Reality Check(s) Vol. I: The public opinions and pundits’ predictions I cannot swallow
27.03.07 - By Gabriel DeCrease: I am—I admit—laying my own punditry and pugilistic prophecies on the line in writing this piece. It might seem that I am also suggesting that my own observations about the fight-game are in some sense better-informed or more well-founded than those propagated by the media and boxing public. However, I am not implying that directly—or indirectly. In general, I am no more or less prone to making the odds (or calling them) than the next guy. But, even so, there are some notions being widely circulated, and going unchallenged, that seem unusually bizarre and wide-of the-mark. The first of these curious attitudes are listed below—with my own depreciations following immediately thereafter.
Article posted on 27.03.2007
Public Opinion: Mikkel Kessler proved he is the big show at 168-pounds by outfoxing, out-hustling, out-classing, and out-banging Librado Andrade. Naturally then, all questions have been answered, he is a no-brainer pick to beat Joe Calzaghe in a potential unification match.
Apparent Reality: Kessler was matched up with a fighter, a mandatory, Andrade, who was, on paper a seasoned puncher who had danger written on both fists. The tale-of-the tape also spun the yarn that Andrade was the bigger man. In truth, Kessler was minimally shorter than Andrade, and the Dane’s symmetrical, toned, and hearty musculature made him the bigger, stronger man by more than a small measure when viewed next to the fit-but-soft-seeming Andrade. Also, Andrade won the fights necessary to position himself as an alphabet organization’s mandatory title-challenger, and was undefeated going in, but the best guy he beat is probably Otis Grant—you remember Grant, he was the fellow who only landed one of some 130 jabs when he challenged Roy Jones.
The point is, Kessler’s case was neither boosted, nor detracted from, in his shutout pasting of poor Librado. Andrade was game, and even momentarily staggered the sturdy-chinned Kessler when he caught-him-looking in the opening round. Aside from that, Kessler brought a solid, technically-sound offense to a fighter whose ghost of a chance lay in the hope that Kessler would fight him in a phone-booth. Andrade would do little but stand, be dominated, and take the hits as he demonstrated that a workhorse brawler with an iron-beard can do little against athletically-gifted, well-trained, well-protected, confident world-class opposition with a willingness to stick to a solid fight-plan (see Mayweather v. Gatti or Baldomir for further tastings of that cocktail). Kessler proved he can dominate in Mickey Mouse-defenses—even when his defense is a little wide and a little sloppy. Good for him. I would expect no less from a fighter I have every faith will go on to prove he is the best in the division by a good jump. But, as the old boxing adage goes, he ain’t there yet. Kessler made statements by shutting-out talented-but-chronically-underachieving Dingaan Thobela, then banging with, and knocking the stuffing out of, hard-punching Manny Siaca, dominating Anthony Mundine in one of the Aussie’s stronger showings, then knocking out Eric Lucas and Markus Beyer in the same calendar-year. Yes, all the momentum in going in Kessler’s direction, but Andrade was a mandatory well-handled, and nothing more. Kessler has had enough fights against increasingly more challenging opposition for us to know that he has the stuff to do exactly what he did, in fact do, to Andrade. The only thing worthy of real note and wonder is how well Andrade took—and was never leveled by—bomb-after-right-hand-bomb.
Sadly then, I fear the only reason this victory has motivated a windfall of proclamations that Kessler is king at super-middle—and subsequently that the much-maligned Joe Calzaghe is spoiled and past-his-expiration-date—is that this latest dominant performance, and Calzaghe’s, unexpectedly hard night against Sakio Bika were internationally-televised. The public memory is as short as its attention span that never makes the effort to see a fighter unless a major network serves them up on a platter. It is said that a fighter is only as good as his last fight. So, by that wisdom, Kessler is invulnerable, the competition helpless, and the former divisional king is faded, and would be hopelessly outmatched in a unification battle. This is the prevailing attitude and it is phooey—a mishandling, a hoax, and a gross oversimplification.
It must sound funny, all this, to those of you familiar with my fight-journalism. I have long-touted Kessler as the heir-apparent in the division, and have also giving Joe Calzaghe more than his fair share of lumps over the years for questionable matchmaking, and gratuitous blowing of his own horn. But, now, with the whispers of a unification match in the wind, I am of the thinking that Kessler might still need another match-or-two against crafty, top-notch, motivated opposition before he is a lock to beat Calzaghe, even in these, the Welshman’s late-days. Though Kessler’s dismantling of Andrade did nothing to sweeten the Dane’s stock in my book, it did raise a few questions about how a defense that fades during offensive-minded moments would hold up against the all-angles, combination-throwing, pressure fighting style Calzaghe brings to his big fights. The unification match-up will likely never see the light of day, the risk-to-reward ratios are imbalanced, Calzaghe is winding down and still has yet to beat Peter Manfredo (and avoid injury in doing so), and money-hungry promoters will stall the works with endless negotiations. But I am content to sit on-the-fence, undecided, until I see Kessler take another legitimate step toward realizing his full potential as divisional unifier—punishing Librado Andrade from parcel-to-post simply will not do. I understand why he took the fight, but a spade, after all, should still be called a spade.
Pundits’ Bizarre Prediction: “The Golden Boy” Oscar De la Hoya has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting over on Floyd Mayweather in their upcoming meta-fight.
Apparent Reality: I will make this short. Far too much has been written on the topic already. And, mixed into the media deluge, are a surprising number of suggestions that Oscar might, in a career-capping flash of brilliance, dethrone this generation’s pound-for-pound king. I would expect such foolishness from the general sporting public, from the casual boxing fans. Oscar De la Hoya is the only remaining crossover star boxing can count among active fighters (and, in this case, active is a relative term). Mike Tyson is headed for prison, rehab, or the nut-house for the umpteenth time, and Muhammad Ali is long-retired and suffering terrible illness. Oscar is the only face still punching in the fight game the public might expect to see on the cover of Sports Illustrated (and in these dark days, that is a long shot despite the outcome of the showdown to come). Oscar captivated the public, and they still love him, and so naturally they are going to root for him and call him the favorite over a fighter they might only know by name or reputation, someone who exists, but off their radar of viewership and fanhood. Oscar is just that, their favorite. However, I cannot understand why those schooled in the science and histories of boxing are coming out in hordes to put their money on “The Golden Boy.”
I should say this before I proceed. I have never liked Floyd Mayweather. I think he is a whiner and a poor example of what a fighter should be, that is, outside the ring. I root for him to lose ardently, every time out, but in the ring, and across a number of divisional lines he has diffused, dominated, toyed-with, bloodied, and discarded my beloved pug-heroes (Manfredy, Corrales, Gatti, and on-and-on). “Pretty Boy” Floyd is the best, no doubt, pound-for-pound. What can you say to get around that? Who can beat him? Everybody who calls him out is as deluded as I was when I protested the decisions he got against Jose Luis Castillo. Ricky Hatton would suffer terrible ravages despite his willingness to bring the fight to Mayweather. Margarito, oh Antonio, come on, you would get away, at best with a less embarrassing version of the beating Gatti took.
Cotto is way, way, WAY too slow on his feet. And so on to the matter at hand…
Look, Oscar is an aging, stalling, part-time fighter obsessed with his lucrative, various business interests. He has fought for almost a decade using his left-hand as a crutch to prop up the chronically-injured right, and that simply will not do such deep water as this upcoming bout. His pressure-cooking of Ricardo Mayorga is meaningless when measuring Oscar’s chances of beating Mayweather. Mayorga was a blown-up welterweight whose power was only dangerous at 147 and only if he, by chance, had the other guy’s number and his balls, as he did against Vernon Forrest. Look what happened the last time a Mayorga-conqueror got the benefit of the doubt for his decimation of the chain-smoking Nicaraguan-mauler, Felix Trinidad got tamed and shut-out by a puffed-up “Winky” Wright. Talk about prophecy. Mayweather, for all his press-conference yapping, pre-fight drama, and lowball antics, is a consummate professional about conditioning and staying grounded in his role as an athlete and combatant. He has clear-advantages over Oscar in age, ring-wear, health, condition, hand-speed, overall athleticism and raw technical ability. Oscar’s has the edge in experience and, perhaps, power, but that is offset by his injuries and the inability to tell how much his body has slowed down or been overtaxed by making a weight lower than his highest fighting weight, and much lower than his highest walking-weight. Mayweather, on the other hand, has never appeared to bulk up noticeably between fights. His rise to 154-pounds appears to be natural and well-fertilized.
Members of the press, I beg you, separate your anxiety about having to listen to Mayweather’s twenty-year victory speech from the cold, hard fact that Oscar has only a fading puncher’s chance of pulling this out, that is, if he is lucky. All these proclamations I am hearing about character, depth, ring-savvy, intangible advantages, none of it will be enough to turn-the-tide. Cheer for him, please, I will, but do not lay your bets on Oscar De la Hoya. I fear you may end up grudgingly admitting culpability the morning after to all the Mayweather-boosters who will be saying, I told you so. If we are honest, I think the die is cast: Mayweather is hesitant in the early going, finds his footing and hustles-away the middle rounds, maybe stunned once by a left-hook late, he will hold on and dominate the final stanzas to pre-punctuate the Oscar’s retirement speech.
What does a Mayweather victory prove about “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s all-time-greatness? That’s another story, and one in which I am willing to say, Not much. Like Mikkel Kessler, Floyd Mayweather is going to have to show me a better dance before further-tribute is paid.
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