Here's hoping the Juan Manuel Marquez-Juan Diaz rematch on Saturday is the start of a good stretch for boxing in the coming months, much like their first bout helped kick off a memorable 2009 for the sport.
The rematch, won by Marquez, was entertaining if predictable by the last few rounds, and it didn't match the ecstatic highs of their first bout. That kind of mirrors the year it has been in boxing relative to last year.
Boxing enjoyed one of its strongest years in a long time in 2009, with plenty of great storylines and fights. Some of it was planned (the super middleweight tournament) and some of it not, but it all added up to something strong.
Unsurprisingly, in a sport filled with maddening and unscrupulous promoters and governing bodies and egomaniacal fighters, that momentum hasn't been exactly maintained in the first half of 2010.
Failure to land big fight
The big reason is the failure by all concerned parties to negotiate a match between the two biggest fighters in the sport, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum earlier this summer absurdly imposed a deadline on Mayweather to get cracking on signing a contract for a November bout, holding court during a media teleconference while taking great pains not to diss the Las Vegas native.
It was another virtuoso performance by the septuagenarian promoter, and since he talks the loudest, it was the narrative that predominated mainstream coverage. Arum proffered up alternative Pacquiao opponents, that, surprise! he also promotes (Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto). Win-win!
Mayweather representative Leonard Ellerbe absurdly followed a week later by insisting there hadn't been negotiations of any kind this spring for the superfight, as if that was some kind of defensible ground to stand on.
Why haven't there been?
The explanations offered up have been regarding trainer and uncle Roger Mayweather's pending trial for assault and the fact that Floyd only wants to fight once a year at best.
Obviously those aren't good enough reasons, but don't be duped by Arum or others into thinking Mayweather is afraid of Pacquiao. That's nonsensical.
Mayweather believes he can beat any man in the ring. But he's a raving egomaniac who wants to call all the shots because he believes he has the leverage to do so. It has nothing to do with fear.
Will he try to gain every concession he can, as he is trying with blood testing? Of course. But so did Ray Leonard, who only fought everybody.
Floyd points to his name recognition and the strong pay-per-view takes of his last two bouts, with Marquez and Shane Mosley, as proof he's bigger than the sport.
But each of those bouts had unique circumstances. The Marquez bout was his first in nearly two years (and Marquez brought a lot of Hispanic viewers), and the matchup with Mosley was one boxing fans had been dreaming about for years. Should Mayweather fight someone other than Pacquiao in his next trip in the ring, say, Cotto, I think he'll find a sobering comeuppance at the box office.
The other major party to blame for a less-than-desirable year is HBO. Fight fans would be in a pickle if the network got out of the boxing business, but they have been all over the map in terms of their approach this year after enjoying a fairly strong 2009.
On the one hand, they served up a dreadful pay-per-view for 40-somethings Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones.
At the other extreme, they've gone back wholeheartedly into showcasing fighters in predictable matches (bouts involving Amir Khan, Timothy Bradley, and Andre Berto), as well as doing the bidding of promoters who think their prospect is boxing's next big star.
On the Marquez-Diaz undercard on Saturday, one of the hopes that they've groomed in the last 18 months, Danny Jacobs, got starched by a right hand from Russian Dmitry Pirog. So much for that plan!
We earlier in the night heard HBO announcer Jim Lampley breathlessly declare that Jorge Linares appeared to be a star in the making after his win over Rocky Juarez. Linares had only done what about a half-dozen others have - outbox the intermittently aggressive Juarez.
Linares also lost the last two rounds of the 10-round bout, which had to make one wonder what would have happened over a dozen rounds, given Juarez's tendency for aggressively emptying the tank in the 12th and final round of his bouts.
Linares deserves to be shown again, but he doesn't need puffing up.
HBO are continuing the showcase trend on an unappealing card on Sept. 18 headed by Sergio Mora against Shane Mosley in the main event, with prospects Saul Alvarez and Victor Ortiz taking on the shop-worn Carlos Baldomir and Vivian Harris, respectively.
HBO has never been the best prognosticator of who boxing's next big stars are, but they stubbornly insist on doing so. (In 2001 they were madly in love with a so-so South African named Lehlohonolo Ledwaba for a couple of fights, not paying attention until about the fifth round of a June bout that his Filipino opponent was doling out an ass-kicking, some guy named Pacquiao.)
The network in 2009 seemed to be taking steps in the right direction towards just showing good matchups, a response to the fact that Showtime had often outshone them in recent years with thrilling bouts involving Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez and Diego Corrales.
As August beckons, there are signs of light.
This coming Saturday HBO has a card that largely takes that approach. They've never had Tavoris Cloud on their network before and his opponent, Glen Johnson, is 41 and has a limited future. But it has all the trappings of a damned good fight, and that's what the fans care about. The main event, Devon Alexander-Andreas Kotelnik, is also an acceptable matchup, if less exciting on the surface than Cloud-Johnson.
I will be attending the tremendous light-heavyweight title bout in Montreal on Aug. 14 between Jean Pascal of Laval and Chad Dawson from Connecticut (also to be shown on HBO).
Quebec has had a ton of big fights in recent years, and this is undoubtedly the biggest there's been in this generation. It's one of the 10 best fights that can be made in all of boxing, a matchup between the unbeaten American and the once-beaten Pascal, who is as confident as he's ever been in his career.
Over the next three months, there's Andre-Ward-Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham-Carl Froch, and Rafael Marquez-Juan Manuel Lopez. All three of these matchups have been pondered desirously by boxing fans for at least a couple years.
There will also be bouts featuring Quebec's Lucien Bute, Yuriokis Gamboa, Mikkel Kessler and a rematch between Joseph Agbeko and Yhonny Perez, one of the 10 best bouts on 2009.
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