Avoided Fighters: A Sign of Boxing’s Decline
When talking with a friend of mine; a serious boxing-head, the conversation managed to swing around to how Andre ‘Son of God’ Ward (27-0-0) is still marginalized despite garnering quite glowing praise from critics around the world. We got on to this subject as we were discussing the upcoming super-middleweight clash between ‘Saint’ George Groves (19-1-0) and Carl ‘The Cobra’ Froch (32-2-0), and how the British public’s interest in the fight had greatly elevated the perceived status of the fight; already supplemented by the fact that there are two World titles on the line. Now, as a massive George Groves fan, I am delighted that he was made mandatory for the IBF title and has been successful in forcing a rematch; the question that lingers in my head is why these two fighters are having two title fights in the space of a year, whilst Ward languishes.
In the often unfair boxing universe there have been tons of unlucky fighters who never got the chance that their talent demanded. Right back in history names like Sam ‘The Boston Tar Baby’ Langford (178-32-40), who is deemed by some to be the greatest fighter never to win a world title, are littered through history. Langford’s only ever World title fight was scored a draw despite many in attendance claiming he was the clear winner, and he spent the rest of his career from the 1900’s to 1926 being completely disregarded for title fights thanks to the now-unfathomable blackballing of ‘boxers of colour’. I have picked out a few fighters who have not got, or are not getting, the opportunities that they deserve; whether it be down to boxing’s utterly ridiculous political battles, a lack of box-office appeal, or quite simply that they are too good for the champions to risk their belts in the ring with.
The name Paul Williams (41-2-0) was brought up immediately. Admittedly I had to do some serious research as he was not a boxer I was particularly familiar with, although I remembered seeing his utter destruction of Carlos Quintana in their hotly anticipated rematch. Williams was a physical anomaly; a 6’1’’ welterweight, and this made him a terrifying prospect for the rest of that division. The majority of contenders for that weight were between the heights of 5’7’’ to 5’9’’, so William’s incredible height advantage was a formidable weapon in his arsenal. His nickname ‘The Punisher’ is one that is undoubtedly deserved, as his relentless punches and considerable power signalled him as one of the most prolific finishers in the division. Perhaps understandably, the big names in the division were reluctant to face Williams. Following his impressive victory over Antonio Margarito, I read that Williams ‘failed to secure another meaningful welterweight contest’. Draw your own conclusions, but it is notable that at the time of his complete domination of Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright, one of the toughest boxers to catch due to his slick style, in 2009, there were plenty of big names contesting at welterweight. Ricky ‘The Hitman’ Hatton, Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah, ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley and a good few more fighters were still competing at the top level. It seems wildly unlikely that Williams could have issues arranging a fight with any one of about 9 top contenders, which indicates to me that perhaps they were not too forthcoming when presented with a date with ‘The Punisher’. Nevertheless, he took a huge step-up and had victories over well-known middleweights such as Sergio Martinez and Kermit ‘The Killer’ Cintron, yet he may always wonder just how revered he could have been if he could have got bigger bouts at welterweight.
This brings us on nicely to the man who planted the seeds of this article in my head; Andre Ward. You have to be quite a boxing fan to truly appreciate Andre Ward, as his style is one that not many in the casual fan bracket will be too happy to sit through for 12 rounds. Despite this, at his best he is a defensive sensation. With the fanfare surrounding Froch-Groves 2 and James DeGale being lined up for the winner, it would be easy for a more casual boxing fan to think that England practically runs the super-middleweight division. Something that is often mentioned but more than often glossed over, however, is that Andre Ward completely dominated Carl Froch back in December 2011. 3 years later, and with Andre’s incessant calls for a rematch roundly ignored by ‘The Cobra’, Ward is dangerously close to becoming a forgotten fighter. With wins over Sakio Bika, Mikkel Kessler, Chad Dawson and Arthur Abraham, as well as Froch, Ward is arguably the king of the division, yet garners little to no public attention in comparison with the twice-defeated Froch. Problems with injuries undoubtedly hampered his attempts to cement his status, but it is notable that he has been surprisingly vocal in his criticisms of the other men in his weight class. Despite being goaded in the media, nobody seems to be interested in taking him on. His incredible reactions and instincts are used to tie the hands of his opponents, and seeing his challengers looking aghast and physically drained is becoming a trademark of Ward’s. At times his defence is impenetrable, and his habit of making talented boxers look hapless is the main reason said boxers are not jumping at the chance to fight him. Typically for boxing, however, it is neither his injuries nor his potential opponent’s reluctance to battle that is keeping Ward out of the ring currently. He is in the midst of a monumental legal case in California against his former promoter. It is a deeply complex issue, but the fact that jumps out right now is that the California State Athletic Commission appears to be ignoring its’ own rule on limiting promotional contracts to seven years, in favour of upholding promoter Dan Goosen’s claim that Andre is still under contract. It is not a case that can be explained in a short paragraph, but it is yet another example of the men outside the ropes holding a disproportionate amount of power, and Andre Ward is in danger of becoming one of the best fighters ever to be forgotten so quickly.
The story of Gennady ‘GGG’ Golovkin (29-0-0) is one that has added relevance thanks to his biggest fight so far being in danger of collapse. He is one of the most supremely talented middleweights to be seen in a while; his relentless come-forward style is complimented with terrifying power and impressive speed, and he is slick enough to stay away from most of his peers’ big shots. Even Carl Froch, a super-middleweight of course, flatly rejected the notion of him facing Golovkin as he says Gennady ‘punches like a mule’ and that he would ‘avoid the fight like the plague’. Whilst this is hugely flattering, it does little more than reinforce the frustrating situation that GGG finds himself in. His record has been compiled with such brutal domination that the other World champions are publicly refusing to fight him. Unfortunately for Golovkin, however, his management team appear to be doing little to help him. Due to the fact that he is not a huge PPV draw yet, mainly down to nobody with a big name wanting to touch him with a bargepole, this has led to him having much lower-profile fights than he should be having. He recently had a little-covered and relatively anonymous bout in Monte Carlo with an un-regarded opponent in Ousmanu Adama (22-4-0), which is shocking considering he had just come out of the two biggest fights of his career so far. He completely demolished Matthew Macklin, who at the time was ranked the #5 Middleweight by Ring magazine and had fought for World honours twice, in what was quite a shock as it was considered to be Gennady’s toughest bout so far. Another decently-rated boxer was next in line as Curtis ‘Showtime’ Stevens stepped up to try and prize away the WBA and IBO titles for himself. Another destructive performance from Golovkin followed, and Stevens’ corner had seen enough by the 8th round. His proposed upcoming fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (48-1-1) is in serious jeopardy due to financial issues between the management teams, but the overwhelming feeling to be gained from reading the press releases from both sides is that Golovkin is being dragged from side-to-side and being treated as a second-rate fighter. Whether this is down to Chavez Jr.’s management not regarding Golovkin as relevant enough compared to their fighter remains to be seen, but the explanation gaining momentum involves them trying to raise or lower the price dependant on whether Golovkin wants to continue fighting under their banner. The truth will come out eventually, but if that is the explanation it will only add to an increasingly sad story for the Kazakhstani; already actively dodged by other top middleweights and some from the neighbouring divisions to boot. It shocks me that the men without the gloves on can still have such a disproportionate amount of power in a day-and-age where other sportsmen have succeeded in wrestling some back.
Boxing is a truly unique sport, yet not every aspect of its’ uniqueness is positive. I genuinely struggle to think of any other solo-sport where the top contenders are allowed to avoid each other so blatantly. Tennis, snooker, darts and golf are all predominantly tournament based sports, meaning one way or another; the top contenders will end up facing each other. Imagine the furore if Rafael Nadal decided he did not fancy a match with Roger Federer as the chances of an upset are too high. Ever heard of a golfer refusing to take part in the same competition as another golfer based on his inferior marketability? Or a snooker player not able to play in The World Championships because of issues with his management? It simply does not happen. Whilst I accept that the degree of risk in boxing is much higher, and the consequences of an embarrassing defeat vastly outweigh those in other sports, surely the tantalising prospect of being in a truly historic, anticipated bout should be enough to convince the fighters that it is worth the risk. Having one of the pound-for-pound greatest fighters on the planet in Andre Ward simply languishing is a travesty. Could you imagine if Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi suddenly stopped playing for their teams because their agent was disputing a contract? It would be the shortest court case there has ever been. Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg, 3 fights that boxing fans, pundits, and in some cases even one of the fighters themselves, desperately want to see. For whatever reason though, none of these fights seem anywhere near happening.
Fighters have been avoided since the sport began, but now that it is the men outside the ring preventing us from seeing bouts all the fans want to see, the subject has become much more sinister. In an ideal World, Andre Ward would be top of the super-middleweight tree with the belts to warrant it, Gennady Golovkin would be able to face whichever middleweight he wants without completely shafting himself in terms of his pay packet, and who knows what would have happened to ‘The Best Ever’ Floyd Mayweather if he had come in to contact with the man-mountain that was Paul ‘The Punisher’ Williams. The chances are we will never know, and unless the fans and fighters can finally gain their fair share of the power back from the promoters and managers, there will be plenty more names to add to this list.