When a good big one always beats a good little one

03.09.08 - by Mark Gregory - There are many well-worn platitudes that crop up in boxing, and one of the most frequent is that a good big one will always beat a good little one. Whilst there are many examples throughout the history of the sport that could be wheeled out in evidence on either side of the argument, that is not the purpose of this article. The purpose of this article is to examine whether or not the notion that an elite big man will always beat an elite little man runs so deep in boxing that it even permeates the notion of comparing fighters on a pound for pound basis..

A cursory glance across the pound for pound top 10s of some very respected sources will show that those fighters who ply their trade at bantamweight or below are hugely under-represented. Indeed, from the lowest five weight classes only two fighters – the technically flawless Ivan Calderon (32-0 (6)) and the exceptional southpaw Cristian Mijares (36-3-2 (15)) – even appear to be worth a mention in the eyes of most pundits. The Ring magazine is all but a lone voice in placing both in their top 10 pound for pound rankings. Other magazines and websites tend to overlook either one or the other or, in many cases, both. Their respective recent victories have received relatively little coverage in the boxing media, whilst the mainstream press did not deem their bouts worthy of the smallest mention.

So how is it that someone like Calderon, an unbeaten two weight champion with 16 title fights to his name and skills that would bring a tear to the purist’s eye, comes to be overlooked by some very knowledgeable pundits and fans? Why does Mijares, with 9 world title fight victories – including a unification earlier this year – find himself universally regarded as inferior to a Bernard Hopkins who has lost 3 of his last 5 fights?

One answer, and the most likely explanation, is the lack of exposure that the little guys receive. Title fights below bantamweight are rarely big enough box office to headline a big card and will usually find themselves shunted to the undercard of a fight between the big guys. If they are to headline their own show you can guarantee it will not be at a Vegas casino or Madison Square Garden. In fact it probably won’t even take place in the US, and therein lies another aspect of the problem.

The lower weight classes are populated almost entirely by Latin American and Southeast Asian fighters. The lack of any top US, UK or European fighters immediately puts these divisions at a disadvantage. Trying to sell a fight between two boxers who are not American, British or European, and who have never fought a name fighter from those shores either, is nigh on impossible in the big boxing markets of the US and Europe. As such there are few real hardcore fans who have seen more than a handful of fights from the likes of Calderon and Mijares, let alone the much larger contingent of casual fans who will not seek out what the TV networks choose not to show.

However, there is another dimension to the problem which further complicates things. For all the undoubted technical prowess of Calderon and Mijares, and for all their success in the ring, they are fighting in divisions which just do not look as competitive as the higher weight classes. In fact in the three lightest weight classes combined, there are less active boxers than in the welterweight division alone. Such a lack of depth leads to questions over the quality of opposition available to the likes of Calderon and Mijares, a factor that has to be taken into consideration when looking at a fighter’s pound for pound credentials. Ask anyone to name the three standout names on their records and the names will not stack up to those on the record of a Manny Pacquiao or a Bernard Hopkins. This, perhaps, is another by-product of the lack of exposure afforded to those who weigh in at 115lbs and below. Or it just may be that there is a genuine lack of top quality fighters in those weight classes.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule when it comes to lack of exposure. Former Mijares victim Jorge Arce is well-known to many fans due to his all-action style, and the same is true of proposed Mijares opponent Vic Darchinyan. However, even in these cases neither fighter ever seriously troubled journalistic pound for pound lists and both were far better known for being in fan-friendly undercard brawls than for being amazingly gifted. Right up to the 130lb division it seems that the only way to get recognition is to bring exciting knockout action to the table, as is amply demonstrated by the relatively recent acclaim afforded to the outstanding Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez following their breathtaking trilogy of fights.

It seems that, rightly or wrongly, when judging a fighter on a pound for pound basis the rule that a good big one always beats a big little one rings true.

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Article posted on 03.09.2008

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