The Square Jungle: Golovkin-Wade, the PBC outsourcing program, Pacquiao-Bradley III
When Dominic Wade enters the ring tonight against IBF/WBA middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, he will become one of a handful of Al Haymon fighters mixing it up outside of the Premier Boxing Champions confines. Call it an experiment, if you want.
Patient Zero was Charles Martin, who used his frequent flier miles to jet over to London, England, where he was promptly knocked out by Anthony Joshua in two rounds. Martin, the former IBF heavyweight titlist, who barely offered any resistance, leisurely took the count on his way to being another of the numberless footnotes created weekly in a sport that rubber-stamps mediocrity at nearly every level.
Another PBC outsourcing pioneer is Amir Khan, whose endless dream of headlining a major pay-per-view card comes true when he faces middleweight champ Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in May. To fulfill his aspirations, Khan, who turned pro at 138 pounds, will have to skip a division and face Alvarez at middleweight*. Although Khan gave Al Haymon some positive PR a few days ago regarding the Alvarez mismatch, it is no coincidence that Haymon green-lighted that bout when the stories of PBC financial straits were at their peak.
And now we come to Dominic Wade, whose underwhelming ledger of 18 professional fights in seven years proves that, in boxing, at least, all you need is a smart phone and some patience to qualify for a marquee event. (A top ranking by a sanctioning body also helps.) Outsourcing his fighters may or may not indicate that Al Haymon is feeling the financial squeeze but, at the very least, it proves that his league concept is undergoing some tinkering. And that may include adopting a pecking order for some of his roughly 200 clients. Haymon has gone from protecting many of his fighters to throwing a select few to the wolves. Neither Martin nor Wade are blue-chip prospects and their expendability seems tied to what they can earn as longshots in no-hope situations.
Wade was a solid amateur (reportedly a Junior Olympic medalist on more than one occasion) but his lack of seasoning is certainly a red flag. Indeed, Wade is even less experienced than Willie Monroe Jr., whom Golovkin appeared to have carried before finally lowering the boom in the sixth round last year. This fight has inspired odds so long that it might as well be taken off the board. Even so, Wade seems loose and confident, unlike many pros when they are merely approached about the subject of “GGG,” among them WBO beltholder Billy Joe Saunders, whose video confession last year (in which he admits to a – shall we say – doubtful outlook concerning his chances against Golovkin) is one of many on-the-record demurrals from fighters and promoters concerning Golovkin. “All I thought about was let’s go; let’s do it,” Wade said at a media conference. “This is my opportunity. I wasn’t scared of him. I can’t worry about everybody else. If they back up, that’s what they do. I’m not going to take my chance and back away from it.” His assured attitude suggests something out of HL Mencken: “Only the underdog…believes in equality.” Modern boxing, however, outright mocks the long-standing notion of sporting egalitarianism by insisting on a bottom line that benefits one side of the equation 90 percent of the time. Wade has some talent but his learning curve is set to be obliterated at the Forum. It looks like the only thing Wade will get out of fighting Golovkin (other than a $500,000 paycheck) is an unsentimental education.
Unfortunately, Wade is just another stopover for Golovkin en route to destination unknown. On the heels of signing a sponsorship deal with Jordan Brand (to the consternation of those who feel that beating up women and committing armed robbery are positive cultural virtues), Golovkin seems on his way to reaching a certain amount of crossover appeal without, for the most part, having the accomplishments necessary for elite status. A strange paradox, no doubt but Golovkin sets himself apart from his contemporaries by delivering kayo after kayo.
Meanwhile, Golovkin has now taken to razzing Canelo for a fight that was supposed to have been set for late-2016. But Golden Boy Promotions may have other ideas – WBC title belt be damned. The old bait-and-switch is a time-honored tradition in boxing, like touching gloves or hooking off the jab, and GBP appears ready to swap a Golovkin fight for something a little less strenuous when the time comes. Oscar De La Hoya even trotted out the old “marinate” cliche, something that would have gotten Top Rank Promotions’ Bob Arum excoriated in a nanosecond. Unless Billy Joe Saunders comes back into the picture or Daniel Jacobs crosses the PBC line, then K2 Promotions and Golovkin will once again be faced with scrambling for an opponent and likely settling, once more, for a disappointing match-up.
Even before publicly admitting how disastrous Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley III was, Bob Arum was already toying with the idea of adding a Roberto Duran-Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. exhibition to the undercard of a potential Terence Crawford-Viktor Postol pay-per-view. Perhaps more than a little troubled by one of the few financial duds Top Rank has produced over the last decade or so, it looks like Arum may be reaching back to the Mia St. John and Butterbean era, when “stumble” and “bumble” replaced “rumble” for years on expensive pay-per-views. St. John, the Playboy cover girl whose ineptitude in the ring could not be overshadowed by her considerable charm, and Butterbean, the body non-beautiful with several fishy fights on his record and whose popularity was an ironic riff on the phrase “mass appeal,” were the one-two sideshow combo Arum thought would attract the general sports fan. All he managed to do, really, was send hardcore aficionados of the mid-1990s out onto the market for black boxes in protest. As Arum faces a future without Pacquiao as his steady moneymaker, he seems ready to pull out all the cheesy stops to get cheap headlines (which are, after all, far cheaper in the internet age) and the penny publicity that comes with them.
As for Bradley, his options are limited if the current stratification of boxing remains in place for the foreseeable future. A rematch with Jessie Vargas seems like the obvious choice for his next outing. Although he fought well against Pacquiao, his chances of winning diminished once it seemed clear that Pacquiao was not suffering any ill-effects from a slew of possible issues leading up to the opening bell. Bradley is slower than Pacquiao, less athletic, and not as mobile. Most important, perhaps, Bradley seems incapable of stalling in the ring and breaking the rhythm/momentum of a fighter whose unorthodox moves are still powered by exceptional speed. Pacquiao may no longer be the supernova he once was but his southpaw combinations are still difficult to time. While the peanut gallery thought Pacquiao-Bradley III was humdrum from bell to bell, the fact remains that there were almost no clinches throughout 36 minutes of milling. Mauling, grappling and applying the full nelson as often as possible, are apparently the hallmarks of the pound-for-pound class.
In an unusual quality main event on Estrella TV last week, veteran Jesus Soto Karass and double-tough Yoshihiro Kamegai battled to a bruising 10-round draw that raises a simple question: Why are there so few match-ups made based solely on competitive merits?
For years, Golden Boy has treated its second-tier programming as dumping grounds and body farms. Because matchmaking is no longer about making exciting fights for spectators, it stands to reason that there will be fewer spectators in the future once they get tired of seeing set-ups. Mismatch after mismatch flooded one network after another for the simple fact that fights are not made for any reason other than to get a promoter a payoff at some point down the line. Years ago – say the 1920s to the 1940s – a matchmaker was someone who made fights a paying audience (back then, the only source of income, for the most part) wanted to see. When television came on the scene, quality fights were broadcast to placate advertisers. Then the 1976 Olympic team kickstarted a television boom that saw Madison Avenue execs pouring money into the fight racket the way venture capitalists bankrolled dot-com busts in the late 1990s. The two biggest promotional kingpins of their time – Don King and Bob Arum – learned from Muhammad Ali (who fought for the highest bidder in a free-market system with little resemblance to the contractual straitjackets of today) that it would be better to tie fighters up and cash in on the TV windfall in perpetuity.
This model has turned boxing into what it is today: a sport in which good fighters only meet if the financial stars are in proper alignment. Every fighter under contract to a promoter becomes a commodity whose devaluation represents a failed investment. This is why so many fights benefit everyone but the consumer. What Soto Karass and Kamegai proved is that a one-off fight between two crowd-pleasing professionals can earn PR points while most fights simply earn derision to go along with a lot of empty seats. If fights like Soto Karass-Kamegai are loss leaders, then they should be considered marketing dollars well spent. After all, who wants to see Delray Raines or Derrick Findley get smacked around again?
Showtime continued its ratings slide last week when its Gary Russell Jr.-Patrick “I used to be with Snookie” Hyland card averaged 295,000 live viewers, which is pitiful. It was also dwarfed by the number of viewers who tuned in to watch a replay (Pacquiao-Bradley III) on the same evening. But what makes this situation truly LOL-worthy, however, is that Al Haymon, basically the main supplier of fights to Showtime, decided to undercut his own buyer by scheduling a PBC card on the same night, thereby oversaturating the TV market. Just when you thought the relationship between Showtime boss Stephen Espinoza and Haymon could not get any stranger, you have this: a scenario that might have come out of the playbook of a used car salesman.
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.