PHOENIX—Last weekend featured a foursome of anticipated premium cable broadcast affairs that received plenty of positive press prior to respective first bells.
Many things look better on drawing board paper than in reality.
In boxing, the shifting boundaries of said reality are sometimes just a combination away. After all was spoken and done, most of the headliners in Showtime’s ShoBox Phoenix and HBO’s Ricky Hatton/Jose Luis Castillo cards had to accept less than stellar results.
Three of four touted “toss-up” type tussles ended in disappointment, controversy, or both. But no one was to blame.
It wasn’t an issue of false advertising or of contests not being worthy of the hype. Boxing needs just about all the hype it can get beyond subculture.
The fighters all showed up: ready, willing, Cain and Abel. But the guys with the gloves on are the first who can tell you that anything might happen inside the strands. On consecutive nights, first-class styles meshed into messy mauling.
Hatton currently competes at a higher level and has plenty of earthy, star power charisma, but his struggle against Juan Urango didn’t generate near the same image of fistic finesse as Puerto Rico’s Juan Manuel Lopez did pounding Cuauhtemoc Vargas, 15-2-1 (10), into lumped -up submission an evening earlier.
After observing all principals in action on freezing Friday and Saturday nights in the desert, it looked like the emerging prospect Lopez produced, relatively speaking, the best job of living up to the self-prescribed standards set by both fighters and publicists.
“I knew I was getting to him but I was surprised when he didn’t come out,” said fresh faced, 23-year-old Lopez, now 15-0 (13).
“We’ve got around twenty-five prospects, ages 19 to 22 or 23. Lopez is number one by far,” said Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels.
Samuels sets a high quality standard himself for comprehensive PR, and while he too can generate piles of expert spin, his call on Lopez has been supported by many impressed observers. Lopez put a slick, consistent series of thuds together to pile up points and grind down the durable Vargas.
Vargas made him work for it, but Lopez pitched a punishing shutout on all scorecards and seemed to take a step up in class right before your eyes.
The featured ShoBox preliminary was another touted early crossroads match pairing Super Lightweight Martin Cordova, 12-0 (8) against Victor Ortiz, 16-1 (11).
A fine first frame made it look like an eight-round classic was about to unfold. Fate intervened as the round ended. A very accidental looking follow-through elbow gashed Ortiz’s cabeza for a doctor’s properly ordered, between rounds stoppage, and resulting technical draw.
Ortiz had already lived up to his hype, and pleaded to continue while blood flowed down his torso in bright crimson streaks like last week’s hit cinematic torture treat.
“He caught me with an elbow when I slipped,” said Ortiz without malice.
“I think it was a right hand,” claimed Cordova.
Replays confirmed the elbow.
A quick rematch would be nice, but Ortiz’s cut looked like the kind that takes a while to mend properly. Different skins require different healing.
Across another sunrise and four hundred miles of desert, Hatton showed solid if unspectacular technique and dominated a quality foe, but failed to really rouse a faithful or curious audience that was his for the taking.
Castillo escaped with a sub par effort against surprising Herman Ngoudjo and took a questionable, hard-fought split decision. Much of a raucous response to the verdict favored Ngoudjo, in what was billed as an “elimination” bout.
Neither Hatton nor Castillo came up with real fireworks to stoke the June fires or ticket window.
There will be piles of hype for Hatton and Castillo between now and June. They’ve each been there enough times before that by now any related distractions or destiny shouldn’t interfere with getting down to getting prepared.
Ngoudjo should have some pugilistic karma points to cash in on up ahead against another top opponent.
A questionable, sympathetic setback can often be hyped profitably.
Urango backed up enough of his own hype to net at least another sizeable payday. His team looked solid enough to keep him in the top of the mix.
Hatton and Castillo gloves graced the same stage to whet public appetite for a summer spectacular. Based on their back to back appearances, Hatton looked like a substantial favorite, around 4-1.
Questions aplenty were raised over a boxing weekend that was anticlimactic but also intriguing.
For Juan Manuel Lopez, the main question seemed to be about just how much further he can develop.
If Lopez continues to step up like he did against Vargas, the hype will take care of itself.