2006 Boxing Blueprint

23.11.05 - By Dan Mocci: The year 2005 has had its share of superfights and moments: Manny Pacquiao versus Erik Morales, Winky Wright’s drubbing of Felix Trinidad and ascent to the top of the Pound-for-Pound ranks, Ricky Hatton’s emergence as a star, Jermaine Taylor’s controversial victory over Bernard Hopkins, the “Chico” Corrales wars with Jose Luis Castillo, Ricky Hatton ending the reign of Kostya Tszyu, and the end of Mike Tyson.

The year 2005 has had its share of duds and letdowns—reasons for the general public (whose interest the sport desperately needs to thrive) to keep their collective heads turned elsewhere. HBO has brought us Mayweather-Mitchell and Mayweather-Henry Bruseles, they charged us for Marco Barrera’s sparring sessions with Fana and Peden, we will get a Hopkins-Taylor rematch before years end (but also a near guaranteed stinker with Winky Wright taking on Sam Soliman)…

The year 2005 was a year of missed opportunity—Tony Margarito and Juan Manuel Marquez were relatively inactive, Mayweather fought nobody (Yes, that includes his bout with overmatched Arturo Gatti.), and fighters such as Joe Calzaghe and Vitali Klitschko remained inactive. The major positives from a year that is coming quickly to a close lies in the development of a few charismatic young stars such as Miguel Cotto, Jeff Lacy, Calvin Brock, and Juan Diaz. In a year that undoubtedly had some great moments, but more missteps and mismatches, the development of these fighters as potential superstars should not fall under the radar.

The year 2006 could and should be better. Looking ahead, we already have Joe Calzaghe signed to face Jeff Lacy—meaning the biggest fight in the 168 lb. division is already locked in for next year. Let us not forget the highly anticipated rematch between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao. Big named stars Oscar de le Hoya, Shane Mosley, Fernando Vargas, and Ricardo Mayorga will continue on in 2006. Rather than exploiting weaker foes by cashing in on tune-up fights, they have decided to take on one another. Oscar-Mayorga and Vargas-Mosley should provide competitive action and score big at the box office. While none of these names are the future, or even current, of boxing the fact that they’ve chosen to fight in intriguing bouts should allow the business of boxing to transition smoothly as the young guns of the sport build fan bases of their own. Nonetheless, the sport will not be able to rely on these names forever. New stars need to be brought to the mainstream before the business turns the aforementioned crop of veterans into the recycled crop of faded stars such as Tyson and JC Chavez.

The year 2006 could be better…if the right fights are made. No more Mayweather exhibitions or mis-mandatory title bouts (at least keep them off TV!). The sport is prizefighting and the only way to offer the best of the sweet science is to offer the best prizefights.

Here are six fights for ’06.The type of fights that need to be made in order to bring the sport back to the mainstream and back to the front of the sports page. Drum roll please...

Floyd Mayweather vs. Ricky Hatton: Despite his move up to 147 lbs, Mayweather still holds the WBC version of the 140 lb. title. After Saturday, the undefeated Hatton could own the WBA and IBF versions of the title. Assume, for a moment, that “Pretty Boy Floyd” decides to stop calling out elite fighters, and actually fight one. Also assume that Floyd and Zab Judah can’t come to terms on a purse for a bout at welterweight. That leads us to Floyd versus Hatton—and the Hitman’s United States debut. Call it a hunch, but Hatton seems like the type to let Floyd have a bigger piece of the pie and home field advantage in return for a shot at greatness. No matter what terms are reached, this bout will be a hit in two PPV markets and be great for the sport of boxing. Plus, terms could be reached for an automatic rematch in the UK. Winner gets Miguel Cotto. Early Pick: Mayweather by very close and maybe controversial decision, it’ll take Floyd a while to get used to fighting the first true competition since Castillo allowing Ricky to impose his will and have his moments. A UK rematch will be necessary.

Antonio Margarito vs. Zab Judah: Judah is the recognized undisputed welterweight champion, though Tony Margarito holds the WBO 147 lb. strap. Margarito tops nearly every list when ranking out the most avoided and underrated fighters in the sport. He is also the type of fighter who would take a smaller amount of the purse money and would probably fight Judah in Zab’s NYC backyard. Thus, this fight should have no chance of getting killed at the negotiation table, despite Zab’s ego. What could kill the fight are Margagrito’s dangerous style and power and the treat of Judah losing to a fighter recognized only by hardcore boxing fans. Early Pick: Zab Judah gets hurt late but hangs on and wins a close decision. Margarito has the power to kayo Judah a la Kostya Tszyu. Unlike Tsyzu, Tony is a slow starter and would give up too many early rounds to close the gap on the cards.

Antonio Tarver vs. Jeff Lacy: The only way this bout doesn’t make sense is if Tarver were to get handily picked off or if IBF 168 lb. champion Lacy gets crushed against Joe Calzaghe. Assuming neither of those unlikely events happens, a match between the two best fighters in Florida would be a hell of a battle even if these two were to have lost close fights to the world class opponents at some point in ‘06. Two charismatic fighters, that can crack with both fists, and from the same state makes this fight a can’t miss event. The prize for the winner is a match with Glen Johnson. Early Pick: Lacy by late stoppage. Tarver is 36 and has slowed late in fights against Glen Johnson and Roy Jones. At 28 years old, Lacy is as relentless as Johnson and packs more punch than any fighter Tarver has ever faced.

Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao II: It is a crying shame that the inactive IBF/WBA champion JMM has to be re-introduced the public. Rumors of Marquez’ camp turning down a number of fights with opportunities for exposure have run rampant. Nonetheless, despite JMM falling of the radar, this is an important rematch. Although the outcome was a draw, Marquez overcame a number of early knockdowns to win at least 8 out of 12 rounds versus the Pacman. Early pick: Marquez by pretty clear decision. JMM knows the formula for success against Pacman and will be smart enough to employ a good enough strategy to make up for his inactivity.

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales IV: Barrera, who had a surprisingly light ’05, owns a 2-1 lead in this epic series-- though each fight (well, maybe not he third) could have been scored the other way. These two remain amongst the top ten or twelve fighters on the planet. These fights are like Van Damme and Segal films—a ton of action, not a lot of well spoken English, and the same plot line over and over (these two fighters from different Mexican upbringings still hate each other). The bottom line is that these two still pack the seats and they’ve fought 36 even rounds. Unless Morales’ loss to Zahir Raheem was an indication of a decline and he stinks up the joint against the Pacman, this fourth fight most likely will happen. Early Pick: Marco Barrera by close decision. The same formula as the first three fights will most likely be followed. The only difference is that Barrera has become more disciplined as he ages. Morales can’t contain himself against Barrera and will have to attack, but MAB can box or brawl and therefore has a distinct advantage.

Heavyweight Tournament: From a business standpoint, the mainstream sports public watches boxing when there is an undisputed heavyweight champion. With Don King controlling each of the recognized champions since the retirement of Vitali Klitschko, this tournament could come to fruition. Despite having four belt holders—John Ruiz (WBA), Lamon Brewster (WBO), Hasim Rahman (WBC), and Chris Byrd (IBF)—this needs to be an eight man tourney. The need for eight is due to the need for some intriguing heavyweight personalities. Other than Brewster, the three other champions have already proven an inability to draw public interest. Therefore, let’s throw in James Toney, the winner of Calvin Brock versus David Tua, Sam Peter, and Wladimir Klitschko. It’s just too bad there couldn’t be a stipulation that after each man was eliminated he would have top retire. Early Pick: Lamon Brewster, even though Toney is the most skilled of the bunch. Who knows if any of these bouts would be any good or what the bracket would look like? Brewster is the best bet to capture the public eye and Toney can’t fight for the WBA title due to having failed a steroid test, so if he kept winning it would screw everything up.

So there you have it…a blueprint for a big 2006. Before this gets published it may be necessary to hand deliver a copy to Don King, Bob Arum, and company. Who knows? Maybe they will employ the unconventional promotional strategy of “giving the people what they want.”

Article posted on 23.11.2005

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