I Want It All

BY Eddie Goldman ON May 31, 2006
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Two weekends in a row, two combat sports, two competing shows, two choices, two wins and two losses.

These combat sports are all run by madmen and madwomen (got to give the ladies equal time, too). Their planning is done by a thievocracy and stupidocracy of people with pugilistica pickpocketa, marketingmentica nihilistica, and moralistica negativistica. (Look it up in a Pig Latin dictionary since it involves so many pigs.)

This Saturday night, June 3, there are two mixed martial arts shows in Atlantic City, NJ, about a mile apart on the miniature main drag of that town. The new International Fight League (IFL) is running at the Mark G. Etess Arena in the Trump Taj Mahal. This is the group that is trying to bring a team concept to the mixed martial arts. At the same time, the Mixed Fighting Championship (MFC) will be running a U.S. vs. Russia fight card at Boardwalk Hall, commencing an hour earlier than IFL but obviously overlapping in its duration.

The next weekend, Sat., June 10, boxing ups the self-destructive ante by running the Antonio Tarver-Bernard Hopkins card at Boardwalk Hall the same time as a card in Madison Square Garden in New York, about two-and-a-half hours away, headlined by Miguel Cotto vs. Paulie Malignaggi, takes place.

The fans and the media all have to make choices. But this shouldn’t be the case. This is not like choosing between powerful entities such as Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, or Sprint for cell phone service, but more like deciding which homeless beggar you will give that lone dollar you can easily yank from your pocket on the street.

Don’t think mixed martial arts is as hot as some of its promoters (or those hired to shill for them) pretend, as they have taken a grand total of three months of sanctioned shows to oversaturate the market in California. The empty seats and tickets heavily discounted by Ticketmaster and others speak much more loudly than the parrots who warbled that last Saturday’s UFC at the Staples Center was sold out. One report claims that fewer than 8000 of the about 14,000 fans announced in attendance actually paid for their tickets, with many of those buying them at deep discounts.

So how do you choose between Tarver-Hopkins and Cotto-Malignaggi?

The former has one definite and one likely future Hall of Famer. The latter is the future, with two young undefeated fighters.

The former has the top light heavyweight in the world, Tarver, but who is already 37-and-a-half years old. The latter has the unbeaten 25-year-old Cotto, considered by many the best at 140 pounds in the world, and hoping to fight Jose Luis Castillo in the Garden in November should he beat Diego Corrales this weekend and Cotto get by Malignaggi.

The former has the 41-year-old Hopkins’s final fight. The latter has the charismatic Malignaggi’s first pay-per-view main event.

The former has an interesting co-feature with WBC junior featherweight champ Israel Vazquez defending his belt against Ivan “Choko” Hernandez. The latter has a cavalcade of ethnicities: Cotto of Puerto Rico fighting the day before the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, the Brooklyn-born Italian-American Malignaggi fighting in front of his homeboys and girlz, Ireland’s John Duddy who already sold out the Garden’s adjoining Theater on St. Patrick’s Day eve, Notre Dame’s star safety Tommy Zbikowski in his pro boxing debut, African-American fighters like New York veteran Kevin Kelley, Filipino Bobby Pacquiao who is Manny’s brother, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. who is the son of the Mexican icon, and some other guys whose nationalities will come into play if they score upsets or look impressive.

There really is no edge for either card. Whichever one you watch, you will miss some boxing history. They both deserve coverage by the media and attention by the fans.

While I have covered all the main event fighters for some time, I have also done numerous interviews over the years with both Hopkins and Malignaggi. Missing one of their major fights, especially one in or near the media capital of the world which is by no small coincidence also where I live, is not a welcome choice.

So this is where the side and personal factors play a decisive role, at least for me.

Tarver-Hopkins is on HBO pay-per-view. The next Saturday night, June 17, the regular HBO features Jermain Taylor defending his middleweight title against Winky Wright, itself a solid fight if there ever is one this year in boxing. Unless HBO ends its years-long practice of airing a pay-per-view the following week after the live pay telecast, that fight will be shown before Taylor-Wright. The Cotto-Malignaggi card is also on pay-per-view, but independently produced, so it is unclear if or when that will be later shown to a non-pay audience.

As I noted above, I will also be in Atlantic City the week before Tarver-Hopkins for the IFL show. It is never a pleasant trip there, and especially not back. Years ago the mental and physical anguish of riding the bus back to New York was ameliorated some by running into Robert Ecksel, now the esteemed editor of this site, and Ron Scott Stevens, now the esteemed chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission, at the steamy, smelly, seedy bus station waiting for a seat in steerage for passage back to the land of egg creams and bagels. Both, for different reasons of course, will be at the Garden this time. So will I.

Two weekends in a row at Atlantic City? The consolation prize is a cell for two at New York’s Rikers Island, daily home of 15,000 boxing promoters.

Whoever decided to run a show on a date already set like June 10 should also be bused there. I’m taking an educated guess that those responsible may not wear prison suits, but are actually known as suits in an even more unsavory racket.

They are robbing the fans, fighters, media, and boxing in general by their cutthroat tactics. And robbers belong behind bars, not sipping fruity mixed drinks at them.

UnFight Notes: Give a listen to George Strait’s “The Seashores of Old Mexico,” a remake of a grand old Merle Haggard tune. You may not be able to get this lyrical and melodic tale out of your head, which for most of us would be a good thing.

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