The Square Jungle: Frampton-Santa Cruz, Pacquiao, Crawford and the NYSAC
With Stephen Espinoza turning “Showtime Championship Boxing” into the boxing equivalent of a Superfund site over the last few years, it was good to see – finally! – subscription dollars spent on a stirring fight, in this rare case, Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz. Of course, solid matchups on paper are all you can expect from a buyer (Carl Frampton-Scott Quigg, for example, turned out to be an unholy dud) and Espinoza fulfilled that mandate with aplomb last week. Naturally, it almost hurts to mention that Frampton-Santa Cruz was the first marquee bout Showtime has aired all year. (If you think fights featuring retreads and stinkout artists such as Lucian Bute and Vanes Martirosyan are the stuff of headline dreams, find some decent nightmares.)
One of the few world-class matchups on premium cable at all in 2016 (HBO has also found itself slipping on oversized banana peels this year, including airing Andre Ward-Alexander Brand tonight, an off-the-board atrocity), Frampton-Santa Cruz was 12 rounds of tactical ferocity held before a roaring crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. More important, perhaps, it was a fight with significance: Although Frampton was moving up a division, he is a talented pro with plenty of upside and a proven record of ambition – he went on the road to face Alejandro Gonzalez Jr., squared off against his biggest domestic rival Quigg and took aim at a second alphabet title. In beating Santa Cruz, the affable Irishman catapulted himself into the featherweight mix. For his part, Santa Cruz was part of an oxymoronic new breed of established, if largely untested, headliners. And in a sport in which the very concept of momentum seems as fanciful as an urban legend, Santa Cruz was only one fight removed from the biggest win of his career: a 12-round decision over Abner Mares.
In truth, Santa Cruz was likely always going to struggle with a cutie such as Frampton but years of walloping soft touches probably did not help his chances. With the exception of Victor Terrazas and Mares (whose post-traumatic stress disorder following a kayo loss to Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013 has left him in ruins), Santa Cruz has been on autopilot since winning his first sanctioning body title at bantamweight over four years ago. Boxers atrophy in many ways and one of them is by fighting set-ups as often as possible. Against the pesky Frampton, whose style is light years removed from that of his mentor Barry McGuigan, Santa Cruz was unable to get his trademark body attack on track consistently. At times, he was also too off-balance to get maximum leverage on his shots, which is why he never really wobbled Frampton, who had been down twice against Gonzalez last year at 122 pounds, sparking some skepticism about his chin. (His poor track record entering the Frampton bout may also underscore exactly why Santa Cruz took the easy route for so long. After all, he lost his title and his undefeated record to the only legitimate threat he had faced in over 30 fights.) After 36 minutes of bruising action, Frampton came away with a well-deserved majority decision. With his hands often at his sides and a habit of deking too close to his opponent, Frampton is bound to see the black lights sooner or later. Until that time comes, however, he will be a popular crowd-pleaser and a reminder that there are still risk-takers in gyms across the world. Although the contemporary boxing infrastructure – premium cable networks, promoters, managers, and media fanboys – has been doing all that it possibly can to obliterate traditions for its own often arcane purposes, there are still a few things that cannot be blotted out: In this unforgiving sport, it matters how you win; it also matters how you lose. Both Frampton and Santa Cruz played their respective roles with bravura.
If anybody can make Oscar De La Hoya look good, it may very well be his ex-sidekick, Richard “Sabotage” Schaefer, who recently announced he will bring his sinister grin and pathological loathing of facts back to boxing after being forced to the sidelines following his arbitration TKO loss to Golden Boy Promotions in 2015. De La Hoya has long been one of the biggest media bullies on the block and his natural inclination to browbeat was likely exacerbated by the presence of Schaefer, whose hectoring presence, magnified by speed-dial reflexes (to his favorite lawyers), can only be considered a bad influence even on a promoter. (Not that there are many media members who would dare to speak out against the vindictive power structure, as embodied by megalomaniac sourpusses like De La Hoya and Schaefer, of course, but if you look in the right places you might be able to find a few. Most likely, however, it will not be your favorite superblogger.) Whatever you think of Don King or Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum, neither man has ever – reportedly, allegedly, possibly – tried to sabotage his own promotional firm. Welcome back, Richard!
Nearly three years after opening an investigation into the tragic circumstances following the Mike Perez-Magomed Abdusalamov bout, New York State Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott released her findings regarding the New York State Athletic Commission last week. Not surprisingly, the NYSAC proved to be exactly what it resembled: a pigsty of incompetence, dishonesty and cronyism, with former NYSAC chairperson Melvina Lathan at the center of the trough. Every 15 years or so, the NYSAC undergoes legal scrutiny and every 15 years the results are the same: The regulatory apparatus in place to oversee the most dangerous and corrupt sport in America is, more often than not, itself in need of supervision.
While many hard-hitting journos were sitting around furiously thumbing out homemade ratings on their smart phones (during lunch breaks) and perpetuating a seemingly endless chain of (sub) literary mediocrity via retweets of their favorite GIF-loving buddies, The Square Jungle took direct aim at Lathan a while back. Some of her biggest foibles make one wonder how on Earth she managed to retain her position for so long. From TSJ:
“Since Melvina Lathan took over as chairperson of the NYSAC in 2008, we have seen several bizarro events under her watch. First, there was her odd suspension of Golden Boy Promotions (for violating the Muhammad Ali Act) in 2010, which was curiously lifted the day before Golden Boy Promotions and the Barclays Center announced their exclusive partnership in Brooklyn.
“Then came the outrageous shenanigans surrounding the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch in 2011, a nearly breathtaking instance of incompetence, which led to a question few bothered to ask at the time: Did Lathan knowingly allow a physically-compromised fighter to enter the ring in Madison Square Garden? And does that, in turn, mean she knowingly let a sporting event without integrity take place under her jurisdiction? (Margarito retired after his loss to Cotto, his eye a gruesome sight after only a few rounds of action that night.)
“In 2012, with a nod to the Marx Brothers, perhaps, Erik Morales was allowed to take three drug tests after testing dirty for clenbuterol before his fight with Danny Garcia. Clenbuterol is on the NYSAC list of banned substances but why should that matter and why should Lathan have addressed the issue with anything more than a trite press release? Morales finally tested clean and Garcia poleaxed him in less than four rounds.
“In June 2013, Lathan failed to act when Paulie Malignaggi accused judge Tom Schreck outright of corruption after the “Magic Man” dropped a decision to Adrien Broner at the Barclays Center. Malignaggi should have been fined for a baseless accusation that cast a shadow over the integrity of a sporting event overseen by the NYSAC. Even the shambolic Puerto Rico Boxing Commission knew it had to suspend Juan Manuel Lopez after he libeled referee Roberto Ramirez Sr. in 2011. In New York, however, a boxer can apparently tell the public it just witnessed a fraudulent event without ramifications.”
There are more fights taking placing in New York City now than since the 1970s, when the Sunnyside Garden, the Long Island Arena and the Felt Forum were all still in operation. And with the recent legalization of mixed martial arts, blood sports will have an even more prominent place alongside top-tier events featuring the Knicks, Yankees, Mets, Rangers and Nets. That the commission is currently in a typically SNAFU shambles threatens to undermine the boxing renaissance in New York City.
Boxing, formerly an outlaw sport and one that trailed a movable demimonde wherever it went, still retains its amoral aura at every level. There is something about prizefighting that gives off the perpetual whiff of grift and graft. That rotting air of on-the-make and on-the-take is as inviting to some as a decomposing corpse is to a vulture. For the ghouls on what Hugh McIlvanney once wryly termed “the safe side of the ropes,” boxing is nothing but a necropolis from which to feed.
Add Manny Pacquiao to the endless list of short-lived boxing retirees, a tradition that goes back at least as far as three-minute rounds. After announcing his goodbye to fisticuffs a few months ago – comparable to a political promise – Pacquiao is scheduled to glove up once again in November. As usual, Bob Arum leaked a shortlist of opponents to the media which included a few red herrings for PR purposes. Most likely, Arum already has his B-side decided and it looks like Jessie Vargas will get the nod. If indeed Pacquiao faces off with Vargas, who, at least will have some backing from Mexican-Americans, that means WBC/WBO junior welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford, fresh off of a win over Viktor Postol, can look now forward to having his name paired with “Manny Pacquiao” for cheap publicity. With Arum apparently struggling to get his quid pro quo from Al Haymon for settling a once-ballyhooed anti-trust suit against Premier Boxing Champions, Crawford may find himself adrift in the same kind of competitive limbo unified middleweight beltholder Gennady Golovkin currently wanders through like a ghost in a particularly oversized castle. Team Pacquiao, for example, made it fairly clear that Crawford was not in its plans for one simple reason: Crawford looks like the rare Real Thing. Crawford also has a low-profile, despite the best efforts of the HBO hype machine. Certainly, Crawford-Postol, a risky HBO Pay-Per-View venture, given the Q-scores of the participants, was a financial bomb, a fact the phlegmatic Arum has barely been able to conceal throughout the promotion and its lackluster aftermath.
For a fighter such as Crawford, who has limited box office appeal, pay-per-view is a rather dim spotlight. The caveat, however, is that PPV attracts a dedicated dollar and tactical performances are counterproductive, when it comes to headlining them. Twelve tactical rounds against Postol may have done Crawford more harm than good among hardcore followers who will become progressively disaffected with each pay-per-view event tacked onto their cable bills over the next few months.
With the win, Crawford notched his first significant victory as a junior welterweight (which, naturally, is enough to elevate him to “lineal” status among the self-aggrandizing rankings boards who view their own historical falsifications with the sort of gravitas best reserved for the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence) but not many people were interested in it. The HBO replay averaged only 378,000 viewers and, except for the fact they are awash in red ink, the pay-per-view sales will forever be a mystery. What Crawford does next, however, may be the biggest mystery of all.
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.