There's nothing more compelling in sports in my (admittedly biased) opinion than a big fight with evenly matched, world-class fighters. The anticipation and the drama that builds up to these types of events are unparalleled in sports.
When you look at other sports, their biggest events – such as the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals – seem to be background players to a larger focus outside the realm of the actual event. Think about it, when was the last time the Super Bowl was really just about the championship of the National Football League? The game itself now is just the main centerpiece of a pseudo national holiday where network programmers make a killing on advertising and promote their latest batch of mind-numbing programs. And do I need to remind anyone of the ruckus caused by Janet Jackson this past year?
In boxing, it's all about the fight. When it's all said and done, the game is dependent on the best fights taking place. And no matter what type of pomp and circumstance is put into a promotion, what we want to see is a fight between our finest gladiators. The fight is the thing.
But the best fights aren't always the biggest events. There is a distinct difference. The best fights are for the purists who enjoy the skill and technique of the game. The biggest events are the ones that transcend boxing and have the appeal to the general public. Oftentimes the two clash, because while some fights are great match-ups, they are often poor box-office, which can kill potential match-ups. After all, boxing is a business, first and foremost.
But the two can co-exist and I've come up with five bouts that are not just intriguing match-ups, but make some business sense.
Arturo Gatti vs. Ricky Hatton
The truth is both Gatti and Hatton have been protected a bit throughout their careers because of their marketability. Both are hard-charging Jr. Welterweights who make for good fights, put butts in seats and, oh yeah, are both white.
These guys' styles would mesh perfectly. Hatton is a pressure fighter who likes to dig to the body. Gatti, during his renaissance with Buddy McGirt, is boxing a , bit more from the outside but still likes to mix it up and bang away with his big left hook. It's an interesting mix because you wonder how Gatti would react to Hatton's persistence, and you have questions about Hatton's seasoning. While Gatti has taken on some of the game's big names, Hatton has been sheltered by promoter Frank Warren.
Both Gatti and Hatton are prone to cuts, both are offensive fighters and neither would give an inch easily. Whether you held this fight in Atlantic City, New Jersey or Manchester, England, you could guarantee a crowd of at least 15-20,000.
Antonio Margarito vs. Ricardo Mayorga
Ok, I realize that Margarito is taking on Daniel Santos in September and Mayorga is facing Felix Trinidad the next month, but this is the fiercest slugfest that can be made from 147 to 160 in the game today.
Mayorga is a bombs away slugger. He makes no pretense of having any skill or savvy. He's there to knock your block off, he's not there to feint and jab in the center of the ring. It's all machismo, all the time.
Margarito, in many respects, is like Mayorga. He throws punches in bunches and isn't afraid to exchange. His fights are a battle of attrition, where his opponent's will is tested till the very end. In recent fights, though, Margarito has shown a certain sharpness and technique that had been lacking. He is becoming a more skillful and well-rounded fighter.
Mayorga possesses more one-punch power than Margarito, who holds the edge in stamina and overall fundamentals. Both have sturdy chins and the fight will be a battle till the end. The question is, can Margarito take Mayorga's best shots and if he does, the question then becomes, does Margarito have the staying power to out-last Margarito?
Floyd Mayweather vs. Kostya Tszyu
This would be a great contrast, not only in styles, but even more so in personalities. Mayweather is a petulant and oftentimes moody young man, while Tszyu is an understated sort who lets his fists do the talking. You'd be hard-pressed to find two personalities more dissimilar than these two.
'The Pretty Boy' has skills that are unmatched in the game, but it's been shown at the higher weights – 135 and 140 – that while he is still a deluxe boxer, he does have problems with bigger men. Jose Luis Castillo was able to push him around in their first encounter, for instance. Tszyu, in the past, has been susceptible to being caught and knocked down, but it takes a lot to get him out of there. Mayweather, for all his skills, does not have the power of a Vince Phillips. On the flip side, Mayweather has never faced a puncher who can crack like 'the Thunder from Down Under'
Tszyu can be slow starter, but he is a steady fighter that builds momentum as the fight goes along. In many ways this is like the tortoise against the hare. But remember, so was his fight against Zab Judah.
James Toney vs. Mike Tyson
This would be an interesting match-up just to see what corner trainer Freddie Roach would work that night. Who would have ever thought that back in the early 90's when Toney was winning titles at 160 and 168 pounds that he would be considered a legitimate threat as a heavyweight?
What makes this fight so appealing is that Toney is the type of personality that will not be intimidated by Tyson – who can still scare his opponents before a punch is ever thrown – and he won't just stand up to 'Iron Mike,' he'll instigate his share of rhetoric.
Tyson is not what he once was. In fact, he may even be a far cry from the boxer he was in the mid-90's. But if what they say about punching power being the last thing to leave a fighter is true, Tyson is still dangerous to a degree. And Toney will be there for Tyson to hit all night. Toney is not a stick-and-move type, he's a guy that will sit in the pocket all day and dare you to find openings. Nobody in the game is better at slipping and deflecting punches than Toney.
It would be quite a sight to see a former middleweight stand right with Tyson and invite him to lead with his heavy hands. Would Toney's body and chin hold up to the assault and how would Tyson react to being counter-punched by such a clever fighter? Toney isn't a great puncher – not even in his lighter days – but he's a sharp and accurate one that can break down fighters piece by piece.
Either way, it would be entertaining.
Jermain Taylor vs. Antwun Echols
I admit, this is the least marketable of all the fights I've listed, but it's one that I want to see. Everyone is anointing the young Taylor as the middleweight heir apparent to Bernard Hopkins. While that might be accurate, it's also premature.
Taylor has yet to fight a legitimate middleweight during his professional career. So why not fight a guy that gave Bernard Hopkins one of his sternest tests? Echols is a guy who is wild and unrefined, but he's also fearless and he packs a punch. He's an experienced pro that still has a lot left in his tank, and he would be chomping at the bit to take on a fighter he thinks is still green as grass.
Taylor and his people think they're ready right now for 'the Executioner', so what better way to prove that by taking on perhaps the most dangerous 160-pounder in the world.