando Montiel in 2011, resemble the second coming of Wilfredo Gomez albeit via the Philippines.
But there was an always an excuse waiting whenever Donaire could not steamroll a longshot: he injured his hand. He came down with the flu. He had shoulder troubles. Cuts bothered him. Uncooperative junior bantamweights refused to let him blast them to smithereens. His wife was pregnant. Boredom afflicted him at every turn like a character out a Bret Easton Ellis novel. Before the toughest test of his career – against glum but masterful Guillermo Rigondeaux – Donaire basically trained himself, a move that automatically made him an honorary recipient of a Darwin Award. Predictably, a slack Donaire was smacked around by Rigondeaux over 12 rounds and the ADD that seemed to afflict him for several of his bouts could no longer be considered merely symptomatic: it was the real thing and Donaire no longer appeared interested in fighting. Ossified Vic Darchinyan nearly pulled the rug out from under him last year and an odd technical decision got him out of trouble against unheralded Simpiwe Vetyeka a few months ago.
Now Donaire is taking on a young sharpshooter whose nickname, “The Axe Man,” has raised the collective blood pressure of bloggers across cyberspace. Walters, 28, is an undefeated KO artist who enters the fight as an unknown quantity. Yes, he has fulfilled some of the cynical prerequisites of the fight racket: flattening a motley crew of palookas and creaky veterans from Panama City to Corpus Christi to Macao but since nearly every pug with a licensed manager goes through that cruel ritual, his 24-0 record is virtually meaningless. Against limited opposition, Walters has shown good balance and precise counterpunching to go along with a certain amount of versatility in the ring: he banged it out in close against Daulis Prescott, pressed the action versus Alberto Garza and boxed cautiously against the mercurial Darchinyan before stopping “The Raging Bull” in the fifth round last May.
Unfortunately, Walters has shared little time with serviceable pros in their primes and a lack of experience may be the only edge Donaire needs to come out revitalized. No longer the quicksilver dynamo with a tripwire left hook, Donaire, nearly 14 years into his pro career, now looks ragged and doubtful with every start. At featherweight – several weight classes above his first championship reign – Donaire is slower than he used to be and, more importantly, less dedicated. If Walters is going to compete head-to-head with Donaire, then it will be because “The Axe Man” is hungrier.
But even with all of his recent ups and downs, Donaire remains a proven commodity in a sport overflowing with shams, flim-flam, scams and Instagram ham: fighters with few signatures wins on their ledger but enough appearances on premium cable networks to gloat on Twitter or Facebook. Whether or not Donaire has frittered away his talent is a question he will answer tonight but the fact remains there was a time when no one would ever have asked such a silly thing.
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Kevin Iole reported that the ESPN2 telecast headlined by hazardous-to-himself Jermain Taylor and slaphappy Sam Soliman drew 477,000 households, a number guaranteed to make any TV executive (except perhaps Stephen Espinoza) blanch. ESPN2 is a staple in nearly 100 million American homes and yet only a fraction of them tuned into a fiasco. Even worse, Iole noted that 338,000 of those lucky viewers were over the age of 55.
Of course, in context, 477,000 is a pretty fair benchmark for a network that got a lesser number for some of its U.S. Open coverage a few months ago. But in the larger scheme of things, the fact that certain match-ups on HBO and Showtime draw double or triple what Taylor-Soliman did with less than 1/3 of the potential audience tells you how little general sports fans care about an industry in which power brokers routinely, knowingly and cynically program drivel.
Still, ESPN could not possibly pass up a world title fight, no matter how dubious its provenance and they proved this miserable fact again a few days after Taylor-Soliman by buying the rights to the Cornelius Bundrage-Carlos Molina extravaganza. Both of these “championship” bouts featured action reminiscent of the farcical brawl between Clare Quilty and Humbert Humbert in “Lolita.” No matter. What many networks want these days is content for their insatiable “24/7” maws – just like certain websites do – and the ability to manufacture hoopla via billing. In boxing, since nearly every other fight is for some world title or other, a certain amount of hype is built into each event on that basis alone. This is an absurdity nearly every network that televises boxing is unable to overcome. But the real issue here is simple: every time a bad fight is shown, a good fight disappears – voila! – and not even Ricky Jay can debunk that.
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Not exactly master of the bon mot, Floyd Mayweather Jr., made a few waves last week with his diatribes against Oscar De La Hoya. Using his mouthpiece at fighthype.com (now a strictly shill site but, believe it or not, at one time it actually had some pretty good writers), Mayweather lashed out at the “Golden Boy,” whose unscrupulous behavior has been the subject of both The Cruelest Sport and The Square Jungle in the past.
Ever since De La Hoya checked out of a rehab clinic last December, he has tried to forge his narrative into the kind of maudlin material fit for a Lifetime original movie. For some, De La Hoya has never been anything but the stylishly-dressed savior of the Red Light District of sports – a man whose success both in and out of the ring made him the easy choice for lifestyle voyeurs across America to support. For others, his galling public insincerity over the years is enough to discount his current role as humbled underdog at odds with the sinister forces in boxing.
Although Mayweather almost never says anything intelligent – at times, even “intelligible” seems out of his reach – his assessment of De La Hoya was on target. Maybe some of the poor stooges who, long ago, elevated De La Hoya above old-guard cutthroats like Don King and Bob Arum, will figure that out as well.
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Carlos Acevedo is the editor of The Cruelest Sport and a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in Boxing Digest Magazine, Maxboxing, Boxing World Magazine and Esquina Boxeo. He is also a contributor to Remezcla and a member of the International Boxing Research Organization.