Tiptoeing Through Wonderland

By Ted Spoon - In each of us there are certain qualities that tend to define us. In others we see qualities they can’t. Sometimes we're impelled to speak up, suggest perhaps how they may use them to escape the daily grind.

In boxing it's rather difficult to hide your talents and for the especially gifted fighters this can turn into something of a cancer..

It should be (and usually is) the coveted duty of most boxers to see how far those talents are able to push the boat out, to brave every mountain until breaking point is reached; it's essential for us to know what we're dealing with. Alas, to our enduring frustration there have been fighters whose true abilities remained concealed because they chose not to venture deep into the woods.

There is that familiar saying of fights being akin to ‘another day in the office’, but while everybody is aware that boxing is a systematic business, what goes inside of the ring shouldn’t be.

There is something criminal about fighters who both treat and refer to the prize ring as such. Whenever boxing begins to introduce itself as a transaction it loses that volatile appeal. And this wrongdoing is compounded by the fact the men who are permitted this luxury are the ones who should be at the heels of our gloved deities.

In the danger of sounding a little despotic, congratulations are first in order for Floyd Mayweather Jr who clearly beat a game and physically stronger man in Miguel Cotto. And with that out of the way we are free to state he undoubtedly fits this idea of the fussy superhero.

It’s a fine compliment that after taking belts at 130lbs, 154lbs, and every weight in between the prognosis remains, “When is he really gonna go for it?” There was more friction than expected against Cotto, but that unanimous decision most could see when they signed, sure enough, solidified itself into reality at the final bell.

That preordained aura has surrounded Mayweather during his last four outings which were calculatingly spread over four years. Miguel, a venerable scalp without question, but there is supposed to come a time in every truly great fighter’s career when he stops doing what we know he can and shows us something we thought beyond him.

At this time the man who prides himself over his translucent blueprints is a level or two from making everyone a believer.

Preceding Floyd with this shy rule was Roy Jones; a fighter who could hypnotise but only bombed provinces real fans knew weren’t capable of surviving. Forgetting the aimless will of his frail body, Roy’s grand career put a line through some impressive names - Bernard Hopkins and James Toney jump out instantly.

The hurtful magician from Pensacola even went up to heavyweight where he convincingly defeated a basic but naturally heftier John Ruiz. At the end of the bout Roy was in full character, commending his dominance with the kind of slapstick rap that grates after ten seconds. When asked about his heavyweight aspirations he suddenly became thoughtful and summarised that Lennox Lewis was the “best of the bigger heavyweights”.

It was the response of an honest man, but also of one who had grown accustomed to exacting his powers of choice.

Mayweather’s stock mainly rests on a fight with Manny Pacquiao (an event which is close to going completely stale) but Jones swath of brilliance left a few rocks unturned.

By 1998, though Roy had once handled Bernard Hopkins it was apparent that 'The Executioner' had done a lot of growing up. By 2001 a rematch made too much sense. A tactical beat down of Felix Trinidad showed Hopkins to have refined his persistent ways into rugged excellence. As it was neither could agree on a weight class or the money split and so what would have been a more revealing encounter terminated there and then.

Roy stayed busy at 175lbs but aside from slugging Virgil Hill in the ribs his reign was a touch unspectacular. Granted, the only man who gave him any kind of trouble was obliterated in return, but a lack of name opponents wasn’t because nobody was there. Germany’s Dariusz Michalczewski was in fact the lineal champion. Jones’ superiority was recognized but it’s a scalp that would have put the diamond in the bracelet. Unfortunately each man stayed in their own kingdom.

It hurts Joe Calzaghe as well but when the undefeated Welshman finally fought Roy the super-fight was late by about ten years. For previously stated reasons they didn’t trade blows when it mattered, and to make the situation entirely unsatisfying Calzaghe (as did Hopkins) eventually made the trip up to light heavyweight.

Jones will rightfully be remembered as a phenomenon, somebody who probably was as good as he looked. Whether that's a certainty is another question, and no fighter receives the benefit of the doubt.

It's common practice for fans to give Jones stick but you won't find many bad-mouthing Ricardo Lopez. The micro Mexican was a visual treat and remains the only great man to have fought in the straw-weight class. It's doesn't sit right speaking derogatory about the modest champion (partly because he'd probably agree) but the 105lbs destroyer made a career out of zapping plankton.

'Finito' is part of a very select group who retired undefeated. Different to someone like Marciano he is instantly pleasing to watch; by the book, patient and explosive. It’s very tempting to rate him up there with men like Tony Canzoneri and Pernell Whitaker but a fair resume and missed opportunities deface that palpable quality.

From 1990-2001 Lopez was in possession of some form of gold. The slight smudge on his record came with a technical draw against Rosendo Alvarez, later avenged via split decision. Apart from that little hiccup there was a whole lot of winning, and winning in style. In a way it’s nice that Lopez christened the division with an outstanding run, but at the same time, while he was increasing his body count the chance to slay bigger game disappeared.

Michael Carbajal and Humberto Gonzalez famously threw down thrice, accumulating green in the millions (an amazing feat for men who scaled 108lbs). All of this occurred just 3lbs north of Lopez. The window to fight Gonzalez was around two years but Carbajal was closer to four. Efforts were in the works to match the latter with Ricardo but along came Mauricio Pastrana and ruined the little mans chance of adorning his legend with something meaningful.

At 5,5 Lopez was not one of the shorter mites. There was definitely room for potential on his slender body. Clearly he did not like the idea of disturbing his advantages and trained hard to squeeze every last drop out of his original weight. Had he accepted the inevitable sacrifice that comes with weight-hopping we could have been treated to an historical meeting.

It was only for a short time but Manny Pacquiao once owned the WBC flyweight title, just when Lopez had concluded he was getting tight at 105lbs. There was no reason to make the trip but it’s interesting to note that had Lopez been more daring he could have registered a win over the man who is currently sharing pound-for-pound honours as the best fighter in the world.

Floyd Mayweather would have something to say about that ‘sharing’ part. We can only hope there is still time for the haughty expert to recognize the true meaning of his own sentiment, “giving the fans what they want” and bridges that gap...

...The one which separates the immortal from the merely great.

Article posted on 11.05.2012

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