For boxing the new year has opened with some good days and some bad daze. Naturally, the good days haven’t come in the heavyweight division.
In a week in which boxing could joyously announce the long-awaited first appearance on American television of the Indonesian mystery man - featherweight champion Chris John - as well as a showdown between present and former lightweight champions Juan Manuel Marquez and Juan Diaz on the same card, fight fans were also subjected to another heavyweight disappointment.
What the boxing world wanted to see was a showdown between World Boxing Council belt holder Vitali Klitschko and the former cruiserweight champion, David Haye. Instead they got a slowdown between Klitschko and another former cruiserweight champion, Juan Carlos Gomez. In this case, not better late than never.
In fairness, Gomez (44-1, 35 KO) fought two “elimination’’ fights to reach the WBC’s mandatory challenger position. Unfortunately, the people he eliminated were about as challenging as a sparring session. First he defeated aged former champion (which is worse than HBO Boxing’s operative phrase for a title contender these days, which is “aging former champion’’) Oliver McCall a year and a half ago. Then he outfoxed and outboxed Vladimir Virchis (if you wonder who he is call one of his relatives) last September to cement his right to fight Samuel Peter for the WBC branch of the title.
That never happened however because Peter fought Klitschko first even though Klitschko had been in retirement for nearly four years before the WBC simply handed him a title shot. Peter then handed him the title by fighting as if he was the guy coming off a nearly four year layoff. So it goes in the heavyweight division, which is the most consistent division in boxing in that you can always expect to be disappointed no matter which two slugs they put in there with a belt in between them.
Some energy in the division had begun to surface when the brash young Haye followed Klitschko to Germany and loudly kept challenging him until he thought he had an agreement for the two of them to fight. Whether he did or not didn’t matter because the WBC immediately waded in waving its rule book (which is about as honest a document as the accounting ledgers of Bernard Madoff), insisting, “Wrong cruiserweight! Wrong cruiserweight!’’
Enter the 35-year-old Gomez. Once there was a time when the former Cuban cruiserweight could have made a loud case for himself after defending that title 10 times before moving up to heavyweight on Feb. 19, 2002. Only problem is over the next seven years the best he could come up with as opposition was to face McCall (twice no less) and Virchis. What was the matter? Dickie Ryan wasn’t available?
While U.S. fight fans should rejoice over the arrival of John on their television screens against the oft title challenged Rocky Juarez (0-4 in title fights and counting) as well as being ecstatic that it is being coupled with the Marquez-Diaz lightweight title fight so that the people who really pay these guys are actually going to get two matches worthy of their attention on the same night, they have every reason to continue to bemoan the way things are done in the Land of Boxing’s Giants.
The Land of Boxing Giants (aka Fantasyland) is where the heavyweight division has gone to die. It’s been on life support so long one can think of only one last thing to do – pull the plug already.
Klitschko-Gomez will, thankfully, at least be in Germany, where they can apparently sell anything to fight fans as long as some Eastern European giant is one of the participants, rather than polluting an American arena. If it ends up on your television screen here in the States, as it very likely will, remember this – the TV comes with a channel changer and an ON/OFF switch. Use them.
The only way these dopes are going to give you the fan heavyweight fights that you may want to see is for you to stop watching the mismatches and boring non-events you keep being handed. To your credit, you have already begun this process, as proven by the most recent TV ratings for heavyweight fights last year.
This is a trend that should continue until the few guys in the division who can fight (do you really want to see overweight Chris Arreola, who gained 20 pounds in five months last year without apparent use of a barbell, or Odlanier Solis, who stands 6-1 and weighs 259 ½ again?) actually choose to face each other. Of course, the problem may be two such guys do not presently exist.
Ironically, Ahmet Oner, who promotes Gomez through Arena-Box Promotions in Germany, told ESPN after the fight was signed that, “Recently we have seen some boring heavyweight championships because there seem to be very few worthy challengers for the Klitschkos.’’
He can add his guy’s name to that list.
Meanwhile, back in Houston on Feb. 28, the undefeated John (42-0-1, 22 KO) will face Juarez while Marquez, whom John beat in a controversial decision, fights Diaz in the main event. Two things immediately crossed my mind when I saw this.
Is this an attempt to create interest in a Marquez-John rematch now that Manny Pacquiao is off fighting at 140 pounds and promising to stay there or go higher?
Secondly, would it have ever happened if Golden Boy Promotions didn’t buy the U.S. promotional rights to John? You couldn’t find a path on which John could shotgun his way onto U.S. cable television until suddenly he signs with Golden Boy Promotions. Then, boom, he’s on HBO, accepting what he claims is less money than he took for his last title defense in Japan to appear in the U.S.
Not that there’s anything incestuous going on between HBO and Golden Boy but how soon before HBO breathlessly announces boxing’s golden calf, Oscar De La Hoya, is coming back again to fight Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. in a “revenge’’ match with 24/7 not-quite-reality TV (with surround sound) to promote it?
The one thing about boxing that it seems you can always count on is that it is a strange, and uncomfortably unseemly, business. Promoters, fighters and even network executives come and go but that never changes.
But for now, at least, the sport is at least still in business. Too bad the heavyweight division isn’t.