Heaven and hell co-exist side by side in the special purgatory known as the boxing world. Its players may be saints one day, sinners the next, and suckers the day after. Angels and devils are not distinguished by their white wings or black capes, since, like in some science fiction shows, they transform into one another like sentient chameleons (leaving open, of course, the question of the true nature of their essence).
Don King promoted an excellent card Jan. 7 at The Theater at Madison Square Garden on which his three world champions – Zab Judah, Jean-Marc Mormeck, and Will Grigsby – all went down to defeat. Even those naive or uninformed enough to believe that King fixes fights like this had to take pause.
Three days later, also in New York, Bob Arum made a point of insisting that the kickoff press conference for the March 18 heavyweight fight between WBC champion Hasim Rahman and James Toney, held at the Tavern on the Green restaurant, not degenerate into one of boxing's many pre-fight stunt brawls. Both boxers, as they should, confidently predicted victories by knockout, but that is what they are supposed to do. There wasn't even any swearing, although neither fighter was exactly cordial to the other.
Even Arum's staging of a rematch between Erik Morales and Manny Pacquiao after Morales was embarrassingly outboxed by Zahir Raheem in September was vindicated by Saturday's events. Morales had, of course, won the first fight with Pacquiao convincingly by decision, his loss to Raheem was at lightweight (135) and the fights with Pacquiao were at super featherweight (130), maybe a little too heavy for Pacquiao, and thus a rematch was foreseen as another competitive and, of course, highly marketable fight. All this made Pacquiao's TKO win that much more remarkable, as well as the nonstop and courageous action in the ring while it lasted. Many, including yours truly, are already suggesting that this is an early Fight of the Year candidate and that Pacquiao is an early Fighter of the Year candidate.
Yet before anyone starts to erect idols of King and Arum in front of which to kneel down and leave offerings, their halos started transforming into horns when they got together with the third corner of boxing's most powerful triad, HBO, and in particular HBO Pay-Per-View.
After Judah's clear-cut unanimous decision loss Jan. 7 to the unheralded Carlos Baldomir, Arum acknowledged that his April 8 pay-per-view fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. was dead.
“That was a real blow because that fight was a done deal,” he lamented right after the Rahman-Toney lovefest. “Now we have to look for another opponent for Floyd. And maybe Winky Wright, maybe Baldomir, I don't know. We're going to have to decide that in the next few days. And I've been working on it. I'm not sure the direction we're going to go yet,” he added.
His direction, as it turned out, was right back in reverse, to attempt to resurrect what should have now been seen as a discredited matchup.
After only one fight at welterweight, a sixth-round TKO and drubbing of former 140-pound champ Sharmba Mitchell on Nov. 19, 2005, Mayweather is trying to make his mark in his new class, and thus saw a fight with the then-undisputed champion Judah as an historic fight. Judah's loss to Baldomir should have at best postponed this fight until Judah returned to the ring, avenged this defeat in a rematch with Baldomir, and reestablished some credibility as being deserving of a showcase fight with someone like the undefeated Mayweather, who sits atop or at least near the top of most pound-for-pound lists.
Now, according to reports from Dan Rafael of ESPN.com and elsewhere, Mayweather-Judah is back on for April 8 and still on HBO pay-per-view, albeit with the purses for the fighters – who else? – reduced.
Approving this deal: Judah's promoter Don King, Mayweather's promoter Bob Arum, and HBO Pay-Per-View.
This is a highly illogical action, another visit from the world of science fiction.
Zab Judah, after tossing away his status as the number one welterweight in the world, and with no intervening fight before facing Mayweather just three months after his disgraceful non-performance, is at present damaged goods. For his sake we can only hope that he returns to the gym, resumes training for each and every fight like the fate of his soul depends upon it, and thus resuscitates his career. What fans demand of these high-priced, pay-per-view, and main event fighters is not a victory every time; no one, for example, can complain in the least about the fallen Erik Morales. What they do demand is that they earn their money, drawn in the main from the pay-per-view fees and the ticket prices paid by the mainly hard-working, everyday people who watch these fights and support these fighters and this increasingly marginalized sport.
As my colleague Charles Farrell wrote in to my blog, “Judah doesn't even deserve a return match with Baldomir, let alone a PPV payday against Mayweather. Nobody will watch it anyway, and Judah will then more or less disappear from the boxing landscape.” Another reader who signed his name David U. wrote, “The insects who run boxing never cease to amaze, do they? I hope Mayweather knocks Judah out of the ring.” I agree with both, although I cautioned David that there was no need to hurl such epithets at insects.
Despite promising to ease up on the number of pay-per-views this year after a glut of shows with mediocre buy rates last year, HBO Pay-Per-View still appears to be committed to hawking almost one a month at least until the summertime in America. The March 11 Jones-Hopkins 2 pay-per-view has been at best postponed. If Mayweather-Judah were cancelled as well, HBO would have no pay boxing event from the Feb. 25 Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas show (itself questionable as being worthy of pay-per-view) either to April 8 with Mayweather against someone other than Judah, or the proposed May 6 fight possibly involving Oscar De La Hoya and Ricardo Mayorga, still not finalized.
Even with Mayweather-Judah on April 8, such a schedule will produce lackluster quarterly reports for the Time Warner suits overseeing HBO. Yet it is HBO's own fault for trying to squeeze every last dollar out of its viewers by endlessly recycling the same boxers year in and year out. Mosley, Vargas, Jones, Hopkins, De La Hoya – do their calendars not turn? At least ESPN Classic shows the old guys when they were in their prime, and for no additional fees.
At bottom for these perpetrating these outrages is the failure of this ruling triad, along with most everyone else in a position of authority – if that word can even be used – in boxing, to run it like any other sport. The comparison with the NFL is easiest to make, both because this well-run league has its easy-to-follow and fairly logical championship process publicly on display, and it is going on and receiving blanket media coverage right now.
You lose in the playoffs, you go home. There are no set-ups in them, and only the rare mismatch when one team is just so far superior to all the rest. Boxing matchmakers need not apply.
Boxing is so absurdly mismanaged, or left to swing in an anarchic wind, that two full weeks after Zab Judah's loss to Carlos Baldomir, it is still not clear who holds which welterweight title. Baldomir clearly won the WBC strap that night, but even though Don King said at the post-fight presser that with Judah's loss the WBA and IBF titles had become vacant, there has been no confirmation of that from these communications-challenged alphabets. Neither of their websites has been updated to reflect the results of Jan. 7, with the IBF's old rankings not even being accessible as there is some problem with the site. But does anyone outside of these sanctioning fee collectors even care?
No other major sport has done so much to devalue its own championships. No other major sport has sacrificed its credibility as thoroughly as boxing. There are other even tinier sports such as kickboxing and mixed martial arts – both, like boxing, individual combat sports – where the title pictures are even more incomprehensible than in boxing. But these were never major mainstream sports in the U.S., and only really thrive in a culture like Japan where victory in a sporting contest is often less important than other factors, such as courage and charisma.
Meanwhile, back in the States, this overproduction of boxing pay-per-views is resulting in lightweight numbers. The greatest number of buys in 2005 for a boxing pay-per-view in the U.S. was Wright-Trinidad on May 14 with 520,000 households. Nothing else crossed the half-million mark.
Well, nothing else in boxing, that is. The most watched pay-per-view in the U.S. last year was Wrestlemania, with 650,000 buys. This year's version of that annual show takes place Sun., April 2, just six days before the Mayweather-Judah date.
Believers, light your torches and sharpen your stakes. Non-believers, lock and load anyway. The demons of the night are loose once again and gathering to pick all your pockets. What shall we do, what shall we do?