Looking Ahead For Boxing In 2006

26.12.05 - By Dan Mocci: There are still some days to go before the ball drops to kick off 2006, but the New Year’s party has already started for the “Sweet Science”. The curtain is closing on a lackluster ’05 for the sport of boxing, but that shouldn’t disparage fight fans from penciling in some key dates on their new 2006 calendars. Reserve a spot on the couch for the last three weeks of January right away. Then factor in at least two weekends a month for the foreseeable future.

Right out of the gate, we will have our first recognized undisputed cruiserweight champion since Evander Holyfield after the O’Neill Bell-Jean Marc Mormeck tussle on January 7th. By the end of the year’s first month we will have seen Pacquaio-Morales II, the return of Friday Night Fights, and the comeback of Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. International battles featuring WBC Featherweight Champion Injin Chi and WBC 168-lb. titlist Mikkel Kessler will do big business abroad.

If that’s not enough—take a look at the pay-per-view line up for the January 27th show that features two title fights, plus action fighters Stevie Johnston, Nate Campbell, and Mike Arnaoutis. If the plethora of action bouts lined up for the opening month of the year isn’t enough to set the tone for a big year, then perhaps the sport of boxing is just jinxed.

Remarkably, the overloaded January line-up only serves to wet the salivating pallets of boxing fans everywhere—the main course of future mega-fights will prove the January schedule to be just an appetizer when one considers the other big fights already put on paper. James Toney and Hasim Rahman have already signed on the dotted line, as have Floyd Mayweather and Zab Judah. The hype machine will be rolling for both of these significant bouts, with the former set for the second weekend March and the latter on April 8th. In both cases, the press conferences should be entertaining (considering Rock and Toney have already brawled once) and the bad blood could boil over into two shootouts.

Adding to the intrigue is that some of boxing’s biggest draws are scheduled to battle each other, as opposed to using their names to cash checks. Mayorga-Oscar, Vargas-Mosley, and Jones-Hopkins will feature declining fighters whose skills still remain on par with one another. Historically, aging warriors have managed to bring out the best in each other. With the exception of Mayorga, all of these fighters still rank amongst the top 20-25 fighters in the game. In no case, is there a difference in skill so great or the will to compete full steam ahead so diminished that these fights will lack competitive drama. Each of the six fighters remain dangerous to their opponent and a win will assure them continued, and deserved, big paydays.

At press time, over 20 title fights have already been scheduled including the Jeff Lacy- Joe Calzaghe unification bout on March 4th. Marco Barrera and Jesus Chavez are rumored to have a spring date lined up. While 20 does mean there are still two many alphabet titles and increase the possibility for “mis-mandatories”, the docket of unification bouts does provide hope for clarification within the rankings of several divisions. Furthermore, it gives us a chance to see the likes of Tony Margarito, Juan Marquez, and Brian Viloria thrust back into the public eye.

Considering the names already set to wage war in 2006, it could be a big year with just these fights scattered throughout the year. What is even more encouraging is the names Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, and Ricky Hatton aren’t even linked to opponents yet. Amazingly, the boxing calendar is loaded and we still get to pencil in the universally recognized 175-lb. champ (Tarver) and the ’04 (Johnson) and ’05 (Hatton) “Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year” recipients. Plus, Winky Wright and new golden child, Jermain Taylor, should inevitably battle each other. Fortunately, scheduling will not be a problem with HBO’s expanding schedule of free programming announce this past fall. HBO boxing czar Ross Greenburg has already announced an increase in “World Championship Boxing” events and, more importantly, that “Boxing after Dark” will go to a monthly format. BAD, rumored to be hosted by Max Kellerman, has been a proven breeding ground for some of the greatest fighters of the past decade.

Will 2006 be the year that boxing returns to the mainstream public eye? Probably not all at once, but the elements are in place for a giant step forward. Our greats are going out with a bang, facing each other rather than showcasing their declining skills against pugs a la the Chavez and Tyson retirement tours. Current stars are lining up fights against each, as opposed to taking dreaded tune-up fights. Heck, even Nicky Valuev could be of some “Value” being that his freakish size has attracted some mainstream attention regarding his capture of the WBA Heavyweight crown. The Russian giant has received mainstream attention on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and other national media outlets. If his freakishly bad skills are exposed on U.S. television, a Lamon Brewster-type could gain deserved attention from the public eye. Valuev’s size could be asset if the proper successor takes him out…as long as the rumored-to-be-combacking Axel Schulz, and similar types, aren’t fed to Valuev.

And if all else fails….we do have the “War to Score on February 4.” That’s right—Diego Corrales and Jose Castillo will undoubtedly light it up in the biggest battle in Texas since the Alamo. Their first fight in 2005 was the best sporting event of the year. No mainstream sport could boast that it had any single event in 2005 that ranked amongst the greatest of all time. Yet, boxing had Corrales-Castillo--a fight that stands beside any fight in history, and was as compelling as any sporting event in the past 20 years.

Let us toast to a big 2006…. Hopefully, a year where the only thing that rivals a tragedy or a black eye for boxing is Rocky VI—not a Tyson or Holyfield comeback. Who knows? If old Sly’s script doesn’t turn out to be a total disaster the fight game’s karma could be better than it has been in years

Article posted on 26.12.2005

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