The Square Jungle: Pacquiao-Algieri Numbers, Lemieux-Rosado, Kovalev-Pascal
If Jean Pascal can get by Roberto Bolonti tonight at the Bell Centre in Montreal, his next date is a potential doozy against Sergey Kovalev. Long-range plans in boxing, like political campaign promises, are never guaranteed but the fact that Pascal is willing to face The Black Lights against Kovalev is a sign that not all boxers are content with being Twelebs or litigants.
While Adonis Stevenson throws his combinations via (anti) social media – the preferred battleground for many prizefighters these days – Pascal is actually looking to make some noise in the ring. What a novel concept! Although Stevenson represents only one part of “Adonis Stevenson: The Commodity,” he has been heckled mercilessly for a 2014 that might inspire the next volume of “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
But here is the strange caveat: Nothing Stevenson does not do matters. Despite behind-the-scenes foibles that led to the scuttling of fights with Bernard Hopkins and Kovalev, despite the dreadful PR of his sordid past and despite his ridiculous Twitter presence, “Superman” will still top Showtime cards and will still earn big money for fighting the likes of Andrzej Fonfara and Dmitry Sukhotsky. And the same can be said about any number of “stars.” Think of the number of headline fighters who have engaged in significant fights recently, the number of fighters willing to cede their careers to lawyers and the number of fighters who pop up on Showtime despite being better suited for sleep clinics than the squared circle.
Boxing is in a waiting-for-nothing stage that rivals anything seen over the last 40 years. In the late 1970s, network television kickstarted a boxing renaissance and poured so much money into the game that promoters had no choice but to play Social Darwinists: Cashing in on all the loose change scattered around in the early 1980s by ABC, CBS, and NBC meant cutting boxing and corporate throats alike. Today, there is no renaissance but one faction after another has managed to carve out its own lucrative Hermit Kingdom in a sport in which 1.4 million viewers tuning into a fight is reason to brag.
Pascal has had a nearly-barren 2014 and his fight to regain relevance includes facing a man with TNT in both hands. A fighter without options is like Pepper Adams or Sonny Rollins without a reed: Not much can be done there, unfortunately. But Pascal is a fair draw in Canada and any American TV rights act as ancillary revenue for him. In other words, he can find safer things to do in 2015. His risk, then, is our reward.
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With CBS, NBC, and Spike all looking to broadcast fights next year, a lack of talent is likely to become a major issue in televised boxing. Already we have seen far too many fighters from the Forbidden Zone overmatched on HBO and Showtime and then sent on their miserable way. Another looming issue is Al Haymon, who, a few months ago, reportedly signed an agreement with NBC for a block time deal. Like a robber baron buying up railway lines, Haymon has been tightening his grip over the supply chain in boxing over the last year or so. And that means several corporate entities are either going to cooperate with him or, if possible, circumvent him.
You don’t need to consult Nate Silver to predict what will happen next. Ultimately, more second-tier fighters will have fog machines rolled out for them and naturally, cannonades of hype will follow. Just look at the insane ballyhoo that surrounded Ray Beltran before his futile challenge of Terence Crawford last weekend in Omaha, Nebraska. With the exception of Ricky Burns (who retained his lightweight gewgaw against him with a despicable draw), Beltran had never clearly beaten a single top-notch opponent in a career that stretches back to 1999. Somehow, according to those in-the-know, Beltran would have thumped any lightweight in the world on the night Crawford played Whack-a-Mole with him – this despite the fact that Beltran could barely distance himself in the ring against Hank Lundy, Sharif Bogere and Luis Ramos Jr.
(While The Omniscients – who often double as kingmakers on Ratings Panels – extolled the virtues of a man with few quality wins on his ledger, The Cruelest Sport tabbed Beltran for what he is: a competent journeyman. Competence in a pursuit as difficult as boxing is reason enough to earn respect. Everything else is just so much hot air.)
Because Beltran was the consensus No. 2 lightweight in the world among Ratings Panel Royalty who manufacture lineal crowns and fabricate history, referencing Beltran repeatedly as some sort of world-beater served as a self-aggrandizing confirmation of their own specious suppositions (some of these Ratings Panel folks were appalled to see Ray Mancini voted into the Hall of Fame a few days ago. Mancini, however, was a consensus choice of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Alas, in the senseless world of self-referential cliques, some consensuses apparently are superior to other consensuses).
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For the record, I declined my opportunity to join one of these Ratings Panels, although I supposedly have an open invitation for entry should I reconsider conflating my fantasies with reality.
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In some ways, fighters like Beltran are more interesting than the prodigal sons of boxing. For one thing, the well-traveled journeyman often acts as a symbolic counter to the notion of egalitarianism in prizefighting.
Although modern boxing is descended from Britain, its cast since the mid-19th century is distinctly American: An emphasis on self-invention and sporting equality, more or less, are rough equivalents of Democratic ideals. Nobility, heredity, heraldry – all of this, between the ropes, is irrelevant; a boxing ring is where humble roots can blossom with blood, sweat, and a Pier 6 attitude. Every successful fighter is a parvenu or a nouveau riche. At least theoretically, that is. Fighters such as Beltran, shafted by judges, unable to pick and choose his windfalls, at the bottom rung of a living wage ladder, highlight the fact that equality under the lights may be as big a myth as the story of Paul Bunyan.
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Nearly two weeks after Manny Pacquiao disarticulated Chris Algieri in slapstick fashion, pay-per-view estimates are starting to kick up scuttlebutt steam. According to some insiders, Pacquiao-Algieri may have garnered fewer than 400,000 buys. In most cases involving a franchise fighter, this would be the boxing equivalent of rolling snake eyes 20 times in a row. But the fact remains, Bob Arum, who used the mainstream New York City media as PR proxies in the promotion of the fight, viewed the United States as the secondary market for a lackluster event largely underwritten by Chinese interests.
Still, this is bad news for anyone who wants to see Pacquiao in competitive/significant match-ups. Unless there is some truth to the perpetual Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Pacquiao rumors, then “Pac-Man” has no reason to bypass monster paydays and tax breaks in Macau. Anyone who answers the bell against him at the Venetian will be acceptable in Asia, and Arum gets the added benefit of not having to pay for a premium opponent. Without Mayweather in the picture (something as unlikely to happen in 2015 as it was five years ago), Pacquiao may wind up in the celebrity stage of his career sooner than expected.
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David Lemieux auditions for a spot on the gangplank when he faces Gabriel Rosado tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. A few years ago, Lemieux was considered a “prospect” by boxing observers apparently unfamiliar with the build-up process of any fighter with money backing him. Atomizing the likes of Hector Camacho Jr. and Delray Raines got people who discovered boxing in 2009 moist but Lemieux was tobogganed out of the spotlight following consecutive losses to Marco Antonio Rubio (yikes!) and a shopworn Joachim Alcine. After a reclamation stint in Montreal, Lemieux resurfaced last spring by demolishing fragile Fernando Guerrero in three rounds.
Now the charismatic French-Canadian may be looking at a bleak future as a possible opponent for middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin. Although HBO is wisely trying to prevent Golovkin from fighting anonymous pugs plucked out of thin air (just think of Cedric Agnew and most Showtime B-sides), picking Rosado, who has not won a regulation boxing match in over two years, raised a few eyebrows in a sport in which Beibut Shumenov was thought by some to be a world-class fighter before his whitewashing at the hands of Bernard Hopkins. Rosado, who looks like he can use a copy of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, was the subject of The Square Jungle a couple of months ago:
“In his last appearance on HBO, Rosado stepped into Madison Square Garden to face Golovkin himself. After seven rounds, Rosado looked like Sissy Spacek during the senior prom in “Carrie”: blood-soaked and horrified. Later, Rosado would hint that Golovkin may have been wearing loaded gloves that night. In the end, a losing streak and poor sportsmanship, apparently, were enough to get Rosado back in the spotlight. Here is the tricky part, however: the key to beating a plodding left hook machine like Lemieux – keeping your right hand up and move exclusively to the left – is something Rosado ought to be able to do in his sleep. ‘One-dimensional’ does not begin to describe Lemieux but his hook is a legitimate weapon, even if he was unable to stop chinny Joachim Alcine with it en route to dropping a majority decision in 2011. Rosado is a fair boxer whose psychological makeup has to be questioned at this point; he has lost to every top-notch opponent he has faced and, more important, he has struggled to accelerate in fights in which he was competitive and might have had a chance to notch a decision.”
Tonight, against the free-swinging Lemieux, Rosado gets a chance to play a multi-platform spoiler. If he wins, then he will have bucked an idea Bertrand Russell might have originated for boxing: “The doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.”
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.